20th March 1943. Telemark.

It was on 22nd July in 1940 that the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was approved by the War Cabinet to be responsible for co-ordinating sabotage including organisation of Resistance Groups. Hugh Dalton had instructions, from Churchill, to ‘set Europe ablaze’. (1)

On the eve of WWII it was realised that Heavy Water (DO) (Deuterium Oxide) could be used in nuclear weapons so Today in 1943 was a ‘red-letter day’ for SOE when it destroyed the plant at Telemark in Norway which produced Europe’s only supply of the chemical essential for Germany’s development of the atom bomb.

Operation Gunnerside as it was known was to transform S.O.E.’s flagging fortunes so much at this time that unusually it elicited thanks from both the Chiefs of Staff and Churchill.


Heavy water ice sinks to bottom of vessel.

Heavy water provides a path to turn common Uranium-238 which must be enriched (more concentrated) into a form of U-235 or converted  into Plutonium Pu 239 one of the most easily split or fissile material that fuels nuclear bombs.







However the Germans decided to remove the raw material not destroyed back to Germany and it was loaded onto a ferry on rail tankers.

However the deadly material never arrived as it was exploded en-route with the knowledge that civilian passengers would be killed as the ferry went to the bottom of the lake. So near was Germany to gaining possession of the ‘bomb’.(2)

It is comforting to know that Heavy Water is monitored under the International Atomic Energy Agency.

(1) SOE had developed from a War Office idea in 1938 for resistance in case of invasion. The attempt to recover occupied Europe from German control, by waging war by sabotage and subversion was put under Socialist Hugh Dalton Minister of Economic Warfare, with the backing of Attlee, but not Churchill’s choice

However Brendan Bracken MP supposedly working on propaganda with Dalton did all he could to undermine Dalton and as Dalton was more disposable than Bracken, Dalton went to Board of Trade.

The SOE was spun out of MI6 and intended as a Fourth Arm of warfare it was the first sabotage organisation taking over country houses and buildings including the Natural History Museum. Other premises were in Baker St. which included the basement of Marks and Spencer.

(2) Heavy Water (DO) is a hydrogen isotope containing a neutron and a proton compared with a protium (normal hydrogen) nucleus having just a proton.

DO is stable, non-reactive isotope form of water having 2 atoms of Deuterium and 1 of O and is a component of normal water.

Triated  water (Tr) isotope of Hydrogen a form of Heavy Water is radioactive and rarer and more expensive than Deuterium is produced in a nuclear reaction.








18th March 1915. Women In Wartime.

The result of demand for women in munitions caused a shortage of domestic servants as reflected in a Punch cartoon when a prospective cook eying a ‘prambilator’ in the hall said, ‘she didn’t realise there was a baby’, only to be told by the mother, ‘that she could get rid of it if necessary’.

In the second year of war the government Today in1915 issued an urgent appeal to the women of Britain to, ‘serve their country by signing on for war work’. Some came from domestic service; some hadn’t worked at all. Society ladies took the lead, just as their sons and husbands were doing. Of the peers and their sons who served under the age of 50 one in five was to be killed. Servants were released, houses shut up and fuel hungry greenhouses abandoned. A few would be chided not to keep chauffeurs and use cars for pleasure.(1)

‘Women come and Help’, said the Ministry of Munitions poster and in July 40,000 demonstrated for the right to help the war effort.

Foremen praised their efforts for punctuality, energy and willingness as they toiled often in dangerous and messy work, 12 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the increasing demand for munitions filling shells with TNT which made their faces and hair bright yellow.

The average wage was 32 shillings a week for days and £3 for nights, the Government saying women who do men’s work will be paid the same if of equal efficiency.

In Swindon at the Great Western Railway factory, women clerks were employed and were expected to abide by strict dress convention with blouses and ties and black skirts. They were employed on the new accounting system machines introduced on 1.1.1913, implementing the Railway Accounts Bill 1911 using the new Hollerith and Powers-Samas machines and thus creating new work particularly for females.

A Burton brewery official preferred ordinary girls from the elementary school as she had a good round hand compared with those from the super seminary, who had a fancy style. On January 20th 1916 the Burton Observer poetically said after the Corporation had taken on four more women tram conductors, making thirteen, that the ‘business-like qualities of conductresses is a byeword. Their hands being soft and supple they handle the tickets and change with greater dexterity than many of the rough-handed young men one sees on the tramcar platform’.

One could earn between £2 and £4 on munitions where this was available nearby. In March 1916 in Liverpool women dockworkers withdrew when men refused to work with them. In 1917 Neville Chamberlain announced a scheme of non-military service for women and the government allowed women to become taxi-drivers.

The Great War was not a disaster then for everyone for those in work at home did well. In July 1917 Burton Town Council agreed to give its Corporation staff on the trams, which included many lady conductors, and gasworks a war bonus of 5 shillings. It was the threat to end the war bonus, which led to a national rail strike in September 1919 for nine days.

Brewery labourers earning 25 shillings plus had a bonus of 2 to 3 shillings and on June 14th 1917 agreed a pay rise of 5 shillings. However as always differentials were eroded and teachers complained they were not paid enough to keep ahead of ‘outdoor staff’ who could earn up to 40s weekly. (2)

The war mopped up most unemployment as wars do, but later the reaction inevitably resulted in the inter-war downturn in the economy.

(1) Munitions workers were just about the lowest form of life in the eyes of the general public. ‘We were supposed to make a great deal of money, and as other people didn’t make so much they called us all sorts of things…the wage for filling [shells] was only 25 shillings…you had to pay for all your meals.’ In the event they went on strike and got another 5s/-6d and bonus, which lead to carelessness and badly filled shells which had an impact on range.

(2) However a local alderman said, ‘teachers earned up to £150 pa with trained mistresses (in these days before equal pay) £110pa. In peacetime at the beginning of the century, Great Western Railway pay had averaged £52 pa with a range of 30 shillings per week for the skilled and under £1 per week for labourers.


Mary Brough-Robertson Munitions Worker: Forgotten Voices of Great War. Max Arthur In Association with IWM.


Punch Magazines WWI.

Burton Observer.

17th March 1891. Sinking of SS Utopia.

HMS Anson c1897. It shows twin 13.5 inch guns in forward barbette mounting.

Today saw the sinking, within 20 minutes, of the passenger ship SS Utopia at Gibralter when it accidently rammed the battleship HMS Anson lying at anchor. At the Inquiry the captain, C J McKeague, who survived, was found, ‘to have commited a grave error’.(1)

Wrexk of Utopia.

It was on 25th February 1891 that the Utopia set sail from Trieste to New York stopping at Naples, Genoa and Gibralter. It was carrying 3 (1st class) and 815 (3rd Class) and 3 stowaways, which included 85 women and 67 children.

The captain of Utopia said on reaching Gibralter and steering to its normal anchorage near that occupied by Anson and Rodney, but as the captain said he was dazzled by the searchlight of the Anson at the same time of strong winds.

There were 318 survivors 290 steerage, 2 First Class, Three Italian interpreters along with 23 crew. 562 died or were missing out of 880 passengers, which included two from the rescue ship, HMS Immortalite. It appears that one of the seven lifeboats was missing.

The Utopia was a transatlantic passenger ship built in 1874 by Robert Duncan of Glasgow and between 1874-82 was owned by The Anchor Line on the Glasgow and New York run as well as to Bombay. After 1882 it was used to transport Italian immigrants to New York which it was doing at the time of the accident.

The wreck was marked by buoys and lights but another incident occurred when it was hit by SS Primula in 1893. At that Inquiry the Judge Sir Frances Jeune, contrary to precedence absolved the Utopia owners, as the wreck was according to his judgement under the jurisdiction of Gibralter, a judgement not to be overturned until 1928.

(1 )Utopia was finally scrapped in 1900.




16th March 1872. Up For The Cup!

1896 FA Cup.

Jimmy Guthrie later to be chairman of the Players’ Union, now the Professional Footballers Association, said players, referring to Portsmouth winners in the 1939 Cup Final, were paid £20 per man and shared a bonus of £550.

Wolves the losers got nothing, but were given £440 between them. Later we learned that the massed bands were on a bigger payout: ‘We would have been better off playing the cornet’ he wrote in his book ‘Soccer Rebel’.

Back in the 1870s with: ‘A shilling to get in, no nets and seven up front’, they would get very little payment as Today at the Oval in 1872 when Wanderers, ex-public school boys and ‘varsity’ students, beat the Royal Engineers (all officers) 1-0 in the first FA Cup Final.(1)

Next year the final was brought forward to 11am so as not to clash with the Boat Race. The Engineers were to appear in three of the first four finals.

