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Showing posts from July, 2021

Blandford Camp's IRA Raid

During the early hours of Sunday 16 February 1958, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) raided Blandford Camp. Brandishing revolvers, masked raiders shot a soldier and overpowered seven others. During the attack, the men were heard to shout, ‘this is with the compliments of the IRA.’ Despite this, the raiders appeared concerned about the young soldier shot in the stomach. They intended to raid the armoury for arms but were unsuccessful. The IRA assault on Blandford Camp was probably an inside job. Frank Skuse was a young Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME) corporal. His home was in County Cork. A man answering Skuse’s description had hired accommodation in a country house at Charlton Marshall. When the police forced entry they found ammunition, weapons and three suits of battledress with REME shoulder flashes. Two weeks after the attack, a tommy-gun, small arms and ammunition were discovered in a converted bus parked in a Bournemouth caravan park. Frank Skuse had hired the bu

‘Jack the Ripper’ Link

Which Blandfordian has appeared the most in film and on television? A strong candidate would be Frederick George Abberline, but who was he? Frederick has been portrayed on the big screen by Michael Cane, Johnny Depp and several other leading actors. Clive Russell played him in the BBC’s Ripper Street. Unfortunately, Caine’s portrayal of Abberline as a drunkard and that of Depp as a drug addict were totally inaccurate. However, as Frederick had passed away in Bournemouth in 1929 he was unable to speak up for himself. In fact, and despite looking more like a bank manager, he is justifiably regarded as both a hard working and decent London policeman. Frederick George Abberline was a Chief Inspector for London’s Metropolitan Police and a key figure in the East London, Jack the Ripper serial killer murders. In a BBC survey, Jack the Ripper was voted as the most evil Briton of the last 1,000 years. After the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, Abberline was chosen in September 1888 to lead the inves

Alan Cobham's Flying Circus

When Alan Cobham brought his Circus to town, it was not the usual spectacle of clowns, circus creatures and contortionists. His Circus was a group of dare-devil pilots & parachutists who arrived with around ten propeller driven aircraft. The Circus set up camp at the grandly titled Blandford Aerodrome, located just north of the town’s cemetery. As the Western Gazette reported in July 1934: ‘Blandford was entertained to some thrilling flying when Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Display visited the town for the first time.’ Among the attractions were 25 year-old ‘ glamorous glider girl’ , Joan Meakin and ‘Britain’s finest aerobatic pilot’ , Geoffrey Tyson. She was the first female  pilot to cross the English Channel in a glider which she reckoned was ‘ safer than playing hockey .’ Joan was towed by an aircraft to 1,500 ft. and released and would then ‘ loop the loop’ in her glider. She was to marry the Circus Assistant General Manager, Ronald Price who also had the precarious part-time role

Palace & Ritz Cinemas

In the 1950s, there were two cinemas in Blandford, the Palace and the Ritz. Both were in East Street and the Palace was immediately facing the Ritz, the latter on the north side of the street. Both were owned and managed by Percy Carter, a former music hall entertainer. Before the opening of the first cinema in the town, there were the occasional open air screenings put on by travelling showmen. A cinema was first established on the north side of East Street and was called the Palace. All the films were without soundtracks, so Alf Fletcher from Pimperne provided a musical accompaniment on the piano. It is not known when the Palace opened, although in February 1913, there is a newspaper report on whether it had been legal to have shown films in Blandford on Christmas Day. There is also a reference to the Palace, Blandford in the Stage newspaper of October 1912. In October 1917, during World War 1, the Palace was patriotically showing, twice nightly, a film of British tanks in the Ba

Blandford Throwback Facts IV

In 1731 , the Great Fire of Blandford destroyed the greater part of the town. It started at about 2 o’clock in a soap boiler’s house. Only forty out of around five hundred houses escaped the fire. To add to the troubles, the town was suffering from a smallpox outbreak affecting around 150 people. Following the Great Fire of Blandford an appeal for funds raised £16,151-10s-3d £16.151 51p) which included £1,200 from King George II and his wife, £200 from Bath and £136 from the Isle of Wight. Drury Lane Theatre in London put on a play to raise money for ‘the poor unhappy sufferers from the late fire.’ The practice of ducking ‘ incorrigible shrews and scolds’ was discontinued with the burning of the town’s ducking stool in the fire. In 1733 , there were thirty inns in Blandford. Composer William Knapp wrote an anthem in commemoration of the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford. In 1735 , Blandford Church was constructed at the cost of £3,200 and it cost four years to complete. In 1738 , because o

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret

Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling. However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit.   During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the

Blandford Camp became a bit of America!

In the latter years of the Second World War, Blandford Camp was occupied by the U.S. Army. While Langton House, now demolished, became the base of the 1 st United States Infantry Division. In preparation for the 1944 Normandy Landings, part of Blandford Camp was transformed into a major U.S. Army Hospital complex. It was to be known as the ‘ 22 nd General Hospital’ . The site was converted from a British Army training camp to a hospital containing wards, operating theatres and medical stores. While the hospital was being constructed, Blandford Camp was also used as a parking zone for tanks and vehicles awaiting the Normandy invasion. This area was well camouflaged and protected by anti-aircraft guns. American Army medical staff arrived in Liverpool in April 1944 and travelled on to Blandford by train. There were five hospital units set up which each had 1,248 beds. They started receiving patients about two weeks after ‘ D Day’ (6 th June 1944). Many casualties were flown into t