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Tuesday 25 October 2016

Fact 77. Robinson Crusoe sailed from Hull!?

In actual fact Robinson Crusoe didn't sail from Hull as he is a fictional character! Even if he had been a real person his name would have been Robinson Kreutznaer son of a German immigrant settled in York and married a woman with the name Robinson! In the book (The books actual title is "The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates.),he is supposed to have left from Queen's Dock in Hull during 1651 for a short trip to London where upon a series of adventures culminated in him being stranded on a desert island. Furthermore he would have found very difficult to sail from Queen's Dock as it wasn't opened until 1778!!

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This is the island where Alexander Selkirk was marooned. It was called Mas a Tierra in the Juan Fernandez Islands of Chile. It was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.

The story seems to be largely based on the life of Alexander Selkirk who was a Scottish sailor who was marooned on a deserted island in the South Pacific from 1704 to 1709 as he feared that the ship he was on was unseaworthy. Daniel Defoe would have read of these exploits and used them in his story.

Daniel Defoe was born around 1660 in London. His actual name was Daniel Foe until he added the De to sound more aristocratic. He became a merchant trader and did well for himself and had great ambitions. He seemed to have been often in debt having failed business ventures and political intrigues that saw him become a 'spy' for various groups. His always requiring more money maybe drove him to writing novels and having the story of Alexander Selkirk as a blue print would have sped up the process.

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The Robinson Crusoe plaque is found on the north side of Queens's Gardens. The words below are quite hard to make out but look like ' Robinson Crusoe, most famous character in fiction, sailed from here September 1st 1651. Sole survivor from shipwreck he was cast upon a desert island where he spent 28 years, 2 months and 129 days. An example of resolution, fortitude and self reliance. 
Financed by public subscription, the plaque was unveiled on 21st May 1973.
'Had I the sense to return to Hull. I had been happy'.

Daniel Defoe probably did visit Hull as he published 'A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain'
which was published in three volumes between 1724 and 1727. He probably id copy some of the details for the book from other writers but it is fairly certain that he visited Hull in the course of his business as a Merchant. Of Hull he wrote, 'From Beverley I came to Hull, distance 6 miles. If you would expect me to give an account of the city of Hamburg or Danzig or Rotterdam. or any of the second rate cities abroard, which are famed for their commerce, the town of Hull may be a specimen. The place is indeed not so large as those, but in proportion to the dimensions of it, i believe there is more business done in Hull than any town of its bigness in Europe'.

He also said of the trade and merchants of the town; ' Again they supply all these countries in return with foreign goods of all kinds, of which they trade to all parts of the known world; nor have the merchants of any port in Britain a fairer credit, or fairer character, than the merchants of Hull, as well for the justice of their dealings as the greatness of their substance or funds for trade'.

His description of the town is, 'The town is exceedingly close built, and should a fire ever be its fate, it might suffer deeply on that account; 'tis extraordinary populous, even to an inconvenience, having really no room to extend it self by buildings. There are but two churches, but one of them is very large, and there are two or three very large meeting-houses, and a market stored with an infinite plenty of all sorts of provisions'.

It is clear the Daniel Defoe had a soft spot for Hull through his commercial dealing with the merchants of the town, and so felt well able to pen the lines for Robinson Crusoe in his book, 'Had I the sense to return to Hull. I had been happy'.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Fact 76. Important port installations.

Little known but very rare in the UK the Old Trinity House buoy shed is one of only four similar building in the UK and the crane is one of only 14 examples surviving. Trinity House had been founded in 1369 and had become responsible for the safe navigation of the Humber in about 1512. In 1799 a specific buoy shed was built in the garden to the west of Trinity House. It's doors were positioned to open through the Old Town wall. All the buoys and chains etc were brought to this one place and it also became the repair workshop too. By 1839 a blacksmith's forge being installed to assist with the maintenance. In 1829 Princes Dock was completed and this meant that the buoy shed would now be next to the quay side. In 1841 the building was rebuilt to provide better facilities and more space to work on the new larger buoys and light floats.

By 1861 the number of buoys and floats and the amount of shipping on the Humber meant that there was much more work required to maintain the navigational marks and the buoy shed was very busy, watched over by a Buoy Master. In 1863 a crane was supplied by the Humber Bank Foundry. It was able to lift 4 tons and the jib was fitted to the wall of the shed. The winding drum and friction brake were fitted inside the shed. It may be that this crane was insufficient and in about 1865 it was replaced with the crane that is now by the new buoy shed. It may also have been fitted elsewhere and bought for the site second hand as the crane is thought to date from 1865.

