Virginia plane

U S S West VirginiaI bought these two old snapshots from the same online trader although, oddly, they were offered for sale several months apart. They could have been taken on the same day by the same person but were not printed on the same photographic paper. They feature a seaplane, which I didn’t recognise, and the name ‘U.S.S. West Virginia’, which of course I did.

VirginiaPlane2sIn the period between World Wars, American battleships, and those of other navies, carried observation aircraft – ‘spotter planes’ – fitted with floats. Launched by catapult from the deck, they landed beside the ship when their mission was over and were retrieved by crane. This was skilled, dangerous work and easier said than done.

The original images were obviously personal snaps taken by one or more of the West Virginia’s crew, not the work of a Navy photographer, but after a quick rinse through software they scrubbed up looking like this

VirginiaPlane4

VirginiaPlane3

I’ll admit that U.S. Navy aircraft of the 1920s are not my strong point. In my defence, I can’t possibly know everything and that’s why we have search engines. I discovered two things
(1) there are more to sort through than you might imagine
(2) as all you aviation experts already know, this is a Vought OU-1 – standard equipment in the U.S. Navy for ten years from 1923 and an aircraft with a couple of notable firsts to its credit.

In 1924 it was the first plane to be catapulted off a battleship at night and, five years later, the first plane to dock with a dirigible (airship) in flight! “Why?”, I hear you ask. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum have several better quality images on their Flickr site and you can find a good photograph of USS Pennsylvania with two planes mounted aft on this well researched page about the short history of catapult aviation.

Two mysteries remain – the location of the photographs (if you can help with that, please leave a comment) and how did these personal souvenirs from an American battleship end up in New Zealand?

The West Virginia found fame later in life when she was sunk at Pearl Harbour, salvaged, rebuilt, and put back into the fight. She was in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_1941_Virginia

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Two men can be seen on the superstructure, upper center. The mast of the USS Tennessee is beyond the burning West Virginia.
USN/AP via rarehistoricalphotos

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Wellington architecture #1

Govt offices

The Government Buildings, built on newly-reclaimed land in 1876 and photographed by James Bragge soon afterwards. Wellington would continue to spread into the harbour for most of the next century.

To many, the gem of Lambton Quay, undoubtedly one of the finest structures the Dominion has to offer, is the Government Buildings, erected in 1876 to meet the needs of the rapidly growing civil service, a beautifully proportioned block somewhat resembling a wooden replica of Somerset House, and standing in grounds which, though limited, serve to enhance not only the building they surround but the whole northern end of the Quay. The building is constructed entirely of wood, and forms the largest permanent wooden structure in the world.

Govt offices 2

c. 1902. The original “ugly” corrugated iron fence was replaced by railings, and the gardens improved, in the 1890s.

And what wood! A list of the materials used – a million feet of them – sounds like a building contractor’s dream. For the main block, the framework of Tasmanian hardwood, the weatherboards and interior of kauri, For the wings, added later [1897 and 1907], the framework of rimu, the piles of totara, the weatherboards and flooring of matai, the interior finishings of kauri – an epitome of all the most precious of New Zealand forest products. The thought comes uppermost: “What forests passed beneath the axe to rear its walls!”
‘The Streets of my City’, F.L. Irvine-Smith, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1948.

Govt offices 3

The civil service had outgrown its old offices by 1990 and left them empty. In recognition of its status as a heritage building, government sponsored restoration and conservation began four years later. Most of the interior is now leased to the Victoria University School of Law but parts of it are open to the public and well worth a visit.

The city has grown around (and above) it as cities do, and it’s a little sad to see the old building, that used to dominate its surroundings, being overshadowed by modern office blocks.

Govt offices 4

This is the first of three loosely connected posts about the New Zealand capital’s early architecture. Next – Government House, 1871.

Pahiatua: small town New Zealand.

In my last post about the now closed Manawatu Gorge in New Zealand’s North Island, I mentioned the Pahiatua Track as an alternative route across the mountains. It got that name from the town of Pahiatua at its eastern end.

Pahiatua

Pahiatua photographed by “McCasky”, and looking like a scene from the American West, sometime between 1900 and 1905.

