Tag Archives: Kent

Off to the Great War (Part Two)

I wrote about my grandfather, Will Knifton, in a previous blog post:

A1 hard man

When he first joined the Canadian Army in Toronto, he was soon sent across the Atlantic to receive his initial training in England. He started at  Shorncliffe Training Camp in Kent, learning how to be a Canadian soldier from late July 1916 until the end of November. There was a Canadian Training Division at Shorncliffe and I suspect he was stationed there. Will seems to have enjoyed his stay in Kent, the so-called “Garden of England”. I have already shown you some of the post cards he sent to his fiancée, in an article imaginatively entitled “Off to the Great War (Part One)”.

At this time, Will’s fiancée, Fanny Smith, lived with her family in Woodville, a little village in South Derbyshire. Will sent Fanny many postcards. This one is of Sandgate, a little seaside resort in the area. It shows the High Street East:

sandg high st

The message reads:

“Sandgate is about 5 minutes walk from Ross Barracks. Love Will”

five mins ross back xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ross Barracks were themselves part of Shorncliffe Camp.

This next postcard was posted at 10.00 am. on August 4th 1916. It shows the low cliffs in this small village near Shorncliffe Camp and close to Folkestone:

sandgate cliff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the back of the postcard:

baxk of snadgate c;liff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The message reads;

baxk of snadgate c;liff eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Once again, Will is able to retain an almost surreal quality in his writing:

“It has been so warm today and we walked 18 miles. Send me lots of news dear. Love to all. Yours Will”

This postcard was franked at 11.00 pm, on August 20th 1916, and had been posted in Folkestone, perhaps after a visit by train to the famous cathedral, only some twenty miles away in Canterbury:

camterbury cathedrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the back of the postcard:

back cathedralzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the message enlarged:

back cathedra jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

The message reads, as far as I can decipher it….

 “Sunday 1pm

I didn’t get my pass yesterday so couldn’t see Stacey. (name slightly illegible) May go next week. Trust you are alright. Fondest love, Will ”

This postcard shows the Lees and the Shelter at Folkestone:

folstone colour

The message reads:

“Yours to hand love (?) A letter is coming. I wish I were too. wont be long Fondest love Will”:

back folkstome colour

Here is the message enlarged. This seems to be in his more florid style of handwriting:

back folkstome colour enlarged

 

In retrospect, this next postcard may perhaps seem a little insensitive. Just a few short weeks after being asked to join the blood soaked antics of the Western Front, and due to depart on November 17th for the trenches, Will sent his fiancée a postcard of the large convalescent home in Folkestone. Presumably, the lone soldier on the seat is the only one left after “The Big Push”:

convalaecscnt home

This is the reverse of the card:

back hospitasl

Can you decipher the message, written in best quality pencil?

Here it is enlarged:

back hospitasl wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

And notice too, how the young prototype Canadian, once again, says “I will write you”, rather than the more usual English of “I will write to you”. In actual fact, the message reads……

“I will write you again tonight. Trust you are well. Love to all. Fond love to you. Will”

The postmark of 9.oo pm on September 5th 1916 reveals that Will could not have been convalescing at the hospital, as he had only just arrived in England from Canada on July 25th 1916, and he did not set off to join the Great War until November 17th 1916.

I am fairly sure that this was Will’s last card before he moved on in his Canadian Army career. I suspect that it was sent from Folkestone in Kent, just before Will embarked for France and the Western Front. The reverse, unusually for Will, is blank. Perhaps what faced him in the future was enough to take away his inspiration temporarily:

old sldier channel

The inscription on the front of the card reads:

“Crossing the Channel was quite a thrilling thing. But an old B.E.F. man rather spoiled the trip by swanking without his life belt, and otherwise showing everyone that the entire thing was far from new to him.”

On November 17th, Will left Shorncliffe, Folkestone and Kent to sail for France and the “3rd D.A.C.” He was “taken on strength” with the “3rd D.A.C.” on November 23rd, and could now be considered a fully fledged soldier.

