June 20th is National Refugee Day. This opinion piece by Alf Dubs in the Graun points out that if the current policies of the UK government were extant in pre-WWII days, then thousands of Czech refugees, including those of the kindertransport, spirited away from the Nazi occupation by the actions of Doreen Warriner, Nicholas Winton and others would not have been saved. Sad, but true.
As one of the kindertransport children himself, Dubs credits the saving of their lives to the compassion of one man, Winton, and the humanity of the country.
Personally, I find it rather sad that Dubs remains unaware of the real driving force behind the exodus of the Czech refugees, Warriner, but that’s not nearly as sad as the loss of this country’s humanity, particularly as demonstrated by its current government.
Dubs may not have known of the wider history of the kindertransport, but you can read my take on the bigger picture from the perspective of my father and paternal grandparents pictured below, here.
… and to top it off, the grand-parental origins of my family comprise more than just a political refugee; they include a displaced person, an economic migrant and a geordie. #diverse
Spherocytosis, usually a hereditary condition, is one in which the proteins that are supposed to make your red blood cells (erythrocytes) form into biconcave discs are miscoded and, instead, ultimately result in smaller, spherical cells (spherocytes).
Spherocytes are broken down by the spleen much more readily than erythrocytes and this may lead to various issues including a haemolytic anaemia.
All of which is why I’m giving a shout-out to The Tall Child who has non-hereditary spherocytosis (his was a spontaneous case). Although not anaemic, his blood haemoglobin is at the low end of normal. Spherocytes are also known to offload oxygen to cells less efficiently than erythrocytes so, coupled to low haemoglobin levels, one consequence can be to become fatigued more easily. Despite that, over the course of nine weeks he has followed the UK NHS structured ‘couch-to-5K’ programme and, last week, he successfully hit the thirty minute run on target.
Well done Ben, that’s brilliant!
A young man with odd-shaped corpuscles Once ran from Dundee o’er to Brussels. He trained for the fray On the couch-to-5K And it gave him some very sore muscles!
I have previously written about the life and experiences of my great uncle Harold, a wounded survivor of the First World War who also volunteered in the Second World War in support of the D-Day landings (see here and here).
I also had three uncles who served in the Second World War; Tot, who died at sea, Jack, who survived the land war and Doug, the eldest of his siblings, an electrical engineer in a reserved occupation who was unable to volunteer for active service or to be conscripted.
Tot was the second oldest of the brothers and served as an engineering officer in the Merchant Navy as poor eyesight caused him to be rejected by the Royal Navy. In 1941 he broke his leg when ashore in the United States and, although permitted to recuperate there, he chose to travel home on a convoy vessel, the SS Empire Crossbill, as a supernumary Fourth Engineer.
Empire Crossbill was an American cargo ship built in 1919 as the West Amargosa and laid up in 1937. In 1940 she was transferred to the UK Ministry of War Transport and renamed the Empire Crossbill. After several successful crossings of the North Atlantic, she mustered in Cape Breton in August 1941 as part of Slow Convoy 42 bound for Liverpool.
SC42 was attacked by the Markgraf wolfpack of 14 German submarines that was on patrol southeast of Greenland. The attack extended over three night nights, 9-11 September. Empire Crossbill was torpedoed by U-82 east of Cape Farewell at 03.11 GMT on 11 September 1941 and sank with all hands: 38 crew, 10 gunners, and one passenger – Thomas Lang Forster, aged 23.
Of the 65 merchant vessels that comprised SC42, sixteen – almost one quarter of the convoy – were lost. U-82 was itself sunk with the loss of all 45 crew just a few months later on 6 February 1942, north of the Azores, having been depth charged by HMS Rochester and HMS Tamarisk. Its captain, Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Rollmann, was 27 – just four years older than Tot.
Jack, the youngest of the three brothers, survived the war having experienced both the Dunkirk evacuation and the D-Day landings.
Prior to the Dunkirk evacuation, he had been with 285 Battery, 72nd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery 50th Northumberland Division, a part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). His Division was one of the last to leave Dunkirk as it had been tasked to destroy any installations as the BEF retreated. Jack and his companions joined one of the last ships, if not the last, that departed Dunkirk. He landed at Margate on 2 June 1940.
