Archive for August, 2017

A 1914 Description of Alresford

In Pursuit of Spring

Edward Thomas, in 1914, lived in London. That Spring, he decided to journey from his home, down through Guildford, Alresford, Salisbury and on to the Quantocks, on (and with) his bicycle. Whether he cycled all the way is not really clear at all. But his account of this journey was described in his book, “In Pursuit of Spring”. This gives an early account of the towns and villages, “Rich in literary associations and observations”. Robert Frost recognised this book as “A kind of poetry, having the cadences of fine verse”.

What drew me to this book was that Thomas, later a resident of Petersfield, took a camera with him on this journey, and has an interesting picture of the Avenue in Alresford, in 1914, before the older carriage track and path were covered over with grassed areas. Petersfield Museum put on a display of some of these photographs in 2017: the picture of the Alresford Avenue is shown below.

DSCN6006 The Avenue Alresford in 1914

More or less the same view in August 2017, with all the trees in leaf, is shown below. Obviously his original photo is taken from a higher viewpoint, maybe standing on his bicycle!

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Further old pictures, circa 1900, of the Avenue and the various paths and tracks, can be seen in the AlresfordHeritage website collection, in the pages that feature the Avenue. Also the picture below from AlresfordHeritage shows these paths in the early 1900s, near the top of Pound Hill, and what is now the site of the ARC.

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The Edward Thomas account

The book – the copy I have seen – is words only (it has none of his photos), ISBN 0 7045 0423 5, a 1981 reissue by Wildwood House, available from Hampshire Libraries, with an introduction by P J Kavanagh. It describes Farnham, Bentley, Holybourne, Alton and Fourmarks, before arriving in Ropley. The comments about Ropley, and Bishops Sutton, are shown below, before he enters Alresford.

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Then he enters Alresford, ‘sad coloured, but not cold, and very airy’. At least East Street is no longer “sad” in colour! He considered Alresford was “Consisting of one street, plus a side turning, very broad”! The following pages also describe Alresford Pond in the words of George Wither, a poet, who praised the pond for its beauty:

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So, Thomas then goes on to spend pages extolling the virtues of the Norgett family, who lived at Oldhurst. Anyone know where that is, or who they were?

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The next extract sees him leaving Alresford, along the Avenue, where he stops to take a photo, and then he turns right along the Worthies road, but on the pages shown below does not get past Itchen Abbas.

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The pictures

The Edward Thomas photographs, 53 of them, were unearthed by Rob Hudson, a Photographer specialising in landscapes, based in Wales. Rob has published them in his blog, of March 1st 2016, accessible via his website. A couple more are shown below, that might interest local residents.

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Bishop’s Sutton Church, 1914

 

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Getting dark, at Headbourne Worthy, 1914

 

 

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Seen in August this year

New faces appear round town

The month of August has seen some different views around town this year. At the beginning of the month lots of new faces started appearing in shop windows, and in some other buildings, around the town centre. Twenty five faces were spread around the town, all with a code letter: they had been designed, created and painted by the Year 7 pupils at Perins school.  The competition, open to everyone, was to find all the faces and their code letters, adding these to the entry forms provided by Altogether Alresford. Completed competition forms have to be handed in to Lawrence Oxley’s bookshop by 3rd September, in order to qualify for the prize draws! Obviously you have to have identified the faces correctly: a lot of the shops in Alresford have provided generous prizes. While an excellent pastime for the children, grown-ups can enter too!

Stop that noise!

The elderly residents in Ellingham Close are delighted that the lobbying organized via the Giles Group, which explained to Jackie Porter of Hampshire County Council how frightening the loose man-hole cover under the Jacklyn’s Lane bridge was, has had a result! The manhole cover smashed down on the frame whenever a vehicle ran over one corner, like a see-saw.  If anyone was under the bridge when this happened, on the footpath, the noise was deafening, and frightening, particularly with the speed of the traffic tearing down the hill.

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Finally, towards the end of the month, BT repaired the cover, and put new tarmac round the edges. The older residents are pleased, thankyou Jackie!   It has not reduced the speed of the traffic though, so that is the next objective, particularly with the Methodist Church and the toddlers’ Playgroup right next to the bridge.

