Great Bustards are huge birds, more or less the size of a domestic turkey. They used to live in many areas of Merrye Old Englande, as long as there was plenty of open grassland and only scattered farmland. They liked the chalk downs of central and southern England such as Wiltshire, for example, and the open sandy heaths of East Anglia. The last bird English bird was shot in 1832. This is not him:
A single Great Bustard was seen at South Collingham on April 1st and April 23rd to 24th 1906. South Collingham was, I presume, to the south of present day Collingham. The latter village is just to the north of Newark-on-Trent. In 1906, there would have been no electricity cables or pylons. Just open, infrequently visited farmland. The orange arrow marks the approximate spot:
Mr Henry Wigram sent Joseph Whitaker two letters which have survived, and they are kept in the Local Collection in the library at Mansfield:
29th of June 1906
I am afraid you will think me slow in answering your PC (postcard), but I have had some difficulty in obtaining accurate information about the Cormorant, about which I had no note myself:
I can tell you now that it was seen on the Newark Parish Church steeple for nearly two months. If I can hear anything more definite than this I will let you know.
I was glad to have your enquiry about the Great Bustard, because most people have simply smiled, & said “What could it have been ? ” ! !
I can positively say I did see one, as I had another view of it nearly three weeks after:
I reported it to “Countryside”, flying over my garden & I believe my wife saw it at about the same time & place on the following day.
The second time I saw it, it was making a noise like an exaggerated Crow’s caw, while on the wing. It was this that drew my attention. On both occasions I was within 120 yards of it:
You have perhaps heard of the Snipe & Redshank laying in the same nest at Besthorpe. The Snipe laid first, each laid 3 eggs, from which I saw the Redshank get up. I am afraid I cannot say how many were hatched.
I have a few other notes which seem interesting to me, but they may very possibly be rather commonplace to one with so much more experience, as you have.
Though I collected eggs as a boy, it is only of late that I have really studied birds at all. If you think I could help in any way I should be only too glad to do so, as far as I can. I am often at Retford on business and could come over to see you if you wish. After all, I have heard of Rainworth from my friend Bonar, who went to see you with the Wordsworths last year, there can be few more interesting places anywhere.
PS: I am sorry to find I addressed this wrongly, and it has been returned to me.”
A week later, Henry Wigram sent a further letter to the great man, dated July 6th 1906:
6 July 1906
Thank you for your Postcard. Since writing you I have seen a coloured plate of a Great Bustard, & find that it entirely corresponds with my recollection of the bird I saw, but I noticed, as you say, that the bird looks much whiter on wing (sic) than with its wings closed:
At the time I saw it, the bird appeared to me to resemble a Turkey more than anything else I could think of. Its colouring was white & brown, not brown & grey.
I put its stretch of wing roughly at a yard and a half, and found afterwards that my man, who was with me on both occasions, guessed it at the same measurement:
I first saw it on April 1st, again on April 23rd. My wife is also certain that she saw it on April 24th.
I had field glasses in my pocket the first time, but the bird, which when I first saw it, was in the act of rising from the ground in a grassfield – disturbed by other people passing, (who did not see it) – though at first it did not appear to be flying fast got away so quickly that I could not get the glasses on to it:
I was much struck at the time by the pace at which it flew with comparatively slow beats of the wing.
On the second occasion the bird passed right over my head at a height of, I should say, 50 to 60 feet.
This was in the evening. The following morning my wife saw it taking exactly the same line of flight.
I sent word to Gates at Besthorpe on 2nd April that this bird was about, but he was ill & could not look out for it. However a Besthorpe man told him that he had seen a large strange bird about that time:
My father also saw a large bird he could not identify near the same date, but he did not get near enough to it to give any particulars.
I should very much like to come over to Rainworth as you kindly suggest. Would Friday the 20th suit you, & if so at what time?
I saw a bird the other day which puzzled me completely:
It was the size and shape exactly like a Tree Pipit, but it had pink legs, & the markings on the throat were darker (almost like those of a miniature French Partridge , & did not extend so far down the breast as in the case of a Tree Pipit. It also seemed to have a dark mark around the neck.
Would it be possible for strong sunlight to deceive one in this way? There were Tree Pipits about the place at the time.
Gates was with me, & quite agreed as to the markings.
Yours very truly,
In his own copy of the Birds of Nottinghamshire, Joseph Whitaker has written:
“I may add that Mr Wigram is a keen and careful observer of birds and a good field naturalist, and I am perfectly satisfied that it was a Great Bustard he saw.”
In three previous blog posts, I discussed “Shuck”, the huge phantom black dog, who for centuries has roamed, for the most part, the fields, fens and even beaches of East Anglia. I showed, though, that the cryptic canid has also walked on occasion in Nottinghamshire, visiting churchyards and graveyards. He frequents ancient tracks and pathways and, in particular, a lonely footpath down by the River Trent in Beckingham. He has been seen in isolated Crow Lane in South Muskham and, in recent times, on a pitch black Blyth Road, near Hodsock Priory:
In my third blogpost, I tried to establish a link with the American Wolfmen such as the “Beast of Bray Road”:
These are hairy bipeds with canid features who, like Black Shuck, seem to occur “near freshwater; on hills; at boundary areas such as roads; and on or near burial grounds, and military zones, and all types of sacred areas around the world”:
After receiving this book as a Christmas present in 2013, I received an equally interesting publication in 2014. It was “Haunted Skies Volume One” by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway:
As they say on the cover, the book is part of a whole series telling the entire story of British UFOs. In total, there are ten different volumes and they are, quite simply, an absolute tour de force, a labour of love which runs from 1940 to the present day. So far, I have bought a number of other volumes although I am still a little bit short of the full set (as they say).
What has this got to do with Shuck you may ask? Does this mean that the Beast of Bray Road has moved kennel to England?
This volume runs from 1972-1974. It contains a tale told about RAF Alconbury, a USAAF airbase in Cambridgeshire, which has a number of claims to fame as being haunted by a variety of different spectres. Here is a large scale map of the area. Look for the orange arrow which indicates the airbase:
And here is a close up. The orange arrow is in the same place on both maps:
The amazing tale told to John Hanson and Dawn Holloway, the authors of the book, by an eyewitness, is that a mechanic was:
“carrying out some routine work to an F-5 Aircraft, parked on the runway, a job that should have been completed in an hour. When he failed to make the telephone call, requesting a lift back from the Hangar, a search went out to find him. They found him sitting in the aircraft, as white as a sheet, with the canopy closed. Although I asked him, many times, what it was that he had seen, he declined, saying that it had frightened him so much that he refused to go anywhere near that location again. We discovered, from another source, that the man had seen a terrifying hairy humanoid, which had walked past the aircraft.”
This is a Northrop F-5 aircraft:
This is a second eyewitness account which they quote:
“I also heard about an incident involving two mechanics, working on an aircraft parked on the north side of the base, one of whom was so frightened by the appearance of a strange hairy creature that he jumped into the cockpit of the aircraft and refused to get out for some time.”
It is entirely impressive that the two co-authors should then discover a third corroborative tale about two USAAF personnel:
“Sergeants Randi Lee and Jackson…. one night, while on patrol with their two dogs, they saw some movement near the towers and called the Main Gate to check if any workmen were still on-site…. As they approached the tower, they came face-to-face with a hairy figure. The dogs stopped in their tracks, absolutely terrified, frantically trying to get away…..The truck arrived just in time to see the creature, whatever it was, climbing over the security fence, where it was last seen entering North Woods.”
It is difficult to imagine how much more thorough these two authors could have been at this point. They manage to find yet another witness to this bizarre tale:
“One foggy night my father received a radio call; there was an intruder within the perimeter…. He tore out in his truck and sped towards the scene…. Seeing a figure in the fog, he pulled over, thinking it was one of his guards. He rolled down his window and was screamed at, full in the face, by what can only be described as a man-like, bipedal creature. My father nearly wet himself in fear. In an instant the thing ran off at incredible speed and my father drove after it. Within moments it had sped past another of the guards….my father and these men witnessed this creature make fantastic, running bounds across the grounds before leaping over two tall, well-spaced barbed wire fences in a single bound. It disappeared into the surrounding woods.”
