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Posted in Disasters, English Literature, Historical articles, History on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about Charles Dickens originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 258 published on 24 December 1966.
Charles Dickens helping to rescue wounded passengers by Neville Dear
There was no indication of impending disaster. The first hint that something was amiss came as the smooth rhythm of the speeding express changed suddenly into a bumping, grinding series of convulsive jerks.
Then came the screams of alarm, and a nightmare chorus in which human cries mingled with the din of crashing metal and masonry, the splintering of glass and woodwork.
The year was 1865 . . .
In a first-class coach at the front of the boat train, London-bound from Folkestone, and pride of the South Eastern Railway, a bearded passenger, returning from a holiday in Paris, was doing his best to calm the fears of the two women with whom he was travelling.
Anyone in those days would probably have recognised him on sight. He was Charles Dickens, the famous Victorian novelist. The writer who had devised so many sudden calamities for his characters when weaving the plots of his novels, had himself been plunged into a real-life disaster of the most daunting kind: a railway smash.
The mounting volume of cries and screams told him that it must be a very serious accident indeed, though he and his companions had been lucky enough to have escaped with little worse than a severe jolting. But he recalled that the guard had locked them in on departure from Folkestone – a common enough practice in those times. They were thus caught in the midst of a wreck that might become a death-trap, should fire break out.
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Posted in Boats, Bravery, Disasters, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 16 May 2013
This edited article about the Whitby lifeboat originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
Storm over Robin Hood's Bay
Above the howl of the gale there came the sharp crack of maroons – the rockets which are fired to summon the crews of lifeboats. Into the rain-swept streets of the Yorkshire town of Whitby ran the lifeboat men, struggling into their oilskins, and throngs of anxious citizens. They shouted questions into the wind as they raced to the lifeboat shed, each afraid that a relative, a son or brother or husband, might be in danger.
As the boat was wheeled out on its high carriage, the news spread that the Whitby brig Visitor had foundered in Robin Hood’s Bay. The crew of eight had taken to the ship’s boat and were now at the mercy of the worst storm of the terrible winter of 1881. The force of the gale was such that the survivors could not get near the shore, and indeed if they could have done their boat would probably have capsized. Their only hope was the Whitby lifeboat.
But this was before the days when lifeboats had engines, and the lifeboat crew knew they could not make the trip to Robin Hood’s Bay in that weather.
“Our only chance to save them is to take the boat overland to the bay,” the coxswain shouted into the icy teeth of the gale.
A groan rose from the crowd, and a woman, whose son was one of the Visitor’s crew burst into sobs. Robin Hood’s Bay was six miles away. The road and tracks the lifeboat carriage would have to take were over steep country covered with deep drifts of snow. It seemed impossible to haul the heavy craft over such ground and reach the scene of the shipwreck in time.
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Posted in Bravery, Disasters, Famous news stories, Historical articles on Wednesday, 15 May 2013
This edited article about the George Medal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 256 published on 10 December 1966.
Lister Addy and Jim Winterbottom in Fryston Colliery (bottom) by Eric Parker
Shortly before dawn on 3rd May, 1952, there was a power failure at Fryston Colliery, near Castleford, in Yorkshire. With startling suddenness the seams were plunged into darkness, and the miners could see only by the lights on their helmets. Lister Addy, the pit-bottom deputy, was not unduly worried as he waited for the power to be restored.
Then an overman came rushing up to him. “Come down here, Lister,” he cried urgently. “There’s been an accident!” Addy swiftly followed his colleague through the gloom to the bottom of the shaft.
A group of miners were gazing anxiously up the 555-yard shaft. In the blackness they could just make out the cage, the main link between the pit bottom and the surface: it was jammed at an odd angle some 75 yards above their heads. Apparently, a young worker called Jim Winterbottom had been putting a truck loaded with rail points into the cage when it had suddenly begun to ascend, taking him with it.
One of the jutting-out rails had caught in the side of the shaft, and the cage had stuck. Winterbottom might be lying seriously injured beneath the truck, and the miners knew that someone would have to try to reach the cage to help him.
