Category Archives: Canada

Headless Valley (3)

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is a very hostile region accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. For many years tales were told about fur trappers and gold prospectors going into the area, and either disappearing without trace or being found beheaded  and dead. The number of decapitated bodies found within Nahanni Valley earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”.

In 1971, the intrepid explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” took a small expedition of soldiers from the Scots Greys to explore the region. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very perceptive account of the murders that gave it its name. Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that many of the victims had quite simply not lost their heads. Here he is, in his comfy trousers:

Ranulph Fiennes, throughout his book, seems to tease the reader a little. He repeatedly mentions details which to a person interested in Bigfoot seem to be very strong indications that there is a Bigfoot very close to them, but then Ranulph chooses to feign innocence, just reporting any strange events as something which can easily be dismissed with a simple, normal, everyday explanation. For example, we have a moment when they are moving through very thick cover and suddenly….

“A crackling of breaking alder sounded ahead and the ground trembled as some great beast moved away.”

Perhaps it was a moose or a bear but I really do wonder if the ground trembles as they walk along. It frequently does for Bigfoot. who can weigh up to a thousand pounds for a mature male. Here’s a moose:

And then:

“(we went) to find rabbits beyond Prairie Creek. We followed the stream inland for an hour and smelled the stench of sulphur pools, though we saw none. Moving through a tall forest in dark undergrowth we heard a roar from higher up the valley: perhaps it was a bear or cougar we didn’t know, and, finding no rabbits…”

Bigfoot roars extremely loudly and very often, and he certainly stinks. Usually it is described as the smell of excrement, sewage, dead, rotting flesh, a wet skunk but also as the smell of sulphur.

And then, as they camped overnight….

Some of the animals that moved about around us that night were large enough to shake the ground- perhaps bears but more probably deer since we had seen a great many deer spoor along the narrow “game” runs.”

This is the same argument as I mentioned the first time, when they are moving through very thick cover.  And my point of view is still the same. Deer do not make the ground shake. And then….

“We heard the thud of hooves or paws as heavy creatures moved ahead through the trees.”

A classic mark of Bigfoot. Yes, they could be bears, or moose, or elk, but don’t forget that Bigfoot is always very keen to get away from human observers. Here’s that elk. He isn’t big enough to make the ground shake:

Bigfoot frequently wanders around a campsite at night looking for food, but he is also capable of stealing other things that he likes, such as in this short anecdote….

“An aged prospector, returning from a fruitless three year search in the Yukon found his mug had been stolen and a chunk of rock left in its place. The rock contained gold quartz and the prospector made a fortune.”

And:

Jack told us of a large black bear which he had watched ambling through some bush”.

People who say they have seen a black bigfoot are frequently told that they have seen a black bear, so, presumably, the two must be similar. I have seen neither, unfortunately!

Overall, “The Headless Valley” is a really good read, if you like tales of the wilderness. Ranulph Fiennes captures well the thrills of  shooting the rapids, or, equally, the awful couple of hours when he is a long way from camp and is totally lost. If you like that kind of book, then a second hand copy is very easy to acquire via the usual websites, and well worth taking the trouble.

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Headless Valley (2)

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is a very hostile region accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. It’s very beautiful, though:

For many years there have been large numbers of tales told about fur trappers and gold prospectors going into the area, and then either disappearing without trace or being found dead minus their heads. All these decapitated bodies found within the Nahanni Valley have earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”. You can read what I have already written about this region here.

In 1971, the intrepid explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” took a small expedition of soldiers from the Scots Greys to explore the region. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very perceptive account of the murders that gave it its name. Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that a great many of the victims had quite simply not lost their heads. Here he is:

In 1926, Annie Laferte was lost in the bush. There was a sighting of her some time afterwards, by an Indian named Big Charley. She was climbing a nearby hill, almost naked, but was never seen again. Supposedly, she had lost her mind, rather than her entire head.

In 1927, the bones of “Yukon Fisher,” a man wanted by the RCMP, were found on Bennett Creek. They included the bones of his head. The anticipation of gold had claimed his life. Far too impatient, he had pushed on ahead of the main party and was never seen again.

