It would be hard to imagine a book that resonates more with today’s uncertain times than Clive Hardy’s latest nostalgia offering – The Home Front – Britain 1939-45.
The unshakeable spirit of a kingdom facing unparalleled challenge shines through Hardy’s highly readable commentary coupled with inspirational images from Britain’s local and national newspaper archives, including the M.E.N.
The result is a hardback that encapsulates the hope rising from the ashes of blitzed cities, the engaging innocence and cheerfulness of child evacuees and the gritty determination of hard-pressed servicemen and women.
We see Dad’s Army volunteers ready to tackle crack Nazi paratroopers with broom-handles and Zulu spears from a long forgotten conflict, women working all hours to make munitions, and Land Girls keeping the wheels of agriculture turning.
There is no shortage of photographs from Manchester and the North West either in what is the ninth publication from Withington company iNostalgia Ltd.
The Christmas Blitz of December 1940 is covered in detail, along with the industrial output of Trafford that produced the hardware to fight the war.
Images include the manufacture of Rolls Royce Merlin engines for Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancaster bombers at the Ford shadow factory in Eccles and barrage balloons being assembled at Gaythorn Gasworks.
There are scenes of jubilation as crowds celebrate VE Day in the centre of Manchester and street parties break out in the suburbs.
And there’s Belle Vue too. Manchester’s pleasure park never closed throughout the war as thousands sought to forget their woes for a few hours or more after entering the main gates on Hyde Road.
In The Home Front, Hardy takes us from the first stirrings of conflict right through to victory in Japan in August 1945. There is a wonderful mix of family memories and stories as well as the usual informed analysis from a seasoned researcher and writer.
Hardy actually started working on The Home Front well before Coronavirus first visited our shores. “I always wanted to gather together the extraordinary images from our newspapers during the war years”, he said. “Particularly our local newspapers.
“I’m full of admiration for the work of the Home Front photographers who portrayed the struggle and kept the nation informed – often at risk to their own lives”.
One photographer whose work is strongly profiled in the book is Daily Mirror cameraman George Greenwell, who took what are now regarded as iconic shots of St Paul’s Cathedral at the height of the London Blitz in December 1940.
“His images are breathtaking”, said Clive. “There’s one panorama from the dome of St Paul’s showing the statues of apostles silhouetted against the raging fires below. It was used right across pages 6 and 7 of the Daily Mirror on New Year’s Eve 1940”.
But it’s perhaps the images of everyday life that are the most stirring in Hardy’s book. Images like workers balancing precariously on the end of a tram track in the hope of prising a damaged rail from a bombed-out road to salvage it for the war effort.
Or the heart-warming picture of US troops stationed in England spending their own time and money taking children on a cinema trip in December 1943.
There are some fascinating chapters on entertainment and sport, not always covered in wartime memoires. Football was played, albeit on a limited basis, for most of the conflict.
There are jubilant images of Preston North End winning the 1941 Football League War Cup by beating Arsenal 2-1 in a replay at Blackburn’s Ewood Park, and Charlton Athletic playing Reading at The Valley.
Boxing matches were staged on the deck of the Queen Mary moored in Liverpool in October 1941 and the annual Derby horse race transferred from Epsom to Newmarket.
Greyhound racing was hugely popular as it was accessible to everyone. Home-raised dogs could compete with the best on tracks throughout the country.
Hardy includes all the wartime entertainment icons – Wigan’s own George Formby, Flanagan and Allen, Tommy Handley and Vera Lynn to name but a few – as well as providing insight into the BBC Home Service and less familiar shows that toured local theatres.
He also takes an intriguing look at wartime censorship as well as morale-boosting photos that were really not what they seemed – possibly the ‘fake news’ of their day!
In an interesting piece of detective work, Hardy shows how a George Greenwell image of air raid warden Percy Dale helping a Blitz victim in 1940 was in fact a staged shot superimposed on a photo of London’s Paternoster Row in flames.
It was like the famous picture of a London milkman making his way through the rubble to deliver milk, again in 1940. The milkman was actually the photographer’s assistant.
Whatever their genesis, the images did their job.
So too will this book. It could just be the ideal gift for this most unusual of Christmases.
‘The Home Front – Britain 1939-45’ is now on the sale with a special pre-order price of £14.99 – including UK postage and packing. You can get it online from iNostalgia here, or call the order hotline on 01928 503777.
One of the UK’s most haunted places is a pub in Greater Manchester
The scariest pint you’ll ever have…
The Ring o’ Bells pub in Middleton is actually one of the most haunted places in the whole of the UK and it’s bustling with paranormal activity.
The land that lends itself to the pub was once the site of an ancient Druid temple in the Bronze Age, where dark rituals and human sacrifices often took place.
From the off, this little patch of land has been home to spirits. The pub itself goes back to the 12th century and has been a hot-bed of eerie happenings ever since.
Ring O’ Bells resident ghost is nicknamed Edward, also known as the ‘Sad Cavalier’. He’s often found moving glasses along the bar, stomping with heavy footsteps upstairs, moaning and groaning and even throwing the occasional rock at the landlord and regulars.
