Today is VJ Day (15th August), the day set aside to remember the cessation of hostilities in the Far East and the lives of those who fought and died in the conflict and those who sacrificed their freedom and very often their lives in the notorious POW camps in Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Japan and elsewhere where they endured almost unimaginable deprivation and hardship.
To mark the day I thought I would share a poem written by my dad in February 1943 while he was imprisoned – along with the other officers of his regiment – at Keijo in Korea, modern-day Seoul.
Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has announced the availability of new funding to encourage councils to develop brownfield sites for new housing.
The government has set aside £200 million to help create 10 housing zones on brownfield land where it will be easier to build new homes quickly. The new zones, which will be outside London, should be large enough to deliver 750 to 2,000 properties.
Mr Lewis said housing zones will help councils boost housebuilding while making the best possible use of previously-developed land so the countryside is safeguarded.
Since 2010 the government has taken steps to ensure brownfield land and existing properties are prioritised for new housing development, including abolishing current regional strategies, which earmark green belt land for new development and selling enough publicly-owned surplus brownfield land for 100,000 new homes by 2015.
Mr Lewis said councils should now follow the government’s lead. Across the country there is enough brownfield land to deliver up to 200,000 new homes, and ministers expect to see planning permissions covering 90 per cent of this land to be in place by 2020.
Brandon Lewis said: “We need to build more homes in this country, but it’s also vital we protect the countryside that people rightly treasure. That’s why the government is offering councils a share of £200 million to prioritise development on brownfield land.
“The new dedicated housing zones will transform disused and derelict land, and ensure the new homes are built quickly in a process that is more straightforward for councils and builders.”
However, it remains to be seen whether this will be enough of an incentive to councils, like Peterborough, who are sitting on land in rural areas already earmarked for development or where the Homes and Communities Agency – Peterborough again – hold rural land that appears ripe for development.
Mr Lewis was quick to respond to criticism from the national press that the government had in fact increased the amount of residential development in the greenbelt.
He said: “This government has been very clear that Green Belt protection continues, and the most recent official statistics show that the level of Green Belt development is at its lowest rate since modern records began in 1989. We have fortified the Green Belt by abolishing the last government’s top-down Regional Strategies, selling our surplus brownfield land for redevelopment, and introducing more flexible planning rights so empty and underused buildings can be brought back into productive use.
“Local plans are now at the heart of the planning system, so councils decide where development should go. There is enough brownfield land to deliver up to 200,000 new homes, and councils should be using their powers and the support that’s available from the government to prioritise development on these sites, and defend our valuable countryside against urban sprawl.”
I’m not sure this will be the case in areas like Peterborough where it makes commercial sense for the HCA to sell its land holdings to developers and where council leaders would like their egos massaged by pushing through development in areas long-coveted by the self-serving and the greedy.
I was listening to Dave Raven’s blues radio show this morning and while I was listening to a new Sean Taylor track I had a mooch around Dave’s website and found a link to a bit of history of Taggs Island. Turns out that close by there is a houseboat moored on the Middlesex bank called ‘Astoria’.
This comes back to the modern era because Astoria is now owned by Pink Floyd guitar legend Dave Gilmour who uses her as a recording studio. Where do the connections come in? Well all these connect my recent preoccupations with the Blues with one of my favourite guitarists – Gilmour – my family – tenuously and Sean Taylor, who played a gig at Shakedown in 2012. An example of Douglas Adams’ interconnectedness of all things.
I saw a Facebook post this morning from a guy on the CoFEPOW site that I follow pointing out that there is not a single mention of VJ Day (Victory against Japan) on Aug 15 1945 which marked the final end of WWII. He pointed out that the modern world – in its ingratitude – has simply forgotten the sacrifice made by him and his friends and comrades in the name of freedom. I did a bit of googling to discover that it is true in the UK. In Australia and the US, however, there is loads of stuff in the press.
