Two women and a pilot

At 10 o’clock of the morning of March 18, 1952, two women reached the 405th 7th hole at the Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Florida. They were good golfers. One of them, Bertha Johnson, had been Jacksonville City Champion in 1938 and, now aged in her early 50’s, was still good enough to compete in tournaments. She had been president of the Jacksonville Women’s Golf Association for two years after the end of World War 2. Bertha and her playing partner, 38 year old Mary Dempsey, drove off from the 7th tee and started walking towards their balls. They were oblivious of any danger – it was just another round of golf to be enjoyed.

The pilot was on a routine training flight from the Jacksonville Naval Air Station base that bordered the Timuquana Country Club.

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Photo of the Jackssonville Naval Air Station – the Timuquana Country Club course can be seen in the top-left corner.

He was worried – the oil pressure gauge on his Vought F4U Corsair fighter was registering a low reading and engine power was below normal. He called the base to request an emergency landing. The duty runway was cleared and prepared.

The pilot made his approach to the runway, but all was not right. The engine of the Corsair was behaving erratically, so the pilot didn’t have enough control to land the plane. He flew past the runway, turned right and hoped to make another approach with enough control to land. Suddenly, the Corsair’s engine died completely. The plane was now a glider – no power, no noise, and no chance of making it back to the runway. The pilot looked at what was available to land. Was there anywhere to land? He saw a strip of grass on the Timuquana Country Club – it was the 7th fairway.

 

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A flight of Vought F4U Corsairs from the Jacksonville NAS in flight.

A man driving a van was making a delivery from his fruit and vegetable stall on Roosevelt Boulevard to the Naval Air Station. He saw the Corsair come in low over the buildings with smoke pouring out of the engine cowling. “It’s going to crash”, he said to his wife. The Corsair pulled back up into the air a little, but no higher than the tree-tops. The man and his wife watched it disappear behind the trees.

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Layout of the 7th hole at the Timuquana Country Club. Changes to the tees have resulted in different yardage than was the case in 1952.

Johnson and Dempsey played their second shots about 220 yards from the 7th tee. They then strolled in a leisurely way down the centre of the fairway towards the green. Their caddie, 19 year old Theodore Rutledge, walked about 35 yards behind them, along the eastern side of the fairway. Rutledge looked up, and saw the Corsair. It was coming in silently against the wind, strangely unobtrusive, its long nose and black engine smoke obscuring the pilot’s forward vision. Rutledge yelled a warning to the Johnson and Dempsey, who didn’t hear him, and then ducked and ran.

The Corsair landed in the middle of the 7th fairway and hit the women from behind with the propellor. One body was thrown 35 feet, the other 65 feet. Johnson and Dempsey were killed instantly. The plane continued down the 7th fairway for another 155 yards, veering towards a clump of trees in the rough on the western side of the fairway. It crashed into the trees and the impact broke off the engine and the cowling. The pilot scrambled out of the wreckage and then watched the Corsair burst into flames. He was standing by the burning plane when the course superintendent arrived.

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Photo from the 7th fairway looking towards the green. The Corsair veered to the left and crashed into the trees.

“Are you hurt?”, asked the superintendent.
“No, thank God,” said the pilot. “I got out before the fire started”.
Rutledge rushed up and blurted out the news that two golfers had been killed.
The pilot went to pieces.

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Front page of the “Miami Daily News” of the 20th March 1952, with the fatal crash the top story.

Andrew Ward’s book “Golf’s Strangest Rounds” – Extraordinary but true stories from over a cenury of history”, Robson Books, London, 1999 p. 154-155 was the source for this blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hampton car

 

The Hampton car took its name from the Warwickshire village of Hampton-in-Arden, where Walter Paddon built his first prototype in 1911. The following year he started the Hampton Engineering Co Ltd at Kings Norton, Birmingham, making a conventional car powered by a 12/16 hp 4-cylinder Chapuis-Dornier engine selling for £295. Very few of these were made, and before the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, Paddon had brought out three more designs, a cyclecar with a 8hp 2-cylinder Precision engine, a cyclecar with a 2-cylinder 2-stroke engine, and a light car with a 4-cylinder 10hp Chapuis-Dornier engine.

In 1919 the Hampton Engineering Co moved south, taking over part of an ironworks at Dudbridge, Gloucestershire, where a 10/16hp light car was made, powered by a 1496cc 4-cylinder Dorman KNO engine.

