Category Archives: Politics

The place where I grew up (2)

Last time, we looked at the pretty little village where I grew up. It was called Woodville and it is in Derbyshire, England.

The school I went to was down Moira Road, one of the five roads that met at the Tollgate. Much more interesting, though, was Donald Ward’s scrapyard, where we would call in hoping that we would be given metal ball bearings to use in our schoolboy games of marbles:

Occasionally the metal ball bearings would be thrown at us, but none of us were too proud to reject any projectiles that came whizzing our way. Legend told of an immensely strong gentleman of Ukrainian heritage, who worked in the scrap yard, and who was so strong that he could lift a length of railway line off a lorry without any outside help. Here’s his brother, as I could not find any pictures of a man carrying a railway line. He’s just bought his lunch at the takeaway:

Inside the scrapyard was a traditional bottle kiln, which is still there to this day, because it is a Listed Building:

My grandfather, Will, spent a great deal of his adult life working in a bottle kiln. It was hard physical work, which required an enormous physical effort. Grandad was immensely strong and, although he was only a small man, he had huge slab like forearms and muscles made powerful from years of lifting heavy objects. He worked in the pipeyards at Wragg’s and then at Knowles’s. Both of these companies were near Swadlincote, and they manufactured underground pipes, mostly for drains and sewers. During the 1920s and 1930s, because of the severe physical strains of his job, Will was a relatively well paid employee, earning at one point some 42/- per week (£2.10):

Will’s job was to carry a tray of soft, “green ware” which would have weighed around a hundredweight, perhaps some fifty or so kilos. He took them from the place where they were made from moist clay, on a large wooden carrying tray, into the bottle kiln, to be fired and hardened. The bottle kiln, in an effort to retain heat and to economise, was slightly recessed into the ground. It had a very small door, so that Will was obliged firstly to slide down a gentle slope, and then to dip down so that he could enter through the tiny, heat conserving, door. Finally, Will had to lift the heavy tray with its cargo of wet clay objects upwards onto the racks inside the kiln.

Here, of course, inside the kiln, it might be immensely hot, and stories were often told of how men, stripped to the waist, would drink a whole bucketful of water to slake their huge thirst. They always wore sacking on their feet. Newcomers who arrived wearing a pair of shoes for their first day on the job would find that their footwear barely lasted until finishing time at the end of the first day. When he finally retired in 1964, my Grandad was replaced by a fork-lift truck.

Continuing down Moira Road, on the right was, firstly, the Junior School, and then St Stephen’s Church and then the Church Hall. We’ll look at them in more detail next time, but for now, here’s a glimpse. When I was a child, of course, the younger generation were so clever that they did not need to spray paint the names of the roads on the asphalt:

 

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The place where I grew up (1)

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

The village had around 4,000 inhabitants who worked for the most part in the local industry, which was digging up the local clay and using it to make water pipes, sewage pipes and the like.

Originally, the village was called Wooden Box, because five roads met in the centre, and the man who collected the tolls from the travellers on those five roads lived in a large wooden box the size of a small house. The place where he stopped the traffic therefore became known as the Tollgate. Nowadays, it is a roundabout.

Here is the High Street shortly after the end of World War Two:

It was quite grim when the snows of 1947 began to get a little grimy:

Over a series of blog posts, I would like to show you what Woodville was like when I was a little boy in the late fifties and early sixties, and what all those places are like now.

In the 1950s, the shops of Woodville were vastly different from what they are nowadays. At the top of Hartshorne Road, where I lived, was the Co-op butcher’s, with its decorated ceramic tiles, where meat was displayed on a big white slab behind a huge plate glass window. Here are some of the ceramic tiles:

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Inside was the counter with a wooden chopping block at the side. The butcher wore a striped blue and white apron, soiled with smears of old blood. He was, like all butchers, a Smart Alec, who fancied his chances with the women and was always over familiar with them.

Here’s the butcher’s shop today. It’s derelict:

Higher up, on the corner of the roundabout was a large shop called the Co-op. In the picture below, it’s on the right:

Margaret who worked in the Co-op was my mother’s particular friend. Here’s the shop today. It’s derelict too:

On the opposite side of the road was what had been the old Police Station. Here it is, in the centre of  a very old postcard:

The County Library was to move into the derelict police station around 1960. The story was told locally that four special garages were constructed to house the mobile library vehicles, but that the people in charge forgot to measure the huge vans’ lengths, so that they eventually stuck out of their garage by some  three or four feet and it was impossible to close the doors of the new buildings.

