Archive for March, 2013

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A Scotsman invented the English everyman called John Bull

Posted in Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language on Saturday, 30 March 2013

This edited article about John Arbuthnot originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 216 published on 5 March 1966.

John Bull postcard, picture, image, illustrationPostcard showing a typical John Bull making the climb from war to peace and happiness by Dudley Buxton (after)

It is rather surprising to discover that John Bull, the national nickname for the typical Englishman, was not invented by an Englishman, but by a Scotsman, John Arbuthnot, who died on February 27, 1735.

Born at Inverbervie, Kincardineshire in 1667, Arbuthnot came to London in 1691 and set up as a teacher of mathematics. In 1696 he took a medical degree and in 1705 was appointed physician to Queen Anne. More important still, he became a close friend of Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and other literary figures of the day.

In 1712, the British people were becoming weary of the long war with France which had lasted since 1702. Many believed that Marlborough, the English commander, was simply prolonging the war for his own profit and glory. Arbuthnot expressed the popular discontent in a series of pamphlets called The History of John Bull.

This represented the nations at war as tradesmen involved in a never-ending lawsuit. The British tradesman was John Bull, a simple open-hearted and bluff fellow although sometimes inclined to outbursts of bad temper. Charles II of Spain was a Lord Strutt; Louis XIV of France, Lewis Baboon; and the Dutchman was Nicolas Frog. Marlborough was represented as Humphrey Hocus, a cunning attorney whose only interest was to make the lawsuit last as long as possible and make a fortune from the fees.

Arbuthnot’s pamphlets had a tremendous influence on public opinion which eventually forced the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht which in 1715 ended the war.

Since then, John Bull has always been the popular name for an Englishman. Political cartoons showed John Bull as a stout, ruddy-faced, matter-of-fact fellow wearing tail coat, leather breeches and top boots. He generally had a cudgel in his hand and a bulldog at his heel.

Two brave Canadian children received the Albert Medal

Posted in Bravery, Historical articles on Saturday, 30 March 2013

This edited article about the Albert Medal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 216 published on 5 March 1966.

Government House Ottawa, picture, image, illustration

Government House, Ottawa

One morning in the summer of 1916, Doreen Ashburnham, aged eleven, and Anthony Farrer, aged eight, left their homes on the banks of Cowichan Lake, Vancouver Island, to collect their ponies. When they got to the paddock their terrified ponies were being chased by a large puma.

As soon as the puma saw Doreen and Anthony, it left the ponies and sprang towards the children. It leapt on the girl first, knocked her down and crouched on her back.

Anthony at once came to his friend’s help by attacking the puma with his fists and lashing out at it with his riding whip. This infuriated the puma and it left Doreen to attack the boy.

Doreen then struggled to her feet and went to Anthony’s rescue. She fought the savage beast with her bare hands, even putting her arm into the animal’s mouth to prevent it from biting her friend. Although she managed to get the puma off the boy, it stood on its hind legs snapping and clawing at her.

By that time Anthony was on his feet and the two children fought back with such good effect that the puma slunk away into the woods. Exhausted and bleeding from dozens of bites and scratches, the children caught their ponies and rode home.

Some months later Doreen and Anthony were invited to Government House in Ottawa. There, in the name of King George V, the Governor-General pinned on their coats the Albert Medal.

It was for acts of bravery such as Doreen and Anthony had shown that Queen Victoria instituted the Albert Medal in March 1866.

Until then there had been no decoration to recognize gallantry by civilians in peace-time. Doreen and Anthony were the only children ever to receive the medal.

Henry the Navigator inspired generations of fearless mariners

Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Ships on Saturday, 30 March 2013

This edited article about Henry the Navigator originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 216 published on 5 March 1966.

Henry the Navigator, picture, image, illustration

Prince Henry the Navigator at the school of navigation at Sagres by C L Doughty

In earlier days, the people of Europe believed that the world was a solid mass of land and that the seas and the Atlantic Ocean were great lakes. The man who was to prove how wrong they were was not a seaman but a Portuguese prince born on March 4, 1394. Known as Prince Henry the Navigator, he was the fifth son of King John I of Portugal. His mother was Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

In 1415 he took part in the conquest of Ceuta, in Morocco on the northern coast of Africa. Afterwards he set out to find a way around that continent to the East Indies.

