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Archive for October, 2011

Colonel Kurtz in our midst

While browsing around to see if I could find any recollections and general info on connections between Whittington Barracks and Hopwas woods  I came across a shocking revelation.

For added effect, I’ve written the shocking revelation further down the page so you’ll scroll down in anticipation

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Whittington barracks one of the oldest in the country was witness to what time magazine dubbed as ” the most shocking army scandal of World War II. It was all down to Colonel Killian who ran the US  10th Reinforcement Depot at Lichfield including Whittington Barracks. By what I’ve seen so far he sounded like an almost Colonel Kurtz type character.

the horror…the horror, Colonel Kurtz in Apocapypse now. Would he have been at home in Hopwas woods?

It turns out that Whittington Barracks during it’s occupation by the US army depot in WWII was a feared place to be by US troops. Colonel Kilian seemed  to specialize and relish in ‘punishing’ soldiers with the blanket excuse of desertion in the face of the enemy.This included not getting to the barracks before 22:00(from Paul Generuex’s account). So far nothing out of the ordinary, just  another severe army commander. By the looks of it though, those punishment verged on the sadistic side and gave Whittington barracks a notorious reputation among US troops.

The accused: Colonel Kilian with other officials at Whittington barracks, photo taken from Staffordshire pastrack(click on image to go to link)

The base was used to rehabilitate US soldiers after injuries and get them fit for combat duties. Colonel Kilian interpreted this as making the place a worse place alternative to serving in combat. Conditions were so harsh that the US army newspaper Stars and Stripes characterized the barracks “as a concentration camp run by Americans for American soldiers. That may be a bit extreme but it gives an idea of the reputation and fame the barracks must have had.  I’ve pasted an extract from the Times magazine describing some of the punishments, it makes for a grim read.

 “Men had been beaten there with fists and rifle butts till they were unconscious, then revived and ordered to clean up their own blood. Prisoners who complained of hunger were gorged with three meals at a time, then dosed with castor oil. Hours of calisthenics, of standing “nose and toes” to a guardhouse wall were routine punishments. Purple Heart veterans were deliberately jabbed in their old wounds. There was even a ghastly, sardonic slogan among Lichfield guards: “Shoot a prisoner and be made a sergeant.”
From Times magazine


It’s pretty shocking stuff but it appears substantiated by other accounts of US soldiers so it’s on rock solid ground. You’ve got this from US veteran Irvin M Herowitz who was told “to keep your nose clean when you get there” in reference to beatings and then there’s the veteran’s Paul L. Genereux’s personal story of time at the Notorious barracks.

Then there’s the fact that Colonel Kilian was court martialed in Germany for what happened, the court-martial turned out to be little more than a slap on the wrist but it looks like the famous case seared itself onto US wartime memories on the other side of the pond. For example just type in Lichfield Kilian into google and see what turns up. Sorry Lichfield but at least in the annals of US military history the name is synonymous with cruelty and sadistic colonels. Just take a look at the book below:

Bet you’ve never seen the word Lichfield look so threatening! Click on the book cover to go to a description of the book Lichfield: The U.S army on trial.

Then there’s an article  from themagazine series After the Battle on the barracks. I’m going to try and get my hands on this, it’s such an intriguing ‘international’  and unexpected story and right in the midst of the Tamworth/Lichfield area . As this is part of the Pastorm Tamworth project this is an ‘open post’ It’s a post under development and may go onto form part of the final book, depends on what’s found. As part of this I’ll be adding, modifying and subtracting as I hopefully get more information on this story. So the case is still open. ‘Innocent until proven guilty”

An interesting feature of all this is its coverage on the other side of the pond contrasted with the silence on the dark episode back here. At least I haven’t been able to find out anything so far. Is there anything on the story in the Whittington barracks museum?

Despite being on ‘local ‘ soil the whole thing is a very American affair so that  might explain its silence over here to a point. The trouble making side of me though can’t help thinking that the reason might lie in  that it sits a little uncomfortably with the whole official historical discourse of World War II  in the area. However much we want it to be, history is seldom black and white  and I think we owe it to the soldiers who suffered that cruel  regime in the local area to give them more exposure.

What’s missing from the history books is often as revealing what’s in there.

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Something I came up with messing around on photoshop inspired on this gem of a news story from last weeks Tamworth Herald:

Resurrected: Tales of ‘McMummies’ entombed beneath burger restaurant

Here’s a competition idea. Any Mcmummy puns out there to replace the (sands will rise….)tag lines in the above reworked Mummy poster ? The winner gets the their new tag line immortalised on the above poster and sent to them via email. This is unless Ronald and co decide to unleash their wrath on me forcing me to remove the above poster. Don’t think so as they are now the good guys, collect eggs from local farmers, locally sourced, organic, 100% British beef…………

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In a bit of shameless plugging I’m taking some time out from the obsession with Tamworth’s past to bring to your attention some wonderful jewellery designs composed  from horsehair craftware among other materials  from my wife.  I’m sure you’ll agree that they’re really charming and that I’m not biased at all, they are genuinely beautiful ‘jewels’ . Her blog is called funinthesol go direct to it by clicking on one her creations below ( a brooch).

