Monthly Archives: April 2017

Something new from the 1st of May

Starting on 1st May 2017, I’m adding something to one or other or both of my blogs – beejaytellingstories and talkinghistory2013.

I’m calling it ‘snippets’ because that’s exactly what they will be – nothing long, nothing challenging and sometimes nothing at all – just little bits that I’ve picked up and thought ‘that’s interesting’ or, ‘now I never knew that’ or even, ‘what the heck is that all about?’   What you do with it is up to you.  You can read it and move on; ignore it and move on; or sit down, research it and make it one of your own blogs.  The choice, as they say, is yours.

My first posting will be on both blogs so no-one will miss the posting.

See you again next Monday!

Buster Crabb and a note of his past

It is interesting how one thing can lead to another – and that the ‘other’ can be in the past rather than the present.

On Wednesday 19th April I posted the first part of the Buster Crabb story and promised that the next step would appear on Saturday 29th April.  That promise remains – however I’ve found a few bits about his past that we may find significant in the present.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Buster was an army gunner.  However, in 1941 he joined the Royal Navy and went to Gibraltar where he worked in a mine and bomb disposal unit.  This involved the removal of Italian limpet mines that enemy divers had attached to the hulls of Allied ships!

On Tuesday 8th December 1942, during one attack, two of the Italian frogmen died, probably killed by depth charges. Their bodies were recovered, and their swim-fins and Scuba sets were taken and used by Commander Lionel Crabb and a colleague. Lionel was awarded the George Medal for his efforts and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.

In 1943 he became the Principal Diving Officer for Northern Italy and was assigned to clear mines in the ports of Livorno and Venice.  He was later given an OBE for these services. By this time he had gained the nickname “Buster”, after an American actor and swimmer Buster Crabbe.

After the war Buster was stationed in Palestine leading an underwater explosives disposal team removing mines placed by Jewish divers during the years of Mandatory Palestine. (see note below)

Buster was demobbed in 1947 and moved to a civilian job where he could use his wartime skills. He explored the wreck of a Spanish Armada galleon near the Isle of Mull and then located a suitable site for a discharge pipe for the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. He later returned to work for the Royal Navy and twice dived to investigate sunken Royal Navy submarines.

In early 1955 he and frogman Sydney Knowles went to investigate the hull of the Soviet cruiser ‘Sverdlov’.  They were going to evaluate its superior manoeuvrability and, according to Knowles, they found a circular opening at the ship’s bow and inside it a large propeller that could be directed to give thrust to the bow. In March 1955 Buster was made to retire due to his age.

By this point his heavy drinking and smoking had taken its toll on his health, and he was not the diver that he had been in World War II. But a year later he was recruited by MI6!

NOTE
This was an area that was treated as a geopolitical entity under British administration having been carved out of Ottoman Southern Syria after the First World War.  The British civil administration in Palestine operated from 1920 to 1948. During its existence the territory was known simply as Palestine, but, in later years, a variety of other names and descriptors have been used, including Mandatory or Mandate Palestine, the British Mandate of Palestine and British Palestine.

It began with a visit in 1876

John Ruskin was a leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as being an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist.  He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy.  He also penned travel guides and, on Sunday 23rd April 1876, he wrote a piece about the city of Peterborough:

‘In comfortable room with horriblest outlook on waste garden and vile buildings; Italian architraves in brick of coldest mud colour – cretinous imitation.  A Bridewell or Clerkenwell with Genovese cornices travestied!  The Cathedral here for a wonder, spared.  Bitter black day yesterday so cold I could neither stand to look at it an instance, nor at the beautiful old inn at Stilton.  Road here from Cambridge very flat and dull and in the black days, nothing but gloom over distance towards the Wash.’

Not very pleasant but – in 1858 he had opened the Cambridge School of Art. The art school grew to become Anglia Ruskin University, and it’s still at the heart of the modern-day campus in Cambridge.  But that was just the beginning – over the years, a number of colleges and institutes have become part of Anglia Ruskin. This now includes the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology and the Essex Institute of Higher Education.  At first these colleges combined to become Anglia Polytechnic, and then Anglia Polytechnic University in 1992. It has been known as Anglia Ruskin University since 2005. As well as Cambridge, they have campuses in Chelmsford, London and Peterborough.  The campus at Guild House, Peterborough opened in 2011 and is a dedicated healthcare site where they train many of the region’s nurses and healthcare professionals.