In 1932, a prospector named Phil Powers was found dead by a Mountie patrol.  Constable Martin found his bones in a burnt down cottage  upstream of the mouth of the Flat River.  Powers lay on the remains of a bunk and had been laid out in the outline of a human being, as though he had been sleeping. The skull was there at the opposite ending to the footbones and a rifle was laid over the knees. So, not a lot of decapitation there, then!

In 1936, William Epier and Joseph Mulholland were trapping and prospecting when they disappeared up the Nahanni. A bush pilot called Dalziel (pronounced “Dee-Ell”) located their cabin on Glacier Lake. It was burnt down to the ground. He reported it to Constable Graham at Fort Liard. Here’s Glacier Lake:

In 1940, a prospector named Holmberg was found dead of no established cause.

In 1945, a miner from Ontario, whose name has not survived for definite, but who may well have been Ernest Savard, was found dead in his sleeping bag. His head had been ripped off and was never found. At last! The hint of a reason for the area to be called “The Valley of the Headless Men”.

Ranulph Fiennes was told by Brian Doke of Nahanni Butte, how…….

“His father-in-law, Mr Turner, had travelled up the Nahanni in 1953, to take some food to a man who lived upstream. He was a prospector or trapper or both and Mr Turner found him dead with his cabin burnt down around him. His head was firmly intact.”

In 1961, Alec Mieskonen, a gold prospector, was blown up by dynamite, despite his well-known fear of explosives. This was thought to be a case of suicide, despite Mieskonen’s deep seated fear that one day he would die through trying to use explosives. What a strange story!!

In the same year, 1961, two partners, Orville Webb and Tom Pappas, set off overland for Nahanni Butte since they were short of food, but they were never seen again.

In the 1961 quarterly magazine of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Constable Shaw said….

Of the deaths….there is one aspect common to all….fire of undetermined origin has often been a factor in each in some way or another.”

No mention there of heads being ripped off, then! And so many of the deaths reported to the RCMP did involve fire, a factor which may well exclude Bigfoot, who has never been known to use fire. And if it isn’t Bigfoot decapitating his victims, I simply don’t know whether there might be another predator which enjoys the challenge of pulling the heads off its victims so that it can eat them. On the other hand, so many TV nature programmes here in England will tell you that apex predators always go first for two extremely nutritious parts of the body.  Indeed, they are quite capable of leaving the rest if they are not particularly hungry. Those two best bits are the brain and the liver.

In 1962 Blake MacKenzie survived an aircraft crash but then disappeared completely.  He was a strong healthy man with an ample supply of food and was seen close to the river. He kept a diary and survived at least 42 days after the crash and was well and healthy. And then suddenly, MacKenzie’s  daily diary entries stopped, abruptly and inexplicably.

A second aircraft crashed in the Nahanni Valley in 1962. A prospector named Hudson was found dead by the plane. The other two occupants and the pilot were never found.

For many of these men, especially those who just disappeared, the best candidate as the killer will be the supposedly much more violent and much larger northern variety of Bigfoot. Hundreds of years ago, the First Nations people regularly fought wars with Bigfoot because of their violence and their cannibalism.

A gentleman called David Paulides (pronounced “Poor–Lid–Uss”, with the emphasis on the first syllable), has written a number of books about the many unexplained disappearances in the National Parks of the USA.  He has written quite a few of these “Missing 411” books and estimates that well over 1,600 people may disappear there every year. Paulides used to be a police officer. This link takes you to his website :

This is one of his many excellent books about disappearances in the North American national parks:

 

 

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Headless Valley 1

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of more or less nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is, however, unbelievably beautiful:

It is a very hostile region, much of it accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. For well over a hundred years, there have been countless tales told about fur trappers and gold prospectors who went into the area, and then either disappeared without trace or were found minus their heads. And obviously dead.

One website, taken more or less at random from the many, states that

“Over the years, many unfortunate travellers and explorers have gone missing, or turned up dead and beheaded. The number of decapitated bodies found within Nahanni Valley have earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”. 

