Tag Archives: Great War

The Corncrake: the sound of Victorian England

Nowadays the Corncrake is limited to the Outer Hebrides in Scotland although there is also what seems to be a highly successful  reintroduction scheme being carried out in the RSPB Nene Washes Reserve in Cambridgeshire, England:

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In the first half of the nineteenth century, Corncrakes were present throughout the length and breadth of England and their distinctive call was heard in every sunlit field. Even their Latin name, crex crex, is onomatopoeic. The birds were described as producing the most distinctive summer sound to be heard on a country walk anywhere in England. This is the song of the corncrake, beautifully recorded by “therhys927”

Corncrakes will often sing all through the night, and they can in fact be pretty aggravating little so-and-so’s once the initial novelty has worn off:

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John Clare, England’s greatest poet, wrote a poem about the bird which he knew as the “Landrail”:

“How sweet and pleasant grows the way
Through summer time again
While Landrails call from day to day
Amid the grass and grain

We hear it in the weeding time
When knee deep waves the corn
We hear it in the summers prime
Through meadows night and morn

And now I hear it in the grass
That grows as sweet again
And let a minutes notice pass
And now tis in the grain”

Nowadays, the Corncrakes are all gone, gradually killed off by decade after decade of desire for profit, intensive farming practices and in particular the mechanised mowing techniques used by the nation’s farmers in place of the trusty scythe.  This sad decline is chronicled in Nottinghamshire by the county’s Victorian birdwatchers:

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In 1866, in his “Ornithology of Nottinghamshire”,  William Felkin wrote that “the corncrake is very common”. Three years later, in 1869, William Sterland provided a charming account of this delightful bird in “The Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

“That bird of singular habits and note, the corncrake, visits us in abundance every year, sometimes arriving as early as the first of May, while in 1853 I did not hear its note until the 18th. This was unusually late; the season being a remarkably cold and backward one, a fact of which our other migratory birds also seemed, in some mysterious way, to be fully cognisant. Nothing, indeed, relating to the feathered tribes is more wonderful or more deserving of our admiration than that knowledge, call it instinct or what you will, which, implanted in them by their Creator, enables them to hasten or delay their departure for their distant but temporary places of abode, according as the seasons there are suitable to their necessities or otherwise. How strikingly is this wisdom brought forward in Holy Scripture: “Yes, the Stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed time and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow observe the time of their coming.”

William Sterland seems well aware of the piece of Corncrake behaviour which was to prove its downfall, as the mechanized mower made its inexorable way forward:

“I have never succeeded in causing the Corncrake to take wing except with a dog, and even then its flight is always brief, as it takes an early opportunity of dropping to the ground and regaining its cover. It flies rather slowly with its legs hanging down, and there is such an air of effort about his movements on the wing, that I have often wondered how its migrations are performed.
Its ventriloquial powers are well known to every observer. Now it’s harsh “Crake, crake” seems within a few yards, and the next moment it sounds as if it were halfway across the field, and this apparent variation in distance is so well simulated that in a consecutive repetition of its call for ten or twelve times, a few notes will sound as if uttered almost at your feet, and the next two or three from afar, and yet the bird is standing motionless all the time, as I have several times tested. Its singular call I have often imitated by drawing my nail across the teeth of a pocket comb, and thus inducing its near approach.”

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Again Sterland reveals how fully conscious he is of the problems the Corncrake will face throughout the rest of the nineteenth century:

“The female sits very closely on eggs, so closely indeed, as not infrequently to lose her life by the mower’s scythe. I have known two instances of this, in one of which the poor bird was almost cut in two.”

Ten years later, in 1879, William Sterland provided additional details about the Corncrake:

“An abundant summer visitor. It is also been found in winter, and on this account has been thought by some to hibernate; but apart from the fact that no bird is known to hibernate, why should a corncrake which remains during the winter not be able to fare as well as a water rail or a common snipe. Cold does not affect them.”

In his “Scribblings of a Hedgerow Naturalist”(1904), Joseph Whitaker wrote:

“The other evening when talking to Rose the Nottingham taxidermist (who has set up a great many specimens in this collection) I remarked how very few Corncrake there were about, he said he well remembered about 35 years ago, a man bringing a large basket to his father, of these birds, which he had shot in two days, and they numbered over fifty; at that time he said the meadows round Nottingham were full of them, and their call could be heard on all sides. This year I have heard one, although I have been about a great deal.”

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No Corncrakes in 1904, no meadows in 2014! Elsewhere Joseph Whitaker wrote about his country house at Rainworth, between Nottingham, and Mansfield:

“I am sorry to say the Corn Crake is getting scarcer. I have not heard one near the house was several years, although twenty years ago they were in every mowing field. No doubt the result of mowing machines which cuts the young up often I fear.”

