Eightieth anniversary of Queen presenting colours to Royal Dutch forces at Wrottesley

The August 1941 Wolverhampton Express and Star front page photograph of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Bernhard at the ceremony where she presented colours to the Royal Dutch forces at their Wrottesley Park base

By Angus Dunphy and Jim Barrow

August 27th is the 80th anniversary of the Queen of the Netherlands presenting colours to Royal Dutch forces based at Wrottesley Park on Wolverhampton’s Western outskirts.

It had become the main Dutch base in Britain as an area of parkland with mature deciduous trees dominating the perimeters of the estate and stands of trees elsewhere was transformed into a purpose-built camp for 1,500 plus military personnel in 1941.

A landscape, created by former Baron Wrottesleys became sleeping quarters, canteens, a cinema, NAAFI, barrack Protestant and RC churches, medical centre, a post office, headquarters building, guard posts and technical workshops. 

Drainage ditches were dug to connect with headwaters of the River Penk and an extensive road system laid down. 

Wrottesley Park Road, which became Koningen Wilhelmina Straat, was driven through to connect with the A41 and a secure camp guard post was erected.

On Wednesday 27th August 1941 the deeply loved and respected Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands arrived to inspect her troops and take the salute.  

She was pictured on the front page of the Express & Star newspaper later that week “somewhere in the Midlands” presenting the colours to her battalion – named after her second grandchild as The Princess Irene Brigade. 

The disguising of the location – presumably under wartime censorship – was somewhat undermined by the report inside the newspaper.

It listed the deputy mayor, town clerk and various councillors from Wolverhampton Council as being present along with the matron, medical officer of health when the Queen visited “a municipal hospital where two wards are set aside for the treatment of 50 or 60 Dutch service men patients.”

This was New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, where the Netherlands Military Hospital treated more than 3,500 officers and other ranks of the Royal Netherlands forces and merchant navy.

Her Royal Highness Princess Juliana of the Netherlands also visited the hospital on the 27th September 1944.

While there and at Wrottesley Queen Wilhelmina made a point of talking to ordinary soldiers – as did her son-in-law, Prince Bernhard, when he visited. 

Wrottesley was never static with units coming and going. Airmen left to train with the RAF, naval personnel to serve on Dutch warships, including submarines escaped from the Nazi attack on their country; commandos to train in Scotland. 

The Dutch camp and surrounds after the war – a map reproduced  from Angus Dunphy’s book The Princess Irene Brigade at Wrottesley Park 1941-1944

The extensive camp lay immediately south of the A41 (Corser’s Rough) and extended a small way across what is today Wrottesley Park Road. 

East it ran to the line of the River Penk 400 yards short of Yew Tree Lane and to the south it extended virtually to the Pear Tree and Partridge pub (Smith’s Rough).

Very little remains today with buildings gone; undergrowth and scrub recolonising the site. One or two grassed areas remain, odd piles of bricks, cement barrack bases or lines of drainage ditches. 

It is not difficult to visualise a Dutch soldier billeted here in a damp autumn/winter, far from home and family knowing your country is occupied and your freedoms curtailed by vigorous training programmes. 

However, a Dutch documentary film probably gives a wartime view of life there.

1943-6-15 Documentairefilm van de Prinses Irene Brigade in Engeland. 

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Description automatically generated1943-6-15 Documentairefilm van de Prinses Irene Brigade in Engeland.By Herman van den Bossche
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In an earlier Friends of the Wolverhampton Archives’ newsletter Jim Barrow wrote about the Hush Now theatre project based on the lives of women and their babies in Wolverhampton’s mother and baby homes – also sometimes called Magdalene homes.

That project resulted in an online production about the homes filmed and acted at the Newhampton Arts Centre and on location around Wolverhampton by the Feral Productions group and their director, Estelle van Warmelo, who was stationed there.

South African personnel came and went as the camp trained for a return to Europe in 1944. Early in that year General Montgomery visited to inspect.

Camp life was busy with a bugle call echoing through the darkness, before ablutions, route marches, breakfast and then training and more training. 

Evenings, when free, could be spent at numerous camp entertainments or in Wolverhampton. Transport was by special bus, although most seem to have cycled. The Rock (known as the Alps) provided a hindrance to the return journey.

Some who went through the camp made the ultimate sacrifice but people of Codsall, Tettenhall Wood and Wolverhampton were generous in friendship as together they fought a common enemy.

The friendship was reinforced on another August day – Saturday August 19th 2006 -when Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor John Davis, bestowed The Freedom of Wolverhampton on the regiment to the most senior ranking veteran of the Princess Irene Brigade Association.

It is still possible to walk through part of Wrottesley’s past via the bridlepath that run from the junction of the A41 Wergs Road and Yew Tree Lane past The Grange and into the area below Corser’s Rough.

Once through the old metal gates and further along the bridleway and off it are concrete bases to parts of the camp with the Wrottesley Park Natural Burial Ground now to the right.

A path to the left beyond this area takes you past foundations and brickwork from other buildings but the bridleway and paths may not be suitable for those with mobility issues especially after heavy rain.

The entry to the natural burial ground on Wrottesley Park Road is  another way into the area and it can also be accessed close to the Pear and Partridge pub.

It leads alongside the River Penk where there is a somewhat dishevelled information board by one of the wooden bridges over the Penk showing Penk Meadow and a detail showing a plan of the camp.

grateful for the presence here of the Princess Irene Brigade. It is a pity that there is no monument acknowledging their presence. Perhaps one might be erected?

Angus Dunphy’s book The Princess Irene Brigade at Wrottesley Park 1941-1944  – a quality production of 137 pages has many photographs, maps and cartoons done by the soldiers for their own newspaper. 

Price £16 from Angus Dunphy at 8, Chestnut Close, Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan, CF64 4TJ.

Anyone who might be interested in walking the area of the camp on or around the time of the 80th anniversary can also contact Jim for further information.

Remembrance week centenaries of WW1 Memorial trees

Appropriate remembrance reading and face mask

By Jim Barrow

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has made remembrance very different – as it was in Wolverhampton a century ago.

Remembrance Sunday, on the second Sunday of the month closest to November 11, known as Remembrance Day, has a two minute silence at 11am. This year it was on November 8. 

King George V hosted the first at Buckingham Palace in 1919 with French President Raymond Poincaré.  The Armistice of November 11, 1918 was signed by the Allies and Germany declaring an end to the war. 

Today it is observed by all Commonwealth nations and many other countries mark it as a day of memorial.

In Wolverhampton on November 10, 1919 new Mayor Thomas Austin Henn said he would ask for money to plant 1,000 trees chiefly in streets “which were drab and dreary monotony.” He said it would cost £1,200 – nearly £61,500 in today’s prices – with people, particularly pupils, parents and school staff, raising the money.

Plantings followed the mass slaughter of war and the 1918-19 worldwide influenza pandemic killing millions worldwide and nearly 2,000 in the Black Country – including 554 in Wolverhampton.

By November 10, 1920 plantings were now a way of remembering the sacrifice of those who fell in the war and on that day were done in Old Hall Street in the town centre and Hordern Road, Whitmore Reans.

Old Hall Street school’s logbook for the day reads: “Today the Mayor and Mayoress of the Borough, together with the deputy mayor and other officials conducted the ceremony of the planting in connection with the school. Twelve trees were planted by scholars in Old Hall Street in memory of past scholars who had given their lives for their king and country during the great European War.”

The excellent Wolverhampton’s War blog developed at Wolverhampton Archives since 2014 goes into the background to say that the Express & Star of May 19, 1915, said Harry D. Jackson, headmaster of Old Hall Street School and secretary of Wolverhampton Schools’ Athletic Association had decided that “the call to military service…[was] so irresistible that he has responded by enlisting in the R. F. A.” (number 686959).

Harry David Jackson, born in Wolverhampton in 1873, was the son of Elizabeth and Thomas Jackson. In 1901, he was as a schoolmaster, living with his parents and brothers Frederick and Arthur at 75 Curzon Street. The school logbook for Old Hall Street School recalls him going off to war and returning to work after being gassed.

Trees still stand in Old Hall Street. Some are young ones on the concourse in front of the reception area but there are also older ones lining Old Hall Street but it is not known if they are the originals?

In 2018 I worked with Life Skills students (students with learning difficulties and disabilities) from Adult Education in Old Hall Street about the history of the trees and they designed and created a new commemorative artwork in honour of those who died. They incorporated bark from the Old Hall Street trees into the artwork.

The 2018 Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Phil Page, unveiled the artwork on Tuesday November 13, 2018 alongside Mayoress, Mrs Elaine Hadley-Howell, Director of Education Meredith Teasdale, Councillor Lynne Moran Cabinet Member for Education and Skills and Councillor Linda Leach.

In Whitmore Reans on November 10, 1920 the children of Hordern Road Schools dedicated 12 saplings to men of the district who had fallen in the war. As the schools were not opened until the year before the war (1913) there were no old boys who had served in the war but many of the children had relatives who served.

The Express & Star reported: “The first tree was dedicated by the planter to the memory of his brother. The ceremony so touched some of the participants that there were many tears shed and the sympathies of the Mayoress (Mrs T A Henn) had to be coupled with the handshakes of the Mayor.

“A boy, a girl and a child from the infants department were stationed at each of the 12 trees and scholars lined the opposite pavement, and a few interested parents followed the Mayoral party.”

Later the headmaster, Mr Blower, asked: “that the children responsible for the planting of each tree should take a personal interest in its growth, and should report on the anniversary of its setting on its condition and the progress it had made towards forming a unit in the avenue which will in future grace the street.”

Roy C. Evans, in Wolverhampton Warriors – The Town’s Great Battalions In The Great War (pub Bright Pen 2010) says Acting Sergeant Frederick Wallace Watson, living with his parents, Wallis and Hannah, at 299, Hordern Road, died on October 13, 1915.

He says that the 20-year-old kept the Germans at bay with hand grenades and then sniping for five hours until he was killed. He had trained as a bomber and took part in the assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt. 

The former pupil of St Andrew’s Church of England School, Whitmore Reans, was with “C” Company of the 1st/6th Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment and is remembered on the Loos Memorial in France

His brother, Rifleman Alfred Thomas Watson (service number 39553), of the 18th Bn. King’s Royal Rifle Corps died on the October 20, 1918, aged 19. He is remembered on the memorial at Dadizeele New British Cemetery, – Moorslede, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. 

A pupil dedicated a tree in memory of his older brother, Regimental Sergeant Major Albert Cox, of the 28th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. Cox lived with wife, Adelina, at Worcester Terrace, Aldersley Road.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for bringing in wounded under heavy fire, but died in the Second battle of Ypres, on April 24, 1915. 

The 40-year-old gunner was buried in Ypres Town Cemetery Extension, not far from The Menin Gate, and is also commemorated on the St Michael and All Angels War Memorial, at Tettenhall. 

Brother-in-law Royal Field Artillery Quarter-Master Sergeant-Farrier Edward James Poyner, of Mill Lane, Tettenhall Wood, was mentioned in despatches for taking ammunition to the guns under fire and bringing horses back safe at the Battle of Hill 60. 

Edward’s brother, L Poyner, was in the same battery and another brother, Private George S Poyner, died on November 1, 1914.

Where Hordern Road crosses the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, the Wildside Centre is carrying on the work of planting trees – although not memorial trees – alongside the canal and in the Smestow Valley.

Elsewhere in Wolverhampton trees have been planted at Bantock Park, the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, and in locations in Whitmore Reans.

The first 30 trees were planted on March 22, 1920 in All Saints Road, All Saints, Wolverhampton, by pupils elected by fellow pupils at All Saints, St Joseph’s and Dudley Road Schools in All Saints Road. 

They dedicated each to “the memory of the brave men who died to make the world freer and brighter”. Another 1920 planting was in Walford Avenue, near Bantock Park, by Bingley Street, St Marks and Brickiln Street Schools.

On March 22, 2020 current Wolverhampton Mayor, Councillor Claire Darke, was due at plantings at The Workspace, All Saints Action Network, All Saints Road, All Saints, with John Henn, great grandson of Mayor Henn. 

It was planned at the site of the former All Saints School – which is next to All Saints Church where a plaque commemorates 91 men who died in WW1. At the 1920 planting the mayor was accompanied by children Mr T Wesley Henn (John Henn’s grandfather), Frank and Molly.

Trees are still in All Saints Road along with others planted later in nearby Vicarage Road, Mason Street, Silver Birch Avenue and Thompson Avenue. 

Anniversaries came to light when I was researching the history of the Dunkley Street site of the Newhampton Arts Centre and came across references to tree plantings in the logbook of the Higher Grade School which was on the site at before, during and immediately after WW1.

As a result I provided a chapter on the memorial trees in the book Wolverhampton’s Great War 1914-1921, which was published by the Wolverhampton Society.

This article was written for the excellent newsletter of the Friends Of Wolverhampton Archives which is edited by Penny Ann Smith.

A WordPress blogpost with more details of the plantings is at https://burslembandit.wordpress.com/2020/10/25/roads-of-remembrance-2/(opens in a new tab)

Centenaries of the WW1 Memorial Trees of Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton

Riches Street trees in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton

Jim Barrow

Roads of Remembrance in Wolverhampton

How trees were used to commemorate the fallen.

The centenaries of ‘Green’ tributes to those who lived, studied and worked in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton, and who fell in the First World War is this month – October 2020.

It was part of a scheme initiated by Wolverhampton Mayor, Councillor Thomas Austin Henn who said he would ask for money to plant 1,000 trees chiefly in streets “which were drab and dreary monotony.”

This came after the 1918-19 worldwide influenza pandemic known as the Spanish Flu had killed millions worldwide and nearly 2,000 in the Black Country – including 554 in Wolverhampton.

The war had also cost millions of lives and people cast around for ways to remember those who served and died or were injured.

In Wolverhampton appropriate Remembrance was contentious as some wanted memorials of stone, brick, wood, and metal, as well as framed rolls of honour, in churches and churchyards, public squares and gardens, schools, colleges and universities, workplaces or local or national government buildings.

Others, particularly ex-service people, had priorities of work (if left capable), food, and a decent home.

Wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd George launched his campaign before the December 1918 General Election at the town’s Grand Theatre.

Speaking in November weeks after the 11 November Armistice he said: “What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in.” He said he wanted 500,000 homes built but only 180,000 of this total was met. 

Some wanted a memorial to be a place to meet others who went through the same or similar experiences to them; a place to talk and get leads to find work, have a drink, throw darts, play billiards, snooker, cards, or dominoes.

They wanted an ex-service club – somewhere of practical use. Others wanted Gardens of Remembrance, Memorial Parks or Recreation Grounds.

In Wolverhampton, although trades unions and the Labour movement broadly supported ‘useful’ memorials – such as ex-service clubs, playing fields or gardens and parks – they did not believe this should exclude other memorials.

Before war was over, exterior and interior memorials were up in stone, brick, marble and metal and on streets as street ‘shrines’.

Churches, offices, sports clubs, schools, colleges, universities and councils were to have statues, rolls of honour, plaques, boards and painted tributes to commemorate those who served and those who fell.

The memorial to Able Seaman Douglas Morris Harris, a former pupil of Wolverhampton Higher Grade School (now the Newhampton Arts Centre), at the junction of Dunkley Street and Newhampton Road East, Whitmore Reans, was unveiled in St Peter’s Gardens before the Armistice.

Also up before the end of the war was the Little’s Lane ‘Street shrine’ plaque – mainly to the fallen of the ‘Caribbee Island’ district between Stafford Street and the Wolverhampton arm of the Birmingham Canal.

A year later, on Monday November 10 1919, the town councillor for Dunstall Ward, Thomas Austin Henn, was elected mayor. Then, as now, his family owned the jewellery business in Princess Street and lived at Springhead, on the Dudley Road, Sedgley.

