Category Archives: History

Fred walks home on leave

One beautiful summer’s afternoon, Fred was returning on leave from his airbase at Elsham Wolds in north Lincolnshire. The orange arrow is RAF Elsham Wolds, and Fred departed from a station near Elsham before continuing to Lincoln, to Nottingham and finally to Derby:

Derby was, and is, a huge station by English standards:

Fred arrived on time at Derby station, but there were no more trains to take him on to Burton-on-Trent (bottom left on the map above). He decided therefore to walk the twelve miles back home to the little mining village of Woodville, something which he had often done in the opposite direction in pre-war years, when he had been to watch Derby County play football at the Baseball Ground.

It was a Sunday, and after a couple of miles or so, Fred crossed the River Trent over the five spans of Swarkestone Bridge:

Fred then continued across the meandering  stone causeway, built by the Saxons, which crosses the floodplain of the River Trent. Things are a little bit different nowadays:

Or at least, things are a little different from what Fred would have known. These two photographs are taken from the same spot, but are separated by at least a century :

After the meandering charms of the ancient crossing, Fred then set off to the right, up the hill, towards the next village of Ticknall. As the evening moved slowly ever closer to sunset, everything grew very calm and very still, the light hovered on the edge of dusk, and just as he reached the top of the first long steady rise, Fred could hear, ringing out through the silence, the bugle sounding the Last Post at the nearby German prisoner of war camp:

Fred stopped to listen as the familiar notes echoed in evocative fashion over the late evening landscape, as the bright light of the sinking sun illuminated a pastoral scene in an England which is now long gone and will never return. It was a uniquely beautiful and unrepeatable moment in his life:

During the rest of his lifetime, Fred was never aware of a couple of facts about this moment. Firstly, he always thought that the prison camp was at Castle Donington but in actual fact it was somewhat closer to where he was, at Weston-on-Trent. I know that because I have just looked at the list of all the POW camps in the country.

Secondly, as he walked through the village of Ticknall, under the bridge which used to carry the railway to the limestone quarry…

…as he walked past St George’s Church…

….he did not know that the building held, hidden away somewhere in a safe place, a great many records of his own family history. He did not know that his family had been baptised there, married there and buried there for centuries. They included…

his own grandfather, John Knifton (1850-1934), John’s father, Thomas Moor Knifton, and his mother, Jemima Knifton, and her mother, Katharine Knifton, and then her father, Richard Kniveton and lastly, George Kniveton, born, in all probability, before 1700.

Another England which is now long gone and will never return:

Fred would have walked past all the old water pumps at the side of the road, every fifty yards through the whole village. I bet some of them were still working then. If Fred had done his long walk previously, he might even have known which pumps could slake his thirst after perhaps seven or eight miles of walking:

Fred could not possibly have known, though, that only fifteen years later, in his Connaught green Austin A40 Devon saloon, he would drive, not walk, through the village, and his young son would count the pumps out loud as they passed along. Fred didn’t know that that was going to happen in the near future. He was too busy in the present, fighting to make sure that England had a future:

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

The World of the Mysterious (7)

Last time we looked at the Wodewose. Here he is:For me, the strange figure of the Wodewose is based on a Bigfoot type creature that may still have been alive and well in the vast forests of Western Europe in the early Middle Ages. At this time, the forests in England, for example, were enormous and covered between a third and a half of the country. And even when the Wodewose was gone for ever, then there were still people who had heard their grandfather’s tales about him and who could recreate him in their own world.

