ST COULOMB MAJOR is a small town in north central Cornwall. It has a beautiful gothic parish church, St Columba, which dates to the 13th to 15th centuries. Inside, on the north wall of the church, there is a memorial plaque that caught my eye and roused my curiosity. It lists 18 people, members of the Royal Air Force (‘RAF’) along with their ranks. The plaque was place in memory of:
“Members of two crews of No. 42 Squadron Royal Air Force missing on a flight over the Atlantic. January 11th 1955.”
I was both horrified and intrigued by this.
Both ‘planes that were lost were Shackletons. At 10.14 am, Shackleton WG531 took off from RAF St Eval to commence a routine 15-hour patrol over a part of the Atlantic. At 10.20, Shackleton WL743 took off from the same airfield to join WG 531 on patrol in the same area. At 20.00, the two planes were 85 miles apart. At 20.58, a ground-based radio operator tried to make contact with WL 743, but was unable to do so. This was not cause for alarm because contact was often difficult when planes were at normal operating altitude.
After both aircraft failed to return at the expected time, a search and rescue operation was launched. An extensive search failed to discover either of the aircraft or any bodies of the crew members. In July 1966, one of the engines of WL 743 was caught up in a trawler’s net. Despite a thorough board of inquiry, no plausible explanation of the planes’ disappearances was provided.
St Coulomb Major is 4 miles southeast of RAF St Eval (as the crow flies). There is a church, St Mawgan, between these two places, but that in St Columb Major is larger. Maybe, that is why the memorial to the airmen is where it is. Apart from the RAF plaque, the church contains many other items of interest including its font (c. 1300), which has several faces carved on it.
PARR HALL IN the heart of Warrington (Cheshire) is a concert hall designed by local architect William Owen (1846-1910). It was built for the townspeople by Joseph Charlton Parr, descendant of the founder of a local bank. The benefactor was a prominent member of his family’s bank, Parr’s, and Warrington’s Mayor between 1901 and 1903. A plaque on the wall of the hall facing Palmyra Square commemorates his generosity. A much larger and newer plaque, actually a frieze, also outside the front of the hall, serves a sadder purpose.
In May 2013, a new rock band was formed in Warrington. Called Viola Beach, it had four members: Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, and Jack Dakin. Frankie Coulson and Jonny Gibson were initially members, but they left the group to concentrate on their university studies. Reading of this, I was reminded of one of my father’s students at the London School of Economics: Mick Jagger. Unlike Coulson and Gibson, he could not afford to remain a student as his band was becoming so successful. Incidentally, The Rolling Stones performed at Parr Hall in November 1963.
In June 2016, the band’s debut album, “Viola Beach”, was released. Consisting of 9 tracks, it reached the number 1 position on The UK Albums Chart in August of that year. However, the band were never to learn of their success. In February 2016, the members of the group and their manager were on tour in Sweden. In the early hours of the 13th of February, the car in which they were travelling failed to stop at the closed barriers of a bridge across the Södertälje Canal. The roadway of the bridge was lifting to allow the passage of a vessel in the canal. The car carrying the band plunged into the water 98 feet below. The driver, the band members, and its manager, were all killed. The memorial outside Parr Hall, which portrays the band members and their manager in bas-relief, was sculpted by Tom Murphy. It was unveiled in September 2021.
Had they not met their end so prematurely, I wonder whether Viola Beach formed in a town on the Mersey might have gained some of the success enjoyed by another now much more famous Merseyside band: The Beatles.
BROMPTON CEMETERY IS in west London. Richly populated with memorials to the dead, it is a remarkably lively place on a sunny day, being filled with walkers, cyclists, and picnickers. The bodies of people from all walks of life and from many nations lie at rest beneath the many stones in the cemetery, which was first opened in 1840. During our recent visit, I spotted two memorials to men with a military career. Each of them was particularly eye-catching.
