Afghanistan 1838-2014

Today, 26 October 2014, the British and Americans handed over Camp Bastion in Helmand Province Afghanistan to the Afghan government, and the British military campaign in Afghanistan formally ended. A few advisors, logisticians and trainers remain but not in combat roles, and they too, will be gone before too long. As the Union Jack was lowered for the last time at a simple ceremony, there were mixed emotions about the ending of the campaign, which has given the Afghan nation the opportunity for freedom and the widening of human rights and equality but has cost us hundreds of servicemen, mostly army, killed and severely wounded and for what end? However, even after our withdrawal, the Afghan army, as reconstituted over the past years, still has a major fight on its hands and takes a large number of casualties annually. We also signally failed to destroy the poppy harvests and the source of large quantities of heroin still exported to the west.

battle Khelat

First Afghan War – Attack on Ghuznee and Khelat

This was the third British and hopefully, last, military campaign in Afghanistan. A major participant in the campaign that commenced in 1838 was the first occupant of Hanover House, Colonel William Croker, commander of the 17th (Leicester) Regiment, part of a British field army under the command of Major General Gordon. The latest campaign cost us about 450 British lives, the majority in Helmand province, whereas William Croker’s campaign was primarily in the south around Kandahar at a time in history when the British Empire was still consolidating its hold on India.

Afghanistan Helicopters

Helmand Province Afghanistan 2013

One of the British legacies has been the military academy in Kabul, founded to establish strong leadership for the army and dubbed the ‘Sandhurst in the Sand’. It is staffed partially, and run by British officers and NCOs, and if it survives in its current form, should provide a strong and stable nucleus for Afghanistan’s future. Some senior Afghanistanian officers were themselves graduates of Sandhurst and understand the qualities and standards required. As a sign of the times there is a small but growing cadre of female officer cadets – an aim being 10% of the military being female eventually – who train in combat equipment and face veils. At the Afghan academy, there are guns which are themselves symbols of the long British involvement in the country, having been used in the first campaign, of which William Croker played a major part.

Kabul Military Academy

Kabul Military Academy

As for the future capability of the British Army as it stands today – and will be for the foreseeable future too – it is highly unlikely that we will be able to mount such a mission on a similar scale again, assuming there is ever the political will to do so. Modern warfare has become highly dependent on advanced technology and logistics, and therefore the costs have escalated accordingly. Whereas a major military dictum was always that wars could only be won by holding ground with sufficient manpower and assuming that the political will and resources were available, the ongoing reduction in trained and experienced military manpower means that we will rapidly be reduced to a ‘policing’ role and that much closer to home. We may play a small part in various theatres of operations as part of larger coalitions – UN, NATO or a European Union force – but we will rapidly provide only token forces of a handful of aircraft, or trainers, or logistic experts, but as a force to be reckoned with on a global scale, with the related geopolitical influence, those times have passed.

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Castles in the Sky

Last night on BBC2, the drama of the week ‘Castles in the Sky’ starring the unlikely but brilliant Eddie Izzard as Robert Watson-Watt, inventor of Radar, was shown and lived up to the Radio Times hype written by its critic Alison Graham.

The reason for this blog on the subject, is not just to highlight an excellent drama illuminating the struggle in 1935 for visionaries in the War Office and science to develop a brilliant new concept of ‘radio detection’ which was to save the British Isles from a German invasion in 1940 and later to provide the basis for modern long-range detection, air control systems and even the humble micro-wave oven, but also an indirect personal connection.

From 1959 to 1975, on his retirement from the army, my father owned and ran a historic inn in East Suffolk in Dunwich, the remnant of an ancient port and city on the coast between Southwold and Aldeburgh, and most pertinently, Orford Ness. The inn was during the war years called the Barne Arms Hotel after the local landowning family the Barnes (one of whom I was at Sandhurst with in 1969), and later called The Ship’ a reversion to an older name. Orford Ness, now mostly a bird sanctuary off the coast and close to Aldeburgh, was during those years and into the modern era, a top secret research establishment, in which Radar was developed and trialled.

