Category Archives: Science

Headless Valley (3)

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is a very hostile region accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. For many years tales were told about fur trappers and gold prospectors going into the area, and either disappearing without trace or being found beheaded  and dead. The number of decapitated bodies found within Nahanni Valley earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”.

In 1971, the intrepid explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” took a small expedition of soldiers from the Scots Greys to explore the region. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very perceptive account of the murders that gave it its name. Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that many of the victims had quite simply not lost their heads. Here he is, in his comfy trousers:

Ranulph Fiennes, throughout his book, seems to tease the reader a little. He repeatedly mentions details which to a person interested in Bigfoot seem to be very strong indications that there is a Bigfoot very close to them, but then Ranulph chooses to feign innocence, just reporting any strange events as something which can easily be dismissed with a simple, normal, everyday explanation. For example, we have a moment when they are moving through very thick cover and suddenly….

“A crackling of breaking alder sounded ahead and the ground trembled as some great beast moved away.”

Perhaps it was a moose or a bear but I really do wonder if the ground trembles as they walk along. It frequently does for Bigfoot. who can weigh up to a thousand pounds for a mature male. Here’s a moose:

And then:

“(we went) to find rabbits beyond Prairie Creek. We followed the stream inland for an hour and smelled the stench of sulphur pools, though we saw none. Moving through a tall forest in dark undergrowth we heard a roar from higher up the valley: perhaps it was a bear or cougar we didn’t know, and, finding no rabbits…”

Bigfoot roars extremely loudly and very often, and he certainly stinks. Usually it is described as the smell of excrement, sewage, dead, rotting flesh, a wet skunk but also as the smell of sulphur.

And then, as they camped overnight….

Some of the animals that moved about around us that night were large enough to shake the ground- perhaps bears but more probably deer since we had seen a great many deer spoor along the narrow “game” runs.”

This is the same argument as I mentioned the first time, when they are moving through very thick cover.  And my point of view is still the same. Deer do not make the ground shake. And then….

“We heard the thud of hooves or paws as heavy creatures moved ahead through the trees.”

A classic mark of Bigfoot. Yes, they could be bears, or moose, or elk, but don’t forget that Bigfoot is always very keen to get away from human observers. Here’s that elk. He isn’t big enough to make the ground shake:

Bigfoot frequently wanders around a campsite at night looking for food, but he is also capable of stealing other things that he likes, such as in this short anecdote….

“An aged prospector, returning from a fruitless three year search in the Yukon found his mug had been stolen and a chunk of rock left in its place. The rock contained gold quartz and the prospector made a fortune.”

And:

Jack told us of a large black bear which he had watched ambling through some bush”.

People who say they have seen a black bigfoot are frequently told that they have seen a black bear, so, presumably, the two must be similar. I have seen neither, unfortunately!

Overall, “The Headless Valley” is a really good read, if you like tales of the wilderness. Ranulph Fiennes captures well the thrills of  shooting the rapids, or, equally, the awful couple of hours when he is a long way from camp and is totally lost. If you like that kind of book, then a second hand copy is very easy to acquire via the usual websites, and well worth taking the trouble.

22 Comments

Filed under Canada, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Why no statue ? (10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

25 Comments

Filed under Africa, History, military, Science

Headless Valley (2)

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is a very hostile region accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. It’s very beautiful, though:

For many years there have been large numbers of tales told about fur trappers and gold prospectors going into the area, and then either disappearing without trace or being found dead minus their heads. All these decapitated bodies found within the Nahanni Valley have earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”. You can read what I have already written about this region here.

In 1971, the intrepid explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” took a small expedition of soldiers from the Scots Greys to explore the region. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very perceptive account of the murders that gave it its name. Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that a great many of the victims had quite simply not lost their heads. Here he is:

In 1926, Annie Laferte was lost in the bush. There was a sighting of her some time afterwards, by an Indian named Big Charley. She was climbing a nearby hill, almost naked, but was never seen again. Supposedly, she had lost her mind, rather than her entire head.

In 1927, the bones of “Yukon Fisher,” a man wanted by the RCMP, were found on Bennett Creek. They included the bones of his head. The anticipation of gold had claimed his life. Far too impatient, he had pushed on ahead of the main party and was never seen again.

