Category Archives: Personal

Victor Comic and me (5)

On the front and back covers, Victor would always have the story of a brave man, or a number of brave men. I can well remember this edition of Victor, Number 25, arriving at our house. It tells the story of the courageous South African, John Nettleton VC, who led a brave daytime attack on the MAN Diesel works in Augsburg. Seven of the Lancasters were shot down, and at least 37 men were killed:

The drawings are seldom completely regular in Victor. The top of the next row is often visible in the frame above.

Here is the next frame, thumbs up, and everybody happy to set off on their desperate mission:

The bombers flew low and this is emphasised by the old cliché of horses being frightened. Sometimes, hats are blown off, but not today:

The agility of the fighters compared to the bombers is often emphasised by the different angles at which the two aircraft are flying. The sinister nature of the German fighter pilot is underlined by his lack of kindly eyes. Instead his evil eyes are masked by his goggles. Nobody in the RAF ever covers his eyes with his goggles:

In real life, operations like this one were always costly in lives. And a bomber pilot could take more than two years to train and it was an extremely expensive process. The story, though, makes the reader feel better by mentioning heavy German losses among the fighter pilots. That ignores, however, the fact that each bomber had seven men in it, and on average, when there was a terminal situation in a Lancaster, fewer than two of that seven would survive. And the fighter pilot, if he were shot down, would parachute down onto German soil. With luck, he could be back flying only three or four hours later:

This is the worst bit of a raid, flying straight and level just before the bombs were dropped:

This type of attack seldom had great effects and the effects it did have were seldom long lasting. The American bombing of the ball bearing works at Schweinfurt and of the oil wells at Ploesti in Rumania would fall into this category and people still argue about the Dambusters raid:

A thousand feet is not very high. And one or two of those Lancasters at the back seem to be morphing into B-24 Liberators:

It would have been one hell of a long way back, with, presumably, all of the German fighters knowing that the surviving Lancasters would be coming past any time soon:

And now came the question which is always asked around the time when the bombers are scheduled to arrive back at base. “How many are left?”

The British and the Americans always seemed to overestimate vastly the effect of their bombs on these specialised missions, especially early on in the conflict. Investigations after the war revealed that at Augsburg only 8 machine tools were destroyed out of 2,700. Of 558 cranes, just 5 were destroyed:

What cannot be denied is the bravery of every single crewman and the huge effect that this raid had on morale. Nettleton toured widely, addressing meetings both in Britain and in North America. Here is a news film of the time about the raid:

John Nettleton was killed on his way back from Turin after a bombing raid on July 13th 1943. Luftwaffe fighters were scrambled as the returning bombers passed over Brittany in the early hours of daylight. It is believed that an Fw190 shot his Lancaster down over the sea. Nettleton’s body has never been found. Much to my amazement, the Nettleton School in Braeside, Harare, in Zimbabwe, still exists. I need to be less cynical.

 

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Victor Comic and me (4)

This time in Victor, it’s Coastal Command. Patrolling the Ocean Blue in their aircraft and bombing U-boats. Until the German anti aircraft gunners take a hand….

And that single event, that single exploding shell, seems to put a very abrupt end to all of the crew’s sentiments about peace on earth which might be talked about in church on a Sunday morning . We are moved on very quickly from love for our fellow man to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth! And what about the words of the world’s most misspelled holy man, Gandhi? An eye for an eye and the whole world is blind?  All those lovely thoughts are completely knocked on the head. Literally. Vengeance is the order of the day. Just listen to what he says…..

And the next frame asks some very pertinent questions about staffing levels in the wartime RAF.

If we don’t need a bomb-aimer, then why did we bring one?

He could have been at home, spending his afternoon with his stamp album and his hinges, sticking in that German set with ships on, rather than bombing the real thing….

Aircraft recognition anyone? Well, it’s a Consolidated PBY Catalina, dropping old oil drums on a U-boat…..

No real man likes a hand placed tenderly on his shoulder, even if he’s wounded.

Leave me alone and go and look after Jack, we’ve all been very worried about him…..