A view of the River Hull aspect of the Trinity House Buoy Shed and crane from the west bank.

There’s more to the Dover Victorian Fairbairn Crane than meets the Eye, Kent, England, UK. A 19th Century schematic drawing from, "Useful Information For Engineers (1860)" by Sir William Fairbairn, Baronet of Ardwick, showing how a third of the revolutionary design is below ground. The 1868 swan-neck tubular manual crane on Esplanade Quay, Wellington Dock, Dover Marina is shown at Industrial Archaeology, Archeology, History. Engineering, Machine.
Detail of a similar crane from a paper written by Sir William Fairburn the designer and holder of the patent. The base below the surface that holds around a third of the crane as counter weight in a circular pit can be seen in the upper photograph.

Sir William Fairburn was born in Scotland  1789, but moved to Manchester in 1813. He set up an iron foundry in 1816 and then moved on to making iron steam vessels. Being in Manchester did not make things easy for ship building. For a ship called the Minerva it had to be sent to Hull in pieces, constructed and then sailed to Rotterdam and up the Rhine. It then had to be taken to bits to get past the Rhine Falls and then to Lake Zurich. The ship building moved to London and the company started building railway locomotives, exporting them all over the world. He also invented the box girder whilst he was coming up with plans for bridging the Menai Strait in 1840's. He took out the patent for the tubular jib crane in 1850 and allowed them to built under licence. The one in Hull was designed to lift 10 tons and to swivel through 360 degrees. It had manual gearing and a brake and was later fitted with an electrical motor. When the workload for the buoy shed on Price's Dock side got too much for the size of the facility a tender was put out by the House Surveyor. They received an estimate of £6000 so they were told to proceed. The shed was to included a 10 tons crane so whether they reused their old one or bought from else where is not now known.

Detail of the Trinity House crest on the Buoy Shed. The Latin motto reads 'SPES SUPER SYDERA' and means 'Hope beyond the stars'.

The northern aspect of the shed with 

The plaque on the north aspect with the information regarding when the buoy shed was opened.

The building was used by Northern Divers. The company was started in 1963 and supplied underwater services to civil engineering projects, shipping and salvage work in land and coastal. They now have warehousing and offices on Sutton Fields Industrial Estate.

Garrison Side, the east bank of the River Hull below Drypool Bridge is designated as an area of development and an area of archaeological interest and is subject to a planning management plan by Hull City Council. The Buoy Shed and crane are Nationally and internationally important so should be preserved at all costs. For the citizen or visitor they make just another point of interest on a very fine walk up the River Hull from Sammy's Point/Pier to North Bridge.

Fact 75. Largest ships, on highest lake made in Hull.

Earle's Shipyard (See Fact 46) was responsible for the construction of the two largest vessel built for the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca in Peru/Bolivia.

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Showing the position of Lake Titicaca, along way from Hull!

By the late 1800's Peru had got heavily into International date due to wars and natural disaster.s Britain took over the Peruvian Railway system as payment of her debts. There were already some British built kit ships on the Lake, built in 1861 and reassembled in 1870 and 1872. These were only about 100' in length and needed augmenting by 1904. An increase in traffic on the Lake warranted a new ship that was to be twice the size at 220' and the order went to Earle's. The ship was constructed in Hull and all the parts marked. The engines and boilers were built but not fitted into the ship before also broken down and crated. Each crate could weigh no more that 12.5 cwt (0.63 tonnes) and have dimensions less that 10 ft wide and 11 ft high. She left Hull in he boxes in early 1905 having cost £22285. The parts were transported up 12500 ft to the lake by railway and reassembled. She was set to work by mid 1905. 220' long 1809 GRT.
SS. Inca in Puno Bay 1967. She was later broken up and sold for scrap.

Tarde continued to increase and despite the World Depression and the start of motor vehicle transport in earnest trade on the Lake was still increasing to the degree where another vessel was required to keep up with the cargo offered. The railway company again turned to Earle's. The new ship was to be even bigger at 260' long, 950 DWT, 2200 GRT and have a speed of 14.5 kts. powered by four oil fired steam engines. It was to carry 66 1st Class and 20 2nd Class passengers, and 950 tons of cargo.

