Monday, 7 April 2014

A Childhood in Singapore and Malaya


Many people living in Plymouth, whose family were in the forces during the 1960s, probably spent some time in Singapore. I lived in Singapore and Malaya, when I was a small boy, between 1965 and 1968. My father was seconded to KD Malaya which was located within the naval base at Sembawang, Singapore. We all went together as a family and lived in Johore Bahru in Malaya, which was just across the causeway from Singapore. Life was very different than it was in England and for a boy, it was a fantastic time. With the endless heat, we only had to go to school until 1pm so most of the time was spent exploring the area. At the end of our street was just jungle and across the way was just a few shops, including one belonging to an insurance man who kept a pet monkey outside.
Dad had a Triumph Herald and we would drive over to Singapore regularly to visit the shops, which seemed to me very modern at the time, or visit the Botanic Gardens, which were full of small monkeys stealing food, or Tiger Balm Gardens with its colourful grotesque statues. Singapore was full of market stalls selling allsorts including fruit (my favorites were rambutans), wicker furniture and just about everything you needed for the house. Snake charmers sat beside the road playing flutes and hypnotising cobras or performing magic tricks for anyone who was interested.
In the holidays, we would visit the Sandycroft Leave Centre in Penang. One year, we drove the 500 miles up there by car, through endless jungle which was inhabited by elephants and tigers, as well as many bandits. It was a hairy experience and we made sure that we caught the plane up there the following year!
At home, in Johore Bahru, we had an amah who would do the housework and look after the kids. I remember when we first got a black and white television and all the local Chinese children sat on the garden gate to watch it. The 1960s had some of the best tv shows including Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and, of course, Star Trek. We also got some shows that weren't shown in England at the time including Samurai (we all made Ninja stars and threw them at anything that moved) and the Green Hornet which co-starred Bruce Lee.
Everything seemed fun and exciting to a small boy including the monsoon season, the endless chirping of crickets at night time, the chit-chats running up and down the wall, the excellent firework displays at Christmas and Chinese New Year and all the naval base parties and film shows. I saw Goldfinger there when I was about 5 years old.
Since 2006, I've written four books about our time in Singapore and Malaya including 'Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans,' 'Memories of Singapore and Malaya,' 'More Memories of Singapore and Malaya,' and 'Monsoon Memories.' So many people experienced the same life as my family and the books have sold in their thousands worldwide. I've also got an online blog which is followed by people all over the world including the actress Julie Nickson who starred in Star Trek and Rambo.
Of course, if you didn't live in Singapore in the 1960s, this will all mean nothing to you but, if like me you did, it was certainly an idyllic time.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Max Schulz - German Spy

Following on from the earlier blog post, here's the full story concerning Max Schulz.
Long before the First World War, there were German spies operating in Britain. One such spy was Max Schulz who was arrested in Plymouth in 1911. He was said, at the time, to be living on a houseboat, The Egreton, on the River Yealm.
Some newspapers of the time doubted whether Schulz was a spy at all. The Derby Daily Telegraph of Tuesday 22nd August 1911 reported:
'According to the 'Berliner Tageblatt,' the man Schulz, who has been arrested at Plymouth on a charge of espionage, is identified with a young man who disappeared some years ago from an institution at Frankfurt, where he had been placed by his parents. Schulz has had a university education and for some time earned a living as a tutor. The correspondent thinks that a sense of misguided vanity may have led him to masquerade as a German spy.'The authorities, however, took the matter very seriously and Shultz was sent to trial.
On Thursday 31st August 1911, the North Devon Journal reported:

'At Plymouth on Tuesday, Max Schulz, who is stated to be an ober-lieutenant in the German army, was committed for trial at the Exeter Assizes on charges under the Official Secrets Act, it being alleged that he had offered large sums of money to a solicitor named Duff and another man named Tarren for the supply of information, as to the state of the ships of the Home Fleet, and the opinion of English naval officers on the possibility of war between England and France on the one hand and Germany on the other over the Moroccan affair. The prisoner was refused bail and the bench also declined to allow a sum of £110, held by the police, to be handed over to Schulz for the purposes of his defence. A number of documents found on the accused and the cipher code in his possession were described and evidence was given as to the importance of the information, which his questions to the two chief witnesses were intended to elicit. When committed for trial, Schulz stoutly denied the charge and reserved his defence.' The story was reported up and down the country and on 3rd November, it was reported that Schulz had sent letters and telegrams to a man called Tobler in Ostende requesting money for information. Tobler had written back: 'Confidential works and reports are what is wanted and what you must procure at all costs if our relations are to continue. Your constant telegrams will undoubtedly lay you open to suspicion and endanger your safety and your business.'
Documents in code where found in Schulz's possession. He claimed that he was a journalist looking for new stories.
By Saturday 4th November 1911, newspapers all over Britain were reporting 'Officer Sent to Prison.' The Aberdeen Journal of that day reported:
'The trial opened at Exeter yesterday of Max Schulz, described as a lieutenant in the German Army, charged with espionage at Plymouth. The prisoner pleaded not guilty. For the defence, Mr Lawrence submitted that the information given to the prisoner was not such that publication would be detrimental to the interests of the state. What the prisoner attempted to do was nothing more nor less than journalistic enterprise. The Attorney-General said that the defence was destroyed by the fact that one of the letters contained a cipher. The prisoner was sent to obtain first-hand information. The jury found the prisoner guilty. In passing sentence of twenty month's imprisonment in the Second Division, the Lord Chief Justice said he was thankful that the relations between England and Germany were most friendly and amicable at present. He was sure that no-one would condemn or repudiate practices of which the prisoner had been guilty more strenuously than the leading men of Germany.'Schulz was released from prison in Bristol in April 1913 and thanked the authorities for his kind treatment while at Bristol and Exeter.
Meanwhile, a British spy, with a very similar sounding name, Max Shultz, was sentenced, along with others, in Leipzig, Germany for espionage, just one month later, in December 1911. The British spy received seven years penal servitude. Both cases featured heavily in the British press at the time and it would be very easy to confuse the two especially as Schulz's name was regularly reported as 'Shultz.'
Incidentally, the photo of Max Schulz in court comes from the Evening Telegraph and Post of Wednesday 30th August 1911 and this is the first time it's been published in over a hundred years. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

March's Shopper article

For people who don't get the free newspaper, The Shopper, delivered to their doors, here's the history article in March's edition. This one features the artist Charles Newington and concerns the return of the giants to Plymouth Hoe (please click to enlarge).


Next month's article will feature the full story of the German spy, Max Schulz, who was arrested in Plymouth in 1911.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Dickiemoor Lane, Honicknowle

The other day, the Herald phoned me up asking me where the street name, Dickiemoor Lane in Honicknowle, came from. It was actually named after a man who once kept donkeys there.
An article appeared in the Western Morning News of Tuesday 5th April 1949 under the headline, 'Dickiemoor Lane gets Plymouth Council blessing.'
It read:

'Mr J. Folley, Works Committee chairman, told Plymouth City Council yesterday that Dickiemoor Lane, Honicknowle, was so named to perpetuate the memory of a man in that neighbourhood who bred donkeys.
He added, amid laughter, 'Rumour has it that some of them have found their way to the City Council.'
'In 1945,' retorted a Conservative member.
In seeking Council approval for the name, the Works Committee also recommended that the lane leading off Dickiemoor Lane be called Horsham Lane.
Dickiemoor Lane lay off Butt Park Road, leading up to Honicknowle Brick Works, said Mr Folley, and was not a new street.
Mr H.G. Damerell moved disapproval of the minute in  an amendment which was lost by 29 votes to 27.
He said: 'I have never heard a more inappropriate name than Dickiemoor. Why not call streets after some of the good old Westcountry names?'
He wondered who arrived at some of the street names, commenting that there was a  good Scottish accent in the naming of some of the new streets.
The Lord Mayor (Ald. H. J. Perry) interposed: 'Dickiemoor is a Westcountry name.'
Mr Folley said the policy of his committee in selecting street names was, whenever possible, to retain old names and associations.'

