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A few days ago I called in on the Aviation Preservation Society (APSS) workshops down at East Fortune in East Lothian, naturally enough people were a little bit down regarding the death of their Patron Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown, one of our finest ever aviators.

I spoke to APSS members about the Sopwith Strutter project and the news is very encouraging, the work is picking up pace rapidly and they’re waiting the arrival of the special wing tension wires from the Wiremill in Musselburgh. Once these arrive and a suitable work space is found the aircraft will be assembled for inspection. Once it has been passed the aircraft can then be covered with fabric, not the original Irish linen, but a modern more durable alternative.

 

APSS replica MGs

Replica Machine Guns

The apprentices at McTaggart Scott Engineering are currently hard at work manufacturing a Scarfe ring  for the rear cockpit onto which will be mounted the magnificent Lewis Gun replica made by APSS member John Guy, who also made the magnificent Vickers gun which will sit up front in front of the lucky pilot.

The beating heart of the aircraft, the Rotec radial engine, all the way from ‘Down Under’ is ready to be installed and looks very impressive indeed. I filmed a short video with Ken Sharp and Mike Harper who gave me a run down of the progress.

So keep your eyes on the East Lothian sky later this year, you never know what you might see.

 

A while back I had the pleasure of working with a group on a WW1 display and presentation along with Lynsey Anderson from the Museum staff.

The kids were really enthusiastic and asked lots of good questions, it was refreshing to see that another generation was most definitely interested in the Great War.

The day was based on a case study of Pte James Marchbank who went to war aged 14. I was able to tell the kids his life story with the aid of my photo collection and a host of great artefacts supplied by Tom Gordon of the Royal Scots Museum, it was nice to see Tom there but sadly his recently broken leg curtailed his day with us

After a busy morning’s research, we pulled together artefacts to tell young James’ story, half the team went off to prepare the exhibition case, whilst the other half stayed with me to put together a presentation for a group of parents attending in the afternoon.

Using the facts they had established from their research the kids, only 10 or 11 remember, put together a very good, concise story which they presented to the assembled group, in front of the exhibition case. It was well  received as you can see below.

Learning should and can be interesting, I have no doubt that another generation is keen to learn what life in the trenches was like.

More recently I have become involved in the Digging In Project through at Pollok Park in Glasgow, an ambitious project it features two trench systems one British and one German. The idea is to open the trenches up to the public on a regular basis and for kids from all over Scotland to visit, an admirable ambition as a visit to the battlefields of France and Flanders is beyond the financial means of many families.

Whilst you can never replicate the experience of walking the ground, this is compensated for by the hands on style of Digging In. Running until the Spring of 1919, I hope you will be able to visit at some time during the Centenary.

 

 

Digging In header

Digging In website

Newbattle at war

This article appeared on my work Intranet but well worthy of wider circulation. The tale of a miners son who joined Glasgow City Police and won the Victoria Cross in WW1.

John McAulay joined Glasgow Police in 1911 as a probationary constable. He was posted to Northern Division in March that year and was a champion wrestler in police sporting competitions.

Within a month of the out break of war John had resigned for the police service and volunteered, being posted to the Scots Guard and seeing action across France.

By the end of 1915 John’s bravery had seen him promoted three times in one day, from corporal to acting sergeant. He was officially recognised for his bravery in September 1917 for his actions during the battle of Ypres (which took place in December 1916) being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

John McAulay VC

Sgt John McAulay VC Glasgow Police

During the battle had taken command of his platoon after his officer had been killed, cleared two strongly-held dugouts and “accounted for several snipers”. McAulay had been recommended for the DCM four times already and an officer said to him: “You ought to have got it ages ago”.

On 27 November, 1917, at Fontaine, Notre Dame McAulay’s platoon was pinned down on a sunken road by German machine gunfire. When his commander, Lieutenant A Kinnaird, was wounded, McAulay lifted him on to his back and carried him to safety amid shells bursting around him.

Still carrying the officer, he rallied the men, placed Kinnaird in a shelter and seized a machine gun. He set it up in the road and, as the Germans came over the ridge, completely stopped their attack. He then carried Kinnaird another 500 yards through “a tornado of bullets, killing two Germans who tried to intercept him”.

Though escaping without a scratch, he is said to have “accounted for 50 of the enemy by himself”.

An Aberdeen journalist in the trenches recorded how McAulay learned of his award of the VC in January 1918: “A modest man… he was deafened by the cheers… fellow sergeants almost shook his arm off…the VC was mounted shoulder-high and headed by the piper, marched round and round.” McAulay returned home in February 1918 and was decorated by King George V on 16 March. He re-joined the police in January 1919 and was promoted to sergeant in June that year.