In 1932, a prospector named Phil Powers was found dead by a Mountie patrol.  Constable Martin found his bones in a burnt down cottage  upstream of the mouth of the Flat River.  Powers lay on the remains of a bunk and had been laid out in the outline of a human being, as though he had been sleeping. The skull was there at the opposite ending to the footbones and a rifle was laid over the knees. So, not a lot of decapitation there, then!

In 1936, William Epier and Joseph Mulholland were trapping and prospecting when they disappeared up the Nahanni. A bush pilot called Dalziel (pronounced “Dee-Ell”) located their cabin on Glacier Lake. It was burnt down to the ground. He reported it to Constable Graham at Fort Liard. Here’s Glacier Lake:

In 1940, a prospector named Holmberg was found dead of no established cause.

In 1945, a miner from Ontario, whose name has not survived for definite, but who may well have been Ernest Savard, was found dead in his sleeping bag. His head had been ripped off and was never found. At last! The hint of a reason for the area to be called “The Valley of the Headless Men”.

Ranulph Fiennes was told by Brian Doke of Nahanni Butte, how…….

“His father-in-law, Mr Turner, had travelled up the Nahanni in 1953, to take some food to a man who lived upstream. He was a prospector or trapper or both and Mr Turner found him dead with his cabin burnt down around him. His head was firmly intact.”

In 1961, Alec Mieskonen, a gold prospector, was blown up by dynamite, despite his well-known fear of explosives. This was thought to be a case of suicide, despite Mieskonen’s deep seated fear that one day he would die through trying to use explosives. What a strange story!!

In the same year, 1961, two partners, Orville Webb and Tom Pappas, set off overland for Nahanni Butte since they were short of food, but they were never seen again.

In the 1961 quarterly magazine of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Constable Shaw said….

Of the deaths….there is one aspect common to all….fire of undetermined origin has often been a factor in each in some way or another.”

No mention there of heads being ripped off, then! And so many of the deaths reported to the RCMP did involve fire, a factor which may well exclude Bigfoot, who has never been known to use fire. And if it isn’t Bigfoot decapitating his victims, I simply don’t know whether there might be another predator which enjoys the challenge of pulling the heads off its victims so that it can eat them. On the other hand, so many TV nature programmes here in England will tell you that apex predators always go first for two extremely nutritious parts of the body.  Indeed, they are quite capable of leaving the rest if they are not particularly hungry. Those two best bits are the brain and the liver.

In 1962 Blake MacKenzie survived an aircraft crash but then disappeared completely.  He was a strong healthy man with an ample supply of food and was seen close to the river. He kept a diary and survived at least 42 days after the crash and was well and healthy. And then suddenly, MacKenzie’s  daily diary entries stopped, abruptly and inexplicably.

A second aircraft crashed in the Nahanni Valley in 1962. A prospector named Hudson was found dead by the plane. The other two occupants and the pilot were never found.

For many of these men, especially those who just disappeared, the best candidate as the killer will be the supposedly much more violent and much larger northern variety of Bigfoot. Hundreds of years ago, the First Nations people regularly fought wars with Bigfoot because of their violence and their cannibalism.

A gentleman called David Paulides (pronounced “Poor–Lid–Uss”, with the emphasis on the first syllable), has written a number of books about the many unexplained disappearances in the National Parks of the USA.  He has written quite a few of these “Missing 411” books and estimates that well over 1,600 people may disappear there every year. Paulides used to be a police officer. This link takes you to his website :

This is one of his many excellent books about disappearances in the North American national parks:

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Canada, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Why no statue? (9)

Almroth Edward Wright was born on August 10th 1861 in Middleton Tyas, which is a small village near Richmond in the extremely picturesque countryside of North Yorkshire in England.

And here’s the village church, which dates back to the twelfth century:

Almroth’s family was of mixed Anglo-Irish and Swedish origin. His father was a rector in the Church of England but his mother was Ebba Johanna Dorothea Almroth, the daughter of Nils Wilhelm Almroth, who was a professor of chemistry in the Carolinska Medico-Surgical Institute and the Royal Artillery School in Stockholm. In later years he became the director of the Swedish Royal Mint.

