Saturday, 23 May 2015

Photo of last wartime raid discovered

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Photo of last wartime raid discovered 

With the 70th anniversary of VE Day still fresh in our minds from a fortnight ago (did anyone see the celebrations on the B.B.C. and particularly the veterans' march past the Prince of Wales - what about that old boy at the end who insisted on getting out of his wheelchair to shake hands with the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall?!  What a chap!), it's easy to forget that the war was still raging in Europe almost right up until the moment of surrender on the 7th May.



Photograph discovered of 'last RAF bomb dropped on Germany'

This fact has been brought home again recently thanks in part to the discovery of a previously unseen photograph showing preparations for an RAF bombing raid on the German port of Kiel, with the date (written on the bomb, no less!) of the 2nd May 1945 - only 5 days before Germany's unconditional surrender.  Even more interestingly, this raid - by de Havilland Mosquitoes of 608 Squadron, based at Downham Market in Norfolk - has been confirmed as the last hostile operation undertaken by Bomber Command in the Second World War, so this photograph is most definitely an important historical document of the very last days of the conflict.



It was a fitting closure to aerial operations in the Second World War that Kiel was chosen as the target for this final raid (as it was feared that the remnants of the German Navy would make a last-minute dash for Norway, then still in Axis hands, from the town's large sea port) as it was also one of the very first targets to be bombed by the RAF back in September 1939 (as immortalised in the 1939 British propaganda film The Lion Has Wings, starring Merle Oberon and Ralph Richardson - from which the above clip is taken).

As is the way with newly-discovered photographs we marvel at the snapshot in time that they provide, which in this case is heightened by the knowledge that it was taken less than a week away from one of the defining events of the 20th century - the end of one of the world's bloodiest and all-encompassing wars.  An otherwise everyday wartime activity is thrown into stark relief by the fact that it turned out to be the last such action of the war and one wonders about the awareness of the men in the photo - what were their hopes and feelings on that last raid; did they know it would all be over in a matter of days?  We'll likely never know the answer to that question now since the original owner, pictured in the photo, passed away in 1979 (having, like so many of his generation, never talked about his experiences) but nevertheless it's welcome news that an historically-important image has been found and saved for the nation, fittingly in this the 70th anniversary year of the war's end.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Strange Case of the Strikingly Similar Silk Ties; plus a chance to be well-heeled

Well hello, everyone!  Sorry I've been a bit quiet this weekend; as I said I had a couple of posts lined up but I felt quite run down last week so I ended up spending the whole May Day weekend at my parents', recharging my batteries.  A very relaxing three days were spent lounging in the garden, doing the charity shops in Leigh and popping into the local bi-monthly vintage fair (not much resulting for me, sadly, although the latter had a couple of good stalls with some nice jackets and waistcoats at decent - for these days - prices so I've noted the seller's details with an eye to checking out her own shop in the future).

It was in The Children's Society shop that I found my only score of the weekend, a Marks & Spencer St Michael brand silk tie in what I felt was a pleasing '90s-does-'50s pattern.  It didn't ring any other bells so I paid the 99p and thought no more about it.  When I got back to the folks' place I put it next to the two or three ties I'd bought with me from home and it was only then that I noticed something remarkable about this new one compared to one of the others.  See if you can spot what it is... (cue eerie music)

New tie, right, versus old tie, left

I couldn't believe it - no wonder I liked it so much, I already had one very much like it!  But not exactly the same, you'll notice.  The first tie I'd bought from a charity shop at least ten, if not fifteen, years ago and was originally from well-known men's outfitters Burton.  Now to the best of my knowledge M&S has never owned Burton, although I'm sure they've had Burton concession shops within their larger stores - either way I can only assume that through a strange quirk of fate they've ended up using the same pattern.  Perhaps it was a popular design?  Strange for me to have come into possession of them both over the space of 10+ years, though!


Now, moving on to the second part of this post - "ooh, how is he going to be well-heeled?", I hear you wonder.  Well, this was not a chance for me to be well-heeled but it is a chance for you, ladies!

I'm not often given to advertising on this blog, especially vintage-style ladieswear because obviously I don't have such things.  But mother does!  Shoes, to be precise, in a spiffingly attractive brogue heel design.  Alas, despite being in her size (UK 5½, EU 39) they no longer fit her comfortably so she is reluctantly getting rid of them.  "Oh, the girls who read your blog would like these, will you mention them on there?", I was asked, and I was happy to oblige!  Egads, I'd have had 'em if I was a 5½ and looked good in heels! 

