Posted in Activity, Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Maritime History, Museum, World War Two

Solent Sky Museum, Southampton – Spitfires & Flying Boats –

  •  Film by British Pathé, ‘Vivid Demonstration’ (1936), shot at Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport) on 26th March, 1936. Film features Vickers Long Range Bomber and a Spitfire prototype. This was the Spitfire’s 2nd test flight. Film also shows pilot Jeffrey Quill getting into the Spitfire. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

Saturday 5th March will be the 80th anniversary of Spitfire’s first test flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport), Hampshire which took place on 5th March, 1936. The first Spitfire test flight lasted 8 minutes. Southampton Airport will be marking this momentous occasion, a Spitfire will take-off from there on Saturday on an 80th birthday flight.

Me in conversation with R. J. MItchell at Solent Sky Museum. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me in conversation with R. J. MItchell at Solent Sky Museum. ©Come Step Back In Time

It will first  fly close to the resting place of its Chief Designer R. J. Mitchell (1895-1937). Continuing along the river Itchen to Southampton Water where it will pass near to the site of the old Supermarine factory in Woolston where many thousands of the aircraft were built.  Onwards to Portsmouth harbour before flying back on itself to Southampton Airport.

According to Southampton Airport’s website, the Spitfire should be visible, around the Solent, between 11 am and 12 noon on Saturday 5th. Subject to weather conditions, there will be good vantage points along the River Itchen, Weston Shore, Hythe, Royal Victoria Country Park, Lee on Solent and Cowes (Isle of Wight).

Solent Sky Museum have a rare Spitfire on display, the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk24 PK683. One of the last of its type to be produced, PK683 saw service with the RAF in Malaysia, and is in almost original condition. ©Come Step Back In Time
Solent Sky Museum have a rare Spitfire on display, the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk24 PK683. One of the last of its type to be produced, PK683 saw service with the RAF in Malaysia, and is in almost original condition. ©Come Step Back In Time

Afterwards, head down to the brilliant, hidden gem that is Solent Sky Museum, Southampton  (Twitter: @SpitfireSolent). On Saturday 5th, this multi-award winning Museum will be open from 12.30pm (admission charges apply) for a packed afternoon of activities to commemorate the Spitfire’s 80th anniversary.  A new exhibition will also open on Saturday, ‘Southampton and the People’s Spitfire’, containing over 100 photographs documenting Southampton’s Blitz.

This exhibition will focus on Southampton’s role producing the Spitfire in ‘Southampton’s Blitz’. During the Battle of Britain, in 1940, Southampton was heavily bombed and the Supermarine factory was destroyed. Spitfire production was dispersed to any local site with enough floor space to produce Spitfire components. The exhibition also commemorates the heroic efforts of local residents to maintain Spitfire production at all costs.

  • The Spitfire production line at the Vickers Supermarine Works in Southampton, 1940.

There were 20, 531 Spitfires built, the last one rolled off the production line in 1947.  Surviving examples are extremely rare (there is one in Solent Sky Museum – Mk24 PK683). The first Spitfire prototype was originally called “The Fighter” F.37/34 but subsequently this changed to prototype K5054.

Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers (1904-1954) piloted the first Spitfire test flight in 1936. Mutt joined Vickers Aviation Ltd in June 1929, a year later he became chief test pilot at Supermarine Aviation Works. Jeffrey Kindersley Quill (1913-1996), piloted the second test flight on 26th March, 1936 (see film at top of article). Jeffrey was known as “Mr Spitfire” and was Mutt’s assistant. In January, 1936, he began working at Vickers and its subsidiary Supermarine.

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R. J. Mitchell's cigarette case which he had with him whilst watching Spitfire's first test flight on 5th March, 1936. Artefact is not normally on display to the public at Solent Sky Museum so was very privileged to see and handle it. ©Come Step Back In Time
Two views of R. J. Mitchell’s cigarette case.  He had the case with him whilst watching Spitfire’s first test flight on 5th March, 1936. Artefact is not normally on display to the public at Solent Sky Museum so have been very privileged to see and handle it. ©Come Step Back In Time

  • ‘Solent Sky Museum Seeking Stories Recalling World War Two’ by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring an interview with Museum Director Sqn/Ldr Alan Jones MBE CRAeS RAF Rtd. Alan also introduces some special Spitfire related artefacts from the Museum’s deep archives. Uploaded to You Tube 13.2.2016.

I recently assisted on and participated in several films made by Shan Robins (Senior Broadcaster at That’s Solent TV) shot on location at Solent Sky Museum. It was a wonderful opportunity to find-out more about some of the Museum’s most famous exhibits.

  • ‘The Schneider Trophy’s Influence on the Design of the Spitfire’ film by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring Museum Director Sqn/Ldr Alan Jones MBE CRAeS RAF Rtd.  Uploaded to You Tube 4.2.2016.

  • ‘Flying Boats: A Look Back at a Bygone Era’ by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring an interview with myself made on location at Solent Sky Museum, which is also home to the ‘Beachcomber’, a flying boat originally built in 1943 as a Short Sunderland Mk3, but in 1947 was converted to operate commercial flights with passengers. Uploaded to You Tube 18.2.2016.

There are many exhibits at Solent Sky that fascinate me but the Beachcomber is by far my favourite. In 2012, I wrote an article about the Beachcomber.  On my recent visits to make the above films, I made sure I spent some more time looking around this lovely vintage flying boat.

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Flying Boats and Southampton

In the summer of 1919 (16th August), Supermarine operated Britain’s first commercial flying boat service from the Royal Pier, near Southampton docks. The first flights were local, to Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight, on a Channel Mk.1 aircraft. In September, 1919, Supermarine operated its first international flying boat service from its premises at Woolston travelling to Le Havre.

The service to Le Havre did not operate for long, starting-up again in September 1923 when flying boats serviced the route between Woolston and Cherbourg. In 1924, British Marine became Imperial Airways who continued to operate flying boat services from Woolston. Between the 1924 and 1958, Southampton became one of the busiest flying boat ports in the world.

Before the jet age really took hold, towards the end of the 1950s, flying boats were the popular, if most expensive, method of travel overseas. Only the wealthy could afford the ticket price as well as spare the time needed to complete the  journey.  Travelling to the other side of the world by flying boat could take eight days or more. Some of the journey would have to be made via ship or other modes of transport until flying boats were servicing more routes. Eight days may seem a long time now but actually, back then it was considered extremely quick!

  • Film by British Pathé, ‘Flying Boat – Sydney Aka New Empire Flying Boat Leaves Sydney For Southampton’ (1938).

Like the Spitfire, the flying boat is also celebrating a big birthday this year. On 3rd July it will be the  80th anniversary of Imperial Airways’ first Short C Class flight from Southampton which took place in 1936. Imperial Airways’ first revenue flight took place on 6th February, 1937 and henceforward, Hythe (near Southampton), became the airline’s home base. Only 42 of this type of flying boat were built.

In the new C Class ‘boats, passenger comfort took precedence. A smoking cabin at the front of the aircraft was fitted out like a lounge, with chairs facing each other around small tables. Behind this was a galley, where a steward delivered restaurant quality meals on china plates. Amidships was the “promenade” deck with large, high-placed windows where passengers could stand and see their sights. In all, 24 passengers could be carried.

All this luxury came at a high price, however. The round trip from Southampton to Australia cost as much as a small house in 1937…. Today, aircraft travel at upwards of thirty thousand feet, and frequently all that is visible is clouds. In the C Class, though, there was no pressurised cabin, so flying took place at low level for the whole of the journey. This enabled Imperial Airways to make scheduled flights almost into sight-seeing tours.

(‘Southampton: The Gateway to The Empire’ by Chris Smith, The Solent Sky magazine, Summer 2014, pp. 16-19)

This first C Class flight took place over Southampton Waters. Southampton was  chosen as the location for an international “marine aeroport”, or “airport”. As the name suggests, the first airports were actually located at seaports, Southampton being one of the first.

Airports were originally not the landlocked complex of buildings and terminals that we know today. Historically, that type of airport would actually have been known as an aerodrome. In the 1930s, Southampton’s aerodrome was based at Eastleigh and is today Southampton Airport.

  • British Pathé film, ‘Empire Flying Boat (Imperial Airways) ‘Centaurus’ leaves for flight to New Zealand from Southampton’ (1937). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
  • Imperial Airways flying boat ‘Centaurus’ at Hythe, Hampshire with its five- man crew. The plane flew to Egypt, Iraq and Singapore bringing India to within 2 and 1/2 days air-travel from Britain. L to r Flt Clerk R Doel, First Officer A Richardson, Captain J Sheppard, Wireless Operator L F Mitchell and steward E W Rowcliffe. 1938.

In March 1937, Imperial Airways Limited (1924-1939) started their twice-weekly services to Alexandria and later that year to South and East Africa. These aircraft were maintained at the Hythe flying-boat base until early 1938 when operations moved to Folland’s hangar at Hamble which could now handle five C Class boats at any one time.

From May 1938, arrangements were made for passengers to embark directly onto the aircraft from a pontoon at Berth 101 in Southampton New Docks, doing away with having to board from a launch. Departures to Sydney, Australia left at 5.15am. For early-morning take-offs buoys equipped with electric lights were strung out to indicate the ‘runway’. (Source: Flying Boats of the Solent and Poole by Mike Phipp, 2013, p.46)

  • A snapshot photograph of a an Imperial Airways flying boat moored to a jetty in Southampton harbour, taken by an unknown photographer in about 1935.

Imperial Airways established their services as four times a week to India, three times to East Africa and twice to Durban, Malaya, Hong Kong and Australia. On 5th July 1937 their first Transatlantic service was started with flights from the UK by Imperial and from the USA by Pan American.  In September 1939, Imperial Airways transferred their aircraft and services to Poole Harbour.

  • Photograph from 1936. A Flight Steward aboard the giant flying-boat, ‘Canopus’ serves breakfast to passengers in their bunks. Imperial Airways’ Canopus was on the Alexandria-Athens service. It cruised at 200mph and carried 16 passengers in night stages.
Advertising poster for Imperial Airways (1939). On display at Solent Sky Museum, Southampton.
Advertising poster for Imperial Airways (1939). On display at Solent Sky Museum, Southampton.

In the pre-war era, flying with Imperial Airways was everything you would expect it to be, if you had money that is. Passengers who flew regularly with the airline were even allowed to have their valet with them. If you didn’t have a valet to look after your every in-flight need, then you would be looked after by a Flight Steward. In these early years of seaplane travel, all Stewards were male.

Facilities on-board these early flying boats were not luxurious but were adequate. The Short Calcutta and Kent flying-boats were equipped with twin-burner oil stoves, there were no cooking facilities on the Empire ‘boats. Restaurant standard meals were prepared locally in ports across the world, decanted into vacuum flasks and stowed for service in either hot boxes or ice chests.

  • Steward preparing lunch in the galley of an Imperial Airways, Short L.17 Scylla, a landplane version of the 38 passenger Kent flying boat. The London-Paris route, 1934.

Fruit juices were transferred from the vacuum flasks into serving jugs, bread rolls and Ryvitas were placed in baskets. Food was always served on china plates. Preserves and butter were put on plates and covered with doilies. White linen table cloths and serviettes, metal cutlery, side plates and cruets were laid-out on the tables in each of the cabins.

In 1937 and 1938, Imperial Airways even served Christmas dinners to their passengers, in 1938, Thanksgiving dinner was also provided, popular on the transatlantic routes. All meals were accompanied by wine, spirits, cocktails, soft drinks, hot beverages (tea, cocoa, coffee, chocolate, Bovril, OXO and Horlicks).  Below are examples of Imperial Airways’ dinner menus. First is from 30th August 1938 and second one is from flying boat ‘VB Corsair, date unknown but late 1930s:

Grapefruit or Consommé Princess

Roast Pheasant and Watercress

Lamb Cutlets and Mint Sauce

Roast Chicken, York Ham

Green Salad Beetroot & Apple Salad

Fresh Fruit Salad & Cream

Cheese Cheddar, Gorganzola, Gruyere

Toast Imperial  Assorted Biscuits  Coffee

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pâté de Fois Gras or Grapefruit

Roast chicken, Ox Tongue, York Ham

Russian Salad

Peaches Melba, Golden Figs

Cheese – Cheshire, Camembert, Kraft

Toast Imperial  – Assorted biscuits – Coffee

  • Imperial Airways, the Short L.17 Scylla, was a landplane version of the 38 passenger Kent flying boat. Flight Steward attends to his passengers on the London-Paris route, 1934.

  • The Mayoress of Southampton christens the ‘Southampton.’ Naming ceremony of the RMA ‘Southampton’, at which a libation of wine from a silver ewer is poured over the aircraft. The ceremony took place at the new flying boat base at Southampton docks (Berth 50) which allowed passengers to step ashore straight into the airport buildings. Officially opened by Lord Nathanon on 14th April, 1948.

After World War Two, Imperial Airways became the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The last C Class retired in c.1947. A new marine air terminal was built for BOAC at Berth 50 in Southampton’s docks with bars, lounges and dining rooms, and a direct rail line was established to London Waterloo. However, in 1948, BOAC gradually started to replace their flying boats with modern land aircraft. Their flying-boat services, from Southampton, finally ended in the autumn of 1950.

  • British Pathé film, ‘Flying Boat Deck'(1948). Showcases the new BOAC Marine Terminal in Southampton. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

Following BOAC’s decision to no longer operate a flying boat service out of Southampton,  Aquila Airways, an independent airline,  stepped-in and filled that gap, well at least until 1958.  Aquila Airways  Ltd was formed on the 18th May 1948 by Wing Commander Barry Aikman and operated from Hamble Beach, adjacent to the former Folland slipway.