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1919 Hampton 10/16 light car

This was soon joined by a 1795cc car, also Dorman-powered. Bodies were mostly made in-house and production reached six cars a week by the middle of 1920. The company underwent the first of its many reorganisations during the year, emerging as the Hampton Engineering Co (1920) Ltd. For 1923 Meadows engines were used, in two sizes – 9/21hp and 11/35hp.

For four years the company struggled to keep afloat, but towards the end of 1924 it went into receivership before being rescued by Major Griffith Jones, who acquired the company for about £13,000. The new company was called the Stroud Motor Manufacturing Co Ltd but lasted less than 15 months, becoming bankrupt in January 1926. Another company was formed, Hampton Cars (London) Ltd, with finance from London and an office in Westminster, although the factory remained at Stroud.

The 11/35hp became the 12/50 and was joined by a 1247cc 9hp and a 1683cc 15hp 6-cylinder model. The latter was very short-lived, being replaced for 1929 by a larger six with a 2931cc Meadows engine, a handful of which were produced. The most popular model was the 12/40, which made up the bulk of the 300 cars made each year at this time. For 1930 Hampton offered a supercharged sports version of the 12/40, while some models were offered with the Cowburn coned roller gearbox, made by Kitson Components Ltd of Stroud.

In the same year Hampton’s credit with Meadows ran out, as as the Wolverhampton company was its main supplier of engines, Hampton was faced with a serious problem. A small 4-cylinder engine of 1196cc was offered, possibly of Hampton’s own manufacture, while for its larger model it went to the German Rohr company, from which it ordered 100 2262cc straight-8 engines, and 50 chassis with independent suspension by double-transverse half-elliptic springs. The discrepancy in numbers was presumably because Hampton had a number of its own chassis that it wanted to use up, and could sell the result at a lower price than for the more sophisticated Rohr chassis.

However, the company failed again before many of the German components reached Stroud. It was reorganised by the receiver, Thomas Godman, as the Safety Suspension Car Co Ltd at new premises at Cainscross, near Stroud. Although Godman offered the Rohr chassis with a choice of 2.4 litre 6-cylinder engine or the Rohr straight-8, now enlarged to 2736cc, it is unlikely that any were made.

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The final Hampton – the 16hp with a Roher chassis and Continental engine.

Nick Baldwin’s, book “The World Guide to Automobiles – The Makers and Their Marques”, MacDonald & Co, London, 1987, p. 213-214 was used as the basis for this blog post.

The Mysterious Murder in the Metro

Some murders hold a rare fascination not so much for the question of ‘who did it?’, but ‘how did they do it?’. This has never been truer than the case of a glamorous 29 year old Italian woman, murdered on the Paris Metro in 1937. The exact circumstances of her killing remain so unfathomable that the crime ranks high of those labelled ‘impossible’.

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Laetitia Toureax, the victim of one of the most perplexing murders ever committed.

On the evening of Sunday, the 16th of May 1937, Laetitita Toureaux was anything but inconspicuous. Having left a dance hall in one of the city’s suburbs, she entered the Métro station at Porte de Charenton at 6.23 pm, dressed in green with a white hat and gloves, furs and a distinctive parasol. Just four minutes later, at 6.27 pm, she was seen by witnesses stepping into a first-class carriage on train number 365. The carriage was in-between two second-class carriages that were packed with passengers, as the majority of the citizens of Paris could not afford to purchase a first-class ticket.

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A Paris Metro station and train in the 1930’s.

According to those present, this explains why Laetitia was the only traveler who could be seen in her carriage as the train left the station to go through a tunnel to the next stop. It took just sixty seconds for the train to pass through the tunnel and arrive at the platform of the next stop Porte Dorée at 6.28 pm.

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Paris Mero Map – Porte de Charenton and Porte Dorée are in the bottom right corner

As new passengers boarded the first-class carriage, from doors at either end, they were horrified to see a woman’s body slumped forward from her seat. A 9-inch stiletto-style blade was protruding from her neck. Laetitia tried to whisper something to the first police officer that arrived at the scene, but with blood pouring out of her wound, she didn’t live long enough to name or describe her attacker. No one was seen leaving the carriage at Porte Dorée station, but witnesses who had been travelling in the second-class carriages swore they heard a scream just as the train pulled into the station.

