Friday 31 August 2012

Books and Stuff

What's the point of posting, you ask, if for What I'm reading and On my to-read list I say 'The same as Last Week'?

Well, the point of having a regular post is to force me into reading and thus making a change.  Gone for me are the glory days of commuting, where I had almost three hours of enforced reading time each day.  I need incentive.

What I've bought this week...

I've had a bit of a charity shop blitz.

Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife - 50p

HG Wells, The Shape of Things to Come  - Although a 1973 paperback edition (the old Corgi Science Fiction Library), unread and very nice.  50p.

The First Aid Manual (9th Edn) - An as-new copy by Dorling Kindersley.  It'll sit next to First Aid for Dogs and hopefully be used less.  75p.

A Brief History of the Royal Air Force - Apparently distributed to every serving member of the RAF and reserves in 2004.  £1.00.

Leonard Mosley, Faces From The Fire: The biography of Sir Archibald McIndoe - £1.00

A Naval and Polar Medal Miscellany

Last week I blogged about the Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust Appeal charity auction at Spinks.  Another date in the medal collecting calender is looming - one of Dix Noonan Webb's quarterly sales.

This is a completely different beast from the Bentley Priory sale, which is only 56 lots and predominantly RAF-related.  By contrast, DNW covers all areas in a massive 1103 lots.  It's accordingly more difficult to pick out choice items.

My eye is always drawn to naval and polar items, and lots 993-1014 are 'Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte'.  I don't know anything about RC Witte other than that he is Richard C Witte, the author of Fringes of the Fleet and the Distinguished Service Cross (1997) and Naval Double DSOs (1998).  These were apparently written from collecting experience!

Frank Wild's CBE and Polar Medal
 Part I of his collection was sold by DNW in December 2007.  That included the truly exceptional group to Frank Wild 'who, with the exception of Sir Ernest Shackleton, participated in more Antarctic expeditions than any other man'.  Sadly the CBE and Polar Medal (one of only two issued with four bars) had been 'split' from this group in the 1970s - they were subsequently sold in 2009

As well as some eye-watering naval gallantry, this batch of Witte's collection also includes a couple more important polar groups:
A rare and poignant Boer War and Polar Medal pair awarded to Able Seaman G T Vince, Royal Navy, who died in Scott’s first Antarctic expedition in March 1902, after slipping down a steep ice slope during a blizzard while employed in a sledging party under Frank Wild.
The unique Murmansk 1919 operations DSO, Shackleton 1914-16 Antarctic Expedition OBE, Q-Ship operations DSC group of twelve awarded to Commander J R Stenhouse, Royal Naval Reserve: according to Shackleton ‘he accomplished successfully one of the most difficult journeys on record, in an ocean area notoriously stormy and treacherous’ - just one chapter in a truly remarkable career spanning ‘square-riggers’ in the early 1900s to his death in action in September 1941
The Stenhouse group

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Curiosity Update #1: The View From Mars

The Curiosity Rover has sent us its latest photos of the Gale Crater, looking towards Mount Sharp.

The gravelly area around Curiosity's landing site is visible in the foreground.  Farther away, about a third of the way up from the bottom of the image, the terrain falls off into a depression (a swale).  Beyond the swale, in the middle of the image, is the boulder-strewn, red-brown rim of a moderately-sized impact crater.  Farther off in the distance, there are dark dunes and then the layered rock at the base of Mount Sharp.  Some haze obscures the view, but the top ridge, depicted in this image, is 10 miles (16.2 kilometers) away.
'This is an area on Mount Sharp where Curiosity will go,' said Mastcam (Mast Camera) principal investigator Michael Malin, of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. 'Those layers are our ultimate objective. The dark dune field is between us and those layers. In front of the dark sand you see redder sand, with a different composition suggested by its different color. The rocks in the foreground show diversity — some rounded, some angular, with different histories. This is a very rich geological site to look at and eventually to drive through.'

