John Russell – More Than One String to My Bow
John Russell is better known to most in the village as our local vicar. However, he spoke at our September meeting in a completely different capacity – as a stringed instrument maker and restorer. After being introduced by Trevor Fernandes, he took to the floor jokingly professing to feeling a little vulnerable without the security of his pulpit!
John was born in Abbots Langley and went to Watford Grammar School. As an act of teenage rebellion he rejected going to University to read law; instead opting to go to The London College of Furniture, which had a musical instrument making faculty. Here he spent three years learning to be a violin maker. He was then employed by, and later became a partner at Thwaites in Watford, where they specialised in the restoration of double basses. John spent a total of 22 years at Thwaites before going into the church.
To explain the basic construction of a violin, John had brought along one in cross section and one cut right down the middle. We were able to examine these, as well as many of the individual parts and tools used in the trade, during his talk.
The wood often used for making violins is maple, particularly a 20 to 30 year old wood which is well seasoned and therefore less likely to crack. Ebony from India, or better still from Africa, is the black wood used to make the perfaling – the thin line seen around the periphery of violins which firms the edge. Historically, the best violin makers selected the best woods for their instruments, and hence achieved the best sound. One of the reasons that Stradivarius violins are so sought after is in part because Antonio Stradivari was renowned for having an excellent ‘feel’ for wood – with the thickness of the wood being one of his trade secrets.
The sound of a violin can be determined by a number of things. If a new violin plays very well, it is likely that that the wood is too thin and will wear out sound wise, whereas a good violin will sound better with age. Having to have a violin repaired can sometimes enhance its sound, but at the end of the day it is the talent of the player that counts!
It is possible to buy a perfectly decent violin for a beginner for less than £100. However, a good violin can cost between £2000 and £3000.
John likened violins to classic cars – it is the provenance that counts and if an offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
Hearing Dogs for the Deaf – Dr. Jack Alvarez and Maple
Our meeting in October was an occasion when one of our four-legged friends was welcomed into the village hall. Our speaker was Dr. Jack Alvarez, on behalf of the Hertfordshire branch of Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, along with his companion, ‘hearing’ dog, Maple (who, like most Labradors, was partial to cheese and biscuits).
About one in six of the British population suffer from hearing loss and, in around 800,000 of those cases, it is severe or profound. As our ageing population increases, so does the need for ‘hearing’ assistance.
Hearing dogs are trained to alert their owner to everyday sounds, such as a doorbell, an alarm clock and even a baby crying. More importantly, they draw attention to emergencies, such as smoke alarms, leading their owners to the source of the sound. They are trained to do this by either ‘pawing’ their owner or, in cases where their owner may be frail, by nudging them with their nose. If the sound is one of emergency, like a fire alarm, the dog will alert them and then lay down on the floor. They are trained mainly to cope with sounds within the home, with the needs of each person being assessed individually.
Who are Hearing Dogs for? They must have a severe, profound or total hearing loss. They must be able to demonstrate a real need for the help of a hearing dog, for example living alone or spending a lot of time alone or with other deaf or handicapped people. They must be physically and financially able to care for and genuinely like the close companionship of a dog. They must be over eighteen years of age.
Although Labradors are most commonly used as they are an easy breed to train for purpose, smaller breeds such as Cockerpoos are now being trained as many people find it easier to cope with a smaller dog.
Great effort is taken to match a dog to its potential new owner. The dogs are selected at eight weeks and then go to volunteers who carry out the initial training. Once trained, dogs are introduced to their potential recipient at training centres for a ‘get to know each other’ period and the recipient takes the dog home for a weekend. The dog’s trainer then visits the recipient at home for up to a week to assist in familiarising the dog with the individual’s needs and daily routine.
It costs around £45,000 to breed, train and care for a hearing dog. None of this is government funded, so the Hearing Dogs charity relies entirely on the generosity of the public. Hearing dogs retire at 11 at which point the owner / recipient can choose to keep the dog as a pet or the charity will rehome.
The charity was officially launched at Crufts in 1982. Since then over 1500 hearing dogs have been placed which, although a great achievement, is not that many when one considers how many profoundly deaf people there are in this country. If you would like to know more please go to www.hearingdogs.org.uk. For £10 a year you can support the Hertfordshire branch of Hearing Dogs, who have raised over £500,000, and receive a quarterly copy of their newsletter ‘Dog Eared’.