Many similar and confirmatory accounts can be found on the Internet of this interesting, yet frightening creature. Just as I have quoted John Hanson and Dawn Holloway, some of the websites are clearly redolent of Nick Redfern’s blog post of 2007, “Do Werewolves Roam The Woods Of England?”
One of the contributors, a gentleman who calls himself “wes” recounts his own version of the Alconbury creature:
“I encountered a werewolf (lack of better description) in England in 1970, I was 20 years old when I was stationed at RAF Alconbury. I was in a secure weapons storage area when i encountered it. It seemed shocked and surprized to been caught off guard and I froze in total fright. I was armed with a .38 and never once considered using it. There was no aggression on its part. I could not comprehend what I was seeing. It is not human. It has a flat snout and large eyes. Its height is approx 5 ft and weight approx.200 lbs. It is very muscular and thin. It wore no clothing and was only moderately hairy. It ran away on its hind legs and scurried over a chain link fence and ran deep into the dense wooded area adjacent to the base. I was extremely frightened but the fear developed into a total commitment of trying to contact it again. I was obsessed with it. I was able to see it again a few weeks later at a distance in the wooded area. I watched it for about 30 seconds slowly moving through the woods”
At the website “Winter Spirits” a person called “earth_spirit” recounts how he too was in the RAF:
“In 1978 I was stationed with the US Air Force in West Germany and was sent to RAF Alconbury in England for a 30 day TDY (temporary duty.) When I mentioned to a co-worker I was going to RAF Alconbury, he told me that he had been there in 1972 when one of the aircraft mechanics in his squadron had been found late one night in the back seat of an RF-4C Phantom jet, supposedly after he had died of “fright.” The story was that a subsequent investigation revealed unexplained scratches on the glass of the canopy of the jet, and this started a rumor circulating that the unfortunate crew chief had been the victim of what came to be known as the infamous “hard stand monster.”
You could be forgiven for misinterpreting the “hard stand monster” but clearly, there is something behind these stories.
In a fascinating blog, well worth a look, written by Sarah Hapgood and entitled “sjhstrangetales”, the testimony of yet another witness is quoted:
“Dennis Prisbrey, stationed here between 1973/5, told of colleagues seeing a “creature” near the north side of the airfield. One sighting of it scared a colleague so much that he jumped into the cockpit of an aircraft and refused to get out. The creature was also seen climbing over the security fence, and entering the North Woods. Wesley Uptergrove also saw it, and said he tried to pursue it in a truck. He described it as 5ft 9″ tall, with human-like eyes, a flat nose, and large ears.”
With so many websites discussing the unusual, the ghostly and the frightening, it is again just a matter of establishing some kind of average between the many repeated tellings of what is obviously the same incident. One intriguing explanation is offered by Nick Redfern with the full backing of Linda S.Godrey. Clearly based on the fact that these werewolves are often seen near military bases, it is well worth five minutes of your time. This individual is my favourite. He looks as if he waiting for his library book to be stamped:
Whatever happens though, you could do lot worse than to take a look at the many volumes of “Haunted Skies” by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway. They are an unbelievable set of books, although “unbelievable” is perhaps not the best choice of words when discussing UFOs.
The Great Storm of November 1703 was reckoned to be the most severe storm ever recorded. The hurricane that struck the English Channel and the south of England was beyond anything in living memory:
Unlike today’s storms, when we have advanced warning and can prepare for the worst, the poor souls of 1703 had very little idea about what was about to hit them, other than the fact that the country had been buffeted by a persistent south westerly wind for quite a few weeks. Sailing ships could not sail against it and had therefore been confined in great numbers to whichever port they happened to find themselves near. Inland though, people were largely innocent of the catastrophe they were about to experience. Furthermore, the Great Storm persisted not just for a few shocking hours, but for nine terrible days. How could anything, buildings, ships, farm animals or men stand up against well over a week of wind speeds like those recorded in the eastern part of the English Channel or East Anglia? They would have approached 100 mph for long periods.
It has been variously estimated that between 8,000 and 15,000 people were to perish. John Evelyn, the seventeenth century diarist, described it in his diary as:
“not to be paralleled with anything happening in our age or in any history … every moment Job’s messengers brings the sad tidings of this universal judgement.”
The inhabitants of London felt the first strong breezes during the morning of Wednesday, November 24th 1703, (December 5th 1703 in our current calendar). By four o’clock in the afternoon the winds had noticeably increased. In London, recently out of prison, Daniel Defoe, the journalist, pamphleteer, spy, trader, writer and author, of course, of “Robinson Crusoe”, had a narrow escape in the street when part of a nearby house fell down and luckily missed him. On Friday the 26th, the wind began to blow with even greater ferocity and when the Great Man checked his barometer, he found the mercury had sunk lower than he had ever seen it. After midnight the gale increased to such strength that it was almost impossible to sleep. The noise of the chimneys of surrounding houses crashing into the street made the whole family afraid that their own solid brick townhouse might collapse on their heads. When they opened their back door to escape into the garden, they saw roof tiles scything through the air, some landing thirty or forty yards away, embedding themselves eight inches or more into the ground. The Defoe family decided to stay in their house and trust in the Lord.
That night of November 26th-27th was catastrophic for the Royal Navy which lost 13 major warships, which were, for the most part, moored along the south coast. HMS Resolution was driven onto the shore at Pevensey but the ship’s company was lucky and all 221 sailors were saved:
Not so fortunate were the men on board HMS Restoration, HMS Mary, HMS Northumberland, HMS Stirling Castle and the quaintly named HMS Mortar-bomb, who were all shipwrecked on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast:
In the aftermath, when the tide fell, the sailors of the wrecked vessels who were able to find a foothold on the huge sandbar, were all wandering around knowing that when the tide rose they were certain to be drowned. It was said that a man called Thomas Powell, a shopkeeper in Deal, organised the rescue of some two hundred of them. Supposedly Powell was so appalled by his neighbours’ reluctance to help that he gave them five shillings each for their support. Certainly, the greedy citizens of Deal were widely accused of being more interested in plunder from the unfortunate ships than in helping to rescue the crew members. Indeed, some sources say that only three fortunate individuals survived the Goodwin Sands catastrophe. Supposedly, about 1,500 sailors in total were left to die.
Lots of other naval ships were driven through the Straits of Dover and out into the storm tossed expanses of the North Sea where some survived to return days later but many others were lost without trace:
Ships were so driven by the wind that not only did sails have to be lowered but the masts had be cut off level with the deck. Well in excess of a hundred merchant ships were sunk in the North Sea, many of which were colliers from the fleet which at the time was used to transport cargoes of coal down the east coast from Newcastle to London. Some of these ships would have been empty, moored or at anchor when the incredible tempest struck, casting them out into the open sea. Most were ill-prepared and foundered, and their crews perished to a man:
The storm caught a convoy of 130 merchant ships and the six Men O’ War escorting them as they sheltered at Milford Haven. The warships included HMS Dolphin, HMS Cumberland, HMS Coventry, HMS Looe, HMS Hastings and HMS Hector. By the middle of the following afternoon the losses amounted to thirty vessels. Overall it was estimated that more than 8,000 sailors perished as the storm annihilated the Royal Navy. Around 20% of its sailors were drowned. The first Eddystone Lighthouse was completely destroyed:
Its erection had been started a mere seven years before, and its light had been lit for the first time only on November 14th 1698. Now all six of its occupants were killed, including the brave builder Henry Winstanley.
This lighthouse was of inestimable importance and stood 120 feet tall, some twelve miles to the south of Plymouth, one of England’s most important naval harbours. Even the French valued it, when during the period of construction, a French ship took Winstanley and his men prisoner. King Louis XIV, “le Roi-Soleil” ordered their release, explaining that “France is at war with England, not with humanity”, « La France est en guerre contre l’Angleterre, non contre l’humanité! »:
The Great Storm reached its appalling apogee, its catastrophic climax, during the following night, that of November 28th-29th (December 9th-10th 1703). Between the south coast and the Midlands, entire villages from Northamptonshire in the north to Suffolk in East Anglia were devastated as the winds of the Great Storm rampaged across the country, striking hardest in the south and east of England, sending house roofs flying, flattening barns, razing everything in its path. Both men and animals were lifted off their feet and carried for long distances through the air. Roofs were ripped from more than a hundred churches, the lead was rolled up like a sheet of paper and dumped hundreds of yards away.
