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Look out ! It’s a tornado !! Hang on to your hat !!!

So far I have looked at how Nottingham has been affected by too much water, not enough water, weather that was too cold and weather that was too hot. There have never been any earthquakes or tsunamis here, thank goodness. That is not to say, though, that Nottingham has never been troubled by high winds. All right, it cannot rival Texas or Oklahoma. Neither Dorothy nor Toto ever lived here, and we just cannot  compete with things like this:

But we do try our hardest. We do our bit. Or at least we did do, way back in the sixteenth century. Just to continue with our policy of showing you the clothes and the costumes, so that you can work out what time period we are talking about, here are some of my favourite people from the era in question, having a game of bowls while they wait for a decision about the Armada from the European Court of Justice:

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Back to the story….

On Monday, July 7th 1558, Nottingham was struck by a tornado. All of the ordinary houses within a mile of the city were destroyed. Sir Richard Baker reported in his now forgotten but once extremely popular “Chronicle of the Kings of England from the Time of the Romans’ Government unto the Death of King James”:

“On the 7th of July, this year, within a mile of Nottingham was a grievous tempest with thunder, which, as it came through beat down all the houses and churches, cast the bells to the outside of the church-yards, and twisted the sheets of lead like a pair of leather gloves and threw them four hundred foot into the field. The River Trent, running between the two towns, the water, with the mud in the bottom, was carried a quarter of a mile, and thrown against trees, with the violence whereof the trees were torn up by the roots, and cast twelve score yards off:

After%20the%20Storm_2012-10_uprooted%20tree
A child was taken out of a woman’s arms, and carried up into the air then let fall, had its arm broke and died.  Also, a child was taken forth of a man’s hand and carried two spear’s length high, and then let fall two hundred feet off, of which fall it died.

Five or six men thereabouts were killed yet had neither flesh nor skin hurt. They were slain by the storm, during which, hailstones fell measuring fifteen inches in circumference.”

The “two towns” are thought to have been the villages of Wilford and Lenton which at the time were rural, agricultural villages of roughly similarly size, separated from the main town of Nottingham.

Elsewhere in the East Midlands, on an unknown date in July 1558, in Northamptonshire, there was a storm with immense hailstones some fifteen inches around:

ice
I do not know if these two events were connected or not. Overall in England, it was a very hot summer in 1558 with long periods of drought throughout the whole year. In March of 1558 the country had already seen the “most destructive hurricane in England”, although I have been unable to locate the precise whereabouts of this occurrence, and Nottingham seems to have been unaffected.

Eighty or so years later, on Wednesday, October 13th 1666, there was a similarly violent storm just a little further north. Called a whirlwind at the time, it actually seems to have done enough damage to warrant being called a tornado. How fashion tastes change in only a hundred years:

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This account comes from “A General Chronological History of Air, Weather, Seasons, Meteors in Sultry Places and Different Times”, which was written by Thomas Short, and published in London in 1749:

“In Lincolnshire, there was a dreadful storm of thunder, accompanied with hail, the stones as large as pigeon or even pullet eggs, followed by a storm or tempest, attended with a strange noise. It came with such violence and force, that at Welbourn, it levelled most of the houses to the ground. It broke down some trees and tore up other trees by the roots. It scattered abroad much corn and hay. One boy only was killed. It went on to Willingmore (Wellingore?) , where it overthrew some houses and killed two children in them. Thence it passed on and touched the skirts of Nanby (Navenby?) and ruined a few houses. Keeping its course to the next town, where it dashed the church steeple in pieces, furiously damaging the church itself, both stone and timber work. It left little of either standing, only the body of the steeple. It threw down many trees and houses. It moved in a channel, not a great breadth. Otherwise it would have ruined a great part of the country. It moved in a circle and looked like fire. It went through Nottinghamshire, where the hailstones were nine inches about. The whirlwind was about 60 yards broad. On Nottingham Forest, it broke down and tore up at least 1,000 trees, overthrew many windmills, overturned boats on the River Trent. In a village of fifty houses, it left only seven standing.”