It took time but maybe the City is forgiven it’s looks in 1876!

A strange 20th century story begins

There are many, still unanswered, questions in Britain’s history. The story I am beginning today is just one of them.  I use the word ‘beginning’ because the end has yet to be confirmed!

The story starts when the Russian Sverdlov class cruiser ‘Ordzhonikidze’ brought Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin on a diplomatic mission to Britain.  While it was berthed in the Portsmouth dockyards Lionel Kenneth Phillip ‘Buster’ Crabb, OBE, a Royal Navy frogman and MI6 diver, was sent to investigate the Russian ship’s propeller – a new design that Naval Intelligence wanted to examine.  On Tuesday 17th April Buster and a companion booked in to the Sally Port Hotel in Old Portsmouth.  On the evening of the 18th Buster went to Havant and caught a train back to Portsmouth and on Thursday 19th April 1956 a frogman was seen entering the sea at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour – that frogman was Buster Crabb.  Buster’s MI6 controller never saw him again!

Buster’s companion – a ‘Mr Smith’ – settled the Sally Port hotel bill and collected all his and Buster’s belongings.  He – or was it some plain-clothed police officers – also took the pages of the hotel register on which Buster, his ‘friend’ and the other guests – had written their names.

Ten days later British newspapers published stories about Buster Crabb’s disappearance in an underwater mission. The next steps will appear here on Saturday 29th April 2017!

Round the Cambridge Backs in Spring

It’s Sunday April 18th 1915 and Nellie Lant is enjoying Springtime in the Cambridge Colleges.  She writes:

My favourite pastime is to go for a walk round the backs of the collages, especially in Spring when one can see all the lovely flowers growing in the college grounds.  The Daffodils dancing and fluttering in the breeze, looking like a flash of brilliant light.  In the wilderness one can see Tulips, Primroses, Daffodils and Narcissus making a wonderful sight.
All nature seems gay with all the birds singing.  One can pick violets, daisies and buttercups.  The last time I went round all the leaves on the trees were bursting, and the May was coming out on the hedge.

There are some soldiers drilling on the grounds at the back of the Collages.  I think the Backs look most beautiful in the Spring more than at any other season.

 

The day that Eddie Cochran died

This year – 2017 – Easter Sunday falls on 16th April.    In 1960, Easter Sunday was on 17th April – the day this then teenager, and many others across Britain and beyond, remember as the day that Eddie Cochran died.  His death, in St. Martin’s Hospital, Bath, came as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash just outside Chippenham, late the night before.

Eddie and his great friend Gene Vincent had been touring the UK since mid-January on a package tour that had created a sensation amongst UK rock n roll fans.  By 1960 the first flush of raw rock’n’roll was long gone – much to the regret of many of us.  I had virtually all of Gene’s and Eddie’s discs at home.  They were well-hidden though because Dad had ‘accidentally’ damaged some Bill Haley 78s at Christmas.  Eddie & Gene were not going to have the same treatment.

Often described as ‘James Dean with a guitar’, Eddie had everything going for him. A young, good-looking guy, a hugely talented musician, who as well playing stunning guitar, could also handle bass and drums and most unusually for those times, also wrote his own songs.  Two of which – ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’, had been huge hits and today – nearly 60 years on – they are regarded as classics of the genre.
Eddie had arrived in the UK to join a tour that had started before Christmas.  Promoted by Larry Parnes the acts and musicians were all under contract to him and included Billy Fury – another of my idols – Joe Brown, Georgie Fame, Vince Eager and Johnny Gentle. The tour had a punishing schedule through a typical British winter – something California-resident Eddie was used to!  By the time the group reached the Bristol Hippodrome on Monday 11th April for a week-long residency, Eddie and his songwriter girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, were looking forward to going back home.

After the final Saturday night show they collected their things from their hotel. Sometime after 11.00pm, a Ford Consul driven by George Martin, with Eddie, Gene, Sharon and tour-manager Pat Thompkins, set off for London.   Eddie, Sharon and Gene sat in the back, with Thompkins next to the driver.  This was pre-M4 days and Martin chose the A4 down through Bath.  However, it was a bad road, especially at night, so he chose a short cut round Chippenham.  Pat Thompkins later recalled: “You come out from under the viaduct and come across a bridge in front of you. On your right is the A4 and then the bridge and on your left is the A4 to London. Well, he saw the A4 and turned right, going the wrong way. When he saw the milestone, he realized he was going the wrong way and hit the brakes.”