He was certainly famous enough to feature in documents written on old parchment . This one dates from 1325. He is on all fours because he has to fit in between the text in Latin and the bottom of the page:

A similar ‘margin picture’ dates from the 1300s. Notice the mother and her child with another young woman (bottom left) and what is either a fight or a very keenly contested game of golf (bottom right):

In this old drawing, the Wodewose looks as if he has lost his club and is struggling to find it (not a golf club, or a country club, but the other kind):

These two individuals are from a series which show the Wodewose’s well known desire for women, yet another feature he has in common with Bigfoot. Picture 1 shows his gentle method of courtship:

The second shows his next step which could well be summarised as “RUN!!!!” If you read about Bigfoot a lot, you will be familiar with his ability to pick up hogs and other farm animals and run off with them. But beautiful ladies are even more impressive:

This Italian lady, though, is well versed in the tricks of both Italian men and Italian Wodewoses. Forewarned is forearmed:

Is the Wodewose carrying a golf club in that last picture?

Bigfoots and Wodewoses hate dogs too:

It is my belief that the Wodewose may well be the direct ancestor of the now much more famous “Green Man” which is a very familiar figure to anybody who visits medieval Western European churches. The Green Man is believed to be the deity who brings back the greenery every year in spring, hence the leaves pouring out of his body. This one is in Norwich Cathedral:

This one comes from Lincoln Cathedral:

The Green Man does also have an aspect as a kind of guardian of the forest, and the trees and the plants therein. And that, of course, is a rôle ascribed to Bigfoot by many different Native American peoples. This Green Man is taken from Poitiers Cathedral in west-central France:

The Green Man very often seems to occur in areas which have originally been heavily forested. The best Green Men I have ever seen occur in the Chapter House in Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire. At the time it was built, it would have been in Sherwood Forest:

Next time, the explanation.

One final point is that in these blog posts about Bigfoot, I have tried very hard to use only images which are available to be used. With some images that is not the case because otherwise there was nothing else available. I am 100% willing to take them down if this causes a problem for anybody, although I suppose there is the flattering aspect that they were the best I could find!

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Filed under Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

George Norman Hancock, Old Nottinghamian (3)

As we saw last time, George Norman Hancock was killed on March 31st 1954. At the time he was working with the Ministry of Supply as the Senior Air Force Representative to the Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics in the Ministry of Supply. He was flying a Gloster Meteor F8 with the serial number WH312:

The first jet fighter built by the British, the Meteor would eventually be produced in the thousands and be used by at least 15 other countries. Its shape was not as impressive as the Messerschmitt Me 262 but it was relatively successful and state-of-the–art, until aircraft like the Mig-15 and the F-86 Sabre came along. As somebody once wrote, it was “not a sophisticated aircraft in its aerodynamics, but proved to be a successful combat fighter.” The Meteor had two Rolls-Royce Derwent turbojets and could reach 600 mph and 43,000 feet with a range of 600 miles. It was armed with four 20 mm Hispano cannons and could also carry various combinations of rockets on the wings:

Norman was flying a Meteor F8 which seems to have been a distinct improvement on the F4. It had a longer fuselage, carried more fuel and had an improved tail shape and an ejection seat as standard.

Norman had taken off at 14:30 from Farnborough for what is called a familiarisation flight, which means that he was just making sure that he could fly the plane and knew what it could do and what it couldn’t do. In case of problems, this is often carried out at altitude and apparently Norman had been flying around at about 36,000 feet without any dramas whatsoever. As he returned to land at Farnborough, though, he reported that one of the engines was acting up. Around 15:14, he radioed the Farnborough Control Tower with the words, “This is Wicker 98. Downwind on one” which means that one engine was now not working at all. “Wicker 98” was his call-sign. Apparently the Control Tower asked him if this was just a practice but when he replied in the negative, they scrambled all the crash and rescue vehicles out onto the runway.

As it drew close to Farnborough witnesses saw the Meteor, at first, flying apparently quite normally until it began to plunge down towards Runway 25. The Meteor’s port wing seemed to lose its lift because of the loss in power of the stricken engine and the aircraft began to descend inexorably towards 400 feet and lower. Poor George had lost power and he had therefore lost lift. A catastrophic combination.
The aircraft was now only just clearing the tree tops and then sank so close to the ground that George clipped the cowshed of Mytchett Farm at Frimley Green and then brushed the adjacent roof of a garage. The Meteor performed a cartwheel and hit the ground:

It exploded in a fireball of aviation fuel and broke up into thousands of pieces:

Poor George must have been killed in a split second and hopefully, he didn’t realise what was happening. In the fiery aftermath, both buildings and up to six vehicles were destroyed.