I’ve spent my whole life being a facetious commentator on life.

In actual fact, I am a great admirer of Victor comic and even as an adult, I can see lots of positive teachings within its heavily serrated pages.

Soooooo…it will be a Victor true story with no facetiousness whatsoever next time. Well, only a teeny weeny bit.

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The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (5)

A few days after I finished writing this blog post, I was wandering across the Internet when I came across an auction webpage called “The Saleroom” which featured a copy of my programme but in much, much, better condition:

The programme had no autographs but did have some team changes written on it, in pencil, of course:

The first one revealed that the RAF goalkeeper may not have been Corporal Timms but “Hardwick England”

I have taken this to refer to Ken Hardwick who played for Rossington Colliery, Doncaster Rovers (308 appearances), Scunthorpe United (96 appearances) and Barrow (12 appearances). He never played for England but he did suffer one of the cruellest and shameful things ever experienced by a footballer. It occurred in a letter which he received out of the blue about an England appearance. In 1955, he was invited by the FA to play for England, but it was for the Under 23 team and George was, by then, 30 years old. Well, done the Football Association, always with their eye on the ball! Here’s Ken, in his younger days:

Alternatively, the best fit for “Hardwick England” might conceivably be George Hardwick of Middlesbrough and Oldham. He had 13 England caps, some as captain, but he was a left full back, rather than a goalkeeper. Here he is, on a cigarette card which he has autographed in later life:

It’s difficult to imagine, though, that Griffiths of Manchester City would not have changed position to accommodate somebody as important as George Hardwick, ex-Captain of England. Having said that, most professional outfield players would be able to play as goalkeeper in a charity game without too many problems. Perhaps George was just amused by the idea, so he had a go in the atmosphere of universal happiness that must have been in the air for all of that First Day of Peace in Europe.

In actual fact, George Hardwick was considered Middlesbrough’s greatest ever player and they have a statue of him outside their stadium:

Near “Thompson” something has been written and it appears to me to be “Hall Spurs”:

This may be Albert E B. Hall, an outside right, who, between 1935-1947, had appeared 81 times for Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs, as they are better known by their fans, scoring 22 goals.

It may be Fred W. Hall who appeared 23 times  between 1944-1946.

It may be G Willie Hall, an inside right who managed 376 appearances, with 45 goals scored, between 1932-1944. He was actually a fairly local man, born in Newark in Nottinghamshire.

It may have been Jack Hall. This is the least likely because all of Jack’s 67 appearances between 1936-1946 came as a goalkeeper.

Overall though, this is a singular lesson in the value of including an initial!

Near ‘Chapman’ there is something written. If this programme was ever owned by a little boy, the little boyish handwriting says “lost 4-7” but this is far from definite in my mind. Other figures are written in near both Carter and Doherty but I really don’t know what they are:

What I need, of course, is a newspaper report, but that’s easier said than done!

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Victor Comic and me (3)

I would be the first to admit that Victor could sound a little clichéd on occasion:

But the British always overcame every problem. Only two British guns and 132 German tanks. Don’t worry! We’ll get ’em all! And make sure you don’t miss any!!

Tank recognition classes can now put their knowledge into practice. The men who drew these tanks had probably seen them for real:Disaster strikes. But the British are used to recovering from disaster and muddling through. Norway. Dunkirk. HMS Hood. Greece. Malaya. Singapore. Tobruk. Countless cricket matches against Australia. Penalty shoot outs in football. God knows, we’ve had the practice:Let’s be honest. A great many of the comic’s drawings  have something hackneyed, or even ridiculous, hiding away inside them. Not to mention exaggeration. Whoever saw a hole in a ship that big?Still, at least the German officer in the next frame doesn’t say “to ze vaterland” :Contrast the British approach below. In the kayak, two commandos, who are perfectly well aware that Hitler’s personal order was that if they were captured, they would be shot. This was the “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here. The man on the submarine, though, might as well be offering to take their letters to the Post Office for them. “Right! Thank you! And could you see if they are still selling those cough sweets I like? Just get me a couple of packets, would you, old chap?”