A Warriors' Farewell

Published on Aug 25, 2012 by NZDefenceForce
Haka is used throughout New Zealand by many, not only Māori, to demonstrate their collective thoughts. There is a haka for each of the Services, as well as the Defence Force. Units with the NZ Army have their own haka. This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their Unit haka, powerfully acknowledging the lives and feats of their fallen comrades as they come onto the Unit's parade ground. It is also an emotive farewell for they will leave via the waharoa (the carved entrance way) for the very last time.
Haka --sometimes termed a posture dance could also be described as a chant with actions. There are various forms of haka; some with weapons some without, some have set actions others may be 'free style.' Haka is used by Māori (indigenous people of New Zealand) for a myriad of reasons; to challenge or express defiance or contempt, to demonstrate approval or appreciation, to encourage or to discourage, to acknowledge feats and achievements, to welcome, to farewell, as an expression of pride, happiness or sorrow. There is almost no inappropriate occasion for haka; it is an outward display of inner thoughts and emotions. Within the context of an occasion it is abundantly clear which emotion is being expressed.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

The (Other) Duke of Cambridge

Field Marshal HRH Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Tipperary and Baron Culloden,  Prince of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick and Lünenburg

Early Life and Connections

Prince George was born on 26 March 1819.  He was the eldest child and only son of  Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, the tenth child of George III, and Princess Augusta, a descendent of George II .   A proper Hanoverian, he was even born there, as his father served as viceroy for his brothers.  The family moved back to England in 1837, when the accession of George's cousin Victoria to the British throne led to the separation of the two crowns.  He succeed to the Dukedom on his father's death in 1850.

His sister, Princess Mary Adelaide ('Fat Mary'), was the mother of Mary of Teck, later George V's queen consort. 

Military Career

George followed his father into the army, moving quickly up the ranks - by 1837 he was a colonel in both the Hanoverian and British Armies.  But his was no honorary position - he was stationed at Gibraltar, in Ireland and in the Ionian Islands.  Prince George was appointed Inspector of the Cavalry in 1852.
In 1854 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general, in command of the 1st Division (Guards and Highland brigades), serving in the Crimean War.  He was present at the battles of the Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman (where his horse was shot under him) and at the siege of Sevastopol.  He received the thanks of Parliament.

'The grand charge of the Guards on the Heights of the Alma, Sept. 20th, 1854'

In July 1856, the Duke was appointed general commanding-in-chief of the British Army, a post that was retitled field marshal commanding-in-chief on him gaining that rank in 1862, and commander-in-chief of the forces in 1887.   He served as commander-in-chief for 39 years.  He was finally forced out office in 1895 after years of opposing army reform - 'There is a time for everything, and the time for change is when you can no longer help it.'

The Duke of Cambridge served as colonel-in-chief of the 17th Lancers, Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers; the The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own) and King's Royal Rifle Corps; colonel of the Grenadier Guards; honorary colonel of the 10th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Bengal Lancers, 20th Duke of Cambridge's Own Punjabis, 4th Battalion Suffolk Regiment, 1st City of London Volunteer Brigade and the Scots Fusilier Guards.   He became governor of the Royal Military Academy in 1862, and its president in 1870.   He was the patron of the Oxford Military College from 1876-1896.

The duke died in London on 17 March 1904, the last surviving grandson of George III.  He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

The Duke of Cambridge's tomb in Kensal Green Cemetery

The Orders and Medals

HRH wears his medals in a Victorian way. His campaign medals are up in his collar and his order stars where a modern soldier would put his medals. This isn't just a one-off or due to the constraints of the jacket he is wearing, as can be seen in most portraits of him.

The orders and medals are, along with his field marshal's baton, uniform and other items in the Guards' Museum, Wellington Barracks, London.

The Medals

Cambridge wears the campaign medal for Crimea with four clasps (Alma, Balaklava, Inkerman, Sebastopol), he also has the Turkish Crimea Medal.