The number of headless bodies found in the Nahanni Valley varies enormously from one website to another or from one book to another. It is usually quoted as between somewhere 30-50 deaths. Explanations vary. The chief suspects include the extremely naughty Naha tribe who are apparently extremely aggressive and extremely elusive and guard their land very jealously. Or perhaps it’s a different group of people, namely a race of hairy, cave-dwelling cannibals who are extremely aggressive and extremely hungry too. And don’t forget that legendary scary hominid who goes by the name of “Nuk-luk”, a Neanderthal-like creature, five feet tall with a long beard. He doesn’t wear any clothes. Here he is, in a very blurred photograph, thank goodness:

In first place in the long list of suspects, though, is the supposedly much more violent northern variety of Bigfoot, examples of which supposedly measuring up to twelve feet tall or even more are regularly claimed in this area. This is a perfect application of Bergmann’s Rule :

“According to Bergmann’s rule, the body size of vertebrates is closely related to the average ambient air temperature in the region in which the vertebrate lives, so organisms in warmer regions are typically smaller than members of the same species in colder regions.”

Given this colourful and perhaps rather horrific, background to the area, in 1971, the intrepid English explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” to give him his full name, took a small expedition of soldiers from the Royal Scots Greys to explore the Nahanni Valley. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very detailed account of the murders that have given the area its name (and his book its title). Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that many of the victims had, quite simply, not lost their heads.

But first, from the internet, the famous tale of the McLeod brothers, who were mixed race, with one First Nation parent and one white:

 

“In 1908, after a lengthy search which had lasted two years, their brother Charley finally found the skeletons of Frank and Willie McLeod. Both men had been shot as they lay warm in their blankets, one either side the fire. They still had their heads. There was no sign of Weir, their partner, he was never seen again.”

I did find, though, in a rather more sensationalist book, an account which recorded the tale of the McLeod brothers as being found “reportedly decapitated”.  To be fair, though, there were some men on the list who did lack their heads:

” In 1916, a mounted policeman called Corporal Churchill found the headless skeleton of a prospector called Jorgensen up the Nahanni.”

Jorgenson evidently died a rather painful death, although one which had been particularly thoroughly carried out:

“a tough experienced woodsman, his remains were found by a log cabin near the Flat River’s confluence with the Nahanni. A loaded rifle close to the body, the cabin had been burnt down…. However heavy a sleeper Jorgensen would surely have woken up if the cabin had been on fire …..if he was still alive.”

And next, one with no head mentioned:

“In 1922, a prospector named John O’ Brien went up the Nahanni and never came back…”

The Nahanni Valley stories are good examples of how a rather shaky, iffy, perhaps somewhat gossipy piece of evidence can take on a life of its own. Granted, there may have been a small number of trappers and prospectors found minus their heads, but such a fate was certainly not what happened to every single person killed or disappeared in the Nahanni Valley, and there were certainly not thirty to fifty of them. More blood-soaked examples next time, when we will further examine that familiar old dilemna:

“Head or no Head?”

 

 

 

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In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Five) Finished at last !!!

Well, it has finally happened. After something like eight years of research and writing up, the fifth and final volume of “In the Footsteps of the Valiant” is complete and published and ready to be purchased…….

I have always said that my main intention was to get away from a list of war casualties which was just a surname and a set of initials displayed on a wall. I wanted to portray the High School’s war dead as young men with, perhaps, wives, families, houses, jobs, and, above all, their own lives to lead. Lives which they were prepared to sacrifice in the cause of freedom, to stop a madman whose crazed ideas would have transformed the entire world into his very own vale of tears.

No less an intention was the idea of trying to establish, once and for all, just how many war casualties the High School had. From around eighty, I have now pushed the number up to around 120.  Volume Five contains the detailed story of 22 High School casualties of World War Two, along with two men who gave their lives for their country during the following decade. And don’t forget, incidentally, that all five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. Furthermore, that material is, overall, of the same quality as all the other volumes. No single book is full of exciting stories of derring-do, at the expense of another volume devoid of all excitement. I took great care to make that the case.

