Tag Archives: WW2

A Piece of History

I seem to have lost all my drafts. It doesn’t really matter in most cases as I rarely actually go back and use one, despite my good intentions. On the other hand I did write half a post last night that I wanted to finish it this morning.

Instead, I will move on to the next subject I had in mind. Prepare to be saddened.

We bought 5,000 cards plus assorted ephemera last week, the stock of a retired dealer. It has been gone through and is really just the leavings of a lot of mixed lots that he bought. It’s taken us the best part of two days to sort it – work that out on an hourly rate if you are interested in the hidden costs of running a collectors’ shop. We have found a few decent cards, but it’s mainly dross. However, they all needed going through and they are all sorted into counties now, which is always a test of general knowledge.

One interesting card we found was a pre-paid card addressed to a prisoner of war in Japanese hands. It has a positive message on the back, as you can see from the photo.

The Message

It was posted nine days before VJ Day, so it looked like a happy ending was imminent. However, many people were so ill by then of the war that you can’t guarantee a happy ending, even at that point. I decided that after I checked it on the Prisoner of War roll I’d check the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, just to see if he made it home.

I didn’t need to do that, as it happened. The first POW roll I checked had all the details I needed to close the story.

The list

I suppose the “Return to Sender” stamp on the front should have alerted me to the outcome.

649850 AC1 Victor Ernest Gordon never made it home. As you can see from the print-out behind the card, he was buried at sea on 6th November 1943, a year and a half before the postcard was posted. He died of beriberi, which is a variety of thiamine deficiency brought on by existing on a diet of white rice.

Another roll narrows his place of death to “off Formosa”, about halfway between Java, where he seems to have originally been kept, and Japan, where he was probably bound.

His father would not be the only parent in this situation- the entry appears on British Page 284 of the roll entitled “Unreported Deaths of Allied Personnel”.  He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial, which commemorates 24,319 British and Commonwealth Servicemen who lost their lives and are not recorded elsewhere.

The next stage is that it will be put on eBay. This is what we do, and although it seems disrespectful to consign such a sad and historical document to an auction, that is, when you think about it, exactly what his family did when they sold it. We could give it to a museum, but museums have  a habit of locking things away where they are never seen again. at least we are able to tell the story and move it on to a collector who will value and cherish it, and possibly give the story a new lease of life.

It’s a moral question I’ve often had to face in many years of collecting and dealing, but the fact to bear in mind is that nothing comes up for sale before the family, or even the recipient, decides to sell it.

 

 

 

Two New Sweetheart Brooches

US Navy Sweetheart Brooches – the penny is 20.3 mm in diameter. An American cent has a diameter of  19.05 mm for those of you who like to know these things.

Despite the need to spend money on the house, and to declutter, I am still browsing eBay, and still adding a few items to my collection. If you want to see other examples , I have written about  Sweetheart Brooches in a previous post,

My collecting started over 50 years ago.  I was about five or six when I started collecting badges. A few years later my Dad gave me his stamp collection (which had been untouched since he had left the Navy). I added a few to it, then went into coins, bird’s eggs (yes, I know this was bad) and military medals. I’ve carried on sporadically ever since. At times I’ve been busy or broke, so there have been long gaps between purchases. However, with eBay , a regular income and the time that comes from having no kids around the place, I have been slowly adding to the collection again.

The latest two are both American and Naval. I don’t collect Navy brooches to the same extent as I collect the army ones but I always like to add a different type when  I find one. American brooches are often sentimental/patriotic rather than military in style, though there are some more military ones. They also tend to have more bracelets than we do. Generally I don’t collect brooches from beyond the Commonwealth forces, but if I see an unusual type I can be tempted.

US Navy Sweetheart Brooch – with PO Class II badge

A couple of months ago I was tempted by the brooch with the Eagle and Chevrons. I think it is the badge of a Petty Officer Class II but I’m relying on the internet for this, as I’m not sound on US Navy badges. I have a couple of other brooches with this sort of chain set-up but this is better quality, and it’s always nice to upgrade. Collecting sweethearts, you will never get every possible type, so there’s no point trying. Compared to the tyranny of trying to collect one of every known date of a coin, this is a very relaxed way of collecting. These days I just collect things that catch my eye, and where the price is right.

A couple of weeks ago, another one caught my eye. It’s exactly the same sailor and the same set-up but the device on the chain is the medal ribbon of the American WW2 campaign medal for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It was sold by the same dealer and is out of the same collection.

US Navy Sweetheart – Europe, Africa and the Middle East campaign ribbon

I’m now checking them regularly to see if they have any other varieties. With coins and medals all the varieties are known and catalogued (with the odd rare exception) but with sweetheart brooches you can’t know everything. There might be sailors with different devices attached, or there may be marines, soldiers or airmen. You never know…

 

US Navy Sweetheart – fine work

 

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

 

 

 

 

1st September 2019

It’s the first day of meteorological autumn, which is a sad day for those of us with aching joints.