 In his mayoral address, he said he proposed to ask for the money to plant 1,000 trees, chiefly “in the streets of the town which were drab and dreary monotony, the planting of them to be an honour, a mark of distinction for children of their schools who had excelled in conduct or progress or both.” (Express & Star, Monday 10, November 1919).

Wolverhampton Mayor Councillor Thomas Austin Henn

He does not mention trees as memorials but in Adelaide, South Australia, on August 29 1914 an English Oak (Quercus robur) was planted in Creswell Gardens by the state governor, Sir Henry Galway. Eight Wattle trees were also planted to symbolise the eight states and territories of Australia. (Avenues of Honour website avenuesofhonour.org).

 On January 8 1919, C.L.Pack of the American Forestry Association made a call for: “Memorial Trees for soldiers – thousands may be planted along boulevards and county highways.”He also called for the naming of a great national highway to honour the memory of the ex-President Theodore Roosevelt. (Inventory of The American Forestry Association Records 1875-1997 at The Forest History Society site foresthistory.org)

In the UK The Office of The Kings Highway published a pamphlet, Roads of Remembrance As War Memorials, calling for memorial trees on existing streets as well as any new ones being planned and built (Roads of Remembrance As War Memorials published by the Office of The Kings Highway and circulated for The Roads of Remembrance Associations, 47, Victoria Street, London, SW1 (1919. British Library Pressmark: 20033 C.13)

Finding resources to create memorials was not easy after huge losses of life, constant fund raising to support the war effort and expenditure on it underpinned with massive loans which had to be repaid. Post-war austerity made it hard to argue that memorials were a priority as thousands hunted for work and women war workers were being hastily dismissed.  

Thomas Henn said his tree project would cost £1,200 (Express and Star Monday 10 November 1919) – nearly £61,500 in today’s prices .

The cost would have to be raised by planters themselves; in effect people of Wolverhampton and particularly pupils, parents and staff of town schools.

Higher Grade School headmaster Jesse West

Jesse West, head of the Higher Grade School in Newhampton Road wrote in the school log book for the period September to October 1920: “Remind scholars about collection towards the Tree Planting Fund of Mayor and Carnival in aid of charities of town.” (Wolverhampton Higher Grade School/Secondary Day School Log book 1902-1921 Ref D-EDS-169 Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies).

There were 11 trees to be planted in Dunkley Street on Wednesday 27th October but the day before – Tuesday 26th October – pupils at St Jude’s School, Riches Street, Whitmore Reans, planted 19 saplings – elm and oak respectively – along each side of nearby Avondale Road as well as four oaks in Riches Street in memory of 23 old boys who died in the war.

Lieutenant Arnold Leslie Duddell

A tree near the school was in memory of Lieutenant Arnold Leslie Duddell, of the 3rd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, attached to the 6th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (The Green Howards).

He died, aged 20, on the 27th September 1917 after being shot through the chest while leading an attack near Poelcapelle, Belgium, the day before.

The son of St Jude’s headmaster Albert Duddell, and his wife, Minnie, was buried at Bard Cottage Cemetery, Boezinge-leper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. They lived at 12, Church Hill Road, Tettenhall, with Arnold’s brothers and sister.

A report of the plantings said that another tree was dedicated to assistant master Mr Waters.

However, this may have been spelling mistake and the assistant master referred to was in fact John Walters who returned to teach in Wolverhampton after he and his brother, Herbert, had trained as teachers at Battersea Training College.

Chris O’Brien, who has been researching the fallen of Wolverhampton Grammar School, has produced more information and some was also put on the church website of St Chad & St Mark for this year’s Remembrance Sunday.

Information about the memorial at St Chad’s Church says that John joined the 6th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment and was killed on 11th September 1915 near Hill 60, south-east of Ypres.

Brother Herbert, who had joined, like John as a private, was wounded while in the front line with the 8th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, near Foncquevillers, south of Arras, and died three days later on 2nd May 1916.

The brothers were the sons of Herbert John and Elizabeth Walters and were both baptised at St Luke’s Church in October 1892 although there were two years apart in age.

Their father’s firm, Walters (Wolverhampton) Ltd made, among other things, gear cases for bicycles.

Both boys went to Wolverhampton Grammar School – Herbert from 1903 to 1907 and John from 1907 to 1910. John played football for the Old Church team in Wolverhampton and for his Battalion.

Their older sister, Elizabeth, died in 1922 and their parents added the brothers names to the headstone on her grave in Merridale Cemetery although they are not buried there.

The report of the plantings said: “Five children took part in each ceremony of planting, the Mayor shaking hands with the youngsters. The declaration was clearly made by the young folks each of whom had been selected for the task by votes of companions.”

The mayor said the boys and girls of St Jude’s had sent enough money to pay for the trees they were planting. “This was their first bit of civic work and he hoped they would grow up imbued with the desire to help their town in all that was for its enduring good.”

Mr Duddell: “acknowledged the hearty co-operation of the parents and said that if they agreed, arrangements had been made to attach to each tree a tablet bearing the name of the old boy to whose memory it was planted.”

The children formed a procession carrying flags and went from tree to tree until the planting had been “well and truly done.”

A vote of thanks to the Mayor and Mayoress was moved by the Vicar of nearby St Jude’s Church, the Rev J.E. Goult.

St Jude’s headmaster Albert Duddell

Despite this a Roll of Honour Fund was set up at the church in 1918 along with donations to the Prisoner of War Fund, Wolverhampton General Hospital, the Army Scripture Readers’ Society, the orphan home.

At Easter 1919 a meeting of sidesmen was called to consider the best scheme for a war memorial and this was eventually inscribed and installed although the annual vestry meeting and parochial meeting on Thursday April 7th, 1921, were told the war memorial was undersubscribed and there was a deficit of £29-5-8d.

The war memorial at the church, on the corner of St Jude’s Road and Tettenhall Road, bears 23 names including that of Arnold Leslie Duddell, who also appears on the war memorial at St Michael and All Angels Church, Church Road, Tettenhall, Wolverhampton.

Another on the memorial is Frederick Lockley, who was born in Wolverhampton in 1898, the son of Frederick and Sarah E. Lockley.

In 1901, they were at 56 Sweetman Street, together with Frederick’s sister Elizabeth and a boarder, Henry A. Rogers. He attended St Jude’s Church of England School and later worked for Messrs. Gibbons of Church Lane.

Frederick enlisted with the 1st/6th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (number 3362) on 17 October 1914. He was sent overseas in March, but died on 13 October 1915, aged 17. The only photograph his parents had of him was when he was a boy. An article appeared about him in the Midland Counties Express on 6 January 1917. He is commemorated at the Loos Memorial, as well as on that of St Jude’s Church, Tettenhall.

Those who served and returned are remembered on a Roll of Honour.

Albert Duddell continued to be active in the church until after the Second World War and was also the chairman of Tettenhall Council trying to help evacuees from the Blitz who were sent to the area.

On Wednesday 27th October, 1920, Whitmore Reans saw more plantings as 11 trees were planted in Dunkley Street by pupils of Wolverhampton Higher Grade School – in the same street.

Headmaster Jesse West wrote in the school logbook: “Our scholars had Dunkley Street allotted to them. There were 11 trees in all and 3 planters had been chosen from each form by the scholars themselves.”

At 4pm the mayor and other councillors and officers arrived for a ceremony which saw the pupils singing as well as planting.

The logbook adds that the mayor: “spoke most tellingly of the sacrifice of old scholars during the war – 835 had joined which was patriotic, 85 had give their lives which was a sacrament and 35 had won distinction which was an honour.”

As the mayor shook hands with the pupils involved in the planting he was handed another £4 towards his tree planting fund.

When a bronze memorial tablet was unveiled at the school in 1921 it carried the name of 90 – not 85 – who had died as a result of war service but this was not unusual due to the “fog of war” and deaths that happened after the war had ended.

As was the case at St Jude’s School there was personal tragedy for headmaster Jesse West as he lost a son – Ernest West.

Ernest, who was born in 1895, had enlisted in 626 Company of the Motor Transport Section of the Royal Army Service Corps (service number 137774) with his trade given as a motor tester.

He suffered bouts of malaria but recovered but when he was on probation as an RAF Cadet he died of Blackwater Fever on the 18th December 1918 at the British base hospital in Mombasa, East Africa.

His grave is in the Mombasa (Mbaraki) Cemetery in Kenya and he was remembered on the roll of honour of Darlington Street Methodist Church, St Phillip’s Memorial in Penn and the Higher Grade School memorial – which is sadly missing.

Another old boy on the memorial, mentioned earlier, was Able Seaman Douglas Morris Henry Harris, A.B, R.N.V.R, who died in action on the 15th May, 1917, when the armed drifter he was on was being used in a blockade to try to prevent the Austrian Navy from access to the Adriatic.

Three much larger Austrian ships attacked and Douglas was killed, aged 19, as he stayed at his post trying to send and receive messages under fire.

A Harris Memorial Committee at the school raised money for a photograph of a portrait of Harris to be framed and hung at the school in 1919 and contributed to the fund for the Harris Memorial bust created by the sculptor R.J.Emerson in St Peter’s Gardens.

Dunkley Street was also the home of the Richardson family and John Cooper ‘Richy’ Richardson who was said to have served in the Boer War, WW1 and WW2.

Ned Williams’ book A Century of Wolverhampton has this picture of him provided by Anne Richardson.

He was born in 1865 and is with his family in North Road, Wolverhampton, aged 6, on the 1871 Census. He is still there at number 58 but head of the household and an electrical machine fitter in the 1901 Census.

The excellent Wolverhampton’s War blog by Wolverhampton City Archives says son, Sydney John was born on 26 December 1897 to Mary Hannah Richardson (nee McAllister), living at 54, Bright Street, Wolverhampton.

He was baptised on 13 January 1898 at Christchurch, Waterloo Road. They were at 29, North Road in 1891, and 58, in 1901 and 36, Dunkley Street in 1911, by which stage Sydney had three brothers and a sister.

Sydney attested to join the Territorial Force of the 3rd North Midland Royal Army Service Corps Field Ambulance Company, enlisting on 4 March 1914 with the permission of his parents (as he was only 16 years and 2 months old).

He was given the service number 1536, which was later changed to T4/243308 and served as driver at St Albans and Curragh Camp in Ireland before going to France in 1917.

His service record gives details about his movements (he was posted to 2/3 North Midland Field Ambulance Company, 59th Division), but also lists his offences, as follows:

1 May 1915Disobeying orderLoss of three days pay
24 September 1916Playing cards in barrack room at 11.45pm3 days C. B.
30 April 1917Parading 30 mins late with wagon7 days C. B.
Details from Sydney Richardson’s service record

“C. B.” means “Confined to Barracks”.

Sydney served until June 1919 and was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

He married Muriel Evelyn Andrews in September 1927 at St Andrews Church, Whitmore Reans. They had a daughter called Yvonne, born the following year. Sydney died on 25 February 1967, and his remains were placed in the Garden of Remembrance at Bushbury Crematorium.

Thanks to Chris Twigg sending over service records it seems his brother, Henry George, a fitter, born the 29th November 1896, was a Private with the 3rd North Midland Ambulance until January 1916 when he moved to the Royal Flying Corps.

Embarking for France with 40 Squadron in August 1916, he switched to 10 Squadron, staying in France until 1918. His switch to the Royal Air Force was followed by a move to the Royal Air Force Reserve in 1920, discharged in 1926.

He also received the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Another military man and footballer to live in Dunkley Street was said to be Major Frank Buckley of the 17th (Service Battalion) Middlesex Regiment – the Footballers Battalion.

He was said to have lived in ‘digs’ there after moving to have a legendary managerial career with Wolverhampton Wanderers at their nearby Molineux ground in 1927.

Also in Whitmore Reans 12 saplings were planted along Hordern Road by the children of Hordern Road Schools on Wednesday, November 10 and “dedicated to the men of the district who fallen in the war.”

As the schools were not opened until the year before the war there were no old boys who had served in the war but the Express & Star said: “many of the children have relatives whose memories the trees will keep greener.”

“The first tree was dedicated by the planter to the memory of his brother. The ceremony so touched some of the participants that there were many tears shed, and the sympathies of the Mayoress (Mrs T.A.Henn) had to be coupled with the handshakes of the Mayor.

“A boy, a girl, and child from the infants’ department were stationed at each of the twelve trees, while the remainder of the scholars lined the opposite pavement, and a few interested parents followed the Mayoral party.”

The report said that the headmaster, Mr Blower, asked that the children responsible for the planting of each tree should take a personal interest in its growth and should: “report, on the anniversary of its setting, on its condition and the progress it had made towards forming a unit in the avenue, which will in the future grace the street.”

Roy C. Evans, in Wolverhampton Warriors – The Town’s Great Battalions In The Great War pub Bright Pen 2010) says Acting Sergeant Frederick Wallace Watson, living with his parents, Wallis and Hannah, at 299, Hordern Road, died on 13th October 1915.

Roy says the 20-year-old kept the Germans at bay with hand grenades and then sniping for five hours until he was killed. He had trained as a bomber and took part in the assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

The former pupil of St Andrew’s Church of England School, Whitmore Reans, was with “C” Company of the 1st/6th Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment and is remembered on the Loos Memorial in France

His brother, Rifleman Alfred Thomas Watson (service number 39553), of the 18th Bn. King’s Royal Rifle Corps died on the 20th October, 1918, aged 19.

He is remembered on the memorial at Dadizeele New British Cemetery, – Moorslede, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. 

A pupil dedicated a tree in memory of his older brother, Regimental Sergeant Major Albert Cox, of the 28th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

Cox lived with wife, Adelina, at Worcester Terrace, Aldersley Road. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for bringing in wounded under heavy fire, but died in the Second battle of Ypres, on April 24 1915. 

The forty-year-old gunner was buried in Ypres Town Cemetery Extension, not far from The Menin Gate, and is also commemorated on the St Michael and All Angels War Memorial, at Tettenhall. 

Brother-in-law Royal Field Artillery Quarter-Master Sergeant-Farrier Edward James Poyner, of Mill Lane, Tettenhall Wood, was mentioned in despatches for taking ammunition to the guns under fire and bringing horses back safe at the Battle Of Hill 60.

Edward’s brother, L. Poyner, was in the same battery and another brother, Private George S Poyner, died on 1 November 1914.

Where Hordern Road crosses the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, the Wildside Centre is carrying on the work of planting trees – although not memorial trees – alongside the canal and in the Smestow Valley.

Elsewhere in Wolverhampton trees have been planted at Bantock Park, the Newhampton Arts Centre and in locations in Whitmore Reans.

Other tree plantings are being planned throughout the city and elsewhere.

The first trees had been planted in All Saints Road on the 22nd March 1920 -where All Saints School’s logbook had been one of the few in Wolverhampton to mention the outbreak of WW1.

The logbook of All Saints School, All Saints Road, All Saints, Wolverhampton

By that time, the scheme’s aims included providing the opportunity to remember the fallen, as well as ex-pupils from that area in particular.  

The Wolverhampton Chronicle of March 24 1920 said: “Before the ceremonies were possible, what his Worship described as a miniature general election took place at All Saints, St Joseph’s and Dudley Road Schools, for the purpose of selecting by popular vote boys and girls who were to plant trees.

“Each school planted ten plane trees and they were placed in All Saints Road where a large number of people assembled.

“At each tree three children officiated and declared: ‘this tree to be well and truly planted in memory of the brave men who died to make the world freer and brighter.’ In several instances the words ‘cause of freedom’ were interpolated.”

Mayor Henn was with his children, T. Wesley Henn, Frank and Molly.