The men concerned in Volume 5 are :

Thomas Arthur Bird, Douglas Arthur Burgass, John Stuart Burnside, George Vernon Carlin, Frank Leonard Corner, George Edward Dance, John Arthur Finking, Bernard William Grocock, George Norman Hancock, Lewis Alan Hofton, John Mayo, Arthur Mellows, Roy Faulkner Newell, Herbert Temple Nidd, John Ebblewhite Paling, William Palmer, Peter Frederick Paulson, Ivan Roy James Perkins, Kenneth Walter Sansom, William Henry Shaw, John Aubrey Starkey, Leslie Hambleton Taylor, Peter Vernon and Ian Leslie Wilkinson.

Here are Messrs Frank Corner, the First XI cricket team scorer, John Mayo, First XV player, Arthur Mellows, First XI cricketer, and Peter Paulson, of 277 Battery (City of Nottingham) 68 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, killed by enemy fire as the Germans captured Tobruk.

Frank Corner:

John Mayo:

Arthur Mellows

And Peter Paulson

And here is Bernard William Grocock, shot down by Oberleutnant Helmut Lent of 6/Nachtgeschwader 1, the second greatest night fighter ace of all time.

John Aubrey Starkey, killed at HMS Bambara in Ceylon, as he flew his Grumman Hellcat fighter :

And Ian Leslie Wilkinson, First XV rugby player and First XI cricketer :

And Herbert Temple Nidd, surely the most colourful Old Nottinghamian of them all, a man who worked on every single one of the great North Atlantic liners of the 1930s, and whose understanding of the rule “Only one wife at a time” seems to have have been woefully deficient. And that may well go for his father, too.

They died in many different places. In the Denmark Strait, facing the Bismarck. In an Italian prison camp. Fighting Rommel in Tunisia. Shot by guerillas in Ethiopia. In the Netherlands, clearing the Scheldt Estuary of Germans. Crossing the Rhine only weeks from the end of the war. And in aircraft. Over Duisburg in a Lancaster. In a Gloster Meteor. In a Whitley over Staffordshire. In a Whitley over Berlin.  In a Liberator over Tripoli in Libya. And most interesting, the POW who died, or was perhaps murdered, on his “Long March”, as, in 1945, the Germans marched their prisoners hundreds of miles westwards in deep snow, away from the Russians. What a tale he had to tell. Other men from his camp had been stationed right next to Auschwitz and had watched carefully what the Germans were doing. Alas, had he survived, he might well have added his testimony to the prosecution’s case.

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I also discovered the only direct remembrance left behind by any of our Old Nottinghamians. Peter Vernon died at the age of 23 from an illness contracted in the North Atlantic on H.M. Motor Minesweeper 260. Battered ceaselessly by extra strong winds and freezing rain, Peter probably died in the Invergordon Royal Navy Auxiliary Hospital in northern Scotland. Before he went off to war, his father had already told him of his plan to rename their butcher’s shop, “A.Vernon & Son High Class Butcher”. A huge new sign was painted on the side of the building. Perhaps it was going to be a surprise when Peter came home on leave, although it certainly didn’t work out like that. Alas, we will never know.

What we can do, though, is to go to Ilkeston Road in Nottingham, and, at its junction with Stansfield Street, see the sign, which is still there. The only part of Peter Vernon’s life still remaining alive in our world……………………..

 

Any royalties generated by these books will be split between “ABF The Soldiers’ Charity” and the Royal Air Forces Association.

Let’s finish with two poems.

One by Keith Doncaster of Maples’ House and the Fifth Form:

“Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.”

And one, almost a thousand years older, from Wace, slightly altered:

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I understand the truth

That all must die, both clerk and lay

And the fame of men now dead

Will quickly be forgotten,

Unless the clerk takes up his pen

And brings their deeds to life again

 

I say and will say that I am

John Knifton from the City of Nottingham”

 

 

 

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What would you do ? (14) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a comic called “Boys’ World”. This publication first appeared on January 26th 1963. and lasted 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy this comic, mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle called “What would you do ?”. The puzzle was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”.