The original place names are given as Welbourn, Willingmore and Nanby. I have taken a quick look at the map and I think that Thomas was writing down the names of the places from a person who was talking to him. I can just imagine a local peasant of the time calling Wellingore, Willingmore and another slack jawed local pronouncing Navenby as Na’nby. As always, look for the orange arrow:

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Here is St Chad’s Church in Welbourn, which survived the tornado more or less intact:

St.Chad's church, Welbourn

Here is the road near Welbourn:

nar welbourn

That road takes you to Willingmore AKA Wellingore. Here is All Saints Church on a nice day and then on a Meteorological Office Severe Weather Tornado Risk Warning Day:

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If Na’nby was Navenby, then this is St Peter’s church:

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The “next town”, and I am merely guessing here, may have been Boothby Graffoe, which has its own ruined castle:

lincoln-somerton-castle-boothby-graffoe-engraved-print-1770-13812-p

….and a church which over the course of the last 350 years seems to have recovered from what must have been, judging by Thomas’ account, a very bad hair day:

Boothby Graffoe St Andrew

Here is a slightly better overview of the area to refresh your memory. All of my three best guess place names of Welbourn, Willingmore, and Navenby are in a nice, more or less straight line, as the tornado flies. It would be possible to argue that, if the fourth location is a genuine town sized town, then it might be Waddington, or even (less likely perhaps), the county capital of Lincoln. Boothby Graffoe, though, is a lovely village name. Perhaps not as striking as Norton Disney, but cute nevertheless.

Just take a look at this second map, showing clearly the path of the tornado through the three villages. I  rest my case, as they say:

navenby

From my point of view, of course, the most interesting detail is the fact that:

“On Nottingham Forest, it broke down and tore up at least 1,000 trees.”

I have already written about the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham in a blogpost about a highwayman being executed on the gallows near St Andrew’s Church. Here is a map:

forest

How do I know that this is the same place as Nottingham Forest? I know because of what used to be situated on Forest Road East, to the south of the green area marked “Forest Recreation Ground”. Here is an old, and no doubt, valuable oil painting of them. These are clearly what Richard was talking about when he mentioned that the whirlwind “overthrew many windmills”:

(c) Nottinghamshire Archives; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Enormous damage was occasioned in Nottingham:

“On Nottingham Forest, it broke down and tore up at least 1,000 trees, overthrew many windmills, overturned boats on the River Trent. In a village of fifty houses, it left only seven standing.”

In my opinion, this was because the tornado came from the south west, travelled, broadly speaking, to the north east, and was therefore much stronger in Nottingham than it was in Lincolnshire. This weather event may even be the reason that the Forest Recreation Ground was initially created. Having so many trees cut down together in what was then a heavily wooded part of Sherwood Forest itself, may have been the first step towards the vast open space that we all enjoy today. This map shows the general north easterly path of the tornado. The orange arrow points towards the Lincolnshire Three:

big navenby

It is always difficult to prove a negative, but this map shows why mention of the tornado came only from Nottingham and the three small villages in Lincolnshire. Even now, 350 years later, there are comparatively few people living between the two localities to tell the story. And equally, there would have been, centuries ago, virtually nobody to tell it to.

Could somebody in England have recognised a tornado in 1666? Well, yes, he could, if he described the storm he saw as “attended with a strange noise”, as well as being “in a channel, not a great breadth”, “about 60 yards broad” and, most convincing of all,  “It moved in a circle and looked like fire.” And don’t forget, it is always very difficult for a human being to describe something which is not within his terms of reference or his own personal experience.

Just compare those three hundred and fifty year old descriptions with this:

And watch out for Dorothy and Toto:

Dorothy-And-Toto-

 

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

The Incredible Story of Frank Mahin, Volume II, 1908-1920

I have previously written two articles about Frank Mahin. The first recounted how he had carved his name on a stone fireplace in the High School:

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The second article had a title very similar to this one, but it was entitiled The Incredible Story of Frank Mahin, Volume I, 1887-1909

And now, Dear Reader, my tale continues:

Frank Cadle Mahin was so keen on a military career, that after only two years, he left Harvard University and his boring Law studies. He joined the Regular Army in 1910 as a private soldier, after service with the New York National Guard. Two years later he received his first commission. On April 21st 1912, Mahin and thirty eight others took an examination and were all made Second Lieutenants:

commissions for civiliaNS

At this time, Frank is listed as being at Fort William Henry Harrison in Montana.
On September 25th 1913, Frank was married to Margaret Mauree Pickering, his previous, second, marriage to Sasie Avice Seon having, presumably, come to an end in some way. Again, unfortunately, the precise details are lacking.