Trees still line All Saints Road, All Saints, Wolverhampton from its junction with Steelhouse Lane to the junction with Vicarage Road with the site of St Joseph’s RC School on the right and All Saints Church and the site of All Saints School on the left

A celebration event commemorating the centenary had to be postponed – but will be bigger – and new trees have been planted.

It was due on Mother’s Day – Sunday, March 22, 2020 – a century to the day on which the pupils planted the 30 trees in All Saints Road.

Due to concern over the COVID-19 virus, it was hoped to hold an event later and to involve pupils at the school which absorbed the school of some of the original planters.

Present Wolverhampton Mayor, Councillor Claire Darke was due at the The Workspace, All Saints Action Network (ASAN), All Saints Road, All Saints, with John Henn great grandson of Mayor Henn. 

Shobha Asar-Paul (left), Chief Officer of All Saints Action Network (ASAN) and Mayor Councillor Claire Darke (with a carved plaque of Wolverhampton’s coat of arms), Jim Barrow (with Wolverhampton’s Great War Book), and John Henn), of Henns The Jewellers, with a photograph of great grandfather, Councillor Thomas Austin Henn, as Mayor.

Horace Belcher, an assistant at the town’s Free Library, of 247, All Saints Road, enlisted in the 2nd/3rdBrigade of the North Midland Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps.

The son of Joseph and Mary Ann Belcher, Horace died on 27 September 1917, fighting in the Third battle of Ypres – Passchendaele.

His body was never found and his name is on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the missing, along with 35,000 other Commonwealth troops who died between August 1917 and November 1918. (Wolverhampton Warriors, The Town’s Battalions in The Great War, by Roy C Evans, published by Bright Pen December 1, 2010).

However, because of COVID-19 five fruit trees were planted by ASAN Chief Officer, Shobha Asar-Paul , the Mayor, All Saints Gardening Club and Ettingshall Councillor Zee Russell so the centenary was marked – but earlier.

Pictured with one of the saplings next to All Saints Church, where a plaque commemorates 91 men who died in WW1, are Shobha-Asar-Paul (left), Mayor Councillor Claire Darke, Phil Collins of the gardening club and Ettingshall Councillor Zee Russell .

All Saints School was absorbed into Grove Primary School, in nearby Caledonia Road, and Grove head Ben Davis wants to involve present pupils in a rearranged commemoration alongside a special schools pack linking All Saints and other plantings near their school to current initiatives to plant more trees.

Trees are still in All Saints Road – a legacy of original plantings – along with others planted later in nearby Vicarage Road, Mason Street, Silver Birch Avenue and Thompson Avenue. 

The anniversary came to light in a chapter I wrote on Wolverhampton’s memorial trees in the book Wolverhampton’s Great War 1914-1921 published by the Wolverhampton Society.

Private Ewart Barratt, who lived off Thompson Avenue at 91, Napier Road, Blakenhall, was the youngest member of the South Staffordshire Regiment to die in the war. 

On 27 May 1915 he was hit by a bullet that went through his side and into his heart. This sixteen-year-old was buried at St Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery, between Ypres and Armentières, Belgium. (P43 Wolverhampton Warriors, The Town’s Battalions in The Great War, by Roy C Evans, published by Bright Pen December 2010). 

In 1921 construction of the Birmingham New Road saw 350 cherry trees planted in the nearby urban district of Coseley to remember 350 men of the district who died in the war.  

Each tree bore an oval plaque bearing the name of a dead serviceman. Among them were six brothers; the sons of Mrs Isaac Morgan, of 48,Castle Street, Roseville. Of these, Isaac junior was a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, with a wife and two children.

He died of wounds on 17 April 1916 and was buried at Coseley (Christ Church) New Churchyard. Abraham Malcolm Morgan, a Lance Sergeant in the 1st/6thBattalion South Staffordshire Regiment died a month before the Armistice, on 8 October 1918.  

This 21-year-old old was buried at Tourgeville Military Cemetery, near the base hospital in Normandy suggesting he died from wounds or illness. (Wolverhampton Warriors, The Town’s Great Battalions in The Great War by Roy C. Evans pp 35 & 36).

On Wednesday 31 March Bingley Street, St Mark’s and Brickkiln Street Schools planted a combination of London Plane and fir trees at Walford Avenue, near Bantock House. 

Walford Avenue was “a new road in the corporation housing scheme off Bradmore Road.”  

Brickiln Street Schools logbook page 456 31st March 1920

“The mayor and party arrived at 2.15. promptly. The three departments were massed in the boys’ playground. The following programme was gone through:

  1. Raising of flag.
  2. Salute.
  3. Song, Homeland.
  4. Song, The Recessional.
  5. Introduction of Mayor.
  6. Speech by Mayor.
  7. Song, Land of Our Birth.
  8. Vote of thanks to Mayor.
  9. Vote of thanks to chairman.

Afterwards the boys and girls marched to Walford Avenue for the tree planting.  Unfortunately it rained all afternoon.”

Trees in Walford Avenue, off Bradmore Road, Bradmore, north of Bantock House and Park

The afternoon of Wednesday 28 June 1920 saw Old Hall Street, Walsall Street and Willenhall Road Schools plant a further thirty-six trees.

On 10 November 1920, a year to the day after he announced his scheme, Mayor Henn officiated at a planting in Old Hall Street. Harry D Jackson, headmaster of the school and secretary of Wolverhampton Schools Athletic Association, had enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 17 May 1915 (Express & Star 19 May 1915) but was gassed.

He called back at the school in July 1917 and on 5thNovember 1917 the ex-sergeant restarted work at the school (Old Hall Street School log book quoted in Wolverhampton’s War – Lost Voices From The Great War wolverhamptonswar.wordpress.com).

The day after the ceremony, Armistice Day, the log book says pupils went to a Memorial Park 11am service before being dismissed for a half-day holiday.  

As Deputy Mayor, Alderman Henn also oversaw pupils of St Luke’s, SS Mary and St John’s and Monmore Green Schools plant 34 more trees making a total of 250 trees planted by scholars from 48 schools in Wolverhampton.  St Luke’s Schools planted trees in Mason Street and SS Mary and St John’s planted in Vicarage Road and Bilston Road, in Monmore Green. 

The Express & Star introduced its report with the words: “The Deputy Mayor’s scheme for beautifying the streets of Wolverhampton was completed this (Thursday) afternoon.”

Councillor J. Walsh, who was Chair of the Education Committee, presided at each of the plantings and was forced to respond to criticism that the school curriculum was being badly affected by the loss of teaching time due to the ceremonies. 

The report added: “Councillor Walsh expressed the hope that the scheme would not end with Councillor Henn’s Mayorality.”

In November 1922, the annual report of the council education committee, stated: “The scheme inaugurated by Councillor Henn during his mayorality of 1919-1920 continues to progress.  230 trees have been planted by 20 schools and dedicated to their old boys who fell in action.  Several schools are collecting and it is hoped shortly to complete the scheme by the planting of a further 80 trees.  It is encouraging to find that the children in all parts of the town have redeemed their promises to protect the trees from ill-usage.  The planting of the trees, in most cases under the name of the individual fallen men, has contributed much to the respect with which the trees are regarded.”[1]  

Four years later, the annual report of the council’s Parks and Baths Committee commented that “Your committee have supervised the planting of 56 trees by schoolchildren in Thompson Avenue and Silver Birch Avenue.  This was the scheme inaugurated by Alderman Henn.  50 trees have also been planted on Old Heath Road and Willenhall Road housing estate.”[2]  

On 4 June 1925, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Black Country Bugle, p15 Wednesday September 13, 2017) visited T.W. Lench Ltd, Blackheath, where the former Yew Tree Colliery was developed as a park with flower beds, walks and a garden of remembrance.

Twenty seven trees were planted to commemorate the twenty-seven workers who died in the war. The Royal planting of a pine tree at Lench’s was assisted by an employee called Bethnel Ness

In Bilston memorial poplar trees planted to commemorate the deaths of three of the congregation in the war helped to pull St Michael’s Mission Church, Wolverhampton, down.

Their roots combined with others to pull down a church more than 150 years old but a new one was subsequently built and a plaque commemorating the three soldiers was incorporated as well. (Davies R. 1986. St Michaels Mission Church Blackcountryman 19,4; 28 and Price.J. Story of Bilston via blackcountryhistory.org ).

Today, the significance of trees as memorials is demonstrated by the creation of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, in Staffordshire. The estate is home to an ever-increasing number of memorials, as well as hundreds, eventually thousands, of trees that will form a recreated Forest Of Mercia. 

 In Sheffield a council move to cut down hundreds of street memorial trees provoked an outcry and the scheme was trimmed with plans to plant hundreds more in city parks including a Scarlet Oak Tree planted in February 2019 in the memory of 10 crew of a WW2 US aircraft who died. 

In Canada two million trees are to be planted.

These are to be alongside Ontario’s Macdonald-Cartier Highway (better known as Highway 401) linking Windsor with Quebec City.

In 2007 a 170 kilometre portion of the highway from the Canadian Forces base at Trenton on Lake Ontario to the Don Valley Parkway (and later Keele Street, Toronto) was designated the Highway of Heroes.

This reflected its use as the route for funeral convoys carrying fallen Canadian Forces service personnel from CFB Trenton to the coroner’s office in Toronto, where inquests are held on all Canadian armed forces personnel who die in service.(Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign https://hohtribute.ca/about-hoh/).

[1]Wolverhampton Council, Education Committee Annual Report, 9 November 1922, p.19

[2]Wolverhampton Council, Parks and Baths Committee Annual Report, 9 November 1926, p.77

The first of the many?

Scale models of The Inspirer and Wulfrun Spitfires

Scale models of The Inspirer and Wulfrun Spitfires

The Inspirer Spitfire AB917 (front) and Wulfrun (P8175) scale models created by Neil Willis and Andy Walker for the 80th anniversary of the Wolverhampton Express & Star and Wolverhampton Mayor’s Fighter Funds

By Stephen King and Jim Barrow

An exhibition marking the 80th anniversary of what may have been the first World War II fighter aircraft fund of any UK town, a second fund, two Spitfire aircraft and their pilots had to be called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, it has ‘gone virtual’ with a talk due to be give at Wolverhampton’s Central Library on Saturday June 13, 2020 now available on YouTube at The First of The Many? talk

Thousands of people in Wolverhampton, the Black Country, Shropshire, Staffordshire and the West Midlands contributed to two fundraisers in 1940 which were due to be commemorated to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the first fund.

This started when the Wolverhampton Express & Star newspaper published a letter from ‘Quaestor’ in Letters to The Editor on Saturday June 15, 1940. Quaestor – Latin for one who asks questions – was the pen name used by Wilfred Byford-Jones as foreign correspondent and, by then, the newspaper’s news editor– so he was actually writing to his boss – and the readers.

By the 27 September he had an emergency army commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, advanced to be temporary Lieutenant Colonel by 1946 and was a field officer on Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s intelligence staff as well as, in Greece, in charge of censorship and correspondents. He was also in Berlin after the Nazis’ surrender.

He wrote to the Ministry of Supply, which absorbed the Ministry of Aircraft Production in 1946, in 1951 saying he thought he could prove the fund was his idea. Minister George Strauss wrote to Wolverhampton North East MP, Captain J Baird: “I am afraid that I still cannot accept his claim. 

“I readily accept his claim to be the inaugurator of the Wolverhampton Spitfire Fund, but the fact is that a fortnight before he suggested in the Wolverhampton Express and Star that a fund should be raised to buy Spitfires, we received £10,000 from Jamaica to buy a Spitfire. Incidentally, we received another £10,000 from this colony on the 7 June (1940).

These donations seem to have been the result of a letter published in the Jamaican Gleaner but accounts blur the line over whether it was for a war plane, fighter or bomber and does not deal with the claim of the first fund being the first in the UK in WW2.

Under the headline ‘We Must Have More Planes’ Quaestor wrote: “Here’s an idea. If every area like this in the country bought a plane for service in the war the Government would be helped and the men would be heartened not only by the spirit of sacrifice of those who were at home but by the close personal touch they would have with their home towns and people.

Letter appealing for funding for an aircraft

“Could we in the West Midlands raise the money in one Blitzkrieg effort sufficient to buy a fighter or even a bomber? There are many rich industrialists in this area and they could easily set a splendid example not only to their fellow townspeople but to the country. Our plane could be the first raised by public subscription.”

He finished by saying a day’s delay was dangerous and urged people to telephone or write to the Express & Star. The response over the weekend and produced another mention in the newspaper.

The Wolverhampton Express & Star of Monday June 17, 1940 reports on the response to the appeal for a war plane fund.

By Monday June 17 –£1,250 towards the purchase of a fighter – a Spitfire was not specified then – was offered. The front page article said: “The sum required would be in the region of £13,000.”

However, a front page article on Thursday June 20, 1940, by Quaestor said: “Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, who read in The Times of the effort of Express and Star readers to raise the cost of a fighter aircraft, has shown great interest in the scheme.

“The Express and Star was informed by the Ministry today that the cost of a fighter aircraft ready to take to the air would be £9,500 to £10,000, and not £13,000 as we had been given to understand. This should stimulate our readers to subscribe the sum still required in the next few days.”

On Monday June 24, 1940, the paper carried a picture of a telegram dated June 23 from Beaverbrook and an article beneath it headed: “Our Readers’ £6,600 Plane Will Surpass Hitler’s Finest Product.”

It said: “With six thousand pounds you have collected we will build equip engine and arm a fighter aircraft surpassing the finest products of German industry Stop It will ward off many a blow aimed our homes Stop So at this moment when the battle is about to break in our skies I send warm thanks to your newspaper and the contributors to the fund. Stop. Beaverbrook. Ends.”

The fund actually reached a final total of £6,746 and the amount above the £6,000 for the fighter was to be spent on ammunition: “to be fired at the first enemy bomber your machine encounters.”

Other towns, cities, companies, individuals and overseas groups joined drives to provide war weapons. Chesterfield was first to specify Spitfire in fundraising on the July 5 1940. A day after this the National Cyclists’ Union started a fund to buy a Spitfire – The Fighting Cyclist. On July 10 the Battle of Britain was being fought above Britain.

Front page article with photograph of thank you telegram from Lord Beaverbrook for the money raised for a fighter aircraft.

The later Mayor of Wolverhampton’s fund to specifically buy a Spitfire raised £5,076 – so just above the £5,000 target set by the Ministry of Aircraft Production (possibly £277,579 in today’s prices) – although the actual price in February 1940 was about £8,897.6s 6d.

Canadian Press Baron Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), owner of the national Express group of newspapers – not the Wolverhampton Express & Star – knew simple messages had most impact.

Political opponent J H S Thomas said: “Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) was born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, Canada. It was too small for him so he went to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“It was too small for him. He left for Montreal, the commercial capital of Canada. It was too small for him. He came to London. It is too small for him. He will go to hell. It won’t be big enough.”

Although aircraft costs might be broken down to fine detail from wings to nuts and bolts and screws a figure of £5,000 came after fellow Canadian millionaire Sir Harry Oakes asked what a Spitfire cost. Sir Harry donated £20,000 for four Spitfires named Sir Harry & Lady Oakes I-IV.

The £5,000 was similar to the modern healthy eating message of five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables. It should be seven or more but five was thought to trip off the tongue more easily and be more memorable.

Funds raised for aircraft, destroyers and other military equipment went into a general fund and was not specifically allocated to Spitfires (thought the most glamorous after Supermarine’s pre-war speed competitions success), Lancasters, Hurricanes, Defiants etc. However, having your own or a relative’s name, your town or city’s, your company’s name on a plane was a big pulling point.

Wolverhampton Alderman Morris Christopher was said to have told the editor of the Express & Star that it might be good for Wolverhampton to try and buy a Spitfire and present it to the nation. “I read that they cost about £5,000,” he is alleged to have said. “Here is my cheque for the first £50.”