Here’s the situation I showed you a few days ago:

Here’s that yellow box, with the exact circumstances, in case you couldn’t understand the picture:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

Well, there we are…..

“Using his axe as a shovel, the lumberjack quickly scooped a shallow trench in the soft ground. Then lying flat inside it, he pulled his jacket over him and covered it with loose earth. As the blaze passed overhead, he was protected from its direct heat – and was able to breathe the cool air in the ‘pocket’ around him.”

Personally, I’m not so sure that that would work, and I really wouldn’t want to try it, but let’s cheer up and look at page 6 with “The last DINOSAUR on earth”. Here’s the top half of this complete short story by Donne Avenelle.

And here’s the artwork and the story’s rather sad ending:

 

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What would you do ? (14) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This publication first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

The front cover always featured a puzzle, called “What would you do ?”. It was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

 

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

So…..it’s a raging forest fire, with roaring flames, and he’s cut off. There’s no water to save him, and no Superman, no Batman, not even a fireman.

So…..it’s one “Dilly of a pickle”. What can he do? Well, any bright ideas, write them in the “Comments” section.

First prize is a look at page 6, to see the last DINOSAUR on Earth.

 

 

 

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Classics Illustrated

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there was always a desire among middle class parents not just to encourage their children to read, but to read what people called at the time “classic books”, books which might improve you. One way of luring children to, mainly, 19th century masterpieces, was to introduce them to a very large collection of such books for sale, an act which would encourage children, hopefully, to buy more and more from the “approved” library.

When I was a child, I had a very small collection of “Olive Classics”, dark green books with a kind of faux-leather cover, and a cardboard mini-box to hold them in. I still have them all, and I was looking at them the other day. I think I read the lot, although this may be more a reflection of the small number of books I possessed than the quality of the works in question:

I bought them based on whether or not I had seen the film (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), whether I had heard of the book and thought it was a good one (Ivanhoe) and if my parents just bought it for me as a stocking filler at Christmas (South with Scott). I also had Ben-Hur (tedious and over long), Allan Quartermain (a fabulous book):

Another way to read books which would be good for you were the magazines entitled “Classics Illustrated”. These were a series of American comic books which told the stories in pictures with very few printed words, usually just a caption. I had one or two of these as well, and certainly read them all avidly. It was marvellous to see pictures bringing books to life, although, if truth be told, the standard of the artworks was very, very low. Let’s compare them with “Eagle” comic. “War of the Worlds is really quite crude, whether it is the cover:

or the inside, where there seems to have been a problem with the printing;

Here’s “Eagle”, a weekly comic:

I can remember owning relatively few Classics Illustrated. There was “White Fang” which I really enjoyed. It was a “Ripping Yarn”, well told:

And then there was “Black Arrow” which I had never heard of, found really unexciting and I couldn’t understand the plot, anyway. The two I liked best were technically not Classics Illustrated, but, in one case, a “Special Issue”. This was a one-off publication about “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, which I loved. I particularly liked the fact that they were originally the “North West Mounted Police”:

What a wonderful cover!  One thing I did like especially was the dog on page 54 which looks as daft as a brush:

And I also fully endorsed, at the tender age of 11, the largely wise approach of the Canadians to their own First Nation communities.

The magazine which I liked even more was one of the “Classics Illustrated World Around Us” special series which was called “The Crusades”. I was intrigued by one particular sentence which said, roughly:

“Things took a turn for the worse when, in IIII, the king decided to…..”

At the age of eight or nine, I just could not work out what “IIII” meant. It  never occurred to me that it was a date.

Overall, I wish I had had quite a few more Classics Illustrated than I did.  I would have liked to have had a chance to read “Alice in Wonderland” or “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, or perhaps even “Gulliver’s Travels”:

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And don’t forget………….