Contact them via www.herts-hearing-dogs.org.uk.
NEW HOSPITAL DRIVING CO-ORDINATOR
Following the departure of Pauline Case from the village, we are pleased to announce that Jan MacLarty has kindly agreed to take on the role of co-ordinator for the above service. If you have a requirement for assistance to attend local hospitals or doctors’ surgeries, please contact her in future. Her telephone number is 843482. ‘Cheddar is not the only cheese’ – a tasting of delicious cheeses from the British Isles
After completing the formal business of our Gaddesden Society AGM in May, we welcomed Emma Dandy, proprietor of La Crèmerie, the Nettleden based award winning cheese merchant.
Emma sells cheeses from small farms across the British Isles, and aims to celebrate the renaissance of the art of cheese making in the UK.
Traditional cheese making in Britain dates back at least to Roman times and for centuries was a farmhouse industry. The Second World War, food rationing and the subsequent rise of the supermarket almost wiped out artisan production and by the early 1970s, traditional cheese making had all but disappeared.
Thankfully today’s consumers have come to value high quality, local and traceable food – which has given artisan cheeses renewed popularity. These artisan cheeses are hand made using quality milk (often unpasteurized), from either local or dairy owned herds. The top quality milk used gives them unique and complex flavours and sets them
apart from mass-produced cheese. The revival of cheese making is down to the hard work of a few dedicated individuals, who are rightly proud of the fact that the industry is thriving and that 900 different types of cheese are now made in Britain – more than in France!
La Crèmerie sells over 30 different British cheeses. Emma presented our group with five to taste so we could experience a cross section of the variety on offer:
Ragstone – a goats’ cheese made in Herefordshire. It is the winner of the ‘James Aldridge Memorial Trophy’ for the best British cheese made from unpasteurised milk, and a La Crèmerie bestseller.
Keen’s Cheddar – a classic Somerset cheddar and one of only three made in the county in the traditional way. It has a great length of flavour and is a world away from the plastic wrapped block cheddar so widely available in supermarkets.
Gubbeen – a delicious washed rind cheese from County Cork in Ireland. This cheese is semi-soft in texture and has an earthy aroma. The taste is very mellow and quite meaty.
Tunworth – a pasteurised cows’ milk cheese made with animal rennet i.e. an English version of Camembert. First made in 2005, the following year Tunworth won the coveted title of ‘Supreme Champion’ at the British Cheese Awards. The milk for the cheese comes from a herd of Holstein cows that graze the Hampshire Downs.
Colston Bassett Stilton PDO – made with pasteurised cows’ milk and animal rennet, Colston Bassett is now one of only five dairies that produce Stilton. This version is produced to a special recipe that uses
animal rennet. The cheese maker allows the cheese to mature for longer than usual before piercing to allow air in. The inclusion of air kick-starts the penicillium roqueforti mould that creates the blue veining.
Emma also instructed us in the art of cheese tasting:-
• Warm the cheese up to release its flavours
• Squash a piece of the cheese between your thumb and forefinger to release the flavours further and to give you an idea of the texture
• Smell the cheese! Most of the flavours we recognise come from the aromas we detect in the nose using the olfactory senses
• Taste the cheese. Be sure to chew it really well and try to move it around your mouth as taste buds in different areas pick up different flavours
• Swallow the cheese. After you’ve swallowed the cheese, try to think about how long the flavours linger in the mouth. A really great cheese will leave a long-lasting impression!
Emma even suggested wines to match with the cheese, which we had purchased for the evening. These wines are all available from Majestic Wine in Berkhamsted.
• La Vieille Capitelle 2011, a red wine from the Coteaux de Languedoc
• Contesa Pecorino 2012, a white wine from Italy
• La Pigoudet 2012, from in Aix-en-Provence, France
Do take a moment to visit La Crèmerie’s website www.lacremerie.co.uk. They take orders by phone, email and online and deliver to all their customers, with local deliveries being free. You can contact Emma for more information on 870508 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hoo’s Herd … have you?