The Monday June 17 Express & Star shows Alderman Christopher offering £52 10 shillings and said: “Mr Frank Farrer, Sir Robert Bird, Alderman Morris Christopher and Miss Osgerby who had contributed £5 are intensely interested in the project and “Quaestor’s” suggestion that the idea be extended to every newspaper in the country. “

The Inspirer in Gifts of War, Spitfires and Other Presentation Aircraft in Two World Wars written by Henry Boot and Ray Sturtivant and published by Air-Britain in 2005

The ‘Presentation’ Spitfires – The Inspirer (allocated to the Express & Star fund) and Wulfrun (mayor’s fund) – were ‘bought’ for the area and nation in 1940 – a time when times were hard.

The plaque for the Express & Star appeal survived to be curated at the RAF Museum Hendon and at the time of writing the museum said that it was being held in storage at RAF Stafford.

Wording may be misleading as their appeal was aimed at the whole circulation area – not just Wolverhampton.  The paper reported – on page 6 on Friday November 29 – that they received the plaque from the Ministry of Aircraft Production the previous day – Thursday November 28.

411 Squadron at RAF Digby in 1941
Canadians who flew Spitfires with 411 Squadron when they were based at RAF Digby in 1941

The loss of the pilots of the Spitfires, their photographs and details of their lives were in the Press in Fort Worth, Dallas, Texas, USA, and Calgary, Alberta, Canada, shortly after their deaths.

The Inspirer pilot – Gerald Bickle Whitney Junior – was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, the son of First World War fighter pilot Gerald Bickle Whitney senior and Irene Rowland Whitney, but was brought up and schooled in Fort Worth.

He attended South Hi Mount Elementary School and graduated at Arlington Heights High School, Fort Worth, in 1940 being part of the Yearbook team and ‘The Yellow Jacket’ football squad of 1939. He is featured and pictured throughout the 1940 Yearbook.

Records show he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in Ontario in Summer 1940. His interview report says: “Good looking. Good manners. Would appear to be ideal material for Pilot.

Whitney completed almost 200 hours flight training and went to England to join 1/401 “City of Westmount” Squadron of the RCAF -The Rams. They formed on March 1, 1937 at Trenton, Ontario. 

The War Diary of 1/401 squadron – High Blue Battle – was edited by Canadian writer Dave McIntosh, who served with 418 Squadron. It was published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 1990 as they were the only Canadian squadron – but not the only Canadians – taking part.

They took delivery of seven Hurricane fighters sent from the UK to Vancouver in crates, assembled and then flown by squadron pilots to Calgary, their based at that time. As war broke out No.1 Squadron moved to St Hubert, near Montreal, Quebec, in September 1939, acquiring three more Hurricanes including one on static display at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto.

After flying to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in November they were amalgamated with 115 Fighter Squadron of Montreal and joined by other Nova Scotia-based personnel. In June 1940 they sailed in convoy to England to be air support to the Canadian Army’s 1s Canadian Division along with No.110 Army Co-operation Squadron, in Britain since February 1940.

However, the Nazis’ drive through Holland, Belgium and France stopped any move to the continent and they were in the Battle of Britain in August from their main base at Northolt, northwest of London.

They had 27 officers, 21 of them pilots, and 314 airmen to fly and maintain 20 Hurricanes. After being posted to Middle Wallop in June they moved to Croydon the next month but had a tragic start as they shot down two RAF Coastal Command Blenheim aircraft. Three Luftwaffe Dorniers were downed and three damaged on their second mission. 

From August until September they had losses and were down to six operational aircraft at the end of September. They moved again to RAF Prestwick, Scotland, on coastal patrols before going to RAF Digby, Lincolnshire, in February 1941 being renumbered 401 Squadron on 1 March and getting Spitfires for Hurricanes from September on before moving to RAF Biggin Hill from October .

Zoran Petek has a film clip on YouTube of the squadron in the UK.

On September 27 they could only put up six planes but shot down five bombers. Over 53 days they shot down 30 planes, probably destroyed eight and damaged 35, losing three pilots killed.

They won three Distinguished Flying Crosses – the first RCAF gallantry awards in the war. By 1944 nearly 30 per cent of RAF aircrew were Canadians with 40 Canadian squadrons sent to Britain. 

Colour photograph of Gerald Bickle Whitney's names at the top of the roll of honour for 401 Squadron at Biggin Hill Chapel
Gerald Bickle Whitney’s names at the top of the roll of honour for 401 Squadron at Biggin Hill Chapel

The diary tells how Gerald Whitney, aged 21, was shot down on October 27 1941 in a Fighter Sweep over France in Spitfire Vb W3452 Midnight Sun – a Presentation Spitfire attributed to ‘Forces in Iceland’.

The squadron took off at 11.35 with 609 Squadron to rendezvous with 72 Squadron before heading over the Channel to France. The Squadron Leader and another pilot had to return as one had oxygen problems and the other engine trouble. 

Later Spitfires were seen to go down out of control and several Messerschmitt 109s dived down, one of which got two bursts of fire from Pilot Officer Al Harley and was seen pouring out black smoke before Harley found himself alone and returned to base.

High Blue Battle says: “It later turned out that the Wing had been jumped by about fifty e/a (enemy aircraft).” It added: “S/P Whitney baled out and landed near Sandwich. He baled out at 600 feet but his ‘chute did not open until he was within approximately 100 fleet of the ground. He landed quite heavily but was uninjured.

“All in all the worst day the Squadron has ever experienced (or was ever to experience) and five familiar and popular faces missing from our entourage – we still have hopes of hearing from some of them, though. It was certainly a blue Monday for the Squadron.”

The next day the diary says: “Sgt Whitney was flying back from France at 20,000 feet, behind F/L Connell and Sgt Thompson when he was attacked from out of the sun by e/a who hit his a/c (aircraft) with cannon fire. He turned sharply to port to evade but was again hit.

“He limped along to the English coast and was forced to bale out when his engine broke into flames. He got clear at 500 feet, his parachute opening at 100 feet.”

On December 2 the diary says: “F/L Neal and Sgt Whitney travelled by train to Halton to visit Sgt Golden, in hospital there since his crash. “Goldie” is improving, though he will be trussed up for some time to come.”

The December 8 entry reads: “At 1355 the Squadron again took off on a Channel sweep to protect rescue launches trying to locate the pilots who had come down in the Channel during morning operations. Three of four ME109s dived to attack Blue Section and were in turn attacked by our other sections, and a series of dogfights took place.

“Sgt D R Morrison destroyed one ME-109, the e/a crashing in the Channel, and he also damaged another. P/O Don Blakeslee and Sgts G.B. Whitney and W D Haguard damaged one each. There were no casualties in our Squadron.”

On January 26 Squadron Leader A G. Douglas, RAF, a former commanding officer of 403 Squadron took over to become 401 Squadron’s only non-Canadian commanding officer. He had taken part in more than 40 wing sweeps over France and had several enemy aircraft to his credit, the diary said.

On Monday March 9 it said: “While executing a practice roll over Fairfield, Kent, Sgt A D Blakey remained in an inverted position. A large part of his port wing fell off and the a/c went straight down from 5,000 feet, crashed and burst into flames. The pilot remained in the a/c and was killed.”

Sgt Alexander Douglas Blakey (R/78705), aged 21, of St Thomas, Ontario, was photographed standing on the wing of The Inspirer in an image held by the Imperial War Museum. He had been flying a Vb Spitfire BL538.

He was born on the 23rd September 1920 in Elgin County, the son of Herbert Douglas and Mable Daisy Blakey (nee Harmer) at 85, Maple Street, St Thomas, Ontario. His grave inscription at Brookwood Military Cemetery, Grave 36.G.8 reads: “In Our Lonely Hours Thoughts Of Him Are Always Near. Our Son.” He had 217 flying hours – 44 were test flights of the type in which he died.

Gerald Whitney was on bomber escort duty – called a Circus – in The Inspirer somewhere over the English Channel after 20 successful missions, usually on similar escort missions. Circus 144 to St Omer was being carried out during the middle of the afternoon on April 28, 1942, when he was one of two pilots lost after he and a colleague peeled off to attack German fighters.

His aircraft was hit. He did not bale out and The Inspirer crashed onto Manchester Road, Whitfield, near Dover, Kent. A report on the crash said: “Several eyewitnesses describe having seen the aircraft at low altitude. Fragments were breaking off as it went into a slow spiral and crashed.”

The diary records what happened on that day.

He was buried in Section 37, Row 1, Grave 2, at Brookwood Military Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey.

Squadron Leader Douglas wrote to his family: “My deepest sympathy and that of the squadron goes out to you in your bereavement. I realise there is little which may be said or done to lessen you sorrow but it is my hope that these ‘Wings’ indicative of operations against the enemy, will be a treasured memento of a young life offered on the altar of freedom in defence of his Home Country.”

His father died in Forth Worth in 1973. A newspaper obituary said death was due to suicide.

Colour image of Group photograph of 401 Squadron including Gerald Whitney with the mocked-up version of The Inspirer, Whitney and his grave.
Group photograph of 401 Squadron including Gerald Whitney with the mocked-up version of The Inspirer, Whitney and his grave.

The Mayor of Wolverhampton’s fund was specifically for a Spitfire not just a fighter as in the first fund. On Thursday September 26, 1940, an Express & Star page 8 report said seven Wolverhampton cinemas would open that Sunday for special shows in aid of the mayor’s Spitfire fund.

Mayor, Councillor Harry Austin White, hoped to visit two to speak about the fund and four others said they would hold a Sunday show on a future date. Just below the report another article says Walsall’s Spitfire fund stood at £8,800 after a dollar bill donation from a lady with Staffordshire associations. A further article said Birmingham hoped to raise the price of 250 bombers – £5million.

By October 5 the newspaper was reporting that the Wolverhampton mayor’s fund had passed the £3,000 mark and that special cinema showings raised about £300. Seven days later latest donations were listed and ranged from just over £194 to multiple ones of £5 from individuals and companies.

Wednesbury was fundraising for a Spitfire fund, Bilston aimed to fund a Wolverhampton-made Boulton Paul Defiant fighter aircraft and Willenhall needed £849 for a Spitfire. However, Wolverhampton aimed to raise £1m in a War Weapons Week from November 16 to November 23.

The Express & Star of Thursday October 17th (on page 3) recalled that in 1918, during WW1, Wolverhampton had a Tank Bank Week from February 4th and a Guns Week from October 28th to November 2nd in which £1,425,578 was raised by the first effort and £920,000 by the second.

On the following day the newspaper pictured four girls with a doll’s house which they hoped would help raise funds for the mayor’s fund and reported that the mayor was hoping for more donations when a downed German Luftwaffe Messerschmitt 109 fighter was put on display.

Councillor White said: “The Messerschmitt loaned to me will be on view on a space adjoining the education offices on Monday. A charge of 6d will be made to view the machine, and for an additional 6d residents will have the opportunity of sitting in the cockpit.”

Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club historian Graham Hughes visited the aircraft, previously on display in Dudley, and had helped to raise more than £500 there. He also recalls small Spitfire lapel badges being given to people donating to the fund near to the Molineux Hotel – now Molineux House Wolverhampton’s Archives Service.

He previously put two of these on display in a display cabinet in the foyer of the reception area of the Billy Wright stand at Molineux. Other areas had similar pin badges and more detailed enamel badges often worn by people fundraising. The mayor’s fund had passed £4,000 by the end of October.

It was a time when there were many calls on people’s pockets as the Express & Star of Friday October 18 said War Weapons Week would be a “Navy Week” to try and Raise £1m to buy two destroyers. The article about this was above a photograph of Mrs H M Smith of Parkville, Stowheath Lane, Wolverhampton, with some of her pictures made out of silver paper to help the mayor’s fund.

On Saturday November 9 the paper said that Councillor White: “Said he could state definitely that a cheque for £5,000 for this second Spitfire fund would be sent to Lord Beaverbrook.” However, it was not until Thursday December 19 that two paragraphs on the front page said money had been sent.

If official photographs and plaques might have been presented to the town or mayor in recognition of the fund attributed to Spitfire Mk Vb P8175 Wulfrun they have not come to light. Wulfrun’s RCAF pilot – Flight Lieutenant William Thomas Johnstone – was killed in action on April 14, 1943 while flying The Wulfrun Spitfire Mk Vb P8715 with 411 Squadron – also over the English Channel.

Boot and Sturtivant’s ‘Gifts of War’ says: “Wulfrun. Presented with a donation of £5,076 by the Wolverhampton Spitfire Fund. ‘Wulfrun’ being local dialect for the name of that city. Mk Vb P8715 was taken on charge at No.39 MU Colerne on 5 July 1941, and held at No.2 SLG Starveal Farm from 22 July until 7 September when it returned to No.39 MU.

“The aircraft was allocated on 8 December to No19 Squadron at Ludham (Norfolk), engaged on sweeps and Circus operations.” The name was actually probably derived from Wolverhampton’s founder – Lady Wulfrun/Wulfruna.

Spitfire P8715 had the code DB-O on the fuselage and – like The Inspirer – made at the Castle Bromwich Aeroplane Factory or CBAF, near Castle Bromwich Aerodrome – the largest aircraft production plant in wartime Britain and the main source of the Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane and the Avro Lancaster bomber.

After leaving the factory it was taken on charge at No.39 Maintenance Unit (39MU) RAF Colerne, on the outskirts of the village of Colerne, Wiltshire, on 5 July 1941 and then to No.2 Satellite Landing Ground Starveall Farm, a nearby storage site for 39 MU from the  July 6 to September 7 when it was returned to 39 Maintenance Unit.

It went to No19 Squadron on December 8, 1941 for sweeps and Circus operations – where bombers heavily escorted by fighters went to continental Europe to draw enemy fighters to combat.

On 10th February 1942 it went to 416 Squadron but needed repairs after being involved in a landing accident on an icy runway at RAF Ludham, Norfolk, which required the attention of 9 Maintenance Unit at RAF Cosford, Shropshire, near Wolverhampton.

It didn’t go back into service until more than a year later being sent to RAF Kenley, near Croydon, Surrey, for bomber escort duties before transfer to 416 – City Of Oshawa – Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The squadron, formed as a fighter squadron in November 1941 at RAF Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, used images of a leaping lynx superimposed on a maple leaf. Its motto: “Ad Saltium Paratus” translates as “Ready to Leap.

It was made up of individuals trained in the British Commonwealth Air Training Programme (BCATP) which was initiated in 1939 and launched in 1940. Pilots, mechanics, navigators, radio operators, logistic personnel and ground crew members and more were to be trained for service in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – but well away from hostilities.

Over five years 360 schools were established at more than 200 sites across Canada and 131,533 graduated with men and women participating.

He was a graduate of Tuxedo, Balmoral, Crescent Heights high schools and Mount Royal College who enlisted in October 1940 and received service number J/6823. His overseas service started in August 1941 and he was posted to 416 Squadron at Peterhead at the end of November 1941.

He was shot down off the coast of northern France on April 14, 1943 while serving with 411 Squadron.

He baled out and parachuted into the sea where he was seen alive and in a dinghy 4 miles from the coast at Baie de la Seine, off Le Havre, but the search failed to find him.

Squadron Leader D.G.E. Ball and another pilot were killed while searching and being shot down by Focke Wulf 290s north of Bayeux.

In 1968 Spitfire RW 388 was mocked up to look like The Inspirer with the serial number AB917 to appear at the Royal Tournament, the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo and the Earls Court Exhibition.

Why was this done? Might this special Spitfire be being commemorated as the first UK Gift of War presentation Spitfire for the nation?

At the time in 1968 the local Press mentioned this ‘new’ Inspirer’ but only vaguely refers to the original Inspirer’s wartime loss “over enemy territory.”

