C I V I L    M A R R I A G E    I S    A    C I V I L    R I G H T.

A N D N O W I T ' S T H E L A W O F T H E L A N D.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Drive: Down in the River to Pray

This gospel song was popularized by Alison Krauss in 2000, but was first published in a collection entitled Slave Songs of the United States in 1867.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Birthday Quiz

A guest post by my truckbuddy Tim from England, now resident in Spain :

Happy Birthday, Bubba!

Russ turned a certain age this week. Knowing he likes a bit of class, here are six classy studs, one for each decade - plus one to grow on. And just to keep that old brain box ticking over, some questions as well.

1.  First of all, a wash and brush up for the birthday boy, but whose pool is this?

2.  Next, some gentle exercise, Texas style! Ride ‘em, Russ! Name the piece and artist.

3.  Some light refreshment next, a young wine, nice full body! Where is it?

4.  Well, you might not be a Superman, Bubba, but you do seem a decent sort. Name the artist.

5.  I have this image of Russ, wise, magisterial, master of all he surveys. Red suits you! Who and by whom?

6.  After a long hard day, a relaxing snooze, you’ve earned it, Russ, but where are you?

7.  Finally, a beautiful bronze, but what and by who? That patina is so warm, like mahogany, you want to run your hands over the torso!

Many Happy Returns, and many more of them!

Thanks much, Tim - readers, feel free to leave your answers in the comment box below. (Tim says I scored about a 75, which ain't bad for an old peckerwood from Texas.  I tell you what.)  I'll post the answers on Monday.

Update, 6/1: Quiz answers are now posted in the comment box.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Waitin' for the Weekend

The Pork Boys Do My Birthday 2015

My best friend M.P. outdid himself this week with not one but two superb dinners in celebration of my birthday.

First, a totally scrumptious meal of fish and chips, Southern style:  fried tilapia breaded with corn meal, homemade french fries, hushpuppies made from scratch, and a can of Bush's best homestyle baked beans (that was my humble contribution).

For the second night's dinner, the entree was a sort of "pork wellington" - i.e., a succulent pork loin tenderly baked in homemade puff pastry, accompanied by some sultry Cajun gravy:

For a side dish, M.P. dreamed up a festive casserole of potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, sauteed onions, and Ro-Tel tomatoes in a pink bechamel sauce - yummm is the only word to describe it:

Our other vegetable was a homely dish of fried green beans with black pepper mayonnaise on the side - if you haven't tried it, you don't know what you're missing:

The combination of all the above made a very pretty, very delicious plate:

The piece de resistance was M.P.'s own invention, which he calls a Tiger Butter cake - the inside contains stripes of buttery, spicy, sweet and moist cake, topped with a luscious buttercream icing made from scratch; words fail me in attempting to describe how damn good it is. Simply the *best*cake*EVER*** - take my word for it, boys.

And so a good time was had by both, and how sweet it was!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

State Opening of Parliament 2015

HM The Queen opened Parliament today in London with a Speech from the Throne written by the newly elected all-Conservative government.  From the official United Kingdom Parliament YouTube channel:
The State Opening of Parliament took place on Wednesday 27 May 2015. State Opening marks the formal start of the new 2015-16 parliamentary session. The primary purpose of this colourful state occasion is to set out the Government's legislative agenda in the Queen's Speech.

A few more street scenes for the pageantry junkies among us:

And Black Rod explains the bit about the doors being slammed:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Marriage News Watch, 5/25/15

Matt Baume of the American Foundation for Equal Rights reports:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Drive: Red Is the Rose

A lovely Irish folk song, as performed by the contemporary group the High Kings:

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Irish Voters Approve Gay Marriage

Wonderful news from the Emerald Isle, where voters in yesterday's referendum approved marriage equality by 62 to 38 percent, with a turnout of 60 percent.  The crowd in Dublin reacts:

The Taoiseach, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenney, who endorsed a Yes vote, welcomes the change:

And a straight taxi driver's jocular comment has caused mirth all around the world:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Waitin' for the Weekend

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Swear Like a Brit

Kate is totally lying, of course, about the etymology of sod/sodding - also, you notice she doesn't say a word about buggers/buggering, which the British are so fond of. What a queer omission.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lovin' the Gay in the USA

Gallup released the results of its 2015 Morals and Values Poll yesterday, including this remarkable finding on attitudes to marriage equality:
Sixty percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage, as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on its constitutionality next month. This is up from 55% last year and is the highest Gallup has found on the question since it was first asked in 1996.

Though same-sex marriage continues to be politically divisive, support for its legal status has reached new highs among Americans of all political stripes -- with Democrats at 76% support, independents at 64% and Republicans at 37%.

Last month, Gallup estimated that about 780,000 Americans are in same-sex marriages.

Today, Gallup also released poll results on the morality of gayness:
In addition to their changing views on the origins of being gay or lesbian, Americans' views on the morality of same-sex relations have also shifted in recent years. Currently, a record-high 63% of Americans describe gay or lesbian relations as "morally acceptable." That became the majority view in 2010. Only a decade ago, a majority thought same-sex relations were morally wrong.

Since 2001, increasing percentages of both Republicans and Democrats say gay or lesbian relations are morally acceptable, though Democrats continue to be much more likely to express that view. Notably, for the first time, a majority of Republicans believe that same-sex relations are morally acceptable. Democrats crossed the majority threshold more than a decade ago.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Marriage News Watch, 5/18/15

Matt Baume of the American Foundation for Equal Rights reports:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Drive: Brad Paisley, In the Garden

An old favorite hymn, in memory of those I love but see no longer:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Waitin' for the Weekend

Friday, May 15, 2015

Armagaydon, Begorra!

