Category Archives: military

What would you do ? (17) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

So…’s one “dilly of a pickle”.  The Roman army is at the gates of a fortified town, trying to batter their way in. The inhabitants of the town are throwing copious quantities of rocks on top of them, and firing arrows and throwing spears. The Romans are driven back time after time. They have no choice, though, but to capture the gates since this is the only way to get in and capture the town. How can they do it, when they are within easy range of the defenders’ missiles?

Bonus marks, incidentally, for anybody who knows who Frank Worrell or Ted Dexter were, and why were they featured in the comic?


Filed under History, Literature, military, Personal

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (6)

About a year ago I bought a collection of more than 12,000 photographs of World War Two. Most of them were not British or American but were either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of these photographs have great merits as photographs, as well as capturing a split second in history. None of them have a caption, so I have tried to work out what might be going on.

Today, I’m going to look at the return of the Russian civilian population to their homes.

Some came home on foot, walking, perhaps, hundreds of miles, many of them barefoot:


Many pulled handcarts:

And others pushed handcarts, although, if you look carefully, occasional individuals travelled in style, even if they looked slightly startled:

The Red Army travelled in top quality, luxury cattle trucks. The large slogan means “We (are) from Berlin”. The present tense of the verb “to be” does not exist in Russian. The word “Berlin” is decipherable, however.

I think that this is an ex-soldier who has been demobbed recently, and he is having a look round Berlin before he makes his way home. That huge statue used to stand in front of the city palace above the River Spree, and commemorated Kaiser Wilhelm I. It’s clearly a place where soldiers would hang out, and that is one of the reasons that I think that this well dressed young lady, who is not walking but just standing there, is actually a prostitute:

Some areas were still very dangerous and a Red Army escort was sometimes necessary to get home. Notice how the lady is carrying the family icon. Christianity saw a big revival during the war as it provided somebody to pray to who had a lot more credibility than Uncle Joe Stalin:

Here are two young women meeting in a shattered, desolate city, possibly Stalingrad. One has just been to do the shopping and the other one has just got off the train with her suitcase. There are still fires burning and some buildings still have the dark marks of a recent fire.

As the liberating armies come ever closer, the first jeeps arrive, to be greeted by delirious crowds. Except that that isn’t happening here. Some of the people actually look really quite aggressive. Are they Poles, assembled in the streets to shout “Welcome to the Red Army” or perhaps “Soviets, stay as long as you like”?

If there’s going to be a harvest, somebody needs to start ploughing at some point. I saw horses used widely in Polish fields as late as 1969:

If the horse isn’t up to it, see if the family can help you out:

And if all goes well, you will get your just deserts:


Filed under History, military, Russia

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5)

About a year ago I bought a DVD with more than 12,000  images of World War Two . Most of them were either Russian or German.

This first photograph shows a little Russian boy who appeared in one of the previous photographs in the Blog Post “Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (4)”. Both he and his grandad stand in the smoking ruins of their house, and of their village. We can only guess at the circumstances. Personally, given the fact that the two individuals do not look particularly shocked or desolate, I think that the Germans have set fire to their village as they retreat back to Germany with the Red Army keenly pursuing them.

In this winter scene, Grandad and grandson are planning the future, perhaps where they will live, or where they hope a neighbour will help them rebuild their house and so on. Grandad is carrying his cane, but what’s that in his left hand? Incidentally, after much careful examination with Blog Post No 4, I do not think these two are the same individuals featured there, although, of course, you may not agree.

With victory in sight, though, and the tide of war now relatively far away, the refugees gradually came back. Here’s Granny, with her two daughters and five, perhaps six children. Everybody is barefoot, but they’re going home, so walking’s easy. And the two fathers? Well, they could have been starved to death in a POW camp, or worked to death as slave labourers in Poland or even in the Channel Islands.

This careful close up excludes any adults and focusses on the children with two brothers making manful efforts to carry as much as they could on a handcart. The baby sleeps the sleep of the innocent little child. Notice how she may well be strapped in for safety.  We will never know if the family’s house was still there when they arrived. In Byelorussia alone, up to 1500 villages were razed to the ground.

