Archive for September, 2016

In his book ‘The History of Rochford Hundred’ (1867), local historian Philip Benton, who had met James ‘Cunning’ Murrell, wrote that, ‘He supplemented his subsistence by telling fortunes, and pretended to have the power of counteracting the designs of witches, discovering thieves, and where stolen property was secreted. He was a herbalist, and administered potions and drugs.  He would purchase forty different nostrums at a time, his price being one penny for each, which he refused to have labelled. A sack full of letters were destroyed at his death, but enough remain to prove that an amount of ignorance, credulity, and superstition existed, which appears incredible. Some addressed to him allude to the appearance of apparitions, and from the tenor of others from women, mysteriously alluding to being in trouble, and hearing that he could relieve them, we may suspect him of darker doings.’

Illustration by David Hurrell

It was in his record about the history of the parish, that the Reverend Edwin Arthur B Maley, a former rector of Thundersley from 1916 to the early 1950s, wrote that he considered Murrell had a reputation for honesty among the local farm workers, with the following illustration: ‘Mrs George Cranness was four-score years old, vigorous and alert. In her younger days, while she was at work in the harvest field with her husband, the sickle produced five big warts on her hand which became so painful that she could not continue with her work. She went to Murrell and explained. He asked for a halfpenny from her and chanted a few words which she did not understand. The warts disappeared and never returned.’

James spent a lot of his time wandering around Daws Heath and the surrounding woods collecting wild plants and herbs, and the ceilings in his cottage were covered with festoons of drying plants and herbs he had collected. The writer and journalist Arthur Morrison (1863-1945), who knew Murrell well, described him as, ‘a trifle less than five feet high, thin and slight, quick and alert of movement, keen of eye and sharp of face. He made a distinctive figure in the neighbourhood. He wore a blue frock coat, a trifle threadbare, though ornamented with brass buttons, and on his head a hard, glazed hat.’

During the course of time, his name spread across Essex and Kent for his prowess as an animal doctor, and he was in great demand by farmers. In an age where the death of a pig could spell starvation or at the least a very lean winter, the life of a one child too many often carried less weight than that of the family’s main food supply, most cunning men were called upon to treat sick animals as often as their human counter parts. Some of his medicines and remedies were made up in London on the clear instruction that they were on no account to be labelled.

His various nostrums were said not only to cure all diseases, but to assist the lovelorn and even to bring back errant husbands. But it was his astrological knowledge that elevated him to the status of a true ‘cunning man’, rather than the more usual wizard, conjuror, or hedge witch (loosely believed to be called such because of their work with herbal cures, and the time spent in woodlands looking for the herbs necessary to heal or enchant). Frequently of good education, cunning men (or women) were thought to practise a form of high magic and ritual largely unknown amongst their more lowly peers. Their knowledge of traditional herbal-based medicine was generally extensive and in some cases ran parallel to orthodox medicine. Whether James Murrell had any formal medical training is unknown, but his skill as a herbalist was legendary.

*Illustration of ‘Cunning’ Murrell courtesy of David Hurrell

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It had been on the sidelines for a long time, but I’ve just published my book ‘Southend-on-Sea & District Roll of Honour WW1’ through Kindle. It is a complete A-Z of the 2,152 of His Majesty’s servicemen, who were either born in, or moved to, the following areas at the time they were called to service: Southend-on-Sea, Southchurch, Thorpe Bay, Shoeburyness, Foulness, Barling, Westcliff-on-Sea, Leigh-on-Sea, Hadleigh, Thundersley, Benfleet, Canvey Island, Rochford, Hawkwell, Hockley, Rayleigh, Wickford, Vange, and Pitsea, and who fought and fell during the Great War, or died as a result of war between 1914 and 1921.

firstcover600The names are listed are as used by the men in service records upon their enlistment. Among these are several aliases which appear instead with only a reference to their real names. The files include biographies of the serviceman of the Land, Air and Sea forces, their regiments and service numbers, theatres of battle and actions, personal letters, and citations where medals were issued.

In ‘MS Word’ format it ran to over 253,000 words which would not have been viable to produce as a printed book. As an e-book of 3349KB (879 pages), it is now available to download through Amazon. My thanks go to Simon Woodward for the walk-through and advice regarding publishing in this format.

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zfcyourThe first test flights of the Concorde, which was a joint development and manufacture project by Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty, took place with 001 (F-WTSS) from Toulouse on 2 March 1969, and 002 (G-BSST) from Filton on 9 April. Both aircraft carried the new E-390/564 weather radar system which had been designed, manufactured, and tested under contract by EKCO in the purpose-built Environmental test laboratory at Southend-on-Sea.

EKCO had used their Avro Anson 19 (G-AGPG) which had been given a similar ‘extended nose-job’ to its predecessor (G-ALIH) to incorporate the 30-inch diameter scanner dish required for the E-390/564 weather radar which was then under development, extensively by the design engineers as a flying test bed. One of her regular ports of call in the mid-1950s was to the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton Aerodrome when the first civil weather radar contract (E-120) was underway for the Bristol Britannia, and she was back again as Filton was the build site of the British Concorde, which would be fitted with the E-390 radar system (which was the last system of its kind to be produced by EKCO).

cockpitproto4aThe chief mechanical design engineer of the E-390 was Mr ‘Gibby’ Gibson, who was known as something of a rather eccentric character, and a great deal of pressure was on him and his team to produce the advanced radar system. During the first vibration tests on the prototype, the dish mounts and peripheral units fell apart bit by bit, which sent VJ Cox, the Head of Design, and Phil Stride, the Managing Director, into a panic. Modification upon modification followed until it came good, but the financial cost of the research and development effort was huge.

