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Archive for October, 2016

‘Thou Shalt have no other gods before me’ – the first of the Ten Commandments – was used by Protestant Christianity and its proxy secular institutions to justify the killing of people who possessed supernatural abilities, who were deemed as heretics who had made a pact with the devil. Their witchcraft was said to be associated with wild satanic rituals, which included naked dancing, and cannibalistic infanticide. The German-speaking lands of Europe, France, and Scotland, were the hotbeds of witch hunts until 1645, when England, and most notably the county of Essex, was in the grip of witch fever. In the time of religious strife between Catholics and Protestants, political arguments that led to the Civil War and the subsequent widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, the persecutions of suspected witches went almost without retraint.

A 17th Century woodcut showing three witches and their familiars

A 17th Century woodcut showing three witches and their familiars

In rural communities isolated from the outside world, witches were seldom regarded as benign. In every place and parish every old woman ‘with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a hooked-nose, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, a scolding tongue, having a ragged coat on her back, a skull cap on her head, a spindle in her hand, a dog or cat by her side, was not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch.

It will be noticed, however, that the accusations of witchcraft occurred almost exclusively between neighbours in both towns and villages after the refusal of one neighbour to help another, which was quite an offense in their cooperative society. The one who refused to help was almost always the one who was alleged to have been bewitched. People were also advised not to help anyone suspected of witchcraft, and it seemed that people could easily be fooled into believing the worst about their neighbours and it also served as an opportunity for some to get rid of the ones that they disliked.

Matthew Hopkins - The Witchfinder General

Matthew Hopkins – The Witchfinder General

The belief in the power of a curse was so strong among communities in Tudor and Stuart England that even the justices of the peace and grand jurymen were instructed that one of the signs of bewitchment was the sudden onset of a disease in a previously healthy person, and not an occurrence of misfortune. Plague had raged through Europe since around 1599, and recurred once every generation until the beginning of the eighteenth century, and with nothing known about the root causes of disease like bacteria and viruses, the outbreak of the ‘Great Plague’ of 1665-1666 was thought by many to have been the work of witches, who were also the primary ‘plague-spreaders.’

Over ninety percent of the accusations made in Essex were made against women, but in many cases, the accusers had to seek the official backing of long-standing local recorded accusations against a particular individual before taking a case of bewitching to court for any real chance of success in a prosecution.

The Swimming of a suspected witch

The Swimming of a suspected witch

Whatever the truth of the matter, folk tradition condemned them as servants of the powers of darkness, who had sold their souls to the devil in exchange for magical powers. They were brought to trial, often on the flimsiest of evidence and most confessions would have been gained through torture. Today none of these trials would ever make it to court and would certainly not be taken seriously. The fear of witchcraft did, however, last for many years and one of the latest incidents recorded in Essex involving witchcraft was as late as 1863 in Sible Hedingham.

From: Essex Witches

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Following a directive by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill in early June 1940, a force of 5,000 trained allied paratroopers (including men and women agents of the SOE (Special Operations Executive)) was created, and a ‘Central Landing School’ (CLS – later to be known as the Parachute Training School – PTS) was established at RAF Ringway. Squadron Leader Louis Strange, DSO, MC, DFC, took command on the day of its official formation on 21 June, and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was set up in No 6 hangar for parachute packing, where their teams worked eight-hour shifts around the clock to meet the high demand.

The CLS was first used by No 1 Operational Training Unit (OTU), RAF Coastal Command, and other RAF personnel arrived over the next few days. By 5 July, the first pilots were passed out on the unit’s only aircraft – a converted Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber.

It quickly became evident, however, that the landing ground was too busy for the trainee paratroopers. A 3600ft (1090m) emergency NE-SW landing strip had been laid down for use by Whitley and Vickers Wellington bombers (among many other aircraft) to be flown to Ringway for storage, and so an alternative location was found in the secluded historic Tatton Park Estate, to the north of the town of Knutsford, just five miles from Ringway. Initially only used as the main dropping zone, the first of which took place on 13 July, it was expanded as the intensity of parachuting activities expanded.

Paratroopers inside the fuselage of a Whitley aircraft at RAF Ringway, August 1942.

Paratroopers inside the fuselage of a Whitley aircraft at RAF Ringway, August 1942.

‘X Troop’, which consisted of seven officers and twenty-eight other ranks selected from the 11th Special Air Service (SAS) Battalion in early 1941, trained for the first British parachute raid of the war against the Tragino Aqueduct in Italy, code named ‘Operation Colossus’. A full-scale mock-up of part of the aqueduct was erected at the parachute training ground in Tatton Park for rehearsals ahead of the raid on 10th February, when six Whitleys flew 1,600 miles by night, some of it across occupied France, to reach their objective.