Almroth does not seem to be particularly famous nowadays, but he changed the world. Even on the Wikipedia page for his village, though, he is not paid any real attention. The village’s “notable people” therefore, are listed as, in first place, the fraudster Sir Edmund Backhouse and his brother, the naval officer, Roger Backhouse. Then comes in third place, Lady Alicia Blackwood, and then Arthur Francis Pease. Then comes Almroth Wright and his brother, and finally Keith Hawkins, the poker player.

Almroth was a lot cleverer than any of those, though.

Almroth was, in actual fact, the man responsible for developing a system of inoculation against typhoid fever, a disease which, at the time, was killing literally millions of people across the world. In the late 1890s, he also pointed out to whoever cared to listen, that one day bacteria would develop a resistance to antibiotics and then we would really be in trouble. His other main idea was that preventive medicine was what doctors should really be aiming at developing. And lastly, in any spare time he had, he also managed to develop vaccines against enteric tuberculosis and pneumonia, the latter a disease which killed more people in England than any other at that time. Not for nothing was it called

“The Captain of the Men of Death”

In the 1890 census in the United States, 76,490 had died of it, a death rate per 100,000 of the population of 186.94.

Almroth graduated in 1882 from Trinity College, Dublin with first class honours in modern literature and modern languages. In 1883 he graduated in medicine, before studying and lecturing at Cambridge, London, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Marburg, and Straßburg as it then was. Back in England in 1891, he worked in the laboratories of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons and was then appointed Professor of Pathology at the Army Medical School in Netley, on the south coast of Hampshire in England.

Here is the hospital in black and white:And here it is in colour:

At Netley, he developed a method of immunising people against that mighty killer, typhoid fever. And then, in 1898, he went to India as a member of the Plague Commission and tested his vaccine on the 3,000 Indian soldiers who had all volunteered to try it out for him.

And it worked!

Not a single one of the vaccinated soldiers succumbed to the dreaded disease. And then, the vaccine was equally successful in the Boer War of 1899-1902, although a major mistake was made by continuing to make vaccination optional rather than compulsory.

There were 328,244 men in the British Army in the Boer War but sadly, only 14,626 men volunteered to be injected. None of that select group, though, were among the 57,684 cases of typhoid in South Africa or the 9,022 who died from the disease. Exactly as had been the case in India, the ones who had the vaccine all survived because of it.

Until Almroth came upon the scene, though, typhoid fever had always held the entire world in its grasp. It was a simple disease with lots of places to catch it. As Wikipedia says:

“Typhoid is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the fæces of an infected person”.

That scenario was easily arranged before a vaccine was developed.

In 430 BC in Greece, typhoid killed Pericles and a third of all Athenians. It killed off at least half of the inhabitants of the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. Between 1607 and 1624 more than 6,000 of them perished and they may well have passed it to the rest, thereby eliminating the entire colony……

Typhoid went on to kill 80,000 soldiers in the American Civil War. And I have seen more than one source which said that in every war fought by British forces until the Boer War, more men were lost to typhoid than to the enemy.

Next time, we’ll look at the impact that Almroth’s vaccine had on the number of casualties in the British Empire forces in World War One. It’s giving nothing away to say that he prevented deaths from disease in unprecedented numbers.

17 Comments

Filed under Africa, History, Nottingham, Science, The High School, Wildlife and Nature

Headless Valley 1

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of more or less nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is, however, unbelievably beautiful:

It is a very hostile region, much of it accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. For well over a hundred years, there have been countless tales told about fur trappers and gold prospectors who went into the area, and then either disappeared without trace or were found minus their heads. And obviously dead.

One website, taken more or less at random from the many, states that

“Over the years, many unfortunate travellers and explorers have gone missing, or turned up dead and beheaded. The number of decapitated bodies found within Nahanni Valley have earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”. 

The number of headless bodies found in the Nahanni Valley varies enormously from one website to another or from one book to another. It is usually quoted as between somewhere 30-50 deaths. Explanations vary. The chief suspects include the extremely naughty Naha tribe who are apparently extremely aggressive and extremely elusive and guard their land very jealously. Or perhaps it’s a different group of people, namely a race of hairy, cave-dwelling cannibals who are extremely aggressive and extremely hungry too. And don’t forget that legendary scary hominid who goes by the name of “Nuk-luk”, a Neanderthal-like creature, five feet tall with a long beard. He doesn’t wear any clothes. Here he is, in a very blurred photograph, thank goodness:

In first place in the long list of suspects, though, is the supposedly much more violent northern variety of Bigfoot, examples of which supposedly measuring up to twelve feet tall or even more are regularly claimed in this area. This is a perfect application of Bergmann’s Rule :

“According to Bergmann’s rule, the body size of vertebrates is closely related to the average ambient air temperature in the region in which the vertebrate lives, so organisms in warmer regions are typically smaller than members of the same species in colder regions.”