I suppose with the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics 2012 we have had other things to occupy us and the commemoration of an ‘unfashionable’ and tragic episode in British military history has fallen off the radar. Well I have to agree with Mr Lane – we are all guilty of being ungrateful bastards.
Here is an extract of an interview that my dad gave after the war to army officers during his debrief following his liberation from Omori POW camp in Tokyo:
“From the point of view of food and general treatment while I was a prisoner of war, both were worse in Bunka than I had experienced in other Japanese camps. For one period of 10 months I was not allowed to write any letters home.
“I suffered from beri-beri owing to lack of vitamins. I am still suffering the after effects in both my hands. On or about the 15th of August…we were turned loose awaiting the arrival of the American forces. On the 29th of August we were taken by landing barges by the Americans from Omori to the hospital ship ‘Benevolence’ where we were medically examined, bathed and given new clothes. From there we were transferred into destroyers, all British subjects being taken over by the British aircraft carrier ‘HMS Speaker‘. On this carrier we taken to Manila from where I was flown by British aircraft to England. I arrived in England at the end of September 1945.”
Lt Jack McNaughton, The Loyal Regiment was one of the lucky ones, thank God. But we need to remember all those who weren’t as well as the ones, like Mr Lane who survived.
Just the other day, in my capacity as a parish councillor, I was asked by a concerned resident of the village to bring up an item on speeding at the next meeting. It transpires that a rather well-known individual was allegedly recognised by them speeding through this part of the shire – one Mr Jeremy Clarkson – presenter of BBC TV’s Top Gear programme, author and newspaper columnist.
A quote from a piece that Jez wrote on the Top Gear website a few years back talking about radar detectors and the joys of driving fast gives us some insight, if any were needed, into his attitude towards speeding: “…the real reason we are attracted to radar detectors has absolutely nothing to do with safety. It’s because, theoretically, they allow us to drive at one million mph through a village, safe in the knowledge that Plod isn’t hiding round the next corner in his Fiat van […]
“[…]Only the other day, on the television, I joked that I’d never buy a car because it protected pedestrians well in an accident. There are, I explained, more important things to worry about, like how fast it goes and what it looks like. And, of course, the next week, I had a barrage of mail from people whose children had been run over and killed. Each one made me feel absolutely fucking dreadful.”
And so it should Mr C. On rural village roads, with blind bends and build-outs, close to schools and other amenities speed limits are set with everyone’s safety in mind. The total length of a speed restriction on a stretch of village through-road might only be a few hundred yards or so. What’s the point of speeding through it? Something will slow you up on the way through so why not drive smoothly through at the speed limits. Just exercise a little patience and consideration? You’ll get out and on your way in no time.
The same goes for all the selfish gits – most of whom are residents old and new – whose lives are apparently so much more important than the safety of the kids, parents, the elderly, cyclists, horse riders etc that also use the road. Not to mention their own personal well-being. Tractors coming round blind bends with the sun behind them on bright winters’ mornings tend to be almost invisible and provide a fairly terminal barrier when hit head on at speeds even as low as 20 mph.
Before the First World War changed society for ever two of the most popular forms of mass entertainment in Britain were Association Football and the Music Hall. In a historical forerunner of Sport Relief, the stars of London’s music halls and Football League Div One side Tottenham Hotspurs met on a muddy pitch in North London on a wet March afternoon in 1914 to brighten the day, raise a smile and some money for charity. One of the Music Hall Artistes that turned out that afternoon was my Grandfather Gus.
Gus McNaughton always kept himself fit. He was a footballer, boxer and athlete – quite apart from being one half of a popular Music Hall Act before First World War. In fact, when war was declared he joined the Royal Naval Air Service, which amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Airforce. While he served with the RAF Gus was the services Middleweight Boxing Champion. Not surprising then that he was to find himself in the lineup of a football team that would play a charity friendly against Tottenham Hotspurs in March 1914.
Just have a read of the front page of the programme above. Imagine it being read in the RP voice of a Pathe newsreader or Harry Enfield commentating on Arsenal’s Charles ‘Charlie’ Charles.
