Frank Whitehead Remembered

On the 20th November Frank Whitehead died in New Zealand at the age of 90. He was an early member and officer of our club. Here was where I first me him. Frank was of my fathers generation and I have to say appeared equally opinionated. It is only when one comes to realise the degree research and forethought that Frank employed to formulate his belief in the right action that one can value his opinions. Frank had a military bearing and behaviour in many ways, but could see were help and advice were needed and provided it unstintingly. He wrote an article on his life and career for the club (persuaded no doubt by his friend Michael Clinch). The following quotations from this article will give you a better picture of the man than I could paint for you.
"Without labouring you with to much detail I have established that my early ancestors and relatives have, during the past century and a half, occupied many senior professional positions in local and central government, the military, the shipbuilding industry, civil engineering and also served extensively overseas."

"In looking back through the history of my forebears I can find no trace of homosexuals, transvestites, drug addicts or law breakers. We seem to be a family of builders, architects, engineers and administrators devoted to serving the public cause. This characteristic is still fully present in my four daughters who are all either engaged in the civil service or other civil service or other public works, as librarians and nurses and midwives."

"When I started work in 1934, as an 'indentured electrical engineering apprentice' under a chartered electrical engineer, I commenced night school so as to advance my training and career. I worked six days a week and put in some 56 hours for the princely sum of five shillings, with three night classes. My spare time was very limited, but I began to realise the importance of working hard to become a charted engineer and to follow the example lead by my forbears"

"During my wartime service, which finished in 1946, I privately studied mathematics and physics. Throughout this period I served in technical training and maintenance command as an N.C.O. instructor and with second tactical air force, in what was known as the forward repair unit. This was a large self contained group some 2000 men strong, and we could virtually re-build an aircraft under field conditions. I was in charge of the electrical group of the aero-engine power plant section, with a staff of twelve men. We handled Mitchell bombers, mosquito fighter/bombers, mustang fighters, spitfire and hurricane fighters plus a few miscellaneous craft such as Dakota D.C.9.'s, one of which, a gift from general Eisenhower to field marshal Montgomery, I fitted out as a flying office for use during the invasion of Europe in 1944."

"After a short period of recuperation, during which time I supported myself on my wartime savings, I secured a post in the design office of the English Electric company, Stafford, where I produced schematic and working drawings for -the 'shop floor' in switch gear and control systems for the power stations, both in this country and abroad, all very interesting, although I did at one time consider the field of 'control engineering and electrical network protection'. However by 1951 I had decided that I would like to work to a higher standard with large resources, so I applied to the civil service commissioners for an 'open post' into the civil service as a professional engineer. I do not know whether I was brilliant at interview or just fortunate, but I secured one of only two posts on offer for 1951 and was issued with a certificate of qualification as a permanent civil servant in the professional classes, and allocated to the air ministry works directorate (which is of course the construction arm for the whole of the royal air force for fixed installations at home and abroad), and it was in this field that I was to spend the remainder of my career on design, operation and maintenance, both at home and abroad. It has been both challenging and rewarding"

"Before leaving Singapore, in 1964, I decided I would like to sail home, rather than fly in a piston engined aircraft with my wife and four children, so I duly booked up on a 30,000 ton Dutch ocean liner called the 'Wilhelm Royce. We thus had 42 days at sea with ten ports of call in circumnavigating the globe. My department was not too pleased at my long absence of leave even though I had paid the fares cost difference. Only one other colleague ever managed it before. My department said all will fly home in future."

"From York I was promoted to the grade of senior engineer and posted to the Manchester H.Q. of M.P.B.W. as Head of Mechanical and Electrical Design. This H.Q. covered the Northern Region, including The Isle Of Man Northern Ireland. We covered Crown Court construction in Preston, Manchester and Carlisle, Regional Seats of Government, Giro Bootle and National Savings H.Q. At Blackpool, as well as government training centres under the then Minister Barbara Castle. That one was a hot potato as she made some rather rash promises. I was the last of the ten regions to commence work - but I had laid the ground well and opened first. Careful planning is the name of the game. 'Don't fire until you can see the white of their eyes' as it were."

"Some thirty years ago, in Manchester, my then Chief Engineer, over a drink asked me 'what is your ambition in life Frank', to which I replied, 'To try and leave the world a better place than I had found it, certainly no worse'. My views remain the same to this day."

