Tag Archives: Lancashire

Attack the Tirpitz!! In a Halifax??

You are so lucky! You are going to see three photographs of a relatively rare aircraft, a Halifax Mark II, taken in the almost funereal gloom of the RAF Museum at Hendon. I apologise for the quality but in their efforts to preserve the original paint on the aircraft, the museum lights are kept very low indeed. For this particular aircraft, do not be put off by the fact that it seems apparently to have grown two enormous circular fins in the middle of its back. That is an Indian Air Force B-24 Liberator:

this one

The Halifax was the second British four-engined bomber to enter service in World War Two but it became the first to bomb Germany during a raid on Hamburg on the night of March 12th-13th 1941. Subsequent increasing losses on operations over Germany caused Halifax bombers to be used on less hazardous targets from September 1943.

The Halifax made over 75,000 bombing sorties and dropped almost a quarter of a million tons of bombs on Germany.

The Halifax continued in service with Coastal and Transport Commands after the war and the last operational flight was made by a Coastal Command aircraft in March 1952 from Gibraltar.
This s a Halifax B Mk II, Series I, with the serial number W1048. It was built by English Electric in 1942 at their factory near Samlesbury near Preston in Lancashire as part of a contract for 200 Halifaxes. This a similar aeroplane:

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On March 27th 1942 it joined 102 Squadron at Dalton in North Yorkshire as “DY-S”.  The squadron was in the process of converting from the old Whitley Mark Vs
On April 9th 1942, six aircraft from 102 Squadron were exchanged with six aircraft from 35 Squadron because they were fitted with Gee radio navigation aid and could not be risked on a raid beyond the range of Gee stations  W1048 now became “TL-S” of 35 Squadron.
On April 15th the aircraft was taken on a training flight around Filey Bay followed by some low level practice bombing at Strenshall. Just over a week later, it  flew with ten other Halifaxes to RAF Kinloss in Scotland as an advance base for the raid on the German battleship, the Tirpitz.
It took off on April 27th 1942 at 2030 hours, the bomber’s first operational mission. “DY-S” was the  seventh of eleven bombers to depart and it was never heard of again. Until, that is, it was restored to the RAF Museum at Hendon;

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The crew was Pilot Officer Don P MacIntyre who was 24 years old and came from Canada. The busy bee in the crew was Pilot Officer Ian Hewitt who was the observer, bomb aimer and navigator. He  later won a DFC. After the war, he moved to quieter pursuits and became a chartered accountant, dying peacefully at home in bed in June 2015, aged 94.
The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Vic Stevens and the first WOP/AG  was Sergeant Dave Perry
The mid upper gunner was another Canadian, Sergeant Pierre Blanchet.
The tail gunner was Sergeant Ron Wilson who in later life was to become a London cabby.
The aircraft was carrying four spherical mines of the Royal Navy type 19N. They each weighed a ton and their shape and size meant that the the bomb doors could not be closed.
The cunning plan was to roll the four mines down the steep mountainside into the gap between the ship and the shore.  They would then sink the ship because the underside was thinner and therefore more vulnerable.
At half past midnight, the eighth aircraft to attack, Don McIntyre followed by his friend Reg Lane set off to release their mines. McIntyre was first. As they had arranged, they descended to 200 feet but “DY-S” was hit by flak and too badly damaged to get back to Yorkshire or even to Sweden.
They were forced to land on the frozen surface of Lake Hoklingen, twenty five miles east of Trondheim.

Here is the starboard inner engine nowadays in the museum:

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Vic Stevens broke his ankle and was eventually taken to hospital by the Germans. The other six came into contact with the Ling, the Norwegian underground and were helped to Sweden. Ian Hewitt and Don McIntyre returned to England after a few weeks, and Dave Perry,  Pierre Blanchet and Ron Wilson after a year. By this time Ron Wilson had rented a flat, found a job and made a start on a new life.
The poor old Halifax sank through the ice in the southern corner of the lake just twelve hours after the crash.
In 1971 the remains were found by local divers and in September 1972 by the RAF Sub Aqua Club. Everything was still there except for the starboard outer engine and one or two bits and pieces taken by souvenir hunters in the past.

Here is a photograph which is admittedly very similar to one of the others. I am quite proud of it, though, because my Idiots’ Guide to Photoshop has enabled me to turn a pretty well completely black picture into something understandable. Slight tinges of red are apparently the chemical which inhibits any further deterioration in the fresh air. Do they make that for humans?

