Category Archives: History

A nice German in Woodville

I have been friends with Chris since we went to Woodville Junior School when we were seven years old, almost sixty years of friendship:

He recently told me the following story. It fits in so well with my previous two posts on this subject of Germans and/or Nazis in Woodville that I would like to include it here. I have kept to Chris’ original words:

“A few years ago my mother told me the story of an event during the Second World War.

One day she came home from work to find a German Prisoner of War in the living-room drinking tea.

My grandfather introduced him as “Gerard”. I imagine his name was actually Gerhardt. My grandfather had met Gerhardt walking up the railway line from Ensor’s brickyard where apparently he was working. (I was not aware that POWs could be required to work for what was to them the enemy but your blog entry confirms that they did.)

“Gerhardt was on his way to Woodville Tollgate to wait for the transport back to the camp, which I think was near Etwall, and given that he had almost two hours to wait, my grandfather invited him in for tea. My mother was horrified since she thought that it was probably illegal to have an enemy POW in the house  – fraternising with the enemy and all that.”

“It transpired that Gerhardt’s ‘plane had been shot down; he and most of the crew bailed out before it crashed. From what I gather, Gerhardt was a reluctant combatant and was quite relieved to be hors de combat. He obviously spoke English, since none of my family spoke German, so he must have been relatively well-educated.”

In any event, Gerhardt finished his tea and went on his way. They never saw him again.

I wish my mother had told me this story years ago because I would have tried to find Gerhardt and see what happened to him subsequently.”

It is by no means beyond the realms of possibility that Chris might have found Gerhardt. If he was born between 1910-1920, he may have lasted beyond the Year 2000. My own Dad was in the RAF in 1941, around twenty years old, and he lasted until 2003 when he died aged 80.

Ensor’s brickworks is long gone, but here is the Victorian nineteenth century map of the area :

The railway whose course Gerhardt was following runs from bottom left to top right and Ensor’s Pool Works is just to the south of the middle of the railway. Gerhardt would have been walking to the north east along the railway.

My friends and I all played in that extremely dangerous industrial area from, say 1962-1968, although by then the Pool Works had been demolished. We did play on the majestic slopes of “Milk Hill” though, which was an enormous pile of clay, made from, I presume, several million tons of the sticky stuff. You can see “Milk Hill” in the middle of the right hand side of the map. And we went down into the clay pit as well, which was even more dangerous, because of the lakes of wet clay with a deceptive thin dry crust on top. And if there was one “air shaft”, there would have been more. Still, just like many boys, and indeed fully grown men, (if there is such a thing) “Danger is my middle name”.

At the middle of the top of the map is “Jack i’ th’ Holes” which is a very strange name and, to me, has supernatural connotations, Jack very often referring to Satan himself.

On the map the seven  little  circles in the Pool Works are circular kilns. Here is a picture taken in the Pool Works showing some of them. When he left school, my Dad, Fred, aged then only thirteen or fourteen, worked as a junior in the offices at Ensor’s Pool Works. He is standing to the right of the man with the shovel. Notice how two men have climbed one of the kilns to be in the photograph :

In later years, Fred was not the only person to be disgusted that Freckleton, the son of the business’ owner, was to remain at home throughout the Second World War, hiding his cowardice behind the spurious claim that his job was a reserved occupation. It wasn’t.

Some time before the outbreak of the war, Fred was to witness an incident when a workman, for some unknown reason, had hit Freckleton hard in the face, and knocked him backwards into a puddle. Freckleton was drenched with muddy water and his magnificent suit was ruined.

Needless to say, the workman was dismissed on the spot, and, given the connections which existed between factory owners at this time and were renewed every time there was a Freemasons’ meeting, he was unable to find work anywhere in South Derbyshire ever again.

Incidentally, I did a little research about the location of the Prisoner of War camp, and found that there were a number in the area, along the side of the River Trent, where digging tunnels was more likely to result in death by drowning than freedom. Sites included the Weston Camp in Weston-on-Trent (top right), but the likeliest site for Gerhardt, in my opinion, was the section of Weston Camp in King’s Newton. Here’s the Orange Arrow, Herr Orange Pfeil, released early for good behaviour. Woodville is bottom left:

It’s funny looking at that map, which is perhaps ten miles square. I spent all of my life until I was eighteen in Woodville, yet I’ve never ever been to Twyford or Ingleby or King’s Newton or Newbold or Coleorton or Heath End. I was once on a bus going through Peggs Green, and it was so countrified that when an old lady that the driver expected to be at the bus stop wasn’t there to catch the bus, he went and knocked on her door to tell her to hurry up, or he’d have to leave her.

