Tag Archives: Somme

Fred joins the RAF (1)

When war broke out in September 1939, Fred took advice from his father, Will, about which of the three services to join. Will, of course, had been a veteran of the First World War, and was well aware that, until conscription was introduced, there was a free choice of where to spend the conflict, with, hopefully, a maximised chance of survival.

Will told Fred not to join the Army, as he himself had fought on the Western Front, and had seen the horrors of Passchendaele, followed by a period on active service in the area of the Somme battlefields:

Will knew all too well that for the army commanders, the men remained just cannon fodder, whose eventual fate was of little importance to them, as they ate and drank in palatial comfort, miles behind the Front Line. The ordinary soldiers were just a list of names on a war memorial :

Will could not recommend the Navy either, because, if your ship were sunk, it would take you far too long to die, floating around in the water, with little real prospect of rescue. Don’t miss the shark :

Instead, along with thousands of other First World War veterans, he recommended to his son that Fred join the RAF. Will had seen the aircraft of the then Royal Flying Corps, flying high over the trenches. He knew that when they died, it was usually by burning, a relatively quick, and clean, way to go:

The supreme irony, of course, was that Fred was eventually to find himself in the ranks of Bomber Command. Throughout the entire war, their casualty rates were destined always to bear direct comparison with those of the British Army on the Western Front during the First World War, and even with the appalling rates of carnage of specific battles such as Ypres or the Somme.

Fred knew that his mother was extremely worried about her only son when he was away in the RAF. Like many thousands of his colleagues in Bomber Command, therefore, he told her that he had a totally safe job, working from nine till five in the quartermaster’s stores, doling out uniforms to new recruits. Fred’s father, however, who had experience of the sharp end of war, was fully aware that Fred was in aircrew, and of the risks that that involved:

Fred had very dismissive and, at the same time, modest, memories of what rank he had held in the RAF. He always insisted that he had been an AC2, an “Aircraftman Second Class”, but that he had once been promoted to the lofty heights of Lance Corporal, so that he would have the authority to guard a pile of boxes.

Fred’s parents had a photograph of their beloved only son, taken by Wilkes of Elgin:

They kept the photograph on the piano throughout the conflict, and indeed, long afterwards, as, perhaps, some kind of thanksgiving for his safe return. Fred’s mother and father had tried so hard to have a baby, with things going wrong with a number of pregnancies before Fred was born. And he was an only child.

Almost seventy years later, Fred’s granddaughter was to make a public appeal for information about her grandfather’s time in the RAF, and for just a few hours, this particular photograph was to be the main attraction on the RAF’s Facebook page:

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

Match-fixing (1)

Corruption in football is nothing new. More than a century ago, in 1900, Burnley goalkeeper Jack Hillman attempted to corrupt the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper and the other players by giving them £2 each to let Burnley win on the last day of the season and perhaps thereby escape relegation. It didn’t work. Burnley went down with 27 points from 34 games, along with Glossop North End who managed only 18. Here’s Hillman, apparently twenty minutes after the invention of angora sweaters::

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Had the bribe succeeded, Burnley would have overtaken and relegated Preston North End (28 points) who would have taken their place in Division Two. Hillman was called to account by the authorities, but amazingly, they didn’t accept his explanation of “I was only having a laugh!” He got a rather lenient twelve month ban, although this meant no pay for that period and the loss of a benefit match which would have netted him around £300. Even worse for him, though, was the fact that he never played international football for England again, having just broken into the team
In 1905, at the opposite end of the table, Manchester City were trying to win the League title. Billy Meredith, their star winger, decided to make the task a little bit easier by offering the Aston Villa players £10 to let them win. Like Hillman, Meredith received a year long ban, but rocked the footballing boat by alleging that he had been ordered to bribe the Aston Villa player, Alex Leake, by his Manchester City manager, Tom Maley. Bribery, said Meredith, was common practice at Manchester City who finished the 1904-1905 season in third place behind champions Newcastle United and Everton. A whole selection of players were suspended, as were members of the club staff and directors from the boardroom. Here’s Meredith. He looks like he’s wearing in a new moustache for his shy, and rather strange, German penfriend:

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Meredith actually wrote an open letter to the Athletic News:

“You approve of the severe punishment administered by the Commission AGAINST ME and state that the offence I committed at Aston Villa should have wiped me out of football forever. Why ME ALONE? when I was only the spokesman of others equally guilty.”