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Mater's just put them on Ebay today, so they're fresh from the wardrobe.  The main details (on the listing but I'll repeat them here):  produced in Italy for Jones the Bootmaker, so really well-made (the soles still look to have a lot of life left in them, and the overall quality's top notch); 3-tone brogue design (two shades of tan/light brown - mum's put the dark colour as black, I wouldn't swear to it not being dark chocolate brown but it's hard to judge); 2½-inch heel.

Mother's described them as "vintage style" and we can both see them really suiting a 1930s, '40s or '50s bookish look - perhaps with a tweed suit/skirt, maybe?  So if you're a size 5½ why not high yourself over to the E of Bay for a look?  They deserve to go to a good home!

Right, enough hawking.  I hope to return ere long with stories featuring Spitfires, Mosquitoes and steam trains.  In the meantime I hope you all had a splendid May Day holiday and I look forward to catching up with all your posts!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Aston Martin LM19 Ulster car to be auctioned

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Aston Martin LM19 Ulster car to be auctioned

Back in June 2014 - although it doesn't seem that long ago! - I wrote a blog post about two of our favourite [fictional] chaps and the cars that link them together (on film at least): Bertie Wooster's Aston Martin and Captain Hastings' Lagonda.

I thoroughly enjoyed penning that post, as pre-war Astons and Lagondas rank among my top motors and its always a pleasure to see them appear on screen in the hands of two top chaps.  I'm delighted therefore to get another chance to shine a light on a 1930s Aston Martin, with a very special example due to go under the hammer at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June.

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The Aston Martin LM Ulster was based on the 1928 1½-litre International model (as used by Bertie Wooster in the 1990s Granada TV series) and designed by Aston Martin's co-owner at the time, Italian-born engineer A.C. "Bert" Bertelli, with the sole aim of racing in the famous Le Mans endurance (hence the LM moniker) race.  LM1 and LM2 were promptly entered in to the 1928 event but in the end neither car made it to the finish.  In the following years Aston Martin continued to refine the LM-series - producing a total of 21 such models - with success finally coming in the 1933 race when one car finished top of its class and the other in fifth place, the company's best result at the time.

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As well as Le Mans, the LM Astons also competed at myriad other endurance races around Europe and this included the Ards TT (Tourist Trophy), a 400-mile race around the streets of Dundonald, Newtownards and Comber in County Down, Northern Ireland.  It was first run in 1928, proving ideal for Aston Martin to do some more on-the-job testing of its new LM cars, and in 1934 they had their greatest success at the Ards circuit - whereupon the "Ulster" suffix was added to the model name.

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Now one of the few remaining Aston Martin LM Ulsters is due to come up for sale at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June.  This particular example - LM19 - was one of the three at the 1935 Le Mans (where it held the class lead for a time before crashing out after 9 hours; sister car LM20 would go on to finish in third place) and would go on to race in the Ards TT and Mille Miglia in the same year - making it a rare entrant in all three "blue riband" race events of the era.  A year later it was driven in the 1936 French Grand Prix by famous British racing driver Dick Seaman and, quite amazingly, has been raced in one event or another every year since (excluding 1939-45) with its last appearance on track at a Vintage Sports Car Club race meeting in April 2014.  With such a sporting pedigree as that it is perhaps not surprising that this car, widely regarded as one of the best examples of pre-war British sports car production (and by Bertelli himself as "the best car[s] I ever built"), is expected to beat the record for the highest price ever paid for a pre-war Aston Martin (which was set at last year's Goodwood Fos auction when another LM went for over £1.4million - in turn beating the £1.3million paid for another Ulster in 2013) with an estimate of between £1,600,000 and £2,000,000.  I doubt even Bertie Wooster could afford that!

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Although the B.B.C. article suggests that the new owner (whoever s/he may be) won't race this rare and valuable car I'd like to think that they would enter it in a few events at the VSCC, Goodwood and the like, where those of us with petrol in our veins and a love of vintage motor cars can see this beautiful and historic machine doing what it was designed to do while providing a thrilling and emotive link to the heyday of pre-war motor-racing.  Let's come back in June and see what it went for, eh?

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter hellos

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Happy Easter everyone, I haven't forgotten you all!  (Don't worry, I've got a couple of posts lined up for the next few weeks so hopefully things will soon be back to the "new" normal here at Eclectic Ephemera.)  In more exciting news I had another article published in In Retrospect magazine, with a fourth hopefully for Issue 03 in a couple of months' time!