Like many soldiers on the Western Front during the Great War, Will was shot by a German machine gun on at least one occasion. He had two wounds in the legs, and I believe that he may have gone back to Kent to recuperate. The position of his wounds was doubtless because German machine gunners were trained to sweep their guns backwards and forwards close to the ground:

a23_world_war_1_german_machine_gun_1

They were told to try and imitate a man cutting down grass with a scythe:

giphy

Germans, machine guns, bombs, mud, trench foot, sudden death, whatever. Will survived it all:

old age

 

 

 

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Off to the Great War (Part One)

I have already mentioned in a previous blog post that my Grandfather, Will Knifton, emigrated to Canada in an unknown year before the Great War. Conceivably, he was with his elder brother, John Knifton, or more likely perhaps, John went across the Atlantic first and then Will joined him later on. I have only two pieces of evidence to go on.

Firstly, it is recorded that a John Knifton landed in Canada on May 9th 1907. His ship was the “Lake Manitoba” and he was twenty three years of age. His nationality is listed in the Canadian records as English.

On the other hand, I still have an old Bible belonging to my Grandfather, which says inside the front cover,

“the Teachers and Scholars of the Wesleyan Sunday School, Church Gresley, given to him as a token of appreciation for services rendered to the above School, and with sincerest wishes for his future happiness and prosperity. March 26th 1911.”

Whatever the truth of his arrival, Will lived at 266, Symington Avenue, Toronto. He then worked as a locomotive fireman on the Canadian Pacific Railways, between Chapleau, Ontario, right across the Great Plains to Winnipeg. He also talked many times of the town of Moose Jaw, although he never supplied any details that I can remember:

cab paint

Will joined the Canadian Army on June 12th 1916 at the Toronto Recruiting Depôt. He sailed from Canada for the Western Front on July 16th 1916 on the “S.S.Empress of Britain”:

ss_empress_of_britain

For many years, Will had courted a local English girl called Fanny Smith, the daughter of Levi Smith, a labourer in a clay hole in the area around the village of Woodville, in South Derbyshire, where they all lived. Will wrote to her from Canada and then, during his time in the army, he sent her regular postcards from France. During his leaves from the front, he always returned to see her and they married on July 15th 1917:

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I still have quite a few of Will’s postcards. He had clearly bought this postcard just before he left Canada for England and the Great War:

montrealbxxxxxxxxxxxxx

He used to speak enthusiastically about Montreal and especially about the famous Hôtel Frontenac:

Château_Frontenac_02

On July 25th, Will duly arrived in England, and was taken on strength into the army at Shorncliffe in Kent. He posted his postcard of Montreal soon after he arrived at Shorncliffe Camp in Folkestone, Kent, at 7.00 pm on July 27th 1916. Here is the back of it:

shrncliffe campxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The message reads:

Englands shores   Dearest, arrived safely on the Empress of Britain, a pleasant voyage was free from sickness will write you later fondest love Will”.

Notice how Will is beginning to become a Canadian with his unusual lack of a preposition in “will write you later”.

Shorncliffe Camp was where Will, and many other young men, were to train for France and the Western Front. Having mentioned the idea of being sick in his previous postcard, Will continues the romantic mood with a picture of the men and horses of the Canadian Field Artillery drilling hard on the parade ground:

canadian cannons sepiaxxxxxxxxxx

The reverse is here:

reverse of shoercliffexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Will manages to make a charming juxtaposition of “men and horses at drill with the big guns” and “Fondest thoughts” to his true love. (And she really was his true love.)

Will began his training at Shorncliffe on July 27th and he remained there until November 17th 1916. The schedule for basic training makes interesting reading nowadays. This particular week was the one ending June 5th 1915, and it is difficult to imagine that Will would have done anything substantially different just over a year later:

Monday 

(6.30-7.00 am)                          Squad drill without arms

(8.00-9.00 am)                         Physical Training

(9.00-9.30 am)                          Bayonet Fighting

(9.30-10.00 am)                        Rapid loading

(10.00-12.00 am)                      Company Training

afternoon                                 as for morning less ½ hour squad drill

Tuesday

morning                                   as for Monday

afternoon                                Entrenching  (2 Companies), remainder as for Monday

Night March

Wednesday

morning                                   as for Monday

afternoon                                 Entrenching  (2 Companies), remainder as for Monday

Thursday                                  all day                      Battalion field training

Friday 

morning                                    as for Monday

afternoon                                 as for Monday

Saturday 

morning                                   as for Monday, less afternoon (holiday)

(If this were a restaurant, you would only go there once, wouldn’t you?)