More irreverence next time.

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The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (4)

Last time I talked about an old football programme. It was for a match played one day after the war ended in Europe, May 9th 1945. The programme was for “Gresley Rovers (Selected) v RAF”.  The top two stars in the RAF team were Raich Carter and Peter Doherty.  Here is the RAF team:

And here is the Gresley defence:

The next section shows the Gresley forwards, the ones below the black spot of the centre circle:

J Illsley, the outside right, signed for the club in October 1941 and made his first team debut on October 4th 1941 against Quorn Methodists (won 6-2). He scored a phenomenal 24 goals in 28 appearances, his last game, like Collier, coming against Holwell Works on February 22nd 1946 (won 2-1).
“Bradbury” the inside right, could be one of two different players, who, rather helpfully for the statistically minded, played together in the same team on many occasions. Ken Bradbury was signed in 1944 and made his début against Swadlincote Colts on October 7th 1944 (won 4-2, Bradbury 2 goals). He then went on to score 19 goals in 21 games before bowing out on April 6th 1946 against Morris Sports in the League Cup Semi Final (Rovers won this game 7-0 but lost the Final 1-7 to Kettering Town).

Tom Bradbury was even more of a goalscoring sensation in the Rovers’ team than Ken Bradbury. His first game was on August 28th 1937 against Loughborough Brush Sports (won 4-2, Bradbury 3 goals) and according to the club’s player database, he finished his spell at Gresley on May 9th 1944 in the League Cup Final against Swadlincote Colts (won 5-1). Overall Tom scored 94 goals in 50 appearances, with his best two seasons coming in 1941-1942 with 23 in the League and 8 in the Cup. In the following season of 1942-1943 he managed 28 in the League with no surviving record of his Cup goals.

In September 1937, he had signed for Derby County for £200 and he played 4 games, possibly for Derby’s reserves. If he played for the First Team, then I have been unable to find any details of that in the Derby statistics I have seen. In 1939, he signed for Wrexham. When war broke out, he went to work in a munitions factory. He returned to Gresley where he played whenever that was possible. Tom finally had a spell with Rovers as player-manager. Presumably, that is why he was playing on May 9th 1945…he picked the team!

Three or four years later, Tom was one of the founder members of neighbouring Burton Albion.

He later became a director and then chairman of the club which now plays in League One,  England’s third tier of football. In less happy times, when Burton Albion was going bankrupt, Tom mortgaged his family home to save the club. His wife wasn’t best pleased when she found out what he’d done.

The centre forward was W Evans of Liverpool and Wales. I have found out nothing about him so far, except that it was definitely not Roy Evans, the ex-Liverpool manager:

It may be that W Evans played in wartime games which are more difficult to access, although according to “Soccer at War 1939-1945” by Jack Rollin, nobody of that name appeared for either Liverpool or Wales between 1939-1946. Neither does “Wales, the Complete Who’s Who” provide any clues. Perhaps that centre forward at Gresley was the last German spy, making just one last appearance. He was probably doing research about how English players took penalties.

The inside left is most likely George W. Chapman (1920 –1998). He was born in Linton, a village close to Church Gresley, and he signed for West Bromwich Albion although he did not ever play for them except during wartime fixtures (13 appearances, 2 goals).

In 1946–1948 he played for Brighton & Hove Albion scoring 12 goals in 43 appearances. He was the club’s top scorer in the 1946–47 season with 10 goals. After that, he moved to Tonbridge Angels, a club which had been formed as recently as October 1947. Here’s their badge, presumably based on the coat of arms of the town:

Harrison is perhaps Cyril Harrison who made his début against Marston’s on November 7th 1942 (won 14-1, Harrison 3 goals) and scored 21 goals in 27 appearances. He played his last game on April 26th 1950 against British Ropes (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal). Alternatively, it might have been Mick Harrison who made his début against RAF ‘H’ on September 23rd 1943 (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal) and went on to score 58 goals in 87 appearances. He played for the last time on April 26th 1950 against British Ropes on April 26th 1950 (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal…but which Harrison, Mick or Cyril, Cyril or Mick ?). Here’s the British Ropes factory. I couldn’t find a picture of their team:

If you have read any of my previous posts about non-league teams around Nottingham, you will know how fascinated I am with the names of these smaller clubs.