Three years later in 1907, Joseph Whitaker provided in “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”  the following information :

“I sorrow to say that this interesting bird is a rapidly vanishing species, not only as far as Notts is concerned, but in many other counties. Twenty years back it was the exception in the spring not to hear a corncrake in nearly every mowing field in the Trent Valley, and almost every seed and grass field left for hay in other parts. In this very high and dry parish of Blidworth, we had between ten and fifteen pairs, now for the last three years not a bird has been heard.”

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Like his fellow nature writers, Joseph Whitaker chronicles the decline:

“At Southwell, on a June night, their curious call resounded on all sides; now this year there may be two pairs. Mr Henry Smith Junior of Cropwell Butler informs me that this scarcity is very noticeable in that part, and in fact all over the south of the county.”

Alas, Whitaker was to be proved wrong when he wrote:

“Let us hope that it will be many years before they are quite a bird of the past, but if they decrease during the next twenty years as fast as their decrease during the last two decades, it pains me to think that it may be so.
I once heard a corncrake calling inside the kitchen garden at Welbeck Abbey.”

And finally, in “Jottings of a Naturalist” in 1912, Whitaker wrote:

“Twenty years ago there were Corncrakes all over the parish, in fact it was the exception not to hear them in every mowing field, but I know that there is been none for the last ten years, not a single bird heard, and the parish is six thousand acres; and it is not only so in these parts, it is the same everywhere.”

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And really, that was that. The end of the Corncrake.

As the Great War loomed, the Victorian age drew to a close. No more mowing fields, no more meadows full of flowers, no more clouds of brightly coloured butterflies. And no more Corncrakes. Just mud, blood, war and death.

To film a Corncrake nowadays, you are more or less wasting your time in England. This beautiful, atmospheric video comes from “mikhailrodionov” in faraway Russia:

 

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Filed under History, Nottingham, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

Sports Day in the Victorian era

Nowadays, School Sports are held in April and can be, just occasionally, on the rainy or even the chilly side. The first School Sports I have been able to find any information about took place over two days, well over a hundred years ago…and not in April.

Instead, they were on Wednesday and Thursday, September 28th and 29th 1870, at Trent Bridge. (not for the first time, apparently). Events included the popular “High Leap with a Pole”, won by Woodhouse with a jump of 7ft 6ins, “a good jump for a man”. A total of 36 boys entered the stone gathering race, and the sack race was won by Darby, who had the bright idea of inserting a toe tightly into each corner of the sack, and then “shuffled along capitally”.
On the second day there was a “Stranger’s Race” with people not directly connected with the school allowed to compete. There was general reluctance to enter this race, because of the presence of Mr Sam Weller Widdowson, the famous captain of the Nottingham Forest Foot-ball Club:

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Named after the character in Dickens,  Widdowson was the inventor of the shin-pad:

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A number of gentlemen finally took part in this race, running in top hats and overcoats. As expected, Mr Widdowson was in first place, with Mr Frederick Rothera second. There was a “blind donkey race” with large boys blindfolded, and small boys riding piggyback, giving them directions. It was won by “Purchase and Brown”.

The next School Sports I can trace were on Monday, April 8th 1878, at Trent Bridge, in front of a “numerous gathering”, entertained by the playing of the Sax Tuba Band. Events included throwing the cricket ball, a 220 yard football dribbling race, a 100 yard three-legged race, a 100 yard sack race, a one mile bicycle race, and an Old Boys’ race.

One of the highlights was the 220 yards running race when the course had been marked out wrongly. One of the eleven runners, Sulley, took the wrong turning, and “effectually disposed of his chance”. The other runners also went wrong, but because they were trailing so far behind Sulley, they were able to run back, and get onto the correct route. Unfortunately, Small was knocked over in the confusion, and eliminated from the race, which was eventually won by G.F.Chalcraft. His prize was a handsome desk, donated by the teaching staff.
In the final of the sack race, F.Bailey finished second behind “the younger Walker”, having decided not to jump inside his sack, but instead, to lie down and roll along the ground.
Most interesting, though, was the “Bumping Match”, the exact rules of which, unfortunately, have not survived. It was surely one of two scenarios. Either a huge circle was marked out by a rope, and the last boy left in it was the winner, or it was some kind of sumo type pushing contest, where boy after boy fought in round after round, until only one remained as the victor:

“The contest caused great merriment among the spectators, who greeted the overturned combatants with roars of laughter. Finally two, varying greatly in size were left in, and after a prolonged struggle, W.A.Walker, who showed great quickness and dexterity in avoiding the attacks of his tall opponent, R.E.Fletcher, succeeded in knocking the latter over the line, amidst loud applause.”