Millions of trees were blown over or uprooted; knocked flat in their tens of thousands, they lay prostrate in rows like soldiers mown down in battle. It was said that more than 4,000 oak trees crashed down in the New Forest. An attempt was made to count the flattened trees in Kent but the count was abandoned at 17,000. The diarist John Evelyn lost in excess of 2,000 trees on his own Surrey estate.
Every kind of building was totally demolished and salt spray was driven almost as far inland as Tunbridge Wells. Animals refused to eat the resultant salty grass.
The maximum wind speeds were similar to those of the Great Storm of 1987 but the bad weather lasted for much, much longer, well over a week, and thereby increased the enormous loss of life. Here is one of the enduring images of 1987:
People could not decide whether it was safer to stay in their house and risk its collapse or to go into the street where flying tiles killed large numbers.
In East Anglia the wind reached over 80m.p.h. and killed well over a hundred people. More than four hundred windmills were blown down. Many of them burst into flames because the friction of their sails spinning round at high speed caused their wooden machinery to catch fire. In Cambridge, part of St Mary’s Church fell down and the falling stones completely flattened the organ. It had only recently been installed at a cost of £1,500. Kings College Chapel was equally badly damaged with stone pinnacles toppled and many of the wonderful stained glass windows destroyed.
In the capital, around 2,000 massive chimneys were blown over. The roof was blown off Westminster Abbey and the Queen, Queen Anne, had to take shelter in a cellar at St James’s Palace to avoid falling chimneys and tiles whizzing off the roof. Daniel Defoe told how the Reverend James King of London wrote him a letter about a chimney which crashed down and buried a maid. She was thought to be literally dead and buried, but she came out the following day from a small cavity in the rubble.
Floods devastated the whole country, especially in the east of England and along the Severn Estuary. In the West Country in general, flooding was extensive and prolonged, particularly around Bristol where just under a thousand houses were totally destroyed. Hundreds of people were drowned on the Somerset Levels, where uncounted tens of thousands of farm animals, mainly sheep and cattle, perished. One lost ship was found fifteen miles inland. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder was crushed when two chimneys in the palace collapsed onto him and his wife, both peacefully asleep in their bed. Part of the Great West Window in Wells Cathedral was blown in and smashed to smithereens. At Fairford the church’s west window, facing the raging anger of the oncoming wind, bulged inward and crashed into the nave. In Wales, major damage occurred to the southwest tower of Llandaff Cathedral at Cardiff.
The storm began to die down around December 2nd, and on December 3rd, Daniel Defoe visited the Pool of London, where, in the section downstream from London Bridge, he saw more than 700 sailing ships all piled up into heaps one on top of another:
Daniel Defoe told the tale of the captain of a leaking ship who tried to escape what seemed to him at the time to be an inevitable death by drowning, and instead committed suicide—only for his ship to survive. One possibly taller tale related how a sailing ship at Whitstable in Kent was blown out of the foaming sea and then deposited more than a quarter of a mile inland.
Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the Great Storm many special newspapers and publications appeared with information and eyewitness accounts:
Conceivably this disaster became “national news” in a way that had seldom, if ever, happened before. It was just like a modern “big story”.
Daniel Defoe himself sought out testimony from as many witnesses as he could find. When the weather ameliorated, he the whole country assessing the damage. He then produced what was subsequently described as “the first substantial work of modern journalism”, a book of more than 75,000 words, which was called “The Storm”. It was the first proper book of Defoe’s career.
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.
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.
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.
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. The 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. Ronald 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.
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.
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.
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!
As I have said in two previous blogposts, Old Shuck, Black Shuck, or simply Shuck is the name of the huge, phantom black dog which roams, allegedly, the fields and fens of Norfolk and Suffolk. There are, of course, many places other than East Anglia where completely credible reports occur. We have already looked at three in Nottinghamshire, but almost every county in England has its own version of the creature, whether that be the “Bogey Beast” in Lancashire, the Lincolnshire “Hairy Jack”, the “Gallytrot” in Suffolk or the “Bargheust” in Yorkshire and the North.
They are often associated with electrical storms, such as Black Shuck’s appearance at first Bungay and then Blythburgh in Suffolk. More often, though, they are linked to places rather than meteorological conditions. Churchyards and graveyards at midnight are a favourite, as well as crossroads. Equally, if not more, favoured are dark lanes, ancient pathways and lonely footpaths in the countryside. Occasionally, there is a connection with water, such as a river, a lake or even a beach. Sometimes, such as at Launceston in Cornwall, it may be an ancient tumulus, as is the case with the….
“graves and prehistoric burials whose attendant hounds proliferate densely in Wiltshire and West Somerset on the grounds that they can be seen as passages downwards to the World of the Dead, and so also suicide graves and scenes of execution…”
(Theo Brown: ‘The Black Dog’, in Porter and Russell (ed.) ‘Animals in Folklore’ (1978).”
Likewise, the Black Dog is seen as the “guardian of the threshold, escorting souls into the afterlife”. According to Jennifer Westwood in her book “Albion” (1985) :
“Black Dogs commonly haunt lanes, footpaths, bridges, crossroads and graves – all points of transition, …..held to be weak spots in the fabric dividing the mortal world from the supernatural.”
“If a count be made of the kind of places favoured by these apparitions one thing becomes plain. Quite half the localities are places associated with movement from one locality to another: roads, lanes, footpaths, ancient trackways, bridges, crossroads.”
Let’s now leave Nottinghamshire’s Shuck eating his Pedigree Chum for just a moment, and skip thousands of miles to the north east of the United States. In her most excellent book, “Real Wolfmen True Encounters in Modern America” the author Linda S Godfrey explains her idea that…
“One common factor seems to emerge from every collection of strange creature accounts: there is an unmistakable connection between anomalous beings and certain features of the land. Unexplainable creatures and events tend to occur near freshwater; on hills; at boundary areas such as roads; and on or near burial grounds, and military zones, and all types of sacred areas around the world.
This geographic predictability supports the premise of many contemporary investigators like Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Nick Redfern, and the late John Keel, who suspect that anomalous creatures are not natural animals; they are entities that belong to a completely non-human realm and are attracted to certain energies of the Earth and all living creatures.”
The researchers listed above, and many others, believe that werewolves, Bigfoot, alien big cats, grey aliens, UFOs and sea monsters as well as more traditional entities such as fairies, dragons and ogres are all part of a planet-wide “spirit” population that manifests “in some sort of concert with the human mind, intent on its own enigmatic purposes.”
And of course, this theory does go quite a long way to explaining a very large question, namely, “Why do so many apparently reliable witnesses continue to report the same, impossible things?”
If we just think of Great Britain, how many UFOs, Black Dogs, ghosts and even sea serpents have been reported over the years?
Linda S Godfrey, who specialises in the more exotic of the world’s canids and possible canids writes about the Wolfmen who are regularly seen in her native Wisconsin.
Wolfmen in form are rather like Bigfoot, except that they have a wolf’s head. They are thinner than Bigfoot, and consequently, can move very quickly if required. The most famous of the American Wolfmen is the “Beast of Bray Road”.
Witnesses have sketched what they saw on this most famous of cryptozoological highways…
Linda S Godfrey first became interested in the Beast when she was a journalist and had the opportunity to speak to one of the first witnesses….
Fairly frequently, the Wolfman’s favourite food is roadkill. These were originally witness sketches…
There are at least two photographs…
One of the very earliest known sightings of a Wolfman occurred not in Bray Road, but at the St Coletta School for Exceptional Children, where Mark Shackelman worked as a security guard. Linda S Godfrey tells the story….
“The nightwatchman’s main duty was to make quiet surveillance of the 174 acre grounds…The land was dotted with ancient Native American burial mounds.
