Category Archives: Cornwall

The Peregrine : the Fastest Creature in Victorian Nottinghamshire (2)

Last time I was talking about Joseph Whitaker and the many times he saw Peregrines in Nottinghamshire. Here is the great man:

He isn’t the only overweight old bloke with excess facial hair to have seen Peregrines in action, though.

Very early one morning in Cornwall, I once watched a Peregrine chasing a Herring Gull. The latter was so scared that it landed and walked across to stand right next to me, like somebody queuing for the bus at a bus stop.  When the falcon flew away, the gull departed a few seconds later, in the opposite direction.

Shortly after May 1, 1920, Mr Frank Hind,  one of the leading members of the Nottingham Natural Science Field Club wrote:

“A very large bird was circling high up in the sky over Gedling. From its manner of circling, and flight and the great height, I can think of no bird but the Peregrine Falcon as likely to be the one seen.”

peregrineflying

The following account was published in the Nottingham Evening Post of April 14th, 1976:

“The pigeons in the Old Market Square in Nottingham had better watch out. For a bird of prey has been spotted on top of the nearby Council House. And it’s thought his taste for city life might be due to the prospect of a convenient meal of pigeon.
A spokesman for the Trent Valley Birdwatchers said the bird had not been positively identified but it could be a Peregrine Falcon. It was disturbed by one of the club members who was carrying out repairs to the Council House.”

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Nowadays,  of course, this scenario is an everyday one. I wrote about the peregrines on the Newton Building of Trent University in an article entitled:

Jer Falcon. one shot at Park Hall by Mr Shelton. Now in my collection

There are live webcams of city dwelling peregrines across most of the developed world including Derby.

And Norwich

And Mississauga

And Etobicoke

The camera at Phoenix in Arizona is of very good quality:

If you get bored, go to Bowling Green in Ohio.

or Kitchener in southern Ontario in Canada.

Peregrines are pretty much the same the whole world over. They breed in every continent except one.

If you get tired of travelling the world, you could always use the webcam on the Newton Building here in Nottingham.

One of my favourite webcams though, is one that shows lots of brightly coloured American birds, and another where you can try to see the Loch Ness Monster.

Good luck  with that one.

 

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Filed under Cornwall, History, Nottingham, Personal, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

A Twitch in 1817

A twitch doesn’t have to involve a bird. It is becoming increasingly fashionable to twitch animals. I have twitched a Steller’s Sea Lion on the Brisons, a pair of sea stacks just off Cape Cornwall, which is in Cornwall, funnily enough. And I succeeded in my quest. I saw this amazingly lost creature, who, by rights, should have been sunning herself in Vladivostock Harbour. I saw her, on and off, for several years, in actual fact:

Steller Sea Lion
I have twitched a Bottle-nose Dolphin in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. It frequented the River Trent at the back of of a supermarket car park in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Netto, if I remember correctly. It was there from January 25th-30th 1999, although I turned up on January 31st. And guess what? Well, this is all that I saw:

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The following account is of a twitch for a sea-creature. It took place in the summer of 1817 in Massachusetts, and this is just one of a huge number of accounts. It came from Colonel TH Perkins on August 15th 1817. I have made one or two changes to make it easier for a modern reader to understand but other than that, there are no differences:

“The first appearance was in the summer of 1817, in the harbour of Cape Ann:

a Cape-Ann

And here is the more modern, less charming version:

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And conceivably, this map is the best one for all the English people who think Boston is a market town in Lincolnshire:

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Back to the story:

“I visited Gloucester with Mr Lee. On our way down we met several persons returning, who had already visited the place, and they reported to us that he had not been seen for two or three days past. We, however, continued our route to Gloucester, though with fears that we should not be rewarded with a sight of the monster which we sought.

I had already satisfied myself, from conversation with several persons who had already seen him, that the reports in circulation were not mere fables. All the townspeople were, as you may suppose, on the alert, and almost every individual, both great and small, had had sight of him, at a greater or less distance:

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“The weather was fine, the sea perfectly smooth, and Mr Lee and myself were seated on a point of land which projects into the harbour, about twenty feet above the level of the water, from which we were distant by about fifty or sixty feet. Seated in this way, I observed an agitation in the water at the entrance of the harbour, like that which follows a small vessel going five or six miles an hour through the water. As we knew there were no rocks where the water was this broken. I immediately said to Mr Lee that I had no doubt that what I had seen was the sea serpent in pursuit of fish. Mr Lee was not looking at the spot which I was talking about, and had not seen the foam of the water, the animal having immediately disappeared.
In a few moments after my exclamation, I saw on the opposite side of the harbour, at about two miles distance from where I had first seen, or thought I saw, the snake, the same object, moving with the rapid motion up the harbour, on the western shore”:

drawing (2)

