Grimsby – definitely not a Grim town

On telling people we were going to visit Grimsby, we were asked “Why do you want to go there? It’s rather grim, not much to do.” Well, I was going to follow up a World War 1 Africa link – more in due course about that – which was well worth the visit, and yes, Grimbsy was quiet, but definitely not grim.

Apart from my WW1 discovery, we were directed to dinner at Papas, named ‘the UK’s No 1 Fish and Chips’ in 2018. This accolade follows the 2015 one naming Papas the ‘World’s Largest Fish and Chip Shop’ and boy is it deceptively large. Good fish was to be had though. And did you know there is a National Fish and Chip Museum in York? According to the publicity newspaper you get with your menu at the restaurant, there is a note about Churchill exempting the restaurant from rationing during World War 2. What is not stated, and not surprisingly, is that fish from South Africa was imported – snoek, by all accounts an acquired taste as I’ve not yet found anyone of the post-war years who likes it as much as I do. In fact, most turn their noses up at it. Perhaps it’s got to do with the way it’s prepared. While our visit to a fish market in Ghana was made memorable by the aroma of fish drying outside, there wasn’t any such hint in Grimsby, perhaps because fish is no longer the main source of income it used to be? The fish braai/barbeque on Zanzibar was more appealing. And in Mongolia, we witnessed fish drying from the wing mirror of trucks.

But the highlight of our visit to Grimsby, apart from my WW1 excursion, was the Grismby Fishing Heritage Centre. Here in one go, you get an overview of a time past, how the town was centred around fishing and an insight into the dangerous work the men undertook. Not to be forgotten was the life of those, particularly wives, who stayed behind and how the whole community was involved in the industry. Talking to one of the volunteers at the museum, he’d spent time working on a fishing vessel off Namibia in the 1980s, the traditions of the water have changed very little. Having read many diaries of soldiers and others sailing between South Africa and Britain, and East Africa, during World War 1, their accounts of crossing the equator was no different to our volunteer. Although the museum focuses on life in the 1950s, apart from technological changes, I imagine it was not much different in earlier years, although seeing the town today, it is hard, without prompting by this museum, to imagine what life was like when fishing was the industrial force it was. The museum also owns the last diesel side trawler in the UK, the Ross Tiger which we were told requires additional funding to allow an overhaul and refurbishment to remain part of the living history experience. This is one of the best museums I’ve seen in a long time – carefully thought through to give as realistic an experience as possible, meeting the needs of young and old, and clearly created and managed with love. My South African equivalent is the Distict Six Museum in Cape Town.

Beards, moustaches and the army

Did you know that from October 1916 it was no longer compulsory for men to have a moustache in the British army?

We all know the famous picture of Kitchener and his moustache and as this marketing website identified, he wasn’t the only one at the time to sport such a look. I’d recently discovered this myself going through photos in the Desborough collection in Hertford. So I thought it worth a little investigation and see others have done the same.

This obscure little forum gives some interesting developments regarding the moustache and beards, while Major Pillinger provides a more coherent history and some more general info at TodayIfoundout. The art of manliness shares shaving traditions from around the world, and Wikipedia gives an insight into the different country military requirements today. All rather fascinating.

Why the army changed the rule in 1916, the Wellcome Library provides an answer.

So this got me thinking … did Kitchener shave off his moustache when he disguised himself as an Arab in the early 1880s? A painting from 1922 by Sheridan Jones suggests not, but I’m not sure if he’s got K tanned enough. Although this image from V&A by Richard Caton Woodville is in black and white, it seems more realistic. Back in 1883, the Egyptian Army officers sported moustaches – not surprising given they were under British Army regulations, but if you scroll all the way down, you’ll see some drawings of local forces sporting moustaches not much different to their British counterparts. Again, not too surprising considering the British and in particular Kitchener was responsible for training the force. In 1899, Soudanese soldiers look clean shaven with moustached officers.

And in World War 1 Africa? A scroll through online images of the King’s African Rifles suggests the majority were clean shaven. The Zanzibar forces who served in WW1 are also clean shaven – I’m not sure about the tank being WW1 but nevermind, this is the first website/page I’ve come across focusing purely on the island’s war contribution. Similarly, Wavell’s Arabs. Local cultural and religious traditions would no doubt have taken precedence over military regulations with beards being a sign of maturity – I’m not sure British army regulations distinguished between colonial forces in 1914 (must check some time). Paging through The Unknown Fallen supports my assumption of beards being culturally and religiously determined. Today there is a guide on religion and belief in the army – 12 religious groups being recognised.