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Posted in Architecture, Disasters, Famous landmarks, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Leisure, London on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about the Crystal Palace originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 255 published on 3 December 1966.
Crystal Palace; the Great Exhibition of 1851; Transept (external views) of the Industrial Palace, from Prince of Wales's Gate by Charles Burton
The Great Exhibition, opened by Queen Victoria in 1851 – an Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations – was an enormous success; and when it was over, many people found that they had grown attached to the giant glasshouse, the Crystal Palace, which had been built specially for the exhibition. Clearly, it had to be removed from Hyde Park, but where could it be taken?
The beautiful estate of Penge Park, at Sydenham, in South London, was offered as a new home for the ‘crystal elephant’. It was taken down piece by piece and re-erected. Queen Victoria opened it for the second time in 1854. Thousands of people passed through the massive glasshouse, visiting the art collections, hearing music and delighting in the glorious gardens surrounding the glittering, airy palace.
Entertainments were arranged on a magnificent scale: particularly famous were the firework displays held regularly in the summer. Such monster explosions as the ‘Niagara of Fire’ used nearly a ton of iron filings in its short, spectacular life.
Meals were served in the many restaurants at prices to suit every pocket. Oysters or chicken patty were priced at sixpence, roast lamb and mint sauce cost one shilling, a chop or steak with vegetables, bread, butter, cheese and attendance cost one shilling and ninepence.
Before the First World War (1914-18) the Final of the Football Association Cup was played in the grounds of Crystal Palace, but on the outbreak of war it was taken over by the Admiralty as a base for recruiting and training naval volunteers. When the war was over, the Palace opened again as a centre of entertainment, but its days were numbered.
On the cold night of 30th November, 1936, it was destroyed by a fire which gutted it from end to end, sending up into the sky firework-like cascades of sparks which were seen for miles around. For three days the building simmered. It was completely wrecked, except for one high tower, later to be pulled down.
Of the old Palace, nothing had remained but the name, for today on the site of the Crystal Palace there stands an enormous modern sports arena.
Posted in America, Aviation, Disasters, Famous landmarks, World War 2 on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about World War Two originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 249 published on 22 October 1966.
The Taj Mahal
The pilot of the big American C-87 transport lined up his machine at the end of the heat-hazed runway at Agra near the Jumma River in India.
At the far end of the narrow concrete ribbon lay a patch of trees, and beyond them, on the far side of the river, he could see the tops of the graceful minarets which marked the position of one of India’s most beautiful monuments, the Taj Mahal.
Slowly he increased the engine revs, released the brakes and settled back in his seat as the huge machine began to rumble along the runway.
He needed to reach 120 m.p.h. before he could ease back the control column and lift the plane clear of the ground. Half-way down the runway – to his horror – his dials told him he had reached only 60 m.p.h. He wondered whether to slam on the brakes or hope for a rapid increase in speed.
Eighty miles an hour, and the trees loomed dangerously nearer . . .
Past the point of no return, he glanced anxiously at the airspeed indicator. It still showed only 100 m.p.h. At 110 m.p.h. he eased back the control column and the great mass of metal lunged precariously into the air, bumped, and then rose up, skimming the trees.
The shimmering dome of the Taj Mahal now lay dead ahead. “Full flap!” yelled the pilot. The plane lost speed, then ballooned upwards, barely missing the spike of a minaret. Workmen on scaffolding repairing the monument cowered back in terror, but the last-second manoeuvre by the pilot had saved them – and India’s priceless memorial.
The pilot was American Ernest K. Gann who was one of many U.S. airmen engaged on flying vital supplies to Burma during World War II.
Posted in Animals, Disasters, Geography, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about St Bernard dogs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
Over 8,000 feet high, the Great St. Bernard Pass winds 50 miles, from Valais in Switzerland to Piedmont in Italy. On the wild, bleak summit of the Pass stands the sturdy, ancient monastery hospice of St. Bernard, founded in the 10th century by St. Bernard of Menthon. He cleared the Pass of robbers and gathered together a group of laymen to watch over it. In 1150 the community became a religious one.