The following year, on Tuesday, April 29th 1879, again at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, “a numerous and fashionable assemblage” was entertained by the Sax Tuba Band, under the conductorship of Mr J.Hindley. There were 22 events, including throwing the cricket ball and a 100 yards race with a Gladstone bag as first prize, presented by Sir James Oldknow. This is Trent Bridge  at the time, during a Test Match:

trent-bridge-cricket-ground

There was a half mile handicap race where the prize was a silver watch, presented by Captain W.E.Dennison  M.P., and the M.P., Saul Isaac.  J.E.Woolley led for nearly six hundred yards, but Barlow overcame his ten yard handicap about 120 yards from the finish, and went on to win. Woolley eventually finished third, and C.Cullen was second. The prize in the long jump was a luncheon basket, presented by the Borough Members. There was a three-legged race and a 400 yards race with only two competitors, G.B.Chalcraft beating E.H.Wells by ten yards. In actual fact, there should have been three runners for the race to start at all, but it was “run through an error on the part of the starter.” The one mile handicap bicycle race was won by A.V.Paton, and F.Bailey won the sack race. This event “…as usual, afforded great amusement.” C.Cullen won the 220 yards football race. His first prize was a cabinet Shakespeare, presented by the Dame Agnes Mellers Club. E.Thornley was doing very well until he kicked the ball out of his lane, and Cullen then went on to win.

H.R.Bramwell won the 100 yards hurdles, which was over six flights of hurdles. His prize was a writing desk, presented by Messrs J & J. Vice. In the 220 yards, C.Daft won a pair of binoculars presented by the Assistant Masters. “The most exciting race”, was the Old Boys’ race over 220 yards  won by F.F.Cleaver in 24 seconds.  At the end of the day came the “…usual bumping match and two consolation races”, won by Thornley and Butler.
Mr Charles Daft was the starter throughout, and Herr Altdorfer and Mr W.H.Bailey were the judges. The prizes were presented by Miss Lindley, and the President seconded a vote of thanks to her for her kindness. She was given a small bouquet of flowers, and three cheers by the school. Her father offered thanks for this kind gesture, and then called for three cheers for the President. With this, the day came to a happy close.
One interesting detail about the competitors in these sports is that there was a small fee payable to enter any of the events. At least one Old Boy in later life was to state that this cash payment did much to limit the number of competitors.

School Sports then seem to have died a death until, during his first term in office, in March 1885, the new Headmaster, Dr James Gow, started an Athletics Contest for senior boys. This soon evolved into a full School Sports Day. Over the years, the school magazines have given us a series of snapshots of the event has changed.

On Friday, June 29th 1888, for example, the School Sports, “…for many years in abeyance”, were revived, and were held in “very unfavourable weather” on the Castle Grounds. I am not really very sure, but I would presume that the Castle Grounds are the area of flat ground at the side of the Castle:

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There was a good attendance of spectators, and among the more usual events was a three-legged race, won by W.A.Möller and C.P.S.Sanders, a sack race won by J.Blake, and a bicycle race over one mile, won by W.A.Möller in 3 minutes 45.4 seconds. F.Bramley won the “Throwing the Cricket Ball (for boys under 14), with a distance of 57 yards.
The Masters’ Race was won by the Reverend T.W.Peck, with Mr W.T.Ryles in second place, two yards behind. There was also an Old Boys’ Race which was a handicap, run over 220 yards, and a Tug of War, won by Team No 1, who defeated Team No 2 in the final. Again many prizes were in evidence, all presented by Mrs.Gow.

This staff group shows Mr W.T.Ryles in the back row, fifth from the right. His nickname was “Nipper”. His brother, Mr W.E.Ryles, “Jumbo” is on the front row, second from the left. The Headmaster, fourth from the right on the front row, is Dr Gow:

staff 1901

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 3rd 1890, Sports Day was again held at the Castle Ground in dull and windy weather. Nevertheless, a large crowd attended, and enjoyed a day of “very fair sport”, and a selection of music played by the Nottingham Borough Police Band, under the leadership of Bandmaster Redgate. The prizes were presented by Miss Goldschmidt. Most of the events were similar to previous years including the 220 yards football dribbling race, throwing the cricket ball, an Old Boys’ bicycle race, a sack race and a whole series of running races, all of them with varying handicaps for the competitors .

The most interesting event, though, was the hundred yards Medley Handicap. In this, boys competed in a number of heats over one hundred yards, and the handicap consisted in the means by which they had to cover the distance. The methods included skipping, sack race, three legged, pick-a-back, on all fours, and, most spectacular of all, perhaps, on stilts. The final seems to have been a normal foot race, as the winner’s time was fifteen seconds.

On the afternoon of Friday, March 29th 1901, the School Sports took place at the brand new sports ground at Mapperley Park. We already know how to get there. Look for the orange arrow. The High School is in the bottom left corner of the map, where Mount Hooton Road and Forest Road East meet. It is the incomplete beige rectangle which is outlined in black:

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A large number of boys, friends, parents and Old Boys were in attendance, but the day was spoiled by the bitterly cold weather,

“…the turf was naturally affected by the overnight fall of snow, which made the going heavy.”