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Books for Christmas (1)

I thought it might be helpful if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured here are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying the books second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with certain very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price. Again, you need to shop around.

First up to the plate, is “The Bayeux Tapestry: Story of the Norman Conquest, 1066” by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey. This book came out for the 900th anniversary in 1966 and was meant primarily for schools. It contains every single square inch of the tapestry in full colour. Many modern books leave out what they consider to be the boring bits, or reproduce them in black and white:

Next is “Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance” by Ann Kramer. Conscientious objectors, or “Conchies”, usually refuse to fight in their country’s wars because of religious reasons. This book completely changed my mind about them. I always thought that conchies were, deep down, just cowards, no different from the people who find spurious medical problems to avoid risking their lives, and are happy to let others do the fighting. I was wrong. Many of these people were a lot braver than the men already in the armed forces, and most of them were treated abominably, with their hearings not even being conducted according to the law. Here it is:

This is “Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British And Commonwealth Military Intervention In The Russian Civil War, 1918-20” by Damien Wright. So far, I’ve read 100 pages out of 500 but it’s a really interesting book . Who would ever have thought that the First World War extended into 1920? Or that British, Canadian and French troops fought for Murmansk, with Japanese and Italians present as observers?

These next three books are superb. Absolutely wonderful. “Brendon Chase” is about some boys who go off to the woods to live like Robin Hood. “The Little Grey Men” are the last four gnomes  in England, and in the sequel, “Down the Bright Stream “, one of them goes missing and the remaining three must find him. Superb books for children from eight to ninety-eight:

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There are lots of books about the Battle of Britain. Here are my two favourites. Roger Hall’s book is fifty years old and you will probably need to search carefully at either abebooks, amazon or bookfinder. George Wellum’s book is very skilfully written  :

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A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version:

“Sisters in Arms: The Women Who Flew in World War II ” is a book by Helena Page Schrader. It details the women who were recruited in both Great Britain and the United States to fly aircraft. The treatment they received was amazingly different, with the ATA praised to the skies and the American women being much less fortunate in what happened to them. There  is a series of reviews here. How surprising that many of the American reviewers, especially Loren Tompkins, are not at all pleased when the USA’s treatment of their women flyers is shown to be infinitely inferior to that of the RAF and the women of the ATA, so they just limit themselves to slinging the maximum amount of mud at the book and its author. Only two American reviewers are accurate, namely Brenda Ledford and Kythera A. Grunge:

Our next book is, in my opinion, absolutely outstanding. It’s “Subsmash: The Mysterious Disappearance of HM Submarine Affray”  by Alan Gallop. The book is just superb. Anybody would enjoy reading it, whether or not you like military matters. It refers back to the disappearance of a state-of-the-art British submarine in 1950, the Affray, and the subsequent extensive search.  No official explanation for the disaster has ever been forthcoming, and the submarine is still down there, its crew still sealed inside, lying on the seabed near the Channel Islands.

During the search a number of strange things happened. The strangest was the massive object found on the bottom by sonar. It was too big to be the Affray and the search continued elsewhere. Several days later, attempts were made to establish what the object was, but by then it had disappeared.  Another strange event was that the wife of a submarine skipper claimed to have seen a ghost in a dripping wet submarine officer’s uniform telling her the location of the sunken sub. The position he gave later turned out to be correct.

The next book is also top of its particular category. The author is Tony Redding and the book is called “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”.  The first city to be attacked in that final phase was Dresden in February 1945  and then came Pforzheim. Both cities until then had been relatively unscathed. During these attacks, though, the destruction unleashed by Bomber Command was apocalyptic. The author examines what happened from virtually every point of view, the bomber crews, the defenders, the occupying forces, everybody, even the German civilians who murdered RAF crews and then buried them like dead animals. I don’t have the time to read many books twice, but I shall be making an exception for this particular one. It is superb:

The last word of this first list is perhaps linked more directly  to Christmas itself. It is a book with two stories in it, both of which are told in picture form like a graphic novel. The book is “Classic Bible Stories: Jesus – The Road of Courage/Mark the Youngest Disciple”. The title says it all…the life of Jesus and then the life of Mark, who was also, of course, the writer of one of the Gospels.  The book could not have had a more perfect pedigree. The idea was thought up by Marcus Morris, an English vicar who invented the comic “Eagle”, itself meant as a Christian magazine for young people. The first story was drawn by Frank Hampson, generally thought to be the very best comic artist in England, if not the world, at the time. Frank’s lifetime ambition as a devout Christian, had always been to participate in this venture. The text of both stories was written by Chad Varah, the founder of The Samaritans organisation.

