Category Archives: France

Madame Lionnet, the High School’s French mistress

Madame Marie Lionnet was one of the very few women to work at Nottingham High School during the Victorian era. She may even have been the second-ever woman to be employed by the school. Regrettably, I have found out relatively little about her, with only a series of mere snapshots of her fascinating and colourful life available at various intervals.

Marie Lionnet was born in middle to late 1835 or early 1836, although I have failed abjectly to discover either her maiden name or her place of birth, beyond “France” and probably “Paris”. We have no pictures of Madame Lionnet either. When she worked at the High School she seems to have slipped between the staff photographs of 1883 and those of 1895. The only woman we have on a staff photograph of that era is Mrs Bowman Hart, the music teacher. Here is the staff of 1883-1884:

As far as we know, they are :

back row:

Mr H Lupton ?, the Reverend EAT Clarke ?, Mr C “Carey” Trafford, unknown

middle row:

Mr JA Crawley, Mr WE “Jumbo” Ryles, Mr W Jackson, Mr S “Sammy” Corner, Mr S “Cheesy” Chester, Mr J Russell, Mr B “Benny” Townson.

front row:

Monsieur JLE Durand, Mr C “Donkey” Bray, the Reverend JG “Jiggerty” Easton, Dr. R Dixon (Headmaster) Mrs Bowman Hart (of whom, more later), Mr H “Donkeys” Seymour

Here is the High School at that time:

Notice that the school’s enormous coal fire chimneys have not yet been added. That was something that happened around 1890. There were originally two crosses on the roof, but clearly, one has been taken down, or more likely, blown down in some long-forgotten storm. In front of the school, the bushes are beginning to grow out of control but eventually they would all join up to form one enormous shrubbery, home to foxes and sixth formers with cigarettes.

Madame Lionnet is known to have married an engineer called Lionnet and they spent a good few years travelling with his work around the United States, Canada and various European countries. They went back to Paris, France, however, in early 1870 and were present in the capital during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. Here is a single soldier from each side:

On the left is a member of the famous “Grenadiers de Bretagne” who would express their reluctance to retreat by tying their beards or moustaches to the beard or moustaches of the man next to them, often forming defensive lines up to two or three miles long.  On the right is a member of the famous Prussian “Bismarcken Shocken Troopen” who would always fight so bravely in Germany’s many wars that in late 1939 the Führer designated them the first ever “Sacred Regiment of Adolf Hitler Impersonators”.

We presume that in 1870 Madame Lionnet must have been visiting her family, who hailed from the capital, because we know that she was present at home in Paris when her father was killed in combat. He had been fighting in one of the battles around the city’s fortifications during the siege. Shortly afterwards Madame Lionnet’s husband was killed and, with hardly any family left,  when the siege was lifted, she came to England to work as a teacher of French, possibly a little like this one:

On the French version of Google, I did find a rough fit for somebody who may well have been Madame Lionnet’s husband. This was Étienne Napoléon Lionnet, who was born on April 13th 1815. He began his studies at the “Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées (School of Bridges and Roadways) in 1837 at the age of 22. Here is a postcard from that era. Even then, the notorious Parisian traffic was absolutely ferocious:

Monsieur Lionnet died on December 15th 1870 which would have been in the very middle of the Siege of Paris which lasted from September 19th 1870 to January 28th 1871.  I also found mention of the Lionnet brothers who ran an ambulance service during the Siege of Paris in 1870-1871. People were really hungry during the siege, and some rather queer markets soon sprang up, Rat is very obvious, but “viande canine et féline” means “dog and cat meat”. Tastes a little like chicken, apparently:

The whereabouts of Madame Lionnet in the 1870s are unknown, other than just generally, “in England”.

The first exact piece of news came from Nottingham. Madame Lionnet became the University College’s first ever lecturer in French, having started her employment there in the college’s opening year of 1881:

Before that, she had worked at the High School for Girls as “A French Mistress”:

Madame Lionnet started her career at the High School in, probably, the academic year of 1885-1886. She died on March 9th 1895, so she worked there for nine years.

