Notable events that happened in our vicinity during the last war

Trying to put my thoughts onto paper this month has proved to be the most difficult so far in my efforts to portray Southam's past. Having had instilled in me for as long as I can recall the old adage of ''self praise is no recommendation'', I honestly do try not to be too ‘I this’ or ‘I that’.

However, having been hit with cancer many years ago that resulted in facial disfigurement, when I say that I view the world through different eyes than most, I mean exactly that. So when, as I will in this issue, be recalling events that I have been involved in, please remember I am writing this as one born and bred with Southam's true grit. Maybe it's because of this, that I have endured and survived a somewhat difficult life. Often now feeling somewhat under the proverbial weather, and, as the weather is often the topic of conversation, it is in that direction that my thoughts have recently drifted (like snow). In my article of March 2005, I covered some notable events that happened in our vicinity during the last war and it is at this point I now return. In my article I covered the loss of two Wellington bomber crews, both accidents being within a three mile radius of our Parish Church.

Accident number one was on the sultry hot night of Wednesday /Thursday July 21st 1941, at 01-12hrs when Wellington bomber T2458 out of R.A.F Moreton in Marsh, ended in a field close to the wood at Bascote Heath, killing the entire crew who were from Canada, Australia, Brazil and the UK.

Accident number two was on the bitterly cold Sunday evening of January 30th 1944 at 19-38hrs when Wellington bomber DF566 out of R.A.F. Gaydon exploded at 6.000 ft over Ladbroke Hill, again killing all on board. They being an all Canadian crew. After some research I came up with the names and locations of where both crews came from, and endeavoured to do a search for family members, but with no success. Flying Officer C.F. Sutcliffe from Georgetown, Canada was flying Wellington T2458.

After contacting the Georgetown paper I became aware of the fact that his father was the Reverend Joseph Fletcher Sutcliffe of Georgetown's United Church, and that he had attended Jarvis collegiate and the Toronto Conservatory of music. A most talented young man, Flying Officer Carman Fletcher Sutcliffe was the only man from all of those on board both aircraft that I was able to find anything about. The remaining crew members, from both crashes, being buried in our leafy Warwickshire as unknowns. When I required information from the head stones of C.F. Sutcliffe and his crew, lying in Long Lawford churchyard and had no means of getting there myself, I made contact with the local scout group who, whether by chance coincidence or fate, was run by a man from Canada.

When the scout group became aware of who they had in their churchyard, they forwarded me the information and took it upon themselves to tidy up the graves. When Remembrance Sunday was imminent, I gave the crew members names to Anne Burton at Wood Street Chapel. As our minister the Rev. Wayne Hawkins was at the Parish Church service, in his capacity as Mayor.

Jan took the service and after reading the names of the Southam fallen she read out the names of F.O. Sutcliffe and his crew. She had not been made aware of the Ladbroke Hill crew, but I feel sure next time they will be remembered also. I thought that was all I could do, in bringing to the attention of Southam folk the sacrifice these young men had made over our part of Warwickshire, and that was the end of the project. But that was not to be. Early in December I was sent details from the Long Lawford scout group, of a commemorative plaque that they had had made and installed in their memorial hall, next to their fallen, which I thought was a wonderful gesture by them. That I thought must be the end of a somewhat sad story but, yet again, events were to take me by surprise.

A few days before Christmas mid morning the telephone rang. Being a bit cagey on answering un-solicited phone calls, I hesitated a little in saying much. It was a lady on the telephone who said she was telephoning from Canada, and was I the Bill Griffin that had written up the loss of F.O. Carman Fletcher Sutcliffe and his crew, as she was his niece, her mum being Carman's sister. When I said I was, she told me how she had found me via the internet, and furthermore, said her mum was still with us aged 97 years.

She said her mum still played the piano and often recalled how she and Carman had made music together. So I was able via the Internet, to send her details and pictures etc. of the Remembrance Day service and of the scout group’s plaque. Then last week I had a letter from Carman’s sister telling me further details of her, and I quote ' my precious brother’. Although she endeavoured to find out details at the time of his sad loss, no details were ever divulged by the R.A.F. of the accident. As he was an accomplished flyer, there is little doubt in my mind as an aircraft engineer, that it was just that, and nothing to do with his skill as a pilot. It was known that the machine had been involved in an accident on the ground two weeks earlier, so poor maintenance may have been the cause. Another possible cause, as it was a hot humid July night, was it being struck by lightning.

