Category Archives: 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

Why no statue? (8)

Recently, we looked at the impoverished life of Mary Anning, a self taught young woman who would eventually outrank the top palaeontologists of Europe. Here she is, with her dog, Tray:

During an incredibly hard life, Mary was oppressed for two things she couldn’t help.

She was a working class woman. As a woman, she could not vote, she could not hold public office, and she could not attend university. Most importantly, she could not join the Geological Society or even attend their meetings. As a member of the working class, she should in theory have been a farm labourer, a worker in a big mansion or in a factory. Here are some jobs that were thought suitable for a young working class woman:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For me, that kind of prejudice is both shocking and unacceptable. But her troubles had only just started.

As a working class woman, whenever she discovered a new type of dinosaur, only the rich man who bought the fossil was allowed to write about it officially in a scientific journal.

After years of major discoveries, none of which had ever been properly credited to her, her friend, Anna Maria Pinney, wrote that:

“The world has used her ill. Men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal (of prestige and money) by publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”

And, of course, Ms Pinney was right.

Secondly, Mary was poor. Her father died leaving debts rather than an inheritance. The family were forced to live on parish relief and a certain amount of upper class patronage. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch, a wealthy Lincolnshire collector was extremely upset by Mary’s poverty. He sold his own collection of fossils in 1820 to help Mary and her family. The latter received a generous proportion of the £400 received (c £40,000 today).

When geologist Henry De la Beche painted “Duria Antiquior”, a picture of prehistoric life, he used fossils Mary had dug up and he gave her the money he made from his sales to help the family. This was the first ever picture of what they called then “Deep Time” :

Mary died on March 9th 1847 from breast cancer. Her life now began to fascinate people more and more.

In “All the Year Round” edited by Charles Dickens, one of the many authors said that:

“the carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”

It is frequently mooted that she was the real person in the tongue twister:

“She sells seashells on the seashore,
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the seashore
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.”

Sadly there is no evidence whatsoever for this connection, beyond the circumstantial. And this is, of course, the very best kind of evidence and so the theory is therefore almost certainly true.

In 2010, the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, this august body published a list of “the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science”. It is sad how few of them ordinary people will have heard of, even though their work was, in many cases, ground-breaking. You can find it here.

And here’s that top ten of women scientists:

Anne McLaren (1927-2007)

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994)

Elsie Widdowson (1908-2000)

Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971)

Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923)

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)

Mary Anning (1799-1847)

Mary Somerville (1780-1872)

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)

Most people, myself included, don’t have any idea who these women were or what they did. Follow the link above, or just try googling some of them, and you’ll soon see to what extent they were the victims of prejudice.

Rosalind Franklin was perhaps the saddest. She died from ovarian cancer at the age of 37, four years before Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work on DNA.  Rosalind was unable to receive the prize, as Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously, but she received no mention in the acceptance speeches.

I found the full story on this website:

“Maurice Wilkins, assistant director of the King’s College, London biophysics lab, secured a particularly pure sample of calf thymus DNA. Rosalind Franklin’s team carried out crystallographic studies of this DNA.

Using x-ray equipment and a micro-camera, Rosalind Franklin and graduate student Raymond Gosling photographed and analyzed these samples of DNA. In May 1952, they took a ground-breaking photo, labelled #51, which provided the clearest diffraction image of DNA and its helical pattern so far.

It was this photo, alongside her precise analysis of the x-ray diffraction data, that inspired Crick and Watson to move away from their initial idea of a three-helix molecule and make the necessary calculations to develop the double helix model of the DNA strand we now know.”

Here is Picture 51:

I certainly feel that Mary Anning should have a statue here and there, and perhaps Rosalind Franklin deserves one or two as well.

 

 

 

 

 

20 Comments

Filed under History, Politics, Science

“Why no statue?” (7)

This is another candidate in my series, “Why no statue?”

This time, we move to the deep south of England, to the area of Lyme Regis and Charmouth, to be precise. Keep your eyes open for the orange arrow..