For our first talk of 2013 we were joined by villager Matthew Hargreaves. Matthew works in IT, and after moving to the village was looking for a means of relaxation that didn’t involve golf or similar hobbies. Having a field at the end of his garden, and with James Herriot and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall as tenuous inspiration, he decided to put an advert in the village shop window to see if he could find a like minded person to enter into farming cattle and sheep. He had no family history of farming, although he did grow up on the edge of the Peak
District, so hoped to find someone with the practical knowledge he was lacking.
The village shop advert came up trumps and so began a partnership between Matthew and Fergus Milne, who was looking for livestock and land. Fergus had been to agricultural college and his grandfather had been a farmer so he had the knowledge and experience to help get the project underway.
After some deliberation they decided upon White Park cattle, the oldest breed in the UK, possibly dates back to Roman times. They are a hardy rare breed that happily lives outside all year round. In addition to the cows, they also bought Shetland sheep, another robust breed that will happily forage for food in all weathers.
It is now two years since Matthew and Fergus began their venture. With the ‘help’ of Norman and Barry White, their bulls, they now have a herd of 24 cattle, and just under 50 sheep. As well as the field at October House in the centre of the village, their livestock now also grazes in part of the Golden Valley. It hasn’t all been plain sailing as they’ve learned that where there’s livestock, there’s ‘deadstock’. But they’ve received tremendous help and advice from local farmers, and Matthew’s wife Becca, who hadn’t planned on being directly involved, has been called on for midwifery duties amongst other things!
Their meat first went on sale in November 2011, is as close to organic as one could get and entail fewer food miles than a trip to Waitrose! Our talk was rounded-up with Becca treating us to all some delicious samples of the produce. Highly recommended!
The ongoing story of Hoo’s Herd is a fascinating one and I would highly recommend a visit to their website, www.hoosherd.co.uk where you can read Matthew’s light hearted blog, see pictures of the herd/flock, find recipes and most importantly, purchase some of their beef and lamb.
A Family at war: The Talbots of Little Gaddesden
In March Roger and Julia Bolton came to the village hall to share with us their research into the letters exchanged by a local family, the Talbots, beginning around the time of the First World War.
The talk was narrated by Roger and Julia, with Beatrice Hopkins and Patrick Isherwood reading extracts from the letters, helping to bring the characters to life.
Roger and Julia’s interest in the Talbot family began last year. Andrew Graham Stewart, who lived in the Manor House before the Boltons, had come across some of Kathleen Talbot’s letters from when she lived there in the 1930s. The Boltons were entrusted with the letters and they went on to do some further research, uncovering more Talbot family letters that had been saved from a skip at Little Gaddesden House (home to the Talbot family from the 1880s).
Alfred Talbot was one of the sons of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and brother of Adelaide Talbot who married Earl Brownlow. Alfred and his wife Emily had four children – Humphrey, Bridget, Geoffrey and Kathleen. Their early life in the village was blissfully happy, with frequent trips across the Golden Valley to Ashridge House to visit the Brownlows.
In 1912 tragedy struck when Emily Talbot died at Little Gaddesden House of a heart attack, followed shortly after by the death of Alfred who also died of a heart attack. The Talbot children were orphaned.
Soon after their family tragedy, war was declared and the four Talbot children rallied to the flag. An idyllic childhood was brutally ended.
Geoffrey Talbot joined the Royal Naval Air Squadron and flew to France in 1915. Geoffrey was kept well
supplied with ‘home comforts’ by Kathleen, writing to thank her for “the enormous parcel of food from Fortnum and Mason”. Geoffrey Talbot was killed on 28th June 1916.
Bridget Talbot qualified as a nurse in 1914 and volunteered to help feed and nurse Italian soldiers north of Venice. Family friend Lord Kitchener gave Bridget a letter of introduction, which Bridget reported “was most effective at Folkestone and we were treated like royalty”. Life was obviously very difficult for Bridget, though reporting in typical style “We have no dug-out and they always try and bomb the station. Being British, it is beneath our dignity to ask for one!” Bridget remained in Italy until the end of the war, becoming an honorary member of the Roman Grenadier Guards and receiving the Italian Medal for Valour.