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Paris detectives examine the spot where Toureax was murdered inside the carriage

An autopsy suggested that the blow to Laetitia’s jugular vein had been delivered with such swiftness, force and accuracy that it must have been the work of a professional, while the knife being left in the would also indicated the signature of a certain type of hitman. While there were some discrepancies in the statements of the witnesses who got on the train at Porte Dorée, it was still puzzling that no one had seen the killer exit from the carriage. Adding to the puzzle was the fact that the doors between the first-class and adjacent second-class carriages were locked – the killer could not simply have switched cars.

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Diagram showing the narrow window of opportunity available to the killer.

Laetitia was identified from documents that she was carrying, and it was soon evident to detectives investigating her murder that she had been leading a complicated life. She was a widow who worked in a glue factory by day, but she spent much of her time in dance halls and had been dating an arms smuggler. The arms smuggler belonged to La Cagoule (The Hood). Officially called the Secret Committee of Revolutionary Action, La Cagoule was a fascist-leaning and anti-communist terrorist group that used violence to promote its activities from 1935 to 1941. La Cagoule wanted to overthrow the Third Republic, and performed assassinations, bombings, sabotage of armaments, and other violent activities to achieve this aim.

In fact, Laetitia had been leading a double life as an undercover informant working for the authorities. It is commonly accepted that her murder was carried out by a La Cagoule operative after her cover was blown. Her murder was carried out so expertly that police had little to go on, and despite hundreds of people being interviewed, no one was ever identified as the killer. Just how her murder was executed without anyone observing the killer, in such a public location, remains perplexing to this day.

My theory is that the murderer needed an accomplice, to unlock the door to either second-class carriage either side of the first-class carriage. This could be a railway worker who was sympathetic to La Cagoule and who unlocked the door before the train arrived at Porte de Charenton, or someone who could pick the lock from the adjacent carriage. This would allow the killer to murder Toureaux under the cover of darkness caused by the train going through the tunnel, and then returning to the second-class carriage before the passengers on the platform at Porte Dorée saw the first-class carriage. Toureaux must have been followed from the dance hall to Porte de Charenton, as the assassin(s) knew that she would catch the Metro to get home. When they saw that she was the only passenger in the carriage, the murder plan was put into action.

The puzzle of Toureaux’s murder echoes the so-called ‘locked room’ genre of fictional murder mystery stories, featuring crimes so cleverly devised they seem to have been impossible to commit. The murder on the Metro shows that truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

“Murder by Numbers –Fascinating Figures Behind the World’s Worst Crimes” by James Moore (Stroud, England, 2018 p. 78-79) was the source for this blog post.

Hangers, speccies and screamers

One of the most, if not the most spectacular part of Australian rules football is the high mark, where players jump into the air to catch the ball, often jumping over or on opposition players to grab the ball.

Over the long history of the game, many of these great marks have been captured by photographers, who were in the right place and the right time to take a brilliant picture.

Here are some examples of the best hangers, speccies and screamers taken in Australian rules football history.

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Aaron Edwards (North Melbourne) versus Hawthorn (AFL – 2007)

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Unidentified Carlton player versus Melbourne (VFL – 1960’s)

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Bill Ryan (Geelong) versus St Kilda (VFL – 1968)

 

Gerovich

John Gerovich (South Fremantle) versus East Fremantle (WAFL – 1956)

 

Walker

Andrew Walker (Carlton) versus Essendon (AFL 2011)

 

Coleman

John Coleman (Essendon) versus North Melbourne (VFL 1950’s)

 

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Ashley Sampi (West Coast Eagles) versus Melbourne (AFL 2004)

 

Holst

David Holst (Glenelg) versus Norwood (SANFL 1979)

 

Knights

Peter Knights (Hawthorn) versus Collingwood (VFL 1973)

 

Roach

Michael Roach (Richmond) versus Hawthorn (VFL 1980)

 

Dugdale

John Dugdale (North Melbourne) versus St Kilda (VFL 1961)

Oisne Aisne Military Cemetery – “Plot E”

Plots A-D of the Oise Aisne American Cemetary hold the remains of American soldiers who died fighting in a small portion of Northern France during World War I. However set across the street unmarked and completely surrounded by impassible shrubbery is Plot E, a semi-secret fifth plot that contains the nearly forgotten bodies of a number of American soldiers who were executed for crimes committed during and after World War II.

Over 6,000 soldiers are buried in the first four plots of the Oise Aisne Cemetery, but just 94 bodies are currently buried in the shunned fifth plot. While the small patch of land is technically on the grounds of the greater cemetery, it is not easily distinguished as it sits across the street, hidden behind the tall hedges that surround it. The only way into the secret cemetery is through the superintendent’s office.

