Monthly Archives: August 2010

Dover Harbour to be privatised?

Port of Dover, England

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been reading about a ridiculous plan to privatise the operation of Dover Harbour (click here and here). It’s being dressed up as a plan for a ‘people’s port’, when really it amounts to selling off the family silver for a quick buck.

Dover is a vital part of Britain’s economy and transport infrastructure. It is the UK and the world’s busiest passenger ferry port – with 9 berths, 4 services, 15 ferries and up to 65 sailings each day – and the first place where most people who visit by sea come to when they arrive. Dover Harbour has been run by the Dover Harbour Board since 1606, and currently handles over £80 billion worth of trade each year. Of course Dover also has a historic place in British History, and indeed in the national psyche- think Vera Lynn, Bluebirds etc – making this an even more emotive issue.

The standard old conservative argument has been trotted out about how the port cannot be competitive, etc etc, and being a private business will allow it to borrow money. Rubbish. The state of the railways and local bus companies since privatisation should show anyone that privatisation does not mean investment, it means profits for shareholders and destruction of an industry. Look at other industries such as Steel, Coal, Shipbuilding – communities decimated in the name of removing a line from the balance books.

It really is shocking the extent to which the current Government is willing to go to hive off the public sector. Is it any coincidence that the kind of wealthy businessmen who are likely to invest in privatisation stand to make a nice tidy profit? I cannot help but think that moves like this are ideologically driven, to reduce the state as much as possible, give wealthy investors an opportunity to double their money, and to hell with the consequences. The budget crisis has given the Government a gilt-edged excuse to finish what Thatcher started.

Ferry ports CAN and DO work in public ownership. My local ferry port, here in Portsmouth, operates under council control, and makes a tidy profit each year. In fact, the profit goes towards keeping Portsmouth’s council tax bill relatively low. So why not Dover, which is bigger and busier? If it needs investment, it cannot be anywhere near the sums that were somehow found for propping up the banks only a couple of years ago, and the kind of profits those banks are now making at our expense.

Not only does privatisation mean profit, job losses and poor services, it also means a lack of control for society over crucial functions. Look at how the railway and bus companies have operated in recent years – with no regard at all for passengers, and there is very little the Government – national or local – can do about it. Imagine if a new operating company decided to cut the number of sailings, under the pretext of saving money, much as bus companies cut services? Or put up the charges to the ferry companies? How many people are directly or indirectly employed in Dover thanks to the port?

In a similar manner, privatising the Royal Fleet Auxiliary would mean that any new private owners would be able to do whatever they liked, no doubt at a cost to the country’s defence capability, especially that of the Royal Navy.

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The Real Enigma Heroes by Phil Shanahan

We’ve all heard about the film U-571. Or, more importantly, how its a travesty of a film. Supposedly a fictional film based on true events, it is nothing more than a plagiarism of heroism, twisted to maximise profits with scant regard for any kind of integrity.

The men who were the REAL heroes were Able Seaman Colin Grazier, Lieutenant Tony Fasson and NAAFI Canteen Assistant Tommy Brown. Serving onboard the Destroyer HMS Petard, in October 1942 they volunteered to join a boarding party for the sinking U-559. Although the U-Boat was rapidly sinking, Grazier and Fasson went down below and retrieved vital documents, passing them up the conning tower to Brown. They remained below searching, and were onboard when the ship went down. Colin Grieve and Tony Fasson were both awarded a posthumous George Cross, and Tommy Brown the George Medal.

The capture of vital Enigma code books enabled codebreakers at Bletchley Park to finally crack the Enigma riddle, and continue to read German communications until the end of the war. In particular, the capture helped the Allies to win the crucial Battle of the Atlantic. Without that victory, D-Day might not have been possible, and the war may have lasted much longer – raising the disturbing possibility of the Russians reaching the Rhine or the Channel.

Yet surprisingly, it has taken decades for Grazier, Fasson and Brown to receive any recognition. The official secrets act precluded any publicity being given to the incident. The British Government were also keen to ensure that the Germans – and Russians – did not find out that the Enigma code had been broken. And thus the situation remained. Even the men onboard HMS Petard on that fateful night were not aware of how important Grive and Fasson’s actions were.

Phil Shanahan, of the Tamworth Herald, has ensured that the mens names will be remembered for evermore. Starting with a chance discovery – that Grieve came from Tamworth, he was astounded that the winner of the George Cross was unknown in his home town. A series of articles in the Herald followed. A Committee was formed, and set about raising funds for a fitting tribute in Tamworth town centre. Along the way he had some interesting encounters, with the Producer of U-571, and the Imperial War Museum. The U-571 debacle in particular raised much publicity for the Colin Grive Project. As Shanahan states, not many English provincial journalists have been interviewed in a Dallas daily newspaper!