She had her own house, which seems to have had the name “Esplanade”. It was at 5 Dryden Street. Dryden Street, indicated by “La flèche orange”, runs north from Shakespeare Street and ultimately, via Addison Street, finishes at Forest Road East. If you turn left out of Addison Street, and walk along Forest Road East, you will soon come to the High School, which is the white rectangle near the corner with Waverley Street:

Madame Lionnet seems to have bought her house from John Hudson, a machinist, and after her death, it passed into the hands of Mrs Betsy Stevens. Nowadays, every single square inch of Dryden Street has been used to build new buildings for Nottingham Trent University. This is where Dryden Street joins Shakespeare Street. No 5 would have been near to the junction. Perhaps Madame Lionnet would recognise those mature plane trees on the left:

In her obituary in the school magazine, “The Forester”, Madame Lionnet is described as

“a woman of wide culture and well read in the literatures of several languages, and was a most capable and energetic teacher who spared no pains with her pupils. It will ever be a sincere regret to her many friends that her last years were embittered with heavy losses; for she lost the savings of many years through the failure of the Liberator Society.”

The Liberator Society crashed in 1892 when £3,500,000 of investors’ money was lost after the closure of the London and General Bank which, along with the House and Land Investment Trust, was investing money in “gigantic building speculations”.

“Madame Lionnet was remarkable for open handed generosity, and those who knew her well could speak of many deeds of charitable kindness, and pay a tribute to the courageous industry and independence of character which enabled her to work so successfully in a foreign land.”

Madame Lionnet was killed by a bout of pneumonia which “supervened on influenza”. Pneumonia was the commonest killer in Victorian England, and just before the First World War, Sir William Osler would call pneumonia the “Captain of the Men of Death” as it was by then the most widespread and dangerous of all acute diseases. As we have seen, Madame Lionnet died on Saturday March 9th 1895 and she was buried in the Church Cemetery on Mansfield Road on the following Wednesday, the Reverend Peck, a teacher at the High School, conducting the service.

The Forester said that the interment took place:

“in the presence of many friends and pupils and of representatives from the School, the University College and the High School for Girls. Numerous beautiful wreaths, with which the coffin was entirely covered, testified to the respect in which the deceased lady was held.”

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Filed under France, History, Humour, Nottingham, The High School

“Why no statue?” (7)

This is another candidate in my series, “Why no statue?”

This time, we move to the deep south of England, to the area of Lyme Regis and Charmouth, to be precise. Keep your eyes open for the orange arrow..

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was alive at a time when the entire country believed that the Earth was not very old at all and that it was impossible for species to change or to evolve or even to become extinct.

Mary was born into the family of a cabinetmaker, who died when she was eleven. They supplemented their income by selling fossils from the cliffs on the coast to tourists, from a table outside their home. The latter was so close to the sea that storms often flooded the ground floor and the family had to climb out of a first floor window to escape a watery grave. Here is a typical storm at Charmouth :

Of ten children, only Mary and Joseph survived their childhood. Wars had tripled the price of wheat, but wages had remained the same. The child mortality rate was 50% and smallpox and measles were mean spirited killers. On August 19th 1800, baby Mary was nearly killed but not by disease. She was being held in the arms of a neighbour, Elizabeth Haskings, who was talking to two friends under an elm tree. The tree was struck by lightning and only Mary survived. She was rushed home and revived in a bath of warm water. Wikipedia said that:

“afterwards she seemed to blossom. For years afterward members of her community would attribute the child’s curiosity, intelligence and lively personality to the incident.”

How very Baron Frankenstein!

In 1833, a landslide killed her dog, Tray, a black-and-white terrier, at her feet as she hunted fossils under the cliffs. She wrote to her friend:

“Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate”.

Here’s Mary and Tray, on a happier day:

Mary learnt to read and write at a Congregationalist Sunday school. Her favourite possession was a bound collection of the Dissenters’ Theological Magazine and Review containing two essays by the family’s pastor, James Wheaton. One said “God created the world in six days”, the other was entitled “Don’t forget to read about the new science of Geology”.

