Category Archives: Woolston

November 1914 ~ Anthony realises his dream to learn to fly ~Almost!

The following extract from ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home‘ tells the story of Anthony who longs to learn to fly. Here he is sent initially to France as an Observer, taking photographs of the battle below.

I have used various techniques including letters, story telling, conversation and the arrival of Harry Harper, the air correspondent of The Daily Mail, to describe the changing lives of each of the Newton family.  Here I have used letters and good old fashioned descriptive story telling:

“12th November, 1914

My dear Sarah and little Timothy,

I hope that you are comfortable in your mother’s new guest house and that Timothy, you are being good for Mummy and Grandma. I have missed you these last few months and it’s been so quiet without you.

I have some exciting news for you. I have been transferred to Fort Grange and I am going to learn to fly in an aeroplane. It is a dream come true for me and I know that you will be so proud of your daddy.

I start my training tomorrow, but it may be many weeks before I get into the air. I need to learn all about aeroplanes first and as soon as I have more news for you I will write again.

Yours as ever,

Anthony

 

The next morning, Anthony began his training in the makeshift classroom at Fort Grange. Initially he sat fighting off the irritation of irrational impatience, much like the other naive young men in the room. His experienced trainer had such a businesslike manner, but it was tinged with a down to earth sense of humour, which was in fact the best combination for a military instructor. Soon he had Anthony at his ease and had instilled in him a vitality and enthusiasm to excel.

The weeks passed quickly and Anthony passed his examinations, progressing on to the more practical part of his training: that of understanding and maintaining his aircraft. He found this more of a challenge but was surprised how quickly be began to understand the workings of the engine and to recognise irregular noises, suggesting a plausible diagnosis. The instruments inside the cockpit were still an irresistible mystery to him and he longed for the moment when he would one day take control.

The next part of his training was back in the classroom, poring over numerous maps and photographs, for initially Anthony was to be trained as an Observer, to sit behind the pilot on reconnaissance missions. So far Anthony had been at the Grange for several weeks and still he had not been up in an aeroplane but the day when he passed his last examinations was a cause for great celebration in the mess.

The following day he sat behind the pilot, nervously waiting for takeoff. The mechanic stood at the ready for the signal. As soon as contact was confirmed, the mechanic spun the propeller and the engine burst into song. It was certainly a tune familiar to Anthony’s ears by now and it filled him with anticipation in the depths of his stomach. Almost as soon as the chocks were taken away from under her wheels by the attendees, the aircraft started to taxi over the bumpy ground. The vibration of the engine in front of him was as startling as its deafening noise. The throttle was opened and they sped off across the turf. There was no time to take a breath because within seconds they had lifted into the air. He felt exhilarated and was almost distracted from his mission by the amazing sights around him. As they flew over Portsmouth Harbour he tore his gaze from the coastline. As they banked to the left, he began to note key features such as ships off the coast and sea planes readying themselves for takeoff on Haslar Beach and he was proud of himself when he sighted a ‘friendly’ submarine, just submerged below the surface of the water.

After a few more weeks of training, when he suppressed his enthusiasm to be master of the controls rather than seated as an observer in the front cockpit, he was relieved to pass all the tests and achieve a reasonable level of accuracy in target practice. He was given three days’ leave to visit family and caught the train to Woolston. It was an emotional reunion and he spent the precious few days with Sarah and Timothy, jealous of the times they shared with her family in the now overcrowded household. Keeping three rooms for Harriet’s fee paying guests left one room for Sarah and Timothy to share, and another for her sister-in-law Hannah and her child Phyllis. On the following Sunday afternoon, Ernest kindly agreed to take them to Hythe by horse and trap, borrowed from the drayman in Itchen Ferry village, where Anthony felt less claustrophobic and there they were able to spend a civilised few hours taking tea in his parent’s large garden. His mother was so proud of his single wing sign on his uniform with an ‘O’ which signified that he was now a trained Observer, although it was clear that she was unsure as to why her son was not yet a pilot.