Construction started at the yard in Hull when the keel was laid in June 1930. As with the INCA the ship was fully assembled using nuts and bolts so that it could all be checked and then properly marked to assist in reassembly. Five months later it was loaded into a PSNCo ship 'La Paz' for transport to Mollendo where it was then taken by railway up to Puno on the Lake.
William R. Smale. Earle's engineer in charge of the reconstruction in Peru at Lake Titicaca in 1931.

To ensure the parts were all put together correctly Earle's sent one of their best engineers with them. William Reginald Smale originated from the West Country but had joined Earle's as an apprentice, he later sailed as an engineer on some of Ellerman Wilson's vessels and during WWII was an essential member of the team that kept Hull going during the heavy bombings of the German Blitz. He had a tough job to do as not only were there no skilled labour for the job, there were no proper tools and there wasn't even a slipway to build the ship on. He set to with a will and soon had the slip completed and the first plate was laid 24th March 1931. He managed to improvise the heavy machinery by adapting that used by the railway company. His original orders were to wait for a group of workers from Britain to come and assist with the launch. However he was supremely confident in his workers and himself that he went ahead an launched on 18th November that same year. The launch party arrived with the ship in the water and it just been fitted out.
On the slip with the shell plating almost complete. (From William Smale's original photograph)
Nearing being ready for launching with the deck plating being close to completion. Note the numbering of the parts of steel work.  (From William Smale's original photograph)
SS Ollanta underway on Lake Titicaca soon after completion.  (From William Smale's original photograph)
Photo taken on the bridge in 2004
The dining room taken in 2004.

Although the Inca was broken up the Ollanta survives and still employed cruising the lake as although not used by the railways on scheduled runs she is chartered out for the use of tourists.

Ollanta's Earle's builders number was No.679. Only three other ships were built at the yard afterwards as it fell to the Depression. Soon after the yard closed almost all the equipment was sold and transported to Hong Kong for the Kowloon ship yard, including the hammerhead crane.

William Smales remained in Peru for some years working for the Peruvian Railways, before setting off with a Yorkshireman on a horse back adventure to sail home from the  Atlantic side of South America. He later worked in India on a major project before returning to Hull during it's hour of need in WWII. He also had a hand in the building of the Mulberry Harbour that helped secure the Normandy Landings and the end of the war in Europe. He died in the 1990's.

Hull has a great maritime history, not just deep sea trawlers, and these days not much is made of the port and the deeds of the past, or the future, but Hull developed and grew due the Humber and access to trade.

Friday 14 October 2016

Fact 74. Hull Hydraulic Power Company.

In 1872 an Act of Parliament was granted for the construction of a public hydraulic power system. There were private hydraulic system in place working dock and railway equipment in Newcastle, Burtisland, Glasgow London and Swansea before this but only working for the one company. The initial system was to cover 60 acres and they were permitted to take a million gallons of water a day from the River Hull at a cost of £12 10s per 250,000 gallons per year to the Hull Corporation. The Hull Hydraulic Power Company opened for business in 1876. Their premises were on Marchell Street and still survive.

This photo from David Jessop's website was taken before the erection of a Blue Plaque. It clearly shows the holding water tank hat also allowed the mud to settle out of the water before being used.

In the building in the photo above there was space for 4 x 60HP engines, but only two were initially installed, and each could pump 130 gallons per minute at 700 psi. The roof water tank was fed by one of two centrifugal pumps lifting the water 35 ft from low tide level to the roof and along the 125 ft to the roof at a rate of 800 gals/min. There was a return line to act as an overflow and to assist in cleaning the tank. There were two Lancashire boilers to provide steam for the engines and pumps.

The system laid was a 6" cast iron main that went from Marchell Street, down Wincomlee, under the entrance to Queen's Dock entrance from the River Hull and terminating near the western side of the South Bridge that was near Blackfriar Gate now. (Between Myton Bridge and the Tidal Barrier). At a suitable distance along the main were isolation valves and also air cocks to be able to drain the system of air. At intervals also provided were 'T' pieces of 2", 3" and 4" for supply to customers. The initial length of the main was 1485 yards. At the Marchell Street site was also provision of two hydraulic accumulators. These were to be unlike the very tall hydraulic tower at Grimsby that was expensive to build but a weight on a piston. In Hull the piston in the system was 18" diameter and had a stroke of 20'. On top of this was placed a load of 57.5 tons of copper slag that provided a constant pressure of 610 lbs per square inch. Only one was installed initially and provision was made for another at the southern end of the line.

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This is the hydraulic accumulator at Bristol Harbour that is still in operation. This one was installed in the 1920's.