In 1915, Liverpool played so poorly as they lost 2-0 to relegation-threatened Manchester United that one of the many bookmakers who had taken bets on the game refused to pay out, at odds of 7-1.  He had probably heard of the clandestine meetings of players in the pubs of Manchester and Liverpool. And the poor old bookmaker was completely right. In the United team, Sandy Turnbull, Enoch West and Arthur Whalley were the guilty men and in the Liverpool team it was the fault of Tom Miller, Bob Purcell, Jackie Sheldon and the rather appropriately named Thomas Fairfoul. Can you spot the guilty players in this old picture of Manchester United?

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Would you like a second go?

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It looks like Liverpool are not quite so helpful towards the local detectives:

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And no, the man with the cap is the trainer.

Jackie Sheldon as an ex-United man was the mastermind behind the coup but not everybody in the two teams was happy to cheat in this way. Both Fred Pagnam (Liverpool) and George Anderson (United) refused to participate. Indeed, when Pagnam shot and hit the opposing crossbar his teammates all showed their anger with him. It was perhaps his own fault, as before the match he had threatened to score a goal to spoil their nasty little plan. By now, whiter-than-white Billy Meredith was a United player, but everybody had taken great care not to tell him about what was happening and nobody passed to him throughout the game…something which, of course, aroused his suspicions as to what exactly was going on.  A penalty was missed by such a distance that the ball only just failed to hit the corner flag.  The crowd, feeling they had wasted their penny entrance money, grew increasingly angry with the proceedings.

Overall though, things were getting very much out of hand with match fixing. As an example, all seven of the Liverpool-Manchester United match fixers, along with an eighth player, Lawrence Cook of Stockport County, were banned from football sine die. (that effectively means “for life”)
Cynics might say that that was a fairly limp punishment as professional football had already been suspended because of the war. The even more cynical would point out that the Naughty Eight were given hints about a possible return to football, but only if they signed up for the Army and survived the carnage of the Western Front:

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A succession of away games on the Somme and at Passchendaele gave seven of the Naughty Eight their promised lifting of the ban. Fairfoul in fact turned away from football but the other six went back to their previous employment. For some reason “Lucky Enoch” West did not have his ban rescinded until 1945 when he was 59 years of age.

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Poor Sandy Turnbull had to be contented with a posthumous permission to resume his footballing career. He joined the 23rd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment before a free transfer to the 8th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. He became Lance-Sergeant Turnbull and was killed on May 3rd in the Battle of Arras at the age of 33.  Sandy was the son of James and Jessie Turnbull, of I, Gibson St., Kilmarnock, Ayrshire and the husband of Florence Amy Turnbull, of 17, Portland Rd., Gorse Hill, Stretford, Manchester. He had won FA Cup medals with both Manchester City and Manchester United:

Deadgerman

The Grim Reaper has no favourites though. Sandy has no known grave and his death is commemorated along with that of almost 35,000 others from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in this fairly pointless battle and whose bodies have never been identified. Overall, the Battle of Arras was quite a slaughter. Nearly 160,000 British lads and about 125,000 young Germans renounced their right ever to play football again. In a mere five weeks. Here is Polygon Wood where Sandy had tried to mark out a football pitch for himself and his pals:

polygonwood

Alas, they didn’t realise that a Great War average of one ton of explosives per yard of trench was going to be a really, really big problem with that.

 

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Filed under Criminology, Football, History, Humour, Nottingham

“The Memorial: Beyond The Anzac Legend” with Dr Neil Oliver

 

Recently I have been watching a TV series with Neil Oliver about the Australian War Memorial in Canberra:

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It was called “The Memorial: Beyond The Anzac Legend” and it was on History Channel.
Here is the link.

The programmes examine what is being done to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, and in particular from an Australian point of view, the centenary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

This is an extremely moving set of five programmes and in my opinion by far the best work that Dr Oliver has ever done on television:

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One episode featured the letters of two brothers initially from Manchester, England who then settled in South Australia and became Australians. The elder brother served as Second Lieutenant John Alexander Raws and his younger brother was Lieutenant Robert Goldthorpe Raws. After Gallipoli, they were both sent to France and the disastrous Battle of the Somme.

Robert was to die on either July 28th or 29th 1916 and John was killed shortly afterwards on August 23rd 1916. Their biographical details are available here. Firstly John Raws and then his brother Robert.
What makes it all so interesting is the fact that the letters home from the two officers have been preserved and can be downloaded from this link.