More strange visitors

There have been things appearing on the Avenue late in August. Looking even more alien and horrifying than the masks in the shops. So far there have been two large fungi in the grass near the ARC. Hopefully these will be identified soon, but the brown sludge on top looks like a very nasty, and possibly smelly defence mechanism – it definitely discourages touching them – which is not recommended! Hopefully these are not a local delicacy?

Does anyone know what they are?

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Alresford link to the last BA flight into Kuwait in the Gulf War, 1990

Many of you would, like me, probably have listened to the BBC News avidly around the start of the Gulf War, and would have been horrified to hear that normal airline flights had continued arriving in Kuwait as the town was being over-run by Saddam Hussein’s troops. What I did not know at the time was that one of my Alresford neighbours was on that flight!

Clive Earthy is now retired, still living in Alresford, and an active member and organiser of various Clubs and Societies in the town, like the Bowls Club, the Badminton Club, the Petanque Club and the Giles Group. But in 1990 he was a ‘Cabin Services Director’, responsible for the cabin staff on various long-haul BA flights. Arriving in Kuwait that day in August 1990 he was taken hostage by the Iraqi forces, and the crew and the passengers were not returned home until December that year.

Clive has been interviewed for various TV and other documentary reports on this terrifying scenario, and has given talks about his personal experiences at the time to various organisations. In 2012 he gave a talk to the Alresford Historical and Literary Society, which was reported by Robert Fowler, Secretary of the Hist and Lit Society. His summary of the talk by Clive Earthy is presented below:

BA Flight 149 (into Saddam Hussein’s Kuwait)

A personal story by Clive Earthy, ex BA Steward and Cabin Services Officer. As told to the Alresford Historical and Literary Society on June 20th 2012.  Recorded and interpreted by Robert Fowler who has added some comments of his own.

Summary:

This article details the events when Jumbo Jet BA 149 flew into a War Zone in Kuwait and the experiences of the passengers and crew when they were held by the Iraqi Military as ‘Human Shields’.  Clive’s reporting of the events are still covered by the Official Secrets Act, so the reader will have to piece together the missing parts with their own imagination. A 25 year ‘D’ notice was served on all information relating to the incident. What follows here is only a brief record of the events and readers should look elsewhere for greater detail. See ‘Further reading’ at the end of the article.

Background:

After joining British Overseas Airways in 1960 as a catering apprentice, Clive became cabin crew in 1964 working on Boeing 707s and VC10s on long haul flights to North and South America and many other places around the world. After 5 years Clive was promoted to Chief Steward.  When the New Jumbo jets arrived the airline decided that the 400 seat aircraft needed a senior person to manage all the staff working in the passenger cabins. This was Clive’s job, which was given the impressive title of Cabin Services Director. He was responsible for the 18 cabin crew, cabin security; in flight safety; customer relations and Diplomatic services provided at times to the Foreign Office, plus liaison with the Captain on the flight deck.

The Flight

The story starts on the 1st of August 1990 at the time when a border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait came to a head over the ownership of the desert oil fields. All this was public knowledge and was being reported on the main news channels and when Clive arrived at Heathrow to pick up a flight scheduled to travel to Kuala Lumpur, via Kuwait and Madras, the first question he asked was about the latest situation in Kuwait. The airline officials said they would check and report back bearing in mind that some members of the Kuwaiti Royal family and the Defence Minister were listed as passengers.

Half an hour before the official take off time a call came through from BA admin saying some of the Royal Family were not taking the flight. This was not seen as an unusual move because it happens all the time with VIPs and other passengers. Meanwhile the Defence Minister still planned to take the flight and all passengers subsequently boarded. Half an hour before take-off the Foreign Office said that the Iraqi’s were just ‘Sabre Rattling’ and it was OK to fly. With no further negative reports on the situation in Kuwait the Flight Crew boarded BA 149 as normal. The Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo’ (G-AWND) was one of the oldest in BA’s fleet and was due to be replaced with a newer model in the not too distant future. It was no surprise therefore that a technical problem arose with the Auxiliary Power Unit, which is a generator for starting the engines and keeping the air conditioning unit running. This caused a 2 hour delay but the passengers boarded-on for the re-scheduled departure time of 6:15pm.

