Archive | February RSS for this section

21st February 1963. Britannia.

At Great Yarmouth, Lord Nelson’s ‘Norfolk Pillar’ Memorial is surmounted by Britannia a symbol which was exported to the Empire. A typical example is the more English than Irish capital of Dublin where the magnificent Custom House by the River Liffey has Britannia paramount on the cupola.

A £5 note showing for the first time Britannia without her helmet was issued today in 1963.

The Roman goddess of wisdom Minerva was always depicted with helmet, spear and shield and Britannia a graceful helmeted lady has personified Britain as much as Marie-Anne in France, ever since.

An As coin from the reign of Antoninus Pius 154 CE. Britannia is on the ‘reverse’ on the right.

Britannia was the Roman Province of Britain and a coin of Hadrian (c. AD 122) carries on its obverse the first Britannia with spear and shield seated on a rock resembling the general outline of the Island. One of the earliest references to Britannia must be the antiquarian and historian, William Camden’s travel book dated 1586 which covered the British Isles

Britannia has appeared regularly on British coins ever since the reign of Charles II with the introduction of halfpennies and farthings in 1672. Designs of the time shows a seated Britannia in long flowing robes facing left with a shield depicting the combined crosses of St. George and St. Andrew and holding a spray of leaves in a raised right hand and a spear in the left. The 50p piece continued the tradition.

The model for the design is believed to be that of Mrs. Francis Stewart, Duchess of Richmond a favourite of the king. This design lasted until 1797 when a new interpretation showed Britannia holding a trident and an olive branch with the sea and a ship in the background referring to Britain’s increasing maritime power.

When bronze replaced copper in 1860 for small-change coins the sea motif returned with a lighthouse and a ship sailing out to sea.

1952 large white £5 note of 1952, a week’s wages! Britannia is in top left.

Since then various designs have featured on copper and bronze and occasionally on silver coins. In Christopher Ironside’s design the sea and the lighthouse were omitted and the outstretched hand with the olive branch returned, as did the crouching lion which had previously only appeared on the 1821 issue of the farthing.

In the reigns of George VI and Elizabeth II, Britannia was dropped on the halfpenny for Drake’s Golden Hind and on the farthing for the wren.

1936 halfpenny.

From the masque Alfred we get the patriotic song Rule Britannia with the command for us to rule the waves no doubt as Alfred did against the Danes. With words by Scots poet James Thomson to an air by Thomas Arne it was first performed at an open-air concert at the Cliveden, Bucks., home of Frederick the Prince of Wales in 1740, in honour of his daughter’s 3rd birthday.

Assurance companies were among the first to use Britannia as their symbol. London Assurance used Britannia in conjunction with the Arms of London as their trademark since 1720, and many fire assurance companies adopted the symbol in the 19thc.

In 1840 Britannia appeared on the short-lived Mulready-designed Letter-Post alongside a dejected lion before it was decided to use stamps.

Britannia was also used in the clarion call to duty through conscription, headed “England Expects” with National Service at the bottom. Churchill was to repeat the call on VE Day in 1945 in his speech. ‘Advance Britannia’ he proclaimed, ‘long live the cause of freedom!’

In 2008 Prime-Minister, Gordon Brown signed the death-knell of Britannia which was set to disappear from our coinage. 





20th February 1947. Partition.

Today in 1947 the ’Imperial Undertaker’, Louis Mountbatten was appointed by Clement Attlee as the last Viceroy of India to pave the way for independence and partition.

Countdown to Independence.

Britain needed someone to replace Lord Wavell who had commanded the British forces in the Middle East and Indian Viceroy since June 1943. But there were strong disagreements between Wavell and Attlee’s government after Wavell had put forward what he called a ‘Breakdown Plan‘.

After the internecine killings in Calcutta in the autumn of 1946, Wavell, eventually sacked, had drafted a plan that would have meant a British military withdrawal, whether or not there was a political agreement between the British and the Hindus and Muslims.

Mountbatten about whom Lord Alanbrooke was to comment that he was: ‘quite irresponsible and suffers the most illogical brain’, had one advantage he was cousin to the King, but also had Prime-Minister, Attlee’s confidence and ability to take decisions on the spot.

A deadline was originally fixed for Indian independence in June 1948, but with the increasing  prospect of civil war, August 1947 was chosen which just gave time to get the legislation through Parliament.

A statement, to the Commons, was made that there was going to be a change of date was not made until June 3rd. A week later, a letter from the India Office to the Treasury Secretary suggests the urgency in that to pass this Session it must be introduced into the Commons not later than 7th July.

A note to that letter showed fully how the Raj was about to end stating we are transferring power and our only assets are the administrative machine and the personality of the Viceroy and some of the Governors of the regions.

The practical details, such as boundaries, were left to Indian High Court Judges under Sir Cyril Radcliffe to be completed in a month, with one of the biggest problems being Calcutta, the biggest city economically important to Muslims, but most residents were Hindus and so it went to India.

By August Mountbatten’s work was done and on the 14th August 1947 the Indian Constituent Assembly was convened, leaving potential trouble for Kashmir where no agreement was forthcoming.

Partition-Green areas were West, and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

His Honour Christopher Beaumont, who died at eighty-nine in 2002, was responsible for stirring the last significant controversy surrounding the Mountbatten’s rule, as in 1992 he accused him of gerrymandering the Radcliffe Commission’s delineation of the India-Pakistan border in 1947. Beaumont had been secretary to the Commission and like many old India hands retained a lifelong antipathy to the last Viceroy. (1)

A question of bias could have been a factor as Mountbatten had sympathy for Nehru the future Indian Prime-Minister, sometime ‘friend’ of his wife.

Also according to Beaumont, an Indian official, V.P. Menon had appeared at Radcliffe’s bungalow around midnight claiming to have been sent by Mountbatten. The border areas defining Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India were discussed between Mountbatten and Radcliffe from which Beaumont had been ‘deftly’ excluded.(2)

In the event hundred of thousands were killed in religious strife as people migrated to make sure they were the right side of religious borders. Kashmir has been a bone of contention ever since. Two hundred years of rule of the ‘Jewel in the Crown of Empire’ settled in 6 months.

(1) Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma’s full length bronze statue on Portland stone by Greta Berlin, is to be found in Grosvenor Square, Southampton. The family home is at Broadlands in Hants.

(2) Beaumont once told his five year old son who’d never heard of him, ‘not to be vain like Mountbatten’.


Emaze/Pic of map.

19th February 1914. Colonel Bogey.

Today in 1914 The Colonel Bogey March was registered at the British Museum by Kenneth Alford the pen-name of Lt. F.J. Ricketts, Bandmaster and Director of Music of Royal Marines Plymouth.(1)

The tune was said to be inspired by a military man (colonel?) golfer whistling the characteristic 2 note phrase describing a descending minor third interval instead of ‘Fore’, an interval that begins each line of the march melody.(2)

By the time Alford composed his tune in March 1914, the fictitious Colonel Bogey was the Bench-Mark figure of golf-links in Britain and the number of shots taken were known as the ‘Ground Score’, the Bogey Score, and golfers thought they were playing against Mister (Colonel) Bogey when measuring themselves against the Bogey Score.

Great Yarmouth Golf Club where Bogey tournaments first began.

Bogey was the first stroke system developed in England at the end of the 19th century and on 2nd January 1892 the Field Magazine reported the novelty in the shape of a Bogey Tournament for a prize, but of the 14 couples, Bogey defeated them all. In the middle of the 20th century a Bogey, an old Scottish name for a hob-goblin, was one above par.

(1) Military men then were not supposed to have professional lives outside the service, thus the pen-name.

(2) The beginning of the tune ‘Greensleeves’ is an example of a ‘Rising’ Minor Third Interval.


18th February 1874. Carolling.

Today William B Sandys died in 1874 without whom many carols we now treasure might never have seen the light of day but for his compilation and improvisation. 

Many carols such as ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and others, were printed on rough penny broadsheets with various wording often lewd and in the 1820.s antiquarians Davies Gilbert and Sandys published  Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, minus the bawdy wordings, which gradually found a place in Victorian hymnology.

The collection of seasonal carols was presented in three parts including ancient carols of the early 15thc to the end of 17thc in Middle and Early Modern English. a selection of carols used in the West Country including The First Noel, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (1843), I saw three ships, Hark The Herald and French Provincial Carols.(1)

Before the 18thc the Methodist Charles Wesley made carols theologically respectable with ‘Hark How The Welkin Rings’, later ‘Hark The Heralds…’, we had the earthy Boer’s Head carol first printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521 which concludes ‘The Boar’s Head with Mustard’ an allusion to the College Boar’s Head ceremony, which probably dates back to the pagan Yule Sun-Boar.

In the latter 19thc in 1880 a new Christmas tradition was instituted at Truro by Bishop Edward White Benson (later Archbishop of Canterbury) with a Nine Lessons and Carols Service, taken up by Kings College in 1918 and first broadcast in 1928. In April 2008 the senior boy Chorister at that broadcast Canon Patrick Magee died at 93.

In the 20th century musicologists such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Percy Dearmer and Cecil Sharpe published the Oxford Book of Carols.

This was before the era of trendy ‘Revs’ as epitomised in 2009 by Rev Nick Baines of Croydon ( they’re all called Nick), who thought hymns such as ‘Away in a Manger’ (1885), embarrassing and ignoring the human nature of Jesus; ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ (1848), a case of Victorian child control and even dear old ‘O Come all ye Faithful’ was suspect!

(1) London, Richard Beckley 1833.


17th February 1924. Giving one the ‘Pips’.

Today in 1924 the Big Ben time signal became a feature on the infant BBC radio, coming twelve days after the Greenwich Time Signal was introduced at 9.30pm when listeners first heard the ‘pips’.(1)

It was the horologist Frank Hope-Jones who suggested the idea for calibrating the exact time, for as well as being an expert on electric clocks he was also chairman of the Wireless Society of London. The idea was taken up by Astronomer Royal, Sir Frederick Watson Dyson and BBC Director- General John Reith.

Hope-Jones in a talk on the BBC about time measurement suggested that by counting down the last five seconds to programme start at say 10.0pm in ‘pips’, the signal could be broadcast at other times regularly to help listeners set their clocks and watches accurately.

Originally the ‘Pips’ ended not on the hour but on the half-hour and the chronometers, which triggered the signal, came from two mechanical clocks at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

By 1925 the pips were being heard by ten million as radio audiences grew and were to be a comforting element of normality in wartime along with the sound of Big-Ben. However in this digital age the utility of the ‘Pips’ is diminishing as there is a time-lag between digital and analogue time.

(1) Pips first heard on 5th February 1924.

References: Howse. 18.2.2015.

16th February 1901. Polyesters.

Today John Rex Whinfield was born in 1901 in Accrington, Lancashire and famed along with James Tennant Dickson for the invention of Terylene (Dacron) which in 1941 was patented as the first polymer fibre equalling or surpassing Nylon in toughness and resilience.(1)

1950.s magazine advert.

The Polyester’s trade name Terylene refers to fibres whilst PET relates to plastic bottles.(2)

Simple esters are easily broken down (Hydrolysed) by reacting with dilute acids or alkalis but thankfully with water alone this process is slow so clothes aren’t destroyed in the rain.

Whinfield initially worked with Charles Frederick Cross and Edward John Bevan both of whom had done work on viscose rayon in 1892.  By 1924 Whinfield was research chemist for the Calico Printers Association in Manchester.

In the 1930.s the hunt was on for new s synthetic fibres to rival nylon and Whinfield with Dickson investigated other types of polymer with textile fibre potential and discovered how to condense Terephthalic Acid and Ethylene Glycol to yield new polymers which could be drawn into fibres.

Symbol Resin Code on bottom of bottle: Pet or Pete.

Whinfield took a patent out in July 1941 but due to wartime security this was not published until 1946.