Mary looked for fossils in the coastal cliffs around Lyme Regis, especially the mudstone cliffs at Charmouth:

Mary was the first person to identify an ichthyosaur skeleton. She was only eleven years old:

On December 10th 1823, she found the first complete plesiosaurus:

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In 1828, she found the first British pterosaur, followed by a Squaloraja fish skeleton in 1829. A Squaloraja fish is one from the shark or ray family. This is a pterosaur:

In December 1830 she sold a new species of plesiosaur for £200, an enormous sum in those days, around £25,000 in today’s money. Lady Harriet Silvester had written of Mary, four years earlier:

“It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.”

Indeed, on one occasion, the doctor and aide of King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony asked her to write her name down for him.

She spelt it as “Mary Annins”— and told him “I am well known throughout the whole of Europe.”

Which she was.

In the early 1820s, the eminent French anatomist Georges Cuvier accused her of forging fossil animals by adding extra ones more or less at random. After a meeting of the Geological Society, Mary was completely exonerated and Cuvier forced to say that he had acted in haste and was wrong.

Impoverished Peasants   1      Famous French Barons     0

Here’s a caricature of Cuvier. In actual fact, Mary Anning was not the only person to get the better of him, despite his having a brain the size of a brontosaurus.

Part 2 to follow…….

 

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Filed under France, History, Humour, Science, Wildlife and Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“follow what they had already done”.

And secondly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Canada, Criminology, France, History, Politics, Science

POST NUMBER 600: Two brothers fighting fascism (5)

This is my 600th post. Enjoy !!!

On Saturday, February 13th 1943,  Robert Renwick Jackson was flying his Boston III Intruder, serial number AL766, towards Nantes in western France:

His mission was to drop propaganda leaflets for the occupied French, so they could read the real truth about the war for themselves.

Alas, Robert Renwick Jackson died that night along with his navigator. The upper and rear-gunner, Sergeant TS McNeil, survived and became Prisoner of War No 27276 at Lamsdorf, then in German Silesia but now in south-western Poland. Here’s a typical POW camp:

And here’s a hut nowadays:

The second casualty in the Boston was Peter John LeBoldus, the navigator, who would have been sitting in the nose of the aircraft. His name is virtually unknown in England, but he is better known in Canada. His parents were John LeBoldus and Regina LeBoldus née Weisberg, German Catholic immigrants who had six sons and six daughters. John was a hardware and implement dealer. The family lived in Vibank in Saskatchewan. One of the highlights of Peter’s very short life must have been taking tea with the Queen Mother and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at Windsor Castle with a group of newly arrived Canadian Airmen in England.

On this particular night, Peter John was preparing for the mission and his brother Martin, also a member of 418 Squadron, but working as a mechanic, had helped him put on his flying clothes and his parachute harness. This was the last time the brothers ever saw each other. This is Peter LeBoldus:

Peter John LeBoldus is buried next to his friend, Robert Renwick Jackson, in Grandcourt War Cemetery.

Sadly, Peter John was not the only member of the LeBoldus family to die in the war. John Anthony “Johnny” LeBoldus was a member of 142 (RAF) Squadron, where he was an air gunner in a Vickers Wellington Mk X, serial number LN566, squadron letters QT-D, “D-Dog”. They took off from RAF Oudna in Tunisia on November 24th 1943 to bomb a ball bearing factory at Villar Perosa near Turin, at the very limit of their range. Extreme weather with wind, cloud, fog, rain, and ice caused the loss of 17 aircraft and 73 men were killed. “Johnny” LeBoldus was one of them:

The third LeBoldus brother to die was Martin Benedict LeBoldus, the same man who had helped his brother, Peter John, with his flying clothes and his parachute harness before his death in Boston AL766. Martin Benedict was killed on February 20, 1944 at the age of 31. He was the flight engineer in a Handley Page Halifax Mark II of the Canadian 419 ‘Moose’ Squadron in Bomber Command, serial number JD114, squadron letters VR-V, “V-Victor”. On February 20, 1944 he and his colleagues took off at 23:12 from RAF Middleton St George near Darlington to bomb Leipzig and they were never seen again. Six other men, with an average age of twenty four, were also killed. John Leslie Beattie, Thomas Gettings, Alfred Harvey Hackbart, Donald Clifford Lewthwaite, Douglas Keith MacLeod and John Ralph Piper.  A total of 79 bombers were lost that night. Here’s Martin Benedict LeBoldus:

Mr Leboldus wrote a very bitter letter to the Secretary of the Department of National Defence for Air about the death of his sons:

“Other boys spending their time of war in Canada, yes hundreds and thousands walking the streets of Canada for years, and all our three boys were in the front line of attack. I have my doubts whether this is right and just. Plenty of those who offered three four years ago never seen any fighting nor smelled any powder, why all mine have to do it?”

Certain other Canadian families no doubt felt the same way. They included the Cantin family, the Colville family, the Forestell family, the Griffiths family, the Kimmel family, the Lanteigne family, the Milner family, the Reynolds family, the Rich family, the Rivait family, the Stodgell family, the Wagner family and the Westlake family, all of whom sacrificed three sons to the cause.

Nowadays the LeBoldus brothers are not totally forgotten. Canada is a vast land so it is comparatively easy to give names to hitherto unnamed geographical features. They are called “geo-memorials” and there are now more than four thousand of them. Leboldus Lake in north-western Saskatchewan is named after Peter John Leboldus. The Leboldus Islands there are named after Martin Benedict Leboldus. The link between Leboldus Lake and Frobisher Lake is called the Leboldus Channel after John Anthony Leboldus. What a pity that we don’t do that over here in England.  What a pity there are no streets in either Nottingham or Solihull named after Robert Jackson, killed at the age of 22, fighting for his country.

(Picture of the black Boston borrowed from wp.scn.ru.)

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, military, The High School

Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (4)

The author of the following poem which appeared in the Nottinghamian of December 1940 was Robert Norman Walters of VI Classics. Robert was the son of a “Master Fruiterer” and lived at 159 Cinder Hill Road in Bulwell. He was in the High School from 1930-1941. The winter of 1940-1941 was legendary for its severity and was excellent practice for anybody thinking of taking a winter break in Stalingrad a couple of years later.

SNOW

Snow shall fall and ice

Shall bind the lane in slithering shields

Of white and whitish blue.

Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run

When snow shall whirl and swirl

And formless roofs gleam white.

Yet when this comes,

Let our strong, deep affections

Unfrozen, freeze not.

But with winter seen afar

Retain the burning heat

Of mid-June’s torrid air.

Robert left to go to Jesus College, Cambridge to study Classics. In the section of his poem :

“Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run”

Robert has come remarkably near the words of Wace, who was possibly Robert Wace, a Norman poet, born in Jersey and brought up in mainland Normandy.

Wace was the first author to speak of the Round Table and the Court of King Arthur :

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I say and will say that I am

Wace from the Island of Jersey”

Wace lived, approximately, from 1100-1180.

James Theodore Lester was the son of a Leather Factor & Manufacturer who lived at 42 Bedale Road in Sherwood and then at Castleton House at 5 Castle Avenue in Arnold. The poem occasionally struggles for a rhyme, but the last verse is lovely.

“When I was six”

“When I was six I’d play at boats

And build a fort with many moats

Which I’d replenish with my pail

And put my little boats to sail.

 

 

Round and round and round they’d go

Till the water ceased to flow.

Then back home I would repair

And sit upon my rocking chair.

 

When it was time to go to bed,

Upon the pillow I’d put my head,

And think and dream of things I’d done,

And call the day a happy one.

 

We’ve already seen Frank Alan Underwood of 51 Charnock Avenue in Wollaton Park with his poem ““Evacuated”. This poem is a lot deeper and a lot more chilling. It was published in April 1943.

THE MIRROR

The dead man lay upon his bed

In the pause at dawn ere the Soul had fled,

And the Lamp burned dim as the East glowed red.

The Soul rose as the man had done

For twenty years at the beck of the sun:

But as yet it knew not that Death had won.

Then still as man and not aware

It looked in the mirror to brush its hair

–Looked in the mirror and found nothing there.

