Tag Archives: Cornwall

The Gateshead Gnomes, and more Little People

Liverpool and the leafy parks and graveyards in its suburbs was not the only place to be involved in the Great English Fairy Flap of 1964.

In June 1964, strange things started happening in Gateshead, a very ordinary, humdrum town in the north east of England. It is a suburb of Newcastle-on-Tyne, where polar bears and walruses (or should that be “walri” ?) roam regularly in colder winters. Look for the orange arrows:

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At ten past four in the afternoon of June 2nd 1964, four boys were playing together in Leam Lane Estate, Gateshead. This looks a fairly desolate site, right on the shores of the freezing, windswept North Sea:

leam laneee

Looking at the map, though, as it does have one or two of the features that would link it with Celtic fairy sites, and indeed, with the old idea of dimensional portals out of which ghosts, goblins, UFOs and lots of other exciting beings may emerge:

leam lane

First of all, it is (or was then)  heath covered waste land with gorse and bracken, the very landscape beloved of fairies in Cornwall. It also has a very ancient Roman road, which would have been built directly over a Celtic track. Indeed, the reason that Roman roads across Western Europe are so unbelievably straight, is that Celtic tracks were. Quite a link, therefore, with times long, long ago.

Another indicator of pathways into other dimensions is the presence of any natural water, such as streams, and, for me, what clinches the deal, a natural spring. (that is what the blue “spr” stands for, at the centre bottom of the map). You can’t tell from this map. but I have looked at some larger scale ones, and the area also has a couple of cemeteries, absolutely classic places for crossing over into other realities.

Back to those four boys who were playing together at ten past four on that early June afternoon. They reported having sighted:

“a silver domed object about the size of a table, with portholes around the top and three legs. It was seen falling like a leaf through the sky making a low buzzing noise descending approximately 120 yards away from where they were standing.”

Here is the closest the Internet has to offer. It is in actual fact, the new Smart Car:

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At half past five in the evening, another, fifth boy, Mark Smith, aged 14, decided to walk down to the farm to collect some straw for his rabbits. When he arrived, he saw a group of around ten children, standing about twenty yards away from a haystack. This was followed by the startling sight of:

“around six or eight tiny human beings on top of the stack: they were about two and a half feet tall and dressed in bright green suits. They appeared to be digging into the haystack, as if searching for something. Their hands seemed like lighted electric light bulbs.”

Alpha-7-CLOSE-2

Mark went home and told his parents what he had seen and decided to make his way back to the scene, but he was stopped by the farmer. Mark says that he was told by another child that:

“she had seen a circular silvery object take off from the ground with a spinning motion giving off an orange glow.”

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On June 6th, 1964 several members of the local UFO Organisation visited the locality concerned and spent some considerable time speaking to many of the residents and children about the matter.

One child who admitted having seen “the little green men” told them:

“the leader of the little men was dressed in black and carried a baton with pink stripes.”

Another girl claimed:

“He was sitting on the roof of the barn watching us.”

Another girl told them that she had seen ‘him’ riding on the back of a cow whilst others claimed the whole thing was a hoax. The farmer who owns the land said

“All the claims are a load of nonsense. If anything has landed I would’ve known about it. I have a dog kept in the yard, he would warned me if anybody had been prowling around the farm.”

And that was not the end of it. Three months or so later…

It was claimed that a “Leprechaun” had been sighted in Tamar Street East in Belfast on or about September 10th 1964.

leprechaun

In fact, this particular Little Green Man was later identified as six-year-old Billy Knowles.

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He was playing at Robin Hood, dressed in his nice new costume:

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He was playing in a derelict house, something Belfast was not short of at the time:

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Poor little Billy was soon chased away by police who were frightened for his safety.

Too late!!!

The hint of a real life Leprechaun, and a real life pot of gold, triggered off the local people’s imaginations. Vast numbers of them descended into the streets causing massive disorder. Ironically the crowds that gathered there included not just children, but many adults. The incident, which involved the police and the fire service in some numbers, also attracted the presence of David Bleakley, the Labour MP for Victoria, who handed over a hastily written petition to Belfast Corporation, demanding action to keep the crowds and children away from the embankment and the many derelict houses there. One senior police officer was quoted as saying:

“A grown man, cold stone sober, insisted to me that he had seen a leprechaun.“

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Filed under History, Humour, Personal, Science

A Twitch in 1817

A twitch doesn’t have to involve a bird. It is becoming increasingly fashionable to twitch animals. I have twitched a Steller’s Sea Lion on the Brisons, a pair of sea stacks just off Cape Cornwall, which is in Cornwall, funnily enough. And I succeeded in my quest. I saw this amazingly lost creature, who, by rights, should have been sunning herself in Vladivostock Harbour. I saw her, on and off, for several years, in actual fact:

Steller Sea Lion
I have twitched a Bottle-nose Dolphin in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. It frequented the River Trent at the back of of a supermarket car park in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Netto, if I remember correctly. It was there from January 25th-30th 1999, although I turned up on January 31st. And guess what? Well, this is all that I saw:

beaten

The following account is of a twitch for a sea-creature. It took place in the summer of 1817 in Massachusetts, and this is just one of a huge number of accounts. It came from Colonel TH Perkins on August 15th 1817. I have made one or two changes to make it easier for a modern reader to understand but other than that, there are no differences:

“The first appearance was in the summer of 1817, in the harbour of Cape Ann:

a Cape-Ann

And here is the more modern, less charming version:

a goolge YES easrthzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And conceivably, this map is the best one for all the English people who think Boston is a market town in Lincolnshire:

map ann (2)

Back to the story:

“I visited Gloucester with Mr Lee. On our way down we met several persons returning, who had already visited the place, and they reported to us that he had not been seen for two or three days past. We, however, continued our route to Gloucester, though with fears that we should not be rewarded with a sight of the monster which we sought.

I had already satisfied myself, from conversation with several persons who had already seen him, that the reports in circulation were not mere fables. All the townspeople were, as you may suppose, on the alert, and almost every individual, both great and small, had had sight of him, at a greater or less distance:

etching

“The weather was fine, the sea perfectly smooth, and Mr Lee and myself were seated on a point of land which projects into the harbour, about twenty feet above the level of the water, from which we were distant by about fifty or sixty feet. Seated in this way, I observed an agitation in the water at the entrance of the harbour, like that which follows a small vessel going five or six miles an hour through the water. As we knew there were no rocks where the water was this broken. I immediately said to Mr Lee that I had no doubt that what I had seen was the sea serpent in pursuit of fish. Mr Lee was not looking at the spot which I was talking about, and had not seen the foam of the water, the animal having immediately disappeared.
In a few moments after my exclamation, I saw on the opposite side of the harbour, at about two miles distance from where I had first seen, or thought I saw, the snake, the same object, moving with the rapid motion up the harbour, on the western shore”:

drawing (2)

“As he approached us, it was easy to see that his motion was not that of the common snake, either on the land or in the water, but evidently the vertical movement of the caterpillar. As nearly as I could judge, there was visible at a time about forty feet of his body. It was not, to be sure, a continuous body, as from head to tail he was seen only three or four feet at a time. It was very evident, however, that his length must be much greater than what appeared, as, in his movement, he left a considerable wake in his rear. I had a fine telescope, and was within less than half a mile of him. The head was flat in the water, and the animal was, as far as I could distinguish, of a chocolate colour. I was struck with an appearance in the front part of the head like a single horn, about nine inches to a foot in length, and of the form of a spike. There were a great many people collected by this time, many of whom had already seen the serpent. From the time I first saw him until he passed by the place where I stood, and soon after disappeared, was not more than fifteen or twenty minutes”:

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“I left the place fully satisfied that the verbal reports in circulation, although differing in detail, were essentially correct. I returned to Boston, and having made my report, I found Mrs Perkins and my daughters disposed to make a visit to Gloucester with me when the return of the animal should again be announced. A few days after my return I went again to Cape Ann with the ladies; we had a pleasant ride, but returned unsatisfied in the quest which drew us there.”

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This particular sea serpent was seen regularly around Cape Ann until 1819 at least. Indeed, the east coast of the United States seems to have been a good place for would-be sea serpent twitchers, with records dating back to 1638:

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Don’t think I don’t have my own story to tell:

On October 25th 1988, I went to the Isles of Scilly to birdwatch. I crossed over on the ferry, the Scillonian. For two or three hours during the crossing, I remained on deck with my binoculars, eagerly scanning the storm tossed waves for seabirds.

Scillonian_III-01 xxxxxx

“At one point, I noticed what I took to be the head of a Grey Seal, which broke the surface perhaps a hundred metres away. It was dark in colour, and I could see a forehead, two eye sockets, and an obvious snout. I didn’t really think twice about it, and it remained there for perhaps two or three minutes. Then, suddenly, a Gannet flew directly above it, and I realised from a comparison of sizes that the head must be at least a metre and a half, if not two metres, across. And that means it cannot have been a seal !”

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Filed under Cornwall, Cryptozoology, History, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

A very cunning Käpitan

In Penzance Cemetery lie the graves of twenty two Second World War casualties from four individual ships:

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These vessels were in a convoy which was attacked by six German E boats ten miles to the west of Lizard Point, during the night of January 5th-6th 1944. All four ships were sunk. The casualties included HMS Wallasea, an armed trawler which was acting as one of the escort ships, the S.S.Solstad, the M.V.Polperro and the M.V.Underwood. This attack was part of the German attempts to disrupt the Allies’ obvious preparations for an invasion of Western Europe that coming summer.

