Lowestoft’s life-saving ‘Cuckoo’ alarm in WW2

The 1st February 2017 will be the 75th anniversary of a tragic incident which took place in Victoria Road, Lowestoft in 1942 during WW2, when  a mother and her two children were killed by a German bomb. Their deaths, however, led to the installation of the public ‘Cuckoo’ crash alarm of air attack and the saving of countless other lives. That fact alone is, I believe, worthy of commemoration.

I first discovered the background to this event when editing Lowestoft resident Alfred J. Turner’s letters to his son (my grandfather) about the daily WW2 events taking place in the front-line port of Lowestoft (see ‘Letters From Lowestoft’). The peace-time fishing port and seaside holiday resort had become home to what would eventually become five Royal Navy bases including the main drafting base of the Royal Naval Patrol Service, the army with a presence to brigade level to protect the potential invasion coastline and the surrounding countryside with a high density of fighter and bomber airfields.

German aerial image of Lowestoft harbour

Click for larger image

At that time Lowestoft still maintained many of the specialist support skills that an active peacetime fishing fleet needed with ship building and repair yards, dry-docking facilities, chandlers, etc., all of which were in high demand as the needs of the WW2 warships had to be met. The military and naval presence and their support services led to the town being a genuine and frequent military target (as well as an occasional target of opportunity) for the German Luftwaffe, as can be seen in the 1941 German military’s guide to British East Coast targets (right)

In Alfred J. Turner’s letters he makes frequent reference to ‘crash’ alarms of air attack as well as the wailing siren type. He does not explain the crash alarm but the inference is that this was a limited, private warning of imminent air attack to the town’s industrial and business areas, in advance of the standard air raid ‘alert’ siren. It is known that a number of the factories and workshops had rooftop lookouts in place to give warning to their workforce of the approach of low-level enemy raiding aircraft, most of which would have been below the main radar network and so would not have triggered a full ‘alert’. That these warnings were shared by some means to trigger a ‘Crash’ alarm is not surprising but how is unclear, although he does make a reference to the ‘destructor buzzer’.

The ‘town destructor’ was a refuse disposal system in the area of the junction between Denmark Road and Rotterdam Road. The destructor furnaces burned the town’s refuse which may originally have been the fuel source to make electricity for the town’s long since disappeared trams, although the original tram sheds remain in Rotterdam Road to this day. It was in place at about the turn of the century and quite close to Lake Lothing although disused by the time of WW2. Any remaining destructor chimney would have been an ideal spot on which to fix an audible warning device to the industries along the Lake Lothing waterfront. As it is known that sounds travels well over water any audible warning would probably have also reached the town centre.

Early warning by the private ‘Crash’ alarm system of hit and run air raids meant that the workers in the shipyards and other industrial units had the chance of taking shelter before any bombs were dropped. Sadly this was no help to the general public as the warning did not reach them except by word of mouth.

The entry in ‘Letters from Lowestoft’ for Sunday 1st February 1942 includes the following:

“At 11.30 am there was heavy gunfire and apparently also bombs. Mother and Annie Rix went to the cellar for a very few minutes. We were not at church on account of bad going, snow and very slippery roads. Bombs were dropped near the Lord Nelson and a woman and two children killed, we hear, and some damage to property. The siren went about 6 or 7 minutes after everything was all over.”

Ford Jenkins’ ‘Port War’, published in 1946 as a mainly pictorial record of WW2 as experienced by Lowestoft, records in his summary of air attacks on Lowestoft, page 76:
“11.30am 1st February 1942, 4 HE bombs, Hilltop, Victoria Road and Heath Road, 3 civilians killed, 1 injured”

….and on page 29 of Port War there is a photograph (reproduced below) of Victoria Road close to the junction with Heath Road, with the caption:
“On a quiet Sunday morning, the 1st February 1942, the family of a workman who was himself taking shelter, was killed by a lone raider that bombed the Victoria Road vicinity. The workmen had been warned by the private ‘Crash’ system that had been installed at their shipyard but, at this time, there was no public ‘Imminent Danger’ warning system. The fatality led to the men demanding that the ‘Crash’ should be made generally public and within twenty-four hours Lowestoft had the first such system in the country.”

