Christmas Tangerines.

Once upon a bitterly cold Christmas, not far from Turf Moor, there were polar bears prowling Burnley’s snow covered, cobbled backstreets.

Or so my uncle told me.

With gob-stopper wide eyes and shallow breath, the five year old me, claret and blue scarf wrapped round my ears, shivered fearfully inside an igloo built against our back-yard wall in the great winter of 1947.

The few tiny, spluttering night-lights in jam jars inside the igloo were small comfort, as I could quite clearly hear, on the cold, late afternoon air, the chilling sound of one (or was it two, or MORE!) giant polar bears scratching and snuffling on the frozen, snow covered, cobbles outside the entrance to my den. I was about to be eaten but worse still, I’d miss Christmas.

Rescued by my Grandma who was only a few yards away, feeding bread to some hungry sparrows, I later told her, safe in front of a hissing coal fire, how there were HUNDREDS of bears out there and one of them had a laugh just like my uncles.

1947 was a memorable winter but nowadays, like the great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, I can’t remember, “Whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was 12, or twelve days and twelve nights when I was 6.”

Shortly after my Grandma had seen off the bears (and, no doubt, my uncle), Britain,  (still an austere, rationed, country) emerged into the post-war years and the Football League returned to its pre-war divisions. First, Second and Third (North and South.)

In fact, Burnley played today’s  tangerine opponents on the 2nd of December, 1944 at Blackpool in what was then the Football League (North), courtesy of an Air Commodore, no less, Bloomfield Road having been requisitioned by the RAF during the war.

By 1948, I was occasionally taken on the Turf, in spite of maternal misgivings.

There I am, a small boy carrying a large, wooden, war-time rattle painted claret and blue, alongside my Granddad who made me a stool which enabled me to gain an extra foot of height just before kick-off, peering excitedly over the trilby’s and flat caps of the 30/35000 fans that used to stand crammed in to Turf Moor in football’s post-war boom years.

Games watched through a fog of acrid, blue cigarette and pipe smoke and, at Christmas, a heady whiff of cheap whisky or brandy emanating from thousands of Thermos flasks opened at half time.

There was tea in there too but in what proportions one dreads to think. No doubt it had medicinal qualities. It was Bovril for me.

Burnley played Blackpool, home and away, after Christmas, on the 26th and 27th, 1949.

I don’t remember any snow (or bears) but Christmas it was and I’d learnt all the words of, “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,” and, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” from the radio.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve (no floodlights in those days), Burnley beat Bolton away, 1-0.

We didn’t go because this year, joy of joys, we were off for a short stay in Blackpool, where we spent Christmas Day going up the promenade on a tram, marvelling at the Illuminations, or at least, the remains of them, unlit but back again earlier in the autumn for the first time since the war.

Boxing Day saw us on a packed steam train heading for a Turf Moor over-flowing with 49,000 spectators to witness a goal-less draw.

The following day, we were back in Blackpool for a 2.15 kick off at wind-swept Bloomfield Road (Blackpool’s ground since 1900), to watch them put two winning goals past us in front of a mere 31,000.

I remember nothing of the game but I was mightily impressed by a huge advert for Dutton’s, “O Be Joyful,” ale, (brewed in Blackburn), written across the roof of one of the stands.

I would have seen the two great Blackpool Stan’s, Matthews and Mortenson in a fine side that would often finish ahead of Burnley in seasons to come.

The side that Blackpool manager, Joe Smith, was to manage for 23 years had been Cup Final losers to Matt Busby’s, Manchester United in 1948 and later in 1951, finished third in the League before losing to Newcastle in the Cup Final. They went on to win the Final, in 1953, beating Bolton 4-3 after coming back from being 3-1 down in an epic match with performances to match from Matthews and Mortenson.

Sadly, I remember nothing of those Christmas derbies but I do remember being surrounded by warmth, security and happiness.

In that respect, little has changed and if you look around the ground today, you’ll see many a child, sitting with their families, acquiring their own Christmas memories of when they were taken on to see Burnley play Blackpool just before Christmas, 2013. Even if, when they’re getting on a bit, they can’t remember much about it.

Although, they might remember that on their way home in the dark, their uncle told them that HUGE polar bears once used to pad along Burnley’s streets, particularly at Christmas time.

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“Order, order.”

On the evening of the 18th of May 1882 at the Bull Hotel in the centre of Burnley, a special committee meeting of a local rugby team called Burnley Rovers was called.

The Bull was a fine establishment, its façade lit by “Old Gawmless,” the lamp in the centre of the street outside, some say because of its “dim” performance, others because it was standing in the middle of the road.
They could have chosen to meet in almost any of the nearly 200 inns, hotels, taverns and beerhouses that had grown up in the hard-working town (despite the efforts of the Temperance Movement) but they chose The Bull because it was the town’s leading hotel, known for its “magnificence” but nick-named “The Folly” by the locals because of its ambitious 40 bedrooms.
Some of the committee members would have arrived on one of the new fangled steam trams introduced into the town the previous year, hissing and clanging along cobbled streets described as, “the most heavily bill posted in the country,” passing Thomas Hoghton’s grocers shop, who advertised on his paper bags that, “Trams pass the door every 15 minutes.”
There’s entrepreneurship for you but he still hedged his traditional bets by having, on the same bag, a picture of an elegant couple arriving at his shop in an open hansom cab.
One or two of the committee might have been late, as there had been a bit of a dispute about the use of steam on certain streets and the new trams had to be pulled by horses for some of the way. If a member had walked from nearby Stoneyholme he’d have passed under the shadow of a giant, three-tier gasholder, only the second to be built in England.
Others perhaps chose to arrive by horse-drawn Cab, oil lamps winking in the fading light.
With the meeting called to order, the evening’s business began.
“It hasn’t been a bad season,” the Rover’s Treasurer told them,” And were it not for our changing facilities being blown down and the access bridge to the ground being washed away, the balance sheet might have presented a different aspect.”
There was applause and the balance sheet adopted unanimously. Two penny or three penny cigars were puffed on, purchased from Joshua Duckworth’s a couple of doors away.
Then, under the yellow light of flickering gas mantles, committee member Mr. Ernest Bradshaw stood up and spoke,
“ I move that the rugby club, in future, play under Association Football rules.”
Without more ado, for I suspect Burnley folk had acquired a reputation for bluntness even then, the motion was passed and a celebratory round of Grimshaw’s Ale was probably ordered.
A few days later, in order to forestall anyone else having the idea, the name of the new venture was changed to “Burnley Football Club”.
The club would play its first match at Turf Moor (still its ground in 2013) on Saturday, 17th of February 1883. A proud day, except that their opponents, neighboring Rawtenstall, ran off winners, beating Burnley Football Club, 6-3.
The first result might have disappointed but if there was ever any sunshine to be sought under the mill town’s sulphuric, rain-soaked skies, the Club’s committee was determined to find it.