The Orders

Following regulations for wear, Cambridge only has four stars in each picture.

In both portraits he wears the blue sash of the the Garter with the star in the 'North' position.  It appears to differ slightly in design from the C19th example shown here.

He was created a knight of the Garter in 1835.

At his neck he wears the badge of a GCMG.  The star is in the 'West' position of the photograph and the 'East' of the miniature.  He was Grand Master of the Order from 1850 to his death in 1904, becoming a GCMG in 1877.

At the 'South' of the arrangement is the star of the GCB (military division).

At the  'East' in the photograph is the star of a KP.

To the 'West' in the miniature is the star of the GCSI.  Cambridge was created a GCSI in 1877.

However, Cambridge had plenty of stars in the box.  He acquired a full set of British orders.  He was

KG: Knight of the Garter
KT: Knight of the Thistle 
KP: Knight of St Patrick
GCH: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order
GCB: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath 
GCSI: Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
GCMG: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
GCIE: Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire   - He was one of the first seven GCIEs in created June 1887 (previously there had only been CIEs and KCIEs).
GCVO: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order - created 1897 (to mark the Diamond Jubilee?)
KJStJ: Knight of Justice of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem 

Additionally, he held several foreign orders.

Stories You Never Thought You'd Read #1: Jools Holland

Musician Jools Holland has been made Honorary Colonel of 101 (City of London) Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)


How long before he's a Deputy Lieutenant? 

Monday 27 August 2012

Sir Bernard Lovell

I'm playing catch-up in flagging the obit of Sir Bernard Lovell, who died on 6 August and who's obits were published immediately afterwards:-

BBC 7 August 2012 
Daily Telegraph 7 August 2012
Guardian 7 August 2012 (by Sir Fred Hoyle)
The Independent 15 August 2012

A week later the Telegraph carried a longer, more thoughtful piece about his legacy.
He was described by Sir Patrick Moore as the 'Isaac Newton of radio astronomy'.

Sir Bernard and the telescope that was eventually named after him
Bernard Lovell was born in Bristol on 13 August 1913.  Like Arthur C. Clarke and Prof Colin Pillinger he never lost his West Country burr, which in later years made him stand out in television and radio interviews.  He was educated at the University of Bristol and then joined the University of Manchester.  During the War Lovell was in charge of a team developing radar systems which enabled night fighters to locate enemy aircraft, improved the aim of bombers during night raids, and enabled Coastal Command aircraft to detect submarines surfacing under cover of darkness.

With the end of the War, he used his contacts to acquire Army-surplus mobile radar units to further his researches into cosmic rays.  There was too much interference in Manchester, so he moved the equipment to the University's Botanical Gardens at Jodrell Bank.  There he eventually scraped together funding to build the radio observatory.

Early days at Jodrell Bank
 The Telegraph obit says that
the story of Jodrell Bank could serve as a metaphor for post-war British scientific and industrial development. Built in an atmosphere of argument and recrimination over its cost, and plagued by constant union disputes and sniping press comment, it nevertheless triumphed against all the odds, contributing greatly to Britain’s scientific reputation and to our understanding of deep space.

The telescope came on-line a few months before Sputnik was launched (it was the only telescope in the Western Hemisphere capable of tracking the satellite), and Lovell soon found himself enmeshed in the Space Race and Cold War. He claimed he was the subject of a Soviet assassination attempt.

Muppets and Metalwork

One of the things about obit pages is that you get fortuitous juxtapositions.  Here we have a Muppeteer ('Nelson had a hand in Rowlf') and a V&A arms and armour expert.

What more could you ask for to read over your cornflakes?