The whole of the Suffolk coast, reasonably remote and probably unlikely due to its shingle beaches and tides, an unlikely invasion coast but it was of course a possibility and so was off limits to the majority of the public, and naturally the site of many anti-aircraft gun batteries and coastal defences, particularly as it was on the ‘line of sight’ from occupied Holland and Germany to London. In the First World War the Zeppelins had crossed the North Sea coast here and followed the rivers and roads to bomb London, in the Second, the allied bombers based in Lincolnshire and East Anglia and in 1944 the air fleets heading for Arnhem passed over in the opposite direction. However in the late 1930s and early 1940s it was at Orford Ness that Watson-Watt and his small team laboured to develop the secret ‘weapon’ that would detect the German bomber fleets in sufficient time for Fighter Command RAF to intercept them before reaching their targets in the summer of 1940 during the fabled ‘Battle of Britain’. (I was privileged in 1968 to be at school in Leiston, near Aldeburgh while the film ‘The Battle of Britain’ was being made, and witnessed a full squadron of Spitfires fly overhead replicating the interception process, which had resulted in 1940 and later as the direct result of Robert Watson-Watt’s vital invention.)

While researching some of the ‘house history’ of The Ship, I contacted the daughter-in-law of a previous owner who had retained the visitor’s books for the period they ran the inn/pub. She recounted the following:

‘The busiest time at the pub was during the war years 1939 to 45 when there were 5000 troops stationed in the woods around here, since they were afraid of invasion on this more remote coastline.  The troops prefered the entertainment at the pub rather than in their own mess/canteen, and I’m told that Stan (father-in-law) could fill five pint mugs in his hand at once, pass them over the bar and pull five more – and if you hadn’t got a mug by 7.00pm you might as well forget it!  They also accommodated many bigwigs from the foreign office [sic] including Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the inventor of radar – a very absent minded professor type.  Mother-in-law had to keep reminding him to come and eat his meals! Unlike many pubs during the war, Stan never ran out of beer.  He managed to arrange a double supply of Guiness to Darsham Station every week, and had some sort of ‘scam’ going with the suppliers of bottled beer in Leiston (Huntley and Oliver, I think).  I still have the Visitor’s book that came from the pub, but Watson-Watt used a pseudonym and I can’t remember what it was.

 

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Hanover House’s Military Connections

Following on from previous blogs on various military subjects, including a few on the Army’s regimental structure and drill, it might be worth briefly summarising some of the Hanover House B&B, (www.hanoverhouse.org ) military connections.

Col William Croker, Commandant Bathurst NSW

Col William Croker CB, Colonel of the Leicestershire Regiment

In its first ten years of existence, between c1848 and 1858, the house, then 4 York Terrace, had several military or ex-military residents. First came the initial occupier, Colonel William Croker CB., of the 17th (Leicestershire) Regiment of Foot and occasionally his sons, John (killed in 1855 at the Battle of Sevastopol in the Crimea) and Robert – both captains in their father’s old regiment. One of Robert’s sons commanded his grandfather and father’s old regiment, by now named The Leicestershire Regiment, in the trenches in France during WWI, rising to command a division as a Major General in Mesopotamia in 1918. In 1857 came Captain (later Lt Col) John Shakespear of the Royal Horse Artillery, whose father Arthur had served as an Aide de Camp (ADC) to Maj Gen Sir Hussey Vivian, commanding the 6th Light Brigade at Waterloo, and who was present at, and in support of, the charge of the Light Brigade during the battle of Balaklava in the Crimea (of recent interest in the news when Putin’s Russia regained control of the peninsula).

Lt Col John Shakespear RHA

Lt Col John Shakespear RHA

Caroline Alice Elgar, who lived in the house in 1860-61, came from a military family. Her father Major General Sir Henry Gee Roberts served in India as part of the East India Company Army of Bombay during and after the Indian Mutiny, and her brothers joined the Army too…. She had great-uncles who had been sailors, one of whom had been one of Nelson’s Captains, one of his ‘band of brothers’ and having lost a leg during the battle of the Nile had ended his career as an admiral running the Navy’s finances.

Robert Fullerton, who lived in the house in 1855 served as a junior officer in the Bengal Native Infantry, but had left India before the Indian Mutiny commenced.

