Category Archives: Politics

In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (2)

When I wrote the first part of my review of the book “In for a Penny, In for a Pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer, I had never written a book review before, so I suppose I can now say “Welcome to my second book review”.

Last time I mentioned how the author talked about his experiences in the RAF in Britain, but how he was then transferred to the Middle East, bombing the Germans and Italians with Vickers Wellingtons:

In actual fact the Wellington was probably the best bomber used in this theatre of war in the early years. At least they weren’t using these Bristol Bombays as bombers:

And they weren’t forced to use these biplanes as bombers, for want of any aircraft at all (which did actually happen!):

Howard Heyer describes how the anticolonial attitudes encountered in England continued in the Middle East when he is posted to RAF Kabrit near the Suez Canal:

At Kabrit, the Station Commander lived in a “sumptuous two storey permanent house”. The officers were all billeted in nice wooden houses next to the Officers’ Mess but the sergeants lived elsewhere, in the desert, sleeping on straw mattresses in tents outside the camp. The single shower was just a pipe with no showerhead and the water was heated by the sunshine. The food wasn’t very good either with the buns at Christmas dinner containing not caraway seeds but weevils, regarded by the rather cynical diners as a valuable source of protein. Here is the author, in the middle of the crew of five:

When the time came for introductions, the commander of the base, Squadron Leader B, singled the two Canadians out from the rest and said:

“I see that two of you are Canadians. I’ll tell you right now that if we have any trouble with you, it’s the high jump for both of you.”

Howard is flying combat missions at such long range that they need to land their aircraft at airstrips in the desert both on the way to the target and on the way back. That doesn’t prevent the station commander, who doesn’t fly in combat, stopping his car as he drives past Howard and telling him off for having a button which is not shined properly. Such attitudes eventually lead to a mutiny.

On January 29th 1942, Squadron Leader B had a notice put up ordering:

“All aircrew are to report, properly dressed, to the Station Warrant Officer’s Office at 1300 hours”.

Every member of aircrew had already “been on Ops” in the previous week and in some cases, the night before:

In such cases, men are supposed to have a whole day’s rest with no reporting anywhere. The fact that the Station Warrant Officer has the nickname, “Louie the Rat”, probably sums up the attitude of the 50 men who assembled. He told them to draw rifles for rifle drill. They told him that sergeants only carry side arms so they don’t do rifle drill. Louie then gave them the message from Squadron Leader B that the men were all slack and they all needed smartening up.

At the first command of “Order Arms”, an Australian gentleman told Louie a convenient place to stick his rifle and threw his gun to the floor. He was immediately placed under close arrest and marched off to the Guard Room followed by 50 or so angry sergeants of all nationalities who demanded to be placed under close arrest as well.

And the account goes on from there for another couple of pages. Again, something I have never heard of before, and, like the Cranwell Riot, unknown to Google as well. The book does have a good summary of the situation though, one which could have been applied to a good many RAF bomber squadrons during this period…

“…a long period of minor abuse and lack of caring, a condition of “negative leadership.”

And what’s “negative leadership”?

Well, it can perhaps be summed up in the words of the officer who welcomed the crews to RAF Marham, right at the beginning of the book…

“Well chaps, the glamour period is over. Casualties in this command have been high, and they are on the rise as we make more and more flights further into Germany. I must tell you then that many of you will not be with us a few weeks or a month from now. Good luck to you all.”

Unbelievably, this officer was outdone by the Squadron Medical Officer:

“I hope it doesn’t happen to any of you, but in the event that you find yourself trapped in a burning aircraft with no chance of escape, best to get things over with in a hurry. Lean directly over the flames, open your mouth and inhale strongly. The fire should scorch the lungs and cause almost instant death, much preferable to burning slowly. Well good luck chaps.”

The Bomber Command men, all volunteers, of course, and a huge proportion of them from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, still got on those planes and did their jobs, often at the expense of their lives. The book concludes on a more positive note:

“I have never considered myself a brave man. But I was put into the company of brave men, and I could not very well have let them down.
I don’t believe I did.”