As the conquering hero returns, it’s the village kids who spot him first. He has a smile wide enough to indicate that he has already asked somebody whether his family is still alive. Under the German occupation, nobody was safe.

If I were going to give this photograph a title, it would be “The Love of a Mother”. Ordinary young soldiers walked back home, starting as a group which lost a member or two as they passed by each village. These were villages where the inhabitants would not have known whether a particular young serviceman was alive or dead. Yuri Gagarin’s two brothers performed slave labour in Poland, escaped and the Red Army conscripted them. The rest of the family thought both of them were dead, and Yuri became seriously ill with “grief and hunger”. They got back home in late 1945:

And still the refugees stream westwards to their homes. These bring two cows with them and a sturdy cart with substantial wheels. There are eight people, with, for me, two grannies, two mothers, two boys and a young woman. They all have boots and one boy has a Red Army infantryman’s cap. Did they find their house even vaguely intact? And what about at least two husbands?

Even more so, what about the bear who appears to be asleep on the back of the cart? Or have I got to take more water with it?

Most stories in Russia, though, had a sad ending. A house smashed to pieces by a German tank, because the crew wanted to use it as a hiding place. A woman with perhaps five mouths to feed and no husband in sight. It’s enough to make even  tough little Russian lads burst into tears. But don’t worry. Everything will be made good within a few years.

Indeed, things did get better ! So smile and enjoy being alive, enjoy sitting in the summer sunshine of 1945. As many as 20 million Russians were not able to say that.


As far as the present war in the Ukraine is concerned, I would expect the Russians to remember the destruction wrought on so many towns, cities and villages of the old Soviet Union, and to begin face-to-face discussions before resorting to the senseless violence they have evidenced so far. But, as we know in the West, hardly any people who witnessed the Second World War are still alive, and that must have been enough for a glory seeking politician to forget the ways of peace and to take up the pointless violence of the invader.


Filed under History, military, Politics, Russia, war crimes

Why I am what I am (2)

Last time I mentioned a number of things that linked me to my Dad insofar as interests, hobbies and sports were concerned. I soon discovered that that was really only the beginning of the story.

I rather think that I studied Russian because Fred used to speak so frequently of the Russians during the Second World War. In the bookcase at his parents’ house, he had a pamphlet borrowed from an RAF library. It was entitled “Our Soviet Friends”, and it had pictures of the dam at Dnepropetrovsk:

He told me how, in the RAF, anybody wth knowledge of Russian could name their own price for helping to liaise with our new surprise allies, once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Towards the end of the war, Lancasters, on rare occasions, used to bomb the Germans and then carry on to Russia to land. When they came back they brought more bombs and often, one or two souvenirs.  On one occasion, my Dad had had a drink from a flask of coffee made up for the aircraft’s crew in Leningrad. I had to satisfy myself with my early attempts to learn the language, with the woman of my dreams…..

I may like French because, in 1940, Fred had wanted Britain and France to merge into one country just like Churchill had said. Fred was a keen European and, like Churchill,  he wanted a “United States of Europe”. As members of Bomber Command he told me, though, that the French could often be difficult to work with. Here is a Bristol Blenheim of the Free French Air Force in North Africa…..

I have always had great regard for the Poles because Fred said they were great blokes, and that he had joined up so that Poland could be freed from the invading Germans. A few years ago, I was in hospital for a operation, and there was a Polish van driver there that nobody would talk to because he was Polish. Except me, and if Fred had been there, he would have spoken to him, too. Racism can be amazingly petty.

I try to like poetry, because I know that Fred had claimed so often that poetry was an integral part of his life. He liked to read peoms out loud to his classes at school, his favourite being “Flannan Isle”.

I did a series of five blog posts about the mystery of Flannan Isle, as portrayed in the poem, and the first one is here. The rest can be found by merely searching for  “Flannan”. And when you’ve done that, don’t forget to watch this film with its own, made-up, explanation of the three men’s disappearance….

I’m sure that I became a teacher because Fred was a teacher and I felt that a teacher was a good thing to be. In the mid-1970s, the money was excellent and I didn’t automatically have to live in London.