In 1888 Burnley Football Club proudly became one of the founder members of the Football League, along with, Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Derby, Everton, Notts. County, Preston, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Burnley. Cotton. Football.
The last two words would come to define the town, sometimes to its annoyance but more often to its advantage for decades to come.

125 years later, Burnley Football Club has an established place in the history of professional football and you can tell them that with pride, even in the Copacabana Stadium in Brazil.

Pressure

I was introduced to the concept of pressure in the early 1950’s when my dad and I arrived home at the end of a cold January afternoon watching the Clarets lose one nil to Huddersfield at Turf Moor, a game they were expected to win.

Whatever pressure the players had felt themselves to be under paled into insignificance matched against the pressure that had forced the lid off my mum’s new fangled pressure cooker and deposited our tea all over the kitchen ceiling.

Pressure is a word we hear a lot of these days, which is more than you can say for pressure cookers. Ours was consigned to the dustbin.

Jamie Redknapp once said that he’d felt pressured every day as a footballer and watching his dad, ‘Arry twitch his way through a game, one might almost think it was a family trait. At least ex-player Jamie doesn’t have to face the pressure any more, unless he gets a bit tense modelling clothes for Marks and Spencer’s.

Liverpool’s late, great, Bill Shankly, a man made of sterner stuff had a different attitude.

“”Pressure is not the European Cup, “ growled Shanks,” Or the Championship, or the Cup Final, those are the rewards. Pressure is working down the pit, pressure is having no work at all.”

What he was saying, of course, is that champions are able to do what they do best under stress, that pressure is a normal part of the game. In the end it’s how a team responds to it that counts.

Often pressure is self-inflicted and is linked to two things, which at first glance seem to be opposites. They’re not; they’re just two sides of the same coin, the fear of failure and the fear of success. Both of which can prevent a team from playing to the best of their ability.

But failure as a learning process can be a great teacher. You fail, you win, you learn, you grow.

Fear of failure is a waste of time.

Fear of success is too and it can be just as inhibiting to a team. Success brings its own responsibilities and some teams bend under the apparent weight of it.

One thing is certain, without pressure there would be no rewards and over a season or two, the teams who cope with it best are the ones who win more often than they lose, who come back from defeats, who make the play-offs, or gain promotion.

They’re the ones who think they can win.

Every team that’s done something worthwhile is a team that has collectively overcome their nerves, who deal with the pressures of failure and success.

Pressure presents teams with an opportunity to excel, an environment in which preparation and training meets with the chance of coming out on top.

What’s more, the old chestnut really is true; “It’s only one game at a time.” There’s nearly always another chance.

When footballers, like all public performers, learn to rise above their fears of failure and success and as a result maybe touch greatness on match days, they raise our hearts because, in a way perhaps, they remind us that we all have a bit of greatness tucked away inside of us.

We’re all dreamers; fans, players, managers, coaches, backroom staff, even those sometimes maligned ones in the board room who are fans just like the rest of us.

We all feel the pressure as we kick and head every ball.

But what we want from our footballing heroes (sometimes unfairly) is for them to embrace the pressure and run with it, have fun even, keep tackling, keep passing, keep shooting and above all, believe in themselves.

An American coach once said that pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

Most players do, it’s only those twin apparitions, fear of failure and fear of success that sometimes get in the way.

Pressure? Bring it on. Enjoy it. As tennis champion Billie Jean King said, “Pressure is a privilege.”

Cricketer, Keith Miller, who in his time was regarded as Australia’s greatest all-rounder, served as a fighter pilot in World War 2, flying combat missions over Germany, was once asked a question about match day pressure.
Miller responded, “ Pressure? I’ll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is having a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing sport is not.”

(Published in Burnley Football Club’s match day programme, 26th February 2013)

Scarlett O’Hara arrives in Burnley.

Northern LifeCrossing the Pennines from Yorkshire into Lancashire in winter can be challenging at any time. But early in 1941, the weather was particularly bad and the Invicta car and its two passengers were finding it hard going.

The austerities of wartime Britain had begun to bite and the man and woman in the car were growing concerned that they might not have enough rationed petrol to make it to a Lancashire mill town that neither of them had visited before and they were anxious to arrive before nightfall, not wanting to be caught in the blackout.

When the hills got too much for the Invicta – its radiator had a tendency to overheat – they stopped to stretch their legs and consult a map.

 

The suntans they’d acquired over the previous year had gradually faded as their travels took them away from sunny California and across to New York before the final leg home to a country at war.

They were possessed of an understated sense of style; not only in the well-cut clothes they wore but also in the way they carried themselves.