Aquila serviced the popular route between Southampton and Madeira, initially under a BOAC Associate Agreement. Aquila also provided charter flights carrying ships’ crews. In 1948, Madeira could only be reached by ship, there were no direct flights. When Berth 50 at Southampton docks became vacant, Aquila moved in. By 1951, the airline had 12 aircraft.

At the beginning of 1949 Aquila purchased the remainder of BOAC’s Hythes and parked them on the beach at Hamble. Aquila was able to make use of Berth 50 at Southampton Docks and G-AGEU Hampshire departed on a proving flight to Funchal Bay on 24th March. Its deluxe cabins with thirty-one seats were served by three stewards, with a cocktail bar available.

(Flying Boats of the Solent and Poole by Mike Phipp, 2013, p.120)

Me behind the cocktail bar from an Aquila flying boat (1948-1956), RMA Hadfield. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me behind a cocktail bar from Aquila flying boat RMA Hadfield (1948-1956). ©Come Step Back In Time

Aquila went on to operate further routes at Capri, Santa Margherita and Montreux at Lake Geneva. All areas difficult to access via land planes. Aquila Captain Christopher Blackburn commented on the holiday atmosphere on many of these routes:

By 1957 we had quite a network of routes in operation, and were anticipating our best year. We had a tie-up with Club Mediterranee and took loads of passengers every week from Marseilles to Palermo and Corfu. This was the most enjoyable of all….The passengers were always in a holiday mood and the girls, whom we always invited up to the flight deck, often wore nothing more than a bikini. If one had a skirt on we found that the solution was for the pilot to open his window just as she was coming up the ladder, sometimes with revealing results!’

This and other passenger and crew reports demonstrate that these were truly golden days of air travel, and completely unlike modern “cattle class” operations. As a bizarre example, one regular passenger aboard Aquila Airways would insist on doing the washing up after her evening meal on board!… Air Hostess Shirley Passmore recalls that: ‘It was nice to be able to make a pot of tea and sit down and drink it with the passengers, or just walk around and chat with them and play with the children.’

(‘Southampton’s Eagles: The Last Flying Boat Airline’ by Chris Smith, The Solent Sky Magazine, Summer 2015, pp. 12-13)

Shirley was an air hostess for Aquila Airways, Southampton during the 1950s. Ivor was a flight engineer, the couple met during a practice boat-drill in 1953. When they married, they had a marzipan flying boat on top of their wedding cake.

Many stars of stage and screen flew with Aquila in the 1950s including: Harry Secombe; Terry Thomas; Trevor Howard; John Huston; Bernard Miles; Peter Butterworth; Janet Brown and John Mills.

On the whole, flight safety records for flying boats were relatively speaking, quite good. However, in late 1957, Aquila’s Short Solent flying boat RMA Sydney crashed into the side of a quarry, Chessell Down, on the Isle of Wight, due to engine failure. All 8 crew were killed, along with 35 of the 50 passengers. Aquila never quite recovered from the tragedy and ceased operations on 30th September, 1958. (Source: Ibid. p.13)

The golden age of international flying boat travel from Southampton slowly drew to a close. The flying boats could no longer compete, in terms of cost, speed and flying times, with planes like the de Havilland DH 106 Comet, a British jetliner introduced in 1952. Occasional flying boat pleasure flights still took place over the Southampton Water.

Indeed the Beachcomber made 17 passenger flights from September 5th to 9th in 1977. Operating from Calshot (the old RAF flying boat base near Southampton), well to be precise, some 4 miles from the moorings at Calshot. This was due to opposition from the Southampton and Solent authorities who did not permit flying boats to operate over Southampton Water at this time. (Source: ‘”Beachcomber”: The Story of a Sandringham and Sunderland Civil Conversions Operated In Australia by Vic Hodgkinson, p.13)

Captain Andrew Evans once wrote: ‘flying boats, in particular, had a special place in the hearts of those who travelled in them, though sadly today they are almost forgotten.’ (Source: Eagles Over Water: From Solent to the Sun – Story of Aquila Airways Ltd by Norman Hull, 1994, p. 85)

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Posted in Aviation History, Film, History, Literature, Review, World War One

Featured Author: Kerrie Logan Hollihan – In The Field and The Trenches

Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan. ©Fred Logan
Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan. ©Fred Logan

I was delighted when Ohio-based author, Kerrie Hollihan, contacted me to ask if I would like to review her latest book, In The Fields and the Trenches: The Famous and The Forgotten on The Battlefields of World War One. Published last month by Chicago Review Press, In the Fields and the Trenches is Kerrie’s 6th YA non-fiction work for this excellent publishing house. I have previously reviewed several YA non-fiction books from Chicago Review Press, both by author Kathryn J. Atwood Women Heroes of World War 1 and Code Name Pauline.

Kerrie’s new book is a collection of 18 biographies of young men and women who bravely and selflessly decided, to ‘do their bit’ on the frontline in World War One. Several individuals, featured in In The Fields and the Trenches, went on after the war to become well-known in a variety of occupations from writer to president to film star (J. R. R. Tolkien; Ernest Hemingway; Harry Truman and Buster Keaton). Others were from high-profile families such as The Young Roosevelts or Irène Curie, daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie.

Book Cover

In the Fields and the Trenches is divided into 12 chapters, each short biography is clearly written and very well-researched:

  • The Cowboy: Fred Libby (American);
  • The Daughter: Irène Curie (French);
  • The Wordsmith: J. R. R. Tolkien (South African);
  • The Student: Walter Koessler (German);
  • The Aviatrix: Katherine Stinson (American)*;
  • The Family: The Young Roosevelts (American);
  • The Red Cap: Henry Lincoln Johnson (American);
  • The Pitcher: Christy Mathewson (American);
  • The Showgirl: Elsie Janis (American)*;
  • The Kid: Ernest Hemingway (American);
  • The Captain: Harry Truman (American);
  • The Comedian: Buster Keaton (American).

*Biographies feature later in this article.

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Walter Koessler (1891-1966). A German architectural student who was called-up to fight for his country in World War One. Walter served in the German Officer Corps. He brought along his camera to capture many aspects of a soldier’s life on the frontline as well as in the trenches. After the war, he arranged all his photographs in an album ‘Walter Koessler 1914-1918’. This photograph was taken during Walter’s first months as a German Officer. He is pictured here with his motorbike. ©Dean Putney.

Although In The Field and the Trenches is aimed at the YA market, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in reading a fresh perspective on World War One. Hidden histories of extraordinary young people many of whose stories may have been forgotten forever if it wasn’t for writers like Kerrie. The book also includes a very helpful World War One Timeline to contextualize some of the events featured in the biographies.

I notice Kerrie dedicated this book to her grandfather, the inscription reads: ‘Frederick Urban Logan – US Army soldier and bugler in France 1918-19’. World War One is obviously a period in history that has a particularly strong personal connection to Kerrie.

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One of Walter Koessler’s photographs. Soldiers washing and doing their laundry in livestock troughs during World War One. ©Dean Putney.

Kerrie writes the mini-bios with skill and clarity, managing to avoid the usual fax-pas of sentimentalizing content. In my view, a common error some authors make when writing historical non-fiction for a YA audience. I have always said, never underestimate the young, they know more than we sometimes give them credit for! Just stick to the facts, young active minds will be able to bring the stories to life for themselves. In her ‘Preface’, Kerrie writes:

Wars are fought by young people, and young people fighting wars make history – in ways great and small…They fought in battles, flew warplanes, killed the enemy, nursed the wounded, and fell in love. One died in combat. The rest came home, their lives forever changed.

Some of them had famous names, but most did not. Some had distinguished themselves in battle and returned as war heroes, while others would reach their prime as writers, businesspeople, scientists, and film stars. One became president of the United States. Another died penniless, estranged from his family.

These men and women lived a century ago. They felt altogether modern, and indeed, for the time they lived, they were. They encountered heroes, cowards, comics, and villains. They learned about human nature – power, greed, death, love, hate, courage, and fear. Like women and men of any age, they came away from a devastating experience with mixed feelings of despair, joy, hatred, loss, and hope. Their stories plainly show how they shared with us the tough journey that we call life.

(In The Field and the Trenches: The Famous and The Forgotten on The Battlefields of World War One by Kerrie Logan Hollihan, Chicago Review Press, 2016.Preface: pp. xv-xvi)

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Photograph of the trenches in Winter by Walter Koessler. ©Dean Putney.

I have chosen 2 of my favourite biographies, from In The Field and the Trenches, to share with you here. The Aviatrix – Katherine Stinson and The Showgirl – Elsie Janis.

Katherine Stinson (1891-1977)

In Spring 1912, she became only the 4th American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Early in her flying career she made good money ($1,000 to $2,000 per week) performing acrobatic flying displays using her fabric-winged biplane. An extremely dangerous way for anyone to earn a living let alone a 5ft 5, young woman weighing only 100lbs! She took great pride and care maintaining her own plane and hired only the best mechanicians (known nowadays as mechanics).

When World War One started, she wanted to work as a pilot for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). She applied twice and was turned-down on both occasions. In 1916, she decided to take her biplane on an ocean liner and sail to Asia performing display shows. In 1918, she went to work for the US Post Office as a pilot. In May, 1918 she flew to raise money to pay for Liberty Bonds to help with the overseas war effort:

The army might have forbidden her to fly in France, but the US government knew that a flying schoolgirl could appeal to Americans’ hearts and open their pocketbooks. Put to work as an airborne publicity stunt, Katherine flew from town to town on a campaign to sell Liberty Bonds to help pay for the war. She also raised $2 million for the American Red Cross, and she ended that fundraising journey by landing on a white cross in front of the Washington Monument.

(Ibid. p.58)

In July, 1918, she piloted the 1st airmail flight in western Canada, from Calgary to Edmonton. However, she still wanted to ‘do her bit’ in France. If she wasn’t allowed to be a pilot, then she would offer her services as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. She joined the ambulance corps in August, 1918 and was soon sent to France.

After the war, she got permission to work as a pilot and fly mail between Paris and General Pershing’s army headquarters. Unfortunately at that time, the Spanish Flu pandemic was sweeping across Europe and North America. She succumbed to the virus and ended-up in a Paris Hospital. As it turned out, during the war she had, unbeknown to her, also contracted tuberculosis and her health was now ailing. She spent years convalescing.

Whilst in a sanatorium in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she met Miguel Antonio Otero Jr, who had been a pilot in World War One. They married in 1927. She went on to become an architect.

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Poster celebrating Katherine Stinson’s success in flying the 1st sack of Airmail in Western Canada in 1918. ©City of Edmonton Archives (Alberta, Canada)

Elsie Janis (1889-1956)

She first set foot on stage when at just 2 and 1/2, dancing in church socials. A child star from the get-go, she could sing, dance and act. Her mother, Janice Bierbower, was a typical stage mum who managed her daughter’s career, travelling everywhere with her. A professional stage career took her all the way from Broadway to Europe and back again.

In 1917, aged 28, she was in London with her mother, their maid and her Pekingese, Mousme. Despite not having permission from the US government to visit Europe, she decided to make the journey anyway. Afterall, she was a big star and surely no-one would refuse her entry?

She travelled with her mother to Bordeaux, France, arriving without official approval but helped by the YMCA. She immediately began rehearsing with a pianist and gave concerts to the troops. She became the sweetheart of the AEF. Kerrie writes:

Elsie was a trooper and performed up to nine shows in one day. She entertained on makeshift stages and tabletops, and she felt just as comfortable taking her show into hospital wards. She always opened her act with that same question, “Are we downhearted?” Bold, brash, and talented, she sang, danced, did a few imitations, and cracked jokes for the troops.

(Ibid. p.115)

Not everything went well whilst they were in France. She refused to wear a uniform and one occasion in Provins, on her way to entertain 2,000 US troops at Chaumont, both her and her mother were arrested on suspicion of spying. This incident could have been avoided had she worn military attire. French officials examined the pair’s paperwork and after much fuss, eventually allowed them both to proceed.

Being in France must have been heart-breaking for her. In 1916, her British boyfriend, actor and singer, Basil Hallam Radford (b.1889) had been killed during the Battle of the Somme. He was a member of the Royal Flying Corps.

After World War One, she continued her career on stage and the silver screen, Women in War (1940) was her last film. When her mother died she married Gilbert Wilson, moving to Hollywood in 1936. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Elsie Janis and 'her boys', dressed as World War One veterans from the US, Britain and France. In 1920, Elsie reprised her wartime experiences in a show. Image courtesy of Kerrie Hollihan. Author's own collection.
Elsie Janis and ‘her boys’, dressed as World War One veterans from the US, Britain and France. In 1920, Elsie reprised her wartime experiences in a show. Image courtesy of Kerrie Hollihan. Author’s own collection.

There are many ways to connect with Kerrie and her writing:

  • Follow Kerrie on Twitter (@Kerriehollihan);
  • Visit Kerrie’s website;
  • Visit ‘Hands on Books’ blog. Kerrie, together with fellow authors Brandon Marie Miller and Mary Kay Carson. Between them, these 3 have over 50 published books to their names. Their blog features the ‘world of nature, and history’s makers and shakers’ and ‘share insights and stories about writing non-fiction for young people’.;

Copies of In The Fields and the Trenches as well as any of Kerrie’s other publications, can be purchased:

 

 

Posted in Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, History, Review, World War Two

Featured Author (Part 2) – Kathryn J. Atwood ‘Code Name Pauline’ – Remarkable Story Of WW2 Special Agent Pearl Witherington

 

Following-on from my previous article featuring Women Heroes of World War One by American authoress Kathryn J. Atwood, I am delighted to introduce to you another fascinating book in Kathryn’s canon, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent, published by Chicago Review Press (2013). I actually read this book some month’s ago but due to a number of factors, including a hectic Summer period, it has taken a lot longer than I would have wished to finalise this post.