Jerry Nelson
Tony North

Knitting Knews

I hadn't intended to blog about Prince Harry's game of Strip Billiards ('not an euphemism' as the World Service helpfully pointed out).  I have mixed feelings about it: I'm not bothered about an unmarried 28-year-old with no girlfriend having a wild time; I'm indignant about multimillionaire hooray-Henrys calling the girls they pick up and get drunk 'Despicable' for cashing in; and I get annoyed when rent-a-quote MPs say that the Royal Protection Squad should be doing something about it, or when 'The Palace' try to subvert press freedom by using the Press Complaints Commission before the fact.

Anyway, in the delightful language of the Army, Harry is to have an interview with his Commanding Officer - 'Standing; No coffee".   A phrase that must give Ruperts everywhere the willies.  Everything is sorted then.

So why am I writing?  Because...

...the Saltburn Yarnbomber has struck again!

The Yarnbomber first appeared in October 2011  - 'First it was a set of darned books (The Secret Cardigan and A Ripping Yarn) tied to a railing outside the library. Next, a tray of woollen buns appeared by the cake shop, while a family of teddy bears was spotted eating tiny knitted sandwiches on a picnic table near the promenade.' 

In March of this year, the SYB went all Jubilympic

The Olympic Scarf

Detail of the Olympic Scarf

HM and Friends

The Yorkies on the Jubilee Scarf

 And now...

Not a stitch on!

Armstrong Tribute Update

The tributes continue to pour in for Neil Armstrong, with the inevitable opinion pieces about the future (and history) of manned space exploration.

The Daily Telegraph obit does the biz as always.  The Guardian produces one that is workmanlike, but lacks any sense of inspiration.  The BBC gives us video and audio footage.

President Obama has called him 'among the greatest of American heroes - not just of his time, but of all time'.

Buzz Aldren, who famously  forgot to take any photos of Armstrong on the Moon, remembers him as 'a capable commander'.  Michael Collins can do better - 'He was the best and I will miss him terribly'.

Meanwhile, there are calls for him to be given a state funeral.  Almost certainly the last thing the retiring Armstrong would want, but it serves to remind people that Ohio has congressmen.

For those who may ask what they can do to honour Neil, we have a simple request. Honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.
Family statement

Update on Bishop Brindle: Educating a Spanish Queen

The guys over at the British Medals Forum have identified Brindle's star as that of the Spanish Order of Isabella la Catolica.

There's even a good suggestion of why he should have received it:-

Princes Ena was Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (1887–1969), the daughter of Princess Beatrice, and thus a niece of Edward VII and grand-daughter of Queen Victoria.  She married King Alfonso XIII of Spain on 31 May 1906 .  As they were returning from the wedding, they narrowly escaped a bomb thrown from a high window; the explosion killed or injured many bystanders and members of the procession.

Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain
As any OOS fan will tell you, in the above portrait, the queen is wearing what is technically known as a Stonking Great Tiara.

Random Fact: George V's Accent

George V was the first British King in over 200 years not the have a German accent.

I admit to being a little surprised when I read this and feeling I might have come across some caricature about the Royal Family.  Surely Edward VII as English as they came?

Well, it was from the near-impeccable source that is the Oxford Dictionary of British Biography, so I accept it.  Edward was bought up by a German governess and always spoke German with his father (when they were speaking, that is).

Sunday 26 August 2012

Another Giant Leap

Writing about Neil Armstrong reminds me of something I heard last week on the World Service.  In a programme marking the centenary of Capt Scott's last expedition, it was remarked that after Amundsen and Scott nobody went back to the South Pole for almost fifty years.

Hope for the Moon yet...

Armstrong Base?

RIP Dr Armstrong

Neil Armstrong died yesterday.

I think I'll do a more considered post about him later in the week, once I've digested the tributes and press coverage that we'll have.  But first my own thoughts before I've read any of them.

I was too young for the Apollo Missions - my own interest in the Space Programme was inspired by Viking and Voyager and the amazing pictures we had of Mars and the Outer Planets on John Craven's Newsround which pulled me into The Sky at Night.  Perhaps because of that, I tend to side with the probes and robots in the Manned/Unmanned debate on space exploration.  However, Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gargarin have always stood out to me as inspirational characters.

