Tag Archives: South Derbyshire

A nice German in Woodville

I have been friends with Chris since we went to Woodville Junior School when we were seven years old, almost sixty years of friendship:

He recently told me the following story. It fits in so well with my previous two posts on this subject of Germans and/or Nazis in Woodville that I would like to include it here. I have kept to Chris’ original words:

“A few years ago my mother told me the story of an event during the Second World War.

One day she came home from work to find a German Prisoner of War in the living-room drinking tea.

My grandfather introduced him as “Gerard”. I imagine his name was actually Gerhardt. My grandfather had met Gerhardt walking up the railway line from Ensor’s brickyard where apparently he was working. (I was not aware that POWs could be required to work for what was to them the enemy but your blog entry confirms that they did.)

“Gerhardt was on his way to Woodville Tollgate to wait for the transport back to the camp, which I think was near Etwall, and given that he had almost two hours to wait, my grandfather invited him in for tea. My mother was horrified since she thought that it was probably illegal to have an enemy POW in the house  – fraternising with the enemy and all that.”

“It transpired that Gerhardt’s ‘plane had been shot down; he and most of the crew bailed out before it crashed. From what I gather, Gerhardt was a reluctant combatant and was quite relieved to be hors de combat. He obviously spoke English, since none of my family spoke German, so he must have been relatively well-educated.”

In any event, Gerhardt finished his tea and went on his way. They never saw him again.

I wish my mother had told me this story years ago because I would have tried to find Gerhardt and see what happened to him subsequently.”

It is by no means beyond the realms of possibility that Chris might have found Gerhardt. If he was born between 1910-1920, he may have lasted beyond the Year 2000. My own Dad was in the RAF in 1941, around twenty years old, and he lasted until 2003 when he died aged 80.

Ensor’s brickworks is long gone, but here is the Victorian nineteenth century map of the area :

The railway whose course Gerhardt was following runs from bottom left to top right and Ensor’s Pool Works is just to the south of the middle of the railway. Gerhardt would have been walking to the north east along the railway.

My friends and I all played in that extremely dangerous industrial area from, say 1962-1968, although by then the Pool Works had been demolished. We did play on the majestic slopes of “Milk Hill” though, which was an enormous pile of clay, made from, I presume, several million tons of the sticky stuff. You can see “Milk Hill” in the middle of the right hand side of the map. And we went down into the clay pit as well, which was even more dangerous, because of the lakes of wet clay with a deceptive thin dry crust on top. And if there was one “air shaft”, there would have been more. Still, just like many boys, and indeed fully grown men, (if there is such a thing) “Danger is my middle name”.

At the middle of the top of the map is “Jack i’ th’ Holes” which is a very strange name and, to me, has supernatural connotations, Jack very often referring to Satan himself.

On the map the seven  little  circles in the Pool Works are circular kilns. Here is a picture taken in the Pool Works showing some of them. When he left school, my Dad, Fred, aged then only thirteen or fourteen, worked as a junior in the offices at Ensor’s Pool Works. He is standing to the right of the man with the shovel. Notice how two men have climbed one of the kilns to be in the photograph :

In later years, Fred was not the only person to be disgusted that Freckleton, the son of the business’ owner, was to remain at home throughout the Second World War, hiding his cowardice behind the spurious claim that his job was a reserved occupation. It wasn’t.

Some time before the outbreak of the war, Fred was to witness an incident when a workman, for some unknown reason, had hit Freckleton hard in the face, and knocked him backwards into a puddle. Freckleton was drenched with muddy water and his magnificent suit was ruined.

Needless to say, the workman was dismissed on the spot, and, given the connections which existed between factory owners at this time and were renewed every time there was a Freemasons’ meeting, he was unable to find work anywhere in South Derbyshire ever again.