It is thought that Edward is the son of Lord Stannycliffe and he died during the Civil War in a brutal massacre.
At this time, Middleton was a strong Parliamentarian camp and a group of Royalists, including Edward, were using the pub as a secret base.
There have been tales of a tunnel that ran directly from the pub to the local parish church as a means of escaping the Roundheads if they were ever caught plotting against Cromwell.
Many people have speculated that the sitting room on the upper floor is where Edward did his secret plotting. It’s not uncommon to experience sudden, spine-tingling temperature drops in this room.
One dark wintry night, Edward and his Royalists were going along as they normally did, plotting their revenge – but the Roundheads were waiting for them. What followed was a brutal massacre where they were not only killed but dismembered and buried in the cellar of the Ring O’ Bells pub.
The only remains of this night were helmets, spears and other historical artifacts. There have yet to be any bodies found and the tunnel to this day remains undiscovered.
That’s not the only haunting murder that has happened at the Ring O’ Bells though, no no no.
A pair of serial killer landlords lived in the pub in the 17th century. The legend goes that over 60 murders were committed by the landlord and his wife.
Their targets were the wealthy guests, disposing of the bodies in a specially hinged bed of boiling liquid. They made a fair bob or two from the victims’ valuables too. Creeps.
It’s safe to say, ever since there have been ghostly figures wandering the walls of the Ring O’ Bells pubs.
Some of the scariest encounters include a cold invisible hand pulling at the pockets of punters, could it be that the serial killing couple are still after your valuables?
There’s also plenty of cold spots, sightings of figures and generally a feeling of ‘not being alone’ in this pub, even after the doors close.
If you think you can handle one of the scariest pints you might ever have, put the Ring O’ Bells pub top of your places to visit after lockdown. While you’re there, say hello to Edward from us.
Five things a scientist wants anti-vaxxers to know about the coronavirus vaccines
The most common myths debunked
A medicine cell biologist has cleared up some of the popular vaccination myths.
More than 30 million people in the UK have received their first vaccine dose so far, with more than 4 million also having had their second jab.
However, there are a number of people not convinced about the safety of the vaccination. In the UK, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate suggests 5.4 million people believe in the ‘anti-vaccination movement’.
The anti-vaccination movement is based upon three major claims – all of which remain unsupported by facts: ‘Covid is not dangerous’, ‘vaccines are dangerous’ and ‘experts cannot be trusted’.
HuffPost UK spoke to UCL medicine cell biologist Dr Jennifer Rohn to debunk vaccination myths that are currently circulating.
MYTH: ‘Vaccines alter your DNA’
Some rumours have circulated that the vaccine can modify your DNA, this is not only not physically possible but also not backed by a single piece of evidence, like many of the anti-vaccination myths.
Jim Corr, guitarist of Irish group The Corrs, wrote on Twitter: “The vaccine is a novel experimental RNA vaccine which will alter the very DNA of the recipient.”
The key problem with this statement is that it not only represents a complete misunderstanding of how vaccines work, but it is being Tweeted by a ’90s pop star who has no scientific or medical qualifications.
Firstly, DNA and RNA are different things. DNA is a long molecule containing unique genetic code – what we call genes – that are responsible for development, function, growth and reproduction of proteins in each cell of the body.
RNA is of a similar structure however it essentially tells the proteins how to behave. It does this in three ways, including acting as a messenger between DNA and proteins. Here it is called ‘messenger RNA’, known as ‘mRNA’.
Dr Rohn explains that those made by Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines that use a part of Covid-19’s RNA to tell our cells to produce antigens. The antigens are then recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.
RNA cannot physically change the coding of DNA, Dr Rohn confirms.
Instead, she thinks people are confusing vaccines with gene therapy, an experimental technique that can be used against cystic fibrosis and some cancers but – crucially – has nothing to do with vaccines, how they are developed or how they work.
MYTH: ‘You don’t need the vaccine if others have one’
Back to unqualified musicians on Twitter for such rumours, like Ian Brown, who tweeted: “So if you want a vax and you believe it works and you’ll be protected then you wont mind if i dont have one because you will already be protected. [sic]”
Firstly, the former Stone Roses singer has no scientific or medical qualifications.
Secondly, not everyone can be vaccinated, some have compromised immune systems and others are undergoing certain medical treatments and cannot safely take the vaccine. These people will be relying on the wider population to take the vaccine and therefore indirectly protect them.
Herd immunity, however, is typically only achieved when 70-90% of the population is vaccinated.
Dr Rohn says: “It’s quite a shocking thing to say: ‘I’m going to sit back and reap the benefits of vaccination without actually getting the vaccine myself.
“I think that’s completely selfish because not everyone can get vaccinated. There are people who are too vulnerable and they’re immunocompromised and they’re relying on everyone else to do the right thing.”
MYTH: ‘Vaccines contain tissue from aborted foetuses’
This rather horrifying myth is completely untrue. Dr Rohn explains: “You would never put human tissue into a vaccine because it might cause an immune reaction that you don’t want.”
Where the confusion lies, she believes, is with the fetal cells that were used in the early 1960s from legally and electively aborted fetuses for research purposes.
These cells have been reproduced over the years to provide a consistent genetic make-up for conducting vaccine research.
Dr Rohn says: “There are cell lines that we use in the lab all the time that are derived from stem cells.
“Some of them are 50 years old and they’re an essential part of the research arsenal. It’s not like we’re going out and aborting foetuses to do research on them.”
The mRNA vaccine is synthetic and made from a DNA template in a lab, such as the Moderna vaccine – a synthetic vaccine sequenced in a lab. The AstraZeneca vaccine, however, used the cell line from an aborted fetus to develop the vaccine.
Even the seriously anti-abortion Catholic Church said ‘one is morally free’ to use the vaccine if it has been developed using the cell line, despite its historical association with abortion. They add: “This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”
To be clear though – none of the Covid-19 vaccines contain cells from aborted fetuses.
MYTH: ‘Vaccines cause autism’
There is zero scientific evidence to back up this anti-vaccine and ableist conspiracy theory.
This myth is believed to be based upon a fraudulent paper from 1998 that has now been retracted due to clear evidence of falsification of data.
Simply put – vaccines absolutely, scientifically do not cause autism. Anti-vaxxers should also consider why they think so negatively of autism.
MYTH: ‘The vaccine isn’t safe because it’s been developed so quickly’
The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine smashed the previous record for vaccine development from four years to under one. ‘Understandably, there is concern’, Dr Rohn explains.
Adding: “Usually it takes 10 years and this time it’s taken 10 months, so of course people are going to wonder if any shortcuts have been taken.”
However, the speed at which the vaccine has been developed is simply due to the amount of money and effort put in – the UK alone spent £6 billion to develop and procure the vaccine.
Additionally, vaccine development did not start from scratch. Dr Rohn says: “There’s been an enormous amount of groundwork on these prototypes so we were quick off the mark from a research point of view.
“The actual trials are taking a long time and that’s where nothing is being compromised.
“No reputable regulatory body will approve this without a completed and successful series of clinical trials.”*
*This interview was done before any vaccine was rolled out in the UK.
On vaccine misinformation, a government spokesperson said: “Letting vaccine disinformation spread unchecked could cost British lives.”
Some people think the Trafford Centre has thousands of body bags hidden beneath it
Have you heard this one?
There were reports a few years back that the Trafford Centre is not only home to designer shops and water features but also thousands of body bags in the basement.
As a kid, the Trafford Centre was almost on par with Disneyland. Not only did it feel like the size of a small country, but it was also so decadent there was even a ship in it.
Looking back I think this is mostly just my childhood imagination running wild and creating a fantasy dreamland in the Trafford Centre. Going now is actually pretty stressful and that roundabout induces panic attacks.
Way back in 2002, when I was a bright-eyed and blissfully ignorant 6-year-old, a rumour circulated that the government had bought 5,000 body bags in case of a ‘terrorist chemical attack’, according to The Telegraph.
This article reported that the body bags would be stored at ‘16 locations’, meaning they could be ‘distributed within minutes of a terrorist attack’.
The orders of the equipment reportedly came after the Home Office received a warning about ‘dirty’ bombs or poison gas that would cause large numbers of casualties in British cities. The alert was retracted to avoid fears and widespread public panic.
According to Philip Ward, the managing director of the country’s leading manufacturer of emergency and rescue equipment at the time, Ferno UK, orders were for ‘huge’ quantities and were increasing by the day. The first big contract was in excess of £50 million worth of gear.
These reports were completely unrelated to the Trafford Centre at the time, but could offer us an explanation as to how this urban myth was created.
The report called for 16 unnamed locations which would house the 5,000 body bags.
Now, shopping centres are considered a prime target for terrorism. The 1996 IRA bomb occurred on a busy Saturday morning in Manchester’s main shopping area.
Across the world there have been numerous occurrences similar to the Manchester IRA bomb. There was the Omagh car bombing in 1998 which tragically killed 29 people and left 220 people with serious injuries.
A terror incident in Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi killed 67 and wounded 175 in 2013. While a non-terror related event killed 10 people and injured 36 in a shopping mall in Munich in July 2016.
So there is a significant threat to shopping centres for whatever reason that may be. Perhaps it’s a hatred of Western capitalism, something that is significantly highlighted by shopping centres, or just because they’re almost guaranteed to be full of people.
The Trafford Centre isn’t the only shopping centre that has been rumoured to house hundreds of body bags beneath shoppers feet.
In the early nineties, rumours spread that management at Meadowhall in Sheffield kept a stash of them in case of an ‘IRA outrage in the centre’. There have also been near-identical claims in Cribbs Causeway and Bluewater.
So is it true, does the Trafford Centre really store something between 400 – 5,000 body bags in the basement?
Well, like most other shopping centres, The Trafford Centre has widely denied these reports on Twitter and Facebook, stating that they simply have ‘no truth to them’ and are an ‘urban myth’.
There’s also the small problem of not a single photo or video surfacing of them. With the number of workers in The Trafford Centre who bob down into the basement, from cleaners to caretakers to retail assistants, surely someone would’ve seen something and snapped a picture?