Although Armstrong shared the fighter-pilot background with the other Gemini and Apollo astronauts, he comes across as different - less brash, more considered.  This might not be fair on his colleagues, but it was certainly how he was presented at the time and since.

Armstrong's position as the odd man out among the moonwalkers can be seen in Andrew Smith's excellent book Moondust: In search of the men who fell to Earth - a major part of the book is taken up with whether Armstrong is actually going to let Smith interview him.  First Man, the authorised biography by James R Hansen, paints a picture of a modest, reserved man happy to be regarded as a geek and who would rather be a professor of engineering - inspiring and informing youth - than lead the celebrity life.  Hansen's book is rather turgid in its detail, so I can't unreservedly recommend it.  But perhaps it's worth the detail to read the story of the Eagle Scout who stepped out onto the Moon's surface...

 I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer

Saturday 25 August 2012

Bishop Brindle of Nottingham

Robert Brindle was born in Liverpool 4 November 1837 and studied at the English College in Lisbon.  He was ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1862, serving the Diocese of Plymouth, before becoming a chaplain to the forces in 1874.  He was stationed at Woolwich, Aldershot and at Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Egypt, 1882-1885: the Urabi Revolt and The Gordon Relief Expedition

In 1882 he accompanied the Expeditionary Force to Egypt to quell the Urabi Revolt, and served there and in the Sudan with the Royal Irish Regiment for the next four years, exercising 'over his flock a combination of the spiritual influence of the Pope and the earthly authority of a Regimental Sergeant-Major'.  He missed the battle of Tel-el-Kebir due to cholera staying in Cairo, where he nursed those suffering in an outbreak of enteric fever. 

During the unsuccessful Gordon Relief Expedition of 1884-85 Brindle immediately made a favorable impression on the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Wolseley.  Wolseley had put up a prize of £10 for the Regiment making the best time in negotiating the river.  Sir Evelyn Wood later recalled:
I was riding up the banks of the Nile on a camel, and [Brindle] was pulling in a boat of the Royal Irish Regiment.  About sundown on Christmas Day I saw a little flotilla of boats flying the Royal Irish flag toiling up the river.  Father Brindle got out when he had pulled up to us, hot, tired and irritable, with his hands blistered and perspiration running down his face.  Said I: 'Father, what have you been doing?'  'Pulling stroke in order to encourage them.'  'Any result?' I asked.  'Devil a bit.'  ....  The Father was, however, unduly pessimistic, for the Royal Irish won Lord Wolseley's prize.'
During the withdrawal of the Expedition the Royal Irish were ordered across the Bayuda Desert, and Wolseley decided that to send the Regiment without its firebrand Padre was to reduce its rate of march and general fighting efficiency. Accordingly Father Brindle was supplied with a camel for the 100 mile march, but in the event he made the whole journey on foot. He further borrowed a horse and, though harassed by skirmishers, helped the stragglers by allowing them to ride until they were sufficiently recovered to continue marching - 'Those of his flock whom he suspected of swinging the lead were threatened with ex-communication if they failed to keep going'. The Royal Irish completed the return journey in just 67 hours by which time the soles of Father Brindle's boots were gone and rags rolled about his feet, had replaced them. After participation in the Battle of Ginnis in December 1885, Father Brindle returned to England.

Field Marshall Lord Wolseley (1833-1913), Brindle's admirer

For many years Bishop Brindle's photograph stood on the mantlepiece of Wolseley's office in London. One day a stranger noticed the portrait and asked the Field-Marshal who it was. He replied, 'That is one of the finest soldiers in the British Army, Father Brindle'.