A gap followed, filled by the clergy, business or ex-business people, and later boarding house keepers. Even then, a number had military connections, one, a Mrs x Bostock’s grandson becoming an Air Chief Marshal in the Australian Air Force and having originally flown in the Royal Flying Corps in France in WWI, commanded all Allied air operations in the Pacific in WWII under the command of the American General Douglas MacArthur. I have perhaps restored a more direct military tradition, in that I served in the Ordnance, later the Royal Logistic Corps for a full career, and the house is full of my own military mementos, pictures of my father, who was also a career soldier, enlisting during WWII into The Royal Scots, followed by The Sherwood Foresters and Parachute Regiment, fighting at the battle of Arnhem, and later serving in Palestine.  My brother followed my father’s footsteps into the Parachute Regiment.

72 DunwichNIdress

Lt Ritchie, att 1 Royal Hamps 1973

During its time as Hanover House B&B, more military or ex-military people have passed its portals, some Navy and some RAF, but also surprisingly and totally coincidentally, previous military colleagues of mine, one in particular having served in my company at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst while I was there.

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The ‘Other’ Intelligence Involvement

P1000200

Cheltenham Ladies’ College Princess Hall

Cheltenham Ladies College got a mention on BBC Radio 4 a few days ago, as being a rich source of recruitment for the intelligence services. Cheltenham Ladies have been involved in intelligence, probably since WWI when the government suddenly realised that their formerly virtually amateur and part time service needed to be brought up to date and expanded in the face of the German threat. Erskine Childers in his book ‘Riddle of the Sands’ had touched on espionage and counter-espionage, and Buchan too in books like The 39 Steps often had middle-class, well-educated men in the role of agents and frequently females in the role of ‘Mata Hari’s or the other side of the sheet.

The intelligence services needed to be boosted quickly with intelligent people and so the universities and top schools, such as Cheltenham Ladies, were quickly approached to recruit their top brains. Women, however, were usually brought into the Service in administration or support roles and it probably wasn’t until the Second World War that they were seriously used in field roles.

Cheltenham Ladies’ College is on our doorstep and over the past few years we have had a few ‘old girls’ passing through for reunions and so on. Just one example of a CLC ‘old girl’ in intelligence includes:

Mary Isabella ‘Molly’ Ingram, born in 1908 was just one such. She was taken at a young age by her parents to live in India, but returned to be educated in Cheltenham. Back in the far east, she joined MI5 in Singapore in 1938 and when the Japanese invaded escaped to India with her parents. Later in 1942 she worked with Special Force 136 dealing with Japanese sabotage and espionage and then went to work as an intelligence officer on Mountbatten’s HQ staff in New Delhi. She worked in this area throughout the war and was the only woman allowed to attend high level meetings.

The more conventional connection between Cheltenham and Intelligence, is of course through GCHQ. A very recent guest, an architect, now semi-retired, worked with his company on the construction of the iconic ‘doughnut’ GCHQ headquarters a number of years ago; every Science Festival, the Enigma machines are rolled out by GCHQ staff as an exhibit for the public and children to marvel at; our son-in-law’s uncle was Director of GCHQ from about 1950 to about 1960, having run one of the Bletchley Park huts during the war, breaking the German cyphers, then having been sent to Washington in 1946 to liaise with the US Intelligence services and arrange further cooperation. Additionally we had two recent American guests, both retired senior members of the US National Security Agency (NSA) who had been seconded to GCHQ when it was located at Benhall in Cheltenham, and who oversaw the move of their departments into the new ‘doughnut’ building on its completion. They had come back to Cheltenham to reminisce over their good times in the town and revisit some of their old haunts and restaurants – some of their choices an enigma in their own right…

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A Waterloo Link

Not the railway station named after the event, but the game-changing (modern parlance) battle that helped change the future of Europe. The battle of Waterloo, fought in Belgium in the early summer of 1815, signalled the military decline of France, highlighted a resurgent Germany (principally Prussia and Hanover) and was, arguably, a building block of the nascent Victorian British Empire.