Did you see that B.B.C. Two actually put on Easter Parade at Easter(!), on Good Friday morning?  That was a pleasant start to the Easter weekend, I thought (even though I'd recorded it from their last showing of it in... November)!  I can never get enough of the incomparable Fred Astaire...



Here's hoping you've all had a wonderful Easter holiday - not too much chocolate I hope!  (I actually got my first egg in years - from work!  What a nice bunch of coves, eh?)  Well, roll on Spring!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Lost Sherlock Holmes story discovered in man's attic

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Lost Sherlock Holmes story discovered in man's attic

Proof that there remains many unknown and long-lost treasures from the past [100 years] still to be found in attics, skips etc. comes this news of a newly-unearthed Sherlock Holmes story, written over 110 years ago and rediscovered more than 80 years since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle last put pen to paper on the subject of The Great Detective.

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As it turns out this is not quite the great literary discovery of the century that it sounds, although it is still quite remarkable and most interesting.  The "story" turns out to be of the short variety (1,300 words), written by Conan Doyle in 1904 in support of the fundraising for a new bridge in Selkirk, Scotland, to replace the previous one that was destroyed in 1902.  Thus it was penned very much as a 19th century "sponsored article", with Holmes using his famous powers of deduction to determine Watson's forthcoming trip to Scotland to - attend a new bridge-opening event.  Having read it, it could even be argued that the whole scene is an "imagining" of a Holmes-Watson discussion by the third party and the thing reads in such a slightly exaggerated way that I wouldn't be surprised if Doyle had his tongue firmly in his cheek at the time.

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Nevertheless it was obviously something of a coup to have such a well-known "literateur" endorse Selkirk's little bridge (still standing today!) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's name rightly stands proud in The Book o' the Brig

Whether there are any further, more substantial lost works from Doyle remains to be seen but as a Sherlockian and a vintage enthusiast I am delighted to see a prevously unknown Holmes story come to light in so interesting a manner.  Well done to Mr Elliot for finding it (eventually), hanging on to it and donating it to the local pop-up museum, who I'm sure will be proud and welcome custiodians.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Brooklands race track to return to use with £4.7m grant



Brooklands race track to return to use with £4.7m grant

Well, this has just about made my year and no mistake!  I doubt there'll be any more welcome [vintage] news in 2015 to trump this, and we're not even a quarter of the way through the year.

Yes, this is the overwhelmingly joyous news (which had me bouncing off the walls in excitement, I can tell you!) that the Brooklands race track in Weybridge, Surrey - first constructed in 1907 but defunct as a motor racing ciruit since the start of the Second World War in 1939, when it was largely built over and used for aircraft production - has been awarded nearly £5,000,000 in Heritage Lottery funding for use in restoring some of the track to its original 1930s condition.



Although efforts have been underway for some time now in this regard, confirmation of the Hertiage Lottery Fund's £4.7million contribution means that the projected overall costs of £7,100,000 have very nearly been met and work will begin soon.  This will involve dismantling the Grade II listed Bellman Hanger (erected by Vickers Aviation in 1940 for the production of Wellington bombers and more recently used to exhibit some of the Brooklands Museum's wonderful aeroplanes) and moving it, plus all its contents, several hundred yards where it will be rebuilt and restored to once again house many aeronautical exhibits.  Once this is done the next exciting part of the work can begin - the restoration of the start-finish straight (above).  Unseen and unused since Vickers built their production facilities over it in 1940, it will once again echo to the cheers of spectators and the roar of racing engines for the first time in 75 years.  Connected to the surviving banking at the north-east corner of the circuit it will provide the longest section of usable track since Brooklands' heyday in the 1920s and '30s.



Alas, despite the somewhat misleading B.B.C. article the entire track will not be returned to use since in the intervening decades a retail park and housing estate have been built over other sections.  Still, this is the best news that could have happened for Brooklands and will certainly return the track to as close to its pre-war glory as is possible.  And with this work, who knows what may be in store for the future?  Maybe we will see a complete circuit yet?


I last went to Brooklands in 2007 when the circuit was celebrating its centenary and what a fantastic day out that was.  Period outfits were worn and famous Brooklands racers including John Cobb's Napier-Railton and the later Napier-Bentley (above).  The Brooklands Musuem put on a fantastic event and is well-worth the visit and, although I didn't have the time or money to experience it on the day, the Mercedes-Benz World complex within the track is reputedly well worth a look-see.  Mercedes' contribution to the circuit's revival should not be overlooked and we owe them a debt of thanks for assisting the Museum in keeping the "Brooklands spirit" alive.



