Category Archives: Cornwall

Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (5)

Last time we were looking at how the English film star, Leslie Howard, was killed when the aircraft he was in, a DC-3 Dakota, was shot down over the Bay of Biscay, by the Luftwaffe.

That Dakota, though, was actually completely unarmed and it was no match whatsoever for a single Junkers Ju88, let alone a group of eight of them. As well as being unarmed, it was also registered in a neutral country (the Netherlands) and flying from a neutral country (Portugal) to England.

Nobody took very much notice of this at the time, but, because of these seemingly innocuous details, the entire episode therefore crossed the line of human decency and became a war crime. Here’s the DC-3 in question. Note the Dutch flag, with the prominent orange:

In the immediate aftermath of the DC-3’s failure to arrive in Bristol, the British sent out a Short Sunderland GR3 flying boat to look for it on the following day (June 2nd 1943):

The aircraft carried the serial number EJ134 and it was piloted by the brave Australians of 461 Squadron. The crew was James (Jim) Collier Amiss (Second Pilot), Wilbur James Dowling (First Pilot), Alfred Eric Fuller (First Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Ray Marston Goode (Tail Gunner), Albert Lane (Third Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Edward Charles Ernest Miles (First Flight Engineer), Harold Arthur Miller (Second Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Kenneth McDonald Simpson(Navigator), Philip Kelvin Turner (Second Flight Engineer), Colin Braidwood Walker (Captain) and Louis Stanley Watson (Rigger).

The flying boat found nothing whatsoever on the surface of the sea, no wreckage at all. What they did find though, were surely the very same eight Ju88C-6s that Leslie Howard had already met, at more or less the very same place where they had met them. Sunderland EJ134 and its crew then won their place in aviation legend. In a prolonged battle, the flying boat lost one engine and its tail turret. Messrs Dowling, Goode, Miller, Simpson and Walker were all injured and poor Ted Miles, one of the two side gunners and just 27 years old, was killed. The battling Aussies did manage, though, to shoot down three of the eight German fighters:

Of the other five, only two made it all the way back to Bordeaux. The other three were presumed to have crashed into the waves as they were never heard of again. Six out of eight shot down. That should teach them not to attack unarmed airliners flying from neutral countries. The now shot to pieces and extremely battered Sunderland EJ134 made it the 350 miles back to western Cornwall, not to Penzance, but only as far as a beach on the south Cornish coast, at Praa Sands:

The fierce Atlantic waves, however, ultimately smashed it to smithereens:

Young Ted Miles, just 27 years old, was buried at Pembroke Dock Military Cemetery joining 72 more casualties, 40 from World War I and 32 from World War II, including five Australians. On his grave his parents had written:

“There is no death: our stars go down to rise upon some fairer shore”.

The family came from Brixton in London. Ted’s parents were Edward Charles Miles and Florence Mabel Miles. His young wife was Frances Margaret Miles.

Around eight weeks later, virtually the same 461 Squadron crew was lost without trace out on patrol over the Bay of Biscay on Friday, August 13th 1943 in a Short Sunderland Mk III, serial number DV968. The last message that they transmitted was that they were being attacked by six Ju88s. The victory was claimed by Leutnant Artur Schröder so this particular incident may not have been exclusively carried out by members of the original eight, especially as Schröder was in 13 / KG40, not V/KG 40:

The men from EJ134 who were killed in DV968 were Wilbur James Dowling (34), Alfred Eric Fuller (20), Ray Marston Goode (34), Albert Lane (27), Harold Arthur Miller (23), Kenneth McDonald Simpson (28), Philip Kelvin Turner (26) and Louis Stanley Watson (25). The new members of the crew who died were David Taylor Galt (28), James Charles Grainger (24) and Charles Douglas Leslie (Les) Longson (20). Not flying that day were James (Jim) Collier Amiss and Colin Braidwood Walker from the original “Flying Porcupine”, Sunderland EJ134. Both men would survive the war and go home to Australia. Hopefully, they lived out very long and happy lives. Perhaps they followed a sports team:

Or perhaps they preferred the beach:

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (4)

Last time I was explaining the connection between the Short Sunderland flying boat and “Das Fliegende Schtachelschwein”, “The Flying Porcupine”:

I promised that I would show you the connection between this spiny porcine killer and Leslie Howard, a suave, sophisticated English actor, who used to boast that he “didn’t ever chase women but couldn’t always be bothered to run away from them”. Here he is in “Journey’s End”:

I recently watched an excellent documentary film about Howard. It was called “The Man who gave a Damn”:

The film was about the life, and particularly the death, of the famous film star, the actor who had played Ashley Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind” only two years before his death. Cue film extract:

Leslie Howard was English and he did not hesitate to stand up for the values of our country and those of our friends and allies. He did not hesitate to name and shame.