As I mentioned, the “track” is now a road but, at the time this photograph was taken – when it really was a “bridle track” – it was known as the “Ridge Road“, and work was underway to widen it to a more useful 14 feet!

The town was founded in the 1880s and, according to the Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1897), “Its growth has been so much more rapid [than expected] that it has attained quite imposing proportions while surrounded with most unmistakable signs of newness. Even within the borough boundary there are many acres still covered with stumps and burnt logs, and only the principal streets are formed, yet the public buildings, hotels, and shops would be a credit to many a town four times as old”.

The Commercial Hotel is at the centre of the photograph with a coach out front. This might have belonged to McPhail and Fly whose livery stable can be seen to the left. They had a monopoly on the livery and rental business in 1897 – “the vehicles for hire include sulkies, gigs, dogcarts, single and double-seated buggies, expresses, drags, four-in-hands, coaches, etc. ….. Tourists placing themselves in the hands of Messrs. McPhail and Fly may rely on seeing all the points of interest”.

The building to the right, on the corner, is the well patronized “public hall or concert room” where “the various musical and other societies cater well for the public. The Burns Society concert, held annually in the early spring, is always most successful, and it is generally the precursor of what is known as a “long night.”

Pahiatua’s Main Street is not one-sided, as you might think at first glance, but divided. The other half is on the left. The Cyclopedia explains why. “When Main Street was laid off, it was expected that the railway would be laid down the centre, and that all trains would thus run through the town; but, unfortunately for both Pahiatua and the railway, this very sensible proposal is not being carried out. Passengers and goods for Pahiatua will be dropped at Scarborough, or thereabouts, and all the inconveniences and expense of cabs, ‘buses, expresses, drays, etc., will be ruthlessly cast upon the people, unless, indeed, they indulge in the luxury of a tram service from Scarborough to Pahiatua”.

And so it came to pass. The surveyors, who knew a good deal more about the terrain than the Cyclopedia writer, laid their track just over a mile to the west of town soon afterwards, leaving the residents of Pahiatua with a “railway reserve” in the middle of the street that had to be filled in some other way. The image shows early attempts at tree planting, and that worked out just fine in the end.

Pahiatua 3

Pahiatua is known for its park-like central islands and an impression of space that makes it seem much bigger than it is.

Park areas on the railway reserve, Main Street, Pahiatua, New Zealand.

Kelburn: midway between earth and sky

Wellington (New Zealand) journalist, Pat Lawlor (1893-1979), digs into his boyhood diary

February 1, 1906….. Went to the Kiosk and had fun in the cable car……

Vintage postcard of Kelburn Tea Kiosk and cable car c.1907

Kelburn (with an extra ‘e’) Kiosk around 1907 with cable car at right.

The place Wellingtonians know now as the Skyline was for many years identified as the Kiosk. It was a barn-like building where one could have tea and cakes for sixpence, with a fine view of the city and harbour thrown in for good measure. The young men of the city usually took their young ladies there by cable car and then wandered on down through the Botanical Gardens on the way home, or through the then-embowered Kelburn to the other end of the city. I do not know when the tea rooms ceased to be called the Kiosk.

I do know, however, that after World War II the name became unpopular. Anti-communists suggested ‘kiosk’ was of Russian origin, but this is not correct. The word is Turkish or Persian signifying…… banqueting amid trellised splendour with fair views. This, despite all the glamour that youthful memory may inspire, could hardly describe the Kiosk I wrote of in my diary of 1906.
‘More Wellington Days’. Pat Lawlor, Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., 1962.

F. L. Irvine-Smith, in her book ‘The Streets of my City’ (1948), digs a little deeper

Kelburn, named after Viscount Kelburn, the eldest son of the Earl of Glasgow, Governor of New Zealand (1892-1897), quickly became a favourite suburb, not only because of its proximity to the city, but because of the sheer beauty of its position poised high above the city and the shining waters below.

Kelburn ascent

The nucleus of settlement was the Upland Farm, acquired by the Upland Estate Co., in 1896, originally the property of Wm. Moxham, but every possible foothold was soon covered by the heavily basemented type of house which may be said to have become the characteristic of Wellington hill-side architecture…….

It was a sheer triumph of engineering that transformed the lower levels of Moxham Farm into habitable ground….. which emerged out of the levelling of the knolls that filled the valley, their soil being spread by means of an aerial wire tramway.