The ‘Artistes’ team included a number famous names of the era including Gus and one Bombardier Billy Wells – the man who banged the gong on the opening titles of many Rank Organisation films.
The match was played on a miserable Thursday afternoon but the attendance for a friendly at White Hart Lane wasn’t bad. The match report in the local paper the following morning read as follows:
But for the unfortunate breakdown in the weather the attendance at Tottenham Hotspurs ground yesterday, on the occasion of the second annual match with the Music Hall artistes, held in aid of the Variety artistes Benevolent Fund and the Prince of Wales Hospital, would have been considerably augmented, but despite the inclement weather the match drew a tremendous crowd, it being estimated that no less than 15,000 persons were present. Additional interest was doubles created by the presence of the Heavy-weight boxing Champion, who played in the forward line for the Artistes. Punctually at 2:45 Miss Victoria Monks kicked off. Banks at once got away and sending in a fast shot easily defeated the Artistes custodian. Directly afterwards, after some brisk passing, McNaughton broke away, but was intercepted by Walden, who passed cleverly to Steel and the latter had no difficulty in adding a second goal. A penalty for hands was given against Banks but McNaughton sent the ball over the bar. Ten minutes later Cantrell added a third goal for the Spurs from a melee in front of goal, and just before the interval, following some smart work on the part of McNaughton, Carl Lynn reduced the lead with an easy shot. The second half was productive of some interesting play, but no further scoring, although just before time Middlesmiss found the net only to be ruled off side, and the game ended: Tottenham Hotspurs three; Music Hall Artistes one. Teams: TOTTENHAM HOTPSURS: G. Raymond; Clay and Webster; Bowler; Steel and Grimsdell; Walden, Banks, Cantrell, Bliss and Middlemiss; ARTISTES: Tiny Joyce; Albert Raymond and Carl Lynn; Ted Cowan; Gus McNaughton and Bob Wingfield; Sam Mayo, L Houssein, Mark Leslie, Bombardier Wells and Percy Caldwell.
Referee: Mr Peter McWilliams.
Theplayers each received a commemorative medal after the game. This was Gus’.
This match was just one example of how the worlds of entertainment and sport provided some of the glue that held British society and its Empire together in a more ‘innocent’ time. For more on this have a look at Jeremy Paxman’s excellent BBC TV series Empire.
In a recent programme on the BBC about class and culture Melvyn Bragg explores the relationship between class and culture between 1911 and 2011 and how it has shaped modern society. His introduction to the series warns that it is ‘inevitably selective.’ He tends to concentrate on the elements of culture that have most resonance today such as ballroom dancing and cinema. One of his omissions is one of the most important forms of mass entertainment of the period – the music halls.
Mass consumption didn’t just start with the ballrooms and cinemas. Before these, there were the music halls – hot beds of mass entertainment, comedy and sedition right up until after WWI. The halls were turned into cinemas as popularity of cinema increased and that of traditional variety declined. But don’t forget that the comedy acts of the music halls have a direct influence on those of today – take Monty Python‘s silliness or the one line gags of comedians like Frank Carson (RIP) and Tim Vine.
Pantomime, variety and music hall were the bedrock of popular entertainment in Britain from the middle of the 19th Century up to the end of the First World War. This was also the bedrock of popular TV right up until the 1980s. Many of the clowns and comedians, novelty acts, tumblers and acrobats, singers and dancers who toured the inns and taverns, then the music halls that evolved from them started in the circus.
Tracing ancestors who performed in the circus, the halls and theatres can be challenging. Performers were itinerant, often changed their names, married and re-married. Many, however, kept photos and memorabilia. Growing up I was surrounded with boxes of old photos, albums, letters, datebooks playbills and programmes. The photos were of grand parents, cousins, uncles and aunts and of the acts they were in, the shows they did and stills from their films. Using this material as a basis, then searching family records and census data put the history of my family and popular culture in those years into context.