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was alive at a time when the entire country believed that the Earth was not very old at all and that it was impossible for species to change or to evolve or even to become extinct.

Mary was born into the family of a cabinetmaker, who died when she was eleven. They supplemented their income by selling fossils from the cliffs on the coast to tourists, from a table outside their home. The latter was so close to the sea that storms often flooded the ground floor and the family had to climb out of a first floor window to escape a watery grave. Here is a typical storm at Charmouth :

Of ten children, only Mary and Joseph survived their childhood. Wars had tripled the price of wheat, but wages had remained the same. The child mortality rate was 50% and smallpox and measles were mean spirited killers. On August 19th 1800, baby Mary was nearly killed but not by disease. She was being held in the arms of a neighbour, Elizabeth Haskings, who was talking to two friends under an elm tree. The tree was struck by lightning and only Mary survived. She was rushed home and revived in a bath of warm water. Wikipedia said that:

“afterwards she seemed to blossom. For years afterward members of her community would attribute the child’s curiosity, intelligence and lively personality to the incident.”

How very Baron Frankenstein!

In 1833, a landslide killed her dog, Tray, a black-and-white terrier, at her feet as she hunted fossils under the cliffs. She wrote to her friend:

“Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate”.

Here’s Mary and Tray, on a happier day:

Mary learnt to read and write at a Congregationalist Sunday school. Her favourite possession was a bound collection of the Dissenters’ Theological Magazine and Review containing two essays by the family’s pastor, James Wheaton. One said “God created the world in six days”, the other was entitled “Don’t forget to read about the new science of Geology”.

Mary looked for fossils in the coastal cliffs around Lyme Regis, especially the mudstone cliffs at Charmouth:

Mary was the first person to identify an ichthyosaur skeleton. She was only eleven years old:

On December 10th 1823, she found the first complete plesiosaurus:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 1828, she found the first British pterosaur, followed by a Squaloraja fish skeleton in 1829. A Squaloraja fish is one from the shark or ray family. This is a pterosaur:

In December 1830 she sold a new species of plesiosaur for £200, an enormous sum in those days, around £25,000 in today’s money. Lady Harriet Silvester had written of Mary, four years earlier:

“It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.”

Indeed, on one occasion, the doctor and aide of King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony asked her to write her name down for him.

She spelt it as “Mary Annins”— and told him “I am well known throughout the whole of Europe.”

Which she was.

In the early 1820s, the eminent French anatomist Georges Cuvier accused her of forging fossil animals by adding extra ones more or less at random. After a meeting of the Geological Society, Mary was completely exonerated and Cuvier forced to say that he had acted in haste and was wrong.

Impoverished Peasants   1      Famous French Barons     0

Here’s a caricature of Cuvier. In actual fact, Mary Anning was not the only person to get the better of him, despite his having a brain the size of a brontosaurus.

Part 2 to follow…….

 

16 Comments

Filed under France, History, Humour, Science, Wildlife and Nature

My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (5)

When I was a little boy, my Dad, Fred, used to be a teacher at Hastings Road School in Gresley. Unfortunately excessive mining operations underneath the school led to its premature collapse.  My Dad is at the right hand end of the back row:

My Dad had to move to the Woodville Church of England Junior School, the school I attended, where, after a number of years, I finished up in his class, which was possibly Class 4. This is the school now.

One afternoon,  I can recall being one of the many children who were all so very frightened when my Dad read out to the fifty of us the narrative poem, “Flannan Isle”, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, written in 1912. Here’s the author:

The Flannan Isles incidentally are pretty much as remote as you can get in Britain. The orange arrow is 553 miles from London, in a straight line, slightly less than London-Berlin:

On an unknown date in December 1900, the lighthouse on Flannan Isle suddenly failed to shine. A few days later, when a group of lighthouse men came to investigate, they found that the whole island was completely deserted. The three lighthouse keepers had completely disappeared.