In one of his films made after “Gone with the Wind”, he speaks of the Germans’ aims:

“Every day reveals the utter and desperate determination to smash us to bits, root and branch, to wipe out every trace of democracy.”

But we English and Americans are better than the Germans, as he says in “From the Four Corners” (1941) as he addresses troops from the USA who have just arrived in England:

“And so our fathers’ minds crept along and their ideas of justice and tolerance and the rights of man took shape in the sunlight and the smoke, sometimes standing still, sometimes even slipping back, but slowly broadening with the centuries. Some of those ideas are written down in the constitutions of our commonwealth and some are unwritten. We just try and carry them in our hearts and in our minds. Perhaps the men who came nearest to putting them into words were those Americans, many of them the sons of British pioneers, who, founding an independent nation, proclaimed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Those words and that spirit were born and nourished here, and your fathers carried them to the ends of the earth. They are our inheritance from the past, our legacy to the future. That’s why you came here – to defend them.”

The documentary film was made by Derek Partridge, now an old man, whose young life was inadvertently saved by Leslie Howard. Here’s Derek:

On June 1st 1943 Derek and his brother were asked to give up their seats on an airliner travelling on the Lisbon-Bristol route, to allow Leslie Howard to get to a London film premiere on time. The two boys survived because they were not on the aircraft, a Dutch owned BOAC Douglas DC-3 Dakota, when it was shot down into the Atlantic Ocean. This war crime was carried out by eight Junkers Ju88C-6 fighters of Gruppe V / Kampfgeschwader 40. V/KG 40 was a heavy fighter unit which dated from 1942, when it was set up to intercept the bombers of RAF Coastal Command. It was the only long range maritime fighter unit the Luftwaffe ever had. The RAF answered them with firstly the Bristol Beaufighter and then the Mosquito. Here is a lovely shot of the aircraft of V/KG 40 in flight:

And here is a Bristol Beaufighter, a very powerful and well armed fighter:

In the immediate aftermath of these events, the British responded to the DC-3’s failure to arrive in Bristol by sending out a Short Sunderland GR3 flying boat to look for it on the following day. Here we go. Ein fliegende Schtachelschwein:

Don’t worry. He’ll sort ’em out.

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (3)

Last time I was explaining the connection between the Short Sunderland flying boat and “Das Fliegende Schtachelschwein” aka “The Flying Porcupine”.

This thorny porcine epithet comes from an aircraft which was based at Invergordon in north east Scotland in 1940. My story will be based primarily on the work of John Robertson in 2010. I had never heard any explanation of the nickname and it is a tale of heroism well worth telling and re-telling, believe me.

The particular Sunderland was N9046. It belonged to 204 Squadron and its squadron letters were KG-F. Here it is, although it seems to lack the KG-F:

The crew left their northern Scottish base on April 3rd 1940, tasked with carrying out a ten hours protection patrol, looking after a convoy bound for Norway. There was absolutely no sign of the enemy, until two Junkers Ju88s, probably from II./Kampfgeschwader 30, appeared at low altitude over the water, seemingly having arrived from a base in southern Norway, or perhaps in Denmark. Here is a nice Junkers Ju88 in full-ish colour:

And here’s the Airfix kit box:

Seeing the Sunderland, one of the two Ju 88s made a head on attack but the Sunderland’s front turret opened up and the two Junkers aircraft seemed to take flight into the leaden clouds. Here’s that front turret again, with its rather light .303 guns.:

Four more Junkers then attempted to attack the ships but they were driven off by the convoy’s various defences. Less than a quarter of an hour later, six Junker Ju88s came in, four of them almost certainly Ju88A-4s. Two of them came for the Sunderland which went right down to the water to make itself a more difficult target. That didn’t stop the Germans who both attacked fiercely, but the flying boat’s gunners drove them off and they eventually fled.

The situation had now become dramatic enough for it to form the basis of a modern computer game:

The other four Ju88s, having already released their bombs, then made a line astern attack on the Sunderland but the rear gunner, Corporal William Gray Lillie, with his slightly heavier 0.5 machine guns sent the first one spiralling in flames into the cold, cold waters of the North Sea. Ignore the trees. It’s actually seaweed:

Corporal Lillie blasted the second German in his port engine which was soon pothering black oily smoke and flames. The German pilot left for his land base in Norway, uncertain if he would reach it with only one engine performing properly. In actual fact, he was forced to crash land in the as yet unoccupied northern section of Norway where the crew were forced to set their aircraft on fire before being arrested and interned.