Victoria Road, Lowestoft, 1942

In fact it seems it took a little longer than that and was helped along by the threat of civil unrest according to the entries on 3rd February in ‘Letters from Lowestoft’:

“Warnes the builder in yesterday afternoon told me ….. the Town was very upset and workmen were striking on Thursday if the authorities refused to give Crash warning.

“The Rector …  came in to know if we took the Daily Express as there was a long descriptive article in it describing Lowestoft as Hell Fire Corner instead of Dover which has held the name for several months.

“He said also there was severe criticism going on about the lateness of the sirens, the absence of gun fire and fighters and that much talk of a general strike by workers if no Crash warning was to be given. That ‘Authority’ at Cambridge was not opposed to it but our Mayor thought it would make people jittery and he opposed it. That the Mayor was told to sack the ‘Conchies’ at the Town Hall and that his son was to resign from his Observer Post.

“The poor woman and her children killed last Sunday was the wife of a worker on a shipyard and was always the first to take her children to a shelter when the alert went. There was no alert but a Crash on. The man took shelter and his family were killed. This was the base of all the trouble.”

This is followed by a further entry on 4th February:
“I hear semi-officially the shipwrights and also the railway men had two separate meetings about the siren situation, that the Mayor attended the Railwaymen’s and on starting to address them was told they did not want to hear him, that they would do the talking. Subsequently the whole matter was taken to the Military and the ‘Commandant’ said ‘This is a military town in a prescribed area. I am above the Mayor and all civilians. If there is any strike I shall not continue any efforts for the latter as I have been hitherto’. So that was that. There was no strike. But we are to have the ‘Crash’ warning and now each day at 9.00am the old Destructor Buzzer blows the ‘All Clear’ and we are told that as soon as possible it will sound “Cuckoo” for a Crash warning.

The advantage of a public ‘Crash’ alarm that sounded like a cuckoo was that it was instantly recognisable and did not need time to wind up to a certain level of sound as did the standard air raid siren. It did not replace the siren but was in addition to it.

I am satisfied that the family involved in the bombing on 1st February 1942 was called Bessey. The 1939 Register compiled for the issue of identity cards, as held by the National Archives, records as resident at 5 Hill Top, Kingley (sic) Run, Lowestoft:
Hilda E.M. Bessey, born 1906 (mother)
Peter William Bessey, born 1931 (son)
Pamela K. Bessey, Born 1937 (daughter)
Stanley W. Bessey, a shipyard worker, born 1900 (father)

Hill Top was a small group of residential railway carriages on a siding of the railway line that ran parallel to Victoria Road, next to Kirkley Run, Lowestoft. Older residents will probably remember the level crossing at this junction even if they don’t remember the carriages.

Kirkley Cemetery lists the following burials on 6th February 1942 in plot K/V/204:
Hilda Emma Mary Bessey, aged 35 years, wife of S. Bessey
Peter William Bessey, aged 10 years, a scholar
Pamela Kathleen Bessey, aged 4 years, an infant
…and a further burial is poignantly listed in the same plot over thirty year later, on 28th March 1973:
Stanley William Bessey, aged 72 years, a pensioner

The Mayor’s summary of the air raids on the town included the following extract from an address he gave at The Odeon on 6th May 1945:

“The first ‘Cuckoo’ – instant danger – was at 9.37am on 20th March 1942 and the last at 9.15pm on 22nd March 1945. The total number of ‘Cuckoo’ (soundings) was 628,” so in fact it took about 6-7 weeks for the installation of the Cuckoo alarm, not the following day.

It strikes me as suitable that there should be some form of recognition of the loss suffered by this family. The sad deaths of Mrs. Bessey and two of her children were the trigger to the subsequent installation of the ‘Cuckoo’ immediate danger ‘Crash’ alarm system to the general public of Lowestoft, which must have saved many other lives. There may have been other family members who survived and if they can be traced it would be interesting to find out their wishes.