Given this colourful and perhaps rather horrific, background to the area, in 1971, the intrepid English explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” to give him his full name, took a small expedition of soldiers from the Royal Scots Greys to explore the Nahanni Valley. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very detailed account of the murders that have given the area its name (and his book its title). Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that many of the victims had, quite simply, not lost their heads.

But first, from the internet, the famous tale of the McLeod brothers, who were mixed race, with one First Nation parent and one white:

 

“In 1908, after a lengthy search which had lasted two years, their brother Charley finally found the skeletons of Frank and Willie McLeod. Both men had been shot as they lay warm in their blankets, one either side the fire. They still had their heads. There was no sign of Weir, their partner, he was never seen again.”

I did find, though, in a rather more sensationalist book, an account which recorded the tale of the McLeod brothers as being found “reportedly decapitated”.  To be fair, though, there were some men on the list who did lack their heads:

” In 1916, a mounted policeman called Corporal Churchill found the headless skeleton of a prospector called Jorgensen up the Nahanni.”

Jorgenson evidently died a rather painful death, although one which had been particularly thoroughly carried out:

“a tough experienced woodsman, his remains were found by a log cabin near the Flat River’s confluence with the Nahanni. A loaded rifle close to the body, the cabin had been burnt down…. However heavy a sleeper Jorgensen would surely have woken up if the cabin had been on fire …..if he was still alive.”

And next, one with no head mentioned:

“In 1922, a prospector named John O’ Brien went up the Nahanni and never came back…”

The Nahanni Valley stories are good examples of how a rather shaky, iffy, perhaps somewhat gossipy piece of evidence can take on a life of its own. Granted, there may have been a small number of trappers and prospectors found minus their heads, but such a fate was certainly not what happened to every single person killed or disappeared in the Nahanni Valley, and there were certainly not thirty to fifty of them. More blood-soaked examples next time, when we will further examine that familiar old dilemna:

“Head or no Head?”

 

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Canada, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 Comments

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

Stories about my Dad (3)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  gave up his exciting job as a Brylcreem Boy of Bomber Command and signed up to be for what was called at the time “emergency training” as a teacher. It has always intrigued me as to how many veterans of Bomber Command became teachers. And I have my own ideas about that! Fred finished up getting a job quite near to his home, at a school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. The school was built in 1898 for 420 children. Fred taught there until the mid-1950s.

Here’s a modern map of the area. The Orange Arrow points to where Hastings Road School used to stand before it had to be demolished in the late 1950s, lest the subsidence problems made it collapse completely with the teachers and children inside :

When my Dad, Fred, worked there, the vast majority of the children were the sons and daughters of miners, both of coal and of clay. They were all what you would call “rough diamonds”.

Most of them, therefore, were far from sophisticated, either in their knowledge or their behaviour or, indeed, their hygiene. Fred used to tell the story of having a boy in his class called “Stinky Roberts” . At the beginning of the school year, Fred was given the helpful advice by his colleagues never to let this particular boy sit next to a hot radiator under any circumstances. If he sits next to a radiator, then make him move!

Whether it was because Fred did not believe the other teachers, or whether it was because, in the absence of any particularly obvious hygiene problem, he quite simply forgot their advice, remains unclear.  But on one unfortunate day, when “Stinky” did get to sit by that scorching radiator, the wisdom of his colleagues became manifest, as the unbelievable stench of long unwashed filth and ancient, uncontrolled urine wafted inescapably around the room. In this way, Fred learnt one of the most important basics of teaching, namely that no boy is ever given a nickname without very good reason.

At one point, Fred had a bet with another teacher that he could leave his class working quietly while he went down to Lloyds Bank in Swadlincote to draw out some money. The pupils were told to behave themselves properly while he was away, and to continue with their work. This they duly did, and Fred won the bet.

In another variation of what was obviously the same story, Fred did not go down to the bank in Swadlincote, but instead, went to post a letter at the Church Gresley Post Office, a destination considerably nearer to Hastings Road School, and, from the point of view of unsupervised children, a much shorter, and therefore, perhaps, a more plausible time to be away.