The Wulfrun Spitfire was said to have had the words Slow Freight marked on it – possibly a joke by pilot Johnstone on his Mark Vb Spitfire wishing for an upgrade to a new version of the Spitfire (of which there were many).

These would have better performance, range, firepower etc. Pilots of all squadrons would always be wanting the newest and best machines

It is thought there were at least around 1,500 WWII “presentation” named aircraft including The Inspirer and Wulfrun. They should not be forgotten.

Hunt for memories of All Saints and help on mystery of Old Boys football team

Can anyone name these members of All Saints Old Boys Football Club 1909-1910

Former pupils of a Black Country school are compiling a history of the area around it and looking for people’s memories and help in identifying who was in an Old Boys football team more than 110 years ago.

The local history book on the All Saints area of Wolverhampton will cover the period from around 1800 up to the present day and will cover all aspects of life in the All Saints community.

This will include schooling, work, religion, health, leisure etc. over that time. 

It will follow on from the Rough Hills book by one of the authors, All Saints School ex-pupil Derek Mills, published in 2018, and give the All Saints area specifically the attention it deserves.

The authors will include another former All Saints School pupil Clive Holes.

They would welcome contributions from anyone who lives or has lived in the area or had close connections with its schools, factories, shops, clubs or institutions such as The Royal Hospital. 

These contributions might include personal memories, magazines, newspaper cuttings and photos of experiences, local characters and events which took place in the All Saints area. 

They might, for example, have memories of St Joseph’s RC School, Grove Primary School and the Christopher Groveland Youth Club. 

If anyone, for example, can help with information about the photograph of All Saints Old Boys football team taken in 1910, they would be delighted.

People interested in contributing, should email: mdr2849@gmail.com or text: 07766430896 so that they can discuss how the contributions can be organised.  

Britain’s ‘First Lady’ of Pop Art back in Pick Of the Pops exhibition as Painted Ladies appear

Poster girl – Colour Her Gone (1962) by Pauline Boty – is used to publicise Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s Pick of the Pops exhibition – on from now until September

Wolverhampton Art Gallery has pulled out some of its gems with current exhibitions.

In Pick of the Pops one of more than 20 pieces of work on display on the ground floor of the gallery is Colour Her Gone (1962) by Pauline Boty.

It was bought for the Lichfield Street gallery with help from the Art Fund and the Friends of Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Museums and forms part of the largest Pop Art collection in the UK outside of London.

In addition to the work by Boty there are pieces by Andy Warhol – including a print of his famous soup painting – and Richard Hamilton and Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein’ Purist Painting with Bottles is one which visitors can vote for – as well as any of the others to see which they think if ‘Pick of the Pops’.

The voting closes on Friday 30 August at 4.30pm and the winner will be announced in September.

More work involving women features in The Painted Ladies exhibition upstairs – which again runs until September.

This involves a collaboration between the Wolverhampton Gallery and the University of Birmingham.

Although not thought to be one of the ‘top artists’ my favourite is Dorette “Doggie” Outlaw – and not just for her wonderful name!

She combined her role as art mistress at the Wolverhampton Municipal Grammar School (now the Newhampton Arts Centre, Newhampton Road/Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans) with scooping up young artistic talent throughout Wolverhampton and helping them with scholarships to hone their at the city’s art school.

Self-portrait by Dorette “Doggie” Outlaw at Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Her work is also represented in the exhibition, curated by Rafaela Thiraiou, an MA student in Art History and Curating, with Bathers from 1963.

Bathers by Dorette “Doggie” Outlaw in the Painted Ladies exhibition

Her work joins that by Emma Bolland and Alfred Everton Cooper among other works including paintings and sculptures from the 20th century.

People can give their views on how women are represented in art at the exhibition.

One of Dorette Outlaw’s successes – Albert Pountney – who became head of the school of art at Leicester Polytechnic after she persuaded him to go to art school

Pauline Boty is another of my favourites still – nearly six years after the art gallery had and exhibition devoted to her work.

The Pauline Boty exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery Boty 2013 exhibition at the gallery

It was first public exhibition to tackle the whole, but very short, career of Britain’s ‘First Lady’ of Pop Art. Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman was launched by Zoe Lippett, Exhibitions and Artists’ Projects Curator at The New Art Gallery, Walsall,  and Dr Sue Tate.

They led the way through a short but prolific career of an artist who died at the age of 28 in 1966. Her death from cancer came after refusing chemotherapy over worries for the baby she was carrying.

She died four months after daughter, Katy, was born. Her paintings were stored in a barn owned by one of her brothers.

The exhibition was developed with the artist’s family, Whitford Fine Art and the Mayor Gallery, London and from her work with collage and stained glass tracked her starting out at Wimbledon Art College and graduating to the Royal College of Art (RCA) – where she found herself with 90 per cent of the staff male and not many of them sympathetic to Pop Art.

Boty, who had soaked up Modernism, Cubism and Cezanne stalled and lost confidence at the RCA but blossomed after that. She also kept going with collage and transferring to stained glass.

Picking up on Pop Art, she was not cool and detached but immersed herself in mass culture and pop – identifying closely with Marilyn Monroe.

She said: “Film stars are the 20th century Gods and Goddesses. People need them and the myths that surround them because their own lives are enriched by them. Pop Art colours these.”

Colour Her Gone (1962) – was based on a Town magazine image of Marilyn and was her response to Marilyn’s death – which hit her hard.

Colour Me Gone, Pauline Boty's tribute to Marilyn Monroe© Artist's Estate Colour Me Gone, Pauline Boty’s tribute to Marilyn Monroe © Artist’s

It is displayed alongside another image of Marilyn on the set of the film ‘Some Like It Hot’ which was acquired by The Tate Gallery.

The Only Blonde in the world...from an image of Marilyn Monroe on the set of Some Like It Hot The Only Blonde in the world…from an image of Marilyn Monroe on the set of Some Like It Hot

Her work is very much that of the fan – not cool and detached – and all the easier to warm to for that. Pop songs pop up in pieces such as My Colouring Book and 5,4,3,2,1 from the Manfred Mann song.

She was also a dancer who was credited as such when she danced during the first showing of the TV pop programme Ready Steady Go. Boty was also a film and TV actress, playing one of Michael Caine’s girlfriends in the film Alfie, working in TV drama, on stage at the Royal Court and presenting a BBC radio arts review.

She may well have gone on to making films. French New Wave Cinema star Jean Paul Belmondo appears in one work as an object of desire.

As well as New Wave cinema she also reflected and was involved in New Left politics as show her work illustrating what happened in Cuba and the missiles crisis that unfolded there as well as exploring male, mostly US, political violence.

The media tended to treat her as a pretty woman and she was very striking, going up against Julie Christie for the lead role in the film Darling.

Pauline Boty Pauline Boty

She responds with images of women drawn from soft porn and life classes arranged collage-style. High and low culture are blended and juxtaposed in her work and period magazines, photographs and ephemera are included in the exhibition.

Dr Tate produced a book Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman to accompany the exhibition and to cast light on an artist largely forgotten until recent times.

She pointed out that in one Pop Art exhibition out of 202 works only one was by a woman – despite there being numerous other women Pop Artists

The exhibition came half a century after a sex scandal rocked the political establishment. Andrew Lloyd Webber created music for the musical – Stephen Ward – about one of the key figures who killed himself during the legal aftermath of  the 1963 Profumo affair which saw the resignation and disgrace of the Tory Minister for War.

Another key figure – Christine Keeler – was the subject of a work by Pauline – Scandal 63. What happened to the painting is still a mystery.

Lewis Morley's picture of Christine Keeler The picture of Christine Keeler

The painting draws on the famous photograph which was taken by Lewis Morley of  Christine Keeler, which shows her apparently nakcd, with hands cupped beneath her chin astride a chair.

At the top of the painting executed by Boty the men in the affair appear.

Pauline Boty with the missing Christine Keeler picture Pauline Boty with the missing Christine Keeler picture

It was last seen in the year it was painted. Boty helped showed then unknown US singer/songwriter Bob Dylan around London in the bitterly cold winter of 1962-63.

He had left the United States for the first time to appear in a BBC TV drama which Boty’s then partner was heavily involved in producing.


Young people band together to fight cancer

Eden Fisher of Aegis


Live and Picking Junction Festival poster 2014

Live and Picking Junction Festival poster 2014

To celebrate a year of a new event giving young people a chance to perform with their bands, an outdoor event will showcase seven bands and raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity.

The Live and Picking event, held every six weeks at The Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton, is run by city youth worker Curtis Shelton, Paul Roberts, a teacher at the city’s Aldersley High School and his fiancee Emma Krzyszowski in their spare time.

Over the past seven events more than 20 different young bands have performed before more than 1,000 people and any profits have been ploughed back into the events.

Paul said: ‘The Live and Picking Events help provide a space for young people to watch or play live music as we noticed that such opportunities are not available in Wolverhampton.’

“We started running gigs every six weeks a year ago, supported by the Newhampton Arts Centre. We have seen more than 20 bands come through and more than 1,000 young people come to the gigs.

“We started thinking that maybe with this sort of volume we could raise awareness of some issues and asked the young people involved what effected them. They chose the Teenage Cancer Trust as it was close to their hearts.’

“The young bands are absolutely fantastic and they are very talented so we would love to give them the exposure they deserve as well as raise money for charity.’

“We are hoping to get as many people as we can along to the gig to help raise money for charity’

“It’s free to watch but we will be shaking buckets and hoping for change.”

The event, part of the annual as part of the Junction Festival promoting music, art and beer in the city’s Chapel Ash area, is being held at The Royal Oak pub, Compton Road, Wolverhampton on Saturday 12th July from 12.30 – 8pm. Organisers can be contacted via Facebook.

Eden Fisher of Aegis

Eden Fisher of Aegis

Bands and artists will include Eden Fisher of Aegis and George Smith of Tinned Astronaut.

George Smith of Tinned Astronaut

George Smith of Tinned Astronaut


Both sides now – lovely music from a veteran and a rising star


Saw Wolverhampton/Shropshire’s veteran singer/songwriter Bill Caddick and up-and-coming singer/songwriter Louise Jordan

at the Newhampton Inn, Riches Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton, on Saturday 12th April.

A total steal at £8 to listen to two contrasting but superbly talented artists.

Here Louise Jordan sings Salley Gardens

and Bill Caddick sings Constant 


Comedy stars step up to help save theatre group with laughter

A 30-year-old Black Country theatre group battling to keep going has announced some of the top UK comedy acts who will be trying to help them keep delivering high quality drama for thousands of people – with another two top TV acts to be included in the lineup over the next few weeks.

Wolverhampton’s Central Youth Theatre (CYT) was in danger of losing all of its £13,516 Wolverhampton City Council mainline funding but will this year (2014/15) get £2,450 after the council was hit by massive cuts to its income from central government.

Ben Clark, left, with Tom Parry, right, and Matthew Crosby make up Pappys

Ben Clark, left, with Tom Parry, right, and Matthew Crosby make up Pappys

Comedian and MC Daniel Kitson

Comedian and MC Daniel Kitson

Ex-members Tom Parry and Ben Clark, stars of Pappy’s and BBC TV’s Badults have got award-winning stand-up comedian, actor and playwright Daniel Kitson to compere the Hilarity Charity Gala at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on Thursday May 29th (7.30pm).

Last year he took his new stand-up show After the Beginning. Before the End’on a UK tour and into Europe.

Although he has a reputation for shunning TV he was in That Peter Kay Thing, The Arena, and as the recurring character Spencer in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.

Comedian Josie Long

Comedian Josie Long

Appearing with him will be Josie Long, who has appeared on Have I Got News for You and has been a 3 times Edinburgh Fringe Nominee and Isy Suttle, who played the character Dobby in Peep Show, and also appears with Pappys in Badults.

She  and Welsh comedian Elis James (8 Out Of Ten Cats, XFM and also a regular pulling full houses at the Edinburgh Fringe) will be appearing with two other TV headline acts who will be announced over the next few weeks.

The show which is recommended for those aged 14 plus.

Tickets are £20/£15 concessions from the Grand Theatre box office on 01902 429212.

CYT will also be helped by a  £10,000 grant from the Local Education Partnership for delivering educational work in the city. News of loss of its grant saw CYT launch a petition which gathered 2,532 signatures.

Director Jane Ward, MBE, said: “It is brilliant news for us.

Central Youth Theatre Director Jane Ward

Central Youth Theatre Director Jane Ward

“It means we have a bit more time and a bit more breathing space while we raise the money needed fro the year after that. It’s a big relief.

“We know the council has been put in a very difficult position with a huge cut in central government funding so we are grateful that they were able to give us some help.

“We have had many years of working successfully with the council to promote the city with great productions and to help equip thousands of young people with skills and confidence – now our top comedy friends are stepping up to help us continue that work.”

Help also came from Eton College with a £2,300 donation to mark CYT’s anniversary.


Branagh’s mad Macbeth in ‘Madchester’

Kenneth Branagh - back with a brilliant Macbeth

Kenneth Branagh - back with a brilliant Macbeth

Kenneth Branagh – back with a brilliant Macbeth

Branagh’s mad Macbeth in ‘Madchester‘ was some return after more than a decade away from Shakespeare used his sword and the text with relish (a bit too much relish for one actor apparently).

Presented in a deconsecrated church in Ancoats, Manchester, for the Manchester International Festival, the nave provided more of a wooden oblong rather than the classic ‘wooden O’ – and all the more effective for that .

The audience, seated on benches either side after being walked there by the festival volunteers, were perched as for a medieval joust.

That gave us an extremely close-up and personal view of the opening battle scene as quite cool refreshing ‘rain’ poured down from the roof (quite good after the bright sunshine Manchester was bathed in) and sparks flew from clashing swords .

Beneath the actors’ feet the mud got wetter and an earthy smell permeated the building.

My youngest daughter, Susie, thought the direction and choreography produced an action film effect and even thought she saw real blood on one of the actor’s heads.

She was right – and it has now been confirmed that one of the actors was hurt -http://lunerontheatre.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/london-lookout-actor-injured-during-macbeth-performance/

However, in no way did it detract from the delivery of the poetry of the text – it helped underscore the desperation and dark ambition of Alex Kingston‘s Lady Macbeth to hit the heights of the Scottish  Royal Family  and the rapidly unhinging Branagh Macbeth.

A bloody Banquo’s ghost and a hugely impressive McDuff – almost as unhinged as Macbeth when he learns that his children, wife and household have been murdered on Macbeth’s orders.

I thought the spittle effect accompanying the actors’ delivery at The Swan Theatre in Stratford was pretty special – but nothing compared to Branagh.

He breathed his lines inches away (we were on the front row).He madly slatted mud about (we copped for some but not as much as the lady next door).
He also illuminated the dark with the sparks from swordplay.

Not any old mud - this is Kenneth Branagh mud

Not any old mud – this is Kenneth Branagh mud

Blazing flames sent heat searing down the space from the candlelit ‘altar’ end to our ‘dark’ end where the super-Goth witches literally hung out of the wooden walls to taunt all and sundry.

The soldout production cost an eye-watering £65 a ticket (good job it was a special event/present).

However, to be fair, this was brilliant stuff and on Saturday 20 July a big screen relay could be seen for £8 in the open air at the NCP Bridgewater Hall car park, Little Peter Street, Manchester, M15 4PS (8.30pm). People could take drinks and picnics, blankets and cushions but there were no seats and the usual health warning about the Manchester weather applied.

It is was also shown at some cinemas nationwide before being prepared for a trip over the pond to the US.

The Manchester International Festival programme

The Manchester International Festival programme

The Manchester festival, which also celebrates music, the spoken word, dance, food and drink, seems a fantastic way of showcasing the arts and arts venues and sets you thinking about some places have big thriving city or town-wide arts festivals and some having none.