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This photo of Boeing 747 G-AWND was taken in Toronto by Bob Garrard

Then a message came through on the radio that about 8 late arrival passengers also required to be boarded. These were all young men looking very fit, and were allocated seats at the rear of the aircraft – they were carrying very large cabin bags. Flight Ground Co-ordination said they would Fax the flight documentation for these late arrived passengers whilst the aircraft was in flight, this being normal practice in these circumstances. The only area of difficulty was the ‘Passenger load sheet’ which the ground departure rep said they did not have time to rewrite. (The booking for these men turned out to be a ‘group booking’ placed in Hereford apparently from a military account!)

In response for an update on the situation in Kuwait, BA said that they would report every half hour whilst the plane was in flight. However, the Captain was suspicious and resolved to remain in constant contact with Flight Control. The remainder of the flight towards the Middle East was without incident with the flight crew keeping the passengers occupied with meals and watching videos. Whilst en route, the Air Controllers in other countries were reporting that there not many flights going to Kuwait, they had all been ordered to divert by their Governments: so the Captain contacted Kuwaiti Air Traffic Control 20 minutes before landing to ask for a report. ATC came back and said there was no problem and BA149 was cleared to land. The approach to Kuwait Airport was in darkness – because the Captain was still concerned about the possible situation, he asked to circuit the airport to see if he could see any flashes or explosions, but not observing anything untoward he landed 2 hours late, at 3am local time.

Arrival and incarceration.

Pulling up at one of the large ‘jetties’ the cabin door was opened only to be greeted by a senior uniformed British Army Officer, complete with a cane under his arm, Sandhurst style, and obviously there to meet the VIPs. The 8 young men were first off under the direction of the Army Officer and then the other passengers were all off-loaded into the terminal building, which was uncannily empty. With no Customs or Immigration staff available the crew were away on their mini bus to their Hotel within 20 minutes, having been relieved by the flight and cabin crew due to fly the next leg.  On the way to the Regency Hotel the crew witnessed many large bangs, some frighteningly loud and close. Once in the Hotel the phone rang to advise that BA 149 was still on the ground, the Iraqis had invaded, the runway had been blown up and the control tower knocked out.  The 367 passengers from London were placed in other local hotels packed at 20 people to a room, so the crews got together and organised transport to the Regency Hotel which although full, had better facilities.

In the morning at breakfast 40 tanks could be seen outside the Hotel with numerous soldiers ‘digging in’, it was apparent that the Iraqis were in control. Met by a Iraqi Colonel the crew were informed that “Kuwait now belongs to Iraq”, but don’t worry chaps! There was good cause to worry; there were 200 Iraqi soldiers on the roof!

The next week

However, the borders were still open according to the TV news channels and because the next 7 days of conflict were in stalemate, the crew decided to go out and find buses and other vehicles to transport everyone to the Saudi border some 40 miles away. So they phoned the British Embassy in Kuwait and asked to see the Ambassador. Taken across the city in an Iraqi Land Rover they sought help from the Embassy staff to get the crew and passengers over the border and to be met by the Saudi’s, with food/water/transport assistance. Surprisingly the Ambassador refused to give any help, saying the situation would calm down and the troubles would blow over. As readers will know this didn’t happen and 10 days later all the passengers and crew were ordered out of the Hotel to unknown destinations. Travelling overnight in groups of 12, with friends and groups separated due to a chaotic process based on random personnel selection from a pile of passports, the people from BA 149 were scattered around Kuwait in strategic positions as ‘Human Shields’.

Clive was taken with 5 other men and 6 females to the main Port and ushered into a 2 bed bungalow recently looted and comprehensively defaced by the Iraqi Soldiers. There were no beds and there was no alternative to sleeping on the floor. The 6 females were allocated one bedroom to themselves while the men had the other. Placed under 24 hour guard Clive and his fellow hostages lived for 6 days and nights with only a spoonful of rice each per day.

Some luxuries arrived on the 6th day when mattresses were delivered and the diet supplemented by Pomegranates. This lifestyle continued until after 30 days a Colonel arrived to give permission for all the women and children to be sent home via Baghdad. The men had to endure another 90 days in captivity with some time spent at Iraqi military targets in difficult conditions.