What is so very striking about Naval war graves, however, having seen the last resting places of literally thousands of Army and Air Force casualties, are that the latter can often be very similar in age, rank or nationality, and perhaps even as far as regiments are concerned: in other words, the same kind of details may be repeated over and over again. With Naval graves, though, you feel almost as if a whole family is involved, with people of often widely differing ages, all having performed some specific job within the ship. And like a family, that ship is the sum of these individual parts.
The S.S.Solstad was a Swedish steam powered cargo ship originally launched in 1924 by Lewis John & Sons Ltd. of Aberdeen, under the name of the “Gatwick”. It weighed just under 1,400 tons, and was travelling from Swansea to London with a cargo of coal when it was torpedoed by the German torpedo boats, S-136 and S-84. The ship sank in three minutes with the loss of five lives. Here is the Solstad in two different companies’ liveries:

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Alide Reicher was 53 years of age. She a stewardess on the Solstad. She is, I think, the only woman war casualty whose grave I personally have ever seen, and even more unique is the fact that she was Swedish, a neutral nationality in theory, and was serving on board a ship of the Swedish Merchant Navy. She really was somebody who gave their life for freedom:

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The second casualty from the Solstad was Kenneth Allen who was killed aged only eighteen. Kenneth was a Deck Hand and the son of Alfred Anthony Allen and Minnie Allen of Blyth Northumberland. He was the husband of Marjorie Gertrude Allen of Gravesend:

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The M.V. Polperro, registered in Fowey, had sailed from Manchester with a cargo of coal, joining a convoy bound for Penryn, Cornwall and then on to London. This is the only photograph that I could find:

mvpolperro1

The Polperro went down with the loss of all hands, namely eight Merchant Navy seamen and three Royal Navy gunners:

Polperro tower hil ww2 meorial

The wreck lies in 200ft of water. The Penzance graves from this nautical family are two Able Seamen:

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The M.V.Underwood, almost three hundred feet long and weighing two thousand tons, was travelling from the River Clyde in Scotland to Portsmouth, with military stores including vehicles. The crew of fifteen seamen and three passengers was all lost. This photo shows the M.V.Tuaranga, which was the sister ship of the Underwood, but in all respects save its name, it is the same vessel:

Port Tuaranga, was the sister ship of M.V.Underwood

The wreck of the Underwood was identified in 1975 by information on the boss of the propeller. This grave is that of the Radio Officer, Alexander McRae. He was 43 years of age and came from Carluke in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Graves do not have accents however. Alexander’s parents were William McRae and Annie McRae (nee Wilkie). His wife was called Edith :

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His Majesty’s Trawler Wallasea, (T-345) was an Isle Class Armed Trawler built in 1943. This vessel was part of the Royal Naval Patrol Service and weighed just under five hundred tons.

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Seventeen members of the Wallasea’s crew are interred at Penzance.  This closely knit sea-going family includes an Able Seaman, the Cook, an Engineman, a Leading Steward, an Ordinary Signalman, a Seaman, a Second Hand, a Stoker and a Telegraphist:

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All of these Allied vessels were sunk by German E-boats. These impressive vessels were capable of speeds up to almost 50 m.p.h. and were easily the most effective torpedo boats ever built:

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The attackers on January 5th-6th 1944 were the 5th Flotilla led by Leutnant-Kommander Karl Wilhelm Walter Müller. The flotilla comprised S84, S136, S138, S141, S-52, S142 and S14. In German, the “S” strands for “schnell” or “fast”. Rather imaginatively, in English the “E” stands for “Enemy”.

Karl Müller, when he was the commander of Schnellboot S-52, was already credited with the sinking of the British destroyer Eskdale on April 14th 1943:

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He was no doubt the very proud owner of his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, awarded on July 8th 1943. This is the only picture of Karl Wilhelm Walter Müller which I have been able to find. The lettering across the photo is in German and may refer to copyright problems, but on the other hand, the long word, when re-examined in Photoshop, does appear to have a swastika in the middle of it, so perhaps it is from some archival source:

Karl Müller received Ritterkreuz

On this particular occasion off the coast of Cornwall, Müller was again in command of Schnellboot S-52. He was tasked with attacking convoys in the English Channel. Skilfully, Müller lay in wait for these particular ships of Convoy WP457, very close to the Cornish coast. His little fleet was then able to surprise the convoy by an unexpected attack from the landward side. This is the little cove where the German E-boat fleet sheltered. Look for the orange arrow:

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This is the cove where the Germans took refuge. They were extremely close to the shore:

cove

The soldiers guarding the telegraphy installations at Porthcurno presumed that the motor boats must be British and took no action. It was later said that “Their role was to guard the telegraph and not to act as coastal lookouts.” Such pathetic, pompous stupidity was to cost a great many lives.