Ivan Keith Doncaster wrote a poem in The Nottinghamian in March 1937 which was pretty good:

 

THE FISHPOND

There’s a fishpond in our garden,

Not very big or wide ;

But fish just love to dart about,

Among the rocks inside.

And if you sit there on the bank,

You’ll see a sudden flash—

A big fat frog has just dived in,

And made a dreadful splash.

 

The frightened fish swim swiftly round

In search of safe retreat,

The frog looks at the golden line,

And croaks his sad defeat.

When ice seals up our gold-fish pond,

Neath winter’s frozen spell ;

We just catch golden gleams below,

To tell us all is well.

 

In summer when the fountain plays,

And sends forth silver rain,

The fish all frolic in great glee,

As cooling showers they gain.

 

We feed the fish with large ant eggs,

And when the days are warm

They jump to catch the flitting flies

Which o’er the pond do swarm.

 

Some happy moments there we spend,

Watching the fish at play ;

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter too,

They move in swift array.

 

Ivan Keith Doncaster only lived from 1923-1944 but he had already succeeded in the previous year in writing the most beautiful piece of poetry by any High School boy, bar none. It summarises how much we love our oh-so-beautiful lives, yet all the time are well aware of the price we will all one day pay as the distant bells toll our inevitable doom.

Keith paid his price in the mid-upper turret of a Lancaster over the German city of Kassel on October 22nd 1943, five days after his 20th birthday.

This poem appeared in April 1936 and had Keith lived, he would have been a great poet. He has a masterful touch and is capable of the most astonishing subtlety.

GATHERING SHELLS

“Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.”

I have read that poem literally hundreds of times and I do not even begin to tire of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Literature, My Garden, My House, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Wildlife and Nature

Two brothers fighting fascism (4)

Old Nottinghamian, Robert Renwick Jackson was killed on Saturday, February 13th 1943. He was the pilot of a Boston III Intruder with the serial number AL766 and the squadron letters TH-unknown. Whatever that unknown letter was, “A-Able”, “Z-Zebra”, whatever, on a Boston it was never painted on the fuselage with the other two letters, either side of the roundel. Instead it was placed, in matt red, under the pilot’s side window, replacing those sexy ladies on the noses of B-17s:

And here is the more normal positioning of squadron letters, on a Supermarine Spitfire :

Robert took off from Bradwell at 23:57 hours on an Evening Intruder Sortie to Nantes, a large port on the River Loire in western France, 35 miles inland from St Nazaire. His mission was to drop propaganda leaflets for the occupied French. This activity was called “Nickeling” and, in the rich slang of the RAF, the men who did it were called “bumphfleteers”. Here’s Bradwell nowadays:

The last definite news about Robert’s aircraft came as it approached the French coast but it then crashed a few miles inland. There is much doubt about the exact reason for this, but, if we discount pilot error, we are pretty well left with just anti-aircraft fire or a night fighter.

Perhaps he had inadvertently flown over a German flak battery. Whenever the RAF reached the French coast they were never far from German guns. And the crews of these guns were always very good. They had plenty of practice. They were quite capable of shooting down a Boston:

One hugely relevant detail is that a straight line from Essex to Nantes passes more or less directly over some of the most heavily fortified sections of the Atlantic Wall. They may even have passed too close to the huge German troop concentration at Le Havre, a garrison of 14,000 men with an excellent concentration of 88mm guns protecting them from air attack. Many reports over the years have said that Robert’s aircraft crashed near Mantes, which, unless it is a misspelling for Nantes, must mean Mantes-la-Jolie, near Paris, around 30 miles from the city centre. This scenario can be pretty well rejected because Robert was initially buried at Saint-Riquier-ès-Plains, only 22 miles from Dieppe and 22 miles from Etretat, famous for its sea cliffs. Robert was then reburied on October 1st 1947 in a larger cemetery at Grandcourt, some 20 miles east of Dieppe. Clearly, everything is connected with Dieppe and the Channel coast rather than Mantes-la-Jolie and the city of Paris. I cannot agree either with those who say that he was killed not near Mantes but near Nantes, the original destination of his mission. Why would the Germans transport his remains some 250 miles for burial at Saint-Riquier-ès-Plains? That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Anyway, here is Grandcourt Cemetery:

(Picture of the black Boston borrowed from wp.snc.ru.)

