As we start to build up to our first performances of Earwig, we’ve decided to start a regular feature about deaf history on our social media platforms!
There’s so much to cover – so much that is often left unexplored by mainstream media! Unfortunately, as with anything historical, some of the terms, phrases and ideas we will be discussing are outdated and unacceptable to a modern audience. However, it’s important to acknowledge and learn from these aspects of history as we look towards a more inclusive future.
What is deafness?
Simply put, deafness occurs when when sound signals from the ear don’t reach the brain. However, deafness is anything but simple and can vary greatly from person to person. There are four main types: conductive hearing loss (involving the outer or middle ear), sensorineural (involving the inner ear), mixed hearing loss (a combination of conductive and sensorineural) and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (where sound signals are disrupted as they travel to the brain). Within this, there are different levels, ranging from mild – where it is difficult to distinguish softer sounds, to profound – where sound cannot be detected at all. This impacts upon how those with deafness communicate – oral communication may be challenging to impossible, so communication methods such as lip reading and sign language can be key.
The first known record of sign language was written in the 5th Century BC. In a dialogue on the “correctness of names”, Socrates says: “Suppose that we had no voice or tongue, and wanted to communicate with one another, should we not, like the deaf and dumb, make signs with the hands and head and the rest of the body?”. His belief that deaf people possessed an innate intelligence for language put him at odds with his student Aristotle, who said, “Those who are born deaf all become senseless and incapable of reason,” and that “it is impossible to reason without the ability to hear”.
This pronouncement would, unfortunately, reverberate through the ages and it was not until the 17th century that manual alphabets began to emerge, as did various treatises on deaf education, such as Reducción de las letras y arte para enseñar a hablar a los mudos (‘Reduction of letters and art for teaching mute people to speak’), written by Juan Pablo Bonet in Madrid in 1620, and Didascalocophus, or, The deaf and dumb mans tutor, written by George Dalgarno in 1680.
In Earwig, Marigold is profoundly deaf in her left ear (no sound at all) and mildly deaf in her right ear (some hearing but would struggle with soft sounds). This means she is deaf with a lowercase d. She uses written and spoken English as her first language, and isn’t part of Deaf society.
From the Bonet writings
Earwig plays at Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 14:10pm in Front Room (Assembly Rooms) between 4th and 27th August (minus 10th August). Tickets can be purchased via tickets.edfringe.com
Following the success of last year’s event at The Carrs Park in Wilmslow, Time & Again will be reviving their joyous 1980s themed version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as staging a brand new adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, where you can join the company in the 1950s for a Great British seaside holiday, Bard-style!
Time And Again recently lost their extensive collection of vintage costumes, props, sets and equipment in a devastating storage unit fire at Stanley Green Business Park in Cheadle Hulme so are doubly proud to be rising triumphantly from the ashes and heading back on stage once more.
As well as returning to The Carrs in Wilmslow, Time & Again will also be touring their historical take on Shakespeare’s beloved comedies to Stanley Park in Blackpool, Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester, and a wonderfully immersive production in the historic swimming pool at Victoria Baths – be sure to pack a picnic!
Both shows are being directed by Laura Crow and Jon Turner. Click here to buy tickets.
Time & Again have launched a GoFundMe page which is urgently seeking donations to ensure we can continue as a company and deliver our shows this summer. You can find the campaign here!
In the early hours of Saturday 26th February 2022, the storage unit which housed the entirety of Time & Again Theatre Company’s set, props, costume and equipment burnt down.
As most people are well aware, theatre was one of the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, all of our performances were cancelled, including our tours to rural communities across the UK who don’t have easy access to theatre. After working on an audio drama adaptation to sustain our output during lockdown, we had just returned to live performance in August 2021 with an 80’s fuelled performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Carrs Park, Wilmslow.
We are due to be touring A Midsummer Night’s Dream once more across the North West this summer, as well as brand new shows Much Ado About Nothing and new writing piece Earwig. We now have nothing: no props, no set, no costumes, no sound and lighting equipment.
