“Soldaten”, which means “Soldiers” is a book about the many atrocities committed by the German armed forces during World War II, although the two young authors do not hesitate to include other conflicts if they wish to make a particular point. War crimes by American forces in both Vietnam and Iraq are therefore included:
The two young authors are both highly distinguished academics, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.
Born in 1968, Sönke Neitzel (above) studied at the University of Mainz and is Professor of Military History at the University of Potsdam. He has previously held professorships at the London School of Economics, the University of Karlsruhe, the University of Bern, the University of Glasgow and the University of Saarbrücken.
The two young men belong to a burgeoning group of modern German academics who are completely willing to study and to write about Hitler, Nazism and the conduct of the German people during World War II. They are not in the slightest bit biased towards the Germans and they do not try to defend the behaviour of the Nazis. Overall, in “Soldaten”, they treat the Nazi period, quite rightly, as if Hitler’s Germany was so far away in the past that it has become a foreign country. Things were done differently there:
I read “Soldaten” recently and I found it absolutely stunning. I even read the first fifty pages twice to make sure that I had understood it all fully.
The book is based on what was probably Sönke Neitzel’s luckiest day ever. He discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and had then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts, which he was able to locate and then to read. Neitzel later found that the National Archives in Washington DC had around 100,000 further pages of prisoners’ conversations. The transcripts from the German prisoners in England have produced a 400 page book which I am going to review in almost note form.
In the earliest pages, it is explained that:
“the brutality, harshness and absence of emotion are what is so disturbing for us, sixty years after the fact…..killing and the worse sorts of violence were part of everyday reality (back then).”
The book will seek to explain why these levels of violence came about, and whether they were unique to this period of the twentieth century.
One idea, mentioned as early as page four, is that when you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules:
“In the Third Reich, people didn’t need to be anti-semitic to murder Jews, or altruistic to rescue them….it was enough to be in a social situation in which one or the other course of action seemed called for. After that, people tended to follow what they had already done…massacre or rescue.”
When the course of action chosen is massacre, the situation may also incorporate the idea of “inhumanity with impunity”. Clearly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then this promotes situations where people can “follow what they had already done”. Here is an example from a conversation between German POWs which was taped by British Intelligence:
Soldier A : “Kharkiv was a delightful town. At Taganrog too, there were splendid cinemas and wonderful cafés.
Everywhere we saw Russian women doing compulsory service.
We drove past, pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again. And did they curse!”
Where does “inhumanity with impunity” come from? Well, on page 25 of “Soldaten, an explanation is given:
“In psychological terms the inhabitants of the Third Reich were as normal as people in all other societies at all other times. The spectrum of perpetrators (of violence) was a cross section of normal society. No specific group proved immune to the temptation of “inhumanity with impunity”.
The Third Reich did not though, reduce the variations of individual personalities to absolute zero. But it showed them to be of comparatively slight, indeed often negligible, importance.
In other words, we are more or less all capable of carrying out dreadful acts, because our characters do not differ enormously from those of other people. And that is why those variations are of negligible importance. All of us, every single one, can do dreadful evil.
They were people just like any other, under that showy uniform………
There must have been many people out there who thought that we were not going to publish any more volumes about the Old Nottinghamians of all ages who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom between 1939-1948.
But, while Covid-19 seized the world in its deadly grip, our work continued, albeit at a slower pace. And all those efforts have now ended with the publication of the third volume, detailing 24 of the High School’s casualties in World War II. Don’t think, incidentally, that we were running out of steam and had nothing to say. All five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. And that material is all of the same quality.
This volume, therefore, portrays the families of these valiant young men, their houses, their years at school with Masters very different from those of today, their boyhood hobbies, their sporting triumphs and where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. And all this is spiced with countless tales of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city so different from that of today. And as I have said before, “No tale is left untold. No anecdote is ignored.” Here are the teachers that many of them knew;
And as well, of course, you will find all the details of the conflicts in which they fought and how they met their deaths, the details of which were for the most part completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research.