Birmingham and Manchester do and smaller places such as Lichfield and Codsall (a large village near Wolverhampton) also have them but others do not – such as Wolverhampton.

It has just had its City Show in West Park which has all sorts of entertainment and it has some great venues such as the Civic Halls and Grand Theatre hosting tremendous shows and acts but there is no city-wide multi-arts event.

Perhaps it has something to do with size, resources and drivers. Drivers – people with the time, resources, determination and ability to make it happen may be the most important in a place which does not have that kind of history.

Manchester is a much bigger place and has massive cultural and artistic foundations to build on (I remember being totally enthralled when I was taken to see the Halle Orchestra perform when I was still at school and attending the Commonwealth Games more recently).

When I was working in Liverpool I couldn’t work out why my colleague Tony Wilson kept wanting to nip back to Manchester at every opportunity instead of coming to play football or watch Liverpool/Everton.

Innis & Gunn beer

Innis & Gunn beer

Of course he was a Manchester United fan but he was also working up to building on those foundations setting up Factory Records, The Hacienda, Dry Bar (where I was able to prepare for ‘The Scottish Play’ with some excellent oak-aged Edinburgh Innis & Gunn ale – also magically available in the 63 Degrees Restaurant after) and all those other ‘Madchester’ things.

Wall inside Dry Bar, Manchester, detailing how it was set up to mimic those in Barcelona etc

Wall inside Dry Bar, Manchester, detailing how it was set up to mimic those in Barcelona etc

Wolverhampton has some really good venues/potential venues (the city’s Central Youth Theatre have pioneered international productions in them), a fantastic array of talented people still working the area as well as others who have gone on to ‘greater’ things elsewhere.

Perhaps the city falls between the stools of not being a a big city or a smaller town/village. An arts festival might still be worth giving a whirl to showcase the venues/potential venues and the talent here and elsewhere.

Man on The Oss is back – and a bit of a coup

The renovated Man on The Oss (Prince Albert) statue in Queen Square, Wolverhampton

The renovated Man on The Oss (Prince Albert) statue in Queen Square, Wolverhampton

“The Man on the Oss is out of his den – we’ll gather around him again and again” – an awful rewrite of an old Chartist chant from earlier in the nineteenth century.

The “Man on the Oss” in Queen Square, Wolverhampton, –  actually a statue of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert  on his horse created by Thomas Thorneycroft (1815-1885) has had the boarding surrounding him and his horse removed after a major clean-up and renovation.

After Albert, died in 1861 people in Wolverhampton led by Alderman Underhill raised the money to erect a statue in his honour. It cost £1,150 and after  five years of withdrawing from all public appearances the Queen agreed to come to the unveiling on November 30th 1866.

A public holiday was declared in the town and many turned out to see the Royal party tour the town centre.  There were also illuminations and a firework display at the racecourse.

The sculptor had also created a life-size statue of Mr G.B. Thorneycroft, the first mayor of the town (apparently no relation) for the town in 1857.

Not many people know it, but Wolverhampton has long had a reputation for creating first class sculpture and sculptors – one sadly overshadowed by a current one for fighting, overindulgence in vertical drinking barns and being sick in the gutter.

The Sensing Sculpture space at the city’s art gallery, a few moments walk East of the statue is well worth a look after its relaunch.

Despite the cliches above – which could apply to virtually any city, town or etven rural centres of population -a glimpse of  Wolverhampton’s other – cultural – side is on show after a big revamp and a reopeningwith new commissions, mainstays of the gallery’s collection, audio, interactive exhibits, video and poetry.

It has been created with assistance from Wolverhampton University students and alumni led by sculptor and MA Fine Art course leader Benedict Carpenter, with help from others including the Friends of  Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Museum, a cash-strapped Arts Council of England and others.

Most of the works have audio interpretation panels with recorded discussions about the sculptures between Benedict, Honorary Fellow of the University of Wolverhampton Ron Dutton, also president of the Friends, and two current Fine Art studentsand a flavour of it all can be had by viewing the gallery’s Sensing Sculpture slideshow

In exploring the contrast between traditional and modern approaches to sculpture the exhibition displays pieces made from traditional materials such as wood, stone and bronze from the gallery’s collection which have not been on public display before.

Sculptors in the display with a connection to the University, or its predecessor institutions, also include Robert Jackson Emerson, Glynn Williams and John Paddison.

Benedict said, in a media release and also, in effect,at the relaunch: “It is fascinating to see so many connections between the sculptures in this new permanent display and the staff and students, past and present, of the Fine Art Department at the University of Wolverhampton.”

Carol Thompson, Curator at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, said: “We’ve focused on maximising interactivity and we encourage visitors to touch everything in the gallery.”

Sensing Sculpture official launch

Sensing Sculpture official launch

At the launch the city’s contribution to sculpture was detailed by Ron, former head of sculpture at Wolverhampton School of Art from 1964 to 1984, now the University’s School of Art & Design, and Benedict.

To one side the work and contribution of two dozen Wolverhampton master sculptors from the late nineteenth century to the present day is illustrated, including that of Robert Jackson Emerson who taught sculpture from Wolverhampton School of Art, in the same building as the gallery from 1910.

One of his pupils, Sir Charles Wheeler, born in Codsall, south Staffordshire, but brought up in Wolverhampton, was the first sculptor to hold the Presidency of the Royal Academy (1956-1966).

His work includes the big bronze doors and sculptures at the Bank of England and many more around London, including the Earth and Water figures outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. He also crafted the statue of Wulfrun/Lady Wulfruna outside St Peter’s Collegiate Church, next door to the gallery.

Work such as the more recent bronze statue of England and Wolves footballer Billy Wright outside Molineux is illustrated in a light and easy setting with even more modern interactive work which the young people who attended the launch seemed to get to grips with in double-quick time.

Wolverhampton art gallery, with 12,000 artefacts, really does give the lie to the one-dimensional negative view of the city constantly on offer and has something of a coup with another exhibition starting on June 1.

A mainstay of the gallery is its Pop Art collection and Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman (1938-1966) will be the first major exhibition in a public art gallery devoted to Boty’s work – 47 years after she died and became largely neglected.

It also comes half a century after a sex scandal rocked the political establishment. Andrew Lloyd Webber is creating the music for a new musical – Stephen Ward about one of the key figures who killed himself during the legal aftermath of  the 1963 Profumo affair which saw the resignation and disgrace of the Tory Minister for War.

Another key figure – Christine Keeler – was the subject of a work by Pauline, Scandal 63. What happened to the painting is still a mystery.

Boty, who died in 1966 aged 28, was part of what was known as ‘Swinging London’. The painting draws on a famous photograph of  Christine Keeler, apparently nakcd astride a chair. At the top of the painting the men in the affair appear. It was last seen in the year it was painted.

She also acted – and was very good looking – something which some critics seemed to use as a stick to beat her with. She played one of Michael Caine’s girlfriends in the film Alfie, worked in TV drama, on stage at the Royal Court and presented a BBC radio arts review.

Boty danced on TV pop show Ready, Steady, Go, and helped show then uknown US singer/songwriter Bob Dylan around London in the bitterly cold winter of 1962-63 when he left the US for the first time to appear in a BBC TV drama.

Her death from cancer came after refusing chemotherapy over worries for the baby she was carrying.

She died four months after daughter, Katy, was born.Her paintings were stored in a barn owned by one of her brothers.

The exhibition has been developed with the artist’s family, Whitford Fine Art and the Mayor Gallery, London and will continue until the 16 November, 2013.

A glimpse of what she gave to the 1960s can be seen at http://www.guardian.co.uk/inpictures. But more of that after the launch, alongside another exhibition – Tipping Point – tackling global climate change – on Friday 31 May at the gallery.

At a pre-event on the 31st Zoe Lippett, Exhibitions and Artists’ Projects Curator at The New Art Gallery, Walsall, will be in conversation with Dr Sue Tate, Co-curator of the Pauline Boty exhibition.

West Midlands folk gathering’s heady new brew – of music and beer


Folk music enthusiasts from all over the West Midlands met to explore how grassroots small venues can develop new audiences and had a special brew of beer for the day.

The Folk 21 West Midlands event at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Wolverhampton, on Saturday May 11 also had a special beer brewed by city brewer Andy Brough for the occasion.

In 2011 Black Country singer/songwriter John Richards wrote a blog about the fate of small venues on a folk website and the movement took off from there encouraging and assisting small venues (folk clubs, village halls, arts centres, music cafes etc) which book guests and present small scale concerts.

John Richards

John Richards

It is led by a committee of organisers, artists, agents and audience members working together to help sustain and strengthen the artist-booking folk scene in the UK, now and for the future.

On May 11 there was a full afternoon of discussion at the arts centre, which hosts regular folk music evenings, followed by an evening showcase of acts from other areas who want to work in the West Midlands.

Those that took part thought that quite a few useful ideas came up in the two sessions of discussion and some suggested that a forum should be kept going until the next opportunity for a Folk21 gathering in the West Midlands.

Phil Preen and Julie Palmer, from The Poppy Folk Club, Nottingham, led a discussion on how to attract new audiences and retain existing ones.

Both spoke off the back of starting up a folk club in their area and some of the initiatives they used were noted by others – for example having their own Poppy Club beermats in the pub where they meet. Some thought you should get rid of the title folk club – and its apparent beards and sandals image – and find something broader. Roots?, traditional? Bluegrass? Acoustic? All terms which could be applied to some of the music in clubs.

Pam Bishop and Graham Langley from the West Midlands’ Folk Monthly and Traditional Arts Team spoke about how relevant good quality graphics, posters, leaflets and publicity material was in the wider community and within the existing folk network.

Jim Barrow - the Burslembandit - speaking at the Folk21 West Midlands event at the Newhampton Arts Centre , Wolverhampton

Jim Barrow – Burslembandit – pictured by David Derricott at Folk21

I – Jim Barrow, aka Burslembandit, emphasised the power of the spoken word and one-to-one communication with club organisers, artists and members acting as ‘permanent persudaders’ in the community. Not boring the pants off people constantly but still inviting them along to enjoy music and song in a social setting.

I emphasised that millions still read newspapers and magazines (despite falling circulations and ad revenue) and that it was important to keep sending in media releases, picture opportunities and any newsy material you could lay your hands on – as well as getting to know journalists and trying to temp them out of their comfort zones in the big arenas with apparent superstars old and new.

The same goes for local radio, TV and increasingly internet radio and TV. Social media like this is increasingly important as younger people tend to consume this more often than anything in print – or even on mainstream TV.

However, once the talking and eating (very nice teas in Jesters Cafe at the Newhampton Arts Centre – but I would say that being a paper shuffler on the board there) were over it was time for the stuff all the talking was about.

First up at the showcase was a  Long Lankin, a female three part harmony group from London using guitar, mandolin and fiddle with a freshness and zest that typified all the showcase acts. A sample of their style comes with their version of their namesake’s antics. Listen here to Long Lankin 

They told us they were in the process of recording their first EP in the week following the concert.

A little more established is Alun Parry a singer/songwriter from Liverpool who brought back memories of my time on Merseyside in the early seventies when the dockers were still fighting their corner all the way with his take on life on Liverpool’s waterfront and can be best heard by clicking on this version of If Harry Don’t Go

He pays homage to US legendary folk singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie with Woody’s song and his set was shot through with an upbeat scouse tilt on Irish-American folk and he also unashamedly champions the people at the bottom and those still prepared to fight for them.

Harp and a Monkey, described as an ‘Incredible String Band’ for the now, from Manchester came over with a very different sound – harp and banjo driven electro-folk storytelling – as they say themselves.

The sounds produced by Martin Purdy (vocals/ glockenspiel/ electronica/ accordion), Andy Smith (banjo/ guitar/ melodica/ electronica) and Simon Jones (harp/ guitar/ strings/ electronica) come from, they say, influences including World War One history, sound and visual art, electronic and video technology, as well as “bacon butties and beats”.

What came out sometimes seemed almost reminiscent of those that my former Liverpool Post & Echo colleague Tony Wilson helped bring to the world in his ‘Madchester’ days at Factory Records and  The Hacienda.

Formed in 2008, the band are apparently content to have been described as “Elbow for seafarers and ramblers” and the “bastard sons of the Oldham Tinkers locked in the BBC Radiophonic Workship with only the British Film Institute back catalogue and a handful of scratchy folk LPs from the early seventies for company.”

They were hugely entertaining and had a very professional promotional pack – a precursor for a new album out this year. They have also played the festival in another of my favourites from Lancashire – Ramsbottom. Here they are with Katy’s Twinkly Band.

Roger Davies, a singer/songwriter from West Yorkshire came over as a sort of Yorkie John Denver with a wicked sense of humour.

He is well established with albums Northern Trash, The Busker, Live in Concert Vol One and Songs in Plain English as well as his new single Stephanie. He wrote a very local take on the Olympics and Yorkshire called Carry That Fire

The Raven, a guitar/flute/concertina duo from London had a store of folk miserablism delivered in fine style – although they also do upbeat stomping sea shanties as well.

They have a new album out in the autumn and are well worth a listen as with this version of Black is The Colour (of My True Love’s Hair)

Singer and songwriter Jez Lowe, who has taken his songs of life in his native North East England to audiences around the world headlined after the other acts.

 Jez Lowe pictured by Alan Reynolds
Jez Lowe pictured by Alan Reynolds

The arts centre website said of him – “His latest album, his fifteenth, entitled “Wotcheor!”, has once more thrust him into the spotlight, with a successful series of stage shows, and a fistful of outstanding reviews, and a renewed interest in his brand of pointed, poignant and powerful musical epistles from the North, that have brought him a nomination for Folksinger of the Year in the BBC Folk Awards, an “album of the year” award in the US-based Inde-Acoustic Awards, and a Sony Radio Award for his contribution to the prestigious Radio Ballads series for the BBC, over the last five years alone.

As well as his own performances and tours around the globe, featuring Jez accompanying himself on guitar, cittern, mandolin and harmonica, Jez’s songs also travel independently, thanks to cover versions by the likes of Fairport Convention, The Dubliners, Cherish The Ladies, The Tannahill Weavers, The McCalmans, Bob Fox, The Black Family, The Clancys and scores more folk acts around the world.

2011/12 included tours of the USA, Canada, Germany, Holland, Australia and New Zealand, plus a slew of UK gigs including a special one-man show based on his own Radio Ballads songs, and festival appearances at Sidmouth, Broadstairs, Grove, Chester, Bromyard, Moira, and Wath in the UK, and Albany NY, New Bedford MA , Middlebury VT, the California World Festival and Calgary AB in North America.

‘Jez Lowe is one of our finest songwriters.’ says BBC Radio 2 and here he is 

New folk for a good night out ?

It is odd bracketing a singer /songwriter/ producer who has put out tracks for more than a decade as nu-folk but that is what sprang to mind listening to Jim Moray at Wolverhampton’s Newhampton Arts Centre on Saturday.

Perhaps it was the contrast with the support by the excellent, but more time-travelled John Richards that did it.

Jim, born in Macclesfield and brought up in Brocton, near Stafford, also seems to be part of a batch of classically-trained young musicians turned out by Birmingham Conservatoire – a bit like a musical equivalent of Dario Gradi’s youthful football conveyor belt at Crewe.

He and others, such as The Old Dance School, have got stuck into the folk scene with a vengeance – and top class results.

Jim has been clocking up awards over the years – the most recent being the one for his version of Lord Douglas at the BBC Folk Awards – but I had been warned his live performance could be a bit hit or miss.

This time it was very much hit with superb vocals and excellent instrumental work leading us through a ghost story and the ‘broken token’ song Seven Long Years with meticulous sourcing of where they came from.

Sweet England, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and from Jim’s first full length album, Sweet England, was truly sweet as was the instrumental work to go with it.

Guitar work was great and when he addressed the keyboard he almost morphed into a lounge singer.