Fred used to recite this poem regularly to his classes, and I can still recall how intriguing many of us found this true story, and how animatedly and at what great length we discussed all the possible reasons for the disappearance of those three unfortunate lighthouse keepers only sixty years previously. We were all convinced that the men had been magically transformed into seabirds,  an absolutely horrific idea for nine year olds in that more innocent age of the early 1960s. Anyway, here’s the first section:

“THOUGH three men dwell on Flannan Isle
To keep the lamp alight,
As we steered under the lee, we caught
No glimmer through the night.” A passing ship at dawn had brought
The news; and quickly we set sail,
To find out what strange thing might ail
The keepers of the deep-sea light.
The Winter day broke blue and bright,
With glancing sun and glancing spray,
As o’er the swell our boat made way,
As gallant as a gull in flight. But, as we neared the lonely Isle;
And looked up at the naked height;
And saw the lighthouse towering white,
With blinded lantern, that all night
Had never shot a spark
Of comfort through the dark,
So ghostly in the cold sunlight
It seemed, that we were struck the while
With wonder all too dread for words.
That sets the scene, although, initially, when I came back to this poem after 60 odd years, I was a little disappointed with the quality of the poetry. Gibson seems so often to add an extra phrase or an extra couple of words, when the poem would actually read better without them.
Anyway, a possible solution is hinted at by the description below of the three strange seabirds:
And, as into the tiny creek
We stole beneath the hanging crag,
We saw three queer, black, ugly birds—
Too big, by far, in my belief,
For guillemot or shag—
Like seamen sitting bolt-upright
Upon a half-tide reef:
But, as we neared, they plunged from sight,
Without a sound, or spurt of white.

Those three birds, guillemots or shags, were the very things that would go on to terrify a bunch of 9-year olds.

And still to ‘mazed to speak,
We landed; and made fast the boat;
And climbed the track in single file,
Each wishing he was safe afloat,
On any sea, however far,
So it be far from Flannan Isle:
And still we seemed to climb, and climb,
As though we’d lost all count of time,
And so must climb for evermore.
Yet, all too soon, we reached the door—
The black, sun-blistered lighthouse-door,
That gaped for us ajar.

 

As, on the threshold, for a spell,
We paused, we seemed to breathe the smell
Of limewash and of tar,
Familiar as our daily breath,
As though ‘t were some strange scent of death:
And so, yet wondering, side by side,
We stood a moment, still tongue-tied:
And each with black foreboding eyed
The door, ere we should fling it wide,
To leave the sunlight for the gloom:
Till, plucking courage up, at last,
Hard on each other’s heels we passed,
Into the living-room.
Actually, at this point, I might well retract what I said before. The further I went into the poem, the more I realised, that it is clearly meant to be slowly and deliberately declaimed out loud. Have a go. You’ll see what I mean. And sincere apologies, Wilf !
Yet, as we crowded through the door,
We only saw a table, spread
For dinner, meat and cheese and bread;
But, all untouched; and no one there:
As though, when they sat down to eat,
Ere they could even taste,
Alarm had come; and they in haste
Had risen and left the bread and meat:
For at the table-head a chair
Lay tumbled on the floor. We listened; but we only heard
The feeble cheeping of a bird
That starved upon its perch:
And, listening still, without a word,
We set about our hopeless search.
We hunted high, we hunted low;
And soon ransacked the empty house;
Then o’er the Island, to and fro,
We ranged, to listen and to look
In every cranny, cleft or nook
That might have hid a bird or mouse:
But, though we searched from shore to shore,
We found no sign in any place:
And soon again stood face to face
Before the gaping door:
And stole into the room once more
As frightened children steal.
Aye: though we hunted high and low,
And hunted everywhere,
Of the three men’s fate we found no trace
Of any kind in any place,
But a door ajar, and an untouched meal,
And an overtoppled chair.
And, as we listened in the gloom
Of that forsaken living-room—
A chill clutch on our breath—
We thought how ill-chance came to all
Who kept the Flannan Light:
And how the rock had been the death
Of many a likely lad:
How six had come to a sudden end,
And three had gone stark mad:
And one whom we’d all known as friend
Had leapt from the lantern one still night,
And fallen dead by the lighthouse wall:
And long we thought
On the three we sought,
And of what might yet befall.
Like curs, a glance has brought to heel,
We listened, flinching there:
And looked, and looked, on the untouched meal,
And the overtoppled chair.
We seemed to stand for an endless while,
Though still no word was said,
Three men alive on Flannan Isle,
Who thought, on three men dead.
Hopefully, you made it this far. It is definitely a great poem to be declaimed out loud. But you’ve got to take it slowly and deliberately. If you stumble at the words, go back and give it another go.
And here’s the three birds that we children all thought the lighthouse keepers had been transformed into:

In the future, I hope to produce some blog posts looking at the possible reasons that the three men disappeared.

Portrait of Gibson borrowed from poeticous

16 Comments

Filed under Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Literature, my Dad, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Why no statue ? (5) John Dane Player

John Player’s cigarette company was, strangely enough, set up in Nottingham by a man called John Player. In 1868, he had a shop on Beastmarket Hill and was busy pre-packing the various blends of tobacco so that he could serve his customers much more quickly when they came in. By 1877, he was operating from Broad Marsh, where he introduced ready-packed cigarettes in a readily identifiable packet. He registered as his trademark the well-known drawing of Nottingham Castle. Here it is, at the top of the packet :

In 1883, the famous sailor’s head first appeared. Four years later the famous “Navy Cut” cigarettes were introduced.

When John Player died in 1884, a group of friends of the family ran the company until the two sons, John Dane Player and William Goodacre Player, were able to take over in 1893. Both of these young men were Old Nottinghamians. John had been Boy No 563 and William had been Boy No 564. They were both living in Belgrave Square off All Saints Street, when they entered the High School on January 22nd 1879. At this point, they were both in the Lower School with Nos 541 and 542 respectively.

When the two brothers took over the family business, it was worth around £200,000 (£2.65 million today). They soon merged with WD & HO Wills, the makers of “Woodbines”. These were very popular cigarettes during World War 1 and were handed out free to the troops as they went into the front line trenches (even though it may have been bad for their health).

Player’s, though, continued to market Navy Cut, John Player Special and Gold Leaf. By the beginning of WW2 in 1939, Player’s were selling 67% of the cigarettes in Great Britain. They were extremely popular among the middle classes in the south of the country.  And women found them very chic and alluring:

At that time there was little idea that cigarettes were dangerous. Any number of “physicians” were willing to step forward and approve cigarettes. Some even thought that cigarettes were beneficial and could cure throat and lung problems. Here’s the most surreal image of that era

“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!”

So everybody was totally confident about the safety of cigarettes and more people smoked than didn’t. John Player and Sons made money in in unbelievably huge amounts. It was said that once a year, when John Dane Player signed the company’s tax cheque, they paid for the National Health service.

Here are the John Player Tobacco Warehouses in Radford, a working class area of Nottingham. The architects all won prizes:

The first people to benefit from the company’s huge income were the company’s employees. Player’s recreation ground was opened on Aspley Lane in 1906. In 1910, they began paying every employee an annual bonus. Holidays with pay were started in 1922. Wages were high and working conditions were excellent and always as safe as possible. In 1934 the two brothers were both made Freemen of Nottingham for their investment in the welfare of their workers. At the end of the war “Navy Cuttings”, a periodical exclusively for employees at Player’s, was published. It was issued once a month until 1967. The contents included information about the different departments and their staff to sports fixtures and forthcoming marriages. The sports articles were always very popular and employees were praised for their sporting prowess.

The atmosphere at the factory was wonderful:

“A lot of people met their husbands and wives at the factory.   We were like one big family.”