Editor’s note: Separately, Clive mentioned to me their difficulties when having to negotiate, or beg, for food from their Iraqi captors. At one point they were given a large leg of meat, which they eventually identified as from a Giraffe – basically because the leg was 9 feet long. This was a vital source of food for their stews, as they, and the Iraqi troops guarding them, had very little food. When Clive returned to work later, on a flight to Los Angeles, which had originated in Kuwait, he was briefed to introduce himself to one passenger who was a Director of the Kuwait zoo. He recounted this story, and the passenger burst into tears. He had looked after the single giraffe for many years, and his name was George – he had been one of his favourite animals in the zoo. The Iraqis had killed and butchered most of the zoo animals for food. His trip to LA was to try to restock the zoo with some young animals available there.

The men subsequently arrived home on the 10th December 1990 and the Western Coalition started to repel Iraqi forces on the 23rd January after an aerial bombardment which started on 17th January 1991. At some time in this chaos the BA Jumbo was destroyed on the ground at Kuwait.

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On return home it was learnt that the Air Traffic Controller who gave the clearance for BA 149 to land at Kuwait was actually a Royal Air Force Forward Field ATC, who unfortunately lost his life when the Control Tower was stormed.

The Court cases

In the next year (1991) 12 of the BA passengers who were citizens from the USA took a case to court and won compensation, based on US satellite surveillance data showing that at the time when BA149 was 3 hours from Kuwait the Iraqi forces were well over the Kuwaiti border, approaching the city: this information had been forwarded to all the relevant authorities in other countries. The USA authorities confirmed that the UK had received the information as a receipt confirmation was a part of the messaging process when sending the document from the USA. BA claimed that this information had not been passed on from the British authorities.

Subsequently, another group of the passengers went to court in Paris, winning their case using the evidence from the USA. They claimed compensation of £2.5million in total, and this was paid by BA.

In 1996 300 British passengers, buoyed up by the Court successes in the States and France, took their case to court against BA. BA denied liability and were found ‘Not Guilty’ because they apparently were not informed of the situation by the Foreign Office nor MoD.

The question therefore arises as to why British Airways didn’t receive the information? What did the government do after receiving the information from the USA satellite?

The group was denied court action based on the Government’s legal argument, that the Government Departments and Ministries cannot be prosecuted directly unless there had been an Inquiry first, and that could not take place due to Military sensitivity. In 1996 the Prime Minister (then John Major, successor to Margaret Thatcher -the PM in charge in 1990-91) declared that… “…..no serving British military personnel were on flight BA149…”  Note the word ‘Serving’. It has been suggested in some quarters that the Government set up a special group of ex-SAS soldiers after the Iranian siege, to deal with extra-territorial events – and that this group was paid using overseas funds and thus the Government are able to deny any actions taken by them.

In 2007 the BBC made a film about the BA 149 incident that contained new information.  The BBC was told that the film would have to be seen by the Ministry of Defence prior to viewing. A copy was provided, and the film was not returned for 6 months, after which time all the sensitive information had been cut and the film reduced to half of its original length. Researchers for the film contacted four of the original “late-arrival” passengers onto the plane having signed legal affidavits for protection. The subject was raised by Norman Baker in Parliament to the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in 2007 and the discussion is in the public domain. The Minister sympathised but couldn’t admit any involvement in public, refusing to answer any questions.

What we shall never know is whether the government willingly allowed BA 149 to fly into the war zone. It may have been a miscalculation of the timing of events? Perhaps it was just a cock-up. If it was an error then it doesn’t say much for the ability of the Authorities to plan ahead. If it was deliberate then some consider it a criminal act and the Government should have been prosecuted.

In any case the people and their families that suffered were entitled to an apology, at least!

Footnotes

1:  The ageing Jumbo, which just happened to have been chosen for this flight, was blown up on the ground at Kuwait airport. As the Jumbo was insured against losses in war the beneficiaries were Boeing and British Airways.

2: Not all the young men who boarded BA 149 in London returned from their mission.

3: One passenger, a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family was detained and executed. The other regular passengers were returned home safely after five months.

4: Clive retired in 1994, returning to his home in Alresford after a long career in British Airways, and its predecessor BOAC

5: Norman Baker’s Parliamentary debate with Geoff Hoon on 27th April 2007 can be seen on http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2007-04-27c.1209.5.

6: More information can be found on websites such as Wikipedia, plus a Channel 5 documentary in April 2017.

7: Some of the video reports on the strange events surrounding this flight are available on YouTube, see: http://www.youtube.com

This account is published with thanks to the Alresford Historical and Literary Society, and Bob Fowler. See their website on www.alresfordhistandlit.co.uk.