Posted in East Anglia, Genealogy, Lowestoft & District, Military History, Navy, R.I.P., Royal Naval Patrol Service, World War 2 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

After caring – 1. enduring power of attorney

Enduring Power of Attorney

Enduring Power of Attorney

Bookselling, blogging and maintaining websites have had to be placed on the back-burner since late November 2014 when my uncle, the last remaining member of my mother’s generation and who lived about three miles from me, was admitted to hospital. Fiercely independent he has had a muscle wasting disease for some years but remained in his own home with carers visiting four times a day to get him up, prepare food for him and later get him back to bed. Last November he developed a chest infection which necessitated admission to hospital but he was ready to be discharged in January this year.

The infection had, however, taken its toll and reduced his mobility still further. After a trial visit home during which he failed to cope with things such as his stairlift he decided that his only option was to go into in residential care.  Once he had made the decision not to return home he charged me with the task of disposing of his house and the contents. I plan to relate subsequent events but before covering disposals I quickly discovered the usefulness of my power of attorney.

Some years ago my uncle had the foresight to give me an Enduring Power of Attorney. At the time I was given no description of what the Power entailed but was just told that it would not be needed unless he lost the capacity to make decisions for himself and so I locked it away. In fact it is much more useful than that and this first part of ‘after caring’ is just as important as, had I known it, it would have saved me a lot as a carer. I have since realised that I should have queried the precise power that I was being given and not relied on his description.

As an example of one of the benefits, as well as shopping for him twice a week every so often I would take him to the bank in a wheelchair so that he could draw the cash to pay for his laundry, gardener, milkman, etc. After some time he was not capable of transferring from the wheelchair into my car, and vice versa, and so I would be given a cheque to draw the cash on his behalf. This would generally be getting on for four figures, not the sort of amount I keep spare in a current account so I would have to pay in my uncle’s cheque, wait for clearance and then draw the cash on another visit to the bank.

Had I been aware, my ‘enduring power of attorney’ could have been used to give me access his account. I only discovered this when I consulted his solicitor about his care needs in January this year and found that the power of attorney could be extremely useful well before he lost any decision making capacity. I visited his bank with the Power of Attorney, got it registered and they provided me with a chequebook and debit card on his current account. Had I done so sooner it would have saved me untold trips to the bank and many hours travelling but it was only when he was on the point of going into care that I discovered this aspect.

There are other benefits but the moral is if you have a power of attorney don’t wait until you think you need it but find out exactly what powers it bestows beforehand. Caring for a relative can be demanding and it might help you in ways that you don’t expect.

Note: I understand that Enduring Power of Attorney has been replaced by a Lasting Power of Attorney but the older version is still valid.

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Let’s abolish stock images

Stock images and disclaimers

Stock images and disclaimers

The older I get the more grumpy I become about ‘stock images’.

When buying second-hand books on the internet I like to be able to read an accurate description, which includes details of all the faults, and also view an image of the book that is being offered for sale, not some generic image of a book of the same title which may or may not be a true reflection of what the offered book looks like.

In the early days of the internet the existence of stock images was perhaps more justifiable at a time when digital cameras and scanners were expensive. Now that they are much cheaper a serious seller really has no excuse not to provide an image. To use a ‘stock image’ rather than an image of the book itself reveals a rather cavalier attitude towards the buyer or perhaps just lazyness.

Some of the major selling websites such as Advanced Book Exchange and Biblio are not free from blame as they seem to offer individual sellers a stock image facility. It is a well known marketing adage that an image will help to sell a product but if it is a misleading or inaccurate image then you are far more likely to end up with unhappy customers. To maintain their reputations these sites need to encourage the sellers who offer their stock through them to provide images of their stock and discourage or discontinue the use of stock images.

The position on Ebay is more ambiguous. I haven’t been able to establish whether or not Ebay themselves offer stock images but a number of mega-listers there certainly use them and some add disclaimers to their descriptions such as ‘Please note, the image is for illustrative purposes only, actual book cover, binding and edition may vary’ or ‘Stock photo for illustration purposes’. The snag with these is that the disclaimer is sometimes not quite so obvious as the image and you may need to scroll some way into the description before you find it.