I have read all of these books and they are all well worth your time and money. I have no connection with any of them, beyond a copy of each one in my bookcase.

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (11) Two short stories

Today, I’m just going to let you read two short stories from William Bottrell’s “Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall— Third Series” which Bottrell self-published in 1880.

The first story is told about a young farmer called Richard Vingoe who was targeted by fairies, for no good reason other than it was within their power to do so, near Treville Cliffs in West Cornwall:

“After wandering for five hours over places which appeared strange to him, Richard followed the path through the rocky bottom or glen into an underground passage or cavern, from which, on emerging, he found himself in a pleasant looking country.”

“Walking on, he heard the sounds of merrymaking and came to a place where people appeared to be having a feast. He noticed a great number of persons playing bowls. Being fond of that game, he was about to run and seize the silver ball as it fell near him, when a female darted from behind a rock, which had screened her from view, and made eager signs for him to stop playing and to follow her. She went into an orchard near at hand. He approached and saw that she was a young lady who he had once loved, but who had been dead for a number of years. She told him she was changed into the fairy state by having trespassed on the fairies’ domain, and that he had narrowly escaped the same fate.”

“She was disposed to save him for the sake of their former attachment. When the persons playing bowls and spectators of the game had all gone out of sight, she conducted her former lover to the upper world by a shorter road than that by which he entered; on the way she told him that, as he was engaged to be married within a few weeks, she had no desire to detain him. She advised him, however, to defer his wedding three years, that he might be sure he knew his own mind. When Vingoe promised to follow her advice, they passed through an opening in a carn, and he saw Nanjizal” (which is a real place):

His conductress then said good-bye, and vanished. Being fatigued with his journey, he lay on the grass, near the spot where he again saw the light of day, and there he was found asleep nearly a week after. Vingoe was never the same man again, for he took to hard drinking and he died unmarried.

Notice how many of the usual themes are introduced…..

………wandering for hours, disorientation, caverns in the rocks, a distant feast and merrymaking, an orchard, playing bowls, a dead person who is not dead but has been captured by the fairies and finally, the poor innocent victim who, like all the rest, is affected by his time with the fairies.

The map below shows you where Nanjizal is, thanks to the efforts of the Orange Arrow. This is the very last bit of England (hence Land’s End) and the dark grey shading in the top right represents the western edge of the town of Penzance. As an area, it is full of magic and witchcraft, even nowadays, and it must contain at least fifty Stone Age circles and other types of monument.

The second story concerns a servant girl called Grace who has been tricked into going to work for a human sized fairy:

“Grace told her master (the human sized fairy)  that she wasn’t used to going to bed so early. He answered,  “Please yourself on that score, and stay up as long as you want to.”

He then brought her a basket of fruit and told her to eat what she pleased of them. Afterwards, he gave her a cup of fruit juice that she found delicious. By the time she had drunk it to the last drop, she forgot her home and playmates among the hills. She forgot her brothers and her sisters, her father and her mother even. She no more remembered her former life, and only thought of her kind Master and the delightful place in which he lived. She dreamed of it that night and nothing else.”

This last tale could well have been something from a science-fiction short story. Not only do we have the familiar tale of eating or drinking something, and then there is no escape ( rather like the Greek Persephone) but we also have that feeling of lethargy yet total happiness, and a forgetfulness that leads to a perfect life, almost as if Grace had joined a modern day sect:

If you ever see the gentleman in the picture, make sure that you tell him what a “helter-skelter” is in England. It’s not what he thought it was.