The first of these is a pink granite slab resting on stone cannon balls made of grey granite. A pile of similar canon balls is arranged like a pyramid on top of the stone. I felt that it is a particularly fitting design for a soldier’s gravestone. One of the cannon balls is carved with the word ‘BEYROUT’ and another with ‘PORTUGAL’. This is the memorial to General Alexander Anderson (1807-1877), of the Royal Marine Light Infantry. The monument was restored in about 2016. A document relating to its restoration (https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/idoxWAM/doc/Other-1833173.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=1833173&location=Volume2&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1) informs that three of the cannon balls are engraved “Syria”, “Beyrout” (i.e. Beirut), and “Gaze” (i.e. Gaza). However, I photographed one bearing the word “Portugal”, which is not mentioned in the document. The monument was erected by Anderson’s friend Richard Eustace, MD, who lived from 1833 to 1908 (www.bmj.com/content/2/2490/865.2). Eustace entered the Royal Navy as a surgeon in 1854.
“He obtained his first commission as second lieutenant in the Royal Marine Forces in May, 1823, and had during half a century seen much active service. He served with the army of occupation in Portugal, and was for some time quartered at Fort St. Julian. He served at the battle of Navarino in 1827, and at the commencement of the action boarded with his men one of the Turkish ships and captured the flag. … He served throughout the campaign on the coast of Syria in 1840-41 … was at the attack and capture of Beyrout; the bombardment and surrender of St. Jean d’Acre; the surrender of Jaffa, and was a volunteer in the expedition against Gaza. … He had received the war medal with two clasps, also the Turkish silver medal from the Sultan, and when a colonel, received the good-service pension. He became colonel-commandant in November, 1859; major-general in March, I860; lieutenant-general in November, 1866 ; and general in April, 1870.” (www.newspapers.com/newspage/396245337/)
A memorial, less original in design than that of Anderson, also caught my attention with its bas-relief depicting an old-fashioned biplane heading away from a large flying zeppelin from which clouds of smoke are billowing. The grave marks the resting place of Flight-Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Alexander John Warneford (1891-1915). The stone bears the words:
“Accidentally killed 17 June 1915”
Given the year he died and his rank, it was hard to imagine what kind of accident caused him to die during a war when most fatalities were not described as ‘accidents’.
“…taught him the law of the jungle; to read the moon and stars across the wide Indian night skies; to be able to study cloud formations. Rex rode on the footplates of the service engines, rode the work elephants and hunted tigers.” (http://kes1914.net/the-boys/reginald-rex-warneford-vc/ – a highly informative web page)
At the outbreak of WW1, he joined the British Army and then was soon transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service to be trained as a pilot. He was a good student even if somewhat overconfident. Soon, he became involved in hunting down and intercepting German Zeppelin airships that were being sent to attack London and other targets in the UK.
On Sunday, the 6th of June 1915, Warneford was sent in a Morane Saulnier L monoplane to intercept the heavily armed and well-powered LZ37, a 521-foot-long German zeppelin, which had just taken off from Belgium and had got lost in the fog over the English Channel. German radio signals, intercepted by the British, discovered that the airship had been ordered to return to base. Warneford was sent out to find and attack it. He reached the airship when it was 10,000 feet over Bruges. Warneford rose to 11,000 feet and dropped six bombs onto the Zeppelin, which burst into flames. The hot air from the explosion caused Warneford’s ‘plane to go into a spin and damaged its fuel line. Warneford managed to land in a field behind enemy lines. After rapidly repairing the damage, he managed to fly back to safety, not before landing to refuel at a French base en-route. On the 8th of June, he was awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross for gallantry. Just before that, he was also awarded:
Modestly, he told a friend that in comparison to his grandfather, who had constructed railways in India:
“Bringing down the LZ37 was just routine and over in a flash. But building a railway, that was something.”
Returning to duty after his heroic activity, Warneford’s next mission was to take a new Henry Farman F27 biplane on a test flight. He took off from Paris on the 17th of June 1915 with an American reporter as a passenger. At 2000 feet, the aircraft began to disintegrate and fall downwards. It turned upside down at 700 feet and both pilot and passenger, who were not strapped in, fell to the ground. The reporter died instantly but Warneford survived. However, he died on his way to a hospital.
Had Warneford died whilst attacking a Zeppelin or during any other military encounter, his death would not have been regarded as accidental. As his death was a consequence of an unforeseen disaster, I suppose that calling it an accident is appropriate.
These graves I have described are two of many I saw that attracted my attention. I might well describe some of the others at a later date.