By 1895 about half a million gallons were being pumped into the system each week and about 58 machines were being powered by the system including cranes and dock gates with machinery for ship building. The system reached it's zenith in the early 1900's extending to a pipeline length of 2.5 miles and used by around 140 machines. The system remained in operation right through until WWII when the severe bombing of Hull made it impossible to maintain the pipework intact and the company was wound up in 1947. This saw the retirement of Mt. F.J. Haswell who was the Manager and engineer and had worked for the Hull Hydraulic Power Co. since since 1904.

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Hull City Council erected a Blue Plaque to mark the building that was the first public hydraulic power station in the UK in 1990.

There are still occasional reminders of the old system and Hull Hydraulic Power Company. If you look carefully on the streets you may still come across one of the system valve covers. The Hull system had been constructed and installed by the Hydraulic Engineering Company that was based in Chester. It's Managing Director, Edward Ellington, studied the system and used it as a blueprint for the many future systems that he and his company installed in the UK and abroad. There were other private hydraulic system installed at Albert Dock (1869) and Alexandra Dock (1885).
Valve cover of the original Hull Hydraulic Power Company on High Street.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Fact 73. Hull is a sister city to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Hull has a sister city, similar to a twin city, of Raleigh North Carolina, USA.This relationship was established in 1986.

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Rayleigh's position in the USA.

Raleigh is also known as the 'City of Oaks' due to the number of oak trees in the city. It is the State Capital of North Carolina and is 142.8 and in 2015 had a population of 451,066. The site was chosen in 1788 and is one of the few cities in the USA that was planned and built specifically as the state capital. The site was partly chosen as being a little in land from the coast so to protect it from attacks by sea and also as it wasn't too far from a tavern that the state legislators used from the old capital at New Bern! Raleigh was give the name as a reminder of Sir Walter Raleigh who sponsored an old colony on the coast at Roanoke. The City was officially established in 1792 and officially incorporated as a city in 1795.

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The original State Capitol building burned down in 1831 and the replacement, that pictured above was completed in 1840

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The Oakwood district of Raleigh has many building preserved from the 19th Century.

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The crest of the NC State University showing the Memorial Bell Tower that was completed in 1937 to commemorate those Alumni that had been killed in WWI. There are 34 names recorded on the tower but in actual fact only 33 were lost. G.L. Jeffers was wrongly reported missing in action and his name was not taken off the list given to the manufacturers of the plaque. It was decided to change the name to G.E. Jefferson as a symbol of those unknown soldiers from the state and elsewhere who have no other memorial.

In the 1960's Raleigh became one of the fastest growing cities in the USA as the Research Triangle developed and new businesses were attracted to the area. The triangle revolves round the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Duke University in close neighbour Durham and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This area covers over 2 million people. In the 2010's it was frequently quoted as one of the best places to live and do business in the US.

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Downtown Raleigh.

The area is well served with cultural establishments with museums, theatres and symphony orchestra and ballet corps. They have a major league Ice Hockey team franchise in the city called the Carolina Hurricanes. Other professional teams are the NC State Wolfpack that have baseball, basket ball and American football teams. The larger baseball team is the Carolina Mudcats and the Carolina RailHawks are the professional soccer team. Since 2015 there is also a professional Ultimate Frisbee team called the Raleigh Flyers! I know there are amateur teams for Australian Rules Football and the university's play Rugby Union as I have been on tour there with Hull RUFC in the dim and dark past of the mid 1980's.

Raleigh frequently lies on the path of severe tornadoes and hurricanes when flooding and damage and occasional loss of life occurs. Otherwise they enjoy four season, a short cold winter with an average of 6" of snow but there has been over 20" of snow fall in one storm! April is the driest month of the year and July the wettest with the summer being hot and humid. Autumn is similar to spring but drier.

Raleigh is also 'twinned' with Xiangyand in China, Compiegne in France, Rostock in Germany and Nairobi in Kenya. I reckon Raleigh would make a great place to start an exploration of the area and I expect and hope that City of Culture will ensure closer ties are forged between us.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Fact 72. Admiral Henry Bayfield made Canada safe for navigation.

Henry Wolsey Bayfield was born in hull on 21st Jan 1795 to relatively 'well to do ' parents. The family was originally from Norfolk. There are no records of his education but any formal education would have been short as he was enrolled in the Royal Navy two weeks before his 11th birthday as a Young Gentleman Volunteer.

His early career was very hectic. His first ship was HMS Pompee that was captured from the French soon after it had been built by them. Whilst on her they took a French privateer.
HMS Pompee kept her French name and under the white ensign was  a 74 gun ship of the line. This model is of a sister ship.