And my overall verdict? It’s a book very well worth a look especially if you can pick up a copy with a bit of history!

One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.

 

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In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (1)

I haven’t written a book review before, but last week I was quite struck by this particular book, entitled “In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer. It is by no means a new book. My copy was published in 2000 and I bought a used copy from Abebooks. It was from a bookseller in Toledo, Ohio and the book had been a Library Copy from Greater Victoria Public Library at 735 Broughton St, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 3H2, Canada.

With used library books, especially foreign ones, I always spend time wondering where the book has been, who borrowed it, what their lives were like and so on. I was most intrigued to find a till receipt still inside, detailing the book’s being taken out at precisely 10.41 am on June 16th 2001. Who read it? Did they enjoy it? And most exciting, did they get it back to the library on time by June 30th?

The book tells the story of a young Canadian who joins up and then spends the war in the RAF, mainly in Europe and the Middle East. He is in Bomber Command where casualties, of course, were enormous. There are, really, any number of such books. Some are written to be exciting, some to be poignant and some as detailed historical records. This one is a little bit different and tells the story from the point of view of a Canadian:

I just did not realise that the British would drag innocent young blokes half a world away from their homes to do their fighting and then insult them for their pains…

“We encountered the ‘colonial label’ usually with some snide remark. We grew restive and increasingly rebellious.”

Their reactions were pretty easy-going though, compared to one group. The Aussies:

“erupted in a near riot and refused to appear on parade or in class…Things reached a climax one day in the mess hall. This day the food was particularly inedible and one Aussie grabbed his plate and flung it against the wall just as an RAF air commodore walked through the door…this was not an isolated incident”.

Indeed, he speaks of the Canadian involvement in the “Cranwell Riot”, calmed only by the intervention of Canadian diplomats and Canadian officers. This may be what is being referred to in “The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew 1939-1945” by Allan D English (page 120) but I haven’t read that book yet. I could find nothing about the episode on the Internet.

We visited Cranwell in May 2010. It was a dull rainy day but here is the main building:

The gates are typical architecture of the time:

They are decorated with the superb badge of the RAF:

I read a lot about the RAF in World War Two but this book presents so much that is new to me. One intriguing footnote tells of the author’s neighbour in 1995 who told him of a fairly amazing incident. The Irish, always pretty anti-English at that time, were supposedly allowing U-boats to refuel in Cork Harbour, so, in late 1942 or early 1943, the RAF sent a force of 8 Blenheims to bomb the harbour “most bombs purposely landing in the bay.”

Well, I’ve never heard this before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Some 20,000 Irishmen from the Republic were in the British forces, but there were a good few who were very sinister in their activities. In his book, “Clouds of Fear”, Roger Hall alleges that more than one RAF flyer was killed by Irish parachute packers who deliberately sabotaged their parachutes. The men murdered this way included a young man from the High School but that is, as they say, a story for another day.

Bombing Cork, even Blenheims would have been safe from the Irish Air Corps, who used Lysanders:

And the Fairey Battle:

Going back to Howard Hewer’s book, when he was posted to the Middle East, I was really surprised to hear for the first time, of the practice in North Africa of bombing targets which were so far away that the aircraft had to refuel both on the way there and on the way back. The book discusses the conditions at these stopover sites “situated on dried up salt lakes…We carried our bomb load from base, and had to land fully and lethally loaded…we slept on the floor of the aircraft in winter, under the wings during the summer months…we were not issued with sleeping bags…” Presumably, the advent of B-24 Liberators would have helped to phase out these stopovers which were unavoidable with the Wellingtons:

The Liberator had a much better range. Here is one of the first that the RAF received:

Next time, I’ll carry on with Howard Hewer’s adventures in Egypt. There are many more stories about the RAF officers that I had never heard, but they all have that ring of truth.