The Rule of the St. Bernard Hospice requires that help be given to wayfarers. In medieval times, one ox was grilled daily for up to 100 travellers, free of charge. It is only in recent years, with the vast increase of traffic over the Pass that a modest payment has been asked for hospitality.
Winter at the summit can be wicked; with deep snow, blizzards, fog and avalanches. The Pass is blocked with snow and most people use the tunnel to cross between Switzerland and Italy, but accidents still happen. Throughout the year the hospice carries on the help-giving tradition started by St. Bernard. In trying to deal with incidents of distress, all the latest ski equipment is used, as well as the famous St. Bernard dogs.
The hospice normally has under training about half a dozen of these huge, reddish-brown and white, benign and sensitive creatures.
When trained, they are sent out to search for travellers, lost and overcome by the cold. Blankets are strapped to them and a small parcel of stimulants hung round their necks. A typical piece of rescue work occurred not long ago, when a small plane ran into the mountains. One of the dogs, called Ella, swiftly found the pilot, although he had been killed in the crash.
It is thought that St. Bernards originated in Tibet, went from there to Greece and from Greece to Rome, and that the Roman soldiers brought them to Switzerland’s Rh√¥ne valley about 50 years before the birth of Christ. A nobleman gave two of them to the hospice centuries ago and they have been kept and trained there ever since. At one time, when the breed was practically extinct, it was restored by cross-breeding with the native Pyrenean sheepdog and the Great Dane. But the St. Bernard’s at the hospice are working dogs and are slightly smaller (with uneven, rough coats), than the heavyweight, ponderous specimens seen in Great Britain.
In the days before tunnels, cars and skis, these dogs with their keen sense of smell were of the greatest importance for tracing people in the deep snow. Gradually they assumed the name of the Pass and the hospice with which their work was associated. Despite all the modern equipment available for rescue work today, St. Bernard dogs are still indispensable; their recorded rescues in the Alps total 2,000 lives.
Posted in Boats, Bravery, Disasters, Historical articles on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about survival originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 246 published on 1 October 1966.
For 32 tortuous days the little Polynesian sloop, Tearoha, had been lost at sea, blown heedlessly by the wind, battered by giant waves, and scorched by the blazing sun. The crew of seven had almost given up hope of ever seeing their island home again. The captain and two other men were seriously ill from exposure, and a pearl-diver called Teehu Makimare had taken command of the 16-ft. boat.
He spent hour after hour at the tiller, hoping they might eventually drift to Fiji, some 600 miles away. Then, as the men were resting their blistered, aching bodies, an even greater tragedy struck the Tearoha. A sudden onrush of wind made the sea boil, and the sloop capsized.
As Teehu struggled free from the upturned vessel, he realised that one of the sick men, Kita, was jammed in a bunk beneath the foredeck. While the rest of the sailors clung to the Tearoha’s sides, Teehu dived beneath the sloop and pulled Kita to the surface. He made a raft out of paddles and wood for two of the casualties to lie on. His next task was to try to right the sloop.
Time and time again he plunged under the Tearoha, cutting away at her tangled rigging.
Finally, he managed to roll the waterlogged boat over – only for her to turn turtle again as the rest of the crew clambered desperately aboard!
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Posted in Adventure, Disasters, Exploration, Historical articles, History on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about disaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 240 published on 20 August 1966.
Fletcher Christian, famous ancestor of Edgar Christian, reached Pitcairn Island after his own difficult journey by Peter Jackson
Edgar Christian was born with the spirit of adventure in his blood. This is not surprising, since he was a descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on H.M.S. Bounty; his father was a hero of the First World War; and his cousin, John Hornby, won fame as an explorer and hunter in the far north of Canada.
As a schoolboy at Dover College, Edgar admired from afar his cousin John’s exploits, and everything he heard and read about Hornby made him resolve to become a man of action.