On 26 April 1941, Winston Churchill, accompanied by his wife, Clementine, arrived to inspect the progress. As the initiator of the Allied Airborne Forces, he watched a combined exercise by the CLE and PTS involving a formation of six Whitleys dropping forty paratroopers and their equipment on Ringway, towing and formation landing of five single-seat gliders and a demonstration by the newly delivered eight-seat General Aircraft GAL.48 ‘Hotspur’ troop-carrying assault glider, and Churchill was said to have been “reasonably satisfied with the progress made in difficult circumstances.”

Squadron Leader (later Group Captain) Maurice Newnham, OBE, DFC, took over command of the PTS in July 1941, and during his time there, British Army parachutists trained by the PTS at Ringway and Tatton Park were joined by Marine Commandos and RAF personnel. Many overseas troops were also trained including American, Belgian, Canadian, Czech, Dutch, Norwegian and Polish. To increase the throughput of trainees, three large modified hydrogen-filled barrage balloons were used. These were fitted with a cage with a hole through which the trainees would jump – each balloon was capable of dropping three times the number of trainees in an hour that a Whitley could. By May 1942, 250 men a week were passing through the rigorous training facility to gain their Para wings.

By February 1943, 92,000 jumps had been made, almost all of them over the dropping zone at Tatton Park, but tragically, twenty-six fatalities had occurred, with many of the deaths caused by twisted and tangled rigging lines – often referred to as a ‘Roman Candle’.

frankmuir2Leading Aircraftsman 931110 Frank Muir (later becoming a comedy writer, radio and television personality), who had spent time in the photographic technical section taking slow motion film of parachute jumps, was posted to the PTS from RAF Warmwell, where (among other assignments) he was involved in a project intended to decrease the frequency of parachutes failing, and improved equipment and training later reduced the fatality and injury rate.

In addition to the normal intake in 1944, refresher courses were held at the PTS (which had by then Douglas DC-3 Dakota transport aircraft which could carry twenty fully equipped paratroopers to speed up the throughput) during the build up to the large scale invasion on D-Day, when thousands of Ringway and Tatton Park-trained paratroopers jumped over the Normandy beachhead from a huge fleet of Dakotas in the early hours of 6 June.

The number of trainees was gradually reduced after VJ Day (Victory over Japan) on 15 August 1945, and on 27 September, an RAF display with paratrooper drops made from Dakotas and balloons was provided for the public along with their first and only chance to learn of the secret wartime activities that had taken place at Ringway and Tatton Park.

A large limestone memorial to the men and women of the PTS was erected on the edge of Tatton Park’s dropping zone in 1976, and four monuments in the Airport Memorial Garden, which is located on a traffic island opposite Olympic House at Ringway (adjacent to the ramp up to Terminal 1 departures). These are to the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces; the 6,000 Polish officers and soldiers of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade and members of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who undertook parachute training together with nationals of Belgium, France, Holland and Norway; the Glider Pilot Regiment; Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), Air Transport Auxiliary; 613 (City of Manchester) Squadron (Royal Auxiliary Air Force – RAAF).

Abridged from the forthcoming book ‘Manchester Airport Through Time’

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beam-riding-missilesWhile the factory of E.K. Cole (EKCO) in Southend was being extended in 1955 to provide an additional 30,000 sq. ft. of floor space to cope with the increasing demand for their television and radio receivers, a team of their ‘Top Lab’ engineers, which included Cyril Drew, Henry Cox, W P Graville, Ron Beavin, and Mike Skinner, were at the EKCO factory at Malmesbury developing the guidance systems for two air-to-air infra-red beam-riding missiles – the Fairey Aviation ‘Fireflash’ (codename ‘Blue Sky’) and the de Havilland ‘Firestreak’ (codename ‘Blue Jay’) – and were quoted as being weapons of the highest lethality – for the Hawker Hunter and Supermarine Swift jet aircraft.

beam-riding-missiles-fireflashThe ‘Fireflash’ – the United Kingdom’s first air to air guided missile to see service with the Royal Air Force – had a pair of booster motors attached either side of the front of the missile which burned for 1.5 seconds upon its launch to accelerate the missile up to Mach 2. Canted nozzles enabled the missile roll about its axis in order to even out any asymmetric thrust, and when the boosters had expired, an explosive release unit fired causing them to separate, and the missile’s control surfaces were unlocked. The free coasting missile then cancelled its stabilisation roll and gathered itself into the guiding beam which it followed to the target; it had an effective range of 3,500 yards.

The steering of the ‘Firestreak’ (which was developed from the Red Hawk missile) was accomplished by four rudders in a cruciform configuration. These were moved by four pairs of pneumatic servos operated by solenoid valves. An air bottle, pressurized to 3,000 psi (21,000 kPa), supplied air for the servos and also supplied the air that spun the three, air-blown gyroscopes in the missile’s inertial navigation system. A high pressure air supply from the aircraft was also required to spin the gyros before the missile was launched.

ch5EKCO was also contracted by the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE)  to produce ‘Miss-Distance Indicators’ for guided weapons or projectiles fired air-to-air, ground-to-air, or sea-to-air against towed, self-propelled or drone practice targets. This led to a further contract for an ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) Suite (Project ‘Red Steer’) for the trio of RAF V-Bombers (the Vickers Valiant, Avro Vulcan and Handley Page Victor), which was being revised because the ‘Cold War’ was at its height. To keep up with advanced Soviet technology, one part of the ECM Suite was the requirement for a ‘tail warning radar’ (TWR). Very hush-hush, the system promoted for conversion to keep costs to a minimum was the previously used Air Interception (AI) Mark 20, codenamed ‘Green Willow’, and interestingly, the Operating Frequency and the Pulse Repetition Rate of the high powered ‘X’ band system they designed and built remain secret to this day.