I have chosen ABE, Biblio and Ebay because they all offer me, the customer, the facility to record my ‘wants’ and then email me when matching stock is added. The anticipation of finding a long-awaited book when such an email arrives is tempered with disappointment when one finds that the new matching stock is illustrated with a ‘stock image’.

As a buyer I want to see an image of the actual item being offered for sale, not one like it (or in some  cases nothing like it!). Please support the more diligent internet sellers (of anything, not just books) who provide you with an image which is a true representation of what they are offering, and beware of ‘stock images’.

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Historical Lowestoft lithograph

Lowestoft lithograph

Coloured lithograph of mid-19th century Lowestoft

I was very tempted with this today. Lot no. 2 in Key’s auction of East Anglian Art at Aylsham was described as a mid-19th Century hand-coloured lithograph, after J. Reid and engraved by F. Jones, a ‘View of the New Town of Lowestoft’ published by Colman & Stacey, printed by Day & Son and at a size of 12 x 37 inches.

South Lowestoft was subject to a great deal of new development in the mid-nineteenth century by Samuel Morton Peto who produced an illustrated prospectus of views of the new buildings. This lithograph was not an image that was familiar to me and I had been hoping to get up to Aylsham for the view. This week in which the diary had looked quiet at the beginning had turned out as each day arrived to have every opportunity for some ‘me’ time filled by other things.

The saving grace is online bidding. The estimate was £150-200 and I duly prepared at least to be ready to bid. 10.30am on sale day duly arrived and the connection to the auction via The-Saleroom remained silent. About 14 minutes after the due start time a notice popped up saying that there would be a 15 minute delay. Shortly after 10.45 my Saleroom alarm, which was set for the start of the auction, sounded and I watched as the first lot sold silently. There had obviously been some sort of technical problem but the auction was at least in progress although without sound, which took some of the edge off normal saleroom atmosphere.

Lot 2 duly came up and I was ready to click on the ‘bid’ button but my jaw dropped when I saw the bidding had open at £400. I might have got away with spending £200 but my wife, who says that we already have too many pictures, would not have been amused had I spent more that that.

The bidding quickly progressed to a final figure of £540 which with the buyer’s premium and VAT will add a little over £113 to the hammer price. Another very successful sale for Keys. Perhaps it was for the best that I didn’t buy it but it would be interesting to know who did. Hopefully such an unusual historical image of Lowestoft will have a home in a public building in the town but if not then at least we have the auctioneer’s publicity image above.



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Lost in transit – to track or not to track?

Richard Moffatt, of Poor Richard’s Books just ‘down the road’ from me at Felixstowe writes in this week’s Sheppard’s Confidential:

“I recently sent, by surface mail, two modern first editions, signed, and collectable, to a buyer in China. They never reached the customer. It is so easy, unless one pays the extra for tracking, for any customer to say, sorry, the book never arrived, and to get their money back.”

During the last year the same has twice happened to me. It would be a great pity to have to blacklist such emerging markets but after my second experience I contacted the specialist book trade insurers, T. L. Dallas, to ask their advice. I had not made a claim for either of my losses but it seemed sensible to ask for their experience of claims for books sent to that region and they admitted that a high proportion of claims received had been for books sent to that part of the world.

I have since reluctantly amended my shipping rates to China to include the cost of using a tracked (and insured) service. I have not had an order since but at least I haven’t lost any more books.

Lost mail is not exclusive to China though and as a general rule I don’t send untracked mail to Eastern Europe, Italy, Spain or France any more. I’m not sure if it is the actual tracking or the label on the parcel saying so which seems adds a certain level of protection in transit.

Tracking labels help prevent lost mail

British tracking labels

I tend to use Royal Mail’s ‘Signed-for’ service for most shipments within UK but even that has its problems. I don’t often have to check whether or not a specific parcel has arrived but it is always useful to know that I can if I want to. It generally seems to work very well but a little while ago I went to check a tracking number of a particular parcel and found that, although I knew it had been delivered and not lost, Royal Mail said that the parcel had been received by them and was ‘being progressed through our network’, some five weeks after delivery.