The Dongola and Nile Expeditions, 1897-1899
Brindle served as Chaplain at Colchester and Aldershot for a further ten years.  In 1896, aged 59 years, he sailed once more for Egypt and was attached to Sir Herbert Kitchener's Expedition at Dongola. During the long period of inaction that ensued, Father Brindle proved instrumental in keeping the men on the straight and narrow - 'The men', he reassured Lord Edward Cecil of the Grenadiers, 'will do anything if they are going to have a good fight later on'. When typhoid, dysentery and illness brought on by poor sanitation, bad water and the heat, took hold, it was Father Brindle who did as much as anyone to care for the sick of the rank and file. The war artist Richard Caton-Woodville recalled, 'It was he who carried the Tommies out of their quarters in his arms, placed them in the ambulance to convey them to hospital when nobody else would come near, as the cholera was raging and the men were dying like flies, and even many of the Doctors themselves had died'.

In March 1898, during Kitchener's halt at Atbara, Caton-Woodville witnessed another heroic deed:
It was a Saturday night, and word came from another camp some nine miles away that a Catholic soldier was dying. Unarmed, Father Brindle set out at once and walked across the El-Teb, which was infested by the enemy. He administered the last rites to the dying man, and stayed with him to the end. He then tramped back without rest or food, and reached the camp in time to say Mass for his men on Sunday morning
Brindle was subsequently present in the fighting line at the Battles of Atbara and Omdurman which saw the defeat of the Mahdist forces and the avenging of Gordon.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order 'in recognition of services in Egypt and the Sudan, including the battles of Atbara and Khartoum' (London Gazette, 15 November 1898), which was presented by Kitchener at a full dress parade of the Cairo Garrison,

The Gordon Memorial Service

Brindle and the other chaplains officiating at the Gordon memorial service

Following the entry into Khartoum, Kitchener decided to hold a memorial service for General Gordon among the ruins of the Governor-General's Palace.

The service was conducted by four chaplains attached to the British infantry: Presbyterian, Church of England, Wesleyan and Roman Catholic. Kitchener stood with his staff while behind him stood the Headquarters staff and generals of divisions; on either side of him were representative detachments of the Egyptian army, detachments of General Gatacre’s division and a small corps of officers from the Royal Engineers, Gordon’s own corps.

According to GW Steevens, 
amidst a silence broken only by the guns, the four chaplains,Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist, came slowly forward and ranged themselves, with their backs to the palace, just before the Sirdar. The Presbyterian read the Fifteenth Psalm. The Anglican led the rustling whisper of the Lord's Prayer. Snow-haired Father Brindle, best beloved of priests, laid his helmet at his feet, and read a memorial prayer bareheaded in the sun. Then came forward the pipers and wailed a dirge, while Sudanese played Abide With Me.

Perhaps lips did twitch just a little to see the ebony heathens fervently blowing out Gordon's favourite hymn; but the most irresistible incongruity would hardly have made us laugh at this moment. And there were those who said the cold Sirdar himself could hardly speak or see, as General Hunter and the rest stepped out according to their rank and shook his hand. What wonder? He has trodden this road to Khartoum for fourteen years, and he stood at the goal at last.
Initially, the Church of England padre, the Revd AWB Watson, objected to the participation of his colleagues on the grounds that, as Gordon was a member of the Church of England, their involvement would be both inappropriate and irrelevant. He probably had a point, as Gordon was violently and eccentrically  Protestant.  Kitchener would have none of it. Striking an early blow for ecumenicalism, he told Watson that he had the choice of conducting a joint service with all his fellow clergy or of catching the next steamer back to Cairo. The service, in common with everything else which happened in the Sudan for some time to come, was duly held in accordance with the Sirdar's wishes.


In 1898 Brindle retired from the Army and was appointed an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Westminster.  He was consecrated titular bishop of Hermopolis in partibus infidelium by Cardinal Satolli at Rome.