A WIDE FOOTPATH runs south from Piccadilly along the eastern edge of Green Park. We have walked along this many times, but it was not until a few days ago that we noticed a small alleyway leading east from the footpath about 190 yards south of Piccadilly. This unmarked footway, which is barely wide enough for two people to pass each other, passes under a building and emerges opposite the Stafford Hotel on St James Place, a short cul-de-sac with a dogleg, which leads off St James Street. St James Place, whose construction began in 1694, is an attractive short street lined with many fine buildings, some of which I propose to describe. What made this lovely quiet road interesting for me was that several fascinating people have been associated with it. I will begin with a relatively recent inhabitant.
Number 9 was home to Sir Francis Chichester (1901-1972), who circumnavigated the world single-handedly in 1966/67. He lived here from 1944 to 1972. He sailed in his boat named Gypsy Moth IV. In 1929, Sir Francis attempted another exploit, to fly from New Zealand to Australia in his ‘plane, a de Havilland Gypsy Moth. He made the first ever flight from New Zealand to Australia. He was also the first person to land a ‘plane on both Norfolk and Lord Howe islands. If you want to see his historic boat, then you need to get down to Greenwich, where it is on display close to the much larger Cutty Sark.
There is another building in St James Place, which associated with water transport. The elegant number 20, an 18th century building, has been the London Club House of the Royal Ocean Racing Club since 1942. The Club was founded in 1925. Between 1822 and 1857, the building housed the servants who worked in number 21, which was demolished during WW2 (www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols29-30/pt1/pp511-541#h3-0019).
Not far from Chichester’s house is number 4. This is the house from which the short-lived Polish born pianist and composer, Frederick Chopin (1810-1849), departed to give his last public performance at the Guildhall on the 16th of November 1848 (www.chopin-society.org.uk/articles/chopin-britain.htm). It was held:
“… in aid of a Polish charity, came at the end of a difficult six-month British sojourn, which had included concerts in Manchester (one of the largest audiences he ever faced), Glasgow and Edinburgh… Finally back in London, the composer-pianist spent three weeks preparing for what turned out to be his final recital by sitting wrapped in his coat in front of the fire at St James’s Place, attended by London’s leading homeopath and the Royal Physician, a specialist in tuberculosis. A week after the concert, he was on his way home to Parisian exile and death the following year.” (www.londonremembers.com/memorials/frederic-chopin-st-james-s-place).
Before discussing the most curious inhabitant of St James Place, I will discuss one of its famous residents, the writer and politician Joseph Addison (1672-1719), who founded “The Spectator” magazine in 1711. According to Peter Cunningham in his “Handbook of London” (published in 1850), Addison was living in St James Place by 1710. I am sure that we did not see any memorial celebrating this on any of the buildings in the street. Cunningham wrote, quoting from another source:
“Addison’s chief companions before he married Lady Warwick (in 1716) were Steele, Budgell, Philips, Carey, Davenant, and Colonel Brett. He used to breakfast with one or other of them at his lodgings in St James Place …”
His companions listed above were probably sympathetic to Addison’s Whig politics. However, Cunningham gives no indication of Addison’s address. He frequented the St James Coffee House in nearby St James Street, as he recorded in issue number 104 of his “Spectator”:
“That I might begin as near the fountain head as possible I first of all called in at St. James’s, where I found the whole outwardroom in a Buzz of Politics. The Speculations were but very indifferent towards the Door, but grew finer as you advanced to the upper end of the room, and were so very much improved by a knot of Theorists who sate in the inner Room, within the steam of the Coffee Pot, that I there heard the whole Spanish Monarchy disposed of; and all the line of Bourbons provided for in less than a Quarter of an Hour.” (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols29-30/pt1/pp459-471#h3-0014)
The coffee house was at number 87 St James Street. It was demolished to make way for a new building, erected 1904/05.
Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_James%27s_Place) lists many other notable residents of St James Place, including Oscar Wilde and Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill, but omits one very interesting person, William Huskisson (1770-1830), whose residence at number 28 is commemorated by a plaque. This records him as having been a ‘statesman’. He was that as well as a financier and several times a Member of Parliament. He lived in Paris between 1783 and 1792 and witnessed the French Revolution. Although he had an active political life, what makes him remarkable was the manner of his death.