Royal Engineers 1872.

In the early days ‘Final Ties’ had been played at Kennington Oval, which hosted 20 of the first 21 finals between 1872-1892, apart from that of 1872-3 at Lillie Bridge at the request of Wanderers, (the holders of the cup).

However crowds were to cause so much outfield damage for Surrey Cricket Club that other venues were called-for, despite its income falling when footbal finals ceased there.

The FA Cup started on 20th July 1871 as the FA Challenge Cup Competition of which there have been four trophies: the first was taken from W. Shillcock’s Boot and Shoe, shop- window in Birmingham on 11th September, 1895, having been used to advertise his wares.

It was wittily said, ‘that it was the only final where both teams lost the cup, in this case West Bromwich Albion, as well as the winners Aston Villa, through theft, following its 1-0 win. The cup was never recovered and Villa was fined £25 to purchase a replica.

The second cup used 1896-1910 was presented to Lord Kinnaird who celebrated 21 years as President of the FA in 1911. The 3rd was retired in 1992.

The last all Amateur Final was in 1881 between Old Etonians and Old Carthusians. On 15th October 1887 the 26 goals Preston North End scored against Hyde without reply in the FA Cup First Round remains the best scoring performance.

In 1891 nets were first used in a Final having been introduced into the game in the previous year. The FA gave a final (1892-3) to Fallowfield, a Manchester athletics ground, after Surrey Cricket Club became alarmed at the size of the crowd for the 1892 Final of 25,000 compared with the first Final in 1872 of 2,000.

The next year it went to Everton’s, Goodison Park (1893-4) before settling at the Crystal Palace (1895-1914) set in the basin of an old lake, with its grassy banks and gabled stands.

It was a pre-war period which saw in 1901 Non-League Tottenham Hotspur beat Sheffield United 3-1, and a record crowd of 120,000 at the 1913 final between Aston Villa and Sunderland: a far cry from 1872.

(1) Tom Rostance bbc.co.uk. 28.5.2015.Quote.


bbc.co.uk. May 2015.


FA and National Football Museum.

15th March 1897. Maths: Deduction or Induction.

Polymath, classicist and mathematician Joseph Sylvester died Today in 1897 at the age of 83.

On becoming a Cambridge 2nd Wrangler (2nd in the tripos) in 1837 being a Jew he was prevented from taking his degree or securing an appointment as he couldn’t subscribe to the 39 Articles of the Church of England, neither could he become a fellow. It wasn’t until the Test Act in 1872 was abolished at Oxbridge that he received his BA and MA.

James Joseph Sylvester.

In the meantime he went to Dublin University where he could freely obtain a degree. In 1838 he was Professor of Natural Philosophy at University College, London the only non-sectarian university.

In 1843 after a time in America Sylvester returned to England, but a year later became an actuary and retained an interest in maths through tutoring which included that of Florence Nightingale.

1846 saw Sylvester change his focus again by  becoming a law student where he met and collaborated with fellow mathematician George Caley before applying to Gresham College in1854 as lecturer in Geometry but failed the probationary lecture.

He then became Professor at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in 1855 where as second choice only succeeded to the post on the death of the previous succesful applicant.

Sylvester was highly impatient and loved to take an adversarial stance as seen from a meeting of the British Association in 1869 at Exeter where Sylvester came into conflict with biologist Thomas Henry Huxley who was quoted as saying, ‘that maths training, similar to language teaching, is almost purely deductive starting with few simple propositions proof of which is so obvious-self evident- with the rest of the work being simple deductions’. (1)

Sylvester took up Huxley’s address and views of the nature of maths which the biologist had published in the Macmillan Magazine and Fortnightly Review, words which Sylvester said, ‘scarcely needs serious refutation’. (2)

Thomas Henry Huxley by Alexander Bassano, half-plate glass negative, circa 1883

Sylvester rejected the idea, ‘that maths’ truths rests on a narrow basis of a limited number of elementary propositions from which all others are derived from logical inference and verbal deductions, that has been stated in the Fortnightly Review, and where we are told that Maths  knows nothing of observation, experience, induction or causation.

