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  • Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 by Patrick G. Eriksson

    The German surprise attack on the Soviet Union began before dawn on 22 July 1941. Oberleutnant Gűnther Scholz, Staffelkapitän 7/JG 54 recalled this historical day: ‘On 22 June 1941 in the early morning at 03h00 the first intrusion over the Soviet border took place; our target was the airbases near Kowno. I will never forget flying over the border. As far as one could see from our height of approximately 2,000 m in the emerging dawn, to the north and to the south, white and red Very lights were ascending high into the sky and army units on the ground and fliers in the air crossed the border punctually at 03h00.’ Tactical surprise was achieved in massed attacks on Soviet air bases, the exultant pilots claiming 1,489 aircraft destroyed on the ground, 322 in the air as the Russians responded. As always in aerial combat, actual losses (864 ground, 336 air) didn’t match claims made.

    It was a young man’s war. Leutnant Erich Sommavilla, Stab I/JG 53, returns from a mission over Hungary, early 1945. (Erich Sommavilla, Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945, Amberley Publishing)

    These were catastrophic losses, and the Russians would continue to suffer grievous losses for a long time, but they never stopped fighting. Often their stubborn resistance, their continued advance towards targets as their bomber formations were shot to ribbons, were seen as stur (pig-headed) and stupid, characteristics typical of Untermenschen as many of the Germans saw them. Many German Jagdflieger were highly experienced, with campaigns from Poland to the Balkans behind them, as well as the sobering defeat of the Battle of Britain. Fighter pilots are aggressive and often ambitious, and the lure of success, high decorations and joining the panoply of propaganda heroes of the Third Reich kept many of them focussed. Their victory claims soon mushroomed and as the Russian campaign went on, the envelope of the top scorers exceeded first 100, then successively 150, 200, 250 and even 300, Hartmann their top ace achieving an incredible 352 claimed successes. The German fighter pilots in the East were thus the top scorers not only of the war, but of all time. This image of Luftwaffe Experten has remained largely entrenched, and their claiming system, with rigid administrative steps leading up to confirmation is seen as being reliable. Somehow, the German aces appear as having been better than anyone else a viewpoint still enjoying credence even today; however, it needs to be seen as the propaganda of a race-obsessed Nazi regime, of great benefit when your air forces are suffering strategic defeat, over an ever-retreating Eastern Front.

    In order to get closer to the truth, this book relies on a core of testimony from 70-odd Luftwaffe fighter pilot veterans who flew Me 109s or Fw 190s, and crewmen of the Me 110 two seater Zerstörer. Recollections of their training period show that it was thorough, unusually included exposure to a wide range of different aircraft types, and was surprisingly accommodating of pilots needing more time for any part of their training. The veterans gave freely of their time, and supplied copies of original documents: flying logbooks, diaries, combat reports, and claims paperwork. Fellow aviation historians were also most generous, one providing the Startkladde 7/JG 51 for September 1943 – April 1944, giving a record of each flight made by all pilots, operational mission or not.

    Tired pilots of III/JG 52 back from a mission, field base Gonstakowka, Terek bridgehead, Caucasus, October 1942. Oberleutnant Rall (Staffelkapitän 8/JG 52; third ranking Luftwaffe ace) second from left, witness Gerd Schindler at right. (Gerd Schindler, Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945, Amberley Publishing)

    This enabled some statistical evaluation of the combat record of a single Staffel over several months. One of the pilots figuring prominently in this record was Hauptmann Gűnther Schack, whose diary excerpts provide fascinating reading of the daily life of a top ace (174 victory claims); he was a very modest man who decried all hero worship of Luftwaffe aces. However, his success and high decorations saved his father (a senior cleric opposed to Nazism and resisted joining the Nazi-sponsored Protestant church) from imprisonment or worse. Oberst Hanns Trűbenbach, commanding JG 52, describes his shock upon landing at a frontline airfield, where an NCO proudly showed him a fresh, only partly covered mass grave of Jewish men, woman and children. Later on he tells of intercepting a brand new Russian fighter over the Black Sea, whose test pilot was concentrating on writing up his technical notes, and did not see Trűbenbach until he got really close; however, he had nothing to fear, the German pilot had no intention of shooting such an innocent down. Peter Dűttmann, posted into II/JG 52 in the Kuban in May 1943 gives a detailed account of his first few days at the front, during which several of his Staffel comrades were lost, including his C/O; what an introduction for a greenhorn. Hans Grűnberg, one of the few surviving members of Platzschutzstaffel Pitomnik, the few fighter pilots of JG 3 flying from within the Stalingrad pocket, recalls sitting in his Me 109 and seeing Russian troops overrun his field base as ground crew struggled to warm up the engine enough for take-off; alas he had to flee on foot in the chaos, eventually getting out the pocket on one of the last Ju 52 transporters to leave Gumrak, a small field several miles away. Other Stalingrad veterans remember not being able to fly tight manoeuvres in combat due to a starvation diet. Diary extracts of Hans Strelow, a very young Leutnant in JG 51 were rescued from amongst his effects after his death by Luftwaffe psychologist, Professor Paul Skawran; forced to crash-land after his final combat, Strelow shot himself in the head rather than become a prisoner.

    The thorny issue of the Luftwaffe’s multi-step victory claims procedure, often seen as exemplary due to its extensive paperwork, is in fact rather more complex, having also been subject to human influence as in a simpler system. It changed during the war, for most in approximately August 1942, when claims which equate essentially to probables became the norm. A group of Geschwader Kommodoren give detailed testimony about the system. One emphasised the critical distinction between the terms Luftsieg (cf. complete, witnessed destruction) and Abschuss (enemy aircraft leaves formation, descends obviously damaged). In autumn 1942, the Abschuss concept became basically standard; high claims in the east were acknowledged within a changing and even manipulated system. High eastern scores, can be related to careful use of the Luftwaffe’s favourite bounce tactic, skewed towards enemy fighters; tactical expedience and scoring thus largely replaced strategic application of limited and shrinking aerial assets.

    Patrick G. Eriksson's new book Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 is available for purchase now.

  • Jarrow at Work by Paul Perry

    People and Industries Through the Years

    Jarrow A.F.C. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    There was a time when there was not a town called Jarrow, fields streams and riverbanks were all that existed. Eventually settlements were raised in the area around the banks of the River Don. Without doubt, the most memorable of the early settlements was an order of Benedictine Monks at the monastery at Donmouth as Jarrow was referred to in the 6th century. This was home to the town’s most celebrated resident the Venerable Bede: monk. Scholar, historian and very probably one of the most remarkable men this country has ever produced, who was responsible for writing the oft referred to Northumbrian Chronicles, one of the few learned works to survive from those dark days in the mists of time. Jarrow at this time was a centre of learning, a beacon of light in an otherwise dark age.

    Railway Station Grant Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    If all that Jarrow had to offer history was a monk and a book it would still be worthy of note and recognition, but the town had so much more to give. The proximity of mineral resources and water borne transportation gave rise to the period of industrialisation which dominated the life and prosperity of the town from the eighteenth century to recent times. The shipyards, steelworks, coal mines, chemical plants and its connection with the fuel industry, have all in turn contributed towards the growth, wealth and success of the town.

    Amos Butcher Shop, Albert Road. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    When talking of Jarrow, it is not always possible to talk of light and life. No work which ever purports in any way to tell the story of the town can ignore and portray the hardship and privation suffered by its people during the interwar years of the great depression. Subject to a greater rate of unemployment than any other borough in the land, Jarrow came to epitomise the desperate state of affairs endured by so much of industrial Britain during that period.

    Ferry Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Nothing, depression and wars included, lasts forever, and the post war years saw a welcome and marked improvement in the well-being of the town and its people. This improvement took many forms: new schools, public houses, recreational facilities, a state of the art shopping complex, but most importantly the rehousing of thousands of residents to Jarrow’s own garden suburb, Primrose.

    For many years, the Borough of Jarrow had been subject to a programme of ongoing changes and refurbishment, with the construction of a network of ring roads skirting the town, removed the burden of pollution from industrial and constant heavy traffic from the town centre. Together with the introduction of the ‘Clean Air Act’ of 1955, the town was once again looking forward to a brighter future. The working base of the town has undergone equally radical alteration. None of the former lucrative heavy industries of old exist. Today many would consider Jarrow as a dormitory town. In strict legal terms, the Borough of Jarrow no longer exists, amalgamated in 1974 with the much larger borough of South Tyneside. Instead, many would consider Jarrow a dormitory town, home to the office and retail personnel of the commercial enterprises of the surrounding area.

    Station Hotel Ellison Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    As the 21st century dawned, there was little or no evidence of any industrial activity in Jarrow, as very few relics of the town survive any more. The shipyards and rolling mills have been replaced with industrial business parks. Although these parks provide employment in the town and contribute heavily towards its ongoing economy, they seem somewhat soulless. No longer do we build ships or even repair them, long gone are the slipways and dry docks which were once the throbbing heart of the town.

    Monkton terrace. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    We must be eternally grateful to the amateur historians of the last two centuries who trawled the streets and shipyards with their cameras taking photographs for future generations to enjoy. Through their eyes, they left us a legacy of images of times past that we must treasure and preserve. Without these images, the history and heritage of the town would be almost impossible to piece together. The history of Jarrow is a vital link with the past, not only for ourselves, but more importantly for future generations. Through the days of triumph and tragedy, the outstanding feature of Jarrow has been its people. Famous writers, singers, local characters and villains have grown up in the town, but it is the ordinary Jarovian possessing a rare mixture of honesty, decency and good humour that has given the town its unique personality. In return all are marked forever by the town and have a genuine affection for it and proud to be called Jarra’ lads and lasses.

    Paul Perry's new book Jarrow at Work is available for purchase now.

  • Westbury Cement Works by Simon Knight

    The chimney standing tall over the partly demolished site. (Credit Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    When I started covering the demolition of the cement works, I hadn’t originally planned on turning my time spent there into a book. But as the hours spent on site accumulated, I began to realise that there was more to the place than just old, dusty buildings. It was a place that was once alive. It was a place that was important. And it was a place that should be remembered.

    Once I knew that there was to be a book on the horizon, it changed my approach to my visits to the noisy site; where machines slowly tracked around digging, hammering and cutting up the remnants of a once thriving industry. I now had to make sure that I took plenty of still images from both the drone and ground-based camera, rather than just shooting video; I had to record as much as possible. And with thoughts of the book constantly with me during those visits, I would begin to explore the cement works with renewed intrigue.

     

     

    Kiln construction in 1962. (Credit Tarmac Ltd., Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    I was given permission to use archive black and white pictures that were taken during the construction of the site. I love taking pictures and I love looking at pictures and I found it truly fascinating trawling through them all. There were pictures taken during the construction of the two huge rotary kilns, the chimneys, the quarry, the entire construction had been documented. Looking back in time at a place that I had become so familiar with only added to my fascination of the works.

    I now also had the perfect excuse to spend more time with something that I am truly passionate about – wildlife. I would spend hours walking over the long since used clay pile in search of butterflies, reptiles and wild flowers. The wildlife that lived at the back of the site lay in juxtaposition with the silence shattering and ground shaking machinery that that operated on a daily basis for eighteen months. Despite the disturbance, life went on for the mammalian, avian and reptilian life that inhabited the cement works. The highlight of my time spent with the wildlife was watching a family of Peregrine falcons. I was in the privileged position to be able to watch the parent birds rear their three chicks whilst I was concealed away in a building that once delivered cement clinker via a conveyor belt. It was dusty (as was the entire place) and uncomfortable, but it was worth every minute.

    Female Peregrine. (Credit: Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    I also learned of a far more ancient form of wildlife that once existed at the works. During the excavation of the clay that was used in the cement making process, many prehistoric fossils were unearthed. The fossil rich Kimmeridge clay, present as a sedimentary layer under the works, was a graveyard to many prehistoric marine reptiles from the Jurassic period, around 150 million years ago. The most famous of these reptiles was ‘Doris’, an eight metre long pliosaur. Her story would eventually see her end up with a new resting place, at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. When I was in the museum photographing Doris, I couldn’t believe that the first visit to the works had led me to this very moment, where I was stood facing the fossilised remains of one of the most ferocious marine predators that ever lived!

     

     

    The life-sized model of Doris displayed in the Bristol Museum. (Credit Simon Knight/Bristol Culture, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    Some of the time spent on site was frustrating and not so enjoyable. There were days when the weather wasn’t cooperative. Wind and rain would ground the drones and made stills photography challenging, sometimes impossible. Probably the most frustrating issue to deal with was when parts of the demolition didn’t go as planned. Occasionally there would be a building or structure that wasn’t prepared to give up its fifty-year grip on the land. This would lead to me being on site for most of the day, when the plan had been for that particular part of the works to be on the ground before the morning was out. During this time all I could do was hang around and wait.

    Of course, from a demolition perspective, the highlight of the entire eighteen months was the works iconic 400ft tall chimney coming down. The landmark that was visible and known for miles around, came crashing to the ground at 7am on 18th September 2016. It was an exciting and nervous morning for my crew of four that had set up cameras and piloted drones to record the memorable event. It was a morning that none of us will forget.

    The fallen chimney. (Credit Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    This was my first book, and it did feel somewhat strange when I received my copies of it. Here I was, holding a book that had been professionally published – with my name on the front! It was something that I had dreamt about for a long time. I mean, doesn’t everybody want to write a book? But now it had actually happened, it didn’t feel real somehow. I was proud of it, I knew that much, but there was also some trepidation lurking within – how would it be received?

    Something else that was very strange to me was having to do the local press pieces. I never produced the book to get attention. I’m a somewhat shy and quiet person and I am not a huge fan of being on the lens side of the camera, so being interviewed by the local press was a very alien experience to me to say the least!

     

     

    Simon Knight posing for the Wiltshire Times with some of the former cement works employees. (Credit: Siobhan Boyle/Wiltshire Times, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    What was very enjoyable though was the small get together that I organised with Nigel Osman (the cement works site manager) for some of the works former employees to celebrate the launch of the book. It was lovely to meet them, and they had some fond memories of life at the cement works. Some of them hadn’t seen each other for years and a good time was had by all. These were the people that I had really produced the book for.

    One employee said something to me that meant more than anything anyone could have said. It struck a chord with me and proved that to some people at least, the book meant something. He said, ‘It’s good that you have taken the time to do the book. This place employed generations of family members, was a good employer and it’s important that it’s remembered’.

    This really did mean a lot to me. This was the reason I produced the book and I now knew that it had been worth the effort.

     

    Simon Knight's new book Westbury Cement Works is available for purchase now.

  • British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s by Stephen Dowle

    Few dissent from the view that Harrington Grenadier was one of the best coach bodies of its era. This example, on an AEC Reliance 2U3RA chassis, was one of a batch of five new to Bowen's of Birmingham in 1965. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    "Transitional" is, I suppose, the word to describe the bus industry’s situation in the second half of the 1970s. The transition was from two-man "crew" operation – universal on all but the most unfrequented services ten years earlier – to "OMO", or One-Man Operation, to employ the diabolical gender-specific term used in those far-off, unenlightened times. For us in the industry it was a "soft" revolution: I never heard of anyone being compulsorily made redundant as a consequence of OMO. I was one of many conductors who were re-trained as drivers, and the usual high turnover of staff made it possible to manage the changeover on the basis of natural wastage, retirements and so on. Once the dust had settled the man behind the wheel found himself doing what had, until recently, been two jobs. Much of the camaraderie disappeared and bus driving became a solitary, slightly sadder occupation. Of course, operators were in the business of running bus services, not social clubs.

    OMO was a response to decline. The industry's prosperity had peaked in the decade after the war. It was said that operators typically employed 2.4 people for every bus owned and all bus undertakings eagerly embraced OMO as a means of reducing their wages bill. Many ill-informed theories were advanced to explain the decline. Passengers were especially vocal on the topic and blamed the ever-falling fortunes of their local bus operator on the disincentive effect of higher fares and deteriorating standards of service. This was to put the cart before the horse. It was the age of "affluence", full employment and inflation. At a time when local newspapers were plump and heavy with the weight of Situations Vacant advertising, it is said that you could walk out of a job in the morning and start another in the afternoon, people rejected the shifts, split turns, early starts and low pay of bus work. Many buses were pulled from services because it was impossible to provide crews for them. Attempts to make the job more attractive mostly took the form of pay rises, which had to then be paid for in higher fares. To keep fare increases below the level at which passengers were deterred from travelling was a delicate balancing act. To me it was plain that the industry's reduced circumstances could be attributed mainly to the great increase in car ownership. Once they could afford to, people naturally preferred to travel in their own cars, door-to-door, at times of their own choosing. This led not only to a fall in the number of passengers, but to an increased problem of traffic congestion. Another factor was that people now stayed indoors watching television where once they would have gone out in search of recreation. The decline of public transport was a natural consequence of increased prosperity.

    The moulded 'St Helens front' was supplied with many Leyland Titan chassis when traditional exposed radiators passed out of favour. Colchester's 43 (OVX 143D) had beennew in 1966 and carried bodywork by Massey. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    The industry's adaptation to its reduced circumstances took place against a background of stability. The Transport Act of 1968 and the 1974 reforms of local government had brought in changes of organisation, but these were now well established; the greater upheaval of privatisation and deregulation would not come until the mid-1980s. For the period covered by the book it was "steady as she goes". As far as the vehicles were concerned, the introduction of OMO had presented ticklish problems of re-design. If the driver was to take his passengers' fares, the engine would have to be removed from its natural place at the front to a more hostile environment further back. In the case of double-deckers this meant the vertical rear transverse position, never very satisfactory from an engineering point of view, and in single-deckers a mid or rear horizontal underfloor configuration. This made room for a spacious platform and cab ahead of the front axle. The noble front-engined half-cab bus, a familiar and uniquely British vehicle, was doomed, and its slab-fronted, box-on-wheels, one-man successor was taking over. The normal pace of fleet renewal meant that the last front-engined buses, built towards the end of the 1960s, would reach the end of their lives in the early 1980s. So it proved. The photographs in the book were taken between 1975 and 1980, by which time OMO was almost universal. The few remaining pockets of "crew" operation disappeared during the first years of the new decade.

    This unusual Leyland Titan PD3/2 with Alexander body was fitted from new with an experimental fibreglass front made by Holmes (Homalloy) of Preston. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    I have spoken of "the bus industry". The coach sector, being for the most part in private hands, was proof against government interference and went its own way. Most large operators, however, had a "coaching side" that formed a minor part of their activities; most subsidiaries of the National Bus Company (NBC) contributed white-liveried vehicles to the National Express coach pool. The NBC, my employers, had incurred my displeasure by imposing a particularly insipid "corporate identity", which had led to the disappearance, one might almost say suppression, of previous company identities, liveries and lettering styles. Much the same had happened in the large cities, where the previous corporation undertakings had been absorbed into Passenger Transport Executives, each hell-bent on promoting an up-to-the-minute, go-ahead "image". In the book's introduction I give an account of how pleased I was, on first travelling to Scotland in 1976, to find the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh thronged with the vehicles of the Scottish Bus Group, still wearing the exquisite liveries and fleetnames of its separate companies. Remote from modish influences, old ways endured in Scotland, for the time being.

    Hurrying around the country by train with my camera to chronicle these developments became a favourite recreation. The matter became increasingly urgent as aged survivors of the pre-OMO epoch, each in its due time, joined the inevitable procession that led to the breaker's yard. Although I was not keen on the direction events were taking, for students of the industry they were undoubtedly interesting times. There was still much variety and what was old was markedly different from what was new: today, I would suggest, the oldest vehicles in service are not fundamentally unlike their newer replacements. Another important difference between then and now is that foreign builders had yet to get their feet under the table of the British market. Fleets were still dominated by the big names among domestic builders, notably Leyland, AEC, Bristol, Daimler and Bedford. Looking back, through the wrong end of a telescope and wearing, as usual, my rose-tinted spectacles, the era seems a miniature golden age. It is a characteristic of golden ages that they never last.

    Stephen Dowle's new book British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s is available for purchase now.

  • Masters of the Italian Line by Ian Sebire

    A magazine advert for the new ship, dominated by her namesake's self-portrait in old age. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffaello

    As a child I was fascinated by ships and the sea, in truth of course I still am. Perhaps it is in the blood (Sebire may be of Norse origin, meaning ‘Sea Bright’), or the result of long summer holidays spent on Guernsey and Herm in the Channel Islands. Whatever the reason, passenger liners have always held a particular interest. If the mighty France/Norway remains my all-time favourite, the Italian Liners of the 1960’s, with their svelte profiles and often exotic names, collectively captivated me most.

    Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffaello were the most prominent of these vessels and amongst the most significant passenger ships (the twins were the fourth longest and largest post-war built liners, exceeding P&O’s Canberra) of their era. Perversely I was aware of the ships long before I knew about the artists for which they are named, yet prior to the advent of the internet there was little information about them, especially in English. Peter C. Kohler changed all that in the late 1990’s with his superb history of the Italian Line entitled ‘The Lido Fleet’; my threadbare copy bears witness to the numerous times I have read it, or ‘dipped in’ and inevitably it was a key reference source for me.

    Nevertheless, to my knowledge there has never been an English language book prior to ‘Masters of the Italian Line’ that focussed exclusively on these three magnificent vessels. My hope is that this book helps to fill that void.

     

     

    Early artist impression of the new ships with their projected vital statistics. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    Leonardo da Vinci remains, in my view, the most beautiful ship of all time; tangible evidence of the Italian genius for synthesising form and function. Unique, she also seems to have been a happy ship, imbued perhaps with the benevolent spirits of those seeking to avenge the loss of her predecessor, Andrea Doria. That she was unable to make the transition from ocean liner to cruise ship was particularly disappointing, her elegant silhouette would have graced the piers of every port she visited. Political sensibilities aside, making the switch would still have been difficult without reconfiguring the engine rooms and installing diesels to replace the thirsty turbines.  Of course the fire at La Spezia in July 1980 destroyed all those dreams.

    Inevitably Michelangelo will always be synonymous with her wave encounter on 12th April 1966. That single dreadful event overshadows a decade long career, during which the first of the ‘make work’ sister ships transported tens of thousands of passengers across the Atlantic and on languid pleasure cruises. She always took centre stage and inevitably her final departures from both New York and Genoa drew the largest audiences and media attention.

    Michelangelo reflected in the clear, still waters of Geirangerfjord in the course of her North Cape cruise. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    In contrast Raffaello has always seemed more distant and enigmatic. Perhaps it’s an Englishman’s penchant for the underdog, or more rationally my preference for her modern, bright, European decor but Raffaello has always been my favourite of the two. Pathos pervades both the superliners’ careers but the manner of her demise, sunk as an innocent ‘civilian’ victim by the Iraqi Air Force, gives her story a particularly sad final twist.

    At times exhausting and frustrating, writing this book, including collating the information and photographs has nevertheless been a wonderfully rewarding experience. As a novice I am indebted to many people from several different countries who generously helped, those directly involved are included in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. There is however one person not mentioned who has been instrumental throughout. Thanks to a fortuitous delay in the departure of Fred Olsen’s ‘Black Watch’ several years ago, I met Nigel Lawrence, editor of Shipping Today and Yesterday magazine, at the end of Dover’s Prince of Wales pier. We got chatting and Nigel subsequently published my article about the Italian line in the magazine and has printed several of my ship biographies since, giving me the confidence to pursue this project and see it to fruition. I am really grateful.

    Ian Sebire's new book Masters of the Italian Line is available for purchase now.

  • South East England Buses in the 1990s by David Moth

    Guildford & West Surrey Leyland Olympian 903 (F573 SMG) is seen outside Camerley railway station on 8 April 1995. (South East England Buses in the 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    The 1990s was an interesting time for bus operations as it saw the consolidation of the bus operating industry where a lot of companies that had been privatised and sold to their management teams in the late 80s were sold on to the emerging big groups. Such as Badgerline, Drawlane, later British Bus, and after that, Arriva and Stagecoach. Also a lot of the operators still showed their NBC heritage by the large number of Bristol VRTs still in service. Maidstone & District and East Kent Road Car were both smart fleets with a high proportion of double deckers in their fleets. It was a real shame that these companies inevitably got swallowed up by the big groups and eventually lost their individuality. Southern Vectis remained independent until 2005 and was well regarded by enthusiasts for their attractive livery and vintage fleet.

    Seen on 30 July 1994 is Luton & District Bristol VRT 934 (SNV 934W). (South East England Buses in the 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    Reading was an interesting place to visit as council owned Reading Buses had a smart fleet of various types of buses. Plus from 1994 onwards there was the independent operator Reading Mainline that were extremely unusual in that their entire operational fleet was composed of just one type – Routemasters.  Reading Mainline were taken over by Reading Buses in 1998 and operations ceased in 2000. Another operator using Routemasters was Timebus who for a short while operated Routemasters on services around Watford. Although their bus services didn't last long, Timebus is still in business as a private hire operator and still has several Routemasters today. Luton & District was another interesting former NBC operator that was formed from the part of United Counties that was transferred from Eastern National in the 1950s. They had an interesting fleet with a high proportion of double deckers and took over neighbouring London Country North West before being taken over themselves by British Bus in 1994. A particularly favourite fleet of mine was Southend Transport which had a fascinating, but aging fleet in the 1990s, with a very high proportion of second hand buses in its fleet, including several Routemasters, Leyland Olympians, Leyland Nationals and Bristol VRTs.

    All the photos in this book were taken by me in the 1990s for my own enjoyment and for my friends. Which is why some areas are very well represented, i.e. Kent and Southend, and some are very much over looked, i.e. Sussex and Oxfordshire.

    It is a matter of regret that I didn't keep the bus photos I took during two visits to Brighton in the 1990s and several photos taken in Kent and Oxford in 1992.

    David Moth's new book South East England Buses in the 1990s is available for purchase now.

  • Black Death: A New History of the Bubonic Plagues of London by Stephen Porter

    Plague has been the greatest scourge of mankind in recorded history. The plague bacillus has been identified in skeletons in Eastern Europe and the Balkans dating from the late Neolithic period and the Bronze Age, perhaps carried by migrations from the Russian and Ukrainian steppes around 4,800 years ago. Since then there have been three pandemics, which have killed millions of people, and the disease still claims roughly a thousand victims a year. The first outbreak began in the mid-sixth century in Ethiopia and reached Constantinople in 541, during the reign of the emperor Justinian. It had subsided by the mid-eighth century and Europe did not suffer from further eruptions of plague until the onset of the Black Death in the 1340s. Its arrival in the Mediterranean world was attributed to a siege by the troops of Janibeg, the Khan of the Golden Horde, of the port town of Kaffa (now Foedosiya) on the Black Sea in 1345-6. From there it spread to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, reaching Iceland and Greenland. In response to a request from the Pope an estimate of the number of victims was made which put the death-toll at 23,840,000, or roughly one-third of Europe’s population. That cannot be taken as at all accurate, but gives some indication of the scale of the catastrophe and the fear which it produced, for who could hope to survive when a virulent disease was striking down so many?

    A sick patient with his attendants, 1460; a devil which has knocked over the table in the foreground indicates that all is not going well. (Author's Collection, Black Death, Amberley Publishing)

    The nature and symptoms of the plague generated horror and dismay. Victims complained of headaches, quickly followed by a fever and vomiting, with painful blotches developing that were caused by haemorrhaging beneath the skin and buboes forming on the lymph nodes in the groin and armpits, and on the neck. As the buboes grew, so did the pain, which was so excruciating that some victims became uncontrollable and delirious, screaming and running wildly around the streets, and their speech became impaired. Foul smells emanated from the sick, repelling those caring for them, and the affliction produced such fear and revulsion that the sufferers were left unattended. The social structure threatened to disintegrate as the rich fled and many who remained gave themselves up to riotously wild living. Those who were prepared to stay and nurse the sick or bury the bodies were accused of doing so to rob the victims and loot their houses. One complaint that was made was that the clothing ‘of those who were once noble are now divided as spoil . . . among grooms, and maid-servants and prostitutes’. Social norms had been discarded during the epidemic and it took time for them to be re-established.