I always worked hard as a teacher because Fred told me that at the end of each day, you should always ask yourself the question, “Were you just given your wages, or have you earned them ?”

I worked all my life at the High School, 38 years, because when he took me there for a job interview in 1975, I could see that Fred was enormously impressed by the school. To him, and to me, it looked like something out of a film, such as, perhaps, the old version of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”…….

In actual fact, after his death, I found that, when he was a boy in the 1930s, Fred’s Uncle George  had bought him a present, the book of the film “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”.  They didn’t shoot this film at The High School, but if they had wished to, it would have been entirely appropriate from the architectural point of view….

Fred read a lot about the Second World War, and one of his favourite books was a German doctor’s story of Operation Barbarossa, a book called “Moscow Tram Stop”. The High School has its own tram stop, called “High School”. That fact has always reassured me that I had made the right decision to work there for so long.



Filed under Film & TV, History, Literature, military, my Dad, Nottingham, Personal, Russia, Wildlife and Nature

Phonetic Alphabets (2)

Last time we looked at a number of phonetic alphabets. There was the British Army in 1904, the  British Post Office in 1914 , the  Royal Navy in 1917 and the  Western Union in 1918. Then came the good sense of the US Army and the US Navy in 1941 to have the same alphabet (for both) in contrast with the four different alphabets used by the RAF in different periods of World War II.

But what about the foreigners?

Here’s the Luftwaffe alphabet  in 1940. The very same one was used by the Wehrmacht, the German army:

Anton, Ärger, Bertha, Cäsar, Charlotte, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon, Zeppilon

It is obviously different from the Allies’ alphabet, being based on names, but that must surely have made it quite easy to learn. Incidentally, “Ärger” and “Ödipus” were used for any words which contained either ” ä ” or ” ö “. Notice too how they have a code word for Ä and Ö. There is also a quick way of doing ‘c’ and ‘ch’ with Cäsar and China along with ‘s’ and ‘sch’ with Siegfried and Schule.

The most frequent marks of the Messerschmitt Bf109 such as the 109D, the 109E, the 109F and the 109G were frequently known by their phonetic letters, the Dora, the Emil, the Friedrich and the Gustav.

Here’s a young man and an old man who are the one and the same man. He was a Luftwaffe radio operator in WW2. The shape of his ears is a giveaway. Age yourself by seventy years but you’ll never change your ears.

And here is the cloth badge to be sewed on the uniform of a crewmember that the Luftwaffe called a “bordfunker”:

The German Navy, the Kriegsmarine, had a very slightly different alphabet, but , again, it was based on names:

Anton, Ärger, Bruno, Cäsar, China, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon,  Zeppilon

The Wehrmacht used pretty much the  same alphabet with:

Anton, Ärger, Berta, Cäsar, Charlotte, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Übel, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon, Zeppelin 

 I couldn’t find a guaranteed French phonetic alphabet for World War II, but I did find this one, which is obviously based on first names:

Anatole, Berthe, Célestin, Désiré, Eugène, François, Gaston, Henri, Irma, Joseph, Kléber,

Louis, Marcel, Nicolas, Oscar, Pierre, Quintal, Raoul, Suzanne, Thérèse, Ursule, Victor, William, Xavier,

Yvonne, Zoé

That was a real list of sex bombs for French soldiers of every sexual persuasion to drool over. I don’t know what a “Quintal” is, but this happy curly haired chap is Ryan Quintal:

Actually I did look up “quintal” and one website said “a hundredweight  or a weight equal to 100 kilograms”. Another website said “backyard”. I often confuse the two.

The Italians, like many other nations, base their alphabet on towns and cities:

Ancona, Bologna, Como, Domodossola, Empoli, Firenze, Genova, Hotel, Imola, Jolly, Kursaal,

Livorno, Milano, Napoli, Otranto, Padova, Quarto,Roma, Savona, Torino,

Udine, Venezia, Washington, Xeres, Yacht, Zara.

Surely we all know the telegram sent by the humourist Robert Benchley to the New Yorker magazine:

“Have arrived Venice. Streets full of water. Please advise.”