Around this time, the same location also housed the local Civil Defence, who had a large and enormously loud siren next to the building’s chimney. It was a frightening machine which could be sounded should “Our Friends the Soviets” ever launch a nuclear attack on Woodville. In the early 1960s, I well remember the threatening and haunting sound of this siren curling around the walls of the houses on, thank goodness, just one occasion per month, possibly the first Sunday, when testing was allowed to occur if my memory serves me well. Here’s the police station pretending to be a library:

Over the road from the Police Station was a ramshackle, black, wooden garage where cars were repaired and petrol was sold, BP, if I remember correctly. Further along this road towards Burton on Trent, on the left hand side stood a garage which sold Cleveland Driscoll petrol, and which was unstinting in the way in which it gave away primarily purple coloured advertising lapel badges to small boys.

Here’s the garage today. It’s derelict, with weeds growing in front of it:

The roundabout was called the Toll Gate, and it had a third garage, which sold, again if I am not mistaken, Regent petrol. It was called the Clock Garage and here it is today, repainted and restored:

Next time we’ll look at my old school and the house where my Dad was born.

 

 

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (3)

Last time I was showing you more of the attractions at Botallack, in West Penwith, in western Cornwall:

I introduced the Crowns Mines which I called:

“the most photogenic industrial location in Cornwall.”

From the base of the stone chimney, a long sweeping path descends the cliff face. It goes down towards the Crowns Mines:

Their position is so dramatic that it attracts film crews like bees to honey. Here is a slightly different shot which includes what looks to me like the silhouette of Pan and below that, to the right, a number of faces in the rock. At least two gannets are visible flying past as just two white dots. Notice too, the croquet lawn right in the middle of the photograph:

There must be quite a few people who are frightened by the path, which is wide and flat with a substantial fence made largely of rust. To your left, there is a very, very long way to fall on to the sharp rocks below . If you do fall, though, make sure that you look to the right as views are tremendous.

These mines had tunnels which stretched under the ocean for several miles, allegedly. Equally allegedly, the miners could always hear the noise of the waves above their heads.

As you walk down, the two mines gradually grow closer. If I remember correctly, you can go safely into the right hand structure:

But the left hand tower is a very definite “No-No”. Or at least, you’ve got a very large queue of kamikaze pilots to contend with.
Still, it’s a wonderful location. The ocean is so blue and it is transparent enough for the rock platform underneath the waves to show up. Gannets are still passing by . There is one to the right of the right hand tower, just where the wall meets the ground. Again, if I remember correctly, it is impossible to climb to the top of this tower, although a door lets you in to see a very limited part of the ground floor.

This is the best shot I could get of the left hand tower.

The National Trust says that the tunnels went out under the sea just 450 yards (very roughly 450 metres), and reached 1600 feet under the seabed, an amazing depth if you think about it (very roughly 487.68 metres).

Here is a comparison of the two mines then and now. If you look very carefully, you can see a lot of similarities but many differences, some of them the effects of a hundred years’ plus of Atlantic storms:

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The path leading back up to the main group of ruins is quite steep but you’re not going to get lost with such a landmark to guide you:

How long it must have taken to quarry the stones to build this impressive edifice! It’s certainly lasted a lot longer than the men whose toil and sweat erected it:

Back at the top, among the ruins, I found some intriguing graffiti. This first one could fire at least a couple of romcoms:

And this is a full length effort, vandalised by some moron, unfortunately:

My last memory of the place will be watching a couple of retired BBC planners (click on the picture to enlarge it, and they are on the cliff edge). They are working out the cost of a modern Poldark sequel starring Jeremy Corbin as Poldark’s charismatic youngest son and Vladimir Putin as George Warleggan:

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“The Devil’s Doctors” by Dr Mark Felton (4)

Last time I was talking about “The Devil’s Doctors” by Dr Mark Felton which describes how, at Mukden POW Camp in Manchuria,  Allied prisoners of war, primarily Americans, were used to test Japanese biological weapons developed at Pingfan, the nearby headquarters of Unit 731. Dr Felton also broadens the scope of his writing to include events after the war, when large numbers of Japanese doctors were found guilty of war crimes, in many cases on American personnel, but no sentences were ever carried out. “Why did this happen?” the author asks, but quickly reveals the real truth. The Americans were now thinking about war with their erstwhile allies, the Soviets:

To wage the next war and win, the American government wanted to know immediately everything about the Japanese biological weapons so that they could use the information for their own purposes. On August 13th 1945, before even the end of this war, in Operation Flamingo, the American government set up an OSS team to

“secure all Japanese documents and dossiers, and other information useful to the United States government”.

