Category Archives: History

The Second of at Least Two Blog Posts

By the time I got through to the other room Julia had read the blog post and put a bar of Kit-Kat next to the chair. It was the most delicious thing I’ve eaten all week.

If I mention I’m feeling thirsty I wonder if she will make a cup of tea? Or is that just being unrealistically optimistic?

The header picture is a banknote from the wartime occupation of the Channel Islands. Well, that’s the intention. At the moment I can’t access my photos – just one more glitch in a long list of annoying intermittent faults with my site. I’m hoping I’ll be able to access them before midnight or I’ll have to post without photos. (As you can see, it did start working again after I closed down and restarted – very annoying!)

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Jersey £1 note – German wartime issue

I’m rediscovering an interest in banknotes, though it’s only in certain ones. They need to be interesting and they it’s an advantage if they have a story. To a collector the Japanese note pictured below (if the system starts to work again) is ruined because somebody has written on it. But to me , the personal touch and the details, are what makes it worth collecting. Not that I’m going to start collecting them. I already collect far too much.

I’ve just been looking through some MRI banknote reference books (that’s Monetary Research Inc., rather than magnetic Resonance Imaging) and find there are currently over 220 countries issuing banknotes and over 2,000 colour pictures of notes. That is just the ones that are currently redeemable, not all the ones that have ever been produced – I’d hate to think how many that would come to.

MRI Catalogues - a treasure trove of information

MRI Catalogues – a treasure trove of information

 

 

 

 

Silver, Survival and Salvage

Here, at last, is the information on the Gibraltar £20 coin I mentioned a few days ago.

There is a tradition in Numismatic circles for collecting coins from shipwrecks, indeed we had a talk on this subject just a few weeks ago at the Numismatic Society of Nottinghamshire. Sadly, I had one of my senior moments and completely forgot about it, even though I had intended going. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of shipwreck and treasure and it’s a collecting field that has always interested me. However, you can’t collect everything.

There has also been a fascination for collecting relics of ships. It is still possible, if you go round antique centres, to pick up small barrels and oddments like paper knives made from the deck timber of ships like the Warspite, Iron Duke and Ajax. Copper from Nelson’s Victory has also been used to make souvenirs, such as this copper fob from the British and Foreign which we currently have for sale on eBay.

Despite the photos, it’s only about an inch across.

 

More recently, I bought some key rings made from the bronze of the Queen Mary’s propellers, and also have some copper cash coins from the Admiral Gardner, which sunk on the Goodwin Sands in 1809.

This year, I have seen mementoes made from the silver recovered from the SS Gairsoppa.

The Gairsoppa, originally built as the War Roebuck, was completed in 1919 by Palmers of Jarrow, just in time to miss the Great War, and was named after the city of Gerusoppa in the state of Mysore. She had one touch of drama in her career in the Merchant Fleet, with just one touch of adventure when she ran aground  at Fulta Point on the South Eastern coast of India in 1930.

Palmers closed in 1933 after a long struggle to stay in business during the depression, and the unemployment this caused precipitated the Jarrow March.

In early 1941, whilst carrying a cargo of pig iron, tea and silver, she joined a convoy at Freetown, Sierra Leone to complete a voyage from India to the UK. Running short of fuel, she had to reduce speed, drop out of the convoy and head for Ireland to take on coal. On 16 February 1941, she was spotted by a Focke-Wulf Condor aircraft and was attacked by U-101 later that day, being sunk by a torpedo attack.

There were 82 men on board. Only one lifeboat launched successfully and out of the six men on board three died in the next two weeks. The boat capsized on the fourteenth day and the Lizard lifeboat was only able to rescue one survivor, Second Officer R. H. Ayres.

Sunk by submarine, fourteen days in an open boat, five men dying before rescue…

I can write the facts, but I can’t come up with anything that remotely does justice to the experience. While writing this post I found this item on an on-line forum – amazing to read the words of the man in question. His account doesn’t match up with the Wiki entry, but I suspect it’s more accurate.

The researcher who contacted him did a fine job, as modesty could have prevented us ever knowing the full story.

The eleven British casualties are recorded on theTower Hill Memorial, or, in two cases, on  a headstone in the cemetery at Landewednack. The seventy one Indian seamen are commemorated on the Chittagong War Memorial.

The epic nature of the story does not end there, because in 2011 an American salvage company located the wreck and, under licence from the British Government, began lifting the silver. So far they have recovered 61 tonnes, or just over half of the 110 tonnes known to be on board. At 15,000 feet deep (half a mile deeper than the RMS Titanic) this is the record for a salvage operation.

Of course, if the ship didn’t contain silver this would be considered plundering, piracy or desecration of a war grave. It’s amazing how a mountain of silver can make the moral compass swing.

In 2014 the Royal Mint struck 20,000 Quarter Ounce Britannias, using some of the silver.

The Gibraltar Mint followed up in 2016 with a specially made £20 coin, featuring a seafarer design and containing Gairsoppa silver.

The title of the coin is taken from a John Masefield  poem, For All Seafarers. It isn’t, in my opinion, one of his best, but it does make a number of telling points.