Will’s next postcard continues the hearts and flowers theme with a photograph of the men’s tents.

Will’s own tent is marked with a cross:

tentxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is the reverse side of this postcard. Firstly, as Fanny received it:

back of tentxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And here is the message enlarged:

back of tent2xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Will remained at Shorncliffe until November 17th. He sent his girlfriend, or perhaps by now, his fiancée, some more post cards before he left. We will look at them in the near future.

 

 

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Marsh Warbler: here yesterday, gone today

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Wednesday, June 1, 1988

A quick trip out from my wife’s parents’ house this time. They live on the western edges of Birmingham, but I am off to see a speciality in a nearby area, namely Marsh Warbler. I find the site, next to a picturesque little humpback road bridge, and park the car. Then I set off along the riverbank, towards a brick railway bridge. Look for the orange arrows:

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As I walk along, there are Sedge Warblers, exploding indignantly at me from riverside clumps of vegetation.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx sedge

There are the odd few Reed Warblers, just to get me excited, but I am hopeful that Marsh Warbler will look completely different from its closely related congener.  It’s an unfamiliar and interesting landscape for me, with pollarded willows and soaking wet pastures, full of ferocious Friesian cattle, plotting to charge and trample me to death as soon as my back is turned. When I get to the railway bridge, there is already another birdwatcher looking for Marsh Warblers:

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After about ten minutes or so, a bird appears low down in the vegetation on the opposite bank of the slowly flowing river, just above the waterline. It looks good to me for Marsh Warbler, despite the fact that at no point does it actually sing. Its shade of brown has an appropriate grey tinge and its underparts are whiter than white with no hint of buff.

It has a smooth, flat head, without a crest of any kind. Its legs are a nice pale colour, as it reappears every ten minutes or so at roughly the same place. The bird is obviously doing a circuit around the nettles and the Rosebay Willow Herb, feeding as it goes. Perhaps it has just this minute arrived from Africa, and it’s getting its breath back before it bursts into its imitations of 93 different bird songs, and seven types of lorry reversing signals. Anyway, I agree with the other birdwatcher that this is a Marsh warbler. Then we both pack up and go home, plodding off down the riverside path. There aren’t any reasons to believe that the bird is not what it is supposed to be. Not a single feature contradicts Marsh Warbler as a verdict. Besides, most important of all, it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Nowadays, the Marsh Warbler, as far as I know, no longer breeds in this exact area. There are, and there have been, various breeding records from Kent and Suffolk, among many others, but I no longer know of any reliable site for these birds. I know that I have definitely seen a Marsh Warbler, an individual that was seen by many, many others, who all agreed with the identification…alas! It was on the Isles of Scilly, in bracken in a rocky, overgrown field. Given the habitat and the time of year, there were many, many people who thought that it must be a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Indeed, there were those who wanted it to be God knows what sort of Warbler from beyond not just Lake Baikal, but Kamchatka itself.

The lone birdwatcher I met at Eckington was a young woman. She still remains the only young woman I have ever seen in a twitching situation. Older women will readily, even eagerly, go on coach trips with the RSPB or the Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers but young women have many and better things to do in my experience. Birdwatching has always  been equally short of ethnic minorities. I know now that they exist in British ornithology, but in my twitching days, I never saw a black birdwatcher. I only ever came across one young Asian man, as we all embarked on the Scillonian for one of the old Pelagics, a trip out into the South West Approaches to find Black-browed Albatross and Sea Serpent. But that, as they say, is another story.

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Seven graves to Penzance

If you cast your minds back what seems now a very long time, my continuing researches about the German bomber shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall on September 27th 1942 , had led me to the cemetery in Penzance. I have already spoken about some of the graves to be found there, and this article continues that theme.