Humphrey Talbot was a lieutenant in the Army Service Corps. The first letter the Boltons have of Humphrey’s is dated Friday March 23rd 1917 8.00am – he was just behind the front line in Flanders and was quickly engaged, recording that “We got in at 5.45am this morning and the unfortunate men are waiting to go off again straight away. The Germans ought to have a dose of shells presently judging by the number we have moved lately”. Humphrey survived the war with the rank of Captain.
Kathleen Talbot became a nurse at a war hospital in Stratford upon Avon. She was mentioned in dispatches and although no known letters from her exist, Julia and Roger have many letters to her including some from German POW camps thanking her for food parcels she has sent.
The above is a small insight into the Talbot family letters and history that Julia and Roger have compiled. They have written a book about the Talbots which they hope to have published. In the meantime, if anyone has any memories of the Talbot family that they would like to share, please do contact Julia and Roger at the Manor House.
Ashridge Park and Gardens Restoration
Our speaker for April was the very familiar face of Mick Thompson, Ashridge Estate Manager, who very kindly stepped in after John Russell had to postpone his talk. Mick outlined the conservation work that is taking place in Ashridge’s gardens and across the Estate.
Originally the Ashridge Estate was around 23,000 acres, stretching out as far as Slapton and Edlesborough, with the county boundary running through it. In the late 19th Century, on the death of the 3rd Earl of Brownlow, the estate was broken up. In the 1920s Bridget Talbot’s efforts thwarted plans for Ashridge Estate to be sold to planners whose vision was for a Metroland of palatial houses along Golden Valley and looking out over what are now the 1st and 2nd fairways of the golf course. As things stand today, the Ashridge Trust has covenants on 40 properties and has to be consulted on relevant planning matters.
The Estate is now restoring the gardens and surroundings to original designs. Much of the fencing is being erected by volunteers, as is the wall repair on the road/footpath to Golden Valley from the main road. The tree felling work will open up and re-establish original viewing points and views up the ridings. Thirty trees have been taken out this winter following a tree hazard survey. Mick observed that further tree work will be necessary, probably within the next three years, since it is inevitable that Ash die back, already present in Buckinghamshire, will reach the Estate.
Mick also brought us up to date with work in Ashridge’s gardens, originally landscaped by Humphry Repton in 1813. Maintenance of the gardens is ongoing, but there are many costly restoration projects in hand. The Rhododendron Walk – a familiar area to many - is due for restoration as many of the shrubs are now hybrids. This will mean replacing 700 plants at a cost of £20 each. The herb garden with twelve teardrop beds in Repton’s original plan has now been recreated, and the herbs are being used by the chefs in the kitchens. There are two water tanks beneath the south terrace, which were linked to an irrigation system in 1997. These are now due for restoration to utilise a potential 68,000 litres of rainwater in maintaining the gardens.
Maintenance work is also needed on the road through the estate and past the house, and there is a possibility that the road will once again become a toll road to help fund essential repairs.
This is a brief summary of the history and continual maintenance and planning involved in the upkeep of the beautiful estate which surrounds us. To read more about the restoration and conservation go to
A Comparison of Two Georgian Houses – West Wycombe and Ashridge
For our final talk of 2012 in November we welcomed back Hugh Granger, a local historian who has given over 3,000 talks to historical
societies and groups such as ours.
Hugh’s talk was a comparison of two Georgian Houses in the Chilterns, namely West Wycombe and Ashridge. West Wycombe is now a
National Trust property and has been described as ‘one of the most theatrical and Italianate mid-18th Century buildings in England’. Hugh’s talk took us back to 1724 when the House was inherited by Sir Francis Dashwood (of Hell Fire Club fame), who had been orphaned at the age of 16. Sir Francis went on the Grand Tour in 1726, returning with a greater appreciation of classical art. On his return he set about transforming the house, using John Donowell, Nicholas Revett and Robert Adam – three of the finest architects of the time.
A slide presentation illustrated the work undertaken on the house, some of which was compromised by a limited budget. The property
consisted of a unique range of classical follies and temples, many of which remain to this day.
Hugh moved on to describe Ashridge House, a complete contrast to West Wycombe whose funds were limited. In 1604 the Ashridge Estate became the property of the wealthy Egerton family. Most of the original house was demolished in 1800 and the house as we now know it con structed between 1808 and 1814. It was reconstructed by architect James Wyatt in a gothic/medieval style, which was
coming back into vogue at the time, and the architect also retained parts of the old priory on the site. Ashridge today is regarded as one of the finest examples of early Gothic Revival Architecture and is a Grade 1 listed building.