For all Seafarers

Even in peace, scant quiet is at sea;
In war, each revolution of the screw,
Each breath of air that blows the colours free.
May be the last life movement known to you.

Death, thrusting up or down, may disunite
Spirit from body, purpose from the hull,
With thunder, bringing leaving of the light,
With lightning letting nothingness annul.

No rock, no danger, bears a warning sign,
No lighthouse scatters welcome through the dark;
Above the sea, the bomb ; afloat, the mine;
Beneath, the gangs of the torpedo-shark.

Year after year, with insufficient guard,
Often with, none, you have adventured thus:
Some, reaching harbour, maimed and battle-scarred,
Some, never more, returning, lost to us.

But, if you ‘scape, tomorrow, you will steer
To peril once again, to bring us bread,
To dare again, beneath the sky off ear,
The moon-moved graveyard of your brothers dead.

You were salvation to the army lost,
Trapped, but for you, upon the Dunkirk beach;
Death barred the way to Russia, but you crosst;
To Crete and Malta, but you succoured each.

Unrecognised, you put us in your debt;
Unthanked, you enter, or escape, the grave;
Whether your land remember or forget
You saved the land, or died to try to save.

John Masefield

When Things Go Wrong…

Have you ever noticed that when something goes wrong, more problems follow? Say, for instance, that you fall asleep in front of the TV and wake up with just thirty posting minutes before midnight, the computer seems to slow down and photos refuse to load.

Well, that’s the sort of night I’m currently having.

I’m posting now, then I’m going back to write the rest of the post and add photos, so if you’ve read so far and there is nothing more to read you may want to come back in twenty minutes.

I started off with a blood test, arriving at 7.20 to find a longer queue than usual and a notive on the wall telling me that the average wait last month was 12 minutes. This is three minutes (or 25%) longer than the nine minutes claimed last time. Or 33% depending which number you start with – I’ve never quite understood which is the right way round. It didn’t matter, because the actual wait was over twenty minutes.

It seemed longer because I’d forgotten my glasses. I’ve broken two sets recently and the situation regarding spares is getting tricky. As in, I have no spares. The current position is that I have misplaced two sets and broken two, which just leaves me with one set – the ones that make me look like Clark Kent.

OK, I look like Clark Kent in an alternative universe where he looks like a well-worn version of Santa Claus, but the glasses are similar.

I’m now waiting for the results.

We had a reasonably active day, with twelve parcels after which I visited friends and went home early to do a few jobs. These included drinking tea, watching Pointless and doing a little light snoozing.

I also started listing my collection of Peace and Tribute medals from the Great War as I’m doing a talk on them for the Numismatic Society next year. Yes, 2020, a year after the centenary of the Peace Celebrations in 2019. I have a gift for timing.

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Huddersfield Peace Medal.

I’m gathering information at the moment, which is where I’ve been all night – head stuck in the internet looking for interesting anecdotes about Peace Medals. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait for next year as I don’t want to use all my material in advance of the big day.

Did I mention that I don’t like public speaking? My aversion to public speaking is greater than my combined aversion to working, spending money or eating salad. Yes, I’d rather work as a buyer in a salad factory than give a talk. The only thing that outweighs this is my vanity.

There are basically two types of medal that come under the Peace Medal banner – the cheap white metal ones given out to children as part of the Peace Day Celebration and the better quality ones given to returning servicemen to thank them for their service.

I mentioned in a previous post that things did not go well at all Peace Day Celebrations. The ones in Luton, for instance, went spectacularly wrong.

Here are two examples of the different sorts of medal.. They are all larger than life size.

Plymouth Peace Medal for School children.

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Washington & Barmston Tribute Medal

Washington & Barmston Tribute Medal in silver and enamel. Note that the town gave rise to a famous surname, and the coat of arms was used, according to informed conjecture, to have been used in the design of the Stars and Stripes.

A Lack of Ideas and a Tour of the Internet

I tried another writing prompt – “Write about your day so far”. I’ve only been up an hour and I haven’t actually set foot outside the house. It could be tricky.

So I tried again – “Write about something you got for free”. After much thought I  remembered that I had a free blood test and, because everything went well, my car parking was also free. I think I covered that in several previous posts.

At least I’ve started writing. For a few minutes at the start I just sat and stared at the screen. I’ve been doing that  for the last few days. It’s not that I’m lacking inspiration, it’s just that there’s so much of it that I don’t seem to be able to get any work done.

I’ve just been watching a TV programme where Tanni Grey Thompson has been looking into her grandfather’s service as an air raid warden in WW2. I learnt a lot I hadn’t known before, and was very impressed with some of the things I hadn’t realised.

This set me off  on a tour of Wikipedia as it’s a subject close to my heart. I recently read a piece that referred to people who didn’t serve in the forces as “shirkers”, which didn’t strike me as fair or accurate.

Seven thousand Civil Defence workers were killed in the UK during the war – something I hadn’t realised before. One of my grandfathers was in a reserved occupation during the war. He volunteered for the RAF twice and his employers applied to have him back twice. He served as fireman in his spare time and found himself called out during the air raids on Liverpool and Manchester.