On a modern aircraft, every structural part is bonded to the next part, often by a bonding strip. This means that every part of the aircraft becomes one continuous electrical circuit. On the trailing edges of ailerons, elevators and the rudder, are what are known as static discharge wicks. These disperse static electricity back to atmosphere. If you know what you are looking at and you fly through a thunderstorm, you can sometimes see the electrical charge flashing off.

On a number of occasions, after an aircraft has flown through a thunderstorm, it was not unusual to see these totally blown away. Fortunately they are easily replaced, and if lost, always were. I recall on one occasion, a Vickers Viscount landed after it encountered a violent storm, and the stewardess telling me she had never been so frightened because, at one point, ball lightning the size of a football, came into the cabin, it rolling and flashing down the isle towards her strapped in her stewardess’ seat. Only for it to disappear before it reached her, as quickly as it came, back through the fuselage structure to atmosphere. What caused the Wellington to crash on a hot summer’s night will never be known, but inclement weather should not be ruled out.

We have just experienced a rather violent gale, with pictures of death and destruction on TV, including an airliner at Birmingham airport taking off almost sideways. I think a storm experienced here in Southam early in January 1947, prior to the heavy snowfall is worthy of comment. Dad had been baking at the Mill for a short time when it hit, we still living in Warwick Street. On the night it hit, it blew the bakehouse chimney down, it crashing through the roof, and also smashed to pieces a poultry pen full of hens blowing them all away. Not one was ever found. It was so violent that my dad often said between Southam and Ufton some 50 trees had e0ither been blown down, or had branches ripped off. This was the night that two girls from Stockton, Miss Ruby Hawker and Miss Jean Shearsby were killed, when a tree fell on their Midland Red bus en route from Leamington to Stockton. My good friend Mr. Rex Warner of Teviot Lodge was also a passenger on the bus that night, after going to the Regal Picture House. He recalls that the girls had got on the bus at Radford Semele, one of them after visiting family members, the other, a boy friend. After a stop at Ufton it made it's way towards Southam, but when close to the drive to Stoneythorpe Hall, disaster struck. A Midland Red bus in front of them had been brought to a stop by a fallen elm tree, completely blocking the road, so they to had to stop.

Rex was only two seats away from where the girls were sitting, when a mighty elm tree crashed down on them, killing the two girls instantly, crushing the bus in it's wake. Rex had to escape through the smashed window only to find himself entangled in downed telephone lines and tree branches. Cut, bruised and shaken, he today summed the episode up in one word ''horrific''. He, along with others, was taken to the Ross family's farmhouse close by, where Magy and Jo administered to their wounds. After being patched up they continued into Southam on foot, having to dodge falling trees and branches on the way. As for the airliner, when with British Airways I sometimes flew to Spain (Mahon) with a BAC1-11 to do the engineering turn round. As this was a charter flight my seat was in the cockpit, and I remember one very windy day, flying to Spain in record time, we going like the proverbial bat out of hell, but the return journey was by airliner standards, at a snail pace.

After flying over Balsall Common, the runway came in to view. Sat on the centre line of the aircraft, the central windscreen pillar acted as does a gun sight, the aircraft flying towards the point it was aiming at. Not so on this occasion, as I was looking at the runway through the first officer’s side screen, that to sailors and airmen is the starboard side but to land lubbers right handed. We did the approach flying sideways the captain lining the aircraft up with the runway centre line a fraction before we touched down. Now that's why I am still here and why an airliner captain, be it a man or lady, yes we have a BA lady captain, living with her BA captain husband here in Southam, gets the pay they do.

Before flying my memory back to the winter of 1946-1947, whilst on my favourite subject aeroplanes, it may be of some interest to recall another hazard on landing that people outside of aviation will not be aware of. Recently Bristol Airport has been in the news after runway re-surfacing work, the result of which caused rain water to lie on the runway surface. The airlines being much concerned about skidding. It will no doubt be hard to accept the fact, but believe me it's true, that, just as a car or goods vehicle can aquaplane on water, so can an airliner on landing. However an airliner landing, in comparison to the cause and effect upon a car or goods vehicle, is incomparable. When the tyre or tyres come into contact with water they may not rotate but remain stationary so no matter how hard you stand on the brakes you skid, but then what happens is so much friction is generated between tyre and ground, that the water trapped in between boils. So you go down the runway on a sheet of boiling water. Eventually the wheel starts to rotate, but when it comes to rest on the arrival stand.

you not only find terrific scalding but half the tyre is worn away. Unless, as on one occasion with me, the wheel comes to rest with the scald point on the ground, then your sense of smell comes into play.

