Saturday, 30 August 2014

Memories of Glenn Miller

Deryk Maker kindly wrote to me recently with his memories of seeing Glenn Miller in Plymouth in 1944. I wrote about Glenn's visit to the city in a previous blog which can be found here:
I enjoyed reading Deryk's memories very much and I've reproduced his email here so everyone can enjoy reading them:

Hello Derek,
As it is now 70 years since I was lucky enough to attend the Glenn Miller concert at the Odeon Cinema in Plymouth on the 28th August 1944 you might be interested in my recollection of the occasion. At the time I was on a Engineering Cadetship course at the then Plymouth
Devonport Technical College, prior to entering the Navy.
I had heard that the concert was open to armed services personnel
only, so rather in hope than expectation I donned my Home Guard
uniform and cycled from my 'digs' in Milehouse down to Frankfort
Street where I was fortunate to not only gain entry to the cinema
packed mainly with US soldiers and sailors but also to stand against a
side wall close to the stage and with an uninterrupted view.

After so many years my memory of the whole programme is now rather
vague but it was my first unforgettable experience of seeing a really
big and famous band in action. I believe the band's lead singer Johnny
Desmond and close harmony singers The Modernaires or an equivalent
group appeared, and at least one of my favourite numbers Tuxedo
Junction, featuring the unison, bite and precision of the brass

section was played, while the distinctive mellow harmony of the saxes
and clarinet was also well in evidence, but whether that good example
of the latter sound, At Last was included I can't recall. The whole
atmosphere was electrifying and the capacity audience clapped, stamped and roared their approval.
The concert finished in the early hours and I emerged from the cinema

to find that my bike had been stolen! - No matter! As I wearily
trudged my way back to Milehouse I reflected on the musical thrill of
a lifetime that I had experienced. I often wonder whether any other
civilians managed to attend too!
Kind Regards,

Deryk Maker.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Smeaton's Tower's colour scheme

When the idea was first suggested to move the lighthouse from the Eddystone Reef to Plymouth Hoe, it wasn't popular with everyone. Many felt that it would ruin the look of the area and a obelisk already stood on the proposed site. The council turned down the idea three times but finally gave into the wishes of the people and the Trinity Board headed by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Duke laid the foundation stone on the Hoe on 20th October 1882 and the lighthouse was opened to the public on Wednesday 24th September 1884.
Once on the Hoe, Smeaton's Tower was painted in the colours we see today, with a red lantern and red banded stripes. This colour scheme lasted until 1937, when it was decided a new paint scheme would be adopted to coincide with the coronation of George VI.

The Western Morning News of Tuesday 13th April 1937 reported on a council meeting discussing the matter:

Criticism of the plan to paint Smeaton Lighthouse green and stone colour was made by Mr Harry Taylor. Mr Taylor said the present colours of the lighthouse were known to thousands throughout the world and to paint it green and stone colour would alter the entire appearance of the tower. Mrs J Pook seconded. 'With all the alterations proposed on the Hoe, we shall hardly know the place presently,' she said. Mr P Ross defended the proposal and said the new colours would make it look more like a lighthouse. Mr Leatherby said at the moment the lighthouse looked more like a barber's pole.
A voice: 'Take it away, then.'
Mr Leatherby: 'I would, willingly, and I would take away a good many other monuments if I had my way.'

Mr Leatherby said the colours recommended would be more artistic.

The new colour scheme was adopted and lasted into the 1960s when the tower was repainted white with the lantern part painted red, some time during or before 1962. A black band was painted around the base of the lighthouse. This colour scheme lasted until the late 1970s but by 1980 (probably for the Drake 400 celebrations), the original red and white banded colour scheme, which we see today, was once more adopted.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Elephant swims the River Tamar