This beautiful, tranquil place contains seventy one Second World War burials, including the six graves of the crew of H.M.Trawler “Royalo”:

Royalo_Crew_04_Penzance

They were killed when their vessel was sunk by a magnetic mine on September 1st 1940 just outside Penzance Harbour, around one mile from the seafront. The orange arrow gives the approximate position:

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The “Royalo” was built by Cook, Welton & Gemmell of Beverley, Yorkshire, and was launched on December 6th 1915, being fully completed by August of 1916. I have been unable to trace any photographs of the vessel. A ship of only 248 tons, when the Great War broke out, it was immediately requisitioned and converted into a minesweeper. After the end of the Great War, in 1919, it was returned to its owners. In 1933 the ship passed into the ownership of Sleight & Humphrey of Grimsby, only for it to be requisitioned for a second time in November 1939, just after the beginning of the Second World War. This time it was converted into an APV, an “Auxiliary Patrol Vessel”. In 1940, the vessel was converted for the second time into a minesweeper and given the serial number of FY825. It was armed with just one six pounder anti-aircraft gun.
A short but very vivid account of the ship’s sinking is given on the “Hearts of Oak” website:

“The “Royalo”, under Commanding Officer, Skipper William Durrant Warford RNR, was sweeping Mount’s Bay clear of mines which had been previously laid there by a German aircraft. Around midday, there came the sound of a huge explosion, which was easily heard in Penzance. My brother-in-law remembers, as a child, hearing the sound of an enormous explosion. He ran out of the house, and down the road, to see nothing but a pall of smoke; there was no sign of the vessel. She had been blown up by a magnetic mine, and a column of water had lifted her out of the water.
And she was gone.
The Penzance lifeboat was launched, and small boats came to the rescue of the survivors.
The “Royalo” had sunk in position 50.06N : 05.30W, about one mile off Penzance.”

On at least one other website, Lieutenant Irvine Willox Watt is given as the Commanding Officer.

Given the dramatic way in which the “Royalo” had met its end, its position remained well known over the years to the people of Penzance. In 1962 a group of divers explored the wreck, which lay some ten metres below the surface. They were able to recover a wooden box. It turned out to contain a sextant, which is a navigational aid. This particular one was manufactured in 1939 by the celebrated Hughes & Son Ltd. of London. The Royal Museum at Greenwich acquired the sextant at some point during the 1970s:

sexrant

Of the casualties buried in Penzance Cemetery, Henry Thomas Dukes was an Engineman in the Royal Naval Patrol Service who was forty five years of age at the time of his death:

P1500286XXXXXX

He was the husband of Ellaline Isabell Dukes of Grimsby, Lincolnshire. The rather bittersweet verse inscribed on the lower section of his gravestone reads…

Honoured in life
Treasured in Death
A Beautiful Memory
Is all we have left.

William Henry Greenfield was a Stoker in the Royal Naval Patrol Service. His age at the time of his death has not been recorded, and I have been unable to trace any further details about him:

P1500288XXXX

Raymond Ormerod was a Telegraphist in the Royal Naval Volunteer (Wireless) Reserve and was twenty years old at the time of his death:

P1500244 XXXX

He was the son of Reginald and Octavia Ormerod, of Wroxham, Norfolk:

weoxham

His mother had the following verse inscribed on the lower section of his gravestone:

Loved one
You are never forgotten
In my heart
You are always near
Mother

Raymond is listed on the memorial plaque in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Wroxham:

wroxham church

He also appears on the town’s War Memorial:

wroxham xxxxxxxxxxx

Thomas Gardner Taylor was an Ordinary Signalman in the Royal Navy who was twenty one years of age at the time of his death:

P1500296XXXXXX

He had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He was the son of Thomas Gardner Taylor and Hannah Ann Taylor, of High Heaton, Newcastle-on-Tyne. The verse inscribed on the lower section of his gravestone reads:

Gone his happy smiling face
Those happy cheerful ways
His heart won many friends
In happy bygone days

Robert John Tilley was a Seaman in the Royal Naval Patrol Service who was twenty seven years of age at the time of his death:

P1500297XXXXXX

The verse inscribed on the lower section of his gravestone reads…

No one knows
How much we miss him
None but aching hearts
Can tell
Mum and Mary

Robert John Tilley’s sacrifice is commemorated on the Memorial of the Whitstable Royal British Legion Club in Kent.

legion

Irvine Willox Watt was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Patrol Service who was thirty three years of age at the time of his death.  He was the son of G. Fieldes Watt and Jean Fieldes Watt, of Kensington, London.