The best thing is to do is to download them as a 164 page PDF document. I actually right clicked the download link on my computer, and then I selected “Save target as”. I could then choose where the letters were downloaded on my computer. I am no computer wizard, and I found that if I just clicked “Download”, I couldn’t find them afterwards. At least two lost copies are just wandering around inside the machine somewhere.

The whole point about these letters is that, for some unknown reason, they came through to the people waiting at home without the censors doing anything about them. I have read a fair amount about the Great War and I have never come across any letters quite like these.

Some of the things said are just unbelievable by the censorship standards of the day. Just to encourage you to take that first step, here are a few extracts, with the page references:

Page 134

July 16, 1916

There is something rather humorous in this situation, when I actually come to it.

John Alexander Raws, who cannot tread upon a worm; who has never struck another human being except in fun; who cannot read of the bravery of others at the front without tears well into his eyes; who cannot think of blood, and mangled bodies, without bodily sickness, this man, I, go forth tomorrow to kill and maim,  murder and ravage.

It is funny.

But I am glad to go. It is what I set out for, and the mission must be fulfilled:

recruit

Pages 136 and 137

How we do think of home, and laugh at the pettiness of our little daily annoyances. We could not sleep, we remember, because of the creaking of the pantry door, all the noise of the tram cars, all the kids playing around and making a row.
Well, we can’t sleep now because six shells are bursting around here every minute, and you can’t get much sleep between them:
Guns are belching out shells, with the most thunderous clap each time;
The ground is shaking with each little explosion;
I am wet, and the ground on which I rest is wet;
My feet are cold. In fact, I’m all cold, with my two skimpy blankets;
I am covered with cold, clotted sweat, and sometimes my person is foul.
I am hungry;
I am annoyed because of the absurdity of bloody war;
I see no chance of anything better for tomorrow, or the day after, or the year
after;
One could go on and on…..
And don’t think I always sleep on the wet ground. I sometimes get a dry bit. And I had a hot bath yesterday, and I am clean-for the time. By the way, while I was having my bath, another officer of his Majesty’s gallant forces was blown to pieces a little way in front. He had just come out of the trenches and was going to have his bath.

page 140

July 25th 1916

I am still alive but living rather a risky existence, what with shells and bullets and bayonets…..

August 4th 1916

I write from the battlefield of the Great Push with thousands of shells passing in a tornado overhead and thousands of unburied dead around me. It seems easy to say that, but you who have not seen it can hardly conceive the awfulness of it all:

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My battalion has been in it for eight days, and one-third of it is left–all shattered at that. And they’re sticking it still, incomparable heroes all. We are lousy, stinking, ragged, unshaven, sleepless. Even when we’re back a bit we can’t sleep for our own guns. I have one puttee, a dead man’s helmet, another dead man’s gas protector, a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic is rotten with other men’s blood and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains.
It is horrible, but why should you people at home not know? Several of my friends are raving mad. I met three offices out in No Man’s Land the other night, all rambling and mad. Poor Devils!

Chateau_Wood_Ypres_1917

page 141

Myself, I am alright. I have had much luck and kept my nerve so far. The awful difficulty is to keep it. The bravest of all often lose it. Courage does not count here. It is all nerve. Once that goes one becomes a gibbering maniac. The noise of our own guns, the enemy shells, and the getting lost in the darkness.
You see this is enemy country. We’re in the remnants of their trenches and wrecked villages, and the great horror of many of us is the fear of being lost with troops at night on the battlefield. We do all our fighting and moving at night and the confusion of passing through a barrage of enemy shells in the dark is pretty appalling . You’ve read of the wrecked villages. Well some of these about here are not wrecked. They are utterly destroyed, so that there are not even skeletons of buildings left. Nothing but a churned mass of  débris, with bricks, stones and girders and bodies pounded to nothing. And forests! There are not even tree trunks left, not a leave or a twig. All is buried and churned up and buried again.
The sad part is that one can see no end of this. If we live tonight we have to go through it tomorrow night and next week and next month. Poor wounded devils you meet on the stretchers are laughing with glee. One cannot blame them. They are getting out of this.

pages 147 and 148

Just before daybreak, an engineer officer out there, who was hopelessly rattled, ordered us to go. The trench was not finished. I took it on myself to insist on the men staying, saying that any man who stopped digging would be shot. We dug on and finished amid a tornado of bursting shells. All the time, mind, the enemy flares are making the whole area almost as light as day. We got away as best we could. I was again in the rear going back, and again we were cut off and lost. We eventually found our way to the right spot. I was buried twice, and thrown down several times–buried with the dead and dying. The ground was covered with bodies in all stages of decay and mutilation, and I would, after struggling free from the earth, pick up a body by me to try to lift him out with me, and find him a decayed corpse. I pulled a head off one man and was covered with blood. The horror was indescribable:

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In the dim misty light of dawn I collected about 50 men and sent them off, mad with terror, on the right track for home. Then two brave fellows stayed behind and helped me with the only unburied wounded man we could find. The journey down with him was awful. He was delirious. I tied one of his legs to his pack with one of my puttees. On the way down I found another man and made him stay and help us. It was so terribly slow.

page 153

Well, I’ve had my whack and enough to last a life time. I think one could call it a crowded time. Shells—millions of shells, shells all day and all night, high explosives. I want to put somewhere in here that Goldy fell at Pozières, or rather beyond it. Shrapnel, minenwerfers, whizz-bangs, bombs, tear gas shells, gas shells, sulphur shells-and thousands of gaping dead:


The stench, and the horridness of it can but be mentioned. I have sat on corpses, walked on corpses, and pillaged corpses. I got many interesting German souvenirs and could have secured cartloads from their trenches, but I lost most of what I took, and usually was too busy to pick up anything. I lost nearly all my equipment and clothes and with them my curiosities, but I brought back one bonzer souvenir that I did not expect to bring back—myself.

You always told me I would stick it all right, and I did, but I’d give anything to be out of it for good. All of us would. I saw strong men who had been through Gallipoli sobbing and trembling as with fever–men who had never turned a hair before. The fact that it was all so new to me probably helped me enormously. Goldy fell in the first hour, before I even saw him. I reached the same ground next day.

I worry that if we are not careful, we will finish up celebrating the Great War and our eventual victory over the Germans. This collection of Australian letters will go a long way in preventing anybody from making that ridiculous mistake.

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Filed under France, History, Writing

Casualty rates in the Great War

Years ago I wrote a worldwide best-selling book about the history of football in the High School from 1870-1914.(Just kidding). In the foreword, I revealed the identity of the Old Boy who had won an Olympic Gold Medal for the United Kingdom at Association Football. I made public which Old Boy had scored more goals in a single F.A.Cup tie than any other player in the history of the competition. I listed the eight Old Boys who had played international football for England. I recalled the Old Boy whose refereeing in an F.A.Cup tie led the F.A. to introduce the concept of the neutral referee, an idea which has spread worldwide since that biased performance. I described an occasion when the High School goalkeeper let in the winning goal as a protest against the refereeing of the game, and the day when the referee refused to give a penalty because “penalty kicks were unknown in amateur football”. The reader could find out which team lost 0-13 and did not get the ball into the opposition half at any point during the game. In another fixture, against Nottingham Asylum, “the presence of so many lunatics unnerved the school team, for it did not come up to its normal form.”  I remembered the day when “The School Six defeated the Masters by three goals to one. The masters, who, like Hamlet, were somewhat “fat and scant of breath”, then demanded to play two fat men extra, to compensate for their want of nimbleness. This unfortunate challenge was accepted, and the School won again by ten goals to one.”

Overall,  this book provided many examples of extraordinary, and, indeed, often amusing events on the football pitches of Victorian and Edwardian England.

villa-cup

When I first started my researches, looking through issue after issue of, firstly, “The Forester’, and then “The Nottinghamian”, it seemed that this would ever be the case. Here was a football spectators’ paradise, where goals rained into the net in every single game, as Leicester Wyggeston School  were beaten by 23-0 on two separate occasions. Deadly goal poachers scored hat tricks past defenders made slow-witted by heavy leather boots, and referees, and their decisions, grew ever more eccentric by the year.

 

My suspicions, though, were initially aroused by the story of William Norman Hoyte who was at the High School from 1904-1913, when he won an Open Scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge to read Natural Sciences. William represented his college at rowing and appeared in the Second May Boat. His studies, and his rowing, though, were interrupted by his military service as a Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters in the Great War. He was a very brave young man and won the Military Cross twice. When he returned to Jesus College in 1919, though, he was unable to continue with his rowing. After the appalling carnage of the Great War, William Norman Hoyte M.C. and Bar was Jesus College’s only remaining rower from the pre-war years. All the rest had been killed.

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Morbid curiosity then caused me to wonder what were the eventual fates of those familiar names whose footballing deeds were recorded in perpetuity in their School Magazine, especially those who would have been of an age to have been sucked into the flesh shredding maelstrom of the Great War. where, on average, every single metre of trench was to be hit by a total of one ton of explosives. What I found, quite frankly, astounded me, and I do not feel that any reader, safe from harm, here at the beginning of the twenty first century, can begin to comprehend either the numbers of men involved in this war, or the enormous casualties which the nation suffered.