One employee said:

“Jobs were only advertised internally. People were moved round the departments and life was very varied. You just felt as if they cared for each employee.”

Sports clubs were set up and led to a comprehensive welfare and sports organisation with private grounds of a very high standard. Employees played in Players Sports teams in a number of different sports such as athletics, soccer, cricket and field hockey for example, and it was all paid for, with weekends away for participants. Here’s the Christmas party:

Just look at their faces. They are happy. And look at their clothes. They have enough money to be well dressed. They even have a company nurse. Can you spot her, standing behind Wally?

John Player had clearly succeeded in his mission. He had built a factory, employed thousands of people and then managed to treat them all decently. And they, clearly,  had responded to his kindness. They liked going to work.

19 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, Science, The High School

“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (7)

It’s a long time since Post No 6 in this series about the futility of the Boer War, but I would like to finish off with what is perhaps the saddest and most poignant tale of them all. The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states:

Richard Truman Fitzhugh was born on June 8th 1873. He was educated first at Shrewsbury Grammar School and then at Nottingham High School. There are at least four boys visible in this picture of the School, taken from a spot near what was then the old Caretaker’s House:

Richard arrived at the High School on May 4th 1891, with the sole intention of passing the examination needed to enter university and to become a doctor.  His success was duly recorded in the School List :

“London Matriculation Examination, First Division, June 1891”

Having accomplished exactly what he had come for, Richard left at the end of the school  year, in July 1891.

Richard was particularly talented and popular, but sadly he became a totally innocent victim of a greedy overseas war, started by men eager for gold and diamonds:

“It is with deep regret that we record the death of Dr Richard Truman FitzHugh, the only son of Mr Richard Fitzhugh, JP, of Clumber Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. His death occurred on June 15th, 1900 as the result of enteric fever (typhoid), at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein, South Africa.”

Richard was only 27 years old.

The first intimation of his illness had reached Nottingham at the end of May. In his letter, Richard mentioned that he was suffering from shivering fits.

Then a telegram arrived in Nottingham saying that Richard was seriously ill.

On Friday, June 15th, another telegram arrived, with the first indication of anything life-threatening:

“Regret to inform you that your son, Richard, is dangerously ill with enteric fever”.

Two days of anxious suspense followed, then a third telegram arrived:

“Deeply regret to inform you of the death of your son, Richard, from enteric fever, an irreparable loss to this hospital, he having endeared himself to all.”

Richard had gone straight from Nottingham High School to Guy’s Hospital for his medical training. He passed important examinations in 1892 and in 1895. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and then a Bachelor of Medicine in 1898. Here is a ward in the hospital with what may be an oxygen tent in the rear right corner:

Richard worked as Assistant House-Surgeon and House Physician as well as Obstetric Resident, Clinical and Gynaecological Assistant, and Dresser in the eye wards. Here’s one of the operating theatres:

His obituary came from his colleagues:

”He was a man of culture and ability, held in high regard by his associates at Guy’s, not only because of his medical skill, but because of the part he played in its social life. He was a fine sportsman and soon took a prominent place in athletics. He was a leading cricketer and helped to win the cup in 1892. He was best of all at Association Football. Indeed, Richard was one of the best players of recent years, and won the cup in 1894, besides captaining the team from 1894-1896.

He was Assistant Secretary of the Student’s Club, President of the Residents, and foremost among the singers at Christmas.

Richard was a man with a keen sense of humour and the most popular performer at the smoking concerts which cheered us up so well. One of his songs was so admired that, however many others he sang, he could never leave the piano until he had sung that favourite one.

Behind his good humour and cheeriness, though, there was a solid character, and an honest straight forwardness that made us all trust and admire him. An old friend wrote:

“There was nobody I worked with at Guy’s for whose character I had greater respect, or whose society gave me greater pleasure.

He was a sterling gentleman and there is some consolation that he died amongst his friends, and that everything was done for him.”