One evening, movement on the mound behind the main building drew the sharp nightwatchman’s attention as he observed what appeared to be a large animal digging furiously atop the raised earth. The creature was roughly man-size, covered in dark fur, and knelt in a way that should have been physically impossible for a four-footed beast And it fled on two feet rather than four as soon as it noticed Shackelman’s presence.
The flummoxed Watchman examined the mound next day and saw that the Earth had been torn by what looked like big claw marks, with raking slashes in sets of three. That night, he made sure to arm himself with a big, club-like flashlight before making his rounds. Sure enough, the creature was there again, digging in the mound near midnight. This time, however, it rose upon its hind legs and faced Shackelman. It stood about six feet tall and reeked of rotten meat.
Shackelman bravely shined his light at the creature so that he could get a good, long look at it. Although it was covered in fur, he could make out powerful arms that ended in hands with thumbs and little fingers that were much smaller than the middle three digits, explaining the triple slashes in the dirt. It had a muscular torso and a canid head with a muzzle and pointed ears. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the creature made a growling vocalisation that Shackelman later described as a “neo-human voice” and that sounded to him like three syllables, “ga- dar-rah”. The creature continued to make fearless eye contact with Shackelman, who felt he was in imminent and mortal danger.”
If you want to read what happens to Mr. Shackelman, or the Wolfman, then you will have to buy the book! You will not be disappointed! It is a marvellous book which opens a whole world of strangeness that takes a lot to explain away. This report of a wolfman was just the first of the many. According to Linda S Godfrey…
“Was the St Coletta creature just a sign of things to come? The Shackelman sighting was only the first of over one hundred reports nationwide of a human sized canine that could run upright or crouch with a chunk of bloody carrion clutched in its paws. In that incident and most sightings since, the creature is described with a head that appears wolf-like but a body that often – except for its fur, dog shaped limbs, and elongated pause – looks somewhat humanoid because of its powerfully muscular torso and shoulders.”
Here are some more modern colour photos, in some cases taken by trailcams.
If you look at Youtube, a search for the “Beast of Bray Road” will reveal scores of films of varying quality. This lasts an interesting three minutes…
and this is a more thorough full length programme
If, however, you find yourself being tempted towards the “Gable Film”, please be aware that its maker has already acknowledged, several years ago, that the film is (a very accomplished) fake .
“The raid caused a 34 per cent loss of production at Schweinfurt but this was soon made up for by surplus supplies from all over Germany The industry’s infrastructure, while vulnerable to a sustained campaign, was not vulnerable to destruction by a single raid.”
I quoted the casualty figures…
“230 bombers had taken part, and sixty of these were destroyed. Five hundred and fifty two men were killed in the air, and seven poor souls made it back home, but, alas, had already succumbed to their injuries. Twenty one men were badly wounded. Beyond the sixty B-17s shot down, between 55-95 further aircraft were badly damaged. Of these many were too severely damaged ever to be repaired.”
Despite these huge losses, the Eighth Air Force plan had always been to go back to Schweinfurt a second time. It was to take the best part of two months to rebuild their forces, but on October 14th 1943, the B-17s returned to attack the factories where, at the time, American wartime intelligence thought ball bearing production had been permanently reduced by up to a third.
This time, changes would be made. Instead of a two-pronged attack on the ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt aircraft works at Regensburg, the entire force would attack Schweinfurt alone.
Secondly, additional fighter escorts were added to protect the vulnerable bombers as much as was possible during both the outward and return journeys of the operation. Each of the three bomber wings, therefore, was to be escorted by multiple squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts. For an unknown reason, though, none of the P-47s were equipped with drop tanks, an important mistake which significantly limited their escort range. And one outfit of fighters previously allocated to the Flying Fortresses was given the job of acting as an escort to the 29 B-24 Liberator bombers on a diversionary mission to Emden.
At first, though, things went quite well. When the bombers were initially intercepted as they crossed the coast the P-47s succeeded in shooting down seven Bf 109s. But over the Netherlands the P-47s came to the end of their range and the B17s were left alone and virtually defenceless. Large numbers of Focke-Wulf FW 190s and Messerschmitt Bf 109s made repeated attacks exactly as they had done in August. The 305th Bomb Group lost 13 of its 16 B-17s in just a few minutes. Further into Germany, this second Schweinfurt Raid would soon follow the same pattern as the first one.
As well as single engined fighters, twin engined Messerschmitt Bf110s and Junkers Ju88s were encountered. They carried much heavier cannon.
This time, many more aircraft were armed with Werfer-Granate 21 rocket launchers, firing unguided stand-off rockets.
Here are two wonderful pictures from the Life Magazine of the day, showing the heroic efforts of the brave young Eighth Air Force gunners.
As in August, although the ball-bearing factories were badly hit, the mission did not achieve any long lasting effects. Ball bearing production was halted for around six weeks but these losses were again easily made up by the large stocks the Germans already had. After this second attack, all of the ball bearing facilities were dispersed from Schweinfurt across the whole of Germany to reduce the risk of their being bombed for a third time.
General “Hap” Arnold claimed that “Black Thursday” and its losses were just incidental, but daylight bomber raids deep into Germany without fighter escort were suspended until further notice. Cynics might well have asked just how many B-17s did the Eighth Air Force have left on strength anyway?
Long distance bombing raids would only recommence in February 1944 with the advent of Operation Argument, a series of missions later to be called the “Big Week”. By then, escorts were available in the form of P-51B Mustangs.
Arnold’s “incidental losses” on the second Schweinfurt raid were astounding. Of the 291 B-17s on the mission, 60 were shot down over enemy territory.
Another 17 bombers were damaged so heavily that they had to be scrapped. A further 121 B-17s were damaged to a greater or lesser extent and many of the crippled bombers would require a great deal of time and effort to repair them.
These B-17 losses represented more than 26% of the attacking force. The losses of aircrew were equally devastating, with 650 men killed out of 2,900, some 22% of the bomber crews. Certain units were hugely affected. The 306th Bomb Group lost 100 men, with 35 either killed in the air or died of wounds and 65 made Prisoners of War. The 305th Bomb Group lost 130 men with 36 killed outright. This constituted 87% of their complement.
My own father, Fred, even if he seems never to have had a great deal of contact with the Americans of the Eighth Air Force, always had enormous respect for their almost unbelievable bravery. Some thirty years after the war, as I returned from university, Fred was to accompany me, one dull autumn day, on a visit to the American Cemetery at Madingley near Cambridge.
How strange to think that these neatly kept graves may well have been the last resting place of some of the brave young airmen he had watched flying high above him in the frosty blue sky of East Anglia so many years previously.
If your navigational skills are up to it, this is Part One of a ten film series about the Schweinfurt raid.
In another blog post, I will look at what the Eighth Air Force did after the two disastrous raids on Schweinfurt, and how their airmen’s lives were saved, and arguably the Second World War was won, thanks to Ronnie Harker, a New Zealander who at the time was working at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire, just six miles to the north west of where I am sitting right now as I write the conclusion to this post.
I am sure that most people would understand the difference between “hot courage” and “cold courage”. During a robbery, the person who suddenly confronts the would-be robber and tries, as the English say, to “have a go” is showing hot courage. The same would be true of the person who tries to drag an unconscious victim out of a burning car crash. In the context of war, it may be the man who solves the sudden problem of an enemy tank by jumping onto the top of it and throwing a hand grenade in through the hatch.
All of these acts show great heroism, but as far as I am concerned, “cold courage” takes it all into a different dimension. “Cold courage” is the person who faces a painful terminal disease without losing his dignity. “Cold courage” is the person who sets off to walk along a highwire stretched hundreds of feet off the ground between two skyscrapers. “Cold courage” is the fireman who looks up at that staircase in the North or South Tower, and starts climbing, because he knows that it is his duty to try and save people, even if it may be at the expense of his own life. In the context of war, “cold courage” is the man who sits on his bunk for a whole afternoon, waiting for the chance to get into a bomber at nine o’clock and then fly off into the night skies over Germany, not only risking death, but knowing that, statistically, death is a very likely outcome. The only thing more difficult than doing this as far as I’m concerned, would be the chance to fly over Germany in broad daylight, when you have the opportunity to see exactly what is happening to everybody else, and may well happen to you.