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The Best of CHS (1)

I thought I would share with you what I personally considered to be the best photographs that the Reverend Charles Stephens took during his years at the High School. Firstly, he took many pictures of various groups of boys. This is a bicycle ride to Southwell in 1952:

Here is a group of boys eating their lunch while out on a field trip during the 1950s. It is a Form called “3 Red”:

A couple of years later, the Reverend Stephens, like all staff, known by his initials, CHS, took two slightly overlapping photographs of a different 3 Red. This is the left side of the Form, as he looked at them:

Here is the other side, nearer to the window. Only one boy manages to crane his way into both photographs:

This picture shows an unknown group of boys almost ready to play rugby at the Valley Road playing fields, probably back in the late 1950s. One brave little chap will be playing in his white plimsolls by the look of it. I wish I knew the supervising Master’s name:

The last group of boys is the Combined Cadet Force in 1957, practicing their drills near the old Green Shed. This huge edifice was first erected by the army during the severe winter of 1942.  It was in the north-west corner of the playground which the school had hitherto used for its cricket nets and practice wickets. The shed was used to store searchlight units and sound ranging equipment, which was brought out for drill in the daytime. The High School’s classrooms were used for the army’s theory lectures.
After a while, despite the snow and ice, the army began to dig the foundations for a second shed in the middle of the playground. According to popular legend, it was only when Mr Reynolds, the Headmaster, lined up the entire school and carefully explained to the foreman that the boys might well pelt them with snowballs as they worked was the idea given up. Protests were also made to the War Office through more normal channels. Until the playground received a new coat of asphalt in the late 1980s, the exploratory marks left by the army’s engineers could still be seen:

Here’s the Green Shed in the 1980s and it really was green.:

The last photograph is of a group, but not a group of human beings. This is the queue of trolleybuses waiting to take boys back from Sports Day to School at four o’clock, probably in 1957:

That type of vehicle, with rubber tyres, and powered by an overhead electricity supply,  would have been a bit cheaper than building our present tram system, where, apparently, only 10% of the cost goes on the overhead wires.

 

 

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A nasty German in Woodville, Part Two, the True Facts

The Luftwaffe’s Gruppe III./KG.4, full name 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 arrived at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands in the middle of January 1941. They would be there until July 31st when they left for the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front:

During the first part of their stay, in one of the hardest winters for years, they spent a lot of time training and then taking part in planned air raids on the cities and ports of Great Britain. They were flying twin engined Heinkel He-111H version bombers, “hard to start greenhouses”, which scared the bejesus out of the locals who lived near the airfield. They were all loaded to the maximum limits with explosives and fuel, and on quite a few occasions, seemed to struggle to climb over the locals’ houses in this birthplace of Mata Hari:

On Tuesday, June 24th 1941 the pilot of one of the Heinkel He-111Hs, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz, took off at 23.00 hours, tasked with laying mines in the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool. With him was a crew of three men, Stabsfeldwebel H Glkowski, Obergefreiter Friedrich Ertzinger, the Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, and Feldwebel W Köller.

At 02.30 hrs, somewhere between the Wash and Liverpool, the Heinkel was intercepted on radar and then attacked by a Bristol Beaufighter of 25 Squadron, based at RAF Wittering, squadron codes ZK:

The Beaufighter was flown by Pilot Officer DW Thompson, with Pilot Officer LD Britain acting as the airborne interception radar operator (A1). Pilot Officer Britain picked up the Heinkel almost half way between Sheffield and Nottingham just under approximately 20,000 feet up, and stalked the twin engined bomber for a quarter of an hour. Slowly, slowly, the Beaufighter crew crept up on their prey and then opened fire with their four 20 mm Hispano cannons. Here they are, under the nose of the aircraft. There were also six .303in machine guns, two in the port wing and four in the starboard wing. This made it the most heavily armed British fighter of the war, with a total of ten guns:

The RAF night fighter scored many hits on the hapless Heinkel. The cannon shells and machine gun bullets hit home with the same impact in energy terms as a broadside from a Royal Navy destroyer. The Heinkel’s starboard engine dissolved into flames and stopped working. A few minutes later, the bomber’s undercarriage fell out of its engine nacelles, increasing the plane’s drag enormously:

Immediately the bomber began to lose height rapidly, and as they plunged down to 1,000 feet, the pilot, Oberleutnant Schwartz, gave the order to the crew to bale out. Sadly, by the time he baled out himself, the aircraft was too low and his parachute failed to deploy. Schwartz was killed but his three colleagues, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller all escaped safely.

The Heinkel crashed close to the buildings of Edwards Farm in Lullington, a sleepy little village in South Derbyshire, some six miles south west of Woodville. This satellite view shows just how countrified Lullington still is even nowadays, eighty years after the event :

As soon as the Heinkel hit the ground, its bombs immediately exploded, scattering pieces of the plane over an area of some fifteen acres. The Home Guard would later find the tail mounted MG 17 machine gun. The aircraft had also been fitted with two external PVC 1006 bomb racks to increase its weapon carrying capacity.