A sampling of videos, pro and con, on the marriage equality referendum to be held next week in Ireland.

First, a video in favor of gay marriage, by a straight ally:

Next, a serious anti-marriage ad and a satirical ad - guess which is which:

And a fuming, sputtering anti-marriage advocate gets a big laugh at a "people's debate" last January:

In the same debate, a lesbian makes an impassioned plea for equality:

While we're on the subject, you ought to read the moving commentary by Ursula Halligan, one of Ireland's top journalists, who just came out this week in the Irish Times.

And I'll end this post with a brilliant little clip about a lone straight family determined to maintain their righteousness in the apocalyptic world that will surely follow marriage equality:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Julia Child: Salade Niçoise

First broadcast in 1970, with some footage of Julia visiting vegetable markets in the South of France:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

British Homes

What might Americans find confusing about a British home? New Anglophenia host Kate Arnell takes us on a tour of the charming quirks of a U.K. house.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Marriage News Watch, 5/11/15

Matt Baume of the American Foundation for Equal Rights reports:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Bill and Ted's Wartime Adventures, Part 2

A guest post by my truckbuddy Tim from England, now resident in Spain:

This week we conclude Bill and Ted’s adventures, but first a STOPRESS. Just the other week Russ discovered some papers that showed Bill was assigned for specialist training to Scott Field, Illinois (near St. Louis), with the 371st Technical School Squadron - the dates on the papers indicated he was there at least from July 15 to Sept 9, 1942. Scott Field was the main Radio School for the USAAF during WWII, where both operators and maintainers were trained. So it looks like our guess for Bill’s trade specialisation were correct. Here’s a lovely contemporary ‘linen’ postcard, hand coloured, showing recruits walking past the base’s proud slogan. I wonder if Bill sent one to the folks back in Florida?

Ted and the ‘American’ Merlin

Although America had not then officially entered the war, as early as 1940 plans were being made to build the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in America. Following failed talks with the Ford Motor Company, agreement for licensed production was reached with the Packard Motor Company of Detroit in September. The first engine ran just under a year later in August 1941. This gave the USAAF access to a more powerful V-12 aero engine than it currently possessed. It also gave Britain an alternative source of supply, away from the bombing of the Luftwaffe who targeted all aircraft-related factories. Here a Merlin is dissected in an American classroom!

The Packard-Merlin as it became known was to power the latest Spitfires, and Ted’s training in late 1943 was part of its service introduction. By the end of the year he was posted to the Air Ministry in London and became a member of the Aircraft Servicing Demonstration Party, or ASDP. This unit was charged with standardising engine maintenance procedures throughout the RAF. Ted’s role was to demonstrate the approved servicing actions, and to go and troubleshoot when problems were identified at operational bases all over the country.

He told me once about an incident he had at RAF Kemble, where they were having trouble with the new engines. His train arrived very late at night, having been held up by bombing, by which time there was no transport available, so he had to walk five miles in the black-out, arriving at the base in the early hours the next morning. He booked into the Sergeant’s Mess and got his room. No sooner was he asleep than the Station Warrant Officer, God’s right-hand man on any RAF base, called reveille and held a general room and kit inspection. Pa remained in bed, explaining he worked for the Air Ministry, and not the SWO!

The SWO was incensed and had Pa hauled off to the guard house on a variety of charges. Fortunately for Pa a phone call was made to London to discover who this troublemaker was. Pa’s Boss, Flt Lt Green, gave the SWO an earful about detaining ‘his man’ and ordered his immediate release. He also gave Pa an earful about maintaining friendly relations with the natives!

Bill goes to Europe

The Packard-Merlin also powered that legendary American fighter, the P-51 Mustang, which flew alongside another great American aircraft, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and it was with this aircraft that Bill now became involved. In early September 1944, he left the 8th Air Force, Rougham and Jackie behind and joined the 9th Air Force, which was headed for Europe. He crossed the English Channel to the newly liberated Belgian port of Ostend, and then on to the south of Brussels.

Another of Russ’s recollections was the clue to P-47 connection:

Daddy said you could tell what planes were coming overhead by the sound of their engines - the German planes, he said, sounded weak and tinny like a sewing machine - weeweeweeweewee - whereas our planes sounded heavy and formidable - WHAAAMWHAAAMWHAAAMWHAAAM. Now what kind of planes those were, or indeed what kind he worked on, I never did know and didn't think to ask.

Now an airman would not compare a bomber with a fighter, but like with like. German bombers famously made a droning noise because they did not synchronise the speed of their engines, so you got a discordant ‘beating’ sound. Bill was most likely comparing fighters. The German Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs had V-12 engines, famous for their hi-revving character, hence the weewee, sewing machine sound! The P-51 Mustang had the Merlin, also a V-12, but that made a beautiful burble. The only other US fighter of the time was the P-47 Thunderbolt. It had a massive 18 cylinder double radial engine, which went wham, wham wham!

The move took Bill from the 8th Air Force in the UK, essentially a strategic bombing unit, to the 9th Air Force, which was a much more tactical unit; using small bombers and ground attack fighters like the P-47, operating from bases close behind the advancing Allied troops. Since there was no commonality of airframes or engines between the two units, it’s probable that Bill was still in the radio/radar equipment trade. A common feature would have been the IFF, Identification Friend or Foe, a classified device for identifying an aircraft to friendly radar. It was fitted to most anything that flew by 1944.