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1937: The Clouds of War (2)

Last time, it was the height of summer, in southern Derbyshire in 1937. My Dad, Fred Knifton was only 14. One day, with his friends, Jonty Brearley, Bernard Swift and John Varty, he set off to cycle through the Anglo-Saxon village of Hartshorne, to explore the old Stone Age trackway of Green Lane. By the time they got there, it was the late afternoon on a glorious summer’s day.

Even in the 1970s, this was an isolated country area, far, far away from the hustle and bustle of so-called civilisation. In the late 1930s, it must have been even quieter. Nothing except for the gentle humming of the bees, the whirr of the swallows’ wings, the buzzing of the grasshoppers and colourful butterflies fluttering by. A very peaceful, idyllic and rural place indeed. The boys duly set up their canvas tent, taking care to position all of the many guy ropes carefully. They followed their Boy Scout training and carefully cut a piece of turf from the grass at the side of the track, before they started their camp fire.

The_Hadrian's_Wall_Path_follows_a_'green_lane

It was a warm, calm, summer’s evening. Bats scythed through the still warm air. Large white and grey moths fluttered where butterflies had fluttered during the day. There was one bright star. Or was it a planet? Then a second star. And then a third. The night grew darker. The stars formed into patterns. The Plough. The Milky Way. Sparks flew up from the fire and disappeared into the darkness:

fire

I once saw a poster which said:

“Everything is going so well. Everything is perfect. But don’t worry. Some bstard will come along and spoil it.”

On this occasion the idyll was interrupted by the arrival of the local police constable on his bicycle. In later years, Fred was to wonder just why he was up there a thousand miles from the nearest police station and three light years from the nearest house. Had they stumbled upon his still? Did he have a secret girlfriend? Or a secret boyfriend? Did he like following teenage boys out to isolated areas?

Anyway, he sportingly told the four boys that despite their status as Boy Scouts and Ovaltineys they would not, under any circumstances whatsoever, be allowed to camp there overnight, as there were many, many important laws and many, many important byelaws which completely forbade such evildoing.

He sportingly told the four boys too, that they could finish their meal, just this once, before they left and went home and did not ever come back there ever again, even as old men. If they did, they would finish up in the galleys.

Will they refuse to obey him? Will they rise up and slay this bourgeois lickspittle?

We’ll see next time.

 

 

 

 

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The High School Hell’s Angels, Chapter 5

Last time, sad, sad, person that I am, I was sharing with you the electronic version of the Nottingham High School Register from the old Free School, which was then, of course, in Stoney Street in the Hockley area of Nottingham. Dating back to 1858, the Remarks Column in particular gave some very striking details of life in the school some 160 years ago:

January 1859 saw some fascinating details. Going down the column they read “ill. Out of town”, “middling”, “behaved well” and quite simply “dead”. That was poor William Henry Copley, of 2 Stafford-terrace off Shakespeare-street. He was the son of a Warehouseman and only 14 when he passed on. Stafford-terrace, I suspect, is now under the concrete and plate glass of Nottingham Trent University. A more spectacular death affected Benjamin Arthur Heald of High Pavement: “(at home) Died from the effects of over-bathing.” Well, you can have too much of a good thing. Or perhaps he was sharing the bathwater with the horse.

Quite a few boys were elected to a place at the Free School, but then “declined” to attend. Some “could not be found” as if alien abduction stretched back to 1858. Ironically, the boy labelled “cannot be found” lived on Forest-road within 100 yards of the school. Forest-road played host to one of the commonest means of transport of the day:

Some boys needed to buy a watch. “Did not come at the time appointed & was ordered to be crossed off.”

Not everything was easy. “Sent back twice, declined to try again July 1860”. Some abused the system, “Left without giving any notice”.