There are some emotive episodes. In particular, I felt a personal connection with the dilemma Phil Shanahan found when confronting the Imperial War Museum. It is simply impossible to cover absolutely everything in any museum or book. The sad fact is that many people have their cause that is close to them, but there is never enough room to give each of them the credit that they deserve. It is a dilemma that many a poor Curator has faced, and I feel that the people who have to choose what to leave out deserve more sympathy. Similarly, it is easy to understand the sentiment that Grieve and Fasson should have been awarded the Victoria Cross. It’s something that I have written about at the time – that bravery is bravery, regardless of enemy action. Yet they were awarded the George Cross under the standards set, and it would have been unprecedented to upgrade them to the VC.

This is a very interesting and rather unique book. It is, in many ways, two books in one – firstly the story of HMS Petard, and then secondly the long fight to earn Grazier, Fasson and Brown recognition. They are complementary stories, and are intwerwoven in the order of which Shanahan and his team uncovered the stories and embarked on their campaign. There are some small errors of accuracy, but you can feel Shanahan’s passion. Something that many historians would do well to take note of, and not those involved in the making of U-571.

A fine statue was commissioned and erected in Tamworth town square, and a nearby Hotel was named the Colin Grazier Hotel. A Tamworth Housing Estate has had its roads named after men involved in the incident. And every year, the people of Tamworth celebrate Colin Grazier Day, with a small ceremony at the memorial, and a tot of rum in the evening.

This is a book and a campaign that is gripping and most inspiring. If only more local newspapers and local councils would be more diligent in recognising our communities heroes. It has certainly motivated me to ensure that Portsmouth’s heroes of the two world wars should never be forgotten.

The Real Engima Heroes is published by The History Press

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The national roll of the Grear War

I’ve been working through the list of names on the Portsmouth First World War Memorial. Although there are a few names that have eluded me, thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Portsmouth edition of the national roll, it has been possible to find out a lot about many of the men from Portsmouth who fell in the Great War.

The national roll in particular is a great reference source. It’s not comprehensive, as families had to pay for their relatives to be included, and it also covers men who survived as well as men who died. It tells us when a man joined the armed forces. The exact word used is important – men who were already in the Army were serving soldiers, men who joined in the euphoria on the outbreak of war volunteered, men in the Territorial Force or Army Reserve were mobilised, and men who were conscripted are described as ‘joined’.

The entry supplied by the family gives us details that we would not get from anywhere else. In some cases we are told when the person went to the Western Front. We find out when and where somebody was wounded. In some cases, we also hear about how somebody was killed.

Its also interesting to note how many men died of illness. In particular, towards the end of the war quite a few men died during the Influenza pandemic. In general however it seems that a lot less servicemen died on the home front or away from the front-line than did during the Second World War.

Some interesting stories include:

Private W.E. Morey, of the 6th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, came from 18 Vivash Road. He had volunteered in October 1915. He was taken prisoner on the Somme, and somehow was killed by the Germans in an internment camp at Langensatz – on 27 November 1918, 16 days AFTER the armistice.

Private P. O’Neill volunteered in August 1914. Although he never served overseas, he did serve at home with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was invalided out of the Army in August 1915, and died in Landport Hospital in January 1916. He is not recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commissions register, as he was not a serving soldier when he died.

Pioneer James Newman was one of the oldest Portsmouth servicemen. Of 70 Unicorn Street, Portsea, he was serving in the Army when the war started. Initially serving with no. 2 Stores Section of the Royal Engineers, he was sent to France in December 1918 after the Armistice to work with the Graves Registration Unit. He was accidentally drowned in the Sambre Canal on 13 December 1919, and is buried in Les Baraques Cemetery, France. He was 63.

Sergeant A.A. Martin was a pre-war regular soldier. Serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, he was wounded at Gallipoli. He was seconded to a Bombing School at Lyndhurst in the New Forest, to train new recruits in how to use Grenades. He was killed in an accident on 23 February 1917, and is buried in Lyndhurst. He came from 64 Bedford Street, Buckland.