Kelburn is thus an essentially man-made suburb, from its cable tramway which transports passengers in ten minutes from the heart of the city, to its flights of soaring steps and bastions and retaining walls that transform the most inaccessible eyries into “desirable building lots,” but once safely ensconced within these buttressed edifices, midway between earth and sky, the panorama that meets the eye is truly heaven-made – an unsurpassable vista of city, sea and sky in the perfection of harmonious balance…….

Kelburn descent

Nearby is Kelburn Park, a verdant expanse of “the greenest grass that ever grew,” with scarce a trace of having been made to order by cutting off a hill-top and tipping it holus-bolus into the adjacent gully.
‘The Streets of My City’. F. L. Irvine-Smith, 1948. Reprinted 1974 by A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd, Wellington.

Overlooking the Oriental Bay area of Wellington from the suburb of Kelburn.

Kelburn Park, foreground, “made to order”.

The Skyline building was lost to two suspicious fires, three weeks apart, in 1982.

Landseer’s Lions

Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Duchess of Abercorn and daughter by Landseer. Tate Gallery.

Sir Edwin Landseer, the painter…..was one of my father and mother’s oldest friends, and had been an equally close friend of my grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. He had painted three portraits of my father [the Duke of Abercorn], and five of my mother. Two of the latter had been engraved, and, under the titles of “Cottage Industry” and “The Mask,” had a very large sale in mid-Victorian days. His large picture of my two eldest sisters, which hung over our dining-room chimney-piece, had also been engraved, and was a great favourite, under the title of “The Abercorn Children.” Landseer was a most delightful person, and the best company that can be imagined. My father and mother were quite devoted to him, and both of them always addressed him as “Lanny.”

My mother going to call on him at his St. John’s Wood house, found “Lanny” in the garden, working from a ladder on a gigantic mass of clay. Turning the corner, she was somewhat alarmed at finding a full-grown lion stretched out on the lawn.

Trafalgar Square lion

Landseer had been commissioned by the Government to model the four lions for the base of Nelson’s pillar in Trafalgar Square. He had made some studies in the Zoological Gardens, but as he always preferred working from the live model, he arranged that an elderly and peculiarly docile lion should be brought to his house from the zoo in a furniture van attended by two keepers. Should anyone wish to know what that particular lion looked like, they have only to glance at the base of the Nelson pillar.

Vintage postcard of Trafalgar Square, London, by the Photochrom Company.

On paying an afternoon call, it is so unusual to find a live lion included amongst the guests, that my mother’s perturbation at finding herself in such close proximity to a huge loose carnivore is, perhaps, pardonable.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton, Hodder and Stoughton. 1920.

The photograph of the captive lion was taken by Gambier Bolton, probably in the early 1890s, and published on a postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons about 1905. This pioneering animal photographer was sometimes described as the Landseer of photography and his original prints fetch high prices from collectors today.

Spitfire memories

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

For a pilot, every plane has its own personality, which always reflects that of its designers and colours the mentality of those who take it into action.
The Spitfire, for instance, is typically British. Temperate, a perfect compromise of all the qualities required of a fighter, ideally suited to its task of defence. An essentially reasonable piece of machinery, conceived by cool, precise brains and built by conscientious hands. The Spitfire left such an imprint on those who flew it that when they changed to other types they found it very hard to get acclimatized.
Pierre Clostermann. ‘Flames in the Sky’. Chatto & Windus, 1952.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

The day I flew a Spitfire for the first time was one to remember. To begin with the instructor walked me round the lean fighter plane, drab in its war coat of grey and green camouflage paint, and explained the flight-control system. Afterwards I climbed into the cockpit while he stood on the wing root and explained the functions of the various controls. I was oppressed by the narrow cockpit, for I am reasonably wide across the shoulders and when I sat on the parachute each forearm rubbed uncomfortably on the metal sides.
“Bit tight across the shoulders for me?” I enquired.
“You’ll soon get used to it,” he replied. “Surprising how small you can get when one of those yellow-nosed brutes* is on your tail. You’ll keep your head down then! And get a stiff neck from looking behind. Otherwise you won’t last long!” – and with this boost to my morale we pressed on with the lesson…..