Incidentally, I did a little research about the location of the Prisoner of War camp, and found that there were a number in the area, along the side of the River Trent, where digging tunnels was more likely to result in death by drowning than freedom. Sites included the Weston Camp in Weston-on-Trent (top right), but the likeliest site for Gerhardt, in my opinion, was the section of Weston Camp in King’s Newton. Here’s the Orange Arrow, Herr Orange Pfeil, released early for good behaviour. Woodville is bottom left:

It’s funny looking at that map, which is perhaps ten miles square. I spent all of my life until I was eighteen in Woodville, yet I’ve never ever been to Twyford or Ingleby or King’s Newton or Newbold or Coleorton or Heath End. I was once on a bus going through Peggs Green, and it was so countrified that when an old lady that the driver expected to be at the bus stop wasn’t there to catch the bus, he went and knocked on her door to tell her to hurry up, or he’d have to leave her.

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Filed under Bomber Command, History, Personal, Politics

A nasty German in Woodville, Part Two, the True Facts

The Luftwaffe’s Gruppe III./KG.4, full name 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 arrived at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands in the middle of January 1941. They would be there until July 31st when they left for the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front:

During the first part of their stay, in one of the hardest winters for years, they spent a lot of time training and then taking part in planned air raids on the cities and ports of Great Britain. They were flying twin engined Heinkel He-111H version bombers, “hard to start greenhouses”, which scared the bejesus out of the locals who lived near the airfield. They were all loaded to the maximum limits with explosives and fuel, and on quite a few occasions, seemed to struggle to climb over the locals’ houses in this birthplace of Mata Hari:

On Tuesday, June 24th 1941 the pilot of one of the Heinkel He-111Hs, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz, took off at 23.00 hours, tasked with laying mines in the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool. With him was a crew of three men, Stabsfeldwebel H Glkowski, Obergefreiter Friedrich Ertzinger, the Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, and Feldwebel W Köller.

At 02.30 hrs, somewhere between the Wash and Liverpool, the Heinkel was intercepted on radar and then attacked by a Bristol Beaufighter of 25 Squadron, based at RAF Wittering, squadron codes ZK:

The Beaufighter was flown by Pilot Officer DW Thompson, with Pilot Officer LD Britain acting as the airborne interception radar operator (A1). Pilot Officer Britain picked up the Heinkel almost half way between Sheffield and Nottingham just under approximately 20,000 feet up, and stalked the twin engined bomber for a quarter of an hour. Slowly, slowly, the Beaufighter crew crept up on their prey and then opened fire with their four 20 mm Hispano cannons. Here they are, under the nose of the aircraft. There were also six .303in machine guns, two in the port wing and four in the starboard wing. This made it the most heavily armed British fighter of the war, with a total of ten guns:

The RAF night fighter scored many hits on the hapless Heinkel. The cannon shells and machine gun bullets hit home with the same impact in energy terms as a broadside from a Royal Navy destroyer. The Heinkel’s starboard engine dissolved into flames and stopped working. A few minutes later, the bomber’s undercarriage fell out of its engine nacelles, increasing the plane’s drag enormously:

Immediately the bomber began to lose height rapidly, and as they plunged down to 1,000 feet, the pilot, Oberleutnant Schwartz, gave the order to the crew to bale out. Sadly, by the time he baled out himself, the aircraft was too low and his parachute failed to deploy. Schwartz was killed but his three colleagues, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller all escaped safely.

The Heinkel crashed close to the buildings of Edwards Farm in Lullington, a sleepy little village in South Derbyshire, some six miles south west of Woodville. This satellite view shows just how countrified Lullington still is even nowadays, eighty years after the event :

As soon as the Heinkel hit the ground, its bombs immediately exploded, scattering pieces of the plane over an area of some fifteen acres. The Home Guard would later find the tail mounted MG 17 machine gun. The aircraft had also been fitted with two external PVC 1006 bomb racks to increase its weapon carrying capacity.

The three surviving members of the crew, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller, landed in fields belonging to Edwards Farm. They were immediately captured and taken prisoner by two Home Guard men, Jack and Geoff Edwards, the brothers who owned the farm where the wreckage of the plane fell :

Ultimately the German aviators were taken to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate to be locked up until the army could come and pick them up later that day. Here’s the Police Station again:

And what happened to the rest of the men involved ?