And that was before their extra workload of Christmas. Ho hum.

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Edward Seago and Pegasus

Recently I was privileged to be able to visit the Dutch House, the home and studio of the artist Edward Seago at Ludham in Norfolk.

The Dutch House from the garden

The Dutch House from the garden

For those unfamiliar with him Edward Seago was born in Norwich, the younger son of a businessman but from an early age suffered from heart trouble, as a result of which he tended to be over-protected by his mother. It was thought that the sea air of Lowestoft might be beneficial to his health and for a while he attended the South Lodge Preparatory School in Lowestoft. Here the boarders, of which he was one, slept on the top two floors facing the sea and where the sea spray came in through the open windows. It was here that he came out of his shell and started enjoying normal boyish activities, perhaps because his mother was no longer there to shield him.

Heart problems were to dog him throughout his life but he was quite philosophical about them. He had no formal training as an artist but was largely self-taught with guidance from several established Royal Academicians including Alfred East (by way of his book on landscape painting), when he was a teenager from Bertram Priestman who by this time was living at Walberswick and later still from Alfred Munnings who was at Debden on Suffolk’s border with Essex.

The frontispiece from 'I Walked by Night'

The frontispiece from ‘I Walked by Night’

He became a prolific and popular artist working in oils and watercolour, a Royal favourite and one whose works commanded high prices in his lifetime (and still do). I became familiar with his work through his books and illustrations amongst which were accounts of his experiences with circuses in ‘Circus Company’ and ‘Sons of Sawdust’, two major collaborations with the poet John Masefield, ‘The Country Scene’ and ‘Tribute to the Ballet’, three slim volumes from the WW2 period as well as his pictorial account of the campaign in Italy, ‘With the Allied Armies in Italy’ and several others. There are also two other well known Norfolk country titles edited by the local writer Lilias Rider Haggard which he had illustrated, ‘The Rabbitskin Cap’ and ‘I Walked by Night’.

My visit was an opportunity both to see some of his original works and where he had worked but because of my interest in military history perhaps my focus was on Pegasus. It was whilst serving in the army during WW2 Seago had been asked to design an emblem for the recently formed British airborne forces and he produced the image of Bellerophon astride Pegasus, which I remembered had been described by Jean Goodman in her biography of the artist ‘The Other Side of the Canvas’.

A winding stair

A winding stair

The house is magnificent, surrounded by a high brick wall it is a secluded detached house of weathered red brick in Flemish bond and glazed pantiles with Dutch gable ends, hence its name. Probably dating from the sixteenth century it was somewhere where I could have spent hours puzzling over the rambling layout, with three typically steep cottage-type staircases behind outward opening doors, with further stairs leading off them, all with rope handrails. It posed the question of whether it had once been several separate cottages that had been opened up to form one large house. You can often tell from the outside by the position of the windows or the doors but there were no apparent divisions in the brickwork apart from what appeared to be one bricked up window. It stands in several acres of grounds which include formal gardens, chicken runs and a meadow.

There were many examples of the artist’s work hanging from the walls all over the house but it was downstairs on a small side table where I was delighted to find Pegasus. The association of this image with those who served in the Airborne Division during WW2 and the battle honours that came to mind, from Bruneval to Normandy and the Pegasus Bridge over the Caen canal, Arnhem and the assault over the Rhine, was quite sobering.

Bellerophon and Pegasus where discovered, repositioned for a clearer view, and the British Army's 1st Airborne badge

Bellerophon and Pegasus where discovered, repositioned for a clearer view, and the British Army’s 1st Airborne badge of WW2

The house is not open to the public although I believe that the gardens have been open under the National Gardens Scheme. My opportunity only arose because of the goodwill of the owner whilst she was away, having permitted her house-sitter to allow friends to visit. I won’t take advantage of that goodwill by showing too much of the interior but I don’t see that the bronze of Bellerophion astride Pegasus, an image famous in stylised form, can do any harm.