His [Huxley’s] statements are opposite to the facts which are that maths analysis invokes new principles, ideas, methods, introspection, comparison and observation, the principle weapon of which is Induction: [general to the particular or theory].

Huxley not a mathematician realising he was out of his depth didn’t reply.

Huxley, who coined the word Agnostic, was not averse to controversy famously falling out with William Wilberforce over Evolution, not surprisingly Huxley was known as Darwin’s Bulldog.

In 1876 Sylvester became Professor at John Hopkins University, Baltimore where an inscription records his presence. He became Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford in 1883.

(1) In other words: elementary propositions-logical inference-verbal deduction.

(2) Macmillan Magazine June. Notes of after dinner speech.


Lecture at British Association 21.3.1902.




14th March 1854. Separation of Air (Liquifaction).

William Hampson born Today in 1854 in Bebbington, Cheshire was the first to patent the process for liquifying air.

Hampson after studing classics was self-educated in science and engineering and by using simple apparatus using a compressor, raised the pressure  of a quantity of air. This pressurised air was then passed via cylinders that contained material which removed water and carbon dioxide from air. In effect air-separation.

The dried air then passed via copper coils and exited via nozzles at the end of coil which reduced the pressure of air to one atmosphere which originally was 87-150 atmospheres. (1)

The cold air then flowed back over coils chilling the air that was flowing through the coils. As a result within 20-25 minutes the apparatus would begin to produce liquified air.

Hampson made the preliminary filing for his patent on the liquified air process on 23rd May,1895 and his method was adopted by Brin’s Oxygen Company of Westminster renamed British Oxygen Company (BOC) in 1906. (2)

BOC acquired by Linde AG in 2006.

Hampson  provided  William Ramsay with liquified air which allowed him to discover Neon, Krypton and Zenon for which he received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1904.

(1) After expanding through nozzles the air temperature would drop greatly due to Joule Thompson Effect in Thermodynamics. Noting the temperature change of a gas or liquid when forced through a valve whilst keeping it insulated from the environment.

(2) Brin Oxygen Company founded by Arthur and Leon Brin, Horseferry Road, London.

In 1905 the Company had acquired Hampson’s 3 patents on liquifying and separaration of atmospheric gases and retained Hampson as consultant.





13th March 1946. Retribution.

At the Nuremberg war-crimes hearing today in 1946 Hermann Goering declared that he had decided to bomb Coventry [1940], ‘because there the most targets could be hit within the smallest area’.

The trials of 24 Germans charged with war-crimes were held by the Allies under international law and lasted towards the end of 1946 and to be described by one of the Judges, Sir Norman Birkett as, ‘the greatest trials in history’.

Goering front row, far left, the most important survivor.

Later writer Peter Calvocoressi when asked whether forewarning of the bombing of Coventry was known said: ‘A good story that doesn’t lie down’ and said Goering, ‘never disavowed Hitler or his crimes’ and described how he daily watched, ‘the high and mighty led by Goering troop into court’.(1)

Sir Hartley Shawcross who was the Chief Prosecutor for the UK later said, ‘he had to avoid Goering’s eyes as they made him want to smile at his cheek’.

Shawcross in 1974 (he died at 101 in 2003), said that, ‘most of the defendants were the sort of people you would see on a Clapham Omnibus, except Hess and Ribbentrop who looked rather miserable’.

Among the vanquished, those who had launched air attacks on civilians were prominent in the dock at Nuremberg. ‘Was not your purpose in this attack to secure a strategic advantage by terrorisation of the people of Rotterdam?’ asked Sir David Maxwell Fyfe as he examined Kesselring about his part in the 1940 offensive.

Rudolf Hess, one of those on trial, had landed in Scotland in May 10th 1941 after flying from Augsburg dropping by parachute to end up injured in David McLean’s farmhouse and taken charge of by two local Home-Guard Jack Paterson and Robert Gibson who said Hess was the ‘calmest man of the whole party’ and was obviously a ‘big-shot’ having a ‘uniform of the best material and a magnificent wrist-watch’.

Hess, once Hitler’s Deputy received a life-sentence at Spandau, but committed suicide in 1987. Goering commited suicide the night before executions which took place on 16th October 1946.

(1) Calvocoressi worked on Ultra the British code breaking organisation and was later at Nuremberg.