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By the end of June 1973, the Halifax had been retrieved from the lake, and after a lot of restoration, it was ready for the public by the end of 1982. Apparently a second Halifax from the same squadron and the same operation was discovered at the bottom of a nearby fjord in 2014. This exciting discovery was made by the Marine Technology Centre from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. The wreckage is around 600 feet down, and is thought to be W7656 and to contain the remains of Sergeants Evans and Columbine, the wireless operator/gunner and the navigator respectively. I do not know if this will make any difference to plans to raise the aircraft and to restore it.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

Black Shuck on the world stage

As I have said in two previous blogposts, Old Shuck, Black Shuck, or simply Shuck is the name of the huge, phantom black dog which roams, allegedly, the fields and fens of Norfolk and Suffolk. There are, of course, many places other than East Anglia where completely credible reports occur. We have already looked at three in Nottinghamshire, but almost every county in England has its own version of the creature, whether that be the “Bogey Beast” in Lancashire, the Lincolnshire “Hairy Jack”, the “Gallytrot” in Suffolk or the “Bargheust” in Yorkshire and the North.

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They are often associated with electrical storms, such as Black Shuck’s appearance at first Bungay and then Blythburgh in Suffolk. More often, though, they are linked to places rather than meteorological conditions. Churchyards and graveyards at midnight are a favourite, as well as crossroads. Equally, if not more, favoured are dark lanes, ancient pathways and lonely footpaths in the countryside. Occasionally, there is a connection with water, such as a river, a lake or even a beach. Sometimes, such as at Launceston in Cornwall, it may be an ancient tumulus, as is the case with the….

“graves and prehistoric burials whose attendant hounds proliferate densely in Wiltshire and West Somerset on the grounds that they can be seen as passages downwards to the World of the Dead, and so also suicide graves and scenes of execution…”

(Theo Brown: ‘The Black Dog’, in Porter and Russell (ed.) ‘Animals in Folklore’ (1978).”

Likewise, the Black Dog is seen as the “guardian of the threshold, escorting souls into the afterlife”. According to Jennifer Westwood in her book “Albion” (1985) :

“Black Dogs commonly haunt lanes, footpaths, bridges, crossroads and graves – all points of transition, …..held to be weak spots in the fabric dividing the mortal world from the supernatural.”

And :

“If a count be made of the kind of places favoured by these apparitions one thing becomes plain. Quite half the localities are places associated with movement from one locality to another: roads, lanes, footpaths, ancient trackways, bridges, crossroads.”

Let’s now leave Nottinghamshire’s Shuck eating his Pedigree Chum for just a moment, and skip thousands of miles to the north east of the United States. In her most excellent book, “Real Wolfmen True Encounters in Modern America” the author Linda S Godfrey explains her idea that…

“One common factor seems to emerge from every collection of strange creature accounts: there is an unmistakable connection between anomalous beings and certain features of the land. Unexplainable creatures and events tend to occur near freshwater; on hills; at boundary areas such as roads; and on or near burial grounds, and military zones, and all types of sacred areas around the world.
This geographic predictability supports the premise of many contemporary investigators like Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Nick Redfern, and the late John Keel, who suspect that anomalous creatures are not natural animals; they are entities that belong to a completely non-human realm and are attracted to certain energies of the Earth and all living creatures.”

The researchers listed above, and many others, believe that werewolves, Bigfoot, alien big cats, grey aliens, UFOs and sea monsters as well as more traditional entities such as fairies, dragons and ogres are all part of a planet-wide “spirit” population that manifests “in some sort of concert with the human mind, intent on  its own enigmatic purposes.”

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And of course, this theory does go quite a long way to explaining a very large question, namely, “Why do so many apparently reliable witnesses continue to report the same, impossible things?”

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If we just think of Great Britain, how many UFOs, Black Dogs, ghosts and even sea serpents have been reported over the years?

Linda S Godfrey, who specialises in the more exotic of the world’s canids and possible canids writes about the Wolfmen who are regularly seen in her native Wisconsin.

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Wolfmen in form are rather like Bigfoot, except that they have a wolf’s head.  They are thinner than Bigfoot, and consequently, can move very quickly if required. The most famous of the American Wolfmen is the “Beast of Bray Road”.