At three o’clock in the morning of January 6th, 1944, the British convoy was more or less ready to cross Mount’s Bay where:

“The weather was fine with good visibility. It was moonlight with a south-west wind force three and moderate sea. Leaving the cove they prepared to attack the convoy.”

The cunning Leutnant-Kommander Müller had the enormous advantage of complete surprise because his attack came from the landward, Cornwall, side. The escort led by the aging destroyer H.M.S. Mackay was overwhelmed by the firing of no less than 23 torpedoes and four ships were sunk:

mackay

The German force’s first attack sank the Solstad and the second, some five miles south of Penzance, sent the Underwood, the Polperro and the Wallasea to the bottom. Nowadays, with the right knowledge from the Internet, these ships can be visited by divers. Look for the orange arrow:

mounts bay
The rest of Convoy WP457 continued on their way, while the brave civilians of the Penlee lifeboat made valiant attempts to rescue any survivors. Those still alive, of course, were faced with a very low water temperature because of the time of year. In total more than sixty people were killed including, as we have already seen, one woman, Alide Reicher, who was a stewardess on the S.S.Solstad which, technically, belonged to the Swedish Merchant Navy.
Overall, Penzance Cemetery holds twenty two naval casualties from this action with the majority, seventeen, being members of the crew of HM Trawler “Wallasea”.
In April 1944, the Fifth Flotilla under Leutenant-Kommander Karl Müller, was among the E-boats who carried out another audacious attack, this time on Exercise or Operation Tiger, a large-scale rehearsal for the D-Day invasion of Normandy which was being held at Slapton in Devon:

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A total of 946 American servicemen were killed, with the almost inevitable communication problems causing many casualties from friendly fire. The majority of the casualties, however, were on the morning of April 28th, when a convoy of troops was attacked in Lyme Bay by nine German E-boats under the command of Korvettenkapitän Bernd Klug:

BerndKlug

Leutnant-Kommander Karl Müller survived the war and returned to serve in the West German Navy from 1956–1957. He died in Celle in 1989 at the age of seventy two. Had he been wearing a different uniform in 1944, perhaps an American one, they would have made movies about his daring attack during the 1950s.
It would have been impossible to have written this article without the basic research having been made freely available by David Betts. His excellent book about this most exciting episode in World War Two is advertised here:

There are two final points. Firstly, the war graves in Penzance Cemetery are kept immaculate, every single one. In order to make the inscriptions visible, I have had to photoshop all my photographs and that is the reason that the graves look so peculiar. And last of all, the real cost of war is in these last two photographs. How sad a fate for “our dear Bernard” and a “dear husband and daddy” :

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Filed under Cornwall, History

A very long way from home

If you cast your minds back what seems now a very long time, my continuing researches about the German bomber shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall on September 27th 1942 , had led me to the cemetery in Penzance:

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Of the seventy one Second World War burials in this cemetery, the grave of one particular sailor is very noticeable, because he lies such a very, very, long way from his home.

His name was Earl William Graham. Earl was an Able Seaman in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (R.C.N.V.R):

March 29th 1945 cropped

Earl was born in 1917, the son of Arthur John Graham and Gertrude Graham. He was the husband of Regina Graham, of Preston, Ontario, Canada:

ontario

Earl Graham, aged just twenty eight, was serving on board H.M.C.S. Teme (K 458) not far off Land’s End, in position 50º07’N, 05º45’W. At 08.22 hours  on March 29th 1945, just six or seven weeks from the end of the conflict, the warship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-315. The Teme was hit in the stern and the rear sixty feet of the ship was blown off.
Three sailors were blown into the sea by the explosion, and poor Earl Williams was killed outright. The Teme might well have been thought, perhaps, an unlucky ship. It had already been the apparently jinxed victim of a significant collision, when an aircraft carrier struck her amidships in the Bay of Biscay in June 1944. The Teme only just avoided being sliced completely in half:

Capture

The “Teme” had been escorting the convoy BTC-111 off Land’s End. The Canadian warship had been “sweeping” to the rear of the convoy of merchant ships when it was attacked. Debris was flung some fifty feet into the air, and one man, later ascertained to be the unfortunate Earl Williams, was blown from the quarter deck up onto the after gun deck. He died moments later from his injuries. The three other seamen were never seen again, although they were initially posted as “missing in action”.
My internet researches have revealed their names as Gordon Walter Bolin, Thomas Joseph Hackett and Robert Everett Rowe. Thomas Hackett’s body was eventually found and his remains are buried in Falmouth Cemetery in Cornwall. Gordon Bolin and Robert Rowe, sadly, were never found, and their supreme sacrifice is commemorated on the Halifax Memorial, along with 2,842 others.
On this occasion, it took twelve hours to tow the mortally stricken “Teme” to Falmouth in Cornwall but the ship was so badly damaged that it was declared a Constructive Total Loss (CTL). A legal definition of the latter is…

“Insured property that has been abandoned because its actual total loss appears to be unavoidable, or because it could not be preserved or repaired without an expenditure which would exceed its value.”

