musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Personal

Tewkesbury Mini-steam Weekend 2017

It was that time of the year when Tewkesbury holds a number of events in and around the town. The first event that I attended this year was the mini-steam weekend that was held on the 24th and 25th of June. I attended the event last year too as well as in 2015. I had an information leaflet somewhere but seem to have mislaid it again so will really cheat a bit if I need info. The event is held by the Model Steam Road Vehicle Society. in the grounds of the Tewkesbury Rugby Club.

The engines on display are not the large full sized beasties, but smaller versions that mimic their bigger breathren; and like the full sized vehicles are feats of engineering way beyond my skill level. Realistically most of the machines this year were the same as I saw last year, in fact that was the problem with the event this year, I had seen it before but I do look for the odds and ends that make it different. 

This was the first engine that I saw while I was walking to the event, I have seen this guy quite often with his engine “Jack”, and he seems to thoroughly enjoy himself. The Abbey can be seen in the background of the image. 

The event has the usual mix of traders, enthusiasts, vintage cars and interested parties, and quite a few of the engines were raising steam when I got there.

Oh, and having their brightwork polished. Make no mistake, these machines require lots of time, patience and probably a healthy bank balance too. 

This wonderful showmens engine is typical of that particular type of vehicle with loads of shiney brass fiddly bits.

I am always fascinated by the electrical plant on these machines. It has a certain “Frankensteinish” look about it.

Here are a few of the steamers just waking from their slumbers while their owners had that first cuppa.

There was one exhibit that I ended up rooted to the spot at. It featured a single sided ploughing engine (my terminology may be out of wack though), and I spent quite a lot of time listening to the owner enthusing about his pet project. And, she was a beauty. 

I am no boffin on these things, but this system uses a single ploughing engine, an anchor, with an associated trolley and a double ended tool carrier. Wait, let me see whether I can find a link to explain it all. http://www.steamploughclub.org.uk/index.htm has a nice description on how steam ploughing actually works. In the image above the engine is closest to the camera. The dolly in the middle looks like this. Since the war ended GI Joe has gone into the ploughing industry.

The other end (called a travelling anchor) looks like this….

And it has the large disk-like wheels to prevent it being pulled sideways by the engine with ballast on the opposite side to the engine to prevent it from tipping from the load. A large twin forked anchor is set into the ground ahead of it and it is winched forward to the anchor as the rows are ploughed.  

These models are really magnificent and the owner is rightly proud of them too. I can see why. 

A full sized ploughing engine? they look like this… 

Continuing on my meander I also spotted this quirky steam powered ape. 

Who says steam in not versatile?

While I was walking around a number of engines were making their way to the arena where they circled around in a slightly haphazard way.

You can even use steam to walk the family dog and tow the family around.

There was a small display of vintage cars, and there were some I had not seen before.

And then there was this Kombi in the distance, she should have been in that line-up too.

By now I was considering my homeward trek and stopped at some of the traders tents to look around. The one tent had all of these wonderful old vintage and not so vintage tools in it, and what a strange eclectic collection it was. 

And while I was loitering there I heard a strange noise behind me… 

And then it was time to go. However I shall enthral you with my random pics.

   
   

And that was my day. Hope you enjoyed it too.

One final pic… because this is one of the things that Tewkesbury is known for:

© DRW 2017. Created 24/06/2017

Updated: 24/06/2017 — 15:39

The girl from the past

Some time ago a strange story popped up in my radar, one that drew me because of the strangeness of it, and the other because it was such a poignant story that really had a satisfying ending.

On 9 May 2016, a contractor uncovered an old metallic coffin with windows set into it while working at the home of a family in San Francisco who were having their house renovated.  The old coffin was still sealed and contained the remains of a young girl who was seemingly perfectly preserved. 

The vast grindstone of bureaucracy pondered on the issue and declared vast amounts of money would be required to rebury her. At that point in time nobody could even put a name to her, or understand why she was there in the first place. As things go the story did not end there. In fact it dropped off the screens for a period, but all of us who had read it originally were asking the same questions: what happened since then? And, what did she look like? It was obvious that she dated from the Victorian era because the history of the town pretty much nailed down when there was a cemetery in the area, although it was cleared in the 1890’s; the remains exhumed and re-interred in a city called Colma. Colma is considered the city of the dead as it has 2 square miles of cemeteries. The clearance happened at least 10-15 years after Miranda was buried and our little time traveller had been left behind, undisturbed until she was rediscovered over a century after being laid to rest.

At this point I can only point the reader to one source that can tell the story better than I can, and it really makes for fascinating reading for those who have an interest in history, forensics and a good old fashioned sad story.  The primary source that I use is http://www.gardenofinnocence.org/miranda-eve-childs-casket-found-under-home.

It was decided that the home owner that had this abandoned coffin in her home would have the gift of naming the child.  She in turn asked her 4 and 6 year old daughters what they would like to name a little girl and they said her name will be Miranda. It is under that name “Miranda Eve” that she would be buried although it was hoped that a positive identification would be possible. 

An organisation, known as Garden of Innocence had decided to take on her reburial. The organisation provides dignified burials for abandoned and unidentified children, and this girl was definitely one of those.  A suitable casket was hand made with as much care as if she was the daughter of everybody involved in the project. Miranda was destined to undergo a second funeral, this time by the hand of strangers, but with the well wishes of large portions of the internet to accompany her in her new grave. 

On the 4th of June 2016 she was laid to rest once again, inside her original coffin that was placed in a wooden casket. She was seen off by over 100 strangers who had been touched by this girl from the past. Strands of her hair has been taken so that it could be analysed to shed light on a possible cause of death. DNA was also extracted and it would be used to compare with any possible family members that would be traced assuming that a tentative identification could be made. Garden of Innocence provided the headstone and memorial service for “Miranda Eve” as she was still unidentified. One side of her headstone was left blank in case they could eventually identify her

The house where she was found had been built in 1936 on what was the “Odd Fellows” Cemetery in the family plot in the Yerba Buena section, and that had “been cleared” in the 1890’s when the city of San Francisco decided that the dead were taking up too much space, and voted to have all burials stopped in the City and close the cemeteries. Approximately 300 000 bodies had to be exhumed and moved but the question does arise: how many other sets of remains are still buried underneath the neighbourhood? And how did she slip between the cracks and remain undiscovered when the house was being built? 

After long days and months of detective work, she was finally identified as being Edith Howard Cook; the second born child and first born daughter of Horatio Nelson Cook and Edith Scooffy Cook,  Born on the 28th of November 1873 she was just over 2 years and 10 months old when she died on the 13th of October 1876. Her identification was made possible by using old maps of the original cemetery and overlaying it with maps of the area, then finding a plot that was in the space where the house where she was found is. That would have yielded up a grave number and using records would yield a name. In total 3 children had been identified as “possibles”, and by taking DNA samples of possible relatives a positive match was made. Miranda now had a name. 

What did she die of? Thanks to the hair samples and records we know that she died of “Marasmus“, in short it is caused by a severe deficiency of nearly all nutrients, especially protein, carbohydrates, and lipids. Her family were relatively well off, so her nutrition would have been adequate, but we can only speculate as to what triggered this condition in the first place. It is possible that she was suffering from something else that caused her eating to tail off. We will never know because she did not end up on the autopsy table. What we do know is that she was buried with love, dressed in a long white christening dress embellished with elaborate lace work and wearing ankle high shoes and tiny purple “false indigo” flowers were woven into her hair and on a long necklace, similar to a rosary.

An image of her was taken and subsequently created as a “Fairy Tale Portrait”, by graphic artist Jennifer Onstrott Warner of Fairy Tale Portraits in Newport Beach and it turned out beautiful. To the best of my knowledge no untouched images of her were released, maybe that’s a good thing? Although I am still very curious about this little sleeping beauty.  

While reading this story I naturally turned to Google and the image search, and while I saw many iterations of that image I also saw many images of vapid celebrities and selfie’s posted to social media by the self absorbed and what a contrast it was.

And what a story this turned out to be.  In our modern mad world we were touched by a girl from 1876 who was forgotten and who lay undisturbed for over 145 years. Her own parents and siblings are long gone too, possibly even exhumed from the same cemetery? The question of what was the underlying cause of the Marasmus will never be answered, although in the 1870’s children led very precarious lives, and a simple childhood disease could be a killer. Modern medicine was still a long way into the future, although in our modern world there is a condition similar to Marasmus called Kwashiorkor, and it is still found in many third world countries. 

Miranda Eve rests in Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma, her new headstone was unveiled on 10 June 2017 and it bears her name and date of birth and death, and a simple epitaph:

“I once was lost

but now I am found”. 

Rest in Peace Edith. 

Acknowledgements:

Garden of Innocence for what they did.  Image of headstone from their facebook page

Jennifer Onstrott Warner of Fairy Tale Portraits for the wonderful image that she created.

The many people who helped identify Edith and who “brought her home”

And the others who made her their own. Many pages made for fascinating reading especially the SF Weekly.

© DRW 2017. Created between 10-16 June 2017. 

Updated: 16/06/2017 — 17:35

Still building the RMS

Buried a few posts back is my progress on building a 1/1250-ish model of the RMS St Helena. If you don’t know what I am talking about I suggest you start from the back.

Where am I now?

*Click here for the 18/06/2017 update*

When last we left the ship she was in a state of…

At that point I had changed the superstructure and was contemplating the well deck bulwarks. In the back of my mind was the feeling that I needed to change them so I ended up ripping them out and replacing them with aluminium ones cut from a beer tin. If only I had thought of that originally I would have saved myself considerable work (and £2.99 for a sheet of brass). The superstructure has been rough painted and filed more or less level with the hull section. I scrapped the original bridge wing scheme too because I was going to make them out of brass, but that idea has also changed and I may see whether it is easy to make them out of aluminium so that I can have a proper bridge wing effect. There is also a section of steel that merges the slope of the superstructure with the bridge wing. I meed to see how that comes together too. 

 As at 19.21 today she looks something like this…

I have made the crane mounting post and added in the well deck hatch and started to see what arrangement I could make for her two cranes. This is not how the new cranes will look. I have made proper ones now but they still have glue drying so haven’t been mounted yet. I am also on the lookout for paint for her decks. They use a light blue on her steel decking so I am either going to have to mix or buy a tinlet. At any rate I am not going anywhere until I have the bulwarks fixed. The bend angle that I used created a empty space between the bulwark and the deck so that needs to be fixed too.  I still have not created her funnel either, probably because I hate working with wood. 

What have I learnt so far?

The well deck may be too high or the deck between it and the fo’c’stle may be too low. I am unable to achieve the slight upward slope of the bulwarks because there is this size issue between the gangway area and the well deck. I do not know how to solve this yet. Actually looking at some of my pics, she has two housings on either side of the deck where the cranes are mounted. I may be able to use that to create my sloping bulwarks. I must investigate that. 

My wooden crane sucked. I do have a length of styrene and it has worked well enough that I have a set of cranes that may work well. 

The aft deck screen around the pool needs to be put in motion, as must the davits. I have the perfect material for the davits and should be able to churn out 4 sets without too much of a headache. But, I have to make lifeboats which means the headache is back. The length of styrene may work for the boats. I must experiment a bit.

I need to start straightening my sheer lines once have the bulwarks sorted and I need to experiment with bridge wings, ah what fun! 

In the meantime, some more views of the real ship. I see on my pics her fo’c’stle was Oxford blue too, that should make my work easier. 

So. That is where we are now. During the week I hope to do more work on her and then will post progress when I am done next weekend. 

10/06/2017. 

When last you we saw the RMS she was looking more RMS-like all the time. However…

This afternoon I attacked her with a saw.

After ripping off her superstructure I cut away a third of the deck and filed it flat. The deck used to end where the patch of blue now is. I then headed off to Cheltenham and came back with basswood and a few more interesting goodies and rebuilt that deck.  Because of the size of the wood I ended up having to use two pieces instead of one. The result looks something like this….

I then refabricated bulwarks and added them in, masked the hull and painted the white area in. (No pics as the paint is wet). On Friday I made the funnel that you can see above, it needs to be flatter at the top though, not sloping backwards. I also added my new crane unit just for show. The issue there is that the one boom stretches from the crane and rests on a cradle affixed to the superstructure front. My one boom is consequently longer than the other.  

I have made one major decision though. This model is far from anywhere near perfect, in fact it is a hodge podge of wood and plastic and really quite poor. However, I have learnt a lot by building it, and I will complete it so that it looks much better than it does now, and then I will consider building another with the knowledge I have gained building this service pack 1. When I started I did not have the one image I have now (which I cannot show because it belongs to somebody else), That image showed me a lot of detail that I could not get off my existing images. Ideally I need the plans but it looks like my brother is trying hard not to be seen. I did ask him to go look for them but I guess he never found them or never looked. Anyway, building will stop this week as I have the landlord popping in to check that I haven’t wrecked the place so my ship and associated goodies are being hidden away till next week. 

11/06/2017.

I have made a lot of progress this afternoon. One thing about the weather, it makes you stay indoors and work on your ships! The aft pool area is more or less completely built although it may change, I have done some preliminary work on painting decks and am experimenting with davits. The issue with them is glue. The super glue is useless and the other all purpose glue is also useless. I may need to add a notch in the decks for the davit to rest on. Thinking about it still. Funnel is glued down and two hatches have been added although crane assy is still not stuck down. She is looking much better, not perfect, but better.

Still to do:

Build 4 lifeboats and 8 davits, mount them. 

Bridge wings. Still need those.

Crane on starboard deck aft

Repaint

Think about gangway

Black topping to funnel and logo… I have no idea how to do that logo on such a small scale. Print it out and shrink it down I guess. √  Sorted! Shrunk a logo to 9% printed, cut out and mounted it. Voila!

Bridge front needs to be done. It does not sit flush with the accommodation but protrudes slightly. 

Mast and associated satnav gear.

Two derricks on well deck 

Two housings on foredeck and associated machinery

Till then…

It is the 18th of June and the RMS is almost done… although “done” has not quite been explained. 

I have added the aft crane, 4 lifeboats, a “mast”, forespike, foredeck housings and am really at a point where I need to touch up paint and finish this puppy off finally.

Those lifeboats were a major pain. The conventional davits that I made proved almost impossible to mount. There was just nothing apart from 2 points where they were glued to keep them in place., never mind to mount a lifeboat on. The davits are a mess. How the heck they make them in this scale (and smaller) is beyond me. That was a major stumbling block as far as I am concerned. The bow shape is wrong, the bulwarks are just exacerbating the problem. Talking of bulwarks… did I mention that I managed to get them on? the small square hole in the hull is where the gangway sits, currently the hole is too short, but trying to enlarge it may be dangerous. The mast is OK, but not quite what I was trying to achieve. The derricks in the well deck are OK, although their booms are pieces of wire and proved to be hell to get to sit in the correct position. The aft crane looks more like a 6 inch gun. I need to change that. I also should have stayed with the yellow I had on the funnel. The yellow I have now is icky. 

Paintwork is an abomination. Because I made so many changes the paint ended up lumpy and short of sanding it all off will always look lumpy. I jumped the gun when it came to painting her and am now saddled with what I have. There isn’t much I can do at this point, although having completed the ship I am tempted to try sand her hull and accommodation down to bare wood and then repaint. I have not decided. I am very tempted to try change the bow shape though, but having almost finished the ship I am now loathe to break it again. 

Portholes and windows? I am thinking about them. 2 Options: either make them out of trimline or create a stencil and paint them in. The former works but the trimline tends to come off. Painting is a pain. I need to experiment. I tried using the trimline option on the bridge front but it ended up skew and the white parts disassociated themselves with the experiment. 

Now that I look at her, she actually looks kind of like the RMS after all.

A new iteration?

Things have changed a lot since I started this project. I have better images and I have a set of deckplans (thanks Glynn), I also have better wood, tools and know more about how the ship comes together so a new version should be an improvement (almost anything would be an improvement). However, my eyesight and sausage fingers are just not allowing me to work to such small scale (old age they call it), and I need to sort out the glue issue, this stuff I am using now is a major source of irritation. And of course the thought of those damn lifeboats and davits leaves me frazzled. I would build a scaled up version but the problem with that is… railings. I rest my case.

This post is the last of the construction posts. Next time you see it I will be completing the ship. 

Thanks for watching this space, soon there will be a new space to watch.

© DRW 2017. Created 04/06/2017. Updated 18/06/2017

Updated: 18/06/2017 — 19:29

HM Prison Gloucester

It was time to go to jail; although in this case I am innocent I tell you! I was framed! call my lawyer! 

HM Prison Gloucester had recently unlocked it’s doors to the public and was accepting visitors to the disused facility. It was then added to my bucket list and it was one of the reasons I was in Gloucester yesterday.

The prison lies on the east bank of the Severn and was built on the site of a 12th century castle. The keep was demolished in 1787 and a prison was built in it’s place in 1879 while a debtors prison was added in 1826. A new wing was added in 1884 and the governors house was built 1850’s, although it is outside the walls.  

Once past the front door of the prison there was a labyrinth of passages to navigate, fortunately one of them led to the toilet! The first area I explored was where “closed visits” were conducted. There were 3 cubicles where the prisoner was able to talk to his visitor without having physical access to them. 

This is a holding cell, and it would be where arriving prisoners could be kept while they were booked in or until such time as they were allocated a cell, or if there was a shortage of space. It is a temporary solution though, and ideally overcrowding in this space would be avoided as much as possible. 

Once I had cleared the admin block I entered into what was known as a “sterile area” which was really a fenced in area behind the block with gates leading to an exercise yard.

Make no mistake, you will not be able to scale that fence easily because it may look flimsy but it is not. I expect the sterile area is used to cordon off the gate house from the rest of the the prison. There is a vehicle entrance in this sterile area and I suspect it was from here that prisoners were removed from vehicles for processing. 

For some reason prisoners always walked in an anti-clockwise direction in the exercise yards. There were three yards in total and this one leads into B wing. However I did not go into B wing immediately but went to the debtors prison instead. This was originally built to house people who could not pay their bills although this area has changed a lot since the Georgian ear when it was built. In fact there was not all that much to see.

Entrance to the Debtors Prison

It was now in use as the healthcare centre, so was in a reasonable condition and the only real way you would know it was part of a prison would be the many lockable doors and barred windows.

Opposite the old debtors prison was the A&B wing which is probably the most spectacular part of the prison. Photography in there was difficult because of the varying light conditions and small cells, but I have to admit some of the images I took were stunning. Let us go inside before the screws find us….

To the left is the “A” Wing, and to the right is “B” wing. 

“A” Wing.

“A” Wing is probably where the general population were housed. The cells that I went into had a double bunk and a washbasin and toilet in them. These facilities were only installed into the cells in 1995/96. Prior to this prisoners would have to “slop out” at the start of the day. 

The cells are small, even with such a narrow bed frame in it. The toilet is out of frame but is on the other side of the washbasin in the left hand photograph. Imagine being locked in here for a long time, staring at the same walls day after day.

The wing has 3 levels to it and there is access to “C” block via an overhead walkway on the 2nd floor of this wing. The 3rd level was roped off so I could not investigate it.

There is one curiosity that is not immediately obvious and I did not take too much notice of it at the time. Outside each cell is a coiled serpent and they represent evil. Above them are lion claws which represent justice bearing down on evil. It seems to be just the sort of symbolism that the Victorians would have used. 

Returning to the central entrance I went into “B” Wing/Segregation. Two levels of this wing housed remand prisoners, and one housed “VP” prisoners and the segregation unit. 

Unfortunately I could not go into the chapel as the access to it was closed off. Instead I crossed over into “C” Wing and explored there for awhile. It was built in the 1970’s, and in the 1990’s was a “young offenders” unit until it was closed in 2013. It does not have the heaviness that I felt in the other block, although I am sure it must have been a rough place when occupied.

Having had a look at the interiors it was time to look at the exteriors. The only view you have of the outside is the sky; a very high wall surrounds the prison and there was no getting over it too easily.

It kind of reminded me of the garden wall in South Africa. 

The execution shed is long gone, but it was built at the end of “A” Wing, the Governor able to watch it from the luxury of his home. The last hanging in this prison took place in 1939. It is thought that there are over 100 prisoners buried in unmarked graves under the prison.  

And then it was time to leave. I have to admit the prison is an interesting place to visit, and they offer guided tours too. Personally I prefer doing my own thing and having a post mortem afterwards. 

make no mistake, this place is not a holiday camp, it is a grim cold building that must have been noisy, crowded and violent. It is the nature of the inmates that they tend to be amongst the worst of the human race. 

I have visited two other prisons: the first is the “Women’s Jail” as well as the old “Number 4” Jail in Johannesburg, but it appears as if I never did blogposts for them (since retrospectively rectified). 

Random Images. 

¢ DRW 2017. Created 04/07/2016.

Updated: 06/06/2017 — 19:42

Galloping around Gloucester

Looking at my handy index page for 2015, I was last in Gloucester in August and September of 2015, and in those visits I took in the Cathedral, the Jet Age Museum and I saw lots of dudes with odd shaped balls.. I had really intended to return one day but it has taken me over a year to do that. 

Actually I had two reasons to be there. The first was to go look at a hobby shop, the second was to take a look at the recently opened HM Prison Gloucester as well as take a closer look at the harbour/docks. This particular post does not deal with that aspect of my visit, it will have a post all of it’s own once I have completed this post and added images to some of my other posts. Realistically I am going to amalgamate some of the images I took way back in 2015 with this one. 

The weather was a deciding factor for this trip, I was not really in the mood for an expedition, but the sun was shining and it wasn’t too cold so I grabbed my camera and headed for the City of Gloucester. For a change I did not go via Cheltenham but took the 71 bus straight from Tewkesbury. (£6.50 return). My planning for the trip really was based around finding the prison and shop, but as I was there early I decided to hit the harbour first. I will be honest though, I am not too much of fan of the city, but then I haven’t done too much exploring. The map on the left pretty much sums it up. The bus station is out of the picture but would be in the top right of the map had.   

 On one of my previous visits I did go to the local cemetery and looked around the harbour, but it was a grey day so not too much came of those visits. From what I can see the city really is formed around a cross of streets and spread outwards from there. As usual there is a mixed bag of old and new and all manner in between.

The hobby shop I was after is much further along and on the left hand side. I visited it on my way back. At the point where I am standing now I turned 180 degrees and headed in the general direction of the harbour.

Amongst the odd things I spotted were large customised statues of pigs. Unfortunately there was no mention of what the campaign was about, or who was responsible for the customisation.  Ah well they did make for interesting oddments to photograph and the images of the ones I saw are on the relevant page.

This is not the only street art in the city, there is this interesting depiction called “Spirit of Aviation” by Simon Stringer from 1999.

 And oddly enough, a Roman on a horse! 

Gloucester was founded in AD 97 by the Romans under Emperor Nerva (that’s him on the horse) as Colonia Glevum Nervensis, and was granted its first charter in 1155 by King Henry II. Parts of the Roman walls can be traced, and a number of remains and coins have been found, though inscriptions are scarce. In Historia Brittonum, a fabled account of the early rulers of Britain, Vortigern‘s grandfather, Gloiu (or Gloyw Wallt Hir: “Gloiu Long-hair”), is given as the founder of Gloucester. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloucester  In Brunswick Place there are two bronze reliefs set against the wall, and one shows the Romans doing what Romans did well.

Continuing on my stroll I encountered “St Michael’s Tower” which was once used as a tourist information centre. The tower was built in 1465 on the site of the nave of the previous church of St Michael the Archangel.  In the 1840s the old church was demolished, apart from the tower, and a new St Michael’s Church was constructed in 1851, it too closed in 1940, The main part of the church was demolished in 1956, but the tower was spared.

This area is also known as “The Cross” because it is the intersection of Northgate, Southgate, Eastgate and Westgate Streets. 

There are a number of church spires poking out above the rooftops, and one I returned to was St Mary de Crypt in Southgate Street. it was first recorded in 1140 as “The Church of the Blessed Mary within Southgate”. 

It still has it’s churchyard attached and that is a destination all on its own.

One really stunning item I saw was this wonderful scene set up against the wall of a “practical watchmaker”. I am not too sure what happens where the time comes for them to chime but you can bet it is awesome.

By now I was within smelling distance of the harbour, and I am have dealt with it in better detail on it’s own blogpost. 

And, I dealt with the Prison on it’s own page too. 

My walk along the Severn took me to the site of the ruins of Llanthony Secunda Priory. Realistically it is a shell of a building and there was not much to see.

 A bit further on is the old Victorian farmhouse that is under conservation. It is a very pretty building and was part of what was then Llanthony Abbey Farm. 

Within the harbour you will find “Mariner’s Chapel”.

 I visited it in 2015, and it was really typical of a chapel that you would expect to find in a harbour. 

It is a simple building but you can feel the call of the open water within it’s walls.  

On my bucket list from 2015 was the War Memorial, and I visited that in 2015.

Then it was time to find out where the Prison was and I asked a passing policeman who had worked in the prison, and he said it was a very grim place. He also solved the one question that had been bugging me since I first photographed it in 2015. “What is this in aid of?”

It turns out that is not a drinking fountain but a urinal! That could explain the lack of a tap. It is marked “Gloucester Board of Health 1862” on the base, and I suspect it was walled when it was in use. 

Crossing out of the harbour area I passed the locks that would have led into the Main Basin of the harbour with it’s gates and bridge.

I found my hobby shop without too much looking, although it did not have what I wanted.

and that wrapped up my trip and it was time to head for the bus station and home. Gloucester was “in the bag”, but I suspect I will return one day, I really need to revisit the cemetery and of course take a look at the museum, but that may never happen. 

Random Images 2017 

Random  Images from 2015

© DRW 2015-2017. Created 03/06/2017

Updated: 04/06/2017 — 15:07

Leaving Reuven

23 years ago my mother moved into a complex known as “Reuven” in the South of Johannesburg. At the time it was being managed by Johannesburg Association For The Aged (aka JAFTA). I do recall that getting into the place was very difficult as you had to get on the list and go for an interview etc. As luck would have it she managed to get a place quite easily and moved in shortly thereafter.

The “unit” was really a single room with a small bathroom and kitchen and a bit of space to have a garden. It was basic, but not horrible. The rents were cheap and the facility took people on outings and there was a working kitchen that used to supply lunch for those who were interested. There was also a laundromat and realistically it was a pleasant place to live, assuming you did not have the neighbours from hell and there was a resident caretaker who ensured that work was done and the complex was maintained. 

The block where my mother lived had the local “dragon” as well as a long term resident who considered that she had fallen on hard times and was always muttering about leaving. There was also an elderly man who lived above her and they gave him absolute hell, hounding him from the complex.

(A quick note. I am not going to supply names in this post, but will describe many of the residents with their associated nicknames and faults. Many have since passed on).

At the time there was a caretaker who lived on the premises and who ensured that the council labourers performed their jobs properly. They kept grass cut, removed litter, trimmed trees, emptied dustbins, etc. They also earned a few rands doing “unofficial” jobs for the residents. It was really the sort of place where you could live out your old age in relative peace and safety (assuming that you never had the neighbours from hell and the status quo was maintained.)

Somewhere along the line things started to wobble; I cannot put a date to it, or a specific event, but things just started going wrong. Maintenance slipped, the caretaker left, grass was no longer cut, litter became commonplace and sadly the lady who used to look after the kitchen passed away (Thank you Mina, we will remember you with fondness). There was also a lot of unauthorised modifying of the units, and the usual stirrers stirred the pot. Even at that point it was still very affordable for those who survived on the meagre state pension. Technically a means test was done on new applications, but many who moved in were getting much more than the state pension. You could see it in the new cars and DSTV dishes that sprouted all over the place.

Then things went even more pear shaped and the dirty hand and greasy palm of corruption reared its ugly head. Bribes were paid, and units were “bought”. Blind eyes were turned and the road through the complex became a battleground because some residents appropriated sections as their own personal parking space. It was so bad that traffic cones stand sentinel while the residents are out and about in their cars. Curtains twitched like mad and shouting matches erupted regularly. It would have made a perfect soap opera if anybody had set up cameras.

My brother and I visited my mother every Sunday at Reuven since 1994, and often I could only shake my head at some of the goings on there. The dragon upstairs faded away and the next door neighbour would leave and never return. In fact we always used to comment on who had passed away that week. Like many places it also attracted its share of dunks, wife beaters, dementia sufferers and ne’er do wells. And each left their nasty mark on the environment. There were no repercussions for any wrong doing. It became a free for all. 

Petty theft was rampant, and one incident made me extremely angry. Two “plumbers” were sent to sort out a leaking tap or toilet and they stole my mothers engagement and wedding rings. My brother and I wanted to call the police but my mother would have nothing of it. But I could see she was very hurt over the episode. The lack of maintenance meant that when a geyser failed it was not replaced, when the toilets leaked nobody did anything. Grass became junglelike in appearance, cars were driven up the pavements and parked outside flats, fallen trees rotted where they fell, and money changed hands on a regular basis. Some residents did not pay their rent and the whole web of corruption just continued and nothing was done about it.

At some point pre-paid electricity meters were installed, which was good news because Johannesburg City Power were physically incapable of delivering a bill that made sense, or even reading the meters on a regular basis. My mother was on the receiving end  of their incompetence, paying larger and larger amounts every month because they just carried on messing her around. By the time they installed a prepaid meter they alleged that she owed them almost R1500 in arrears. How a single person in a small flat could use so much electricity was unbelievable. In spite of numerous attempts to sort the problem out we were unable to get them to do their job properly. At the time of writing they have never refunded  the money that was paid by mother through their incompetence. By the time I left for the UK in 2013 solar geysers were installed in the flats and when my mothers geyser stopped working she relied on it.  She complained for almost 2 years and they never bothered to fix it, or even came out to look at it. The geyser was really her bugbear because it leaked for years and nothing was ever done because she did not offer a backhander.

In March this year I returned to Reuven as it was evident that she was no longer able to cope on her own and we had to make a decision and at some point she would have to  leave Reuven and move into a care home. She lived in her flat for 23 years, the longest that she has lived in one place her whole life.  When I was there I could not help but feel very sad to see the remnants of her life and independence that remained. Her dressing table has been with her since before I was born, and she still uses some of the cutlery from her original dinner service. She replaced her bed when she moved in and has slept on that bed for 23 years. She is still using the fridge I bought in 1986, and while the TV and DVD player is relatively new, I do not think she has been using it since the beginning of this year. In fact she used to listen to the wireless a lot, and now Radio Today has lost one of their only fans  😉  Her current neighbour has been a pillar of strength, and without her I do not know what we would have done. 

In the time she lived there she did not really associate with most of the residents, although there were those who she befriended. One was an elderly coloured lady called Katey who used to visit her and do odd jobs for her. My mother and her were very close, but she passed away suddenly and my mother was devastated, as were we. It was part of the problem of living in a place like this, many would walk in and be carried out. Residents died regularly, often unnoticed until the smell of decay raised eyebrows.

The sad thing was that if something did happen to a resident, they were helpless. There was no help available. There was no regular nurse or caretaker or medical service.   And unfortunately, when somebody passed away it became a regular free for all with residents to see who could get there first to remove furniture or white goods.  Never mind that the former resident has not even been buried yet.

The whole Reuven experience was interesting because I saw the best and worst of my fellow man. I could write reams about the disaster that it became. Yet, for many it was home, and for many it was the last home that they had.  It is such a pity that it was allowed to become a hot bed of corruption, and I sincerely hope that those responsible get locked away for a very long time for exploiting the aged. And, those that were paying the bribes get to feel the weight of the law too. It take two parties to be corrupt, and a blind eye of those in authority to allow it to thrive.

The one interesting part of visiting Reuven was the collection of old cars that some residents had. It provided a lot of material for my website.

For my brother and I a chapter closes on  this part of our lives. We may never pass Reuven again, although I may end up there myself one day. Anything is possible.

I am sure my mother was just as scared of moving to this final home in her life as we are, only more so.

Rest in Peace Katey, thank you for all you did, and for being so special, and thanks to all of those who were a part of my mothers life. As for the rest? you know what they say about the wheel that turns? 

Postscript.

My mother finally moved a week ago and my brother emptied the flat this weekend and gave away most of her furniture and appliances that she would no longer need.  For me it has been very sad because I suspect at some point I will be in her position, the only difference being that I will have nowhere to go. 

© DRW 2017. Created 7 May 2017, finally posted 28/05/2017. 

Updated: 28/05/2017 — 14:33

Moving the Dak

This is another retrospective post that I am doing based on images that I have in my collection. The exif data of the images says that this event happened on 05/04/2009, but, it may be incorrect due to my frequent file movements.

Anyway, one fine Sunday in 2009 I headed off to the South African Museum of Military History aka “The War Museum” in Saxonwold. I vaguely recall the reason for it, but somebody forgot to tell me that they were holding a military themed fair on that day. I hopped onto the M1 North, intending to bail out in the vicinity of St Andrews or Oxford streets, Unfortunately, the universe was not playing fair and as I approached the turn off I realised that I would not be turning off at that point because there was a thumping great Dakota blocking the exit! Now Daks are not the sort of thing you expect to find on a highway, they tend to congregate around airports, airborne invasions and occasionally rusting away in backwaters of the world. Some still insist on flying, and you know what they say “you cannot keep a good Dak down”.

This unfortunate Goony Bird was being towed tail first towards her destination (which was probably the same as mine), her wings had been shed but her engine housings were still intact. However, there was no way I could fit past her and given the fact that this was a highway meant I could not stop for a quick squizz, I had to get back into my lane really quickly and find the next off ramp. I do not know that part of town so well and there was a good chance I would end up taking one heck of a detour as a result. 

Eventually I managed to orientate myself and was in the correct area with the War Museum in front of me, although the place was buzzing with cars and people. I was very tempted to up the hook and head off for home instead.  I have just checked my images to see why I was at the War Museum and the reason was that I wanted to get pics of Nancy, the Springbok Mascot.

I forked up vast amounts of dosh to go into the War Museum, and it was packed, however, I first had to get my image and headed to the display where she was. Images taken, I went outside to look at the exhibits and displays. There was a small contingent of re-enactors  in military uniform and some of them were really amazing to see. The people responsible were Battle Group South. 

Special thanks to the guys that I photographed, especially the sinister looking guy in black. I have blanked his face to protect his privacy. 

There were the usual purveyors of militaria at the show and I wandered around, occasionally examining items or drifting back to the museum exhibits. I did not take too many pics that day for some reason. It could be that the crowds distracted me and I left after doing the rounds. However, there was a surprise in the parking lot!

That Dak and I were destined to meet again! 

The question is: what is the history of this aircraft? fortunately the history could be found at the Dakota Association of South Africa website. In a nutshell:

C/N 27099, Delivered to the USAAF on 11 January 1945.

Transferred to the RAF on lend-lease at RAF Nassau on 18 January 1945 as KN231.

Arrived in South Africa in May 1975 for the South African Air Force as 6850 (2) delivered August 1975.  Was to be donated to the Dakota Association of South Africa but was sold to private concern and displayed inside Caesar’s Palace Casino near Johannesburg International Airport in April 2000.

Sold once again to private concern and donated to the SA National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold Johannesburg in 2009, arrived Sunday 5 April 2009.

It was obvious that she would be a new exhibit, although I do question her arriving at one of the busier days at the museum. It was awhile before I was at the museum again, and the first place I went to was the only are large enough to house a Dakota. 

I must admit I did a lot of looking at this old lady because they are really becoming quite rare birds. 

Random Dakota Images

Who knows, maybe one day somebody will come along and buy her and she may fly again, at any rate, considering this old lady is now 72 years old she is a tribute to her builders and has a special place in the heart of all aircraft buffs. 

There is another Dak at Swartkops AFB that I grabbed 2 pics of… 

You ncan view more images of the SAAF Museum at Swartkops on allatsea.

What other aircraft does the War Museum have? 

The museum has a number of interesting aircraft, but they are not very easy to photograph in some areas (it is even harder now because of the no photography policy they unilaterally brought in).

Other Museum Aircraft.

My aircraft identification skills are not fantastic, but I can generally tell what they are but not what version they may be. I will slowly add data as I work towards finishing this post. Apart from the Dak there is a….

Hawker-Siddeley Buccaneer S.50 ‘422’

Dassault Mirage IIICZ

Aermacchi/Atlas Impala Mk II

 

Supermarine Spitfire F VIII

Hawker Hurricane IIc ‘5285’

De Havilland DH98, PR IX LR 480 “Lucky Lady”

Messerschmitt Bf109E3

Focke-Wulf Fw190A-6/R6

Messerschmitt Me262B-1a/U1 VH519

Messerschmitt Bf109F-2/Trop ‘31010

Hawker Hartebees Royal Aircraft factory SE5a

Aircraft Manufacturing Company DeH9

 

© DRW 2009-2017. Retropsectively created 23/05/2017.

Updated: 24/05/2017 — 12:48

Building the RMS

*Click here for the 20/05/2017 update*

I have always wanted a model of the RMS St Helena, but they always evaded me because there are not too many available in the first place.  The easiest way to get one is realistically to scratch build one and see what that turns out like. There are however, a few problems with that scenario. The first being: where do I get plans from?

A line drawing of the ship is easy to find, I have quite a few on my computer as it is.

I have been lugging around lots of images of the ship since she first entered service, and amongst my stuff is the A&P Appledore publicity handout above. That will serve as the basis of my project. 

Problem number 2 is that while I do have accommodation plans of her, I do not have a top view of her, so there things are going to be somewhat icky.

Interestingly enough a 1/1250 waterline model does exist, and I have been “in the market” as they say. However, they are very scarce and probably way out of my budget range. My usual supplier, Tim at Convoy Models managed to lay his hands on one, and this is what it looks like.

I have a sneaky suspicion that this was a concept that never reached fruition, probably because the RMS is not one of those well known glamourous Cunarders that everybody swoons over (or should I say used to swoon over?). She is a working ship and is really a hybrid between cargo ship and cruise ship.

That also means that she is an interesting project to tackle. Theoretically she is straight forward, there are not too many curves and odd lines that could make my life difficult.

The ship is 105 metres long, and according to my handy scale converting tool, a 1/1250 model should be about 84 mm long, with a beam of 19,2 mm (15 metres). The problem is… how do I scale the drawing down to that size? I first printed out the image and then tried a few things but kept on hitting a brick wall. Eventually I decided to shrink the image down to the size I needed on a scanner. Some rough calculating and trial and error led me to reduce the size of the drawing by 34% which left me with a image roughly 86 mm long.   

Now, what will I use to build it with? I have some balsa wood hanging around from when I modified my display cases and I managed to create a block of balsa longer than 85mm and 15mm wide. Theoretically, if I then attach my reduced scale image to the block, then mark the specific sizes onto the top of the block I will have something that theoretically should look like the RMS! I used the term “theoretically” because there is no guarantee that it will work, or that I will ever finish the project. 

The really irritating thing is that back in South Africa I have a proper plan of the ship which I got from one of the officers on board her in 1993 when I sailed on her. It never occurred to me to bring the plans back with me in April, but then I had too many other things on my mind at the time.  

So, where do I sit now? I am cutting out the image and affixing it to my balsa block and will then see how viable it is to build the superstructure as a separate entity and affix it to the hull once I have created the hull. It is early days yet, and I only really work on this sort of thing over a weekend. 

So, this is part one of my ongoing project to build an RMS. I have not scratch built anything in ages, so may just give up at any juncture, it really depends on what I can do with the limited tools that I do have at my disposal. Ideally I would have preferred a harder wood for the hull, but Balsa should work, at least for the MKI. 