I did find a Soviet spelling alphabet. The Russian alphabet, though, uses 33 letters, so it was quite complicated.  I decided to transcribe only the words for our Western letters. That came to:

Anna, Boris, Konstantin, Dmitri, Yelena, Fyodor, Grigory,

Khariton, Ivan, Zhenya, Leonid, Mikhail,

Nikolai, Olga, Pavel, Roman, Semyon,

Tatyana, Ulyana, Vasiliy, Zinaida.

Some letters such as ‘k’, ‘q’,  ‘w’, ‘x’ and ‘y’ do not really exist in Russian. Here’s a link to some of the letters of their alphabet.

Here are some Soviet signallers, giving a report to Headquarters in an unknown German town that has just been captured:

Two final points. If you can understand this, you’re a better man than me. This is perhaps 20% of a very large presentation of the Japanese phonetic alphabet. My best guess is that a word stands for a syllable, so that “suzume” stands for the syllable “su” and so on:

And finally, here’s the weirdest phonetic alphabet I found, taken from Tasmania in 1908:

Authority, Bills, Capture, Destroy, Englishmen, Fractious,

Galloping, High, Invariably, Juggling, Knights, Loose,

Managing, Never, Owners, Play, Queen, Remarks,

Support, The, Unless, Vindictive, When, Xpeditiously,

Your,  Zigzag







Filed under Aviation, History, Humour, military, Russia, the Japanese

Phonetic Alphabets (1)

Signalling by one group of soldiers to another, or by one ship to another, has gone on for centuries. Signalling flags were used on ships in the time of Admiral Nelson:

And there was always semaphore. As used by the Beatles:

The advent of radio, however, made things a lot more difficult, because when men spoke to each other, interference was a frequent problem. Sometimes words, especially place names, had to be spelt out, and merely giving out a list of letters, such as L-O-N-D-O-N did not always work, especially if the interference was intermittent.

In 1904, British Army signallers started to use a partial spelling alphabet, where only the more problematic letters had their own code word. This produced:

ACK, BEER/BAR, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L ,  EMMA, N,O, PIP, Q, R, ESSES, TOC, U, VIC, W, X, Y, Z

Only seven letters needed! By 1918, the problems of using the 1904 alphabet had added  a few words:

CORK,   DON.   EDDY.    INK.    JUG.   QUAD.   TALK

Here’s a war artist’s rendition of a signaller:

Things got better once for the British army when they adapted horse drawn radios:

Overall, it is crucial to have only ONE spelling alphabet, otherwise the situation becomes downright confusing. There used to be different alphabets for:

the 1914 British Post Office with Apple, Brother, Charlie, Dover, Eastern,

the 1917 Royal Navy with Apples, Butter, Charlie, Duff, Edward

the 1918 Western Union with Adams, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Edward

Much more sensibly, during World War II, the US Army and Navy used the same alphabet. It is familiar from so many war films and so many comics:

Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox, George, How, Item, Jig, King, Love, Mike,

Nan, Oboe, Peter, Queen, Roger, Sugar, Tare, Uncle, Victor, William, X-ray, Yoke

These men were some of the members of the real “Easy Company” :

What is important here is to have no words whatsoever that sound like any of the others. In this alphabet maybe jig and king, or able and baker, or dog and fox might cause problems.

Here’s the RAF spelling alphabet until 1942:

Apple, Beer, Charlie, Don, Edward, Freddie, George, Harry, Ink, Johnnie, King, London, Monkey,

Nuts,  Orange, Pip, Queen, Robert, Sugar, Toc, Uncle Vic,  William, Yorker, Zebra

And here’s the RAF alphabet after 1942

Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox, George, How, Item, Jig, King, Love, Mike, Nan, Oboe,

Peter, Queen, Roger, Sugar, Tare, Uncle, Victor, William, X-ray, Yoke, Zebra.

Smart people will have noticed how close it is to the US Army and Navy alphabet. How sensible!

