Castrol R

As we set off for the French Grand Prix at Clermont Ferrand in the July of 1972 one of our first lifts was in a Morris Oxford – my diary from the time records that it was from “a gentleman who was passionately reminiscing about the 1938 Donington Grand Prix, the Auto Unions and the Mercedes which smelled of boot polish and made your eyes water”. This olfactory signature came from the exotic fuel concoctions used to propel these fire-breathing pre-war monsters.  For me, as with most racing fans of a certain age, the smell that brings it all back home is inevitably Castrol R.  The name Castrol is derived from castor oil, one of the key additives to be found in Charles Wakefield’s original creation; indeed, it is the burning of castor oil that gives it and the race circuits of my memory their glorious and distinctive odour.  Castor oil has long been associated with performance machines and was a primary additive for aero-engines during the Great War; the silk scarves worn by pilots were not an affectation but were used to wipe excess engine oil from their goggles and also to prevent chafing of the neck caused by constantly looking over the shoulder for ‘enemy aircraft at one o’clock’.  Castor oil is also a very effective laxative which had dire consequences for the bowel movements of early fighter pilots.  I like to think that the smell of burning castor oil would have been as nostalgically familiar to my aero-engineer grandfather as it became to me.  Does this scene, with my grandfather stood third from the left in the foreground, have the unmistakable whiff of burnt castor oil?

AVro 504K

The above text is an extract from Golf in the Wild, due for publication in April 2014.  The aeroplane is an AVRO 504K which entered service in 1913 and was outclassed as a fighter soon after WWI started. Relegated to training duties, at which it excelled, it was in use until the 1930s. Before it ended its service career, the rotary engine was replaced with a radial, and it was re-designated the AVRO 504N.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Window

This display cabinet hangs on the wall in our kitchen.  It is built from the frame of a window rescued from a demolished cottage somewhere near Durness – it was bought at the Balnakeil Craft Village many years ago.  Some of the content has appeared on earlier posts – it is a box of memories, a window on the past:

Window on the past

(click on the image to enlarge)

Whilst making the links with the Durness Community website, I was surprised by this connection with John Lennon, something that had, until now, completely passed me by.


These are my Grandfather Fred’s medals from the Great War and World War II.  From left to right they are his 1914/15 Star, awarded for service with the Territorials at Gallipoli; the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service with the RFC in Egypt; the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal and a Long Service Medal for the National Fire Brigade Service – during World War II Fred fought the fires at Southampton and Portsmouth blitzes.

The medals are in much better condition than they appear here.  They are laid on top of a December 1914 copy of The Sphere illustrated newspaper. The magazine is open at a page displaying the lyrics for It’s a long way to Tipperary, written and composed that same year by Jack Judge and Harry Williams. The linear light blended texture which provides the slightly gruesome overtones is Coffee 6208 courtesy of Leanne Cole Photography.

Fred's medals
(click on the image to enlarge)

Royal Flying Corps

This is a collage of my grandfather’s Royal Flying Corps memorabilia. As outlined in previous posts, Fred was stationed at the RFC Training School, Aboukir, Egypt from 1915 to 1918.  In this photograph he is dressed in a desert uniform for a postcard which is inscribed: “Best love to all [at] home”.  This is surrounded by two of his RFC badges, his stripes, his 1919 release papers from Fovant and some basic anti-personnel devices which were simply thrown over the side of the aircraft cockpit:


There were some requests from an earlier post to see more of the copying stand. The PZO UR 9711 is still resident on the dining room table only this time the mounted camera is connected by wifi to an iPad such that I can see the picture, focus and fire the shutter remotely (rather than climb on the wobbly pew to look through the viewfinder 🙂 ). All a bit over-engineered for the task but the real benefits of the wifi connection will arise when the camera is mounted on a six metre pole – it removes the need for guesswork:

UR 9711

Motorcycle diaries

This is one of the earliest photographs of my mum; she is stood next to her dad’s motorcycle and sidecar with the infamous Mrs Kipper securely fastened aboard in furs and compulsory hat.  Mum looks to be about four so I would guess this is the summer of 1927 – no helmets for the passengers in those days, the speed of the bike, the state of the Hampshire roads and Mrs Kipper probably militated against any dare-devilry: “Slow down Fred my hat’s coming off!”