After finishing this post I worked a bit more on the ship and after basic the results look something like this:

At this point I am convinced that shedding the accommodation block may be a good idea. It may be better to build it separately than to try hack what is there already. The Balsa wood is easy to work with but it splinters easily and it is going to be difficult to smooth out the vertical sides. I may try get some Jelutong or Basswood and start from the bottom again. But, I will see, it is early days yet. I do however need to get wood filler, some plasticard and a sealant/varnish so that I can seal the Balsa. I will think about it.

A few days later…

Today is the 20th and between when I first posted and now a number of things happened.

Firstly I sent the balsa model to the breakers. It was just not working out. I did some homework and was not able to source Jelutong or what is known as “basswood”, if it was available the sizes were way out of what I was looking for. However, the remnants from my display cases did provide me with a length of wood which is a millimetre thinner than what I needed. However, I will not tell if you won’t. I marked up the sizes and used my handy saw to cut out a rough shape. This morning I was sanding like crazy and the end result is as follows…

However, when creating the bow I hit a snag that I will have to work around. The ship has a decided “knuckle” as well as a very raked bow. I was not able to recreate that effect so may end up having to revert to some judicious use of a filler and I will have to sleep on that problem. The one option I do have is to to slice off the deck and create a new piece and glue it in place. You can see the knuckle in the image below.

 

Her accommodation looks like this    ——————-> 

The red area on “B” Deck is a recessed area on her superstructure that is the entrance to her insides, and where the weather deck access is and the gangway is stowed. I am not quite sure how to deal with that yet.

“C” Deck does not have to be created as it is below the weather deck level. and apart from the recess I do not have to do much work on it either.

“A” deck is more or less where my superstructure is at now, however, I may need to add a section to increase the height of A deck. The biggest problem that I do have is the height of each deck. I suspect they are roughly 2,5 metres high, allowing for about 7 foot ceilings with the remaining void being used for pipes and cables. 

The Prom deck and upwards are the major bits of accommodation that I have to build. Above the prom deck is where I am having to refer to memory. There are two deck levels above it, and the first level is slightly shorter than the prom deck but is the same width as it (after looking at pics I am not quite so sure of that anymore). This is the level where the lifeboats are, and their davits terminate at prom deck level. The pool is also on the prom deck and there is a recessed cargo hatch on that deck. 

Above that deck is the navigating bridge and chartroom and I think the radio room is there too. The funnel is partly on top of that deck, and it houses the mast too. 

Navigating bridge

Funnel and mast

The ship has had a few structural modifications to her accommodation, but I am really going for the look of the ship as she was when I sailed on her. Incidentally, her hull colour is “Oxford blue”. I have not really considered the weather deck, I need to fabricate 2 cranes as well as hatches and deck machinery, and that will not be easy.

On Sunday I did some exploration work with balsa and technically this is what it may look like.

What have I discovered?

The deck above the Prom is possibly a bit too short, but given that there is a pool there and cargo hatch it may be right. I need to bear in mind that aft mooring deck is not properly done yet either. That will cut down on available deck space.  The deck around the  bridge area can be walked around, so it needs to be smaller than the deck below it. The funnel shape needs careful consideration because it is kind of distinctive. Then there are bridge wings to add, and of course the angled side to the superstructure ends. There is a ladder in that area so I may have to experiment more in that area. Balsa ain’t gonna work!  Davits! I need davits!

Yesterday I was looking at my Leda Model which is 1/1250 as well, and she does present me with interesting comparison and references for cranes, lifeboats and superstructure. 

Leda was 133 metres long which is a bit longer than the RMS so it isn’t too hard to make a comparison. However, against the Leda my RMS is out of scale. 

So this is where we are now. If you hear any woodworking noises you at least will know that they come from me.

27/05/2017.

Where are we now? I managed to get some 2mm plastic and have been reworking the superstructure block. The plastic works quite easily and can hold a sharp edge and doesn’t splinter. However, I still have to find an adhesive that will attach it to the wood hull.

The funnel started out as a rough shape and may not be the final shape I want so it may be redone. However, I still need to make changes to the superstructure decks. I have deliberately created the block wider than it should be so that I can file everything square once it is mounted because the RMS does not have a lot of curves. I have also cut away the gangway points in the hull. With hindsight though I really need to file that open deck area down by at least 2 mm more and raise bulwarks on that deck to maintain the deck height and sheer line. Naturally I have no idea what I can use to do this (it always happens). Scrap plastic anybody? 

27/05/2017 much later that afternoon.

I attacked my ship with a file and dropped the well deck level considerably, certainly lower than it was and after much work was rewarded with this…

I also measured her up against my 34% image and she is very close to the image in proportions. I am seeing progress at last, but tomorrow is another day.

It is now tomorrow. I added in some bulwarks and redid the 2nd layer off the superstructure block after getting an image from somebody that cleared up the area for me. The one mistake I cannot rectify is the bow shape and after adding in the bulwarks it made the bow even steeper. The only real way to solve the bow problem is to reshape it from scratch and that will impact on the length of the ship. I have decided to stick with what I have and to complete the ship anyway. I have come far enough with it and do not feel like building another hull. Once day I will create another, but not this week/month. I added in a sheet of plastic under the bridge and trimmed it to support bridge wings that I have made out of small pieces of wood. I may change that to proper bridge wings if I can figure out how. Thin brass would be nice. 

I also painted the hull in a rough coat of blue and white and assembled the ship as it is. The funnel is still the temporary one.

And here she is. I think she is starting to look like the RMS! I need to add the screens around the pool area which will extend the accommodation block and fill that empty deck area, and consider how I will create hatches for the well deck and foredeck. And at some point I need to glue the superstructure blocks together and file them smooth. But that will not happen in this blogpost. Anything done after today will end up in next months posts. 

Continued  thataway ——————–>forwardbut

© DRW 2017. Created 15/05/2017. Updated 20/05/2017.

Updated: 11/06/2017 — 14:57

Portsmouth Cemeteries, a retrospective

This morning, while editing my Victoria Cross grave collection, I realised that I had not done a blog post on my visit to Portsmouth Highland Road and Milton Cemeteries, although I had done one on my flying visit to Kingston Cemetery.   This retrospective post is to rectify the matter so that I can carry on with my editing.

Portsmouth is not too far from Southampton, but I never really saw too much of it because I always ended up at the Historical Dockyard,  my first visit happed in April 2013, and it was really a taste of this great naval city and its large chunk of maritime history. My visit to Milton and Highland Road were for a different reason though. There are 9 Mendi Casualties buried in Milton Cemetery, and I really wanted to pay my respects. Fortunately one of the Hamble Valley and Eastleigh Heritage Guides was willing to take me to the cemetery to see the graves. 