George’s will produced one or two interesting footnotes. At the time of his death, he was living at The Old Manor House, West End, Beeston. Beeston is to the south west of Nottingham and West End is between the Police Station on Chilwell Road and the Recreation Ground and Bandstand on Queens Road. The Old Manor House, is reckoned to be the oldest surviving house in Beeston. Nowadays, it is a Grade II listed building and is currently used as a dance studio:

George left £10,751 and his estate was administered by his sister Grace, who never married.

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Filed under Aviation, History, Nottingham, The High School

More groups of people at the High School

Once again, I thought it would be nice to see how the High School used to look some 60 or 70 years ago .Most of the photographs were taken by the Reverend Charles Stephens who must have spent the best part of thirty years documenting his workplace.

Fittingly, given his title, the first photograph shows the boys outside the Assembly Hall waiting for Assembly to start. I think that in those days, around 1955-1960, there would have been three assemblies per week. Some of the smaller boys seem to be drinking their “school milk” which was a third of a pint, issued to all children in all schools at this time:

People always seem to do a lot of waiting in schools. These expectant little boys are in the dining hall, then, I think, where the Music Hall now stands. They are possibly waiting for the monitors who are queuing up to get their meals before they hand them out. Well, that’s my best guess anyway:

The next three groups were photographed in the staffroom in 1959. The first picture is captioned “Entwhistle, Fallows, Forster, Lush, Leach”.

The second picture is captioned as “Sneyd, Pomfret, Fisher, Parker”. Here it is:

The third photograph shows a secretary as well as members of staff. The caption reads “Leach, Horrill, Jackson:

Let’s finish with a picture of Charlie Stephens at his happiest. He was in charge of the Photographic Society and here they are, from a spilt second in time in 1955:

They all look very happy, don’t they? Well, except for the little boy right at the front who seems to be practicing his “thousand yards stare”.

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Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

The World of the Mysterious (6)

England has its own figure which may well look back to the days when ordinary people were all aware that there was something big and hairy in the woods. After all, centuries ago, woodland was far more plentiful and farmers’ fields would often be next to the forest. So too, there were many more hunters then and they would all have known what you might encounter as you moved silently around among the trees.
In England he was called the “Wodewose” and he is usually depicted as a human like creature, somewhat bigger than a man, often carrying a club, and almost completely covered in thick hair:

Over the years, in heraldry, he was depicted in increasingly human form, still carrying a club, but with leaves wrapped around his haunches. I think that that is probably because people saw the Wodewose a lot less frequently as the human population increased and the Wodewoses became less numerous. Even so, judging by the heraldry of the medieval period and later, there may well have been wild men in, as a minimum, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden:

The name ‘wodewose’ comes from two old English words, “wudu” meaning ‘wood’ and “wāsa” which itself comes from the verb “wesan” or “wosan” meaning ‘to be alive’ or simply ‘to exist’ or ‘to be’. So he’s somebody who is in the woods. He is also seen a lot in medieval churches, but as a statue or a carving. This one doesn’t have a club:

But this one does:

The Wodewose might be kneeling on the roof outside the church:

Or he might be on the roof inside. This Wodewose apparently has a touch of greenish mould, but then again, so do some Bigfoots:

This one has a bit more of a tan:

Here’s a German one from Cologne:And another from Suffolk:

This one has had to adopt a strange position just to get all of him in:

For me, the Wodewose can trace his lineage back to a Bigfoot type creature that may well have still been alive and well in the vast forests of Western Europe as late as the early Middle Ages. At this time, up to half of England was covered in forest. People used to say that you could travel from the Humber to the Thames without touching the ground because there were so many trees. And when the Wodewose had disappeared for ever, there were  still plenty of people who had heard all the tales about him and who could recreate him in their own world.