It’s also the 80th anniversary of the day when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, and set the Second World War in motion.

This ruined my father’s first holiday. Under the Holidays with Pay Act (1938) many workers were given a full week’s paid holiday every year, the result of a twenty year campaign by the Trade Unions. It was the “with pay” provision that made the difference, up until then workers had often had holidays such as traditional Wake’s Weeks, but without pay. It was difficult enough paying for food and rent for most working people, without the additional burden of going away so holidays were not necessarily seen as a good thing.

It was this legislation which helped make Butlin’s camps so successful. Not only did he have camps (Skegness and Clacton by 1939) but the working classes had holidays to take in these camps. In 1939 the military moved in – Skegness became HMS Royal Arthur (bombed 52 times during the war and, it is alleged, claimed as sunk by Nazi propaganda) and Clacton became a training base for the Royal Pioneer Corps. The camp at Filey was under construction and, when finished, handed over to the RAF. Butlin also built camps at Ayr (HMS Scotia) and Pwllheli (HMS Glendower) for the Navy, which he was able to buy back at the end of the war.

However, back to my father, who, as a ten-year-old, was enjoying himself on his first ever holiday. It was in Morecambe. I always remember this story when we are in Morecambe. They had only been there a couple of days when they were told they had to go home as the RAF were moving in.

I see that although we have been to Morecambe several times, including this year, it has nor really featured in the blog. Last time we visited Morecambe I ended up changing a tyre and Morecambe seemed to get left out.

Anyway, enough of my rambling for another day.

I’ve just remembered that I have a backlog of posts to write.

Earlier today I did an internet quiz and my favourite deadly sin is sloth. I wonder how they knew…

 

My Latest Acquisition

This came through the post today. It’s nice to know the post is still working, as I am still waiting for a parcel from two weeks ago.

It’s an RAF Eagle made from perspex (or lucite or plexiglass if you prefer). This is typical WW2 work – they didn’t have any perspex in the Great War. Well, I’m fairly sure they didn’t. It was first developed in the nineteenth century but seems to have been commercially available from the 1930s.

Traditionally it’s always said to be from aircraft windows, and it’s true that it is mainly made up in ways that reflect its use by the RAF. Apart from the availability of perspex there was also access to workshops. It’s a myth that “trench art” was made in the trenches. When you examine the facts you’ll see a lot was made after the war and made by people with access to decent tools. And, of course, when you look at eBay, you can see that a lot of it looks like it has been made in the last ten years.

I’ll photograph a few more pieces later.

RAF Eagle Sweetheart WW2

RAF Eagle Sweetheart WW2

A New Medal and some Questions from History

Someone brought medals into the shop for mounting last week. Their father has tended not to bother about his wartime service too much and has only just been made aware that the French Government has been giving out the Legion of Honour to veterans who participated in the Liberation of France in 1944-5. He now has his, and has decided to go to France for a memorial event in September. When he does he will be wearing a properly mounted set of medals.

He seems to have had quite an active war, and I don’t begrudge him the medal, but I can’t help thinking that giving someone a medal because he was in a certain country 75 years ago, and has lived long enough to collect it, is slightly devaluing his contribution, and the contributions of many others, including the people who kept the war going in Africa, the Atlantic and the Far East (to mention but a few). I worked with several Normandy veterans in the past, and I’m feeling slightly saddened that they didn’t live long enough to get an extra medal.

If you were at Dunkirk you don’t get it. Same if you were in the RAF flying over France in 1943 but not 1944. Or at Dieppe or St Nazaire.

And that’s before we come to the irony that we were effectively at war with the French from 1940-42. The Vichy French killed a number of British and American troops in that time, and imprisoned others. I’ve always wondered what it must be like for veterans of those attacks to see the French posing as staunch opponents of the Nazis. You would think the least they could do would be to give a medal to our soldiers that they shot at.

Politics and warfare are always more complicated than they look.

 

Book Review – Eggs or Anarchy

Eggs or Anarchy by William Sitwell

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (9 Feb. 2017)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1471151077

ISBN-13: 978-1471151071

Between the wars the government took the view that we should produce what we were good at and import the rest. This meant we were importing about 60% of our food, as we had been doing in 1914. The problem was that the Germans had more efficient aircraft and submarines in 1939.

Fter a successful retail career, Lord Woolton took on the job of sourcing the millions of uniforms needed to equip a new army. He was surprised to find that having ordered the trousers he had to order the fly buttons via another government department.

He managed to sort it all out, and then took on the task of organising food supplies, including issuing millions of ration books and developing a system that was fair to all.