Edited by Kathryn, Code Name Pauline is a fascinating memoir of World War II Special Operations Executive (SOE), Pearl Witherington Cornioley CBE (1914-2008). I do hope that you enjoy this feature article about Code Name Pauline, it has been a pleasure to write this review, it is an excellent book and fitting tribute to a remarkable heroine of World War II.

The SOE was officially disbanded on January 15th, 1946 on orders from the new prime minister, Clement Attlee (1883-1967). All personnel files were sealed until 2004, 4 years before Pearl’s death and less than 10 years before the publication of Code Name Pauline.

I don’t like blowing my own trumpet. I find it really difficult, but at the same time I want people to know what really happened.

(Pearl Witherington Cornioley)

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What you hold in your hand is not a history book. It is a piece of history. History books are often written by people who were not there. This is the testimony of someone who not only was there but who actively participated in what happened… Pearl Witherington was an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British wartime organization that secretly trained and sent agents into Nazi-occupied countries during World War II.

Toward the end of her life, however, she [Pearl] began to feel that her story might be inspiring to young people in difficult circumstances. French journalist Hervé Larroque approached her in 1994 with the idea of writing her memoir, and as their acquaintance progressed she felt she could trust him to handle her story properly. He conducted multiple interviews, some with Pearl alone and others including Pearl’s husband, Henri Cornioley, from December 1994 through June 1995. The transcript of those interviews was published in French by Editions par exemple in December 1995, with the title Pauline, one of Pearl’s wartime code names….Pearl was adamant that her story not be altered, I have taken great care to change as little of her own wording as possible.

(The above extract was written by Kathryn J. Atwood, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013. ‘Editor’s Note’, pp. xi-ii)

Born Cécile Pearl Witherington in Paris on 24th June, 1914, the eldest of four daughters of an expatriate English couple. Pearl had a difficult childhood and limited early education, not attending school until she was 13. Sadly, Pearl’s father succumbed to drink and in order to support her family, she went out to work as a secretary.

CD2_047a
Pearl c.1932 (CD2-47a). ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.

When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Pearl was employed as a shorthand typist to the attaché at the British Embassy. She wanted her family to be safe and decided to escort them back to England, arriving in Liverpool, July 1941. Now living in England, Pearl joined The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAF) but found her role in the Air Ministry rather pedestrian.

I knew I could help in the war effort, even if I didn’t know exactly how things were going to work out.  But I thought that I could be much more useful in France, pushing the Germans out, than in England doing paperwork.  I applied to the Inter-Services Research Bureau via the head of the air attaché, who was a friend and my former boss at the British Embassy in Paris.

(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, p.33)

Pearl in her WAAF uniform before she left for France in 1943. ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.
Pearl in her WAAF uniform before she left for France in 1943 (W67). ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.

In 1943, Pearl managed to persuade the SOE(F) (the division for French operations) to take her on, after all she had many of the qualities required for the role, a fluent French-speaker, plenty of common sense, could think on her feet and as it turned out, was rather handy with a gun!

Pearl’s timing in joining the SOE was fortuitous. From June 1943, SOE’s recruiting system changed to a more comprehensive, largely psychological, assessment process. Methods used were based on War Office and Air Ministry experience in acquiring officers well after the first rush of volunteers had passed. Therefore, under the new system, Pearl’s character, practical skills and varied life experiences, took on greater importance and this only served to strengthen her application. Both male and female applicants were always treated equally in the SOE.

The process of initial têteà-tête was scrapped. Instead, candidates went before a students’ assessment board composed largely of psychologists, with whom they stayed for several days while their characters and capacities were thoroughly probed….

After the board, candidates were either sent on to paramilitary training or politely returned to the places whence they had come…Both private interviewers, such as Jepson, and the official board were prepared to treat women on a perfect equality with men. This was usual in SOE. The organisation was far in advance of the recent fashion; for clandestine purposes, there were several tasks that women would perform a good deal better than men.

(SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-46 by M.R.D. Food, 1984, p.60)

Pearl completed her seven weeks’ training in armed, and unarmed combat and sabotage and was soon on active operations in France. Pearl recalls:

….I spent seven weeks shut up in one of the special SOE schools. Training focused on the life of a secret agent and the necessary skills for surviving in France. We started the day with physical training at 7 am and worked until late in the evening. When they had finished with me I was exhausted…. Our training was very good on the whole. We were also sent to Manchester, in the north of England, to learn how to parachute. One of boys said to me, “You’ll see, it’s an extraordinary experience. you feel the whole world belongs to you.” But it’s not true! I was quickly back on the ground and second time I fell more heavily than the first, as if I had fallen 10 feet.

(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013. pp. 34-35)

Following her training and on the night of September 22nd/23rd, 1943, Pearl had to put her new skills to use when was “parachuted in” to France from an RAF Halifax, landing near Chateauroux, in the southern Loire. She was 29 years old.

After that, she [Pearl] lived an unusual life for seven months. Most of the time, traveling on night trains, she went to deliver messages, the content of which she rarely understood. She accompanied people as a guide, transported materials, and communicated back to London via coded radio messages. She was what was called a “courier.”

( Hervé Larroque, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, extract from the ‘Preface’, p.xv)

Pearl's railway pass that she used while working as a courier and that identified her as Marie Vergès . ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.
Pearl’s railway pass that she used while working as a courier and that identified her as Marie Vergès (Wo3) . ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013.

As an SOE agent Pearl was referred to as “Wrestler”; her nom de guerre in France was “Pauline”; in wireless transmissions to Britain she was called “Marie”.  Her false papers declared her to be the representative of a cosmetics firm, Isabelle Lancray, her backstory being that this was the firm that her future father-in-law had established with a partner. She joined the Resistance group known as “Stationer”. Her role was to act as a courier carrying coded messages.

The Stationer network was large and Pearl’s vital work with them cannot be underestimated. Throughout Code Name Pauline, Kathryn has written detailed text panels which help the reader contextualise Pearl’s memoir. These are very useful inclusions for the reader, particularly due to the nature of some of the historical intricacies contained in Pearl’s story.

Kathryn’s explanation of the Stationer network is particularly useful. Clearly written, the text cuts through the various complex strands of this subject and sets-out the key facts of this important movement in the history of French resistance. Kathryn writes:

The area covered by Stationer was large partly because it worked close and cooperated – liaised – with several nearby Resistance networks. Sometimes Pearl’s courier work overlapped with liaise work within these networks on behalf of Stationer. The Stationer network had liaised most closely with the Headmaster network, and a few months before Pearl’s arrival, Headmaster’s leaders had been arrested. Stationer filled in the gap, making the work of the already large network even larger and the trips for its couriers longer.

Although all SOE agents entering occupied countries acquired new identities – including a new name, a new personal history, and pretense of new employment- that they had to memorize until the details were second nature, couriers perhaps had an especial need of them since they were constantly out in public.

(Kathryn Atwood, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, pp.49-50)

Whilst working in occupied France, Pearl reconnected with an old flame, Henri Cornioley, a Frenchman she had met before the war and they became engaged. They went on to work together in the Resistance and after narrowly escaping death in the summer of 1944, they both made it to England, marrying later that year on 26th October. They had a daughter together, Claire.

In 1945 pearl was appointed a military MBE and in 2004, at the British Embassy in Paris, the Queen presented her with a CBE. In 2006 Pearl was awarded her Parachute Wings, the insignia of the Parachute Regiment. Henry Cornioley died in 1999 and Pearl died on 23rd February, 2008.

Although aimed at young adults, Code Name Pauline is an inspirational book for anyone interested in reading more about a shrewd, intelligent, selfless and remarkable individual who served her country during World War II. Code Name Pauline also provides a brilliant, first-hand glimpse into a secret world rarely spoken about in public by those who were there.

I don’t consider I did anything extraordinary. Even today when people say, “You know, you did some incredible things, they weren’t easy,” I still don’t believe it’s true. I did it because I wanted to, because it was useful, because it had to be done.

(Pearl Witherington Cornioley, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013, p.153)

AW12 in New-York February 1946
Pearl in New York during the American lecture tour, February 1946. She’s pointing to the Marie-Wrestler section of the Stationer network on a map (AW12). ©Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley with Hervé Larroque, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. Chicago Review Press, 2013

Kathryn J. Atwood – Resources

A selection of reviewer comments from the back cover of Code Name Pauline.
A selection of reviewer comments from the back cover of Code Name Pauline.
Posted in Activity, Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, History, History of Medicine, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Review, Vintage, World War One

The Lost Generation: The Young Person’s Guide To World War I by Martyn Barr (2014) – Review

©Martyn Barr – Out Of The Box Publishing Ltd
©Martyn Barr – Out Of The Box Publishing Ltd

The Lost Generation: The Young Person’s Guide to World War I (2014), by award-winning Kent author, Martyn Barr, is the latest educational publication from Out of The Box Publishing. Martyn, a PR and design consultant, established Out of The Box Publishing Ltd in 2009, to produce and market his own books which, since then have included:

Extracts from The Lost Generation.
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

The Lost Generation is a beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched softback publication which tells the story of World War One from a British perspective. Although the guide is aimed at young students (Key Stages 3 & 4), it also offers an excellent introduction, to such a complex period in world history, for the budding adult historian wanting to ‘dip their toe’ into this topic.

Regular readers of Come Step Back in Time will know that so far this year I have written many articles on World War One. I wish I had discovered The Lost Generation earlier, it would have saved me a lot of time (although never wasted!) ploughing through numerous academic tomes on the subject. What I really needed in the beginning was a straightforward introduction to inspire me continue on my research journey. The guide covers the war’s origins, as played out in a far-flung corner of Europe, right through to its bloody and bitter conclusion.

At a wallet-friendly price of £5.99 (including Free second class postage), The Lost Generation is an essential addition to your history bookshelf.  Fifty pence from every copy sold will be donated by Martyn to The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.

Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Inside The Lost Generation, are 62 pages, over 70 photographs/illustrations and a fold-out map on the back cover – ‘Taking Sides: A Europe Divided’ – illustrating a fractured Europe divided into allied powers, central powers and neutral countries.  The text is well-written and the layout is user-friendly. Some of the World War One topics Martyn covers include:

  • Motives for war;
  • Assassination of the Archduke and Archduchess, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, in Sarajevo;
  • Home front propaganda;
  • White feather campaign;
  • Pals battalions;
  • The ‘Old Contemptibles’;
  • Key Battles on the Western Front (Mons, Marne, Ypres, Passchendaele, Neuve Chapelle, Loos, Verdun, Somme, Jutland, Camrai, Amiens);
  • The Gallipoli campaign and siege of Kut-al-Amara;
  • Life in the trenches;
  • Women at war;
  • War horses and animals on the frontline;
  • Prisoners of war;
  • Aviation;
  • The postal service;
  • Poetry;
  • Medicine.
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Writing about The Lost Generation, Martyn comments:

A century has now passed since the outbreak of ‘the war to end all wars’ in 1914. The fertile fields of France and Belgium, where millions died, are no longer muddy, pock-marked quagmires. Nearby, row after row of white headstones mark the spot where men (and often boys) made the ultimate sacrifice… a practice repeated in many other countries across the globe.

Providing a guide to the First World War for today’s generation has been a challenge. The Lost Generation offers an overview of the war as it progressed, as well as a series of features that help flesh out the story. It has not been possible to cover every single battle and event, but I’ve tried to include the most significant from Britain’s perspective.

(p. 4, Teachers’ Resource Guide by Martyn Barr, 2014, Out of The Box Publishing Limited)

Interview With Martyn Barr

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Martyn about his work as an author:

Why did you decide to write The Lost Generation?

Although I am not an expert on this topic, I have always been interested in World War One and because 2014 is the 100th anniversary of its outbreak, it seemed like the right time to publish a book on this topic. It felt like a big responsibility at times, tackling such a complex topic. I wanted to write a guide, told from the British perspective which had depth and challenged the reader but didn’t go into a huge amount of detail.

I am not a teacher or a historian. I am an author with a background in writing and design. I understand how important book design is in publishing. Design layout in a book impacts upon the reader experience, it needs to be cohesive and engaging.”

Although The Lost Generation is aimed at the younger student of history, do you think it also has wider appeal?

Yes, very much so. I always consider my readership carefully. I ask myself ‘what would they want to see inside a history book about World War One’? Modern generations of youngsters do not want to read lots and lots of text, they prefer snippets. I also wanted to produce a publication that appealed to both teenagers and adults.”

Do you offer on-line resources for teachers to accompany your publications?

“Yes we do. Supporting educational material is available to teachers after they have purchased their publication(s). We then provide password details so that they can access the relevant Resource Guide on-line. Material included in these guides is cross-curricular.”

Tell me a little bit more about your unique concept of corporate sponsorship to facilitate the publication process?

Many of our publications are sponsored by companies. As part of their package, we provide each sponsor with 500 copies of the book they have helped to publish. It is entirely up to the company concerned what they choose to do with these publications. In the case of The Lost Generation, which was sponsored by Fenwick Limited, they have decided to distribute their copies, for free, to local schools in Kent.”

Reviews – The Lost Generation

Fenwick Limited chose to sponsor The Lost Generation to mark Group Trading Director Hugo Fenwick’s term as High Sheriff of Kent, 2014. He says:

I was pleased to lend my support to this project to ensure that the current generation recognises the huge sacrifices made by their forebears 100 years ago to secure their freedom. The government has pledged to fund an educational programme to create an enduring legacy and I think this book supports that admirably.