10th Hussars Waterloo

Hanover House (www.hanoverhouse.org) has an indirect Waterloo link. One of the house’s occupants in the Victorian era, present during the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava in the Crimean war, had a father who, as a captain in the 10th Hussars, was Aide-de-Camp to Major General Vivian Hussey, commanding the 6th Light Brigade during the battle of Waterloo. He had had a distinguished career commanding cavalry regiments and a brigade during the campaign in the Peninsula in the years preceding Napoleon’s resurgence during 1815. Arthur Shakespear had family connections in and around Cheltenham, and many relatives lived in various houses in the town for about 80 years or so. The resident of 4 York Terrace (now Hanover House on St George’s Road) was Captain John Shakespear of the Royal Horse Artillery, born in Cambray Place, Cheltenham.

Arthur Shakespear 10th Hussars

Arthur Shakespear 10th Hussars

(c) Royal Institution of Cornwall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Maj Gen Sir Richard Hussey Vivian

An additional  Waterloo link is that a later resident of 4 York Terrace, the Irish Reverend Henry Holmes Joy, curate at St Mary’s Church (now Minster) lived in York Terrace from 1866 to 1869 before  getting married from the house in 1869 and obtaining his own parish in Oxfordshire. He, it transpires, was a relative by marriage of Major General, later Lieutenant General, Sir Vivian Hussey – and so the two Waterloo connections come together in 4 York Terrace.

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The Flashman Connection

I heard an item on BBC Radio 4 the other day about an impending sale of the author George Macdonald Fraser’s working library in London. I listened with some interest for several reasons, first; I have been a fan of his books and Flashman’s brave/cowardly military and sexual exploits for a number of years, second; Veronica is a great fan of George Macdonald Fraser’s lawyer/author daughter, Caro Fraser, and finally, while researching Hanover House’s history (#hanoverhouse) I found an account of a Crimean war field hospital on a Crimea War History website. This anonymous account titled ‘The Phantom Staff Officer’ was written in an authentic, albeit humorous, historical style with footnotes and references but a number of names cropped up amongst real historical characters present during the campaign, which immediately raised certain suspicions. One prominent authentic name was that of Captain John Shakespear of the Royal Horse Artillery, who was an incumbent of 4 York Terrace (Hanover House) a year or two after his participation in the battle of Balaclava and the charge of Light Brigade, and whose history I have researched. The suspicious names however included references to an Assistant-Surgeon Holmes and Captain John Watson (who between them conducted the ‘investigation’ into the unknown troublesome staff officer of the title), and a certain Captain Flashman (The subject of Macdonald Fraser’s ‘Flashman at the Charge‘). I am not entirely certain if the account is part of one of George Macdonald Fraser’s novels or a supporting document, or something entirely separate – or even a spoof not penned by Fraser at all!

C Troop in action at Balaclava

C Troop in action at Balaclava

The Shakespear element of the document consisted of an ‘account’ by Captain Shakespear of one of the actions of the phantom Staff Officer, as told by Holmes, as follows:

‘Watson dropped by from time to time to keep me acquainted with the progress of his investigations. On the second day he was much excited by news he had learned from Captain Shakespear, the second in command of our cavalry’s troop of horse artillery. As the Russian army retreated from the Alma, their cavalry, who had not been engaged in the battle, moved across the front of the troop, offering a tempting target. Shakespear was eagerly getting his guns into position (his commanding officer, Major Maude, being absent on other duties at the time), when a Staff Officer galloped up shouting, ‘Halt, halt!’ Shakespear asked by whose orders, but the Staff Officer wheeled about and rode away as rapidly as he came, replying only, ‘The orders are to cease firing.’ Who he was Shakespear did not know, but Watson assumed, and I was inclined to agree, that this was the same Staff Officer who was responsible for the other disruptive orders.’