The “Teme” was a Frigate of the River class, with a tonnage of some 1,370 tons. It had only just been completed in 1944 at Smith’s Dock Co Ltd, South Bank, Middlesbrough, in the north east of England. The ship was decommissioned and returned to the Royal Navy on May 4th 1945. They sold it to be broken up for scrap on December 8th 1945. So far researches are ongoing but the names of at least eight people serving on the ship are known:

frigate_river_hmcs_teme dertfyThe U315 operated with a grand total of some thirteen different Wolfpacks during its career, in some cases for just a few days. Their names included Blitz, Donner, Grimm and Panther. Launched at Flender Werke AG, Lübeck  on May 29th 1943, the U-315 went on eleven different patrols, and was commanded throughout by Oberleutnant Herbert Zoller:

zoller_herbert

The submarine surrendered at Trondheim, Norway on May 9th 1945. The craft was declared unseaworthy. and cut up for scrap on site in Norway in March 1947. I have been unable to trace any photographs of the U-315, but here is another Type VIIC U-Boat, the U-995, currently on display at the Laboe Naval Memorial near Kiel. Do not fail to click on the link to the German website, and make sure that you try the Panorama views. They are guaranteed to scare you (top of the tower) or make you very seasick indeed. Just look for the three yellow-orange circles on the photograph:

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The U-315 did not suffer a single casualty throughout its fifteen month career, and sank only two ships, the Teme and the Empire Kingsley, a merchant vessel of just under 7,000 tons:

empire_kingsleyI would highly recommend this website about U-Boats. It has a vast database of the more than 80,000 people who were in the crews of ships attacked by U-boats, as well as the most astounding detail about the U-boats themselves. I was also strongly attracted by the “U-boat of the Day” feature (bottom left).

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Aliens take refuge in Cornish Parish Church

In August 2008, as we always have done, we spent our family holiday in Cornwall. On August 14th, in the late morning, we went to visit the parish church in Germoe, a tiny, tiny village, between Penzance and Helston in the very west of the county. Look for the orange arrow:

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The church, like every ancient church in this part of the world, is built on or near the site of a pagan sacred well, in this case St Germoe’s Holy Well, which was renamed in honour of the patron saint of this little church, St Germoe:

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Germoe was a young Irishman from around 450 A.D.. This was just after the fall of the Roman Empire, in the so-called “Dark Ages”. Germoe was one of the disciples of St Patrick who came, or perhaps more probably, were sent, to convert the bloodthirsty savages of West Cornwall, such as their fierce War Chief, Teudar, to Christianity. Almost seven hundred years after this, in the eleventh century, the Normans built a church on the site. This original church was then in its turn replaced by a second church in the fourteenth century. The churchyard contains a strange little arched building known as St Germoe’s Chair. Supposedly, it was a shrine covering the bones of St Germoe, which sounds lovely, except that we know that there is no trace whatsoever of anybody’s bones under the structure:

220px-St_Germoe's_Chair_-

On either side of the church door are the quaintly carved “Germoe Monkeys” which supposedly represent long tailed monkeys of some kind and are said to ward off evil. As far as I can trace, nobody has ever thought it at all unusual that the peasant builders of a remote fourteenth century church should have a knowledge of monkeys:

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Perhaps they are not monkeys! It’s very hard to tell after so many centuries of erosion. Most of it since 1900.

At this time, of course, Cornwall was a place where English was not spoken. Few, if any roads connected this Celtic speaking area with England, and the inhabitants of the county regarded themselves as a separate country. So how did they know about monkeys?

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Personally, I have always enjoyed the brightly coloured glass windows, straight from a Hammer Horror film. You almost expect Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee to peer through them:

Most spectacular of all in the church, however, is the font. Nothing is known about its origin except that it is very, very ancient:

font

The stone structure is certainly pre-Norman Conquest (1066) and equally, cannot really be connected to the Celtic era of St Germoe. At this time, deep in the Dark Ages, baptisms are known to have taken place in the Holy Well, as a demonstration to the local pagans of the superior powers of the Christian faith. Any fonts were placed in as low a position as possible, because a baptism in this era always included the washing of the feet.
In my humble opinion, as they say, the font is not at all a Christian font but an object of veneration from a much. much older religion, forgotten for countless centuries, and perhaps older than even the Romans.  The faces carved on the side. I believe, are those of their gods, these unknown people  from so long ago.
One face has a chip on it, which looks like a tear and must surely represent the sadness of a long forgotten entity who knows that he is divine, but who now has no worshippers to emphasise that fact:

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The other face is much more intriguing and always seems so very, very poignant.