 He was transferred to HMS Queen, a 3 deck 90 gun vessel. Another move to HMS Duchess of Bedford made three ships in 9 months. In this ship he was wounded in a battle with two Spanish vessels of Gibraltar. His commanding officer said of him, ' Tho' a youth he displayed presence of mind that would become the greatest warrior'. He was then moved to HMS Beagle an 18 gun sloop. His promotion came thick and fast, midshipman in 1810, Master's Mate in 1814 and he served in the Mediterranean, saw action off France and Spain and sailed off Holland. He spent two years in the West India station and at the age of 15/16 had a year in Canada before returning to England to sit his Lieutenant's examinations which he passed in 1814. He returned to Canada on HMS Lake Camplain. He was there recruited to the team surveying the Canadian Lakes who had realised the enormity of the task. He quickly learned all he could from them and was soon made the Captain of the sloop 'Star'. It was thought that an accurate survey would be a good defence against any American threats against Canada. 

His superior returned to London in 1817 and Henry Bayfield, aged 22, was 'de facto' Surveyor General for Canada! The next 40 years were then taken up with this work. Much of this surveying was carried out in the summer months from two rowing cutters where they either slept on beaches or in the boats. They suffered swarms of mosquitoes, fever and heat, along with lack of food etc. The tools of his trade were lead lines, sextants and compass. In the winter months they would return to civilisation and draw up their charts and make accurate notes from the log books and scribblings. They where then sent back to England to be engraved then brought back for very strict checking.

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Captain Henry Bayfield after 1834.

In 1825 he returned to England to oversee the publication of his charts and pilot books of the Great Lakes, but was back in Canada in 1827 and set about the detailed surveys of the St Lawrence River and Gulf. This mammoth task took him 14 years. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1834 and so must have felt able to marry Miss Fanny Wright in 1838. They had six children together. In 1841 after completing the St. Lawrence he turned his attention to the Atlantic coastline which occupied him until he retired in 1856 with failing health. Though he lacked any formal scientific training he was a great observer and had an analytical mind. He collected rocks and minerals and sent them to the British Museum, he wrote papers on the fauna of the area as well as geology along with such things as the tides, mirages and the Aurora Borealis and was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Title piece of a chart of Lake Superior surveyed between 1825 and 1827.

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Admiral Henry Bayfield after 1856.

He continued with promotions on the retired list making full Admiral on the retired list in 1867. He was also given an additional pension on top of his service one. He retired to Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island where he lived a quiet life until his death in 1885.

Hillsborough Harbour by Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield, 1845
Details chart Of Charlottetown where he retired from a survey he undertook in 1843.

Detail from 1843 Bayfield Chart
His charts often had small sketches to give the actual view that would be seen by the mariner. This one appears on another chart from 1843.

Despite almost entirely self trained he has highly disciplined, accurate and diligent in all he undertook. He had a distinguished appearance and was courteous to all. He took great care of his men and was well liked by them also. He was a devout Anglican and held religious services on all his ships on Sunday. He completed surveys that brought safety and the opening up of Canada from the western shores of the Lake Superior, through the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence to Bell Isle. He then charted the coats of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Prior to 1884, when the Canadian Government took over the responsibility for the work, the British Admiralty produced 215 charts of Canadian waters. 114 of them were drawn by Henry Bayfield from Hull.

He may not be remembered in Hull but in North America his name is given to the Bayfield River and the Town of Bayfield in Ontario, the city of Bayfield in Nova Scotia and Wisconsin. The US Navy even named a ship after the city in WWII. The Canadian Hydrographic Service names one of its vessels after him also. There also many plaques around the nation that praise his achievements. As as sea port maybe Hull should have some sort of remembrance to another of their maritime heroes.

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Thursday 6 October 2016

Fact 71. The Greatest Escaper was W.O. John Fancy.

John Fancy was born in the village of Lund near Driffield, north of Hull. The family home was the local vicarage but his father managed the local estate. He was delivered by his grandmother who was the local midwife on 9th March 1913. He went to the village school before being enrolled in Hymers College in Hull. He went on to study Land Management and then to work in the Parks and Gardens Department of Scarborough Council. His chosen path changed dramatically when he volunteered for the RAF in 1935. He married his wife Elsie in 1937. He firstly trained as an aircraft fitter but when he saw that war was becoming inevitable he volunteered for air crew. As he had a slight colour blindness he could not be a pilot bust was assigned as Navigator/Observer. He completed his training in December 1939 and was promoted to Warrant Officer and placed with 110 Squadron that were based at RAF Wattisham in Suffolk.
A Blenheim Bomber as John Fancy flew in.