Curzon Street, George Macdonald Fraser Sale

Curzon Street, George Macdonald Fraser Sale

Whatever the document’s provenance, Veronica and I happened quite by chance to come across yesterday the bookseller in Curzon Street in London who is selling the Macdonald Fraser collection – which was entirely coincidental, but which brought the whole affair to prominence in my mind again. The sale is being conducted by Heywood Hill booksellers of Mayfair, located in Curzon Street from 2nd June to 31st July. While looking at the Flashman books in the shop window, I also noted the Blue Plaque to Nancy Mitford who worked from the site during the later war years. We met Nancy Mitford’s youngest sister Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, while she was signing her autobiography at the Cheltenham Literary Festival and once before at a Dragon School open day, and have in addition lunched at Archie Orr-Ewing’s The Swan at Swinbrook (actually owned by ‘Debo’ Devonshire and recently used as a backdrop to a scene within Downton Abbey), the other side of Burford, Swinbrook was where the Mitford family lived. Incidentally, The Swan was the place that David Cameron in January this year took Francois Hollande for a pub lunch during a summit meeting between the British prime minister and French president. 

The Swan at Swinbrook

The Swan at Swinbrook

So, once again a surprising string of events, places and people that connect us with daily life and the past around us.

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Incidental Connections

When Veronica and I came to Hanover House #hanoverhouse in 2007, a number of strange, incidental connections occurred with links between our past, present and future.

First, we had hunted high and low for a suitable house in the Cheltenham area for nearly a year while still living in a medieval farmhouse in Suffolk. We would compile lists of potential houses and then arrange to drive over to view about half a dozen at a time. This went on for months, and by the time we had seen in excess of 50 and none had been quite right or we hadn’t fallen in love with them, we were getting a bit depressed. Then, we saw 65 St George’s Road in an estate agent’s brochure and it looked promising. But first, we got Rachael, our daughter teaching at the Ladies’ College at the time, to take a look at it for us. She has similar tastes to her mother and knows what she likes. She rang back enthusiastically ‘You’ve got to see this one’. With that we headed west without delay, and within seconds of entering the house, we knew that this was the one. We immediately fell in love with its ambience and everything about it – it felt like a happy house. I noticed then the first major coincidences – the house was located immediately opposite the Registry Office where Veronica and I had married in 2003, was also located 50 yards from the Ladies’ College, but principally, it was called Hanover House. I was born in Hanover, Germany while my father was serving in the occupation army after the Second World War. It had actually been named by an earlier owner, Elke Stratford, who had been the daughter of a large brewing family in Celle and Hanover, but the name had stuck. My first posting on commissioning in the army was to Celle in 1971.

York Terrace c1943

York Terrace c1943

The next major coincidence occurred a year later while I was researching the house’s history and all of its occupants since it was built in 1848. Veronica and I are aficionados of classical music and used to argue over the merits of Mozart v Beethoven, but her first and major favourite composer had always been Sir Edward Elgar. Imagine her excitement and disbelief when I told her that my research (which she had always been a bit dismissive of) had revealed that Edward Elgar’s wife-to-be Caroline Alice Roberts, had lived in our house for several years while her father served in the army in India and her brothers attended Cheltenham College! Subsequently we put up a Blue Plaque, sponsored by the Elgar Society to commemorate her stay and connection with Cheltenham.

Hanover House Alice Elgar Blue Plaque

Hanover House Alice Elgar Blue Plaque

On a smaller scale, later connections came along. I had been given years before, a model of a Hussar, which had always had pride of place on my mantelpieces although I had no connections with the 10th Hussars (the Cherrypickers – because of their cherry-coloured overalls). One of my favourite sculptures had always been Rodin’s Kiss, which for a significant birthday a few years ago, Veronica had bought a bronze replica of, and I had also had an abiding fascination for the tragic loss of the Titanic in 1912. I had a number of books on it and Veronica, on ordering a replica of a sailing ship for me (I am also a Patrick O’Brien fan) had accidentally been sent a model of the Titanic, which we kept.