Before Frank left for New Zealand we all saw him and wished him well and to me that leave taking was a better conclusion than any celebration of a life following a death. For me Frank is still in New Zealand. I believe he thought of this before deciding to go to New Zealand to live near his daughter away from his friends over here.
Marcus Palmén
This notice appeared on January 20th 2011 in the Times:

Frank Whitehead

Roman Navy In Britain

A Talk by Gary Gowans

Gary Gowans studied history and archaeology at Exeter University, hence his interest in Ancient History (especially the Romans in Britain).
His whole working career was spent in the Post Office, coming to Bristol in 1990 as District Head Postmaster for Bristol and Taunton. He retired as Director responsible for delivery services in South West, and South and West Wales.


Most people have heard of the Roman Army, few perhaps that the Romans had a navy in Britain. The original purpose of this fleet was to provide support for the invasion of Britain. Gesoriacum - (modern Boulogne-sur-Mer), was the port of embarkation of the invasion force. After the successful crossing of the Occeanus Britannicus, the English Channel, landings took place at Richborough, Lympne and Dover, and the establishment of a supply base at Noviomagus (modern Bosham) Sussex, The fleet was in action supporting the crossing of the Thames, and providing an escort for Emperor Claudius in 46 AD when he visited Britain, transporting his Praetorian Guard, elephants for his triumphal entry into Camulodunum, modern Colchester. The home port was transferred to Rutupiae (modern Richborough) and Dubris (modern Dover) in 84 - 86 BC.

The Classis Britannia (CSBR) first appears by name in 70 AD. The CSBR stamped tiles are found from the Classsis HQ of Bolougne and thence across southern Britain, and as the invasion progressed they are found on Hadrian's Wall along with dedication stones, the Classis being skilled in building granaries and other storage facilities given their primary logistical role in delivering grain imports to sustain combat troops.

The Severan campaigns in Scotland were supported by Classis Brittanicus which at this time was a combined command made up of vessels also from the fleets of Moesia and Germania , giving it a massive transport capability. After AD 215 the Classis had to develop a counter pirate/terrorist patrol capability in addition to its supply and strategic roles, now that conquest was no longer an aim.

The bulk of a ship's crew was formed by the rowers. Despite popular perception, the Roman fleet relied throughout its existence on rowers of free status, and galley slaves were usually not put at the oars, except in times of pressing manpower demands or extreme emergency. Non-citizen freeborn provincials and ex-slaves were the mainstay of the Roman rowing force.

Each ship was commanded by a trierarchus, while squadrons were put under a nauarchus, who often appears to have risen from the ranks of the trierarchi. These were professional officers, usually provincials who had a status equal to an auxiliary centurion (and were thus increasingly called centuriones [classiarii] after ca. AD 70). Only in the 3rd century were these officers equated to the legionary centurions in status and pay, and could henceforth be transferred to a legionary position.

A ship's crew, regardless of its size, was organized as a centuria. All personnel serving in the imperial fleet were classed as milites ("soldiers"), regardless of their function; only when differentiation was required, the terms classiarius or classicus were added. Along with several other instances of prevalence of army terminology, this testifies to the lower status of the naval personnel, who were inferior to the auxiliaries and the legionaries. Emperor Claudius first gave legal privileges to the navy's crewmen, enabling them to receive Roman citizenship after their period of service. This period was initially set at a minimum of 26 years (one year more than the legions), and was later expanded to 28. Upon honorable discharge, the sailors received a sizable cash payment as well.

The Fleet was used throughout 1st century AD in close co-operation with Army in its conquest of Britain (early example of combined operations). Its Peace-time role involved movement of supplies, personnel, VIP visitors etc. In Britain the fleet and its forts were used against the increasing advent of pirates"

The ships themselvelves were un-decked, powered mainly by rowers and laid up on land when not in use. Used in daytime - night time spent camped on shore.

The organisation of the fleet to support the legions and the various functions required a a highly capable admistrative support staff. As the Romans used provicials in their navy employed on ship and on shore, when they abandoned Britain they laft behind a legacy of knowledge which for generations following enabled the running of the fleets of ships when needed. That naval organisational heritage was clear in Samuel Pepy's day but it also formed the working basis for the British Civil Service.

A much appreciated interesting talk must be the verdict.

The Miners lamp

Talk by Ed Curtis

In his opening remarks Ed recalled that in former times various sorts of naked flame were used for illumination in mines including, Bundles of rushes dipped in animal fat Oil lamps in the style of Aladdins Lamp Hand wound devices generating a stream of sparks from a flint There was always the danger of igniting explosive gases.

