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18/08/04 Last Orders at The Plough Pt I

"…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks…

Isaiah 2.4 KJV


SUMMARY of particulars of the hostile Air Raid over Metropolitan Police District on 3rd. September 1916. (PRO: MEPO2/1652).

The airship was first seen at 1-20 a.m. 3rd when a Zeppelin passed over Enfield, travelling N.W. The engines were clearly heard.

At 1-48 a.m, aircraft machinery was heard by police at Walthamstow still travelling N.W. At 2-5 a.m. the airship was seen from Stoke Newington lit up by searchlights and it passed N. At 2-9 a.m. the airship was seen from Leman Street Police Station travelling S at a great height and appeared to be slightly N of High St. Shoreditch. It was immediately picked up by searchlights and heavily bombarded when it turned R then N.E. At 2-10 the airship passed over Hackney, the noise of the engines being distinctly heard, and turned N after being heavily bombarded. All Divisions concerned report that the airship burst into flames at 2-20 a.m. Supt. Y recording the incident as follows:-

"At 2-20 a.m.a Zepp was seen at Northaw, Potter's Bar, travelling in a north-east direction followed by an aeroplane, carrying a light underneath. The aeroplane fired at the Zepp and immediately the airship caught fire at a height of about 3,000 feet and fell to the earth a mass of flames in a field at Castle Farm, Cuffley." 15 bodies of the crew burnt beyond recognition were recovered from the debris.
A military guard of Royal Horse Guards attended from Albany St. Barracks.

The atmosphere is given as
(H) clear; no wind perceptible.
(Y) misty, with heavy ground fog."

Once more to the Harvester belt (25 mins n. London, ammenities, close to station) in humid atmosphere, light wind, certain rain not far off. I climb Plough Hill, with views back over distant towers, and realize that, though the burning ship undoubtedly fell to earth, it is almost as if at this point, the earth, outraged, had punched upwards to draw it to her. I pass two churches on my way up the hill.

"…the Lord's house shall be
established in the top of the mountains,
and shall be exalted above the hills…

Cuffley was once, briefly, a spa town, a miniature Baden-Baden. Perhaps its lofty position, on a ridge looking south across the London basin, coupled with its springs and mysterious sink holes - where occasional streams disappear in small quarry-like craters - have lent it a spiritual frisson that the citizens of the metropolis proper can only aspire to from their Mc-cindered and clay-bound mosh pit.

Once in the Plough (for research, you understand: 3-30p.m.), I buy a pint of bitter shandy, but cannot bring myself to strike up a breezy conversation with the barmen, changing over shifts. When I worked behind a bar (in Stoke Newington, coincidently) this portion of the afternoon was known as the "graveyard shift". There was one other customer doing battle with a one-armed bandit.

"What's all this about a zeppelin, then?"
"I'm sorry?"
"The zeppelin…Leefe Robinson…the VC…shot down…?…please?"
"Go away. Get a life. Come back in 2004."

Instead I supped solo and cased the joint which was largely unremarkable but, as well as a small portrait of Robinson on an advert for a loc. Hist. book by the door, I could see an equally small picture of ancient agricultural machinery (not so remarkable given the name of the pub) and, curiously, a picture of butterflies.

"…At 2-5 a.m. an unexploded anti-aircraft shell dropped through the first floor back room at 31 Durleston Road, Upper Clapton…"

In fact, much of the damage recorded that night appears to have been from anti-aircraft shells fired from - among other places - Parliament Hill. No injury seems to have been incurred, though "Mrs Wallace aged 25, of 8, Alexander Road, South Tottenham, complained of shock, but declined medical aid" and explosive and incendiary bombs left a trail of damage across a swathe of north London from Walthamstow to Potters Bar. One bomb burst a water main at Ponders End. Tram and telephone wires were broken and dozens of houses, and nursery greenhouses, damaged: mostly broken windows. At Clay Hill, Enfield, stables were burnt out at a stud farm. Three racehorses belonging to Admiral Sir Hedworth Meux (sometime Admiral of the Fleet, MP and the owner of Theobald's Park) were killed, though five were luckily rescued by the groom, William Elliott. A bomb in an adjacent field left a crater 15ft in diameter and 8 ft deep. Other bombs fell in fields avoiding structural damage, as the reports from the various divisions attest.

"HOSTILE AIR RAID 3rd. inst.

I beg to report that on 4th. Inst. 3 additional explosive bombs were discovered as having been dropped on this Division on morning of 3rd. inst. Viz:-
4 In a field belonging to Mr. Hollington, Waltham Cross, amongst potatoes and cabbages.
1 In Mr. Hollington's meadow.
1 Unexploded near Mr. Hollington's house, (in a bed of lettuce plants)
2 (1 unexploded) in Mr. Burton's grass field, Waltham Cross.
1 In New River, (near bank) Waltham Cross.
No personal injury or damage to property other than that caused to root plants.
Both the unexploded bombs are guarded by Police. Telegram sent to Ex."

The northern hinterland, it should perhaps be pointed out, was not altogether a stranger to industrial sabotage (if that is what it was). In 1581 the banks of the newly improved River Lee were cut near Green Street and the lock at Waltham set on fire by Enfield maltmen whos business, transporting malt and barley by road, was threatened by modern river transport.

I drained my Mac Shandy, left The Plough without, as Hazlitt once wrote, " a word to throw at a dog", and struck out n. across neat sub urb heading, as it were, for Home.


11/8/04 Terror Pins (See blog 6/6/04 Mill Hill) are terrorising avian wildlife, and schoolchildren, in n. London pond. The Guardian also ran the story (Well it is the holidays, I suppose).

Breaking the habit of a blog-time this week: no mention of WWI, the anniversary of which (at least the outbreak of) fell last week (Guardian/CBS News).

Sunday, small section of the Loop in sweltering heat from Stanmore to Elstree.

Walking n. from terminus (1932) of Jubilee Line through "an unusually daring thirties enclave" (Pevsner's Guide) onto s. edge of Stanmore Common, climbing through mixed woodland with patches of gorse, pretty hefty oaks marking the path in places.

Further on through large purple drifts of Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion augustifolium): Bombweed, Fireweed, Ranting Widow, the first of these VNs reflecting its habit of being one of the first flowers to pop up on bomb sites after the Luftwaffe's bombing raids of 1940. (Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey).

I didn't say anything about not mentioning WWII.

JULES VERNE MOMENT: pile of rotting carp next to the "Roman" pond on the ridge, which is covered in green algae.

It's been an up and down couple of weeks for London's fish stocks with good news for the Wandle which made the Guardian ( see also London's Lost Trout River Reborn in National Geographic News April 21, 2003), then tragedy in the Thames. I was, I think, aware that sewage and storm drains were linked, but I had no idea of the extent to which raw gunk still plopps into the Thames. S suggests reed beds along the Tottenham Court Road.

The carp are perplexing and nostril challenging: Storm damage? Vandalism? Algae?…Maybe they just fancied a walk.

Crossing the A41 (not pleasant) we walked up the Elstree Road (ditto) to the Fishery Inn (McMullen's) then - refreshed - crossed into Aldenham Country Park, joining a path around the reservoir and admiring a flotilla of tiny yachts.

The dam - so the guide tells me - was built originally by Napoleonic POWs (another conflict: it's too exhausting).

Finally across Watling Street (not as nice it sounds) to fields with views of Elstree and church, then across ubiquitous golf course, and down to Thameslink station.

The Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandiarus buries acorns as a reserve food supply. The Jay can - apparently - remember hundreds of separate hoards.

According to the Collins bird book, the Jay was instrumental in facilitating the rapid spread of Oak forests after the last ice age, 10,000 years ago (the trees spread northwards at 2 km per year).

Which suggests either earlier Jays were not as bright, or their memory power has been exaggerated.

"Now where did I put that xxxx acorn?"


5/8/04 Mobilis in Mobile

"The blue sea par excellence, the "Great Sea" of the Hebrews, "the sea" of the Greeks, the mare nostrum of the Romans. Bordered by orange trees, aloes, cacti, maritime pines, embalmed in the perfume of myrtle trees, framed by severe mountains, saturated with a pure, transparent air, but constantly worked by the fires of the Earth…"

Jules Verne, writing Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Seas from his house in Le Crotoy, in the Somme Bay, was not here refering to the view out of his window: vast wastes of sand under permanently grey nothern skies. His "poem" to the sea lingers for the most part in rather hotter climes, here the Med., notwithstanding a brief detour under the ice cap by way of, as it were, a cold plunge.

Shady, having just returned from holiday under aformentioned grey skies, is quite sympathetic to such poetic fancy and can perhaps well understand the urge that drove Verne to spend (as his wife is alleged to have unkindly pointed out), for one so enamoured of the sea, rather a lot of time with his backside to it.

In fact, Verne drew at least some of his inspiration even closer to home (Shady's home, that is) putting the finishing touches to Vol. 1 on a sailing trip to Gravesend in 1868.

One benefit of taking a holiday somewhere not too exotic is the opportunity to fairly easily "top up" the holiday experience upon your return. Hence Saturday 24 July saw us taking advantage of £5 Rover tickets to Southend. Ofcourse, Essex is, by definition, exotic - especially to a Hertfordshire boy. And only the most bad-tempered landlubber could fail to be driven to poetic fancy when the cockle sheds of Leigh hove into view and the creek that the train has been following becomes a muddy estuary dotted with colourful cockle boats and dozens of small craft at unlikely angles in varying states of decrepitude.