He showed he was a lot more than this singing without an instrument and with the delivery and explanation of Lord Douglas.

Jim bases it on versions of Child Ballad no.7 (Roud 23) with a new tune and words drawing in some influences from the Danish variation ‘Hildebrand and Hilde’ and the Norse version.

Cheerfully enough Lord Douglas  and his lady Margaret die of their wounds when she completes his mother’s curse by calling his name.

Interesting crossover from the Scandinavian here – a bit like Kathryn Roberts’ Hidden People.

Horkstow Grange is basically a punch-up on a farm involving a tyrant of a farmer’s foreman and a waggoner  – old Steeleye Span (hence the name of the group).

During his set Jim did say he had one cheerful number but I’ve forgotten which one it was – they were all quality though.

The evening at the arts centre folk club in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton, came two weeks before the Folk 21 event at the same venue.

This is a continuing exploration of how grass roots small venues can develop new audiences and get people into intimate settings to see artists away from the big arenas and large festival settings.

It formed in 2011 after John Richards wrote a blog on The Demon Barbers website.

Now it encourages and assists small venues (folk clubs, village halls, arts centres, music cafes etc) which book guests and present small scale concerts.

It is led by a committee of organisers, artists, agents and audience members working together to helpe sustain and strengthen the artis-booking folk scene in the UK, now and for the future – says its website at http://www.folk21.net/

On Saturday May 11 at the West Midlands event there will be a full afternoon of discussion followed by an evening showcase of acts from other areas who want to work in the West Midlands.

Jez Lowe will headline the concert. Admission for all delegates from clubs, venues, magazines and organizations is free to the daytime events for up to 4 delegates per organization.

Folk 21 says: “The purpose of the day is to fully understand the challenges faced and explore how the movers and shakers of the local folk scene can maximize co-operation and share ideas and initiatives.”

Kelly Alcock, one of the Folk 21 team says the showcase lineup will be released shortly.

SSAFA’s new brand puts families first

A charity which supported more than 300 forces veterans and their families in the West Midlands last year has changed its name and branding to help it reach more younger veterans – many in their 20s and 30s.
West Midlands North Branch of military charity SSAFA Forces Help changed its name to SSAFA in a rebrand aimed at improving awareness of it amongst members of the Forces community in Walsall, Dudley and Wolverhampton.
It aims to help SSAFA reach more clients by describing the charity, and the support it provides, in a more clear and consistent way.
SSAFA’s teams of trained volunteers work hard to ensure help and advice are always close at hand – work, along with its long history of supporting the Forces and their families has made it Britain’s most trusted charity[1].
A brand audit found many people thought that the charity needed to modernise its identity to better reach its key audiences as it is increasingly helping younger veterans, many in their 20s and 30s[2].
Families have always been at the heart of what SSAFA does and they have been put at the centre of the brand.  A new descriptive strapline reiterates the charity’s commitment to families as well as those who serve.  The change of name is supported by a modern new logo with a three-colour underline to represent the charity’s lifelong support to the Navy, Army and RAF.
Colonel David Hill Chairman of SSAFA West Midlands said: “These changes follow a long period of consultation with volunteers and staff as well as members of the military community.
“SSAFA has supported our Forces and their families for more than 125 years but the work we do now is more vital than ever before.
“It’s really important that those who serve and those who used to serve in our Forces know that SSAFA is here for them and their families for life, and is contactable on 01922 722778 or 01902 864030.”
  SSAFA provides lifelong support to anyone who is currently serving or has ever served in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force and their families. Each year staff and 7,500 volunteers are there for more than 50,000 people, ranging from D-Day veterans to the families of young soldiers wounded in Afghanistan.
[1]  Charity Brand Index 2012 Third Sector Research
[2]  Last year, SSAFA supported 3,812 veterans and their families in their 20s and 30s.

Creative training project looks for people to dig deep into city’s shopping and trading history

A creative training project is looking for people to help record and celebrate the history of shopping and trading in their city.

From now until September run Wolverhampton’s Central Youth Theatre (CYT) will work with people on the project, called ‘Our Town.

They will be providing training in oral history, working with computers, researching information, meeting the public and designing an exhibition.

Using these skills, participants will help record the rich heritage of shopping in the city centre by interviewing local people, stallholders and shopkeepers about their memories.

These will then be used to produce an exhibition which will be on public display in the city centre in September.

Our Town is being funded by the European Social Fund which supports local community-based projects that help enhance participant’s employability and provide valuable new and transferable skills.

CYT Director Jane Ward said: “This is a marvellous opportunity to find out how and why Wolverhampton became such a tremendous place for shopping, eating and entertainment in the past – and what we can learn from this today.

“We are really eager to hear from anyone who is interested in learning something new and taking part in an exciting local history project.

“People taking part need to be 18 or over, unemployed or economically inactive to take part, but can be working up to 8 hours per week or claiming Job Seekers Allowance.

“No previous experience is required”.

People who would like to take part in this project or would like any more information should contact Joe Twilley on 01902 572091 or email joe@centralyouththeatre.org


Appeal for Contemporary City Criers

Central Youth Theatre is looking for a diverse range of performers to join a magician, musician and a poet who have applied to take part in the the Wolverhampton Portas Pilot Inititiave which aims to bring the city to life and help to revitalise the city centre.

The scheme invites volunteers of all ages to use their talents and become part of a team of new Contemporary City Criers who will help promote the city and special events from May to December. Central Youth Theatre will be providing costumes and training.

Three sets of three day training programmes spread over the year will cater for people joining at different points during the lifetime of the project and will include themed character development, voice projection, health and safety, site visits, costume idea development and fittings, planning and customer relations.

Jane Ward, director of CYT, said: “Traditional town criers used a bell, had good standing in the community, the ability to read (when most could not) and shout out, without modern microphones, news and proclamations. Contemporary City Criers could do the same – or sing, dance, use music, rap, poetry, juggling or any other skills and we want to hear from anyone who has an idea they would like to share with us.

“We can provide a tremendous range of costumes from our 10,000-plus resource at the new Arts Market Space in Salop Street, which volunteers will use as a reporting station, changing space and relaxation area during breaks.

Auditions will take place at The Grand Theatre, Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, on Saturday, 20th April, between 9am and noon. For information or to book an audition people should contact us via citycrierse@gmail.com, 01902 572091 or the website at www.centralyouththeatre.org

Wolverhampton was selected as one of the first round Portas Pilot towns ahead of stiff competition from 371 other locations and was awarded£100,000 of funding to undertake a range of innovative projects aimed at increasing entrepreneurial activity and filling vacant shops, supporting independent traders and improving the vibrancy of the streets.

Wolverhampton Portas Pilot is split into five projects. One of the projects is Sights and Sounds which aims to improve the vibrancy of the city centre, promote activities and events and increase visitor numbers.

Contemporary City Criers is part of the Sight and Sounds project. Funding for the City Criers training has been provided by the Arts Council along with funding from the Wolverhampton Portas Pilot project. For further information visit http://www.wolverhamptonportaspilot.co.uk

The award winning Central Youth Theatre (CYT) is based at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.


Hollywood award-winning film on its way back to the West Midlands

Alex Edwardson as Jack, and Susannah Wells, as Lucy, in Titanic Love

Alex Edwardson as Jack, and Susannah Wells, as Lucy, in Titanic Love

A film premiered in Hollywood will next be brought back to be shown free where it was made – in the West Midlands.

Romantic comedy Titanic Love, which won the Best Screenplay award in the Kick Ass Awards at the end of the Los Angeles Comedy Festival, will be shown at Wolverhampton’s Light House Media Centre on Friday April 5.

Black Country filmmaker Mark Pressdee will be screening his award-winner between 6 and 7pm alongside Travels With Morris – a series of comedy shorts made by the city’s Central Youth Theatre (CYT), based at the city’s Newhampton Arts Centre.

Titanic Love, made in Birmingham and costumed from Central Youth Theatre’s (CYT’s) 10,000 plus costumes in its Actors Wardrobe resource, tackles romance and obsession with the Titanic – just over a century after the world’s most famous ship sank.

Former Sandwell College student Mark brings the film back to where he studied film – at the Lighthouse Media Centre.

As well as the Hollywood award it also last month won the Best Short Film Award at The Black International Film Festival’s Music and Video Awards and the Best In It’s Block at the Kontrast Film Festival in Germany.

After the Wolverhampton showing the film has been selected to be screened at the Shart International Comedy Festival in Canada as the flagship romantic comedy film of the April festival.

In the same month it will also be show at the Maryland and the Lifetree  international film festivals in the United States.

It is also being considered for more than 50 other festivals and Mark said: “I am so excited for the screening at the Light House. I am an ex-Light House Media student so the training I received has already paid off.

“I am also really looking forward to seeing the Travels With Morris films that will be screened in conjunction with Titanic Love and the accompanying behind the scenes documentary of Travels With Morris.

Passion and creativity

“Travels With Morris was produced by CYT in conjunction with more than 40 young people and a small team of professionals. My role was as a film mentor on the project.  The film was funded through First Light Films, who are the education arm of the British Film Institute (BFI).

“The sheer passion and creativity displayed by the young people on the project was incredible.

“We premiered these films at the Light House last year to a full house that ranged from young to old and the films went down a storm.

“I would advise people to come along and support what is being achieved by these young people in the Black Country.

“In fact they did such a good job that we will be announcing a new comedy project – “Salt N’Malt” commissioned by the same funder which will be shooting in April and May this year.”

Mark, a regional filmmaker, has established himself as a producer director in the Midlands, but travels globally as a filmmaker and
has worked for all terrestrial TV channels and many satellite channels. He has a passion for comedy.
He has had work previously screened on channel 4, channel 5 and ITV but has always had strong links to the Black Country and the Midlands.
His short films have been previewed in Cannes & the  Edinburgh Film Festival with previous films Evil Resident nominated for a Made in The Midlands Award, The Westerner, Winner of The BBc Drama Award & TV Documentary, Fistful of Alice also nominated for a BBC Drama Award.
He established his own production company in Birmingham 2003, Macoy Media, specialising in educational projects.
In the same year Mark graduated at The University of Birmingham with a Diploma from the European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs programme where he studied in Austria and Germany.

Midlands links

He developed and put into production Titanic Love, which he wrote in 2009 to explore various themes including the Midlands’ links to shipbuilding and Titanic.
The script gained favourable response and interest in London but was turned down regionally for funding as too ambitious.
As a result Mark self-financed the film and sought sponsorship from the Midlands, including Jane Ward and The Actors Wardrobe who supplied all costumes and assorted props. Titanic Love went into production in late 2011 and was then entered into festivals where it was screened at Stoke Your Fires Film Festival.
In the film hero Jack, played by Alex Edwardson, is a small man in a Titanic world.
He longs to lead a settled life – to have a good job, the gaff in town, money in his back pocket, and to have the perfect life with his girlfriend Lucy, played by  Susannah Wells.
The only problem is, Lucy has an obsession…with all things Titanic!Lucy has found a ‘Titanic Love Cruise’ and wants to re-live the Hollywood dream. Jack doesn’t!
They can’t afford it and Lucy is furious. Their relationship hits rough waters, so Jack calls on his best friend Delroy for advice and a cheap alternative. True to form, Delroy and his trusty sidekick Jaz come up with a cunning plan that could change their lives forever.Delroy is going to bring Hollywood and Titanic to Birmingham! There is no turning back, and Jack has no choice but to entrust his future with Lucy to Delroy. In a thrilling climax, all will be revealed as Jack, Lucy, Delroy and Jazz experience the voyage of their lives.

The cast of Titanic Love and their characters (from the film website)

Susannah Felicity Wells


aka Lucy TupperSusie is a graduate from Birmingham Theatre School and it was here she first auditioned for the role of Lucy, later to be cast as the lead. As an actor Susie was inspired by someone who had a similar obsession to her character in real life. She has since gone on to play a leading part in the opening of the Olympics in 2012 and has appeared in the BBC One drama, Father Brown.

Lucy is obsessed with the Titanic and all things connected to it. The flat is covered head to toe in memorabilia, she relives the flying scene on a nightly basis, she’s seen a re-enactment cruise and wants it! She won’t stop till she gets it and Jack knows it.

Alex Edwardson


(aka Jack Doe) Alex another Birmingham Theatre School graduate, was top of his class with his stage performances. He has an ability to step into character and his use of facial expressions to convey emotion is superb. He has a touch of Leonard Rossiter about him. For such a young actor making his debut performance on film his acting is outstanding.
Jack is Lucy’s the long-suffering boyfriend who wants an easy life. He goes to work, worries about bills and sometimes forgets what is important to Lucy. He gets annoyed with Lucy’s obsession with ‘the boat’ but goes along with it for a quiet life.

Loxley Logan


(aka Delroy Jones) Loxley, also a Birmingham Theatre School graduate from the same year as Susie and Alex. Loxley  made Delroy’s character come alive and brought the ‘Brum’ identity to the film. He has been involved in Birmingham-based community film projects since graduating and is a  joy to work with, dedicated and passionate and always done with a trademark Delroy smile.Delroy is a wheeler-dealer; man about town, always got something to sell at cut price and a solution for everything albeit shady or outrageous! He’s Jack’s best mate and wants to help him out of the Titanic disaster he has found himself in. How does he do it? The only way he knows, Delroy’s way, with a little help from his business associate Jazz.     

Ryan McKen


(aka Jazz Doff) Ryan also, a theatre school graduate studying at the Bristol Old Vic. Ryan is a superb actor, never forgetting a line. Even though Ryan’s role in Titanic Love was smaller than the rest it by no means diminishes his performance. In fact, at times, he steals the show with his brilliant portrayal of Del’s sidekick.

Jazz, aka the Bellboy, is Delroy’s business partner, the Rodney to Del, the one that does all the hard work with little credit. Delroy comes up with the plan and Jazz does it, albeit not very well! His idea of class comes in the form of Lambrini, sausage rolls and cut-price crabsticks. Jazz is a good-natured soul who blunders through life blissfully unaware of mishaps and is constantly told off by Delroy.

Extras are ;Laura Taylor – Lizzie, Lydia Gribbin- Catherine, Earle Whitman, Captain Of The Boat, ,Andrew Lound- Ticket Man, Man In Pub- Pete Iles

Theatre group going very much in One Direction

A West Midlands theatre group will be going very much in One Direction tomorrow night (Friday 8 March) as it holds a quiz night to help raise funds towards £6,000 target needed to send members abroad to represent the area and the UK at global and European festivals.

As well as having signed programmes and a T-shirt donated by Boy Band One Direction Wolverhampton’s Central Youth Theatre (CYT) now have two tickets for the band’s show at the LG Arena, Birmingham, on Saturday March 23.

Since appearing on the X-Factor the band, including Wolverhampton’s Liam Payne, have become one of the top bands in pop with two number one singles, a platinum selling debut album and more than a million hits on YouTube.

For those worried about the future of the band Liam recently Tweeted to say he was definitely not leaving them – after rumours that he was.

These and a programme signed by girl band Little Mix will be sold by silent auction at the quiz night at 7.30pm at West End Working Men’s Club, Merridale Street, Wolverhampton.

Bids for the silent auction can be accepted anytime this week either by email to jane@centralyouththeatre.org or to CYT’s office at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 4AN

CYT Director Jane Ward said: “The Quiz will be a fun night for all the family.

“If people don’t have a complete team we can help make up teams on the night. Besides the quiz we will be running the silent auction and tombola, with refreshments also available during the evening.”

The proceeds of the auction will go towards the group, which is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, sending young people to festivals in Czech Republic at the start of May and also to represent the UK by performing in Monaco at the World Amateur Theatre Festival in August.

Fourteen members of CYT will be staging a one hour version of Burnt by The Sun, by Peter Flannery, which is an examination of the full horror of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union.