The airfields Bill mentioned to Russ were all Advanced Landing Grounds, or ALG’s, and his tales of action suggest he was with close-support aircraft, again suggesting he was working with the P-47 Thunderbolt, which operated in the ground attack role very, very, close to the frontline. A serviceable IFF was extremely important because more aircraft in this role were shot down by their own side than by the enemy!

Although this clip was filmed earlier in France, it gives a very clear idea of what P-47 operations were like. Imagine this with cold, snow, air attacks and an ever present enemy, and you will still only be part way to understanding what Bill was going through in Belgium.

Ted goes to India with Lord Mountbatten

Ted had already started his travels prior to D-Day. Lord Louis Mountbatten had been appointed Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia Command. He and Lady Edwina Mountbatten, who usually accompanied him on his travels, had commandeered their own VIP aircraft, a brand new Avro York transport, developed from the famous Lancaster bomber. Here’s Ted standing in front of his beloved York, serial No. MW102.

To cope with the high altitude and humid temperatures it would encounter in Asia, it was powered by the latest Packard-Merlins, so Ted was chosen to join the other groundcrew who flew in an accompanying aircraft. At Lord Mountbatten’s insistence, MW102 had been fitted with plush seating, a conference room and separate sleeping compartments. Like him, it represented the Empire and was designed to impress. Later on Winston Churchill ordered one which was less opulent, apparently.

MW102 also boasted flushing toilets rather than the usual chemical ones, another of the Mountbatten’s whims. This proved notoriously troublesome, and was particularly unpleasant to repair. I once asked Pa if he had ever done this. “No fear, I was there to fix the engines, and that’s what I did. Fixing the toilet was the riggers job!”

Here he is (on the left) in at Ratmalana airfield in Ceylon with some of his mates. I didn’t recognise him at first; the use of Brylcream hair gel, very popular in the RAF in those days makes his hair look darker. But the ‘Turner’ nose gives him away! I’m sure he must have occasionally spoken with Lord Mountbatten, but most matters concerning the maintenance of the Packard Merlins would have been addressed through the plane’s pilot, a Squadron Leader from Scotland. His name was (I think) Duncan, and Pa thought he was an excellent pilot and a well-respected leader to the air and ground crews.

Being on Mountbatten’s team had its perks. In those days, British service men were given a basic ration of cheap cigarettes when serving abroad, but Mountbatten’s men received a tin of 50 Benson and Hedges high-quality cigarettes each time they serviced the aircraft, worth their weight in gold as an alternative currency!

Lord Louis and Lady Edwina apparently enjoyed an ‘open’ marriage and broad sexual tastes – both male and female. I wonder then if Lord Mountbatten, whom Pa idolised, advised him on some book purchases he made in aptly named ‘Happy Bookstall, Preedy Street, Camp, Karachi’ Two slim volumes, one was the Karma Sutra, and the other the Ananga Ranga. Very daring and risqué, possibly even illegal in England at the time! Perhaps it was the novelty value, or perhaps it was a source of relief for a single man away from home? And here they are, hardly used!

Amongst his memorabilia is a Security & Censorship chit, issued by the Karachi Airport Security Section, listing various censorable items, which included gramophone records, literature for the blind and playing cards! Obviously the Kama Sutra and its companion volume made it out somehow!

Ted’s travels in the far-east also included New Delhi, where he looked up the local Masonic Fraternity, as well as Columbo in Ceylon and Karachi (then also in India), but he rarely spoke of his times there. In later life he was never one for foreign food or travel, and I think the far-east must have taken him right out of his comfort zone as a young man who, until the war, had seldom left his home county. A shame, the thatched accommodation at Ratmalana looks rather exotic under the swaying palms here! However, the clue was in the name; Pa said, “The place was full of rats, great big horrible ones, and snakes and scorpions . . . I didn’t like it there.”

Bill in Belgium and Germany

Bill told Russ that he served in a number of ALG’s whilst in Europe, but those he specifically mentioned were Chaleroi, Namur and Liege, all in Belgium, and finally Aachen in Germany. If you look these names up on the map, you will see they reflect the progress of the Allies advance east into Germany. Life on these ALG's was very basic, with no hangars and the maintenance conducted in the open, there were very few comforts. Most airmen lived in tents, and what buildings they had were designed to be transportable, and so were flimsy and poorly insulated to say the least. It would have been physically tough.

The units were always on the move, sometimes backwards, as the front-line battles ebbed and flowed. And the enemy was ever present. The Germans were adept at leaving behind small, hidden groups of snipers and commandos as they retreated who would then attack and disrupt the advancing Allies as they moved over them. Russ recounts:

I did ask Daddy once if he ever shot anybody in the war; and he said quietly he wasn't sure, maybe. Apparently at some time or times, there was shooting by his unit at some Germans in the vicinity. He used some gun or rifle, but didn't know if he'd actually hit anyone; and how would you. Seems odd that air corps ground crew would be shooting at the enemy - I wonder if that was during the Bulge, when the Germans were trying to take back the ground they'd lost - no way of knowing now, though.

It’s quite possible this was during the famous Battle of the Bulge. The winter of '44-'45 was one of the worst in many years, as a result there was little flying by either side during the battle. But there was plenty of action on the ground; and the ALG’s at Namur and Liege were only 20 miles north of the battlefront.