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Ridge and furrow that grand remnant of medieval farming appear like ripples in the fields surrounding our villages and town. Tamworth is no exception and in this post I’ll be looking at ridge and furrow I’ve noticed to the north of Tamworth.

A quick explanation of ridge and furrow: Ridge and furrow is the result of ploughing by teams of oxen with non-reversible ploughs. In the middle ages families owned strips of land dotted throughout large common fields, so the ploughing location didn’t change much over the years . So over the years the ploughing motion built up earth in the centre of their strip and left a dip between each ridge. This technique offered the advantage of better drained soils. For more information on them take a look here and here.

These techniques pretty much ended when enclosure and modern farming techniques came along, this  changed everything in the countryside and through it’s knock on effects, displaced peasants, richer single landowners changed pretty much everything else in the world through it’s speeding up of the industrial revolution.  This meant though that evidence of ridge and furrow patterns have only survived where modern ploughing hasn’t continued. So that’s fields that have been kept for pasture as grasslands and areas like country estate gardens.

The results are ondulating green fields. The effect is mesmerising and the appearance of the ridges and furrows changes with the light throughout the day. Apparenty the best time of day is sunrise, haven’t managed to take photos at this time yet another one for the list. In one way they can be seen as monuments to the toil and lifestyle of those medieval peasants. Just as grand in their way as castles and cathedrals and satisfying that basic need, to eat! Unlike great stone age earthworks they were built over slowly and gradually over hundreds of years. Something pretty special about all that daily struggle for survival preserved as gently ripples in a field.

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to see a field system and even landscapes which in some ways bear resemblance with medieval central England. My father comes from the frontier lands between Portugal and Spain in northern Spain in a region called Galicia. It’s far away from the typical Spain image as possible, it’s a land of green rolling hills, chestnut forests and bagpipes. Until  recently(a couple of decades)  it had a vibrant peasant culture in the countryside. Villages separated by hundreds of metres dot the hills, they were largely self sufficient and surrounding the villages are fields strips reminiscent of the old ridge and furrow system which operated around Tamworth. People  still have  in their possession small strips of land sometimes tiny in size. Each of your plots are sprinkled throughout the area. One by the stream, one on a hillside, a chestnut grove here and another on the other side of the village, this was I believe it was similar to pre enclosure England.

I’m not saying that recent peasant Galicia is the same as life in the countryside around Tamworth 500 years ago. Each region is different, it’s own history and culture, don’t want to go down that road of  “like England but 30 years ago” way of thinking. Were in 2011 together! It does help though in seeing what a peasant countryside looks like and how it works,one without affluent landowners and commuter villages. Maybe a better way of thinking about it would be idea of how rural England would have been today if enclosure and industrial revolution hadn’t have happened or had happened differently.

Below I’ve marked on a google map image evidence for ridge and furrow together with documentary and archaeological evidence for medieval villages. It’s not complete and is just to give an idea of  the amount of villages in the landscape surrounding Tamworth. It was in effect a world of villages, After all towns were not much more than large villages themselves. Forgot to mention that ridge and furrow is a good pointer that there was a village thereabouts.  Some of those villages continued such as Wigginton while others such as Syerscote became single farms and country estates. What happened to the dissappeared villages? Well enclosure and concentrating the land and profits  into single farms must have a been big reason. Also similar to this was landowners  using the land for the more profitable sheep grazing and chucking the peasants off the land. This appears to have started back in the 16th century. Also there’s the simple fact that with mechanization farming just doesn’t need that many people working on the fields. The result is a far more lonely but could be argued more profitable landscape.

1. Ridge and furrow and some interesting earthworks including hollow ways(click on google freezeframe  image below) on the northern edge of modern Wigginton village, supports the idea that the village has been displaced to the south(from Staffordshire HER).

Just to  the east of Wigginton village are extensive ridge and furrow patterns. You can even make out the individual field boundaries(pastscape).

A photo of the ridge and furrow taken on a walk through these fields along a public footpath. Contender for the best preserved ridge and furrow I’ve seen around Tamworth.

2. Ridge and Furrow around modern day Syerscote farm. According to Pastscape scape entry you can also make out house platforms, together with the fields is evidence for a dissappeared medieval settlement, consisted of 5 houses and was deserted between 1334 -1524(Staffordshire HER).

3. In the land surrounding Amington hall, this field report states that an aerial photograph turned up evidence for a medieval village, together with the telltale sign of a medieval fishpond. According to HER Staffordshire could be site of village known in Domesday book as ‘Ermendone’. Nowadays there’s a later Victorian fishpond just to the right. Can’t make out any ridge and furrow from the ground but the landscape is pretty special around here, with it’s stately ancient oaks, Old 16th/18th century Amington hall and the bends of the river Anker.

4. Statfold. Walking on further up from Syerscote, are the impressive ridge and furrow systems surrounding modern day Statfold farm. There is documentary evidence here for a medieval village and there were still houses and community around the house until living memory. (from a conversation with the owner of the house, more on that in next photo)

Just tried to save the rest of post and lost it, bahh. Understandably think I’ll leave it for later!

All Saints Church

 

 

5. Wigginton park

6.Coton

 

7. Comberford

8.Tamhorn

deserted medieval settlement(HER)

 

9.Fisherwick

Fill in links and sources later, goes off muttering under breath and banging the keyboard..

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