As well as giving us a fascinating visual and verbal presentation of these two remarkable and contrasting buildings, Hugh also gave us an historical insight into the families who owned these properties with some amusing historical anecdotes along the way. If you’d be interested in Hugh coming to talk to your society you can email him at email@example.com or phone 01844 291142.
Assisted Dying – no easy answers
After a last minute speaker cancellation we were grateful to Jo Fernandes for stepping in with a talk on her specialist subject in
October; especially as we’d been waiting to hear her talk for some time.
Jo explained how the issue of Assisted Dying was becoming very topical and was being widely debated. She was able to present us with
the most up to date information so that we could form our own views.
She began by acquainting us with the terminology which is very specific and easily muddled: including euthanasia, assisted suicide,
assisted dying, doctrine of double effect and physician assisted suicide; all of which differ quite markedly.
We were then expertly guided through the laws regarding this area encompassing recent court cases and their impact, as well as the
findings of the recent Commission on Assisted Dying, and then went on to examine how this controversial subject is treated in the media.
Lively debate ensued, but as the title suggests, there are no easy answers…
Bob Parsons MBE, founder of local charity HOPE for Children.
From a very early age Bob knew that he wanted to work with people but having been evacuated and then at boarding school, he had a quiet distrust of institutions. On his father’s wishes he took up an apprenticeship as a printer when he left school, but after National Service he decided to pursue a people orientated career and became a
In the early 1980s Bob joined Save the Children, working in Colombo, Sri Lanka. When civil war broke out in the country he found himself working in refugee camps, setting up supplementary feeding centres. At that time, Save the Children was the only British charity working in Sri Lanka. Bob’s two year contract with Save the Children ended up as an eight year stint and he became a regional director, working in 14 countries including Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Vietnam and Rwanda.
It was in Rwanda that Bob met an inspirational woman called Maisie and the journey that led to the formation of Helping Orphaned and Poor Exploited Children (HOPE for Children) began. Bob was in Rwanda working to reunite children who had been separated from their parents during the Rwanda Genocide. Every single member of Maisie’s family had been killed but instead of giving in, she began to take in orphans and set up her own orphanage from scratch – without any charitable funding. Bob gave her some of his own money to help her take care of the children who by now numbered 50 and endeavoured to get her further assistance from UK charities. At first funding was refused as Maisie wasn’t a registered charity, but eventually Bob secured the money she needed to continue her work.
This experience gave Bob the inspiration to set up his own charity, aimed at assisting small charity projects and individuals around the world who slip through the net of the larger charities. When Bob returned to the UK he discovered that a man he had befriended during his time at the Probation Service had died. The man had been in prison
for murder, and on his deathbed had decided to leave Bob £5,000 on the condition that it be used “to help disadvantaged youngsters”. And so, in 1994 – the International Year of the Family – Bob’s Charity, HOPE for Children was officially registered and his dream became a reality.
HOPE for Children has since gone from strength to strength. The charity is fortunate to have the support of many volunteers and is now in a position to employ several salaried workers. To learn more please visit their website www.hope-for-children.org; or buy Bob’s autobiography,’ A Journey of HOPE’. It is a truly inspirational read.
A Sample Project – Mapangala Nursery and Primary School
HOPE has been helping with a project to build a school for the youngest children in Matabete but its source impetus has come directly from the women of the tribe. They moved there from the Serengeti with their valuable cattle, a journey that took over a year on foot. In order to kickstart the project they have been making jewellery which is sold in the UK in order to raise money to send a local man to teacher-training college. They are already making mud bricks and firing them in an oven they built themselves, ready for the building work to start.
Down Memory Lane – Wednesday 30th May 2012
Following our AGM in May, we took a delightfully nostalgic walk through the village starting at Ringshall courtesy of Ian Catchpole and Lyn Hyde, whose families have some of the deepest roots in the village. Ian and Lyn were joined along the way by other longstanding residents of the village including well known nonagenarian Ken Dickson and Alan Bunting who was born at 58 Little Gaddesden.