In actual fact, the RAF was already using quite a few other alphabets anyway, such as this one noted in 1942-1943 :

Apple, Beer, Charlie, Dog, Edward, Freddy, George, Harry, In, Jug/Johnny, King, Love, Mother,

Nuts, Orange, Peter, Queen, Roger/Robert, Sugar, Tommy, Uncle, Vic, William, X-ray, Yoke/Yorker, Zebra

And there was a further alphabet for the squadron letters on the side of the aircraft in the Dambusting 617 Squadron:

A-Apple, B-Baker, C-Charlie, E-Easy, F-Freddie, G-George, H-Harry, J-Johnny, K-King,

L-Leather, M-Mother, N-Nuts, O-Orange, P-Popsie, S-Sugar, T-Tommy, W-Willie, Y-York, Z-Zebra.

I presume that the missing letters were non-existent aircraft. Here is 617 Squadron and these are B-Baker, G-George and M-Mother:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I wrote a number of blog posts about my wife’s friend, Len, who flew in 617 Squadron, in G-George. His full name was Len Dorricott, and this link will take you to the first of the three posts. If you copy and paste the surname “Dorricott” into “Search”, then finding Blog Posts No 2 and No 3 about Len becomes a doddle.


Filed under History, Bomber Command, Humour, Aviation, military

Why no statue ? (10)

Last time, I revealed that, up to and including the Second Boer War…….

“in every war fought by British forces they lost more men to typhoid than to the enemy”.

That was easily true of the Crimean War where 4,602 were killed in battle and 17,580 by typhoid. It was certainly true too of the Second Boer War and it would have been true of World War One, but for Almroth Wright.

Once he had seen the efficacy of his vaccine, Almroth gradually convinced the people in charge of the British armed forces of two measures which they absolutely had to take. Firstly, all military personnel would have to be injected, whatever they personally thought about it. Secondly, from 1910 onwards, around 10,000,000 vaccine doses had to be made immediately available for the troops.

As a consequence, when World War One began, the British Army was the only one with 100% vaccination of its troops against typhoid. In the Boer War in South Africa, there were 105 cases of typhoid per 1,000 troops and the death rate was 14.6 per 1,000 troops. In World War One though, there were 2.35 cases of typhoid per 1,000 troops and the death rate was 0.139 per 1,000 troops.

The result was that the British Empire suffered an appalling total of 1,118,264 casualties but the vast majority of them were on the battlefield. If the war had taken place without Almroth’s vaccine then the number of men and women to die would have been 2,236,529, and that would have been the figure if typhoid deaths were only one man more than those killed in action (which was extremely unlikely).

Let’s imagine that World War One had been played by Boer War rules. In South Africa, 5,774 men died in combat, or of the wounds they received in combat and 14, 210 died of disease. That is a ratio of just about 2½ to one, disease and combat. I’m not sure that I can believe my own Maths, but that would give you a grand total of 3,354,792 dead by the end of World War One, if typhoid had killed soldiers at its usual rate.

Is that not enough to warrant a statue? A total of 2,236,528 lives saved if the calculations are done by Boer War rules.

Even after Almroth Wright’s work, typhoid did still break out here and there in Great Britain. Without really searching very hard, I found that there were outbreaks in Maidstone in Kent (1897), Southampton and Winchester (1902) and Lincoln, England (1905). There was one very famous outbreak in New York (1906), but the disease kept up its unhealthy average in Dublin (1908), Retford in Nottinghamshire (1912), Tideswell in Derbyshire (1915), Croydon (1937), Chatham (1938), Dundee (1938) and Aberdeen (1964). Presumably, the arrival of lorry loads of Almroth’s vaccine prevented these outbreaks from becoming really serious (with the exception of Typhoid Mary, of course, in New York in 1906). Here she is, nearest bed:

During his lifetime, Almroth received at least 28 medals, prizes and honorary degrees. There is no statue of him, though. He was nominated 14 times for the Nobel prize from 1906 till 1925 but he didn’t receive one. All he has is a ward named after him at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington in London…….