On his estate at Sagres on Cape St. Vincent, he set about organizing exploration on a scientific basis. He built, at his own expense, an observatory and a school where young men could learn navigation. Also, he obtained the best shipbuilders in Europe to design vessels sturdy enough to face the perils of great voyages.

When the ships were ready and the crews trained, he began sending out expeditions on voyages of discovery. He continued to do so for the next forty-five years.

“Explore and trade” was the order which he gave to his captains. This they did so well that one by one the rich islands of the Canaries, Azores, Madeira and Cape Verdi were visited and properly charted.

Prince Henry’s captains began sailing farther and farther down the African coast all the way to Slerra Leone. To this day you can see many of the stone pillars which they set up to mark the most distant points they had reached.

Prince Henry, who died in 1460, was the inspiration of the bold seamen who discovered America, rounded the Cape of Good Hope to reach India, and finally sailed around the world.

A curious incident in the Russo-Japanese War

Posted in Historical articles, History, Ships, War on Saturday, 30 March 2013

This edited article about the Russo-Japanese War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 216 published on 5 March 1966.

Rusian fleet destroyed 1905, picture, image, illustration

The Battle of Tsu-Shima by Richard Hook

At 4 p.m., on October 16, 1904, forty-two obsolete Russian warships weighed anchor and set sail from Libau, in the Baltic, on a voyage to do battle with the Japanese fleet – 18,000 miles away on the other side of the world.

The Russo-Japanese war had started in February that year with a Japanese attack on the Russian Navy’s First Pacific Squadron while it lay at anchor in Port Arthur, on the south coast of Manchuria. The Japanese bottled up the entire Russian fleet, and Port Arthur was threatened with capture. It became a matter of urgency to save the harbour, which provided the Russians with their only year-round ice-free port in the Pacific.

Only four of the fleet that left Libau were really seaworthy. Most of the officers and crew were ill-trained, and some were revolutionaries. The Commander-in-Chief was Vice-Admiral Zinovy Petrovitch Rozhestvensky, a tall man with piercing black eyes and a neat beard.

One problem above all others haunted Rozhestvensky: refuelling his ships. Along the 18,000-mile route, Russia had not one coaling station, nor any friendly powers who would allow her to refuel her ships in their harbours.

Consequently, the fleet would have to refuel at sea. Forty times it would have to rendezvous with colliers of the Hamburg-Amerika line, taking on a total of half a million tons of coal before it reached the battle zone. Everyone except the Russians thought the whole operation impossible.

From the time it left its base at Libau, the fleet was beset by mishaps, some of them comic, some tragic.

To start with, the flagship, Suvoroff, ran aground between the harbour moleheads, and the Sisoy Veliky, an old ironclad, lost her anchor.

The fleet then steamed out of the Baltic and made its first coaling stop off Denmark without incident. But ahead lay the “dangers” of the North Sea.

Read the rest of this article »

The Vickers VC10 is a graceful giant

Posted in Aviation, Transport, Travel on Friday, 29 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 216 published on 5 March 1966.

Vickers VC10, picture, image, illustration

The Vickers VC10 by Wilf Hardy

Dropping through the lashing rainstorm, the VC10 heads towards the runway as though rolling down invisible rails. In the cockpit the instrument panels, lit for maximum night vision, cast a glow on the two pilots, captain and first officer, who are monitoring the controls.

The pilots’ hands are on their knees while the control column and rudder bars, trim wheels and throttles are adjusted by an “automatic” pilot. The VC10 is flying herself gently down for landing: the human pilots are ready to take over if necessary – a chance in a million.

The VC10 is still flying herself as she settles gracefully over the approach lights and sweeps towards the striped runway threshold. She whistles over it and her nose comes up for the touchdown as the captain takes over, gently nudging the rudder bar to compensate for wind drift.

Her wheels brush the wet tarmac of the runway. She is already rolling fast as the pilot flicks a lever and the wing airbrakes snap open to kill the last of the lift and plant her firmly on the runway. Now he pulls the throttles right back to put the mighty Rolls-Royce Conway engines into reverse thrust.

The engines’ tailpipes are automatically sealed and more than 80,000 lb. of thrust is available to slow the aircraft, deflected slightly forward through special vents above and beneath the engines. The airliner turns off the runway, taxi-lights blazing, and rolls towards the parking apron. A routine flight is completed.