10th Royal Hussars

10th Royal Hussars Figurine

Researching family history then subsequently revealed that a resident of Hanover House in the late 1850s had been Captain John Shakespear RHA, present at the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava (and who lived 200 yards from Alfred Lord Tennyson of ‘Charge of the Light Brigade‘ fame and Poet Laureate, in St James’ Square just behind York Terrace) whose father Arthur had been ADC to Major General Hussey Vivian, commanding a light cavalry brigade at Waterloo in 1815. Arthur Shakespear was in the 10th Hussars and, in addition, Hussey Vivian turned out to be a relative of a later occupant of Hanover House, the Rev Henry Holmes Joy, curate of St Mary’s in 1866-69. The Rodin connection has transpired to be that Rodin’s Kiss came to Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery for a few years before eventually moving to the Tate (and is currently back in the new Wilson Art Gallery at the Museum for three months, while on tour). Rodin himself stayed at his sister’s home in Cheltenham in the early days of the First World War while taking refuge from the German invasion of Belgium. The Titanic connection was personal and nothing to do with Hanover House or Cheltenham (as far as I know), when I found while researching my mother’s family on Ancestry.co.uk, that a cousin had been a Third Class Steward on board and had gone down with the ship. The most recent Titanic story concerned the violin that the leader of the ship’s orchestra, Wallace Hartley played while the ship went down, to calm the passengers. It had come up for sale at auction and fetched a record £900,000 in Wiltshire in October 2013.

The Titanic Sinks

The Titanic Sinks

Being an exclusive bed and breakfast, a number of interesting people come through our doors and on a number of occasions we have re-discovered that it is a very small world finding mutual friends, families and places with our guests. This has ranged from the first dental nurse of a very good dentist friend of ours who had given us a picture of Beverley Minster he had painted himself, which had been fixed to the ceiling above the dental chair for a number of years, presumably to distract its occupants, and subsequently given to us. The ex-nurse had immediately recognised it, as it now proudly dominates the main staircase of the house and is often admired. A Yorkshire neighbour and schoolfriend of Veronica’s children immediately recognised a family photograph on the desk by the front door on arrival, and was able to instantly name all five. Ex-army guests have recognised faces in the army group photographs also on display – and so it goes on. We look forward to the next connection of any sort.

Beverley Minster

Beverley Minster

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A Brush with Artists

Having had a run of musical and stage artistes staying at Hanover House #hanoverhouse, with notable cellists, an opera singer from the English Touring Opera, a stage manager for the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the odd actress, we have recently had some artistic connections.

The Kiss 1901-4 by Auguste Rodin 1840-1917

Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’

First, and the subject of the recent blog, we referred to Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ currently on tour and residing a few hundred yards away in The Wilson art gallery/museum in Cheltenham. That was followed by the news of our favourite local artist Mila Furstova, who made our beautiful large Cheltenham Ladies’ College collage, who has just produced the album cover for Coldplay’s latest release ‘Ghost Stories’. Once again, a beautiful and detailed wings collage, which has been animated for an iTunes pre-release of the album. See it at  http://itunes.com/Coldplay.

Coldplay 1

Mila’s Coldplay Album Cover ‘Ghost Stories’

Even more recently we have had a noted artist, Peter Layzell, stay with us. He is a talented artist, currently living in Morecambe, who has exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. An exhibition at the Fosse Gallery in Stow on the Wold brings him to this part of the world, where a friend of his, the artist Mick Graw, is the chief exhibitor.

PeterLayzell Something to remind me by

Peter Layzell’s ‘Something to Remind Me By’

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A Russian Kiwi Connection

Force Benedict Hurricane

One of those little coincidences that occur regularly in people’s lives happened to me the other day while browsing in Waterstones in Cheltenham. I picked up a book with pictures of WWII Hawker Hurricane aircraft on the cover called ‘Force Benedict’ by Eric Carter and found it was an account of a once clandestine operation early in the war years that had been discussed the day before on BBC Radio 4. The discussion rotated round Eric himself, an RAF veteran who had been part of that operation and is now one of only 3 survivors still living in the UK.

Cold Weather Operations - Murmansk 1941

Cold Weather Operations – Murmansk 1941

Leafing through the book covering the deployment of 151 Wing RAF, consisting of two Hurricane squadrons, Nos 81 and 134 transported via a converted aircraft carrier, HMS Argus, in mid 1941 to Murmansk in the Kola peninsula, I noted a familiar name. The aim of the deployment was to support the Soviet army in its war against the combined German and Finnish forces facing the peninsula following commencement of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The aims of the deployment were to help protect the critical port of Murmansk, show British commitment, then train Russian pilots to fly the Hurricanes once handed over to the Soviet air force. The deployment lasted several months, until about October 1941 and was highly successful, the RAF pilots returning to the UK on completing their task. They had all been experienced pilots of the Battle of Britain or other operations over Europe or the Middle East. 81 Squadron RAF is the only one with the battle honour ‘Russia’.