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Witnesses have sketched what they saw on this most famous of cryptozoological highways…

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Linda S Godfrey first became interested in the Beast when she was a journalist and had the opportunity to speak to one of the first witnesses….
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Fairly frequently, the Wolfman’s favourite food is roadkill. These were originally witness sketches…

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There are at least two photographs…

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One of the very earliest known sightings of a Wolfman occurred not in Bray Road, but at the St Coletta School for Exceptional Children, where Mark Shackelman worked as a security guard. Linda S Godfrey tells the story….

“The nightwatchman’s main duty was to make quiet surveillance of the 174 acre grounds…The land was dotted with ancient Native American burial mounds.
One evening, movement on the mound behind the main building drew the sharp nightwatchman’s attention as he observed what appeared to be a large animal digging furiously atop the raised earth. The creature was roughly man-size, covered in dark fur, and knelt in a way that should have been physically impossible for a four-footed beast And it fled on two feet rather than four as soon as it noticed Shackelman’s presence.
The flummoxed Watchman examined the mound next day and saw that the Earth had been torn by what looked like big claw marks, with raking slashes in sets of three. That night, he made sure to arm himself with a big, club-like flashlight before making his rounds. Sure enough, the creature was there again, digging in the mound near midnight. This time, however, it rose upon its hind legs and faced Shackelman. It stood about six feet tall and reeked of rotten meat.
Shackelman bravely shined his light at the creature so that he could get a good, long look at it. Although it was covered in fur, he could make out powerful arms that ended in hands with thumbs and little fingers that were much smaller than the middle three digits, explaining the triple slashes in the dirt. It had a muscular torso and a canid head with a muzzle and pointed ears. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the creature made a growling vocalisation that Shackelman later described as a “neo-human voice” and that sounded to him like three syllables, “ga- dar-rah”. The creature continued to make fearless eye contact with Shackelman, who felt he was in imminent and mortal danger.”

If you want to read what happens to Mr. Shackelman, or the Wolfman, then you will have to buy the book! You will not be disappointed! It is a marvellous book which opens a whole world of strangeness that takes a lot to explain away. This report of a wolfman was just the first of the many. According to Linda S Godfrey…

“Was the St Coletta creature just a sign of things to come? The Shackelman sighting was only the first of over one hundred reports nationwide of a human sized canine that could run upright or crouch with a chunk of bloody carrion clutched in its paws. In that incident and most sightings since, the creature is described with a head that appears wolf-like but a body that often – except for its fur, dog shaped limbs, and elongated pause – looks somewhat humanoid because of its powerfully muscular torso and shoulders.”

Here are some more modern colour photos, in some cases taken by trailcams.

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If you look at Youtube, a search for the “Beast of Bray Road” will reveal scores of films of varying quality. This lasts an interesting three minutes…

and this is a more thorough full length programme

If, however, you find yourself being tempted towards the “Gable Film”, please be aware that its maker has already acknowledged, several years ago, that the film is (a very accomplished) fake .

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Filed under Cryptozoology, Science, Wildlife and Nature

A Greater Sand Plover? A Lesser? A Medium Sized??

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

Sunday, July 31, 1988

This Sunday, Ken is planning to go out somewhere, out there into the universe, to look for a decent bird (the story of his life actually). I get onto Paul, and between us we persuade him to go for the Greater Sand Plover in Cumbria, at a nature reserve on the Isle of Walney. It’s about 8,000 miles from Nottingham, but not too far for Ken and his Ford Escort XYZ 3i with Turbo intercooling and reheat.

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Ken takes the concept of distance as a personal challenge. He occasionally gets under 70 miles an hour, and if the car’s on four wheels, he’s parked it. I’ve never even dared to tell him the type of car that I drive, GUR 25N, a bright orange Volvo 240 that weighs approximately the same as a canal barge.

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To our great surprise, Ken agrees to go for this bird. He isn’t usually into twitching, since he dislikes crowds, (he has been a keen Notts County fan for years), and he much prefers a quiet stroll around North Norfolk, in the hope of finding his own birds.

First of all, we scorch to a pool in northern Lancashire, where a Grey Phalarope has been present for the last few days. It’s there when we arrive, but I am surprised how different it is to the individual I recently saw at Datchet Reservoir near London. It’s very active, flitting around the lake, and very loathe to come too close inshore. There are one or two birdwatchers there, but not very many. It makes me wonder where all the locals are. Do they know something we don’t?