In December 1901, he succeeded Bishop Bagshawe as fourth Bishop of Nottingham, and was enthroned in the Nottingham Cathedral 2 January 1902.  His time as bishop was marked by steady consolidation on the work of his three predecessors.

By 1913 the bishop's health was failing and he offered his resignation, which was accepted on 1 June 1915, when he was appointed titular bishop of Tacape. Bishop Brindle spent his last weeks of his life at Mount St Mary's College, Spinkhill, where he died on 27 June 1916.  His funeral took place in the Cathedral before his body was buried in the Cathedral Crypt.

The RC Cathedral, Nottingham

Brindle's Medals
Distinguished Service Order; Egypt, (three clasps, Suakin 1884, El-Teb-Tamaai, The Nile 1884-85); Queen's Sudan; Turkish Order of Osmania, Fourth Class; Turkish Order of the Medjidie, Third Class;  Khedive's Star 1882; Khedive's Sudan 1896-1908 (three clasps, Hafir, The Atbara, Khartou).

Brindle's original DSO, presented to him by Kitchener in Cairo, was stolen from him in Rome. He acquired a replacement at his own expense, which was afterwards presented to him by Queen Victoria in May 1899.

They were sold at Christies in November 2000.  The sale apparently didn't include the neck orders or star.


See (posting of 27 August 2012 if you're using the archive tree).

Books and stuff

What I've been reading this week.

I've a few things open at the moment, but my main book has been Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt, part of his Jackelian Series.  In principal Steampunk has always appealed to me, but I've been let down by the practice - many writers in the genre just aren't any good.  This is an exception, and I've been enjoying it.  Apparently there are six novels in the series so far - it remains to be seen whether the momentum can be maintained.

I don't like to have more than one novel on the go at the same time, as one often suffers.  That's what's happened with A Watery Grave by Joan Druett.  I've read about half of the book in a couple of sittings the other week, but put it down and haven't picked it up since.

Joan is an old friend of mine from the old days on the maritime history discussion group marhst-l.  To tell the truth, I much prefer her non-fiction, but I've been meaning to give this book a go for quite a while.  It's the first in the Wiki Coffin Mystery Series.  Wiki is a Maori interpreter/guide on the United States Exploring Expedition, which set off in 1838 to chart and explore the Pacific.  In the best tradition, Wiki has to solve the odd murder...

The copy I've got is the American paperback edition.  As always, American paperbacks are much better quality than the ones we get here in the UK.  It's a pleasure to hold and read.  If paperbacks here were regularly this quality, Kindle and other e-books wouldn't be doing so well.

In non-fiction, I've been reading Howard Williamson's The Great War Medal Collectors' Companion.  This is a ground-breaking compendium of work, weighty in all senses of the word, and will make a big difference to the collecting field.  It's surprisingly well-produced - I expected something a little more 'self-published' in feel, but this is a substantial hardback, printed on glossy paper and with thousands (rather than hundreds) of illustrations.
Me:  [Describes the book before it arrived...]
Wife: That sounds expensive.
Me: Does it?  How expensive would you say?
Wife: £60.
She knows me too well, and was spot on with the price of course.  Luckily for me, Howard was kind enough to give me a free copy in return for some drudge work I doing on a project on the awards of the Military Medal.

I detect some sniffiness about this book over on the British Medals Forum.  I'm not sure why.

Some people, who are quite happy to drop £500 on medals, will baulk at the price of books.  This is short-sighted and goes against the advice we always spout to new-comers.  As has been pointed out, if this £60 stops you buying a 1914 Star with a fake bar, it's paid for itself.  If it helps you pick out an MM for the first day of the Somme among all the other MMs on a dealer's list, it's made you a couple of hundred quid.  Apart from anything else, once the edition has sold-out copies will be selling well in advance of the cover price.  Sadly, medal reference works are never cheap!

On my 'to-read' list

My wife is pressing me to read Sergei Lukyanenko's The Night Watch.  But it's the first in a series of thick books and Russian...