It may also have deflated, the weight of the aircraft being transferred to the other tyres. When this happens the excess load is often visible on the other tyre or tyres. It most certainly is not a very technical method of checking if a tyre was deflated, but a good kick would often suffice. Before returning to 1947, I would like to give an insight on the December 2006 closure of London Airport, and the problems that ensued, when it was closed due to fog. In 1978 I went to Malta to change a BAC1-11 windscreen that had cracked shortly before landing. A not unknown occurrence I should say.

I went with a fellow workmate, and as the aircraft was required back at Birmingham to continue it's timetable schedule, we started work immediately. Once completed we did a cabin pressure run from the engines without problems. So the machine was released back in service, and at that point we expected to return with the aircraft to Birmingham. However it was a charter flight and was fully booked, so we were found accommodation for the night at Malta's Phoenicia Hotel. We were told that if seats were available, we would be taken back to Heathrow on a De Havilland Trident flight the following morning. But again this never materialized due to non-availability of seats. This was the same situation for the following Trident flight out just after midnight. At that point my work mate, who had had an ear bashing over the telephone from his wife, as they had 3 young school children, decided, for the sake of married bliss, he must return home A.S.A.P. On the arrival of the late evening flight from London, (which by chance was an aircraft I had worked on and last seen in bits when I was with Hawker Siddeley Aviation at Bitteswell) .we went into the cockpit and he explained his situation.

As for me, I was in no hurry to get back anyway. After explaining the situation to the Captain he said that as the aircraft was fully booked for the return there was little he could do. But then went on to say there were two unoccupied crew seats, one on the flight deck, the other being a cabin crew seat, and that he had no problems with us returning to Heathrow using them. He then adding that whoever used the cabin crew seat would have to stand as soon as we were airborne, as he would be in the way of the cabin crew using the galley. As my mate was the one so keen to get back, I thought he would volunteer to use the galley seat, but alas that was not to be.

We tossed a coin to see who sat where, needless to say I was the one left standing. I was a little bit miffed at this, but as luck would have it was a blessing in disguise. As we got on remarkably well together we exchanged seats at about the halfway point. During the conversation with the flight crew, they received advanced warning from air traffic that Heathrow had closed due to fog. As Birmingham was B.A’s diversion airport and I had my car there, this was good news for me. However the captain had other ideas.

The DeHavilland Trident was the first airliner in the world to be fitted with auto land, and as the captain had recently been cleared to use it, he decided to do an auto land. So the required settings and switches were made, and they sat hands off the controls, the first I knew we were actually on the ground was when the throttles started to pull back on their own. The landing being as light as a feather. Then the fun started.’ Where are you’? air traffic said. Captains reply ’you tell me’. We were lost in the fog. Air traffic said ''stay where you are, we will send a car to find you'', as if we had a choice. Car took some time to find us, homing in to our position by the occupants listening to the jet engines sound, they either getting louder or quieter.

When the car eventually found us, the flight crew were falling over themselves with mirth, the car having a painted hardboard sign on its rear end with the instructions 'FOLLOW ME''. After such a high tech landing, to revert to such basics as this, we had to see the funny side of it. Fortunately we had no need for the emergency services to attend, but had we required them, they would have been somewhat late in their attendance call out time. So perhaps now you can be a bit more sympathetic towards the airline's problems. I trust dear reader (do I only have one?) that my little detour from Southam’s past will not irritate too many noses, as I feel sure I will be making others in future issues. So I fly back to the Southam as of January 1947.