I also had a map of the two cemeteries in my camera bag, and it showed the location of the Victoria Cross and George Cross graves in the cemeteries. I wanted to photograph as many of them as I could while I was there.

The day was not too sunny, but only rain would have deterred me in this quest. Our first port of call was Milton Cemetery (Google earth:  50.798967°,  -1.060722°). The cemetery is really closer to Fratton than Portsmouth, and when I had first checked it’s location I had considered it was do-able on foot from Fratton Station. 

Milton Cemetery Chapel

Plaque attached to the chapel

The cemetery  was opened in 1911, and contains 426 graves from both World Wars. The 1914-1918 burials are mainly in Plot 1, while the 1939-1945 War burials are widely spread throughout the cemetery.

8 Mendi casualties are buried in this row

Being a Royal Navy base and manning port, it is inevitable that many of the graves do have a naval connection, although Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport contains the majority of naval graves in the area that I am aware of.

To be honest, Milton was not a very interesting cemetery, it was a bit too modern for my tastes, although there were a lot of interesting finds to be made in it. There are two Victoria Cross graves (Sidney James Day VC and John Danagher VC) and one George Cross grave (Reginald Vincent Ellingworth GC) in it. John Danagher VC was serving with Nourse’s Horse (Transvaal) during the first Boer War when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 16 January 1881 at Elandsfontein, near Pretoria.

The Cross of Sacrifice is also present in the cemetery, but I did not photograph any of the military graves apart from ones that interested me. It was really a fleeting visit as I did not want to take up too much of my host’s time. Fortunately he has an interest in cemeteries and is a member of the Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery.

Random Images from Milton Cemetery

   
   
   

And then it was time to go and we headed off to Highland Road Cemetery which is about 1,5 km away as the crow flies. (Google Earth:  50.786022°,  -1.067228°).

Those heavy clouds did nothing to make the chapel stick out more, Oddly enough the Google earth image shows a marker in the middle of the graves tagged as “St Margaret C of E Church”. I do not know whether that tag is supposed to relate to the chapel. There is one more building in the cemetery and I suspect it may have once been the Dissenters Chapel or a Mausoleum. The history of the cemetery may be found on the Friends of Highland Road Cemetery website.

Highland Road Cemetery was definitely the nicer of the two cemeteries. It was opened in 1854 and contains war graves from both world wars. The 1914-1918 burials are spread throughout the cemetery while the 1939-1945 War graves are widely scattered.

There are eight Victoria Cross graves in the cemetery and I am pleased to say I found them all. (John Robarts.VCHugh Shaw. VCWilliam Temple. VCHenry James Raby. VC. CBHugh Stewart Cochrane. VCWilliam NW Hewett. VCIsrael Harding. VCWilliam Goate. VC.)

I am however very sorry I did not photograph the grave of Reginald Lee who is buried in the cemetery. He is remembered as being in the crows nest with Fred Fleet, on board the ill fated Titanic when the iceberg was sighted at about 11.40 p.m. on 14 April 1912, although it was Fleet not Lee who shouted the famous “Iceberg Ahead”. (Frederick Fleet is buried in Hollybrook Cemetery in Southampton)  

The Mausoleum above is for members of the Dupree family, 

I would have liked to have revisited this cemetery in better weather, but realistically it would have been a very long walk to get there. As hindsight always says “it is too late now”

Random Images from Highland Road Cemetery 

 
   
   
   

It was time to leave this place and head off home. It had certainly been a productive morning, and I liked those. I would revisit Portsmouth in the future, but I never managed to return to it’s cemeteries. 

© DRW 2013-2017. Retrospectively created 12/05/2017. With special thanks to Geoff Watts and Kevin Brazier. 

Updated: 24/05/2017 — 12:48

Remembering the Telegram

While rooting through my stuff in SA I found an envelope related to the passing away of my father in 1981. Apart from the usual cards and leaflets there were a few telegrams of condolence. It got me thinking about how telegrams were used way back in my day,

Telegrams broadly fall under “Telegraphy”,  and while I do not know how they were used in 1981 when these telegrams arrived at our home, in later years I did a course in the Siemens T100 range of Teleprinters and the idea is roughly the same. 

In short, you popped into your local post office, grabbed a form and filled it in. I think you paid by the word, or possibly by letter, either way they were not cheap to send. The operator at the sending station would then type out the message (or use Morse or a telex machine) to send it to the receiving station. The receiving station would then print or write it out on long strips of gummed paper and stick those to a form (as above) and it was dispatched via a special telegram messenger on his bicycle, the recipient signing for the telegram when they received it. 

The telegram messenger on his bicycle usually signified that somebody was going to get bad news as it was common to send telegrams of condolence to a family who had lost a loved one (as per my example above), or congratulations for the birth of a child or a special event. There were also the sinister telegrams from the military in their buff windowed envelope, cancelling your leave or calling you up for a camp or a parade.  They also had to be signed for, which meant that technically you received it even if you didn’t actually read it. The beauty of the telegram was that it was convenient and quick, and was one way to get your message across before the advent of the fax machine or email and instant messaging. 

During the wars many thousands of families would receive notification of the death of their family members in the forces, and it is possible that this was one reason that everybody seemed to dread the messenger on his bike with a small pouch on the crossbar.  The movie “We Were Soldiers Once” has a poignant scene in it that deals with the delivery of those dreaded telegrams and how they affected a community. If you consider the Pals Battalions from the First World War and how they were wiped out in battle, you can get some idea of what those messages did to a community when casualty notifications were delivered. 

Strangely enough the telegram is not dead, in the UK you can still send a telegram, although it is now handled by TelegramsOnline.

The first telegraph services arrived in South Africa in 1859 and in 1860 the Cape of Good Hope Telegraph Company opened its Cape Town – Simonstown line This was a single-wire earth return telegraph line (circuit run) on wooden poles between Cape Town and Simonstown. In 1922 The multiplex telegraph system (aka “teletype”) opened between Cape Town and Johannesburg. This allowed four telegraphs to work in each direction simultaneously on a single line. (More about the Telegraph system in South Africa at https://mybroadband.co.za/news/telecoms/133136-how-south-africa-went-from-its-first-telegraph-service-in-1859-to-100mbps-fibre-in-2015.html)

Westrex teletype machine (London Science Museum)

The whole concept of the telegram has changed since we can now sms or email somebody in another country almost instantaneously, in fact communication has changed so much that the days of the letter are almost coming to an end, and the fax machine clings on grimly as its market shrinks too. 

The telegram is rapidly heading into the history books, but I am  glad that I was able to see those telegrams from 1981 once again, Those forms with their gummed strips tell the story of people reaching out from far away places, to express their condolences. It was the right thing to do, that was just how people were. Today they would just send an sms instead.

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Updated: 24/05/2017 — 12:49
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