Their stroll took us back to Little Gaddesden in the 1950’s when the village was thriving and bustling. It was a small close-knit community that had far more local services than we have today. In Ringshall alone, aside from Deer Leap swimming pool that closed in 1996, there was a laundry, Fountain’s General Stores and Deer Leap Garage with a petrol station. Over the years in Little Gaddesden itself there was a Post Office and general stores on the Green, Peachy’s Sweets and general store in the grounds of Little Gaddesden House, as well a butcher in Hudnall, a hairdresser beyond Cromer Close, a nursery for fresh vegetables and flowers, door to door deliveries of groceries, paraffin, milk, bread and all manner of other items.
There were also a great variety of local businesses to provide vital services and employment, including the Bridgewater Arms, which was at one time a 20 bedroom hotel, a forge, several farms, building companies, the laundry, two garages, a factory where the Lye now is and of course Ashridge House. This meant that unlike today, very few residents in the village were obliged to commute any great distance to work. Around the 1960s, following the development of Gatesdene Close, opposite the Post Office, there were at least four commuter families in the village as four of the six new properties were purchased by employees of Vauxhall in Luton, earning Gatesdene Close the nickname of Vauxhall Close. One of those was Ken Dickson, who still remains a resident there.
Of the various areas of the village, the Green is apparently the least changed compared with 1952/3. One area which has changed quite considerably over the years, which was illustrated in the presentation by some old photographs, is Church Road. In the 1950’s the first building you would have come to would have been the school which was originally built in 1858, to which two new classrooms were added in 1952. The original village hall was positioned roughly where the current sports pavilion is but an arsonist burnt this down in 1943. A new one was built on the present site in 1956. There was nothing between the school and the Bede Houses (originally built in 1862 and replaced in 1969). Then beyond the Bede Houses there was nothing but open fields right up to the Church where, it is said, one has to have three generations of family buried to be considered a true villager!
In the diary space I have it is impossible to impart all the fascinating stories and photographs that were shared with us that evening. However, the talk was filmed and we will upload it to the website soon. Below are links to some of the photographs we shared that evening so do take a moment to view them and stroll down memory lane with us again.
http://www.cushycms.com/temporary_uploads/199704/Memory Lane 1.pdf
http://www.cushycms.com/temporary_uploads/199704/Memory Lane 2.pdf
The New Gaddesden Society Website
by Glenville Morris and Helen Irving
The first Gaddesden Society talk of the year was given by committee members Helen Irving and Glen Morris – who have well and truly launched the Gaddesden Society into the future by creating this website We hope it is going to be a valuable and well used asset for the whole village.
Glen began their presentation with a light hearted look at some interesting facts about the internet, its inception and its use. Did you know...?
In August 1991 English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the World Wide Web project – marking the debut of the internet (His Wikipedia entry makes fascinating reading).
In 2000 there were 360,985,492 ‘users’ of the internet. By 2011 there were 2,267233,742 – that’s 32.7% of the world’s population.
There are 247 billion emails sent every day and 89% of them are spam.
1 billion people are forecast to be Facebook users by August this year.
Their talk demonstrated the different areas of the website focusing on the page where village clubs and societies will have links to promote their activities and link through to their own websites. They also featured that most valuable of tools, the Calendar. The purpose of creating a Gaddesden Society entity online is to keep in touch with our busy village community using a means now in daily use by most of us, ensuring that we are reaching all generations of our community. By having a website and Facebook page, we hope there will be more interaction and a greater flow of information throughout the limitations in printed form due to the amount of space allocated. Online there is unlimited Diary space that can be used to publicise all manner of local events and sporting fixtures.
In due course, the periodic Gaddesden Society Talk and Neighbourhood Watch emails will be replaced by a ‘News and Alerts’ email. This will be trialled as a monthly circular, just prior to each Gaddesden Society talk, in which you will receive details of the GS talk, other village society and club events and non-urgent Neighbourhood Watch emails. All those that currently receive my emails will receive the ‘News and Alerts’. Those who don’t currently get the emails should sign up on the website, the link is on the bottom banner. There is also a Flickr photo account to display your photos of our village life. Please share your favourite photos of village events, sights and scenery.