The Vickers VC10 is serving with B.O.A.C., British United Airways, Ghana Airways, and will soon be flying with Royal Air Force Transport Command. It was taken into the air for the first time on June 29, 1962, in the hands of a British Aircraft Corporation test crew headed by G. R. “Jock” Bryce, the company’s chief test pilot. The first VC10, registered G-ARTA, left the ground in just under half the length of the Weybridge factory runway and, accompanied by a Jet Provost chase plane, flew to the B.A.C. Wisley test airfield. She was soon joined by more of her sisters, each taking a definite section of the complex and exhaustive test programme needed to clear the aircraft for its Certificate of Airworthiness to carry passengers in airline service.

When “Jock” Bryce took G-ARTA into the air he had already “flown” the VC10 many times – in the ingenious ground test-rig at Weybridge, designed to perfect the powered flying control system. The VC10’s ailerons, elevators, rudder and flaps are all split into sections, each operated by separate electrical and hydraulic circuits so that one or two sections can fail and still leave the aircraft perfectly controllable! A display set shows the pilot the position of every section at any moment in flight.

In the past a prototype aircraft could be built to test the designer’s calculations and the design altered for production if necessary. But today the tremendous cost, the production resources to be committed, and the strict contract schedules to be met do not allow such a haphazard procedure.

The Weybridge factory contained a multitude of test rigs besides the still-active production line. A complete wing was used to test the fuel pumping and tank systems, a whole fuselage tested the pressurization and air-conditioning. The main and nose landing gear was heavily weighted, wheels set spinning and brought crashing down on to a steel bed to punish them in hundreds of “landings.”

A complete test airframe was caged in scaffolding and laced with hydraulic jacks to twist and torture it far beyond actual flying loads.

The final phase of testing is airline “route-proving” in which the aircraft is flown in and out of every airfield it must be able to use. The VC10’s clean wing with high-lift devices and its mighty Rolls-Royce engines enabled it to pass this test with ease, as it had been designed to do.

Napoleon’s Second Empire lasted one hundred days

Posted in Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Napoleon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

Napoleon returns from Elba, picture, image, illustration

The return of Napoleon from Elba

On the night of February 26, 1815, which was moonless, a small boat put off from a lonely beach on the Mediterranean island of Elba. On board was the exiled Emperor Napoleon.

After several escapes from patrolling British men-of-war, and detours to collect sympathizers, Napoleon landed near Cannes on the French Riviera on March 1. With a force of about 950 men he marched on Paris, where he arrived three weeks later.

At Grenoble, his path was blocked by a regiment which King Louis XVIII of France had sent to arrest him. Stepping out alone in front of the king’s soldiers and throwing up his hands, Napoleon said, “If there is one among you who wishes to kill his emperor, here I am.” With shouts of “Long live the Emperor!” the whole regiment went over to his side.

Napoleon’s march to Paris became the triumphant advance of a conqueror. Garrison after garrison joined him. Soldiers who had been discharged in 1814 flocked in their thousands to fight his cause again. News of his return spread like wildfire through France. The magic of his name revived longings for the military glories of his empire.

Napoleon’s return created such panic that Louis XVIII fled from Paris to Ghent. And when they heard of it, the other European leaders, meeting at the Congress of Vienna, swore “no peace with Bonaparte” and hurried away to take up arms again.

But Napoleon now had a united France solidly behind him. Within a few weeks, he had gathered an army of 120,000 veterans. All was ready for the vast gamble that was to cost him the Battle of Waterloo and send him to final exile at St. Helena. His second Empire lasted for just one hundred days.

Heinrich Hertz invented the first radio transmitter and receiver

Posted in Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Science on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Heinrich Hertz originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

Heinrich Hertz, picture, image, illustration

With this apparatus Heinrich Hertz proved that an electric spark produced impulses which travel through the air. A spark leaped across contacts on the left, inducing current in the ring on the right.

Many people think of Marconi as the inventor of wireless – or, as it is now called, radio. Actually, radio was not invented by any one man, but resulted from the experiments of many.

One of the first of these experimenters was Heinrich Hertz who was born on February 22, 1857, and became Professor of Physics at Bonn University.