    Death rates among those infected are hard to determine but estimates of between 75 and 80 per cent are probably not far wide of the mark. Few of those who survived left any record of their sufferings, and from the few accounts that we have what comes across is the pain, fear and sense of desolation that the victims experienced, and the panic and aversion which it caused in others, even family and friends, so that the victims were left to suffer alone.

     

     

    London in the late fifteenth century, an impression by the painter John Fulleylove, based upon a contemporary illustration. (Author's Collection, Black Death, Amberley Publishing)

    The Black Death had subsided by 1352 but the plague returned intermittently over the following centuries. It was never again to spread so universally across the continent as it had done in the fourteenth century, but in the regions and cities afflicted during an outbreak the suffering was no less, the social disruption caused was as damaging and the proportion of the population that died was as high as during that first epidemic. Plague outbreaks contributed to the slow recovery of population numbers in the late Middle Ages; London did not attain its pre-Black Death size until the mid-sixteenth century.

    Not until the late nineteenth century was the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis identified and the means of transmission recognised to be rats’ fleas moving from host to host to feed, carrying the infection and spreading it through their bites as they drew blood. More recent work has acknowledged that human fleas and lice carry the disease, as well as rats’ fleas.

     

     

    Plague was a disease of the trade routes and was brought to England in vessels such as this one. (Author's Collection, Black Death, Amberley Publishing)

    Taken by surprise and with no notion of what caused the disease or how it spread, contemporaries were at first unable to take steps to protect their communities. But from that first bewildering outbreak in the 1340s steps were devised to try to halt the progress of the disease, with the Italian cities leading the way. Isolation of the sick, either in their houses or in especially-built pesthouses, and control of movement, with the exclusion of people from areas known to be infected, were gradually introduced. Some cities forbade access to those coming from an infected area or anyone carrying or transporting linen or woollen cloth, reflecting the suspicion that the disease emanated from textiles. To identify the presence and progress of plague, records began to be kept of the number of victims who had died and the figures for all deaths. That gave the authorities information which they required to decide what steps to take, and to gain acceptance of their policies, for they did not have the means to enforce either quarantine or restrictions on travel if the population did not agree with such measures. Merchants were bound to resent restrictions on trade and so too were those who supplied food and fuel to their local city or town.

    Foul air was also thought to harbour the disease in the miasma which arose from stagnant water or piles of garbage, and so the cleanliness of public places by the frequent removal of dirt and waste and the washing down of streets became integral elements of the measures against plague. The well-to-do citizens who occupied parts of houses which were away from the rubbish of everyday existence seemed not to be afflicted to the same extent. That was because those spaces did not attract rodents and their parasites, although of course the connection was not recognised at the time. Many such householders absented themselves until the epidemic had subsided, while the poorer people could not leave. The plague came to be regarded as a disease of the poor, whose lifestyles, even the size of their families, made them vulnerable. The disease was socially divisive, to say the least.

    The Charterhouse and Charterhouse Square in the mid-eighteenth century; the site of the Black Death burial ground. (c. The Charterhouse, Black Death, Amberley Publishing)

    From those procedures and an awareness of steps taken elsewhere, similar policies on public health matters developed across Christian Europe and were continued and extended after the gradual ending of the plague threat, from the mid-seventeenth century onwards. London’s last and most deadly outbreak, the Great Plague, came in 1665. Quarantining of shipping and naval controls applied at ports around the coasts of north-west Europe had become a major element in plague prevention, while overland cordons in continental Europe also proved to be effective. Such measures pushed the source of the disease further away and cities such as London, Dublin, Bristol, Southampton and Amsterdam could be kept free of the disease, for the infected fleas could not survive the long voyages from beyond the cordon. But in the Ottoman Empire plague prevention was not implemented because Islam was deemed to require a fatalistic response to epidemics.

    Yet plague recurred in east and south Asia and Africa in the late nineteenth century and continued to claim victims through much of the twentieth century. Despite such failures, the measures taken to limit plague were not only retained but became the core of public health policy. When an epidemic of another disease, designated as SARS, struck in 2003, control of travel, confinement of victims and their contacts, and the use of isolation hospitals were implemented, and were effective in halting its progress. Plague’s depredations have created a fear which is still with us and the word has been given a wider meaning, as a curse or a menace, but the responses to plague have developed into a range of practices that are of enormous benefit for public health. Perhaps we should be more aware that plague’s legacy has not been entirely detrimental.

    Stephen Porter's new book Black Death: A New History of the Bubonic Plagues of London is available for purchase now.

  • The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s by Andy Gibbs

    At Shakespeare Cliff, with the English Channel alongside, we find solitary 4CEP unit No. 1531 en route to Charing Cross in August 1982. (The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Transport and Photography are always going to be close bedfellows and if like me your first word was Bus and all your early childhood holidays were by train, you had no chance of avoiding the two as hobbies!

    I vaguely remember seeing steam engines at Bournemouth en route to a holiday but whilst they held a fascination it was those big blue diesels and electrics that held my attention for longer. With my Dad working for the Brighton Hove & District bus company I ended up with an interest in buses too. In fact more or less anything that has an engine. I maybe a rail enthusiast but I like Top Gear too!