Concern over whether the online Diary would affect the number of hard copies sold, and consequently the income of the Gaddesden Society itself, was discussed. It is thought unlikely but is something which will need to be tracked in the future – it’s vital that the ‘original’ Diary does not come under threat.
We are very proud of all the hard work that has been put into creating www.littlegaddesden.com, in particular by Glen and Helen, and we very much
hope you will all contribute to it and gain from it. Don’t forget to give us a “like” on Facebook (The Gaddesden Diary).
Second World War Experiences of Alan William Green
by Stuart Green
Last November we were again visited by local easyJet pilot Stuart Green who gave a wonderful talk, aided by neighbour Mark Newbury. His topic was once again aircraft, but from a very different point of view.
Stuart’s father, Alan, flew a remarkable 22 missions as an RAF navigator on Wellington and Stirling aircraft between mid-December 1941 and mid-June 1942. Hailing from Coventry, Alan was in Torquay on training when his home city was devastated by German bombing raids. He needed no greater encouragement and told his family that he “couldn’t wait to have a go back”.
On his return from further training in Canada, Alan took part in a number of major raids, including attacks on the German battleship Scharnhorst and the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne, which included 369 aircraft from training squadrons (49 of which had trainee pilots) and an Air Vice Marshall as an observer!
Alan’s war was eventful, not just for the number of successful raids he flew but also in being shot down by friendly fire from a Hurricane, baling out over RAF Tangmere and subsequently being mistaken for a German soldier.
In late June 1942, when he was just 22, Alan was in a four-engined Stirling (pictured), piloted by Squadron Leader H J V Ashworth DFC. Returning from a raid on Emden the aircraft was intercepted and shot down by a ME110, flown by Oblt. Egmont Prinz zur Lippe Weissenfeld (‘The Prince of Darkness’). Keeping the plane aloft long enough for five crew to bale out, the heroic Ashworth and two other crew died in the crash.
The five remaining crew (now members of the ‘Caterpillar Club’, for having made enforced parachute jumps) were captured; although Alan was on the run for three days. Before being taken for interrogation he was entertained to dinner at the officers’ mess by the Prince of Darkness himself!
Following his interrogation, Alan was transferred to ‘The Great Escape’ prisoner of war camp, Stalag Luft III near Sagan, in Silesia; along with Desmond Plunkett, the second pilot shot down in the attack. What followed lives up completely to the remarkable tales told in the eponymous film; and whilst at the camp, the prisoners put on plays – including Hamlet and other Shakespeare, started the Sagan Golf Club (despite having only one club) and, most famously, planned countless escape attempts.
Desmond Plunkett became an expert mapmaker, resourcefully creating 2,500 maps in five different colours, using crushed pencil lead and gelatine from the crystal jellies in Red Cross parcels! Alan took part in tunnelling involving, not just digging and deception, but the dissemination of tons of earth which dropped from their trousers as they exercised; giving rise to their nickname ‘the penguins’! Ultimately 76 people escaped from the camp, many evading capture for several weeks. Hitler was so incensed by this, however, that he ordered the execution of 50 captured officers in retaliation.
As the Allies closed in on the Germans, the remaining prisoners at Stalag Luft III were marched hundreds of miles towards Berlin, in an effort to keep them as hostages. Many died and the gruelling conditions took a huge toll on the health of those who survived. Having been liberated by the Russians, Alan was finally released and repatriated, although his weight dropped from 13 to just eight stone.
Once home, Alan rarely spoke about his ordeal. With typical British understatement, he had written a letter home during his time in Stalag Luft III, referring to a party they had had at “x” (RAF Marham) “the night before I came ‘unstuck’”.
Movingly, Stuart told of his research into his father’s crash and subsequent imprisonment. Stuart and his family visited the camp at Sagan and also Wognum in Holland, where the plane had crashed, finding some who remembered the event and had helped his father. In particular, Stuart spoke of his emotion at being given the buckle of his father’s parachute, which had been found by one of the witnesses. Wognum maintains its interest in the events of 1942; and in 2010 erected a monument to the bravery of those who lost their lives, and those who survived.
Stuart dedicated the story of his father to the 55,000 members of Bomber Command who, out of a total of 125,000 crew, lost their lives serving in World War Two.