Not only have we lost all of our expensive technical equipment but with our focus upon telling historical stories, we had amassed a carefully curated selection of vintage and painstakingly custom-built set pieces and props since our formation in 2017 – now all gone. We’ve also lost countless vintage costume pieces sourced from vintage shops, online and from personal collections. All of these items are difficult to replace and we are devastated. So much of the theatre company’s inventory will take a great deal of time to rebuild from the ashes.
Company founder and director Laura Crow says: ‘I think I’m in shock. This is 5 years worth of work and memories which we have spent countless hours designing, painting and making. I’m absolutely gutted. I’d like to confirm all of this year’s shows are going ahead, we’re not going anywhere, but we are going to need to remake, rebuy and refind everything. Like the characters in our 1940’s play Greyhounds we will be digging into our Wartime spirit and trying to keep calm and carry on, but any support would be hugely appreciated’.
Time & Again Theatre Company are looking for a female-identifying Deaf, deaf or Hard of Hearing actor to join our upcoming production of EARWIG.
Marigold Webb – Female – 18 – 35
EARWIG is a piece of new writing following the life of Marigold Webb, a deaf insect collector living in 1927. Written by deaf and neurodivergent writer, Laura Crow, the show follows Marigold’s story using a mixture of traditional spoken word, mime, and captioning in the style of 1920s silent movies. It is a funny and fast-paced exploration of what it meant to be deaf in the early 20th century against the art deco decadence of the inter-war years.
Marigold has no hearing in her left ear and limited hearing in her right ear as a result of illness when she was five years old. She speaks and reads English. Please note – whilst a positive and empowering tale, EARWIG explores historical attitudes towards deafness, including the way many deaf children at this time were discouraged from using any form of sign language. For this reason, we are looking for a deaf or Hard of Hearing actor that is comfortable using their spoken voice. There are a few basic elements of BSL in the show – and we will be working with a BSL interpreter at points as we develop the piece – but actors are not required to be fluent in BSL.
Rehearsals: April 2022 at HOME Theatre and The King’s Arms, Salford in Manchester, and then July 2022 in Manchester.
We are a Manchester based company who will be rehearsing and holding our preview show in the Manchester area, so actors must have a base in the North West and be able to travel to and from Manchester.
Show Dates: Preview – late July 2022 , Manchester
Edinburgh Festival Fringe – 21st – 27th August 2022, Assembly Front Room
The Swallow Theatre – 28th – 29th August 2022, Whithorn, Scotland
Payment: We will be operating on a profit share basis. Each actor’s travel, food, and accomodation for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and The Swallow Theatre will be covered/provided by Time & Again. There is also a small contribution of £100 available to each actor for the rehearsal period.
About the Company: Time & Again Theatre Company are based in Manchester and formed in the summer of 2017 as a new young company wishing to explore all things historical in ways that are fresh and relevant for today. They are particularly interested in exploring the lives of women who pushed boundaries, either by working in typically male-dominated industries, engaging in political or revolutionary ideas, or behaving in a way that wasn’t deemed acceptable by society at the time.
Time & Again’s first two shows, GREYHOUNDS and CLOUDS, both had successful runs at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Greater Manchester Fringe, rural touring runs, and off West End dates. CLOUDS won the Oldham Coliseum Pick of the Fringe Award in August 2019, as well as being nominated for most innovative use of space. It also won an Undrowning Scholarship for using theatre to promote women in STEM, particularly the lack of women in the aviation industry. Time & Again regularly collaborate with accredited museums and heritage sites, blending theatre with living history and live installation.
To Apply: Please email a headshot, CV, and short cover letter explaining why you would like to take part in EARWIG to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please get your applications in ASAP as rehearsals are due to start on the 1st April!
We are only interested in seeing Deaf, deaf or Hard of Hearing actors for this role.
Time & Again are seeking new cast members to join us in an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this August at The Carrs park in Wilmslow!
Audition Date – Saturday 10th July, 1pm – 4pm Dress Rehearsal – Thursday 19th August Show Dates – Friday 20th, Saturday 21st, Sunday 22nd August
As a historical company, a brilliant vintage setting is always a must and our Dream will be set in the 1980s. Think striking miners, new romantics, and a big royal wedding!
We are looking for cast members with previous acting experience, particularly those with an interest in watching and performing Shakespeare! As ever, the ability to drink endless of cups of tea and snack on biscuits is also preferable!