He was an athletic looking 34, with chiselled, matinee idol looks. At 28, she was small, beautiful and feline in a fur coat.

Anyone close enough could see the affection in which they held each other and the gallant way he shielded her from the raw winter wind.

 

He was the actor, Laurence Olivier and she was his wife, actress Vivien Leigh.

Her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in the movie, “Gone with the Wind,” had recently transformed her into one of the world’s most famous actresses.

 

In the winter of 1941, they took time off from a morale boosting concert tour to various airbases, playing scenes from Shakespeare and decided to head over the Pennines to see an old friend from London, now working in Burnley.

 

The Lancashire town’s main claim to fame lay not in its theatrical connections, but in its cotton mills and the relative prosperity that they brought to its population.

Burnley and its rows of terraced houses then squatted, for most of the year, under a pall of smoke from its scores of mill chimneys and as often as they could afford to its workers would seek light relief from the stygian gloom in one of its theatres, cinemas or variety halls.

 

In 1886, local upholsters, the Pemberton Bros, sensing an opportunity, spent £10,000 on constructing a new theatre in St James Street called, “The Victoria Opera House,” later, “ The Victoria Theatre,” abbreviated locally to, “The Vic.”

It was a grand place.

The Stage Newspaper reported that, “Its fine architecture and interior would hold its own with many in the provinces.”

Built in the, “Italian Style,” with a Doric and Corinthian exterior, its three-tiered cream, red and gold interior held up to 2000 people.

Those well off enough to pay, “full whack,” walked on Minton tiles in a pillared and statued foyer, seeing their gas lit reflections multiplied and sparkling to infinity, in mirrors that lined either wall.

Entrance to the “God’s,” the cheapest seats, was by a side door, up flights of stone steps with not a mirror in sight.

 

The theatre had provided entertainment of mixed quality for over 50 years when, in 1940, an announcement was made in the Press that not only shocked Burnley’s theatregoing public but also had people in London asking, in horror, “Burnley! Where’s Burnley?”

 

Because of the threat of air raids in London, it was decided to move the Old Vic Theatre Company and the Sadler’s Wells Opera and Ballet Companies to a new home in Burnley’s, Victoria Theatre, under the directorship of Tyrone Guthrie.

Using the town as their base, they were expected to tour, by the Council for the Encouragement Of Music and Arts (CEMA) whose policy was to open up high quality entertainment to “the masses.”

 

As the Olivier’s car, steam hissing from its radiator, crested the Pennines and headed down towards Burnley’s, “dark, satanic mills,” the Old Vic Company had already begun their first season at the Vic.

 

There had been drama in the town before, some of it at Turf Moor, Burnley’s football ground. It also had its chapels and societies and its cinemas, as well as Variety and Light Opera but nothing of the quality that appeared in 1941.

The arrival of the London Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells companies and the  glory of their subsequent performances was described as, “A bolt out of the blue.”

One man remembered that, “It hit our town like a rainbow, it was wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”

Others said, “We’d never seen anything like it, it was so professional.”

People remembered queuing to get in during the wartime blackout – sometimes after school – and leaving on cold, wet nights, buzzing with excitement, full of what they’d seen.

Many of them had never experienced first-class drama and claimed that it was, “A different world, with marvellous productions.”

Others described the opera and ballet provided by the Sadler’s Wells Company as, “Brilliant and amazing.”

People went after work, taking homemade sandwiches with them and paying sixpence to get into the, “God’s,”

Once they’d made it to the top of the stone steps, waiting for the curtain to go up, they felt dizzy, as though they were sitting on a cliff

They experienced a spectacle of colour and sound most of them had never dreamed of seeing, with performers of the highest quality.

 

In February 1941, Guthrie directed, “Macbeth,” with Lewis Casson and Sybil Thorndike. The cast included, Kenneth Griffith, Mark Dignam, Donald Wolfit, Athene Syler, Frederik Valk and Robert Helpmann.

“Macbeth’s,” eight-page program announced that the next production would be Gerald du Maurier’s, “Trilby,” starring Sonya Dresdel.

The artists were at the top of their careers or fast approaching it.

People’s hair, “Stood on end,” as they watched “Twelfth Night,” “Madame Butterfly,” “Giselle,” “Swan Lake,” “La Traviata,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” or “The Merchant of Venice.”

The Observer newspapers then famous theatre critic, Ivor Browne described Burnley’s audience as, “like Shakespeare’s.”

Reflecting on the experience, the Cassons said, “We have never played to such an audience. None of them moved a muscle while we acted but at the end they would go wild and lift the roof with their clapping.”

 

During the daytime, Lancashire ears, accustomed to their own sounds, began to hear new ones, as the clipped vowels of Received Pronunciation (or at least, the 1940s version of it) began to be heard in the shops and hotels of the town.

(If you listen to Trevor Howard and Celia Johnston in the film, “Brief Encounter,” you’ll get the idea.)

The company were lodged in the town and their appearances in Burnley’s streets often caused comment.

There were tales of, “ Tyrone Guthrie and some actors living in a very large, rented, terraced house” and a maid whispered that, “ Sybil Thorndike and her husband, Lewis Casson, were staying at the doctor’s house.”

People felt that some of the company were as dramatic off stage as on it, even noticing a “Different way of walking, when the ballerinas did their shopping in the Market Hall.”

The sight of capes being worn seemed, “Different, exotic.”

With his military bearing, the tall, elegant Guthrie, took to using the Commercial Hotel in St James’ Street as his local and was seen at the bar in black clothes, a black raincoat and a black broad brimmed hat, “Like a Sandeman Sherry advert.”

Sybil Thorndike wore plaid, with a short skirt and thick black woollen stockings and she was seen being followed by Lewis Casson in a new pair of shoes he’d bought in Dunkerly’s shoe shop.