Miners Davey Lamp He demonstrated very clearly that a flame supplied from a fuel source will not pass through a gauze. (Conversely a flame established on the remote side of a gauze from a gas source will not travel backwards through the gauze towards the source). There is a proviso that the gauze itself does not get hot enough to ignite a gas. Various designs of safety lamp were invented using this principle, however Sir Humphry Davy is generally credited with inventing the first effective and practical oil safety lamp for use in coal mines in 1815.

Over the years many safety features were incorporated making a quite complex but still compact device. Ed Curtis became a miner in 1943 and was issued with his personal lamp, one of about 1500 hundred at his pit. After Nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947, electric lamps were introduced over a weekend, and the old safety lamps were laid to rest in a large hole and covered with earth and rubble. Except one! Ed liberated his lamp as a souvenir. He had this lamp with him and demonstrated its features as he gradually dismantled the lamp.

At the top there was an overhanging cowl to protect the lamp from water dripping in the mine. In the middle was the lamp itself with holes at the base to allow air entry and holes at the top just below the cowl to allow exhaust gases to escape. The oil reservoir was a brass canister at the bottom that contained about half a pint of oil, sufficient for about 15 hours or longer if the flame size was reduced. The canister was locked on to the bottom of the lamp and the miner could not open it himself. In earlier times a simple padlock lock was used which the miner was often tempted to break, in an attempt to relight a lamp which had gone out a very dangerous practice! A major feature of the oil canister was an ignition system. At the pithead the lamp was placed on a device containing a treddle driven ignition coil which passed a spark through a contact on the base of the lamp to light the wick. There was also an automatic wick raising device to facilitate this process. At the pithead there was a team of three men who became very proficient at dismantling, cleaning and refurbishing , and reassembling the lamps, taking just a few seconds to do each one. Ed wished he had some film of this procedure to show their skill.

Disassembled Lamp The lamp itself was also quite complicated. A thick outer glass sleeve and often a cage of steel bars protected the lamp from breakage which might expose the flame. A thin inner glass sleeve surmounted by a metal cone directed a steady stream of air to the flame and assisted in keeping the lamp cool. Between the two glass sleeves were not one, but two gauze sleeves.

If dropped the momentum might cause the wick to fall into the oil canister and the lamp would go out. To save a journey back to the surface, automatic re-igniters were installed in mines well away from the coal faces. The extinguished lamp was placed inside a heavy container which was then closed. The sealing system minimised any leakage of gas into the container. Ed recalled that the best design of these devices came from the German Bosch company and spare parts were not available in the war.

Ed was at pains to point out the very low level of light available from these lamps: about one seventieth of a foot candle or about the same as a match. The lamp was usually hung from a pit prop, to the side of the workplace, sometimes several yards away. Constantly working in poor sidelight distorted the miners vision, so that he developed a side ways squint to view any object. Ed concluded his lecture by asserting that the greatest empire the world had ever seen depended on coal, and the safe extraction of large quantities of coal depended on the humble safety lamp.

There was some discussion about the presence and shape of a blue crescent above the flame being an indicator of gas and its concentration. Ed said that a propotion of miners carried oil lamps to use in this way after the introduction of electric lamps. One member recalled using safety lamps in this way when entering large pressure vessels. Another member had brought along two lamps for Ed to inspect. He considered that one had a genuine top but a fake bottom, and that the other was a genuine lamp which had been used for some special purpose, possibly in a drift mine. Ed said that the presence of the features he had described, in particular a wick raiser, were good indicators of genuine lamps.
John Coneybeare 13 May 2010

The Life of Michael Faraday

A Talk by Dr. Peter Ford

Dr Peter Ford was a member of the Physics Department of the University of Bath until his retirement in 2007. For many years he carried out research into the behaviour of materials at very low temperatures including their superconducting properties. In 2004, together with George Saunders, he published a book "The Rise of the Superconductors", which attempts to explain the subject to senior sixth form students and beyond.

More recently he has become prominent in the "Public Awareness of Science" and has given his "Liquid Nitrogen Show" at many schools and other venues. In 2004 he was made a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and is currently chair of the History of Physics Group of the Institute of Physics. In the Queen\'s New Year Honours List for 2008 he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for "services to higher education and to science".

Michael Faraday worked for most of his life at the Royal Institution in London. He carried out an enormous amount of research work the best known of which is his discovery and enunciation of the laws of electromagnetic induction. This forms the basis of the modern electrical generation and distribution industry. However, his other work is remarkably diverse including seminal investigations into the fundamentals of the conductivity of electricity in solids, liquids and gases, the fundamentals of electrostatics and dielectrics, the distinction between, paramagnetic and diamagnetic materials, the liquefaction of gases and much else besides.