Against the better judgement of his physician, Huskisson attended the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway on the 15th of September 1830. Thomas Creevey (1768-1838) related the story in a letter written to a Miss Ord on the 19th of September 1830:
“Jack Calcraft has been at the opening of the Liverpool railroad, and was an eye-witness of Huskisson’s horrible death. About nine or ten of the passengers in the Duke’s car had got out to look about them whilst the car stopt. Calcraft was one, Huskisson another, Esterhazy, Billy Holmes, Birch and others. When the other locomotive was seen coming up to pass them, there was a general shout from those within the Duke’s car to those without it, to get in. Both Holmes and Birch were unable to get up in time, but they stuck fast to its sides, and the other engine did not touch them. Esterhazy, being light, was pulled in by force. Huskisson was feeble in his legs, and appears to have lost his head, as he did his life. Calcraft tells me that Huskisson’s long confinement in St. George’s Chapel at the King’s funeral brought on a complaint that Taylor is so afraid of, and that made some severe surgical operation necessary, the effect of which had been, according to what he told Calcraft, to paralyse, as it were, one leg and thigh. This, no doubt, must have increased, if it did not create, his danger and [caused him to] lose his life.”
(quoted from “The Creevey papers; a selection from the correspondence & diaries of the late Thomas Creevey, M.P., born 1768 – died 1838. Edited by Sir Herbert Maxwell”)
Thus, Huskisson achieved the dubious distinction of becoming one of the first widely reported casualties in a railway accident. The ‘Duke’ mentioned above was the Duke of Wellington and the engine that caused Huskisson’s death was the “Rocket”, a pioneering locomotive designed by Robert Stephenson in 1829. I wonder why his demise was not noted on the commemorative plaque.
Huskisson’s former home has a superb front door flanked by iron lampstands each with its own conical torch flame snuffer. St James Place has plenty of fine 18th century buildings as well as some newer ones. These include the Stafford and Dukes Hotels, which are late 19th and early 20th century in appearance. Number 26 St James Place, a mid-twentieth century building, bears a Civic Trust Award. It is a block of flats built 1959/60 to the designs of the architect Denys Lasdun (1914-2001), who also designed the National Theatre on the South Bank. It replaced an 18th century house that was destroyed by bombing in WW2. Although not unpleasing, it stands in stark contrast to the far more elegant older buildings near it.
Even greater contrast to its surroundings is the building on the northern corner of St James Place and St James Street. This avant-garde metal-clad structure, the Target Building, designed by Rodney Gordon (1933-2008) and completed in 1984, is opposite William Evans gun shop and houses the Stern Pisarro art gallery on its ground floor. One of the galleries owners, Lélia Pissarro, is a great-granddaughter of the Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). The gallery specialises in Impressionist art amongst other things. While on the subject of art galleries, it would be easy to walk past number 6 St James Place without noticing a small plate on its front door that says ‘Agnews Est 1817’. Between 1877 and 2013, this gallery, which deals in the highest quality works of fine art (e,g. Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Velasquez) was on Old Bond Street. Then, it relocated to number 6.
St James Place is only 180 yards in length, but as can be seen from the small selection of buildings I have chosen to describe, it is choc-full of historical associations. I am pleased that we discovered the tiny alley that led from Green Park to this fascinating cul-de-sac. And, finally, if you find that you are getting tired of staying at the Ritz Hotel, you would do well to book into one of the two hotels discreetly located in St James Place.
[PS I have not dealt with Spencer House because I hope to write about it in the future]
ON OUR THIRD VISIT to the delightful grounds of Compton Verney House in Warwickshire, we took a close look at the chapel that stands close to the main house. Constructed between 1776 and 1779 in Palladian style, it was designed by someone who was far better known for his skill in landscape planning than for his architectural ability, Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown (c1715-1783).
