David Cretney: Stories from Examiner readers are real gold

Monday 4th April 2022 4:31 pm
Share

Subscribe newsletter

Subscribe to our email and get updates right in your inbox.

This column was first published in the March 29 edition of the Isle of Man Examiner.

I was contacted recently by James McDonald about his memories of a Manxman now sadly departed.

He told me the remarkable story of Bernie Kermode of Ramsey, who was an engineer/blacksmith at Booth W Kelly and also William Lace Ltd agricultural merchants.

In my recent piece from Gordon Cowley of Port Erin I had mentioned his service aboard HMS Edinburgh, which was the sister ship to HMS Belfast, which is still afloat and on display on the Thames in London.

I’m sure lots of us while visiting London have taken the opportunity to have a tour.

Bernie Kermode joined the Royal Navy at the outbreak of war and joined the engineering department.

James believes that each capital ship of the day had one or two fully qualified blacksmiths on board to carry out running repairs but were also tasked with the unusual job of breaking the locking seals and opening the seacocks in the event of being ordered to do so.

He doesn’t know the full circumstances but HMS Edinburgh, while escorting one of the relief convoys homeward-bound from Russia, was in action with some of the German surface fleet and the Luftwaffe. Despite being torpedoed and bombed at least twice, she did not sink.

While in Russia HMS Edinburgh had picked up a very unusual cargo of a large consignment of gold bars, which was in part payment by the Russians for war materials delivered.

He thinks the value of the gold was in the region of £3 million.

The ship was still afloat and just about capable of being towed back to the UK in normal circumstances – but being in hostile waters there was a very real chance of the Germans capturing her and taking the gold.

After frantic discussions with the Admiralty it was decided to scuttle her to prevent the gold bullion falling into enemy hands.

The Royal Navy tried at least twice to scuttle her but she remained stubbornly afloat before Bernie Kermode was ordered to go below and break the locking seals and open the seacocks.

In these circumstances, a very hazardous operation.

He carried this out successfully, gaining the unique reputation of single handed sinking a capital ship and losing the gold!

James thinks the gold was recovered by the British authorities after the war.

Thank you James, that was a story I had never heard of before!

......................

I always welcome feedback from readers and a few received recently include from Norman Quilliam, who on the subject of drinking fountains which are coming back into vogue for environmental reasons these days, reminded me of the basin still outside the former Douglas market hall.

It was installed near the Old St Matthew’s Church but is no longer in use. He tells me there was another on the stone bridge just outside the toilets going off from North Quay.

He dated the opening of the Athol Garage to 1947, again just along from the newspaper offices in Hill Street.

Who remembers the newspaper dispute in the 1980s based around there?

Norman tells me that the ferries from the Victoria Pier were at one time owned by Jack Cooper, who was also a wholesale tobacco seller from his shop in Circular Road, Douglas.

A good friend and supporter over my seven elections is Joan Cannon. She reminded me that the donkeys from the beach used to reside in the aptly-named ‘donkey fields’ at the junction of Anagh Coar and New Castletown Road.

Joan used to work in the original Boots on Victoria Street, who remembers the various mini departments? Records, stationery, cosmetics, gardening and more!

My mother also worked in Boots and Joan recalls me being brought to the shop in my pram!

Now in her late 80s, Joan remains very active, walking from Lheannag Park to McDonald’s each morning for coffee.

She spent many years as a Cub leader and it’s a real pleasure when now grown up former members take the time to say hello in passing.

Jim Wood was interested in the piece about the Winter Hill disaster as he worked as an apprentice at Crosbie, Cain and Kennish and remembered many of those on the list.

That work was not for Jim and he wanted to get away and had papers for the Royal Navy but was offered a job in the Isle of Man Steam Packet, which lasted 13 years.

Jim was on a tramp ship in the River Plate in Argentina waiting for orders which could take the crew anywhere in the world when the chief steward heard about the air disaster on long-range radio.

His maritime career took him to many places including Istanbul, and the Black Sea to the port of Odessa, which is a major sea port in the Ukraine.

He described the port then as impoverished and recalls Soviets brandishing Kalashnikov weapons.

I later worked with Jim in the Isle of Man Post Office.

Finally, in terms of contacts, I had an interesting conversation with Tom Quirk who was in the photograph of the children’s home published last week.

..................

Which is the best era for pop music?

Well, my favourite is well known as the 1970s. So I thought for a bit of fun I would look back at the charts from this time in the 1960s 70s and 80s for a comparison.

March 29, 1962, number one was ‘Wonderful Land’ by the Shadows, which was in the charts for 19 weeks and number one for eight.

Also in the charts was Elvis at number three ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love/ Rock a Hula Baby’, Roy Orbison at four with ‘Dream Baby’, Chubby Checker ‘Let’s Twist Again’ at five, Mr Acker Bilk ‘Stranger on the Shore’ at seven and at 11 Cliff Richard with ‘The Young Ones’.

Do you remember the film? It was followed by ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘Wonderful Life’ amongst others.

On March 26, 1972, Nilsson was number one with ‘Without You’ it was to be in the chart for 20 weeks, with five weeks at number one.

A cover by Mariah Carey in 1994 came very close with four weeks on top and 14 in the charts.

At number four Don McLean with ‘American Pie’, which peaked at number two and was in the charts for 16 weeks.

However, in 2000 Madonna did a cover which got to number one and stayed in the charts for 18 weeks. I know which I prefer!

Other great records in the same chart in 1972 included Argent ‘Hold your Head Up’, Lindisfarne ‘Meet Me on the Corner’. I would have loved to have seen them live, so many great records.

Les Crane ‘Desiderata’, Paul Simon ‘Mother and Child Reunion’, The Supremes ‘Floy Joy’, Michael Jackson ‘Got to be There’, Chicory Tip ‘Son of my Father’. I saw them at the Palace Lido and got my hair feathered to look like them. This song was in the charts for 13 weeks with three weeks at number one. And one more from the chart, Neil Young ‘Heart of Gold’.

On March 28, 1982, at number one was the Goombay Dance Band with ‘Seven Tears’ (it was three weeks at the top), Tight Fit with ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ (one of many versions), Imagination ‘Just an Illusion’, Toni Basil and ‘Mickey’, ABC with ‘Poison arrow’ and Haircut 100 ‘Love Plus One’.

I rest my case! Get in touch about this or any other matter…