The three surviving members of the crew, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller, landed in fields belonging to Edwards Farm. They were immediately captured and taken prisoner by two Home Guard men, Jack and Geoff Edwards, the brothers who owned the farm where the wreckage of the plane fell :

Ultimately the German aviators were taken to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate to be locked up until the army could come and pick them up later that day. Here’s the Police Station again:

And what happened to the rest of the men involved ?

On July 31st 1941 the entire 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 was sent to the Eastern Front. It was a lovely place to walk the dog :

Poor Oberleutnant Schwartz received a full military funeral at Fradley Church near the cathedral city of Lichfield on June 27th 1941. He was buried in the lovely English churchyard around the church. Here’s the church:

And here’s his grave :

In recent years, at the Battle of Britain service in September, an officer of the Luftwaffe based at 16 M.U. Stafford has laid a wreath on the grave of the pilot, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz. Everybody was very happy to see this, and evinced the hope that it would continue for many years to come.

A number of years after the end of the war, in 1979, Friedrich Ertzinger, the Heinkel’s Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, visited Edwards Farm where he was given a wonderful reception by the two Edwards brothers. These visits continued for a number of years, and all three men enjoyed themselves enormously.

Pilot Officer LD Britain survived the war. You may remember that he was the airborne interception radar operator in the successful Beaufighter.

Pilot Officer David William Thompson, a mere 22 years old and the pilot of that successful Beaufighter, did not survive the conflict. Indeed, when he shot down that Heinkel over Lullington, he had only fourteen more days to live. On July 8th 1941, piloting a Bristol Beaufighter If, serial number, T4629, for an unknown reason, he plunged into the ground near Wittering. His airborne interception radar operator, Flight Sergeant Richard George Crossman, was also killed instantly.

David William Thompson was the son of the Reverend Hamlet George Thompson and of Dora Muriel Thompson (née Watney), of Little Munden Rectory in Hertfordshire. David was buried in Wittering (All Saints) Churchyard.

Richard George Crossman was the son of Richard Berkley Crossman and Clara Priscilla Crossman and the husband of Mary Crossman, who all hailed from Watford. Richard is buried in Watford Cemetery:

His grave bears the inscription “Cherished memories, loved by all who knew him”.

 

 

 

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The finest fighter of World War II

The P-51 Mustang was the most successful and most significant single-seat fighter of World War Two. It was initially designed for the British RAF and the most amazing fact is that from the moment the chief designer, James Kindelberger, sharpened his pencil to start work, to the moment the prototype roared off down the runway, was only 119 days.

That early prototype certainly showed promise, and so did all the subsequent A-36 Apaches, although they clearly had serious limitations at altitude.

And then, at Hucknall Aerodrome, just five miles from where my trusty computer now sits, with yours truly at the controls, the senior liaison test pilot with Rolls-Royce. a New Zealander named Ronnie Harker, earned his best ever pay rise of one pound a week (just over one and a half dollars). Ronnie thought up the scheme to put a British Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine into the underpowered North American Mustang. This was the same engine as the Spitfire IX, and it cured all the problems the aircraft was having over 15,000 feet and gave its newly invented Laminar Flow Wing the chance to shine. Here is that huge Merlin:

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And poor Ronnie Harker. I suppose that for the rest of his life people must have introduced him at parties by saying, “Have you met Ronnie, the man who put the Merlin in the Mustang?”  You can read a much more detailed story via this link.  The article is called “The Cadillac of the Skies” Here’s the Hendon Mustang from a slightly unusual angle:

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A second great leap forward for the aircraft was the fitting of the drop tanks which permitted Mustangs to fly and fight all the way to Berlin and back. The appearance of this superb fighter over the Brandenburg Gate sounded the death knell of the Third Reich, because in trying to fight off the B-17s and the B-24s, the Luftwaffe would slowly but surely be destroyed by the P-51 escort fighters. In 1944, for example, P-51 Mustangs would shoot down 6,039 German dayfighters.  That left the Germans with hardly any experienced pilots, considerably fewer defensive aircraft and a big, big problem.

Here’s the view after descending the stairs:

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This particular example of a P-51 was constructed at Inglewood in California in 1945. It began in USAAF Air Training Command before, in 1950, being transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It then had an enormously long history of toing and froing until it reached Hendon in 2003, where it was finally painted as the Mustang belonging to Captain Donald R Emerson of the 336th Fighter Squadron  based at Debden, in Essex. Here is Donald’s nose art:

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Captain Emerson was killed by ground fire on Christmas Day 1944, as he flew over Belgium on the very last of his 89 missions. He had scored 4½ victories in the air, plus 3½ on the ground. He is buried at Margrattan in Holland.