McAulay laid a wreath at the Glasgow Police War Memorial ceremony in 1921, commemorating 173 city police officers who had died. He became an inspector in 1922 and retired in 1946 after 34 years’ service.

One hundred years on from the start of World War One there is a group of men who’s service has long since been forgotten about, these men were Eastern European immigrants from Russia and the Baltic States who had settled in Scotland.

So how did these men come to settle in Scotland?

Many of them were escaping the clutches of Czarist Russia’s Army, where they would serve many years for little reward. In the 1890s many decided that enough was enough and left Russia, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine with the intention of moving to the United States.

At this time there was an active trade between ports such such Leith on the east coast of Scotland, with coal being a prime export from Scotland and the Baltic states. One of the main exporters was the Lothian Coal Company with numerous ships going to and from Hamburg.

Rather than come back empty, the filthy coal ships offered immigrants cheap passage to a new life, which the immigrants thought would be in the USA. To their horror they were deposited in Leith, without a job and homeless.

The Lothian Coal Company was not slow to take advantage of their situation, the Lady Victoria Colliery had just opened in Newtongrange, many men were needed to man it’s new and highly productive coal seams.

At first Scottish families moved through, mostly from Lanarkshire, however their numbers were insufficient and the Eastern Europeans were offered a job and and a house, many, especially those with a wife and family,had no choice other than to accept.

They settled in two main areas, the bulk in Bellshill, Lanarkshire and the rest in Newtongrange. Most came from Suwalki which lies in the North East of current day Poland and South West Lithuania.

And so Newtongrange became home to several hundred ‘Russian Poles’ as they were christened. Coming from all walks of life, few if any had ever been down a coal mine, most spoke no English, and a number were illiterate. Most settled well in their new home and by 1906 there were around 200 Lithuanians and a number from Latvia and Ukraine living in the village, by the outbreak of war around 800 or about 1 in 5 of the population of Newtongrange were immigrants.

 

Technically they were Russian citizens at this time, and as such ‘friendly Aliens’ who had to register with the Police and had certain restrictions on their movements. Unlike the Germans and Austrians in the community there were still free to live and work in the village.

Many men from the village enlisted in the Army, including a group of around 25 Lithuanian miners, who wished to join the famous McCrae’s Battalion, the 16th Royal Scots. They were initially accepted by were sent home shortly after as they could not read or write in English.

Not all were rejected however, men such as the Mikolajunas brothers Jan and Stanislaw, from the Square in Newtongrange, were accepted into the Royal Scots and the Lancashire Fusiliers, Ukrainian Vasily Nikitenko boarded the train into Edinburgh where he enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery. This pattern continued through 1916 with the occasional man enlisting, but most remaining in the coal mining industry.

This was about to change however, conscription had been introduced in early 1916 for British citizens, ‘Russian’ citizens were not subject to conscription, at least that was until 1917 when a treaty was signed between Russian and Great Britain allowing both to conscript each other’s citizen into their Army.

An ultimatum was issued to the Eastern Europeans, they were to make a choice, enlist in the British Army or return to Russia to fight for the Czar. Around 2/3rds of them decided to return, believing they were fighting to preserve their national identity. Not a single man who chose to fight for Russia was ever seen again, shamefully their families were rounded up and deported, again many never to be seen again.

As the for the others, well most were sent in job lots to Infantry regiments, from my research I have identified groups sent to the Royal Scots, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Scottish Rifles and the East Yorkshire Regiment, My theory is that they tried to keep the men in groups to overcome the language barrier, with an English speaking man in each group.

In 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia sent shock waves through the Allies and many of the ‘Russian Poles’ were viewed with much suspicion as potential ‘Reds’ and were removed from Infantry battalions and sent to unarmed Labour battalions. However many of the men who had proved themselves reliable under fire remained with combat units until the end of the war.

Inevitably some became casualties and a number made the ultimate sacrifice, mostly in 1918. If you take a walk through Newtongrange Park you will come across the war memorial on which are these names

Pte Klemis Poliskis, Scottish Rifles, Pte Juozas Sanalitis, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Gunner Stanaslaw Scortolskis, Royal Field Artillery, Pte Justinas Tutlis, Royal Scots all of whom were Lithuanian. And that of Gunner Vasily Nikitenko, who if you recall, volunteered in 1916, in 2007 I successfully campaigned to have him added to the war memorial.