Later made, “Dame Sybil”, there were those who said, not unkindly, that in her manner, she always was.

Reflecting on a long partnership, and asked whether she ever thought of leaving husband, Lewis, she said, “Leaving, of course not.  Killing, yes.”

 

Not that any of this theatricality would have fazed the Olivier’s as the Invicta finally rattled through the failing light along the cobbles towards a meeting at the Victoria Theatre with their old friend from London, Tyrone Guthrie.

 

They had worked with him in the late 1930’s at the Old Vic in London and although their cinema careers had taken off in no uncertain way, they both felt rooted in the theatre world. Olivier had established a reputation at the Old Vic before the war as one of the finest classical actors in Britain, and Vivien Leigh wanted to be thought of as, “ A proper actress,” and not as a pretty film star.

Another reason for their return to a Britain was that Olivier wanted to, “Do his bit,” and enlist in the armed services.

He had already seen his good friend, actor Ralph Richardson in his Fleet Air Arm uniform and another actor, John Mills had joined the Royal Engineers. Olivier felt that everyone had a uniformed role but him. Having failed to enter active service because of a perforated eardrum, he was now trying to get a non-operational posting as a flying instructor with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

With that in mind and aware that in his absences, the highly strung Vivien needed to be occupied, preferably with work, they had decided to see what Guthrie might be able to offer in Burnley with the Old Vic Company.

Vivien had worked with Guthrie in the theatre twice before in 1937, playing, “Ophelia,” with Olivier as, “Hamlet,” on tour at Kronborg Castle in Denmark and then as, “Titania,” in, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the London Old Vic.

She was guarded about the meeting, sensing that Guthrie, who she described as, “prickly,” was not really one of her professional admirers.

However amicable the meeting, she was in the end proved right and as a result of Guthrie declining to find room for her in his company, Burnley missed seeing one of the world’s most famous movie stars appearing regularly at the Vic.

Perhaps Guthrie thought that the beautiful, slightly built, 5’3” actress was not suitable for a variety of stage roles. Her off-screen voice was described as, “Small and rather high-pitched,” and filling a 2000 seat theatre, without the benefit of microphones, took some doing.

Perhaps he sensed a potential for trouble from a temperamental and occasionally fractious Leigh when she was separated from Olivier for long stretches and alone in Burnley.

She was always psychologically and physically frail; some years later, she would be diagnosed as suffering from manic-depression.

Diplomat that he was, he later wrote and told her that, much as he would love to have her in the company, he felt that because of her fame she had outgrown the, “Hobson’s Choice,” of rotating roles in a repertory company.

After all, he reasoned, “Gone with the Wind,” had premiered in Britain in January 1940 and the public would resent seeing a star in small, supporting roles.

 

The next morning the Olivier’s said their goodbyes and left Burnley, never to return.

 

Shortly afterwards, in April 1941, Olivier took up his commission in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and was posted to Lee-on-Solent, near Portsmouth.

Vivian refused to be left behind and moved with him, sitting, cat on lap, in her small open car (which had mechanical problems), being towed by Olivier in the Invicta, steam still hissing from its radiator.

A few weeks later, bored with being stuck in the house, she suggested to Olivier that she might get a tricycle. A lack of balance militated against a two-wheeler.

Olivier was against it.

“It would look rather odd,” he said.

 

Not half as odd as if Vivien Leigh had got a job at Burnley’s Victoria Theatre and treated its good citizens to the daily spectacle of Scarlet O’Hara bouncing along its cobbled streets on a tricycle.

 

“A Winter’s Tale.”

 

“No fighters, no flak, a milk run.”

On Monday February 19,1945, toward the end of World War 2, an American B-24J Heavy-Duty bomber, a veteran of 26 bombing missions over Nazi occupied Europe, left its airbase outside the village of North Pickenham in Norfolk to fly to Burtonwood, the United States Army Air Force base (USAAF) in Cheshire known as BAD1.

It was a, “Milk Run,” Air Force slang for a safe flight with no flak and no fighters to contend with, a “piece of cake.”

The small, Norfolk village of North Pickenham sits on flat fertile farmland, under wide skies, accessed by narrow, country lanes whose hedgerows are, in summer, hosts to an abundance of wild flowers.

Anglo-Saxon invaders founded the two Pickenhams, north and south and they enjoyed possession of their bucolic charms until the Normans arrived in 1066.

By 1944 the area had become preoccupied with the threat other invaders from the mainland of Europe and like much of Norfolk found themselves hosting a military airbase.

North Pickenham was originally a Royal Air Force Base but opened for American long-range heavy bombers in 1944 when it became known as USAAF Station 143, known by its trans-Atlantic occupants, (who had grown to like the flat, warm English beer in the Blue Lion pub) as, “North Pick.”

The young American crews, many of them farm boys from the Midwest barely past their 21st birthdays, were equally well liked by the locals, except on the odd occasion when they’d been known to drink the pub dry.

The 491st Heavy Bombardment Group, a wing of the 8th USAAF, arrived at North Pick in August 1944, flying in on waves of what was to become one of World War 2’s iconic aeroplanes, the B-24 Heavy Bomber known as, “ The Liberator.”

The B-24’s were one of the USAAF’s WW2 workhorse bombers.

By the time the last of these aeroplanes rolled off the Consolidated Aircraft Company production line in San Diego, America on May 31, 1945, 18,479 of the aircraft had been built and they had operated more missions and dropped more bombs than any other single Allied World War II design.

When an American dollar was worth about £0.63p, each plane would have cost about £ 187,000, at today’s prices, perhaps £ 3 million each.

The 491st had completed their training in the wide clear skies of El Paso, Texas before leaving Morrison field in Florida under sealed orders, singly and at night. An hour after takeoff each commander  opened his secret orders and only then were they sure that they were headed to England and the war in Europe.