Indeed, fifteen military intelligence operatives were about to be parachuted into Pingfan to gather up scientists and data, when the Japanese, terrified by the thought of Stalin’s savage soldiers invading the sacred Japanese homeland, suddenly surrendered:

Shiro Ischii and his colleagues fled from Manchuria to Japan with all their data. According to the author, they eventually finished up talking to Columbia University’s Dr Murray Sanders to whom General MacArthur had personally given the job of investigating the Japanese biological warfare programme. Here’s Ischii again:

Everything that Dr Sanders found out was taken to MacArthur who decided that the Japanese data was “almost incalculable and incredibly valuable to the United States”. He wanted it “on an exclusive basis”. The Americans offered Ischii and his colleagues from Pingfan a “blanket immunity from prosecution in perpetuity”. The people who made this offer were well aware that living Allied prisoners had been experimented on. Both Pacific Stars and Stripes and the New York Times had published allegations in 1946 and in 1947 American Military Intelligence found 12 independent witnesses all giving the same details about the live vivisection of Allied POWs. Here’s MacArthur:

According to the author, when J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, tried to look into the affair, he was told by MacArthur’s investigating agent that “information of the type in question is closely controlled and regarded as highly sensitive”. In other words, he was told to get lost. Here’s Hoover, who does not seem to have pressed the point:


So Ishii and all of the rest got their lifelong immunity and were never put on trial. Had they appeared in court, the British and the Soviets would have acquired all of the data that only the Americans had at the time. Ishii went to live the American Dream in Maryland where he died in 1959. According to the author, the prominent Unit 731 vivisectionist, Masaji Kitano, went back to Japan and became the president of a large pharmaceutical firm. Here’s Kitano:

Sadly, the author, Dr Felton, does not name the vivisectionist who became Governor of Tokyo, nor the one who was President of the Japan Medical Association nor the one who headed the Japan Olympic Committee. Even so his research at this point could not be bettered, with some very dark and disgusting political stones being overturned.

As the war slipped away, the Japanese were keen to use their new Biological Weapons in the USA. Again, the author’s research into events at this point could not be bettered. A first feasibility trial consisted of a submarine launched spotter plane which dropped incendiary bombs in the forests of the West Coast. It was too wet and not a lot happened.

In August 1943, the Japanese Navy tested  large paper balloons, again launched from submarines, and again with the intention of setting fire to the forests. That project was abandoned in favour of an Army project to use bigger balloons carrying incendiary and anti-personnel bombs. Sadly, six people were killed near Bly in Oregon, possibly because the powers-that-be did not release news of what the Japanese were doing, because it might have caused mass panic.

The final piece in this well researched jigsaw came when the Japanese Navy commissioned the huge I-400 submarines which would have carried three aircraft each, Aichi M6A1 Seiran torpedo bombers:

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These aircraft would have overflown San Francisco, Los Angeles and other American cities and then  dropped canister type bombs or possible even crop sprayed them with Today’s Maniac Special… bubonic plague, typhoid, dysentery, perhaps even a nerve gas. Shiro Ishii would surely have had some ideas about what to do?

So why did it not happen? Well, the author’s persistent research has turned up a good few reasons. Firstly, Japan found it difficult to produce the huge I-400 submarines and the planes to go with them. Furthermore, a “morally bankrupt” Imperial Army still had one or two who remembered dimly how decent human beings led their lives. Quite simply, the Chief of the General Staff, Yoshijiro Umezu put a stop to it. He told his officers:

“If bacteriological war is conducted it will grow from the dimension of war between Japan and America to an endless battle of humanity against bacteria. Japan will earn the derision of the world”.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this book which lays bare the extremely dirty secrets of the Japanese and the Americans, and I suppose those of the Soviets too, because, although they never received any of the material scooped up and taken away by their American allies, they definitely wanted to have it. So too did the British, and there is a lengthy section about their activities with plagues and nerve gases, centred on the top secret centre at Porton Down in Wiltshire. The book is 198 pages and if you can buy yourself a copy, then you really should. It’s a fine tale about just where a Master Race complex can lead you.