    A series of hand-me-down cameras, a Kodak Brownie followed by an Agfa 35mm compact, led me towards a weight-lifting present for my 18th birthday, a Zenit EM SLR which weighed a ton. A telephoto lens and a 2x converter were soon added to my arsenal. It’s a wonder I didn't end up as a body builder, the Zenit and telephoto lend weighed over a kilo between them. My current Sony A77 Mk2 DSLR weighs but a fraction of that.

    The Zenit did teach you how to use the non through the lens meter quickly and to brace yourself to avoid too may shaky photos.

    Many of my early photos were rubbish but photographic lessons at school along with lessons in the darkroom soon taught me about composition, developing and printing.

    If you were lucky a couple of 36 exposure slide films might see you through the summer, then popped in the envelope and off to the developers. A week or so later, more like two in the height of the summer, you got the film back. Hopefully not a complete waste or the wrong persons’ film… had that a few times.

     

    It's a beautiful day in Hampshire as No. 33043 skirts the River Test at Redbridge with 1V8, the 18.10 Portsmouth Harbour to Bristol Temple Meads, on 7 May 1987. (C. P.Barber, The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Trips out on the train got further and further away from home to exotic locations such as Reading or Westbury, Peterborough or Stratford! This was in the 1970's when British Rail was a sea of Blue and Grey and quite a grubby environment. Lunches out if I hadn't taken sandwiches would be from the Travellers Fare station buffet. I can honestly say I never remembered seeing the dried up curly sandwich frequently joked about. How could Mothers Pride sliced white ever be dry? Okay a smear of butter and plain cheese in it didn't help. It was usually Smiths Crisps or the slightly risqué Big D Peanuts as a side order. You always hoped your packet of peanuts would reveal a bit more of the scantily clad female models cleavage on the backing card. Railway tea was legendry. It could be anything between warm flavoured milk and strong enough to stand your spoon up in. It wasn’t any different when I went to work for British Rail. I've seen a whole packet of loose tea tipped into the pot, with just more boiling water added as the day went on.

    If you had room for cake it was often a Lyons fruit pie, usually Apple although I do remember having Blackberry and Apple and I think Apricot too! Exotic times.

    This leads me back to my first book Southern Region in the 1970's and 1980's. I hope it will remind you of a time that although it doesn't seem that long ago is in fact two generations back. Things change, nothing ever stands still but if you fancy standing still for a while it's well worth a look.

    Andy Gibbs' new book The Southern Region in the 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase now.

  • King Cnut and the Viking Conquest of England by W. B. Bartlett

    Emma of Normandy, Cnut and the Norman Conquest of 1066

    The powerful edifice of Corfe Castle. (King Cnut and the Viking Conquest of England 1016, Amberley Publishing)

    There is no year in English history more famous than 1066. The events of half a century before when Cnut the Great, ultimately king of both England and Denmark, took the throne of the country are however much less remembered. That is a shame, for there are some important links between the two events, most significantly through a remarkable woman, Emma of Normandy. She is also largely forgotten when compared to her more famous relative, William, Duke of Normandy; and her story deserves to be told.

    Most remarkably Emma was married to two kings of England, a situation that is made even more significant because her two husbands were bitter rivals of each other. She married her first husband, Æthelred II (the ‘Unready’) in 1002. It was a marriage that brought benefits to both parties, not atypical for a time when most such relationships were entered into for political reasons rather than love. Emma, daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, gained a king as a husband whilst Æthelred obtained an important potential ally. The Duchy of Normandy was populated by men and women who were directly descended from Vikings; and their contemporary relatives from Denmark and Norway had been using it as a base from which to attack England.   

    The atmospheric site of Glastonbury Abbey, burial place of Edmund Ironside and visited by Cnut. (King Cnut and the Viking Conquest of England 1016, Amberley Publishing)

    Two sons were born to Æthelred and Emma, named Edward and Alfred. However, things did not go well for England in the meantime. In 1013, Æthelred fled the country when he was defeated by the Viking warlord, Sweyn Forkbeard, who had invaded his country with a large force. The exiled English king found sanctuary, along with the rest of his family, in Normandy. However he was not there long, for soon afterwards Sweyn unexpectedly died and Æthelred was invited back to England. Sweyn’s son, Cnut, was caught by surprise and was forced to flee for his life when defeated in battle after a surprise attack. As if by a miracle Æthelred found himself once more king of England.

    However, this incredible turnaround in fortunes did not last. Æthelred soon after died and Cnut came back with another large force and ultimately succeeded in taking the throne of England. Despite the fact that he was already in a relationship with Ælfgifu of Northampton, he looked around for a wife to increase his legitimacy. Emma was the perfect candidate, particularly as she was now very conveniently widowed. And so in 1017 Emma and Cnut were married.

    The statue of Alfred looks over the ruins of Shaftesbury Abbey where Cnut died in Novmeber 1035. (King Cnut and the Viking Conquest of England 1016, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the marriage introduced complications into Emma’s family life. The children she had from this relationship, namely her son Harthacnut, took precedence over those from the first in the line of succession. Edward and Alfred continued to be brought up in exile at the court in Normandy. In the process they seem to have become significantly ‘Nomanised’. There appears to have been little contact between Emma and her absentee sons whilst Cnut was still alive. However this situation changed when first Cnut died in 1035, to be followed a few years later by Harthacnut. By now, Emma’s son from her first marriage, Alfred, was also dead, expiring in agony after being brutally blinded following a failed attempt to invade England after Cnut’s demise. This left Edward as the last man standing, and the heir apparent to the throne of England.