As far as his family was concerned, Jack was missing in action, so it was a great relief to them that a telegram arrived from him on 3 June. No “Hello Mam, I’m fine”, but just one line asking her to ‘wire’ 10 shillings (50 pence) to him care of the General Post Office in Rugely Staffordshire!
The 50th Northumberland Division (and Jack) then went on to fight in the North African desert war with General Montgomery and landed on Sword beach on D-Day itself. He was on active service from the time of the BEF to VE Day.
Jack being Jack, he was almost court martialled on VE Day itself. He had been listening on the radio to Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech announcing the end of the war in Europe when a senior officer sent for him. He refused to attend the officer and told the messenger to go away saying that he was busy. Jack was subsequently escorted under armed guard to the officer’s room.
I don’t think the officer could have seen much action, certainly not compared to Jack, and on learning of his involvement at Dunkirk, in North Africa, and on D-Day, the officer absolved him of any offence. Many years later they were reunited on Breakfast TV in a segment to mark the 40th anniversary of VE Day and retold their story on air. (I have never watched breakfast TV apart from that one morning, but, unfortunately, despite viewing it from 6am until about 9.50, I never saw his contribution – my employer’s flexitime limit meant that I had to be clocked in by 10am and Jack’s contribution only came later – we had no video recorder at that time.)
NB. Some of the above is taken from archived records detailing the events mentioned, the rest is taken from the family matriarch’s tome ‘A European Family’ and archival material held by family members.
Postscript: This is Jack’s personal recollection of the D-Day landings…
The journey we made from Portsmouth to Normandy in France was unforgettable. We travelled in a ‘Landing Craft Tank [L.C.T]’ and to some, the journey was a veritable nightmare. The transport consisted of very long barges, designed to carry eleven tanks, and acted like huge white whales; they would rise from the water towards the sky and then crash onto the sea again after each swell.
It was a welcome relief to land on Sword beach with the main assault troops of the 3rd British Infantry division. The tanks, which went straight into action, left first and at the same time the ramp was in about 15 feet of water.
We were a signal section, part of the advance signals H.Q. and were issued with only handcarts containing wireless equipment. We managed to get a line ashore and the carts, being waterfproof and containing air, floated just below the surface. During this time shells were falling closer and closer. The L.C.T. Captain bawling “Get the hell out of here”, added to the threatening atmosphere. Fortunately we made dry land with only one casualty and that was the barrage balloon we were painstakingly carrying for the beach defence. It was shot down!
We struggled over the beach and found some protection in a farm just inland from the French holiday resort of Lion-sur-mer. Some holiday! Leaving the wireless operators to set up their equipments, driver Morgan and I set about clearing up the area following the tank and infantry assault. My binoculars and watch had been damaged by the sea water but I was able to replace them with those of a German Officer who sadly had no further use of them.
One of our tasks was to search the sleeping quarters below the fortress which had been designed to keep us out. While a young Welsh soldier covered me with my revolver I found two young Germans cowering in the upper bunks. They were terrified and I had to drag them out as they were convinced they were going to be shot. They were no more than seventeen years old and begged us not to shoot them. Having survived the previous infantry attack when many of their comrades had been killed, they were relieved to find out that they were destined for prison camp and safety.
It was unfortunate that our D-Day objective, Caen, was not taken for a further two weeks due to the arrival of Rommel and his famous Panzer troops. They had come north in an attempt to hurl us back into the sea. Rommel must have been extremely unhappy when he realised that both the 3rd. and the 50th. Divisions of the British Army were the ones that prevented him from doing so because he knew that they were the last ones to leave Dunkirk in 1940.
And in today’s news it was announced that Nottingham Trent University is to carry out a study on the effect of vehicular traffic on hedgehogs. Given the number of flattened specimens that litter the nation’s roads, I suspect someone might be in line for a PhD thesis that simply comprises a statement of the bleedin’ obvious!
I’m rather fond of hedgehogs because of a familial connection. You see my paternal grandmother was one. More precisely, she was a Ježek, that is she was born in what became the country of Czechoslovakia and her Czech surname translated into English as ‘hedgehog’.
They even brew hedgehog beer there, at the Pivovar Jihlava (Jihlava brewery). As a hedgehog is the symbol of Jihlava, a town found between Prague and Brno, its Ježek lager represents the soul of the brewery.