Martyn presents a brutally honest account of the First World War, and has pitched it perfectly for a teenage audience. He has managed to achieve this without dumbing down the material in any way, so I’m sure adults will enjoy reading it too.

The Lost Generation has been well-received by both the general public and historians alike. Dr Will Butler from the University of Kent at Canterbury, who also fact-checked the book prior to publication, comments:

This book is a valuable guide for a youth audience, or anyone approaching this subject for the first time. It is richly illustrated, covers a significant amount of detail, and avoids those well-trodden myths of the First World War, to provide a concise history of the topic.

Amber Rudd MP for Hastings and Rye writes:

A detailed and well-written book and resource to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Martyn has succeeded in producing a fitting tribute to all those who bravely gave their lives for our freedom.

Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Teachers’ Resource Guide – The Lost Generation

Martyn has written a Teachers’ Resource Guide to accompany The Lost Generation. Packed full of useful support material. Upon purchase of The Lost Generation, password details to access the on-line guide can be found on p.51, it is the last word that appears on that page. Generous educational discounts are also offered to schools and colleges, depending on quantities purchased. Details of these offers together with details of how to purchase individual copiesclick here.

Canterbury Cathedral In Times Past: Remembering WWI

Remembering World War I will be at the centre of this year’s event; examples from the rich collections at the Cathedral Archives will be on display to tell the story of life in the Cathedral City between 1914-1918. The exhibition will feature manuscripts, photographs and patient records illustrating the Voluntary Aid Detachment hospitals; a series of documents relating to the War Work Dept; letters from soldiers from the front; the diary of a cavalry officer and WWI pilot; artefacts relating to HMS Kent; details of how the casualties of the war were remembered, and the construction of the memorials in the Cathedral and in the City. Activities for children will include making a remembrance poppy and lavender bag.

(Canterbury Cathedral Website, published 18.8.2014)

On the evening of Tuesday 7th October, Martyn will be signing copies of The Lost Generation, at Canterbury Cathedral as part of their ‘Canterbury Cathedral in Times Past: Remembering WWI’. This free public event begins at 5.30pm with Evensong sung by the Cathedral Choir and at 6.30pm various activities and displays begin inside the Cathedral. The event ends at 8.40pm.

Canterbury Cathedral holds these open evenings annually but this year’s event commemorates World War One. Visitors will also be able to try their hand at a number of skilled crafts including applying gold leaf, carving stone, and brass rubbing. Free guided and audio tours will be on offer and there will be visits to the private chapels, the Bell Tower, the organ loft, and the choir practice room. For further information about this event, click here.

Author Martyn Barr ©Tim Stubbings
Martyn Barr in the Cloisters at Canterbury Cathedral. ©Tim Stubbings
Posted in Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Maritime History, Motoring History, Rural Heritage, Vintage, World War Two

New Forest Remembers – D-Day Commemorative Event June 2014

©Come Step Back In Time
Forces Sweetheart entertained the crowds at Lymington Town Railway Station. D-Day commemorative event, 21st June, 2014. ©Come Step Back In Time

I recently wrote an article and made a couple of short films about Hampshire’s role preparing for the Invasion of Europe in 1944. For that article, ‘DDay, 70 Years On: Hampshire Remembers’, click here.

This Summer there have been many D-Day commemorative activities taking place across Hampshire. On 21st June, I attended Lymington-Brockenhurst Community Rail Partnership’s immersive history event in the New Forest.  Visitors were given the opportunity to step back in time and experience life in 1940s rural Britain, quite fabulous it was too.

An ambitious undertaking, involving a number of different locations. Brockenhurst station, Lymington Town station, Brockenhurst village and Berthon Marina, Lymington all came alive with the sights and sounds of wartime Britain. Vintage vehicles from the era, restored D-Day vessels (HMS Medusa and Pilot Rescue Launch 441), retro-themed stalls, fair rides, dance displays, music, singing, specially designed heritage walks and much, much more.

In Brockenhurst Village Hall, there was also an evening showing of The Longest Day (1962) together with a fish and chip supper. The film is all about D-Day and based uponn the 1959 book, of the same name, by Cornelius Ryan.

In order to showcase, fully, this fabulous day of nostalgia and reflection, I made this short film.

  • ‘D-Day Commemorative Event – New Forest Remembers, 21.6.14’ created by Emma, Editor of Come Step Back in Time.

On Lymington Town Quay there was a service of thanksgiving as well as the dedication of a plaque commemorating the departure of 2nd Battalion The Essex Regiment (The Pompadours) for Normandy on 3rd June, 1944.  The plaque was unveiled by a representative of The Royal Anglian Regiment and Mr Maurice Crosswell JP, President of The Rotary Club of Lymington.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The 2nd Battalions of the Essex, Glosters and South Wales Borderers were organised into 56th (independent Brigade) in January, 1944. On 25th May, 1944 the Essex moved into Camp B3 in the Beaulieu area, where it prepared for D-Day. Early morning PT and route marches ensured the physical fitness of all ranks with the emphasis now being placed on stimulating a sense of urgency. Training continued for street fighting, mine laying and clearance and weapon training, whilst night operations were extensively carried out. In short, the battalion was fighting fit and fit to fight. The camp was sealed and the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel JF Higson MC, briefed all ranks on their role in the invasion.

At 5.oo pm on 3rd June the battalion left camp and was taken to Lymington, where it embarked on Landing Craft Infantry (Large) for Southampton. Bad weather delayed the landings and the battalion finally sailed from Southampton for Normandy at 7.00 pm on 5th June. The evening was dull and overcast and although a heavy swell was running it was a quiet crossing. At 12.30pm the following day the battalion landed without casualties east of Le Hamel, which was still in enemy hands.

(Text above is from the back cover of a booklet produced especially for the ‘Plaque Dedication Service and Ceremony’ that took place at Lymington Quay, 21st June, 2014)

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

 

D-Day Veteran, Geoffrey William Dunstan attended the plaque unveiling ceremony and service at Lymington Quay. Geoffrey was 19, when he took part in D-Day. He was a member of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who took part in the assault on Sword Beach. ©Come Step Back In Time
D-Day Veteran, Geoffrey William Dunstan attended the plaque unveiling ceremony and service at Lymington Quay on 21st June, 2014. Geoffrey was 19 when he took part in D-Day. He was a member of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, one of the regiments that landed on Sword Beach. ©Come Step Back In Time.

In 1939, Brockenhurst station received the first cohort of evacuees, mainly from Southampton and Portsmouth. During World War Two, nearly five thousand child evacuees came to the New Forest. In order to commemorate this at the ‘New Forest Remembers’ event, local school children, dressed in period clothing, recreated the spectacle of evacuees arriving in the village during the war.

All evacuees would have been placed with local families who received ten shillings and sixpence to accommodate one child per week (£16 in today’s money). This fee was reduced to eight shillings and sixpence for two or more children at the same address. Villagers in the New Forest were not particularly well-off and all evacuees had to bring with them:

  • knife, fork, spoon, plate and mug;
  • comb, toothbrush, gas mask;
  • handkerchief, shoes, plimsolls, socks and a change of clothes.
©Come Step Back In Time
A 1937 Bedford Country Bus, an eleven seater vehicle which at the ‘New Forest Remembers’ event offered rides around the Lymington town for a small charitable donation. A wonderful experience for fans of vintage vehicles such as myself. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Inside the 1937 Bedford Country Bus. In 1939, the bus was used by the military to transport service personnel. In 1945, the vehicle was brought by Pentonville Prison for moving prisoners within the grounds. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Art Deco period detail inside the Bedford Country Bus, 1937. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
A stunning Deco light fitting inside the 1937 Bedford Country Bus. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Lovely ‘Dig For Victory’ display at Lymington station by Lymington Gardening Club and Lymington Flower Club. ©Come Step Back In Time

During World War Two, large areas of Open Forest, close to Brockenhurst – Wilverley Plain, Ober Heath, Longslade Bottom, Whitefield Moor – were ploughed over and crops planted. Approximately fourteen thousand allotments worth of land was utilised for the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign. The crops grown ranged from cereals, potatoes, turnips to rapeseed and flax.

©Come Step Back In Time
Lymington Town station’s waiting-room where the clock had been turned back 70 years to 1944.  ©Come Step Back In Time
DSCF0437
One of my favourite vintage vehicle exhibits at Brockenhurst station. A rare 1933, Austin 16/6 Westminster Sports Saloon. Only 50 were produced and 3 are still in existence. It was first registered in Somerset in 1933. During World War Two it was used as an Air Raid Warden’s Field Office in Holders Yard, Petersfield, Hampshire. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Inside the restored 1933, Austin Sports Saloon caravan. Brockenhurst station. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Inside the restored 1933, Austin Sports Saloon caravan. Brockenhurst station. ©Come Step Back In Time
DSCF0336
Georgina Craufurd, Hon. Secretary of the Friends of Lymington to Brockenhurst Line, part of the Community Rail Partnership. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Mr and Mrs Street c.1940. They ran ‘T. Street & Son’ a General Ironmongers in Brockenhurst Village. The shop still exists today. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Streets Ironmongers in Brockenhurst village is still going strong in 2014. For the D-Day Commemorative event, the current owners, like many other retailers in Brockenhurst village, turned back time to the 1940s, dressing and decorating their shop windows accordingly. As you can see, many items that were sold 70 years ago are still available today. Current interest in nostalgia has ensured that hardware classics such as wooden clothes pegs and enamelled pie dishes are still remain popular.   ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
A newspaper from June 1940 on display in one of the shop windows in Brockenhurst village. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Martins of Brockenhurst, chemist shop,  decorated for the event. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Various pharmacy items from the 1940s on display at Martins Chemist shop in Brockenhurst village. ©Come Step Back In Time
DSCF0546
J. W. Martin Chemist Shop c.1940. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Forces Sweetheart entertains the veterans and dignitaries, HMS Medusa, Berthon Marina, Lymington, at a private reception at the end of the day’s events. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
One of the maritime stars at the D-Day event was HMS Medusa (ML1387) on station at Berth E1 in Berthon Marina, Lymington. This vessel was involved in 6/44 Operation Neptune (Naval element of D-Day and Invasion of Normandy). Read more about her restoration: http://www.hmsmedusa.org.uk/index.html and her involvement in D-Day: http://www.hmsmedusa.org.uk/medusa_dday.html. Medusa is recognised as being one of the vessels selected to represent the nation’s maritime heritage by her inclusion in the National Historic Fleet. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1943, Setley Plain, close to the main road between Brockenhurst and Lymington, was Camp No.65 for prisoners of war (POWs). The first POWs to be housed at Setley Plain were Italians captured in Africa and later on Germans. POWs in the New Forest often helped the Land Army and took odd jobs in local villages. Some worked in the local sawmill and made toys for local children. On the whole, the POWs received a warm welcome from the locals in the New Forest, some even stayed on after the war ended.

©Come Step Back In Time
During preparations for D-Day, this site (now a private airstrip) near South Baddesley, Lymington was RAF Lymington, All that exists today of the original site is a blister hangar (top right) and the grass runway. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1943, at a site near South Baddesley, Lymington, construction began to create a temporary airfield, an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), known as RAF Lymington. The airstrip still exists but is now private property, part of the Newtown Park Estate. Between 1939 and 1945 there were twelve airfields operating in the New Forest.

In 1944, RAF Lymington had two landing strips, four blister hangars and many parking bays. The original landing strips at RAF Lymington were made of steel mesh pinned to the ground with large stakes. Tented accommodation for the Airmen and other staff working at the airfield was provided, hidden, in the nearby woods.

©Come Step Back In Time
View of the airstrip looking towards the Solent. The airstrip is now private property, party of the Newtown Park Estate but in 1943-44 it was RAF Lymington. ©Come Step Back In Time

RAF Lymington became home to the 50th Fighter Group, Ninth US. Tactical Air Force, they were first to use the airfield from April, 1944. P-47 Thunderbolts were familiar sights to anyone living in the New Forest area during 1944. Thunderbolt aircraft covered the beach landings on 6th June, 1944 as well as supporting allied troops invading Normandy. RAF Lymington ceased operation in Spring, 1945.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Other Squadrons stationed at RAF Lymington in 1944 were: 81st Squadron; 50th Fighter Squadron; 313rd Squadron and 9th Tactical Air Force U.S.A.A.F. The first three Squadrons then moved to an airfield in Normandy after 24th June, 1944.

©Come Step Back In Time
Airmen, possibly pictured at South Holmsley airfield, New Forest, 1940s. Photograph featured in a shop window display in Brockenhurst village as part of the ‘New Forest Remembers’ event. ©Come Step Back In Time

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Posted in Aviation History, Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Maritime History, Museum, World War One, World War Two

The Royal Marines – Stories From The Great War Part 4

'Yomper' statue located outside the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.
‘Yomper’ statue located outside the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea. Statue was unveiled by Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven OM, PC, FRS, 8th July 1992. Inscription on plaque reads: ‘To commemorate all the Royal Marines and those who served during the Falklands War of 1982’. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

The Royal Marines Museum – Eastney, Hampshire

This year, the Royal Marines celebrate their 350th anniversary.  There are currently seven thousand Royal Marines and 40% of Britain’s Special Forces originate from the regiment. I recently visited their Museum in Southsea, Hampshire, located in Eastney Barracks, former Royal Marines Headquarters for training, reserve and special forces until its closure in 1991. The Museum opened at Eastney Barracks in October 1958 and charts the regiment’s history from its beginnings in 1664, right the way through until the present day.  I was fortunate to be shown around by an extremely knowledgeable member of staff who pointed-out some of the more unusual exhibits in the collection as well as their fascinating backstories.