 

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Filed under Aviation, France, History, military, The High School

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Four)

As we found with Volume 3, things moved at a rather slow pace for the publication of Volume 4, but you will be pleased to hear that it has finally made its appearance, detailing 25 of the High School’s casualties in World War II.

Don’t think, incidentally, that we were running out of steam. As I mentioned last time, all five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. Furthermore, that material is, overall, of the same quality as all the other volumes. No single book is full of exciting stories of derring-do, at the expense of another volume devoid of all excitement. I took great care to make that the case.

Indeed, Volume 4 contains the detailed story of “Watty” Watson, the Battle of Britain fighter pilot who would die, it was alleged by his colleagues in 152 Squadron, the victim of Irish saboteurs in the parachute packing plant.

This volume, therefore, portrays not just the terrible excitement of World War II, but the backgrounds of these 25 young men who died fighting it. Their families, their houses, their school years with Masters very different from those of today:

You can read about their boyhood hobbies, their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. And all of this is related against the background of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city almost completely different from that of today.

That is not to say, of course, that you will not find all the details of the conflicts in which these young men fought and the circumstances in which they met their deaths. On occasion, particularly in the case of the more peculiar training accidents, I have even attempted to find explanations for events. Most details of this kind were completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research.

In this volume, you will meet the ON who was killed trying to defend Liverpool at night in a Boulton Paul Defiant night-fighter:

The ON shot down over West Norfolk by Oberleutnant Paul Semrau of the Fernnachtjagd:

The ON who flew his Vickers Wellington straight into the cold waters of Tremadog Bay in North Wales, for no apparent reason:

The ON who worked for the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying American bombers across the Atlantic:

The ON who left his jacket hanging in the School Archives, where it still hangs today. Alas, it may look as if it is waiting for its owner to come in, a laughing, jovial, chubby middle aged man, who will boast that his school cricket blazer still fits him, but who will be sadly disappointed when he takes it off the hanger and realises just how thin he was back in the day.

Alas, he sleeps now in Tobruk Cemetery:

Another ON perished trying to cross the River Volturno in Italy. He and his colleagues were prevented, temporarily, from so doing by the Hermann Göring Division and the 15th Panzergrenadiers.

The ON whose Whitley bomber crossed the North Sea on a bombing mission only to be hit by anti-aircraft fire and crash, as my researches have discovered, on a hillside near Hüffe Farm south of the village of Lashorst, near the small town of Preußisch Oldendorf in North Rhine-Westphalia, nineteen miles east-north-east of Osnabrück and almost midway between that city and Hannover:

The ON in the wrong place at the wrong time. The place, the Bomb Dump at RAF Graveley, which stored the bombs for the missions of an entire squadron over, at least, a number of days. The time, five seconds before it all blew up.

The ON who fought with the SAS, the Special Air Service and then the SBS, the Special Boat Service. The SAS still do not know how he died.

The ON whose family owned and traded under the name of “Pork Farms”:

The ON, a young man whose “fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.”  Alas, six years later, he was one of the day’s casualties “laid out on the ground in front of the church wall” in Hérouville,  as the Allies fought hard to clear another of the many little villages  in Normandy.

And finally, the ON who was a history lecturer at Glasgow University, but who, in October 1941, thought it was his duty to give lectures to the ordinary troops in the North African and Mediterranean theatres about why we are fighting and the world after the war. Backwards  and forwards he criss-crossed the area time and again. And the ordinary men lapped it up. They were so happy that a university lecturer who didn’t need to be there had come to see them and to explain the politics of the day.