Their long flight across the Atlantic, with stops, would take them via Trinidad, Natal and Dakar, over the Moroccan Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh, then on through the night, under combat conditions for the first time, to a welcome breakfast at Lands’ End in Cornwall.

The 491st would be based at North Pickenham until the end of the war in May 1945.

It would be overstating the case to say that the B 24 won the war for the Allies but it’s probably fair to speculate that they might not have won the war without it.

The aeroplane in this story was built in San Diego.

Her official name was:

B 24 J (“Liberator”), Serial Number: 42-50668, Coded 6 XM.

For the sake of brevity, we shall call her 6XM.

The Liberator was a long-range heavy bomber designed to carry a bomb load of 8000 pounds and a crew of 10. By the standards of its day, it was an extremely large machine weighing 38,000 pounds (over 17 metric tonnes) empty, with a wingspan of 110 feet.

It was 66 feet long and nearly 18 feet in height; its power provided by four 1200 hp Pratt and Whitney, turbocharged piston engines that, at 25,000 feet enabled it to sustain a cruising speed of 215 mph.

On the ground it looked huge, with its four mighty engines and their six-foot, three-bladed propellers. Its slab sided construction earning it its nickname, “The Flying Boxcar.”

When it moved along the ground it could be seen to “waddle” on its tricycle undercarriage, its light aluminium body panels so thin, they could be cut with a knife.

It might have looked pedestrian on the ground but it was a complicated and advanced machine, very demanding to fly, requiring prolonged flight training.

In spite of which, in 1943, eight hundred and fifty trainee aircrew members died in two hundred and ninety B-24 training accidents in the United States, a state of affairs that left many of the young recruits scared of the aeroplanes.

Probably to combat this, a USAAF training film of the period declares sonorously in a voice over worthy of John Wayne.

“It is a large aircraft but that doesn’t mean that it’s difficult or tricky to fly.”

It says a lot about the young recruit’s bravery or perhaps their naïvety that they were all volunteers.

After 1942, the USAAF didn’t force anyone to fly.

It was the recruits’ own choice.

Many pilots would agree with that but one at least one couldn’t remember anyone who would actually have chosen to fly in a Liberator, which was considered to be an unforgiving aeroplane that required almost superhuman strength to operate.

It was a sluggish, cumbersome plane with marginal flight stability that had a reputation for taking its own good time to do whatever it wanted to do.

Its heavy controls, operated by a wheel as big as that on a large truck, had a notorious stiffness and needed physical stamina allied to skill and concentration to operate. Muscle power was the order of the day, one pilot claiming that he won more arm wrestling contests the more he flew.

More worrying was the plane’s tendency to break apart on ditching or belly landing, with its consequent fire risk, especially when fully loaded with high-octane fuel, bombs and ammunition for its machine guns.

No space was wasted inside the narrow aeroplane to allow for any crew comfort and all of them were cramped into the smallest possible positions, the bomb racks also limited movement within the fuselage, giving its oily, smelly interior a claustrophobic feel.

There was no internal aisle to walk down, only an 8 inch wide metal catwalk, difficult to negotiate at the best of times but particularly in a badly lit, pitching and yawing, plane wearing flying boots.

Moving about could be a perilous business because the flimsy bomb doors that lay below the catwalk had only a 100-pound weight carrying capacity, making it easily possible to break through them if you lost your footing on the narrow catwalk

One crew member miraculously survived just such an incident at high altitude.

Saved only by one of his large, flying booted feet lodging in an obstacle inside the plane, resulting in him hanging upside down in space. He was eventually hauled out of the freezing slipstream and back into the aeroplane by a quick thinking and brave crew member.

6XM had been used to bomb weapons factories, railways, airfields, and oil refineries throughout Germany since her arrival at North Pick.

She was a survivor. Many Liberators weren’t.

Following their arrival in England, the 491’s Liberators had flown 134 missions, losing 43 aircraft and many crew members in the process.

Some managed to survive by bailing out or even crash landing. Many went down with their planes, the difficulty of exiting from one, especially for the pilots, earning them another nickname, “The Flying Coffin.”

6XM’s last mission over Germany was on 6 February 1945 when she took part in an attack on the railway marshalling yards at Magdeburg.

Now fitted with two new engines, she was to fly from North Pick to BAD1 (Burtonwood), a relatively short trip of about 150 miles, possibly to be replaced with a newer model, a 1000lb lighter B-24L.

Burtonwood, 2 miles north-west of Warrington in Cheshire was the largest airfield in Europe in World War II, staffed by 18,000 servicemen and the centre for overhaul and repair of all USAAF radial engine aircraft.

The commanding pilot for this, “Milk Run” was First Lieutenant Charles Albert Groeking who had just arrived back at North Pick following leave but too late to take part in a raid on Germany’s Siegen marshalling yards planned for the same day.

A raid with added piquancy in that the town of Siegen had, as an Honorary Citizen, the German Reich Chancellor, Adolf Hitler.

Lt Goeking’s crew for the late afternoon’s flight north included:

Co-pilot, Second Lieutenant George H Smith Jnr.

Navigator: First Lt Frank E Bock.

Flight Engineer: Technical Sgt Howard E Denham.

Radio Operator: Technical Sgt Leslie E Johnson.

Travelling with them were six “passengers” en route for Burtonwood.

Pilot and Second Lieutenant, Joseph B Walker III.

Bombardier and Second Lieutenant: Elmer R Brater.

Navigator and Flight Officer: Gerald Procita.

Co-pilot and Flight Officer: David A Robinson Jnr.

Rear Gunner: Sgt Randolph R Muhlenrich Jnr.

Engineer: Sgt Robert D Hyett.

Standing in the overcast, gloomy light of the Norfolk February afternoon, the plane would have been well prepared by her ground crew even for a short flight as Lt Goeking, his crew and passengers approached it on its hard stand.