“As he approached us, it was easy to see that his motion was not that of the common snake, either on the land or in the water, but evidently the vertical movement of the caterpillar. As nearly as I could judge, there was visible at a time about forty feet of his body. It was not, to be sure, a continuous body, as from head to tail he was seen only three or four feet at a time. It was very evident, however, that his length must be much greater than what appeared, as, in his movement, he left a considerable wake in his rear. I had a fine telescope, and was within less than half a mile of him. The head was flat in the water, and the animal was, as far as I could distinguish, of a chocolate colour. I was struck with an appearance in the front part of the head like a single horn, about nine inches to a foot in length, and of the form of a spike. There were a great many people collected by this time, many of whom had already seen the serpent. From the time I first saw him until he passed by the place where I stood, and soon after disappeared, was not more than fifteen or twenty minutes”:

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“I left the place fully satisfied that the verbal reports in circulation, although differing in detail, were essentially correct. I returned to Boston, and having made my report, I found Mrs Perkins and my daughters disposed to make a visit to Gloucester with me when the return of the animal should again be announced. A few days after my return I went again to Cape Ann with the ladies; we had a pleasant ride, but returned unsatisfied in the quest which drew us there.”

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This particular sea serpent was seen regularly around Cape Ann until 1819 at least. Indeed, the east coast of the United States seems to have been a good place for would-be sea serpent twitchers, with records dating back to 1638:

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Don’t think I don’t have my own story to tell:

On October 25th 1988, I went to the Isles of Scilly to birdwatch. I crossed over on the ferry, the Scillonian. For two or three hours during the crossing, I remained on deck with my binoculars, eagerly scanning the storm tossed waves for seabirds.

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“At one point, I noticed what I took to be the head of a Grey Seal, which broke the surface perhaps a hundred metres away. It was dark in colour, and I could see a forehead, two eye sockets, and an obvious snout. I didn’t really think twice about it, and it remained there for perhaps two or three minutes. Then, suddenly, a Gannet flew directly above it, and I realised from a comparison of sizes that the head must be at least a metre and a half, if not two metres, across. And that means it cannot have been a seal !”

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Filed under Cornwall, Cryptozoology, History, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

Hallowe’en Tales : Numbers Seven and Eight

Number Seven

The Sea Serpent

On October 25th 1988, I went over to the Isles of Scilly to birdwatch. I crossed over from Cornwall on the ferry, the Scillonian:

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For two or three hours during the crossing, I remained on deck with my binoculars, eagerly scanning the storm tossed waves for seabirds.

At one point, I noticed what I took to be the head of a Grey Seal, which broke the surface perhaps fifty or a hundred metres away from the boat. This is a Grey Seal which I photographed in the harbour at St.Ives in Cornwall:

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This head, way out in the Atlantic Ocean, was very similar, dark in colour, and I could see a forehead, two eye sockets, and an obvious snout. I didn’t really think a great deal about it, other than the fact that, for a seal, it was certainly a very long way from land, at least fifteen miles. It remained there, presumably watching the boat, for perhaps two or three minutes. Then, suddenly, a Gannet flew directly above it. A Gannet is a very large bird with a wingspan of some six or seven feet:

wikikikik Northern_Gannetzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I then realised from a simple comparison of sizes that the head must be at least a metre and a half, if not two metres, across. And that means it cannot have been a seal !

 Number Eight

The Ghost on the No 90 Bus

Some thirty or more years ago, we used to live in a large house in a new estate on top of a hill right at the very northern edge of the City of Nottingham. From our top bedroom window, we could see the distant cooling towers of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, out towards the East Midlands Airport, absolutely miles away. If it had been built then, we would have easily been able to see the Control Tower on the Airport. To go into Nottingham was a little bit of a bore, though, because there was only the Number 90 bus, which ploughed, every hour, a long and very eccentric furrow from one side of the city to the other, from where we lived on the northern edge, to the furthest bus terminal of Edwalton, beyond even the foetid swamp that is West Bridgford:

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The Number 90 bus, strangely enough, had a very strong ghost story attached to it. People told me all about it on several occasions, almost as soon as I mentioned what bus I had to catch to get home and just how long the journey was.

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Funnily enough, the story concerned the very same bus stop on Mansfield Road which we used to use:

bus stop

Anyway, the first occasion the ghost appeared was quite a long time ago, in the 1950s perhaps, or in the 1960s. It was certainly in the era of the bus conductor, who used to go round the bus, issuing tickets and taking the money.

Just imagine to yourself. The time  is around seven or eight o’clock in the evening, and the bus is absolutely deserted. Not a single passenger. The conductor is standing up near the driver’s compartment, talking to him to pass the time. Suddenly, they both notice an old man who is standing at the Mansfield Road bus stop, waiting to go towards the city. The bus stops and the old man gets on. The evening is fine and dry, but the old man is absolutely drenched, with rainwater dripping off him. He looks quite battered, with little rips here and there in his clothing, which is, strangely for the weather at the time, a heavy winter topcoat over an equally heavy winter suit.