One of Fred’s more pleasant jobs was the fact that he ran the school football team. He was partnered in this by his young friend, Vernon Langford. We do actually have a misty photograph of the staff at Hastings Road. Here it is :

The teachers are (back row), Mr Morris, Mr Roberts, Mr Baker, Mr Picker, Mr Goodall and Mr Knifton. The front row comprises Miss Rowe, Miss Smith, Mr Handford, Mrs Errington and Mrs P Middleton.

Fred’s teaching career at Hastings Road reached its pinnacle when he was conducting a lesson in Physics. At this time all secondary school teachers, even those who were trained to teach Geography, were expected to be able to turn their hand to more or less anything.

Fred’s brief was to demonstrate the effects of air pressure, so he took a pint glass, filled it with water, and then put a sheet of card over the top. He then explained that in a moment, when he turned the glass upside down, the contents would not spill out, because the air pressure on the card, which was equal to hundreds of pounds, was pressing down and keeping it in place. This news was received by the children, of course, with immense scepticism.

When Fred turned the glass over, however, perhaps as much to his surprise as anybody else’s, the rather unlikely result was that the card did actually stay in place, and the water did not spill out. The children’s reaction was astonishing. They were all totally amazed. One boy stood up, and shouted at the top of his voice, “A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ” And then he ran out of the room and around the school, still shouting

“A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ”

I believe that this incident was the closest that Fred ever came to being regarded as divine. Here’s a video of a mere mortal man trying out this trick:

23 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, my Dad, Personal, Science

Stories about my Dad (2)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  left the Brylcreem Boys of the RAF and Bomber Command, and signed up to be trained as a teacher. He finished up getting a job quite near to his home in Hartshorne Road, Woodville. It was at the school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. He taught there until the mid-1950s. In the 1990s, when I used to go and watch the local football/soccer team, Gresley Rovers, I met one or two of his erstwhile pupils who all remembered him, as a very strict teacher who brooked no nonsense. That might well have been because the teenage sons of coalminers at Hastings Road would have been a tough proposition to keep under control in classes of more than forty, especially for a first time teacher. I can quite well imagine that Fred would have had to employ what DH Lawrence, faced also with teaching the teenage sons of coalminers, called “three years’ savage teaching of collier lads”.

Here’s Hastings Road School. I have used one of the reprinted Victorian maps of England sold by Alan Godfrey . Hastings Road is in the middle of the eastern edge:

Notice how many “Old coal shafts” there are, even in this small area. Just after the war, there were up to 17 coal mines active in the area, as well as numerous vast open cast clay mines. Just try to imagine how small a human figure would be on this postcard, if those are full sized factory buildings in the background. Open cast clay mines were really gigantic…….

All of these activities, of course, left the entire area prey to subsidence. I found a very short article about this particular area on the internet. It said that

“…….the subsidence here was so severe the town’s plight became a national embarrassment. Schools, libraries and even entire streets were either propped up or knocked down as the town sank at an alarming rate.”

As a little boy in the late 1950s, we often used to drive up to Church Gresley to see the houses which had been damaged by the subsidence, which was produced by a 150-odd years of intensive coal mining. These houses were easily recognisable, being  propped up with huge beams of wood or extra long railway sleepers. Here are some of the less serious supports in a picture from a 1949 newspaper. I can remember enormously thick beams of wood when I saw them in the late 1950s. The houses must have been in an even worse state by then. Most of them had, in fact, been evacuated.:

The caption reads:

“SOME OF THE HOUSES IN CORONATION STREET” Built between the two great wars, and therefore comparatively new, as age is assessed in terms of bricks and mortar. There are nearly 50, supported by great baulks of timber, like those shown above and bound together with iron rods. Two are empty, being quite uninhabitable, and in others ceilings are falling, windows cracking and doors refusing to function.”