However, on Jan 1st '45, the Luftwaffe launched Operation Boddenplatte (Baseplate). They threw everything they had at some twenty front-line ALGs. Although they achieved tactical surprise, and destroyed many allied aircraft on the ground, these were quickly replaced, so the Luftwaffe did not achieve the air superiority they had sought. Instead, their own losses in men and machines, which by now were irreplaceable, were such that they never mounted an effective massed operation again. This scene was typical of many ALG’s after the attack.

Russ again:

Of course, I don't remember all the stories now - really only one, about one day at the airfield somewhere in Belgium, the alert sounded and the Germans were flying over, I suppose bombing or strafing the place - everybody was running like mad for cover towards an old stone bridge nearby, I don't know if they had air raid shelters on those forward bases or not. Anyway, the whole time Daddy was making for the bridge amongst the crowd, he was calling for his good buddy, some little guy called "Shorty," natch, and telling him to hurry up and come on. Daddy was worried because he couldn't see Shorty anywhere. But lo and behold, when they reached the bridge - why, there was Shorty himself - he had run so damn fast, he had beaten all the long-legged boys to shelter! Very amusing, to hear my daddy tell it. . . .

Around the same time another incident took place that showed Bill’s moral convictions and sense of decency. Russ continues:

He had lots of funny stories like that, and made light of the grimmer aspects of things. Though he did say at one time, there was a German plane shot down quite nearby - other guys in his outfit had rushed over to it and were picking souvenirs off the dead pilot, his medals and scarf and pistol and such like - which Daddy wouldn't have anything to do with it, he thought it was wrong.

Death of a pilot – Herbert Maxis

Such incidents were not uncommon – Here is the sad tale of a young German SNCO pilot, Herbert Maxis:

On 1 January 1945, during Operation Bodenplatte, JG 53 (a Luftwaffe Fighter Squadron) had orders to attack the airfield at Frescaty, south of the ‘Bulge’ near Metz. Before reaching the target Herbert Maxis’s ME109 took hits from an American anti-aircraft position, the 455th AAA Bn., 'A' Battery stationed at Oberfelsberg. Maxis force landed only 200 yards from the American positions and was shot and killed climbing down from his aircraft. In some accounts the gun battery crew are reported to have believed the German was going to pull a pistol although he may have been merely pressing his hand against a body wound. Before the M.P.s arrived, the pilot had been stripped of his boots, flying jacket, Lueger pistol and dog-tags. Pte Billy Taylor of the 739th FA Bn remembers:

"The pilot carried out a perfect belly landing. Before I could get to the aircraft the pilot was shot dead and his flight tunic pulled off the body. He was lying in a pool of blood across the port wing root, his arms stretched out over his head. He had thick black hair, looked about 20 years old, perhaps less, and bore a strange resemblance to one of my cousins. He had been shot by one of my friends, Smith, as he was getting out of the aircraft. A grave registration detail took away the body and the next day, officers from HQ came to question Smith - they didn't think much of the fact that a German pilot had been shot in cold blood and left lying in his underwear. There was talk of courts martial but this idea was quickly abandoned when the brass learnt that the pilot had opened up on us at low altitude with everything he'd got."

Bill also witnessed the dawn of a new method of warfare when he spoke of seeing German rockets flying over. During those final months of the war in Europe, from September 1944 to May 1945, some four thousand V1 missiles and V2 rockets were launched against targets in Belgium. Mainly aimed at the Allied port of Antwerp, others were fired at Liege and a few at ALG’s. It would have been the VI, the Doodlebug, or Buzz-Bomb as it was known, and the precursor to today’s cruise missiles, that he saw. Their ominous buzzing noise must have sounded quite chilling as they passed overhead.


Then suddenly, and thankfully, it was over. With the final surrender of Germany’s armed forces, Victory in Europe, VE-Day, was declared on the 8th of May, 1945. Winston Churchill announced the news to a war-weary nation. Bill and Ted probably listened to this on the BBC. It was a momentous occasion and one we commemorate today on behalf of our fathers.

Doubtless there was much ‘clearing up’ to be done before the active units could begin to withdraw and the occupying forces take over in Germany. It was not until October that Bill left England and headed for home. For Ted it would be a while longer. But the end to their adventures was now in sight.

Bill goes home

I’ll let Russ conclude his father’s adventures . . .

Daddy told me he sailed on an old Liberty ship going over; on the return in '45, though, he was on the Queen Elizabeth. Somewhere I have a chocolate tin with a beautiful colour picture of the ship on the lid, which he bought and brought home as a souvenir; my mother eventually used it to keep sewing things in. However, I'm sure the ship was still in wartime camouflage when he sailed on her, and all the lovely interiors removed to accommodate thousands of GI bunk beds.

This clip shows the Queen Elizabeth making that voyage; can you see your Pa Russ?

What I do know is that it was a floating crap game from stem to stern all the way back to the States; and I think Daddy did very nicely for himself in that way. Somewhere I still have his pair of dice, a transparent red, perhaps an early kind of acrylic. Maybe they were transparent to show that they were not loaded, I don't know.

Well that's about all I know. Daddy returned home on the Queen Elizabeth, as I said, and was processed out at Camp Miles Standish, near Boston; then no doubt the long trip home from there was by train. That was October 1945; he told me had accumulated enough "points" to be sent home early, or earlier than some. Daddy had made Corporal during the war; but got busted back to private after returning late to base and being counted AWOL. I wish I knew the details of that; knowing my daddy, I strongly suspect that wine, women, and song were involved. Grin. But before the war ended, he had been promoted back to Corporal.