Two years later, on the afternoon of Saturday, July 25th 1903, the weather was beautiful, although not too warm, and there was another large crowd,

“including many ladies, whose bright, summer dresses amidst the pretty surroundings of trees and shrubs, made the scene most picturesque”

The spectators were entertained by “the lively strains of a band, and a hospitable tea tent.”
The numerous prizes were presented by Lady Blain and events included the one mile walking race, won by B.G.Saywell and an U-11 obstacle race won by C.F.Brasher. L.W.Malton won the potato race and a tug of war was held between “The Past” (Old Boys), and “The Present” (Masters and Boys). The Old Boys were G.C.Allsebrook, W.Allsebrook, G.F.Brewill, E.Brewill, S.Hoyte and H.A.Wootton. Their opposition contained three boys, namely R.Marrs, W.Oldershaw and H.A.Watson, and three masters, Messrs Hughes, Jones and Yates. The Old Boys soon pulled the School over the line, but were found to have included a seventh member of the team, J.Johnstone (Cheats!). The result was overturned, and the School soon won a fair contest by 3-0. I could find no photographs of this event, but here is the tug of war at the 1904 Olympics in Los Angeles. I’m sure it will give you the rough flavour:

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On Saturday, June 24th 1905, it was very fine weather at Mapperley Park. Spectators were entertained by the band of the Robin Hood Rifles, under the directorship of Mr A.Pounder. The sports should have taken place the previous Saturday, but the rain was so torrential that this was completely impossible. Events included the usual ones, such as the 220 yards football dribbling race (R.B.Wray in 35 seconds) and the U-11 race over 75 yards (F.C.Tonkin, 10.8 seconds). There was a one mile bicycle race won by H.E.Mills (3 minutes 9.6 seconds) after the other two competitors, S.S.Parkinson and P.H.Hart collided with each other and both fell off. H.E.Mills  also won the potato race this year. J.H.Simpson won the U-11 obstacle race where competitors had to crawl through barrels and under pegged down clothes. The event created “much amusement”. The Old Boys won the tug of war against the Masters & Boys.

As war clouds slowly gathered, on the afternoon of Saturday, June 15th 1912, the Athletic Sports were held in splendid sunshine, again at Mapperley. The attendance was very large, and great interest was generated. Harold Ballamy ran 100 yards in 10.6 seconds, a marvellous performance on grass and wearing, presumably, ordinary pumps. There was again a football dribbling race, won by R.L.W.Herrick. This latter event was by now the only survivor of the many unusual and interesting events which had previously characterised the Victorian and Edwardian sports days. Now, virtually every event was a serious sporting trial.

The following year, 1913, was, of course, the very last Sports Day before the thunderstorm that was the Great War carried away the best of this talented generation of young men from the whole of the continent of Europe. Ironically, it was this bittersweet occasion that has bequeathed to us the only photographs that we have of a Sports Day of yesteryear. It is such a pity that they are of comparatively poor quality. This year, of course, marked the 400th anniversary of the school and both this day of athletics and the photographs themselves came as part of this occasion. Here is the huge crowd:

the crowd 1913

Here is the start of a race:

start of race

…and the exciting finish:

end of race 1913 handicap size runners

These are two exhausted athletes:

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The Headmaster, Dr Turpin, is the gentleman in the very middle of the picture, as the prizes are distributed:

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And here he is again, this time making a speech. Look at the policeman and how impressed the little boy is:

prizes 1913

It should still be possible to establish the exact location of the majority of these events. I am sure that the all large Victorian houses in the background will still be there.

 

 

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Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

The Luftwaffe comes to Cornwall (and stays there)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

street map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History, Humour

The End of the British Empire, December 26th 1913

The very first game of Rugby in the long history of the High School was played on Friday, December 26th 1913, the last Christmas and the last Boxing Day before the outbreak of the Great War. The game took place on the High School’s playing fields at Mapperley Park Sports Ground , used by the school since 1897, when they had left the Forest Recreation Ground which was considered to be too dangerous for boys to play sport there.

This map shows the walk from the High School (which is in the bottom left on the opposite side of the yellow road from the “C” of “Cemy”) down to Mapperley Park in the centre right, indicated by the orange arrow. The present day Games Field, at Valley Road, is the blue word “Day”  in the top left hand corner.

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This map shows the site of the Sports Ground in greater detail. Look for the orange arrow again.

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This is the Pavilion at the Mapperley Park Sports Ground which was demolished only within the last twenty or thirty years . The young men are a long forgotten First XI school cricket team from just a few short years before  the Great War.

pavilionThe gentleman on the left of the back row is Mr.Albert Grant Onion, the groundsman. He coached the High School cricketers with great enthusiasm, and saw many of them go on to do very well with local clubs. In 25 years, he did not miss umpiring a single 1st XI fixture, and was famed for his fairness and impartiality. He and his wife and daughters were responsible, too, for preparing all of the teas for the players. The young man at the other end of the back row is probably the team scorer, who kept an exact record of the game. Alternatively, he may be the reserve player, the so-called twelfth man.