The chapel was constructed to replace another older mediaeval one that Brown demolished in order to improve the view of the garden’s lake from the main house. A slender obelisk stands close to the lake, marking the former position of the older chapel. A carved stone notice below it explains:
“This obelisk is an exact model of the Lateran obelisk at Rome. The marble was given by Joseph Thomas Jeffrey Esq of Place in Cornwall”
A man with the same name ordered the building of the Treffry Viaduct in Cornwall in 1839, using granite from his own quarries (https://explorecornwall.org/a-walk-around-luxulyan-valley/). Maybe this is the same person who supplied the granite on which the Compton Verney obelisk stands. Place in Cornwall is near to Fowey, where Jeffrey was based.
Close to this monument, there are a couple of gravestones lying in the grass. When the old chapel was demolished in 1772, most of its funerary monuments were saved and then transferred to Brown’s new chapel, where they can be seen today.
A fenced off area near the obelisk contains a brick structure from which spring water issues. This is fed to a rectangular stone bath next to the lakeside. This pool is currently being used to grow watercress.
On entering Capability Brown’s chapel, the visitor cannot help immediately noticing the splendid carved monument in the centre of the eastern half of the nave. Carved in 1631 by Nicholas Stone (c1586-1647), sculptor and architect as well as Master Mason to both James I and Charles I, its top bears the carved almost life-sized effigies of Richard (1563-1630) and Margaret Verney (née Margaret Greville, 6th Baroness Willoughby de Broke; c1561-1631) . Various large gravestones form the floor of the raised step where an altar should normally stand. Some of these have been placed so that the heads of the stone slabs face east rather than the usual west. The oldest memorial that we could find in the chapel is dated 1574. It is the gravestone of George Verney (c1543-1574), son of Sir Richard Verney (c1516-1549) and his wife Frances (née Raleigh; c1521-1544).
While I was looking at the stones set in the floor, our friend, who was accompanying us and knows of my interest in India and its history, pointed to a commemorative plaque on the north wall of the chapel. It informs:
“In memory of Henry Verney 2nd Lieutenant VII Hussars. Born June 19th 1870, drowned at Poonah with two of his brother officers June 25th 1893, and of Katharine Verney born July 3rd 1874, died July 28th 1897.”
Henry’s full name was ‘Henry Peyto Verney’. He was the son of Henry Verney, 18th Baron Willoughby de Broke (1844-1902) and Geraldine (née Smith-Barry). Katharine was Henry’s sister. ‘Poonah’ is an old name for the city of Pune (modern name) in the current State of Maharashtra in India.
The VII Hussars were originally ‘7th Queen’s Own Light Dragoons’. They took on their new name in 1807. This British army unit, which Henry Verney joined, was in existence from 1805 until 1958. The unit served all over the place: in the Peninsular Wars (1808-1809); in England to help quell the Corn Law Riots (1815); at the Battle of Waterloo (1815); in Canada, quelling riots (1838-1842); in India suppressing the Revolt that began in 1857 (1857-1859); South Africa (1881-1882) during the First Anglo-Boer conflict; the Sudan (1884-1885); and again in India (1886-1895)
“Preparations for embarkation to India began in September 1886 when the 7th left Hounslow to go to Shorncliffe. Horses were handed over to the Mounted Infantry and to the 14th Hussars who were returning from India. Extra men were drafted into the regiment from other hussar units so that the strength was now 21 officers, 587 NCOs and privates. They, with 50 women and 47 children proceeded by rail to Portsmouth where they sailed on the ‘Euphrates’ troopship on 26th Nov 1886. They arrived at Bombay on 23rd Dec, taking less than a month, so must have sailed through the Suez Canal. They were stationed at Secunderabad … In Oct 1891 they moved to Mhow…”
They arrived at Mhow (renamed ‘Dr. Ambedkar Nagar’ in Madhya Pradesh State) in the year following that in which Henry Verney joined them:
“He joined the 7th Hussars on 8th Oct 1890 and served with them in India but he was unfortunately drowned in a boating accident at Poona on 25th June 1893. He and two other young officers, Lt Sutton and Lt Crawley were on leave and hired a sailing boat to go on the river, but they lost control of it in the current and were swept over a waterfall. The three of them were seen clinging to the upturned boat in the swirling waters but they succumbed and went under, one of them was last seen swimming towards a bridge but he never made it. Verney’s body was found on 27th and the other two on the next day. They were buried on 28th June with military honours. A firing party was provided by 2nd Yorks LI and a gun carriage by L Battery RHA. The commanding officer Lt-Col J L Hunt attended with 9 officers and 3 warrant officers.”