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To me it always looks like a sad alien, marooned here for ever, unable to return to his own planet.

Perhaps I should contact Giorgio Tsoukalos on Discovery History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens”?

ancient aliens

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A Life on the Ocean Wave

After doing my researches on the German Dornier Do. 217E bomber which was shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall, I tried very hard to find the graves of the crew. It seemed likely to me that, whatever side they might have been on in the conflict, they had probably been interred a very, very long way from their homes and families. After failing to find their graves in the two cemeteries at St.Just, I visited the cemetery at Penzance.

The dead crew members of the Dornier bomber were not in that particular cemetery either, but I did find a great many other graves from the Second World War.

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And at the time, I was forcibly struck by two things. First of all, the majority of the dead were from ships, completely unlike, for example, the cemetery where my father is buried in South Derbyshire. Here more or less all the war casualties are from the Army or possibly, the RAF. Secondly, I became very aware of the discrepancy between what we do and say on Armistice Day, and what dreadful fates have befallen the people who are buried in these graves. We all wear our poppies, and dutifully pledge that “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” yet I am very sure that we don’t, despite all our best intentions.
The poor people in those graves in Penzance Cemetery no longer have any life whatsoever, thanks to their decision to join up and serve their country. They hit a brick wall in time, sometimes known precisely down to the very minute, and then no more. And they weren’t anonymous. They all had their own lives just like we do now, with families, girlfriends, wives, beer to drink and Christmases to celebrate.

William R.Baxter was an Able Seaman on the Merchant Navy ship, the S.S.Scottish Musician which was a motor tanker of just under seven thousand tons, registered in London. The ship was to survive the war, but William R.Baxter was not.

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On Friday April 18th 1941, the Scottish Musician was damaged by aircraft bombing at a position some three miles from St. Ann’s Head on a bearing of 205°. St. Ann’s Head is the extreme south western tip of Pembrokeshire in south west Wales.

annd head

William Baxter was the only casualty. He was just twenty one years of age. William was the son of Richard George Baxter and Ruth Baxter of Penzance and the husband of Beatrice Joy Baxter.
P1500250xxxxxThe Scottish Musician was consequently further damaged on January 5th 1942 when she hit a mine at position 52° 16’ N, 01° 59’ E, which is near the port of Harwich in Suffolk in East Anglia. This resulted in the death of the twenty year old cabin boy, Albert Henry Jones. Albert is buried in Canada in the “Notre Dame des Neiges” Cemetery in Montréal.
P1500256XXXXXXXRonald Norman Neale was an Ordinary Seaman. He served on board HMS Warwick which was an Admiralty ‘W’ class destroyer. Young Ronald was only twenty years of age when he was killed, on February 20th 1944. He was the unmarried son of James and Linaol Neale of Grove Park, London. On his grave, his grieving parents have had inscribed “Gone from us all, but always in our thoughts”, as Ronald no doubt was for the rest of their lives. On the day that I visited, there were flowers on his grave, conceivably from one of his aging siblings perhaps, or possibly his nephews or nieces.

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HMS Warwick was itself only twenty seven years old, having been launched in 1917. As “D-25” she participated in both the First and Second World Wars, before she was torpedoed and sunk on the day that Ordinary Seaman Ronald Norman Neale was killed. From July to November 1943, she had been in the Bay of Biscay on anti-submarine duties, as part of the RAF Coastal Command offensive. In November she participated in Operation Alacrity,  helping to set up and supply Allied air bases in the Azores.
Having returned to Britain in January 1944,, HMS Warwick was tasked with leading an escort group operating in the South Western Approaches, guarding merchant ships against surprise attacks by German E-boats. The destroyer was patrolling off Trevose Head just north of Newquay on Cornwall’s northern coast when she was torpedoed by the U-413. At the time, HMS Warwick  was under the command of Commander Denys Rayner. The warship sank very quickly, in just a few minutes, with the loss of over half her crew.
The U-413 had been launched on January 15th 1942, and was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Gustav Poel, who, unlike the vast majority of German submariners, was to survive the war.

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As well as the Warwick, the U-413 was an extremely successful submarine which sank five merchant ships amounting to a total tonnage of 36,885 tons. By August 20th 1944, the U-413  was  commanded by the 26 year old Oberleutnant Dietrich Sachse.