It says everything about the Mustang that over fifteen or so minutes, I was unable to take a photograph without somebody in shot. There was a constant, steady stream of admirers, with a good few photographers:

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And married couples:

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And my wife and daughter:

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It is impossible to waste your time if you are looking at a Mustang:

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As John Keats so rightly put it in a poem he wrote on his visit to the RAF Hendon Museum in 1818 :

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (10)

Jenny has given birth to a beautiful baby. She decides to leave her baby at home and to go to the village Harvest Festival. When she returns, the baby is missing. Eventually she finds the infant, and takes it to bed with her. In the months which follow, the baby becomes increasingly strange. Many of the neighbours say that they fear that the fairies have played a trick on her and have replaced her baby by a changeling.

They told her:

“You can do nothing better than to bathe your child in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.

Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of the whole series visible on hill tops across the whole of England.

The story continues:

“Jenny dutifully bathed her baby in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea. She had nearly passed around the top of the huge hill and was coming to some large rocks near the open moor when she heard a shrill voice, seemingly from above her head, call out “Thy wife and children greet you well”. Jenny was surprised to hear the shrill voice with nobody in sight.”

“Jenny returned to her home and stayed there until morning. Being fatigued and worried she overslept, for it was nearly daybreak when she awoke and hurried away, full of both hope and fear, to the fence around the field. And there, sure enough, she found her own dear child sleeping on some dry straw. The infant was as clean from head to foot as soap and water could make it, and wrapped up in a piece of old bright flowery chintz, which Fairies often covet and steal from washing lines when it is placed there in the sun to dry.”

“Jenny nursed her recovered child with great care but there was always something strange about him as there always is with one who has been in the fairies’ power, if only for a few days. He was constantly complaining, and as soon as he was able to toddle, he would wander far away to all sorts of out of the way places. The rich lady of Brea came to see him and brought him many nice things that his mother couldn’t afford to buy. When he was about nine years of age Squire Ellis took the changeling (as he was always called) into his service, but he was found to be such a poor simple innocent that he could never be trusted to work in the fields alone, much less with cattle. As the fancy would take him, every now and then, he would leave his work and wander away over hills and moors for days at a time.

Yet he was found useful for attending to rearing cattle and sheep. He was so careful of his master’s flock at lambing time that there was seldom any lost. He often talked to himself and many believed that he was then holding a conversation with some of the fairy tribe visible only to him . They were trying to entice him to ramble among the rocky outcrops, hills and moors, their usual haunts.

When he was about thirty years of age he was missing for several days. His flock had been noticed staying longer than usual in the same place, on a moor between the Chapel Hill and Bartinney. He was found, surrounded by his sheep, lying on a quantity of rushes which he had pulled up and collected for making sheep pens. He lay with his arm under his head, apparently in sweet sleep, but the poor changeling of Chapel Carn Brea was dead.”

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A nasty German in Woodville, Part One, the Legend

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England.

Derby was the home of an important Rolls Royce factory which made Merlin engines, the powerplant used by important World War Two aircraft such as the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the Mosquito and the Lancaster :

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Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, steps were taken to protect this important Derby factory from enemy air attack. Immediate measures included the installation of a large calibre ex-naval gun on the western side of Hartshorne Lane, on some grassland near the public footpath, just beyond the site where the Dominoes public house was to be built shortly after the end of the war. Look for the Orange Arrow, my hearties!! :

This naval gun, probably taken from a scrapped old battleship, was extremely powerful and extremely noisy. Every time it was fired in practice, it made all the cups rattle on their holders in the pantry at my grandparents’ house, “Holmgarth”, at No 39,  Hartshorne Lane, some half a mile away :

One evening, probably in the second half of 1940 or early 1941, a lone Heinkel III bomber was caught in the searchlights over Derby. This spectacular event was the signal for the Hartshorne gun to fire its one and only shot in anger of the entire war :

Needless to say, the shot was a successful one and the bomber was duly brought down. Later in the evening, the Home Guard was to capture the pilot, who had descended by parachute from his stricken craft. Another slightly different version of the story relates how the pilot was dragged semi-conscious from the wreckage of his aeroplane:

The pilot was subsequently brought to Hartshorne and then marched up the hill to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate. He did not speak any English but seemed happy to rave loudly to himself in German. This gentleman was seen by the locals as being a typically arrogant Nazi, who believed that the war was already won. He was even smoking the Player’s cigarettes which had been captured in such large quantities at Dunkirk in June 1940. I couldn’t find a picture of this particular gentleman in Woodville, but the world at this time was not particularly short of arrogant Nazis:

The pilot was locked in a police cell overnight. This may well have been to his benefit, as the mood of the angry passers-by as he had been brought up Hartshorne Lane had largely been in favour of lynching him. Indeed, the crowd’s evident hostility had done much to quieten the pilot’s rantings on the long slow walk up to the police station.

Here’s the police station, in Edwardian sepia. If you look to the right of the police station, (which is right in the middle of the picture), there is a very tall chimney which is now long demolished but which, then, was the chimney of the Outram’s factory which made sinks, wash-basins, toilets and such. To the right of that chimney is a very stout looking house with two chimney stacks. The further one of those two is the chimney stack for my Mum and Dad’s house, “Clare Cottage, built 1890”, They lived there from 1949-2000 and 1949-2003 respectively.

So what? you may ask. Well, I know that with a little bit of luck, my instructions will be followed by a lady from India, a gentleman from Australia, my American friends from coast to coast, and citizens, perhaps, of other countries across the globe, as well as my valued readers in this country. I wonder what the newly married couple would have thought of that, when they moved in to what was then a semi-derelict house,  more than seventy years ago. People across the whole world looking at their chimney stack :

At the time the Heinkel was shot down, Fred, as a young man of some seventeen or eighteen years of age, was still awaiting his chance to go into the RAF. He had therefore in the interim become a young member of the local Home Guard, or L.D.V. (the Local Defence Volunteers, or as Fred always interpreted the initials, “Look, Duck and Vanish”). Neither the Hartshorne Home Guard or the Woodville Home Guard ever had as many rifles as these mean looking killers, though:

This episode, before he went away into the armed forces, was in actual fact the only time that Fred was ever destined to meet a Nazi in person. Indeed, in later years, Fred was to say that this was the most dangerous moment he was to experience in terms of being directly face to face with the enemy. The even greater irony was that the very real threat of violence inherent in the situation was provided exclusively by the English civilians, and not by the Luftwaffe pilot himself.

Conceivably, this particular Heinkel bomber was the same one which was later to be put on display in nearby Burton-on-Trent in an effort to raise funds for the war. I have been unable to trace an exact date for this occurrence, other than the fact that, with the decreasing frequency of Luftwaffe raids on England, it was more likely to have occurred sooner rather than later during the conflict.

I was told this story about the naval gun more than once by my Dad, Fred. It seemed so far fetched that I began to think that he was suffering from false memories. I thought that perhaps my Dad had confused 1940 or 1941 with a very famous episode of the comedy “Dad’s Army”. But he hadn’t. Fifty or so years after I first met him, my oldest friend revealed that his mother, as a young girl, had been in that crowd at Woodville Police Station and had seen the arrogant Nazi smoking our Player’s Cigarettes.

Any excuse for a bit of Dad’s Army:

That moment has won more than one award as the funniest moment ever on BBC TV.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (9)

This is a old Cornish story about a pretty young girl called Jenny who has given birth to a beautiful baby son three or four days previously. She decides to leave her baby for a few hours to go to the Harvest Festival in the village. In the world of Cornish fairies, this is a NO-NO in capital letters a thousand feet tall. It can only end in total catastrophe.

“Jenny, thinking about her baby left all alone at home, didn’t stop for the drinking after the harvest festival, but had one good drink of beer, got some cakes to take home and then she hurried away. When she opened her door, she saw, by the moonlight, that the cradle was overturned. Straw and rags were on the floor, but no child was in sight”:

“In searching all the holes and corners, she came to the corner where the wood was kept and there, among the heaps of dried grasses, ferns, and gorse, she found the child fast asleep. Being very tired, she took up the child and went to bed”.

“The next morning, when she looked at the baby by daylight, it seemed to her that there was somehow something strange about him. She didn’t know what, but he seemed to be different somehow from when she went off to the Harvest Festival. The baby was healthy enough but he seemed never satisfied unless he was all the time breastfeeding or eating. He would roar like a bull if he didn’t get his own way. He always wanted to be in her arms or eating. She began to wonder what on earth was going on”.