The Poluski Brothers
My great-grandfather was William Nelson Govett (1854 –1923). His brother was Samuel Thomas Govett (1866 – 1922). Together they were The Poluski Brothers, a popular music hall comedy double act from the 1880s up until the First World War.
They started as tumblers and musical clowns with Duffy’s Circus, touring Britain in the 1870s. Belfast shoemaker Patrick James Duffy started the circus in England in the 1840s. In his memoir, Patrick Duffy’s grandson John Duffy – known as the Irish Barnum – wrote:
I was born in a caravan in Over, Cambridge on October 1 1875. When I was born, my parents, who were circus artistes were out of work and had no money. When I came to town one of the artistes, Sam Poluski, managed to scrape up sixpence and he walked five miles to Cambridge to buy a feeding bottle for me. Sam Poluski and his brother Will (who were apprentices to my Grandfather) in later years turned out to be two of London’s greatest comedians, and commanded a big salary.
By 1884 The Poluskis were at the Trocadero and Eden Theatre, Great Windmill Street, Haymarket in a ‘Monstre Entertainment.’ Also on the bill were The Sisters Waite. Harriet Waite was later to marry Will Poluski.
In 1885 they were performing at Gatti’s Palace of Varieties, Lambeth, in its Whitsun entertainments, billed as ‘Will and Sam, eccentric comedians and acrobatic marvels’. And in 1892 they were touring the halls, appearing on the same bill as Vesta Victoria at the Empire Palace Theatre in Edinburgh. Vesta Victoria sang Daddy Wouldn’t Buy me Bow Wow and Waiting at the Church. Other variety acts on the bill included The Craggs; ‘the most wonderful acrobats the world has ever produced;’ Vento, ‘ventriloquist, humourist and mimic’ and the Forget-me-nots – ‘the smallest song and dance artistes on the variety stage.’
The Poluskis staged a sketch entitled Late on Parade’ using a row of dummy soldiers. Sam was Captain Blazer. Will was Corporal Spottletoe, made up in the ordinary dress of an officer, while Sam’s make-up was an ‘extraordinary conception, as grotesque as it was original.’ Two of the doll-like dummies were on springs which, on being struck by either of the Poluskis, rebounded to give a knock-down blow in return.
The Poluskis toured this act for years even taking it to the Tivoli in Sydney, Australia in 1898, where they appeared in Harry Rickard’s variety show. Back in the UK they appeared in Howard and Wyndham Ltd’s pantos including Aladdin at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool.
They’d come a long way from the their humble circus origins by 1914 performing in a royal matinée for King George V and Queen Mary at The Palladium in aid of the Chelsea Hospital for Women sharing the bill with George Robey.
Popular variety acts like The Poluskis took advantage of the new phonograph and cinema to reach wider audiences. Will and Sam recorded on the Columbia label including sketches entitled Misunderstood and The Village Blacksmith, recorded in 1912.
Sam Poluski also made some silent films between around 1911 and 1915. An example was Nobby the New Waiter (1913), made by the Ec-Ko Film Company and directed by WP Kellino. Sam played waiter Nobby who gets a new job but quickly gets the sack. He smokes on duty, flirts with the cook and roller skates. Two customers evade paying by engaging Nobby in a game of ‘Blind man’s Bluff’. The film drew on routines Sam performed with Will in their double act.
Will Poluski had four children: Charlotte, Winifred, Sam and William junior, who married Rosetta Wood (aka Rosie Lloyd) singer and sister of Marie Lloyd, famous for tunes like My Old Man Said Follow the Van and I Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas. Sam Poluski was best man to Alec Hurley at Marie Lloyd’s wedding in 1906.
Winnifred’s daughter Polly Ward (also known as Bino Poluski) starred alongside George Formby and Max Miller in a number of films and was a singer and dancer in many pantos including Babes in the Wood, Aladdin, Dick Wittington and Puss in Boots.
An exciting rock music-based spiritual event is coming to Peterborough in March. St Kyneburgha’s Church, Castor is hosting Peterborough’s first Rock Mass on Friday 9 March.