  Dr Ford\'s lecture described the life and work of Faraday in particular that of electromagnetic induction. Faraday\'s non mathematical empirical approach to problems and experimentation appears virtually intuitive - lacking logic, but highly successful - Clerk-Maxwell on the otherhand is so mathematical that anything outside maths is not a problem - it doesn't exist. Dr Ford induced me to go again into the biography and papers that exist relating to Faraday and his experimentations. I learned that rubber balloons such as used by Dr.Ford were invented by Michael Faraday in 1824 to enable him to carry out experiments with hydrogen gas. Think of all the birthday parties that would be at a loss without this invention. This was a very enjoyable talk with plenty of audience participation and one that brought to mind the type of presntations one looked forward to in the Faraday Lectures by the IEE. Michael Clinch supplied the pics of the occasion.
Marcus Palmén

Visit to RNLI College

Poole Dorset
Arranged by John Green and Len Skinner
- September 8th

Following Steve Austins Talk in 2008 on "How to build a Life Boat" and his suggestion that we visit the RNLI in Poole Dorset to witness the training they give to their crews first hand. John Green together with Len Skinner arranged this visit.
It proved to be a highly successful occasion with a full coachload of members.
After the relatively lengthy journey we had lunch in the College and were then split into two groups each with a guide and taken around the college. I have made a slideshow/video of the pics and clips taken during our vist and that is presented here.
nc"Video

Life on board S.S. Great Britain.

A Talk by Cyril Routley
8th December 2010

Cyril Routley is a very polished speaker who knows his subject well. If the quality of his other talks is up to the same level as that to which an audience of 41 listened on 8th December 2010 with rapt attention then we can look forward to other some more very interesting meetings.

The Great Britain after Launch Cyril commenced with a history of the trials and tribulations of the financing, design, build and much delayed float-out of the SS "Great Britain" as well as her multiple "deaths" and resurrections. Her keel was laid on 19th July 1839 in the same specially built dry dock where she is now preserved. Everything about her was pioneering, bigger, better - screw propulsion, largest and most powerful marine steam engines of the era, more luxurious, many innovations. She was set afloat in her dry dock and floated out through those gates on the 19th July 1843 - a long build, four years to the day from commencement. But that was only the first stage - the floating harbour lock and gates through which she had to pass to enter the Avon River and join the sea were too narrow for her to pass at any normal tide due to her very flared hull and she had to wait over a year until 11th December 1844 until there was a high enough tide for her 54ft. maximum beam to be high enough above the 44ft wide dock to pass through - on the second attempt. Her service was much troubled - on her fifth voyage she grounded in Dundrew Bay on 22nd September 1846 and was sold off as a wreck at Liverpool for £10,000. After repairs, in 1852 she made one voyage to New York and then served on the Australia run until 1875. She served as a troop ship during the Crimean War and carried troops out to India after the Indian Mutiny. Then she was sold to Anthony Gibbs and converted to sail in the 1880s for use as a coal ship, only managing three more voyages before being abandoned in Sparrow Cove in the Falklands during her 47th voyage. She lay there in use as a storage hulk for many years until finally abandonment and scuttled inshore. Her salvation came in 1970 with her triumphant return on a caisson to her port of birth, being floated into her very own dry dock on 19th July 1970 - 131 years to the day from her keel laying. She now sits there proudly, appearing to be afloat, in a magnificent state of restoration to her days of glory as the most magnificent passenger vessel in the world.

After this overview, Cyril spoke about life on board her as a passenger vessel. There were four classes of passenger - 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Steerage totalling 650 with around154 crew. There was sometimes drama - one captain disappeared during his 19th voyage. While the seventy 1st Class passengers had every luxury imaginable, for the others facilities, space, quality of food fell away considerably at each change of status. Each class was rigorously separated from the others. The steerage passengers were very tightly packed, right aft on the lowest inhabited decks under what must have been really appalling conditions - nearly as bad as Heathrow during snow - with the general hygiene and smell almost unimaginable to us. The majority of these were Irish emigrant families, fleeing poverty and starvation in the hope of a better life. Religious practice was strongly encouraged on board and, for the Irish Catholics, they were allocated an area on deck for services conducted by Nuns who were greatly revered and loved.

The ship carried a doctor and he made his rounds every day - fever of one sort or another was a constant risk - and ensured that bedding was aired every day. There were a number of deaths on board, including from smallpox, and many births. Perhaps the saddest was that of a lady who died of bronchitis on her honeymoon who was buried at Melbourne. All vices that could be found on land could be found aboard, especially drunkenness and gambling with fights quite common. There was cell on deck for these miscreants.
Michael Rowe
**************************