P1500319XXXXX

Of the tiny crew of the Royalo, at least one is not buried here in Penzance, Sam Lockwood-Dukes was the son of Samuel and Emily Lockwood-Dukes, of Worsborough Bridge in distant South Yorkshire.  He was twenty two years of age when he was killed. He was not buried with the rest of his naval family in Penzance, as his parents no doubt wanted to be able to place flowers on his grave regularly, so he was interred in Saint Thomas Church Cemetery in Worsborough Dale.
Because of the nature of the incident, however, not all of the casualties were found.
One of these was Engineman Robert William Edward Grant Burgoyne who was an amazing sixty four years of age at the time of his death. He was the son of Robert and Sarah Burgoyne and the husband of Rosina Burgoyne. They all lived in Willington Quay, Northumberland. His sacrifice is commemorated on the Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial at Lowestoft:

lowestoft_mem2xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Second Hand Leonard Rye was in the Royal Naval Patrol Service. He was twenty six years of age at the time of his death and a holder of the Distinguished Service Medal. He was the son of Charles John and Clara Louise Rye and the husband of Florence Lilian Rye. They all lived in Hull in East Yorkshire. His sacrifice is commemorated on the Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial at Lowestoft:

galleon

Engineman Jim Walker Pitts was twenty eight years of age at the time of his death. He was the son of Mr and Mrs James Pitts and the husband of Joan Agnes Norah Pitts. They all lived in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. His sacrifice is commemorated on the Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial at Lowestoft:

Surely one of these gallant seamen must be in this grave, whose date is the same, as the “Royalo”…

P1500241XXXX

I said that I had been unable to trace a photograph of the unfortunate “Royalo”. That is true, but I did find this…

Capture

And this…

Capture 2

 “Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Great Storm of 1703. Get your kite!

The Great Storm of November 1703 was reckoned to be the most severe storm ever recorded. The hurricane that struck the English Channel and the south of England was beyond anything in living memory:

_44175913_wind_patterns

Unlike today’s storms, when we have advanced warning and can prepare for the worst, the poor souls of 1703 had very little idea about what was about to hit them, other than the fact that the country had been buffeted by a persistent south westerly wind for quite a few weeks. Sailing ships could not sail against it and had therefore been confined in great numbers to whichever port they happened to find themselves near. Inland though, people were largely innocent of the catastrophe they were about to experience. Furthermore, the Great Storm persisted not just for a few shocking hours, but for nine terrible days. How could anything, buildings, ships, farm animals or men stand up against well over a week of wind speeds like those recorded in the eastern part of the English Channel or East Anglia? They would have approached 100 mph for long periods.

It has been variously estimated that between 8,000 and 15,000 people were to perish. John Evelyn, the seventeenth century diarist, described it in his diary as:

“not to be paralleled with anything happening in our age or in any history … every moment Job’s messengers brings the sad tidings of this universal judgement.”

The inhabitants of London felt the first strong breezes during the morning of Wednesday, November 24th 1703, (December 5th 1703 in our current calendar). By four o’clock in the afternoon the winds had noticeably increased. In London, recently out of prison, Daniel Defoe, the journalist, pamphleteer, spy, trader, writer and author, of course, of “Robinson Crusoe”, had a narrow escape in the street when part of a nearby house fell down and luckily missed him. On Friday the 26th, the wind began to blow with even greater ferocity and when the Great Man checked his barometer, he found the mercury had sunk lower than he had ever seen it. After midnight the gale increased to such strength that it was almost impossible to sleep. The noise of the chimneys of surrounding houses crashing into the street made the whole family afraid that their own solid brick townhouse might collapse on their heads. When they opened their back door to escape into the garden, they saw roof tiles scything through the air, some landing thirty or forty yards away, embedding themselves eight inches or more into the ground. The Defoe family decided to stay in their house and trust in the Lord.