The completed scanner was then taken to the Government Environmental Test Centre, which was part of the weapons test range on Foulness Island, for climatic testing. This was carried out inside a large wooden box which was fed by liquid nitrogen or CO2 depending on the low temperature required. After passing all the tests, the systems were delivered for fitting into the two Concorde aircraft in time for their first test flights.

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The Arctic Convoys, which the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once described as ‘the worst journey in the world’, played a very crucial role to the Allied War effort in the overall victory of the Second World War.

Operation ‘Barbarossa’ – the name given to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia – was the largest military operation in history involving more than 3 million Axis troops and 3,500 tanks, and forced Russia into a precarious position. They were unprepared for the might of the German army, and the Russian army had all but collapsed under the onslaught that began on 22 June 1941. Moscow was nearly reached and Leningrad was surrounded.

Winston Churchill promised to supply Stalin ‘at all costs’, knowing that, had Russia fallen, the full weight of the Nazi machinery would have been directed at the West, and so on 12 July, 1941, the Soviet Union and Great Britain signed the treaty on ‘mutual assistance’ against Germany, and in August, the Allied convoys began.

The Arctic route around occupied Norway was the shortest and most direct route to carry supplies from Great Britain and America to the Soviet ports, though it was also the most dangerous. The gruelling weather conditions; severe cold, storms, fog, ice floes, waves so huge they tore at the ship’s armour plating, and strong currents making navigation difficult to maintain convoy cohesion while under the constant threat of attack from above and below from German air, submarine and surface forces. Many considered that no ships would get through. At the start, the convoys usually ran from Hvalfjord, Iceland, to Archangel in the summer months when the ice permitted, and then shifted south as the pack ice increased and terminated at Murmansk. After September 1942, they assembled and sailed from Loch Ewe in Scotland.

convoysThe second series of convoys, numbered JW for outbound convoys, and RA for homebound, ran from December 1942 until the end of the war, though with two major interruptions in the summer of 1943, and again in the summer of 1944. Outbound and homebound convoys were planned to run simultaneously; a close escort accompanied the merchant ships to port, remaining there to make the subsequent return trip with the next convoy. In addition, a covering force of heavy surface units was also provided to guard against sorties by German surface ships. These would accompany the outbound convoy to a cross-over point, meeting and then conducting the homebound convoy back, while the close escort finished the voyage with its charges.

22-october-1942A total of seventy eight convoys made the perilous journey to and from north Russia, carrying four million tons of supplies for use by Soviet forces fighting against the German Army on the Eastern Front, and thousands of British and Allied merchant and naval seamen lost their lives during the four year campaign. Eighty five out of the 1400 merchant vessels and sixteen Royal Navy warships were lost. The Allied seamen showed true heroism in their long and perilous sea passages in convoys, being constantly attacked by enemy forces in the appalling weather conditions of the Arctic. The bravery of these men and women who unsparingly fought for the Victory will be always remembered and respected.


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During the 1940’s, Marine Radio had continued to advance with other technology of the day. Radiotelephone operation was introduced, and most importantly, High Frequency (HF) came into widespread use, thereby allowing communications over ever-increasing distances. This provided a great boost for Marine Radio for the vital role it was to play during the Second World War. TBS (Talk Between Ships) was introduced, enabling bridge to bridge communications through the use of what was to become the Marine VHF radio band.

The TBS system, which superceded the FR12 Transmitter/Receiver (which had been the mainstay on many vessels and used on CW (Continuous Wave) for inter-communication between escort ships on convoy runs), operated in a line-of-sight range, and became the established radio network the American warships used to communicate with one another, and proved invaluable during amphibious landings and convoy operations.

Polaroid Exif JPEGEncodement of TBS transmissions was crucial to keep the enemy unaware of task unit intentions, and ‘Shackle’ codes were often used to relay course changes or any other message which called for the use of numbers, such as when to execute a timed event, etc. In all entries, the crucial data contained within the shackle code was contained between the words “SHACKLE” and “UNSHACKLE.”

The Royal Navy conducted a 24 hour radio exercise at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands on 17 September 1943  in manoeuvring the fleet by W/T (Wireless Telegraphy – ‘Morse Key’) until the procedures were perfected, but when the TBS units entered service, the need for fleet manoeuvring by morse key was eliminated and all further Arctic Convoy operations were conducted by voice.

X-Ray 48 was the name given to morse signals sent between ships using an infrared filter, but it was necessary to warn the recipient that a signal was about to be sent by using a code word over the TBS radio, so an infrared receiver telescope could set up in order to read it.

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The EKCO shadow factories at Aylesbury, Woking, Preston, and Rutherglen, were closed after the cessation of hostilities in 1945, but Malmesbury continued with the development and production of telecommunications, radar, electronic and early nucleonic equipment. The factories at Southend-on-Sea were re-converted to peacetime production, starting with domestic radio with television manufacture commencing soon afterwards.

The A22 ‘Round Radio’, designed by Wells Coates, was the last of the type to be produced. The dial completely surrounds the centrally placed loudspeaker for the three-band (Long, Medium, and Short Wave) radio and it stood 15 inches (about 38cm)tall. It was joined in 1947 by the A23 ‘Radiotime’, which incorporated five changeable pre-set buttons for favourite stations.

A22A23Commonly known as a Superhet, the three radio bands (LW/MW/SW) were complemented by the additional feature of a television sound band. This was because some televisions at the time were produced with a vision-only facility (which were cheaper to buy) and relied on certain radio receivers to provide the audio output of the broadcast – an idea that never really caught on.

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