This plaque in Capability Brown’s chapel is not the only one recalling the drowning of Henry Verney. Another one can be seen in the church at Lighthorne, a village close to Compton Verney. The trapezoid plaque, which I have yet to see, reads:
Had Henry not been killed so young, he might have become involved in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) or even WW1, by which time he would have been 44 years old. During that war, the VII Hussars lost 224 of their members in Mesopotamia during 1917. They had been sent to the Middle East from Bangalore (India), where they had been stationed since 1911.
Even if your interest in India is minimal or non-existent, it is well worth making a visit to Compton Verney to see its art collections, house, chapel, its lake with fine stone bridges, its wonderful trees, and its beautifully landscaped grounds.
THE PEAK OF MOUNT KANCHENJUNGA was covered with snow and clearly visible from our bedroom window in Gangtok at 630 am on the 29th November 2019. By 900 am, it was hidden by clouds. Our taxi driver collected us and we set off for Darjeeling. Although he was born in Sikkim, his parents are from another part of India. Almost 90% of the inhabitants of Sikkim are not Sikkimese and do not enjoy the special privileges afforded to ‘Sikkim Subjects’, people whose ancestors originated in Sikkim. These privileges include owning land and not paying income tax.
The majority of people who now live in Sikkim arrived there after it was absorbed by India in the mid 1970s.
From Gangtok the route is mainly downhill to Rangpo, the border between Sikkim and West Bengal. The winding road follows the River Rani downstream from Ranipool. As we drove along through the wooded valley, our driver told us about ‘D’, one of the two drivers he employs.
‘D’ was the fifth husband of a lady who owns a restaurant and bar. One night, well after midnight when D’s wife had closed her eatery, D decided to give her a driving lesson.
She sat at the wheel, and just before her lesson was to begin, D dashed into the restaurant building to relieve himself. While he was away, she rashly decided to show her husband that she knew how to drive and did not actually need to be taught by him. When he came out, he saw that the car was moving steadily towards the edge of the road and was about to topple over the edge and drop down onto a very steep slope. He ran to save the car and his wife but he and the runaway vehicle toppled off the road and fell down into the darkness below.
D was killed but his wife, who was sitting in the driver’s seat survived unscathed.
Driving without a licence is an imprisonable offence in India. To avoid risking this, her family, D’s in-laws, arrived and placed her dead spouse in the driving seat so as to make the police believe that he, who carried a driver’s licence, was driving the car when the accident occurred.
We were horrified to hear about this event which had occurred less than a fortnight before we set off from Gangtok. It was clear that D’s employer, our driver, was still stunned by what had happened.
Our driver’s careful driving gave us no cause for concern. However, as we neared Darjeeling and had rung our host to give directions for finding his homestay, our journey struck problems.
First of all, our driver told us he had never before driven to Darjeeling and had no idea about its geography. Secondly, we discovered that taxis with Sikkim registration plates, such as ours, were restricted as to where they can drive in Darjeeling. The result was that our driver had to stop at Jorebunglow, quite a few miles outside Darjeeling. We had to wait there until a local taxi driver took us into town. Despite this, the scenic journey between Gangtok and Darjeeling is a joy to experience.
I used to be very apprehensive about flying. It scared me to think that each time we lifted off from the runway might be the prelude to the sudden ending of my short life. I used to read the safety instruction card, and still do today. However, I had little faith that by following the safety instructions, had there have actually been a disaster, would my life have been saved. On one occasion, I became very agitated because the man in the seat beside me had not fastened his seatbelt when instructed by the voice that cracked through the loudspeakers of the ‘plane’s tannoy system. My mother mentioned my concern to him, and I felt reassured when he told us that he worked for BEA (British European Airways) and knew exactly when it was essential to fasten this safety device.
During the 1960s, there were no moving map displays in aeroplanes such as are commonplace today. However, halfway through the flight, a small piece of paper used to be passed from passenger to passenger. It contained a bulletin about the progress of the flight, and it was signed by the pilot. I used to feel privileged being allowed to handle such an important document.