Margaret Mauree was born in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, USA in 1890, the daughter of Abner Pickering and Celestia Florence Kuykendall. In married life she was to call herself Mauree Pickering Mahin so that her father’s name was never forgotten.  Her father, and Frank’s father-in-law, was Abner Pickering, who came from a very strong military background, as is shown by the wedding announcement in a local newspaper:

wedding cccc
In her book, “Life in the American Army from the Frontier Days to Army Distaff Hall”, Mauree describes the magic moment when she first met her future husband:

“We sat down, and the place next to me was left vacant for him. When he did
arrive, everyone forgot that we had not met, so after a minute of awkward
silence he took the vacant seat saying: “I guess no one is going to introduce us, I am Lieutenant Mahin, and I am sure you are Miss Pickering.”

With that one look into his clear steady eyes, I was convinced that there was such a thing as “Love at First Sight” and that I was not going to let the blonde or anyone else have him.”

Frank and Mauree were to have four children, including twins named Margaret Celestia and Anna Yetive, both born on June 2nd 1915 in the Philippines which at the time was an American colony, seized from the Spanish after the Spanish-American War. Frank’s three daughters were all to marry, as was his son, Frank junior, bom in Connecticut on January 2nd 1923. His third daughter, Elizabeth, lived from 1921-1981 and Frank junior, like his father, was a distinguished military man until he died in Dallas, Texas, on January 28th 1972.

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In November and December 1914 Frank and the regiment received extremely unexpected orders.  They were to go to Naco in Arizona where Pancho Villa. the legendary Mexican bandit, and the inventor of the moustache, was up to his tricks, causing trouble:

Pancho-Villa

The American garrison was tasked with keeping Villa’s men from crossing the Mexican border into the USA. Orders from Washington stipulated though, that, in the interest of preserving friendly international relations, no shots were to be fired, even if the bandits fired at them, a rather difficult policy to carry out!

That was December 1914. Europe had already been at war since August, and more than a million young men were already dead. Frank Cadle Mahin, as you will see in another article, was to play his part in this sickening slaughter.
In early 1915, Frank was sent to the Philippines, then still an American colony. Here he was to have an unexpected chance to practice the German he had learned at the High School. Let’s not forget that in 1905, he had won the Mayor’s Prize for Modern Languages:

“On to Guam our next port of call, and there the war was brought directly to our minds, for anchored in the harbour was one of the converted German warships, riding at anchor. She had been forced in there by lack of coal and, of course, was interned for the duration of the war! Our Quartermaster had occasion to visit this ship with some supplies, and since he spoke no German, he asked Frank to go with him and interpret for him. Judging by the time they were gone, it must have been an interesting and pleasant afternoon. One thing I do know, the Germans may have run out of coal, but not out of good German beer!”

The first Mahin to be seriously affected by the Great War was Frank Senior. At this time, he, and his wife, Abbie, were, of course, both citizens of a neutral United States. In September 1915 they made the ferry crossing from Holland, where, by now, Frank Senior was the American consul in Amsterdam. They were on their way to visit their daughter, Anna and her doctor husband Alec in Nottingham, England:

“The journey is made by daylight during the war so we sailed from Flushing at 6.00 am. on July 31st on the Dutch liner Koiningin Wilhelmina. The day was lovely and the sea calm, and all was calm and restful till ten minutes before ten, when, a sharp explosion beneath us was heard, and great volumes of water blew up over the sides of the ship. Passengers on the forward deck, under which the explosion occurred, were drenched with water and covered with black particles, which came from the mine which, as we all
realized, the ship had struck:

mine

As the explosion was under the stoke-hold three poor stokers were killed, and one fatally wounded. We put on overcoats, hats, and lifebelts and went on deck. In about ten minutes all of the lifeboats had been loaded and left the ship. The boats rowed toward the lightship, about three miles distant. As we left the ship, the forward part was slowly sinking. But in half an hour the boat sagged in the middle. That part sank out of sight, and the bow and stern rose straight in the air. From the stern floated the Dutch flag, thus the two ends stood for some minutes. Then they came together as one: the flag floating from the top of it. Slowly that column disappeared under the water at fifteen minutes before eleven o’clock, fifty-five minutes after the mine was struck.

Scattered about were our lifeboats rowing towards the lightship, which was a mile or two away. Beyond it, cruising swiftly in circles, was the British war vessel which afterwards took us to England. Behind us was the sinking ship, whose last moments were like the despairing struggle of some living thing; and we thought of the poor dead men who were going down with the ship, as might have been the fate of all of us.
At the same time we heard the roar of cannon in the direction of Belgium, adding more death and destruction to this awful war. All the boats reached the lightships safely by noon, and everyone was safe. About six that evening a British torpedo boat destroyer took us to Harwich, England, where we arrived at 8:30 that night. We spent the night at Harwich, and at midnight we heard the sound of bombs exploding, Zeppelins being in the vicinity.