Rather imaginatively, the final two Ju88s then attempted to drop their bombs onto the Sunderland. They missed and finally cleared off home.

N9046 reached Scotland safely and had no problems until Wednesday,  December 11th 1940 when, riding at anchor in Sullom Voe in the Shetlands, it suddenly caught fire and was completely destroyed.

Here is brave Corporal Lillie:

Did he survive the war? Well, sadly, no. He was killed in combat on July 21st 1940, shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf109 of 8./JG77:

Corporal Lillie was the rear gunner in Sunderland N9028. They had been sent to Trondheim in Norway on a clandestine reconnaissance mission to check the submarine base and to see if the Gneisenau had left the port. Here it is:

Next time, I will show you how a suave English actor is connected to the Short Sunderland and, indeed, the Junkers Ju88.

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (2)

Last time, I was showing you round what is probably the same aircraft in two different locations, that is, the Short Sunderland flying boat at Hendon and then at Duxford.  Just to remind ourselves, the Sunderland was a mighty war machine:

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The Sunderland had a panoply of weapons. Something for every occasion:

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There was also an astrodome for taking bearings from the stars, and ASV radar, visible above the cockpit area:

I saw just part of my first ever Sunderland on ‎February 14‎th 2008, ‏‎ at 11:24:44. And, as you might expect for that date, it was love at first sight. The aircraft was behind a Handley Page Hastings and below a Hawker Harrier, and it was terribly squashed in:

I had to wait until 2010 when I went to Hendon to see a Sunderland displayed a little more favourably, and in a much bigger and more open area:

This particular Sunderland you could go inside. Just look at the room. You could fly a model plane around inside it:

The walls have lots of useful instructions:

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Overall, the Germans were very wary, if not simply afraid, of the Sunderland flying boat. It was an extremely heavily armed aircraft and a formidable opponent. No wonder they called it the “Flying Porcupine”. Porcupines look old, they look rather fat and are rightly known as being grumpy, solitary and always just wanting to be left alone. OMG. How many of those boxes can I tick? And don’t say “All of them”. Here’s a real porcupine at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall. They eventually sold him to Bristol Zoo for “excessive grumpiness”  :

And here’s a wild one in the Golan Heights of Israel. A really rare sight:

Final thought. What is the German for “Flying Porcupine” ?

Why it’s “Das Fliegende Schtachelschwein”, a phrase which has proved particularly useful in my trips to the Fatherland, especially to Berlin Zoo which is conveniently close to the airport.

 

 

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (3)

Last time I was showing you more of the attractions at Botallack, in West Penwith, in western Cornwall:

I introduced the Crowns Mines which I called:

“the most photogenic industrial location in Cornwall.”

From the base of the stone chimney, a long sweeping path descends the cliff face. It goes down towards the Crowns Mines:

Their position is so dramatic that it attracts film crews like bees to honey. Here is a slightly different shot which includes what looks to me like the silhouette of Pan and below that, to the right, a number of faces in the rock. At least two gannets are visible flying past as just two white dots. Notice too, the croquet lawn right in the middle of the photograph:

There must be quite a few people who are frightened by the path, which is wide and flat with a substantial fence made largely of rust. To your left, there is a very, very long way to fall on to the sharp rocks below . If you do fall, though, make sure that you look to the right as views are tremendous.

These mines had tunnels which stretched under the ocean for several miles, allegedly. Equally allegedly, the miners could always hear the noise of the waves above their heads.

As you walk down, the two mines gradually grow closer. If I remember correctly, you can go safely into the right hand structure:

But the left hand tower is a very definite “No-No”. Or at least, you’ve got a very large queue of kamikaze pilots to contend with.
Still, it’s a wonderful location. The ocean is so blue and it is transparent enough for the rock platform underneath the waves to show up. Gannets are still passing by . There is one to the right of the right hand tower, just where the wall meets the ground. Again, if I remember correctly, it is impossible to climb to the top of this tower, although a door lets you in to see a very limited part of the ground floor.

This is the best shot I could get of the left hand tower.

The National Trust says that the tunnels went out under the sea just 450 yards (very roughly 450 metres), and reached 1600 feet under the seabed, an amazing depth if you think about it (very roughly 487.68 metres).