On this occasion though, on Boxing Day, 1913,  it was not a cricket match but a rugby game. As a preliminary before the school’s changeover from Football, which was played from 1870-1914, to the new sport of  Rugby Union, therefore, the Old Nottinghamians played against Notts Rugby F.C.. The Old Boys lost a closely fought game by (three tries) 9 points to (three goals), 15 points. The tries were scored by H.A.Johnstone, C.G.Boyd and D.P.C.Grant. The referee was Mr.Lionel Kirk. Presumably, this fixture served for many people as a demonstration of the new sport.  In the days before television, the majority of Old Boys and Masters, and especially the parents and current pupils, would probably never have seen the game played before.

The Old Boys’ team was Stocks; H.A.Johnstone, H.S.Stocks (Captain), A.Willatt, R.L.W.Herrick, C.G.Boyd, W.Johnstone; D.P.C.Grant, F.Hardwick, J.K.Turpin, A.R.S.Grant, H.W.Ballamy, L.W.Peck, E.G.Hogan and W.S.Facon.

A pleasant interval in the Christmas festivities, one might think, a little respite from a surfeit of roast turkey, brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding, port, sherry, cigars and all the other indulgences of this wonderful time of year. Except that nobody who was there on that fatal Friday knew that a World War was to break out within less than eight months. That more than four years of fighting would leave almost a million British dead, and in that number would be more than three hundred Old Nottinghamians.

In actual fact, the eventual fate of the members of the Old Boys’ Rugby team pretty much defies belief. As well-intentioned, patriotic, decent, optimistic, courageous and athletic young men, they were to run forward into the maelstrom of the Great War as if it were a blood spattered combine harvester.

Henry Archer Johnstone became a Major in the 152nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He was the beloved son of John and Ada Johnstone, of Fairmead, Risley, Derbyshire.

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Henry was to die on Tuesday, May 21st 1918, at the age of only twenty eight. He is buried in Wancourt British Cemetery near Arras in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

H.S.Stocks, who left the High School in July 1904, was eventually to become a Lieutenant in the 7th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was severely wounded on Friday, July 7th 1916, in the Battle of the Somme, and rendered unfit for further active service. I would certainly have been very surprised if he ever played any more Rugby matches with his young laughing friends.

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John Riversdale Warren Herrick was a Captain in the “2nd King Edward’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles). He was in the 3rd Battalion attached to the 11th Gurkha Rifles when he was fatally wounded on active service in Iraq. The son of Dr.R.W.Herrick and Mrs.Edith Herrick of 30, Regent Street, Nottingham, Captain Herrick was to die from his wounds on Sunday, October 24th 1920 at the age of only twenty seven. He is buried in the Basra War Cemetery, Iraq. His rugby playing days were finally over.

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Charles Gordon Boyd was a Second Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, but was attached to the 9th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment. On Thursday, May 3rd 1917, he was killed whilst attacking Fontaine-Les-Croiselles with ‘D’ Company at the age of only twenty four. He was the son of George Herbert Boyd and Sarah Louisa Boyd, of, initially, 13, Tavistock Drive, Mapperley Park. Charles Boyd had been the Captain of the School in 1911-1912. In cricket, he was the First Team’s wicketkeeper and he was an enthusiastic footballer who played regularly for the First Eleven. His full record as a goalscorer was eleven goals in nine appearances. He surely got changed for this particular fixture in his own home nearby and perhaps walked along Tavistock Drive to the pitch in a laughing little group of his fellow players.  At the time of his death, his parents had moved to St Peter’s-in-Thanet, Kent. Tragically, Charles Boyd’s remains were not found until some six years after his death, in November 1923, when he was reburied in the Heninel-Croisilles Road Cemetery in the Pas-de-Calais in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

James Knowles Turpin was the beloved only son of Harry and Minnie Turpin, of 68, Henry Road, West Bridgford. James was a Second Lieutenant in “A” Battery, 241st South Midland Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

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On Tuesday, August 14th 1917, he was killed in action at Boundary Road behind the Brigade HQ at Hill Top Farm near St Jaan just west of the frontline.  he was just twenty five years of age. He was buried in Plot 6, Row D, Grave 7 in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. His rugby playing days were finally over.

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Allan Roy Stewart Grant, while he was at school as A.R.S.Grant, was nicknamed “Pongy” by his fellow students, because of his parents’ choice of initials for him. He served as a Captain in the 10th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, Ross-shire, Buffs, and the Duke of Albany’s. He was awarded the Military Cross. “Pongy” survived the conflict and duly returned to Nottingham.

Not so his elder brother, Donald Patrick Clarke Grant, who was in the 7th Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders.  He is listed as either a Lance-Corporal (by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), or a Lieutenant (in the school lists of the fallen). He was killed on Thursday, April 12th 1917 at the age of only twenty seven. He had previously been the Manager at the British Crown Insurance Office in Nottingham. His remains were never found but his death is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Both young men were the beloved sons of the Reverend John Charles Grant, a Minister of Religion, and his wife Ellen Jemima Grant who lived at “The Manse” at 16, Baker Street, Nottingham. The family was of Scottish origin. Donald had, in actual fact, been born at Loanhead in Midlothian.

Harold William Ballamy was a Lieutenant in “B” Battery of the 231st Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

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He was the beloved son of Frederick William Ballamy, a commercial traveller, and his mother,  Mrs.M.A.Ballamy of 17a, Gedling Grove.