On July 31st 1941 the entire 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 was sent to the Eastern Front. It was a lovely place to walk the dog :

Poor Oberleutnant Schwartz received a full military funeral at Fradley Church near the cathedral city of Lichfield on June 27th 1941. He was buried in the lovely English churchyard around the church. Here’s the church:

And here’s his grave :

In recent years, at the Battle of Britain service in September, an officer of the Luftwaffe based at 16 M.U. Stafford has laid a wreath on the grave of the pilot, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz. Everybody was very happy to see this, and evinced the hope that it would continue for many years to come.

A number of years after the end of the war, in 1979, Friedrich Ertzinger, the Heinkel’s Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, visited Edwards Farm where he was given a wonderful reception by the two Edwards brothers. These visits continued for a number of years, and all three men enjoyed themselves enormously.

Pilot Officer LD Britain survived the war. You may remember that he was the airborne interception radar operator in the successful Beaufighter.

Pilot Officer David William Thompson, a mere 22 years old and the pilot of that successful Beaufighter, did not survive the conflict. Indeed, when he shot down that Heinkel over Lullington, he had only fourteen more days to live. On July 8th 1941, piloting a Bristol Beaufighter If, serial number, T4629, for an unknown reason, he plunged into the ground near Wittering. His airborne interception radar operator, Flight Sergeant Richard George Crossman, was also killed instantly.

David William Thompson was the son of the Reverend Hamlet George Thompson and of Dora Muriel Thompson (née Watney), of Little Munden Rectory in Hertfordshire. David was buried in Wittering (All Saints) Churchyard.

Richard George Crossman was the son of Richard Berkley Crossman and Clara Priscilla Crossman and the husband of Mary Crossman, who all hailed from Watford. Richard is buried in Watford Cemetery:

His grave bears the inscription “Cherished memories, loved by all who knew him”.

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, History, Politics, Russia

Fred meets a Flying Circus

My Dad, Fred, spent nearly all of his life in South Derbyshire. In the sunny summers and snowy winters after the First World War, his home was at Number 39, Hartshorne Lane, Woodville. “Holmgarth” was the last house in the village as you went down the road towards the neighbouring village of Hartshorne. Here it is today:

After Fred’s house, further down the hill, there were a couple of large houses near a small lake on the left. They were just a few yards beyond the massive blue brick railway bridge which carried the passenger railway line from Woodville Station towards Swadlincote. A half mile or so further on was the old Saxon village of Hartshorne. Hartshorne Lane itself was made of gravel, and there was so little traffic that it was perfectly possible to play football or cricket all day long without any interruption whatsoever. Boys regularly knocked their cricket stumps into the surface of the road.

Indeed, the whole area was still so countrified, that one day in the late 1920s, a seven year old Fred saw a stray cow walking around in the front garden of the house, and rushed to tell his mother. She was busy with her housework, and just told him that he was being silly and telling lies. Eventually, though, she looked out of the kitchen window and she too noticed the cow which had by now made its way around the house to the kitchen garden. She was very startled and cried out in genuine fear. Young Fred, though, thought that this was a good example of somebody getting their just desserts. Here is young Fred with his bike but just look at the empty field behind him. It used to belong to a farming family called Startin. Nowadays, their field is completely covered in houses:

One sunny summer’s day in the 1930s, perhaps in 1935, an aircraft came in to land in Startin’s field at the back of Fred’s house in Hartshorne Lane. It was an Airspeed AS4 Ferry, a medium sized biplane, and was registered as G-ACBT. It had even featured in a special painting in an aviation magazine:

The aircraft belonged to the famous Flying Circus of Sir Alan Cobham, although it had previously been owned by the popular author, Neville Shute. He had used it as a ferry aircraft in southern Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here’s one of the photographs which were taken of this extraordinary event. The three people are, I think, Fred, the pilot and the mechanic :

Sir Alan Cobham was one of the foremost proponents of the virtues of flying, and with his support for the National Aviation Day, he gave enormous publicity to British aircraft and to the still relatively young RAF. Here he is:

An excited young Fred talked to the pilot while the mechanic went off to find some fuel for the aircraft from a local garage. When he returned, they refuelled the plane and then took Fred for a short flight around the local area.