Minstrels’ Gallery  - two images showing the doors onto the Musicians’ Gallery and a view of the Minstrels’ Gallery No numbers © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
Minstrels’ Gallery showing the east wall and doors onto the Musicians’ Gallery.  Interior of The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire. © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
Minstrels’ Gallery  - two images showing the doors onto the Musicians’ Gallery and a view of the Minstrels’ Gallery No numbers © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
Minstrels’ Gallery inside The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.
© Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
Mountbatten Dining Room showing the Musicians’ Gallery No Number © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
Mountbatten Dining Room showing the Musicians’ Gallery inside the Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire. © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum

The Royal Marines – Fascinating Facts About Their History

Although primary focus of my visit was the First World War gallery, I also explored the rest of this superb Museum, discovering so many interesting, as well as rather surprising facts about the regiment’s history. Here are just a few that caught my eye:

  • Britain’s first Marines were called ‘Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot’, established by Charles II (1630-1685), on 28th October, 1664. The Duke of York was The Lord High Admiral and the regiment became known as the Admiral’s Regiment;
  • One of the first ever female soldiers was a Marine called Hannah Snell (1723-1792). In 1745, she enlisted in Portsmouth-based Colonel Fraser’s Regiment of Marines under the name of James Gray;

    Hannah Snell, c1750 Daniel Williamson Oil on canvas Accession number: 1988/51 © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
    Hannah Snell, c.1750 by Daniel Williamson (Oil on canvas). Accession number: 1988/51 © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
  • Marines took part in the first battle of the American War of Independence (1775-1783) at Bunkers Hill, Boston, June 16th, 1775;
  • When the “First Fleet” sailed from Portsmouth on 13th May, 1787, to found a prison colony in New South Wales, Australia, on ship were two hundred and forty-six Marines together with their wives and children. The journey took eight months and this very difficult tour of duty lasted three and a half years. Australia was founded on 26th January, 1788;

    Tapestry interprets the painting by Algernon Talmage (1871-1939) depicting the founding of Australia, 26th January, 1788. The tapestry was woven at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop by Irene Creedon, assisted by Joy Smith. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.
    Tapestry interprets the painting by Algernon Talmage (1871-1939) depicting the founding of Australia, 26th January, 1788. The tapestry was woven at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop by Irene Creedon, assisted by Joy Smith. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.
  • Marines travelled with Captain James Cook (1728-1779) on his three voyages to the Pacific, Antarctic and Arctic Oceans. They served to protect the ship’s crew and scientists when landing upon unfamiliar shores;
  • The Marines Forces became ‘Royal’ by Command of King George III (1738-1820) on 29th April, 1802;

    Copy of a coloured aquatint showing a Private of the Royal Marines c.1807 by I.C. Stadler. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.
    Copy of a coloured aquatint showing a Private of the Royal Marines c.1807 by I.C. Stadler. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.
  • Royal Marines travelled both with Charles Darwin (1809-1882), aboard the ‘Beagle’ (1831-36) and Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) on his expedition to the Arctic (1845);
  • Alongside The Royal Navy, Royal Marines were involved with The Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860), notably participating in the capture of Peking (1856);
  • Shortly after the Second World War began, Royal Marines Aviator, Captain Guy Beresford Kerr “Griff” Griffiths (1915-1999), was captured by Germans. He spent the rest of the war in POW camp Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Żagań, Poland), made famous by The Great Escape (1963). He helped with colleagues escape attempts by forging documents and concealing tunnels. Griff was a talented artist who would produce cartoons to amuse his fellow Prisoners and also painted fake British planes that confused the Germans. You can view (silent) footage of Captain Griffiths during his early years in German captivity. Click Here;
  • Royal Marines Commandos were established in 1942. Commandos are identifiable by their distinctive green beret emblazoned with its Globe and Laurel badge bearing the wearer’s original regimental insignia. Royal Marines Commandos are an elite fighting force whose members are made-up of Army, Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel.

  • Above film, The Royal Marines at War: Jungle Mariners (15 mins 17 secs) is produced by the Crown Film Unit and shows the harsh life of Royal Marines on a tour of duty in the jungles of the Far East. (Video uploaded onto You Tube, 31.12.2012 by the Royal Marines);

  • Above film, The Royal Marines at War: Commando – The Story of the Green Beret (1945) (59 mins 38 secs) was made for the Admiralty and is a drama-documentary covering Commando training in Wrexham, Anchnacarry and St. Ives. Fascinating archive footage shows wartime Commando units on amphibious assault exercises, perfecting cliff-top assaults and practicing both armed and unarmed combat techniques. (Video uploaded onto You Tube, 31.12.2012 by the Royal Marines).

    Objects used by Royal Marines Commandos during the Second World War. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.
    Objects used by Royal Marines Commandos during the Second World War. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.
A member of the Royal Marines Commandos during the Second World War. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.
A member of the Royal Marines Commandos during the Second World War. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

Recruitment During The Regiment’s Early Years

The regiment’s recruitment policy has always been quite fair. Even in its early years, recruits were never press-ganged but instead volunteered. Marines joined for life or long periods and when not on ship, returned to barracks for further training. In other areas of the military, personnel would often find themselves unemployed in-between periods of active service. In times of war, additional Marine volunteers were encouraged to join by the offer of a bounty payment which in 1794 was eight guineas (£8.40) and in 1808 thirty guineas (£31.50).

I have no rupture, nor was ever troubled with fits, and am in no ways disabled by lameness or otherwise, but have perfect use of my limbs, that I am not an apprentice, and that I do not belong to the militia, or to any other regiment or Corps, or to His Majesty’s Navy.

(A Marine’s oath on enlisting c.1800)

Copy of the telescopic bed used in the 1890s by the Royal Marine Artillery based in Eastney Barracks. The beds had no foam or springs. The 'mattress' was called a 'Palliasse' and similar to a large pillow case filled with straw which was changed every three months. Exhibit from The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.
Copy of a telescopic bed used in the 1890s by the Royal Marine Artillery based at Eastney Barracks. The beds had no foam or springs. The ‘mattress’ was called a ‘Palliasse’ and similar to a large pillowcase filled with straw which was changed every three months. Exhibit from The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

During Victorian and Edwardian eras, living conditions for Royal Marines and their families stationed in barracks were fairly good. Eastney Barracks, built between 1862 and 1867, was home to the Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) training. Married quarters were also provided and wives helped out with laundry, sewing and any other domestic tasks that needed doing on site. A strong community bond developed amongst the military personnel and their families.

Royal Marine Artillery filling beds with straw in Drill Hall of the Royal Marine Artillery Barracks, Eastney, c1910. Kalamazoo number: 2/7/6 (48). © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum.
Royal Marine Artillery filling beds with straw in Drill Hall of the Royal Marine Artillery Barracks, Eastney, c.1910. Kalamazoo number: 2/7/6 (48). © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum.

Recruitment During The First World War

Your King and Country Needs You. Will you answer your country’s call? Each day is fraught with the gravest possibilities, and at this very moment the Empire is on the brink of the greatest War in the history of the world. In this crisis your country calls on her young unmarried men to rally round the flag and enlist. If every patriotic young man answers her call, England and her Empire will emerge stronger and more united than ever. If you are unmarried and between 18 and 30 years old, will you answer your country’s call? JOIN TODAY.

(Extract from a First World War recruitment poster, on display at The Royal Marines Museum.)

Recruitment poster from the First World War on display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney.
Recruitment poster from the First World War on display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney.

During the First World War, the Royal Marines ran a highly successful recruitment campaign. Right across Britain, tents were erected in public places including local parks. Attractively designed posters, urging men to enlist, appeared everywhere and the Corps had quadrupled in size by 1918. Divisional Headquarters for the Royal Marine Artillery was based at Eastney and Divisional Headquarters for the Royal Marine Light Infantry was split between Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. Their Depot was in Deal, Kent. The Museum’s Curator, Ian Maine, explains:

During the First World War, over sixty thousand men served with the Royal Marines, rising from a peacetime establishment of around fifteen thousand men, so the Corps quadrupled in size.  There were around six thousand one hundred and fifty men who were killed during the war. Unfortunately, we don’t have any figures for the number of those injured.

The Royal Marines ran a very successful recruitment campaign in World War One resulting the Corps quadroupling in size by the time hostilities had ended in 1918. Exhibit from The Royal Marines Museum, Southsea. Image
The Royal Marines ran a very successful recruitment campaign in the First World War operating from tents pitched in local parks and other public places. Exhibit from The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire. Image © Come Step Back In Time.

Young men between the ages of 17 and 23 are eligible for the Corps of Royal Marines, provided they produce satisfactory records of character. Each recruit is subjected to a medical examination; he must be strong, vigorous and healthy, and free from bodily infirmity, and be able to read and write fairly well and have a fair knowledge of the first four rules of arithmetic. Men enlisting for the duration of the war will be discharged with all convenient speed when the war is over.

(Extract from a First World War recruitment notice, on display at The Royal Marines Museum.)

World War One recruitment poster for The Royal Marine Labour Corps. On display at the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.
First World War recruitment poster for The Royal Marine Labour Corps. On display at the Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.

In 1917, The Royal Marine Labour Corps was established which continued until it being disbanded in 1919. Members were raised from volunteers aged over forty-one along with those who were deemed unfit to serve on the front-line. Their main duties were to oversee the distribution of war materials arriving at French ports, en-route to the Western Front. Approximately four thousand nine hundred and ten officers and men joined this Corps.

Wrns
WRNS (The Womens Royal Naval Service or ‘Wrens’), when serving with the Royal Marines they were known as ‘Marens’. Figure on display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

Also in 1917, women were allowed to enlist in the Auxiliary Services with WRNS (The Womens Royal Naval Service or ‘Wrens’), when serving with the Royal Marines they were known as ‘Marens’.  Wrens and Marens were stationed at each of the barracks and undertook a wide range of shore-based duties, such as clerks, mess waitresses, cooks, wireless telegraphers and boat crew members. They were disbanded in 1919.  The Wrens reformed in 1939 and played an important role in World War Two.

Map case, 1915. Used by Lieutenant (Later Major-General) C Lamplough RMLI during the landing by the Plymouth Battalion Royal Naval Division at “Y” Beach, Gallipoli (25th April, 1915). On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.
Map case, 1915, used by Lieutenant (Later Major-General) C. Lamplough RMLI during the landing by the Plymouth Battalion Royal Naval Division at ‘Y’ Beach, Gallipoli (25th April, 1915). On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

The First World War – Military Campaigns

Shortly after the First World War began, the Royal Marines were sent to Ostend and later Antwerp. The regiment suffered heavy casualties early on in the war. Winston Churchill (1874-1965), then First Lord of the Admiralty, formed a Royal Navy Division of the Royal Marines which was in fact a combination of Marines and naval reservists who were surplus to Fleet requirements. In 1916 and 1918, the Royal Marines with the Royal Naval Division fought in the trenches of France.

Food Warmer c.1915 used in the Gallipoli campaign. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.
Food Warmer c.1915 used in the Gallipoli campaign. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

The conditions on Gallipoli were appalling. The fighting was fierce and the heat quickly decayed dead bodies lying in the battlefields. A plague of flies caused disease. There was no source of fresh water and sanitation was very basic. There was no rest area and the Allies were constantly under shell fire.

(Extract from exhibition panel in the First World War gallery at The Royal Marines Museum.)

Royal Marines formed a sizeable part of the Royal Naval Division involved in the battles at Anzac Cove and Cape Helles as part of the Gallipoli campaign. Lance Corporal W. R. Parker RMLI received the Victoria Cross for his bravery in rescuing wounded in daylight under heavy fire at Gallipoli on the 30th April, 1915.

By the time war broke-out in 1914, Britain was relying heavily on food imports, particularly from Canada and America, two thirds of our food was imported. Keeping the shipping lanes open in the Atlantic and North Sea became vital. Germany were determined to starve Britain into surrendering and consequently sent many submarines to sink supply ships operating along these routes.

Between 31st May and 1st June, 1916, one of the greatest sea battles in naval history took place, The Battle of Jutland.  The result was a draw but fighting resulted in the death of nine thousand six hundred and forty-six sailors, including five hundred and thirty-eight Royal Marines. The regiment’s second Victoria Cross of the war was awarded (Posthumously) to Major F. J. W. Harvey RMLI.

Watch case worn by Private W J Harris RMLI, 1915. This saved Private Harris’s life when he was hit by a bullet at Gallipoli. He was later killed at the Battle of Jutland, whilst serving on board HMS Black Price. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. ©Come Step Back in Time.
Watch case worn by Private W J Harris RMLI, 1915. This saved Private Harris’s life when he was hit by a bullet at Gallipoli. He was later killed at the Battle of Jutland, whilst serving on board HMS Black Prince. On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

The Royal Marines also played a vital role in The Zeebrugge Raid (23rd April, 1918) in which the Royal Navy tried to block the Belgian port. The aim was to destroy German U-boat bases at Zeebrugge. Two Royal Marines were awarded Victoria Crosses, by ballot, for their part in The Zeebrugge Raid, Captain E. Bamford DSO RMLI and Sergeant N. A. Finch RMA.