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He was killed on either Tuesday, August 14th or Wednesday, August 15th 1917, as part of the Third Battle of Ypres, usually known as the Battle of Passchendaele. He was twenty four years of age, and is buried in Fosse No 10 in the Communal Cemetery Extension at Sains-en-Gohelle,  in the Pas-de-Calais in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

Leslie Wayland Peck was the son of Thomas Wayland Peck, a Clerk in Holy Orders, and a Diocesan Inspector of Schools, who had been, from 1885-1900, a master at the High School. From 1886-1893, despite being a teacher, Peck Senior had played regularly for the school’s First Team at both football and cricket. The family lived initially at 12, Arboretum Street, Nottingham, and then in Gedling Grove. He must certainly have known Harold Ballamy, a near neighbour. Perhaps the two boys used to make the short walk to school every morning, accompanied by Mr Peck. What could have been more embarrassing than walking to school with one of the teachers? Fortunately it was a very short walk. Today it would just necessitate crossing over the tram lines at  the High School tram stop.

Leslie Peck left the High School in June 1910, and joined the Bank, an establishment which was later to change its name to the National Westminster Bank. He had already served in the School Cadet Corps under Captain Trotman, and then joined the Sherwood Foresters Special Reserve. He was called up, and sent to France quite early in the Great War. He was “Mentioned in Dispatches”, but after being extremely badly shell-shocked, was invalided back home for a period of hospital treatment.

H08331 Leslie was then posted back to the Sherwood Foresters, but was never well enough to serve overseas again. I would certainly have been very surprised if he ever played any more Rugby matches with his young laughing friends.

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M.J.Hogan was the school goalkeeper from 1903-1905. In the Great War he became a Sergeant in the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. He was severely wounded on an unknown date. His goalkeeping days, and his rugby playing days too, were probably over for ever.

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I have been unable to trace anything concrete for W.S.Facon although according to the London Gazette, a Lieutenant W.S.Facon was promoted to Captain on December 21st 1921. The Internet also reveals that in the Air Force List for May 1939, a W.S.Facon worked at the Air Ministry in the Department of the Permanent Under-Secretary in the Directorate of Contracts.

I have been unable to trace either how many of these keen pioneer rugby players had been in the Officer Training Corps, but however many it was, it certainly had not trained them well enough for the Somme (1916) or Passchendaele (1917)

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Filed under France, History, Nottingham, The High School

Schweinfurt Two: sixty B-17s downed, 650 airmen killed

I hope that you were able to read my blog post about the American Eighth Air Force’s first raid on the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt. This brave action took place on August 17th 1943, and was a catastrophe. As I wrote a few weeks ago…

“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.

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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.

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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.

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As well as single engined fighters, twin engined Messerschmitt Bf110s and Junkers Ju88s were encountered. They carried much heavier cannon.

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This time, many more aircraft were armed with Werfer-Granate 21 rocket launchers, firing unguided stand-off rockets.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And the Hallowe’en winner is………..

Around ten or fifteen years ago, I was a teacher of Religious Studies as well as my main subject of French. We were  studying the Afterlife, so, towards the end of, I think, the Christmas term, I asked the boys to write down for homework their own ghostly experience or a ghostly encounter that either their parents or anyone close to them had had. Here is a selection of the stories they came up with.
And, of course, yes, boys can tell lies just like everybody else, but by then I had taught this class for four months, seeing them for an hour and a half every week and I did not really think that anybody was lying. They may have been mistaken in their interpretation of events, but I’m sure they were sincere in what they thought was happening. This effort came from the parent, or even grandparent, of one of the pupils…

“My ghost story”

from Daniel J Furse who lived in the Old Manor House from 1956 to 1964.

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“I bought the house from one of the printer Milward family and he told me that when he moved in there was a row of wire operated bells hanging in the passage by the kitchen, although they were all disconnected. Every now and then, at night, these bells would ring wildly. On investigation, no one was ever seen but the bells were all swinging on their springs!
Our own contribution was fairly mundane but baffling. In what was the dining room – next to the kitchen where there now appears to be a door, we had a very large Jacobean oak sideboard tight against the wall, and above it hung a picture. Sometimes, when coming down in the morning, we would find the picture neatly stowed under the sideboard, with the hook still in the wall, and the cord intact.”
I live in the Old Manor House in Lenton regularly referred to as haunted. We have some accounts of manifestations of the ghost in the past one of which I have quoted above. There is one room that is thought to be the “haunted” room. It was in this room that someone was so frightened by what they saw or heard that it caused the previous owners to have an exorcism in the house. We ourselves have had some strange experiences. We seem to have a “Visitor’s curse”. More often than can be explained, something has happened with our lighting, heating or kitchen appliances when a guest was either there or coming. Sometimes just one system fails, but the most dramatic was when a bar of spotlights fell down from the ceiling near some guests. Another time when we were expecting guests for Christmas, all lighting, heating and cooking appliances, including the Aga which runs on gas and the electric cooker which relies on electricity, refused to work.
Hopefully we can have a ghost- free Christmas this year!”