These were men who died on the Lancastria in the biggest naval disaster in British history or in the Channel Dash or in the Battle of the East coast when the Esk, the Express and the Ivanhoe all struck mines. Some died flying in Handley Page Hampdens, or Fairy Barracudas, or Hawker Hurricanes, or Avro Lancasters or Grumman Wildcats or even a North American O-47B. One casualty was murdered by a German agent who sabotaged the single engine of his army observation aircraft. One was shot by the occupant of a Japanese staff car who was attempting to run the gauntlet of “A” Company’s roadblock. One was the only son of the owner of a huge business that supported a small local town, employing thousands. When the owner retired, the factory had to close. He had no son to replace him. His son lay in a cemetery in Hanover after his aircraft was shot down. Thousands of jobs were lost. And all because of a few cannon shells from a German nightfighter. The work of a few split seconds.
They died in the Bay of Biscay, the Channel, the North Sea, Ceylon, Eire, Germany, Ijsselstein, Kuching, Normandy, Singapore, Tennessee. None of them knew that they were going to die for our freedoms. And certainly none of them knew where or when.
But they gave their lives without hesitation. And they do not deserve to be forgotten. That is why this book exists, and so does Volume One, and Volume Two and in due course, so will Volumes Four and Five.
We should never forget this little boy (right), playing the part of Madame Rémy, and killed in Normandy not long after D-Day:
We should not forget this rugby player, either, killed in a collision with a Vickers Wellington bomber.
We should not forget this young member of the Officers Training Corps (front row, on the left). A mid-upper gunner, he was killed in his Lancaster as he bombed Kassel, the home of at least one satellite camp of Dachau concentration camp:
We should not forget this young miscreant, either, mentioned in the Prefects’ Book for “Saturday, October 20th 1934. “Fletcher was beaten – well beaten.” By June 23rd 1944, though, he was dead, killed with twelve others when two Lancasters collided above their Lincolnshire base. He wanted to have a chicken farm after the war. Not a lot to ask for, but he didn’t get it:
We should not forget the Captain of the School, killed when HMS Express hit a German mine:
We should not forget the son of the US Consul in Nottingham, the highest ranked Old Nottinghamian killed in the war:
And we should not forget any of the others, wherever they may turn up. Killed by the Japanese in Singapore :
Killed in a road block firefight in Burma:
And this little boy, still years from being shot down on his 66th operational flight by Helmut Rose, in his Bf109, German ace and holder of the Iron Cross First Class. And yes, that is the little boy’s Hawker Hurricane:
The First XV player, proud of his fancy jacket:
A young man tricked into having to dress up as a young woman in “Twelfth Night”:
Two years later, getting a part as “Jean, a veritable Hercules….a convincing rural chauffeur”, in “Dr Knock”. Except that all of your friends think that you have got the part of the village idiot:
And a very frightened village idiot at that.
All three of the titles published in this series so far are on sale with both Amazon and Lulu. All royalties will be given to two British forces charities, and if this is important to you, you will prefer to buy from Lulu. This will generate a lot more revenue.
If Volume 3 is bought through Amazon at full price, the charities will get £1.23 from each sale. If Volume 3 is bought through Lulu, that rises to £9.48.
Incidentally, if you see the price of the book quoted in dollars, don’t worry. The people at Lulu periodically correct it to pounds sterling, but it then seems to revert to dollars after a few days, although nobody seems to know why.
Three months or so have passed by since I first published “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”, which was the story of the lives and deaths of 23 of the 120 or so men who were educated at Nottingham High School and who subsequently sacrificed their lives for us all in the Second World War. Also included is one young man who was killed in the early 1950s in the RAF.
So far, I am afraid, sales have been really quite disappointing. I have no real idea why this should be the case. The book is of a length commensurate with the price. The number of words holds up well alongside, say, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “The Two Towers”, “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Emma”.
The book is priced at £18 and is more or less entirely my original research. And what better things could you get for £18? Two cinema seats. A bottle of “Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port”. You could buy a Venus Fly Trap. Or a glasses case with your name on it. Or enough wildflower seeds to plant three square metres. You could buy some Miracle berry tablets. The tablets last for about an hour and alter your taste buds so that anything sour tastes sweet.