Please note, this project will be operating on a profit share basis.
The parts will be doubled as follows:
THESEUS, Duke of Athens and OBERON, King of the Fairies HIPPOLYTA, Queen of the Amazons and TITANIA, Queen of the Fairies EGEUS, parent to Hermia and PEASEBLOSSOM, the fairy HERMIA, in love with Lysander LYSANDER, loved by Hermia DEMETRIUS, suitor of Hermia HELENA, in love with Demetirus PHILOSTRATE, master of the revels and PUCK
QUINCE, a carpenter Nick BOTTOM, a weaver Francis FLUTE, a bellows-mender Tom SNOUT, a tinker SNUG, a joiner
COBWEB, the fairy and a member of the PRESS MUSTARDSEED, the fairy and a member of the PRESS
All parts are open to actors of any gender identity.
Who are Time & Again?
Time & Again Theatre Company are based in Manchester and formed in the summer of 2017 as a new young company wishing to explore all things historical in ways that are fresh and relevant for today.
We’re particularly interested in exploring the lives of women who pushed boundaries, either by working in typically male-dominated industries, engaging in political or revolutionary ideas, or behaving in a way that wasn’t deemed acceptable by society at the time.
What have you worked on?
Time & Again’s first two shows, GREYHOUNDS and CLOUDS, have both had successful runs at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Greater Manchester Fringe, rural touring runs, and off West End dates. CLOUDS, won the Oldham Coliseum Pick of the Fringe Award in August 2019, as well as being nominated for most innovative use of space. It also won an Undrowning Scholarship for using theatre to promote women in STEM, particularly the lack of women in the aviation industry.
We regularly collaborate with accredited museums and heritage sites, blending theatre with living history and live installation.
On Armed Forces Day 2019 we partnered with RAF Museum Cosford, who commissioned us to perform GREYHOUNDS in Cosford’s Cold War Hangar. We also performed GREYHOUNDS at the Severn Valley Steam Railway (supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund). In July 2019 we collaborated with the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester to perform CLOUDS, our feminist-fuelled tale of Edwardian aviation. In April 2020, during the UK’s first national lockdown, we collaborated with Yorkshire Air Museum to turn GREYHOUNDS into an audio drama. This was broadcast online in weekly instalments, as well as via Angel Radio.
Please email a headshot, CV, and short cover letter explaining why you would like to take part in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and wish part/s you would like to read for to email@example.com
All ages, genders and ethnicities are encouraged to apply. We particularly welcome applications from those currently under-represented within the UK arts sector, including those of Black, Asian or other Global Majority ethnicity, those who have faced socio-economic barriers, those who identify as LGBTQI+, and those who are D/deaf and disabled or neurodiverse.
Join Time & Again Theatre Company this Friday 8th May as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day!
In this special livestream, the cast of Time & Again will discuss real life accounts of VE Day, show you how to achieve perfect 40s hair for a celebration street party with a victory rolls tutorial, perform some new scenes from our audio drama of Greyhounds, and maybe even have a sing-song – vintage style, of course!
To help you get into the spirit of the anniversary we have provided some FREE printables below: a VE Day poster, Union Jack bunting, and Victory bunting. They’re very easy to print out, assemble, and will help you decorate your home for VE Day 75!
Time & Again have been commissioned as part of The Library Presents… In Your Houseprogramme to adapt the second act of Greyhounds – set entirely on VE Day – as part of our ongoing audio drama and to also create a brand new accompanying podcast, looking at the real life history of the home front during World War Two.
It’s a busy weekend for Time & Again! The audio drama episode will go live at 8pm, straight after the livestream, and then our podcast, Then Again – Behind Big Moments in History, will go live at 7pm on Saturday. The first episode is a deeper dive into the real history of VE Day, from street parties to firework injuries, the origin of the victory salute, and why the role of Bomber Command was airbrushed from history.
Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama, particularly the aircraft featured in each episode.