My mother’s birthday was January 21st. and on that day in 1947 an easterly wind set in and we encountered the first fall of snow. Little did we know then that it was to be the start of a winter that was to go down in the annals as the snowiest winter since 1814. From January 21st to March 17th snow fell every day somewhere in the UK. and the temperature seldom went above two degrees above freezing. There were several snowfalls of 60 cm or more, and in some places level snow reached a depth of 150 cm. At infants’ school we only had a coal fire to warm us. As we had no coal, we had our lessons with our hats coats and gloves on. No consideration was ever given to closing the school due to the weather, even when the snow was up to the window sills. On January 21st, the strong easterly wind eventually caused spectacular drifts. My dad had bread to deliver to Ufton and Bascote Heath. He got through to Ufton albeit with difficulty, but the road under the wood to Bascote Heath was impassable to traffic. He parked the van up on the Harbury Ufton Southam Bascote crossroads.filled the bread basket and started to walk. He told me that the snow had been blown into the hedges on both sides of the road, causing enormous drifts, but by doing so it left a clear portion of road about a yard wide.

Those living in the small cottages that once existed in Bascote Heath included the Bourton , Bennett, and Markham families, were very pleased to see him, and he returned to the van with an empty basket. He was a bit bemused however when one lady wanted a bag of plain flour. Unfortunately bread was the order of the day, as he could not lug bags of flour and bread all the way through the snow. When the lady found he had no flour, she threatened to change to a baker that delivered flour. Although he endeavoured to explain the extenuating circumstances of him even getting to her house, it, to quote a pun, cut no ice with her. He said after coming home, I honestly think she thought I would walk all the way back to the van just for a so and so bag of so and so plain flour.

Roads were kept open by caterpillar tractors still held in the Warag Garage on Welsh Road West, where now Chestnut Court stands. But, we had so much snow that, after pushing snow to the side of the road a few times, it was soon so deep that they had no where to push it. At that point we became cut off, every road in to Southam being blocked with pushed, packed and drifting snow several feet deep. This was when the true grit of Southam folk was put to the test.

Neighbour helped neighbour, sharing or swapping whatever food they had. Pig meat was fortunately quite plentiful as were harvested potatoes. Dad had a reasonable stock of flour in the mill so was able to keep baking bread. Indeed all the bakers in Southam. Mr. Grant and the Co Op in Coventry Street and Mr. Usher on Market Hill shared what they had, to keep the good folk of the Parish fed with the staff of life. We at the mill started to run low on yeast as Mr. Ash the traveller for United Yeast could not get our standing order of yeast delivered to us. So when Mr. Askew, who worked for Mr. Usher on Market Hill, and who had been a school mate of dad's, said they had a good stock of yeast but were running low on flour, we sent flour down to him and he yeast up to us. I ask myself, would that happen today? As no bread is made in Southam from flour, yeast, salt and water, then baked in Southam, it's an unanswerable conundrum.

Maybe in the face of adversity, the so called Dunkirk spirit would come through. As to this possibility - God Alone knows. I end by saying keep well, keep warm, and remember the old country saying, as we have past the shortest day: ''As the days lengthen the cold strengthens''. +Roll on Spring.

This article has been kindly written by Bill Griff

> Return to articles
 

Previous Articles Published before 2010
Article Name Author
> Twentieth Century Defences in Warwickshire Nimrod
> Warwickshire Murders District Advertisers
> Clerical activities Mary Rock
> The bake house oven Bill Griff
> Warwickshire county links Mary Rock
> Hot Oil, the drive that followed steam Bill Griff
> How can I get a quality tenant in the shortest possible time Jordans Rentals
> The fifty five rung ladder Bill Griff
> The poor are always with us Mary Rock
> Ensure the garden can cope with the heat of summer Farnborough Garden Centre
> It can be very pleasant to walk along the towpath Mary Rock
> With muscle power and a big hammer Bill Griffin
> July, a time to relax and enjoy your garden. Farnborough Garden Centre
> Most peoples daily transport was the bicycle Bill Griffin
> Not a Liberty Mary Rock
> May: the garden approaching its most exciting period Farnborough Garden Centre
> Farms in Southam in the 1900's Irene Cardali
> A few facts about Southam’s past Mary Rock
> April is one of the most exciting months for gardeners Farnborough Garden Centre
> Remembering the Warneford Irene Cardall
> Notable events in our vacinity during the last war Bill Griff
> Where is Southam or the Country Heading? Peter Crosby
> Christmas seems top fly past so quickly District Advertisers
> Christmas has changed little since the pre-war days Bill Griff
> Midwinter in the garden: January Farnborough Garden Centre
> Going to the post Irene Cardall

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