Here's an interesting photo from the Western Morning News of Monday 9th July 1923.
Under the headline 'Elephant swims Tamar' is the caption 'Julia, of Bostwick and Wombwell's menagerie, prior to swimming the Tamar, assisted in getting wagons on the ferry at Torpoint.'
It sounds an intriguing story. I'll try to find out more.
Searching through the newspaper archives, I've managed to find the story that goes with the photo and it's an interesting and comical one:
Western Morning News - Monday 9th July 1923.
During the transportation of Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie across the Hamoaze on Saturday, Julia, a fine female elephant, suddenly snapped her tether, and smashing through the gates of the ferry plunged into the water. She sank deep and for fully a minute and a half, there was no sign of her. The ferry proceeded on its way and just when hope had been given up, Julia's head appeared and she was seen swimming bravely for Torpoint.
When 20 yards from the shore, she heard her keeper's voice and, obedient to the call, turned and swam back towards the ferry. The tide was running strongly and Julia, battling with the current, seemed in danger of being carried away and drowned.
The aid of a steam pinnace was invoked but the captain, apparently misunderstanding what was required, tried to head Julia back to the Cornish shore. Nothing could persuade her to seek her own safety against the urgent call of her keeper, however, and the pinnace steamed to the ferry and took the menagerie on board.
The elephant refused all assistance but at length the keeper succeeded in lassoing her with a chain and the pinnace stood by.
Julia, never heeding, continued her swim and arrived at the Devonport shore apparently little the worse for her bathe.

Monday, 4 August 2014

A man and his son by the pier on Plymouth Hoe

This photo is another ebay bargain and shows a man with his son, pictured with the pier at Plymouth Hoe in the background. The photo must date from between 1937 and 1941 and the clues are all there. Up until 1937, the lighthouse was painted with red bands, much as it is today. However, in 1937, to celebrate the coronation of King George VI, the lighthouse was repainted green and stone, as it is in the background of this photo. The pier, of course, was destroyed in 1941 so it gives a good estimate as to when this photo was taken.
The pier in the background appears quite empty and it had been in decline for some time with much of its popularity being in the earlier part of the century.
It's a pity that it no longer exists. Some people would like to see it replaced but, of course, the project would be too costly so will probably, unfortunately, never happen.
There are many more photos like this one on my Flickr pages at

Saturday, 2 August 2014

A bomb at Smeaton's Tower

Many people won't know about the bomb that was planted in Smeaton's Tower, back in 1913. The story was carried in newspapers up and down the country but the tale has since long been forgotten.
On Monday 21st April 1913, the Dundee Courier carried the following story under the headline 'Bomb is Placed in Lighthouse.' It read:
'A suffragette bomb was placed in Smeaton Tower on Plymouth Hoe and a serious explosion would have occurred if the fuse had not burnt out.
While passing the tower, a man named William Chubb, found in the porch a circular canister, six inches long, containing half a pound of powder. In the cover was a wick saturated with paraffin oil which had evidently been lighted but had been blown out by the wind. Painted in crude letters in black paint on the tin were the words - 'Votes for Women!' 'Death in Ten Minutes!''
The Western Times reported that the canister was handed over to the police who were 'endeavouring to trace the culprits.'
Suffragette bombs had been placed all over the country but the newspapers failed to report if anyone was ever caught for planting the bomb in Smeaton's Tower.
The photo, kindly sent to me by Chris Robinson, shows William Chubb with the redundant canister.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Plymouth's Nazi Salutes

If the Mayor of Plymouth today was to give a visiting dignitary a Nazi salute, there would be, quite rightly so, an uproar. However, this wasn't the case in 1937.
I don't believe that anyone has ever written  about this incident but there it is in black and white in a story published in the Western Morning News of Wednesday 21st July, 1937 under the headline 'Plymothians Give Nazi Salute' the story reads:
'Plymothians saluted their guests in the correct Nazi style last night, when the Lord Mayor, Ald. W.R. Littleton, gave a supper to the team which represented Germany in the recent International motor cycle trials.
They are guests of the city until they embark for Germany tomorrow morning.
When the toast of the King was accorded musical honours, the German guests raised their right arms and not a few joined in the National Anthem. Englishmen responded gallantly as 'Der Fuhrer' was toasted by giving the Nazi salute during the singing of 'Deutschland Uber Alles.'
Nor did it end here. To the chorus of  'For they are jolly good fellows' and cheers for the visitors, they retaliated with three 'Heils' and the 'Horst Wessel' song.
Speeches in German and English were brief and guests and hosts subsequently grouped around a platform for a German sing-song and an English cabaret.
Toasting the guests, the Lord Mayor voiced his pleasure at entertaining 'a very fine body of German sportsmen,' who, although having been in the city for a few hours, where already welcome and at home in its midst.
English visitors to Germany, he said, spoke in wonderful terms of the hospitality accorded and it was hoped that the team's visit to Plymouth would produce very pleasant memories.'
The Germans were later given a tour of the sights including the Guildhall, St Andrew's Church, Smeaton's Tower, the Barbican and the Elizabethan House in New Street. In the afternoon, they took a boat trip to Cargreen and,disembarking at Tinside, they took a swim in the pool.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Football Battalion