And don’t forget, our history writing motto still remains:

“No tale is left untold. No anecdote is ignored.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Africa, Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, military, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Writing

Two Old Nottinghamian brothers fighting fascism (3)

Old Nottinghamian, Robert Renwick Jackson was the pilot of a Boston III Intruder. He was killed on February 13th 1943 during an Evening Intruder Sortie to Nantes, carrying out a mission to drop propaganda leaflets for the occupied French. This type of activity was called “Nickeling”. In the rich slang of the RAF, the men who did it were called “bumphfleteers”:

I was really surprised when I found out exactly what they were distributing. Firstly, it was not necessarily a single sheet floating down. Some leaflets were up to sixteen pages. They are best thought of like an old football programme, with two or four or even eight sheets folded in two and then stapled.  Leaflets dropped on France in late 1942 included “We are winning the battle which will be decisive for victory” or “Winston Churchill Ami De La France”. There were precise verbatim reports such as “Speech by Mr. Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on September 9th 1942”, “Churchill talks on British war production” and accounts such as “Victory in Egypt – Prelude to the Allied Offensive”, referring to the Battle of El Alamein. One leaflet showed what the Free French in Great Britain were doing, trawler fishing and so on, and a second leaflet which firmly announced, “The Renault factories were working for the German Army. The Renault factories have been bombed”. Always mentioned were the times and frequencies of the BBC’s broadcasts to France.

There were two long running titles which were dropped many times in France. The first was “Courrier de l’Air” or “Postbag of the Air” with lots of short articles and photographs, of various happenings outside Hitler’s Europe:

On February 25th 1943, it contained “A heavy threat weighs on the Nazis in the Donetsk region”, “Heavy fighting in central Tunisia” and “The battleship Richelieu in New York”. Sometimes a single topic might fill the “Courrier” such as “I flew over the German army surrounded at Stalingrad”, “Stalingrad the Invincible”, “The condemned German army were waiting for the coup de grâce” and the sarcastic “Hitler has not forgotten you” under a photograph of five half, if not totally, frozen German soldiers:

Another favourite was the “Revue de la Presse Libre” or “The Magazine of the Free Press”. It carried editorials and articles in French taken from “The Times”, “The Telegraph” and other British newspapers. The leaflets were printed in hundreds of thousands and were dropped for several weeks, particularly if they were very general in nature. “Who was right?” ran from February 4th-April 11th 1943. “Edition Spéciale : Casablanca” ran from February 11th-14th 1943, and the January 1943 “Courrier de l’Air” was still being dropped in March. My own best guesses for the leaflets that Robert was delivering included “Courrier de l’Air 4 février 1943” which was dropped between February 11th-March 4th. My best guess No 2 would be the “Revue de la Presse Libre No 5” which was airlifted in by the RAF between February 11th-14th 1943. Waterlows had printed around 300,000 of them.

To be continued……….

 

 

 

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Two Old Nottinghamian brothers fighting fascism (2)

Last time, John Jackson mentioned his brother, Robert Jackson, who was a member of No 418 “City of Edmonton” Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying the American twin-engined Douglas Boston Mk IIIs. He was based at RAF Debden, around 34 miles north-east of London. They flew “Intruder sorties” into occupied Europe at night, and at low level to avoid the German radar. Their purpose was to destroy German aircraft, as they took off or came back to land. Sometimes, these were German night fighters, returning from operations over England. More important, though, were the attacks on German bombers as they returned from bombing England. The other main activity were “Ranger sorties”, when they would shoot up either enemy airfields, factories, power stations or shipping. Above all, they tried to destroy as many locomotives and as much rolling stock as possible:

The Bostons went deep into enemy territory, although they did not carry their own radar. They used the naked eye, fortified with an hourly consumption of carrots. 418 Squadron also spent a great deal of time dropping propaganda leaflets on occupied countries such as Belgium, France and Holland.

The Douglas Boston Mark III had extensive armour protection and large fuel tanks for longer range. Its speed was well in excess of 300 mph and fighter versions came closer to 400 mph. 418 Squadron flew a development of the Mark III called the Mark III Intruder, with specialised adaptations on the exhausts to mask the flame effects of the engines at night. They carried four 20mm cannon in a ventral pack under the central portion of the aircraft’s fuselage, and a bomb load of up to two thousand pounds.

The Bostons were painted completely matt black, an unusual paint scheme in the RAF. Squadron letters were in matt red. 418 Squadron was an élite outfit in the RCAF. They carried out more missions than anybody else, both by day and by night, they shot down more German aircraft than anybody else, both by day and by night, and they destroyed more aircraft on the ground than anybody else.