And certainly he was very fortunate to get through the war entirely unscathed, unlike many poor fellows from all sides. Of course "home" was his parents' house, where he had lived before the war. He had written or telegraphed them that he was back in the States and homeward bound, but without specifying an ETA. Many years later Grandma told me she was headed out the front gate one day with a cage of chickens in her hands, taking them somewhere to sell I guess - and then all of a sudden a car pulled up and out jumped her boy, home from the wars. "And I don't know what happened to my biddies," she said.

Ted’s adventure ends

Ted had returned earlier to England from India, around October 1944. The new year found him at RAF Hawkinge, a famous Battle of Britain airfield, resolving problems some Canadian Spitfire Squadrons were having with Packard-Merlins. Here is a signal, he sent at the time. Click for the original to see the detail. I don’t think it’s classified any longer.

You can see how the his role was not only to assist the front-line engineers, but also to appraise the Air Ministry of the operational status of the aircraft independently of the Squadrons, who may have been tempted to paint a rosier picture. And there was still time for some more courses before de-mob day. Two months after VE-Day, in July, he was at the De-Havilland’s learning about constant speed propellers, and in November, a month after Bill got back home, Pa was back in Derby at Lodge’s, learning about the latest advances in sparkplugs manufacturing. These were not trivial courses. The prodigious power output of the final versions of the Merlin, and its replacement, the Griffin, meant that propellers, sparkplugs, fuel pumps, indeed all associated technologies, had to keep pace as well.

This continued training after VE-Day suggests the RAF had further plans for Ted. Indeed he told me that he was offered employment by both Rolls-Royce and De Havilland’s. But he had other ideas and he left a clue in the notebook from that DH propeller course: The words, written in pencil in that small, neat hand of his, It had to be you. It was the title of a long popular love song. This was to celebrate his love for his childhood sweetheart, Peggy, it was their song.

In fact Ted did not leave the RAF until January 1946, from RAF Cardington, where he had joined in 1939. He remained on the reserve until 1948. His service record records states “. . . he has been most competent, reliable and conscientious. Both theoretically and practically his work has been most satisfactory and he has shown good initiative and has required little supervision.” And in those few clipped words, Ted’s six year adventure also came to an end.


I’ll let Russ sum up in his own words:

Well Tim I thank you so much for shedding light on my father's wartime service by your very clever detective work. As I say, till now I have never thought much or cared to research what he did exactly because he made so little of it. He was drafted, along with 10 million others, went to England, worked on some airplanes. And then came home. So what? No big deal. Not a very interesting story to my young ears. Certainly no glory, no glamour about it.

I never thought till this correspondence of ours that he was effectively at the front line there in Belgium, at risk of life and limb night and day. Which suggests a certain personal courage that was utterly lacking in any of his references to the war. None of those guys pointed to themselves as examples of bravery and fortitude - there was none of this modern attitude so unfortunately common now of "I am the greatest" and so forth. Just the bare fact of duty done, and then they moved on from there.

But now with your deductions I begin to see a clearer, much grimmer picture - and I can locate my father in it. All war is hell, of course, but I know that the Bulge was a particularly ferocious fight. Years ago, having Christmas dinner with a female college friend and her family, I listened with fascination to her dad, a great talker with a lovely old-time accent, tell his stories of the Bulge. He had been a research chemist before the war, and once in the service was made an Army officer - captain, let's say, I don't know the ranks very well. But he and his unit (tanks? artillery? whatever) were there in the Ardennes and in the very thick of it.

In fact, I sat with him and listened long after dinner was over and the rest of the company had moved to the living room. My friend rolled her eyes - she had heard it all many times before, it was "just Daddy's war stories" - but in listening to the old man, I felt some distant connection to my own father, who was no longer around to tell any stories.

As for me, I now see my father taken from a very sociable family environment and suddenly forced to grow up very quickly. There’s a determination, at times bloody-minded, to get the job done to the very best of his abilities. And then, having done that, to return to his family and friends, to carry on where he had left off.

His wartime experiences and his knowledge of aircraft inspired in me a passion for all things aeronautical. My own time in the RAF was heavily influenced by my father’s service. He was my role model and I’m very proud to have grown up in his image.

And for those of you who like to know what happened next:

Epilogue – Marriage and Fatherhood

On the 8th November 1945 Ted purchased a ‘hallmarked, solid gold faceted wedding ring’ for the princely sum of Two pounds ten shillings at Bravingtons Jewellers in London, and the next day he married Peggy, my mother to be. They had three days honeymoon in the Imperial Hotel in London at a cost of two guineas (two pounds and two shillings) a night, breakfast included, and then it was back to the RAF for his final 3 months of service!

When Bill got home to Florida in 1945 he took up his education again. Under the generous terms of President Truman’s GI Bill, he completed a long held ambition and attended law school through ‘46 and ‘47. There followed a whirlwind romance and marriage to Lee, Russ’s mama.

I arrived in 1952 and Russ in 1955.

And the rest, as they say, is history!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tired Old Queen at the Movies: National Velvet

Steve Hayes reviews the classic film:
Spring arrives with one of the most heartwarming films in MGM history, Clarence Brown’s National Velvet (1944), starring Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald Crisp, Angela Lansbury and Oscar winner Anne Revere. Taken from the novel by Enid Bagnold and filmed in glorious color, the film follows the dreams of a young English girl (Taylor) and her beautiful stallion known as “The Pye”. With the help of a rough young trainer (Rooney) and a wise and gentle mother (Revere), she is able to achieve her dream of entering “Pye” in the Grand National, the greatest horse race in England. It’s nostalgic, heart stopping, sensitive and beguiling. So, sit back and fall in love with National Velvet.