Martin lost control on the Rowden Hill bend – then a notorious accident black-spot – and spun backwards into a concrete lamp post.  The impact sent Eddie up into the roof and forced the rear door open, throwing him onto the road.  Martin and Thompkins were able to walk away from the wreckage uninjured but Gene, Sharon and Eddie were lying on the grass verge.

The noise brought local residents onto the scene and the police were called to the scene.  An ambulance from Chippenham arrived soon after, in total darkness and the three were taken to St Martin’s hospital.  Gene had broken his collarbone but Sharon only suffered shock and bruising.  The injuries to Eddie would prove fatal.  He had suffered severe brain damage and never regained consciousness.  He died at 4.10pm that Sunday afternoon.

Like Buddy Holly who came our way two years earlier, Eddie Cochran had a profound influence on young aspiring British musicians.  Joe Brown has often said what a great and innovative guitar player Eddie was, introducing styles and techniques that had never been seen here before.   Georgie Fame credits Eddie with introducing the music of Ray Charles to a mainstream UK audience, through his playing of Charles’ songs in his stage act.  Shadows drummer Brian Bennett, as a member of Marty Wilde’s band who were loaned out to Eddie for some of the live dates and his BBC radio sessions for the Saturday Club show, recalls Eddie showing him some great drum tricks. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both idolised Eddie and of course, ‘Summertime Blues’ was for years a Who stage-favourite.  Ironically, the biggest UK hits for Eddie’s songs ‘C’mon Everybody’ and ‘Somethin’ Else’, came in 1979, when The Sex Pistols took both of them to number three in the charts.

George Harrison had seen Eddie when the tour played Liverpool and even acquired an important  piece of Eddie memorabilia: ‘In 1999 I worked on a radio series for the BBC World Service with Paul McCartney, looking back at his early rock’n’roll years.  Paul recalled the-then unknown Beatles touring Scotland backing Johnny Gentle in 1960.  Eddie had given Johnny his stage shirt after the Bristol show and following a week of pestering by the young Beatle, Johnny eventually passed it to George.  Johnny came to one of the Eddie Cochran Weekender events in Chippenham, where I interviewed him live on air. He too said what an amazing talent Eddie was, and also said he wished he’d kept that shirt!’

When someone dies young, it’s always the eternal question – what would they have done in life?  In the case of Eddie Cochran, I think there can be little doubt he would have been the first ‘guitar-hero’ of the sixties, with Clapton, Beck, Page and Hendrix queuing up to play with him.   Jimi always said he wanted Eddie Cochran played at his funeral, and he got his wish.  What makes this whole story even more poignant is how young Eddie was when he took his seat in the car that night – just 21.

Today, that dangerous bend at Rowden Hill, Chippenham has long since been made safe. There is no longer any physical reminder of the tragedy, except for one thing – a plaque on the grass verge in memory of Eddie.  To this day that plaque marks the spot where he Eddie died.  It was erected by fans and unveiled at one of Chippenham’s Eddie Cochran Weekender events by Sharon Sheeley, on what was her first visit since that fateful night at Easter 1960.

PS: Included in the police team that came to the crash was a young Wiltshire cadet called Dave Harman.  Not too long after he changed his ‘name’ to Dave Dee and became a highly successful pop star himself.

This has been a much longer piece than I would normally post – and is being posted on both of my blogs [talkinghistoryblog & beejaytellingstories].  Wikipedia has a broader story of Eddie’s life and death.

It is quite possible that the story is either new to you and/or not something that presents any interest to you.  To me it is a part of my late teenage years.  I have most of Eddie’s work on disk or tape and, until quite recently, I still had my guitar from that long ago youth!

PPS: At a different time at a different place Gene Vincent would step on my fingers – but that’s another story!

A Daughter’s letter to Dad, 16th April 1915

Based on our first meeting with Nellie Lant a couple of weeks ago this letter is out of place. Last time we were in 1916 – this one is from 1915, almost to the day.  The war is some 9 months old and Nellie is at Wesley School, King Street, Cambridge – a different, but still residential, girl’s school – Nellie will only come home at the end of each of the three terms.  and is writing home to her father on Friday 16th April 1915.