 

The soldiers eventually interred in Plot E were tried for rape, murder, and in one case, desertion (although the remains of the deserter, Eddie Slovik, the only American executed for desertion in WWII, were returned to the states in 1987). After being convicted in U.S. courts martial held in Europe, the men were dishonorably discharged and executed via hanging or firing squad. In many cases, the men who were buried in Plot E were initially buried close to the site of their execution. Those bodies were later exhumed and moved to Oise Aisne in 1949 when the plot of shame was established.

 

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The lone headstone in Plot E.

 

Plot E has been referred to as an anti-memorial. No US flag is permitted to fly over the plot and the graves themselves, small in-ground stones the size of index cards, have no names; they are only differentiated by numbers. Even underground they are set apart with each body buried in Plot E positioned with its back to the main cemetery. The site does not exist on maps of the cemetery, and is not mentioned on the cemetery website.

 

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Marker for Private Louis Till, who was hanged in Italy in July 1945 after murdering an Italian woman, raping two others and then assaulting a US navy sailor.

 

Plot E has been described by one cemetery employee as a “house of shame” and “the perfect anti-memorial,” especially as the original intent was that none of the individual remains were ever to be identifiable by name.

“The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II” by French L.Maclean (Schiffer Publishing, 2013) was the basis for this blog post.

March 721X Formula 1 car

March (formed by Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd) was formed in October 1969, and had reasonable success in the 1970 and 1971 Formula 1 seasons with the 701 and 711 cars.

March started the 1972 season with the 721, which was an improvement of the 711, with over 50 changes and modifications. Herd then designed a totally new car, the 721X (72 for 1972, 1 for Formula 1 and X for experimental), which March hoped would place them amongst the top teams. While the car followed the majority of cars in using the Ford DFV 3-litre V8 engine and Hewland gearbox, there were a couple of innovations. One was the rear suspension, which featured high mounted rear springs operated by cranks and levers. Inspired by Porsche and Alfa Romeo sportscar design, the gearbox was mounted between the engine and the rear axle, instead of behind the rear axle, which was the ‘norm’ in Formula 1 at the time. In theory these two features would be very good for the car’s overall weight distribution, and lead to excellent handling.

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Left to right – designer Robin Herd, driver Ronnie Peterson and Max Mosley with the first 721X. Along with the rear suspension and placement of the gearbox, other interesting features include the full-width front nose, elaborate roll-cage and exposed DFV engine.

The 721X made its debut at the non-championship Race Of Champions at Brands Hatch in March, driven by Ronnie Peterson, with the car making its World Championship debut at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama in May, driven again by Peterson and Niki Lauda.

Unfortunately for March, the customer Goodyear tires that March were using were designed for a conventional chassis and suspension configuration. The front tires were completely overloaded and caused all kinds of trouble in corners from complete understeer to acute oversteer, resulting in an uncompetitive car.

 

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Niki Lauda in the 721X at the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix.

Both Lauda and Peterson retired in Spain, and were nowhere near the top cars in Monaco (Peterson 11th, Lauda 16th) and Belgium (Peterson 9th, Lauda 12th).

March realised that with the team locked in to using Goodyear tires, the only solution was to replace the 721X. This was done expediently by using the Formula Two chassis, modified to take the DFV engine, with the fuel capacity increased by side tanks. The 721G was more competitive, with Peterson finishing in the points at the French, German and United States Grand Prix.

Both 721Xs still survive, and the car driven by Ronnie Peterson competes in historic racing. Here is some great footage of that car lapping the Scandinavian Raceway in 2017, juxtaposed with Ronnie Peterson driving the same car at the same circuit 45 years earlier.

The following books were used as sources for this blog post:

Anthony Pritchard, “Directory of Formula One Cars: 1966-1986”, Aston Publications, England, 1986, p. 142

David Hodges, “A-Z of Formula Racing Cars”, Bay View Books, England, 1990, p. 160-161

Maurice Buckley- Victoria Cross recipient

Back in November 2015 I made a blog entry about Frederick Whirlpool, the Victoria Cross winner who ended up leading a hermit-like existence in the Hawkesbury. Here is the story of another Victoria Cross recipient, and the unusual way that he was awarded the highest honour in the British armed forces.

Maurice Buckley was born in Melbourne on the 13th of April 1891, and joined the 13th Light Horse Regiment the week before Christmas 1914, and was sent to Egypt.

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Maurice Buckley’s enlistment form.