Starting at 7:30 pm, the combined concert and service at the popular village church is designed to appeal to teenagers but there is no minimum age – all are welcome. The mass will feature rock, pop and blues music along with a traditional Eucharist – with a twist.
The music sets will be punctuated with short spoken passages and the necessary religious and spiritual aspects of a mass and singing accompanied by the live band.
Commenting on the event Rector of St Kyneburgha’s, Rev. Canon William Burke said: “It has long been an ambition of mine to hold a rock mass in the church. The spiritual well-being of our young people is vital in an age where there are so many distractions.
“What better way to encourage youth of all ages to get in touch with their spiritual side than through the music that speaks most to them? It promises to be a very exciting evening.”
Beer and a curry will be available after the mass. The service is free to attend but there will be a £3 cover charge for drinks and food and a collection for the Teenage Cancer Trust .
St Kyneburgha’s is one of England’s finest parish churches. It has great acoustics and has been used for several live blues gigs promoted by the nationally recognised Shakedown Blues club. The Shakedown Blues team is fully supporting this event with professional PA and sound mixing, staging and lighting. The mass will also be filmed by an independent film production company.
Tickets for the Rock Mass are priced at £3:00 each or two for £5:00, available through the Parish Office. Phone theParish Office on 01733 380900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s likely to be a popular event so early booking is advised.
On 15 February 1942 the Japanese Imperial Army over ran Singapore – the British Empire’s jewel in its South East Asian crown – and took prisoner over 100,000 British and Commonwealth military personnel in the process. My dad was one of those. What followed was over three years of privation, maltreatment, torture, disease etc. Almost unimaginable by today’s standards.
My dad served as an officer with the 2nd Battalion The Loyal Regiment and was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in February 1942. He spent the following three years being moved around from Changi to Keijo in Korea then to Omori and Tokyo in Japan. He survived appalling treatment (although he was relatively lucky compared to those in forced labour camps on the Thailand/Burma railway for example). There were many others throughout SE Asia. He was also lucky enough to be in the first wave of POWs to be liberated.
He embarked on HMS Speaker to Manila. From there he was flown to San Francisco then shipped home. He remained in the Loyals at a holding depot in Preston until late 1946 when he was de-mobbed.
I recently watched a programme on BBC 2 Scotland about the fall of Singapore. If you’re interested you can watch it here. Ever had the feeling that you shouldn’t watch something because you know it’s going to irritate you but you watch it anyway only to discover that you were right. It isn’t surprising that, as a Scottish/Australian co-production, this programme was going to be biased in favour of the Jocks. And on the whole its big picture was accurate – but the devil is in the detail. Heroic Scots and plucky ‘Diggers’ betrayed by ineffectual British ‘brass’ and traitorous native and Indian army deserters with not an English unit in sight. Not entirely true.
At one point the narrator gleefully points out that the 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were the ‘only jungle trained unit’ to fight in the Malaya campaign. Nonsense. While it is true that their CO Lt Col Ian Stewart insisted they were well-trained in jungle warfare techniques and well acclimatised to the tropics and fought valiant rearguard actions as the British retreated down the Malay peninsula and back to the Island, they were not the ‘only’ unit trained to do so. Lt Col Elrington’s 2nd Battalion The Loyals were also well-trained jungle troops but were frustrated by poor senior staff decisions and retained in ‘Fortress Reserve’. When they were eventually sent into action the retreat had already begun. They were forced back by poor leadership at brigade level and eventually ended up back on Singapore defending their own barracks. They too were let down by allied troops, in this case Australian forces that abandoned positions leaving their lines fatally exposed.
While the Argylls may have been the last across the causeway from Johore to Singapore before it was blown up, the Loyals fired the last shots at the enemy before Percival surrendered. They were all brave men – heroes all – and should never be forgotten. While this episode of WWII might not be as ‘fashionable’ as some they fought and died just as hard.