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“The Devil’s Doctors” by Dr Mark Felton (3)

Last time I was talking about “The Devil’s Doctors” by Dr Mark Felton which describes how, at Mukden POW Camp in Manchuria,  Allied prisoners of war, primarily Americans, were used to test Japanese biological weapons developed at Pingfan, the nearby headquarters of Unit 731:

The author then extends his account to some of the other atrocities carried out at other locations within the Japanese sphere of influence. In the last post I spoke of what happened to the crew of a B-29 Superfortress, brought down over Japan on May 5th 1945:

The crew were all murdered in the vilest fashion  and 30 Japanese eventually stood trial in an American court. Dr Fumio Ishiyama, the university’s chief of surgery, committed suicide to avoid justice. Of the remaining 29 Japanese, 23 were found guilty. There were five death sentences, four life imprisonments and prison for all the rest. Sadly, the sentences, awarded for war crimes up to and including cannibalism, were never carried out.

The author then reveals that the American government, having realised that their erstwhile allies, the Russians, were in actual fact, total savages and vile people and worse than that, a bunch of Commies, decided to do very little indeed with the guilty Japanese defendants. After all, the Japanese people were a lovely lot who well might fight on our side against the Russians if we were very, very kind to them. Nobody was hanged and every single war criminal was free as a bird by 1958. Personally, I’m only surprised that the thirty Japanese weren’t asked to write a best selling recipe book.

One of the most striking things in the author’s research is that the 700 page Official History of Kyushu Imperial University devotes just one page to the vivisection experiments it carried out for years on hundreds of innocent people. It reminded me of one German company’s attitude to the 80,000 concentration camp slave labourers they used. They don’t even get a mention.

The doctor in charge at Pingfan was Shiro Ischii:

Ischii wanted to discover how diseases affected the human body, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese people paid the ultimate price to help him. Aerial sprays were used from aircraft and bombs made of ceramic material but full of germs were dropped on Chinese civilians. It must have been a little bit like spraying forest fires nowadays:

Poisoned food and water was frequently offered to Chinese victims. Fleas carrying bubonic plague were released by Japanese aircraft over the Chinese cities of Ningbo (1940) and Changde (1941). At least 400,000 people died as a result of this. Here are the two cities nowadays:

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In comparison, casualties at Hiroshima were 90,000–146,000 and at Nagasaki between 39,000–80,000.
Dr Felton has researched Pingfan in enormous detail. The centre was divided into various ‘Divisions’, all under the command of Shiro Ischii. Division 1 worked with anthrax, bubonic plague, cholera, tuberculosis and typhoid, frequently introducing it to live people. As test volunteers, between 300-400 Chinese were kept confined at a local camp and numbers were always maintained around that level. Division 2 worked on weapons to deliver the toxins, trying to invent radical new ways to contaminate the western USA. Division 3 constructed artillery shells for shorter range operations and Division 4 developed new biological agents.
The book tells exactly what kind of medical and surgical war crimes were committed by Unit 731 personnel but I will not inflict them upon you. You will need to buy the book! Suffice it to say that the treatment meted out to these poor Chinese people was vile, beyond contempt. It still affects Sino-Japanese relationships today, mainly because of the extreme reluctance on the part of the Japanese to accept their guilt and to apologise in a meaningful and sincere way.