He met his renowned cousin for the first time in the winter of 1925-26. Edgar was a manly looking, fair-haired boy of 17. Hornby, back in England for a well-deserved leave, was nearly 40.
From the start of their friendship, Edgar was enthralled by Hornby’s accounts of his adventures in the Hudson Bay area. As for Hornby, he believed his young cousin would make a first-rate explorer; for Edgar had piercing eyes of ice-blue, and Hornby considered that only men with eyes of that colour could possibly stand the hardships of Arctic life!
This strange theory, coupled with Edgar’s boundless enthusiasm, led the cousins to sail for Montreal in April, 1926. Their plans were to make their base at Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, and then to travel to the Thelon River, where they would spend the bitter winter months.
In the spring they would push eastwards from the Great Slave Lake until they reached Hudson Bay. A friend of Hornby’s, an ex-airman called Harold Adlard, was to accompany them. Edgar wrote that he was pleased that he would not be the only greenhorn in the camp.
After the three explorers had set off on their adventure, Edgar sent a long letter home to his parents in England. In it he said that the first part of the journey – 300 miles north from Edmonton to a place called Waterways – was done by a goods train with one compartment for passengers. From then on they travelled by canoe, visiting many colourful Indian communities along the way.
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Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Disasters, Geology, Historical articles, History on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about Pompeii originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.
On August 24, A.D. 79, Pompeii, a city on the coast near Naples very popular with the wealthier class of Roman, was buried in a few hours by an eruption of the nearby volcano Vesuvius. Destruction was caused not by lava but by volcanic debris hurled through the air by the violence of the explosion.
First came a heavy bombardment of boulders and pebbles, then a thick cloud of fine, white ash. Finally a torrential rain, probably caused by condensing steam, fell to mix with the ash and form a kind of plaster. This plaster was to give a unique but gruesome gift to archaeologists of the future.
The rediscovery of Pompeii occurred in a roundabout fashion. In 1719, builders quarrying marble on the other side of Vesuvius found a treasury of statues. They had stumbled upon Herculaneum, a city destroyed by the same eruption as that which destroyed Pompeii: unlike Pompeii, it had been engulfed in a flow of mud which subsequently turned to a layer of stone 85 feet thick.
The finds were rich, for the people of Herculaneum had been unable to remove their possessions, but the difficulty of working in the solid stone discouraged all but the most dedicated treasure-seekers.
The discovery of Herculaneum reminded men of the existence of Pompeii, however, and search began on the probable site beneath obliterating vines and mulberries growing in the fertile, ashy soil to the south of Vesuvius. It was immediately successful and, because excavating was easier there than at Herculaneum, interest was gradually transferred to Pompeii.
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Posted in Disasters, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Railways on Thursday, 18 April 2013
This edited article about disaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 228 published on 28 May 1966.
The railway disaster at Gretna Green in 1915 by Clive Uptton
About 6.45 a.m. on the morning of May 22, 1915, the signalman at Quintenshill box, one mile north of Gretna Green, shunted a local train from the up main line on to the down main line. There it was to stay until the Euston to Glasgow express had passed through. This was always done if the express happened to be running late, but the signalman forgot to set warning signals.
At 6.55 a.m. a troop train carrying the 7th Battalion Royal Scots from Glasgow to London ploughed into the stationary train, and both were flung off the track in a tangled heap of wreckage. The soldier and passengers who survived the crash immediately set about extricating the injured and rescue was at its height when, to crown the tragedy, the London-Glasgow express thundered down the track into the wreckage of the two crashed trains.
The impact was heard three miles away as the express splintered into matchwood the timber coaches of the troop train, killing scores of those who were helping the injured. The torn woodwork of the wrecked coaches caught alight from the fireboxes of the overturned engines. Coach after coach became a mass of flame. The fire-engines arriving from Glasgow and Carlisle found the fire almost burned out, leaving only a twisted mass of steel coach-frames.
The Gretna Green collision was the worst accident in British railway history, with a total of 227 dead and over 200 injured. A court of inquiry held the signalman responsible. He was later sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.