Category Archives: History

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…

Some medals and a story

We had an interesting group of medals brought into the shop a few weeks ago, though it wasn’t obvious at first.
It was just three medals – a 1939-45 Star, Pacific Star and War Medal. They were in the box of issue, with an address label and had clearly been received through the post, looked at and stuffed back into the box, where they had stayed for the last seventy years.
Those of you unfamiliar with British medals I presume you are staring at the page with a glazed look. If you are familiar with them you are probably going “Aha!”
After a century of giving out campaign medals (our first general issue to all ranks being the Waterloo medal in 1815) we came up with a fairly complicated system for the Great War. I won’t go through it all here, but if you are an insomniac please let me know and I will have a crack at curing you.
In the Second World War we came up with what seemed like a simpler solution, but in the interests of economy they decided not to name them. The Australians, the South Africans and the Indians managed to find the money to do it, but we didn’t.
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WW2 campaign stars and war medal

We issued a range of cheaply manufactured stars with ribbons designed by King George VI. Unless they are accompanied by paperwork or named medals such as a Long Service Medal there is no way of putting a story to the medals.
It always strikes me as a shame when you just have a handful of anonymous medals.
Fortunately we know they were awarded to Mr P Ramsdale of 25, Brownlow Rd, Mansfield, Notts. He must have served in the Royal Army Service Corps or Army Catering Corps because that’s the return address on the envelope.
There are too many P. Ramsdales to isolate the exact one on the Ancestry Website, but there is a reference to him in the local paper – the Nottingham Evening Post of 9th January 1947.
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Percy Ramsdale in the Nottingham Evening Post

Armed with the knowledge that he was called Percy, it became a little easier to find information, though I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.
The Pacific Star isn’t common to the British Army and a group of three like this usually denotes someone taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore. Frustratingly, I couldn’t find any records to start with, but finally found them on Ancestry. I’m not sure if I’d been missing it up until then, or if it was a new release.
One of the records shows the names of his parents, and the Brownlow Road address. I’m not sure what this signifies as he seems to have been married with a son by then and I would have expected his wife to be on the record.
He is listed as being taken prisoner on 15th February 1942, the day of the surrender of Singapore (one of the worst, and most shameful British defeats, and we’ve had a number of them over the years), and appears on lists of prisoners held in Thailand for the rest of the war.
His year of birth is 1907, not 1905 as given here.
Screen shot of Percy Ramsdale's POW record

Screen shot of Percy Ramsdale’s POW record

It amazes me that a man released from Japanese captivity in the middle of 1945 could be back as a coal face worker by January 1948. They obviously made the m tougher in those days.
It’s not as if he’d had a great start in life. His father’s military career, for instance, lasting from 9th September 1914 until 14th October. He was clearly a patriot, to have enlisted so soon. But, from the reason for his discharge, I take it that his personal qualities as a husband and father may have been questionable. The reason he was “not likely to become an efficient soldier” as specified in King’s Regulations was noted as “Chronic Gonorrhea acquired before enlistment”. However, he does seem to have been a hard-worker – hotel groom (1911), miner (1907 and 1914) and railway worker (1939)
so he clearly did his best for his family.
It can be tricky looking back and making judgements. After all, Ramsdale Snr was just one of 416,891 men in the army treated for VD between 1914-18.
I wasn’t able to trace more information on Percy, until finding his date of death. He died in 1983 at the age of 77. However, I feel lucky to have found this much. It could easily have been different if the family had thrown the box away.
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The Pacific Star

 
 

Torpingtons, Tankers and What Might Have Been…

We bought an accumulation of ephemera last week from the family of a DFC winner, Flt Lt Charles Stein. He flew in Wellington bombers with 38 Squadron in Malta and North Africa. They were, at one point, converted to carry torpedoes, and had some important successes in the Desert campaign. In this role they were known as “Torpingtons”.

His DFC was awarded for his part in a successful torpedo attack on an Italian tanker bringing fuel to Rommel’s Afrika Corps. (See London Gazette 5th February 1943 – Pilot Officer Charles Lourie STEIN (131139), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 38 Squadron).

As a result of this, and several other attacks, the Afrika Korps eventually ground to a halt when the Panzers and Luftwaffe ran out of fuel.

We have a selection of propaganda leaflets, maps and other bits and pieces that he accumulated during his flying days.

Wellington crew - 38 Squadron

Wellington crew – 38 Squadron

He’s one of the young men in this photograph. Five of them wrote their details on the back – at least three, possibly four, didn’t make it. They were, I think, an earlier crew than the one he won his DFC with, and died in several different actions.

Three were killed on operations with 38 Squadron, one was probably killed with another squadron (there aren’t quite enough details to confirm this), and I can’t read the name of the final man.

Stein himself ended up in hospital with diphtheria after winning the DFC and wrote to his parents with the news while he was still in hospital. While he was there his crew was posted as missing when they failed to return from a mission. As there are no reports of enemy action that night it is likely they suffered engine failure and went down in the sea. Or, as they flew low searching for shipping, it’s possible they just flew into the sea.

According to the details we were given, Mr Stein went on to have a long and happy life, successful both in business and in bringing up a family. One child became an academic, one a professional violinist and the third worked in fashion. It makes you wonder what the other aircrew could have done if they’d been given a chance.

And then there are the other questions. If he’d been with them would he have died? Or would his experience have helped the crew survive?

His main regret, according to his daughter, was that he wasn’t allowed to keep the jacket he was wearing in the photograph.

WW2 propaganda leaflet

WW2 propaganda leaflet

Not all the leaflets are as interesting as this.

 

Sixteen Minutes

I’ve not been sleeping well in the heat, though this difficulty seems to disappear if you stick me in front of the TV. As a consequence tonight has been spent watching quizzes, snoozing, wrestling with an automated bidding system, eating a delicious meal of sausages and Mediterranean vegetables and taking Number Two son to work.

That leaves me with sixteen minutes to write this post.

There was an interesting radio programme on tonight, about invasive species and Acclimatisation  Societies.  These societies were an aspect of imperialism that is still damaging things today.

The invasive species in UK include Zebra Mussels. Their main effect in the UK, according to the programme is that they colonise drains and water supply pipes and choke the water flow. Not a problem I’d ever thought of.

Three minutes to go. Phew!