Perhaps the book is being perceived as being limited to only one town or city. I don’t know, but I had hoped that people would realise that Nottingham stands here for any British town of similar size.
What is much more important though, much more important than sales alone, is that my original research has now been completed and that we now have a much longer list of war casualties than was previously the case. In the immediate aftermath of the end of hostilities in 1945-1946, the High School thought that 82 of its former pupils had perished in the war. My researches have extended that number to 121 men whose lives and deaths have been investigated and will now never be forgotten. I have also found five deaths in the early 1950s. Once they have been unearthed and brought out into the light, they will never be lost again. And people will have a chance to read something about the lives of these brave men and to see what they did for us all.
In the First Volume, the men featured are Alfred Highfield Warren, Bruce Arthur Richardson, Sidney Moger Saxton, Edwin Thomas Banks, Francis Nairn Baird, Clifford Frank Shearn, John Edwin Armitage, Wilfrid Henry Vivian Richiardi, Ian Mactaggart MacKirdy, John Harold Gilbert Walker, Robert Renwick Jackson, Howard Rolleston Simmonds, Charles Davy Hudson, Alfred Tregear Chenhalls, Walter Raymond Julyan Hoyte, Paul Wilson Cherry, Warren Herbert Cheale, Philip Bonnington Smith, Anthony Bertram Lloyd, Philip Mackenzie Britton, Richard Christopher Sowerbutts, William Roy Llewellyn, Keith Henry Whitson and John Jeffrey Catlin.
Here are just a few of them. This is Tony Lloyd of the Parachute Regiment:
This is Keith Whitson:
And John Harold Gilbert Walker, Spitfire pilot:
And Alfred Chenhalls:
And Edwin Banks and his aircraft, a Gloster Gladiator:
And Robert Renwick Jackson and his all-black Douglas Boston:
Their brave deaths spanned a whole world. Killed in a Dakota over the Bay of Biscay. Killed in a Bomber Command aircraft over Germany. Killed by the Blitz in Leicester. Killed in North Africa fighting on foot. Killed fighting to seize a bridge in Sicily. Killed fighting to seize a bridge too far in the Netherlands. Killed by exposure during the summer in an unenclosed RAF dinghy in the English Channel. Killed in the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia. Killed crashing a Gloster Gladiator in Greece. Lost for ever in the trackless snowy Canadian wastes. Killed crashing a Fleet Air Arm fighter into the warm waters off Trincomalee.
England has its own figure which may well look back to the days when ordinary people were all aware that there was something big and hairy in the woods. After all, centuries ago, woodland was far more plentiful and farmers’ fields would often be next to the forest. So too, there were many more hunters then and they would all have known what you might encounter as you moved silently around among the trees.
In England he was called the “Wodewose” and he is usually depicted as a human like creature, somewhat bigger than a man, often carrying a club, and almost completely covered in thick hair:
Over the years, in heraldry, he was depicted in increasingly human form, still carrying a club, but with leaves wrapped around his haunches. I think that that is probably because people saw the Wodewose a lot less frequently as the human population increased and the Wodewoses became less numerous. Even so, judging by the heraldry of the medieval period and later, there may well have been wild men in, as a minimum, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden:
The name ‘wodewose’ comes from two old English words, “wudu” meaning ‘wood’ and “wāsa” which itself comes from the verb “wesan” or “wosan” meaning ‘to be alive’ or simply ‘to exist’ or ‘to be’. So he’s somebody who is in the woods. He is also seen a lot in medieval churches, but as a statue or a carving. This one doesn’t have a club:
But this one does:
The Wodewose might be kneeling on the roof outside the church:
Or he might be on the roof inside. This Wodewose apparently has a touch of greenish mould, but then again, so do some Bigfoots:
This one has a bit more of a tan:
Here’s a German one from Cologne:And another from Suffolk:
This one has had to adopt a strange position just to get all of him in:
For me, the Wodewose can trace his lineage back to a Bigfoot type creature that may well have still been alive and well in the vast forests of Western Europe as late as the early Middle Ages. At this time, up to half of England was covered in forest. People used to say that you could travel from the Humber to the Thames without touching the ground because there were so many trees. And when the Wodewose had disappeared for ever, there were still plenty of people who had heard all the tales about him and who could recreate him in their own world.