From the forthcoming book: EKCO Visions

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Crossley TorquayIn 1933, Crossley Motors became the first British car manufacturer to provide a factory-fitted (American-built) radio, and introduced it in their 1.1 litre 10 hp Buxton 6 and Torquay 4 Light 4-door Saloons – where it was enclosed in a metal box under the bonnet – and with a dash-mounted option for their Crossley 10.

spartonradioIn the following year, the ‘Philco’ – the first purpose-built ‘car radio’ for a British-built car, was fitted as standard during the production of the British Hillman ‘Melody’ Minx for its launch in the Spring of 1934, but following a sensational launch at the Radiolympia Exhibition at Olympia, London, in August 1934, it was the company of E. K. Cole Limited (EKCO) of Southend-on-Sea, Essex, that would find itself at the forefront of the design and installation of car radios with their model CR75 car radio, which soon became an exclusive optional extra for customers of Rolls Royce motors.

Many car manufacturers had criticised car radios as being too technically challenging and viewed them as unnecessary devices intrinsically fraught with problems – the average motor garage had no expertise in fitting radios, and the ordinary radio shop had no garage facilities, but it wasn’t long before other car manufacturers such as Daimler and Walmsley followed Rolls Royce’s influence, and also began to offer EKCO car radios as the essential extra, which spurred EKCO into setting up its own chain of installer/dealers.

tmb272EKCO went one better for their top-end clients in 1956 with the commercial introduction of the first British portable television and radio receiver – the TMB272, which operating on 405-lines, and included a VHF/FM Band 2 tuner: ‘H’ – Home Service (now Radio 4), ‘L’ – Light Programme (now Radio 2), and ‘T’ – The Third Programme (now Radio 3). This heavy (around 35lbs) 16-valve set ran on AC Mains or a 12-volt external (car) battery, and retailed at £49 3s 4d plus £20 2s 8d tax. Customers were advised not to use the television while the vehicle was parked because it would very quickly drain the battery.

Within two months of its release, however, a proposal had been made to amend the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations of 1955 to prohibit the use of television receiving apparatus in vehicles if the screen were visible, directly or by reflection, by the driver of a vehicle or indeed any other vehicle on the road. The amended regulation (Current Order 109) came into force in early 1957.

The TMB272 televisions soon found a new home with the BBC and were widely used as outside broadcast monitors. Television presenters working in front of camera liked to see themselves (as they still do) on these monitors to check that the frame and shot was fine.

From the forthcoming book ‘EKCO Visions’

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Shoreham (Brighton City) Airport (EGKA), which is situated in 200 acres west of Shoreham-by-Sea at Lancing in the Adur district of West Sussex, was established in 1910, and is the oldest licenced Airport in the UK. It has its own railway station on the West Coastway railway line, and can be reached within a few minutes from Brighton, Hove, or Worthing.

The airport also adjoins Shoreham-by-Sea harbour, one of the staging grounds for the preparations for D-Day, 6 June 1944, and a unique war memorial – a marble plaque providing a dedication to the British, Commonwealth and Allied servicemen and women who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars, and features a propeller from a B-26 bomber, stands near the entrance to the beautiful Grade II listed art deco terminal building.

shoreham-airportIt was close to the memorial that two swastika flags were erected and German military vehicles and motorcycles arrived and were parked in front of the terminal in June 2014 – just 24 hours before the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The name of the airport had been changed to depict it as the city airport in Nazi-occupied Vienna, and two large banners featuring the Nazi emblem were hung from the outside of the building. Some 150 cast and crew members assembled for scenes being filmed for the film Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, and most of them were dressed in 1940s clothing and Nazi uniforms, allegedly sparking outrage among locals for the insensitive timing. The filming took place less than a year after the producers of the Brad Pitt movie Fury filmed Nazi war scenes early in the morning on Remembrance Sunday.

shorehammoviesThe 1936-built terminal building has been a popular location for film makers seeking to portray scenes of the 1930s and has featured as Singapore Airport in the television programme Tenko, and as Croydon Airport in three episodes of Poirot, as well as Ypres Airport in the film Fortunes of War and as Le Bourget Airport (Paris) in The Da Vinci Code. It is still in everyday use by business, training and pleasure fliers alike including many visitors from Europe.

Shoreham Airport – An Illustrated History

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