Catch more fabulous movie reviews at Steve's YouTube channel.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

Marriage News Watch, 5/4/15

Matt Baume of the American Foundation for Equal Rights reports:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Drive: Handel, Minuets

In honor of the latest royal arrival, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge - from the suite Music for the Royal Fireworks, 1749:

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bill and Ted's Wartime Adventures - Part 1

A guest post by my truckbuddy Tim from England, now resident in Spain:

A while ago I said Russ and I had been planning a piece to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe, and in particular our fathers’ adventures in it. Well here is Part 1, which takes us to the end of 1943. Next week Part 2 will follow Bill and Ted to VE-Day and beyond.

It is sadly typical of most father-son relationships that the son never thinks to ask the most important questions of his father’s life until it is too late. And especially something like their wartime experiences. Most men of our fathers’ generation, those who served in WWII, couldn’t wait to return to normality after the years of conflict. They placed their memories and experiences of those years in a box marked ‘Do Not Open’, what is now termed ‘compartmentalising’. And we, of course, being young, thought war a glamorous adventure and didn’t comprehend our fathers’ reticence when asked about the subject. And when we grew and matured, and could better understand their experiences, all we had to go on were fragmented verbal histories and any mementos our fathers left us.

So this has been a voyage of discovery for Russ and me. My father, Ted, left a treasure trove of documents and bric-a-brac from the war, which, somehow, has survived and ultimately come into my possession. Sadly, Bill died just as Russ was approaching manhood, and he left few mementos of his wartime exploits. A few coins from France and Belgium, even a NYC subway token. And a few buttons and insignia from his uniforms. “All fun to look through when I was a kid,” recalls Russ. However, Russ and I have been able to add some detail to what is available and we enjoyed the detective work. It was gratifying to be able to find some more pieces of the jigsaw!

By the way, I use the word Adventures in the title advisedly. With the names Bill and Ted, I couldn’t resist the title, and for the two young men concerned it most certainly was an adventure, in the truest sense of the word; but not necessarily one they, or any of us, would care to repeat. However, it made them the men they were; and we are our father’s sons, are we not?

So let’s make the introductions. This is Bill Manley, circa 1941; Russ recalls he always had a sense of style in his clothing. He certainly looks very dapper here.

Bill was born in Florida in 1913 and enlisted in 1942, aged 29. He was trained, we think, as a radio/electrical mechanic; specializing in radar, then the latest technology. He rose to the rank of Corporal, but it was a bumpy path and he was certainly ‘busted’ at least once!

Ted Turner was born in Kent in 1919, one of two identical twins. This photo shows him in the RAF Volunteer Reserve Band in 1938, aged 19. He was called up for national service in November of the following year. He trained as an engine fitter and reached the rank of sergeant.

It strikes me that they both look so happy in these images; it was the calm before the storm. There’ll be some other characters appearing as well, connected in one way or another with Bill and Ted’s’ adventures.

Ted joins the RAF

Ted entered National Service, along with his identical twin brother Fred, on 1st November 1939. They completed initial RAF training at RAF Cardington, once the home of the famous R100 and R101 airships. Here is their course photo, some three weeks into the course. Pa is top far right; Fred is bottom far right, with his hands on his knees. This was the only time Ted and Fred served together; Ted’s career centred mainly on fighters, whilst Fred’s was with bombers. Their course NCO, the corporal in the centre, with his arms folded, looks a most useful chap!

I remember Pa telling me about the two massive hangars that were built to house the airships, each 812’ long and 157’ high. For a young man used to a family of 8 living in a 2-bedroomed cottage, the vast emptiness of the hangars must have been awe-inspiring.

Ted begins Trade Training

After this basic training – square-bashing, as it was known – where he learnt the rudiments of service life, marching, saluting, etc, Ted moved to RAF Henlow, near London, in early 1940. His notebooks are marked ‘Hut 89, No. 1(T) Wing, No. 1 Squadron. This is where he was taught about basic mechanics as they related to aircraft, but by April he had moved to the Fitters School, and was specialising in aero engines. His notebooks detail the in and outs of fuel pumps, starter motors, propeller shafts and lubricating systems. It must have been very intensive, with practical work mixing with classroom studies. Fortunately for Ted, and the RAF, this was the so-called phoney war period, before the Luftwaffe turned its sights on Britain.

Looking through my father’s notebooks of the time, it was intriguing to see how quickly his handwriting changed. At first, during his initial training it looks much as mine does now: untidy and uneven, nervous. But after a couple of months it settles down into the small, neat, confident style I remember him having from my childhood. Precise, and economical, the curves and loops are now tightened and drawn in. The style tells me he was maturing rapidly in these early war days. He was left-handed, by the way.

Ted in the Battle of Britain

When the battle of Britain started, the RAF became the Luftwaffe’s prime target. Ted was posted to RAF Duxford, near Cambridge, one of the major fighter bases protecting London. Most of the RAF’s fighter bases along England’s east and south coasts came under attack during the battle; high-level bombing, low-level strafing, and dive bombing interspersed with hit-and-run attacks by lone fighters. In this picture a bomb explodes on the parade ground at RAF Helmswell, no square-bashing for them.