He didn’t just have U-Boats to worry about, he had Churchill and his attempts to use shipping for moving troops. Then he had to organise storage for food in places where it wouldn’t be bombed, make sure our suppliers didn’t overcharge us and iron out inefficiencies in distribution at home. The title refers to the fears that order and morale would break down if he was unable to get the rations out.

One of my favourite moments was when he told visiting American politicians that he would prefer their ships to their good wishes. He was not a conventional politician, having come to it late in life.

As for the famous Woolton Pie… Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out his thoughts on that.

It’s an interesting subject, though the writing doesn’t always reflect this, and poses a few questions about food security, which we are going to have to answer in the coming years.

Hitler and the Avocets

“I cannot help thinking that if only Hitler had been an ornithologist he would have put off the war until the autumn migration was over.”

Manchester Guardian”Country Diaries” September 1939

I suppose most readers will already have a view on Hitler, and that it is unlikely to be based on the impact he had on European ornithology. However, as the quote shows, people are able to view major historic events and see them from a very different point of view. They may even find the energy to write to the papers about it.

It also shows that the consequences of major events can be far-reaching and quite significant, even if they don’t involve battles and the fall of governments.

In the case of the Second World War this included bombing my mother, training a new generation of naturalists, and flooding large parts of eastern England to defend against possible invasion.

Another, better known, example features the struggle with malaria. In the war this involved the wonder chemical DDT, which continued to be used in great quantities after the war as the answer to many problems. The inventor even got a Nobel Prize in 1948  “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods”. It was also highly effective at reducing the viability of birds’ eggs and nearly wiped several species out in the UK.

However, back to the flooded lands. As luck would have it, a party of Avocets drifted across the sea from Holland in 1947, and found conditions that suited them for breeding. At Havergate Island the army had accidentally breached the sea wall during training and at Minsmere the coastal area had been deliberately flooded as a defence against German landings.

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Avocets

 

At that point they had been extinct as breeders in the UK since 1842 due to the pressure from hunting, egg collectors and taxidermists. It seems to be a factor in the decline of rare birds, such as the Passenger Pigeon and Great Auk, that the rarer they became the more desirable the few survivors became to egg and skin collectors.

Gradually the Avocets consolidated their position, becoming the symbol of the RSPB along the way. From four pairs in 1947 we now have 1,500 pairs according to the latest figures.

For another example of how WW2 is contributing to wildlife, see this link.

I found this whilst looking up DDT. The mind boggles.

Thanks to Rodney Read and the Chatburn Village website for the well researched story of the bombing.

The Nottingham Oilfield

Yes, that’s right – we had an oilfield. We haven’t had one for a while, of course, but I can distinctly remember seeing the nodding donkeys in fields as we drove past in the 1960s. They’ve been looking at starting up again but I’m not sure what’s happening about that.

It was all based at Duke’s Wood, a quiet patch of woodland near the village of Eakring. Apart from the oilfield museum (which was shut when I visited), the wood is a nature reserve, though there wasn’t a lot of wildlife about on a blustery Sunday morning.

I managed an unimpressive  picture of a Meadow Brown, a dragonfly (possibly a Brown Hawker but it was a bit too quick for me), a couple of those white moths in the grass and a frog (which was dead, and thus slow enough for me to photograph).

There are several nodding donkeys in the woods and a statue and plaque in memory of the American oilmen who came across to help during the war. It produced 3.5 million barrels of oil during the war, which was handy, as it couldn’t be sunk by U Boats.

The oilmen were billeted with the monks at Kelham Hall, and one of them, Herman Douthit, fell from a derrick and was killed.

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More kites and a memorial

The day started well, with blue skies, a list of jobs and packet of croissants. The croissants were soon gone, accompanied by by some excellent three fruit marmalade I found lurking in the back of a cupboard. After a spot of washing up and a trip to the hobby shop for Julia to buy glass paint. At that point the sky began to cloud over. It’s tempting to invoke the pathetic fallacy there, but I was actually quite happy sitting in the car with a notebook, so in metaphysical terms there was no threat of rain in my life.

In reality the rain started just after lunch as I set off for Peterborough. This put a bit of a crimp in my photographic plans for the day. By the time I’d been beaten at Snakes and Ladders and Dominoes and had a cup of tea there still didn’t seem much hope of sunlight so I abandoned my plans and headed home.

Fortunately I didn’t quite go directly home and managed to get a flying kite picture. I almost got a picture of a pair of flying kites but the first pair flew away as I got out of the car and the second pair turned out as a flying kite and a blur.

Finally, as I was in the area, I nipped up the road to the village of Kings Cliffe – one time site of King John’s hunting lodge and, in later years, the last hanger-based concert of Glenn Miller. I found the air base memorial but not the Glenn Miller memorial (one internet forum says it was destroyed by vandals a few years ago).  As vandals also broke the air base memorial a few years ago, and it is currently defaced by inane scrawl, it seems that there isn’t much to do in Kings Cliffe at night.