Katherine Winters witnesses a Handley Page Hampden with a damaged left engine attempting to limp back to base after a bombing raid over Germany. Arthur Nelson, who had seen it too, informs her that in all probability it was heading for RAF Scampton. Katherine seems unfamiliar with this location, but Arthur is happy to enlighten her, “We used to fly training flights from there back in the day, Camels mainly or Pups, but they’ve given it over to Bomber Command now”. And so they had and events during the next few years would elevate Scampton to the most famous of all the Bomber Command airfields.
An airfield was first opened on the site, which is just North of Lincoln, in November 1916, at which time it was known as Brattleby. The first unit to be based there was No.33 Squadron who operated RAF FE.2bs against the Zeppelin threat. This was a task for which the aircraft was wholly unsuited as it had a ceiling of 12,000 feet, the German airships tending to operate at 18,000 feet. The airfield was then given over to training and amongst the many types to be employed on these duties were the; Avro 504J, Avro 504K, RAF BE,2, RAF RE.8, Martinsyde Elephant and a trio of Sopwiths; the Camel, the Pup and the Dolphin. By July 1918, the various resident training squadrons had been combined to form No.34 Training Depot Station. At its height, the airfield boasted six hangars, but it had only ever been intended as a temporary site and most units moved out soon after the Armistice. By 1920 all buildings had been demolished and no trace of the airfield remained.
With tensions growing with Germany, the site at Brattleby once again attracted attention and under the RAF Expansion Scheme was earmarked as an airfield for the rapidly expanding bomber force. Occupying a slightly larger area than the original WWI airfield, the station was reopened in August 1936 as RAF Scampton. This time construction was on a somewhat more permanent basis and included four C type hangars and brick built technical and domestic accommodation. The airfield was still in a somewhat incomplete state when the first units arrived in October 1936; No.9 Squadron equipped with the Handley Page Heyford and No.214 Squadron with the Vickers Virginia and from January 1937, the Handley Page Harrow. No.148 Squadron was briefly in residence from June 1937 initially flying the Hawker Audax, a two-seat variant of the Hawker Hart biplane that had been developed for army cooperation. These were soon replaced by the Vickers Wellesley, a type that was essentially obsolete by the outbreak of WWII and did not see service in the European theatre. March 1938 saw the arrival of Nos 49 and 83 Squadrons both flying another biplane bomber, the Hawker Hind, but by the year’s end both had re-equipped with the Handley Page Hampden. By the outbreak of war construction of theairfield was fully complete and the two Scampton Squadrons each boasted 16 combat ready aircraft.
These Squadrons were in action on the very first day of hostilities when a six strong Hampden force led by the then Flying Officer Guy Gibson, conducted a raid on Wilhelmshaven. March 1940 would see the commencement of Bomber Command’s mine-laying operations, code-named “Gardening”. Both Scampton squadrons were involved from the outset and would play a major role in these dangerous low-level operations. On 12th August 1940 Flight Lieutenant R.A.B. Learoyd of No.49 Squadron took part in a daring low-level raid on the Dortmund-Elms Canal for which his conspicuous bravery led to the award of Bomber Command’s first Victoria Cross. In December 1941 both resident Squadrons begun to reequip with the Avro Manchester, a medium bomber that was to prove something of a failure due to the unreliability of its Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. Nonetheless, when Roy Chadwick refined this design and the underdeveloped Vulture engines were replaced by four Rolls-Royce Merlins, it would re-emerge as the Avro Lancaster, the finest bomber of WWII. By that summer both Squadrons had converted to the heavy bomber.
On the evening of 30/31 May 1942 Bomber Command mounted “Operation Millennium”, the first of three 1,000 bomber raids. 1,046 bombers took part in this attack including Manchester and Lancaster aircraft from both Scampton squadrons. Bomber Harris had originally selected Hamburg as his preferred target but poor weather conditions on the night dictated a switch to Cologne. It was hoped that by mounting such an attack German morale would be so shattered that the country would sue for peace. 1,455 tons of bombs were dropped, but although the city suffered substantial damage, particularly to residential areas, it was far from destroyed and within six months industrial life had largely recovered. Further 1,000 bomber raids were conducted against Essen and Bremen, but the operations were major undertakings that stretched Bomber Command’s resources to the limit and could not be sustained.