The Lewis machine gun used by Sgt Norman Finch VC on board HMS Vindictive during The Zeebrugge Raid (23rd April, 1918). On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney
The Lewis machine gun used by Sgt Norman Finch VC on board HMS Vindictive during The Zeebrugge Raid (23rd April, 1918). On display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

Both Bamford and Finch were serving aboard HMS Vindictive (an Arrogant Class Cruiser). When the ship arrived at Zeebrugge it came under very heavy enemy fire, particularly along her upper works. Finch together with another colleague, Lt Rigby, remained at post despite witnessing many of their colleagues being either killed or wounded, Finch also received severe injuries. Finch and Rigby continued until their gun was finally put out of action. The Lewis machine gun used by Finch is now on display in the Museum.

Display of historic instruments belonging to the Royal Marines Band. Exhibit at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.
Display of historic instruments belonging to the Royal Marines Band. Exhibit at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.

The Royal Marines Band

There are several galleries at the Museum dedicated to the Royal Marines Band. Established towards the end of the nineteenth century, The Royal Marines Band Service is the musical wing of the Royal Navy. There are currently five bands and one Corps of Drums. Headquarters are the Royal Marines School of Music at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth. This is the only branch of the Royal Marines which is open to women. The Royal Marines School of Music (originally known as the Royal Naval School of Music) was founded in 1903 and its base was Eastney Barracks until the Corps moved to Deal in 1930. Primarily, members are trained musicians but they also serve as stretcher bearers, ambulance drivers and in logistics when required.  The Captain-General of The Royal Marines Band is HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

One of the most famous individuals in the history of the Royal Marines Band is Sir Vivian Dunn (1908-1995) KCVO OBE FRSA. He served for a total of thirty-eight years. At the age of just twenty-two, he became Director of Music, Portsmouth Divisional Band and was the last civilian musician to be appointed into such a post.  He encouraged close collaboration between the various units of the Royal Marines Band Service and his Portsmouth Divisional Band.

During the First World War, Royal Marine Bands served in ships of the Royal Navy and also the Royal Naval Brigades including the campaign at Gallipoli. The Divisional Bands all did a tour of duty with the sixty-third Royal Naval Division on the Western Front.

  • To commemorate this year’s 350th Anniversary, the Royal Marines Band will be performing in The Mountbatten Festival of Music which takes place at the Royal Albert Hall (13th, 14th and 15th March, 2014). To book tickets call the box office on 0845 401 5018 or see the website for booking details www.royalalberthall.com.
Published sheet music for the George Miller composition "Soldiers of the Sea" (1896). Exhibit at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney. Image ©Come Step Back in Time.
Published sheet music for the George Miller composition “Soldiers of the Sea” (1896). Exhibit at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney.

The First World War – The Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy”. Since its introduction on 29th January, 1856, Royal Marines have been awarded ten of them, five of which were earned during the First World War. The last Victoria Cross awarded to a Royal Marine was in the Second World War (Corporal Thomas Peck Hunter, 1923-1945). The Museum has a dedicated Medal Room, formerly the Officers’ Mess Billiard Room, showcasing all of the regiment’s medals, including Victoria Crosses.

Listed below are details of the five Victoria Crosses awarded to Royal Marines during the First World War:

  • Lance Corporal W. R. Parker RMLI. Gallipoli, 30th April, 1915. Displayed conspicuous bravery in rescuing wounded in daylight under heavy fire;

    Parker. The Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.
    Lance Corporal W. R. Parker VC, Royal Marine Light Infantry. Medals awarded to him on display at  The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.
  • Major F. J. W. Harvey RMLI (Posthumously). The Battle of Jutland, 31st May, 1916. Ordered the flooding of his turret’s magazines although mortally wounded, thereby saving his ship;

    Harvey, The Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.
    Major F. J. Harvey VC, Royal Marine Light Infantry. Medals awarded to him on display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.
  • Major F. W. Lumsden DSO RMA. France, 3rd April, 1917. Led a party to recover six enemy guns under heavy fire. He is the oldest Royal Marine to be awarded the Victoria Cross;
    Lumsden. The Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.
    Brigadier General F. Lumsden VC CB DSO, Royal Marine Artillery. Medals awarded on display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.

    Captain (Brevet Major) Edward Bamford VC DSO Royal Marine Light Infantry, c1918. Kalamazoo number: 9/2/F2 (7) © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
    Captain (Brevet Major) Edward Bamford VC DSO Royal Marine Light Infantry, c1918.  Kalamazoo number: 9/2/F2 (7) © Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
  • Captain E. Bamford DSO RMLI. The Raid on Zeebrugge, 23rd April, 1918. Led his company with initiative and daring in the face of great difficulties (medal awarded by ballot);

    Bamford. The Royal Marines Museum Southsea
    Major E. Bamford VC, Royal Marines. Medals awarded to him on display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.
  • Sergeant N. A. Finch RMA. The Raid on Zeebrugge, 23rd April, 1918. Maintained continuous covering fire from the exposed foretop, although severely wounded (medal awarded by ballot).
    Lieutenant N. A. Finch VC, Royal Marines. Medals awarded to him on display at The Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.
    Sgt. N. A. Finch VC, Royal Marines. Medals awarded to him on display at The Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, Hampshire.

    Sgt Norman Finch Royal Marine Artillery wearing his Victoria Cross, c1920. Location unknown. Kalamazoo number: 9/2/B5 (1) ©Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
    Sgt Norman Finch Royal Marine Artillery wearing his Victoria Cross, c1920. Location unknown. Kalamazoo number: 9/2/B5 (1) ©Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
  • For visitor information about The Royal Marines Museum, Click Here;
  • For more information about forthcoming events at The Royal Marines Museum, Click Here;
  • For a round-up of events taking place this year to commemorate the 350th Anniversary of The Royal Marines, Click Here;
'Per Mare, Per Terram' - by Sea and Land. Moto of The Royal Marines.
‘Per Mare, Per Terram’ (by Sea and Land). Moto of The Royal Marines.
Posted in Activity, Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Horticultural History, Literature, Museum, Rural Heritage

Gilbert White – The Parson Naturalist of Selborne, Hampshire

View of the gardens and back of The Wakes, Gilbert White's House, Selborne, Hampshire.
View of the gardens and back of The Wakes, Gilbert White’s House, Selborne, Hampshire. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

See Selborne spreads her boldest beauties round

The varied valley, and the mountain ground,

Wildly majestic! what is all the pride

Of flats, with loads of ornament supply’d?

Unpleasing, tasteless, impotent expense,

Compar’d with nature’s rude magnificence.

Arise, my stranger, to these wild scenes haste …

(Opening lines from Gilbert White’s poem, The Invitation to Selborne)

Prof. Bell's library, on the ground floor of The Wakes. Prof. Thomas Bell (1792-1880) was a zoologist who much admired White's work. He retired, aged seventy, to Selborne and died at The Wakes in 1880. Prof. Bell himself published an edition of The Natural History of Selborne in 1877.  The former library is now home to interative exhibits about Gilbert White's life and work.
Prof. Bell’s library, on the ground floor of The Wakes. Prof. Thomas Bell (1792-1880) was a zoologist who much admired White’s work. He retired, aged seventy, to Selborne and died at The Wakes in 1880. He published an edition of The Natural History of Selborne in 1877, as well as making a number of additions to the property including a billiard room, which is currently the Museum gift shop. The former library is now home to a number of interactive exhibits exploring Gilbert White’s life and work.

INTRODUCTION

A few miles south of Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) cottage in the pretty village of Chawton is the equally picturesque village of Selborne. It is here that the parson naturalist, ecologist and author of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne in the County of Southampton (1789) the Revd Gilbert White (1720-1793) lived. Selborne is a haven of peace and tranquillity in the heart of East Hampshire where time appears to have stood still; the village doesn’t have any street lighting, even in 2013. It is extraordinary to think that in this rural idyll there once lived a quiet, unassuming gentleman who wrote what was to become the fourth most published book in English, after The Bible, The Complete Works of Shakespeare and John Bunyan’s (1628-1688) The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). Since its first publication in 1789, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne would have been found on the book shelves of every respectable gentleman’s library from the late Georgian period onwards, and it has remained continually in print.

Gilbert White's original manuscript of The Natural History of Selborne (1789). By kind permission of Gilbert White's House and Garden.
Gilbert White’s original manuscript of The Natural History  and Antiquities of Selborne (1789). By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden. To hear a reading of the above letter, please click on the Podcast below.

Letter LXI to Daines Barrington from Gilbert White 

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

Jane Austen moved from Southampton to the cottage at Chawton in 1809. In the film Becoming Jane (2007), writers Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams weave White’s observations on the mating rituals of the swift into the screenplay’s narrative. If you watch the library scene from the film in which the object of Jane’s (Anne Hathaway) affections, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) reads an extract from White’s publication, you will notice that Tom uses the subtext of the quote as a means of engaging in an intellectual flirtation with Jane. To view this short scene (2 minutes 45 seconds), CLICK HERE. Comparison with the original text reveals that the screenwriters have exercised a certain degree of poetic licence in their use of White’s observations. Below is White’s original text for you to compare:

As the swift or black-martin is the largest of the British hirundines, so is it undoubtedly the latest comer. For I remember but one instance of its appearing before the last week in April: and in some of our late frosty, harsh springs, it has not been seen till the beginning of May. This species usually arrives in pairs…. If any person would watch these birds of a fine morning in May, as they are sailing round at a great height from the ground, he would see, every now and then, one drop on the back of another, and both of them sink down together for many fathoms with a loud piercing shriek. This I take to be the juncture when the business of generation is carrying on.

(Letter XXI to Barrington, September 28th, 1774, The Natural History of Selborne (1974), published by Oxford University Press)

Jane loved to walk through the countryside and it is likely that she would have made the round-trip to Selborne on a number of occasions during her time living at Chawton. In Becoming Jane there are several scenes representing the woodlands close by to The Wakes. She certainly would have read White’s seminal work and there is evidence amongst her letters to suggest that the Austens were on visiting terms with the family of one of his nephews, Dr John White, who for a short time was Jane Austen’s physician. Known as ‘Gibraltar Jack’, he was the son of Gilbert White’s brother the Revd John White, who had been chaplain to the garrison at Gibraltar, and when he was young stayed for several years with his uncle at The Wakes.

Built in 1610, The Wakes was originally a much smaller property than can be seen today. The name of the house is a nod to the family called Wake who had previously lived there. Gilbert White had lived at The Wakes for the majority of his life but only inherited the property in 1763 upon the death of his uncle, the Revd Charles White of Bradley. The house is now a museum dedicated to the life and work of Gilbert White, and it also houses The Oates Collection. This Collection consists of two permanent exhibitions celebrating the life of soldier and Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Oates (1880-1912) and his uncle, African explorer Francis [Frank] Oates (1840-1875). In 1954 the property was bought by public subscription, augmented by a large donation from Robert Washington Oates (a cousin of Lawrence), and opened as The Oates Memorial Library and Museum and The Gilbert White Museum in 1955. Separate articles on The Oates Collection will follow shortly.

The life and work of Gilbert White is a thoroughly absorbing area to research. It is possible to gain a good insight into what life must have been like for a rural parson and scholar in eighteenth-century England due to the wealth of written material, both published and unpublished, that has survived to the present day. His body of writing is extensive and includes correspondences with family members as well as the leading scholars from the Age of Enlightenment.

Some of the scholars that White corresponded with include: George Montagu (1753-1815), author of The Ornithological Dictionary (1802); Robert Marsham (1708-1797); Thomas Pennant(1726-1798) and Daines Barrington (1727-1800), both leading naturalists and Fellows of the Royal Society, to whom Gilbert White wrote the letters that form the basis of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne; John Mulso (1721-1791), a contemporary at Oriel College, Oxford, who corresponded with White between 1744 and 1790 and remained a lifelong friend and literary companion; and Thomas Barker (1722-1809) of Lyndon Hall, Rutland, a meteorologist, vegetarian and also White’s brother-in-law. White also met botanist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and naturalist Dr Daniel Solander (1733-1782) in 1767, one year before they both joined Captain James Cook (1728-1779) for his first voyage to the Pacific Ocean aboard Endeavour.

Thomas Barker is a particularly important to White’s development as a meteorologist. The day after his sister Anne’s wedding to Thomas, which took place on 6th January 1751 at St Mary’s parish church in Selborne, White began his new record book, The Garden Kalendar. In this book he kept a daily record of all his activities in the garden at The Wakes, including climate variations, rainfall and seasonal fluctuations. He continued to record these data, each year, for more than forty years.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is also known to have read White’s observations on the usefulness of earthworms as well as birds, about which he remarked: ‘From reading White’s Selborne, I remember wondering why every gentleman did not become an ornithologist.’ Darwin’s The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms was the last book he published on 10th October 1881. White, himself, said of the earthworm:

Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of Nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm. For, to say nothing of half the birds, and some quadrupeds which are almost entirely supported by them, worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and rendering it pervious to rains and the fibres of plants, by drawing straws and stalks of leaves and twigs into it; and, most of all, by throwing up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass.

(Letter XXXV to Barrington, May 20th, 1777, The Natural History of Selborne (1974), published by Oxford University Press)

View from Gilbert's bedroom window of the garden.
View from Gilbert’s bedroom window of the garden.

White’s journals contain detailed notes and records of life at The Wakes coupled with observations of
the nature and wildlife that were to be found in the countryside surrounding Selborne. An openness to the pursuit of scientific enquiry coupled with a vigorous intellect saw White become one of the leading naturalists of his time as well as being one of the first known ecologists. He was also one of the first naturalists to recognise a connection between the weather and its impact upon the behaviour of plants and wildlife. He was even an early exponent of the relatively modern model of self-sufficiency and sustainability. In the garden at The Wakes, he grew a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and flowers. He even brewed his own wine and beer in the purpose-built brewhouse, which still exists today.