Hurricane & Local Transport   - Murmansk 1941

Hurricane & Local Transport – Murmansk 1941

A book recounting the event, ‘Hurricanes Over Murmansk’ was published in 2002, and a film by the British Film Council ‘Hurricanes To Murmansk’ in 2011. The name that had jumped out at me on the first browse of the Waterstones’ book was that of the commander of 151 Wing, an experienced New Zealand Wing Commander called Henry Neville Gynes Ramsbottom-Isherwood. This was a surname I knew as 45 years ago, while at RMA Sandhurst, I had a New Zealand cadet in my platoon called Bernie Ramsbottom-Isherwood. I’m not yet sure of the relationship, but it is presumably very close and at the time there was no mention of an outstanding war record of any close relatives. Bernie was however famous within Gaza Company as being the man who taught the Intake Company rugby team the ‘haka’, which we performed before playing other Company teams – not that I recall it did us much good -but was excellent for morale.

RMA Sandhurst Gaza 46 - Bernie Isherwood back right.

RMA Sandhurst Gaza 46 – Bernie Isherwood back right.

The outcome of the 151 Wing deployment was that Wg Cdr Ramsbottom-Isherwood and his squadron commanders, Sqn Ldr Rook and Sqn Ldr Miller and a Flight Sergeant, later Flt Lt, Haws, all received the Order of Lenin (but were probably forbidden from wearing them due to the secrecy of the deployment).

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Rats in the Belfry?

Today’s Radio 4’s News Quiz programme reminded me of another case of ‘mistaken identity’ in Hanover House a few years ago. On the News Quiz, a quote from a local newspaper was read out, in which animal welfare inspectors were called out to a restaurant kitchen where it was reported that there was a rat expiring on the floor. A closer look by the inspectors revealed that the rat was actually an onion!

The item reminded me of the time when we had a full house of guests at Hanover House during the summer, with some staying several days and others departing and arriving. Our very pretty Rossetti ensuite bedroom at the back of the house overlooking the garden had been vacated by departing guests, when the cleaner subsequently reported that there was a bat on the wall in the room. The windows were frequently kept open during the warm days of the summer and it could easily have come in from the garden and park outside. Knowing that bats are protected, and not knowing really how to handle one without hurting it, or what to do with it once captured, we rang our local vet surgery who put us on to a bat sanctuary in Gloucestershire. The sanctuary told us to secure the room and a bat expert would arrive some time in the afternoon to remove the bat.

P1140510

‘Bat Rescue in Progress’

Veronica manages the bookings and knows who is coming and going but on this occasion I was not fully in the picture. When the doorbell rang I answered it to find a man at the front door looking expectant. I welcomed him in and ushered him upstairs, explaining on route what the circumstances were and where the bat was located. We arrived at Rossetti, which had a note pinned to it to prevent anyone else entering while the bat was in residence. I opened the door gingerly and entered the room followed by the new arrival, and seeing the bat still where it had always been, high up on the wall, I pointed it out to the man. He looked at it for a moment with some apparent interest, then turning to me asked where his room was located – it turned out that he was an arriving guest I had not known about and nothing to do with any bat. His first impression was probably that the people occupying this house were clearly bats anyway!

Bat in Rossetti

The Rossetti Bat

a little later, having found the new guest his room and getting him installed, the ‘proper’ bat-man arrived, removed the young Pipistrelle bat from the wall carefully, then to my surprise took it out into the back garden, looked around and surmised that there was probably a bat colony nearby, and carefully placed the bat amongst the ivy on the high garden wall, where he said it would either be ‘collected’ or would find it’s way to where it ought to be. Sure enough, we never saw it again.

However, when recounting the story to guests at breakfast the next morning, the incumbents of the Nursery at the top of the house, suddenly realized that the bat had been resident in their room the previous night! They said that they noticed it on the wall, but because it was a nursery and full of children’s books, toys and pictures, that they had assumed it was part of the decoration, particularly as – fortunately – it had remained in one position the whole time they were in the room.

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