Letters: July 2021

Planes over Port Meadow

I read with interest the article on the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Port Meadow (CA 371). My family has a link with it, as my grandfather – George Henry Palmer – was based at Port Meadow when he was in the RFC from 1916 to 1918. I have a photo of him standing by his plane. 

Nigel J Palmer 
Banbury, Oxfordshire

Disappearing airfields

I was interested to read the article about disappearing RAF airfields (CA 374). It brought to mind an example of a ‘man who thought he knew more than he did’, whom I met some years ago. He hailed from Yatesbury. I told him my mother, a WRAAF radar operator, had been stationed there during the Second World War. She might well have been trained there, as she joined up in 1942. He was in his 40s and declared there was not, nor had there ever been, an RAF station in Yatesbury. And, according to Wikipedia, it had only closed down in 1965. I didn’t bother arguing with him. But he is an example of how little most people know of their local environment.

My brother and I were also regulars playing in the old pill boxes surrounding an airfield inland of Blackpool, now a zoo, but younger people are often not aware it ever existed either.

Helena McGinty
Málaga, Spain

Women at war

Honour where honour’s due! It’s only a minor point, but Gustav Milne in his feature on the London Blitz (CA 368) mentions the Women’s Voluntary Service canteens, yet not the work of the Salvation Army, who lost their HQ in the Blitz. Both my uncles were firemen, called from different areas of London to fight fires in the Docks, and both spoke of the gallantry of the Sally Army women.

One night, when the bombing was fierce and fires raged, the firemen were told to take cover as more bombs fell. The younger one dived under a fire engine and another dived in, landing on top of him and knocking the wind out of him. From different parts of London, in the burning Docks, my uncles had found one another! They looked out from under their shelter and there – picking their way through the fires, the damage, and the hoses – were the Sally Army women, coming towards them with trays of mugs of steaming tea. Gallantry indeed.

Jenny Watts
Brighton, East Sussex

Response to ‘Wondering about watercolour’

I admired the 1946 watercolour of what looks to me like Chanctonbury Ring in West Sussex that you showed in CA 374 (‘Letters’). The artist’s name is possibly Watts. The letter-writer refers to a chalk mound, though I am sure it portrays the South Downs covered in a light dusting of snow. It is a wintry scene, with no greenery on the beech trees on the Ring or the silver birches in the foreground, though the hedgerows are green. Artists can, of course, paint what they wish and do not always reflect the actual scene before them. The view could be across an edge of Wiston Pond, though the angle is wrong, but who knows what watery area, if there was one, lay near the artist’s easel? 

In the years I spent researching Chanctonbury Ring: The Story of a Sussex Landmark (2011), I looked at numerous paintings in art galleries, books, and online, but do not remember seeing this exact view. I am now revising the book for a second edition and will keep my eye open for anything similar. I would be very happy to have this lovely painting on my wall with the title Chanctonbury Ring in the Winter – it must have been a happy memory of Tricia Hallam’s parents’ honeymoon in Sussex in 1947, though I hope they were married in the summer of that year rather than the icy winter!

Janet Pennington
Steyning, West Sussex

Bringing up birth control

I appreciated Dudley Miles’ courteous comment on my letter (CA 366) regarding the formidable early 19th-century ‘player’ Richard Carlile and, of course, accept his correction as to the importance of Carlile’s role in the acceptance of birth-control education. I should have known better: I used to teach the subject! He was of course a keen early supporter.

This reminds me of a not unconnected story, which really amused me: a pupil’s comment on Thomas Malthus’s book on the new fear of overpopulation. ‘Him having seven kids, he was a fine one to talk!’ – succinct and to the point, l thought, even if not in accepted Examination English!

Mary Duly

Shutting Sheffield is a shame

The decision of the University of Sheffield to close its world-leading department of Archaeology can only be described as short-sighted. The UK has long been regarded as a pioneer of archaeological practice and technology, with universities often being at the forefront of new research.

At a time when funding for archaeological research and for the heritage sector in general is tight, willingly abdicating a world-class reputation, facilities, and academic knowledge risks the future of countless research projects at sites of tremendous historical importance – the (at times, literally) groundbreaking study being undertaken by Sheffield Archaeological Department at Stonehenge being but one.

Archaeology is one of our most powerful tools for understanding who we are and where we come from. It is not about treasure-hunting or harking back to the past. From studying social change and standards of living to learning how societies coped with the challenges of pandemics and climate change, by understanding the journey from the past to the present, archaeology compels us to consider our own decisions as we journey from the present to the future.

Photo: Pomdu, Wikimedia Commons.

It is a science that inspires and it is one of human connection. Through archaeology we can reach out and literally touch the world of our ancestors. In doing so, it puts our lives in context. We do not live in temporal isolation any more than we live in geographic isolation. Severing the links to the past cuts ties to cultures and ideas different from but deeply rooted in our own.

The University of Sheffield’s decision to close a highly esteemed department is not only a grotesque act of academic self-harm that has already caused international outrage. It underlines a hubris that we have nothing to learn from our past.

Chris Whitwood
Fellow of the RSA

Edible archaeology

This year is the 40th anniversary of the opening of Andover Museum (part of Hampshire Cultural Trust). My father and I are both volunteers at the museum, so – despite the fact we couldn’t have a big party – I baked a cake to mark the occasion. We are really looking forward to welcoming visitors back in the summer!

Sarah Lindsell
Andover, Hampshire

CA online

Archaeology UoYork @UoYArchaeology
John Schofield on the benefits of an archaeological education. From @CurrentArchaeo a few years ago, but true now more than ever.

Joe Flatman @joeflatman
I’m hoping that the fine readers of @CurrentArchaeo can help turn @foodjournalist (and family’s) wonderful work into a reality? VOTE NOW, please! Then I can have my own #lego version of the #SuttonHoo helmet taking pride of place in #archaeofashion fantastique towers.

Dr Simon Elliott @SimonElliott20
Just arrived – fab new book on Roman Britain’s northern frontier by the ace Matt Symonds of @CurrentArchaeo @WorldArchaeo @CurrentPub including pix by @pete_savin… highly recommended!

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