Next time……..the Wodewose’s brother.
One final point is that in these blog posts about Bigfoot, I have tried very hard to use only images which are available and there to be used. With some images that is not the case, but the problem was that there was nothing else available. I am 100% willing to take any images down if this causes a problem for anybody, although I suppose there is the flattering aspect that they were the best I could find on the whole Internet!
I watched a fantastic programme, or rather series of programmes, last winter on BBC2, I think it was. They were so good that I bought the book:
They were all about Napoleon.
I had always wondered why the British hate Napoleon so much and the French love him. Why the British call him names and the French name streets after him.
Both the programmes and the book were by Andrew Roberts:
He did a great job at explaining exactly why this situation has arisen.
It was because on the one hand, the England of the Napoleonic era had always prided itself on being full of free men, free to say what they wanted, to go where they wanted and so on. With a parliament and a monarch beloved by all, bless him, who never interfered in the running of an almost perfect society. Deep down though, the English knew that this portrait of their land was a complete load of rubbish.
They knew that Napoleon was a child of the Enlightenment, the fullest and finest flowering of ideas in the history of Mankind:
Napoleon wanted to export the values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And the British wanted none of it. That’s why they coughed up £65,000,000 over the years, paying for countries such as Austria and Russia to attack and annihilate him, without any English lives being lost:
The British saw Napoleon as a direct threat to “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”.
A “Green and Pleasant Land” where the rich seized the poor’s common land and called it their own.
Where Corn Laws prevented hungry poor people from eating bread made from cheap imported foreign wheat, so that rich English farmers could stay wealthy.
Where all of the people in charge of anything, the army, the navy, the government, everything, was a nobleman and had a title:
Next time, we will look at the achievements of Napoleon. They are many and apply to so many different fields, from giving a mole catcher a more important job to making the arrangements to educate young women:
I have always thought that France was fairly unlucky as a country to have been ravaged over the centuries by various Beasts, the majority of which nobody has been able to identify with 100% certainty. They have all been dismissed as merely oversized wolves, perhaps with attitude problems, but, somehow, I just cannot agree with that. Too many people who saw wolves perhaps three or four times a week were completely puzzled when they saw the BeastofGévaudan, for example:
Or when they saw the Beast of Benais or the Beast of Sarlat or the Beast of Auxerrois/ Trucy or the others whose individual blogposts I have not yet launched out into “Le Monde du Blogging”. Creatures such as the Beast of Lyonnais or the Beast of Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais or the Beast of Caen and Chaigny or the Beast of Orléans or the Beast of Veyreau. The Beast of Cinglais or the Beast of Gâtinais. The blood splattered list goes on.
What I did not realise, though, is that there are completely documented and wholly accepted historical accounts which detail attacks on Paris by wolves. And not just one wolf or even one pack of wolves. These were a whole series of large scale attacks by animals which broke all of our present day rules of how to be a politically correct wolf. They gleefully attacked and ate people. French people. Parisians:
The first wolf invasion came during the winter of 1419-1420. Over Europe as a whole, the weather that winter was unbelievably cold. In the east, in what is now Turkey, the Bosphorus was completely frozen over and it was possible to walk over the ice from Üsküdar to Istanbul, which was then called Constantinople.
In Western Europe, virtually all of France had already been made wretched by the debilitating effects of the Hundred Years War which was to last, rather inaccurately, 116 years, from 1337–1453:
The winter of 1419-1420 was equally severe over the whole country with very low temperatures and copious amounts of snow falling for prolonged periods. Paris was occupied by the English and the famine there was so great that unfortunate Parisians spent all of their daylight hours wandering around just searching for food. Numerous packs of wolves, as hungry as the people, advanced into the suburbs of the capital, which was now just a vast, frozen wasteland. The River Seine froze over and people could cross over from one side to the other without problem:
Two years later, in 1421-1422, there was another winter of almost unbelievable severity. Wolves again entered the city. Every night they roamed around the streets of Paris, dug up recently buried corpses in the local graveyards and ate them. Anybody who tried to intervene was ripped to pieces and eaten, presumably, as a second course. Any wolves which were killed were strung up in the streets by their back legs the following morning, as a perhaps, slightly over optimistic warning to the rest.