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This was a very popular topic indeed with boys of fourteen and fifteen.
One young man told me the story of how he had seen a ghost when he met up with one of his friends who attended another school in, I think, Grantham. The boy went from Nottingham to spend the whole weekend as his friend lived quite a long way out in the Lincolnshire countryside. They stayed in the friend’s house which was very large with a very large garden. On the Friday evening, as soon as the visitor had unpacked, both boys went outside to see if they could see the phantom which the host had already explained could often be seen as it walked in the garden. The visitor from Nottingham was very excited that the garden was haunted and that he might actually see a real ghost.
The young man told me that as he stood there with his Lincolnshire friend in the early evening they saw not a sharply defined ghost, but a pale blue patch of mist or smoke, shaped like a human form. It moved across the end of the garden from right to left and by the time it reached the left-hand edge it was beginning to disappear.
Supposedly, it was the ghost of a Second World War Luftwaffe flier whose aircraft, a Heinkel III bomber had been shot down, and he had been killed.

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Previously, I had been told about a slightly similar ghost by a now retired school technician called Frank. When he was young he used to live on the southern side of the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire. Naturally, as a boy, he was keen to explore, and on one occasion he went with two of his friends out onto the salt marshes south of the estuary. He told me that there was a lookout tower right on the edge of the land, overlooking the waters of the estuary and of the North Sea. It had been put there for military purposes, probably either in the First or the Second World Wars. It was now in ruins but the shell of the brick built building was still there.

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As the three boys made their way across the absolutely flat landscape, a saltmarsh covered in vegetation which was no more than four or five inches high, they suddenly saw a figure on the top of the tower.
Apparently an adult man, he stood there for a little while, and the boys watched him. I do not remember from the account whether he seemed aware that he was being watched, but I suspect that he did not. Anyway after five minutes or so, the figure leapt off the top of the tower which was at least twenty or thirty feet high, exactly as if he was doing a parachute jump or, as they always say, something silly. The three boys certainly thought so because they ran along the path which led to the building, to see if they could help what they presumed would be a fairly severely injured man. When they got there though, the place was completely deserted. Nobody was there.
What makes it so strange is that the landscape was such that he could not possibly have run away across either the saltmarsh or to the distant sandy beach without the boys seeing him. In any case it had not taken the boys long enough to get to the tower for him to have disappeared. He had not passed them on any of the paths which led across the marsh. They searched the tower but he was not there. They presumed therefore that he was a ghost of some kind. Later on, Frank explained that tales had been told of an occurrence just like this having been seen before in the very same location, but nobody had ever been able to explain what it was.

Two other stories were very scary indeed…..

“The crippled Ghost that learns to walk

Every so often when I lie awake in my bed at night and I leave the door open I see an old man in a brown wheel chair. He has grey hair and a mutilated face like it’s been taken off and jumbled about and then stuck back on.
It moves towards me without using its hands to move the wheels at all. Then when it reaches the door it stops and stands up. It starts to walk towards me. At that point I turn away and face the wall and try to force myself to believe it’s not real, it’s not real.

Then when it reaches my bed, it reaches out to touch me. The reason I know this is because I see its shadow on the wall. But as soon as it touches my head it disappears and so does the wheelchair which disappears as soon as he gets out of it. The only other thing that is strange about the man is that he is extraordinarily long thin fingers and shoulder length white hair.”

This extraordinary tale is recounted more or less exactly as the boy wrote it down. I have not altered anything at all except to make the tense used the present tense, rather than a mixture of several different ones.
What would be really interesting would be to try and trace in the history of the house if there was anybody who ever lived there who had the long fingers and long white hair, perhaps of a musician, or the mutilated face and the wheelchair of, perhaps, a Great War victim. It is however, even with the Internet, extremely difficult to trace who has lived in any house, and what his job was, or the hardest thing of all, what he did during his life and what happened to him.
And the winner is…….
…….This very last final story, which was clearly connected with my preparations for Christmas with the class. It is dated November 4th 2005, and is entitled…

“The white man with no face”