Frank junior had been swiftly promoted following his good work against Pancho Villa and his band of Mexican bandits. He became a Major just in time for the USA’s entry into the Great War, and served in combat in France in 1918. He was wounded at St. Mihiel, the first time that American troops were in really significant action, as they launched an offensive against retreating German forces. Frank was to win a Purple Heart, showing great bravery under enemy fire:

left hand medal

Frank then went on to fight in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the Battle of the Argonne Forest. He had at least one amazing escape:

“I think I am more than lucky to be here at all. I have had narrow escapes before, since
I came over to  France, but had more in this day and a half in the Argonne than all the rest put together. For instance, Hancock, my liaison officer, and I were lying in a shell hole with machine gun bullets cutting the top edges off and knocking the dirt all over us. Then a 105mm artillery shell hit right at the edge of the hole and slid down under us, raising the ground up, like a mole furrows, on the side of the shell hole.

Of course it was sliding for the tiniest part of a second but we heard it, felt it, and knew what it was, and then it burst! Good night! In that fraction of a second, I thought “God bless my girls, “ but we weren’t hurt! It was a gas shell, thank God, with just enough explosives to crack the case and throw the dirt around. We had our masks on anyway, so it did not harm us, but Hancock looked like a ghost, and fool that I am, I laughed at him and took my mouthpiece out and yelled, “ Going up!” and even he had to smile then! Had that shell been a High Explosive they would never have found even our identification tags. If it had been even an ordinary gas shell, half gas and half High Explosive, it would’ve blown both of us to pieces.”

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In the 1920s, when he returned to the United States, Frank, still fresh faced and eager, was to relate to his twin daughters exactly what his life under fire had been like:

“The trouble is gas, we were in it almost continuously for three hours, and I tried to keep my mask on, but you just can’t run a battalion in battle with a gas mask on. It was a wet, misty morning when we went “over the top” and they just poured gas shells over, tear gas, sneezing gas, then phosgene and mustard after they had gotten our noses and eyes inflamed.

The country was the worst possible country to fight over, for it was just ridge after ridge with fire coming at us from every direction. Believe me, it was some scrap. Saint Mihiel was a cinch compared to this Argonne Forest offensive.

From the Field Hospital, they sent me by truck to Evacuation Hospital No 7. I stayed there a day and a half, and then to Base Hospital No 27, a Pittsburgh outfit at Angers near the mouth of the River Loire. The hospital is in a big old three-storey convent building, and is awfully comfortable, and the ‘chow’ is fine.

Nausea, acute diarrhea, for several days, and an awful headache, all from the gas, and, of course, burning lungs. I now feel pretty good but the d— stuff has affected my heart. They say this does not last more than a week if one stays perfectly quiet, but for several more weeks I will have to be very careful not to exert myself violently.”

His wife Mauree, however, adds a little more realism to the tale, pointing out just how seriously affected her husband was:

“I can assure you, girls, that that heart condition lasted several years instead of several weeks. Even after his return, and for many months, he would be sitting talking, and without warning would fall right out of the chair, and I never knew when we picked him up whether he would be dead or alive.”

Nowadays we have little or no idea of what it must have been like in the trenches during a gas attack:

gas

We are given some idea, however, when the family take a trip to a more peaceful Europe in 1920. It is Frank’s wife, Mauree, who tells the tale:

“On this trip we followed the movements of the 11th Infantry up to the time of Dad’s gassing and evacuation. At Madeleine Farms, where his battalion command post was during one of the offensives, we were able to go down into the very dugout he had used! It had two entrances, and both were completely overgrown with vines. As Dad and I started down the rickety old rotted-out steps, Dad recognised the odor of gas still down there, and he whispered to me not to tarry long but just to take a quick look and go out of the other entrance. The dampness was terrible, water dripping off of the low ceiling, we were able to see the boards hung against the side where they slept when there was a minute to spare, and we actually walked on the duckboard.

As quickly as we went through, Dad was greatly affected by that little gas, and had a very hard attack of coughing ; and just as we got into the car Grandma had a heart attack, and this was two whole years after the war , thus you can see, just how potent that gas really was!

Here are the Madeleine Farms, then and now, as it were:

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In my next article about Frank, I will tell the tale of how he continues his military career and eventually achieves a very high rank in the American army.

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Filed under France, History, Nottingham, The High School