Another Ježek is the hedgehog in the cage, a Czech puzzle that comprises a small sphere with protruding spikes of various lengths contained within a cylinder perforated with holes of different sizes. The challenge posed by the puzzle is how to release the sphere (the hedgehog) from the cylinder (the cage).
The Trent research isn’t, of course, as trivial as the puzzle or even observing the effects of a 4×4 on an individual hedgehog, but a broader study on the cumulative impact of traffic-induced mortality on the demographics of localised hedgehog populations and whether there is a way to mitigate that through developments in road engineering (ie hedgehog tunnels) or by defining hedgehog-friendly ‘best practice’ in town and country planning. (According to the BBC news website, a study from 2016 estimated that around 100,000 hedgehogs are killed each year on UK roads.)
Nevertheless, rather than await the outcome of the academic research, here is my five-line thesis as a statement of the bleedin’ obvious that tells you all you need to know…
The impact on hedgehogs of traffic Is to screw up their whole demographic ‘Cos a sickening SPLAT Soon renders them flat In a scene that is gruesomely graphic!
Will it qualify me for a PhD d’you think?
Postscript: The eagle-eyed will have noticed that the current ALAW and its predecessor, both have splat and flat as the rhyme in the third and fourth lines albeit in a different order. This purely coincidental and, as a former collegue once stated “Coincidences are the most paradoxical of things – they should never happen, but they always do!”.
Mid-february in Aberdeen is not the ideal time to have a new boiler installed. My strategy for dealing with the inevitable disruption and the loss of central heating and hot water was to order in some extra logs and coal.
Management’s solution, along with The Tall Child, was to book flights to Australia and leave me to it.
I’ll leave you to decide who was the wisest!
A chap was once given to wonder If he’d made an almighty blunder, ‘Cos he stayed on his own In a cold Scottish home Whilst the others bu****ed-off Down Under!
I was apalled to see Nigel Farage wearing an over-sized poppy in the run-up to Rememberance Day. His were not the values that so many lost their lives for.
So, why not click on the headlines, below, for a reminder of the life of a man who served in two world wars, a peace-loving, true gentleman and internationalist; a man that was the polar opposite of those whom the Scottish actor Brian Cox has described as “The opportunistic clowns of Brexit, Gove, Johnson and the little Englander Farage and the feudalist Rees-Mogg”.
A short verse* inspired by the family’s nonogenarian Geordie matriarch who has crossed both the Atlantic and the American continent to holiday in California (with a cautionary note to their President given her penchant for challenging gabshite Americans to a fight).
Howay man, I’m gannin awaw To the distant American shore, And I’ll gan proper radgie, Wi’ that tangerine gadgie. Whey aye , man; I’ll give him ‘what for’!
When I was a kid my dad used to take me to watch Kendal United play football. That was because a doctor had told my folks that, as an ill child, I needed lots of fresh air.
I was probably about six when I came home after one game and asked mum “How old do you have to be before you can swear?”. Her reply was “You’re never old enough!” and that was when I ratted on him: “But daddy swore today!”. (I think he’d said ‘bloody’ – serious stuff, eh?)
Karma came back and bit me on the a**e many years later when I momentarily forgot The Tall Child was in the car when, in complete exasperation at the antics of a lorry driver, I less-than-silently mouthed “Oh, for f**k’s sake!”. It didn’t take long before I was ratted-out in turn when we returned home: “Mum! Dad said the F word!”.
And that is why I laughed out loud when I read the BTL comments that followed the online Graun’s review of Harlequins’ poor showing in rugby’s Aviva Premiership this year. It’s the last line that made me chuckle …
The Matriarch was 90 at Christmas, but we couldn’t all make her ‘do’ in Baden Baden, so we arranged a get-together at Whinfell Center Parcs to celebrate her 33,000 days-old anniversary on 29 April.
And thus the Aberdeen branch of the family got together with her over the weekend along with her Geordie relatives. The lodge we stayed in came with a chalk board and chalks. Here’s the results…
Her birthday meal was booked for 8.30, but she mis-remembered and thought it was for 6.30. Fortunately we all got there at the right time, but not before it inspired this rhyme (based on an original idea of The Tall Child). The rubbing-out and inserted text demonstrate something of the limerick writer’s thought processes…
And here is the group photo (sadly missing the cousin who took the pic) with the family surrounding its Matriarch in the centre…