Reading today’s regulations, with exceptions for religious and health reasons or even at the officer’s discretion, one wonders why they are not generally allowed if the person wants to grow one?

Pegasus wrecks

This post was inspired, not by the ship which was sunk in Zanzibar Harbour in 1914, but by an aeroplane in Antartica. The latter occurred in 1970, 56 years and nearly 1 month after the former. The former resulted in casualties and deaths, surprisingly the 80 crew on board the plane survived.

The former was HMS Pegasus, one of three cruisers responsible for the security of the African coast from Zanzibar to St Helena via Cape Town at the outbreak of World War 1. Having had to go into harbour for repairs during September 1914, the German Konigsberg took the opportunity to sneak out of its hide-away in the Rufigi Delta to sink the boat. It was the Konigsberg‘s last raid before eventually being put out of action following attacks by the monitors Severn and Mersey. For the full story on PegasusKevin Patience has the lowdown.

Both the guns of the Pegasus (6) and the Konigsberg (10) went on to do battle on land during the remainder of the war.

In addition to the wrecks of vessels called Pegasus, it appears there are various items which cause wrecks also called Pegasus:

A Singapore Lightweight Howitzer
William Powell Pegasus Shot Gun

And there was one Pegasus ship which didn’t end up a wreck having served through the French Revolutionary Wars – she was sold in 1816.

Africa from above

Soon after a visit to Malta, I flew to South Africa and what a contrast!

Looking out of the plane window, roughly two hours away from Johannesburg, the terrain was quite different to what I expected to see – it struck me that I must have been on the west side of Africa as I was flying with a different airline to the one I usually use. The patterns on the ground were striking and it looked empty, devoid of human life – or at least the signs of it. I thought I spotted a road – with perhaps a little settlement (3 shining spots – roofs?). It could only have been a road as it was so straight and long: a characteristic feature of African roads whether they be black, brown (red-brown) or yellow dependent on their location and content. This road was red-brown and was running perpendicular to the direction we were flying. I wondered where it started and where it would end, but knew I would remain ignorant as I refused to put the television screen on to look at the map. The changing landscape was far more fascinating and gave me food for thought especially as the intensely built-up sprawl of Johannesburg and the East Rand was not far away.

Malta is closer to Johannesburg – no, not in feel or in distance, but in how built up it was. It apparently has the highest population density in the world and it’s only an island 30km long!

Another road appeared outside the window – this one wound around a few obstacles but no obvious settlement could be seen.

Back to Malta … how do you fit so many people on so small a place? You build housing on top of housing and have very narrow streets. This reminded me of Zanzibar and the old “Arab Quarter” of Mombasa. This has often intrigued me as in South Africa and in some of East Africa houses or dwellings are generally more spread out and single storey. Cities are different with office blocks and apartments and in South Africa now there are housing villages where town-houses (1-up-1-down) are built attached and/or in close proximity to each other with walls encircling a number of them. But this is still nothing like Malta, Zanzibar or Mombasa.

Why is it that in such hot climates, people have chosen to build and live ‘on top of each other’? Is it to provide relief from the heat by creating shade patches? There do seem to be courtyards behind the doors to allow communal gathering and access to some sun for drying clothes and spices or vegetables etc. The girs in Mongolia spring to mind here too – a whole family and visiting friends all living in one closed tent in the middle of all that open space. I could cope with two of us living in a ger, but not more and especially not for a long winter! Each to his/her own…

I am clearly a girl of open spaces and although I enjoy exploring new environments and cultures, I was pleased that in Malta we had the space of the ocean to look over from our window.

With that, and as anticipated, the open land began to fill up and soon buildings became the dominant feature of the terrain below the plane. And, it struck me, in South Africa there are places where housing is built with very narrow streets and little space between buildings, some of which are more than one storey high: tucked between the mine-dumps (or where they used to be) were the squatter camps or as they now tend to be called, informal settlements … we’ll leave that for another day… it’s time to prepare for landing over the largest sprawled area of indoor shopping I’ve yet experienced and avoid…