I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of the followers of my blog a safe and peaceful Christmas, and hope that 2017 will be a good year for all of you.
I am humbled that there are 271 people who follow my blog – I had no idea that what I publish would be of interest to so many people. I also want to thank everyone who has taken the time to post a comment about the stories that I have posted.
One of the lesser-known facts of the First World War was that 320 men of the British and Imperial Forces were executed between August 1914 and November 1918 – 308 for military offences such as desertion and cowardice, and 12 for murder. No Australians serving with the AIF never met this fate, although two Australians who were serving with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force were executed.
One of the major places where these executions were carried out was in the small Belgian town of Poperinghe, located seven miles due west of Ypres. 70 executions – 50 British and 20 French were executed in the area.
During the First World War Poperinghe was the centre of a large concentration of troops, and there were many camps in the countryside around it. There was generally at least one Division billeted in the town, and it was described in a very early battlefield guide as “a [wartime] centre for recreation, for shopping and for rest”. The population before the War was about 12,000, but in 1917 there were as many as 250,000 soldiers billeted in the area. The imposing Town Hall, built in 1911, can be found on the main square. It was used as a Divisional Headquarters during the War.
Within the town hall are execution cells where some of the British soldiers condemned to execution during the Great War were kept awaiting their fate – to be shot at dawn. There were originally four cells, which were used by the police here before the war. Two of these small rooms have been restored; one with a simple pallisade bed and a lavatory bucket.
Although the exact number of men shot here at the Town Hall is unknown, there is firm evidence for five. There are photographs of some of those executed on the wall, part of an artwork located here. The two small rooms have small barred windows and are very dark, even on a bright sunny day.
The cells have brick floors, and many people have left wreaths here. On the walls are graffiti, scratched into the surface, much of which dates back to the Great War. The cells were used to hold many men who were taken into custody for a number of reasons, such as drunkeness, as well as to hold some of those awaiting execution.
In the courtyard outside stands a very grim reminder of the Great War – the post to which at least one soldier was tied before he was executed. The execution post stands next to a large silvered panel on which a few words from a Kipling poem (The Coward) are inscribed – including the words ‘blindfold and alone’.
The executions of British soldiers during the Great War is a subject on which emotions run high. There are many viewpoints; often today the men are seen as those who simply could not cope with the horrors of warfare and were victims. However amongst those executed were murderers, and also some who had deserted many times and been given many previous chances. It is also true that some of those executed were men who deserved another chance, or who perhaps should not have been at war at all. But it is easy to judge this by the standards of our own times and forget that this was a time when the country was quite literally fighting for its future, and even in peacetime at that period the laws and punishments seem harsh to us today.
The nearby Poperinghe New British Military Cemetery has the graves of 18 executed soldiers – more than any of the many other British military cemeteries that are located along the site of the Western Front.
The book “Guide to Australian Battlefields of the Western Front – 1916-1918” by John Laffin, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1999, p. 196 was used as the source for this blog post.
In the southern summer of 1938/39, the England cricket team toured South Africa, to play five Test matches as well as games against various provincial teams.
The 1st Test in Johannesburg in late December was drawn, as was the 2nd Test in Cape Town in late December-early January. England won the 3rd Test at Durban in late January by an innings and 13 runs, while the 4th Test in Johannesburg in late February was drawn, leaving England 1-0 up in the series with one Test left to play. As there was a chance of South Africa winning the 5th Test and drawing the series 1-1, it was decided that the match would not be restricted to five days play, and instead would be played to a result, thus becoming a ‘Timeless” match.
The match started at the Kingsmead Ground at Durban on Friday, the 3rd of March. South Africa won the coin toss, and decided to bat first. At the end of the first day, they were 229 runs for the loss of two wickets. Peter van der Bijl was 105 not out, taking nearly all day to score his century, which included a 45 minute session where he didn’t score a run at all.
William Pollock, a writer for the “Daily Express”, wasn’t impressed by South Africa’s slow play:
“The South Africans have got this timeless Test all wrong. Evidently they think that the big idea is to stay in as long as you can and score as slowly as you like. They have not though enough about it. The thing is to get as many runs as possible, preferably as soon as possible. Runs count, not how long the team batted…..There is no reason why England should not make 1,000 runs….Anyhow the boat still sails on March 17.” We will hear more about the boat later in this post.
Only 17 runs were added in the first hour on day 2, and then van der Bijl was dismissed for 125 , which took over 7 hours. The scoring increased when Dalton and Nourse were at the wicket, and South Africa finished the day at 432 runs for the loss of six wickets.
Sunday was a rest day, and there was rain, which freshened the pitch and made it still perfect for batting. South Africa were dismissed late on day 3 for 530, and England had scored 35 runs for the loss of one wicket when play ended early due to rain and poor light. Daily Mail correspondent and former South African player Bob Crisp though that England at this early stage had no chance of winning, writing:
“England are still holding out, but their fall is imminent. Even allowing for all the traditional uncertainties of cricket it seems impossible that they can extricate themselves from their difficult position.”
On day 4, scoring was especially slow, with England ending at 268 runs scored for the loss of seven wickets. The England innings finished early on Day 5 for 316, giving South Africa a lead of 214. As they were over 200 hundred runs in front, they could have asked England to follow-on and bat again, but due to there being no time restrictions, instead they decided to build their lead and tire the England players out by having them field. South Africa finished the day scoring 193 runs for the loss of three wickets. Amazingly, in a match where batting conditions were perfect, all three South African wickets fell when the score was 191.
On the sixth day, South Africa took their score to 481 all out. By this stage, fatigue had started to take its toll on the England team. Wicketkeeper Les Ames was replaced behind the stumps by Paul Gibb for the final session, so that he could have a break from having to concentrate on every ball bowled. England finished the day having scored no runs and lost no wickets after facing only one ball of their 2nd innings, and the 4th of the match. England needed to score the huge figure of 696 runs to win the game. In normal circumstances this would have been impossible, but the pitch had played perfectly for the whole of the match, and there was no time limit on how long England could take to score those runs.
England went about their task with determination. Paul Gibb played the “anchor” at one end, scoring 78, while Len Hutton (55) and Bill Edrich (107 not out) also scored well. Edrich had never scored more than 29 runs before in an innings for England, and his previous scores in the series had been 4, 10, 0 & 6 batting down the order. England captain Wally Hammond promoted him up the order, and the move paid off, with England scoring 253 runs for the loss of just one wicket.
On the eighth day, the 11th of March, rain washed out the entire day’s play. There were now signs that the England party could be pressed for time. William Pollock’s article mentioned that the boat would be leaving on the 17th of March. This was the SS Athlone Castle, which would return the England team back home. It was a two-day train trip from Durban to Cape Town, so England would need to catch a train on the evening of the 14th of March in order to make it back to catch the boat. The three England players who had not been chosen for the match had already left for Cape Town. If the England party missed the boat, then they would have to wait a fortnight for the next boat to arrive.
The next day was a scheduled rest day, with the match recommencing on Monday, the 13th of March. Edrich and Gibb took their partnership to 280 runs before Gibb was dismissed for 120, scored in 9 hours and over 5 separate days. Edrich continued on until he was dismissed for 219, and now there was a distinct possibility that England could pull off a remarkable victory. At the end of the ninth day, England had scored 496 runs for the loss of only three wickets, needing a further 200 runs to win.
Wally Hammond, 58 not out overnight, played atttractively in the morning session of the tenth day. South Africa’s attempts to slow the scoring were not working – Jack Gage in the “Daily Tribune” said that “it was like a small boy trying frantically to stop the water from gushing out of a tap after he had mischievously unscrewed by the washer.”
Eddie Paynter scored (75) before being dismissed with the score at 611. A couple of brief rain delays interrupted Hammond’s concentration, and he was dismissed for 140, with the score at 650 –only 47 more runs required to win. At the tea break, England were only 42 runs short of their target, when it rained again- except this time the rain was prolonged and didn’t stop.
The South African Board of Control meet with the two captains (Hammond and Alan Melville) and issued the following statement:
“The South African Cricket Association Control Board, in consultation with the captains, agreed that the match should be abandoned, the Board recognising that the England party would otherwise not have the requisite number of hours in Cape Town before sailing home.”
So the match that was designed to produce a result ended up producing no result, being abandoned as a draw. England were incredibly disappointed to have been so close to an improbable victory, but were unable to win due to circumstances that were not considered a possibility prior to the match starting. This was the last “Timeless” Test match played – since World War 2 all Test matches have a time limit of five days play.
Here is the full scorecard of this extraordinary match:
The following books were used for this blog post:
Andrew Ward, “Cricket’s Strangest Matches – Extraordinary but true stories from 150 years of cricket”, Robson Books, London, 2000, pp. 126-129
Peter Hayter, “Great Tests Recalled”, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 1990, pp. 56-75.
Grand Finals of any code of football code in Australia usually provide suspense and excitement, but few of them could match the drama and chaos that occurred at the end of the 1967 Tasmanian State Championship game.
Despite being the smallest state in Australia with the smallest population, Tasmania has never had a truly statewide Australian rules football competition. This is due to the way that the population is spread – based on the State capital, Hobart in the south and on Launceston and other towns in the north. Thus there were three major football competitions – the Tasmanian Football League (TFL), based around Hobart, and two competitions based in the north of the state – the Northern Tasmanian Football Association (NTFA), based around Launceston, and the North West Football Union (NTFU), based on the towns on Tasmania’s north coast.
To determine which team was the best in the state, a play-off between the premiers of each league was held at the end of the year. In 1967, it was the turn of the NWFU to host the final, so the NWFU premiers, the Wynyard Cats qualified directly for the championship game. In the Preliminary Final, TFL premiers North Hobart defeated NTFA premiers East Launceston to qualify as Wynyard’s opponents. The State Championship match was scheduled to be played at West Park Oval, home ground of the Burnie Dockers, on the 30th of September 1967.
With the aid of a strong breeze, North Hobart established a 19 point lead at quarter time – 3.8 (26) to 1.1 (7). Now kicking with the breeze in the second quarter, Wynyard dominated, and turned the 19 point deficit into a 20 point lead – 9.7 (61) to 5.11 (41).
Once again kicking with the breeze, it was North Hobart’s turn to dominate, and they had established a 14 point lead at three-quarter time – 11.17 (83) to 10.9 (69). 122 of the match total of 152 points had been kicked to the eastern end of the ground, but just prior to the start of the final quarter, the breeze died down, giving neither team an advantage. Wynyard scored two early goals to close the gap to a couple of points, and with only behinds being kicked from then on, Wynyard lead 13.14 (92) to 12.19 (91) with the final siren about to sound. The stage was now set for one of the most incredible and bizarre finishes to a major Grand Final in Australian football history.
After being awarded a free kick, North Hobart player-coach John Devine kicked into the goal square, where a mark was taken by North Hobart full-forward David Collins. Just after Collins took the mark, the final siren sounded, but as Collins had taken the mark prior to the siren, he was allowed to take his kick. Being only 10-20 yards from goal, and on a slight angle, it looked certain that Collins would kick the goal and win the match and the State Championship title for North Hobart.
But before Collins could take his kick, thousands of Wynyard supporters invaded the field, and to make sure that Collins couldn’t take his kick, proceeded to remove the goalposts. With the police unable to get the spectators off the ground, and with the goalposts no longer being in place, umpire Jack Pilgrim abandoned the game, and left the field. Collins stayed on the field, with the ball tucked under his jumper, for another ten minutes, in the vain hope that he would somehow be allowed to take his kick.
On Monday, the 2nd of October, the Standing Committee of the TFL met to decide on a course of action. A full replay was suggested – Wynyard agreed, but North Hobart said that a full replay would vindicate the actions of the Wynyard supporters who invaded the pitch. Another option discarded was for the match to be restarted at the point where it was abandoned, with Collins ready to kick for goal. Instead the TFL recommended that no replay should be held, and that the 1967 State Premiership title should not be awarded.
To this day, this is still the only major Grand Final of any football code in Australia that was abandoned and never replayed. Collins took the ball home with him. I believe a few years later he was invited back to West Park Oval to have his kick. He scored a goal, but unfortunately it had no bearing on the result (or non-result) of the game.
Here is a video showing the pitch invasion after Collin’s mark, as well as recollections from several players and umpires:
The source for this blog post was “The 3AW Book of Footy Records” by Graeme Atkinson and Michael Halon, Magistra Publishing, Melbourne, 1989, p. 10.
One of the more interesting examples of a person disappearing while in an aircraft is the case of Andrew Carnegie Whitfield over New York city in April 1938.
Whitfield was the nephew of the famous steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and had graduated from Princeton University. He was working as a businessman, and had recently married Elizabeth Halsey.
Whitfield was a keen pilot, and had logged over 200 hours of flying in his Taylor Cub monoplane. On the 17th of April, Whitfield departed in his small plane from Roosevelt Field on Long Island. He planned to land at an airfield at Brentwood, approximately 22 miles away. The weather was perfect for flying, and Whitfield’s plane had more than enough fuel for a flight that should have taken approximately fifteen minutes. Whitfield never arrived as scheduled and has never been heard from again. An extensive search for him and his plane produced no evidence as to his whereabouts. There were unconfirmed sightings of Whitfield after his disappearance. The most bizarre was in August 1939, at Council Bluffs, Iowa. Railway police said that an unkempt Whitfield, still wearing his flying suit, was seen in a freight car on the outskirts of town. Whitfield saw the police, grinned and held out a bundle of money, before the train disappeared down the tracks.
After Andrew had disappeared, it was discovered that he checked into a hotel in Garden City on Long Island under the alias Albert C. White on the day he vanished. He paid $4 in advance for the room and never checked out. His personal belongings, including his passport; clothing; cuff links engraved with his initials; two $6000 life insurance policies in his name listing his wife, Elizabeth Halsey Whitfield, as the beneficiary; and several stocks and bonds made out in Andrew’s and Elizabeth’s names; were left behind in the hotel room. Phone records also indicated that he called his home while his family was out looking for him, and a telephone operator says she heard him say over the phone, “Well, I am going to carry out my plan.”
Based on this alleged comment, police and other investigators believed that instead of travelling to Brentwood, Whitfield had turned the Cub over the Atlantic Ocean, and committed suicide by crashing the plane into the water. However, despite an extensive search, no wreckage was ever found. There was also no evidence that at the time of Whitfield’s disappearance that he was having any personal or business problems, which may have lead him to consider taking his own life. Whitfield was planning on moving to Pennsylvania with his new bride later in the year.
I think that based on the evidence found in the hotel room and the comment overhead by the telephone operator, that Whitfield had decided to take his own life. With the amount of fuel that the plane had, I think that Whitfield would have flown west until he was in a mountainous and inaccessible area, and then crashed the plane. There are several examples of planes which disappeared in remote and uninhabited parts of the United States – is Whitfield’s plane one of those?
The source for this blog post was Jay Robert Nash’s book “Among The Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present”, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Maryland, USA, 1978, pp. 333-334.
I have come across some unusual accidents and incidents through my reading of and watching motor racing events over many years, but one of the most unusual that I have ever come across was Major Peter Braid’s accident at the Blandford Army Camp in 1949.
Due to the rarity of purpose-built motor racing circuits in the UK in the late 1940’s, any venue that had sealed roads was pressed into service for racing, even if this was just a single airfield runway. The Blandford Army Camp in south-western Dorset was one of the better venues available, as its perimeter access road around the camp of just over 3 miles in length meant that a layout which was similar to purpose-built circuits could be used. The layout was fast and challenging, with competitors reaching over 100 mph on the two straights.
After several motorcycle events were held from mid-1948 to April 1949, approval was granted by the Royal Automobile Club for the first car racing meeting to be held on the 27th of August. The meeting featured several sportscar races, as well as the new 500cc Formula 3, which were small rear-engined cars powered by motorcycle engines.
The events leading up to Braid’s accident occurred during the morning session of racing. During the third race for sportscars, Gordon Woods lost control of his Frazer Nash – BMW between Engineers Corner and Hood Corner. The car demolished a bus shelter, and Woods was thrown out of the cockpit, receiving critical head injuries from which he died in hospital later. In the current environment, the meeting would have been immediately stopped, but back then, the racing continued on. The demolished bus shelter was left in situ, and this would have a major impact on Braid’s accident.
Braid had only started racing in Formula 3 a couple of months previously, and had already achieved a win at Silverstone and a second place at Great Auclum. While leading the Formula 3 race in his Cooper Mk III powered by a J.A.P engine, Braid slid into the outer bank on the left side of the road. The car bounced back across the road to the other side, hitting the ruins of the bus shelter, previously destroyed in the Woods accident earlier in the day. This acted like a ramp, launching the Cooper over a fir tree and onto the roof of the Battalion Headquarters, located on the inside of the track.
The car appeared to be neatly parked the correct way up and facing the right direction, and remained there for the duration of the race. Braid survived with only some bruises to show for what must have been a terrifying ride.
The photos show what an amazing accident this was, and how lucky Braid was not to be killed. The Cooper could have so easily struck the pole located next to the Battalion Headquarters, or worse still, actually crashed into the side of the building. What is particularly intriguing is the relatively small amount of damage suffered by the Cooper – a dent on the front nose, a buckled wheel and a dislodged engine fairing. As well as the lack of damage, the way that the Cooper is sitting on top of the roof is unusual – it almost looks like the car has been gently placed on its wheels. I can only assume that the car had just enough speed to reach the roof after becoming airborne, and that the corrugated iron acted like a brake, immediately bringing the car to a stop.
Braid continued racing in Formula 3 until the end of 1952, when he retired. He died in the Barnes rail crash in London on the 2nd of December 1955.
Racing continued at Blandford, but their were several motorcycle facilities and one further car driver – Joe Fry, who lost control of his car when practising for a hillclimb on the 29th of July 1950.
This the final car event at Blandford, although motorcycle racing continued until the early 1960’s. The track still exists, although it is now impossible to drive a full lap, due to the installation of several steel fences across some of the corners.
In 1967, one of Germany’s smaller but progressive car makers, NSU, caused a sensation at the Frankfurt Motor Show when it unveiled the front-wheel-drive rotary engined Ro80. This car was similar in size to an early nineties Holden Commodore VN or Opel/Vauxhall Senator, but it was a four-door, front-wheel drive car powered by a twin rotor Wankel engine, virtually the same unit used in the Mazda RX7 sportscar.
At that time, the innovative engineers at NSU also started development work on a smaller, medium-sized version of this car, the Ro70, but because of teething problems with the Ro80’s rotary engine, they developed the new car to take a more conventional 1600cc in-line piston engine derived from smaller 1100cc and 1200cc NSU cars. Without a rotary engine, the design code was changed to K70. ‘K’ stood for Kolben or piston, whereas ‘Ro’ was the abbreviation for rotary.
The K70 was, nevertheless, quite an advanced and innovative car, with an all-alloy overhead camshaft engine driving the front wheels, all-independent suspension with McPherson struts at the front and trailing links and coil springs at the rear, and in-board front disc brakes. It also conformed to the toughest crash test safety regulations of the day. Several prototypes were shown to the press and public throughout development and the world waited with great expectation of the eventual production release of the NSU K70.
This was not to be, however. The launch of the K70 was to have been the 1969 Geneva Motor Show, but shortly before the show Volkswagen bought out NSU. The new Volkswagen management of NSU believed that production facilities at the NSU Neckarsulm factory would not be able to cope with the projected demand for the car. As a result, production was delayed until August 1970, with the K70 being produced at the newly-built VW factory at Salzgitter. Volkswagen decided to introduce the new car at all without any change from the NSU K70 except for a VW logo on the radiator grille, the only place on the entire car where the VW badge could be found.
So, in mid-1970, much to the dismay of the air-cooled VW purist, the company started production of its first front-engined car, its first water-cooled car and its first front-wheel-drive car. Would the K70 be a success due to its innovative design, or would that new design be a bridge too far for possible buyers who were familiar only with the VW Beetle?
Only 211,127 K70s were built before production ended in February 1975. It seems that the K70 sound design was overlooked due to the innovations that came with that design. VW had to wait until the introduction of the Passat in 1974 with a similar layout before the car was accepted by the motoring public.
The Volkswagen K70 was a well-proportioned car with pretty styling a good ten years ahead of its time, and more akin to that of the square and angular cars of the late 70’s and early 80’s. The K70 was available in three different models (K70, K70L and K70LS). The K70 and K70L used a 1605cc engine, while the K70LS used a 1807cc engine. From August 1972 the LS models were sold with four round headlights in place of the original square ones.
The 1807cc engined K70LS could reach a top speed of 165 km/h, and an acceleration to 100 km/h of just over 12 seconds. The only transmission offered was a 4-speed manual.
Production of the K70 was concentrated totally at the Salzgitter plat, with both RHD and LHD versions built. The majority of cars were built with LHD, for the European and African markets. The K70 is now a rare car, with many Volkswagen enthusiasts not even aware of the existence of the car.
The source for this blog post was the book “Volkswagens of the World – A comprehensive international guide to Volkswagens not built in Germany…and the unusual ones that were” by Simon Glen, Veloce Publishing, UK, 1999, pp. 34-35.