Filed under History, Science, military, Africa

Strathallan…………the lost air museum (2)

Last time we looked at just a few of the aircraft which my friend, Bill, and myself saw on our visit to Strathallan Air Museum, near Auchterader, in the mid-1970s. Strathallan, if you remember, was the aircraft museum which eventually went bankrupt and all of the aircraft were disposed of in one way or another. A look at the map shows why, in pre-motorway days, very few visitors came to see the aircraft:

One of the most easily identifiable aircraft at Strathallan  was their de Havilland Comet, the world’s first jet airliner, which made its maiden flight on July 27th 1949.

Here’s my photograph, taken with a plastic camera whose controls for light were “bright” and “dull” :

And here’s a de Havilland Comet, by a much better photographer, which I found on the internet. On second thoughts, though, perhaps that may be a model. If so, it’s a really good one :

Of course, it’s a model ! But what are the other articles on this 1950s table? Is that the pilot’s map?

The Strathallan Comet (XK655) was eventually broken up for scrap metal, and in 1995 its nose was sold to Gatwick Airport for display purposes on the Spectators Terrace. Not a fate I myself would care to share. Here it is:

On an internet forum I found “G-ORDY” who said that XK655 was built for BOAC as the first Comet Mark 2, G-AMXA. It was eventually converted into “a Comet 2R, an aircraft of electronic intelligence gathering (ELINT) configuration, by Marshalls of Cambridge, and flew with 51 Squadron from Wyton. The forward fuselage of XK655 is now in the Al Mahatta Museum, located at the old Sharjah airport, UAE, and is restored in BOAC colours.”

There was another de Havilland aircraft at Strathallan. This was a De Havilland DH-98 Mosquito TT35, “TT” standing for “target tug”. Here’s my photograph:

And here it is in a much better photograph which I found on the internet:

In the RAF, the Strathallan aircraft had a serial number of RS712 and had featured as one of the bombers in the film “633 Squadron” and the later film “Mosquito Squadron”. The aircraft is currently displayed at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, in Wisconsin, as RS712 and EG-F, the aircraft flown by Group Captain P.C.Pickard during the attack on Amiens prison in 1944:

I have actually already written very briefly about the book featured above, in a post called “Books for Christmas 1”.  I said:

“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.”

Here’s Strathallan’s Grumman Avenger, a TBM-3W2 of the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Koninklijke Marine. Here’s my photograph:

And here’s a much better photograph, of an Avenger in a much better state of repair:

When the museum closed, the Dutch aircraft went back to the USA and is now registered as N452HA at Hickory Air Museum, a private museum in North Carolina whose proud boast is that they never charge a penny for entrance.
The only other aircraft I can remember seeing at Strathallan was the RS3, built in 1945 at the Reid and Sigrist factory at Desford, some seven miles from Leicester:

It was designed as a small, twin engined trainer, although the RAF showed little interest. In 1948 it was adapted for prone-pilot experiments, with a lengthened, glazed nose, and a set of controls for another pilot who lay on his stomach. Here’s a better photograph from the internet:

The RS3 flew in this form in June 1951, and eventually went to the Institute of Aviation Medicine at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.

When I went to Strathallan, there may have been some other aircraft there which today, just over fifty years later, I have simply forgotten. It all depends on which year I went to the museum and in which year certain aircraft were sold off. The aircraft which I can no longer recall were an Avro Anson, an Avro Lancaster, a Supermarine Spitfire and a Westland Lysander. To be honest, had they been there during my visit, I do think I would probably have taken some  photographs.

This picture from the Internet was the closest I got to the ex-Strathallan Lancaster, KB976 and GB-BCOH. It is currently held at Polk City, Florida:


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Personal, Science

Strathallan…………the lost air museum (1)

In the mid-1970s, Bill Brown, a friend of mine, and I used to spend time camping around Scotland, the Land of Mountains, Mist and Midges. For the most part, we explored the wild west coast, but one year, probably 1975, on our return home, we stopped at a place called Strathallan, on the eastern side of Scotland, to visit the air museum there. No digital cameras then. At RAF Cosford in 2011 I took 854 photographs. At Strathallan, in around 1975, with 16 shots on each rather expensive roll of film, I took 11 photographs. Strathallan is quite a remote place. Look for the orange arrow, resplendent in his kilt:    

 I didn’t realise at the time that Strathallan was well on the way to having to close, because of financial pressures. As somebody said, it was too remote from any large city and hardly anybody could be bothered to visit it. And back then, the motorway north of Edinburgh, the M90, simply did not exist.