Dear Dad
Christ’s Pieces are now our playground.  We have been turned out of our proper school by the soldiers.  On Christ’s Pieces there is a band stand nearly every Sunday evening.  The bands play and crowds of people listen to it.  Not very long ago there were some soldier’s horses on there.  At the middle of every morning and afternoon we have ten minutes play time.  At playtime we all go out and play until the bell rings.  On certain days of the week we have drill on the Piece.

                      I am                               
 Your loving daughter
Nellie

 

My Friend Jack

When they come for me, tell them that I want to be buried with Jack; right beside him; wrapped around him just as close as I can be.  I will need the comfort that only he could give me.

Jack was always around but I never gave him a second glance. I wasn’t in to that sort of thing. Besides, I had my hands full.

Two teenagers, a dog and a busy husband never really left me with much time of my own.  Before I knew it the kids were gone and I was looking forward to time for myself.  But Life doesn’t always work like that; she had other plans for me.

I was the last to know that Bert, my busy Bert, had been otherwise engaged with Donna, his coach at the tennis club.  He had been busy for the last four years but I had been too busy to see it.

It wasn’t messy; it wasn’t noisy; it wasn’t tear-filled – he just didn’t come home one evening.

Now I had time – and space – and a void.  That’s when I thought of Jack. The first time I sought refuge in Jack was on a dark but cloudless evening.

The moon was my witness.

The fingers of shadows were starting to lengthen and I reached out to Jack. Isn’t it funny how you always remember your first time – even if you don’t want that recollection?

It wasn’t easy at first, getting to know Jack – but the soothing feeling he gave me felt so familiar, like being wrapped in my mother’s arms and rocked to sleep.

So he did – every evening at sunset – just like clockwork.

An hour, sometimes two, of mellowed quiet, cocooned in amber.

Jack didn’t let me think, he didn’t let me feel. There was no pain; no ecstasy; no anguish – just a peace that overtook me; overwhelmed me, as we melted into one.

And slowly I needed Jack more – to begin my day, to rest at noon, to end my day.

To go down the street, there to eat and drink – and to gaze out of the window.

We went far; we stayed near; he never left my side.

Jack gave me so much and asked nought in return.

 

 

Jack Daniels – I love you- xxxxxxx     

We can ‘Rock Around the Clock’ BEFORE the USA!

It was on this day – Monday 12th April 1954 – that Bill Haley and the Comets recorded ‘Rock Around the Clock’.  It was a song written by Max Freedman and Jimmy Deknight. Bill Haley recorded it at the Decca studios. It wasn’t the first rock’n’roll song, and Bill Haley wasn’t the first to record it. But somehow his version caught the mood of the moment. It is considered to be the song that brought rock and roll into mainstream culture all over the world. The song went to Number One in the UK and USA, and it was Bill Haley’s biggest hit.  Many fans consider this band to be as revolutionary as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and they were most certainly the earliest group of white musicians to bring rock and roll to the attention of America and the rest of the world.

Bill had left Essex Records in the spring of 1954 and signed for Decca and the band’s first recording session was set for April 12, 1954 at the Pythian Temple studios in New York City. The recording session almost failed to take place because the band was traveling on a ferry that got stuck on a sandbar on the way to New York from Philadelphia. Once at the studio, producer Milt Gabler insisted that the band work on a song entitled “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)” that he wanted to promote as the A-side on the group’s first Decca single.  Near the end of the session, the band finally recorded a take of “Rock Around the Clock” but Bill’s vocals were drowned out by the band. A quick second take was made with minimal accompaniment.  Why the ‘minimal?’ – Sammy Davis Jr was waiting outside the studio for his turn behind the mike!

It is said that the Decca engineers later combined the two versions together into one version but Johnny Grande, the Comets piano player, tells a slightly different version, claiming that the only reason a second take was recorded was that the drummer made an error!

Whatever is the truth – ‘Rock’ took the lead with the ‘Thirteen Women’ on the flip side and ‘Rock around the Clock’ became the first of the group’s nine singles in the Top 20 between then and 1956.

Many musicians have claimed that they performed on the recording session for “Rock Around the Clock” but, according to the official record sheet from the session, the musicians on the famous recording were:  Bill Haley on vocals and rhythm guitar; Marshall Lyle on string bass; Franny Beecher on guitar; Joey Ambrose [aka Joey D’Ambrosio] on tenor saxophone; Billy Williamson on steel guitar; Johnny Grande on piano; Billy Gussak on drums and Danny Cedrone on electric guitar.