During one of his electrical experiments he accidentally discovered that electric sparks would jump a small gap in a circuit.

In this experiment Hertz had two independent coils of wire wound around a cardboard cylinder. The ends of one coil were connected to two metal knobs a few inches apart. When the other coil was connected to a battery, a spark jumped across the gap separating these knobs. He also discovered that every time this happened, similar sparks jumped across a tiny gap in a copperring which was mounted on a desk on the far side of the room.

By means of delicate instruments, Hertz was able to establish that the sparks were, in fact, discharges of electricity flowing backwards and forwards in alternating waves or cycles.

He was even able to work out that each spark lasted about one-millionth of a second.

Although not realizing it, Hertz had designed the first radio transmitter and receiver. But he did not consider it as having any practical use, and certainly never thought it could become a means of communication.

Soldiers showed conspicuous gallantry on the sinking Birkenhead

Posted in Bravery, Disasters, Famous news stories, Ships, War on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about shipping disaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

The Birkenhead, picture, image, illustration

The Wreck of the “Birkenhead” in 1852 by Charles Edward Dixon

With a long grinding that ended in a shuddering crash, the voyage of the 1,400-ton paddle steamer Birkenhead ended on a rocky reef a few miles off the African coast. It was two o’clock on the morning of February 25, 1852.

With a crew of seventy-five officers and men, the Birkenhead was carrying 650 soldiers to reinforce British regiments engaged in the Kaffir War. A number of the soldiers were accompanied by their wives and children.

A great hole was torn in the bottom of the Birkenhead, and within minutes she started to sink. Colonel Seton, who was in command of the troops, immediately ordered his men to fall in on deck. Orders were then given to lower the boats and get the women and children away from the doomed ship.

Then the ship began to list, and all the boats except three small ones became wedged on deck and could not be lowered. The women and children and about fifty members of the crew were embarked in these three boats.

In the meantime, the 650 troops stood rigidly to attention. Colonel Seton ordered them not to jump overboard, since any attempts to get into the boats containing the women and children would certainly swamp them.

Twenty-five minutes after striking the reef, the Birkenhead sank. On her deck, the troops still stood at attention. Only when the surge of the sea washed them off did they attempt to save themselves.

About fifty soldiers managed to struggle on to pieces of floating wreckage. They were picked up by a schooner that afternoon. The remainder of the 650 died in the disaster, but all the women and children were saved.

The loss of the ship was a supreme example of the discipline of the British soldier. News of their gallantry aroused admiration throughout the world.

Britain’s monasteries were influential institutions for a millennium

Posted in Architecture, Historical articles, History, Religion on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Britain’s monasteries originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

Monastery, picture, image, illustration

Life in the Monasteries by Michael Godfrey

For about a thousand years, the monasteries of Britain were centres upon which the welfare of great numbers of people depended.

From their beginnings at Iona in the north, and Canterbury in the south, these monasteries increased in number as they opened what were called “daughter houses” in different parts of the country. Long before the Norman conquest, they were to be found in every corner of the land.

The people who lived in them were called monks. Not all of them were priests; there were also “lay-brothers” who saw to different parts of the work such as the monastery farm, the care of the buildings, and the preparation of meals. In fact, each monastery was a self-supporting establishment, in and around which hundreds of people gained a livelihood.

The monks themselves had many duties, but regarded the worship of God as first among these. Prayer was offered seven times daily in the monastery chapel, which was also the place where the whole community joined in Sunday worship. For those who lived a long way from the monasteries, monks would travel to little buildings which were known as “Chapels-of-ease,” where even the most distant parishioners could meet for occasional services and instruction in the faith.

When they were not in church, the monks divided their time according to a fixed rule. This gave time for sleep, meals and recreation, but also required many hours of work.

A monk’s work varied with his ability, but made it possible for a great variety of needs to be served from every monastery. Some monks copied manuscripts – there were no printing presses before the fifteenth century – and their beautifully-decorated pages may still be seen in our cathedral libraries. Others taught the children – mostly boys – who attended the schools attached to every monastery, and which were the only means of education available till the sixteenth century. Some of the pupils would later enter a monastery as monks, or become lay-brothers in its service.