Early on in the Second World War, the RAF tried to place their tiny bombs accurately on exclusively military targets during the hours of daylight when, theoretically, it should have been relatively easy to do so. The only problem was that the German fighters of the day were all easily capable of shooting down these poorly armed bombers without any real problems. Between May 10th-May 28th 1940, losses of the Bristol Blenheim bomber, for example, were almost unbelievable. (Search for “Known Individual Aircraft Records”)
For that reason, the RAF soon turned to night bombing. Equally swiftly, they found that it was virtually impossible to hit relatively small military targets with any accuracy at night. They would be better employed in bombing the areas of the city around the enemy factories, in an effort to kill or injure the workers who worked there. This new tactic carried out the directive that had been agreed on at the Casablanca Conference.
“Your Primary object will be the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”
When the United States came into the war in Europe, effectively in 1942, their bombers were equipped with the famous Norden bombsight, which was supposedly capable of dropping a bomb into a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet up. Putting their faith into the bombing accuracy achievable with their marvellous bombsight, the Eighth Air Force ignored British advice that, because of the very high standards of Luftwaffe fighter pilots, bombing at night was the only sustainable method of carrying on the struggle against the Germans. The Americans, therefore, persisted with their daylight raids.
After a few months of daylight bombing, much of it over France rather than the Reich itself, the idea was mooted that enormous and significant damage could be inflicted by bombing the German factories which produced ball-bearings, as they were vitally important to the entire German war machine. Virtually every single military vehicle and aircraft depended on them. The Mighty Eighth, therefore, exactly a year to the day after their first gentle raid, Mission 1 on August 17, 1942 against the Sotteville Marshalling Yard at Rouen in France, decided to attack these important factories . This would be Mission 84, scheduled for August 17, 1943, a complex two-pronged attack on the ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt aircraft works at Regensburg. The raid would be the furthest penetration into German territory to date, some 800 miles from the coast. What happened is the most wonderful example of “cold courage” that anybody could wish to meet.
The greatest problem for the Eighth Air Force was that none of their own fighters, nor those of the RAF, had anywhere near the range required to escort the slow, heavily laden B-17s to their targets. The main defensive tactic, therefore, was to form up the Flying Fortress bombers into huge boxes, where, theoretically, every single aircraft could protect, and could be protected by, all the other aircraft.
This procedure took a very long time to organise with hundreds of bombers to be fitted into the formation. And this was the first problem: all this activity was completely visible to the German radar. I can remember my own father telling me how he had watched these brave young men get ready to go into battle…
“ On a number of occasions, Fred had stood on a long forgotten airfield in East Anglia and watched the American Eighth Air Force prepare to depart on a daylight raid over Germany. Their B-17 Flying Fortresses would circle seemingly for hours over their bases, as they slowly and precisely formed up into their famous defensive boxes, intricate arrangements of, perhaps, up to a thousand heavily armed bombers whose almost countless machine guns, in theory, were capable of offering covering fire to all of their fellow aircraft. Once the B-17s were ready, it was as if somebody blew a bugle unheard far below on the ground and all the bombers would then suddenly set off to war, tracing their gleaming contrails across the blue sky, eastwards in the sunshine towards the Third Reich.”
The Eighth Air Force raid caused a 34 per cent loss of production at Schweinfurt but this was soon made up for by surplus supplies of ball bearings from all over Germany. The industry’s infrastructure, while vulnerable to a sustained campaign, was not vulnerable to destruction by a single raid.
The Nazi Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer , later wrote that the Eighth Air Force’s major error was to attempt a second attack on Regensburg at the same time as the main attack on Schweinfurt, and not to continue with further raids on Schweinfurt after the first one.
Some of the B-17s were over Germany for a period in excess of two hours with no fighter protection whatsoever, and the Luftwaffe were quick to take advantage of the situation. Given the fact that they had picked them up on radar over East Anglia, the Germans were able to call up extra fighters from all of their bases, stretching from southern France to Norway in the north. Many fighters were able to expend their ammunition in massed attacks on the American bombers, land again for fresh supplies of fuel and weapons and then rejoin the battle.
The German fighters were well aware of the B-17s’ inadequate forward armament and their vulnerability to head-on attack. Against the 0.50 calibre Browning machine guns of the Flying Fortresses, the German fighters were all equipped with cannon which fired explosive shells. In theory, just one hit could bring down a bomber. Much longer ranged than the machine guns, this enabled the Germans to fly well out of the range of the B-17s’ machine guns and fire off short bursts of cannon shells at intervals. Some fighters carried sophisticated rocket weapons, including mortars propelled by rockets, all of them capable of wiping out a B-17 in just one shot.
Tales are also told of the Germans using either obsolete combat aircraft or training aircraft to fly high above the American formation and drop air-to-air bombs.
This account from Archie J.Old Junior, a thirty seven year old Texan, is quoted in “The Mighty Eighth” by Gerald Astor…
“The fighters were all over us. They really got interested in me. German fighters came up from every point of the compass after our fighters turned around. (Just before the German frontier). And they were already throwing flak at us when we were five to ten minutes away from the target.” (Some thirty or forty miles)
In “Eighth Air Force”, Donald L.Miller describes pretty much the same situation, once the P-47s had been forced to turn back…
“…a hailstorm of fighter assaults that continued almost all the way to the target. (Beirne Lay, Jr) wrote, “I knew that I was going to die, and so were a lot of others.”
Overall, American casualties were way beyond the sustainable. For Bomber Command that most basic of figures had been set at 4%. On this raid 230 bombers had taken part, and sixty of these were destroyed. A tiny number finished up in Switzerland, and “thanks to the luck and the skill of the RAF Air-Sea rescue teams”, everybody who went into the icy waters of the North Sea (yes, even in August) was rescued. Five hundred and fifty two men were killed in the air, and seven poor souls made it back home, but, alas, were to succumb to their injuries. Twenty one men were badly wounded.
Beyond the sixty B-17s shot down, between 55-95 further aircraft were badly damaged. Of these, many were too severely damaged ever to be repaired.
Of the fighter escort, two P-47s of the 56th Fighter Group were destroyed and so too were two Spitfires from the RAF. The fighters claimed more than 30 kills, but the gunners on the B-17s were very optimistic with their claim of 288 German fighters destroyed. After the war, Luftwaffe records showed just 27 aircraft had been lost.
The very biggest problem of daylight raids by the Eighth Air Force deep into enemy territory was the lack of adequate long-range fighter escort. Some of the Schweinfurt Flying Fortresses were over German-occupied territory for three hours and thirty minutes. Of this period of time, there was no fighter support whatsoever for two hours and ten minutes, which included all of the time spent over Germany itself.
By one of those extraordinary coincidences which are sometimes thrown up, the night of August 17th-18th 1943, saw the British RAF engaged in “Operation Hydra”, which turned out to be one of the more significant raids of the war. Using 324 Avro Lancasters, 218 Handley Page Halifaxes and 54 Short Stirlings, attacks were made on the V-Weapon rocket testing grounds at Peenemünde in the Baltic to the east of Denmark.
Clearly, rocket weapons of the calibre of the V-1 and the V-2 quite simply had to be destroyed, certainly with the Allies envisaging a landing on the coast of France within less than a year.
Indeed, the bomber crews were actually told at their briefings that unless they were successful that particular night, they would be going back to Peenemünde again on the 18th, the 19th, the 20th, and, indeed, they would keep returning until the target was completely destroyed. This certainly concentrated their minds enormously, and, with operations directed for the first time by a “Master Bomber”, namely Group Captain John Searby, the Commanding Officer of 83 Squadron, they achieved great success. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, himself said that the raid had cost the German efforts “six to eight weeks”, a figure agreed by the RAF who wrote in their official history that the attack “may well have caused a delay of two months.”
Although there were those who judged that the raid was “not effective”, an important figure, Chief Engineer Walther, was killed, but most significantly perhaps, so too was the hugely influential Doctor Walter Thiel who had provided the key ideas for the A4 rocket engine, later used to power the horrendous V-2 and indeed, in its developed form, NASA’s rockets into space.