The group will be performing in the historic Salle Garnier Monaco Opera House on 22nd and 24th August.  CYT members will be joined by 23 theatre companies from the Far East, Africa, India, Scandinavia, Europe and the USA.

West Midlands theatre group telling Tales of the Town


Tales of The Town flyer front

Tales of The Town flyer front

A West Midlands theatre group will be telling Tales of the Town with extracts from nine classic plays set in shops, cafes, pubs, hotels and markets.

Central Youth Theatre will present them at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton on Sunday 10th

Tales of The Town flyer back

Tales of The Town flyer back


From 2pm they will perform extracts from Laundry Girls by Bill Owen, Hobsons Choice by Harold Brighouse and On the Razzle by Tom Stoppard.
These are followed, from 4pm, by Absolute Hell by Rodney Ackland, California Suite by Neil Simon and Two by Jim Cartwright.
The final set of extracts, from 7.30pm, are Satin & Steel by Amanda Whittington, Market Boy by David Eldridge and What Are You Doing Here? by David Compton.
CYT director Jane Ward said: “These extracts are full of characters making you laugh – and sometimes cry. We have around 70 young people involved in the performances, and they have been working hard on these since last October.”
“This project has been planned as a precursor to what we hope will be a larger project celebrating the history of Wolverhampton City Centre.
“We are currently awaiting to hear whether a bid to the Heritage Lottery has been successful, so that we can move on to explore the history of trading and shops in Wolverhampton.
“A team trained in inter-generational research would work alongside the City Archives, the Mary Portas project to revive shops and shopping, and people of the city who used the shops, cafes, pubs and hotels and markets in years gone by.
“During 2011 we had huge success with our heritage project Everybody Dance Now – which was based around the history of social dance in the city – which culminated in a huge international festival in the city in 2011 and the temporary conversion of the former Low Level Railway Station into a ballroom”
Tickets for Tales of the Town are £7 for adults (£5 concessions) with family tickets for two adults and two concessions at £20. The box office is on 01902 572090. Online booking is available at www.ticketsource.co.uk/newhamptonartscentre/


Black Country band launching The Lifeboat

The John Richards Band, from the left, Ronin Tudor, Chris Drinan, John Richards, Jim Sutton and Emma

The John Richards Band, from the left, Ronin Tudor, Chris Drinan, John Richards, Jim Sutton and Emma

A Black Country band whose material has been used by some of the biggest names in folk will launch a new album this week.

The John Richards Band’s The Lifeboat will be launched at The Newhampton Inn, Riches Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton, on Saturday 26th January at 8.30pm.

Singer/songwriter John Richards, from Coseley, has been writing since the 1970s with bands such as Fairport Convention, Show of Hands and other top folk acts performing his songs.

He and daughter Emma, along with Jim Sutton, Chris Drinan and Robin Tudor had copies of the new CD delivered from their production company in Plymouth over the weekend despite the bad weather.

The title track The Lifeboat tells of John and his family’s difficulties in dealing with the financial sector following the crash of 2007/2008 on a CD which includes five new tracks and four previously recorded bonus tracks.

Emma, John’s eldest daughter, has been singing with her father since her earliest days and in 1996 joined him in Wolverhampton band Desperate Men.

The other ‘youngster’ in the band is Robin Tudor, from Halesowen, a classically trained violinist and pianist, guitarist, mandolin, banjo and accordion player as well as a singer.

Double-bass player Jim Sutton, of Stourbridge, who also has a background in heavy metal,rock and jazz – appearing as house bass player at The Trumpet, Bilston, – is joined by Chris Drinan, of Walsall, on flute, tenor sax and 5-string banjo to complete the lineup.

Tickets costing £8 in advance or £9 on the door are available for the launch. A cheque made out to ‘Folk Club Upstairs’ should be sent to Dianne Maher at 73, Allen Road, Wolverhampton, WV6 0AW or email dlmaher50@yahoo.com for details to pay by bank transfer. Further information is available on 01902 820958 or 340603.

Black Country building brought back to life dramatically

The former antiques market, Salop Street, Wolverhampton

The former antiques market, Salop Street, Wolverhampton

A bank and council have helped a theatre group bring a Black Country building back to life again as a theatrical resource for the whole West Midlands region is being relaunched.

Wolverhampton’s Central Youth Theatre (CYT) has moved more than 10,000 theatrical costumes into the city’s former antiques market in Salop Street.

Now, with the help of Lloyds Banking Group (Birmingham Midshires) volunteering team, the building is being renovated to help provide a costume hire facility for schools, colleges, community, voluntary and theatrical groups throughout the region as well as for CYT.

CYT director Jane Ward said: “For the last five years we housed our costumes in an empty wing of Northwood Park Primary School, Bushbury.

“However, this summer, the school needed to take the classrooms back to meet the demand for more places at the school.

“Thanks to Wolverhampton Council we were able to rent the empty antiques market building.

“We moved the costumes in a huge operation involving members, past members, Trustees and volunteers but shortly afterwards flash-flooding hit the building and we needed a big clean-up.

Some of the costumes after the move to the antiques market

Some of the costumes after the move to the antiques market

“Now we want to get the building in tip-top shape and the Lloyds (Birmingham Midshires) volunteering team, based at Pendeford, Wolverhampton, who have painting, cleaning and DIY experience, very kindly came in to help us out on Tuesday 30th and Wednesday  31st October.

“This will help to provide a space for costumes which will be a resource for the whole region.”

“It has some great features – especially the dressing room which dates back to the 1960s when the venue was The Woolpack Civic Restaurant and was packed as it hosted dancing and live bands such as the N’Betweens, Californians and Montanas.

“Drummer Don Powell, lead guitarist Dave Hill, Jimmy Lea and Noddy Holder transformed the N’Betweens into Slade (http://youtu.be/A0NpJ7mcfPo) and went on to huge success – as did Robert Plant, who also performed there, when he went on to become a key part of the Led Zeppelin supergroup.

“Glenn Hughes played there with Trapeze and he went on to join Deep Purple.

Poster for Trapeze at The Woolpack Restaurant

Poster for Trapeze at The Woolpack Restaurant

“In a way I suppose we are restoring the link with entertainment the building had.

“We will continue to develop the building but the costume hire side has now been relaunched and anyone who wants to take advantage of the amazing range of costumes should contact us by calling 08450511167 or emailing info@theactorswardrobe.co.uk”

Forces charity reshapes organisation

A forces charity which helps more than 50,000 people a year has reshaped its Black Country organisation.
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help has amalgamated its Walsall, Wolverhampton and Dudley branches to create a new West Midlands North Branch.
The branch, under the chairmanship of Colonel David Hill, will be operating from today at Wolseley House Territorial Army Centre, Fallings Park, Wolverhampton.
SSAFA Forces Help provides practical, financial and emotional support to members, former members and families of those who have served in the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force – Regular, National Service or Reserve Forces.
Help is available irrespective of when or where he or she served with all enquiries treated in strict confidence by trained dedicated caseworkers.
New or existing clients can contact the new branch via the Wolverhampton office, which has a 24 hour answer phone, on 01902 864030.
Colonel Hill said: “Our reorganisation is aimed at improving our service to our clients and to improve efficiency.
“There are always opportunities for suitable volunteers to undertake specific thorough training to join the team.
“If anyone can spare some time to help our serving and veteran service personnel they should telephone 01922 722778 or email david@ssafawalsall.co.uk

Theatre group looked at hard times East and West

Burnt by the Sun at the Arena Theatre

Burnt by the Sun at the Arena Theatre

Great Expectations at the Arena Theatre

Great Expectations at the Arena Theatre

Wolverhampton’s Central Youth Theatre excelled with the first of two highly challenging productions.
On Tuesday, July 17th July and Monday 16th July they gave a revealing take on the way in which repression in Stalin’s Russia overwhelmed families and friends.
share. At the Arena Theatre in the University of Wolverhampton, Wulfruna Street, Burnt by The Sun, Peter Flannery’s examination of the full horror of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union.

Set in 1936, the revolutionary hero Colonel Kotov spends what seems to be an idyllic summer in his dacha with his young wife and family. Things change dramatically as a face from the past re-enters their lives. Amidst a tangle of sexual jealousy and retribution, the full horrifying reach of Stalin’s rule is about to invade their lives.

Burnt by the Sun Director Jane Ward says: “Burnt by the Sun is a play about social change, political corruption and the re-structuring of society with the consequent impact this has on people’s lives.

“Whilst we have been working on this production, we have seen contemporary history being made with the breakdown of economic living standards in many countries in Europe and the political corruption that has brought countries low, destroying the lives of so many people.

“It has been very interesting for our cast to realise that a production such as this has contemporary parallels”.

In contrast, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens Central Youth Theatre (CYT) staged an exciting adaptation of Great Expectations by Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan. The classic story followed the twists and turns facing orphan Pip who becomes a gentleman when his life is transformed by a mystery benefactor.

Performances for Great Expectations were at the same venue on Thursday 19th and Friday 20th July. Both productions were sumptuous costume dramas costumed from CYT’s amazing theatrical wardrobe – assembled over the last 29 years.

Holly Phillips, directing Great Expectations, says: “We had over 50 young actors in both productions and over a hundred period costumes being used to set the two plays in the different decades”.


Shakespeare Turned Upside Down – by the ladies

Neanderthal Man and Seven Ages of Woman flier

Neanderthal Man and Seven Ages of Woman flier

Neanderthal Man and Seven Ages of Woman flier

In the year of the World Shakespeare Festival members of a Black Country theatre have  a very different take in a show they will take to Eastern Europe in the autumn.

The Seven Ages of Woman is a devised comedy by Wolverhampton’s Central Youth Theatre (CYT) that explores the seven ages a woman will experience through her life from birth to death.

The performance, developed as a response to William Shakespeare’s ‘All the World’s A Stage” speech in which he catalogues the seven ages of MAN, strangely forgetting to mention WOMEN.

It was staged on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th July, 2012 at the theatre at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans.

Director Holly Phillips said: “Although taking inspiration from a famous Shakespearian quote this performance is very definitely not Shakespeare !

“The show has no dialogue – and is highly physical. At the start of the process we engaged a professional mime artist Mollie Guifoyle to work with both casts and give them an inspirational start to the project. Since then the cast have been creating all their own ideas through a devising process”

The play forms part of a comedy double bill with another hilarious devised show Neanderthal Man directed by CYT director Jane Ward, assisted by Holly Hale.

In early September the cast of Seven Ages of Woman will travel to Siauliai in Lithuania where it will be staged at the Festival Of The White Crow.

Trees in Riches Street, Whitmore Reans

Pension ‘Liberation’

Pension scheme members could see £1bn of their pension cash moved to firms who are singling them out and claiming that they can help them get at their pension cash early this year.
So far it is estimated that £600m has gone to ‘Pension Liberation’ schemes so far – but numbers of transfers are rising.
With people under pressure trying to pay mortgages, loans, credit card bills and everyday living expenses demand for early access to pension savings continues to rise.
Pension liberation, also known as ‘pension loans’ and ‘pension scams’, see a member’s pension savings transferred to an arrangement that will let them get at their funds before the age of 55 .
Accessing pension cash before 55 is not necessarily illegal but there can be a very big tax bill which members are not told about as well as very high charges/commission taken out byhe Pensions Regulator says: “We call this activity ‘pension liberation fraud’ and members who agree to it could face a tax bill of more than half the value of their pension savings.
“In some cases these arrangements appear to operate within the letter of the law, but they can still attract large tax charges and further penalties. Some are outright illegal.
“Most of the time, people targeted by these scams are not informed of potential tax consequences. Only in rare cases, such as terminal illness, can members take a pension before age 55.”
Other agencies tackling the problem include the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Serious Fraud Squad, National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, Financial Services Agency, Action Fraud, HM Revenue and Customs and the Pensions Advisory Service.
Even if these authorities take action on a suspect scheme a members transfer value, when refunded, could be minus an ‘admin fee’ and tax charges and penalties resulting in a loss of up to two thirds of the value.
Pension predators promise to release pensions before time as a loan or lump sum but often move the bulk of funds transferred into highly dubious, risky, unregulated investment structures often based overseas.
Liberation schemes entice members via ‘spam’ text messages, cold telephone calling and website promotions saying pensions can be released before the age of 55.
If you are a pension scheme member and you’re concerned that you may have been targeted by pension liberation fraud, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Further information is in a pension liberation awareness leaflet (PDF) on the Pensions Advisory Service’s website.

Rail ramble to see Lionesses

Just the ticket for a rail ramble round Switzerland and France to see the England Lionesses’ group games in the Women’s World Cup- and random stream of unconsciousness dredged up on the trains from Nice to Le Havre for the match against Argentina.

The trains took the strain from Wolverhampton To London and then to Paris via Eurostar before Paris to Geneva for a few beers with Kiwi nephew David (ok bar next to strip/lap dancing club!) and hotel sleepover.

Non-playing guest – unfortunately!

The Swiss do scenic rail trips quite well so getting to Lugano via Olten was an eye-opener as usual – and just for train spotters!

The ultimate Swiss doggie bag

The lady with the dog in the bag went unnoticed until she got off because of distractions out of the window.

Lakes and hills as standard viewing

Lugano was bathed in beautiful sunshine as we were met by Anna Lis’ sister Magda Lanfranconi and bro-in-law (as yung folk say) Jean.

Young people take the fate of their lizards seriously in the village of Arogno, Ticino, and try to get drivers to do the same with their personally crafted road signs.

Walking the road up towards the top of Mont Genorosso (Arogno is about two thirds the way up but a 3 hour plus march to the top was fortunately ruled out!) you come across quite a few lizards leaping about.

Perhaps the young protectors should also look at putting out warnings to protect the snakes as this one seemed to have come a cropper.

Deceased snake near Arogno

Thankfully the Italian part of Switzerland is just as wonderful as the rest in terms of scenery and food and drink and free clothes washing facilities.

For some reason Anna insisted on using her sister’s washing machine instead of one of the two – yes two – public facilities in the village.

Free clothes washing in Arogno

Outside the village uphill walking is accompanied by stereotypical Swiss DJ on the cowbell. A bit one dimensional musically.

As idyllic as this area looks life has not always been easy. During depressed times people emigrated to places such as the United States for a better life – as did Jean’s grandparents and the grandfather of this bar in the beautiful village of Sognogno.

The bar owner emigrated to Soledad, California, to make a better life before things got better for running a bar/cafe in Switzerland.

Jean and Magda Lanfranconi in Sognogno

The food and drinks on offer in a wonderful setting were superb- and locally sourced where possible. Cheeses, cured meats and beer went down well.

The accompanying magnificent scenery was also being appreciated by a group from the school in Arogno – once home to two watch parts factories.

One factory was a split off from a strike in the 1930s which was started by the aggrieved workers. It lasted longer than the original but both closed in the end and a scheme to turn the original factory into homes seems to have foundered.

Most work is now down the mountain in the valleys or on the lakesides in Lugano, Locarno, Mendrissio and other places.

Old bridges pull us tourists in to gaze

Even the railway station offered a somewhat special view as we set off for Nice via Milan.

View from Lugano Railway Station

The Thello – newish Railway company – train from Milan offered a somewhat disconcerting staring logo experience but the beer was fine.

Thello ‘staring’ logo seats

Beer helps to map progress

Nice – a 19th century addition to France after being held by the Dukes of Savoy – is a nice Mediterranean mashup of French and Italian styles/cultures/music/art/food/drink.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was born in Nice and there is a statue of him facing towards Italy where he played a big part in unification.

Nice did not become part of France while he lived there. He earned a live by at sea but also supported revolutionary uprisings in South America and made himself unpopular with the French by fighting against Austrian control of Italy.

Garibaldi’s statue looks towards Italy from Nice