The ground mechanics devotion to the flight crews and care for their aircraft was much admired.

One pilot recalls that, “I never went out to the flight line at any hour of the day or night when the mechanics were not out there working. They were the most dedicated people ever saw. I’ve seen them break down and cry when their plane went down. It always seemed there was something else they could have done to make the plane more airworthy.”

Fitted out in warm clothing, the pilots would have walked to the aircraft with their parachute backpacks already on, the other crew members and the passengers having picked up their parachutes in chest packs which they carried to the plane by hand and would only snap them on if needed.

The parachute packers invariable joke, on handing them out being, “If it doesn’t work, bring it back and I’ll give you another.”

The winter weather was poor all over England that Monday afternoon but certainly not bad enough to ground the plane. The crew and passengers could expect a cold and windy flight. Once in flight, air would blow noisily throughout the Spartan plane, especially through the waist gunners open windows. Compared to what the rest of the squadron would certainly experience on the Siegen raid, they would have had every reason to feel grateful for the short hop to Burtonwood.

The chief of the ground crew would have walked round the huge box sided plane with the co-pilots, checking it physically before flicking the small hydraulic lever that opened up the bomb doors in the plane’s belly which slide upwards into the fuselage on each side like two sections of a roll topped desk.

No bombs in the two bomb bays for today’s, “milk run,” But the plane was carrying ammunition for its machine guns.

The crew and their passengers will have climbed  onto the narrow central catwalk, some to the forward positions, others like the passengers, towards the rear.

Climbing into the plane was a cumbersome business and it was always difficult for crew members to get themselves adjusted into their cramped and uncomfortable positions.

Lt Goeking and his co-pilot, George Smith would have then settled into their seats, their parachutes serving as a sort of backrest.

Their seats were encased underneath in cast iron that came up to the knees, then under the seat and up its back.

It wouldn’t be needed on this flight but in combat it was there in the event of metal flak hitting the thinly clad plane on the underside and penetrating the cockpit resulting in either or both pilots being killed or badly injured, at which point the plane would almost certainly go down.

For the same reason many pilots took to flying in combat with a large piece of metal in front of their chest.

From the moment the pilot connected his headset he was in total command of his officers and sergeants.

Pilots were, in fact, referred to as, “Aircraft Commanders.” On today’s assignment sheet this would be “Lt Goeking’s Flight.”

He had help, of course, from his co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, radio operator and the flight engineers but he would only ask for their help. Goeking was the only man with his hands on the controls and it was only he who would determine the direction and progress of the flight.

Having adjusted their seats, Goeking and his co-pilot would begin the long list of pre-flight procedures.

The plane had to be flown intelligently, “ by the book,” the pre-flight routines gone through meticulously, beginning with checks of the rudder and elevator controls, followed by preparations to start the first of the huge engines, number three, followed by numbers four and two until finally number one would roar into life, belching black smoke and emitting a deep, throaty roar.

With all engines running, Goeking, along with his co-pilot, would have begun to do their, “Run-Up,” the last checks before taxiing, checking on each engine’s performance, checking fuel, oil and brake systems.

A thumbs-up to the ground crew from the open cockpit window would see the wheel blocks removed and Goeking would begin to taxi the ungainly plane, looking for all the world like an elephant getting ready for a circus parade, away towards the end of the runway, a crew member closing the bomb doors as the plane bounced gently across the tarmac to the incongruous sound of a herd of sheep bleating in a nearby field as a farmer began to fill their troughs with winter feed.

Goeking approached the end of the runway in a broad, sweeping turn, using the brakes gently and turning by using his outboard engines before wallowing to a stop in his takeoff position and applying the parking brakes.

He then starts his final checks before takeoff.

Exercising the spinning propellers to their full range of operation, setting elevator tabs, aileron and rudder settings, followed by many other essential readings before finally opening number three engine to 2000 revolutions a minute and advancing its turbocharger.

He now sets the wing flaps to their take off positions and brings the other three engines up to speed, gunning each one slightly.

A pair of Heron’s, disturbed by the sound, rise into the air and head off in the afternoon gloom towards a distant stream.

The roar of the engines is almost deafening.

The plane vibrates as every nut and bolt, every rivet, rattles and shakes.

Finally, just before takeoff, the plane’s altimeter is set to the airport reading, followed by setting of the artificial horizon.

Ready for takeoff, Groeking gets an okay from the control tower, releases the brakes and heads down the runway into the face of the bleak Norfolk wind.

Feeling their vibration he opens the throttle levers slowly against their stop positions and his co-pilot holds them there against any tendency for them to creep closed, adjusting the turbocharger at the same time, as the lumbering plane accelerates down the runway, engulfed in an ear shattering cocoon of noise, the roaring engines thirstily gulping fuel, the forward motion sending a fierce slipstream through the open waist gunner’s stations and over the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces at the rear of the plane. If you were close enough you’d see the code letters, 6X on the fuselage and M on the tail fins, shaking with the vibration.

They are rolling.

All four giant Pratt and Whitney engines are now running at high power on 2700 revolutions per minute and the plane, bouncing on the uneven runway surface, moves through 90 mph as Groeking prepares to wrestle with the control yoke as over 38,000 pounds of metal, high-octane fuel and men gain ground speed.

The engine is now burning 637 gallons an hour of fuel as they approach takeoff speed at 160 mph.

As the plane almost reaches the end of the runway, Groeking pulls back on the controls and the blunt, Perspex nose of the plane, begins almost imperceptibly to leave the ground.

One pilot described every takeoff as an adventure.

Once a giant B-24 started its roll forward, seemingly reluctant to pick up speed, it often felt to those inside as though it would never get airborne, particularly when it was fully laden with a payload of bombs.