It was during one low-level attack that Ted first saw action. He told me of being caught out in the open on the airfield, with no immediate shelter. Most servicing on fighter aircraft was done outside and not in hangars. He and his fellow airmen picked up their rifles and fired at the enemy aircraft, probably a Dornier or Junkers light bomber. The small calibre Lee-Enfield rifles had precious little chance of downing the bomber, and being out in the open was a perilous situation; but at the time he felt he was “doing his bit” when he told me the tale years later. Here a Spitfire sits under attack in its dispersal area, surrounded by clouds of dust raised by machine gun fire.

At Duxford Ted was part of 19 Squadron, the first to be equipped with the legendary Spitfire. In those days servicing was not centralised, and all the ground crew belonged to one particular squadron or other. This little video gives an idea of the ground crew’s various roles.

I’ve always loved this image of an airman re-arming a 19 Squadron Spitfire. It looks so much like my Pa, although it isn’t. It's actually a chap by the name of Fred Roberts. I wonder if he knew Pa?

Each aircraft had a dedicated team of an armourer, a fitter and the rigger, who maintained the airframe. There would be specialist technicians for the radio, instruments and electrics. But although he specialised in engines, like all ground crew, Ted would have been expected to help out wherever he was needed. One such duty was helping the pilots into their aircraft, the bulky parachutes and tight cockpits made getting into and out of the small fighters difficult at the best of times. And for some, more than others, for Duxford was also home to one Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, the famous legless fighter ace. My father recalled helping Bader into his aircraft on several occasions.

“He was not a particularly pleasant man to know and disliked by many of the men. He was short-tempered and looked down on anyone who wasn’t an officer.”

Pity then, the poor airmen who caught him in a bad mood! But his controversial ‘Big Wing’ tactics, massing the fighters against the incoming bombers, would prove very successful against the daylight raids on London and other major cities during the blitz. Such is the stuff of heroes.

When the Battle of Britain was over, the RAF took time to recover its losses and re-equip. Ted began to specialise on servicing and maintaining the famous Roll-Royce Merlin engine. Courses with Rolls-Royce at their factories in Derby and Glasgow were to keep him busy for almost two years, interspersed with duty at various operational airfields, during which time he also took up Freemasonry! He joined the Glasgow Lodge in January 1942, and remained a member throughout the rest of the war. At the time he also joined the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, another fraternal organisation! He must have missed his large family, and especially his twin brother. They were inseparable as children, especially in that form of mischief that only twins can manage. Grandpa couldn’t tell them apart, and so he would punish them both if one had been misbehaving! I think he must have found the constant round of courses, with no fixed abode, difficult without having some sort of social outlet. He was always a very sociable man, and would always greet everyone he met, whether he knew them or not, which mystified me greatly as a small child! So his Freemasonry and membership of the ‘Buffs’ was, I suppose, an antidote to the strictures of training and service life and to the loneliness at being away from family and friends.

Eager Eagle - Jimmy Nelson

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, some Americans couldn’t wait to join the war effort. The deeds of the Lafayette Escadrille, the squadron of American volunteers in the First World War, became legendary. When the Second World War came there was again no lack of volunteers, but the fall of France shattered the idea of a revival of the Lafayette. However, the RAF had inspired Americans with their gallant defence in the Battle of Britain. The New York Times wrote in August 1940, ‘During these crucial days the quality and spirit of the Royal Air Force have been written into the Great Legend.’ Many American pilots wished to be part of that legend and to fly that aircraft which had so captured their imagination – the Spitfire.

One such pilot was James (Jimmy) Nelson. Here pictured in the cockpit of his Spitfire and looking the epitome of a dashing young fighter pilot.

His tale is typical of many. Born in Denver, Colorado, in 1919, Jimmy learned to fly when studying at university. Having first enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, he came to England in July 1941, and joined the new 133 Squadron, one of the three Eagle Squadrons in the RAF composed of United States nationals who wished to fight before their country had entered hostilities. The first Eagle Squadron formed in October 1940. In May 1942 the Squadron became part of Douglas Bader’s ‘Big Wing’, joining Pa’s 19 Squadron at Biggin Hill. When America officially entered the war, the Eagle Squadrons became part of the US 8th Air Force. However, Jimmy chose to stay with the RAF and served with distinction until the end of the war.

Bill joins up and starts training

Following America’s mobilization in December 1941, Bill was drafted in April the following year as a Private into what was then the Army Air Corps, soon to be known as the USAAF. His trade training took him all over the United States - Florida, Missouri, Illinois, and California. Russ also has some of Bill’s class notes placing him in Texas, at Shepard Air Base in Wichita Falls, where aviation mechanics were trained. This varied itinerary was due to the fact that at the time many technical courses were run by the manufacturers of the equipment rather than the fledgling USAAF itself, which had yet to develop its own training programme. It’s not clear what trade Bill took up, but our best guess, based on available evidence, is that he trained as a radio/electrical mechanic.

Russ remembers: “My grandmother said that the all men in daddy's family - she of course had known several generations of them - were always "strong minded" - by which homely phrase she meant, not stubborn, but smart. She often recalled when my daddy as a schoolboy had, on his own, worked though all the problems in a math book (this was when they were still living in the depths of the countryside) - and when checked by a teacher, it was discovered that he had gotten every one of the answers right, save one. So it might well be that during the war his aptitude for math would have gotten him shunted into work with those complicated systems.”