The squadron motto was in Inuit, the single word “Piyautailili” or “Defend Unto Death”:

They trained hard to master flying at low level at night, although it was far from easy. Casualty rates became extremely high in 1942. Aircraft were lost on February 24th, March 9th (two), March 26th and 29th, April 1st (two), 12th and 27th (two), May 17th and 20th (two), July 9th, August 1st, 2nd, 17th, 21st, 28th, October 19th, November 8th and 18th, December 1st and 5th. 24 aircraft in total, with potentially, 72 men killed.

During the winter of 1942-1943, the main problem was that, operating now from RAF Bradwell, they were penetrating deeper and deeper into Germany, much further than ever before. When they left England, conditions might be acceptable, but six hours later, there could be thick fog or ice or snow. They might be short of fuel as they looked for an airfield. There were lots of accidents and lots of casualties.

Bradwell Bay was the only fighter base to be equipped with FIDO, a method of allowing aircraft to land during periods of persistent, thick fog.

A pipeline either side of the runway had burner jets placed equal distances apart along its entire length. Petrol was pumped in and ignited. The subsequent flames would evaporate the fog droplets sufficiently for any aircraft waiting to land to see the runway:

FIDO was usually employed at bomber stations. Here it is, being lit. Mind your eyebrows:

The cost of training a seven man crew, was very much more than 100,000 gallons of petrol per hour. “Bomber” Harris always said that it was cheaper to send twelve men to Oxford or Cambridge for three years than to train a Lancaster crew:

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Old Nottinghamian brothers fighting fascism (1)

There is an interesting letter in the School Archives which begins:

“On December 10th 1988, my son, daughter and myself were visiting Nottingham to see my granddaughter who is at Trent University. We arrived on the Saturday morning, and found my old school, opposite the Forest but with locked gates. Then we suddenly noticed the gates opening. It was one of the teachers preparing to drive out before locking up. We were warm in our anoraks but although he was only wearing light clothes, this kind teacher offered to show us around the outside of the school buildings. The site of the former “Fives” court was, he told us, blocked by a newer building. Memories began flooding back.”

The writer was John T Jackson who left school in 1935 at the age of twelve. His father’s job was transferred to Birmingham and he and his brother transferred to Solihull Grammar School. Here are the school gates on Forest Road in 1932:

Here are the two fives courts, now replaced by the Sports Hall:

When young John Jackson attended the junior school, Mr Day was the headmaster. One day the boys were all taken outside to see the flight overhead of the new airship, the R101.

The buildings had not changed much as the little group all walked towards the front of the school. Mr Jackson remembered that the steps at the front of the school led to the Headmaster’s room. Then they saw the War Memorial. Mr Jackson had not realised that it would contain so many names. Over two hundred had died to halt fascism. He scanned the names, picking out his brother “Jackson RR”. He was very grateful to see this tribute to the courage and sacrifice that he and his fellow pupils had made.

Robert Renwick Jackson served in the RAF as a pilot in No 40 Squadron based at Chelmsford and flew on low level night intruder missions against enemy targets. In 1943 he was shot down in the coastal area of northern France. He and his observer are buried at Grandcourt in France:

After taking a few photos, John Jackson returned to his car, thanking the teacher for his kindness. When they found the gates locked they had been ready to accept that the best they could manage was to look from outside.

John Jackson had a far luckier war than his brother. He trained as a navigator in the RAF and was stationed at Kinloss in Scotland. His captain was Mac Hamilton, and they survived two tours in Bomber Command. After ten trips to Berlin with 619 Squadron, the whole crew volunteered to join 617 Squadron after Gibson’s successful raid on the dams. 617 was then commanded by Leonard Cheshire who had a precision way of marking targets with special bomb sights. They carried the Tallboy bomb weighing 12000 lbs and attacked special targets such as the U-boat pens, certain tunnels and canals, and rocket sites. Their last two operations were against the Tirpitz battleship. It took a total of three attacks to sink the Tirpitz.”

To be continued………..

 

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