Let’s just look at who Rovers played against nearly 80 years ago.

An Army XI in a friendly match  to raise money for the Spitfire Fund, Briggs & Co, British Ropes, Broadway Youth Club,  Central Ordinance Corps, Cyclops, Cyclops Sports, Derby Corinthians, H R Mansfield Sports, Ibstock Penistone Rovers, John Knowles A, Leicester Nomads Reserves, Loughborough Brush,  Marstons, Measham Imperial, Midland Woodworkers, Morris Sports, Newbold Vernon, Old Dalby, Quorn,  Methodists,  Parkhouse Colliery, RAF, RAF ‘F’, RAF ‘H’, RAF ‘L’, RAF ‘M’, RAF ‘T’, RAF XI, Rolls Royce, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Stanton Ironworks, Whitwick Holy Cross, Whitwick Parish Church, Whitwick White Cross and the catchiest of all for those supporters’ songs, “351 Burton Squadron ATC”.

None as good though, as the first ever opponents in a home game of which records have survived, played at the Moat Ground on September 5th 1891…..Hugglescote Robin Hoods. Here is Rovers’ ground which has not changed much since that late summer day:

 

 

 

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Victor Comic and me (2)

Victor Comic normally began with a war story in full colour on the outside covers of the comic. The story was always true, although I don’t think that that ever really registered with me:

This particular story may not have been 100% true but I think that this is because Douglas Bader was still alive at the time and they didn’t want any law suits:

And anyway, what’s an arm or a leg between friends?

Good Old One-Armed Mac was back doing what he did best. Killing Germans:

Good Old One-Armed Mac used to fly a Hawker Hurricane, but the squadron leader chose to ignore totally the aircraft’s fuel tank capacity when he announced one day that they were going to go and attack Germany. Perhaps they went just a little way up the Rhine on an aircraft carrier:

No, I don’t see an arrestor hook there. But they’re very good, aren’t they?

Victor always had completely 100% fictional wartime characters such as Sergeant Matt Braddock VC. He usually flew a Lancaster or a Mosquito but he could turn his hand to anything. Nobody knew that Matt and his navigator George were the adopted sons of Biggles and Ginger:

Here’s the text if you can’t read it:

Given the hair brained nature of some of the things they did, I’m not too surprised that Matt and George were based at the fictional RAF Rampton. Here’s the Terrible Twosome and a nice illustration of what they do best:

Braddock might have been a double Victoria Cross winner, but he was not cut out for training young recruits:

He was not very good either at passing on the idea of “the calm pilot who was always in control” :

He was never really very interested in the concept of patience and understanding:

Occasionally, in the stories featured in Victor Comic the odd cliché would crop up. The clichés were never really a genuine source of negativity though and they were never meant in a nasty way.

And race hatred was something that just did not ever crop up. No higher respect could have possibly been paid, for example, to those great warriors, the Gurkhas or indeed, any other non-white soldiers in the British Army.

Characters from the Middle East could even star in their own series. And, yes, the hero does look a little bit blonde haired with possibly a hint of blue eyes:

But what about “the traditional Jesus” ?  Very few people will ever have been struck by the markedly Jewish appearance of Jesus in illustrations . Here’s Jesus the Viking:

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The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (3)

In my most recent post on this topic, I looked at the RAF team in a celebration match played in Church Gresley, the neighbouring village to the one where I grew up. The game took place on May 9th 1945 to commemorate the end of the war in Europe. We have already looked at the RAF team:

It was captained by Raich Carter, the only man to have won the FA Cup both before and after the war. The people are King George VI, the Queen and a young Raich Carter. Adolf Hitler is fooling nobody with that dyed blond hair:

The other star player was Peter Doherty of Northern Ireland:

Here is what I found out about the players of Gresley Rovers (Selected) who opposed them. A very large proportion of the information came from the superb Player Database, which is now a feature of the Gresley FC website, having appeared for many years on the Gresley Rovers website.

