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So… where were we?!

So… where were we?!

It’s been almost a year since my last post, and so much has changed in such a short space of time. I’ve moved house (back to Pompey!), finished my latest book, investigated meditation and Buddhism and taken up long distance running.

I’m sorry that I haven’t found the time to keep this place as up to date as I would have liked to – particularly for my regulars, who I still count as friends – but sadly at many points over the past 12 months writing a blog was the last thing on my mind. Apart from anything else that I’ve had going on, I’d spent the best part of three years sat in front of a laptop writing books. No matter how much you like history, sooner or later your mojo goes for a wander for a while!

But, with a lot of unpleasantness under the bridge and well behind me, I figured its time to ressurect Daly History, and let you all know about what’s been happening with me recently. I honestly have no plans about how it’s going to pan out, but I’m still into history as much as ever. I can’t say I’m as fascinated with defence affairs as I used to be, but who knows what news will catch my attention?

As I mentioned, I’ve taken up long distance running, following in the footsteps of my dad and brother, and recently ran the Great South Run (10 miles) in 1:22:08 – a respectable time, if I do say so myself, for someone who has only been running for a few months. There’s something very honest about running – you can’t cheat, and it’s just you and the road. I’m also back living in Portsmouth. As much as Chichester is a lovely place, I never really felt comfortable there on a socio-economic level. Now, I’m living in an inner city, end of-terrace house, that in 1901 and 1911 was inhabited by dockies and sailors and their families. I’m one street down from where my grandparents lived many years ago, so it does feel like ‘coming home’.

My new book, ‘Portsmouth’s WW1 Heroes’, is out right now, and should be on the shelves any day. The kindle version is already on sale on amazon and such like other websites. I’ve had a long break from writing, but now I’m researching for a Portsmouth Paper on ‘Portsmouth and the Great War‘, co-authored with Dan Kneller. That should be out in July 2014. I’m also working up a proposal for a new book on ‘Portsmouth and the Blitz‘, utilising Oral History testimonies and photographs never before published.

Stay tuned, it won’t be 12 months until the next post, I promise!

-James

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Message from James, my singing Girlfriend and next talk

First of all apologies for the marked lack of posts in recent weeks. As much as it is nice to have a busy blog, books to work on and lots of talks, some things in life come first.

Having said that, my next talk is tomorrow evening in Portchester, for the Portchester Civic Society at the Church Hall in Castle Street. ‘Kick off’ will be at 7.30pm, and I will have  copies of my book ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’ available for purchase on the night.

Finally, my girlfriend Sarah would be really chuffed if you could have a watch/listen of her singing. She’s always had great talent and has recently started entering singing competitions. As you might guess, I’m very proud :)

Sarah Cornish – Wild Horses (Susan Boyle version, originally by the Rolling Stones)

 

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VC’s of the First World War: Passchendaele 1917 by Stephen Snelling

I am a big fan of this series of books on the Victoria Cross. There are literally hundreds of books out there about the VC, and with many hundreds of winners there are plenty of subjects to write about. The problem I find is, that often we read about the same or similar stories in books. Some of the VC stories are well known – and for very good reasons, of course. But isn’t it great to read about some of the lesser-known deeds as well? Therefore I think it’s quite a nice touch to cover all of the Victoria Crosses awarded for a particular campaign, in one volume. This particular volume looks at the Battle of Passchendale – more properly, Third Ypres – fought between July and November 1917.  A remarkable 61 VC’s were awarded, to men from Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. There were a couple of VC winners at Passchendaele with strong Portsmouth connections.

James Ockendon was a 26 year old action Company Sergeant Major in the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who won the Victoria Cross at ‘t Goed ter Vesten Farm on 4 October 1917. Born in Portsmouth, Ockendon had joined the ‘Dubs’ pre-war in 1909, and was serving in India when war was declared. When the Battalion were recalled in 1914, he joined the 29th Division and subsequently fought at Gallipoli, before being sent to the Western Front in 1916. Apparently on the eve of Battle, Ockendon’s Battalion were adressed by a General, who asked ‘who is going to win a Victoria Cross tomorrow?’, to which Ocekdon replied, ‘I am, sir, or I will leave my skin in dirty old Belgium’. Two months previously he had been awarded the Military Medal. When a platoon officer was killed by a Machine Gun and another wounded, Ockendon found himself in charge of his company and took it upon himself to charge the position, killing all but one of the Germans. He chased the survivor for some distance before bayonetting him. After the attack Ockendon gathered the survivors of his company, and headed for ‘t Goed ter Vesten Farm. Although they were met by heavy fire, Ockendon somehow managed to convince the Germans to surrender. Ockendon wad described as a quiet, unassuming man, and was feted when he returned to Portsmouth on leave later in 1917. He was discharged from the Army in 1918 after suffering from the effects of Gas. James Ockendon VC MM died in 1966, at the age of 75. His son, also called James, is still a member of the Portsmouth Royal British Legion, and to this day Ockendon’s VC is the only one that I have seen outside of a display case.

Dennis Hewitt was serving with the 14th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, the 1st Portsmouth Pals, when he won the Victoria Cross at St Julien on the first day of Third Ypres, on 31 July 1917. Born in London, his maternal grandfather was a deputy lieutenant of Hampshire, which might explain why he joined the county regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1916 after studying at Winchester College and then Sandhurst. At the age of 19 he found himself commanding a company, in the second wave of the attack near Steenbeck. Resistance was stiff along Pilckem Ridge, and Hewitt tried to re-organise his company, despite being badly wounded by a shell blast. Refusing treatment, he led the company on to the next objective line, and although the objective was secured, Hewitt became a casualty in the hail of machine gun fire. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial. He might not have strictly speaking been a Portsmouth lad, but he died serving with and leading many a young man from Portsmouth.

Montague Moore was serving in the 15th Hampshires, the 2nd Portsmouth Pals, at Passchendaele. Born in Bournemouth in 1896, he went to Sandhurst in 1915 at the age of 18. Commissioned into the Hampshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1916, he was wounded in the leg at Messines Ridge in 1917. Back in time for Third Ypres, he led 120 men in an attack at Tower Hamlets on 20 October 1917. They captured the objective, but suffered heavy losses. They remained on the objective overnight, and were shelled the next day by British artillery, who thought that they had all been killed. Eventually Moore had only 10 men left. Moore and his party sat out the rest of the day and the next night, and returned to the British lines under the cover of the morning mist, after being in no mans land for almost 48 hours. Their return was greeted with amazement. Moore retired from the Army in 1926, and retired to Kenya, where he died in 1966.

All of the stories are very well written, and have been researched in fitting detail. It’s a very inspiring read. Of course, I’m a big fan or researching, writing and reading individuals stories, whether they be decorated or not. They all have something different to teach us. I’m thinking out aloud here, but wouldn’t it be interested to see a book of ‘near misses’ to the VC sometime?

VC’s of the First World War: Passchendaele 1917 is published by The History Press

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The Twynam family of Soberton, Hampshire

For the most part, I have confined my WW1 research to people who either lived, were born or had strong connections with the area bounded by Portsmouth city. But my brother has tipped me off on an interesting little subject from a small village just to the north of Pompey.

My brother is a middle distance runner, and on one of his recent training runs he passed through the small village of Soberton, near Droxford and Bishops Waltham. It’s on the back road from Portsmouth to Winchester. Anyway, near the centre of the village is a Great War Memorial, as in many villages, consisting of a hewn stone cross and a plaque of names. And it’s that plaque of names that grabbed Scott’s attention, there being four men of the same surname. This is remarkable, and in such a small village too.

After a little research, I can confirm that the men are:

TWYNAM John

Staff Sergeant 131 1st South African Mounted Rifles. Died on 30/11/1914 Age unknown. Commemorated at Barnea Siding Burial Ground, Bethlehem, Free State, Africa. Apparently John Twynam was killed accidentally by a lightning strike.

TWYNAM Godfrey

Second Lieutenant 11th Bn. Border Regiment. Died on 18/11/1916 Age 25. Son of the late John and Mary Twynam, of Soberton House, Droxford, Bishop’s Waltham, Hants. Waggon Road Cemetery, Beaumount-Hamel, Somme, France, A. 24.  Born Droxford Apr/May/Jun 1891. The 11th Borders were a Kitchener Battalion, so it is probable that Godfrey was a wartime volunteer.

TWYNAM Hugh

Lieutenant H.M. Submarine E.36. Royal Naval Reserve. Died on 19/01/1917 Age 29. Son of John and Mary Twynam, of Soberton House, Soberton Hants.. Commemorated at Portsmouth Naval Memeorial, Hampshire, United Kingdom, 27. Born Droxford Apr/May/Jun 1888. Earlier censuses suggest that he had served as a cadet in a training ship on the Thames, and was then a Mate in the Merchant Service. Like many Merchant Seamen, he seems to have also been a member of the Naval Reserve.

TWYNAM William Hugh

Corporal 16391 7th Bn. Canadian Infantry (British Columbia Regiment). Died on 24/04/1915 Age 33. Son of the late John and Mary Rachel Twynam, late of Soberton House, Soberton, Hampshire. Commemorated at Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Panel 18 – 28 – 30. Born Droxford Jan/Feb/Mar 1883. William was in Canada at the time that war was declared working as a clerk, and seems to have volunteered straight away for Canadian forces. An earlier census states that he was a bank clerk. His attestation papers state that he had served with South African forces for five years.

After a little more research, it transpires that the Twynams were an ancient family with a long connection to the Soberton area, as might be expected of a family living in what appears to be the Manor House. In the 1891 census the family had four domestic servants, including a governess, a nurse and a cook. In an earlier census it is suggested that the family were involved in farming, employing a considerable number of people locally. Hampshire Records Office holds title deeds relating to land and property owned by the family, and also wills of several of the family members.

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My work at the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth

Around six months ago I was comissioned by Continuum, the operators of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, to provide some historical research about the Tower, Portsmouth and the surrounding area. The aim was twofold – one, to enhance the visitor experience, and two, to increase visitor numbers.

My work focused on two aspects. I researched as many interesting and enlightening statistics as I could about Portsmouth, the Harbour, the Solent and everything you could see from the viewing platforms. And on the viewing platforms itself, I worked on interpreting what exactly you can see and where, and putting the history of it all into some kind of context.

In all, from comission to hand-in the project took two weeks, working in my spare time, and included one site visit.

Some of the results can be seen below:

As you can see, the Tower’s designers have come up with some eye-catching triangle shaped graphics panels around the base of the tower, which are aimed at ‘pulling-in’ passing trade with facts and figures and pictures of sites you can see from the top of the tower.

It’s a great example of what can be done quickly and on a sensible budget, but professionally. I hope it helps increase visitor numbers for the Tower.

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The Portsmouth Blitz: 70 years on

70 years ago today the people of Portsmouth were coming to terms with the aftermath of the most devastating bombing raid on the city during the Second World War. The anniversary was marked yesterday by a service at the city’s Anglican Cathederal, a ceremony in the Guildhall Square, and the unveiling of a placque to victims in Old Portsmouth.

Even before the Second World War the Luftwaffe had identified Portsmouth as an important target. Luftwaffe target maps in Portsmouth Central Library show that aircrew were shown the location of the dockyard (including the various buildings and docks), the railway stations, the power station, Gosport, local barracks, Vospers Shipbuilders in the Camber, and also the Airspeed Factory at the Airport.

171 people were killed on the night of 10 and 11 January 1941. Portsmouth was chosen as a target that night as the rest of Britain was covered by thick cloud, and Portsmouth – on the coast – was the only readily identifiable target. German records show that 153 Bombers targeted Portsmouth. This compares drastically with the ’1,000 Bomber’ raids launched by Bomber Command on Germany later in the war.

Many victims were unidentified due to their terrible injuries, and im some cases virtually nothing remained of their bodies. Hundreds of victims were buried in a mass funeral in Kingston Cemetery in the city. A memorial stands near to the site of their mass grave. Over 1,000 people died in Portsmouth as a result of Bombing during the Second World War. Many records state that 930 civilians were killed, but a number of servicemen were also killed whilst on leave or while on duty in the city. Just under 10% of the cities 63,000 houses were destroyed, and a similar number seriously damaged.

German records state that 40,000 4lb incendiary bombs were dropped on the city on that one night alone, as well as 140 tons of High Explosive. Many bombs did land in the sea – the Solent, and Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours. In 1940 Bombing from the air was not an exact science. The Bombers followed radio beams that interescted over Southsea Common. The incendicaries caused over 2,314 fires – far too many for beleagured emergency services to deal with at any one time, especially given that 60 water mains had been destroyed. The tide was also low, which prevented the Fire Brigade from pumping water from the sea.

47 people were died when an air raid shelter at Arundel Street School suffered a direct hit. The power station was hit, and the main shopping centres at Commercial Road, Palmerston Road and Kings Road were all decimated. Also damaged were the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, the Hippodrome, Clarence Pier, three cinemas, the dockyard school, the Royal Sailors Rest Home, the Salvation Army Citadel, the Central Hotel and the Connaught Drill Hall. The FA Cup – won by Pompey in 1939 – was dug out of a Bank in Commercial Road, where it had been placed for safekeeping.

The most visible and symbolic material loss was the destruction of the Guildhall. ARP and emergency services battled fires in the building all night, but one 4lb incendiary bomb fell down a ventilation shaft and lodged itself in an inacessible place, proving impossible to extinguish. The Guildhall burnt all night and into the next day, the melting copper from the ornate dome dripping down to the ground. When the fires finally subsided only the outer walls remained. When the basement was dug out however the Lord Mayor’s chain and civic plate were found to be intact.

I’ve always found it a mystery why the Luftwaffe didn’t target Portsmouth more during the War. Situated on the coast and with the Isle of Wight to the south harbours to either side it should have been relatively easy to locate from the air, certainly easier than many of the inland cities that were targeted. Granted, most of the large naval ships didn’t use Portsmouth during the war for fear of air attack, but there was still a sizeable dockyard and a plethora of naval training establishments. Portsmouth was strongly defended by Anti-Aircraft Guns however - on Hayling Island, along the crest of Portsdown Hill, and on Southsea Common, where there were also rocket batteries. There were also many barrage balloons. Naval ships in harbour would also open up their AA guns. ARP precautions in Portsmouth were also advanced, as the authorities expected the city to be heavily targeted.

The ‘myth of the blitz’ that I have written about previously has also pervaded over Portsmouth’s experience. There were incidents of looting, recorded in the local court records. Many people also left the city each night and ‘trekked’ out of the city, over Portsdown Hill. They were criticised for leaving their homes vulnerable to incendiary bombs. But on the whole morale held surprisingly well. The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Denis Daley (no relation) wrote:

“We are bruised but we are not daunted, and we are still as determined as ever to stand side by side with other cities who have felt the blast of the enemy, and we shall, with them, persevere with an unflagging spirit towards a conclusive and decisive victory”

Whilst Portsmouth and many other cities in Britain were hit extremely hard during the war, it is important that we keep the impact of strategic bombing in context. More people were killed in one night in Dresden in 1945 than were killed in the whole of Britain during the war years. Cities such as Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin were also devastated. Further afield Tokyo was virtually obliterated. This is not to belittle the suffering of people in Portsmouth, but only to say that other cities in the world suffered even more. Colleagues of mine have in the past come in for a lot of criticism for stating that Portsmouth got off quite lightly compared to Hamburg and Dresden.

The Blitz also hardened the attitudes of many. Later in the war hundreds of young men from Portsmouth were killed bombing cities in the Third Reich and occupied Europe. A number of them died on missions to bomb Duisburg in the Ruhr, which would later become Portsmouth’s twin city. In the famous words of ‘Bomber’ Harris ‘The Germans entered this war with the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and that nobody was going to bomb them. They sowed the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind’. Such an attitude is probably indicative of public opinion on the home front during the war. People who had endured the blitz were unlikely to be too concerned about the fate of German cities when their turn came.

My Grandad can remember a lot from the time of the Blitz. One night he saw a Heinkel fly over so low he could see the pilots blonde hair. On another occasion, he and his sister decided to go the Park instead of the cinema. The cinema was destroyed by a bomb that afternoon. He can also remember having to cut short his paper round as the cemetery had been bombed, and also collecting shrapnel from ack-ack guns. And my favourite memory of his, has to be when a barrage balloon got tangled round the school’s belltower, pulling it down!

It was only really in the 1970′s that Portsmouth was fully reconstructed after the war. It was not even until the 1950′s that the Guildhall was rebuilt. During the war grand plans were made to redesign Portsmouth – in terms of urban planning, roads and whole neighbourhoods – but these had to be curtailed in the Austerity that marked post-war Britain. Never the less, many people were re-homed from the shattered inner-city areas to new estates at Paulsgrove and Leigh Park, or new high rise blocks in Somers Town, Buckland, Portsea and Landport.

I have been disappointed with the media coverage of the anniversary. BBC1′s Inside Out gave a measly 10 minutes to the subject (mind you if it had been about Southampton we could have expected an hour long special). Inside Out even featured a local ‘historian’ I’ve never heard of – Portsmouth isn’t a massive place, and there arent too many historians here!

For more information about the Portsmouth Blitz, have a look at John Stedman’s excellent Portsmouth Paper ‘Portsmouth Reborn: Destruction and Reconstruction 1941-1974′, Andrew Whitmarsh’s ‘Portsmouth at War’, and also ‘City at War’ by Nigel Peake. ‘Smitten City’ by the Portsmouth News is also a fantastic publication full of images of Portsmouth during the war.

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Portsmouth and Southampton: Chalk and Cheese

Having just watched Pompey demolish the scummers 4-1 today, I could not let the day pass without talking about the massive difference between Portsmouth and Southampton. I would argue that you will not find two cities so close yet so different in every way possible. As someone who has studied the difference between the two cities in detail, I find it difficult to understand why people cannot see why we simply don’t like each other!

Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy, and has been for hundreds of years. Until the past 20 years, everyone and everything in Portsmouth has been about the Navy – menfolk either joined the Navy or worked in the Dockyard. The whole ethos of Portsmouth was built around training young men to go out into the world and fight. All this shows in Portsmouth culture – after all, only Portsmouth could have a main street called ‘The Hard’. The city is overwhelmingly working class. It has often been described as a northern working class town plonked on the south coast, and I think that is very accurate both in the city’s culture and its appearance. In a city where most if not all of the industries are controlled by the state, there have been few opportunities for private commerce and as a result no chance for a large middle class to develop. That social structure exists to this day. Also, Portsmouth is an island: and that is reflected in the sometimes insular attitude that pervades.

Southampton is the home of the British cruise liner industry, and also a signficant container port. It has always been a merchant town, principally built around the opportunies to make money. Therefore there has always been a bigger middle class. Look at the amount of and size of the shops in Southampton compared to Portsmouth. Southampton also seems that much more rural, as it is very close to the New Forest and is surrounded by Countryside. Perhaps more gentile than Portsmouth, Southampton seems more laidback and relaxed. The story about Southampton dockers crossing picket lines in the 1930′s seems to be an urban myth, it does to fit in with the mentalities of both cities. The other myth about Portsmouth smelling like fish is, to be totally frank, totally rubbish. We’ve got a tiny fishing port at the Camber – hardly Billingsgate or Grimsby!

So clearly, the cities have very little in common, apart from the fact that they are on the sea. Tension between the cities is not a new thing, for hundreds of years there has been a rivalry. To pretend otherwise is to not only ignore history, but to try and rewrite it – something I’m not very keen on. I would suggest that whether right or wrong, people in Portsmouth don’t have much time for the city up the road. This isn’t just about city rivalry, its also about Portsmouth’ place in Hampshire. Right on the cusp, I doubt few Portsmouth people think of themselves as citizens of Hampshire. Interesting how in the 1987 general election campaign Docker Hughes’s manifesto included proposals to take Portsmouth out of Hampshire.

Mind you, he also wanted to introduce duty-free on the Gosport ferry!

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