Sunday 29 May 2016

Yes, the actor who played Withnail is in Game of Thrones, but did you know that the actor who *inspired* Withnail is in it too?

"Withnail is Coming" squealed the viral Photoshop collages, when it was announced that Richard E. Grant was going to feature in Game of Thrones.

It has been previously noted on this blog (here) that the GoT show runners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss must be Withnail fans: giving Diana Rigg a line which included the words "perfumed ponce" is proof if proof be need be.

So it was only a matter of time before REG (as he is known to his fans) appeared in the show. He duly made it to the screen in last week's episode, playing - what else - an actor. It was a cough and a spit of a role, so one hopes he'll be featured again...

Also in the episode, reprising his recurring role as Aeron Greyjoy, was this chap:

That's noted English stage and screen actor Michael Feast. Many years ago, he shared a flat with a few other aspiring young actors. He's the long-haired one sitting in in the middle of this photo...

... and yes, standing on the left is Bruce Robinson. While it's been well-documented that the character of Withnail was based largely on another of the flatmates, Vivian MacKerrell (who's standing at the back in the middle), Feast had a large part to play in the genesis of Robinson's script, not least because it was he and Robinson who actually went on holiday by mistake.

As Feast told journalist Jeff Dawson:

“That whole Lake District fiasco, all of that stuff happened. Getting into the field with the bull; the search for fuel; tying plastic bags round our feet; the chicken thing. The cottage was a tip. The farmer — who did have a plaster on his leg — was just looking to make a bit of extra cash from idiot southerners. It was freezing. We were burning bits of furniture. We slept with our coats on. Even ‘We want the finest wines available to humanity’ was coined up there. The first night we blew all our money on a slap-up meal in one of those very upmarket hotels.”

Is it a coincidence that the show runners cast Feast on Game of Thrones? Surely not. Sadly, given that REG is in Braavos and Feast is in the Iron Islands, it's unlikely they'll share a scene, but we can hope...

Sunday 22 May 2016

A B-17 In Flight: But What's Its Story?

I found these two photos in a flea market one Sunday morning in New York. (Apologies for that rather smug-sounding sentence, but it is nevertheless 100% true.)

They caught my eye because they were both pin sharp and very well preserved, and obviously taken in mid-air.

I also noticed that a tail number was clearly visible in the first photo:

With this information, and a bit of googling, I could track this precise aircraft down. 

According to this link, B-17 46414 was assigned to the USAF Second Bomb Group (Heavy), 96th Squadron, which was based in France, Tunisia and Italy during WW2. 46414 flew 55 missions, and ended up at the Kingman aircraft graveyard, where it was presumably broken down for scrap. has lots of great information. It also has the story archived here, which I'm going to reproduce in full, as I *think* it might be about the exact aircraft in the photo. I'm not 100% sure, because the ID number the story quotes has an extra '4' on the front of it. But there was no B-17 446414 that I can find, so perhaps that was just a typo? Anyway, if anyone can shed any further light, or indeed suggest when/where the photos would have been taken, I'd be very much obliged...

Here's the story.

Just received a copy of letter to Earl Martin, Historian, from Kim Lindaberry
son of the late Sgt. Harold L. Lindaberry, Jr. a crew  member of  2nd Lt. 
Frank Rickman's  crew on Mission 337 to Brux,  Czechoslovakia to bomb the 
Synthetic Oil Refinery.

Kim's letter:

"It has been almost a year since I began researching some of the events of my
father's  service during W. W. II and written with you all. I just wanted to touch 
base with you guys and share a little of what I've found out so far."

After digging through the Second Bombardment Association's roster 
of members I sent out several letters to gentlemen that had names that
matched with names on photos found in my father's belongings.  I was
sure surprised when I got a phone call several months ago from one of
the men that served with my father. They trained together and flew to
Foggia together.  I have been in touch with the radio operator that was
on the same crew as my dad when they were shot down on December 25,
1944.  The radio operator, William (Bill) Forehand, has sent me his hand 
written recollection of the event.  I thought I would share it with you. I 
know that the "Second was First" and "Defenders of Liberty" do not
 list this particular event, but I have to say in my opinion a handwritten
account from a crew member is about as good as it can get when it
comes validation of the story.  Here is a condensed version of what
he wrote:

Flying B-17 #446414 on 12/25/1944 they lost an engine due to flak over
target Brux.  Soon after they lost a second engine (and at some point they
eventually lost a third, unknown if it was before or after the Alps) After
barely making it past the Alps the pilot sent our a Mayday and they prepared
to ditch in the Adriatic.  British Air-Sea Rescue sent a Supermarine Walrus 
 Seaplane to rescue the crew once they had ditched. Before ditching the 
Walrus relayed a communication that indicated a short landing strip 
abandoned by the German Air Force near the beach at Ancona. The British
8th Army had driven the German 10th back far enough for the British to
occupy the landing strip.  At the last moment the decision was made to try
the strip instead of ditching in the freezing Adriatic.  Upon landing the 
B-17 went off the end of the strip and got its wheels mired in the mud.
The battle line between the British Eight and the German 10th Armies was
close enough that they could hear the noise from the confrontation. 

They were treated well by the Brits who shared their Christmas rations
and cheer with the crew.  The British also notified USAAF command of
the situation.  With 3 engines our of commission and wheels stuck in the
mud the next day the crew returned to Foggia via Army Truck.

2nd Lt. James F. Rickman, Crew 96th Squadron 2nd Bomb Group
Standing L-R
Sgt. Harold (Whitey) L. Lindaberry, Armorer, Pompton Lakes, NJ
Cpl. Wilbur Bennett, Engineer, Sidney NE
Cpl. Thomas Bryant, Waist Gunner, Wynne, AK
Sgt. Benjamin Prostic, Ball Turret, Baltimore, Maryland
Cpl. Thomas Benedick, Tail Gunner, Lolo, Montana
Below L-R
Cpl. William (Bill) Forehand, Radio Operator, Portsmouth VI
2nd Lt. Edward A. Gates, Copilot, Milwaukee, WI
2nd Lt. James F. Rickman, Pilot, Chapelhill TE
F/O  Isaac Bowman, Navigator, Wilmington, DE

Sunday 8 May 2016

The Penrith Herald, 1860, with a 2016 makeover...

On Saturday, November 17th 1860, The Penrith Herald newspaper's front page, as was the norm for that time, was full of ads. John Bell for example was busy announcing the opening of his new drapery, with its "lowest possible prices".

In 2016, local artist Ken Martin has created a limited edition print of that front page, with sketches of the town over the top. I rather like it. If you'll allow me my own brief advert, you can see the print, and a lot more besides, in the View Two Gallery, which has now opened at The Brunswick Yard (which is also home of course to Withnail Books' Little Shop).

Sunday 1 May 2016

A 270 Year-Old Book, With A 100 Year-Old WW1 Story...

Here's a very, very special book. It fairly reeks of history. It's a breviary, Breviarium Sanctae Ambianensis Ecclesiae to be precise, dated 1746.

A lovely book then, not in particularly good nick to be sure, but pretty good considering it's over a quarter of a millennium old. It's also very rare: no copies are currently for sale anywhere online (that I could find).

What really sets it part though is the inscription at the front...

The inscription reads (with thanks to the commenter below who corrected my initial transcription):

Picked up at Martinsorte on Somme Front in a ruined home, in 1916, by Captain H. J. Robson R.A.M.C (T.F)*

Just hope the advance of the tanks is before the fall of Theepvalle** and Beaumont Hamel.

* Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force). The Territorial Force was a forerunner of the Territorial Army.
** Thiepval.

I'm afraid it will take someone with better knowledge of the events of The Battle of the Somme than me to work out when this apparently contemporary battlefield inscription was written, but if Captain Robson is talking about the potential fall of Beaumont Hamel, then I *think* that puts it towards the end, in mid-November 1916. (This has particular significance for me, as it was on November 14th 1916, during the Beaumont Hamel offensive, that my favourite writer, Hector Hugh Munro, aka Saki, was shot and killed.)

The book is now quite worn, and moulded as if it was stuck in a pocket, or perhaps a kitbag, for a goodly while.

According to this record in the London Gazette of 19th October, 1917, Captain Robson survived the Somme, but retired from The Royal Army Medical Corps due to ill-health...

All in all a fascinating object, especially in this centenary year. I don't own this book, and though I can put interested parties in touch with the dealer who does own it, I'm not sure he'd ever be able to bring himself to part with it...