Private C. Oakey was also killed accidentally. From 70 Union Street, Portsea, he originally volunteered in October 1914 and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was wounded at Ypres, and was again wounded after being transferred to the Salonika Front in 1917. After the armistice he was transferred to Turkey, and was killed in an accident. He is buried in Haidar Pasha Cemetery in Istanbul.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – Passchendaele

artillery barrage map from ...

An example of a creeping artillery barrage at Passchendaele (Image via Wikipedia)

The Battle of Passchendaele had begun on 31 Jul7 1917. The first phase during July and August had failed to make any serious progress. The Battle of Broodseinde was to be the last assault launched in the Ypres Salient as part of the offensive, and was an attempt to protect the southern Flank of the salient. The ever-elusive breakthrough was still hoped for, however.

After arriving at Proven on 20 September, the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment spent the next week training hard. It was hard to get much training done, however, due to the limited amount of space available. On 23 September a draft of 103 men arrived, and on the 27th the Divisional Commander, Major-General Matheson, inspected the Battalion.

On 28 September the Battalion entrained at Proven in the afternoon, and detrained at Elverindghe. From there the Hampshires marched to Roussol Camp. The next day Company Commanders instructed their NCO’s and men in the plans for the forthcoming offensive. The day after that on the 30th each Company rehearsed their plan for the attack.

later on the 30th the Battalion went into Brigade reserve at the Canal Bank, relieving the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers. The detailed operation order issued by the Adjutant listed the equipment and rations that the men were to carry. Officers were not to carry swagger sticks, and were to dress exactly the same as the men. Haversacks and entrenching tools would be left behind. Instead every man was issued with either a pick or shovel. Each platoon would carry 10 wire cutters, every man 2 aeroplane flares and every man 3 sandbags.

A detailed map was issued, showing the ground over which the Brigade was to advance. Starting in the area of Langemarck, the 11th Brigade was to attack on a narrow front, capturing ground to the North East of Poelcappelle. The 1st Hampshires were on the left, the Somerset Light Infantry on the right, and the 1st East Lancs in support and the Rifle Brigade in reserve. The Hampshires objectives, in order, were to be the Red House, Beek Villa, Imbros House, Kangaroo Huts and Tragique Farm. The principal objective, however, was merely a green line marked on the map. An even more detailed Battalion-level map was issued, that showed each of the Companies objectives, and also the distances between each landmark on the map. A diagram of how the platoons were to be set out in the advance was also included, and each platoon was allocated a specific objective, either to capture or, for the support companies, to consolidate once it had been captured.

The attack was to be on a 2 Company front, with each company’s front being 150 yards wide. The two other companies were to be in close support. A creeping Artillery Barrage was planned, as well as a Machine Gun Barrage. A detailed map showed the planned creep of the Barrage, beginning at Zero hour, and creeping forward on lines in front of the advance, moving forward every 2 to 3 minutes. Each Battalion was also alloted 2 Vickers Machine Guns to act in support. 2 Platoons were also designated as counter-attacking platoons, and designated authority to act on their own initiative to break up any German attacks. A Lewis Gun team of the 21st West Yorks was to be attached for anti-aircraft duties. A contact aeroplane was to overfly the area at set times to observe and report on progress.

On 1 and 2 October officers and NCO’s went forward to reconnoitre the line. The next day, on the 3rd, the Battalion went forward to its assembly area at Eagle Trench. It comprised 19 officers and 522 men. 3 officers and 118 men were to be left with the transport, to form a nucleus for reforming the Battalion if it were wiped out. Two tins of hot tea laced with rum were brought up for each Platoon. Heavy rain had fallen in the first few days of October, turning the artillery-riddled ground into a morass.

The troops were formed up and ready to go at 2am on 4 October. The enemy began shelling at 5am. At 6am the advance began, advancing behind the creeping barrage. They met light resistance, but the barrage was reported as being ‘ragged’, and caused many casualties to the Battalion. 30 prisoners and a machine gun were captured in Kangaroo trench. The Battalion advanced well, however. At 1pm it was noticed that the 10th Brigade on the left flank were retiring. An advance by the Rifle Brigade, coming up from reserve, checked this withdrawl. The Hampshires held firm on their objective line as night fell. Overall the battle of Broodseinde was one of the most succesful of the war. All objectives had been captured, for relatively light casualties when compared with the Somme and the earlier phases of Passchendaele. This was

The Battle on 4 October inflicted heavy casualties on the Battalion. 4 officers and 36 men were killed, and 8 officers and 182 men were wounded. 25 men were missing. Among the wounded were Colonel Armitage and Captain Laurie, the Chaplain, who both remained at their post.