Some boys “behaved well” and others “Behaved badly, especially out of school hours”.  Truancy had been recently invented, “attended very irregularly”. Sometimes it was the parent’s fault “Behaved well and made good progress for the time, but was taken away too soon”. And what about poor Richard Thorpe, an orphan residing with his sister at 1, Northampton-terrace, off Portland-road?  “did very well, obliged to leave from ill health.”

Portland-road is close to Waverley-street and the General Cemetery. I was very surprised to find this grave was in the General Cemetery during my researches:

Indeed, the Remarks column of the Register often comes very close indeed to stating the obvious truth about a boy’s transgressions, namely that it was the parent who should have been punished, “Junior Prize 1860.  Suspended in consequence of the Father’s claiming the right of keeping him from school at pleasure” and “Suspended because his father took him away from school for a fortnight without leave.  Not allowed to return.”
The staff could be hard men. “Expelled for dishonesty at home” and he was then sent to Trinity National School which may be the ancestor of present day Trinity School.  And what about lucky Thomas Henry Naylor, the son of a Lace Designer from Hutchinson-street in the Meadows, a thoroughfare now long disappeared: “Suspended for being privy to another boy’s dishonesty. Allowed to return on sufferance.” Or else, it may have been “previously a private pupil.  Removed by his father at my request.”

Many of the Remarks are not very different to what they would be nowadays. The same cannot be said of Nottingham. Here is the exact area, and the orange arrow marks the approximate site of the old Free School:

In the middle of the 16th century, this is where Mr.Francis Pierrepont, or “Collonell the Right Honourable Francis Pierepont”, had a large residence built next to the school, and wanted certain windows of the school building “stopped up” so the naughty pupils could not watch the serving wenches being chased around the extensive gardens . Pierrepont’s mansion was the second largest in Nottingham, after Wollaton Hall. It had 47 rooms with fireplaces. No photograph of that survives. Here is the only one I have ever seen of the old Free School:

 

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Hells Angels, High School Chapter 4

Recently, I came across the electronic version of the Nottingham School Register which had been painstakingly transferred to an Excel Spreadsheet. They go back as far as the very first boy in what must have been a new School Register in 1858. Here is one of the few illustrations we have…

At midsummer 1858, therefore, Arthur Law Gratton joined the School, which was then, of course, in Stoney Street in the Hockley area. Arthur lived at 13 Northampton Terrace, Portland Road. Ironically, Portland Road is within a two minute walk of the School’s present site on Arboretum Street. I cannot find a Northampton Terrace, so presumably this has been renamed or demolished. In those days, it was very frequent practice to write Northampton Terrace as Northampton-terrace or Portland Road as Portland-road. This persisted until at least the 1920s, but I’m going to give it a go in this post. Hope I don’t miss any!

Arthur’s father was deceased and his mother was now a widow named Eleonora Gratton. Arthur was 15 years 5 months old and he left at Michaelmas of 1860.  Michaelmas is on September 29th. The register states in the Remarks column, “Behaved well. Drowned while bathing June 1861”. Ironically, the summer of 1861 had “above-average rainfall, but not excessively so” although in Ireland the “summer was dramatically wet.”

Henry Wheeldon came to the Free School on January 26th 1859.  He was 12 years old and his father said that he lived at Mr Peter Elliott’s (sic) at 29 Bromley-place. During the 1st half of 1860 (sic) he was dismissed for “not living in the town after repeated warnings as to the rule.” This is initialled by W.B. who was the Reverend W. Butler the Headmaster. Here is the Rev himself:

The Remarks Column is fascinating. We see that one pair of individuals were the victims of a paperwork foul up as they were “Entered by mistake twice”. Some boys were “elected” into the School but “declined” their place. Others moved house between being accepted and the first day of a new term, “left town before coming in”. As well as the clever boys who were educated for free, some less intelligent but more affluent boys paid to sit in with the classes. Thomas Hodson Sissling, the 14 year old son of Wright Calecraft Sissling, an Innkeeper on London-road “Remained six months as a private pupil”. Gordon Clarke, the son of John Clarke, a “General Dealer” in Rick-street (between Huntingdon-street and Glasshouse-street) remained for three months. Glasshouse-street was very beautiful even in late Victorian times. Don’t miss the cat and notice that it’s the day for the dustbin men to call:

More silliness next time…

 

 

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The High School Hell’s Angels, Chapter 3

One fascinating thing which I found recently were all those old books which have been transcribed onto DVDs. They are sold on ebay in their hundreds. Some are not necessarily what I would want to read “Masonic Library, 430 Freemasons Books”, “Ukulele & Banjo, 29 Rare Vintage Books” and “Taxidermy, Vintage books on DVD – Stuffing and Mounting Animals, Birds, Insects and Fish”
I was happy to buy though, “76 Books, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Mickleover, Headon, History Genealogy DVD”. It contains a lot about the history of Nottingham although the rest was not of much interest to me. That DVD, and another very similar one about Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, have provided me with a lot of information about the past. Above all, they have allowed me access to a number of different directories of Nottingham. So far I have, for example, the Pigot’s Directory for Nottingham for 1828 and 1841, the White’s Directory for 1832, 1864 and 1885, the MacDonald’s Directory for 1931, Slater’s for 1847, Wright’s for 1879 and Kelly’s for 1881, 1891, 1904 and 1928:

They are interesting in that they all tend to contain slightly different things, but basically they list all of the tradespeople in Nottingham, all of the business premises in the city, and the names of the occupants of all the different houses in all the streets of Nottingham.

So you might find a list of the city’s streets in alphabetical order, or all the people similarly listed, while other directories will provide the names of all the engineers, all the grocers. all the bicycle repairers and so on. It means that if you know Uncle George was a restaurant owner, you can often find out both where his business was and where he lived. And that may point you to the right place in a census. Very useful if you’re trying to trace your ancestors.
The directories also enable you to trace some of the changes in the use of individual buildings, buildings that you may walk past every day but don’t know the history of. One example would be the two premises on Derby Road, up near Canning Circus. One is called “Quality 4 Students” with the slogan “Top 365 Student Homes” :

Next door, painted all white, there is what is now the “Park Hair Salon”. Here’s a view from further back:

In 1928, the Park Hair Salon used to be the Headquarters of the Robin Hood Rifles, a local infantry regiment:

They used to have some wild, wild parties:

After that the building was derelict for a while and then it became “Butcher Brothers, House Furnishers”.

By 1928, both buildings had become the shop of AR Warren & Son, Grocers. I find all that fairly fascinating but more to the point perhaps, the directories also enabled me to uncover the humble beginnings of Alfred Highfield Warren, who was the “& Son” of “AR Warren & Son” mentioned above.  Alfred was an ex-pupil of Nottingham High School, and thanks to the High School, he was to move from being the son of a grocer to being the holder of an Open Exhibition at Worcester College, Oxford, a Nottingham City Scholarship to Oxford University of £50 per annum, and from the High School, a Sir Thomas White Senior Exhibition.

On Mansfield Road, there is nowadays the “A & D Dental Practice Ltd” and the “City Chicken Cafe”. In front of the Dental Practice is a bus stop used by hundreds and hundreds of High School boys every day…

And here is the City Chicken Café, sworn enemies of Dixy Chicken just two doors away and probably not too much in love with the Istanbul Off Licence next door.

But in 1928, these two businesses, the “A & D Dental Practice Ltd” and the “City Chicken Cafe”, were the premises of LW King, a Draper who lived there with his family. That family included his son William King, a High School pupil, who became a pilot in the RAF in World War II. Alas, poor William was to die, with all his colleagues, in a catastrophic air crash in a Handley Page Hampden. Here is ‘Before’:

And here, far too often I’m afraid, is ‘After’

How many times have I walked or driven past those two businesses, but without realising they were previously the home of a young war hero? And how often do we do that in our everyday lives?