Other monks took care of sick and aged people, orphans and travellers. Apart from the accommodation the monasteries provided, there were no hospitals or inns. From the herbs grown in their own garden, those monks who had gained such medical knowledge as existed would make up remedies, or “simples” as they were called, for common ailments, and take them to people in need. In fact most of what today we call the “social services” – education, care of the needy and the sick – were carried on through the work of the monasteries for a thousand years after the arrival of Christianity in Britain.

In the Middle Ages, many monasteries became slack and idle, and in need of reform. But many of them still did a tremendous amount of good, and when, in the 1530s, they were all closed down, the change in English social life must have been the greatest in our social history since Christianity reached these shores.

The Lightning is the fastest interceptor in the world

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Technology, Weapons on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

The Lightning, picture, image, illustration

The Lightning by Wilf Hardy

The young Royal Air Force pilot sat motionless in the cockpit of the big silver Lightning fighter. At “cockpit readiness” – strapped into his ejection seat and ready to go, he waited for orders from the master controller who is at the centre of our air defence system. If the order to “scramble” comes through then Mission 61 will be off the ground and climbing like a rocket into the sky within thirty seconds. The order will come through the telebrief lead, a cable link that snakes across the runway and is plugged into the side of the Lightning.

Suddenly the telebrief crackles into life, bringing the voice of the controller into the cockpit, “Mission 61, stand by for pre-brief.” Then seconds later, “Aircraft is now at one hundred miles, we are checking all scheduled movements.”

The pilot of Mission 61 brings his aircraft to life with quick, practised hands.

“Mission 61, are you ready for pre-brief?”


“Mission 61 to identify one target present position Oscar November two zero two nine at flight level 430, heading 210, estimated speed point eight two. Climb on vector 030 and make flight level 390. Call Control on 989 decimal six.”

The pilot writes the brief down on the plastic knee pad of his immersion suit and repeats the instructions back to the controller. There must be no mistake, for the target may be a peaceful airliner, or it may not.

“Mission 61, as pre-briefed – scramble.”

On hearing this the pilot’s gloved hand presses the starter buttons and the two mighty Rolls-Royce Avon jet engines burst into life. The brakes are released and as the throttles are thrust open the Lightning rumbles forward and turns on to the runway. Gathering speed, the pilot pushes the throttle levers right forward into the reheat position and as the afterburners light up, giving additional thrust, the seventeen-ton fighter lunges down the black tarmac runway.

A bare two minutes later the aircraft is at flight level 390 – 39,000 ft. The master controller directs the pilot towards the target until the aircraft’s own radar is within range and able to take over. There’s the target – a small green blip on the cockpit radar screen.

The radar scanner, or aerial “locks” itself on to the quarry and the computer behind it quickly gives the pilot the precise information for intercepting the target.

Looking out of the cockpit window he sees the aircraft with its thick white vapour trails streaming out from behind, and opening the throttles a little wider, the pilot draws closer to examine it – a Boeing 707 of Pan-World Airlines. He reports back to the controller who, in turn, contacts London Heathrow civil airport on a direct line to confirm that it is a genuine airline flight.

Confirmation is received and the controller reports back to the pilot, “Mission 61, you are cleared to return to base, pigeons 280, base weather fine.”

The Lightning turns away and sinks back into the gathering dusk, its mission completed. The sinister missiles mounted on its sides have not been fired, but if they had, they would have destroyed the target. Whatever the weather conditions, whatever violent evasive action it tried to take, the target would not escape, for the fierce heat given off by its engines would act as a magnet for the infra-red heat-seeking devices built into the nose of each missile.

This is how R.A.F. Fighter Command guards the skies over Britain, day and night, in any weather. The Lightning, first introduced to R.A.F. fighter squadron service in 1960, was the first R.A.F. fighter to fly at supersonic speeds in level flight. It is still the fastest climbing interceptor in the world and one of the finest defence weapon systems. The term “weapon system” embraces many things; the aircraft itself is only a link in the chain that embodies ground guidance radar and communications, the aircraft, its own radar and missiles, and that vital link, the pilot.

The test pilot who first flew the Lightning, then known as the P.1, was World War Two Typhoon fighter ace, Roland Beamont. He took the P.1 into the air on August 4, 1954, and also led the group of British Aircraft Corporation and R.A.F. test pilots who turned it into a supreme interception weapon.