The garden viewed from the house

The garden viewed from the house

Posted in Authors, Book stock, Books, East Anglia, Illustrators, Lowestoft & District, Military History, World War 2 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Kitchener AGM 2014

Another year has gone by and the Annual General Meeting of the Lord Kitchener Memorial Holiday Centre at Lowestoft – colloquially “Kitchener’s” – has come round again being held last Friday evening at the Centre in Kirkley Cliff.

Royal Marine cadets from 901 Troop, TS Fearless

Royal Marine cadets from 901 Troop, TS Fearless

Once again the Trustees and Management Committee were delighted to welcome their patron, Lady Emma Kitchener, and her husband Baron Julian Fellowes of West Stafford, both of whom this year received an extra welcome from a contingent from the Royal Marine Cadets of 901 Troop, TS Fearless, who were under the command of Captain Dodson and who all formed a Guard of Honour at the entrance.

The VIP guests and those from service organisations and local business were formally welcomed to the AGM by the Chairman of the Trustees, Derrick Yellowley and the report of the Chairman of the Management Committee, Dr. John Greenacre (who was unavoidably absent) was read on by another member of that Committee, Mike Hoban.

Points mentioned in the Chairman’s report included the declining numbers of ex-servicemen and women and the fact that the Centre would have to adapt to changing demands. Our charity benefactors had themselves felt the need to reduce our funding as a result of their declining resources. The efforts of the management team and others had been successful in finding additional sources of income but this would need to be an ongoing campaign. One of the main tasks remains informing the pool of ex-service personnel about the Centre and what it can offer.

The guest speaker was Mark Lawrence, one-time NCO in 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, who related entertainingly some of his experiences of service and how he had been able to use that experience after he left the Regiment. Finally our Patron Lady Emma and Lord Julian both briefly addressed the meeting saying how delighted they were to visit Lowestoft again.

Lady Emma Kitchener and Lord Julian Fellowes address the meeting

Lady Emma Kitchener and Lord Julian Fellowes address the meeting

The manager Steven Schofield and the housekeeper and Steven’s wife, Lorraine Schofield were publicly thanked for their service to the Centre and after the formal busines of the evening the chairs were drawn back and the guests mingled whilst the cadets and the Centre staff served an excellent buffet prepared at the Centre.

If you, your family or any friends has at any time served in any of the armed or merchant services then you are eligible to stay at the Centre which is on Lowestoft seafront, is open from April to October providing half board in en suite accommodation. For further details see the Centre’s website.


Posted in Ld. Kitchener Mem. Holiday Centre, Lowestoft & District, Military History, Navy, Royal Naval Patrol Service, World War 2 | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Royal Mail – Visible economy shipping please!

Booksellers (and book-buyers), do you have customers (or relations) in Iraq, Iran, India or Pakistan? If so when you agree to ship using Royal Mail’s ‘International Economy’ (the old Surface mail), look up the rates on Royal Mail’s ‘Price-finder’ and discover that they are not there, don’t panic!

I had orders from Japan and India over this last weekend, both asking for shipping by International Economy. I looked up the current shipping rates on the Royal Mail Price-finder as I usually double check before processing overseas orders (it can be expensive if you don’t). It was fine to Japan but when it came to India the International Economy service does not seem to exist. Of course there is no-one to ask at customers services on a Sunday but today I phoned and queried what was happening.

I expected to be told that there was a glitch somewhere in the software but no, Royal Mail’s representative told me that it is a deliberate policy to discourage shipping by this method. They assured me that the service still exists but told me that they would rather you used International Standard (Airmail and more expensive) and so they don’t quote the International Economy rate to this destination in their online price-finder.

I checked further and this policy seems to affect a block of countries: Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and India but not those countries bordering this block. International Economy is still quoted to Jordan, Syria, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma).

I thought the Royal Mail’s price-finder was provided to help customers, not confuse them but after their introduction of what seems to be the two different but apparently infinitely variable add-on facilities of ‘International Tracked’ and ‘International Tracked and Signed’, which confuse even the Post Office staff, I suppose anything is possible. Hiding economy shipping rates seems a very odd policy but I have never been able to fathom some of the thinking behind many corporate decisions anyway. Life’s too short!