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (4)

In my very first blog post in this book review, I mentioned how German academic, Sönke Neitzel, had discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of foolscap transcripts. These transcripts have in their turn inspired a four hundred page book called “Soldaten” in which Neitzel and his co-author, Harald Welzer, examine the reasons for the war crimes committed by the Germans, and indeed, by the personnel of a number of other nationalities. Here are our authors and their book:

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The bugged prisoners were kept in three locations – Latimer House near Amersham, Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, both in Buckinghamshire, and Trent Park near Cockfosters in north London. The first two held captured U-Boat submarine crews and Luftwaffe pilots, who were bugged for a week or two before being moved on to conventional captivity. Trent Park was often used for high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht, whose own personal vanity led them to betray many secrets:

There were large numbers of pro-British German speakers, usually Jews, listening to prisoners’ conversations in a place known as the “M room”. The “M” stood for “Microphoned”. According to Helen Fry, the author of a book about this particular episode, the information pouring out of these pampered Prussians was so top secret that Churchill gave the whole operation an unlimited budget.

Last time we were looking at the reasons that men in war are capable of the most vile violence. Here are the ideas put forward by Neitzel  and Welzer so far . I have tried to include a few short clues of the examples they used:

“There is a  vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.  (The Good Samaritan episode at Princeton University)

“When you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules.” (German soldiers killling Jews on a large scale)

“The unit was the entire world….what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.” (Only one man refused to take part in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam)

“inhumanity with impunity…..if soldiers commit crimes, and are never punished, they will repeat their behaviour.” (German soldiers raping passing women in Kiev)

“a dynamic of violence” ……… anybody who tries to flee is automatically an enemy who should be shot.” ( A frequent attitude in Vietnam, probably because the Vietcong guerillas were difficult to identify)

One final extremely large motivation towards violence is revenge. In a film, revenge will be the simple, basic story of how a soldier is killed by the enemy, usually in particularly appalling circumstances, and, as he dies, his friend swears to avenge him. For every military revenge film, though, there are many more set in a civilian context.  This may not be the best example, but it’s certainly the most obscure:

In real life,  there were GIs in Vietnam who had re-enlisted to avenge their best buddy who had been killed in the fighting, or tortured to death, and so on. The authors have found a quote:

“I did not hate the enemy for their politics but for murdering Simpson, for executing that boy whose body had been found in the river…Revenge was one of the reasons I volunteered for a line company. I wanted a chance to kill somebody.”

In the Second World War, the situation could be slightly different. American GI, Joseph Shomon said:

“Even in hopeless situations, the Germans would fight to the last, refusing to surrender. Then, when their ammunition was gone, they were ready to give up and ask for mercy but because many Americans had been lost in this delay, our troop often killed the Germans.”

As well as revenge, of course, this shooting of surrendering Germans is a good example of a couple of other reasons for the occurrence of war crimes previously mentioned by Neitzel & Welzer. Firstly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then clearly, they can:

“follow what they had already done”.

And secondly:

“what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Sometimes soldiers in the two World Wars were actually ordered not to take any prisoners. The latter were then very much more likely to be executed than to be taken back to base. In the Second World War, the German military were ordered by the Führer to hand over immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, or Security Service) all British Commandos, SAS, SOE and any other type of “irregular” soldier. This was the famous “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here.

In actual fact, my own Grandad was placed in a similar position on at least one occasion during the First World War. It must have been on the anniversary of the execution of Edith Cavell on ‎October 12th 1915 that he and his colleagues in the Canadian army were told to take no prisoners during that day’s attack. Whether my Grandad carried out the order, I have no idea.

My own perception, though, is that rather than refuse to take prisoners in the usual way, and instead to kill them, it was far more frequent in World War One, to try and spare the lives of the men who had been ordered to attack but who were now in a situation which could only have one outcome. Harry Patch, for example,who at 111 years of age was “the Last Fighting Tommy”, has spoken of how he refused to kill a German soldier:

“Patch came face to face with a German soldier. He recalled the story of Moses descending from Mount Sinai with God’s Ten Commandments, including “Thou shalt not kill” and he could not bring himself to kill the German. Instead, he shot him in the shoulder, which made the soldier drop his rifle. However, he had to carry on running towards his Lewis Gun, so to proceed, he shot him above the knee and in the ankle.”