In 1918 Vasily was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry during the German Spring Offensive, sadly he did live long after the award, on the 28th May, 1918 he was manning his gun when a stray shell landed killing him and wounding a number of others.

 

After the war most of the Lithuanians moved away from the area, mostly to the United States, the majority of those that remained took British nationality and adopted British names, men such as Jan Mikolajunas, who became John Nicol.

 

There is no little trace of the Lithuanian community in Newtongrange or elsewhere in the district, I estimate that around 100 Eastern European men served in the Army and would welcome contact from anyone related to them.

John Duncan – Honorary Board Member of the Scottish Lithuanian Community

 Image

Juozas Sanalitis,from Newtongrange, killed in 1918

A short article in the Midlothian Advertiser this week has prompted me to publish this entry today.

The headline reads “War Memorial wrangles continues” and states that hopes of adding names to the (Newtongrange) war memorial in time for Remembrance Sunday have been dashed.

I would like to clarify my position and a brief summary of events.

I approached Newtongrange Community Council in April, 2012 with a provisional number of names I wished added to the war memorial, I subsequently submitted a number of documents to them, which I later combined into a booklet for submission to the Council with a view to having the names of 12 men, 1 WW1 and 11 WW2, added for last year’s Remembrance Day.

I subsequently queried the lack of action on this matter by both the Community Council and Midlothian, at the request of the Community Council I resubmitted the booklet containing all the evidence and waited…and waited.

I was aware that the Council had dismissed a number of men, for reasons that I viewed as invalid, and frankly an insult to men who served and died for their country.

I submitted an FOI request to the Council asking for clarification of matters and passed the results on to the Community Council and what happened, nothing.

Back in September,2013 I was spoken to by the Chairman of the Community Council and informed by him that the CC were not going to be putting forward a number of men’s names forward as they had been killed by accident or after the war, and could I supply the information again.

Regrettably at this point I decided I’d had enough with the run-around and decided with a heavy heart to withdraw my co-operation with the project particularly in view of the omissions and that 12 men now appear to be 3 according to the Community Council.

I will now be going my own way, I am planning to raise funds for a memorial commemorating all the men from Newbattle Parish, not a chosen few.

If need be I will pay for the memorial myself if I have to.

I will remember all 11 of these forgotten men this Remembrance Sunday as will their relatives.

Will you remember them?

L Cpl George Ross, 1st Gordon Highlanders

LAC William Currie, RAF Volunteer Reserve

Acting Leading Stoker Joseph White, Royal Navy

Leading Stores Assistant James Simpson Alexander Dea, Royal Navy

Lt John Herbert, Royal Navy

Engine Artificer 4th Class Barrie Jones, Royal Navy

Sapper James Holgate, Royal Engineers

Able Seaman Malcolm Mclean, Merchant Navy

Sgt William Alexander Meek, RAF Volunteer Reserve

Pte George D Noble, Parachute Regiment 5th Battalion

Trooper Ninian Cockburn Roberts, Royal Scots Greys

Second Engineer John Webster, Merchant Navy

I’m delighted that James Mattocks from the Aircraft Preservation Society of Scotland has taken  time out to answer a few of our questions about the exciting Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter Project.

Q. What is APSS ?
APSS is the Aircraft Preservation Society of Scotland, we are a group of aviation enthusiasts helping preserve the history of aviation and associated skills. Over 30 working members are actively involved in various projects.

We are based at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune, part of the National Museums Scotland and recently celebrated our 40th Anniversary.

Q. So James, when did the project begin and who’s idea was it?

“It started back in 2001, Evan Pole and I approached Adam Smith, the Museum curator at the time, about building a replica Bleriot. He came back and said he already had an idea to build a Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter, an aircraft which represented an important stage in the development of military aircraft, which saw widespread action in fighter and bomber versions and which was

Q. How many people are involved in the project?

“Initially there were 12 people in the team, this has varied over the years and sadly two have passed away since the inception of the project. Six of the original team are still involved in the build and we now have 14 members working at least one day a week on the Sopwith.”

Can you describe a typical team member, if there is such a thing?

Ted Tootell working on a bracket - Photo APSS

Ted Tootell working on a bracket – Photo APSS

“We have a wide cross section of people with exceptional skills in their field. We have 9 who are, or who have been pilots, Bernard McGinty and Evan Pole who are both retired professional engineers. Tim Rayner of LAA is our inspector, checking every piece of work. I still work on as an ordinary member, mainly due to the growing complexity of the project.