Four Portsmouth men were killed on 4 October 1917. Private William McCarthy, 32 and from Highland Street, Eastney, is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. 19 year old 2nd Lieutenant Henry Hall, of Victoria Road South, Southsea, is also remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Private Charles McCable is another man remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, while Private Frank Oxford, 29, is buried in Cement House Cemetery.

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Youtube picks

Heres a few vidoes on youtube that I’ve been watching recently. Enjoy!

HMS Hermes returns from the Falklands

This is a pretty historic piece of footage. Not only does it show the Flagship of the Falklands Task Force returning to Portsmouth, my mum and dad were on one of the black and buff Navy tugs escorting her in! Presented by Michael Buerk and Brian Hanrahan, we see thousands of people gathered on the waterfront at Portsmouth, and there are interviews with Margaret Thatcher, and the Captain Lin Middleton. There are interviews with the crews families at the quayside.

The Somme: From Defeat to Victory

A pretty good documentary about the Battle of the Somme that I’ve just found. It’s refreshingly non ‘Janet and John’ style, which makes a nice change!

Royal Navy Sea Wolf Missile firing

I’ve been having a look at clips of missile firings on youtube, because it occured to me that I write about them a lot, but have never really seen what they look like in evidence! Heres a clip of a Sea Wolf missile firing from a Type 22 Frigate.

Black Label Society – Parade of the Dead (Live)

From the new album, Order of the Black. Zakk Wylde is back to his best!

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – after the Battle of Arras

Lewis gun

A Lewis Gun, as used by the 1st Hants (Image via Wikipedia)

As June 1917 dawned Company Training continued, as well as sports events, including a Company football competition. On 6 June the Divisional Royal Engineers commander lectured on consolidation. On 10 June a party of 100 men under Captain Johnston marched to Monts-en-Ternois, where medals were presented after the recent operations at Arras.

On 11 June the whole Battalion moved to billets in Arras by ‘motor bus’. The next day the men were bivouaced in the support lines, until 7.15pm when the Battalion relieved the 5th Cameron Highlanders in Brigade support. They remained in support until 16 June, when the Battalion went into the front line near the River Scarpe. The line ran to the east of Roeux. The Battalion had a very quiet time in the line, and were relieved on 20 June, when they went back into Brigade support. The next few days were spent on improving the trenches and erecting barbed wire, before the Battalion was relieved by the 1st Royal Warwickshires on 26 June. The last few days of June were spent in the usual post front line cleaning, inspections and then work parties.

During June 1917 the Battalion had received significant reinforcements, in the shape of 6 officers and 131 men. Notably, no members of the Battalion were killed during the month – a rare month indeed on the Western Front. By mid-1917 the BEF and its units had honed the routine of trench warfare. Each time the Battalion went into the line or was relieved, a detailed operations order was issued in advance by the Adjutant. Atlhough this was no dobt efficient, it was also motivated by a feeling that the high proportion of conscripts in the Army, as well as non-regular officers, needed more detailed orders.

 Early July was spent in Balmoral Camp, training and providing work parties. On 13 July the Battalion went into Brigade support, and on 14 July went into the front line, north east of Monchy-le-Preux. The Germans were very quiet during the day, but very busy at night with snipers, rifle grenades and trench mortars. No men were killed, and the Battalion was relieved on 18 July. After several days in Reserve, the 1st Hampshires went back into the front line on 22 July. This tour proved to be more eventful. On the 23rd the Artillery carried out a dummy raid on the German lines to which the enemy replied, and the next day the Battalion sent out a patrol to reconnointre the enemy line. Several members of the patrol were lost. One of them was Corporal John Leask, a Portsmouth man, who is remembered on the Arras Memorial. On the 25th the Artillery again carried out a dummy raid, before the Battalion carried out a genuine raid the next night. The raiding party advanced behind a strong barrage, and took four prisoners. Only one Hampshire was killed. The Battalion was relieved the next day on 27 July. The rest of July was spent in Brigade reserve and providing working parties.

The Beginning of August 1917 found the Battalion in Wilderness Camp, before on the 2nd of the month they marched to Balmoral Camp. The Battalion began training, including a tactical exercise for officers to illustrate how to advance after a retreating enemy. Divisional sports competitions were held, and medals were awarded for the raid carried out on 24 July. On 13 August a full Battalion exercise was carried out, complete with dummy enemy machine guns. On the 14th the Battalion went into Brigade reserve, and the next day into the front line. The Battalions line was in the area of Musket Trench and happy valley. The Hampshires remained in the line until 23 August – a very long tour – and suffered 4 men killed by enemy shelling. One of them was Private Francis Davis, 35, from Boulton Road in Southsea. He is buried in Level Crossing Cemetery.

