Saturday, 30 June 2012

Air Raid Warning

Peggy Vanderkar was studying at Chelsea College of Physical Education when the Second World War was started.

I was at 111, the Solkhorn family home, when war was declared on 3rd September 1939. Immediately after the solemn declaration by Chamberlain the Germany had ignored the warning about invading Poland……  “ and so I declare that this country is at war with Germany,” there was an air raid warning. We were all reduced to laughter at the sight of lady air raid wardens dressed in tin hats and ankle socks. It was a sunny day and we decided to go for a walk on the Wandsworth Common, but were immediately sent back to collect our gas masks! Air Raid wardens did wonderful things during the war.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Working Class Tea

For the Edwardian working-class meals were very different to their rich counterparts. J. Rey in ‘The Whole Art of Dinning’ published in 1914, enlightens us:

The Working Class Tea

"The tea of the English working-class is the most eccentric of meals and one of the greatest injuries a gourmet could possibly conceive (accordingly to ideas of Brillat-Savarin); for with the tea they partake of various kinds of salted meat and dried fish, such as ‘corned-beef,’ kippers, bloaters, red herrings, winkles, shrimps, pickles, watercresses, cucumber, lettuce jam or marmalade, bread and butter, and cake, This incongruous kind of food may, no doubt, be quite nice and tasty for this class of people, but it must shock any one endowed with refined epicurean  instinct.’

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Traction Engine

One of my favourite books is ‘Before the lamps went out,’ by Esme Wingfield-Stratford, his account of growing up in Edwardian England. Here he recalls the advent of the Traction Engine.

“But mechanical transport had begun to have its say on the roads; the most familiar and pleasant sound of all being a contented chugging and puffing, that never seemed to stop and hardly to go on. If one went to investigate, which was as often as one was allowed, one would be rewarded with the majestic approach of a traction engine – a spectacle of joy to me, but of fear and grievance to certain of my elders. For the traction engine in those days signified the intrusion of the iron horse upon the quiet ways sacred to the flesh and blood species.

Horses in these days will plod their way among a spate of furiously honking motors with the placidity of cows, but then all the authorities’ appeared  to be agreed that the mere sight of one of these belching monsters was enough to make then shy, bolt, and involve their human cargo in probably fatal accidents.”

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Pumping the Church Organ

Jessie Lintern was the daughter of a United Free Church minister in Scotland, in the 1930’s she was bought up to go to church and her brother was given an important task for some reward.

"At Colmonell, my brother was given the task of pumping the organ, for which he received a copper or two and a bag of sweets from the organist, who kept a post office and grocery store three miles away. He was hidden from view by a curtain which shut off the stairs to the pulpit, and there he settled down with his ‘Wizard’ or ‘Hotspur’ as his father began the sermon.

One memorable Sunday he was so engrossed in the doings of Roy of the Rovers that, oblivious of the sermon’s end and the announcement of the final hymn, and that the organist was sitting with hands poised above the keyboard, he failed to put the pump into operation. Silence reigned, until the organist hissed loudly, “Blow, Jimmy, blow.” The bag of sweets rolled under the curtain, my father glared down at his son, and with a mighty surge of air the organ sounded forth! "  

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A Second Hand Morris Cowley

Hazel Rolf recalls her experience growing up when her father purchased a used Morris Cowley in 1931

“Dad bought a second hand Morris Cowley car for thirty pounds and we sometimes went in it from Reading to Chertsey on Sundays to visit my Grandma and aunts.

The first time we planned to go we were all waiting in the drive and the car would not start. Dad worked on it for a while and then fetched a neighbour: eventually they got it going but we were about two hours late. The number of the car was MO 3311: it was brown with a rain hood and celluloid window frames to slot in.  As it was a lengthy job getting the hood up and the windows fixed, it had to be raining very hard before Dad would stop and see to it. Later Dad bought a second hand Morris Oxford saloon, No: PX 8961, which was entirely enclosed so more comfortable.”

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Telephone

The telephone in the thirties was a new invention. Mr. R. Cunningham recalls his childhood in Glasgow and his parents installing their new communication device.
“In the early thirties a cousin of my father persuaded him to install a telephone in our house. Being a senior technician in the telephone department of the Post Office, the cousin had the installation carried out quickly. My parents decided it should go in the dinning room – the least used public room – and it was stood on a two-tier table beside the fireplace, with the directory on the lower shelf and an armchair beside it.

 The instrument had a long stem and a large mouthpiece at its head and the receiver set in the cradle just below, with a long cord to let it reach the ear. We children and the housemaid were taught how to answer it and, if we had to call someone else to the phone, not to put the receiving back in its cradle but to lay it on the table. “

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Going to the Commodore in Hammersmith

Denis Thompson remembers his childhood and the enjoyment he got from the variety of entertainment offered at the Cinema in the Thirties.

"During the thirties the cinema really came into its own, following the movie craze at that time on the other side of the Atlantic. Up to 1936 I lived in Chiswick, West London, and a year or two prior to that the largest cinema in London - the Commodore -   opened just across the borough in Hammersmith, with the showing of the original ‘Show Boat’ film starring Paul Robeson. The next and larger cinema to open was the Odeon in Hammersmith Broadway about a year later. However, that place of entertainment was soon eclipsed in size by the opening of the country’s largest cinema in Kilburn, North London, with seats for about four thousand.

It is almost unbelievable when I recall that in those days my mother and I used to go to the Commodore at midday on Saturday and for 6d admission we enjoyed the following entertainment,

From midday until 1pm you sat (very quietly) and listen to Joseph Muscant and his orchestra doing a live radio broadcast for the B.B.C. from the stage. After that we saw screened the main film, news reel, and forthcoming attractions. In the interval Harry Davidson played the organ, finally, there would be nearly an hour long stage show, usually one of the top bands of the era. I realise how fortunate I was as I was able tosee most of the leading bands of that day, such as, Jack Payne, Jack Hylton, Harry Roy, Roy Fox, not to mention big bands from America: Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians."

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Niespulver Shell

A bizarre episode took place at the battle of Neuve Chapelle in October 1914, it was in fact the first 'gas' attack of the war, but not the deadly 'mustard' gas..

Early in the war, German Major Max Bauer, Chief of Artillery and the Fortress Section of Operation Branch had convened a group of scientists to develop a chemical shell of incendiary, smoke, irritant, or stink type to drive enemy troops from inaccessible places. The result was the "Ni-shell". The Ni stood for 'Niespulver'- Sneezing Powder. Professor Nernst of Kaiser Wilhelm Institute had developed the idea of placing irritant among the balls of standard shrapnel shell.

3, 000 of these non-toxic shells were fired at Neuve Chapelle. The British and Indian troops did not realize that they had been victims of the 'Ni shell' until they read about it after the the war. Legend has it the Prof Nernst's 'Ni shells' were abandoned after Erich Van Falenhayn's son had won a case of champagne by wagering that he could stand in a cloud of the irritant for 5 minutes and emerge unharmed.

Meanwhile, a new type of Gas weapon a shell filled with xylyl bromide was being developed and would be used, against the Russian's in 1915.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Bentley Boys

The Bentley Boys were a group of gentlemen racers who drove Bentley sports cars to victory in the 1920s. In 1925, as the marque foundered, Bentley Boy Woolf Barnato bought the company, leading to the creation of the famous supercharged Bentley Blower car.
The Bentley Boys included:
At one point, on a bet, Barnato raced Le Train Bleu from Cannes to Calais, then by ferry to Dover and finally London, travelling on public highways with normal traffic, and won; the special-bodied 6.5 L car became known as the Blue Train Bentley.

Thanks to the dedication of this group to serious racing, the company, located at Cricklewood, north London, was noted for its four consecutive victories at the 24 hours of Le Mans from 1927 to 1930. Their greatest competitor at the time, Ettore Bugatti, whose lightweight, elegant, but fragile creations contrasted with the Bentley's rugged reliability and durability, referred to them as "the world's fastest lorries".

A great deal of Barnato's fortune went to keeping Bentley afloat after he became chairman in 1925; but the Great Depression destroyed demand for the company's expensive products, and it was finally sold off to Rolls-Royce in 1931

The victorious Speed Six team at Le Mans in 1930.  On the extreme left is Barnato's chauffeur.  Fifth from left standing is W O. Bentley with, on his left, Sammy Davis (in beret), Frank Clement, Barnato, Glen Kidston, Clive Dunfee and Dick Watney.  Mechanic Stan Ivermee is above Barnato and Hassan is above Kidston, with Kemish next to him.

By 1930 the 4½ litre supercharged ‘Blower’ cars were running and Birkin entered a team of three for the 1927 Le Mans race.  W O Bentley entered the works team of three 6½ litre cars.With 18 cars on the grid, the 7½ litre supercharged Mercedes of Rudi Caracciola was the most serious threat.

In the opening laps of the race Birkin had the time of his life duelling with the Mercedes.  Overtaking at nearly 120 mph just before Mulsanne with his off-side wheels on the grass, Birkin caught Caracciola totally by surprise, but in the process threw the tread of his rear tyre.  Undaunted, he continued to set the fastest lap of the race, before the tyre finally blew in the following lap.

The chase for Caracciola was taken over by the 6½ litre cars, initially Davis and then the Barnato/Kidston car.  Barnato had a terrific time.  The lead changed back and forth throughout the night forcing Caracciola to use the supercharger almost continually, instead of occasionally for overtaking as it was originally intended.  Eventually at about 4.20am it proved too much for the Mercedes which blew its gasket.

Thereafter, W O. Bentley slowed the cars to a fast tour.  The Blowers kept going until about noon, with the two  6½ litre cars of Barnato/Kidston and Clement/Watney taking 1st and 2nd place respectively.

Monday, 18 June 2012


The Australian Oxford Dictionary defines two-up (or swy) as "a gambling game in which coins are spun in the air and bets placed on a showing of two heads or two tails".

M. G. Heuston, who served with 2/12th Commando Squadron during the Second World War, ran a two-up game during this time. In the following account, he explains how the game was played.

To stage a game required a quiet spot, with a flat area big enough for an 18- or 20-foot radius circle clearly etched in the dirt. This was done with twine, with two loops, one at each end, using bayonets to mark the circle.

 boxer or manager of the game sat with his coins, kips, string and money tray in the place where he could view the whole ring clearly.
ringie, who was usually a friend who volunteered, ran the centre of the ring.
When the game was about to commence, there would be a number of people around and outside the circle. The boxer would call and ask for a 
spinner, who would have the right to select whether he wanted to play two-up or swy (also know as "sudden death").
kip would then hold two or three pennies, depending on the game. (Some of the kips were smooth, with no ridges in the wood. It was illegal for anyone to use their fingers in the game I ran, so we had "lips" on the various kips for right or left handed spinners who were not adept at using the smooth kip. The plastic used on some of the kips I used was taken from crashed planes on the side of the airstrip at Morotai.)
The spinner would then select the coins that he wished to use (
Queens, new or old, baldies, George V, etc.).

The head side on each penny was polished and the tail side was left dark, so that it was obvious to anyone around the ring whether the coin fell as head or tail.
It was the ringie's job to ensure that the coins were tossed at least 10 feet into the air, and that they spun well and were not "feathered" in any way. If the coins didn't't satisfy these specifications in his opinion, he would call " foul toss " and catch one of the coins.
The ringie would place the coins tail up on the kip. The call "come in spinner " was made from the box. The spinner then tossed the coins. All pennies (whether two or three) had to fall within the circle. If one fell outside or on the circle, it was declared void by the ringie. The spinner then had another turn.

While this was happening, side bets were allowed around the ring. There were two distinct types of betting:
betting that the spinner would toss heads or tails
other tail betters would bet 3/1 that heads would not be tossed twice.
In all cases, the bets were held in front of the 
tail better, who covered them in every instance before the boxer called "come in spinner".
The spinner had the right to continue spinning while ever he tossed heads. If he tossed three heads in a row, the boxer would take his commission out of the centre (the guts) and the spinner had the right to 
toss the kip (and take the money) or continue spinning. The change of spinner went clockwise around the ring.

If the spinner got to six heads in a row, the boxer took another commission, and the game continued until the spinner tossed tails or tossed the kip.
In some places, a multitude of currencies was used. It was the boxer's call which stated the exchange rate for any or all currency. In addition, he could exchange currencies.
At the end of the game, if the tail betters had had a good day, they would 
sling the boxer, to compensate him for the use of his facilities.
As the game was held more often than once a week, you found that some of your customers went broke. The boxer usually lent them enough for cigarettes and a beer until next pay.
A game would run for up to three or four hours.

Glossary of terms :

Boxer: the game owner.
Ringie: the supervisor in the ring.
Kip: the flat board used to throw the coins.
Spinner: the player who throws or tosses the pennies.
Queens, Baldies, George V or VI:
coins available for the spinner to choose. (The Queen is Queen
Victoria; the Baldie is Edward VII.)
Toss the kip: to pull out of the game and take the stake.
Tail-betters: the name for those who bet only on tails. In most cases, they chose not to spin the coins.
Sling: a tip given to the boxer

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Wrong Letter

Sometimes in the chaos of war, sad mistakes were made. This article published in the Eastbourne Gazette on 18th September 1918, highlights this. It was fortunate for Mr and Mrs Allchorn that they knew where their son really was.

A Sad Mistake

Burial of an Unknown Soldier

"Mr and Mrs Allchorn. 27, Willowfield road, request us to publish the following letter which they have received from a chaplain in France:-

“I am sorry to have to write to you on such a sad subject and I want to offer you my heartfelt sympathy in your sorrow at the death of your boy. I buried him in the military cemetery near Bapaume and in due course a cross will be erected on his grave. Presently it will help you to think of him as happy at Home with the One Who and ‘Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friend.’”

This letter is a mistake, for the son of Mr and Mrs Allchorn is at present in hospital in Halifax wounded for the fourth time. Efforts to rectify the mistake have failed, but it is hoped that the identity of the dead soldier may yet be established."

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Crown and Anchor

An Army gambling game I came across in the John Masters book ‘Now God be Thanked’ was Crown and Anchor.

After some investigation I found that Crown and Anchor was a popular game in the ranks and involved a dice and a piece of cloth marked with six symbols: a crown, an anchor, a club, a heart, a spade and a diamond. These were lovingly referred to as the Major, the Mud-hook, the Shamrock, the Jam-tart, the Curse and the Kinkie. The stake was put on one symbol and if it came up when the dice was thrown the banker paid out.

A Guards private Stephen Graham looked upon the whole game with a philosophical twist: 
‘The experience of a soldier’s life in escaping death and wounds impresses him with the idea of a lucky chance. War breeds gambling as a natural and inevitable fruit.’ For many soldiers the choosing of the right symbol was an addictive pastime.

The banker, of course, as in all gambling enterprises wins in the long run. The odds were very much in his favour and many men at the front have related seeing a banker cleaning up a thousand francs in one or two days. The Crown and Anchor banker usually gave a machine-gun relentless patter to entice his punters to play. “Here we are again, The Sweaty socks! Cox and Co., the Army bankers, badly bent but never broken, safe as the Bank of England, undefeated because they never fought; the rough and the tough, the old and bold! Where you lay, we pay, If you don’t speculate, you can’t accumulate.’

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Bank Raid at Comanche, Texas

This is an interesting article about a bank robbery in Comanche, Comanche County, Texas which neighbors Brown County to the west.

"M.E. "Boss" Greene Chases Outlaw Joe Horner
Posted on June 15, 1876 by Fredda Jones

After the Civil War, M.E. "Boss" Greene went on to become a U.S. Deputy Marshall who lived in Comanche, Texas when in 1876 a wanted criminal by the name of Joe Horner rode into town and robbed the banking house of Henry R. Martin, which was located on the east side of the square.

As luck would have it, an army scout named Henry F. Stone was trailing Horner at the time of the robbery, and he witnessed Horner and his men running out of the bank.

According to Stone, Horner and his companions ran out of the bank yelling, "CHARGE THIS ONE UP TO THE JAMES BROTHERS!!" Then they jumped on their horses and rode off. It was fairly common for bank robberies to be blamed on the infamous James boys whether they were within a hundred miles of the robbery or not.

Anyway, Boss Greene and a posse chased Horner over 200 miles to San Antonio before they lost the trail; however, the outlaw was arrested a few months later and given a 10 year prison sentence, soon escaping.

Horner next robbed a stagecoach, was caught and sent back to Huntsville where, believe it or not, he escaped again!

This time, Horner changed his name to Frank Canton and headed west to Wyoming where he became (as you might expect!) a deputy sheriff. Later, he moved to the Oklahoma Territory and eventually became the adjutant general for the state of Oklahoma.

Of course…No money was ever returned to poor Henry R. Martin of Comanche, Texas!*

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