 

“Poor Jenny couldn’t do her household chores and had no rest at all in her life with the squalling hungry brat. Yet despite all his breastfeeding and eating, the baby always seemed to be wasting away to skin and bone. And so it continued through the entire winter. The more he ate the thinner he became. Many of the neighbours shook their heads when they saw the child and said that they feared the fairies had played a trick on her that afternoon when she went to the harvest festival.”

“They believed that the fairies had left a changeling which, according to local belief:

“….was believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies.”

Nobody knew why the fairies did this. Every culture across Western Europe seems to have had its own ideas. On that basis, there is no reason to exclude immediately that this was not an attempt by superior beings to harvest human DNA, and then to manipulate it, although the ease with which a changeling was identified hints at the many problems they were having with this.

Jenny’s neighbours told her:

“You can do nothing better with the child than to bathe him in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.

Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the civil parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of an entire network on the hill tops of England. In this way important messages can be passed such as “Spanish Armada in sight” (1588) or “Battle of Trafalgar won” (1805):

As far as I know, the last time the beacons were used was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The next episode in this cute little fairy story will appear soon.

 

 

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the Supermarine Southampton at Hendon

You don’t always expect to see a flying boat in a museum in London, but the RAF Museum at Hendon has, among many other seaplanes, a Supermarine Southampton, a type which, between the two wars, was an extremely successful aircraft in Royal Air Force service:

The Southampton was designed by the famous R J Mitchell and it immediately brought Mitchell’s name to the fore as an aircraft designer. At the same time, it also gave Supermarine an enormous amount of publicity, affording a much greater chance that their later designs might be approved:

The first 18 examples of the Mark I were made completely of wood. They were delivered in August 1925. The RAF, however, was now beginning to express a growing preference for metal aircraft and when the Mark IIs were delivered, they were made entirely of metal. They were much preferred to the older wooden Southamptons which, from 1929 onwards, were all gradually converted to have metal hulls:


The aircraft was amazingly durable and reliable and each one had an average service life of around eleven years. One source of their fame was a series of long distance formation flights to many different parts of the world. In 1927-1928, the “Far East Flight” travelled from Felixstowe to the Mediterranean and then on to India and Singapore, a total of some 27,000 miles:

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The museum aircraft is a Mark I, N9899, from the very first ever batch of Mark Is which were numbered N9896-N9901. It was used by No.480 (Coastal Reconnaissance) Flight at Calshot in Hampshire. Here’s a general view. Not many aircraft have a ladder. At least, not on the outside.:

On September 7th 1925 the crew had an engine failure just off Wicklow Head in Ireland and had to be towed more than one hundred miles over the sea to Belfast Lough by HMS Calliope. On November 23rd 1928 N9899 was one of three Southamptons moored near Portland when it broke loose from its moorings in a gale and crashed violently into a breakwater. Only its engines were salvageable. In 1929 it was purchased privately so that its fuselage could be used as a houseboat, one of five flying boats to suffer such a fate at this time. N9899 then seems to have been towed to Felixstowe where it remained until the RAF bought it back and began a restoration scheme in the late 1960s.

What struck me about the aircraft was its vast collection of amazing old fashioned rivets and apparently heavy ironwork. Here is a closer view of the hull, revealing just how many rivets are holding the aircraft together. I haven’t bothered to count, but I bet there must be the best part of a couple of thousand. It’s a good job Mitchell’s most famous design, the Spitfire, was not too much like a Southampton!:

Notice the beautiful flowing lines of that tight, superbly graceful, bottom, or perhaps “hull” would be a better word. The museum still has that purple light to stop excessive fading of fragile old colours. I would think that aviation experts will see in the Southampton much of the design that Mitchell took forward to the Walrus.

This photograph shows a view from the rear, with the squadron letters of QN. I have the distinct feeling that every one of those silver metal panels might have a few rivets. The section around the gun turret, above the roundel, certainly does:

Here’s my final view, with the wheels used to bring the aircraft into the museum still in situ. They are not part of the aircraft because the Southampton was a flying boat, rather than an amphibian like the Consolidated PBY Catalina, which had its own undercarriage:

Notice behind the Southampton a Lockheed Hudson of the Royal Australian Air Force. Can you spot the kangaroo? Here’s a better view:

The Japanese used the Southampton as well as the RAF. Here’s a photograph of a modern day Polish construction kit:

I think that “IJNAF” stands for “Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force” (or something very like it.)

 

 

 

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