Next time……..the Wodewose’s brother.

One final point is that in these blog posts about Bigfoot, I have tried very hard to use only images which are available and there to be used. With some images that is not the case, but the problem was that there was nothing else available. I am 100% willing to take any images down if this causes a problem for anybody, although I suppose there is the flattering aspect that they were the best I could find on the whole Internet!

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Filed under Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

George Norman Hancock, Old Nottinghamian and RAF (2)

Last time, we saw how George Norman Hancock sat the Army Entrance Examination and was placed second in the Order of Merit for the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell in Lincolnshire. There were six successful candidates:

AFR Bennett (Harrow County School), GN Hancock (Nottingham High School), K Gray (Leeds Grammar School), TL Moseley (Tamworth Grammar School), GAV Knyvett (Malvern College) and JAP Owen (St Bees School, Cumberland).

These were six optimistic young men, the brightest and the best, who would dedicate their lives to the Royal Air Force and their country. Some of them would lose those lives for ever.

Wing Commander Albert Frank Reuben Bennett worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. He was killed on Wednesday, July 1, 1942 at the age of 29.

Wing Commander Thomas Lawton Moseley was with 228 Squadron when he was killed on August 25th 1942 at the age of 29. He was in the same Short Sunderland flying boat in which the Duke of Kent was killed:

As for K Gray of Leeds Grammar School, I found three Kenneth Grays who were all killed but they were members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, so, unless he left the RAF and then returned to it, I am not sure that this particular K Gray is very likely to be any of them. On the other hand, he may well be.

I first found George’s name in the RAF list for 1933 when on July 15th 1933, he was appointed to a permanent commission as a Pilot in the General Duties Branch of the RAF. In 1938-1940 he was recorded as Flight Lieutenant GN Hancock with the date July 14th 1938 after his name. This corresponds, presumably, to the date when his rank of Flight Lieutenant began. In June 1938 he qualified as a Special Signals Officer and for the rest of his life, he was to work in this area of the service. He would always be engaged in flying an aircraft rather than a desk.
Interestingly, he soon became an Experimental Signals Officer at the Aeroplane And Armament Experimental Establishment, which was originally located on the east coast, at Martlesham Heath near Woodbridge in Suffolk. When the war broke out, it was moved to the less vulnerable site of RAF Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.  Boeing B-17s were frequently used in research of the electronic variety. This one was specifically part of the AAEE:


The next time we meet George is in the “Flight” edition of April 13th 1939 when Flight Lieutenant GN Hancock became Squadron Leader GN Hancock with effect from April 1st 1939. On April 24th 1939, George was transferred to the Technical Branch from General Duties.
George’s name also cropped up in the King’s Birthday Honours for 1944, which celebrated the official birthday of King George VI. He was listed as Group Captain GN Hancock, “Mentioned in Despatches”, this time for his work with Coastal Command.
In 1946, George was awarded the CBE in the New Year’s Honours List as senior Signals Officer of the entire RAF. He must have also been promoted, if only temporarily, to the rank of Group Captain.

On November 1st 1947 George relinquished his temporary rank of Group Captain to become a Wing Commander (substantive). On July 1st 1953, he reverted to being a permanent Group Captain because on October 6th 1953, he was transferred to the General Duties Branch, retaining his rank…Group Captain GN HANCOCK, CBE, MIEE (seniority 1st July 1951).
I’ve not found the second abbreviation yet, but it possibly means “Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers”. He certainly joined the Institution as a university graduate in 1940 and by 1942, he was an Associate Member, and ten years later, a full Member. At the time of his death, George was also the proud holder of two prestigious diplomas. One was the AMIEE and the other was the AMI Radio Engineers. One was “Associate Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers” and the other was, presumably, “Associate Member of the Institution of Radio Engineers”.