On 23 August the Battalion marched back to camp in Scots Valley, apart from A Company who remained in Lance Lane. The accomodation at Scots Valley consisted mainly of tents, and a few tarpaulin shelters. There were no cookhouses, and these had to be built. Over the next few days the Battalion also provided work parties. On 28 August Colonel Armitage left the Battalion temporary to take charge of the 11th Brigade – presumably the Brigadier was ill or wounded. On 31 August the Battalion marched back to Balmoral Camp.

September proved to be an interesting time for the Battalion. Although the ever-present work parties continued, time was found for platoon training. On the 5th the Battalion was relieved, and marched to Pommier. During the day a draft of 129 men arrived. The next day the new arrivals were inspected by the CO, and the Companies were re-organised into 4 platoons. On the 7th individual training commenced, including bombing and Lewis Gun lessons. the next day Brigadier-General Marshall, of the 45th Infantry Brigade, gave a fighting on recent fighting at Ypres. On the 8th Colonel Armitage returned to resume command.

Interestingly, on 9 September a group of 3 officers and 80 other ranks went by lorry to visit the area around Beaumont Hamel, where the Battalion had fought in July 1916 on the Somme – an early form of battlefield tour. Meanwhile back with the Battalion training continued, and on the 10th all officers and NCO’s down to Platoon Sergeant were lectured on German methods of defence ‘and how to deal with them’. More and more lectures were taking place – a sign of the experience that was being gained on the Western Front, the new professionalism in the BEF, and the number of amateur soldiers in the Army.

Training continued, and on the 15th of September, when 14 officers and 350 men turned out for a cross-country run (one wonders what happened to the rest of the men). On the 18th the Battalion marched off to Mondicourt. At midnight on the night of the 19th/20th the Battalion entrained at Mondicourt, and 9.30am detrained at Hopoutre, south of Poperinghe. From there they marched to Piddington Camp, south east of Proven.

The Battalion had returned to the Ypres Salient, where the Third Battle of Ypres had been raging for several months.

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Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45 by Stephen Bourne

Its hard to overstate just how important this book is in terms of the social history of wartime Britain. Personally, I have always been quite unhappy with what I call the ‘windrush assumption’ – that the first ever black people to live in Britain arrived in the 1950’s, no-one in Britain had ever seen a black person before, and that everyone was most unpleasant to them. One national museum even staged a major exhibition that subscribed to – and no doubt helped propagate – this myth.

Stephen Bourne, however, has shattered some misconceptions here. Black people WERE part of British society long before 1939. Black people DID play a part on the Home Front, and DID even serve in the armed forces. And it is very important that their contribution to the war effort is understood and recognised. Black people faced exactly the same risks as their white compatriots, and contributed to the war effort in much the same way – serving as ARP wardens, Firemen, Foresters, factory workers, and in many other roles.

Many different countries became part of the British Empire; the Empire on which the sun never set. Many different ethnic groups came under the imperial banner – African and Carribean among them. Inevitably, black people came to view Britain as the ‘mother country’ (something that goes against the grain of apologist imperial history), and many came to settle in Britain from the Nineteenth Century onwards. In some parts of Britain there were sizeable black communities – the east end of London and Bristol, for example.

Another interesting contribution of black people in wartime was in the field of entertainment. Performers such as Adelaide Hall and Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson played an important part in keeping up morale, both at home and overseas with the armed forces. Johnson was killed during the war when a bomb struck the theatre in which he and his band were performing. Not only were they contributing to morale, but they were also facing exactly the same risks as their white colleagues. The BBC also produced radio programmes aimed at black people in Britain, and also in the West Indies and Africa.

Sadly, it does seem that discrimination against black people reached a height when the US Army came to Britain after 1941. US servicemen came from what was still a deeply segregated society, particulary in the deep south. The US authorities imposed the same restrictions whilst on British soil (historians have described the situation as ‘when Jim Crow met John Bull‘) which not only upset many British white people, but also had knock-on effects for British black citizens too. There were cases in my area of white GI’s attacking Black servicemen, and then being confronted by locals who were sympathetic to the Black GI’s.

Stephen Bourne has made a fine contribution to the historiography of the Home Front. Hopefully this book will shatter some myths and bring about a new understanding not only of wartime Britain, but also broader black history too.

Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45 is published by The History Press

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