Motorcycle diariesAs a teenager there was never any possibility of me acquiring a motorbike – “too dangerous; not to be trusted; you would break your neck” are just a few of the phrases that echo down the years.  Judging by my subsequent exploits in a Mini 850 my parents were probably right, nevertheless, it is odd that my mother, raised with motorcycles, should be so set against them (Peg was always Chief Whip).  She passed away in May 2012 and in a final act of rebellion there I was, just a few months later, taking my CBT and buying my first motorbike.

This was the start of an unexpected journey – my RV125 Suzuki Van Van is a sensible, modestly powered first bike, ideal for roaming the back lanes of deepest Northumberland with none of the effort required by a pushbike.  Feeling moderately confident on two motorised wheels and embarrassed by the ugly learner plates, I decided it was time to acquire a full licence.  This is a complicated process in the UK but suffice to say I am old enough and therefore deemed sensible enough to acquire the full Category A licence which meant supervised riding on a significantly more powerful Honda CBF600. The first time out on one of these machines, scales fell from my eyes – so this is what all the fuss is about – four wheels moves the body, two wheels move the soul – I was hooked.  No longer a ‘nice to have’, the full licence became an imperative.

Honda CBF - Newcastle

It has been a long and testing summer which involved re-learning how to behave on the road with two wheels after developing 45 years of bad habits on four.  The experience has been enlivening and frustrating, culminating in the on-road test which I finally passed this week having previously gone through the rigors of the theory and manoeuvrability tests.

And so to the real point of this post – an electronic thank you to Newcastle Rider Training who had the wit, intelligence and patience to teach this old dog a new trick.  In order of those most exposed to my limitations – many thanks to Kevin, John and Neil – in particular Kevin whose patient tones I can still hear through the headphones as I invented yet more ways of doing things wrong.  If you live in the Newcastle area and want to learn to ride a motorbike, these guys are the best.

Now I have the wonderful prospect of trading in the 125 and acquiring a meatier machine – if you are aware of the design connection between a certain bike manufacturer and the Beloved, you can guess where I am heading next 🙂

When this bloody war is over….

…No more soldiering for me
When I get my civvy clothes on
Oh how happy I shall be

No more church parades on Sunday
No more putting in for leave
I shall kiss the Sergeant Major
How I’ll miss him, how he’ll grieve.

When I have published this photograph previously I have concentrated on the faces, there is such a wide variation of emotion. This time I have reproduced the entire postcard because there is some interesting detail, including the the old-fashioned guy ropes and the nosey private poking his head out from one of the tents.  Judging by the shoelaces on the front row it was a rush job, so maybe some of those expressions are prompted by irritation.

Fred at army camp

I am guessing this is my maternal grandfather, Fred (seated on the right with a cigarette in hand), when he was still in the Territorial Army, before his dispatch to Gallipoli in January 1915.  I have no record of how long he was posted there  but by late 1915 he was at the RFC Training School, Aboukir in Egypt where he would stay until January 1919, rising to the rank of Chief Mechanic.

Fred's demob account

This demobilization account shows he was granted 50 months of War Gratuity up to 18th February 1919 when he was finally dispersed from Fovant Camp in Wiltshire.  There is some fascinating detail on this aged piece of bureaucracy:

  • The daily wage is seven shillings, almost a third being sent home to the dependant, in this case, Fred’s mum and dad;
  • On dispersal he is granted 28 days leave in arrears at the rate of five shillings per day, a ration allowance and money for a set of ‘plain clothes’ – is this the suit he is proudly wearing in this post?
  • He walked out of Fovant with £2 in his pocket and two postal drafts – his identity paper shows that these were cashed at his home town of Andover on the 1st and 11th March 1919 respectively – his Savings Bank Book was issued on 26th March 1919.

In the midst of the small print and the cumbersome administration is perhaps the most telling of all mean-spirited statements:  The Service Gratuity of £1 per annum is not payable in addition to the War Gratuity.  They had evidently not done enough to deserve it.

A penny for them

This photograph is of no great significance other than it is one of my first.  The camera angle has nothing to do with considered composition and everything to do with the height of the photographer, probably under four feet at the time.