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On this summer’s day, though, the U-413 was sunk in the English Channel to the south of Brighton, by depth charges from the British escort destroyer HMS Wensleydale and the destroyers HMS Forester and HMS Vidette. Forty five members of the Kriegsmarine were killed, including the fresh faced young Captain.  Only one member of the crew survived. His name is not recorded but it is thought unlikely to have been Ishmael. Oy vey!

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Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History

The Luftwaffe comes to Cornwall (and stays there)

For many, many, years, we have spent our summer holidays in Cornwall, in the very westernmost part, which is called Penwith, and where the major town is Penzance, the birthplace of the pioneer chemist, Humphry Davy. Ten miles or so to the north west of Penzance is the even smaller town of St Just. Just look for the orange arrow:

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In the nineteenth century, there were any number of tin mines around the town, which is made up for the most part of stone buildings with slate roofs.

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It has a beautiful ancient parish church with its centuries old frescoes of Christ and St.George.

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There is also the old battleflag of an old Great War battleship.

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Nearby is the medieval “Plen an Gwarry”, which is a small area of open grass, used for watching plays or sporting contests or perhaps just for relaxation.

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As you relax, you might want to eat a pasty or a pie from Mcfaddens, who are often quoted as making the best Cornish pasties in the world. The day I took these photographs, they had sold out. Fortunately, they do mail-order, although the pasties will not always be piping hot.

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St Just also hosts its popular Lafrowda Festival, a community and arts celebration that lasts for seven days.

There is the old bank, with its many changes of owner and cryptic lettering.

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More subtly famous is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel which was built in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is an enormous stone building, and I remember reading somewhere that, as vast numbers of impoverished Cornishmen were forced to emigrate overseas, given its position so close to the cliffs of Land’s End, this building was usually the very last thing that thousands of emigrants saw as they set off towards the mines of the USA, Canada, Australia or South America.

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Some of the very best and most spectacular cliff scenery is at either Carn Gloose or the nearby Cape Cornwall. This is the Brisons, a pair of storm battered sea stacks.

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It was here that a very, very lost Steller’s Sea-lion lived in the late 1980s and 1990s. It should have been living in Eastern Siberia or Western Alaska.

 

Every time that I have ever driven down Cape Cornwall Road to look at the cliffs or to watch the fierce ocean storms, I have always looked up at the old Methodist School on the left, to check that the conspicuous gap on the ridge of the roof is still there.

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From a tourist leaflet that I read many years ago, I know very well that, during an air raid in the Second World War, this gap was caused by a German bomber in its last few seconds before it crashed into Chapel Road.

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This year I decided to research the story more extensively, so I called in at the library in St Just, where the helpful staff tried very hard to check any references to this event in the books of their Local Collection. They were unfortunately unable to find anything but, not for the first time I suspect, they contacted long time St Just resident, John Harry, who came round to the library straightway to recount the full story. Mr Harry told me that the events had taken place in the autumn or winter of 1942.

As a little boy, he was always very excited indeed when the St Just air raid warning was sounded, and he always had to be dragged very reluctantly up to bed. In their home in Chapel Street, the family had a simple home-made air raid shelter downstairs in the kitchen. It consisted for the most part of a rather robust kitchen table which, in theory, should be able to withstand the majority of shocks which an air raid might cause. On most occasions, though, John’s aging grandmother would refuse to get inside it, but instead, ostrich like, would merely stick her head underneath.

This particular night, they could hear distant gunfire, which gradually grew louder and louder. Some kind of aerial dogfight was clearly taking place, as they could all hear the noise of aircraft engines, machine guns and a series of explosions. Granny kept shouting “We’ll all be killed! We’ll all be killed!”, but her daughter replied, “Be quiet! Don’t keep saying that! You’ll frighten the child!”.

“The child” himself thought that it was all extremely exciting, and was clapping his hands in sheer glee. Suddenly, there was a huge crash. John shouted, “We’re winning! we’re winning!”. Auntie went upstairs to see what was happening. She looked out of the bedroom window. Below her, she could see flames down in the street. “All of Chapel Street is on fire!”, she shouted, “All St Just is ablaze !”

The stricken bomber had destroyed two houses, but fortunately, nobody was injured. The first house was owned by an old lady, but she had gone away to her daughter’s for a two week holiday.

The other house was a second home for the newly married Mr and Mrs Vague. (sic) They did not normally bother to use their air raid shelter, but on this particular evening, their cat had kept making a huge fuss, walking repeatedly backwards and forwards from the bedroom to the shelter. In an effort to keep the cat quiet therefore, the two of them finally moved down to the air raid shelter. From this place of safety, they were able to feel their house shaking as if it were an earthquake.