Four days later I made a mess of the approach, but this time with disastrous results. I had been instructed to land at Sealand and deliver a small parcel of maps which were stuffed into my flying-boot. The circuit at Sealand was crowded with [Miles] Masters and I weaved amongst them for a favourable into-wind position. There was a stiff wind across the short, grass airfield and I aimed to be down close to the boundary fence so that I had the maximum distance for the landing run. I came over the fence too high and too slow and the fully stalled Spitfire dropped like a bomb. We hit the ground with a mighty crash and I had a little too much slack in the harness straps, for I was thrown violently forward and pulled up with a nasty wrench across the shoulders. For a few yards we tore a deep groove in the ground, then she slithered to a standstill in a ground loop which tore off one undercarriage leg and forced the other through the top of the port mainplane. I switched off the petrol cocks and the ignition switches and stepped out.
Johnnie Johnson, ‘Wing Leader’, Chatto & Windus Ltd., 1956.
*Messerschmitt Bf 109s

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

I can remember doing aerobatics in the Spitfire right from the start, perfect vertical rolls, straight as a die. It was a terrific thing. The Spitfire and Hurricane were austere inside. There weren’t many bits and pieces……

Someone showed us all the things you should do and shouldn’t do, and off we went. I can remember going off the ground, got the wheels up, came round parallel to the strip. I can remember doing a roll one way and a roll the other and it was just straight in. We’d never seen anything like them…..

[When a fuel supply problem called for an emergency landing] I was turning to go up the strip to land, and I could see I wasn’t going to make it. They’ve got the flying angle of a brick when you cut the motor back. I couldn’t land on the road. There were trucks and motorbikes, troops, all sorts of people were coming down the road. So I had to go to the side. There was a big row of trees and these bunkers for the rice. In the finish I just pushed it into the ground. I was doing about 140 mph, a wheels up landing and it went bump, bump, bump, then it stopped. Ruined the aeroplane, a bloody shame.
Vic Bargh quoted in ‘Ketchil’ by Neil Frances. Wairarapa Archive 2005.

The Spitfire Mk.IX was photographed at Wings Over Wairarapa airshow, New Zealand.

Artistic Licence

These two vintage postcards, published when London’s Admiralty Arch was still “new”, illustrate the liberties an artist could take with a scene compared to a photographer (in the days before Photoshop).

Admiralty Arch2

Tuck’s Oilette number 7975. One of a set of 12. First recorded use 1919.

In this view by H. B. Wimbush, Nelson’s Column has grown to a dizzying height and dwarfs the Arch. The domed tower on the right has not only been stretched but moved several hundred meters to the left. As you can see from the image below, it can’t actually be seen from this position at all. We can only speculate on why the artist put it there. It may have been simply to balance the composition. Digital photographers didn’t invent the art of bending reality – they were just catching up.

A vintage postcard of the new Admiralty Arch, London.

National Series. Published by M & L Ltd.

The truth is less exciting, although this image is so empty it must have been taken on a weekend in the off-season! Not much doubt about which card would have sold best. The message on the back of this one is more interesting than the front. The writer has dated it 16. 6. 16, although the last number has been over-written and could be 19. The message takes up all of the back so it must have been posted in an envelope, and we have no address for the recipient.

Dear Mrs Land,
Just had a note from Mabel to say she has settled down. Will try and get out to Richmond where she lives in a day or so. Everything went off just fine at the wedding and say – Tom Murray is a splendid fellow. Straight as you make them. Will see you soon as we are booked for U.S.A. on 28th this month. Have still the wee mascot so I’m safe.
Kind regards to Mr Land and self. A. R. Don.

It’s a tantalizing hint at the lives of several people and leaves more questions than answers. Was Mr. Don an American soldier being repatriated in 1919 after the war, or a private citizen braving the Atlantic U-boat menace in 1916? Whatever the case, he was superstitious enough to need a lucky charm. Did Mabel find it difficult to settle down and why, and was she the bride? Was the splendid Tom Murray the groom?

Maybe one of you fiction writers out there can exercise your own artistic licence, change the names, flesh out the characters, invent your own answers, and create a short story. I’m sure novels have been inspired by less.