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During the Great War, for example, British forces lost 887,711 men killed and 1,663,570 men wounded. Of these 118,941 were officers. The British Empire had casualties of 1,244,589, with French deaths counted at 1,737,800. Italy lost 1,737,800 me killed and the Russians 3,394,369. Germany had 2,800,720 killed, the Austro-Hungarian Empire 2,081,200 and the Ottoman Empire 3,271,844. The United Kingdom lost as many as 2.20% of its total population, the French 4.39% and the Germans 4.32%.

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In individual battles, the loss of human life could be even more astounding. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1st 1916, the 8th Division lost 218 of its 300 officers at Ovillers in just two hours. Of 8,500 other ranks, 5,274 men perished. On this single day, the total casualties of the British Army were 57,470 men. German casualties were just over 300. In the first three days of the Battle of the Somme, the average daily casualties per division were 101 officers and 3,320 men. During the second week, 10,000 men a day were lost, and for the remaining four or five months of the campaign, casualty rates were in the range of 2,500 men per day. Overall, this battle was to cost the lives of 420,000 British and Commonwealth troops, with a total of 220,000 French casualties. German losses remain unknown but were at least 450,000, and may have reached 600,000. In the photograph below, the tiny squares are all graves:

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Nor is this necessarily an isolated set of statistics. In the Second Battle of Ypres, in April 1915, the 149th Brigade lost over three quarters of their complement, a total of some 42 officers and 1,912 men. The 10th Brigade more or less ceased to exist, losing 73 officers and 2,346 men. In the Third Battle of Ypres, between August and November 1916, British infantry repeatedly advanced against German machine gunners, with casualties totalling 244,897. On the second day of the Battle of Loos, twelve battalions, numbering some 10,000 men, attacked the German machine guns. In just over three hours, 385 officers were lost, along with 7,681 men. On July 31st 1917, when the 1/1st Hertfordshires attacked the Langemarck Line, every single officer was a casualty and eleven of them were killed. The other ranks suffered 459 casualties and drafts of men had to be made to rebuild the battalion. Not until May 1918 was the 1/1st Hertfordshire Regiment fully reconstituted by absorbing thirty officers and 650 men from 6th Bedfordshire Regiment. In the Battle of Aubers Ridge, General Rawlinson, irritated with the lack of progress, complained to his Brigadier-Generals,

“Where are the Sherwood Foresters ?  Where are the Sherwood Foresters? ”

Brigadier-General Oxley replied, “They are lying out in no-man’s-land, sir, and most of them will never stand again.” Many of these particular casualties, especially the Lieutenants and Second Lieutenants, may well have been Old Nottinghamians, but nowadays, there is no way of being any more precise than that.

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One thing of which we are certain is that Robert George Hopewell played in the High School First Team from 1897-1899. Robert was the son of Noah and Margaret Hopewell, of Old Basford and the devoted husband of Gladys Eleanor Hopewell.  They lived at West Brook in Mansfield, Robert was killed at Thiepval during the Battle of the Somme on September 3rd 1916, at the age of 33. A stretcher-bearer’s description of Thiepval in 1916 has survived to the present day…

“The trenches were knee-deep in glueing mud and it was the hardest work I have ever done…The banks on each side were full of buried and half-buried corpses and the stench was appalling. As one was carrying a wounded man down, one perhaps got stuck in the mud and staggered whilst one extricated oneself or was extricated. You put out a hand to steady yourself, the earth gave way and you found that you were clutching the blackened face of a half-buried German.”

Revelon, gefallener Deutscher

Nowadays, Thiepval is the scene of a huge memorial dedicated to those British soldiers who have no known grave. There are 73,000 names listed on it.

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Thomas Cripwell Wilson was an Old Nottinghamian who served as a Private in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion. He was the son of Thomas and Mary Carr Wilson, of 5, Mount Hooton Terrace, Forest Road, just a five minute walk from the High School. Thomas was wounded in 1915, but returned to France in 1917.

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He was killed in action in November of that same year. His war could be described in equally frank terms…

“All those picturesque phrases of war writers are dangerous because they show nothing of the individual horror, nothing of the fine personalities suddenly smashed into red beastliness, nothing of the sick fear that is tearing at the hearts of brave boys…a thing infinitely more terrible than physical agony.”