It was on Friday 9th July 1955 that “Rock Around the Clock” became the first rock and roll recording to hit the top of the US Billboard’s Pop charts, a feat it repeated on charts around the world.  On Billboard the song stayed at the top for eight weeks.

However – in the UK the record was released on Brunswick Records and reached number 17 on the UK Singles Chart in January 1955 – four months before it first entered the US pop charts!  This wasn’t the only entry it had in the UK because it re-entered the UK chart and hit number one in November 1955 for three weeks, dropped off the top for three weeks and then returned to the top for another two weeks in January 1956.  It made another re-entry in September 1956, reaching number 5. The track was re-issued in 1968 and made number 20, and again in 1974, when it reached number 12. The song’s original release saw it become the UK’s first million selling single and it went on to sell over 1.4 million copies in total!

What the ….

‘What the …’ Peter’s loud, slow, voice echoed over everything and everyone.
Everyone stopped talking.  Silence fell across the room.
He chuckled to himself: ‘I thought that would work’.

It did, and everyone turned to look at him.  23 pairs of eyes turned on him as he stood on the bench at the side of the hall.

‘Yes’, he said in a clear but quicker voice, ‘what the heck are we going to do about the grass verges in our village?  Three times I have called the council – and three times they have said they will be cutting it, but they never say when.  I think it’s time we set to and did it ourselves.  What do you think?’

Predictably a silence fell over the group followed by a burst of everyone talking.  Peter let it run for a minute or two then called them to order.

‘Hands up all that think we should leave it to the council’.
13 hands were raised.

‘Hands up all those who think we should do it ourselves’.
He counted the raised hands.  There were 17.

Ladies and gentlemen – there are 24 of us in this room.  13 said the Council should do the cutting and 17 said we should do it.  I make that 30 voters.  How come?’’

There was laughter at this.  Bill Taylor put up a hand.

‘Some of us voted for both!’  There was laughter in the hall. ‘I reckon – we all reckoned – that the council should do it but, as we have seen, they haven’t.  The village looks a mess so I suggest that we should do it – and properly‘.

There was a round of applause with two or three ‘hear hears’ as well.

Pete Sheldon stood up. ‘Why the heck should we do it.  We pay our taxes for them to do the work.  I don’t reckon that we should do the work as well.’
There was a ripple of applause but nowhere near what Bill had got.

It was Susie Williams that closed the discussion.

‘There are seven ladies here.  Starting on this coming Saturday we will all begin cutting the grass in question.  If any gentlemen wish to join us they will be very welcome.  If they don’t we’ll do it all ourselves’. 
There was laughter across the room with more than one voice calling ‘We’re with you Susie’.
Susie continued – ‘At 8.00 a.m. we shall meet at the post-box on the green and work out from there’.

She sat down to loud applause.

At eight o’clock on Saturday morning virtually all – 20 to be precise – from the meeting were there.  There were also five individuals of the younger generation.  At least two did not seem to be keen but … you never know.  They each had brought with them something to cut shrubs and, of course, some lunch.
Peter organised them into five groups of four and handed each group a barrow and a rake.  He had also brought three motor-mowers with him.

It was amazing how quickly the grass got cut and loaded into the barrows.

Peter had also arranged for a friend of his to bring his tip-up truck.
It was surprising just how quickly the overgrown grass verges disappeared and bright fresh, green, short grass took its place.

Peter kept an eye on all five groups and as soon as each group finished their patch he moved them on to the next.  His wife Jane and Helen their daughter brought round tea, coffee and buns of all kinds for the team.

By 5 o’clock Peter announced that there were just two bits left to deal with and they would do that tomorrow morning – hopefully completing this before church.
They did.

It was early on Tuesday morning as he drove down the road that he saw the council lorry parked up near the Green.  He stopped and went over to speak to them. They spoke first!
‘Where’s the bloody grass and that that you’ve been moaning about?

Peter politely told them.

‘You’ve what?  You’ve wasted our time and council time. You’ll be hearing about this.’

‘I don’t think so’, Peter politely replied. ‘I’ve just told our story to the local paper.  You’ll be able to read about it on Friday.  I think you’ll see some pictures as well.  Unfortunately you won’t be in them but your counsellor will be. 

Perhaps he’ll have a few words with your boss – and he, of course, might want a chat with you’ added Peter as he got into his car and headed off to a Council Committee Meeting.