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My Book (3)

I am still quite proud of the fact that I have found out so much information about the vast majority of these young men. I feel that I have done them all justice and that I have done my very best to keep them in people’s memories, even as they seem to be receding further and further into the anonymous grey mists of time. Here is the School Rugby team in 1926-1927:

I have made great efforts to drag the complete ghost out of the past and to write not just about their fiery deaths but to try and unfold the full and energetic lives they led. It’s only too easy to see a name on a war memorial, to read that name and then to forget it, all in the same moment. For that reason I have tried to describe their families, their fathers, their mothers, their brothers and sisters. I have tried to find out what their father did as a job, where the family lived, in some cases occupying just one or two houses in their lifetime, in others half a dozen. What were their houses like? How might they have travelled to the High School? I have tracked their Forms, their teachers, what they did at School, how their exams went, what position they came in class and what prizes they won, all the things that would have been so important to them at the time. I have written about what their Form Masters were like and talked about their careers. This is Mr Kennard. He definitely took no prisoners:

I have tried to find out what sports our future heroes played:

What school plays they were in. The French farce of the 1920s, “Dr Knock”, perhaps? And which one of these boys became the war hero?:

Or perhaps a play with a chance to wear a lovely frock and a string of pearls? :

Which person collected stamps and who loved to make home movies? I have tried to identify other boys in their Forms who might have been their friends, even if that is just a case of saying who won the Form Prize and where they lived, what job their father did and so on. Here is a class of really small boys, eight and nine year olds, before the First World War:

The worst thing I could have done would have been to have written three thousand words about their death and thirty about their lives. So whatever I could find, I have included. Their sports, their hobbies, their jobs between school and the forces, and, if possible, what their abilities and talents were.
By doing this I revealed, even to myself, just how many different places have provided High School pupils over these years and just how many hundreds of different jobs their fathers have done, some of them long gone and requiring a search on the Internet.

At least one High School hero of Bomber Command had come straight from Waring & Gillow’s shop to fly his Lancaster. He apparently said one day in the shop that selling double beds and three piece suites was not a worthy job for a man when his country was at war, and off he went. Waring & Gillow sold luxury furniture of all kinds, and they appear to have made a lot themselves, because here is their factory. :


And when I have written about the boys’ streets and houses, some simple directions are usually included. Without them, which of us could ever locate Balfour Road or Conway Avenue or Derby Terrace or Florence Road? And many old streets have completely disappeared. This is a very different Forest Recreation Ground, only a few decades before the first of the World War Two casualties was born. Look at the windmills, and the race course for horses. It was one of the very few ever to be a figure-of-eight, in the hope of some juicy crashes:

It is, of course, the young readers who are my ultimate target audience. It would be a tragedy indeed if they were never to realise who died for their right not to be brainwashed, not to speak German as their first language, not to be slave labourers in a foreign land and to have the right to make their own decisions at all the different stages of their young lives. Freedom does not come cheap, and I’m not talking about money. The situation is perhaps best summed up by what one Old Nottinghamian war hero has inscribed on his grave:

HE GAVE THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
HIS UNFINISHED LIFE.

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“The Devil’s Doctors” by Dr Mark Felton (2)

Last time I was talking about “The Devil’s Doctors” by Dr Mark Felton which describes how, at Mukden POW Camp in Manchuria,  Allied prisoners of war, primarily Americans, were used to test Japanese biological weapons developed at Pingfan, the nearby headquarters of Unit 731. This is Manchuria:

The events at Mukden were not a unique series of atrocities, however. By no means:

The author relates the dreadful events which took place on May 5th 1945 when a B-29 was rammed and brought down over Japan by a kamikaze fighter pilot. Of the crew, the first fatality had his parachute lines cut in mid-air by the wing of a second Japanese fighter aircraft. A second American was attacked by a mob of Japanese civilians who came running across a field to kill him. With the six bullets in his revolver he shot five of them and then himself. A third man was shot by civilians. A fourth man was never found. A fifth was sent to Tokyo to be questioned under torture. The rest were rounded up and taken to Kyushu Imperial University where they were murdered by the medical staff who dissected them alive in the post mortem room. The witness to all this was Dr Toshio Tono, a young medical assistant at the time.

In the 1980s he wrote a book about the event which named names, most of whom were, by then, in senior posts within the university. According to the author, the dissection of the prisoners paid particular attention to the brain, heart, liver and stomach. Times and places are given. On May 17th 1945, two Americans were dissected, on May 22nd two more, on the 25th a single man and on June 2nd, the last three men died. The horror is not over yet. On June 3rd the last victim’s liver was preserved for a party that evening in the Officers’ Hospital. More than one witness has come forward to say that the meat was chargrilled, seasoned with soy sauce and served as an hors-d’œuvre to the military and civilian guests, who knew what they were eating and enjoyed the meal.

I suspect that this incident may well have inspired Hannibal Lecter.

 

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