One series I've been meaning to try out is The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (the first book is Storm Front).  They're about a private eye who happens to be a wizard and specialises in the paranormal cases the Chicago Police Department are stumped by.  It might be fun, it might be spectacularly bad...

I've been meaning the read Vol 6 of William Laird Clowes The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to 1900.  Earlier in the summer I read Vol 7 (yes, I know, it's the wrong order), which covered the period from the Second China War (1856-1860) to Queen Victoria's death (1901 and the Boer War). I found it a surprisingly good read.  Vol 6 covers the War of 1812 to the Crimea War (1854).

What I've bought this week

Nothing.  That's not surprising, but as it was my birthday is a bit disappointing.

I had girded my loins to buy WH Fevyer's The Distinguished Service Medal 1914-1920, but the one I'd sourced on Bookfinder for £10 turned out to be The DSM, 1939-1945.  The actual copies of the book were more than I was prepared to pay.  Note how quickly I've changed my tune about the short-sightedness of trying to buy cheap medal books!

Friday 24 August 2012

Sir Ludwig Guttmann

Last week the BBC aired The Best of Men, a very good docu-drama about Sir Ludwig Guttmann (1899-1980) starring the always-excellent Eddie Marsan.

I'd never heard of Guttmann, but he was a very interesting character.  A Jewish refugee, he was invited to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1943.  Recognising the importance of sport therapy, in 1948 (to co-incide with the opening of the London Olympics) he established an annual sporting competition for paraplegics.  By 1952 the Stoke Mandeville Games had attracted more than 130 international competitors, and in 1960 they were held alongside the Olympic Games in Rome - those are now recognised as the first Paralypic Games.

Hopefully, Guttmann is going to be featured prominently in the London Games and will become better-known.

The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust Appeal Charity Auction

The Spink publicity machine has kicked in for its The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust Appeal Charity Auction on 6 September 2012.

The national press is focusing in on the sale of John ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham group, which include the CB, CBE, DSO, DFC and AFC.  The estimate is £60,000-80,000, but like most medal auctioneer's estimates this is likely to be an understatement - I've never understood the point of such 'teasers'.

Not 'Cat's Eyes' Cuningham's medal group - see edit

Meanwhile Spink have been tailoring their announcements to the local and regional press.  For example, the Express and Star in the West Midlands have featured the George Medal awarded to RAF Sergeant Kenneth Lythgoe,  a bomb disposal expert from Wolverhampton.

Lythgoe's group

Unusually, the sale will benefit charity.  Spink are donating their fees to the Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust appeal, which helps to preserve the site where Fighter Command had its HQ. The proceeds of the Cunningham lot will go towards flying scholarships for young people.

Edit - 7 Sep 2012


I've used the wrong illustration for Cunningham's medal group. 

In addition, the estimate was £140,000.

Cunningham's real group

Recovering Richard's Remains

An interesting story about the search for the burial place of Richard III.

Archeologists have started a dig to look for the site of Greyfriars Church, part of a Franciscan Friary in Leicester.  It's where Richard was buried after his death at the Battle of Bosworth (1485) - after he was stripped, brought into Leicester and humiliatingly displayed by the victors.

Greyfriars was destroyed in 1538 during the disolution of the monastries and the archeaologists from the University of Leicester are now trying to establish its site.  I suspect the link to Richard is quite convenient in getting funding, and has certainly got them a lot of publicity.

If they do find a body they think is Richard's, they will do DNA comparisions with one of his descendants.

Dr Turi King from Leicester University gives Michael Ibsen, a 17th generation great nephew of Richard III, a DNA swab at Greyfriars car park in Leicester (PA)

Apparently, it's archeological good practice to re-bury human remains as close as practicable to where they were found.  In this case, they likely to be interred in Leicester Cathedral. where no doubt the new grave will be a tourist attraction.  The dean will be pleased.
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