His brother, a railwayman, was also in a reserved occupation. He was in the Special Constabulary when he wasn’t working.

Strikes me that it was hard work being a shirker.

Memorial Garden – Old Hunstanton

While we were cruising round Hunstanton on our recent holiday we ended up in Old Hunstanton. It’s called that because it’s the original part of the town that used to exist before they built the new resort.

I knew there was a lighthouse there but I have no recollection of the ruined chapel. It must have been there, because it was built in 1272. It’s dedicated to Saint Edmund, King of East Anglia. He reputedly founded the village of Hunstanton before meeting his end at the hands of the Great Heathen Army of the Danes.

It was not a pleasant end, featuring torture, shooting with arrows and beheading, as he refused to renounce Christianity. Even if he had renounced Christianity it’s difficult to believe that his death would have been any different.

The legend is that the East Anglians recovered the King’s head with the help of a wolf. Accounts vary, but there’s usually a touch of the supernatural about the wolf in the legend. From there a cult of sainthood grew up round the dead king. The abbey at Bury St Edmunds housed his shrine until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. One notable pilgrim was King Canute, who converted to Christianity, rebuilt the abbey and, on a visit in 1020, offered his crown as a penance for the acts of his ancestors.

That is why there is a carved oak wolf by the archway.

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St Edmund’s Wolf, Hunstanton

The area around the chapel was made into a memorial garden in 1915 by a local vicar, the Reverend Alfred Toms. It was supposedly because his two sons were killed, but as they didn’t die until 1916 and 1917, this can only be part of the story.

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War Memorial Garden, Hunstanton

The story probably starts with one of the benches in the garden.

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Memorial bench – Nurse Edith Cavell

Nurse Edith Cavell was executed by the Germans on 12th October 1915. She was seen as a martyr at the time, having helped around 175 people to escape from the German occupiers of Belgium, her adopted home. This was a gift to allied propagandists at the time, though a British investigation after the war considered it perfectly legal. We had, after all, executed twelve German spies during the war – eleven shot at the Tower of London and one hanged in Wandsworth Gaol.

Nobody really comes out of a war with clean hands. Ask Mata Hari.

 

The other bench commemorates Captain Charles Fryatt , who was executed in 1916. He was a Captain on several ferries travelling between the UK and the Netherlands, who were neutral in the Great War. Once he outran a German ship and on another occasion he tried to ram a U-Boat that was attempting to sink him. Finally his luck ran out when he was trapped by five German destroyers. He was tried for the “crime” of sinking a German submarine, even though he only forced it to dive. The verdict, predictably, was death by firing squad.

He was famous at the time, but is now largely forgotten compared to Edith Cavell. I’m not sure if they are still about, but at one time he did sometimes crop up on badges and brooches at antique fairs.

Finally, what’s the link between Edith Cavell, Charles Fryatt and the Unknown Warrior?

Answer – their bodies all travelled back to the UK in the same railway carriage.

 

 

 

All Saints, Panxworth

We were pottering along through the Norfolk countryside when we found this tower.

Fortunately there was a notice to give us a clue.

All Saints Church Tower, Panxworth, Norfolk

All Saints Church Tower, Panxworth, Norfolk

It seems that it fell into disrepair, was rebuilt in the 19th Century and again fell into disrepair, being pulled down in 1969. It was reputedly used by Satanists, struck by lightening (which may or may not be connected) and restored again.

It’s an interesting place, and well-looked after, but there isn’t much to keep you, not even an information board. Fortunately there is plenty about it on the internet.

Interestingly, some of the gravestones show the same names as the war memorial. The continuity of the countryside is an amazing thing.

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War Memorial, Panxworth.

A Detour…

We went to Jaywick (just down the coast from Clacton) on Tuesday looking for a Martello Tower. We didn’t find it and we came away feeling thoughtful after driving round what appeared to be a shanty town.

Jaywick was grew up as a holiday village in the 1920s and 30s when a property developer sold plots of farmland to Londoners to build holiday homes. The land he sold was not used for farming because it tended to flood – you would have thought this was a bad sign.

It became permanant by accident. After the war, with pressure on housing  in London, people moved out and started living in Jaywick on a full-time basis. Poor roads, lack of employment opportunities, lack of mains drainage and badly built houses all contributed to making it one of the most deprived areas of the UK.

{t’s a lesson in how things can go wrong from optimistic beginnings. You get the idea that it could all have been different, as other Plotlands schemes seem to have prospered, or been demoloished. Peacehaven is probably the best-known successful development, though it has been helped by being in a prosperous area and by being built on well=drained land.

Names can be interesting. I note that Peacehaven was originally named New Anzac-on-Sea in 1916.  Many Jaywick roads are named after car makers. You will, however, search in vain for many of our current car names – no Honda, no Seat, no BMW. Instead you have Crossley, Standard and Singer. The newest car name I saw was Lotus (founded 1952) but it looks like part of the 1970s rebuilding.

No photos for this, but an interesting bit of history (even if it wasn’t the history I was looking for). We never did find the Martello Tower…