Category Archives: Cornwall

The Fairies of Cornwall (3)

The ancient stories about the fairies were collected together in Cornwall by William Bottrell (1816–1881) when he realised that the county was changing so rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century, that the old tales would all soon be lost if he didn’t record them during his lifetime. Fairy tales had never previously been written down, but were declaimed to an audience by “droll tellers”, men who would spend one night here, two nights there, as they wandered from farm to farm, being fed and making money as the hat was passed around. This was all in exchange for entertaining the people with their traditional accounts of what mischief the fairies had got up to. They still exist nowadays to some extent:

In those days, the agricultural population would often live in groups either in, or around, a large farm, providing the farmer with his workforce and the droll teller with his audience. Presumably, the droll teller might well change the details of his tale slightly to fit the lives of the people in the particular farm where he was telling his tale. Many tales mention specific people and specific places, and the tale might be changed to take account of this. Even today, a droll teller can attract a large crowd:

 The three books by William Bottrell which I have are : “Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-First Series (1870)”

“Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-Second Series (1873)”

“Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall-Third Series (1880)”

And here’s the cover:

Personally, I would say that the “droll tales” were already centuries old when Bottrell collected them. Some of them apparently include particular individuals from the 1600s and I would not be surprised if the tales had their origins as far back as the years before William the Conqueror. A few certainly mention the red hair of the vikings:

Fairies back then were beings who would interfere frequently in the lives of ordinary people. They had such powers that they could do whatever they wished. Physically, they were the size of humans and people were frequently  deceived by strangers that they did not realise were fairies. More about such evil-doing next time…….

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The Fairies of Cornwall (2)

Two very different geniuses (or perhaps genii), have both offered their opinion about our O-so-short existence on Planet Earth. One was the Venerable Bede (or the Venereal Bede as we used to call him at school). TVB lived from AD 672–735. He was a Saxon and he was the author of “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” and “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: The Heavy Metal Years”. And TVB’s views were not exactly overflowing with either certainty or optimism, despite his continuing promotions from one job to another in the hierarchy of the church, bringing him ever closer to The Big Man. Pope St Gregory III. Here is TVB, on his visit to Craggy Island:

Young Father Dougal McGuire is taking notes of the Great Man’s order for the Chinese takeaway while Fathers Ted and Jack debate whether, if priests were Chinese meals, Dougal would be Dim Sum. And TVB continues:

“The life of man upon the Earth seems to me like the flight of a sparrow through the Great Hall where the king sits at supper in winter, with his noblemen and knights. The fire blazes brightly and the hall is warm, even though the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging outside. The sparrow, flying in at one door, through the hall, and flying out at the other door, is safe from the wintry tempest whilst he is inside, but after a short interval of nice warm weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So our life as men lasts for a little while, but of what went before our lives or what is to follow our lives, we know nothing at all.”

Shakspere, a man who couldn’t even spell his own name consistently, was ten times as pessimistic:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

It is a tale
Told by an idiot,

Full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Our understanding is not helped either by the fact that, because of the shortness of our lives, it almost always proves impossible for Man A in the twelfth century to tell another man, Man B, in the late eighteenth century, that, between them, they have discovered the two halves of one of the great truths of human existence. But without being able to compare notes, neither of the two will ever realise that, by putting the two halves together, one of our great questions may have been answered.

The two men in question both had an identical and absolutely extraordinary experience.

Man A in the twelfth century was an Iroquois hunter:

One day he gets tired from his hunting. He lies down in the forest and goes to sleep. When he awakens, a hundred years have passed. His great-grandchildren have grey hair and his children and his grandchildren are all dead.

Then there’s the Dutchman from the late eighteenth century. One day he is walking up a mountain path and accepts the offer of a drink of liquor from some elegantly dressed men. He soon falls asleep and when he awakens, twenty years have passed. His nagging wife is dead and so is his dog, Wolf, and his country no longer has a king but a president. The man’s name? Rip van Winkle:

Both men have found answers to at least one of the questions which, nowadays, we are all burning desperately to solve. But, in actual fact, the question may already have been solved centuries ago, and the answer has then been hidden away in the dust of our premature deaths, lost in the passage of time. If only 21st century Americans knew that they need to talk to a late 18th century Dutchman , or perhaps even a 12th century Iroquois to get an answer to one of our biggest questions.

And that particular question is:

Are there beings out there somewhere who have powers way beyond ours, such as the manipulation of time or even time travel itself? :

Other burning questions, near to the top of the list, are :

1         are there superior beings out there somewhere who like to spy on us?

2        do they ever intervene in human affairs?

3        do they ever abduct us and take us elsewhere for periods of time?

These “superior beings”, of course, extend upwards as far as gods and angels.

Here in Merry Olde Englande, we, of course, have the answers to all three of these questions. They are Yes, Yes and Yes/Perhaps. And these answers have all three been known to the country people of Cornwall for, possibly, ten centuries.

The Cornish country people have long been familiar with these superior beings. They may spy on us, they may take an interest in our affairs, they interfere with our lives and they occasionally abduct us and do what they want with us, for as long as they think fit. Today, in our technological society, these superior beings are now known as “extra-terrestrials” and they apparently possess technology light years ahead of our own:

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, though, the Cornish people knew them not as “extra-terrestrials” but as “fairies”. They seem to have encountered them quite frequently and they accepted their existence without hesitation.  And those beliefs, while nowadays not quite as strong as in the past, still persist even nowadays.

All you need to know is that the Cornish fairies of centuries ago have never been quite the same as the poetic, upper class, literary fairies of JM Barrie and Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Cornish fairies are usually just like human beings in size and appearance, and they all have very strong magical powers, rather like Samantha in “Bewitched” :

And one other thing….Cornish fairies are always nasty, and sometimes they can be very nasty indeed:

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (1)

We humans live short lives and then we die. At that point, because of our short lives, we have learnt nothing definite of any great significance to answer our most basic of questions. “Why are we here??”

We have not managed to find a single concrete, scientifically testable, answer to this most basic of our questions. We have not managed to find a single conclusion that will convince the scientists in their laboratories that we have made any real progress.

Why are we here??

Some answers do seem to make more sense than others, though:

At least with this poster, you can see where they’re coming from:

Why do we exist?

Every single answer we have found so far can just be handed back to us and they will say “Well, that’s just what you think. Nothing more. All you’ve got there is opinions, not facts.” or “How is this anything more than just belief and blind faith? Where’s your proof?”

We have discovered nothing that will make those scientists read our conclusion, nod sagely and say:

“Well, well, well, the Great Pumpkin is what it was all about after all!!”

Some people think about the world and find new questions to ask:

“Where were we before we were born?”

“Where will we go after we die?”

Some of them may actually sound very scientific:

“Is our world just one dimension of a hundred million others?”

“Are we in a huge computer where every single thing that happens to us is designed to test us out, to see if we are good enough to move on?”

“Is everything pre-ordained so that we cannot escape our inevitable fate?”

Are we free to do whatever we want, subject to any man made rules we have established for ourselves?

Well, nobody could have put it more succinctly than Johnny Nash:

And don’t worry about all these posts concerning fairies. They are not the same fairies that Walt Disney had. Far from it.

And this is all leading somewhere. Honestly. It is.

And we’ll meet those other fairies next time.

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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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