Most of the Gresley players were local men and worked “down pit” as miners. Being a miner was a reserved occupation so they were not involved in combat situations. It is true to say, though, that many miners did a job which was statistically much more dangerous than that of many soldiers or sailors. This is a picture of what was then a heavily industrialised area, with clay and coal mining as well as the fabrication of huge pipes for drains and sewers:


The first section shows the defence of the Gresley Rovers (Selected) team, the price of this single sheet programme and the recipients of any charity money which was raised :

I traced a great deal about the goalkeeper. John Proudman, but none of it was because John had a long and happy life.

Tragically, he was killed on September 23rd 1950 while playing in a Leicestershire Senior League game for Moira United against Quorn Methodists at Quorn, a little village in Leicestershire. During the first five minutes of the game he fell very heavily as he tried to make a save. He finished up at Harlow Wood Hospital in Mansfield, where, sadly, he died from a fractured spine on September 24th. He was only 27 years old. His first ever appearance for Rovers had been on September 9th 1943 against the RAF ‘T’ (won 5-1) and the final one of his 71 games for Rovers came on May 4th 1946 against Melton Town (lost 1-2). After that he played for Newhall United and then Moira United. John was a miner and he worked at Cadley Hill Colliery near Swadlincote.  The Gresley FC Online database has a brief account of John’s performance in this game against all the stars:

“My father worked at Cadley Hill pit with John Proudman and told me about an exhibition game that John played in for Gresley Rovers, when amongst the opposition was the legendary Raich Carter. During the game Carter hit one of his trademark powerful drives which John Proudman managed to get in the way of, the ball cannoning off his chest before he could grasp it. At work the following day he stripped off his shirt to show Raich Carter’s ‘autograph’, a round red imprint of the heavy case ball, complete with panels, in the centre of his chest.”

This is John’s photograph. To put his tragic death in context, in the whole world, only 6 men died playing football between 1919-1939, as far as we know, and only one between 1939-1959:

The right full back, Bill Halsey, who was originally going to play but did not actually appear, played 30 games for Rovers in 6 years. He made his debut against Woodville Athletic on April 8th 1944 (won 7-1) and appeared for the last time against Retford Town on May 4th 1950 (won 3-1). Here’s Bill:

I have been unable to trace anything about the WHF Wright who is written in near his name, except that it is not Billy Wright the England football captain. He was William Ambrose Wright. Here he is again:

Arthur Marston, the right half, played 130 times for Rovers making his début on April 27th 1938 against Whitwick Holy Cross (won 4-0) and taking a final bow on March 19th 1947 against Kettering Town Reserves (result unrecorded). Despite being primarily a defender, he scored 15 goals.

The centre half, Eric Rose, made 140 appearances but scored only twice. His first appearance had been against Ensor Sports on November 25th 1944 (won 10-0, King scored 7 goals, Rose, 1 goal) and his final game, like Halsey, came on May 14th 1950 at home to Retford Town. Here’s Eric:

Left half Collier made his first team debut way back on November 6th 1926 against Bromsgrove Rovers (lost 1-3). He hung up his boots twenty years later on February 22nd 1946 against Holwell Works (won 8-0). The database says that he played most frequently for the Reserves, but I would presume that the  71 appearances and 13 goals quoted in the Player Database are for the First Team. This total was fewer than 4 games per season. What a modest unassuming servant for the club! Is that why they let him play in this glamour game? Let’s hope so.

The left full back, Marshall, was a guest player to give Rovers a chance against all of the visiting superstars. He is actually Jack Marshall (1917-1998) who played for Burnley from 1936-1948. In later years, he was the manager at Rochdale, Blackburn Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday and Bury. On Boxing Day 1963, he reached, literally, the pinnacle of his career, when Blackburn Rovers occupied the top spot in Division One for just one day….

They think it’s all over….well, not yet it isn’t!

 

 

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