It was so cold during this winter that bottles of wine, grape juice and vinegar froze in the cellars of Parisian houses and in some cases icicles formed on the vaults of cellar roofs. The River Seine, which had previously been in spate, froze over in less than three days and the ice quickly became firm enough to walk on. On January 12th 1422, there began in the French capital what was considered at the time to be the most severe spell of cold ever experienced by man.
The River Seine froze completely throughout its entire length. Wells froze after four days. This harsh cold persisted for almost three weeks. To compound Parisian misery, a couple of days before the beginning of this extremely cold weather, there had been a heavy snowfall. Because of the severity of this snow and the subsequent extreme cold, people were completely unable to work. Instead, they resorted to jumping games, playing ball and other vigorous activities to keep warm. The freezing conditions were so intense that the ice in the streets and public squares persisted until March 25th. It was so cold that on the heads of cockerels and hens, their combs froze:
Equally surprisingly, there were no wolves reported in Paris during the extremely harsh winter of 1433-1434. The big freeze began on December 31st 1433 and then lasted for nine days short of three months. After this, another severely cold period followed, from March 31st 1434 until April 17th 1434. Just as a comparison, during this particular winter, the entire River Thames in England had frozen completely solid from December to February and remained completely impassable to shipping.
The wolves, though, were back with a vengeance in the second Parisian “Winter of the Wolf”, “L’Hiver du Loup”. This came in 1437–1438, when the weather was equally, if not more, glacial.
The River Seine again froze over completely and packs of wolves wandered into the French capital, roaming the streets in search of food. Here is an anachronistic photo of the River Seine, frozen over in 1437. How can you tell that, mon cher Sherlock?
In actual fact, there had been five unbelievably cold winters in succession over the whole of the European continent, and this was the last of the five. In England, the famine was so severe from 1437-39 that it was second only to the worst years ever in 1315-1317. These latter years were so wet that virtually all the nation’s crops failed and as many as 10% of the population may have eventually perished, in a decade characterised by crime, disease, mass death and cannibalism.
From 1437-1439, though, the winter cold was such that the English people in the countryside were driven to attempt to make bread from fern roots and ivy berries. An unbelievably prudent Mayor of London had avoided this situation in the capital by importing a good supply of rye from Prussia. This may have been Mayor William Estfeld (1437) or Mayor Robert Large (1439) but personally I would go for Stephen Broun the Grocer (1438).
The only record of wolves in Paris which I have been able to trace during these three years of 1437-1439 came as early as the last week of the month of September 1439, when a desperate pack entered the city in search of fresh meat. They ripped out the throats of around fourteen people and duly devoured them. This occurred in the area between Montmartre in the north of the city:
And the Porte Saint-Antoine in the east, right next to the Bastille prison:
From 1450-1850, and possibly beyond that, into the early years of the twentieth century, the so-called Little Ice Age held sway over Europe. In 1457-1458 in Germany, for example, extreme cold froze the Danube River to such a thickness that an army of 40,000 men was able to camp on the ice. Two years, later during the winter of 1459-1460, the entire Baltic Sea was frozen and people could cross between Denmark, Germany and Sweden both on foot and on horseback:
In France, the most severe weather came right at the beginning of the Little Ice Age during their very worst winter of 1449-1450. During this period the weather in France was very wet, extremely cold, and there were, consequently, huge quantities of snow. Indeed, the winter had begun as early as October 1449, when large numbers of olive trees began to die of the cold across the whole country.
It was during this exceptional winter that Paris became the victim of its most famous attack by man-eating wolves, “des loups anthropophages” (a very useful mouthful, should you ever need the phrase on holiday, or perhaps wish to prove your sobriety to a French police officer).