The camera was the family Kodak 127 Brownie, a bakelite plastic viewfinder device produced in their millions during the 1950s.  I can still remember the slightly sticky feel of the shutter and the stiffness of the wind-on mechanism – don’t forget to wind-on to the next exposure!

The woman on the left is my mum – Peg, Peggy, Marion or Marian – see earlier post.  She is dressed in a “good quality” coat, almost certainly from Kendals sale in Manchester. How I dreaded that number 78 bus ride from Altrincham to be kitted out in “smart bargains” – the seeds of my obsession with the scruffy casual look.

The imposing lady to the right is ‘Win’, short for Winifred, she is married to the diminutive Fred, hesitant in the background.  Measuring tape in hand, Fred was a keen DIY man in the mold of Barry Bucknell.  Fred and Winifred, it was like they were made for each other, an inevitable and intended union.  Not so many years later Fred died in his sleep; poor Win awoke next to a dead man.  Close to hysterics she ran down the road to Peg, the first port of call in a crisis.  Stoic Peg always knew what to do – she made tea, calmed the distraught Win and walked up the road to place pennies on his eyes.

Mum with the Beasleys

Travel theme: Tilted in Egypt

As you might imagine, I am not the man behind the lens for this photograph but my maternal grandfather, Fred, certainly was – an earlier post shows him standing centre stage at the Sphinx his folding camera in hand. During the Great War he was a mechanic with the Royal Flying Corps training school at Aboukir in Egypt; if you click on “Fred” in the tag cloud, previous posts explain his story

The severely tilted aircraft is probably an Airco D.H.9.  A colleague from my IT days who writes on the subject of early flying provides this interesting insight:  This is unlikely to have been a crash from height – the aircraft is too intact for that.  It is more likely that a trainee pilot made a heavy landing, and by a mixture of throttle mismanagement and a lack of control, managed to bounce his way towards the hangar.

RFC Aboukir

Click on the image to enlarge and there is surprising detail and untold stories in the photograph – the canvas is torn back on the lower wing to reveal its delicate construction; why is the character in the hat sat on the ground and what is that upturned canvas covered object next to him; look closely and there are actually two aircraft in the background and what is the man with the pole about to do!

Without doubt, these are young men from another time where risk is a daily part of their lives.

Like father, like son

This proud man is my great grandfather, Charles Benjamin Buscall Deaves (all forenames), my maternal grandfather’s father (1864-1937).  He is dressed in the uniform of the Andover Fire Brigade – Fireman No. 12; helmet, buckle and button shining, his hand rests upon his fireman’s axe.  I am certain this was taken in 1923; there is a group picture of the Fire Brigade in C J J Berry’s Old Andover – 340 pictures covering 120 years, published in 1976.  In the book, Charles is standing in front of a fire engine in identical uniform and pose, looking exactly the same age.  “Andoverians took great pride in their Fire Brigade which was under the direct control of the Borough Council.  For 33 years from 1903 to 1936, its highly respected commander as Capt. F.A. (Arthur) Beale, of Beale & Sons, the local builders and under him the Brigade had a fierce esprit de corps and excelled in efficiency and in competitive drills, winning dozens of trophies and diplomas”.

I imagine Fred and May calling at his father’s house just before he goes for the group photograph, May heavily pregnant with my mother, born in August 1923.  Charles’ wife Alathea (née Deaves): “Doesn’t your Dad look grand Fred, go on take his picture.  I can’t believe it, he will be sixty next year and then he is finished with the Brigade, my, doesn’t time fly.  There will be a vacancy coming up Fred, perhaps you could take his place when he retires – the extra money would come in handy now you’ve got May and the baby to think of “.

Charles Buscall Benjamin DeavesSure enough, Fred’s 1966 obituary includes the following:  During World War II he was a full-time fire officer in the Andover Fire Brigade, having joined in 1925 and served until 1945.  He was called to help at the blitzes at Portsmouth and Southampton.  I am particularly fond of the picture below which at first glance appears to be just a bunch of ‘old boys’ gathered round some up-turned boxes drinking tea, maybe laced with something stronger; my grandfather, Fred, is seated second from the left.  Look more closely though and at least two are in the uniform of the Andover Fire Brigade (AFB badges) whilst one blackened individual looks fresh from an inferno.  On the far right of the picture, on the ground next to the bucket, is a rolled up fire hose.