John Reginald Philpott was, according to Raymond Money, (Flying and Soldiering, Nicholson & Watson: London, 1936) "a cheerful idiot". He was also the holder of a Military Cross for gallantry and - most importantly for our story - one of the last people to see ABRB on 21 October 1916, above the French countryside south east of Arras.

Not quite a year later Rex (to his parents) aka Phil (to his friends), now Captain JR Philpott, finishes a breakfast of hot tea and biscuits and puts a razor and some spare clothes into a haversack. Leaving the house by the Tigris he is driven with his three friends along the bumpy road to the aerodrome. At the crack of dawn two planes takeoff, turn, and head due north over the golden domes of mosques just north of Baghdad. Following the river all the way they reach Samarra and land at a new aerodrome on the right bank of the river on the edge of the desert.

Sketch for "Hadleigh Castle" c 1828-29 (Tate Britain) is a full sized sketch in oil paint for Hadleigh Castle. The mouth of the Thames - morning, after a stormy night which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1829 and now held by the Yale Center for British Art.

Constable made a small pencil sketch of a view of Hadleigh Castle near Southend in 1814. At the time he wrote to his future wife, Maria (1985, David Hill, Constable's English Landscape Scenery, London, Murray):

"At Hadleigh there is a ruin of a castle which from the situation is really a fine place - it commands a view of the Kent hills the nore and the north foreland & looking many miles to sea".

He returned to the pencil sketch after his wife's death from TB in the winter of 1828-29 turning to painting for "a chance of being carried away from myself". The ragged brushwork and the bleakness of the broken castle, the wide estuary and dark clouds of the lingering storm all seem to reflect his desolate mood at that time.

About 7:30 the two planes took off again and headed north, passing over the ruins of a large town on the left bank of the Tigris.

Crossing enemy lines at 7000 ft the two crews began carrying out their reconnaissance work and were over Takrit aerodrome a little while later.

Here Captain Begg took out a small bag with long, coloured streamers attached to it, and when he was certain they were directly above the airfield, threw it out of the plane. Inside was the Iron Cross of a dead German airman.

It was 25°c, 77°f in Southend, and felt hotter. We were flagging after our visit to Phil's childhood home at Southchurch Rectory, now flats, where his father, the Rev Canon John N Philpott, was minister at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the antique/bric-a-brac market in Victoria shopping centre I stumbled across a childrens book under the imprint of hippo books and published by the Longacre press, 1963. No. 16 in a series of 18, Aircraft of World War I was sandwiched between no. 15, "Horses" and no. 17, "Dogs".

The inside cover had some mysterious additions. Fifteen crosses, presumably kisses rather than kills, and two naive female figures in blue biro, unsigned.

On pages 92-3 there is an entry on the R.E.8 (Great Britain) - a two-seater reconnaissance and artillery observation aircraft known, apparently, as the "Harry Tate" after a music hall comedian of the day.

I try to imagine Harry with his wing struts buckled and top wing sheered off: the fabric and broken bits of wood still attached and trailing like advertising streamers on either side of the stricken plane.

From Leigh station we climbed the sea wall and headed west beside the creek, past clanking masts and accompanied by the drone of remote control aircraft above Two Tree Island. We past the golf range over old tarmac flanked by tall fennel, and overtook a yacht zigzagging homeward against the wind.

I jumped down to the water's edge to take a closer look at the Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) which, close-up, look like cartoon cacti in a muddy desert. Once used, for its high sodium content, in the making of glass (hence it's alt. name " Glasswort") and by coastal folk where it passes as a vegetable: pickled or lightly boiled to taste (in Le Crotoy we took the latter course then tossed them with garlic and crème freche).

Miraculously, in spite of catastrophic structural failure (the enemy plane hadn't actually fired at them) Captain Begg managed to crash his plane without injury but not - unfortunately - without being caught, only to find that Captain Philpott had also, almost simultaneously, been forced to make a landing, and had also been captured by the Turkish military.

Phil's irrepressible good humour (at least outwardly) is very clear from a diary kept by the officers of their journey from capture to internment in Turkey (Cross and Cockade vol 11 no.2, 1980) and from copies of his letters home made by his father for the War Office and now held at PRO under WO339/12037.

But the "miraculous escape" was not followed by a happy ending and on 16 February 1918 Rev Canon Philpott received a telegram from the Red Cross in Geneva informing him that his son had died of dysentry at Afion, Turkey on the 15 January 1918.


Words & Music

North/South/Orphaned Lyrics 2003

5/8/04 Mobilis in Mobile

11/8/04 Terror Pins

link to plough.jpg

18/08/04 The Plough, Cuffley

link to jay peg.jpg

11/8/04 Jay Peg

link to marsh samphire.jpg

5/8/04 Marsh samphire

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