The photo shows another strangely-named street in Honicknowle, Butt Park Road.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Angels of Mons


The Battle of Mons was the first major battle of the First World War undertaken by the British Expeditionary Force. The British Army attempted to hold the Mons-Condé Canal against the advancing German Army. Many troops who were either from Plymouth or had passed through the port would have fought at Mons.
One of the most enduring tales of the time features the legend of a group of angels who supposedly protected the British Army as they fought. Many soldiers were reported to have seen angels over the battlefield and the tale greatly boosted recruitment. Even today, the story is still taken to be true but was, in fact, a work of fiction and although many people retold the story, not one British soldier who was at the battle actually saw anything.
The tale developed from a short story written by Arthur Machen for the London newspaper, The Evening News, entitled 'The Bowman'. It was published on 29th September 1914. The story told of phantom bowmen being called upon from the Battle of Agincourt by a British soldier fighting the Germans. It was written as a first-hand account although was total fiction. However, readers thought that it was a true account and Machen was asked to provide witnesses to the event.
A couple of months later, Machen was asked by priests if the story could be reprinted in local parish magazines. One priest proposed to write a preface to the story and asked Machen for sources of the event for which he replied that none could be given as the story was a work of fiction. The priest replied that Machen must be mistaken as the 'facts' of the story were true, and that Machen must have based his story on a true account. Machen said later:
'It seemed that my light fiction had been accepted by the congregation of this particular church as the solidest of facts; and it was then that it began to dawn on me that if I had failed in the art of letters, I had succeeded, unwittingly, in the art of deceit. This happened, I should think, some time in April, and the snowball of rumour that was then set rolling has been rolling ever since, growing bigger and bigger, till it is now swollen to a monstrous size.'
Variations of the story began to appear each reporting the story as fact. On 24th April, the British Spiritualist Magazine published stories of angelic warriors being seen over the Battlefield at Mons and by May 1915, the story was said to show that God was on the side of the Allies. As the rumours of angels at Mons spread across the world, Machen tried to dispel the rumours by publishing the story in a book with a long preface stating that there was no truth in the story. It became a best seller but this only led to a series of publications claiming to provide proof of the angels' existence.
The story re-emerged in the 1980s. No witness accounts existed although it was said that some soldiers had seen visions of phantom cavalry as they retreated. However, these hallucinations were put down to the exhaustion of troops who had not slept properly for days.
In 2001, an article published in the Sunday Times claimed that a diary of a soldier named William Doidge had been found which proved the existence of the angels. This was accompanied by film and photographic evidence. However, this later turned out to be a hoax.
No doubt as stories emerge during the centenary of the commencement of the First World War this year, the story of the Angels of Mons will be re-told over and over and, even one hundred years later will still be taken, by some, as fact.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Officers at the Citadel, Plymouth in 1916

With the anniversary of the commencement of the First World War coming up, I thought I'd post this interesting photo of officers at the Citadel in 1916.
I bought this interesting postcard on ebay (for £1.99!). The caption reads: 'Officers' Course of Gunnery, Citadel, Plymouth, February 1916.' The photographer is J.W. Barter of Plymouth. Written on the back in ink is: 'Yours sincerely, Frank H Bullock. 29th March 1916.'
It's a lovely picture, let's hope that most of them managed to survive the war.

Friday, 14 February 2014

A German Spy at Plymouth

This latest rare photograph from the newspaper archives comes from the Evening Telegraph and Post of Wednesday 30th August 1911. It shows the German Officer, Max Schulz, in court in Plymouth. He was arrested on a charge of attempting to procure a local solititor to commit an offence under the Official Secrets Act. Schulz had been obtaining information about the British Navy and dockyard and was passing it back to Germany.
In November 1911, Max Schulz was found guilty and sentenced to 20 months in jail.
This photo and many others can be found on my online gallery at www.flickr.com/photos/derektaitold photos