Category Archives: History

the Gloster Meteor at Hendon (1)

On the very same visit to RAF Hendon when I saw the Messerschmitt Me 262, I also saw the first RAF jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor F8:

To be honest, compared to the German thoroughbred, the Meteor looked a bit of a tub, to say the least:

On the other hand, the engines were lots better than the German ones and eventually the Meteor would be purchased by Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Biafra, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, West Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Syria and the United States. Here are aircraft from Argentina, Belgium and Brazil :

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Having been initially negative about the Meteor, it is only fair to say that in the in-service trials between the Meteor and the propeller driven Hawker Tempest, the Meteor was judged the winner on all counts, except, conceivably, manœuvrability. Pilots of propeller driven aircraft often said that the Meteor was “exciting to fly”. Norman Tebbit, the politician and ex-RAF pilot, said of the Meteor:

“Get airborne, up with the wheels, hold it low until you were about 380 knots, pull it up and she would go up, well we thought then, like a rocket”.

The first Meteors to see action were with 616 Squadron who began by chasing V1 flying bombs over south eastern England from July 27th 1944 onwards. In early 1945, they moved out to Belgium and then Holland, carrying out armed reconnaissance and ground attack sorties but without meeting any Me 262s. The Meteors were painted all white to avoid friendly fire issues:

After the war, the Meteor came into contact with the Soviet Mig-15 both in Korea and in the Israel-Egypt war in the mid-1950s. It was found to be lacking in many respects.

More on the Meteor’s shortcomings next time.

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Filed under Aviation, History, Personal, Science

Card Carrying Commies (5)

One of my very best friends, whom I have known since Infants’ School, has always been a keen photographer. In 1989 he decided to go to Berlin on one of those cheap European flights. As luggage, he took with him a camera and a large hammer. He wanted, I suppose, to help history along on its way:

By December 25, 1991, the desire for change had spread to the USSR. The Soviet hammer and sickle flag over the Kremlin was pulled down for the last time. Mikhail Gorbachev, a good man, was replaced by Boris Yeltsin.

Here’s Gorbachev and Yeltsin:

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And the world that Aleesa and Vladimir had known all their lives comes crashing down. For years and years, Aleesa has come into the office with her Party dues. She has paid her money every single month without fail, to the only organisation she has ever belonged to. And then, she goes along to pay for May 1990, perhaps thinking it will help with the cost of the celebrations to mark the end of the Great Patriotic War on May 8th or perhaps even May Day itself. The day which celebrates the Workers of the World. But the Party is over. Gone for ever:

Vladimir will experience exactly the same process. He goes in one day to pay his 1 rouble 13 kopecks and there’s nobody to take it from him. Why, they’ve even written the next year on the blank page, so certain were they both that the Party would be there for ever:

But now, there are just lots and lots of blank pages, each with the number of a future year already inked in in the top right hand corner. Life though, has changed for ever:

Even “Zolochevskiy” has changed as I found out when I googled it. In my previous post, “Zolochevskiy” was the name of the local administrative area of the Communist Party. I skimmed through four news reports thrown up by Google and I found nothing at all about any branches of the old Communist Party.

“Zolochevskiy” was there though, but the stories were all reported with the kind of vocabulary such as:

“Anti-Corruption Bureau, colossal greed, corruption, crime, criminal proceedings, dirty money, embezzlement, illicit assets, laundering, mafia, misappropriation, possible abuses, proceeds from crime, seizure of property through abuse of official position, stacks of treasures, suspicion of illegal enrichment and the wanted list.”

How sad. The Party fades away and is replaced by something lots, lots worse. And that’s not just the Ukraine, of course. Plenty of other ex-members of the Soviet club are much, much worse off than they ever were before. Whole countries run by criminal elements. Fixed elections. Old people forced to beg in the streets because their pension funds have been stolen.

Don’t worry though. I’m sure that somebody will come along and save them all:

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Filed under History, Humour, Personal, Politics, Russia

Fred joins the RAF (3)

For ab initio training, new recruits to the RAF were often sent to Blackpool. The popular seaside resort had an abundance of boarding houses and small hotels to provide accommodation and food. There were plenty of nice, wide promenades to practice marching:

There were lots of even wider beaches for improving physical fitness:

In Blackpool, Fred was taught how to salute, to hold a rifle, to march, and, in general, how to behave as an Aircraftman Second Class, by Sergeant Parry. It was Sergeant Parry’s proud boast that

“One day you’ll be walking along the street, years after this war has finished, and you’ll suddenly hear me shout “Ah..ten…SHUN ! ! ” and you’ll pull up straightaway, and come to attention, even if you are 55 years old.”