The protection of the darkness was obvious in the casualty figures. Bomber Command lost 6.7% of their bombers and a total of 215 men were killed out of an approximate total of just over four thousand participants. Focke-Wulf Fw 190 night fighters claimed 29 of the 40 bombers shot down. Coincidentally again, the German night forces had employed for the first time ever, three twin engined Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters with the deadly combination of radar and Schräge Musik upward firing cannons.
To make their night fighters even more formidable, the Luftwaffe taught all their crews exactly where a Lancaster’s most vulnerable spots were…the enormous fuel tanks.
In another blog post, I will look at what the Eighth Air Force did next after the Schweinfurt raid, and their continuing “cold courage”, as they regrouped their strength after what must surely be considered, despite the immense resolution and extraordinary bravery of the Americans, one of the great catastrophes of the Allied air war.
My father was called Fred Knifton. He lived from 1922-2003, for the most part in Hartshorne Road, Woodville, which is to the south of Derby and Nottingham, in the East Midlands.
Woodville at the time was a village of some 5,000 people. It was exactly on the edge of a geological fault line, so to the west, coarse, heavy clay was mined in opencast quarries, and sewer pipes and drainpipes were manufactured. To the east there was no clay, but instead there were open green fields with Friesian cattle and tall hedges of hawthorn.
Although as far as I know he never experienced any of the RAF’s many ghostly occurrences, Fred once told me that there was a well-known haunted hangar somewhere out there in East Anglia, possibly in Norfolk, where mechanics as they repaired aircraft late at night, would often hear dance music, even though of course, there was no orchestra within miles.
A modern day equivalent may well have been the occasion when I stood at the bathroom sink one summer’s morning, a good few years after Fred’s death, looking out over the roof tops of Nottingham. I was listening to “American Patrol” being played by the Glenn Miller Orchestra on a CD.
This moment suddenly gave me probably the most distinctive feeling of “déjà vu” I have ever had. I have wondered ever since whether my father had perhaps done exactly the same thing on some airbase in Lincolnshire on a long forgotten day some sixty or so years previously.
Strangely enough, for a man who always had so many tales to tell, ghosts and phantoms did not feature particularly highly in Fred’s repertoire, and I would struggle to think of any direct reference he ever made about the afterlife, although I am sure that he was aware of the alleged haunted house down near the Bull’s Head Inn in Hartshorne.
As a native of nearby Woodville, Fred would certainly have heard all the tales of the phantom attached to this large black and white timber framed Elizabethan house which stood between the old Georgian coaching inn and the Anglo-Saxon church in the middle of Hartshorne.
Apparently, the story was often told of how….
“A brave group of people, made curious by the many ghostly accounts of bumps in the night, had gone up into the attic, unvisited through many decades of neglect, and found furniture piled up across the entire room. On the inaccessible far wall of the room, there was a delicate but obvious print in the centuries old dust, the unmistakeable impression of a ghostly human hand. Nobody could possibly have penetrated the great mass of tables, chairs and rubbish stacked across the floor. It could only have been the work of a phantom. ”
In 1970, I experienced an extremely strange happening when I accompanied my father, Fred, down to his parents’ house at number 39, Hartshorne Road. Fred’s parents, Will and Fanny, had both recently died recently within a few months of each other in hospital at Burton-on-Trent, with Fanny remaining mercifully unaware of Will’s demise after more than sixty years of marriage.
Fred was paying regular visits to the property, presumably attempting little by little to clear the house out so that it could be resold. At the time, as a teenager of some sixteen years of age, I was unaware of this, although, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had been, and I could perhaps have stopped Fred from throwing away so many of his father Will’s Great War souvenirs, such as his complete Canadian Army uniform, his German soldier’s leather belt and his extensive collection of German guns and ammunition.
We entered the deserted house through the front door, and as I walked along the hallway towards the kitchen, I distinctly heard the upstairs toilet flush. I turned round and asked Fred, who had been following me into the hall, how this could have happened, and who it could have been, given that we both knew that the house was locked up and empty.
Fred gave me some non-committal answer at the time, but afterwards, perhaps when he had regained his composure a little, he told me that, as he was some way behind me, he had been able to look up the stairs when he heard the sudden noise of the toilet being flushed. He had distinctly seen his recently deceased father, Will, walk out of the bathroom, across the landing and into the front bedroom.
My father Fred certainly knew the story about how an aging Mrs.Edwards had sadly passed away. This old lady had lived in the village a hundred yards further down Hartshorne Road from Fred’s own house, in a Victorian house next to the entrance of a factory making drainpipes.
Her old friend, and our own family friend, Gertrude Betteridge, went down to Mrs.Edwards’ house to pay her respects and offer her condolences to her daughter, Margaret Edwards. The latter greeted Gertrude and showed her into the front room. Margaret then invited her guest to sit down on the settee while she went into the kitchen to make “a nice cup of tea”.
After a couple of minutes, as Gertrude sat there quietly and politely with the sunlight streaming brightly through the front windows, the door opened. It was not, however, Margaret with the expected tray of tea and biscuits, but Mrs.Edwards herself, exactly as she had been in life, who came in. She walked across the room to Gertrude completely normally, and quietly and calmly said to her, “Tell Margaret not to worry. I’m all right.” Then she turned and walked away, opened the front room door and disappeared back out into the hall, never to be seen again.
In my first blog post about the cryptic canid, it becomes perfectly obvious that for hundreds of years Black Shuck has been seen fairly frequently throughout all of East Anglia. Not only that, but he can still be seen there right up to the present day. Well known folklorist Ivan Bunn continues even now to find regular examples of Black Shuck’s appearances in our 21st-century world.
And so too, Black Shuck has been seen throughout the whole of the country. One website details 329 different places in the British Isles where spectral dogs of various size, shape, colour and attitude have cropped up over the centuries.
But has this famous dog ever been seen in our own county of Nottinghamshire? By careful searching on the Internet, I have managed to find just three examples. Read them through very carefully and make sure that you follow all the directions on the maps provided. There will be a test at the end! The first tale is of a little village which now has the high-speed A631 dual carriageway constructed around it to the south west, allowing the peaceful, quiet community to preserve its rural tranquillity. Centuries ago, though, the main road from Sheffield to Gainsborough went right through the very middle of the village, which, with the frequent passage of mail coaches, it may well have been livelier than it is now….
Perhaps this is why Beckingham’s most famous phantom, a colossal Black Dog, always keeps faithfully to his old tried and trusted route. The animal is reputed to be up to five feet tall and has dull red eyes that burn with an inner fire like the glowing embers on a coal fire The Black Dog invariably leaves from the churchyard of Beckingham’s parish church of “All Saints” which dates mostly from the thirteenth century, although the exterior is apparently fifteenth century.
The Cryptic Canid leaves the little church with its square tower and makes his way, presumably down Walkeringham Road and then Station Street, before finally leaving the village along the Old Trent Road, walking purposefully out towards the marshy water meadows.
This map shows the church with its square tower and the red arrow points to the Old Trent Road.
Some of the streets are indicated on this larger scale map. The red arrow points to the church…
The Black Dog always leaves the Old Trent Road (yellow on the map) near the Old Shipyard and then sets off along the old path to the south, alongside the old River Trent. The red arrow points to the riverside route he invariably uses.
Black Shuck though, for it is no less than he, is not a dog to mess with. Anybody who tries to get in his way or to prevent his progress from church to river does so very much at their own risk. A good many years ago a man from Gainsborough attempted to stop Black Shuck by refusing to stand aside and allegedly asking it what it was doing. The dog looked with great anger at this foolish person, who was later found unconscious in the middle of the road. He was paralysed down one side of his body for the rest of his life and never recovered the feelings in his arm or leg.
A second Black Shuck has occurred not too far from Newark-on-Trent. In the Nottingham County Library there is a manuscript dating back to as recently as 1952 which records the words of a Mrs Smalley, who was then about seventy five years old.
Her grandfather, who was born in 1804 and died in 1888, used to have occasion to drive from Southwell to Bathley, a village near North and South Muskham, in a pony and trap. This involved going along Crow Lane, which leaves South Muskham opposite the school and goes to Bathley. Along that lane he frequently, used to see a large Black Dog trotting alongside his trap.