Interview with my Dad:
What size and age did the ghost appear to be?
He was a six-foot male…age impossible to say.
But roughly did he look middle-aged or quite young?
He was oldish but that’s the most accurate description I could give.
Did you contact any spiritualists or mediums about the ghost?
No I didn’t; it never crossed my mind. It didn’t really bother me personally, but I never thought to ask my wife whether she thought we should get somebody in to try and sort things out.
What was the scariest thing about the ghost?
It would be that every time you were fast asleep, this ‘thing’ could be looking over you; I wasn’t frightened about it at all, but it didn’t do anything… just stared endlessly at you.
If only I had ever seen the ghost and you hadn’t, would you believe me about it being ‘around’ or not? Would you look out for it?
I would believe you, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find something that could only be found if ‘it’ wanted to be.
How did the ghost appear and what did it look like?
I was in deep sleep and there was a wind as if all the windows were open, and my shoulders felt cold like ice. Both your mum and I woke up basically at exactly the same time, and we saw ‘it’. All it did was just look down at us. I can’t remember the curtains blowing just a fairly strong wind, so the windows were definitely not open. My wife asked me: “Tell me what you just saw?” trying not to put any ideas into my head, and her expression when I replied, confirmed this was not a dream. We both looked away, and after a period of time I cannot remember, I eventually look back to see ‘it’ had vanished.
Did you ever feel like you are being watched?
Well obviously you knew there was something around but you just had to ignore it. My wife at the time was so terrified; she nearly moved out of the house and lived with her parents for a short time.
Did you ever stay on your own in the house?
Yes, of course, it didn’t bother me that much, it was your mum who was worried about it the most. However, this was one of the reasons why we eventually moved house. My mum has told me that for weeks she was terrified of the ghost reappearing, and too many times felt her shoulders turn ice cold even during the summer (just like when she first saw the ghost).
Apparently I saw the ghost on many occasions – more than my parents – and that I asked them “Who the white man in my room was” more than once. The ghost could communicate with “the living” as it asked me what my name was.
Chloe my sister regularly saw the ghost – which was obviously concerned my mom, and on one occasion she told my parents “a white man with no face keeps waking me up and then just staring at me”. At the time she wasn’t afraid of ‘it’ as she was too young to realise what was happening. Chloe can’t recall any of this but my parents remember it all too well.

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Hallowe’en Nights (4) Three ghosts from my past

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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The monster lurked in the crowd

This is my first attempt at being creative in a blogpost. Given the subject matter I have chosen, World War I, or the Great War as it was called until 1939, it would be easy to offend people. That is not at all my intention. Indeed, I am trying to draw the attention of the living to just how much those 888,246 young casualties were asked to give up….all the rest of their young lives, the wives and husbands they never had, the children, the careers, their quiet old age. Everything.
Cue the first section of this well-known song, written by John Lennon…

“I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man…..”

Well, to be absolutely precise, not just one lucky man, but all 888,246 of them.
Every single one, in actual fact, of the military fatalities of World War One from Great Britain and the British Empire, each one of which will be commemorated by a ceramic poppy, planted on his or her behalf in the dry moat of the Tower of London.

“And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh”

Well, I felt closer to crying actually.  So many young men were slaughtered, so many young lives came crashing to a halt, and above all, the unknown potential of so many young minds was snuffed out.

What might some of those 888,246 young people have discovered for the benefit of the rest of Mankind? And how would all of them have spent another fifty or sixty years of family life, if they had been lucky enough to have had one?
The war started more or less, by pure chance.

“On Sunday, 28 June 1914, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a group of assassins organized by the Black Hand. Earlier in the day, the couple had been attacked by Nedeljko Čabrinović, who had thrown a grenade at their car. However, the bomb detonated behind them, hurting the occupants in the following car. On arriving at the Governor’s residence, Franz angrily shouted, “So this is how you welcome your guests — with bombs?!”
After a short rest at the Governor’s residence, the royal couple insisted on seeing all those who had been injured by the bomb. However, no one told the drivers that the route had been changed. When the error was discovered, the drivers had to turn around. As the cars backed down the street and onto a side street, the line of cars stalled. At this same time, Princip was sitting at a cafe across the street. He instantly seized his opportunity and walked across the street and shot the royal couple.”

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“I saw the photograph.
They blew his life out in a car.
He didn’t notice that the route had changed.
A crowd of people stood and stared

They’d seen his face before

Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords”

What a pointless reason for the deaths of millions and millions of people, not just from this country and the British Empire, but from our fellow members of the present day European Community: Belgium, France, Italy, and of course,  our good friends in Germany and the USA.
The total number of deaths worldwide, was between 15,163,603 and 17,989,782.

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“I saw a film today, oh boy
The English army had just won the war”

“A crowd of people turned away”

Perhaps they were disgusted when they were told that the paperwork for the Armistice had been signed at 5.00 a.m. but that 11,000 more men were to be killed over the course of the next six hours. And of course, there were lots of excuses at hand for this heartless bungling by people to whom the ordinary soldiers’ lives were, ultimately, of little or no consequence.

Worse than that, in many places on the front line, well after that 11.00 a.m. deadline, combat continued, and men died pointlessly.

“But I just had to look
Having read the book”

Except that there is no book. No book with the list of the names of the eight to ten million dead soldiers, the twenty one million wounded soldiers, or the fifteen to eighteen million dead civilians.

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There is no record of who looked after and loved those 40 million horses, dogs, pigeons and other animals which perished.

Nobody will ever know what the world could have done with the £109,000,000,000 that was spent on the conflict.
And just in case you didn’t know, here is how a very large proportion of those desperately young men were to end their lives….

And while the ordinary working man came to understood the real truths of international brotherhood and comradeship…


The real monster lurked in the crowd…

1-Hitler

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