The event that was to enshrine the name of RAF Scampton in history was “Operation Chastise” which was mounted on the evening of 16th May 1943 by 19 aircraft of the specially formed 617 Squadron. Better known as the “Dam Busters” raid, Wing Commander Guy Gibson led his hand-picked crews on daring low level raids of the Ruhr dams using Barnes Wallis’ specially developed “bouncing bomb”. Of the three dams attacked, the Möhne and the Eder were both breached causing a significant impact on Germany’s industrial might. But these results were achieved at a high price, nine aircraft were lost along with the lives of 53 brave crew.
In August 1943 RAF Scampton was closed so that paved runways could be laid, the base not reopening until July 1944. Moving in at this time was No.1690 Bomber Defence Training Flight which operated Spitfire, Hurricane and Martinet aircraft. Two Lancaster Squadrons, No.153 & No.625 also moved in and were to take part in the base’s last raid of the war, the bombing of Obersalzberg on 25th April 1945.
The first notable event post-war was the blockade in Berlin which saw the arrival in July 1948 of 30 USAF Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft, the Americans remaining until February 1949. The airfield was then given over to 230 OCU for the training of Avro Lincoln crews. In 1953 the airfield once more resounded to the sound of Lancaster aircraft during the making of the film “The Dambusters”. In the early 1950s four Canberra Squadrons were in residence but these moved out in 1955 so that work could commence to upgrade the station for V-Bombers. Amongst this vast undertaking was the laying of a new 9,000-foot runway which necessitated the rerouting of the A15. Reinforced hard standings were installed as were secure areas for the storage of nuclear bombs. Not surprisingly the security of the whole site was considerably ramped up. Henceforth Avro Vulcans would be the station’s major residents until the type’s withdrawal in the early 1980s.
In 2000 the RAF Aerobatic Display Team, the Red Arrows relocated here from Cranwell and remain in residence to this day. Their iconic scarlet Hawk aircraft are known and loved by audiences worldwide, the team renowned for their peerless flying displays that few can match. With Covid-19 emptying the skies over the North West the team has been able to take advantage of a near deserted Manchester Airport to practice some approaches, Team Leader Red1 Martin Pert “Perty” himself doing a visual approach to Runway 05L on 17th April.
Sadly, RAF Scampton now faces an uncertain future with defence cuts meaning that the base is currently earmarked for closure in 2022.
As a Postscript, should you wish to learn more about Katherine Winter’s Father, who we know as Philip Brook, then catch up with Time & Again Theatre Company’s production of “Clouds” once normal times return.
Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama, particularly the aircraft featured in each episode and other aspects of life on the home front.
Whenever discussing life in Britain during WWII with my late Father-in-Law, conversations would invariably centre around three facts; it was dark, it was cold, and everyone was hungry. In the pre-war years the population’s dietary requirements were largely satisfied by drawing on the rich resources of its (then) vast Empire and by taking advantage of reasonably priced goods from other countries. Indeed, two thirds of the Nation’s appetite was satisfied by imports from abroad.
The German Reich was not slow to appreciate this point and from the outbreak of hostilities set about disrupting the flow of goods into Britain with the aim of starving the country into submission. Having clandestinely amassed a large and well-trained U-Boat fleet, the Nazis immediately deployed this lethal force against the vital transatlantic merchant conveys. With the allies limited to rudimentary air cover in the early stages of the war, the submarines were to prove particularly effective. During what became known as “The Battle of the Atlantic”, some 2,600 merchant ships would fall victim to U-boat torpedoes, claiming the lives of over 30,000 merchant seamen. Deprived of its once bountiful supply of goods, Britain had no choice but to introduce a strict system of rationing.
The rationing of Petrol or Motor Spirit as the Government preferred to call it, came into force as early as 16th September 1939. Coupons were available from the Post Office on production of a vehicle’s Registration Book, the quantity available being determined by the rating of the vehicle. For a small car this equated to about 5 gallons per month. Coupon books were valid for a period of two months and had to be surrendered before a new book could be issued. One was not allowed to hoard coupons; thus, any unused on the book’s expiry would be lost. Anyone using a vehicle for commercial purposes could apply for an additional allowance, but to prevent misuse, the petrol issued was leaded and contained a tell-tale red dye. Needless to say, there were heavy penalties for anyone caught abusing the system. In 1942 the use of petrol for private means was completely prohibited and cars largely disappeared from Britain’s roads for the remainder of the War.