Here is a comparison of the two mines then and now. If you look very carefully, you can see a lot of similarities but many differences, some of them the effects of a hundred years’ plus of Atlantic storms:

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The path leading back up to the main group of ruins is quite steep but you’re not going to get lost with such a landmark to guide you:

How long it must have taken to quarry the stones to build this impressive edifice! It’s certainly lasted a lot longer than the men whose toil and sweat erected it:

Back at the top, among the ruins, I found some intriguing graffiti. This first one could fire at least a couple of romcoms:

And this is a full length effort, vandalised by some moron, unfortunately:

My last memory of the place will be watching a couple of retired BBC planners (click on the picture to enlarge it, and they are on the cliff edge). They are working out the cost of a modern Poldark sequel starring Jeremy Corbin as Poldark’s charismatic youngest son and Vladimir Putin as George Warleggan:

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (2)

Last time I talked in very general terms about the main, and most obvious, sights at Botallack, a disused tin mine in Cornwall:

First, there is the enormous stone chimney, to power the pumps that maintain low water levels in the mine:

And then there is something which I have never managed to fathom out. It looks rather like Cornwall’s attempt at Peru’s Nazca lines, but constructed with stone and concrete:

In among them were two Georgian missile silos, their “Hanover” ICBMs targeted on Napoléon’s distant boudoir. Spot the photographer, by the way:

Walk a little further on to the south and there is a view of  the winding gear, the top bits of a more modern chimney, and a ruined wall. And what a sky! :

Keep walking and there is a view back towards the car park. The metal winding gear has not been used for a long time, perhaps as far back as 1900.

Again, everywhere there are ruined buildings, all of them in local stone:

At least one of the forgotten buildings was an arsenic-refining works. In areas of volcanic rock where tin and copper are mined, some nasty substances may always  be encountered such as arsenic, cadmium, lithium and even uranium.
I suspect that perhaps, over the years, the local builders and farmers have been helping themselves to many of the pre-cut stone blocks for their own walls and/or barn building or perhaps even as the hard core for country roads.

If you turn round and walk past the big stone chimney:

You can then continue for fifty or a hundred yards, until you get to the “abandoned mine engine of Wheal Owles”:

That particular disused mine is frequently used in Poldark episodes when the work force is filmed  actually working the mine. I have walked over to the Wheal Owles on just one occasion but I didn’t take any photographs. To be honest there are so many of this type of ruined pump house in this part of West Cornwall that the old adage “Seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” comes into play.

This is the view straight ahead of the bench towards the north. There is another large ruined building and then what looks like the stump of a demolished chimney nearer to the tip of the headland.

Here’s that same view looking slightly more northwards;

You can just see the reason why the BBC people chose this site. It’s at the bottom left of the photograph above, and it’s one of the Crowns mines, the most photogenic industrial location in Cornwall and its second most photographed tourist site after the Men-an-Tol:

We’ll walk down to see  the Crowns mines next time.

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (1)

We visited Cornwall on family holidays in every year between 1987-2012. Sometimes, the largest town, Penzance, can be really wet, wet, wet:

Overall, though, Cornwall can be a magical place:

The west of Cornwall, of course, is where the TV series “Poldark” is set.   Here is the cast without their TV make-up:

It was only in our last year in Cornwall that I realised that, on several occasions, we had visited one of the main filming locations for this popular TV series without even knowing it.
The site which we knew is near a ex-tin mining village called Botallack. First of all, this map shows where Cornwall is situated in England (although the native Cornish, it must be said, do not consider themselves to be English). The orange arrow points to the car-park for the National Trust site at Botallack:

The orange arrow, on all three maps, remember, is pointing to the car-park for the National Trust property where filming takes place. Here it is on a slightly more detailed level:

And here is the largest scale of all, where you can see just how convenient it is for filming, as both of the roads going north are dead ends, and the entrance road in the south can easily be blocked off from the public.

You’d never think that every household in the country is forced to pay the BBC an annual sum of £154.50 if they want to watch TV in this country. And that’s not watching BBC television. It’s to watch any channel at all. Hopefully,  my foreign friends will now realise that we English don’t get our TV for free.

And if the BBC programmes are good, then so should they be with an annual income in 2019 of £4,889,000,000. Incidentally, none of the roads that have to be blocked are a public right of way, so there are no legal problems:


This is the view looking away from the car park. There are lots and lots of shattered buildings, as if the demolition company one day got a better offer and just cleared off in the middle of the job:

Up near the car park is the most modern structure, a set of nineteenth century metal winding gear:

Outside the museum type building which acts as a tourist centre, there were two scarecrows, or at least, we took them to be scarecrows, rather than peasants starved by Sir George Warleggan:

As you walk down towards the mine, the first thing you see is one of the area’s two or three large stone chimneys and a ruined building. Beyond that is the mighty Atlantic Ocean and ultimately, America. Almost invisible, gannets pass by ceaselessly:

And then there is a welcoming bench, from which you can see most of the best attractions. It’s good for mother and daughter:

And for two dear friends:

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at the attractions that have made Botallack one of the hidden treasures of West Penrith, as this area is more properly called.

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