This pack, “The Wolves of Paris”, (Oh somebody, form a Heavy Metal Band…the name is crying out for it!), “Les Loups de Paris”, are thought to have killed and eaten large numbers of hapless human victims of all ages over the course of the winter. The animals initially entered Paris through the very large holes in its dilapidated city walls, which had been built some 250 years previously in the early 13th century. Of course, the original builder, King Philippe Auguste, had intended the walls to protect the city from human invaders rather than animal predators:
The leader of the pack was a wolf named “Courtaud” which means “Bobtail”, as he had a tail which had been “docked” or shortened in some unknown incident. The descriptions of “Courtaud” at the time said that he was reddish in colour, not really a pigment that you would expect in a pure 100% common, Eurasian or Middle Russian forest wolf as the subspecies canis lupus lupus is variously known across Europe. Suggestions have been made that its unusual colour was because it was an Iberian Wolfcanis lupus signatus on its holidays from Spain, but there is a problem with that. As far as I can see, the Iberian Wolf is not particularly reddish. Here he is. Just look at that blood:
According to the Wikipedia entry in the link above, canis lupus signatus has a lighter build than the European Wolf, some white marks on the upper lips, dark marks on the tail and a pair of dark marks in its front legs. There is no mention of red.
Don’t get me started, but my explanation for all those various Beasts (bêtes féroces, bêtes dévorantes ou bêtes anthropophages) which ravaged France over the centuries now comes into its own. I believe that they were members of a more aggressive, larger and now extinct species of wolf. If any unusual colour is mentioned for La Bête du Gévaudan, La Bête de Cinglais, La Bête de Caen, LaBête du Lyonnais or La Bête du Vivarais, it is always, exclusively, red. And, as we have just seen, Courtaud too had fur of this colour.
That is why I just do not believe that ordinary wolves were responsible for these blood spattered killings. And anyway, aren’t ordinary wolves a friendly looking bunch of chaps? They would not dream of eating anybody:
At first, there were around twenty wolves in the Parisian pack and they killed dozens of people. Gradually, wolf numbers built up, and the list of victims grew longer and longer. In the first month, supposedly around forty people perished, with a total kill for the whole winter of several hundred. They included, for the most part, anybody the wolves found wandering around the city at night, or any individuals who were outside sleeping rough. Inevitably, the inhabitants of Paris in that winter of 1449-1450 were swept by a feeling of total panic. Attempts to kill the wolves in their dens were totally ineffective. The wolves became so self confident that they often enjoyed a sing-song on their way back from the pub:
Eventually, though, Parisians became increasingly enraged that it was no longer safe to walk the streets of their beautiful city. Furious at all the deaths, a brave group of volunteers found a couple of unwanted cows and killed them. Then they set off, dragging the mutilated corpses along behind them on ropes, so that they left a bloodied trail. Eventually, the wolves began to follow the scent, and slowly, slowly, Courtaud and his bloodthirsty colleagues were lured and prodded into the very heart of the city:
When the wolves reached the Ile de la Cité (middle of the map), they arrived at the large square in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame, which is called the Parvis Notre Dame. Here they were trapped, surrounded by pre-prepared wooden barricades. Here is Notre Dame cathedral. See if you can spot the hunchback:
And here is the large square in front of the cathedral, which is really quite extensive in size. I wouldn’t like to have chased a pack of wolves across here:
Finally, the angry Parisians stoned and speared the entire pack, until every single wolf was dead. Courtaud was paraded dead around the city in a cart, pulled by the triumphant crowd. Here is one of those bizarre modern art exhibitions which was held in Paris recently. I don’t suppose it’s Courtaud and his pals from 1449-1450, but I do hope that no real wolves died to make it:
I do not really believe that Paris’ historical scrapes with wolves have necessarily finished. Grey wolves were completely extirpated from France in the 1920s and 1930s, but ten years ago they started entering the country again from Italy. There are now around 300 wolves in France and the farmers allege that they have killed more than 6,000 sheep in the last twelve months. The woods around Paris are well stocked with deer and boar and they would make an ideal hunting ground for wolves. Indeed, this year, wolves have been sighted just 40 miles from the city:
Presumably preparing the Parisian populace for the latest lupine invasion, there are a number of different books available, all of which are all entitled “The Wolves of Paris”:
Years ago I wrote a worldwide best-selling book about the history of football in the High School from 1870-1914.(Just kidding). In the foreword, I revealed the identity of the Old Boy who had won an Olympic Gold Medal for the United Kingdom at Association Football. I made public which Old Boy had scored more goals in a single F.A.Cup tie than any other player in the history of the competition. I listed the eight Old Boys who had played international football for England. I recalled the Old Boy whose refereeing in an F.A.Cup tie led the F.A. to introduce the concept of the neutral referee, an idea which has spread worldwide since that biased performance. I described an occasion when the High School goalkeeper let in the winning goal as a protest against the refereeing of the game, and the day when the referee refused to give a penalty because “penalty kicks were unknown in amateur football”. The reader could find out which team lost 0-13 and did not get the ball into the opposition half at any point during the game. In another fixture, against Nottingham Asylum, “the presence of so many lunatics unnerved the school team, for it did not come up to its normal form.” I remembered the day when “The School Six defeated the Masters by three goals to one. The masters, who, like Hamlet, were somewhat “fat and scant of breath”, then demanded to play two fat men extra, to compensate for their want of nimbleness. This unfortunate challenge was accepted, and the School won again by ten goals to one.”
Overall, this book provided many examples of extraordinary, and, indeed, often amusing events on the football pitches of Victorian and Edwardian England.
When I first started my researches, looking through issue after issue of, firstly, “The Forester’, and then “The Nottinghamian”, it seemed that this would ever be the case. Here was a football spectators’ paradise, where goals rained into the net in every single game, as Leicester Wyggeston School were beaten by 23-0 on two separate occasions. Deadly goal poachers scored hat tricks past defenders made slow-witted by heavy leather boots, and referees, and their decisions, grew ever more eccentric by the year.
My suspicions, though, were initially aroused by the story of William Norman Hoyte who was at the High School from 1904-1913, when he won an Open Scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge to read Natural Sciences. William represented his college at rowing and appeared in the Second May Boat. His studies, and his rowing, though, were interrupted by his military service as a Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters in the Great War. He was a very brave young man and won the Military Cross twice. When he returned to Jesus College in 1919, though, he was unable to continue with his rowing. After the appalling carnage of the Great War, William Norman Hoyte M.C. and Bar was Jesus College’s only remaining rower from the pre-war years. All the rest had been killed.
Morbid curiosity then caused me to wonder what were the eventual fates of those familiar names whose footballing deeds were recorded in perpetuity in their School Magazine, especially those who would have been of an age to have been sucked into the flesh shredding maelstrom of the Great War. where, on average, every single metre of trench was to be hit by a total of one ton of explosives. What I found, quite frankly, astounded me, and I do not feel that any reader, safe from harm, here at the beginning of the twenty first century, can begin to comprehend either the numbers of men involved in this war, or the enormous casualties which the nation suffered.
During the Great War, for example, British forces lost 887,711 men killed and 1,663,570 men wounded. Of these 118,941 were officers. The British Empire had casualties of 1,244,589, with French deaths counted at 1,737,800. Italy lost 1,737,800 me killed and the Russians 3,394,369. Germany had 2,800,720 killed, the Austro-Hungarian Empire 2,081,200 and the Ottoman Empire 3,271,844. The United Kingdom lost as many as 2.20% of its total population, the French 4.39% and the Germans 4.32%.