Due to the large number of miners being called up for military service, coal was rationed from July 1941. Shortage of labour became so acute that ultimately mining was deemed a reserved occupation, but there was no let-up on rationing. As most homes depended on coal for both heating and hot water, this was a particular hardship. The use of water was also restricted with a family being allowed just one 5” bath per week, thus bath water had to be shared.
With materials in short supply and most factories given over to war work, from June 1941 clothing was rationed. As with petrol this was done on a coupons-based system with each person initially receiving 66 coupons a year. Each item of clothing had a coupon value; a coat costing 16 coupons, whilst a pair of shoes was 7 and underwear 8. With many women now doing war work, military style uniforms – “Siren Suits” – had become the dress code of choice as they were the most practical for factory work. Frills and lace disappeared from underwear, as did turn-ups from trousers, whilst skirts tended to be worn short, all in a bid to save material.
Later, as the level of supply got even more acute, the yearly allowance was slashed to just 48 coupons. “Make Do & Mend” became the order of the day with the Ministry of Information issuing a useful pamphlet on how clothing might be darned, repaired and recycled, allowing one to be frugal yet stylish during times of austerity. The stylish bit probably required a broad imagination, but the population was ever resourceful, and nothing went to waste.
Undoubtedly the toughest wartime privation was that of food rationing which was first introduced on 8th January 1940 with restrictions on bacon, butter and sugar. Over the next few years, the net was widened to encompass almost all food items apart from bread, fruit, vegetables and fish although these were invariably in short supply.
To obtain rationed items each person was issued with a coupon book and was then required to register with a chosen shop. Shopkeepers were only supplied with enough goods to meet the needs of their registered customers who in turn had to present their ration books so that the coupon pertaining to the item purchased could be cancelled. The typical weekly ration for an adult was less than generous but its aim was to ensure the fair distribution of available goods throughout the population whilst allowing everyone enough to remain healthy. Those that were able to grow their own vegetables could enjoy a little extra and indeed the entire populace was encouraged to “Dig for Victory”. Very soon allotments, parks and even the grounds of some schools were being used to cultivate valuable extra crops.
Onions were not rationed but were not always available. The thrill of excitement when Mrs Palmer is known to have onions is perhaps typical of that experienced in many little wartime villages when a potential treat was on offer. Ruby’s frustration with Katherine and her determination to go back and queue for them the next day was a scene no doubt played out throughout the country in those dark days.
The favoured white loaf had given way to the “National Loaf”, a wholemeal variety that was both grey and insipid and gave rise to countless complaints of bad digestion. In wartime a piece of fruit usually meant an apple as items such as oranges, lemons and bananas had all but disappeared. It is no coincidence that the popular 1930s music hall song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” once more became popular.
The end of the War did not bring an end to the hardship, and food rationing was not finally lifted until 4th July 1954. The Government had presented the population with a diet that was limited and austere, but it did at least enable them to remain healthy and carry on. Indeed, the nation’s general level of health undoubtedly improved. There were some side effects, however, the greater level of starch in the diet leading to a remarkable in increase in flatulence!
Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama,particularly the aircraft featured in each episode.
“Put that light out! Put that light out! an enemy plane could see that fire for miles.”
With these caustically delivered words ARP Warden Hodges angrily berated Captain Mainwaring, whose platoon had inadvertently set fire to the church hall chimney, ironically whilst trying to help the wardens. It was a refrain that was to become all to familiar to fans of Dad’s Army, whilst Warden Hodges zealously went about his duty to ensure that not a chink of light was visible in the environs of Walmington-on-Sea in the hours after dark. And it would have been a not dissimilar scene acted out every night throughout Britain in the dark, dark years of WWII.
The Government actually imposed a total blackout throughout the United Kingdom on 1st September 1939, two days before hostilities were declared. As Warden Hodges had touched upon above, the aim was to deprive enemy bombers of anything that might provide an aid to navigation. All households were issued with blackout materials and were required to ensure that all windows and skylights were blanked out after sunset. Typically, thick dark cotton fabric, wooden boards or paint were used to comply with the regulations, with many offices or households fashioning blinds that could be quickly set up and fastened in place.