Bill arrives in England

In early 1943, having completed his training, Bill was posted to England, to RAF Rougham in East Anglia, home to several squadrons of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, and part of the 94th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force. A history of the 94th BG can be found here: http://www.8thafhs.org/ourhistory.htm Although the aircraft didn’t arrive until June that year, most of the ground mechanics arrived in March, having sailed from New York aboard a Liberty ship. This one is braving the Atlantic in winter, conditions on board must have been dire.

Having survived the crossing of the U-boat-infested Atlantic, I’m sure Bill’s first task was to secure his accommodation at the newly constructed airfield. Then began the intense preparation for the arrival of the aircraft and flight crews. Four squadrons, some 40 aircraft, were based at Rougham. Here one of the Fortresses checks for directions!

Russ’s Ma told him that Bill worked on “some new-fangled radar devices.” The use of airborne radar by the USAAF was very limited at that time, and only one bombing group were equipped with radar, the 482nd Pathfinder unit, based at RAF Alconbury, 52 miles away from Rougham. They were a very specialised unit, and led other non-radar equipped aircraft to their targets. So there was no airborne radar at Rougham. However, their remains another possibility. Towards the middle of the war, systems called Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) were developed. These were airborne devices designed to jam, or fool, enemy radars, be they on the ground, in aircraft or in the radar fuses fitted to some anti-aircraft shells. Whilst radars were secret, the principles were well known on either side. Countermeasures however, were even more highly classified because they negated the advantage of radar. To this day, electronic countermeasures remain the most hush-hush of devices.

Now from the time Bill was at Rougham, ECM was available to the Allies, though not in sufficient numbers for wide-scale use, so in a typical B-17 Squadron, one in five aircraft would be equipped. Rougham would therefore have had some eight specialised ECM fitted aircraft. This is what we think Bill may have worked on, not a radar device, but an anti-radar device. It would also explain to some extent why he never discussed the detail of his work, as it was extremely secret.

As in the RAF, Army Air Force mechanics, having been taught general servicing techniques would have then specialised, e.g. engines, airframes, armament, or radio and navigation. The guys who specialised in the radio and navigation equipment would have been the logical choice for the new areas of radar and ECM when they arrived later in the war, so it’s likely Bill would have followed that career progression.

Most radio and electronic servicing was carried out in buildings adjacent to, or in, the aircraft hangars. Rougham had a small building called the Radar Building, near the Control Tower, which housed the airfield radar and radio equipment. It is probable this is where the ECM equipment would also have been serviced and repaired, as the necessary facilities would already be in place. The building was more easily guarded than the hangars, and would have had much more secure conditions of entry and exit for such highly classified equipment. The Radar Building at Rougham still exists and was renovated in 2005. This could be where Bill actually worked!

The squadrons at Rougham took part in some notable raids, and like most Bomber Groups suffered very heavy casualties. The ground crew took great pride in their’ bird’, and its crew, and would await their safe return anxiously. Here ground crew work on a B-17 named Hell’s Angels.

But it wasn’t all work and no play for Bill. He managed to find time for a little romance too! Russ recalls some of his father’s possessions:

“And in another box I have some tiny wartime snapshots, some of them unknown buddies of his no doubt, and quite a few of Jackie, the English girl from the neighbourhood of Bury, whom he apparently loved very much - she was quite young, still a teenager but wanted to be a dancer - in some pictures she's doing the glamour girl pin-up poses in those modest two-piece bathing suits of the era - but sexy stuff back then I'm sure. And a couple of letters from her to him - poignant to read. In one of them, she says she misses him very much, and has saved the peel from the orange he gave her, and is keeping it on her windowsill. I know with the strict rationing in England at that time, an orange must have seemed like a grand treat indeed.”

It’s easy to understand the culture shock the young American airmen must have experienced on their arrival. This flat, foggy landscape and its inhabitants with their strange dialect. Just as well they brought a little bit of home with them; their language, customs, music and food soon filled airfields throughout eastern England. And how did the locals feel? Land, until then ploughed by shire horses, was now suddenly under concrete and under guard. Jazz, blues, jive music, chewing gum. And one can only guess at what they made of the Wabash Cannon Ball, one of Bill’s favourite tunes.

Did Bill and sweetheart Jackie dance to it at the Junior NCOs Club or the village Church Hall? I do hope so! However, by the look of things, the boys couldn’t wait for Jackie to arrive!

And I’m sure Bill and his comrades played it on a wind-up record player as they sat around the stove pipe heater in their hut, thousands of miles from home in this cold and clammy foreign land; hoping their crews and aircraft would return safely to Rougham. Sadly, in those early days, many did not.

Ted at RAF Turnhouse – the mid 1940’s

In February 1943 Ted was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and posted to RAF Turnhouse, near Edinburgh. This was where the battle-weary fighter squadrons were rested and re-equipped, away from the front line. Here is the photo he sent to his childhood sweetheart back home in Kent, on the back, in that neat hand, a simple message ‘With love from Ted’.

It shows a young man who has matured during four years of war, he looks, more confident, more self-assured.

He maintained his membership of the Masons, as the receipt for his membership of the Bo’ness Lodge shows. But before the year ended he was back with Rolls-Royce at Derby for yet more training, but this time it was to have an American twist.

Next time . . .

By the end of ‘43, plans were well advanced for the Allied invasion of Europe and also for a renewed offensive in the far-east. 1944 was to have big things in store for both Bill and Ted. Travel and action, hardship and a VIP-lifestyle, all will figure in Part 2.

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