In his biography of Gilbert White, Richard Mabey writes:

He grew more than forty different varieties [of vegetable], including artichokes, endives, mustard and cress, white broccoli, skirret and scorzonera, marrowfat peas, ‘a remarkable long leek’, squashes, cucumbers, all manner of lettuces, and ‘a small crop of onions … for picklers’ … more experimental vegetables, too, including maize, wild rice and potatoes…. In the borders close to the house were planted crown imperials, crocuses and pinks. Vines and roses … tulips, wallflowers and columbines.

(Gilbert White: A Biography of the Naturalist and Author of The Natural History of Selborne, by Richard Mabey, published by J. M. Dent, 1993, p. 56)

Because White kept detailed planting records for The Wakes in his journals, correspondence, household account books and predominantly his Garden Kalendar, it has been possible today to restore the gardens back to their eighteenth-century origins. The gardens still contain a wine-pipe seat, two hahas, a herb garden, a kitchen garden, brewhouse, cut-out statue of Hercules and a hermitage complete with a thatched roof.

View from Gilbert's bedroom window of the gardens at The Wakes. The haha at the boundary ensures a seamless view of lawn and surrounding land.
View from Gilbert’s bedroom window of the gardens at The Wakes. The haha at the boundary ensures a seamless view of lawn and surrounding land.

Hahas are large ditches at the boundary of a lawn and were popular devices used by eighteenth-century garden designers which served two purposes. Firstly, they are practical, stopping livestock from grazing or entering onto your manicured lawns, thus also avoiding the unpleasant business of animal waste being stepped in by the lady and gentleman of the house. Secondly, they provide an uninterrupted and seamless view of the lawn and surrounding countryside, allowing landowners to survey the extent of their grounds.

Garden at The Wakes.
Garden at The Wakes.

David Standing has been the Head Gardener at The Wakes since 1979 and has worked tirelessly, together with a band of volunteers (there are approximately one hundred volunteers who work at the Museum every year) to restore the original layout of the garden using White’s writings. The project is now largely complete. There are twenty acres of ancient parkland surrounding the property, some of which is now owned and managed by The National Trust (Selborne Common, the Zig-Zag path leading to The Hanger, The Hanger, Church Meadow, Long and Short Lythes).

Book cabinet that houses Ronald's collection of editions of Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selborne.
Book cabinet that houses Ronald’s historic editions of Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne.

RONALD DAVIDSON-HOUSTON

A LIFELONG PASSION FOR GILBERT WHITE’S WRITINGS AND WORK

I had the privilege of being shown around Gilbert White’s House and Garden by Ronald Davidson-Houston. Mr Davidson-Houston has spent many years studying White’s writings and his biographical knowledge of the family is extensive. I asked him when he first became interested in White’s work: ‘I first read The Natural History of Selborne as a child but it was my career as a publisher that brought me back to the study of his writings. In 1981, I published [Exeter: Webb & Bower] the first edition of The Natural History of Selborne illustrated with contemporary eighteenth-century colour plates. It was a collaboration between The Gilbert White Museum and myself, with an introduction by the then curator, Dr June E. Chatfield. [The Illustrated Natural History of Selborne is still in print, now published as a paperback by Thames & Hudson.] During the course of my research, I asked the question, why has this book been published in so many different ways, languages and editions? It was then that I began to collect various editions of the book.’

The Illustrated Natural History of Selborne (2004), published by Thames & Hudson with an introduction by Dr June E. Chatfield.
The Illustrated Natural History of Selborne (2004), published by Thames & Hudson with an introduction by Dr June E. Chatfield.

15. Editions of NHS in other languages

The Natural History of Selborne, compiled and translated Izawa-Koichi and illustrated by Kuroda-Machiko (2008).
The Natural History of Selborne, compiled and translated by Izawa-Koichi and illustrated by Kuroda-Machiko (2008).

Ronald has collected more than a thousand copies of the book, many of which are extremely rare editions and a number are in foreign languages, including Chinese and Japanese. Two years ago he donated his treasured collection to the Museum and it is now housed in a purpose-built display cabinet located in Gilbert White’s Great Parlour. Ronald explained further about the publishing history of the book: ‘The first edition, dated 1789, was actually printed in late 1788 and some early copies were sent to a number of friends and relations in November and December of that year. However, 1789 is the official publication date. The price was one guinea ‘in boards’ (i.e., not leather-bound). It was printed on laid paper, which is hand-made and has watermarks. There are six engravings chosen from twelve watercolours by the Swiss artist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733-1794), who, according to White, “stayed with me 27 days; 24 of which he worked very hard”. White’s brother, Benjamin White (1725-1794), was a bookseller and his firm, B. White and Son, published the first edition. The brothers’ niece, Mary (Molly) White (born 1759), undertook the copy editing. The first cheap edition did not appear until 1829. The original manuscript of the book was bought by the Museum in 1980 from a private collection in America.’

Mary (Molly) White. By kind permission of Gilbert White's House and Garden.
Mary (Molly) White. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

A FEW OBSERVATIONS ON EARLY REVIEWS OF

THE NATURAL HISTORY AND ANTIQUITIES OF SELBORNE

‘Sagacity of observation runs through the work’

The Gentleman’s Magazine, January 1789

‘A more delightful, or more original work than Mr. White’s History of Selborne has seldom been published’

The Topographer, April 1789

‘This elegant and pleasing … work abounds with information’

The Monthly Review, July 1789

(Reprinted in The Selborne Association Newsletter, No. 47, December 2005, pp. 22-31, by R. Davidson-Houston)

Ronald has studied the first reviews of White’s publication and writes:

Along with a number of other close friends and relations of the author, Thomas White (who had given his brother Gilbert unfailing encouragement throughout the book’s long gestation and had also helped with correcting the proofs) received an advance copy in late November or early December 1788, enabling the first instalment of his review to appear in the January 1789 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine.

(Ibid. pp. 22-23)

Interestingly, in these early years of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, Thomas White’s review begins by putting forward the argument that the landed gentry, who were abandoning country living for a better life in the towns and cities, left behind them an economic void, and advocates that his brother’s work should not be devalued because it is a study of rural life in a time when it was not fashionable to write about such things. In Thomas White’s opinion:

It is with pleasure, therefore, we observe that so rational an employment of leisure time as the study of nature and antiquities promises to become popular…. But we agree with Mr. White in his idea of parochial history, which, he thinks, ought to consist of natural productions and occurrences, as well as antiquities…. A person with this writer’s patient observation would have made many remarks highly valuable. Men of intelligence like him are wanted, to promote an intimacy between the library and the plough.

(Ibid. p. 23 and p. 25)

Gilbert's father, John White. By kind permission of Gilbert White's House and Garden.
Gilbert’s father, John White. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

GILBERT WHITE’S EARLY LIFE

White was born on 18th July, 1720, the eldest son of John White (1688-1758), a barrister, and Anne White (née Holt, 1693-1739), a rector’s daughter. Gilbert was one of eleven children and, although he never married, did enjoy the company of his many nephews and nieces who often came to stay at The Wakes. By January 1793, including spouses, his family circle had increased to sixty-two young relations. Ronald tells me Gilbert enjoyed socialising and it was not unusual for family parties to go on until 3 am, he also told me Gilbert ‘was five foot three inches tall and a thin, prim, upright man.’

Gilbert's grandfather, also called Gilbert White. By kind permission of Gilbert White's House and Garden.
Gilbert’s grandfather, also called Gilbert White. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

Gilbert’s grandfather, also called Gilbert White (1650-1728) had been the vicar at Selborne from 1681. In 1728, John White, his family and widowed mother moved to Selborne. In 1741, Gilbert’s father began landscaping the gardens at The Wakes including laying out seven acres of the estate and creating walks and hedges. White inherited his father’s love of nature at a very early age and to celebrate his tenth birthday planted an oak and ash tree in the garden there. It wasn’t until 1750-1 that he planted further trees, including an elm, fir and beech.

Gilbert’s education consisted of a thorough grounding in the classics, as well as literature, at Basingstoke Grammar School. He made his first observations of nature in 1736, which he wrote in a notebook following a visit to stay with his aunt at Whitwell, Rutland. It is no surprise to learn that this clever young man was admitted to Oriel College, Oxford, in April 1740. Gilbert worked hard and played hard, enjoying all manner of extra-curricular activities on offer to a young Oxbridge undergraduate. He visited coffee houses, drank wine, played cards, attended concerts and visited many of England’s great houses. He also had an interest in shooting, but this quickly turned from the thrill of the kill to hunting for the purposes of obtaining specimens for identification and dissection. He graduated BA in June 1743 and MA in October 1746.

CAREER AS A CURATE

White was ordained as a Deacon in the Anglican Church on 27th April 1747 at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. His first post was at Swarraton, Hampshire, as curate to his uncle, the Revd Charles White of Bradley. Unfortunately, he contracted smallpox in 1748. It is thought that one of the reasons why no portrait of White exists, other than two small pen-and-ink sketches, may be due to the fact his face had been badly scarred as a result of this disfiguring disease. His old nursemaid, ‘Goody Marshall’ helped care for him during his convalescence. White’s lifelong fascination with melons is also thought to have begun whilst he was recovering from smallpox, realising the health properties of this exotic fruit. He grew melons in the garden of The Wakes and he used to have ‘cantaloupe feasts’ with his youngest brother Henry (1733-1788) who was rector and schoolmaster at Fyfield, near Andover. In the poem ‘Metamorphosis’ by his friend Dr John Scrope, White’s melon obsession (‘The swelling melon was his favourite fruit’) and his scarring due to smallpox (‘his roughen’d face’) are both alluded to.

Corycius long admired (a curious swain!)

The wealth and beauties of Pomona’s reign;

The vegetable world engrossed his heart,

His garden lingering nature help’d by art;

Where in the smoking beds high heap’d appear

Salads and mushrooms thro’ the various year.

But of each species sprung from seed or root,

The swelling melon was his favourite fruit;

Other productions kindled some delight

In his fond soul, but here he doted quite.

When others wisely to the grot retreat,

And seek a friendly shelter from the heat,

Anxious and stooping o’er his treasure, low

Poring he kneels, and thinks he sees it grow.

One day when Phoebus scorch’d the gaping plain,

Striving to rise at length he strove in vain,

Fix’d to the spot, exchang’d his shape and name,

A melon turned and what he view’d became.

Ovid would tell you how his roughen’d face

Retains the network and the fretty grace;

His skin and bones compose the tougher rind;

His flesh compressed retains its name and kind;

Shrunk are his veins, and empty’d of their blood,

Which in the centre forms a plenteous flood.

(Reprinted in Gilbert White: A Biography of the Naturalist and Author of The Natural History of Selborne,

by Richard Mabey, published by J. M. Dent, 1993, p. 58)

White was fully ordained priest in 1749. In 1751, he was made curate-in-charge at Selborne, a post that he returned to again in 1756, 1758 and finally in 1784 when he continued in the role until his death in 1793. Whilst curate at Selborne, he was also able to continue with his academic duties as a fellow at Oriel College. He also took on an additional parish, Moreton Pinkney, Northamptonshire, which he could do the administration for from his home in Selborne. In 1761, he accepted the curacy of another parish, Faringdon (now spelt Farringdon), nearby to Selborne and continued as their curate for twenty years.

Ronald as Gilbert White with Timothy the tortoise.
Ronald as Gilbert White with Timothy the tortoise. By kind permission of Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

HIS LOVE OF ANIMALS

White loved animals, there is no doubt about that. He had a pony (Mouse), dogs (Rover, Fyfield and a spaniel Fairey Queen) and, best-known of all, his beloved tortoise, Timothy. White often rode Mouse to church when he had to take the services and also enjoyed riding in the Hampshire countryside. He suffered from coach sickness so preferred travelling by horse whenever possible.

White inherited Timothy from his aunt, Rebecca Snooke, in March 1780. It is believed that his uncle, Henry Snooke, bought the tortoise from a sailor in Chichester for 2/6d in the 1740s. Observations and a number of scientific experiments were carried out on Timothy. White’s fascination and fondness for these hardy Testudine is evident in his writings. The following letter, from White to Daines Barrington, was written whilst he was staying at Delves House, Ringmer, near Lewes where Timothy lived prior to joining him at The Wakes:

A land tortoise, which has been kept for thirty years in a little walled court belonging to the house where I now am visiting, retires under ground about the middle of November, and comes forth again about the middle of April. When it first appears in the spring it discovers very little inclination towards food; but in the height of summer grows voracious: and then as the summer declines its appetite declines; so that for the last six weeks in autumn it hardly eats at all. Milky plants, such as lettuces, dandelions, sowthistles, are its favourite dish. In a neighbouring village one was kept till by tradition it was supposed to be an hundred years old. An instance of vast longevity in such a poor reptile!

(Letter VII to Barrington, October 8th, 1770, The Natural History of Selborne (1974), published by Oxford University Press)

No part of it’s behaviour ever struck me more than the extreme timidity it always expresses with regard to rain; for though it has a shell that would secure it against the wheel of a loaded cart, yet does it discover as much solicitude about rain as a lady dressed in all her best attire, shuffling away on the first sprinklings, and running it’s head up in a corner. If attended to, it becomes an excellent weather-glass; for as sure as it walks elate, and as it were on tiptoe, feeding with great earnestness in a morning, so sure will it rain before night. It is totally a diurnal animal, and never pretends to stir after it becomes dark. The tortoise, like other reptiles, has an arbitrary stomach as well as lungs; and can refrain from eating as well as breathing for a great part of the year…. P.S. In about three days after I left Sussex the tortoise retired into the ground under the hepatica.