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Riding the Old Front Line

Riding the Old Front Line logo

Riding the Old Front Line logo

A stalwart band of battlefield guides from Anglia Tours Limited and their friends and supporters have recently travelled the entire length of the WW1 Western Front from the Belgian coast to Switzerland raising funds for two charities. The main team cycled what they had planned as about 475 miles ( but which turned out to be nearer 550) in nine days with a rest day on day five which meant an exhausting schedule but I bet they had no trouble in getting to sleep at night. Their journey took in many of the major war cemetaries where they paused for reflection and a brief rest.

Day 6 - French forces war cemetary at Champenoux

Day 6 – French forces war cemetary at Champenoux

You can follow their entire journey on Twitter @OldFrontLine. The two charities they are still supporting were Gardening Leave, which seeks to heal the psychological wounds of warfare through horticulture, and our very own Kitcheners in Lowestoft, which provides subsidised seaside holidays for ex-service personnel and where one member of the cycling team, Dr. John Greenacre, is chairman of the management committee.

Day 2 - The Somme in the rain

Day 2 – The Somme in the rain

Day 7 - Col de Bonhomme in the Vosges

Day 7 – Col de Bonhomme in the Vosges











The aim was to raise £10,000 for each and so far nearly £3,500 has been raised for Kitcheners. There is still time for them to reach their target as the ‘MyDonate’ page will stay open until 11th November this year. Please give what you can, even if it’s just to show your gratitude for not having to do that ride yourself!


Posted in Ld. Kitchener Mem. Holiday Centre, Lowestoft & District, Military History, World War 1 | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Primary Source Edition

I recently bought a book on Ebay which the seller had described as a ‘primary source edition’. In the area of military history it was a well-known title, ‘The Secret War 1939-1945′ by Gerald Pawle, an account of a department of the Royal Navy responsible for testing wild and weird ideas about how to prosecute the war, with a foreword by the well known novelist Nevil Shute who had been a member of that department.

It was the expression ‘primary source edition’ used by the seller which confused me a little but I assumed that it was his way of saying that it was the first edition. The image shown was obviously of the original Harrap edition, with which I am familiar, and so I was not concerned about the purchase until I received a message from the seller. He had been about to pack it when he realised that it was not the ‘primary source edition’ that he had described. I replied that as long it was what I had understood, the Harrap edition, then I was happy and we went ahead. I have been selling books for over thirty years but I am happy to admit that I am still learning my trade and as I had not come across this expression ‘primary source edition’ before I decided to try and find out more about it.

My investigation was quite short. A search of one of the major bookselling sites revealed over 470,000 instances of books described as ‘primary source edition’, all but about 600 of them from ‘print-on-demand’ houses and all but about 350 being listed as new books. Over the last few years there seems to have been a rapid growth of small publishers with quite large ‘print-on-demand’ lists. Personally I don’t like ‘print-on-demand’ books but I do give one US publisher, Nabu Press, credit for being honest about their shortcomings, each of their books being described as:

‘This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.’

… and that’s when it’s new. I would also say that describing the book as ‘valuable’ is a moot point as I have yet to find any sort of market for second-hand ‘print-on-demand’ books. Sadly some subsequent resellers of Nabu Press ‘print-on-demand’ books do not appear to repeat the original publisher’s disclaiming description and neither do many of the other publishers and print-houses that describe their offerings as ‘primary source editions’ give any indication of their limitations.

For the life of me I can’t understand how these publishers expect to find buyers for scanned reproductions of books, books which are still available on the second-hand market in the original editions if you look hard enough but I suppose they must, because they are still in business. Perhaps it is the instant satisfaction of a need that seems to predominate these days, no-one is prepared to wait. Can’t people appreciate that the hunt is more fun?

I am just a second-hand bookseller but at least my stock has some history in its own right! I think I have at least established a definition of ‘primary source edition’ although I am still unsure what the Ebay seller who introduced the expression to me really meant. A primary source edition is not a first edition, it is not even an attempt to be a facsimile edition but it is a modern photocopy of virtually any book which is out of US copyright.


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