To stop light flooding out when one entered a shop, storekeepers were often obliged to install double doors, customers having to ensure that they had closed one door before opening the next. It was a similar situation at cinemas where, because it was so dark at the pay kiosk, seasoned film goers would invariably arrive with the exact fee already counted out. When outside, people were forbidden to smoke, strike matches or use a torch or any other form of light. Needless to say, the lighting of fires was also prohibited.
Initially all streetlights were switched off and cars were only allowed to drive using sidelights. Not surprisingly, in the first few months of the war, the number of road deaths doubled, forcing the authorities to relax some of the regulations. Cars were permitted to drive on dipped headlights but had to be fitted with slit masks, indicators and brake lights had to be dimmed and reversing lights were banned. To make the cars easier to be seen, bumpers and running boards were required to be painted with matt white paint. To assist nocturnal drivers in finding their way about, white lines were painted down the centre of roads and curbs were painted white.
The death toll on the roads continued to be high, forcing the government to reduce the night-time speed limit to 20mph. Pedestrians were warned to keep away from the edge of the pavement and where possible to only cross the road at a proper crossing. Men were encouraged to wear light coloured shirts and keep their shirttails outside of their trousers to aid visibility.
Trains were also completely blacked out to such an extent that it was not always possible to detect the arrival of a train at a platform. With stations in complete darkness, passengers frequently disembarked at the wrong location or even got out at no station at all. Like street curbs, the edges of station platforms were painted white, but the blackout resulted in many accidents.
It was officially recognised that the dark conditions made young girls and women particularly vulnerable and they were cautioned to take extra care and where possible, avoid being out on their own. Needless to say, the blackout served the criminal fraternity well, with households being particularly vulnerable due to Air Raid regulations. These required all doors to be left unlocked at night so that if a house was bombed rescuers could gain easy access to deal with casualties.
The task of enforcing the rigorous blackout regulations was entrusted to ARP Wardens, like Shuttlefield’s Mr Martin. The Air Raid Wardens Service was established in 1937 when the call had gone out for 800,000 volunteers. Such was the growth in the threat, however, that by the start of the War some 1,000,500 people were involved in ARP services.
Typically, a warden would be allocated to each street and would conduct continuous rounds to ensure that all statutes were being rigorously observed. They were not afraid to angrily identify any household in violation of the rules, so that neighbours were left in no doubt as to who had put their lives at risk. “No. 7, put that light out!”
Those flouting the regulations could expect to face the full force of the law, a stiff fine being the normal penalty. In addition to these duties Wardens were expected to keep a watch out for incendiary bombs and assist with the aftermath of air raids. Such duties included clearing streets where there were unexploded bombs, assisting with the evacuation of casualties from bomb damaged properties, finding temporary accommodation for displaced persons and coordinating the activities of the rescue services. These were dangerous duties and during the War at least 7,000 Wardens lost their lives.
As to whether the blackout worked, historians now argue that this is unlikely as aircraft were able to navigate by focusing on things like railways, major roads and the reflection off large bodies of water. What it did do, however, was to instil in the civilian population a common purpose and a rule structure that enabled them to cope with privations of that grim time.
Continuing our series of blogs called ‘Behind the Episode’. Our resident aviation expert, Kirsty, will be looking further into the real history threaded throughout our audio drama, particularly the aircraft featured in each episode.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the idea of crowd funding is a relatively recent phenomenon. In fact, it is a concept that has been successfully employed for many centuries to raise money for projects that might otherwise not have seen the light of day. Amongst other things, crowd funding has been used to aid the publication of books, to fund music and the arts, to pay for worthy civic projects such as the plinth for the Statue of Liberty and by the use of War Bonds, even to finance military conflict. And it was an idea that was to be used to great effect when, in May 1940, Lord Beaverbrook was appointed Minister for Aircraft Production.