If the the houses were built in a coronation year, “between the two great wars” they can only date from 1936 and were thus only thirteen years old at  the time of the newpaper photograph. There is a very short video available.  The title refers to “Swadlincote” which is the name of the local area:

Thirty, forty years after my Dad had left Hastings Road School. I went to Hastings Road to take some photographs of the school. Alas, the buildings were no longer there, and had clearly fallen victim to the subsidence that I knew had claimed so many local houses. I began to investigate but I couldn’t find anybody who knew for certain the true detailed story of the demise of Hastings Road  School. Perhaps one day, the beams arrived, and the next day, before they could be put into position, the whole school fell down. That must have cheered up all those “collier lads”. Here’s the school today. Today’s pavement would have been directly in front of the school’s front wall:

21 Comments

Filed under Bomber Command, History, my Dad, Personal, Science

The Flannan Isle disappearances (4)

This is the fourth of a series of four blog posts about the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on Flannan Isle on December 15th 1900. If you feel that you need to read a previous blog post again, just search for “Flannan”.

We have now looked really quite thoroughly at what was, along with the sea serpent, one of the great mysteries of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Given that there are so many plausible theories, but no forensic leads, such as bodies to examine for injuries or marks on the skin, for mercury levels and so on, no absolutely 100% true correct answer will ever be possible. It’s just a case of finding a solution which explains all of the anomalies found by Joseph Moore as he explored the lighthouse and the rest of the island on December 26th 1900.

Having said that, I am the one writing this blog post and I may be the one to decide what the 100% true correct answer might be.

So….here’s the absolute 100% true correct answer…….

A researcher called James Love found out that Thomas Marshall had already been fined five shillings (0.25p) on another lighthouse, when his equipment was left out and washed away during a fierce storm. In modern money, £1 Victorian was reckoned to be between £116-£132. The fine of five shillings, therefore, was approximately £29-£33, and would probably have been increased for a second offence.

Marshall remembered, or was reminded, just before lunch on December 15th, that he had left equipment out yet again, and he put his sea-boots on to go down and put it away. James Ducat offered to come with him to help, and he put his own sea-boots on. The third man, Donald McArthur, had to remain behind because at least one person always had to be in the lighthouse. When they got back, he would start to prepare lunch.

There may have been a storm going on, but in my scenario, there didn’t need to be.  The sun set that day at around 4.00pm, so time was easily on their side.  Both of them were experienced men and they would have known immediately whether going down to the level of the landing stage was feasible or not. The two men took a very long time, though, and so Donald MacArthur, leaving his sea-boots behind, went out of the lighthouse in his shirt sleeves to see what was going on. At this point, he was not particularly panicking, which explains that the lighthouse gates and door were both closed.

And then suddenly, a gigantic wave hit the landing stage, surged up the cliff, and carried away the box where equipment was always stored, 110 feet above sea level. It immediately drowned Marshall and Ducat, busy far below on the landing stage, and also claimed Donald McArthur, who was just beginning to walk down the path to see where his colleagues were.

The wave may have been part of an approaching storm, or it could have been one of the “Freak waves” which have been discovered in recent years….

You can read the full account in Wikipedia but it begins with:

“Rogue waves (also known as freak waves, monster waves, episodic waves, killer waves, extreme waves, and abnormal waves) are unusually large, unpredictable and suddenly appearing surface waves that can be extremely dangerous to ships, even to large ones………. In oceanography, rogue waves are more precisely defined as waves whose height is more than twice the significant wave height, which is itself defined as the mean of the largest third of waves in a wave record.”

In 1985, the Fastnet Lighthouse off south western Ireland was hit by a wave of 157 feet (48 metres)

One wave was recorded in January 1995 in the North Sea about 100 miles southwest of the southern tip of Norway. It reached a maximum height of 84 feet (25.6 metres).

In 2000 the oceanographic vessel, RRS Discovery, recorded a 95 feet (29 metres) wave off the coast of Scotland near Rockall.

In 2013, a wave of 62 feet (19 metres) was recorded by a buoy between Iceland and Great Britain, off the Outer Hebrides. This cannot have been particularly far from the Flannan Isles. The wave was caused by 50 mph winds. So what does a 100 mph wind create?

I can’t give a reference but I’m sure that years ago I once read an account of a Scottish lighthouse which stood 200 feet above the sea having the turf rolled back by the waves:

I certainly read an account of stones from the sea bottom being lifted by waves and crashing against the windows of a lighthouse some 400 feet above normal sea level:

Such waves are certainly within the realms of possibility. Scientists have identified two regions where huge rogue waves may occur….the northern Pacific south west of Alaska and the North Atlantic to the north west of the Outer Hebrides. Of the two, the waves in the Atlantic tend to be bigger.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s my solution to the Flannan Isle mystery. Now, I must see if there’s any sign of the postman…..