 

Like so many of his comrades, Buckley contracted gonorrhea and syphilis. Venereal disease was a huge problem for Australian troops based in Egypt. With the troops not actually fighting, they spent each day training in camps outside of Cairo, and when off duty they frequented the many brothels in the city as well. By February 1916, almost 6,000 men had been infected, and more than 1,000 of them were shipped back home to Australia.

Buckley ended up at the Langwarrin Venereal Diseases camp, located 40 kilometres outside of Melbourne in November 1915.  The facility at Langwarrin had originally been a training camp for Boer War soldiers, and at the start of the Great War was recommissioned as an internment camp for German and Turkish civilians. But with the dramatic emergence of venereal disease amongst enlisted men, the facility became a ‘pox camp’.

The camp was located well away from the township of Langwarrin, and conditions for the patients who went there were terrible – the men were herded behind barbed-wire enclosures, and slept in tents with rubber sheets and blankets for bedding. There was a shortage of water, which impacted on treatment and hygiene. In October 1915 there was a mass break-out involving 50 patients who had been refused leave to visit the township. The patients overpowered the camp guards, and caught the train to Melbourne, where they were subsequently arrested by police.

 

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Entrance to Langwarrin Venereal Diseases camp, circa 1915.

 

After five months in Langwarrin, Buckley had had enough, and in March 1916, he escaped from the camp, never to return.  His Army papers were stamped ‘deserter’ and he was struck off the army roll. Buckley returned to his family’s house in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Malvern, to explain to his family why he was no longer serving in the Army.

With Military Police looking for her son, Agnes Buckley suggested that Maurice re-enlist, but under another name. So Maurice travelled to Sydney and re-enlisted as Private Gerald Sexton. Sexton was his mother’s maiden name, and Gerald was the name of his brother who had died in an army camp almost a year earlier of meningitis.

 

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Maurice Buckley – awarded the Victoria Cross under the alias Gerald Sexton.

Sexton was assigned to the 13th Battalion of the 4th Division, embarking shortly after for Plymouth in England and then France. Sexton was promoted to Sergeant, and on the 8th of August 1918, earned a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery in the action around Morcourt Valley.

Sexton received his Victoria Cross for bravery during action near Le Verguier on the 8th of August 1918. Here is the official citation, as reprinted in the “London Gazette” of the 13th of December 1918:

“No. 6594 Sjt. Gerald Sexton, 13th Bn., A.I.F.

For most conspicuous bravery during the attack near Le Verguier, north-west of St. Quentin, on the 18th September, 1918. During the whole period of the advance, which was very seriously opposed, Sjt. Sexton was to the fore dealing with enemy machine guns; rushing enemy posts, and performing great feats of bravery and endurance without faltering or for a moment taking cover. When the advance had passed the ridge at La Verguier, Sjt. Sexton’s attention was ‘ directed to a party of the enemy manning a bank, and to a field gun causing casualties and holding up a company. Without hesitation, calling to his section to follow, he rushed down the bank and killed the gunners of the field gun. Regardless of machine-gun fire, he returned to the bank, and after firing down some dugouts induced about thirty of the enemy to surrender. When the advance was continued from the first to the second objective the company was again held up by machine guns on the flanks. Supported by another platoon, he disposed of the enemy guns, displaying boldness which inspired all. Later, he again showed the most conspicuous initiative in the capture of hostile posts and machine guns, and rendered invaluable support to his company digging in.”

At the end of 1918 the commanding officer at the Langwarrin camp notified the authorities of Sexton’s real identity. When Sexton received his Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace in May 1919, he did so under his real name of Maurice Buckley. Buckley returned to Australia and was discharged from the Army. Buckley, a strong Catholic, was openly aligned to the controversial Archbishop Daniel Mannix, and marched with Mannix in St Partick’s Day parades. Buckley established a strong friendship with infamous Melbourne identity John Wren, who business empire was built on SP bookmaking, sly grog and prostitution. Wren gave Buckley financial support to help set up a road-contracting business.

Buckley died after a horse-riding accident in January 1921, aged just 29. At his funeral, his casket was carried by ten other Victoria Cross winners. He was buried in the Brighton Cemetery, and fittingly was laid to rest alongside his brother – whose name he had borrowed to restore his reputation.

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Buckley family grave at Brighton Cemetery.

As far as I know, Buckley is the only soldier to have earned a Victoria Cross while serving under an assumed name/alias.
Russell Robinson’s book  “Khaki Crims & Desperadoes” (Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney, 2014) was the main source for this entry, along with various Australian and international military history sites.