Even though they were used to it, Goeking’s experienced crew and passengers would feel that they might never leave the ground as the plane skimmed across it before barely clearing the trees on the airfield’s perimeter and slowly gaining altitude.

Down below, wading in their icy stream, the two herons might have been aware of a large dim shadow passing over them.

Once airborne, the co-pilot raises the landing gear and brings up the flaps.

Only then, when the plane has more speed and less drag will she finally start to slowly climb.

6-XM is finally free of gravity and she spirals upwards towards the dark clouds that lower over the damp, Norfolk countryside.

As Goeking eases back on the throttles to save fuel, her course set for Burtonwood, less than an hour away. Now in her true element, the clumsy plane banks gently, almost gracefully, towards the Northwest.

Down below the diminishing figure of the farmer, looking up into the sky, raises an arm and waves a slow farewell.

End of part one…..

 

Glory days

BURNLEY v HAMBURG. EUROPEAN CUP. 1961.

When Burnley won the old First Division Championship after 39 years in 1960, their fans could be forgiven for taking Prime Minister Harold McMillan’s recent “Winds of Change” speech out of context and applying it to the Clarets. They’d certainly, “Never had it so good”.

Having never led the table at any stage of the season, they saved the best until the last game of the Season at Maine Road and when the final whistle blew a team of mostly young players had scored exactly 100 goals in League and Cup, pushing 106 goal Wolves into second place. With that achievement came entry into the European Cup and a tie against French side, Rheims.A 2-0 home win set us up for a controversial away battle that saw Burnley leaving the field battered, bloody but triumphant having won 4-3 on aggregate. The prize was a January 1961 Quarter Final against Hamburg S.V. captained by the great centre forward Uwe Seeler at Turf Moor.

At the same time, over in Germany, U.S. Private 53310761, Presley, Elvis, cruised the autobahns in his BMW 507 Roadster humming the tune of a German folksong he was to call “Wooden Heart” and the Beatles, fresh from Germany (and Hamburg no less) were playing some of their early gigs in obscure Liverpool town halls. So fresh from Germany that many of their fans thought they were a German group. One album, released in Germany, saw them billed as “The Beat Brothers”. The word “Beatles” being too similar to the German word, “Pidels” pronounced “Peedles”, a slang word for penises.

Whether Hamburg’s famous 24 year old centre-forward Uwe had heard of either “Wooden Heart” or the “Pidels” it’s impossible to say. That he would have known of Burnley’s football reputation is beyond doubt. Hamburg manager Gunther Mahlmann would have made all of his team sure of that. The mighty Hamburg Sports Verein (Sports Club) was a force to be reckoned with in those pre-Bundesliga days, having won their regional leagues and their association cup on several occasions. Ominously, in this, the 1960/61 season, they were running away with their league, having only dropped one point from 16 matches. Mahlmann warned that “Burnley is one of the greatest teams in the world” Even allowing for his diplomatic hyperbole, many Claret’s fans were inclined to agree with him.

Having stayed overnight in Manchester, courtesy of Matt Busby, the Germans arrived in Burnley the following day. The hotel of choice was then “The Keirby”, Burnley’s new luxury hotel named after a brewery that had stood on the site owned by “J. Grimshaw”.If connoisseurs of ale and football cast their eyes upwards above the entrance to the nearby Turf Hotel they will see two carved stone roundels and notice that “JG” is featured on one and “Ltd” on the other. The Turf was another of Mr Grimshaw’s establishments, as was the Talbot Hotel, also suitably inscribed.

The Keirby attracted not only top football teams in those days. Film fans could only marvel at seeing the cast and crew of “Whistle down the Wind” pass through its carpeted halls. Originally set in Sussex, the screenplay was re-written by northern writers, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall to give it a “grittier” quality and shot in numerous local locations. It was possible, if you hung around long enough, to have a pint with director Bryan Forbes, producer “Dickie”, now Sir Richard Attenborough, and leading man, Alan Bates. The young star, Hayley Mills would, of course, have long been tucked up in the Land of Nod, no doubt dreaming of Sussex. Perhaps “Dickie” slept in the same bed vacated by Uwe Seeler? History declines to inform us. But when Uwe (he of the dangerous overhead kick) left that bed in the Keirby on match day, Wednesday the 18th January 1961, he and I were destined to meet.

At 19 years of age, I was a drama student in waiting but still a photographer having served a somewhat curtailed apprenticeship on the Burnley Express. The management wouldn’t give me extended leave to go to the 1960 Olympics in Rome so I went anyway and was fired for my initiative. Then again there was the incident when I photographed an evening match on the Turf in full stage make-up so I could make a late appearance on stage. I thought if I turned my collar up and wore a hat and scarf no one would notice. It must have been the full set of Victorian mutton-chop whiskers that gave me away.

By the time of the Hamburg match I was working for a newly formed Burnley Press Agency which had the distinction of having premises above John Colliers –“The window to watch”—and a ladies hairdressers in St James’ Street. The grubby studio we occupied was later used by “amateur photographers” to learn how to photograph the scantily clad female form. Whether film was actually in all the cameras was uncertain. Certainly those films that were handed in for developing often showed a remarkable degree of camera shake.

Such was the importance of the Burnley/Hamburg clash, we received a contract from a London news agency to cover the event for them for syndication with German newspapers. They wanted pre-match stuff and, of course, the match itself the same evening. Pre-match was simple. The Hamburg team would stroll up the road from the Keirby to take eine kleine peep at the hallowed Turf. Not that they’d been allowed to train on it. Chairman Bob Lord had seen to that and sent them off to be impressed by the training facilities at Gawthorpe. Mr Lord—no slouch at gamesmanship where his beloved Burnley were concerned—had said that he wanted the pitch to be “in the best possible condition”.