In actual fact, this never happened to Fred, but when he was 75 years old, he was admitted to Burton-on-Trent Hospital, where, although he was eventually to recover, he was for some length of time, gravely ill. The Victorian ward he was in had very large metal framed windows, pale green and beige walls, and a yellowish grey light. It clearly reminded a very confused Fred of his original RAF barracks, and the nurses reported that on more than one occasion he was heard to call out, in his delirium,

“It’s all right, Sergeant Parry, I’m coming, don’t worry, Sergeant Parry, I’ll be there in a minute.”

Presumably, Sergeant Parry was marginally more pleasant than the only other drill instructor that Fred ever mentioned. Ironically, Fred never actually met the man in question face to face.

Instead, shortly after arriving at a training base where he was to serve, Fred heard the story of a sergeant instructor who regularly shouted and screamed at the young men in his charge and who, in his treatment of them, regularly overstepped the mark by a considerable distance. He was a bullying, aggressive man, and basically, everybody soon grew to hate him.

One day, a German raider arrived and began strafing the airfield:

The instructor raced away across the grass and jumped into one of the many slit trenches which crisscrossed the base, constructed for surviving just such an occasion as this. What he did not realise when he jumped in was that the trench was almost completely filled with water.

Unable to swim, he drowned. There were men there who could have helped him but they chose just to watch him thrash about in the water. They could have saved his life, but he had abused too many of them for anybody to want to help him now.

Here are seven of Fred’s instructors during his “ab initio” training, probably at Blackpool:

They are Messrs Newman, Pascoe, Turner, Flight Sergeant Prentice, Hirst, Clark and Hanson.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Criminology, History, Personal

They were only playing leapfrog…..

This story comes from a source which I have used quite frequently, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood”. On this occasion, the year is 1794 and the French revolutionary government has recently abolished slavery on February 4th of that year. Only a week later, on February 11th, the sessions of the United States Senate are made open so the public can come along and watch.

Today, though, is February 23rd and the slack jawed young locals in the Hockley area of Georgian Nottingham have all assembled in Broad Street. They are going to have a damned good game of leapfrog while they wait for somebody to invent football. On this modern map, LRTS marks the tram system. Look for the orange arrow:

I presume that leapfrog  is a universal game across the world. This is Harlem during the Jazz Age:

And here’s one of those old Victorian stop motion films:

You wouldn’t want to play  leapfrog in the middle of Broad Street nowadays, but in 1794 it was not a problem. So what happened? Well…….

“A number of young men, in a playful mood, were diverting themselves in a game of leapfrog in Broad-street, when one of them disappeared underground in a remarkable manner. He had leaped over the back of a comrade, in the customary way, and happened to alight on the spot where there was a well,  120 feet deep.”

It wasn’t as big as this…

But it was still quite big and it soon attracted a crowd:

Anyway, back to 1794…

“The aperture had simply been covered with boards and a little earth, and was uniform in appearance with the surrounding ground . Fortunately, the man was extricated perfectly unhurt, and with an oath declared himself equal to any pantomime performer on the stage, inasmuch as he dare leap without being caught in a blanket! The well was immediately arched over.”

Nowadays, Broad Street is a busy but basically, fairly ordinary thoroughfare, except some bored fool with nothing better to do has painted ” Broad St” on the floor in big white letters :

The other end of the street has a famous pub:

This pub is nowadays the only real attraction in the street. Things might change though, if “arching over” an old well doesn’t solve the problem for very much more than 200 years. Then we might see some more excitement.

Here’s a better view of the pub:

Once you’ve had a refreshing pint of ale in the Lord Roberts pub, above, you might even feel like a game of leapfrog yourself. Here’s the army’s version of the game in that magnificent anti-war film about World War One, “Oh What a Lovely War”. The song is entitled “They were only playing leapfrog”:

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Filed under France, History, Nottingham

Card Carrying Commies (4)

Last time, we were looking at the Communist Party membership cards carried by just a deluded few  of those maniacal Commies who did nothing with their lives except plot and scheme how to overcome NATO. They all carried a little booklet:

The next page we get to is all about cash. The top sets of words are Ukrainian with at least one letter “ i ” and the second one is Russian. The top box is “Payment-(of) membership-dues”. The year is 1975:

The first of the four vertical columns is the month which in Russian is “M-YE-S-YA-TS”, which is like the Latin word “mensis” and means ‘month’. Russian is a very ancient language and tends to have words related to Latin rather more frequently than many modern European languages, except for universal words such as ‘tennis’, or ‘football’ or ‘tank’.
Going down the column you might be able to work out the names of the months. They are YA-N-V-A-R (don’t bother about the little letter ‘b’. It’s an accent) F-YE-V-R-A-L , M-A-R-T, A-P-R-YE-L, M-AYE (the letter ‘й’ ias again an accent, a bit like a letter ‘Y’ in English). Then it’s “EE-YU-N” and “EE-YU-L”. After that it’s A-V-G-OO-S-T, S-YE-N-T-YA-B-R, O-K-T-YA-B-R, N-O-YA-B-R and D-YE-K-A-B-R.
The next three columns are quite interesting. The second one is headed “Monthly earnings”, so she made 271 roubles in January, 267 roubles in February and so on.

As for how much that was worth, it’s very difficult to say. I visited the USSR in 1969 and paid 3p for a newspaper or 5p for a packet of 20 cigarettes. The Moscow underground was inexpensive with go-anywhere tickets at 3p. So many Muscovites used the underground that the Soviet Mint made a special three kopeck coin  to quicken things up at the ticket machines. Travel on the trams or buses was equally low-priced. Overall, most ordinary everyday things were extremely cheap, although many Western-type things were virtually unobtainable so they were very expensive.

I think Aleesa could have led a simple and relatively comfortable life on this amount of money. True, she would have lacked a lot of consumer goods but at the same time, she would not have had the average personal debt we supposedly have here in England of £14,000 per person, excluding house mortgages. Her streets were largely crime and graffiti free, she had decent accommodation that she could afford to heat, she had a job, her education was completely free and when she grew old, she received a pension. She had access to a very large number of simple leisure activities, such as sport, dance and libraries, theatre and opera and all of it was very low priced. A large number of people in contemporary Russia would return to the old days if they could, especially the old people.
Her party membership fees are listed in Column Three.

They seem to vary but are very roughly 3% of her total salary. I have not been able to find out exactly what were the particular benefits of Party membership. Presumably, a lot of ordinary people just wanted to be Communists and to defend the massive gains they had made under that system. A search of the Internet in general reveals that the Party granted people a greater chance of reaching a higher level in whichever field they were working in, from the Army to professorships in Zoology. If that’s the case though, then the Party’s doors were open a lot wider than the Bohemian Club, the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, the Pitt Club at Cambridge University or the Skull and Bones at Yale University. And there must be lots of other clubs so secret that we don’t even know about them. This is the badge of the Ukrainian Communist Party:

Whatever Aleesa got out of Party Membership, she was happy to pay the fees. The third column is the signature of the Secretary of the local party. It’s written “S-YE-K-R-YE-T-A-R-YA”.

Vladimir doesn’t seem to have received as much per month if you look at the second column. He earned 73 roubles in January 1977, for example.

Perhaps he worked part time or perhaps he was disabled or a war veteran and received a sum every month. It’s impossible to know now. His contributions are just tiny…some 37 kopecks per month. And all of it signed for by the party secretary, although, if you look very carefully, it has already been stamped. What is on the stamp is very difficult to read, but it certainly has the word “Zolochevskiy” which I take to be the area concerned. It is the first word and begins with ‘Z-O-Lambda-O”.

What happened next, next time. In the meantime, “Workers, keep uniting!”.

 

 

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Filed under History, Humour, Politics, Russia

the Reverend Charles Stephens (3)

Last time I showed you some more of the photographs left to us by the Reverend Charles Stephens, a keen photographer who captured many aspects of the High School, both boys, buildings and activities. Some of the most striking ones were taken in early 1960 when the new block on the northern side of the West Quadrangle was opened.