Here is a map of South Muskham, with all the landmarks in the story visible.
The red arrow points towards Crow Lane, which goes westward to Bathley. In the other direction, to the east, it runs, typically, past a church with a square tower.
St. Wilfrid’s Church in South Muskham is medieval but seems to have taken a long time to construct. The square tower, therefore, has its lowest section of thirteenth century construction, the middle section is fourteenth century and the top is fifteenth century. One of the more interesting features are the carved ends of the wooden benches in the chancel, which include a number of “hideous monsters” and one crab.
“Round about 1915, Mrs Smalley’s son Sidney, used to ride out from Newark on a motorcycle to their home at Bathley. He went into Newark to dances and frequently returned at about 11 o’clock at night. He too often saw a black dog in Crow Lane; he sometimes tried to run over it but was never able to. One night Sidney took his father on the back of the motorcycle especially to see the dog, and both of them saw it.”
Overall, South Muskham is an area with a good deal of water in the landscape.
The third story is considerably more modern. It was 2.14 a.m. on May 11th 1991 and….
“Victoria Rice-Heaps had been visiting her boyfriend in Worksop, and was on her way home when she had her unusual experience. It was a journey she had made “thousands of times”. She wasn’t particularly tired, having slept earlier in the evening. Making her way out along the Blythe Road, she soon left the comforting glow of the streetlights for the dark country roads beyond.
After a mile or so, near to Hodsock Priory, Victoria saw illuminated in the beam of her headlights about 150 yards ahead “two red dots.”
“I slowed right down to a crawl as I saw a huge black dog. It looks like something from hell! It had very shiny fur and a short coat; the nearest thing I’ve seen to it in size was a Great Dane, but it had a good 18 inches over a dog of that breed. Its ears were erect and it appeared to be dragging something quite large across the road.”
Victoria had lived with dogs all her life, but had seen nothing like this creature.
As she waited for the dog to get out of the way of her Fiat Panda, the headlights of another vehicle announced its approach from the opposite direction. The driver of the red Montego estate, evidently seeing her at a standstill, pulled up and wound down his window to ask if anything was wrong. Victoria, having wound down her own window, asked the man if he could see the dog in front of her car.
“At this moment he shouted “Oh Jesus!” and sped off into the night. I looked in front of me again and to my joy and amazement the creature had vanished. I drove home as fast as I could. I did a little research later and found a tumulus nearby, a river and an old boundary as well as the priory”.
There is a lot less exact geographical detail for this particular story and I have therefore made one or two “best guesses”.
Victoria was driving north out of Worksop along the B6045 in the direction of Blyth. This road is fairly straight and leads quickly to the Hodsock area. The very narrow yellow road to the west of the B6045 is the turn off to Hodsock Priory, which is a big country house, rather than anything of particularly religious significance. In Nottinghamshire, it is very famous for its magnificent displays of snowdrops in the very first days of Spring.
My contention, though, is that Victoria only saw a single snapshot moment of Black Shuck’s usual journey. I believe that the huge dog would have started his journey in the northern section of the B6045. Here is a map with the middle of Blyth and the old unnamed northern section of the B6045 (see arrow). It leads past a church with the square tower, St Mary and St Martin.
Shuck’s exact point of departure would surely have been the churchyard of this ancient church which dates from as early as 1088, when it was a part of a Benedictine monastery. Clearly, if you are driving down the B6045 in a saloon car at 40-50 m.p.h. in the darkness of the night, you will see Black Shuck for a lot less time than if you are on foot, or in a pony and trap, or even on a slow motorbike back in 1915.
The one thing I would really like to know, though, is what “quite large something” Black Shuck was dragging across the road. And the driver of the red Montego, how had he not seen the ghostly dog when he first stopped? He was going in the opposite direction to Victoria, and Black Shuck was right in front of her car. The driver of the red Montego must have been parked almost directly next to the “Hound from Hell”. Indeed, she actually asked him if he could see the dog in front of her car.
When he apparently and finally saw this enormous beast, he shouted out in terror and drove off into the night. Why? He left a defenceless young woman behind on her own. Did he see what Black Shuck was dragging? Given the Hell Hound’s connection with the imminent death of those who see it, did the man see his own ghostly corpse?
If you have followed the directions and maps carefully, you will not find my next question a particularly difficult one!
“What is the connection between all three of the Black Dogs seen in Nottinghamshire?”
Well, if you have paid attention, you will have realised the elements which occur and recur throughout all three stories.
There is always a church, and the Ordnance Survey map shows that it is always a church with a square tower. That church of course, will have a graveyard around it. Black Shuck then follows a route which is always a very ancient one, rather than opting for the new bypass or the new dual carriageway. It is always a road which has been there for centuries, almost as if he has been following that path for that same amount of time. And as the road continues away from the church, it will gradually become more and more lonely and isolated. At the same time it will lead through a landscape which contains enormous amounts of water, either in the form of lakes, rivers or streams. In one case, namely that of Beckingham, the road leads to the wettest place of all. This is an area of riverside water meadows, which have now been taken by the RSPB to form an official wetland nature reserve.
Black Shuck makes his departure from this route not only at an old shipyard, but he also sets off southwards alongside the River Trent itself. As if to prove that this is the strongest manifestation of Black Shuck in the county, the phantom animal will pass an ancient hill which is called “Black Island”. This may have been a tumulus in the dim and distant past. Somewhere as flat and wet as this area is certainly a strange place for a completely natural hill.
Victoria Rice-Heaps mentions a tumulus near the B6045, but I have been unable to trace it, although I have not visited the area personally. This does not mean that it is not there, of course. But there is a “Hodsock Red Bridge”, red with the colour of Black Shuck’s eyes, perhaps? And what is “Black Screed”? Nowadays, a screed is “a levelled layer of material (e.g. cement) applied to a floor or other surface.” Earlier than this, it was “a fragment cut from a main piece”, and then “a torn strip”. Was it called “Black Screed” because it was connected with Black Shuck and being “torn to shreds”?
I was delighted to find all these various connections, because they fit in perfectly with the book “Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America” by Linda S Godfrey. She provides a key quotation about the appearance of spectral canids. And this quotation applies not only to North East Nottinghamshire, but also to the state of Wisconsin in the north eastern part of the United States.
I will be looking at all these various connections and trying to explain why they are so important in another blog post in the future.
Old Shuck, Black Shuck, or simply Shuck is the name of a huge, phantom black dog which roams, for the most part, the fields, fens and even beaches of East Anglia. The main areas are Norfolk and Suffolk, but there are also parts of Cambridgeshire and Essex which it is alleged to haunt.
His name of Shuck may well come from the old Anglo-Saxon word “scaucca” or “scucca” which means a “demon”, or possibly it is based on the local dialect word “shucky” meaning “shaggy” or “hairy”.
There are those who believe that Shuck derivers his name from the Black Hound owned by Odin.
This would be a very neat fit, given that the Vikings settled for the most part in the eastern parts of England. Unfortunately, there is little if any mention of any dog, black or otherwise, that Odin owned. He had an eight legged horse called Sleipnir, which gives us the present-day eight reindeer used by Santa Claus, although it may be more accurate to suggest a coffin which is usually borne to its final resting place by four pall-bearers, hence the eight legs. This fine modern statue is in Wednesbury, a town which obviously owes its name to Woden.
Odin had two ravens called Huginn and Muninn, who flew all over the world of Midgard, finding out information for their master. Huginn means thought and Muninn means memory or mind.
Odin did have two wolves called Geri and Freki, but I have been able to find little indication that he ever owned a dog.
Such a domestic animal as a mere dog just would not have been big enough and fierce enough for the King of the Gods.
On the other hand, Odin was well known for leading “The Wild Hunt”, which in England seems usually to have been a mechanism for the pagan god to ride his sleigh across the storm tossed and windy night sky, pulled by faithful Sleipnir, chasing Christian sinners or the unbaptised, and then carrying them off in his huge sack.(another connection with dear old Santa Claus).Like any red-coated fox hunter, Odin would always use a pack of dogs, but in his case, it would invariably be the black Hounds of Hell. In pagan Scandinavia and northern Germany, this frightening event was called Odin’s Hunt. People who saw it and laughed at it would mysteriously vanish, presumably into Odin’s sack. Sincere believers were rewarded with gold.