110 Squadron had carried out the very first RAF bombing raids of WWII when they targeted enemy ships in Wilhelmshaven on 4th September 1939. John Fancy however was engaged in delivering bombers to Finland to assist in their war effort in February 1940. They were given twelve planes that were painted in the blue swastikas of the Finnish Air Force. They wore civilian clothes and refueled in Scotland and Norway before landing on a frozen lake. They were then to train up the Finish crews before taking a Finish Airlines Junkers plane back to Sweden and two months later they returned to Suffolk. In later life he attended the 75th anniversary of the Finnish Air Force and was give the Winter War Medal by their UK Ambassador. In the spring they were involved in bombing Norwegian airfields near Stavanger. 

Once the 'Phony War' was over and the German Blitzkrieg was under they were swapped to operations in support of the British Expeditionary Forces. On 14th May 1940, the very day that he had learned that his wife was expecting a baby, 12 aircraft of 110 Squadron took off on raids to destroy bridges over the River Meuse. John Fancy's target was near Sedan. His plane managed to drop their bombs successfully on target but as they turned for home they were hit by anti aircraft fire and crashed in the grounds of a Chateau. All the crew of three survived but were captured. Another four of the twelve planes were also shot down.

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John Fancy (seated extreme right with pipe) and fellow POW's in Stalag Luft 1, between 1940 and 1942.

Their first camp was Stalag Luft 1 in Barth northern Germany. His POW number was No.89 so he was one of the very first to be captured. John was already eager to escape and began to earn his later nickname by starting to dig a tunnel in order to escape. He started a tunnel under the floorboards of his hut and in three weeks he had dug down 6 feet and extended a tunnel 2 feet diameter to half was to the perimeter wire. Unfortunately extremely heavy rain caused the tunnel to collapse and it had to be abandoned. This camp was closed in 1942 and by later that year he arrived at Stalag Luft III near Sagan in Poland. This is where the exploits that were the basis for the book and film 'The Great Escape' occurred. His expertise in tunneling were put to work. The plan was to build three tunnels , Tom, Dick and Harry. John was involved in building 'Tom' that was started from the corner. He was very lucky to survive a collapse where he was completely buried but his mates just managed to clear a space to his face to allow him to breath until he could be dug out. However John was transferred from the camp before the breakout, and tunnel 'Tom' was discovered. Later though 76 men managed to escape trough tunnel 'Dick' the following year. Only three of them reached safety and fifty were killed.

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Stalag Luft III in 1944.

All in all John helped dig eight tunnels and at least three of them were instrumental in escapes of men. He was Britain's most prolific POW tunneler and the Germans gave him the nickname of 'The Mole'. All in all he made 16 attempts to escape, three by tunnel and other methods included absconding from work parties, cutting through the wire and jumping from moving trains. When he was free he walked over Latvia, Lithuania and Germany even stopping to ask a German soldier for directions. On his last escape he managed to get to the Baltic with to others, and steal a boat. It was was only once they were well out to sea that they were taken once again. He had also been recaptured by an extermination unit and had to endure three mock executions. All the escapes earned him 34 weeks in solitary confinement, an eight of his total time as a POW.

His captivity came to an end at the end of April 1945 when his camp in Lithuania was liberated. He was found to be lice ridden and weighing only 6 stone but still tunneling. He was flown back to Suffolk and joked that his 4 hour flight in 1940 had taken 4 years and 10 months!

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John Fancy after the war.

To recover from his deprivations he was kept in RAF hospitals for three months and it is whilst in hospital in Lancashire that he met his daughter for the very first time. He went on to have another daughter and a son. He was invalided out of the RAF in August 1945 and went to live north of Hull. Here he set up a market garden and opened green grocers shops in the area. He was a keen fisherman and a good tennis player and enjoyed painting. After his wife died he moved down to Devon to be near his daughter and was very popular there too. He died on 18th September 2008 aged 95. A prized possession of the family is John Fancy's tunneling tool of preference a knife given to him by his captors. It was for eating with but the large rounded handle meant that it was comfortable to hold and loosened the soil to then use a shovel to move clear.

John Fancy's knife
John Fancy's digging tool.

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John Fancy, reluctant POW and extraordinary tunneler and escapee. 

RIP The Mole. They don't make them like that any more.