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Onward and ever northward (look for the orange arrow).

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We leave the M6 and strike west towards Walney, passing our first patches of winter snow, and the odd few ragged beggars at the side of the A590. Just before we arrive at the Isle of Walney, we have to travel through Barrow in Furness, a really remarkable town. Most of it appears to be a single solitary shipyard, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of grey terraced houses, all clustered around the dock cranes for safety. Why is there nobody up there filming adverts,? Or those half hour documentaries that they put on after “The Bill”? Perhaps because overall, it is a grim, grim place, although nowhere near as bad as some of the localities I am yet destined to visit.

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The Isle of Walney itself is a peculiar place, a bit like a grassy, tussocky version of Spurn Head. It has an infinitely worse road, though, but those years of training at Minsmere and Holme finally pay off. Unfortunately, we are not able to locate the appropriate turnoff for the bird itself.

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The tiny dirt track is supposed to be on the right, near the village rubbish dump, but we eventually have to go to the very end of the “road”, having fought our way past the thousands upon thousands of rather large seagulls that sit lugubriously around, all waiting for a piece of carrion to fall out of the sky at their feet. It reminds me very strongly indeed of the ending of “The Birds”, that well-known RSPB / Alfred Hitchcock co-production.

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The warden is tremendously friendly. We are the first people he has seen in four years. He explains that he has put up a sign at the side of the road, indicating the correct path to take. It’s not his fault that it’s fallen over. Anyway, all’s well that ends well, because we eventually do make it to the right bit of seashore. There is only one birdwatcher there, a local who says that the Sand Plover isn’t there, but not to despair, since it will be somewhere around, just waiting for us to refind it. And sure enough, one person, in the slowly growing knot of birdwatchers, does in fact refind it, after a delay of some twenty minutes or so. It’s with a largish group of Ring Plovers, and is a very distinctive pale brown. It’s extremely fluffy looking for some reason, and lacks the sharp black-and-white contrasts of its temporary colleagues. Indeed the Sand Plover is well capable of disappearing into the shingle very easily. It’s exceptionally well camouflaged, and tends to be obvious only after it has moved.

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The bird has, of course, been the subject of some pretty intense discussion about whether it is perhaps a Lesser Sand Plover and therefore a potential first for Britain. I’m only too happy to accept the views of the experts on this one, but nevertheless, our bird here does seem to have what seems to me a very small bill. Unless, of course, a Lesser Sand Plover has an extremely teeny-weeny-weeny-teeny bill, just like a pimple on the front of its head.

This lovely film was taken by Terence Ang in the Sand Plover’s usual habitat, in Hong Kong.

Having got over the excitement of seeing the bird, there is not a lot to keep us here. The day is bright, but the wind is strong, and rather gusty, and there are very few passing seabirds to look at. Locals say that sea watching here is generally very poor, and the only thing of interest that I can see are the tops of several obviously gigantic factory chimneys, just over the horizon to the North West. I never do find out what they are… Southern Scotland, the Isle of Man, or even Ireland. I don’t have a clue, and neither do any of the people I meet. I get the impression that I’m the first person who has ever noticed them. Perhaps they are an illusion… Some kind of mirage, reflected from the eastern United States… Perhaps they are a hologram of Three Mile Island, being transmitted as part of the twinning process with Windscale. (or is that Seascale?)

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On our way back, we call in at Leighton Moss in Lancashire.

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I am obsessed with the desire to see a Bittern.

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No luck, of course. Although this is the furthest north that Bitterns breed, and is, in actual fact, one of its strongholds, I don’t manage to see one. Apparently, the water levels are too high, and have forced them back into the reeds. What we do see however, are three juvenile Marsh Harriers, because this year the birds have bred, and have produced five young. It is particularly nice to see them in a new breeding area. It gives you a nice warm feeling inside to see a place where rare birds are on the increase rather than disappearing for ever.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, Cley, Norfolk, August 2006 (Steve Gantlett).

That apart, I find Leighton Moss to be a somewhat boring place. There seem to be very few birds about, and if anything, the birdwatchers may actually outnumber them. The old out-of-date Annual Reports that they are selling off in the reserve shop are right little scorchers too.

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Filed under Humour, Personal, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature