Posts Tagged ‘reveals’

UK’s biggest Second World War air raid shelter reveals life on Home Front

April 10th, 2015

Howard Green, the museum’s duty officer, said: “Chestergate, the street outside was busiest east-west routet the town; even at the levels of 1930s traffic it was too narrow. The long term was to cover over the River Mersey, which is where the M62 is.

“But in the interim, they decided to buy properties there and demolish them for widening and straightening.

“A lot of the older properties backing into the cliff had cellars and it seemed a pity to seal them up. There were things to be done, so there was talk of joining them together as an underground car park.

“The other thing was that in the lead up to the Second World War, local authorities had to establish public air raid shelters in towns.

“So they decided to join cellars together, get the grant for the air raid shelters, then they could get the money back twice by letting out the parking spaces.”

The biggest purpose built air raid shelter in the UK attracted terrified victims of the blitz from across Cheshire and Lancashire at the height of the war. The tunnels, dug into the sandstone cliffs running alongside the river Mersey in Stockport were state of the art in 1930s Britain, with electric lighting and flush toilets, and could hold up to 6,500 people.

Unfortunately for the council at the time, the car park proved impossible after the engineering survey.

Mr Green said: “The official capacity was 3,850, so outside they painted 4,000, but what they didn’t advertise was that they thought they could squeeze twice as many in if needs be.

“They were used extensively by people from Manchester and Salford, and even as far as Eccles.

“Stockport was less of a target, and the underground shelters were a particularly safe place, so they came on a regular basis, what they did was introduce season tickets, they were issued to locals, although you could write in if you had difficult circumstances. We still have some letters from people in Manchester who’d been bombed out several times.

The biggest purpose built air raid shelter in the UK attracted terrified victims of the blitz from across Cheshire and Lancashire at the height of the war. The tunnels, dug into the sandstone cliffs running alongside the river Mersey in Stockport were state of the art in 1930s Britain, with electric lighting and flush toilets, and could hold up to 6,500 people.

“It was really only a way of damping down demand, nobody was denied entrance in an alert.

“In the winter of 1940 and 41, it went up to 6,500, with another four sets of tunnel shelters. Once they had the format right, it was something that could be done elsewhere in the town, where they could get into red sandstone.

“If you know where to look you can see the blocked up tunnels of one set of shelters on the other side, where the M62 goes through Stockport; further back into hillside, you can see the tunnel cut short and bricked off.

“People are always surprised by is the extent of them, and just how much thought and planning went into them, we’ve had German visitors saying our government did nothing as elaborate.

“There were first aid posts, electric lighting and flush toilets, which people living in back to back cottages of town centres wouldn’t have had at home.”


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Rudolph Hess plane wreckage hidden by Scottish farmers, letter reveals

May 30th, 2014

It was only when the plane wreckage was put on display in Trafalgar Square in London did they discover that its pilot was not Captain Albert Horn, as Hess had identified himself to Mr McLean, but Hitler’s second in command.

Mr Boyd sold the fuselage in the 1960s to the former assistant secretary of the Battle of Britain Association, who then passed it to The War Museum, a private collection in America.

Details of Mr McLean’s quick-witted salvage operation have only just emerged – more than 70 years on – after a letter written by Mr Boyd that tells their story has been put up for sale alongside the wreckage they recovered.

In the previously unseen letter, Mr Boyd wrote: “I got a call from Dave one late morning in May of 1941 telling me a German pilot had landed on the farm.

“He had captured the fellow and handed him to the local Cpl of the signals unit next door. The pilot had a broken ankle so was taken to Maryhill Barracks Military Hospital for treatment.

“His fighter plane had crashed in the next field which was Bonnytons Farm and Dave had gone over on his cycle and hidden a few souvenirs in the bushes!

“The army signal unit and Home Guard and police were on their way so he had to be quick.

“The whole wreckage was taken away by the Army Maintenance unit from Carluke and nothing was left.

“Dave went back later in the tractor and retrieved the items of which he gave me the section you are having for your collection.

“When we all found out later that the pilot was the German deputy leader under Hitler we really couldn’t believe it!”

One of the plane’s engines is currently on display at the RAF Museum in London, while the other one is at the Imperial War Museum alongside another section of fuselage.

Hess explained his plan to meet with the Duke of Hamilton, who he wrongly thought was the leader of a political party opposed to war with Germany, in a letter to Hitler.

After his capture, Hess was kept in Britain as a prisoner of war until his trial following Germany’s surrender on May 8 1945.

During the trial he said that he could not remember his actions but later admitted that was just a ruse.

Hess was found guilty of war crimes and sent to Spandau prison in Germany to serve a life sentence.

On August 17 1987, then aged 93, Hess hanged himself in the prison’s summerhouse using an electrical cable.

The fuselage and letter are expected to £3,000 pounds when they go under the hammer at Bonhams, the auction house, in New York on June 5.

Tom Lamb, a historian at Bonhams, said: “The story of Rudolf Hess’ strange flight to Britain in 1941 is well known but the story of Stanley Boyd, the farm hand who ended up with this section of fuselage, has never been told before.

“Hess was a key figure in the war and this section of his plane is an incredibly important part of the war.

“Not many people get to own a piece of a Messerschmitt, let alone one flown by Rudolf Hess.”


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Survivor of WW2 crew who fought in Antarctica reveals life in ‘alien’ waters

April 13th, 2014

For 70 years, little has been known about this most peculiar episode of the Second World War. Even the men involved never quite knew what they were doing there, improbably told that their secret mission, codenamed Operation Tabarin, was designed to deter German U-boats from lurking in Antarctic waters.

Now, for the first time, Mr James, the last surviving member of the Scoresby’s crew, has spoken to the Telegraph about the expedition. Mr James, the youngest on board the ship, discloses the harsh conditions endured by the crew as they spent two years in the Southern Ocean.

He has broken his silence as a new book, Operation Tabarin: Britain’s Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica, argues that the operation’s true objective was to assert Britain’s claim to the continent and defend whaling revenues against incursions by Argentina.

A copy of George James’ book, Operation Tabarin (Dimitris Legakis/ Athena)

Foreshadowing the Falklands conflict four decades later, the book charts how a rumbling territorial dispute between the two nations erupted at the height of the war as Argentina claimed the South Shetland and South Orkney islands, 800 miles south of the Falklands.

The heroic age of exploration, of course, had seen British missions to the Antarctic long before Tabarin. In the early 20th century, explorers including Scott and Shackleton regularly explored the islands. But Britain saw no value in the territory and did little to formalise or entrench its claim, letting Argentina take over one of its meteorological stations in 1904.

All this changed when overfishing depleted Arctic waters and the lucrative whaling industry largely transferred to the Antarctic. It soon took off, and the Treasury began charging for whaling licenses, swelling Britain’s coffers.

Argentina was appalled, but did little besides sending a few furious diplomatic notes asserting their territorial claim. Then, when war broke out in 1939, the neutral country seized the chance to reinforce its claim while the Colonial Office had rather more pressing occupations.

“By 1941, Argentina quite rightly thought the war was going the way of the Axis powers,” said Stephen Haddelsey, the book’s author. “Would Britain have either the will or the resources to challenge them if they staked a physical claim to the territories? They thought not.”

So, in early 1942, the Argentines sent a ship to Deception Island, a tiny volcanic whaling station in the South Shetlands, where they flew the Argentine flag and buried a cylinder with a formal note proclaiming their territorial rights.

When the Colonial Office heard of this, however, our mandarins’ response was not at all what Argentina had predicted. The War Cabinet was determined to respond, to protect vital revenues in the region and prevent a precedent being set that might encourage incursions elsewhere in the Empire.

The war was still at too delicate a point to provoke outright conflict with Argentina, however, especially as Britain was dependent on substantial cargoes of beef from South America. So the U-boat myth was put about to provide cover for the operation.

“They used the war as a front for aims that had nothing to do with the conflict,” said Haddelsey. “They were trying to avoid an escalation on the ground, but at the same time achieve an unambiguous statement of British intentions.”

To the crew of the Scoresby, however, those intentions could hardly have been more ambiguous. As the trawler set sail from the Falklands on 29 January 1944, few of the men on board knew why the Antarctic had suddenly become so crucial. When Captain Andrew Taylor assumed command of the operation from its original leader, James Marr, a year later, Marr left him with no instructions.

George James (R) with other crew members on HMS William Scoresby circa 1944 (Dimitris Legakis/ Athena)

“A few reasons were put out. We were told it was to do with the Germans but when it came to it, the first party to go down were mainly scientists,” said Mr James. “Now that’s not going down to fight off Germans, is it?”

The crew’s first months in the Antarctic, where the average temperature is minus 10 degrees centigrade, were tough. They moved from island to island constructing rudimentary bases from timber and depositing a handful of scientists at each. But they spent most of their time adjusting to the conditions.

“It was completely alien to all of us,” said Mr James. “Life was in the raw. It was hard going at times but it was a bit of a thrill to think you were there. It was a magical place – we’d be breaking through the ice with ice cliffs on either side.”

As the Scoresby charted new territory, Mr James took photographs on a Box Brownie he had smuggled aboard. Last week, he dug them out again. In one, a colony of penguins climbs up the ice from the ocean, huddling together for warmth. In another, a young Mr James shivers, despite wearing several pairs of gloves and a windcheater.

Mr James – known to the crew as “Sparks” – would rewire lights and send messages as the ship sailed. The war was at its height but there was no conflict here. There were no Argentines to be seen, and Mr James had to face another enemy entirely. “I was once chased along a beach by a sea leopard, with its mouth wide open,” he said. “The penguins would get a bit shirty, too, and have a nip at your legs.” On one occasion, a colony of 10,000 penguins took over one of their bases, entirely surrounding it. Rather than face them down, the crew built another hut.

At last, a year into the mission, the Scorseby spotted its first – and only – Argentines, defending their meteorological station on Laurie Island, part of the South Orkneys. Yet the crew could not have had a more hospitable reception. Six of the original Argentine party of 10 men had died, and were buried by their fellow men with wooden stakes behind the hut. After being cut off with no supplies for 18 months, they were delighted to meet the advancing Brits.

“They were lovely to us,” explained Mr James. “They came down to the beach to meet us, crying. We gave them cigarettes and edam cheese. The wireless operator got so excited that he put his arms round me. He took all the badges off his uniform and gave them to me.”

In fact, boredom was a much more persistent danger. “It upset some people a lot. One man got quite scary about it and tried to influence the skipper to turn back. But that didn’t happen, of course.”

To buoy morale, the men amused themselves. Sparks had his knitting; others took up drawing or draughts. In the evenings, they would play records on an old gramophone.

Food was tinned – but there was one exception, which was strictly forbidden and which Mr James is still reluctant to disclose seven decades later. “We weren’t supposed to take them but we used to get penguin eggs. We made omelettes out of them, which were bloody awful. The yoke was blood red and the ‘white’ was grey.”

They kept track of the war back home over the wireless, and soon learnt of the Allied breakthrough. On VE day, the engineer was disciplined for blowing the ship’s whistle in celebration without permission.

In 1946, Mr James returned to Cardiff, where he still lives. He was finally able to tell his mother, Annie, who thought her son had served in the Falklands, about the expedition. But he quickly resumed his old job at the builders’ merchants, and has only now thought to tell anyone else his story.

This was not, however, the end of Operation Tabarin. With Germany defeated, Whitehall could no longer rely on the excuse of U-boats to justify its Antarctic presence. At the end of 1945, Tabarin was rebranded the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, using the same bases and many of the same personnel. In 1962, it became known as the British Antarctic Survey.

Over the years, the survey has been responsible for some of the most important breakthroughs in modern science, including the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer – which plays a crucial role in explaining climate change – in the Eighties.

Today, the survey employs 400 staff, studying rises in sea level and biodiversity. “This is the legacy from Operation Tabarin,” said Linda Capper, the survey’s head of communications. “They opened up the continent for science. It is a unique laboratory that tells us so much about how our world works.”

The Argentines are still there, too. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1961, named the continent as an international region of science, but it suspended rather than annulled territorial claims over the islands, which both Britain and Argentina still assert.

“I don’t think that failure to scotch the Argentinean claims can be said to make Operation Tabarin a failure,” said Haddelsey.

“The important thing was it re-established Britain in competition with Argentina. Seventy years later, I think the men would be amazed at the legacy they have left. It is one continuous thread.”

As for George James, he still gets a Christmas card from the scientists at the base every year. “All is well and the ship visits have been numerous even in November,” read the latest one. “It is going to be a long season.”

He regrets never having returned to the islands. But, a few years ago, his grandson, Rhys, served as second officer on the first cruise liner to tour Deception Island. Mr James has spent many happy hours with Rhys swapping notes.

All these years later, Mr James is fiercely proud of our continuing commitment to the continent. “If Tabarin was really to do with ambition, it seems the ambition has come to fruition,” he said. “It was the start of something big.”

Operation Tabarin: Britain’s Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica 1944-46 (The History Press, RRP £18.99) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £16.99 + £1.35 p&p. Call 0844 8711514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk


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'No withdrawal': WW2 scrapbook reveals defiance of real-life Dad's Army

March 27th, 2014

Experts said the soldiers would have had a “cat in hells chance” of repelling an invading force from the tiny New Forest village of Beaulieu, with a population of around 500.

But they planned to “harass” and “hinder” the enemy while obeying their orders to “hold their position to the last man and last round.”

Their sacrificial efforts were meant to give the regular British forces time to manoeuvre into a position where they were better placed to thwart the attack.

Lt Col Crofton, who died in the 1950s, was second in command of the 9th (Forest) Battalion, and later commander of the nearby 28th (Bay) Battalion.

His scrapbook contains dozens of previously unseen official documents – stamped “secret” – that he produced for his troops from September 1943.

It contains defence plans, letters, and orders showing a series of machine gun posts, tank traps, road blocks, snipers and a mine field.

One of the book’s most detailed plans is a hand-drawn map showing how the picturesque village of Beaulieu was turned into a defensive garrison.

In the event of an invasion, a group of 44 men were to be stationed at five pillboxes, roadblocks and numerous firing positions from local buildings.

The firing positions included the Montagu Arms – now a Michelin Star restaurant and hotel – and a wall with firing holes at Beaulieu Abbey.

Some remains can still be seen today, including four of five bunkers which can be seen in the village’s former dairy, mill, and garage.

One typed document – headed New Forest District Defence Scheme and with a red “secret” stamp – outlines the troops’ responsibilities.

It reads: “The task of all tps (troops) under Comd (command) is to prevent enemy seaborne and or airborne raiders damaging vital Installns (installations) or equipment, and to destroy, harass, and delay any enemy who set foot in HAMPSHIRE.

“All tps will be allotted a definite role and will hold their positions to the last man and last round.

“THERE WILL BE NO WITHDRAWAL.”

The Home Guard were defending Fawley oil refinery, road and rail links, and fuel supply lines through the New Forest National Park.

Major Edward Crofton, Lt Col Crofton’s son, has loaned the scrapbook to the New Forest Remembers World War II Project run by the New Forest National Park Authority.

Gareth Owen, from the project, said: “We’re very grateful to the Crofton family for this unique collection full of top secret orders and maps that probably should have been destroyed once it was read.

“Yet they were kept and they offer a real insight into how the Home Guard operated in the New Forest.

“The image we have of the Home Guard, due largely to Dad’s Army, is of a shambolic if well-intentioned group playing at being soldiers.

“However the documents in the Crofton book show how well-organised and dedicated the Home Guard were and how they were willing to give their lives to delay the advance of any invading German force.”

He added: “They were of a mature age and not suited to jumping in an out of trenches but they were highly skilled individuals.

“It is unlikely they would have been much resistance to an invading force, but they would have harassed them enough to have delayed their progress, and could have given them a black eye.

“That would have been crucial in giving the full time British forces enough time to get into position further back.

“Some of the Home Guard would have known they did not have a cat in hell’s chance of beating the Germans, while others believed they could have sent them packing.

“To say they were like lambs to the slaughter is unfair, but it is likely they would have suffered casualties and were clearly prepared to sacrifice their lives if needed.”

Major Crofton, from Petersfield, Hampshire, said: “A lot of the documents in the book were marked top secret so they probably shouldn’t have been kept.

“But knowing my father I don’t think many would have questioned him hoarding them.

“I’m very glad they were not binned. We’re very lucky.”

In the past two years, the New Forest Remembers World War II Project has unearthed more than 1,300 previously-unseen documents, maps and photos as well as record more than 72 hours of oral histories.

The entire project, including the contents of the Crofton book, has now been digitised into an online archive.

Julian Johnson, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: “The project has been a great success.

“Fascinating tales of royal visits, prisoners of war and secret bombing tests have come to light to give us a fuller picture of that time.

“The digital portal will provide a lasting legacy for future generations to discover more about this fascinating period.”


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