Category Archives: Personal

the Gloster Meteor at Hendon (1)

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

More on the Meteor’s shortcomings next time.

Advertisements

21 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Personal, Science

Card Carrying Commies (5)

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

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

Here’s Gorbachev and Yeltsin:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 Comments

Filed under History, Humour, Personal, Politics, Russia

Fred joins the RAF (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

11 Comments

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

Fred joins the RAF (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch “Target for Tonight” here:

16 Comments

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

Fred joins the RAF (1)

When war broke out in September 1939, Fred took advice from his father, Will, about which of the three services to join. Will, of course, had been a veteran of the First World War, and was well aware that, until conscription was introduced, there was a free choice of where to spend the conflict, with, hopefully, a maximised chance of survival.

Will told Fred not to join the Army, as he himself had fought on the Western Front, and had seen the horrors of Passchendaele, followed by a period on active service in the area of the Somme battlefields:

Will knew all too well that for the army commanders, the men remained just cannon fodder, whose eventual fate was of little importance to them, as they ate and drank in palatial comfort, miles behind the Front Line. The ordinary soldiers were just a list of names on a war memorial :

Will could not recommend the Navy either, because, if your ship were sunk, it would take you far too long to die, floating around in the water, with little real prospect of rescue. Don’t miss the shark :

Instead, along with thousands of other First World War veterans, he recommended to his son that Fred join the RAF. Will had seen the aircraft of the then Royal Flying Corps, flying high over the trenches. He knew that when they died, it was usually by burning, a relatively quick, and clean, way to go:

The supreme irony, of course, was that Fred was eventually to find himself in the ranks of Bomber Command. Throughout the entire war, their casualty rates were destined always to bear direct comparison with those of the British Army on the Western Front during the First World War, and even with the appalling rates of carnage of specific battles such as Ypres or the Somme.

Fred knew that his mother was extremely worried about her only son when he was away in the RAF. Like many thousands of his colleagues in Bomber Command, therefore, he told her that he had a totally safe job, working from nine till five in the quartermaster’s stores, doling out uniforms to new recruits. Fred’s father, however, who had experience of the sharp end of war, was fully aware that Fred was in aircrew, and of the risks that that involved:

Fred had very dismissive and, at the same time, modest, memories of what rank he had held in the RAF. He always insisted that he had been an AC2, an “Aircraftman Second Class”, but that he had once been promoted to the lofty heights of Lance Corporal, so that he would have the authority to guard a pile of boxes.

Fred’s parents had a photograph of their beloved only son, taken by Wilkes of Elgin:

They kept the photograph on the piano throughout the conflict, and indeed, long afterwards, as, perhaps, some kind of thanksgiving for his safe return. Fred’s mother and father had tried so hard to have a baby, with things going wrong with a number of pregnancies before Fred was born. And he was an only child.

Almost seventy years later, Fred’s granddaughter was to make a public appeal for information about her grandfather’s time in the RAF, and for just a few hours, this particular photograph was to be the main attraction on the RAF’s Facebook page:

 

28 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

Fred meets a Flying Circus

My Dad, Fred, spent nearly all of his life in South Derbyshire. In the sunny summers and snowy winters after the First World War, his home was at Number 39, Hartshorne Lane, Woodville. “Holmgarth” was the last house in the village as you went down the road towards the neighbouring village of Hartshorne. Here it is today:

After Fred’s house, further down the hill, there were a couple of large houses near a small lake on the left. They were just a few yards beyond the massive blue brick railway bridge which carried the passenger railway line from Woodville Station towards Swadlincote. A half mile or so further on was the old Saxon village of Hartshorne. Hartshorne Lane itself was made of gravel, and there was so little traffic that it was perfectly possible to play football or cricket all day long without any interruption whatsoever. Boys regularly knocked their cricket stumps into the surface of the road.

Indeed, the whole area was still so countrified, that one day in the late 1920s, a seven year old Fred saw a stray cow walking around in the front garden of the house, and rushed to tell his mother. She was busy with her housework, and just told him that he was being silly and telling lies. Eventually, though, she looked out of the kitchen window and she too noticed the cow which had by now made its way around the house to the kitchen garden. She was very startled and cried out in genuine fear. Young Fred, though, thought that this was a good example of somebody getting their just desserts. Here is young Fred with his bike but just look at the empty field behind him. It used to belong to a farming family called Startin. Nowadays, their field is completely covered in houses:

One sunny summer’s day in the 1930s, perhaps in 1935, an aircraft came in to land in Startin’s field at the back of Fred’s house in Hartshorne Lane. It was an Airspeed AS4 Ferry, a medium sized biplane, and was registered as G-ACBT. It had even featured in a special painting in an aviation magazine:

The aircraft belonged to the famous Flying Circus of Sir Alan Cobham, although it had previously been owned by the popular author, Neville Shute. He had used it as a ferry aircraft in southern Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here’s one of the photographs which were taken of this extraordinary event. The three people are, I think, Fred, the pilot and the mechanic :

Sir Alan Cobham was one of the foremost proponents of the virtues of flying, and with his support for the National Aviation Day, he gave enormous publicity to British aircraft and to the still relatively young RAF. Here he is:

An excited young Fred talked to the pilot while the mechanic went off to find some fuel for the aircraft from a local garage. When he returned, they refuelled the plane and then took Fred for a short flight around the local area.