In individual battles, the loss of human life could be even more astounding. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1st 1916, the 8th Division lost 218 of its 300 officers at Ovillers in just two hours. Of 8,500 other ranks, 5,274 men perished. On this single day, the total casualties of the British Army were 57,470 men. German casualties were just over 300. In the first three days of the Battle of the Somme, the average daily casualties per division were 101 officers and 3,320 men. During the second week, 10,000 men a day were lost, and for the remaining four or five months of the campaign, casualty rates were in the range of 2,500 men per day. Overall, this battle was to cost the lives of 420,000 British and Commonwealth troops, with a total of 220,000 French casualties. German losses remain unknown but were at least 450,000, and may have reached 600,000. In the photograph below, the tiny squares are all graves:
Nor is this necessarily an isolated set of statistics. In the Second Battle of Ypres, in April 1915, the 149th Brigade lost over three quarters of their complement, a total of some 42 officers and 1,912 men. The 10th Brigade more or less ceased to exist, losing 73 officers and 2,346 men. In the Third Battle of Ypres, between August and November 1916, British infantry repeatedly advanced against German machine gunners, with casualties totalling 244,897. On the second day of the Battle of Loos, twelve battalions, numbering some 10,000 men, attacked the German machine guns. In just over three hours, 385 officers were lost, along with 7,681 men. On July 31st 1917, when the 1/1st Hertfordshires attacked the Langemarck Line, every single officer was a casualty and eleven of them were killed. The other ranks suffered 459 casualties and drafts of men had to be made to rebuild the battalion. Not until May 1918 was the 1/1st Hertfordshire Regiment fully reconstituted by absorbing thirty officers and 650 men from 6th Bedfordshire Regiment. In the Battle of Aubers Ridge, General Rawlinson, irritated with the lack of progress, complained to his Brigadier-Generals,
“Where are the Sherwood Foresters ? Where are the Sherwood Foresters? ”
Brigadier-General Oxley replied, “They are lying out in no-man’s-land, sir, and most of them will never stand again.” Many of these particular casualties, especially the Lieutenants and Second Lieutenants, may well have been Old Nottinghamians, but nowadays, there is no way of being any more precise than that.
One thing of which we are certain is that Robert George Hopewell played in the High School First Team from 1897-1899. Robert was the son of Noah and Margaret Hopewell, of Old Basford and the devoted husband of Gladys Eleanor Hopewell. They lived at West Brook in Mansfield, Robert was killed at Thiepval during the Battle of the Somme on September 3rd 1916, at the age of 33. A stretcher-bearer’s description of Thiepval in 1916 has survived to the present day…
“The trenches were knee-deep in glueing mud and it was the hardest work I have ever done…The banks on each side were full of buried and half-buried corpses and the stench was appalling. As one was carrying a wounded man down, one perhaps got stuck in the mud and staggered whilst one extricated oneself or was extricated. You put out a hand to steady yourself, the earth gave way and you found that you were clutching the blackened face of a half-buried German.”
Nowadays, Thiepval is the scene of a huge memorial dedicated to those British soldiers who have no known grave. There are 73,000 names listed on it.
Thomas Cripwell Wilson was an Old Nottinghamian who served as a Private in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion. He was the son of Thomas and Mary Carr Wilson, of 5, Mount Hooton Terrace, Forest Road, just a five minute walk from the High School. Thomas was wounded in 1915, but returned to France in 1917.
He was killed in action in November of that same year. His war could be described in equally frank terms…
“All those picturesque phrases of war writers are dangerous because they show nothing of the individual horror, nothing of the fine personalities suddenly smashed into red beastliness, nothing of the sick fear that is tearing at the hearts of brave boys…a thing infinitely more terrible than physical agony.”
The earliest High School football players to be involved in the Great War were four boys who played in the 1891-1892 season, namely Blackwall, Hadfield, Senior and Wallis.
Ten years later, the 1901-1902 season was to provide a full team, eleven brave individuals called Constantine, Cooper, Cullen, Emmett, Hore, Johnson, Marrs, Millward, Settle, Watson and Woollatt.
By 1913-1914, even more footballers were destined to risk their lives on the Western Front. They were now a full tem with a generous selection of substitutes, including Barber, Boyd, Cleveland, Fleet, Harlow, Hind, Lyon, Munks, Nidd, Page, Parr, Prince, Sadler, Taylor, Telford, A.G.Wilson and W.M.Wilson.
Old Nottinghamians, both footballers and non-footballers, volunteered in huge numbers for the Great War. At least one thousand five hundred boys and staff went willingly from a comfortable, safe, and usually well-off family background in Nottingham, to what was arguably the bloodiest war in human history.
“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.
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…