Personally I can't wait to see the results of the "Re-engineering of Brooklands" once it is complete, hopefully by the summer of 2016.  I'm sure it will breathe a whole new lease of life into an already fantastic place and my return there is only a matter of time.  With luck there will be some [period] special events to celebrate the reopening (already Brooklands plays host to many annual events and meetings, including the Double Twelve and 1940s Weekend - which I keep meaning to get along to) and I look forward to seeing the fruits of the restoration - Brooklands 1930s-style!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

28.5-litre Fiat S76 runs for first time in over 100 years



28.5-litre Fiat S76 runs for first time in over 100 years

Back in November 2011 I wrote a long post about the history of the aeroplane-engined motor car and included many incredible examples of much machines, such as the mighty 21½-litre Blitzen Benz from 1909, Fiat's 21.7-litre Mephistopheles, plus later additions like 47-litre BMW Brutus and the similarly-displacing Packard-Bentley Mavis.  Now it is the turn of another of those century-old leviathans to come under the spotlight - the 1911 Fiat S76.

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Built in response to the land speed record-setting Blitzen Benz from two years previously, the S76 contained all of Fiat's technological know-how from its Grand Prix racing experiences of the early 1900s.  At the time, the only way to reliably extract a great deal of motive power from an engine was to make it as large as possible (hence the proliferation of monster-engined GP cars during that period, as well as the aforementioned use of aeroplane engines).  Thus it was that Fiat produced a gargantuan 28½-litre powerplant that put out nearly 300bhp - a fantastic figure for the time and almost twice as much as the Benz!  Featuring technology that would not look out of place in a modern engine, including four valves per cylinder and overhead cams with multi-spark ignition, the Fiat motor shared one thing in particular with its Mercedes counterpart - it was designed from the outset to power a motor car and a motor car alone; it never saw use as an aeroplane engine.


Only two examples of the S76 (fittingly named The Beast of Turin) were built, between Autumn 1910 and Spring 1911, and in the following two years they set numerous speed records around the globe, including runs of 125mph at the Brooklands circuit in Surrey and Saltburn beach in Yorkshire as well as a 180mph flying mile at Long Beach, New York!  It was in December 1913, however, that an attempt was first made on the World Land Speed Record that was held by a Blitzen Benz at 126mph.  French-American racing driver Arthur Duray, who had previously broken the land speed record three times between July 1903 and March 1904 (at 83mph, 85mph and 89mph), would be at the wheel for the record-breaking run at Ostend in Belgium.



Sadly, although the S76 used for the attempt was clocked at a magnificent 134mph a series of misfortunes ultimately denied the Fiat the record.  Inconsistent speed readings dogged the event (you can see from the accompanying footage just how rudimentary some of the measuring techniques were!) and the timings for each run, which have always been important for land speed records, were thrown into chaos by a recalcitrant tram driver who refused to alter his timetable along the seaside road being used for the attempt (yes, these chaps were really doing 130+mph next to tram tracks on a promenade road!).  Therefore the ultimate top speed remained unverified and the record unofficial; eight months later the First World War would sweep away all ideas of record attempts.  One of the S76 was sold to a Russian driver with the chassis later being used as a basis for a post-war racing car, the second was retained by Fiat and survived the war but never ran again under its own power.  The subsequent fate of it remains shrouded in the mists of time.

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Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when British vintage motor-racing enthusiast Duncan Pittaway managed to unearth the chassis of the record-attempting S76 - which had somehow ended up in Australia!  This was brought back to the UK and has since been reunited with the surviving engine from the other S76.  After a long period of restoration and rebuilding - with not a few little hiccoughs along the way - the sole remaining Fiat S76 is running again for the first time since 1913!  And what a sound!  It's remarkable to see it, in colour, in 2015 - to marvel at its massive engine, as tall as a man, the power and torque literally rocking the car on its springs.  What bravery Duray must have had to drive the thing at 135mph (he was actually quoted as saying that third gear "called upon all of his knowledge as a racing driver" and fourth [gear]  required "the courage of 100 men")!

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Mr Pittaway and his team are to be congratulated for such skill and devotion in bringing this monster back to life and I'm delighted to see it in such rude health after 100 years' sleep.  The Beast of Turin is scheduled to appear at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed (25th-28th June 2015) and with luck many more events in the future, where it will doubtless thrill and deafen a whole new generation - I hope to be among them!

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