All too soon it was time to leave for Southampton, where he would meet up with his new unit before crossing to France. Sarah was overcome as they had one last embrace before he caught the Floating Bridge and it was all she could do to hold Timothy to restrain him from running after his father. This time there was no hiding from this little man that his father was off to war and even in his young intelligent mind he had observed the tears from neighbours as men folk had not returned. Sarah held him firmly by the hand and encouraged him to wave as Anthony disappeared from view on the farthest shore of the River Itchen.

Anthony walked amongst strangers along the busy streets to the docks.  He was drawn towards the Bargate where shoppers were lining the streets to cheer regiment after regiment of infantry, some who had walked all the way from Winchester and were marching proudly to the docks. He also watched some Avro 504s being loaded on to a waiting ship. He was struck by the greyness of the multitude of vessels which was a bleak contrast to the usual colourful sight of ferries and liners in the port.

It was a smooth crossing and they disembarked at Le Havre, where they faced a long journey by train to the airfield at Amiens. He settled in to his makeshift world of Nissen huts, taking time to sort out his few personal belongings with the utmost care, in order to dispel the unease he felt at being near the Western Front at last.

After a fitful night he had no time to dwell on the danger of his position as he was scheduled to make his first sortie over enemy lines that very evening. He and his pilot were encouraged to make several flights that morning in order to regain their confidence in flying, to get to know each other and also to get their bearings so that they would be more familiar with landmarks pointing back to base. It was a bitterly cold November day. The wind was blustery, making flying difficult and the rain was piercing. Despite the inhospitable weather, Anthony was relieved to be back in the air again and the two men soon became an inseparable team, treating each sortie as an adventure, though they cursed the rain as an inconvenience.

It was late one afternoon, when they were sent on their first mission to cross enemy lines and report back the up to date positions of the Hun, that it really struck Anthony psychologically, almost as hard as a real bullet might have hit him physically. At first hand he witnessed the British troops in the muddy trenches below and the close proximity of the enemy. When he realised that a strange heap of muddy rubbish littering the sodden ground beneath him was in truth the remains of bodies, left where they had fallen, he almost vomited out of the cockpit, his instructions forgotten.

It was only the short sharp orders from his pilot which brought Anthony to his senses and he resumed his important task of recording what he had seen. His training came into its own at that moment and he concentrated wholeheartedly on his task, so that when they eventually returned to base, his Commanding Officer was pleased with what he had to report.

It was only late that night, when he longed for the oblivion of sleep in order to erase the vivid pictures still flickering through his mind, that he realised how wise it had been to test his resilience as an observer initially, rather than to waste time training him as a pilot in the first instance. As the idea closed on him like the shutter on his camera, he hardened his resolve and sank into a deep dreamless sleep.”

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War.

Leave a comment

Filed under Early Flight, The Great War, Woolston, WW1

Friends reflect on the changing roles of their loved ones in WW1

To commemorate the centenary of WW1 I am sharing with you some extracts of my second novel, Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home’ which takes the Newton family, who live in Woolston, Southampton, through The Great War. In this piece, Harriet, the matriarch of  the series, has a surprise visitor, Edward, with whom she grew up on the island of Riduna (Alderney)  – Joe was her husband who died in 1910. 

I have used various techniques including letters, story telling, conversation and the arrival of Harry Harper, the air correspondent of The Daily Mail, to describe the changing lives of each of the Newton family.  Here I use conversation:

“It was with her family around her, apart from Tom and Jack, that Harriet prepared for the frugal Christmas ahead. With no end to the hostilities in sight, and more young men volunteering from the village every day, she remembered Harry Harper’s words and shivered. After Christmas, Hannah and Sarah offered to be trained at Supermarine to join the growing force of women workers who kept the industry afloat, since the demand for aircraft was ever increasing. Harriet’s role was now to look after the children as well as to run the guest house.

Although money was no longer an issue with both young ladies at work, she found there was less and less in the shops on which to spend the housekeeping. They only had a back yard for guests to sit in when the weather was good and no room for growing many vegetables, though she had put some tomatoes in pots and some lettuce, parsnip and carrot seeds in the place where there had been a very small lawn.