Any welding has to be done by a CAA certificated welder. Fortunately we obtained the services of “Stoorie”Muir who travelled up frequently from Prestwick, and still does when required, to do the necessary work.

The early work was mainly woodwork and proceeded rapidly because the group is graced by members with good woodworking skills.”

Q.  What’s the most difficult job to date?

“The wing rigging wires are very precise indeed, and are a time consuming job. They have to be extremely accurate in length or the wing will warp.

Also we have outgrown our current workshop and accommodation in building 32; we cannot keep putting the Strutter  together then dismantling and putting her back on the bench. When the engine and propeller, fuel and oil pipes and  electrics are fitted the fuselage will have to remain on its undercarriage with the only  items removable being the wings.”

Beautiful craftsmanship, seems almost a shame to hide it under fabric. Photo APSS

Beautiful craftsmanship, seems almost a shame to hide it under fabric. Photo APSS

Q.  Will the Sopwith have any modern equipment or will it have WW1 style gear?

“As far as is possible the Sopwith will be built using the same techniques and materials as it’s WW1 predecessor, we have used modern aviation glues etc for safety reasons and we are using a brand new engine. This has arrived and it was an exciting day when it was fitted into the airframe.”

Q  The Lewis gun looks very real, is real or a replica?

“It’s a replica, but it looks very real, it a lovely piece of work by Joy Guy.”

Fantastic replica Lewis gun for rear mount - Photo APSS

Fantastic replica Lewis gun for rear mount – Photo APSS

Q How is the project funded?

“ The original budget estimate was £34,000, in money of the day, but not including the engine. £4000 per annum for the airframe was to be supplied by the Museum of Flight, the rest to be found by APSS.  It was to be powered by an original rotary engine which was to be supplied and paid for separately from the airframe budget, by the Museum of Flight.

Sadly after the initial funding the Museum withdrew from the project and we as APSS have continued with the project since then. Total spending so far is around £34,000 and we estimate the project will cost around £43,500 when it’s completed.

We have funded this by selling valuable assets such as the Brantley helicopter, the Taylorcraft Auster AOP5, and the Miles M17 Monarch, and the De Haviland Chipmunk.

The engine purchase was looked after by our Chairman, a retired business man of much experience, it was obtained at a good price but nevertheless was a major item of expenditure.”

Q When do you anticipate the aircraft being ready?

“In the light of my one time prediction of completion by 2006, I have to be careful here.  The airframe is largely complete but there is much work to be done still in making and fitting tanks, piping, instruments, flying wires and then covering and painting.

Instinct tells me that this will be complete in two years time but since my instinct has in the past proved to be somewhat optimistic, I am going to double that and say June 2017.”

Q Can the public see the Sopwith at the Museum at all?

The Sopwith has been on public display in the Concorde Hangar, it’s been an enormously popular exhibit and we have had people come back time and time again to get updates on our work. We estimate we have had over 2000 people visit the Sopwith this year and thank everyone for their interest and support.

Taking shape - The 1 1/2 Strutter in the Concorde hangar Photo Alex Duncan

Taking shape – The 1 1/2 Strutter in the Concorde hangar Photo Alex Duncan

Q Will the 1 1/2 Strutter be used at air displays or based at East Fortune?

As to where it will fly, there are no fixed plans at present, but fly it will.  Over the years, various ideas have been suggested, such as a local Lothian syndicate, a Perth Airport syndicate, or Shuttleworth. In the meantime we press on to ensure that our late production Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter takes to the skies.”

Q Will the aircraft take part in WW1 commemorative events?

It would be lovely if it was to be involved, a lot is dependent on the timescale for completion. Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters were based at East Fortune, which was a Royal Naval Air Service Station during WW1 and involved in the protection of shipping in the Firth of Forth.

Q  What’s your overall impression about the project?

“One thing comes to mind here and it is that throughout all these years, although this has been a absorbing and at times technically demanding project,the great friendship and companionship and cohesion of the team has never faltered.

The skills and dedication of the team have increased and refined over the period of build. We have all been involved in an important educational exercise designed to show to new generations the skill and dedication of our early aircraft designers and manufacturers, and we have thoroughly enjoyed it. “

A replica Strutter in it's element.

A replica Strutter in it’s element.

Looking fantastic the Sopwith begins to evolve - Photo Alex Duncan

Looking fantastic the Sopwith begins to evolve – Photo Alex Duncan

Thanks James, I for one am looking forward to the day the Sopwith takes to the air again. It’s a fantastic project and I take my hat off to those involved. It’s fantastic to see craftsmanship like this still exists.