POSTSCRIPT

There is a fairly recent film about the Flannan Isle disappearances. It is  called “The Vanishing” and makes use of the events at the lighthouse to tell a tale of greed, violence and murder.

Here are the three lighthouse keepers. They look as if they are up to no good:

Overall, once you put to one side for the duration of the film, any serious explanations you may have of the mystery, this is an excellent thriller, well worth the cost of buying the blu-ray. But, let me say again, it is not a documentary, and makes no attempt to offer a serious, scientific, explanation of the keepers’ disappearance. The film has been made to entertain, and it certainly does that!!

 

 

 

 

33 Comments

Filed under History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

The Sandiacre Screw Company (3)

Last time we were following Keith Doncaster’s progress through the High School, with two unmarried women teachers in the Preparatory School (which was as the rules demanded. As soon as women teachers got married, they were forced to resign.) After a spell with Messrs Day and Hardwick, Keith remained in an “A” Form in 1936-1937. This was the Third Form A with Mr Beeby. This Form of 28 boys had seven ex-Scholarship holders but only one of the previous year’s seven had retained his award. Here’s a very poor picture of Mr Beeby. He is right in the middle of the group:

Mr Beeby soon left the High School to join the RAF. He was absent from at least September 1941-1946. Flying Officer Beeby served in the Signals Unit of the Technical Branch who carried out all kinds of electronic warfare and radio counter-measures including the blocking of the famous German Very High Frequency bombing system called “Knickebein”. This was all “Top Secret”, of course. Mr Beeby certainly would not have been able to discuss what he had been up to with his pupils in the Air Training Corps. He might even have been associated with code breaking. Lots of codebreakers were recruited among the top Classics and Mathematics graduates at Cambridge. Here’s the equipment the Germans used for “Knickebein”:

Keith didn’t win a prize or a scholarship this year and he came 23rd in the Form. This was  sufficient reason to relegate him into a “B” Form the following year, the Upper Fourth Form B with Mr Kennard. This Form had 27 boys and sixteen of them opted to join the OTC, the Officers’ Training Corps, including Keith, who finished the year seventh in the Form. In 1938-1939, Keith was in the Lower Fifth Form with Mr Parsons. Here’s Mr WA Parsons, one of the two Masters in charge of cricket. He was universally known as “Wappy”. Right next to him is Bruce Richardson who lived in the big house diagonally opposite Oxclose Lane Police Station at the junction with Edwards Lane. Four years after this photograph was taken, “Farmer” Richardson would die on the perimeter of Dunkirk, trying to buy time for the British Expeditionary Force to get back across the Channel. It wasn’t called “Operation Certain Death” but it might just as well have been:

There were 21 boys in the Lower Fifth Form, 15 of whom were in the OTC, including Keith. Indeed, we still have a photograph of the OTC taken during the calendar year of 1939 and Keith is on the left hand end of the front row, as we look at it. Despite his physical age of either 15 or 16, he looks almost boyish, rather thin and rather delicate. There are a couple of boys who look less adult than him, but of the 26 individuals in the photograph, there are more than twenty who seem so much more physically prepared to leave the High School than he appears to be. In the end-of-year examinations, by the way, Keith finished a respectable sixth:

Here is Keith in close up:

The next year, 1939-1940 was Keith’s last in the High School. He spent it with Mr Thomas in Fifth Form B. There were 26 boys in the Form. Here’s Mr Adan Thomas in later years, in a superb photograph taken by the Reverend Stephens:

Keith does not seem to have taken his end-of-year examinations and he is not recorded in the School List for the Form, even as an “X, not placed”. The situation is rather strange because the School Register says that his departure occurred on July 30th 1940, which was presumably the last day of the working term. So why did he not take the School examinations?

There is some indication, though, that Keith took, and passed, his School Certificate this year and that may have had some connection with it.

Keith did achieve three very important things during this year, though. He became a OTC A/cadet (an air cadet), and he was promoted to Lance Corporal. He also passed the all-important OTC Certificate “A”. With that, he took one more step towards his premature death:

 

 

 

 

20 Comments

Filed under Aviation, cricket, History, military, Nottingham, Science