The old man says nothing as he gets on. He goes upstairs and the driver and conductor notice he is wearing his bike clips, a simple aid to cycling that is, by now, almost decades out of date.

The driver and conductor finish their conversation. The driver sets off down the road, and the conductor begins the shaky climb up the stairs. He wonders why this special kind of idiot had to go upstairs on a completely empty bus and make the tired conductor follow him.

He gets to the top of the stairs and has a good, surprised look round. The top deck of the bus is completely empty. The old man just isn’t there. He isn’t in the two rows of seats at the front of the bus. The conductor then walks slowly back past all the other rows of seats. The old man isn’t there either, neither is he hiding behind any of the seats in a ludicrous attempt to avoid paying his fare.

Puzzled, the conductor goes back down again, pushes his cap back on his head, and expresses his astonishment to the driver.

Back at the canteen, they tell their tale over a cup of tea and a couple of cigarettes. They are not the first crew to meet “The Phantom Passenger of the Number 90 bus.”

He is, or rather was, an old man of sixty or so:

old_man_on_bike_by_claeva

One winter’s night, he was riding his bicycle home to Arnold, when a hit-and-run driver killed him as he rode carefully and slowly around the Leapool Roundabout. It happened so swiftly that the old man does not realise, even now, that he is no longer alive. Wrapped up against the winter in his heavy suit and heavy topcoat, he still has his bike clips on. His bicycle, to him too valuable to leave behind, is too badly damaged to ride back home. And so, he must walk through the winter rain and sleet the two miles to the nearest bus stop to get back home to his wife and family. On this map, the orange arrow marks the bus stop where the wet old man would get on the No 90 bus. To the north is the Leapool Roundabout. Follow the green road until you come to the obvious roundabout:

map

I don’t know now if the Number 90 still runs or not. I hope it does. No ghost should fade away at the whim of the Nottingham City Transport.

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Filed under Cornwall, Cryptozoology, History, Nottingham, Personal, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

“Greater Love Hath No Man”

For nearly thirty years we have taken our holidays in Cornwall, enjoying an invigorating fortnight in the land of the Cornish Pasty. As Cornwall is in the extreme south west of England, and we always holiday in the very westernmost area, named Penwith, we are no strangers to rainy or overcast conditions.
On August 27th 2009 we decided to go to Godrevy, one of our favourite sites either to sit on the beach or to look for seals and seabirds. Alas, this day, conditions were misty and wet:

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The famous lighthouse was barely visible:

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We decided, therefore, to drive to Hayle, the nearest town, to take an early lunch. My wife went to the local pasty shop to buy some traditional local food. “Philps Famous Pasties from Cornwall, freshly baked every morning”:

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Meanwhile, I went off to lay claim to a seat overlooking the harbour:

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On the left there is an Art gallery which used to be a butcher’s shop. Looking through the window, I thought this apparent Roman mosaic was the best bit of art in the place:

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And this one. An Art Nouveau bull with a thousand yard stare:

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And then suddenly I saw it, on the opposite side of the road. A huge stone, surrounded by brightly coloured flower beds, which really stood out from the rather drab grey, misty surroundings:

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I crossed the road for a closer look. It was a plaque dedicated to bravery three thousand miles away:

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And presumably, it is exactly because that bravery took place three thousand miles away that these heroic deeds remain completely unknown and unheard of in his own country. Let me put that right, though:

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“Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla
Rick Gave His Life In The Terrorist Attack
On The World Trade Centre, New York,
September 11th 2001,
While Directing The Evacuation
His Actions On The Day Saved Over 2,700 Lives
“Greater Love Hath No Man”

Here are three maps to help orient yourself. The orange arrow marks the spot:

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Rick Rescorla was born in Hayle in 1939. During the war, he made friends with American soldiers from Maryland and Virginia, stationed in Penwith, and preparing for the D-Day invasion. Rick idolized the American soldiers and decided to become a soldier when he grew up.
He joined the British Army in 1957, eventually joining The Parachute Regiment. He then served with an intelligence unit in Cyprus. In 1960 he became a paramilitary police inspector in the Northern Rhodesia Police in central Africa. Back again in London, he joined the Metropolitan Police Service.
He then moved to the United States and eventually went to fight in Vietnam:

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For his bravery with the famous 7th Cavalry Regiment, Rick was to win the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry:

rescorla6

Eventually, Rick found himself working in corporate security for Morgan Stanley, with an office on the 44th floor of the South Tower, Tower 2, of the World Trade Centre:

Heros-Forgotten xxxx

One of the first things Rick did was to instigate emergency evacuations every three months for everybody, including the most senior executives.
He trained everybody to assemble in the hall between the stairwells and then to descend, calmly, in pairs, down to the 44th floor. His strictness with these emergency evacuations caused friction with some of the top management, but he insisted that they were necessary, should a real emergency ever occur. Just as he would have done in the forces, he timed the employees’ performance with his stop watch and gave them detailed instructions on the most basic elements of safety in the event of a major fire.
These measures all came from the fact that Rick, and his colleague, the counter terrorism expert, Daniel Hill, Rick’s old friend from Rhodesia, both believed that an attack could well take place one day, involving a plane being crashed into one of the towers.
At 8:46 a.m. on that fateful morning of September 11th, Rick heard the explosion as American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower and then watched the huge conflagration from his window.
A public  announcement was made that everybody should stay at their desks, but Rick ignored it and immediately grabbed his megaphone, radio and cell phone.
He ordered the Morgan Stanley office workers to leave the building, descending by the stairwells with which they were so familiar. He also made sure a thousand workers were evacuated from World Trade Centre 5.
After a short interval, the South Tower was shaken violently by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175, almost forty floors above them. Rick continued to calm his fellow workers, and the much practiced evacuation continued to proceed smoothly down the stairwell. One of the company’s office workers actually took a photograph of Rick with his megaphone that day, “a 62-year-old mountain of a man coolly sacrificing his life for others”. Here are Rick Rescorla and his colleagues, Jorge Velazquez, and Godwin Forde – leading the evacuation on 9-11:

heroes3

As he had done with his scared soldiers in Vietnam, in an effort to allay their fears, Rick sang to the frightened staff members as they descended. He used his own song based on “Men of Harlech”:

“Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming;

Can’t you see their spear points gleaming?

See their warriors’ pennants streaming

To this battlefield. Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;

It cannot be ever said ye for the battle were not ready;

Stand and never yield!”

The vast majority of Morgan Stanley’s 2,687 employees were now safe, thanks to Rick Rescorla, but he went back into the building to make sure that he had not missed anybody and that there were no stragglers.

Rick was seen for the last time on the tenth floor, climbing upwards. At one minute to ten, the South Tower collapsed. Rick was never found. Of the huge number of people whose protection was his responsibility, all but six survived.
There was almost unbelievable bravery shown that day by the members of the Fire Department, City of New York:

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Equal levels of bravery came from the members of the City of New York Police Department:

Patch_of_the_New_York_City_Police_Department

Rick Rescorla, an Englishman, was not found wanting.

He had not been found wanting in Vietnam either:

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One of his fellow soldiers described him:

“My God, it was like Little Big Horn.  We were all cowering in the bottom of our foxholes, expecting to get overrun.  Rescorla gave us courage to face the coming dawn.  He looked me in the eye and said, ‘When the sun comes up, we’re gonna kick some ass.'”

Rick has not been forgotten in his home town of Hayle. Here is the Rick Rescorla Wildlife Garden at the Penpol School in Hayle (ages 5-11):

garden

The Cornish Stannary Parliament honoured Rick with “The White Cross of Cornwall”, “An Grows Wyn a Gernow”. It is made from pure Cornish tin and Cornish Delabole slate in a hand-madebox of Cornish elm:

cornwa5 as

In this picture, Jon Daniels, in the centre, presents the cup to the winners of the Rick Rescorla Memorial Triathlon:

triathlon

To finish with, here is the song “Men of Harlech”. It is taken from the film “Zulu“, as more than four thousand African warriors lay siege to Rorke’s Drift, defended by just 150 British Empire troops of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot (2nd/24th) and 2nd/3rd Natal Native Contingent:

And finally, the full quote from the Gospel according to St John, Chapter 15, Verse 13. Christian or not, it is no less true:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

 

 

 

 

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A very cunning Käpitan

In Penzance Cemetery lie the graves of twenty two Second World War casualties from four individual ships:

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These vessels were in a convoy which was attacked by six German E boats ten miles to the west of Lizard Point, during the night of January 5th-6th 1944. All four ships were sunk. The casualties included HMS Wallasea, an armed trawler which was acting as one of the escort ships, the S.S.Solstad, the M.V.Polperro and the M.V.Underwood. This attack was part of the German attempts to disrupt the Allies’ obvious preparations for an invasion of Western Europe that coming summer.

What is so very striking about Naval war graves, however, having seen the last resting places of literally thousands of Army and Air Force casualties, are that the latter can often be very similar in age, rank or nationality, and perhaps even as far as regiments are concerned: in other words, the same kind of details may be repeated over and over again. With Naval graves, though, you feel almost as if a whole family is involved, with people of often widely differing ages, all having performed some specific job within the ship. And like a family, that ship is the sum of these individual parts.
The S.S.Solstad was a Swedish steam powered cargo ship originally launched in 1924 by Lewis John & Sons Ltd. of Aberdeen, under the name of the “Gatwick”. It weighed just under 1,400 tons, and was travelling from Swansea to London with a cargo of coal when it was torpedoed by the German torpedo boats, S-136 and S-84. The ship sank in three minutes with the loss of five lives. Here is the Solstad in two different companies’ liveries:

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Alide Reicher was 53 years of age. She a stewardess on the Solstad. She is, I think, the only woman war casualty whose grave I personally have ever seen, and even more unique is the fact that she was Swedish, a neutral nationality in theory, and was serving on board a ship of the Swedish Merchant Navy. She really was somebody who gave their life for freedom:

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The second casualty from the Solstad was Kenneth Allen who was killed aged only eighteen. Kenneth was a Deck Hand and the son of Alfred Anthony Allen and Minnie Allen of Blyth Northumberland. He was the husband of Marjorie Gertrude Allen of Gravesend:

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The M.V. Polperro, registered in Fowey, had sailed from Manchester with a cargo of coal, joining a convoy bound for Penryn, Cornwall and then on to London. This is the only photograph that I could find:

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The Polperro went down with the loss of all hands, namely eight Merchant Navy seamen and three Royal Navy gunners:

Polperro tower hil ww2 meorial

The wreck lies in 200ft of water. The Penzance graves from this nautical family are two Able Seamen:

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The M.V.Underwood, almost three hundred feet long and weighing two thousand tons, was travelling from the River Clyde in Scotland to Portsmouth, with military stores including vehicles. The crew of fifteen seamen and three passengers was all lost. This photo shows the M.V.Tuaranga, which was the sister ship of the Underwood, but in all respects save its name, it is the same vessel:

Port Tuaranga, was the sister ship of M.V.Underwood

The wreck of the Underwood was identified in 1975 by information on the boss of the propeller. This grave is that of the Radio Officer, Alexander McRae. He was 43 years of age and came from Carluke in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Graves do not have accents however. Alexander’s parents were William McRae and Annie McRae (nee Wilkie). His wife was called Edith :

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His Majesty’s Trawler Wallasea, (T-345) was an Isle Class Armed Trawler built in 1943. This vessel was part of the Royal Naval Patrol Service and weighed just under five hundred tons.

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Seventeen members of the Wallasea’s crew are interred at Penzance.  This closely knit sea-going family includes an Able Seaman, the Cook, an Engineman, a Leading Steward, an Ordinary Signalman, a Seaman, a Second Hand, a Stoker and a Telegraphist:

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All of these Allied vessels were sunk by German E-boats. These impressive vessels were capable of speeds up to almost 50 m.p.h. and were easily the most effective torpedo boats ever built:

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The attackers on January 5th-6th 1944 were the 5th Flotilla led by Leutnant-Kommander Karl Wilhelm Walter Müller. The flotilla comprised S84, S136, S138, S141, S-52, S142 and S14. In German, the “S” strands for “schnell” or “fast”. Rather imaginatively, in English the “E” stands for “Enemy”.

Karl Müller, when he was the commander of Schnellboot S-52, was already credited with the sinking of the British destroyer Eskdale on April 14th 1943:

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He was no doubt the very proud owner of his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, awarded on July 8th 1943. This is the only picture of Karl Wilhelm Walter Müller which I have been able to find. The lettering across the photo is in German and may refer to copyright problems, but on the other hand, the long word, when re-examined in Photoshop, does appear to have a swastika in the middle of it, so perhaps it is from some archival source:

Karl Müller received Ritterkreuz

On this particular occasion off the coast of Cornwall, Müller was again in command of Schnellboot S-52. He was tasked with attacking convoys in the English Channel. Skilfully, Müller lay in wait for these particular ships of Convoy WP457, very close to the Cornish coast. His little fleet was then able to surprise the convoy by an unexpected attack from the landward side. This is the little cove where the German E-boat fleet sheltered. Look for the orange arrow:

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This is the cove where the Germans took refuge. They were extremely close to the shore:

cove

The soldiers guarding the telegraphy installations at Porthcurno presumed that the motor boats must be British and took no action. It was later said that “Their role was to guard the telegraph and not to act as coastal lookouts.” Such pathetic, pompous stupidity was to cost a great many lives.

At three o’clock in the morning of January 6th, 1944, the British convoy was more or less ready to cross Mount’s Bay where:

“The weather was fine with good visibility. It was moonlight with a south-west wind force three and moderate sea. Leaving the cove they prepared to attack the convoy.”

The cunning Leutnant-Kommander Müller had the enormous advantage of complete surprise because his attack came from the landward, Cornwall, side. The escort led by the aging destroyer H.M.S. Mackay was overwhelmed by the firing of no less than 23 torpedoes and four ships were sunk:

mackay

The German force’s first attack sank the Solstad and the second, some five miles south of Penzance, sent the Underwood, the Polperro and the Wallasea to the bottom. Nowadays, with the right knowledge from the Internet, these ships can be visited by divers. Look for the orange arrow:

mounts bay
The rest of Convoy WP457 continued on their way, while the brave civilians of the Penlee lifeboat made valiant attempts to rescue any survivors. Those still alive, of course, were faced with a very low water temperature because of the time of year. In total more than sixty people were killed including, as we have already seen, one woman, Alide Reicher, who was a stewardess on the S.S.Solstad which, technically, belonged to the Swedish Merchant Navy.
Overall, Penzance Cemetery holds twenty two naval casualties from this action with the majority, seventeen, being members of the crew of HM Trawler “Wallasea”.
In April 1944, the Fifth Flotilla under Leutenant-Kommander Karl Müller, was among the E-boats who carried out another audacious attack, this time on Exercise or Operation Tiger, a large-scale rehearsal for the D-Day invasion of Normandy which was being held at Slapton in Devon:

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A total of 946 American servicemen were killed, with the almost inevitable communication problems causing many casualties from friendly fire. The majority of the casualties, however, were on the morning of April 28th, when a convoy of troops was attacked in Lyme Bay by nine German E-boats under the command of Korvettenkapitän Bernd Klug:

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Leutnant-Kommander Karl Müller survived the war and returned to serve in the West German Navy from 1956–1957. He died in Celle in 1989 at the age of seventy two. Had he been wearing a different uniform in 1944, perhaps an American one, they would have made movies about his daring attack during the 1950s.
It would have been impossible to have written this article without the basic research having been made freely available by David Betts. His excellent book about this most exciting episode in World War Two is advertised here:

There are two final points. Firstly, the war graves in Penzance Cemetery are kept immaculate, every single one. In order to make the inscriptions visible, I have had to photoshop all my photographs and that is the reason that the graves look so peculiar. And last of all, the real cost of war is in these last two photographs. How sad a fate for “our dear Bernard” and a “dear husband and daddy” :

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Filed under Cornwall, History

Last day on the Scillies

Saturday, October 29, 1988

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(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

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My last day on the Scillies. Time off for good behaviour. I’m not really sorry to be going home. I had four lifers. I don’t feel I’ve missed out on anything that was there and was viewable, except perhaps the Short toed Lark, about which I have exactly the same dilemma today as I had yesterday. Do I go to St Agnes or not? I chicken out, I am ashamed to say. I’m too scared of missing the last ferry back to Penzance Harbour to risk missing an inter-island boat through a twisted ankle, or a fat man’s heart attack. This will be the last Scillonian ferry back to the mainland before the end of the year, and the helicopters are all booked up until next Wednesday so I just cannot risk anything going wrong. I simply do not have enough money:

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I go back to my old friend at Telegraph, the Rose-coloured Starling, who I see very briefly, flying around with his common friends. He’s a very pale, buffy coloured individual, which I am sure is the bird in question, a fact made all the more certain by a group of birdwatchers coming from the area where the flock appeared to land and who say that they have just seen the little chap:

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I can’t relocate the bird, but I meet someone who says he’s just seen a Wryneck feeding alongside the road. It was actually on the grassy tops of the great wide dry stone walls, although it has disappeared by the time I arrive:

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I look for about fifteen minutes, but I can’t find it, and I am just about to pack it in as a bad job, when another young chap comes over and says he’s found the bird about seventy yards away in another lane. When I get there, I find that it’s a lot more active than the previous birds that I’ve seen in Norfolk, as it moves along the base of the hedge, feeding energetically. I am always impressed by Wrynecks, which never seem reptilian to me or particularly primitive as they are supposed to, but rather I wonder at the subtlety of their camouflage, and the way they seem able to disappear into their background at the drop of a dead leaf. It’s a good padder of a bird and I’m really pleased to have seen it. Not that I’m surprised, because it’s my friend Paul’s bogey bird and I told him before I left for the Scillies that I would see one for him:

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I take a leisurely stroll back to town, walking along the seashore where I am amazed to see a kingfisher flying out over the breaking waves, seemingly completely at home among the rocky coves and the surf,  before it finally disappears into a line of pine trees at the top of the scrub covered cliff:

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I pass a field full of absolutely thousands of finches, including at least one superb full adult summer plumage Brambling, which is so bright that I think it is some weird American bird when I first see it. There’s really no need for it to be a transatlantic vagrant, since the bird is such a beautiful sight in its own right, without needing to be particularly rare:

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A hundred yards further on, I surprise a Pipit in another field at the side of the road. I try hard to imagine that it is some unprecedented rarity, but I’m finally forced to concede that it is merely a Tree Pipit.
Finally, I reach the Porthcressa Restaurant, where the magic noticeboard announces the presence of a Scarlet Rosefinch, another possible lifer, which has turned up near the airport. This is going to be a close run thing for a fat man. The boat leaves this afternoon and I need to be on the quay by half past three. It’s half past one now, so I start off at a reasonable pace, taking care to time myself for the walk, so that I can set off back to the harbour in good time. It only takes me thirty minutes, so I am left with about an hour to find the bird:

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It’s apparently been showing well in a little field full of cabbages, but has unfortunately moved on by the time I arrive. I go and search the neighbouring fields where there are huge flocks of finches and lots of good big hedges for them to perch in. It is at this point that I get the closest that I’ve ever been to a rare bird without actually seeing it. Two young men poke their heads round the hedge and tell me that the Rosefinch is there. They are actually looking at it right now:

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In the very short time that it takes me to walk the ten yards or so, the bird flies away, never to be seen again, at least not by me. I give it a few more minutes, but time, as always, ticks inexorably away.  There is one final bit of excitement when a message comes on the CB that a Pechora Pipit has been spotted on the far side of the airport near Salakee Farm:

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The fittest ferry passengers, and the more leisurely helicopter users, all set off, but without me, I’m afraid. I’m far too unfit to rush all the way to Salakee, find a pipit famous for its ability to skulk and hide in the undergrowth, and then get back down to the Scillonian by 3.30. At least, not without a major heart attack. I do have the pleasure though, of a nice stroll back through the town, along the main street down to the ferry:

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The scene that greets me is straight out of a 1930s black-and-white documentary film about the evacuation of St.Kilda. The ferry seems to know that it is the last boat of the year and mournfully blasts its foghorn as a farewell to the tiny town.

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The street, with its grey stone buildings, is full of hurrying figures, all burdened with bags and suitcases, tripods and scopes, all plodding in the same direction to get down to the quay. When I reach the ferry, I have twenty minutes to drink in the scene, so I stand and lean over the side of the boat. It’s beautiful, the still, calm sea, the line of old buildings along the curve of the bay and the continuing mournful bellowing of the ship’s foghorn. Even better though, is a stream of birdwatchers, all returning at breakneck speed from not seeing the Pechora Pipit, tripods and spare wellies flying around their necks. They all seem to make it, except, presumably, the ones that don’t.
We set off across the surface of a glassy sea, as the people on the land wave their last farewells to the ship:

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It will be a long time before the Scillonian returns to the island, as the next arrival is scheduled for April. The crossing is bird free, mainly because the weather becomes so foul. In actual fact, the crossing isn’t particularly rough by Scilly standards. All I can say, though, is that, if this isn’t rough, then very rough most be unbelievable. I stay on deck, of course, in my capacity as the toughest man on the boat, and when I finally go downstairs, the bar is full of people with green faces. It reminds me very strongly of a pub in Nottingham that sells Shipstone’s beer.
One young lad that I speak to is really delighted to have been on the Scillies. He is about fifteen and he has had a lot of lifers and he is as pleased as Punch. Birdwatching here certainly does make it a lot easier to see some of the birds that on the mainland can take a lot of effort, above all if you live in the south. Dotterel, Corncrake, Red Kite, or especially, Lapland Bunting:

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He’s had them all in the past two weeks here. I’m still riddled with jealousy, all bitter and twisted at those people who can spend two or three weeks here at the best time of the birdwatching year, namely early October, when I have to be at work. It must have added a good thirty or forty species at the very least to their life lists, with no real difficulty and very little real effort. Perhaps an inflation rate of up to 25% or 30% of your life total. All there for you to tick off, knowing that they are birds unlikely to occur anywhere else in Britain.
I have not seen too many good birds on the Scillies, but I have met a good number of what you might call “characters”. It is, after all, “Teachers’ Week”, although I do find one teacher who has clocked up an exceptionally impressive 420 species without ever using the rather artificial aid of coming to these islands in the first two or three weeks of October. At the same time he has not lost his ability to be excited by a Red Kite or a Red-necked Grebe:

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There are some quite desperate twitchers who just hear the words “Paddyfield Warbler” and will then slit Granny’s throat for the bus fare. Some of them are very rude, unpleasant and downright boorish, including one young oaf who insists on shouting his requests for directions at you at the top of his fifteen year old voice, irrespective of how far away he is. His only interest is the extraction of any information you might have about the bird he is trying to see. I meet him once and say “Good Morning” and he says loudly, “Where? Is it showing well?”

One unemployed birdwatcher has worked out his cash supply down to literally the last fifty pence. For the last two days of his holiday (a holiday from being unemployed?),  he cannot afford accommodation, but has to walk around looking for nice warm bus shelters. The most notable of the whole lot, though, is an old gentleman who has bird watched all his life and who has seen some splendid ornithological sights in his time, particularly when birds of prey were more numerous than they are today. Honey Buzzards thronged his skies:

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From his house on the north west coast of Wales, he would see a dozen migrating Merlin in a day. Now it is just one a month:

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He has little or no interest in twitching rare birds, many of which he has never heard of anyway. He has an outlook based solely on what he can find for himself. Not for him the new fangled Gore-Tex or plastic cagoules, but a pair of battered old boots, some comfortable corduroy trousers and a sports coat with leather elbow patches. His bird watching techniques are different to those of the present day as well. Not for him the patient wait for the bird to appear. He is deep in the bushes, energetically bashing around with his walking stick, determined to find everything that is in there, vainly trying to hide.
The real stars of the show though, are the people of the Isles of Scilly themselves. They are genuinely calm, kind and wonderful people and remind me a lot of the inhabitants of the Highlands of Scotland. They will not be hurried and their entire lives are very different indeed to those of us city folk.