Still reeling from the aftereffects of the First World War and the Great Depression, Britain was in a poor financial state as, for the second time in a generation, it embarked upon war with Germany. Fiscal constraints had left its armed forces ill prepared and ill equipped to take on the massive demands now being placed upon them. The Royal Air Force had been particularly hard hit, a lack of funds for new equipment forcing it to retain many obsolete aircraft in frontline service. The Luftwaffe, on the other hand, had enjoyed massive investment and had been able to gain invaluable combat experience by its involvement in the Spanish Civil War.
The no-nonsense, bombastic management style of Canadian media tycoon Lord Beaverbrook was exactly what was needed to ramp up aircraft production. Immediately upon his appointment he set about cutting through red-tape and streamlining working practices in order to derive the maximum efficiency from the factories. Many existing managers were dismissed and replaced by foreman and engineers recruited directly from the shop floor. At the end of his first week in office he broadcast an appeal to all aircraft factory workers to accept new rotas which called on them to work both day and night shifts on a seven-day week. He also appealed for redundant garage workers to come forward and join the cause. These actions had the desired effect and within several months monthly production had increased by 200 aircraft. Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, would later comment that these extra fighters were the difference between victory and defeat.
The British public had taken the Spitfire to their hearts from the outset and as war ramped up there were numerous unsolicited enquiries as to how additional aircraft might be financed. Lord Beaverbrook was not slow to recognise that a Government endorsed fund-raising scheme would be a great way to both raise morale and unite the public in a common cause. Thus, the rallying cry went out and the Spitfire Fund was born.
Government Propaganda set the tone; posters adorned with slogans such as “A Spitfire a day keeps the Nazis away”. It also became the custom to inscribe the engine cowlings of aircraft so financed with names chosen by the benefactors, the inscriptions being in 4″ yellow lettering. Whilst most names would reference the village or town who had raised the funds, various sponsoring companies or organisations gave rise to some ingenious names. Woolworths, with their policy of nothing in store costing more than 6d (2 ½ p in today’s money), raised funds for two Spitfires; “Nix Six Primus” and “Nix Six Secundus” whilst the Kennel Club had “The Dog Fighter” (Mrs Holt would be pleased!)
Anxious not to price the aircraft beyond the reach of most respective fund-raisers, Beaverbrook listed the cost of a Spitfire as being £5,000. In reality, the actual cost was closer to £12,000. It is a problem that Katherine Winters touches upon in a conversation with her sister Ruby: “Cost of fuselage, two thousand five hundred pounds; cost of engine, two thousand pounds; wings, one thousand eight hundred; undercarriage, eight hundred; guns, eight hundred; tail, five hundred – Propeller, three hundred and fifty; petrol tank (top), forty pounds; petrol tank (bottom), twenty five pounds; oil tank, twenty five pounds; compass, five pounds; clock, two pounds, ten shillings; thermometer, one pound, one shilling; sparking plug, eight shillings – So even if we raise the grand total of, what was it – one hundred pounds? We can donate just under one third of a propeller”.
Fortunately, most fund-raisers did not break it down in these terms and were quite unfazed by the challenge.
The call had gone out to individuals, towns and businesses alike and many came up with ingenious ways to fund their own Spitfire. In the Wiltshire village of Market Lavington a life size silhouette of a Spitfire was painted in the square and residents were challenged to fill it with coins, a task that was completed in a matter of days. Numerous raffles and sponsored events were held throughout the country with local communities outbidding each other in their attempts to raise the most. Many campaigns were backed by the local newspaper, a fund launched by the Midland Daily Telegraph on 5th July 1940 raising £18,000 in just three weeks, enough to pay for three Spitfire Mk. IIa aircraft. The first of these, christened “City of Coventry I” would serve throughout the war before succumbing to the scrap man in 1946. The other two, “City of Coventry II” and “City of Coventry III” would be less fortunate and would be written off when they collided with each other over Edenbridge on 28th November 1940, sadly claiming the life of one of the pilots.
As to the success of the scheme, depending on whose figures you believe, enough money was generated to pay for approximately 2,600 aircraft, although all donations would have gone into a common government pot rather than paying for a specific Spitfire. It is questionable whether it made any difference to the outcome of the war but it undoubtedly did much to unite the nation in their hour of greatest need.