 

 

 

 

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The High School Hell’s Angels, Chapter 1

Most Nottingham High School pupils nowadays arrive by car, of course, or perhaps by bus, usually, either a special school bus or a Nottingham City bus.  We even have our own advertisements on one bus:

A few boys come by bicycle, a few come on the tram, a few walk and, I suppose, there must be some who arrive by train.
In years gone by, that was by no means the case. In the late 19th century, lots of boys lived on the other side of the Forest, or along Forest Road West, in the Alfreton Road area or even in the streets between the school and Shakespeare Street. They all walked in to school, which is indicated by the orange arrow. All the streets mentioned are on the map:

In the early 20th century, many boys lived in the Mapperley Park area and they arrived either by bicycle or on foot. And as Nottingham grew in the 1920s and 1930s, boys started to arrive in bigger numbers from expanding suburban areas such as West Bridgford. And in the 1940s and the 1950s, they began to arrive in greater numbers from more distant areas such as Arnold and Burton Joyce. They are both on the map, and the orange arrow points to the High School:

Before 1876, lots of boys are recorded as “Donation No x” which may refer to money which was given by a single well-wisher. The earliest, “Donation No 1 by Swann” (sic), was given to Haywood White Buller, who was born in July 1857, the son of a Hosier from 8 Addison Villas in Eastwood. The first ever actual scholar as far as I can see was a “Caup Scholar” (sic) although I don’t really understand what this was. He was Arthur John Cresswell, born in 1865, of 19 Harrington Street. His father was a Warehouseman.  Arthur entered the High School in May 1876, two months before General Custer came an unlucky second in his struggles with the Lakota:

Soon local councils were happy to provide help. Boys might be Derbyshire County Council Scholars, Nottinghamshire County Council Scholars or Nottingham City Scholars. The most famous was young David Herbert Lawrence whose father worked as a coalminer. Here he is in the Fifth Form:

DH Lawrence, though, was not the first miner’s son to come to the High School. That was Fred Cook, the son of Thomas Cook of 48 Watnall Road, Hucknall Torkard, the old name, I believe, for Hucknall. He entered the School on September 15th 1897 at the age of 13. And after him came David Herbert Lawrence, the School’s greatest author.  And then William Dunn in 1901, from New Brinsley in Eastwood. Then Willis Walker from Selston on the same day as William Dunn. John Thomas Moult in 1905 from 100 Derbyshire Lane, Hucknall Torkard. In July 1907 it was William Hutchinson from 7, Old Church Street in Old Lenton. In September 1907 it was William Ernest Thomas of 8 Glebe Street in Hucknall Torkard. A year later, the appropriately named Cyril Coleman from 34 York Street in Hucknall Torkard. Three more miners were to follow before the outbreak of the First World War:

There are no more coal miners in England now, of course. And during that period of 1897-1914 there were many High School fathers who had jobs which have become equally infrequent in our modern world. There were blacksmiths, bleachers, cheese factors, cork cutters, dairymen, filers, hosiery packers, farm labourers, framesmiths, hatters, goods guards on the trains and, most mysterious of all, “twisthands”. In actual fact, they were operators of lace machines. Here is the School in that period:

And as the years went by, the catchment area of the school began to resemble that of today. In other words, boys, and girls, from all over the county and the nearer parts of neighbouring counties. I worked at the High School for almost 40 years and the longest journeys to school I remember were in 1976 or 1977 when I helped Mr Padwick on the French Exchange to Rodez, and we were taking the French boys to see the splendours of the Blue John Mines near Castleton in north Derbyshire. One of the English boys’ mothers said that they would bring little Jean-Pierre to meet us as they lived more or less next door to the mine:


In the middle 1980s I had a boy in my tutor set who lived on the far side of Lincoln where his Dad owned a pig farm. He got up at 5.00 am and his mother took him by car to meet the school bus setting off from Newark to the High School.

And DH Lawrence used to complain about the travelling.

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