In the event, the 46,237 fans who turned up on the night saw a well rolled swamp that, by the time Burnley had won a corner in the opening seconds, had turned into a quagmire. Unplayable by modern standards but quite acceptable at the time, Hamburg were playing us in their mid-winter break designed to avoid such pitches.

In those pre-digital days before the advent of memory chips that enable photographers to take hundreds of shots, I was sent to the pre-match armed with two rolls of film. 24 shots. It was easy enough to fire off 23 of them but in the best tradition of the trade, I left one unexposed frame in the camera in case something happened on the way back to the office.

And, goodness gracious, it did!

I mean, when you’re 19 and a football fan and you get to stroll along the street back to the Keirby with the great Uwe Seeler and the entire Hamburg team, you do it. Uwe Seeler! Hamburg, where he scored 137 goals in 269 appearances was his only club. (I know they were odd times). He was also to make 72 International appearances, scoring 43 times, captaining both his club and the national team. In 1960 he was voted German Footballer of the Year.

Now, as fate would have it, he was possessed of a football and I, callow youth, was possessed of one frame of film in my camera and there, on a cobbled Burnley back-street, festooned with sheets hanging out to dry, were two grubby little lads kicking a bald, torn tennis ball about. Uwe stopped bouncing the football and turned to look at the boys. Then he dropped the ball at his feet and dribbled towards them across the cobbles and two astonished kids found themselves trying to defend a Burnley back-street against one of the world’s most dangerous strikers and the first man ever to score in 4 World Cups.

I raised my camera, focused, (“Please let it be sharp.”) and clicked the shutter. Mercifully, it was a beauty and found its way into several newspapers

The rest of the day didn’t go well for the lovely Uwe. The closest he came to scoring was to hit the post. In front of an hysterical crowd, commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme found himself shaking on his camera position shouting that the noise was “fit to waken the dead”. The Clarets famously won 3-1 but Hamburg’s away goal was to cost us dearly in the away leg when Jimmy McIlroy, like Uwe, hit the post. I’d like to say I saw it all. I didn’t. Twenty minutes after kick off, I was back in the darkroom, above the hairdressers nervously developing the early match pictures before running round with them to the GPO where the London agency’s “wire man” was waiting to send them to Germany.

A short time later when the second leg went against us the European dream was over. At the season’s end we were 4th in the League, semi-finalists in both domestic cup competitions and had found the net 102 times, a new club record.Uwe Seeler and his Hamburg team would go on to play Barcelona, end up 2-2 on aggregate and then be eliminated 1-0 in a play off. So, I guess, it might have been Barcelona and not Burnley. Who knows? Barca would lose the final 3-2 to the “Eagles” of Benfica.

I hope Uwe enjoyed playing against “one of the best teams in the world” and when those two backstreet kids woke up the next day I bet they started to tell of how they not only took on Uwe Seeler but the whole German team.

Beginnings 7

Another event that was to influence my life took place on the evening of the 18th of May 1882 at the Bull Hotel in the centre of Burnley where a special committee meeting of a local rugby team called Burnley Rovers was called.
The Bull was a fine establishment, its façade lit by “Old Gawmless” the lamp in the centre of the street outside, some say because of its “dim” performance, others because it was standing in the middle of the road.
They could have chosen to meet in almost anyone of the nearly 200 inns, hotels, taverns and beerhouses that had grown up in the town despite the efforts of the Temperance Movement but they chose The Bull because it was the town’s leading hotel, known for its “magnificence” even though it was nick-named “The Folly” by locals because of its ambitious 40 bedrooms.
Some of the committee members would have arrived on one of the new fangled steam trams introduced into the town the previous year, hissing and clanging along cobbled streets described as, “the most heavily bill posted in the country,” passing Thomas Hoghton’s grocers shop who advertised on his paper bags that, “Trams pass the door every 15 minutes.”
There’s entrepreneurship for you but he still hedged his traditional bets by having, on the same bag, a picture of an elegant couple arriving at his shop in an open hansom cab.
One or two of the committee might have been late, as there had been a bit of a dispute about the use of steam on certain streets and the new trams had to be pulled by horses for some of the way. If a member had walked from nearby Stoneyholme he’d have passed under the shadow of a giant, three-tier gasholder, only the second to be built in England.
Others, perhaps chose to arrive by horse-drawn Cab, oil lamps winking in the fading light.
With the meeting called to order, the evening’s business began.
“It hasn’t been a bad season,” the Rover’s Treasurer told them,” And were it not for our changing facilities being blown down and the access bridge to the ground being washed away, the balance sheet might have presented a different aspect.”
There was applause and the balance sheet adopted unanimously. Two penny or three penny cigars were puffed on, purchased from Joshua Duckworth’s a couple of doors away.
Then, under the yellow light of flickering gas mantles, committee member Mr. Ernest Bradshaw stood up and spoke,
“ I move that the rugby club, in future, play under Association Football rules.”
Without more ado, for I suspect Burnley folk had acquired a reputation for bluntness even then, the motion was passed and a celebratory round of Grimshaw’s Ale was probably ordered.
A few days later , in order to forestall anyone else having the idea, the name of the new venture was changed to “Burnley Football Club”.
The club would play its first match at Turf Moor, still its ground in 2010, on Saturday, 17th of February 1883. A proud day except that their opponents, neighboring Rawtenstall, ran off winners, beating Burnley Football Club, 6-3.
The first result might have disappointed but if there was ever any sunshine to be sought under the town’s sulphuric, rain-soaked skies, the Club’s committee determined to find it.

In 1888 Burnley Football Club proudly became one of the founder members of the Football League, along with, Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Derby, Everton, Notts. County, Preston, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Burnley. Cotton. Football.
The last two words would come to define the town, sometimes to its annoyance, for years to come.