In the wake of the passing storm, with which the Wild Hunt was often identified, a black dog would sometimes be found upon a neighboring heath. To remove it, it would need to be exorcised.
However, if it could not be removed in this way, the hound must be kept for a whole year and carefully tended. We shall see just how this relates to Black Shuck later on.
In appearance, Shuck is generally jet black and can be of any size from that of, say, a black Labrador, up to that of a calf or even a horse. The more ancient the mention of Shuck, the weirder he tends to be. Nowadays, he usually has two large bright red shining eyes, but centuries ago he was often seen as a Cyclops with only one eye. He can also be invisible, so that you might just hear his footsteps in the road behind you, or hear the noise he makes as he walks across grass, or on some occasions in East Anglia, through the reed bed. Sometimes, all you will hear is just the noise of his chain scraping on the ground.
In his “Highways & Byways in East Anglia”, published in 1901, W. A. Dutt describes Shuck in these terms…
“He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths.
Although his howling makes the hearer’s blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops’, is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck: it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year. So you will do well to shut your eyes if you hear him howling; shut them even if you are uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the voice of the wind you hear. Should you never set eyes on our Norfolk (Hell Hound) you may perhaps doubt his existence, and, like other learned folks, tell us that his story is nothing but the old Scandinavian myth of the black hound of Odin, brought to us by the Vikings who long ago settled down on the Norfolk coast.”
Shuck is said to help travellers find their way, and can be protective towards people who are lost, particularly young children. Similarly, he likes to accompany women on their way home, acting as a protector, more helpful than threatening; Writing as recently as 2008, Dr. Simon Sherwood, of the University of Northampton Psychology Department, notes that “benign accounts of the dog become more regular towards the end of the 19th and throughout the 20th centuries”.
Sometimes he seems almost worthy of our pity…
“A seaside tale on East Anglian television a few years ago related the tale of a large black dog who was seen regularly on the beach near Cromer, always at the very edge of the breaking waves. When approached, he would just disappear into thin air. Observers were certain that he must have been a ghost dog, whose master had been drowned, and whom the poor dog was destined to search for through all eternity. Others explained him as being yet another appearance by East Anglia’s famous Black Dog, Old Shuck.”
In general, though, Shuck is more negative than positive. At the seaside, he can actually be rather sinister…
“Off the coast of Cromer a local child befriended a black dog and went swimming with him in the cold waters of the North Sea. While out over deep water the dog deliberately stopped the child from returning to land, in a clear attempt to drown him. The child is eventually saved by sailors who see what is happening. The dog, of course, is nowhere to be seen.”
Shuck, though, is usually a portent of ill omen , a harbinger of doom. Ivan Bunn,
who is a folklore specialist in East Anglia, and who has collected very many strange incidents over the years, has explained that usually, you would expect to die within a year of seeing Shuck. In southerly parts of Essex, you would expect almost immediate death. Alternatively, Shuck might terrify his victims, but they will continue to live normal lives. In some cases, a close relative of the observer, or a close friend, might die or become ill. If you tell anybody that you have seen Shuck, you will make these dreadful fates even more inevitable.
There are a huge number of sightings, even nowadays, of Black Shuck. Mr Bunn has well in excess of a hundred just for Norfolk and Suffolk and parts of some of the adjoining counties. On one occasion, a lady out walking in the moonlight in a country village thought that she had found her sister’s dog wandering off, and went to take hold of it to return to her house. As she reached down, Black Shuck shrank in size until he was as small as a tiny black kitten. Sixty years later that lady will still not go out on her own at night.
Another person, a man, was followed across the marshes on the North Norfolk coast. All he could hear was the sound of the phantom dog. Within a year, tragically, his son had unexpectedly died. Strangely enough, though, Shuck is not totally a ghost. On occasion he has left pawprints before disappearing into thin air, and in a famous episode in Suffolk, he left scorch marks on the door as he exited a church.
Here is one of two incidents which are particularly well known. There was “an exceeding great and terrible tempest” on August 4th 1577. A contemporary account, “A Strange and Terrible Wunder” by the Reverend Abraham Fleming says that…
“There were assembled at the same season, to hear divine service and common prayer…in the parish church…of Bungay, the people thereabouts inhabiting…
Immediately hereupon, there appeared to the congregation then and there present, in a most horrible likenesse, a dog as they might discerne it, of a black colour…This black dog, or the devil in such a likenesse…running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible form and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees…wrung the necks of them both at one instant clean backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died…
…the same black dog, still continuing and remaining in one and the self same shape, passing by another man of the congregation in the church, gave him such a gripe on the back, that he was presently drawn together and shrunk up, as he were a piece of leather scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawn together with a string. The man…. died not, but it is thought he is yet alive…
…The Clerk of the said Church being occupied in cleansing of the gutter of the church, with a violent clap of thunder was smitten down, and beside his fall had no further harm…there are remaining in the stones of the Church, and likewise in the Church door which are marvellously torn, ye marks as it were of the black dog’s claws or talons. Beside that, all the wires, the wheels, and other things belonging to the Church, were broken in pieces…These things are reported to be true…”
One other chronicler claims that this was not Black Shuck’s only appearance that particular day. Allegedly, he visited another part of this tiny Suffolk market town and claimed two further victims.
In Bungay, Shuck is reputed still to meander around the graveyard on dark nights. In addition, there are strange scratches on the door of St.Mary’s Church which were supposedly made by the Hell Hound when he attempted to pursue a victim who had taken refuge in the church. And like so many of the churches involved in the legend of Shuck, St.Mary’s has a square tower.
But back to that same day of August 4th 1577. Both the storm and Shuck fled the ten or so miles to nearby Blythburgh, and Holy Trinity Church …….
“In like manner, into the parish church of another towne called Blythburgh…the black dog, or the devil in such a likenesse entered, in the same shape and placing himself uppon a main baulke or beam, suddenly he gave a swinge downe through ye church, and there also, as before, slew two men and a lad, and burned the hand of another person that was there among the rest of the company, of whom divers were blasted. This mischief thus wrought, he flew with wonderful force to no little feare of the assembly, out of the church in a hideous and hellish likeness.”
A more modern account tells it slightly differently…
“Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the doors of Holy Trinity Church to a clap of thunder.
He ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof. As the dog left, he left scorch marks on the north door which can be seen at the church to this day.”
These scorch marks are still referred to by the locals as “the devil’s fingerprints”, and the whole event is remembered in the song…
“All down the church
in midst of fire,
the hellish monster flew,
and, passing onward to the choir,
he many people slew”
It must be said though, that the church records at Blythburgh do not necessarily tell the same demonic tale. The episode has certainly been recorded, but as a meteorological one with an extraordinarily violent thunderstorm. In this story the two people were instantly killed when the bell tower of the church was stuck by the lightning. They had been aloft in the tower ringing the church bells in an effort to dispel the evil spirits which were causing the storm.
One interesting detail in the more dramatic version of the story is how when Shuck has finished racing through the congregation as they kneel in prayer he makes his demonic exit through the north door of the church. The North Door is traditionally the way in which evil forces may enter a church, because the north face of the church is considered to belong to Satan.
In general, churches were usually built to the north of any roads or paths, because the main entrance had to be on the south side. Since it was common for churches to be built on pagan sacred sites, non-Christian worshippers might still want to come and visit them, and they could then enter the church through the so-called “Devil’s door” in the “heathen” north side of the church. In my humble opinion there is probably some additional connection with the direction from which the Vikings came in the era when they ransacked so many English churches and monasteries.
Once again, a church involved in the legend of this sinister black dog has a square tower. Whatever the real truth, though, Shuck has become an integral part of the everyday life of the little town of Bungay.
He appears on the town’s coat of arms. His name has been used in various local business enterprises including a restaurant, and the annual “Black Dog Marathon” begins in the town. The nickname of the town’s football club is the “Black Dogs”.
And the Lowestoft band, the Darkness, have recorded a song about East Anglia’s most famous cryptic canid…