First blood to the RAF.

Monday 16th October, 1939 2.30pm it’s a quiet Autumn afternoon over the Lothians, the Second World War was in it’s infancy, Scotland was still untouched by the carnage that had already seen Poland fall to Nazi Germany.

This was about to change, a flight of 9 German Junkers 88 bombers flew out from their base at Sylt on the northern most tip of German and headed over the North Sea and towards their target, the Royal Navy on the Firth of Forth.

The bombers somehow managed to evade detection, and they were only spotted as they flew up the river. An anti-aircraft battery was drilling with practice rounds and hastily reloaded with live ammunition. Their firing alerted other units and ships along the estuary.

The Luftwaffe were to sink HMS Hood if she was at anchor in the river. As it turns out she was not, several ships were in dock but the bombers were under strict instructions not to bomb them at anchor in dock to avoid civilian casualties.

Jock Kerr from Dalkeith

Jock Kerr from Dalkeith

Instead they turned their attention to the ships lying at anchor including the Cruiser HMS Southampton and the Tribal class destroyer HMS Mohawk, who’s crew included Dalkeith man ,Able Seamen Jock Kerr.  I had the pleasure of meeting Jock in the late 70’s when we worked at Rowntree’s in Edinburgh.

They were totally unprepared and the first warning of attack came as lookouts sounded the ‘Action Stations’ alarm. All hands scrambled to their positions, Jock made his way to B gun deck, the upper deck and to his horror saw a Ju88 bearing down on the ship, bomb doors open, ready to attack.

The German aircraft dropped two bombs, Jock recalled in later life that he could still see them “clear as day” , big and black,falling through the air and striking the water either side of the ship.  Although they did not hit the ship they showered her with huge chunks of shrapnel and caused terrible casualties, 16 men were killed and 44 wounded. Jock looked down from his position and described is as “horrible, there was blood and guts everywhere.” He remained very critical of the lack of warning about the attack to his dying day and felt they could have fought off the attack with adequate warning.

HMS-Mohawk-crew-at-funeral

Their job done and now under heavy fire the Germans turned for home but got separated, 602 City of Glasgow Squadron was already in the air, and 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron were scrambled to intercept them. Both Squadrons were Auxiliaries (Reservists) and equipped with brand new Spitfires, they were desperate to engage the enemy and put them to the test.

Pilot Officer Pat Gifford 603 Squadron

Pilot Officer Pat Gifford 603 Squadron

Barely in the air 603’s Spitfires bounced three Ju88s at 4000 feet scattering them in all directions, the Spitfires latched on to one of the aircraft and chased it inland, reports from the Dalkeith Advertiser of the time describe how they arrived over Bonnyrigg without warning, (no sirens had sounded) the peace was shattered by the roar of engines and a blast of machine gun fire from the pursuing Spitfires sending spent cartridges down on to Bonnyrigg High Street.

The Ju88 weaved and turned it’s way back towards the coastline in an attempt to shake off the Spitfires, but to no avail. Taking it in turns to attack they poured hundreds of .303 rounds into her unit Pilot Officer Pat Gifford administered the ‘coup de grace’. The German bomber plunged towards the sea about 4 miles from Port Seton, a local fishing boat saw it go in and picked up the survivors. Pat Gifford is officially credited with shooting down the first enemy aircraft in WW2 in UK airspace but it was a close run thing.

602 City of Glasgow Squadron engaged the Germans at much the same time and attacked them over Fife. Flt Lt George Pinkerton and Archie McKellar pounced on the Ju88 piloted by Hauptmann Helmut Pohle, he was at a grave disadvantage, during his diving attack on the ships at anchor, he had lost his canopy, leaving the crew exposed to the elements.

Attack after attack came in until Pohle lost control, crashing into the sea off Crail, almost hitting a small ship. Pohle was the only survivor, the other three crew were killed.

602 Squadron (City of Glasgow)

602 Squadron (City of Glasgow)

To this day 602 and 603 Squadrons maintain a healthy rivalry as to who shot down the first German. Pat Gifford was shot down and killed during the Battle of France in 1940.

The surviving Germans were taken to Edinburgh Castle until they recovered from their wounds, then sent to a POW camp. Their crewmates were buried with full military honours in Joppa Cemetery, Edinburgh, they were re-interned post war in the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase, England.

Luftwaffe crew members funeral at Joppa

Luftwaffe crew members funeral at Joppa

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