FiremenIs this the morning after, have they just returned from war torn Plymouth or Southampton or has there been a more local tragedy.  C J J Berry’s book states that “A solid-tyred Dennis engine was bought in 1927 and converted to pneumatic tyres in December 1933” – Charles and Fred would have both been familiar with this machine.  “The first big fire it attended after conversion being that at the Heronry, Whitchurch, a country mansion blaze in which two died; the Duc de la Tremoille and Capt. the Hon. J.H.B. Rodney”.   The Andover Advertiser report on the fire includes this chilling detail:  The finding of the charred remains of Prince Louis Jean Marie de la Tremoille, premier Duke of France, was told by Supt. S. Bennett, of Andover.  The chauffeur, Jackson, said Capt. the Hon. J. H. B. Rodney, was apparently not seriously injured after his leap from the window, and it was a surprise that he died soon after admission to hospital.  It seems certain that Fred would have been in attendance that tragic night.

This final picture was taken at Andover Football Ground, sometime between 1941 and 1945.  Fred is standing on the front row, sixth from the left and the AFB badges have now been replaced by the NFS insignia – the National Fire Service.  This organisation was formed in 1941 by the amalgamation of the wartime national Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and the local authority fire brigades; Andover Fire Brigade was one of 1600 such local authority fire services.  Like his father before him, in this pictuire Fred is edging towards retirement from the Fire Service.

National Fire ServiceOne final note worthy of an ‘anorak’: despite initial assumptions, the fire engine shown in the group photograph above is almost certainly grey and not red.  The white banding around the wheel arches is consistent with other vehicles painted in the standard grey livery.

Colonel Cody

A 1965 Andover Advertiser profile of my maternal grandfather, Frederick Earnest, includes the following paragraph:  He has always retained his interest in flying and recalls as a young boy acting as a time observer for Colonel Cody’s flight between Farnborough, Andover and Newbury.

Cody was born Samuel Franklin Cowdery in 1867 in the state of Iowa but changed his surname and adopted the appearance of Buffalo Bill in order to enhance his career as an all American gun-toting, cattle-roping cowboy and showman.  At one stage he even toured Britain promoting himself and his wife Maud Lee as Captain Cody and Miss Cody: Buffalo Bill’s Son and Daughter; until Bill sued.  Maud then joined another circus, injured herself, returned to America, became addicted to morphine and ended her days in a home for the insane leaving the Colonel to take up with an entirely new Madame Cody, Lela King.  Whilst aspects of his personal history were pure invention, his life as one of the first aviators was entirely genuine and all his own.

His first aeronautical exploit involved a kite capable of lifting a man into the sky which he subsequently sold to the British Army as a reconnaissance device. After a brief foray into airships he became the unlikely designer, builder and flyer of the first aeroplanes in England.  This postcard, which belonged to my grandfather, is captioned Mr Cody at Lark Hill – Aug 1912:

Colonel Cody

Larkhill became the first army aerodrome in 1910 and in 1911 home to the first flying unit of the armed forces which by May 1912 had evolved into No. 3 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.  The postcard coincides with the August 1912 British Military Aeroplane Competition held at Larkhill and won by Colonel Cody in his Cody V biplane.  He was to die a year later at the controls of his latest design, the Floatplane, when it broke up at 500 feet.

A distinctive and romantic figure, an Iowan cowboy admired by Edward VII and George V, he was given a magnificent funeral funded by the War Office; the first civilian to be buried at Aldershot Military Cemetery.  In front of his grave there is a memorial stone for his son, Samuel Franklin Leslie Cody 2nd Lieutenant, who, like my grandfather, joined the Royal Flying Corps.  The dear beloved youngest son of Samuel Franklin and Lela Marie Cody…..fell in action fighting four enemy machines in May 1917.

The BBC foreign correspondent, John Simpson, writes on the subject of Cody in his excellent autobiography, Days from a Different World, which provides an interesting and insightful family perspective to the story – his maternal great grandmother was Cody’s common law wife Lela – Madame Cody – “a bareback rider, a circus performer, a balloonist and (on 14th August 1909) the first woman to fly in an English-speaking country; indeed, she was only the second woman to fly in the entire world”.