I wrote previously about Plymouth's involvement in the Great War and, with the World Cup recently in the news, I thought that it would be interesting to write about the Football Battalion. There were many battalions formed in the earlier part of the war which involved work colleagues, school friends and sportsmen etc. These were known as the Pals Battalions.
In December 1914, the MP for Brentford, William Johnson-Hicks, had the idea to form the Footballers' Battalion, the 17th Service Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. By then, there were already many local Pals regiments around the country and battalions featuring sportsmen seemed a good idea. The Saracens and Wasps announced that 98% of their players had joined the Rugby Battalion, however, the Footballers' Battalion had a very limited take up. From 11 Lancashire football clubs, only 40 players enlisted.
By the end of November, 11 players from Argyle had joined the army and recruitment gathered pace. Of the 5,000 professional football players in Britain, 2,000 joined up and approximately 600 were killed in battle.
In January, 1915, a story published in The Times read:
'More than 200 recruits have been enrolled in London for the Football Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, in addition to 400 from other districts. Among the recruits are several Rugby international players of England, Ireland and Scotland, and the officers include more than one Double Blue. The commanding officer is Colonel C F Grantham, late of the Indian Army, and commissions have been given among others to Vivian J Woodward and Evelyn H Lintott, two well known players.'
At home, Plymouth Argyle had been making plans to join the Football League when war intervened. Professional football continued to be played up and down the country although there were some objections to the sport being continued while men were fighting and being killed overseas. Lord Kitchener's campaign, which included posters stating 'Your country needs you', appealed for fit young men to join the army. Criticism of football was voiced locally because of the three towns' strong military tradition. Local newspapers stopped reporting on match results so they could include page after page of those wounded or killed in battle.
On 2nd September 1914, Moses Russell made his first appearance for Plymouth Argyle in a match against Brighton and Hove Albion. The result for Plymouth was a 2-0 win. Although international football was suspended with the outbreak of war, the Southern League continued. Russell made 25 appearances with Argyle before play was completely suspended in 1915.
He later served as a private in the mechanised transport section of the Army Service Corps and was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
Evelyn Lintott, both footballer and officer, was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He had played for Plymouth Argyle as well as Queen’s Park Rangers before the outbreak of war.
On 8th August 1916, James 'Jimmy' McCormick, who played for Argyle 268 times up until 1915, was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Somme. As a Sergeant in 17th Middlesex, he was badly injured before being captured at Waterlot Farm, Guillemont. He was repatriated in November 1918 and continued to play for Argyle on his return.
On 22nd October 1916, Sergeant William James Baker was killed at Serre during the Battle of the Somme. Baker was a former professional footballer and played for Plymouth Argyle many times. He was 33 years old when he died and was awarded the Military Medal. He is commemorated at the Sucrerie military cemetery at Colincamps.
Norman Wood played for Argyle twice before joining the Footballers' Battalion. He served as a Sergeant and was killed on 28th July, 1916 at Delville Wood during the Battle of the Somme.
Jack Cock, another Argyle player, was awarded the military medal for bravery in the field. He was, at one time, recorded as ‘missing, presumed dead’, but survived the war and went on to play for England.
There were many other heroic footballers who fought in the war. Luckily, the majority of those who enlisted survived the war but many were never to play football again.
Incidentally, for anyone looking out for my new book 'Plymouth in the Great War', it will be published by Pen and Sword and released in October. I was hoping for an August publishing date but, unfortunately, it's out of my hands.