My Grandad was wounded in the legs on two occasions, so perhaps the Germans did the same kind of thing.

We have a long, bloody way to go with “Soldaten” yet, so let’s finish with some wise words from Harry Patch, the last British soldier of World War One, who lived to become a pacifist:

When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle—thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that ? “

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The finest fighter of World War II

The P-51 Mustang was the most successful and most significant single-seat fighter of World War Two. It was initially designed for the British RAF and the most amazing fact is that from the moment the chief designer, James Kindelberger, sharpened his pencil to start work, to the moment the prototype roared off down the runway, was only 119 days.

That early prototype certainly showed promise, and so did all the subsequent A-36 Apaches, although they clearly had serious limitations at altitude.

And then, at Hucknall Aerodrome, just five miles from where my trusty computer now sits, with yours truly at the controls, the senior liaison test pilot with Rolls-Royce. a New Zealander named Ronnie Harker, earned his best ever pay rise of one pound a week (just over one and a half dollars). Ronnie thought up the scheme to put a British Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine into the underpowered North American Mustang. This was the same engine as the Spitfire IX, and it cured all the problems the aircraft was having over 15,000 feet and gave its newly invented Laminar Flow Wing the chance to shine. Here is that huge Merlin:

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And poor Ronnie Harker. I suppose that for the rest of his life people must have introduced him at parties by saying, “Have you met Ronnie, the man who put the Merlin in the Mustang?”  You can read a much more detailed story via this link.  The article is called “The Cadillac of the Skies” Here’s the Hendon Mustang from a slightly unusual angle:

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A second great leap forward for the aircraft was the fitting of the drop tanks which permitted Mustangs to fly and fight all the way to Berlin and back. The appearance of this superb fighter over the Brandenburg Gate sounded the death knell of the Third Reich, because in trying to fight off the B-17s and the B-24s, the Luftwaffe would slowly but surely be destroyed by the P-51 escort fighters. In 1944, for example, P-51 Mustangs would shoot down 6,039 German dayfighters.  That left the Germans with hardly any experienced pilots, considerably fewer defensive aircraft and a big, big problem.

Here’s the view after descending the stairs:

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This particular example of a P-51 was constructed at Inglewood in California in 1945. It began in USAAF Air Training Command before, in 1950, being transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It then had an enormously long history of toing and froing until it reached Hendon in 2003, where it was finally painted as the Mustang belonging to Captain Donald R Emerson of the 336th Fighter Squadron  based at Debden, in Essex. Here is Donald’s nose art:

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Captain Emerson was killed by ground fire on Christmas Day 1944, as he flew over Belgium on the very last of his 89 missions. He had scored 4½ victories in the air, plus 3½ on the ground. He is buried at Margrattan in Holland.

It says everything about the Mustang that over fifteen or so minutes, I was unable to take a photograph without somebody in shot. There was a constant, steady stream of admirers, with a good few photographers:

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And married couples:

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And my wife and daughter:

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It is impossible to waste your time if you are looking at a Mustang:

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As John Keats so rightly put it in a poem he wrote on his visit to the RAF Hendon Museum in 1818 :

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Canada, History

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Two)

We have just finished publishing my new book “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”. This is the second book of five, and tells about some more of the High School’s long forgotten casualties in World War II. Here is the front cover, with the shorter title and nine new pictures to look at:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

“This is the second of five books commemorating the ultimate sacrifice made by the brightest young men of Nottingham in the Second World War. After six years of ground-breaking research, John Knifton has uncovered over 100 forgotten war heroes, men who served their country in countless ways. All of them had one thing in common: they spent their boyhood years at Nottingham High School.

This book does not glorify the deaths of these men; but instead builds a monument to the unfinished lives they sacrificed for our freedom today. John Knifton conjures up the ghost of these men’s forgotten lives: their childhoods, families, homes, neighbourhoods, and the loved ones they left behind. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the previously unknown details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their untimely ends.