The news of “the termination of such a promising career by a malignant disease which is causing more deaths than the enemy, has evoked enormous sympathy for his family.”

Mr Fripp was the Senior Surgeon at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein:

He wrote:

“Everybody felt they had lost a friend. He was popular with his colleagues and the nursing sisters, the NCOs and the orderlies, and also with the patients. It seemed he would attain a very high place in his profession, but he also had many characteristics which endeared him to everyone.

Poor “Fitz” will never be forgotten. There “was an enormous congregation at his funeral. All ranks of the hospital were represented. They formed a long procession to the cemetery. The coffin was carried by orderlies, and some of his fellow Guy’s men acted as pall-bearers.

I doubt if the cost of war was ever brought home to us as fully as when we heard of poor FitzHugh’ s death. None of us even knew he was ill.”

Dr Fitzhugh’s death is commemorated on the Nottingham Boer War Memorial in the Forest Recreation Ground. It used to stand in Queen Street in the city centre but was moved in 1927. No war memorials last for ever. Sadly, after a certain period of time, they have to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the new war memorial.

22 Comments

Filed under Africa, History, military, Nottingham, Politics, Science, The High School

Classics Illustrated

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there was always a desire among middle class parents not just to encourage their children to read, but to read what people called at the time “classic books”, books which might improve you. One way of luring children to, mainly, 19th century masterpieces, was to introduce them to a very large collection of such books for sale, an act which would encourage children, hopefully, to buy more and more from the “approved” library.

When I was a child, I had a very small collection of “Olive Classics”, dark green books with a kind of faux-leather cover, and a cardboard mini-box to hold them in. I still have them all, and I was looking at them the other day. I think I read the lot, although this may be more a reflection of the small number of books I possessed than the quality of the works in question:

I bought them based on whether or not I had seen the film (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), whether I had heard of the book and thought it was a good one (Ivanhoe) and if my parents just bought it for me as a stocking filler at Christmas (South with Scott). I also had Ben-Hur (tedious and over long), Allan Quartermain (a fabulous book):

Another way to read books which would be good for you were the magazines entitled “Classics Illustrated”. These were a series of American comic books which told the stories in pictures with very few printed words, usually just a caption. I had one or two of these as well, and certainly read them all avidly. It was marvellous to see pictures bringing books to life, although, if truth be told, the standard of the artworks was very, very low. Let’s compare them with “Eagle” comic. “War of the Worlds is really quite crude, whether it is the cover:

or the inside, where there seems to have been a problem with the printing;

Here’s “Eagle”, a weekly comic:

I can remember owning relatively few Classics Illustrated. There was “White Fang” which I really enjoyed. It was a “Ripping Yarn”, well told:

And then there was “Black Arrow” which I had never heard of, found really unexciting and I couldn’t understand the plot, anyway. The two I liked best were technically not Classics Illustrated, but, in one case, a “Special Issue”. This was a one-off publication about “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, which I loved. I particularly liked the fact that they were originally the “North West Mounted Police”:

What a wonderful cover!  One thing I did like especially was the dog on page 54 which looks as daft as a brush:

And I also fully endorsed, at the tender age of 11, the largely wise approach of the Canadians to their own First Nation communities.

The magazine which I liked even more was one of the “Classics Illustrated World Around Us” special series which was called “The Crusades”. I was intrigued by one particular sentence which said, roughly:

“Things took a turn for the worse when, in IIII, the king decided to…..”

At the age of eight or nine, I just could not work out what “IIII” meant. It  never occurred to me that it was a date.

Overall, I wish I had had quite a few more Classics Illustrated than I did.  I would have liked to have had a chance to read “Alice in Wonderland” or “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, or perhaps even “Gulliver’s Travels”:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And don’t forget………….