It was many years later that my hitherto irrational fear of flying became rational. I was on a jet ‘plane flying into London’s busy Heathrow airport from where I cannot remember. The ‘plane was descending, the buildings below us were becoming larger and clearer, and most of the clouds were above us, when suddenly the aircraft jolted and began to ascend rapidly.
“We have had to climb,” the captain announced calmly over the loudspeaker system, “to avoid another aircrft that had come into our flight path.”
A few minutes later, we began descending
“We can now continue our landing,” the captain announced in a nervous voice, “There are no other aircraft in our way this time.”
This is a true story told to me by the man who took the upper berth on a train in India’s Uttar Pradesh state.
Our friend, who related this story, was boarding a sleeper car. He had reserved the lower berth in a compartment, but when he reached it, he found it occupied by a man who had not made a reservation. The man aggressively refused to budge from our friend’s berth. Our friend called the conductor. After a considerable and unpleasant argument, the miscreant relinquished the berth, which our friend then occupied.
Shortly after this, an old man, who had been given a reservation in the upper berth, entered the compartment. He was unable to climb into the upper berth. Out of kindness, our friend took the old man’s upper berth and gave him the lower one.
Next morning, our friend woke up. He climbed down from his upper bunk and was horrified to discover that the old man had been stabbed to death during the night. No doubt, the man who had been evicted by the conductor had exacted his revenge.
My late mother was involved in a motor car accident near Cape Town in South Africa when she was a young girl in the 1930s.
“Our family dentist, at least the first one who ever looked after me (during the 1950s and early 1960s), was Dr Samuels, an elderly Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. This kindly man, who must have been in his late 60s or early 70s when he treated me, told my mother how he had to smuggle gold out of Germany. When he, and for that matter any other Jew, was fleeing from Germany in the 1930s, it was not permitted to carry anything of financial value out of the country. His resourceful wife prepared sandwiches for his journey. Instead of filling them with lettuce leaves, she filled them with sheets of gold leaf – a material that used to be used a great deal in dentistry. Thus, if he had encountered inquisitive Nazi officials on the train, he could have concealed the gold he was carrying by munching his precious sandwiches. I am not sure when he retired, but I remember him telling my mother that he would not cease practising until the last of his patients abandoned him. I do not know when this was, but I do know that he helped to conceal from us the fact that my mother was missing some teeth.
In all the 28 years that I knew her, I had no inkling that my mother had two missing front teeth. I knew that she had missing teeth because she often reminded us about the accident that she had suffered, but it was not until she was dead that I discovered, almost by chance, that it was two of her front teeth that she lost.
I am sure that it was having been involved in this accident that led to my mother having seat-belts installed in our Fiat Millecento. She arranged for this to be done at least 20 years before they became mandatory in the UK. I have no idea how and from where she got the idea of installing car seat-belts in 1960, but she did. And, with a little persistence she found somewhere where these items, which were almost unknown in cars, could be installed in our Fiat.
Seat-belts were not routinely fitted into cars before the 1980s, with the exception of some Swedish cars such as Saab and Volvo. There were very few of these on British roads in the early 1960s. Therefore, my mother’s idea of installing them into our Millecento in 1960 was little short of revolutionary. The two front seats of the car were fitted with complex harnesses. A strap went over each of the wearer’s shoulders and these were connected together by a waist strap. The people in the front ended up wearing what looked like the sort of safety harness worn by a jet pilot. These complicated straps were extremely difficult to adjust properly.
The rear of the car was fitted with two lap straps such as are found in aircraft passenger seats. My sister and I used one each except when there was a third person in the back. In this case, my sister and I had to share one strap. To avoid fighting, my mother separated us in the strapby placing a pillow between us.”
The passage written above is an extract from a book, “Charlie Chaplin Waved to Me”. It does not mention the extra locks my mother had fitted in the rear doors of our car. These were to prevent my sister and me from opening the doors while were diving. Had we been in an accident, it would have made it very difficult for rescuers to open these doors as the keys were attched to the ring with the car keys.
I only learnt about my mother’s missing fron teeth when after her tragic demise, I found her partial denture lying around in our house.
“Charlie Chaplin Waved to Me” is available by clicking : HERE