Certainly this week though, the birds are disappointing. I wish I’d stayed on the mainland and gone for whatever presented itself. There was every chance that I’d have seen the Indigo Bunting at Wells and a Lesser Yellowlegs at the Ouse Washes.

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On the other hand, I wouldn’t have had the total experience that I have had.

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Filed under Cornwall, Personal, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

Four poor Germans, a very long way from home

On a number of previous occasions, I have written about the Allied servicemen who are interred in Penzance Cemetery. There are also four German combatants from the Second World War, all of them buried, quite fittingly, alongside their erstwhile adversaries:

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Ernst Erich Elsperger and Conrad H.W. Schweizer were both members of the German Navy, the Kreigsmarine.

Ernst Erich Elsperger was born on October 27th 1924. He reached the rank of Obergefreiter (Senior Lance Corporal) and died on March 22nd 1945 aged only twenty one:

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Ernst Elsperger is recorded as being a crew member of the U-1169, which was sunk by depth charges from HMS Duckworth, just south of the Lizard. It was commanded by Oberleutnant Heinz Goldbeck who was himself only thirty one years old when he was killed. Here is HMS Duckworth:ff_hms_duckworth_k351

This particular U-Boat, the U-1169, had not sunk or damaged a single enemy vessel in the almost two years since it was launched at Danzig on April 9th 1943. No photographs of the vessel seem to have survived, and neither do any of its captain. Here is the only surviving Type VIIC U-Boat in the world, the U-995, currently on display at the Laboe Naval Memorial near Kiel. It is exactly the same type of vessel as the U-1169. Do not fail to click on the link to the German website, and make sure that you try the Panorama views. They are guaranteed to scare you (top of the tower) or make you very seasick indeed. Look for the yellow circles on the photograph of the tower:

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There seems to be some kind of mix-up in the dates of Ernst Elsperger’s death as the U-1169 was sunk on March 29th, and the inscription on the grave says March 22nd. It is possible, of course, that he was a member of the crew of one of the other U-boats sunk in the area in early 1945, namely the U-399, the U-1199, the U-1208, the U-605, or the U-1018.

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Conrad H.W. Schweizer was born on January 1st 1915 and died on December 18th 1944 aged twenty nine. He is buried alongside an unknown German naval casualty:

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Both Conrad Schweizer, and the unknown seaman buried in the cemetery, were members of the crew of the U-Boat U-1209 which was scuttled after hitting Wolf Rock near the Isles of Scilly on December 18th 1944:

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Forty four crew members survived and were picked up by the Canadian destroyer, HMCS Montreal. There were nine fatalities, including the Captain, Oberleutnant zur See Ewald Hüsenbeck, who had a heart attack during the journey into Plymouth. This is the Montreal:

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This second photograph was snapped by Charles James Sadler, RCNVR, a First Class Stoker who was serving in the Canadian destroyer HMCS Columbia:

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Earlier in the war, the Montreal had rescued 33 survivors from the Norwegian merchant ship Fjordheim, which had been torpedoed and sunk north of Ireland by the German submarine U-482. The Montreal survived the war and was sold in 1947.  It was finally broken up for scrap in Sydney, Australia, shortly afterwards.

The unfortunate U-1209 was built to exactly the same design as the U-1169 and the U-995, (pictured above). It had been launched at Danzig on February 9th 1944, but, exactly like the U-1169, during its entire career, it had not sunk or damaged a single enemy vessel:

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The final grave is that of Richard Hille. Richard was a member of the Luftwaffe. He was in the crew of a Heinkel He 111 bomber of Kampfgeschwader 28, serial numbers 1T+LH, which was shot down on the night of January 31st / February 1st 1941.

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This aging aircraft crashed into the sea off Treen just to the south east of Land’s End after being engaged by a naval patrol vessel, whose name I have been unable to ascertain.

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Richard Hille was the only crew member to be recovered. On his gravestone, the date given for his death is February 12th 1941. This is because it was the usual convention at the time to use the date of the discovery of bodies found either at sea or on the foreshore, as the date of death. Richard Hille’s body was in fact initially recovered from the sea by a Newlyn trawler. The “Western Morning News” newspaper reported therefore, on the Friday, February 14th, that his body had been hauled up in a trawl off Land’s End on the previous Wednesday, February 12th. A report in the “Cornishman” newspaper of February 20th 1941 detailed his burial at Penzance Cemetery with full military honours:

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Finally, two things. Firstly, it would have been totally impossible to write this blogpost without using this source, a forum for exchanging information about the myriad events of World War Two. And secondly, I cannot understand why these four men have never been taken back the hundreds of miles to their own homeland and their own towns or cities. The two U-boats involved caused no damage whatsoever to anybody and the Luftwaffe were never known as war criminals. The four men in Penzance were not members of the Waffen SS or the Wehrmacht. Let them go home at last!

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Filed under Cornwall, History