When it was safe to do so, both Mr and Mrs ran to the emergency shelter in the St Just Town Hall. All they possessed at this moment were their night clothes. In later years, though, of course, Mr and Mrs Vague would dine out regularly on the fact that they had had their lives saved by the cat.

The next morning, more than half the town was cordoned off by the Home Guard. Hundreds of windows had been blown out by the explosions. On the Methodist School (look for the orange arrow), huge numbers of tiles had been knocked off.

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Fragments of the crashed plane were everywhere. In the nearby village of Kelynack, some mile and a half away, (see the previous map after Paragraph One), one member of the German crew had landed by parachute. He had a broken leg, and, a forlorn figure, he was duly arrested by Mr.Matthews, the owner of a small local farm. The rest of the crew, three men, sadly, were all killed.

In a house in Cape Cornwall Street, a woman stepped forward in the darkness to open the bedroom curtains. She tripped over a German’s dead body, which had been blown in through the window. A few days later, in another house in the town, a frightened woman was to find a German’s leg on the top of her wardrobe.

And for a very long time afterwards, John Harry was too frightened to leave his mothers’ side.

Even now, though, at nearly eighty years of age, John was still unaware of where the three dead Germans were buried. And seventy years ago, his mother had been equally unable to ascertain their final resting place. Equally unsuccessful was her friend, who was actually a member of the local Home Guard. Indeed, at the time, everybody in St Just was curious about where the dead Germans were. They kept asking the Home Guard, who always replied with the same “Dunno”. It was thought, however, that some of them did know, but they were just not saying.

My own researches have been equally unsuccessful. I was unable to find the Germans’ last resting place either in the cemetery at St Just, or in the war graves section of Penzance Cemetery. Subsequent inquiries, however, reveal that most German war dead at this time were taken to the German Cemetery on Cannock Chase, and that after the end of hostilities, many of them were then re-interred in Germany. Let’s hope so. It is certainly a very long way from the frequently wet, windy and misty West Penwith to whatever churchyard in Germany where they rightfully belong.

The two destroyed houses were never rebuilt. Instead they were replaced by a row of garages. When the foundations for these buildings were being dug, the workmen found Mr.Vague’s gold watch.

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Amazingly, this was not the only air raid on tiny St Just. On another occasion, the Luftwaffe bombed Holman’s Foundry, which produced munitions for the Allied Forces, down in the Tregeseal Valley. Ironically, Mrs Holman had herself been born in Germany. She had originally come over to England around 1900 as a governess, and then married into a local family.

This particular bombing attack was actually mentioned in one of his broadcasts by Lord Haw Haw. He said, in very sinister and threatening fashion, “Don’t think we have forgotten you, St Just. You have not been forgotten.”

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The foundry’s owner, Ken Olds, lived in a house right next to the foundry. At the height of the bombing raid, when the grandparents went to look for the baby, they found that he was no longer in the bedroom. In actual fact, he had been blown out of the window, and they found him in the front garden. He was still in his cot, fast asleep and completely unharmed. Nearby houses had lots of cracks caused by the explosion of the bombs. In later years, this seems to have led to large scale subsidence, and all of the houses eventually had to be demolished. So too the foundry itself had to come down, and it was replaced by a housing estate.

I was genuinely surprised that after seventy years that it was still possible to talk to an eyewitness of all these amazing events. I will never forget my afternoon spent in the company of John Harry. He is a most charming man, and an amazing source of knowledge of the St Just area, the people who have lived there, and the people who live there still.

Subsequent, subsequent, subsequent researches on the Internet have now revealed the excellent website of Shauney Strick whose hobby is “The History of World War 2 in Penwith, Cornwall:Uncovering the evidence with a metal detector”.

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With his metal detector, Mr.Strick recently uncovered several small parts of a Luftwaffe aircraft buried in West Place, St.Just. (see street map above). The various objects of wreckage were from a Dornier Do. 217E, aircraft U5+1H of 1Staffel KG 2, which had crashed on September 27th 1942 as it made its way towards Penzance, after being pursued and shot down by a Bristol Beaufighter Mark IF of 406 Squadron from RAF Predannick. The Beaufighter was  flown by Squadron Leader Denis Chetwynd Furse with Pilot Officer John Haddon Downes as his radio operator.  

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One additional detail was that one of the diesel engines from the stricken bomber flew an enormous distance before smashing through three garden walls in West Place. 

As I mentioned above, my search for the final resting place of the Luftwaffe bomber’s crew led me to Penzance Cemetery, where, although I did not have any success with the Dornier, I did find that the World War II graves there had some very interesting, and very, very sad tales to tell. But that, as they say, is for another time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History, Humour