That said, I was happy enough with the museum and I took photographs of the majority of the aircraft. Whether there were any more aircraft that I did not think were worth the cost of a photograph, I do not know. I can’t remember any more. That fact, to me, is plain scary. What percentage of our lives have we totally forgotten? 50%? 70%? 90%?

My favourite exhibit was their very colourful Avro Shackleton T4. The Shackleton was the last of the Manchester-Lancaster-Lincoln-Shackleton line and was used for maritime reconnaissance. I have clear memories of them flying over our house in South Derbyshire in the early 1960s. Presumably, they were following a Severn-Trent shortcut.

Here’s my only photograph:

The stripes on some of the eight propellers are to stop you walking into them. Here’s a photograph taken by a proper photographer. I found it on the internet:

As far as the Avro Shackleton is concerned, the British and the South African Air Force were the only countries to use it.

Here it is in even stripier hue. This particular aircraft was operated by the South African Air Force.

My Dad once saw a man walk accidentally into the propeller of a Lancaster. It affected him for the rest of his life, I always thought. He only ever spoke of it to me once.

Strathallan’s Shackleton was broken up eventually, although its nose is now in the Midland Air Museum in Coventry. Not how I envisage my own eventual fate.

The museum had a Lockheed Hudson, an America  light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft, primarily operated by the RAF. It was a military conversion of the Lockheed Super Electra airliner, and the first ever large contract for Lockheed. Here’s the Model 14 Super Electra:


And here’s the Lockheed Hudson at Strathallan:

I would meet this aircraft again at Hendon and take three photographs of it, rather than just the one:

The kangaroo is the obvious link between the two encounters:

Next time, we’ll continue this mini-tour around the lost aircraft of Strathallan.


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

Keith Doncaster’s Poem

This is Mr Hardwick, who spent a large part of his time at the High School as the form master of 2A. In this photograph he is some twenty years older than when he plays a small part in this particular story:

In 1936, Keith Doncaster was with Mr Hardwick in Second Form A. Aged only twelve, he was honoured by having a short poem featured in the School Magazine, the Nottinghamian. It was entitled “Poetry” and this is how it went:


I’m not a Poet

And I know it.

The next line will take some time.

Now I’ve started,

All thoughts have parted

From my head,

So now I think I’ll go to bed.”

Still a young boy and now thirteen years old, Keith had a second poem which was featured in the Nottinghamian. It was called “Gathering Shells” and he wrote it when he was in Third Form A with Mr Beeby in 1937. Here’s Mr Beeby, in the middle of the group:

This is, in actual fact, an enlargement of a staff photograph taken in 1946, just twelve months after the end of the war. Mr Beeby, late Scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge, was one of a small group of High School teachers who joined up to fight for his country. Like Keith Doncaster, he joined the RAF where he became a War Substantive Flying Officer, which meant that as long as the conflict lasted he held that rank. In the RAF he served in the Signals Unit of the Technical Branch This may possibly have been Radio Countermeasures and Jamming as well as Direction Finding. Flying Officer Beeby may even have been working in Electronic Warfare but he would have been instructed never to say a word about any of this top secret stuff to anybody. And he would have kept that faith for the rest of his life.

As soon as I read Keith’s second poem, I realised what poetry he might have written had he lived, and that, even if he did not realise it himself, he had inadvertently foretold his own premature death:

Gathering Shells

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

The poem summarises, in nine lines, the lives all humans lead. We pursue happiness, we like our pleasures, each one of us, we run along our own silvery beach, gathering coloured shells, objects which are attractive and pretty but ultimately of little or no value on the cosmic scale. We are just the same now, eighty years later. Short lived creatures who enjoy the sand and the sun and the shells, which we consider to be highly important and worthy of our attention. But ultimately, they are of little or no value whatsoever.  The only things which are important are the distant bells, because they call us, one day, to our doom. But we choose to ignore them, and just to run along the silvery beach for a little while longer.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.


Filed under Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham, Personal, Writing