20 Comments

Filed under Africa, Canada, History, Literature, military, Science, Writing

“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (4)

In my very first blog post in this book review, I mentioned how German academic, Sönke Neitzel, had discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of foolscap transcripts. These transcripts have in their turn inspired a four hundred page book called “Soldaten” in which Neitzel and his co-author, Harald Welzer, examine the reasons for the war crimes committed by the Germans, and indeed, by the personnel of a number of other nationalities. Here are our authors and their book:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The bugged prisoners were kept in three locations – Latimer House near Amersham, Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, both in Buckinghamshire, and Trent Park near Cockfosters in north London. The first two held captured U-Boat submarine crews and Luftwaffe pilots, who were bugged for a week or two before being moved on to conventional captivity. Trent Park was often used for high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht, whose own personal vanity led them to betray many secrets:

There were large numbers of pro-British German speakers, usually Jews, listening to prisoners’ conversations in a place known as the “M room”. The “M” stood for “Microphoned”. According to Helen Fry, the author of a book about this particular episode, the information pouring out of these pampered Prussians was so top secret that Churchill gave the whole operation an unlimited budget.

Last time we were looking at the reasons that men in war are capable of the most vile violence. Here are the ideas put forward by Neitzel  and Welzer so far . I have tried to include a few short clues of the examples they used:

“There is a  vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.  (The Good Samaritan episode at Princeton University)

“When you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules.” (German soldiers killling Jews on a large scale)

“The unit was the entire world….what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.” (Only one man refused to take part in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam)

“inhumanity with impunity…..if soldiers commit crimes, and are never punished, they will repeat their behaviour.” (German soldiers raping passing women in Kiev)

“a dynamic of violence” ……… anybody who tries to flee is automatically an enemy who should be shot.” ( A frequent attitude in Vietnam, probably because the Vietcong guerillas were difficult to identify)

One final extremely large motivation towards violence is revenge. In a film, revenge will be the simple, basic story of how a soldier is killed by the enemy, usually in particularly appalling circumstances, and, as he dies, his friend swears to avenge him. For every military revenge film, though, there are many more set in a civilian context.  This may not be the best example, but it’s certainly the most obscure:

In real life,  there were GIs in Vietnam who had re-enlisted to avenge their best buddy who had been killed in the fighting, or tortured to death, and so on. The authors have found a quote:

“I did not hate the enemy for their politics but for murdering Simpson, for executing that boy whose body had been found in the river…Revenge was one of the reasons I volunteered for a line company. I wanted a chance to kill somebody.”

In the Second World War, the situation could be slightly different. American GI, Joseph Shomon said:

“Even in hopeless situations, the Germans would fight to the last, refusing to surrender. Then, when their ammunition was gone, they were ready to give up and ask for mercy but because many Americans had been lost in this delay, our troop often killed the Germans.”

As well as revenge, of course, this shooting of surrendering Germans is a good example of a couple of other reasons for the occurrence of war crimes previously mentioned by Neitzel & Welzer. Firstly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then clearly, they can:

“follow what they had already done”.

And secondly:

“what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Sometimes soldiers in the two World Wars were actually ordered not to take any prisoners. The latter were then very much more likely to be executed than to be taken back to base. In the Second World War, the German military were ordered by the Führer to hand over immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, or Security Service) all British Commandos, SAS, SOE and any other type of “irregular” soldier. This was the famous “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here.

In actual fact, my own Grandad was placed in a similar position on at least one occasion during the First World War. It must have been on the anniversary of the execution of Edith Cavell on ‎October 12th 1915 that he and his colleagues in the Canadian army were told to take no prisoners during that day’s attack. Whether my Grandad carried out the order, I have no idea.

My own perception, though, is that rather than refuse to take prisoners in the usual way, and instead to kill them, it was far more frequent in World War One, to try and spare the lives of the men who had been ordered to attack but who were now in a situation which could only have one outcome. Harry Patch, for example,who at 111 years of age was “the Last Fighting Tommy”, has spoken of how he refused to kill a German soldier:

“Patch came face to face with a German soldier. He recalled the story of Moses descending from Mount Sinai with God’s Ten Commandments, including “Thou shalt not kill” and he could not bring himself to kill the German. Instead, he shot him in the shoulder, which made the soldier drop his rifle. However, he had to carry on running towards his Lewis Gun, so to proceed, he shot him above the knee and in the ankle.”