One day she was tinkering in the garden to get some fresh air, to avoid spending this spring morning doing the large pile of darning and mending in the corner of the kitchen, when, to her surprise, the little robin came and sat on the handle of her trowel. His presence brought calm to her otherwise troubled world and she gained strength from the feeling that Joe was close at hand.

‘What would you think of all of this, Joe?’ Harriet asked the robin.

‘I don’t know what Joe thinks, but I think that if you were talking to me like that I’d recommend that you be sent away for your own safety,’ remarked Edward, grinning.

When finding no one in the kitchen, unbeknown to Harriet, he had crept out into the yard behind her.

‘Don’t do that to me, Edward!’ Harriet replied crossly. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’ she added, unable to hide a hint of sarcasm, referring to the fact that she had not seen hide nor hair of him since before the outbreak of war.

‘Well, that’s a fine way to greet your oldest friend,’ he added, his face continuing to show signs of his unrepentant amusement.

‘I’m sorry, Edward. I was far away. It’s just this horrible war. It gets to you sometimes. I’ll make a cup of tea, shall I?’

Feeling a little braver this time, Edward replied,

‘I’ll have coffee if you’ve got some,’ but he wished he hadn’t made an issue of it as he watched Harriet reach far into the back of a cupboard and spoon out what was obviously the last of her coffee.

‘How are you Edward and how has this war affected your life?’

Edward seated himself comfortably at Harriet’s large kitchen table and began his tale, uninterrupted by Harriet, who sat opposite him, glad of an excuse to have a rest.

‘Not long after war was declared I knew my easy days of being Captain for a ferry of travellers and businessmen would soon be at an end, but I wasn’t sure how it would affect my life. It happened all too soon. My ship was commandeered to be a troop ship and repainted grey. At first it was quite exciting and the enthusiasm of the young soldiers I carried to France, not long out of nappies some of them, I can tell you, was contagious. I found myself singing their songs in my sleep. Since then it’s been tough. I’m always watching out for enemy submarines and trying to close my eyes to the state of the poor sods we bring back.’

Edward noticed Harriet’s face turn pale and thought at first that she was cross with him.

‘Excuse the language Harriet, but you should see them!’  he exclaimed in anger, but when Harriet didn’t reply, he realised his thoughtlessness. ‘And what news of your boys, Harriet?’ he asked more gently.

She tried to regain her composure and forget the images Edward’s words had conjured up for her.

‘Oh, Edward. I really don’t know. Jack’s an engineer for the RNAS and he and his brother left a couple of months ago. The last we heard was that he was undergoing some military training in a place near London.  Tom has signed up for the 9th (Cyclist’s) Battalion and he’s somewhere in Lincolnshire.’

‘That’s good. They’re still safe on English soil, then. Maybe the war will end before they get into danger.’

Unfortunately, neither Harriet nor Edward believed that this might be the case, but it sometimes helped to pretend.

‘What about Ernest and Sarah? Where are they now?’

‘Fortunately, Ernest is still at home, working at Supermarine. Sarah and Jack’s wife, Hannah, are working there too now, much to my disgust. Anthony and Jack aren’t too pleased about it either, but needs must, I suppose, and I enjoy looking after their children when they’re home from school.’

After a pause, Harriet was surprised to hear her own voice ask,

‘How is Marie, Edward?’

Realising the significance of Harriet mentioning Marie’s name, Edward was flustered momentarily.

‘Marie. Well, she got religion just after the start of the war and volunteered to help out at the docks with the Salvation Army of workers. They wouldn’t let her wear a fully fledged uniform, her and I not being…. well, you understand……. but they were certainly grateful for the extra pair of hands.’

‘What does she do?’ asked Harriet, ignoring Edward’s hesitant embarrassment.

‘She meets the injured soldiers coming off the ships from France. If they’re seriously injured she writes a postcard from them to their families to let them know that they’ve safely arrived back in England. She gets them to dictate or write the address if they can, before the men are sent on to hospital. Marie and I usually travel over on the Hotspur together, but a neighbour was sick today and so she stayed at home.’