(Letter XIII to Barrington,  April 12th, 1772, The Natural History of Selborne (1974), published by Oxford University Press)

Timothy the tortoise has been missing for more than a week. He got out of the garden at the wicket, we suppose; & may be in the fields among the grass. Timothy found in the little bean-field short of the pound-field. The nightingale, fern-owl, cuckow, & grass-hopper lark may be heard at the same time in my outlet. Gryllo-talpa churs in moist meadows.

(Gilbert White’s Naturalist’s Journal, May 28th, 1784)

Display in the Great Parlour at Gilbert White's House, showing a copy of The Natural History of Selborne and a model of Timothy the tortoise.
Display in the Great Parlour at Gilbert White’s House, showing a copy of The Natural History of Selborne and a model of Timothy the tortoise.

For more examples of White’s musings on Timothy and tortoises in general, visit the website, The Natural History of Selborne – Journals of Gilbert White. CLICK HERE. Dr Verlyn Klinkenborg’s delightful Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile (2007) published by Random House, is another recommended read if you would like to learn more about White’s beloved Timothy. This was first published in hardback in 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf. The British edition, with the title Timothy’s Book: Notes of an English Country Tortoise, was published by Portobello Books in hardback (2006) and paperback (2007).

Following Timothy’s death, it was discovered that the tortoise was in a fact female and her shell is now preserved in the Natural History Museum, London.

LIFE AT THE WAKES

Gilbert White's study at The Wakes. The desk shown may have been the original desk owned by Gilbert.
Gilbert White’s study at The Wakes. The desk shown may have been the original one owned by Gilbert.

The Wakes officially passed to Gilbert White in 1763 upon the death of his uncle Charles. It would be a mistake for anyone to think that White’s parochial life stifled his scientific and scholastic output. Far from it. His location and lifestyle offered him the opportunity to completely immerse himself in his observational writing and experiments. He did not have the distractions that living in a city, such as London, would have presented him with. He also never married and bachelorhood seemed to suit him, devoting his life to his studies and the church.13. Bird exhibit

14. Bird exhibit

 Extract from Letter XXIV Gilbert White to Thomas Pennant – Ring-ousels

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

In her essay, ‘The Baffling Swallow: Gilbert White, Charlotte Smith and the Limits of Natural History’, Anne Mellor writes of White’s possible conflicting motivations that he would have had to face as a result of his resolve to serve God, as well as commit himself to lifelong study of the taxonomy of nature:

Throughout, White wrestled with conflicting motivations. On the one hand, he was a product of Enlightenment thought, convinced that God had created one great system which man might eventually come to understand. Everywhere he sought to organize and classify his observations of plants and animals into coherent taxonomies, closely following the lead of Buffon and Linnaeus. On the other hand, he was convinced that one could approach truth only through the precise empirical description of natural events and creatures, minute particulars that he scrupulously recorded day by day in his “Naturalist’s Journal.”

(Mellor, A. K., Vol. 31, No. 4, Dec. 2009, pp. 299-309, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, p. 301, published by Routledge)

11. Gilbert White's Study

Letter XXVII from Gilbert White to Thomas Pennant – Hedgehogs

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

 Extract from Letter XI Gilbert White to Thomas Pennant – Bats

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

It really is extraordinary when you consider some of the historic world events that were happening during White’s lifetime:

  • 1741 – Handel’s ‘Messiah’
  • 1746 – Battle of Culloden
  • 1760 – Kew Gardens founded
  • 1768 – Cook’s first voyage
  • 1773 – Boston Tea Party
  • 1776 – American Independence
  • 1780 – Gordon Riots
  • 1789 – French Revolution
  • 1793 – Louis XVI Executed

2. Blanchard balloon flight at SelborneEven tucked away in rural Hampshire, White witnessed a number of historic events of his own, for example a balloon flight by Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753-1809) in 1784. Earlier in the same year (2nd March) Blanchard had made the first successful balloon flight in Paris. According to White, in October of 1784, the whole village turned out to watch the spectacle of a further balloon flight by Blanchard. The event is documented in detail in a letter he wrote from Selborne, on 19th October, to his sister, Mrs [Anne] Barker:

Dear Sister, from the fineness of the weather, and the steadiness of the wind to the N.E. I began to be possessed with a notion last Friday that we should see Mr. Blanchard in his balloon the day following: and therefore I called on many of my neighbours in the street, and told them my suspicions. The next day proving also bright, and the wind continuing as before, I became more sanguine than ever; and issuing forth in the morning exhorted all those that had any curiosity to look sharp from about one o’ the clock to three towards London, as they would stand a good chance of being entertained with a very extraordinary sight.

(The Life and Letters of Gilbert White of Selborne, Vol. II, Written and Edited by Rashleigh Holt-White, published by John Murray, 1901, pp. 134-5)

Life at The Wakes was never dull; the house was often full with members of his own family visiting and at other times he had a small retinue of staff who also provided him with rich material for his journals. There were two members of staff who feature both in White’s everyday life and consequently within the text of his writings, Goody Hampton and Thomas Hoar. Goody Hampton was not exactly a permanent fixture at The Wakes; she lived in the village and worked for White on a casual basis. Richard Mabey, in his biography of White, writes of White’s impression of Goody:

Goody Hampton was employed as a ‘weeding woman’ in the summer months. She appears to have been a doughty worker, ‘and indeed, excepting that she wears petticoats and now and then has a child, you would think her a man.’

(Gilbert White: A Biography of the Naturalist and Author of The Natural History of Selborne, by Richard Mabey, published by J. M. Dent, 1993, p. 57)

On the subject of Thomas Hoar, Mabey writes:

… presiding over them all was Gilbert’s loyal retainer Thomas Hoar, who acted as his groom, gardener, scientific assistant and general handyman for forty years. He was a bachelor and slept at The Wakes, and would keep the journals up and write letters about events in Selborne when Gilbert was away. In the garden and in his treatment of plants and animals Thomas showed a delicacy and concern that is more than just a reflection of his employer’s own sensitivity.

(Ibid, p. 57)

Ronald also told me that girls from the village would regularly come and help at The Wakes. There is a kitchen on display at the house, but this is not the original that would have been in use during White’s residence. White was also interested in matters related to the management of a household and kept a close eye on things at The Wakes. One of his famous treatises is on the economics of the use of rush lighting as opposed to candles for those in straightened circumstances: ‘The careful wife of an industrious Hampshire labourer obtains all her fat for nothing; for she saves the scummings of her bacon-pot for this use; and, if the grease abounds with salt, she causes the salt to precipitate to the bottom, by setting the scummings in a warm oven.’ (Letter XXVI to Barrington, November 1st, 1775).

Letter XXVI from Gilbert White to Daines Barrington – Economy of Rush Lights and Besom Brooms

(Read by Emma, Editor, Come Step Back in Time)

According to Ronald, the ever-prudent White, not wishing to waste a single resource whether animal, vegetable or mineral even saved the hair that moulted or was combed from his dogs so that it could be used to reinforce the plaster on the walls of his Great Parlour.

Gilbert White's bedroom at The Wakes.
Gilbert White’s bedroom at The Wakes.
Embroidered detail of the curtains around Gilbert's bed.
Embroidered detail of the curtains around Gilbert’s bed. His aunt embroidered the bed hangings.

Mrs [Barbara] White, the widow of Gilbert’s brother John, came to live at The Wakes in 1781 and pretty much took over the running of her brother-in-law’s household. This arrival stimulated White’s interest in cooking and pushed forward apace his plans to expand the vegetable and herb gardens.5. Detail of curtains in bedroom

6. Detail of curtains in bedroom7. Detail of curtains in bedroomWhite died on Wednesday 26th June 1793 and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Selborne. His headstone is not, as one might expect for such an important gentleman of the Enlightenment, pretentious. It simply reads: ‘G.W. 26th June 1793’ and is located among other family graves near the north wall of the chancel.

  • Gilbert White’s House & Garden and The Oates Collection is located at The Wakes, High Street, Selborne, Hampshire. For details of opening times and admission charges for 2013, CLICK HERE.
  • Literary Walks in East Hampshire. Self-guided walking tours of the attractive countryside in East Hampshire. This well-written tour of Selborne, gives you the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Revd Gilbert White. Don’t forget your wellies or walking boots though. CLICK HERE.12. Exhibit in Gilbert White's study
Posted in Aviation History, Fashion History, TV Programme, Vintage

High Flying Adored – Falling in Love With Vintage Air Travel

The Beachcomber Flying Boat, Solent Sky Museum, Southampton

I am delighted that BBC 2 is continuing to air the brilliant US series Pan Am. At the end of last year, devotees of this celebration of vintage air travel were left in ‘mid air’ as the episodes ceased airing halfway through the season, with no confirmation of a return transmission date from the BBC. I am hooked and with only a few more episodes left in the series, I am going to ensure that I savour each 43 minutes spent in the company of Colette, Kate, Laura, Maggie, Dean and Ted!

The production values on Pan Am are high, the acting spot-on, sets superb and costumes gorgeous. High praise must also go to Jack Orman, whose scripts are sharp, witty and intelligent. For devotees of vintage clothing, such as me, it is so refreshing to see the classier side of 1960’s fashion, classic cuts and tailoring, instead of mini skirts and disposable dresses.

Glamour Corselette L3007 by What Katie Did Vintage Shapewear.

However, if you want to want to wear 60’s couture make sure you invest in some decent shapewear. Muffin tops and fatty crenulations are a no no here! I acquired my girdle from the shapewear specialists What Katie Did (details below) located in Portobello Green Arcade in London. These vintage lingerie and hosiery experts recently provided underwear for the film My Week With Marilyn. Staff are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, so you will feel at ease if you have never visited a specialist outfitter such as this before. Just make sure you cross your legs before you step into the girdle. Snug just doesn’t come close to describing the tight fit obtained from this type of foundation garment. As I stood in the changing room hoping the girdle would glide smoothly over my haunches, I can fully understand how the Pan Am stewardesses must have felt having to wear such an item, day in and day out, for long stretches and in hot climates. The dress code for Pan Am stewardesses was extremely strict with regular weight and girdle checks.

The Pan Am series also inspired me to visit the Solent Sky Museum in Southampton, Hampshire. I was particularly charmed by the flying boat exhibit on permanent display there. The short S.25/V, Sandringham 4 (VH – BRC Beachcomber) coincidentally has a strong connection with Pan Am by way of Brigadier General Charles F. Blair (1909-1978). Blair was a senior pilot at Pan Am from 1950 until 1969, piloting the Boeing 707 on the company’s round-the-world routes. After reaching the age of 60 he decided not to retire from flying and instead purchased a Grumman “Goose” sea plane which was being sold as Navy surplus. He founded and was President of Antilles Air Boats Inc. which operated from St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. He was a clever businessman and saw a niche in the commercial aviation market. He established a flying boat service from New York to and throughout the Caribbean. In 1974 he brought two Sandringham flying boats from Ansett Flying Boat Services (formerly Barrier Reef Airlines of Australia), one of which was the Beachcomber that is on display at Solent Sky Museum. Blair was married to the Hollywood actress Maureen O’Hara from 1968 until his tragic death ten years later. On the 2nd September 1978 Blair was flying the Grumman Goose from St. Croix to St. Thomas when the aircraft developed engine trouble, crashed and killed him instantly.

Lower Deck interior The Beachcomber Flying Boat.

Flight Deck of The Beachcomber.

The Beachcomber was originally built as a Sunderland MKIII, in July 1943 by the Short Bros. in Rochester, Kent. Delivered from Southampton to Waitemata Harbour, Auckland on the 29th October 1947 and henceforth servicing the 1,300 mile Sydney-Auckland route. In May 1950 it was sold for £2,000 to Barrier Reef Airlines and underwent a name change from ZK-AMH to the Beachcomber. The Beachcomber is the last commercially operated short S-25 MK 4 Tasman Class flying boat in the world. A few stats on the Beachcomber:

  • it has 4 engines;
  • span 112ft 9in;
  • length 86ft 3in;
  • empty weight 41,000lbs;
  • range 24,000 miles;
  • max speed 206 mph.

It carried 42 passengers and took-off from Rose Bay in Sydney Harbour and would touch down in Lord Howe’s stunning lagoon just 3 hours later. The flights were timed to arrive at the Island exactly one hour before high tide. Departures could only take place on the full tide, this was due to there being a lot of large coral heads in the lagoon.  The latter meant that departures would often take place in the early hours of the morning. The pantry was situated on the upper deck against the wing centre section of the bulkhead. The Beachcomber had a traditional flying boat cabin layout. On the Lower Deck were cabins A to D, which seated 28 passengers and on the Upper Deck was cabin E, which seated 14 passengers. During Blair’s ownership a chair was installed on the flight deck for his wife to use whenever she accompanied him on flights.

Maureen O'Hara's chair on the flight deck of The Beachcomber.

O’Hara has had a long association with the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, Co. Limerick, Ireland. In 1945, Blair flew the last scheduled flying boat from Foynes to New York. Foynes has an interesting history in relation to flying boats. Pan Am airlines commissioned Charles Lindbergh to find a suitable base in Ireland to service the New York-Ireland route and Foynes on the Shannon Estuary was chosen. Foynes welcomed the first commercial transatlantic passenger flight by flying boat in 1939, Pan Am’s Yankee Clipper.

The history of civil aviation is a fascinating subject. It is full of glamour, sophistication and romance as well as danger and excitement. If you want a British perspective on life as air stewardess then Libbie Escolme-Schmidt’s Glamour in the Skies – The Golden Age of the Air Stewardess will be of particular interest. Libbie’s publication is a celebration of the British Airways stewardess between 1936 and 1980.

Interesting Links

What Katie Did shop in Portobello Arcade, London.