    Edward therefore became king, being known to subsequent generations as ‘the Confessor’. However, he died in 1066, leaving no children behind him. This left the throne vacant; it went first of all to Harold Godwinesson and then, after his death at Hastings, to William of Normandy. Edward whilst alive had fostered close links with Normandy and even invited in some Norman advisers. There were even claims that he had promised that the throne would go to William after his death. And so, in 1066, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England breathed its last, an unintended indirect consequence of the marriage politics of the period half a century before which saw a Viking ruler of England and, uniquely in royal dynastic history, the remarkable story of a woman who was queen to two kings of England.

    W. B. Bartlett's new paperback book King Cnut and the Viking Conquest of England is available for purchase now.

  • Eastern National: The Final Years by David Moth

    Looking very smart in Eastern National's 'spinach and custard' deregulation livery is Bristol VR 3094 (STW 38W), which stands in Chelmsford bus station on 11 August 1992. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National was probably one of the more fondly remembered Tilling subsidiaries and although it had a very highly standardised fleet towards the end of the 70s and most of the 80s, it still had something of interest. It is well known that as a National Bus Company subsidiary, EN was involved in the great FLF/VRT swap of 1973, when the National Bus Company swapped a large number of Bristol FLFs for an equivalent number of Bristol VRTs that The Scottish Bus Group was dissatisfied with. What is not so well remembered is that two years earlier in 1971 Eastern National and Alexander Midland did a swap of their own where Eastern National gave fifteen Bristol FLFs in exchange for the same number of Bristol VRTs.

    Although a few operators converted half cab double deckers to One Man Operation in the 70s, with varying degrees of success, Eastern National was the only operator that converted Bristol FLFs to OMO. Six were rebuilt in this way in 1973, but it was not considered a success and no other operator did this.

    Bristol VRT 3095 (UAR 585W) is seen on 10 February 1992. This bus was sadly lost in the arson attack at Colchester depot on Christmas Eve 1994. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National were the only NBC company to stipulate 70 seats on their Bristol VRTs delivered in the 70s while every other subsidiary was receiving 74 seaters from the advent of the Bristol VRT/ series 3 in 1975. Although the last two batches in 1981, which were diverted from Alder Valley and Southdown, were 74 seaters.

    Eastern National built up one of the country's biggest fleets of Leyland Nationals in the 70s. The last one being delivered in 1980, which had the effect of gradually eroding the Tilling inheritance in the fleets appearance. Which up until then had been dominated by Bristol/ECW types which of course was standard in the Tilling Group.

    Eastern National's last front engined double deckers were Bristol FLFs. EN bought 247 FLFs and even by 1980 there were still over 100 in the fleet. But they were withdrawn rapidly after that, the last one being withdrawn in September 1981, although crew operation lingered on for a short while after. By 1982 Eastern Nationals' fleet became very standardised, with the double deck fleet being almost entirely made up of Bristol VRTs plus three examples of the new Leyland Olympian. While the single deck bus fleet being mainly Leyland Nationals with a few remaining Bristol REs.

    Seen when about four months old, Dennis Lance 1503 (P503 MNO) is at Colchester bus station on 9 June 1997. The batch of thirteen buses to which 1503 belonged would be the last buses delivered in Eastern National livery. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National was successfully purchased from NBC in December 1986, and during its brief period of independence, saw off competition from Coastal Red as well as taking on several LRT routes in East London. A number of midlife Bristol VRTs were purchased from Milton Keynes Citybus at this time, mainly for use on LRT routes.

    In 1988 Eastern National purchased 30 Leyland Lynxes which went on to have long lives in Essex, although none were ever allocated to the northern Essex depots such as Colchester, Harwich, Braintree or Clacton.

    Eastern National was taken over by Badgerline Holdings in April 1990, which seemed surprising at the time, as it was the first bus company that Badgerline took over that wasn't in the south west or Wales. At first little seemed to change, but in the summer of 1990, Ford Transit Minibuses were transferred from Cityline for town services in Chelmsford.

    In July 1990, EN's new owners partitioned EN, creating the new subsidiary Thamesway for the south of Essex and LRT routes, while the Eastern National name was retained for services around Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Colchester, Harwich and Clacton. Thamesway very quickly transformed their area of operation, introducing minibuses on town services in and around Basildon and Southend areas, as well as directly competing with Southend Transport in the south east corner of Essex.

    In 1993 a new livery and identity was introduced using the colours of parent company Badgerline. This was also the time when Badgerline introduced their subtle corporate identity by applying cute cartoon badgers to the wheel arches of the subsidiary's buses.

    Leyland Lynx 1427 (F427 MJN) is seen at Basildon Hospital on Friday 28 August 1992 on an early afternoon journey to its home depoty of Chelmsford from West Thurrock Lakeside. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1995 Badgerline Holdings and GRT Holdings merged and the resulting new company was called FirstBus. This also brought Eastern National and neighbouring company Eastern Counties back into common ownership.

    While Badgerline and GRT both had a policy of their subsidiaries having their own identities, First Bus decided to gradually create a group identity. This meant the Eastern National and Thamesway fleetnames gradually being relegated to lesser prominence before finally disappearing altogether.  This was a process that was happening to various fleets throughout Britain. Eastern National and Thamesway were eventually reunited as First Essex.

    As time went on  the Eastern National heritage gradually disappeared as the VRTs, with their classic ECW lines, (a reminder of the NBC and indeed Tilling eras) were gradually withdrawn, with the last ones (apart from one which was retained for a while as a heritage vehicle) being withdrawn in 2004. And the Lynxes went about the same time.

    Recently First have revived the Badgerline name and livery for services around Weston super Mare, and do seem to be in a gradually process of introducing local identities to selected areas, so maybe one day the Eastern National name may be revived.

    David Moth's new book Eastern National: The Final Years is available for purchase now.

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