We have already looked at the bottom floor and the top corridor with their absolutely amazing block parquet flooring, which was not just shiny but even reflective. That incredible quality of being polished so highly as to be reflective seems to have been really widespread in the school at the time. Perhaps whichever company polished the floors of the new block was given free rein with some of the other rooms. Here are the floorboards of one of the Chemistry laboratories:

Here is the Music Rehearsal Room. Notice how all of the boys are wearing white plimsolls, which they have presumably had to bring from home, along with their trombones:

The Old Gym was pretty much the same as the new West Block rooms. Just look at those boys at the top of those ropes! If I’d been able to do that, I reckon my application for the French Foreign Legion would have gone a lot better than it did:

The Reverend Stephens didn’t just do buildings though. He did groups of boys such as his Tutor Set, seen here in 1953-1954:

How clever! He got them all to autograph the back of the photo:

 

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Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

Fred joins the RAF (2)

By 1941, inspired no doubt in part by the exploits of “The Few” in the previous year’s Battle of Britain, Fred had made up his mind to join the RAF. To do this, he had to walk to the recruiting office in Derby, a journey he had made so many times before with his father to see Derby County play football at the Baseball Ground:

It was a lot less built up and a lot quieter in 1941 than it is now:

Fred duly arrived at a two storey building in the middle of  Derby, where all three of the services were busily enrolling volunteers.

As he walked in, Fred was immediately offered a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters, but he refused this generous opportunity and continued on up the stairs to the RAF. Here, he was asked to spell two words correctly, and he had passed their entrance examination. The words were “horizon” and “bicycle”. Fred was now a proud member of the RAF, an organisation which most of the population believed were “the cream of the nation”. He would wear this for the best part of five years:

When Fred returned home, he told his parents what he had done. His father congratulated him on his bravery, but his frightened mother slapped his face, and said “You wicked boy!”

Not everybody saw it in such a negative way. In October 1941, Fred was still working in Swadlincote at the office of Bert Orgill, a local business man, when Colonel Guy German from nearby Ashby-de-la-Zouch called round, and asked about him, perhaps even seeing Fred as a likely recruit for his own regiment.

Mr Orgill said that Fred had recently volunteered for the RAF, and Colonel German generously gave him a five pound note for having done so. Eventually, Fred would look like this:

At this time, as was briefly mentioned above, the RAF was considered to be the élite force of the three, a fact which was strongly emphasized in the personal letter sent to every man who joined the RAF by Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for War. He said that

“The RAF demands a high standard of physical fitness and alertness, and I congratulate you on passing the stringent tests”.

They were also told they had a “great task to perform” and that

“The honour of the RAF is in your hands. Our country’s safety and the final overthrow of the powers of evil now arrayed against us depend on you and your comrades.”

They were encouraged to “keep fit, work hard, live temperately”. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

Perhaps as a direct result of this generous praise, there were so many volunteers for the RAF that young men were often sent away for up to a year or more, until a place on a suitable training course became available. This may possibly have been what happened to Fred, although, at this late stage, we have absolutely no way of ever knowing the truth, as his RAF records are far from exhaustive, shall we say!

Nobody of Fred’s social class had ever done any flying. Few had ever been inside an aircraft. Hardly any could even drive a car. To have volunteered for the RAF, and to have been accepted, no matter how low he said their standards of spelling may have been, must have suffused him with immense pride. In this, of course, he was not alone. Thousands of young men across the entire nation had read books and magazines about aviation throughout the 1930s and now, as they reached their early twenties, they were only too willing to join the youngest service:

We do know that when Fred volunteered, he was within just a couple of months of his nineteenth birthday. At the age of eighteen, he still had the right to choose which service he entered. Had he waited those last two months, until he was nineteen years old, the government would then have had the right to conscript him, and he would have lost the right to decide in which arm of the services he was to serve.

It is, however, actually possible to disprove one apparently neat theory, namely that Fred, as a keen cinema goer, might well have been inspired to join the RAF by seeing a famous documentary film, which he would talk about ceaselessly in later years. It was entitled “Target for Tonight”.

“Target for Tonight” was a Crown Film Unit propaganda film, using real RAF personnel throughout and chronicling a night raid on Germany by the Vickers Wellingtons of 149 Squadron of Bomber Command, with, coincidentally, “F for Freddie” as the main aircraft. It is a nice idea that Fred was inspired to join the RAF by seeing this film but it cannot be true, as the film was not released until at least October 1941, almost a full month after Fred volunteered.  He still spent the rest of his life as an enormous fan of  Charles Pickard, the hero of the film:

One thing that Fred was always to joke about, however, was the immediate impact that his joining the Allied Forces was to have on the conflict. Montgomery’s victory over Rommel at El Alamein followed his enlistment reasonably quickly, and not long afterwards, the Soviets were to win the Battle of Stalingrad.

You can watch “Target for Tonight” here:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Derby County, History, Personal