George’s obituary lists the various jobs he did in the RAF and they certainly make a long and impressive list. He was the Chief Signals Officer in Coastal Command, the Senior Staff Officer at the Air Traffic Headquarters at Uxbridge, and the Command Signals Officer with the British Air Force of Occupation in Germany. At the time of his death on March 31st 1954, he was working with the Ministry of Supply as the Senior Air Force Representative to the Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics in the Ministry of Supply. Here is an early Bloodhound anti-aircraft missile:

To carry out all of these important posts, George needed immense dedication to the cause, and he had it in abundance, being committed both to the Royal Air Force and to his profession as a telecommunication engineer. He was known universally and affectionately by his nickname of “Hank”. His friends loved his courage and his jovial optimism. His work colleagues had great respect for his plainly expressed opinions and his dogged persistence in working away at things and overcoming any problems. Indeed, his obituary writer thought that George’s character was the very reason that he was always called “Hank”.

“This bestowal of a nickname gave an accurate measure of the esteem in which he was held by his colleagues.”

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Filed under Aviation, History, Nottingham, The High School

Fred’s travels with the RAF

During the war years, Nottingham was a city which welcomed huge numbers of RAF men from all of the many airbases in Lincolnshire. One of the most famous pubs was the Black Boy, designed by Nottingham’s greatest architect, Watson Fothergill. The famous hotel is the very large building in the middle of the buildings on the left :

Alas, this wonderful, wonderful building was demolished to make way for a supermarket and a very ugly supermarket at that. The Black Boy was a hotel which was very convenient for the dashing Brylcreem Boys, who could easily get to Nottingham from their scores of bomber bases across Lincolnshire. Once they were there, they could get up to whatever they wanted and the Black Boy had enough bedrooms to accommodate all of them. I saw a programme recently which said that the rates of venereal disease among RAF aircrew were so high around this time that serious measures had to be taken. It was decided therefore that any man diagnosed with VD would have his mission total taken back to zero. Once you had done 30 missions, you were taken off combat flying, so if you had done a decent number, around 20, for example, this would have been a huge disaster, and a life threatening one at that.

Fred used Nottingham as a place to get a connection for Derby. When he was at Elsham Wolds, I think he must have caught a train at nearby Barnetby and then either got a connection at Lincoln or gone straight through to Nottingham. From there he could easily reach Derby or even Burton-on-Trent.  The orange arrow points at Elsham Wolds and nearby Barnetby:

Fred was no fool and he soon discovered that there was a small railway station, almost in the centre of Nottingham, called, he thought, High Pavement. It was an open station which meant that there were never any inspectors there to check tickets as the passengers alighted from the train.

The smart thing to do therefore, if you were either coming to Nottingham to visit, or were just changing trains at Nottingham, was not to bother with buying a ticket, but just to get off, not at the main station, but at High Pavement. You could then either disappear into the city, or walk the short distance to the main station and then catch the train to Derby or to Burton-on-Trent.

In later life, Fred was to retain little memory of the details of High Pavement station except that there were lots of blue brick walls and you had to go down some steps on your way to the main bit of the station.

I don’t really know where he means, but this remaining railway-type blue brick wall may be something to do with a station in this area:

Fred often had a 24 hour pass, which would run from 00h00 to 23h59. He frequently used to travel, therefore, in the early hours of the night. At that time there were certainly very few welcoming faces on the platforms, except the members of the Salvation Army, who were always on hand to dispense cups of tea or plates of hot food, most welcome out in the damp fogs of autumn, or in the cold icy blasts of winter. In later life, Fred was always to say that the Salvation Army were the only religious organisation to show any practical interest whatsoever in the welfare of the forces. He would always try to give them a donation whenever he saw them, because they had done so much to help soldiers, sailors and airmen when they really needed it in the cold dark days of World War Two.

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