Harriet realised that this was the true reason for the length of time since Edward’s last visit, but decided that she should be diplomatic and change the subject rather than to challenge him, but couldn’t think of anything to say. They sat quietly for a little while, each with their own thoughts, the uneasy silence heavy between them. Reluctantly, Edward decided that he must make a move and return to his ship. He was saddened that they were unable to relax in each other’s company the way they used to on Riduna. All that history between them.

As he stood up, their eyes met and for just a few seconds it was as if time stood still, but at that very moment two children burst through the door, coming to an immediate halt as they saw Edward standing there.

‘Don’t be shy, Timothy and Phyllis. Come here and meet your Uncle Edward. He’s a sailor and sails big ships to faraway places.’

Forgetting his shyness, Timothy came forward and took hold of Edward’s outstretched hand.

‘My dad flies in an aeroplane,’ he exclaimed proudly as he shook Edward’s hand.

‘And what about you, little lady?’ asked Edward as Phyllis went to hide behind Harriet’s chair.

‘Phyllis’s dad mends seaplanes, doesn’t he, Phyllis? Don’t be shy and say hello to your uncle.’

Phyllis stayed behind Harriet for protection but as Edward moved to the door he winked at her and she beamed a beautiful cheeky smile.

‘I’ll call again as soon as I can,’ said Edward as he reached the open doorway, smiling briefly at Harriet as he disappeared down the road towards the Floating Bridge.”

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancasta, Ancasta e book, Role of Women, Southampton, The Great War, Woolston

Diana Jackson’s World War One @Home Series ~ Industry of Woolston in WW1

In recognition of the BBC World War One at Home Series and in parallel to it, I aim to write posts of significant places and themes related to my writing and their impact on local people. These will include:

Industry of Woolston Southampton in WW1

Flying Boat Stations of the UK in WW1

The Hampshire Regiment

The Channel Islands and WW1

INDUSTRY OF WOOLSTON, SOUTHAMPTON DURING WORLD WAR ONE

There were two main employers in Woolston during both world wars, Thornycroft and Company, later to become Thosper Thornycroft and also Supermarine.

The Thornycroft shipbuilders occupied a large site on the banks of the River Itchen for 100 years from 1904 to 2004, when Thosper Thornycroft relocated to Portsmouth. This left a gaping hole in the heart of the area both in terms of employment but also in the scar on the landscape, which has only recently been reclaimed and redeveloped.

The first ship to be built and launched from the Woolston site was HMS Tartar in 1907 which served in the English Channel and the North Sea during World War One. For one hundred years generations of Southampton families worked there, called by the siren to herald the start of the day. I still remember hearing this during my visits to grandparents as a child.

I cannot better the tribute written by Keith Hamilton on February 2009 to Vosper Thornycroft telling of the importance of company for the well being and lives of Southampton’s and especially Woolston’s people, stressing the pride in their work to  serve the nation:

The End of an Era for Thornycroft by Keith Hamilton

The second major industry in Woolston since before World War One was Supermarine, of which I have written numerous posts, since it features in my novel

‘Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home.’

Just a little up the River Itchen, the other side of The Floating Bridge on Hazel Road, White’s boat builders was taken over by Pemberton Billing and began to develop flying boats in 1913. Although registered with the telegraphic name of Supermarine from its conception, Supermarine was the official name of the company in 1916, during the war.

Initially the skills of the boat builders would have been put to good use as the company diversified into developing flying boats, until the latter became their major focus. These must have been exciting times for local people in the early days of flight, not only to be involved in working at Supermarine but for families and friends to witness the unusual craft being launched on to the River Itchen and taking off and landing on Southampton Water. Like Vosper Thornycroft, Supermarine was a business of families, where many generations worked there, including the women during both WW1 and WW2. Both companies contributed to the prosperity of the local area of Woolston and its businesses and would have provided reserved occupations for workers in their contribution to the war effort.

Although better known later for The Schneider Trophy wins in the 1920’s and 1930’s and then the development of the Spitfire in the mid 1930’s I believe the seed for success was sown during World War One when a young, nineteen year old designer, RJ Mitchell joined the firm. My opinion is that it was Mitchell’s vision which turned the company into an international success story of which Southampton is understandably very proud.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Southampton, Supermarine, The Great War, Woolston, WW1