Magazine advert of 1960.s

ICI with Terylene and Dupont with Dacron went on to produce their own versions and in 1947 Whinfield joined ICI.

(1) Whinfield died in 1966.

(2) PET is a shortened form of  Polyethylene Terephthelate and is one of the most common plastics in use.

The problem is it is semi-porous and absorbs food molecules so making re-cycling difficult.




15th February 1942. Fall of Singapore. The Great Humiliation.

Singapore in 1942: ‘Our preparations have been made and tested: our defences are strong and our weapons efficient’ said the order of the day of Sir Robert Brooke-Popham (old Pop-Off as he dozed-off in meetings), C- in- C of Allied Forces in the area.

White Flag of Truce led by Japanese officer. (1)

Singapore was invaded Today on February 15th.

Churchill described it as, ‘a heavy and far reaching military defeat… the worst disaster and the largest capitulation in British History’. He also said that, ‘Commanders should die with their troops with honour of the Empire and Army at stake’.

The great naval base hitherto considered impregnable as ‘the Gibraltar of the Far East’, led to the humiliation of Lieutenant-General Percival who surrendered under a ‘white flag of truce’, in the local Ford works. Expecting an invasion from the sea the Japanese had invaded inland.

Japanese inspect British defences aimed at the sea. Tumbir.

There was never an official inquiry into the fall of Singapore, but four days before the Japanese attack, Churchill had authorised the gift of 300 aircraft and 300 tanks to our then ally Russia instead of to Singapore. Eyewitness reports said that much of the ‘materiel’ in crates, marked for Singapore, was still lying months later at Murmansk quayside.

There had been treachery including the part played by one Captain Heenan recruited by the Japanese and who despite doubts about his loyalty was sent to Malaya and became an intelligence staff officer. Later convicted and sentenced to death he was shot by his own side beforehand.

Vernon Kell Head of Security Services advised against prosecution in case the Japanese knew we were intercepting Japanese Embassy mail and Heenan had been allowed to join the Royal Naval Air service in 1939.

Experts with hindsight say it should never have happened, as we had more motor vehicles and artillery though the Japanese had more tanks. The defence force which contained many Indians supported by Australians were driven back by a force of only two Divisions riding stolen bikes and without artillery support, travelling 550 miles in 55 days.

It was a bad time for the British and the US, for back in December after Pearl Harbour, the Japanese had landed in Malaya. Their possession of air bases in French Indo-China now gave then complete air mastery. Torpedo bombers had already sunk the Repulse and Prince of Wales.

Churchill warned the King: ‘Burma, Ceylon, Calcutta and Madras in India and part of Australia may fall into enemy hands’, and the King’s sang-froid deserted him. ’Can we stick together in the face of all this adversity?’

By the end of May the British had been driven from Burma and the King-Emperor no longer ruled the ‘Golden Land’, 57 years after Victoria had informed King Thibaw that Burma during her majesties pleasure was part of Her Majesty’s Dominions.

Invasion of Ceylon was averted by the Canadian, Leonard Birchall, (later Air Commodore), part of no 413 RCAF Squadron who had arrived in Ceylon from the UK only 48 hours before being pressed into action. It was he in a Catalina flying boat, which took off 4th April 1942 who sighted a Japanese force which included five aircraft carriers, 350 miles south-east of Ceylon.

Admiral Sir James Somerville had taken up command as C-in-C East Indies Fleet two days before had been alerted by intelligence to the probability of a Japanese attack on Ceylon on April 1st and fearful of another Pearl Harbour he ordered a dispersal and air patrols.

Birchall’s signal though garbled on its receipt in Ceylon gave the implication an invasion was imminent and defences were alerted and forty-eight ships, including the Carrier Hermes, sailed and suffered severe losses, but the Japanese retreated, though living to fight on until their eventual surrender on August 8th 1945.

At a dinner in Washington in 1947 Churchill, now in opposition declared Birchall’s courage was ‘one of the most important single contributions to Allied victory’ in the far east.

(1) Tacitus mentions the White Flag in 109 CE; before this Roman soldiers held shields over their heads. The Flag was also used in the middle-ages.