The earliest High School football players to be involved in the Great War were four boys who played in the 1891-1892 season, namely Blackwall, Hadfield, Senior and Wallis.

Ten years later, the 1901-1902 season was to provide a full team, eleven brave individuals called Constantine, Cooper, Cullen, Emmett, Hore, Johnson, Marrs, Millward, Settle, Watson and Woollatt.

By 1913-1914, even more footballers were destined to risk their lives on the Western Front. They were now a full tem with a generous selection of substitutes, including Barber, Boyd, Cleveland, Fleet, Harlow, Hind, Lyon, Munks, Nidd, Page, Parr, Prince, Sadler, Taylor, Telford, A.G.Wilson and W.M.Wilson.

Old Nottinghamians, both footballers and non-footballers, volunteered in huge numbers for the Great War. At least one thousand five hundred boys and staff went willingly from a comfortable, safe, and usually well-off  family background in Nottingham, to what was arguably the bloodiest war in human history.

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Filed under Football, France, History, Nottingham, Politics, 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.

2 photos contrails

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.

two by two

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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Nearly a thousand years ago

In  a recent blogpost, I told the often harrowing tale of how what appeared to be a small army of men descended on our hitherto tranquil house, and after a period of some four days, managed to install both a new central heating system and a multi-fuel stove. Most interesting, though, was the tiling revealed in the back bedroom, when the old radiator was taken off.
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There was no trace of a fireplace ever having been behind this tiling and we were told that it appeared to be a practice exercise, perhaps carried out by a young apprentice, and placed on the bedroom wall in 1932 to echo the fireplace in exactly the same position one floor below. In the 1960s, we think, the house was given its first dose of central heating and the young man’s work from thirty years before was covered over and lost. Being a sentimental and nosey old fool, I always wonder about the ordinary working men and women who laboured for such brief moments in endless time and whose work may, paradoxically, then sometimes go on to last for so many years, long after the deaths of the people who made them. Working men are born, live their lives for good or bad, and when they are gone, they leave little trace behind them. And once their grandchildren pass on, those men are then banished for eternity to “Trace your Ancestry” websites, as just names on forms, too far back in history to connect with. Did this apprentice tiler go on to fight in the Second World War? Did he survive? And the man who gave him the job to do – had he come back from the Somme a mental wreck of what he had previously been?

Nearly ten years ago, I went to visit Lincoln Cathedral, which has a fascinating parallel to the tiling exercise, except this one is getting on for being a thousand years older. This early medieval practice exercise is for carving lots of little squares with decorative flowers in the middle. Even twelfth century boys will be boys, though, and instead of a flower, one bright spark has carved a bird’s nest, complete with baby birds.
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On the right, somebody has carved one of the adults, arriving with a worm in its mouth.
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And on the left, there is the other parent flying away, its beak empty, in search of more food for their hungry offspring.

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Those inventive young men of the twelfth century, however, were not to realise that one day, a tower in the very cathedral that they had had the privilege of helping construct, was to play host to its very own parent birds, a pair of Peregrines.
They are not easy to film!

This is “Lincoln’s Falcons” by Mark Taylor

Not everything always goes to plan! This is called “Peregrine falcon chick saved after fall” and comes from the local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Echo.

Even more interesting, though, are the medieval man’s opinions of his bosses. Asked to carve decorative heads onto the rood-screen, the stone carvers have obediently done so, but at the same time, they have taken a golden opportunity to transform important people, such as their foremen, into cartoon figures, with big noses and stupid expressions. I cannot believe that these carved faces were unrecognisable to the stone carvers’ contemporaries.

Martin, always over eager, with his big fleshy lips…

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Will with his big nose…

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Jack, what a chubby little chap!

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Greedy Tom with his pig’s ears…

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Stupid Henry with his donkey’s ears…

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Harry, turning into a mouse…

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Walter. metamorphosing slowly into Satan, complete with horns…..

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The priest with his buck teeth and drooling tongue…

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Even the bishop looks as if he is about to explode, with either anger or constipation…

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In the ancient castle nearby is the religious graffiti carved by bored guards during a long forgotten night around 1350 or 1400, as they waited to take the condemned man out to be hanged the next day…

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Most of all though at Lincoln, I love this old ring, set into one of the internal walls of the cathedral. This is where Oliver Cromwell’s troops tethered  their horses, when the Roundhead cavalry was stabled inside this lovely old cathedral during the English Civil War.

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What a magnificent building.

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For a short period in the Middle Ages, when the towers had their spires, it was the tallest structure in the world.

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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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