That night of November 26th-27th was catastrophic for the Royal Navy which lost 13 major warships, which were, for the most part, moored along the south coast.  HMS Resolution was driven onto the shore at Pevensey but the ship’s company was lucky and all 221 sailors were saved:

HMS%20ResolutionNot so fortunate were the men on board HMS Restoration, HMS Mary, HMS Northumberland, HMS Stirling Castle and the quaintly named HMS Mortar-bomb, who were all shipwrecked on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast:

Sandbanks_Credit_Ben_Salter

In the aftermath, when the tide fell, the sailors of the wrecked vessels who were able to find a foothold on the huge sandbar, were all wandering around knowing that when the tide rose they were certain to be drowned. It was said that a man called Thomas Powell, a shopkeeper in Deal, organised the rescue of some two hundred of them. Supposedly Powell was so appalled by his neighbours’ reluctance to help that he gave them five shillings each for their support. Certainly, the greedy citizens of Deal were widely accused of being more interested in plunder from the unfortunate ships than in helping to rescue the crew members. Indeed, some sources say that only three fortunate individuals survived the Goodwin Sands catastrophe. Supposedly, about 1,500 sailors in total were left to die.
Lots of other naval ships were driven through the Straits of Dover and out into the storm tossed expanses of the North Sea where some survived to return days later but many others were lost without trace:

stormb_1703

Ships were so driven by the wind that not only did sails have to be lowered but the masts had be cut off level with the deck. Well in excess of a hundred merchant ships were sunk in the North Sea, many of which were colliers from the fleet which at the time was used to transport cargoes of coal down the east coast from Newcastle to London. Some of these ships would have been empty, moored or at anchor when the incredible tempest struck, casting them out into the open sea. Most were ill-prepared and foundered, and their crews perished to a man:

141126-great-storm-b

The storm caught a convoy of 130 merchant ships and the six Men O’ War escorting them as they sheltered at Milford Haven. The warships included HMS Dolphin, HMS Cumberland, HMS Coventry, HMS Looe, HMS Hastings and HMS Hector. By the middle of the following afternoon the losses amounted to thirty vessels. Overall it was estimated that more than 8,000 sailors perished as the storm annihilated the Royal Navy. Around 20% of its sailors were drowned. The first Eddystone Lighthouse was completely destroyed:

Destruction of the Eddystone Lighthouse, 1703

Its erection had been started a mere seven years before, and  its light had been lit for the first time only on November 14th 1698.  Now all six of its occupants were killed, including the brave builder Henry Winstanley.

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This lighthouse was of inestimable importance and stood 120 feet tall,  some twelve miles to the south of Plymouth, one of England’s most important naval harbours. Even the French valued it, when during the period of construction, a French ship took Winstanley and his men prisoner. King Louis XIV, “le Roi-Soleil” ordered their release, explaining that “France is at war with England, not with humanity”, « La France est en guerre contre l’Angleterre, non contre l’humanité! »:

Louis_XIV_of_France

The Great Storm reached its appalling apogee, its catastrophic climax, during the following night, that of November 28th-29th (December 9th-10th 1703). Between the south coast and the Midlands, entire villages from Northamptonshire in the north to Suffolk in East Anglia were devastated  as the winds of the Great Storm rampaged across the country, striking hardest in the south and east of England, sending house roofs flying, flattening barns, razing everything in its path. Both men and animals were lifted off their feet and carried for long distances through the air. Roofs were ripped from more than a hundred churches, the lead was rolled up like a sheet of paper and dumped hundreds of yards away.
Millions of trees were blown over or uprooted; knocked flat in their tens of thousands, they lay prostrate in rows like soldiers mown down in battle. It was said that more than 4,000 oak trees crashed down in the New Forest.  An attempt was made to count the flattened trees in Kent but the count was abandoned at 17,000. The diarist John Evelyn lost in excess of 2,000 trees on his own Surrey estate.
Every kind of building was totally demolished and salt spray was driven almost as far inland as Tunbridge Wells. Animals refused to eat the resultant salty grass.
The maximum wind speeds were similar to those of the Great Storm of 1987 but the bad  weather lasted for much, much longer, well over a week, and thereby increased the enormous loss of life. Here is one of the enduring images of 1987:

1987

People could not decide whether it was safer to stay in their house and risk its collapse or to go into the street where flying tiles killed large numbers.
In East Anglia the wind reached over 80m.p.h. and killed well over a hundred people.  More than four hundred windmills were blown down. Many of them  burst into flames because the friction of their sails spinning round at high speed caused their wooden machinery to catch fire. In Cambridge, part of St Mary’s Church fell down and the falling stones completely flattened the organ. It had only recently been installed at a cost of £1,500. Kings College Chapel was equally badly damaged with stone pinnacles toppled and many of the wonderful stained glass windows destroyed.
In the capital, around 2,000 massive chimneys were blown over. The roof was blown off Westminster Abbey and the Queen, Queen Anne, had to take shelter in a cellar at St James’s Palace to avoid falling chimneys and tiles whizzing off the roof. Daniel Defoe told how the Reverend James King of London wrote him a letter about a chimney which crashed down and buried a maid. She was thought to be literally dead and buried, but she came out the following day from a small cavity in the rubble.

Watersnood_1809

Floods devastated the whole country, especially in the east of England and along the Severn Estuary. In the West Country in general, flooding was extensive and prolonged, particularly around Bristol where just under a thousand houses were totally destroyed. Hundreds of people were drowned on the Somerset Levels, where uncounted tens of thousands of farm animals, mainly sheep and cattle, perished. One lost ship was found fifteen miles inland. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder was crushed when two chimneys in the palace collapsed onto him and his wife, both peacefully asleep in their bed. Part of the Great West Window in Wells Cathedral was blown in and smashed to smithereens. At Fairford the church’s west window, facing the raging anger of the oncoming wind, bulged inward and crashed into the nave. In Wales, major damage occurred to the southwest tower of Llandaff Cathedral at Cardiff.
The storm began to die down around December 2nd, and on December 3rd,  Daniel Defoe visited the Pool of London, where, in the section downstream from London Bridge, he saw more than 700 sailing ships all piled up into heaps one on top of another:

vvvvvv Daniel_Defoe_Kneller_Style

Daniel Defoe told the tale of the captain of a leaking ship who tried to escape what seemed to him at the time to be an inevitable death by drowning, and instead committed suicide—only for his ship to survive. One possibly taller tale related how a sailing ship at Whitstable in Kent was blown out of the foaming sea and then deposited more than a quarter of a mile inland.
Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the Great Storm many special newspapers and publications appeared with information and eyewitness accounts:

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Conceivably this disaster became “national news” in a way that had seldom, if ever, happened before. It was just like a modern “big story”.
Daniel Defoe himself sought out testimony from as many witnesses as he could find.  When the weather ameliorated, he the whole country assessing the damage. He then produced what was subsequently described as “the first substantial work of modern journalism”, a book of more than 75,000 words, which was called “The Storm”.  It was the first proper book of Defoe’s career.

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http://historicaltrinkets.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-great-storm-of-1703-eyewitness.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Storm_of_1703

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/great-storm

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Filed under France, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Hallowe’en Nights (1) Black Shuck

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.

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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.

Odin_DarkW1azzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzThis 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.

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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.

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Odin did have two wolves called Geri and Freki, but I have been able to find little indication that he ever owned a dog.

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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.

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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.

Black_Shuck_by_watchful_eye xxxxxxxxIn 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.

Apparently, the earliest mention of Black Shuck dates from 1450, and the arrest proclamation for the rebel Jack Cade, when he was accused of having “reared up the Devil in the semblance of a black dogge” at Dartford in Kent.

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…

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“There were assembled at the same season, to hear divine service and common prayer…in the parish church…of Bungay, the people thereabouts inhabiting…

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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…

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…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 …….

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“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.

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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.

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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”.

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And the Lowestoft band, the Darkness, have recorded a song about East Anglia’s most famous cryptic canid…


And what about Black Dogs in Nottinghamshire?  That is for another blogpost. In the meantime, content yourself with Mike W.Burgess’ amazingly detailed website.

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Filed under Cryptozoology, History