My Grandad was wounded in the legs on two occasions, so perhaps the Germans did the same kind of thing.

We have a long, bloody way to go with “Soldaten” yet, so let’s finish with some wise words from Harry Patch, the last British soldier of World War One, who lived to become a pacifist:

When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle—thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that ? “

20 Comments

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

“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (1)

“Soldaten”, which means “Soldiers” is a book about the many atrocities committed by the German armed forces during World War II, although the two young authors do not hesitate to include other conflicts if they wish to make a particular point. War crimes by American forces in both Vietnam and Iraq are therefore included:

The two young authors are both highly distinguished academics, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.

Harald Welzer (above) was born in Hannover in 1958 and he is a German social psychologist, having studied sociology, psychology and literature at the University of Hannover.

Born in 1968, Sönke Neitzel (above) studied at the University of Mainz and is Professor of Military History at the University of Potsdam. He has previously held professorships at the London School of Economics, the University of Karlsruhe, the University of Bern, the University of Glasgow and the University of Saarbrücken.

The two young men belong to a burgeoning group of modern German academics who are completely willing to study and to write about Hitler, Nazism and the conduct of the German people during World War II. They are not in the slightest bit biased towards the Germans and they do not try to defend the behaviour of the Nazis. Overall, in “Soldaten”, they treat the Nazi period, quite rightly, as if Hitler’s Germany was so far away in the past that it has become a foreign country. Things were done differently there:

I read “Soldaten” recently and I found it absolutely stunning. I even read the first fifty pages twice to make sure that I had understood it all fully.

The book is based on what was probably Sönke Neitzel’s luckiest day ever. He discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and had then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts, which he was able to locate and then to read. Neitzel later found that the National Archives in Washington DC had around 100,000 further pages of prisoners’ conversations. The transcripts from the German prisoners in England have produced a 400 page book which I am going to review in almost note form.

In the earliest pages, it is explained that:

“the brutality, harshness and absence of emotion are what is so disturbing for us, sixty years after the fact…..killing and the worse sorts of violence were part of everyday reality (back then).”

The book will seek to explain why these levels of violence came about, and whether they were unique to this period of the twentieth century.

One idea, mentioned as early as page four, is that when you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules:

“In the Third Reich, people didn’t need to be anti-semitic to murder Jews, or altruistic to rescue them….it was enough to be in a social situation in which one or the other course of action seemed called for. After that, people tended to follow what they had already done…massacre or rescue.”

When the course of action chosen is massacre, the situation may also incorporate the idea of “inhumanity with impunity”. Clearly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then this promotes situations where people can “follow what they had already done”. Here is an example from a conversation between German POWs which was taped by British Intelligence:

Soldier A : “Kharkiv was a delightful town. At Taganrog too, there were splendid cinemas and wonderful cafés.

Everywhere we saw Russian women doing compulsory service.

We drove past, pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again. And did they curse!”

Where does “inhumanity with impunity” come from? Well, on page 25 of “Soldaten, an explanation is given:

“In psychological terms the inhabitants of the Third Reich were as normal as people in all other societies at all other times. The spectrum of perpetrators (of violence) was a cross section of normal society. No specific group proved immune to the temptation of “inhumanity with impunity”.

The Third Reich did not though, reduce the variations of individual personalities to absolute zero. But it showed them to be of comparatively slight, indeed often negligible, importance.

In other words, we are more or less all capable of carrying out dreadful acts, because our characters do not differ enormously from those of other people. And that is why those variations are of negligible importance. All of us, every single one, can do dreadful evil.

They were people just like any other, under that showy uniform………

 

18 Comments

Filed under Criminology, History, Russia, Science