John Knifton’s project puts the humanity back into history, set against the backdrop of the Nottingham of yesteryear. No tale untold. No anecdote ignored.”

This book is now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-two/paperback/product-176j6pwm.html

The book has 332 pages and is “Crown Quarto”, that is to say, 189 mms x 246 mm (7.44 inches x 9.68 inches). The book contains just under 150,000 words and can therefore be compared with books such as “Sense and Sensibility”(119K), “A Tale of Two Cities”(135K) “The Return of the King”(137K), 20,000 Leagues under the Sea” (138K), “Oliver Twist” (156K) and “The Two Towers” (156K).

It tells the tale of 26 Old Nottinghamians, including, as in Volume 1, a young man who died shortly after the end of the war. In this case, he was called Patrick Russell Ward. He was killed during RAF service in the 1950s and deserves to be remembered.

Here are the names of the young men who perished in World War II:

William Donald Birkett, George Renwick Hartwell Black, Henry Brener, Henry Abington Disbrowe, Dennis Peter Fellows, Frank Freeman, Albert Hayes, John Neville Hickman, Gordon Frederick Hopewell, Eric John Hughes, Arthur Reeson Johnson, Richard Henry Julian, John Michael Preskey Ley, John Ambrose Lloyd, Edwin William Lovegrove, John Richard Mason, Geoffrey Leonard Mee, Ernest Millington, Robert Percy Paulson, George Green Read, Alan Robert Rose, Gordon Percy Carver Smith, Ernest Adam Wagstaff, Patrick Russell Ward, John Roger West, Carl Robert Woolley.

One of the High School’s ex-masters died trying to delay the German advance at Dunkirk:

A young cricketer’s ship hit a mine off Malta:

One  Old Nottinghamian rower was claimed by paratyphoid on the banks of the River Brahmaputra. Another was killed by nightfighters in his Stirling bomber over Berlin. A third died in a Lancaster bomber over the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  Another, a good rugby player, was killed in a Halifax over the Waddensee.

Accidents took others, at Coniston Water, and at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire. One Stirling took off and flew away into history. It was never heard of again. One man was killed at El Alamein. Another died as the Rhine was crossed in 1945, one of 1,354,712 men involved in the battle. Another young man, a cricketer and a pilot instructor, was killed at Assinboia in Saskatchewan:

Alas, one poor individual was killed after the end of the war, out on army manoeuvres on Lüneburg Heath on May 26th 1945.

Another had been Marconi’s greatest helper. One young man was killed in the savage fighting around  Villers-Bocage and Lisieux, as the Allies left the beaches and moved to the north east and Nazi Germany:

One young man from Woodthorpe died of peritonitis when the regimental doctor applied the rule he had been given: “All enlisted men are lead swinging liars. They have never got any of the diseases that they say they have”:

And last, but certainly not least, one poor man was the victim of one of the most disgusting cover-ups in British military history, as his parents both went to their graves thinking he had been killed fighting on the beaches of Normandy, when in actual fact, he and all his colleagues had all been accidentally killed by the Royal Navy just outside Portsmouth:

And they all had their personalities, their hobbies and their lives. Playing cricket on the beautiful walled ground at Grantham where a huge supermarket now stands. Taking part in barrel jumping competitions at Nottingham’s brand new ice rink. Playing the bugle in the OTC band:

Rowing for the school in the race when they went through the wrong arch of Trent Bridge and finished second instead of first:

He might operate as a powerful and dangerous forward at rugby, but he will be remembered for playing a “prominent part” in the team’s festive occasions, reciting the monologues of Stanley Holloway, the famous northern comedian. Another First XV player was damned by Mr Kennard’s faint praise in the School Magazine:

“Has hardy fulfilled his promise. A steady player, however.”

And then to every one of the 26 comes sudden death, always unexpected at any given moment, but no real surprise when it came. And every one of those young heroes, to be honest, could have had the same obituary as that of the gentle giant, Ernest Adam Wagstaff:

“He died, as he had lived, for an ideal; in the lives of the few who knew him well his passing leaves a void which can never be filled.”

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, France, History, Nottingham, The High School