This adventure, amazing by the Health and Safety standards of the present day, was to inspire Fred, years later, to join the RAF.

Ironically, the year when Fred joined the RAF, 1941, saw G-ACBT being finally dismantled at the scrapyard, in the absence of any potential buyers for this sturdy old aircraft.

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Earthquakes and Lights in the Sky

At least one physical phenomenon is very rare in Nottingham. Would that it were not so:

Untitled
“Northern Lights,” or “Aurora Borealis” was first recorded as having been seen in the neighbourhood of Nottingham during the winter of 1755-1756. The Northern Lights appear at their best according to an eleven year cycle, and 2015-2016 was quite a good year, so keep yourself entertained by doing a very long backwards calculation!
Here is a website which will tell you when is a good time to look for the Northern Lights.
aurora-borealis-cccccccccccccccccccccccccc

Another physical phenomenon is almost equally infrequent in Nottingham…Thank Goodness!
And luckily, when it does happen, it tends to do little damage, and it soon gets forgotten. Who remembers this one now?…

August 23 1752  The severe shock of an earthquake was felt in Nottingham and the surrounding district, about 7 a.m. Great alarm, but not much damage, was the result. The day was remarkably fine, both before and after the shock.”

And forty years later, another earthquake came to nothing…thank goodness:

February 25, 1792  Between the hours of eight and nine this evening, an alarming shock of an earthquake was felt in the Midland counties, but particularly at Nottingham, many of the inhabitants running out of their houses, expecting them to fall upon their heads. The shock was preceded by a rumbling noise, like the rolling of a cannonball upon a boarded floor.”

Another Victorian source mentions an earthquake on October 6th 1863:

“The earthquake appears to have been felt over a great part of England” and it was decidedly more severe in the western parts of the country, especially the West Midlands:

“At Birmingham walls were seen to move, and people rose from their beds to see what damage had been done, for though the rumbling, grating sound is like a passing train, it was known at once to be something more. At Edgbaston successive shocks were plainly felt, and houses were shaken to their foundations. At Wolverhampton everything in the houses vibrated. The houses cracked and groaned as it the timbers had been strained. The policemen on duty saw the walls vibrate, heard everything rattle about them, and were witnesses to the universal terror of the roused sleepers.
At Cheltenham, a deep rumbling noise was heard, the heaviest furniture was shaken, the fire-irons rattled, heavy stone walls were heard to strain and crack, and the boys at Cheltenham College were all under the impression that the rest were engaged in making the greatest possible disturbance.”

I was unable to find a picture of the boys of Cheltenham College, but, much better, here are the splendid young ladies of Cheltenham Training College around the same period:

chel traoining

And what of Nottingham? Well…

“October 6th 1863  A slight shock of earthquake was felt early in the morning in Nottingham, and in most parts of the country.”

and then, just over a year later:

October 30th 1864  Slight shocks of an earthquake were felt in Nottingham, and in various parts of the country.”

Those two earthquakes were so insignificant that they have, literally, not passed “the test of time” and I have not been able to find really very much at all about them.

In fairly recent times, my Dad experienced an earthquake in South Derbyshire:

“On one occasion when he was walking home from his job as a teacher at Woodville Church of England Junior School in Moira Road, Woodville, Fred was the hapless victim of an earth tremor. It must have been quite frightening because, as he was to relate many times in subsequent years, he was able to watch the pavement rippling up and down with the force of the shock.

Seismological records for the local area show that this event occurred most probably on February 11, 1957. Here is my Dad’s quiet little mining village around that time, in the late 1950s:

 

If you want to check the history of known earthquakes in England, then this is the link to the relevant Wikipedia page.

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