This adventure, amazing by the Health and Safety standards of the present day, was to inspire Fred, years later, to join the RAF.

Ironically, the year when Fred joined the RAF, 1941, saw G-ACBT being finally dismantled at the scrapyard, in the absence of any potential buyers for this sturdy old aircraft.

15 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Personal

Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 4)

This is the fourth, and final, round of my Grandfather, Will’s, tales about his life in the First World War.

The pinnacle, or perhaps, nadir, of Will’s relationship with the upper classes came when he was given an officer’s beloved horse to look after. This was the kind of thing:

In the stable, the highly strung beast decided it would kick Will, very hard and very painfully. Will, however, was not a man to take things lying down, so he took a run up, rather like a football goalkeeper about to take a goal kick, and kicked the animal very, very hard in the testicles. This would have been honours even, perhaps, but unfortunately, the officer had just returned to the stable to see how his pride and joy was faring, and was actually standing right behind Will as he did the evil deed.

For his crimes, Will was charged, court martialled, found guilty, and given Field Punishment Number One, which consisted of being handcuffed, fettered and then tied to a gun carriage wheel for twenty-four hours. This picture is the closest fit I could find:

In similar vein, I remember as a teenager, talking to another veteran, an old man who used to spend all day, every day, sitting on the bench seat, watching the traffic go around the Tollgate roundabout in our small mining village, Woodville. This man had been gravely wounded on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. When a shell went off in that disastrous attack, he had been knocked unconscious, coming round to find that he had lost both of his legs in the explosion.

Luckily for him, as he acknowledged later, he was found by the Germans, who saved his life. He was always to say that the levels of care among the German forces were so much better than those in the British Army, where the officers’ horses tended to be better looked after than the men. This is a German military hospital:

Much to my very great regret, I have forgotten the name of this man, but I will never forget the bitterness or the truth of his words. Sharply resentful, he told me how every day, for almost sixty years, he had no choice but to put on his two artificial legs. He began with leather straps under each groin, and then the large strap around his waist. Then came more straps over both of his shoulders.

Even after all these years, he had persistent sores wherever the rough leather rubbed into his skin, particularly on his shoulders, and the poor man was in constant pain. Many people in Woodville thought that he was just a moaner, but he had a lot to moan about. Like my grandfather, he was not much of a fan of Field Marshall Haig either.

At the end of the Great War, Will returned from France directly to Woodville, and the life he had known before he emigrated to the New World. He went back to his church in Church Gresley, where everyone was delighted to see him. So much so, in fact, that they presented him with his own copy of “The Methodist Hymn Book”

Inside the front cover, it was inscribed…

“Wesleyan Church, Church Gresley

Presented to Mr.W.H.Knifton as a token of gratitude to God for his preservation while on Active Service during the Great War, and as a momento of the hearty good
feeling with which he is welcomed on his return.

On behalf of the Church and Sunday School,

L.GREGSON
W.WILTON
A.DYTHAM ”

Will never seemed to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the war certainly affected some aspects of his thoughts and behaviour. In the trenches, for example, there was a seemingly permanent shortage of sugar. For this reason, long years after the conflict had finished, Will would never fail to celebrate the existence of the delectable white powder. If you visited him and he made you a cup of tea, he would normally put between six to eight spoons full of sugar in it, and even when there were objections, nobody ever escaped with fewer than four spoons full.

Another fear which Will brought back from the trenches, beyond that of running out of sugar, was the much more real one of rats. There were certainly plenty of them about. Here is a French military ratcatcher, “un dératiseur” and his dog:

Will knew very well that besides an entire suite of unpleasant, and occasionally sickening, behaviours, rats carried Weil’s Disease, an ailment which even now, as I write, has no known cure. In 1941, during his ab initio training for the RAF, Fred was to experience the same fear as his father had known twenty or so years previously, as rats, bold and unafraid, ran over his chest and feet as he camped out in the winter woods.

Incidentally, a lot of people nowadays want to think that the First World War was a “war for democracy”. It wasn’t. It was a war for power and empire. Just to knock the democracy idea firmly on the head , the figures I found on the Internet were that 7,694,741 people were eligible to vote in 1914. The population of the United Kingdom and its colony of Ireland was approximately 46 million. That is 16.72 percent who were able to vote. And who do you think did most of the fighting? The 16% or the 84%?

 

25 Comments

Filed under Canada, Criminology, France, History, Personal, Politics