Aug 202014


These historic words have been much quoted over the years, both in and out of context. Churchill was referring to the pilots involved in the Battle of Britain – the prolonged conflict between the Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe in August, September and October 1940 which could have resulted in Germany’s invasion of the United Kingdom. Thankfully, it didn’t or the United Kingdom would be a very different place today.

Aug 192014

Today is a sad day, marking the 27th anniversary of what became known as the Hungerford massacre. Gunman Michael Ryan, armed with two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun, shot and killed sixteen people including his mother, and wounded fifteen others, before fatally shooting himself. To this day, it remains one of the worst criminal atrocities involving firearms ever to occur in the United Kingdom.

Michael-RyanMichael Ryan was an unemployed labourer and antiques dealer. He was born at Savernake Hospital in Marlborough, near Hungerford, in 1960. His father, Alfred, was 55 when Michael was born and died in Swindon in 1985, when Michael was 25. At the time of the shooting, Michael lived with his mother, Dorothy, a dinner lady at the local primary school. It was suggested in the press that their relationship was ‘unhealthy’ and that Ryan was ‘spoiled’ by his mother. A Guardian headline described Ryan as a ‘mummy’s boy’.

The motive for the killings is unknown and it is unlikely that they will ever be known as Michael killed himself and his mother, the only other person who knew him well. Dr John Hamilton of Broadmoor Hospital stated that ‘Ryan was most likely to be suffering from acute schizophrenia. He might have had a reason for doing what he did, but it was likely to be bizarre and peculiar to him.’ The local vicar, the Reverend David Salt, said on the first anniversary of the massacre, ‘No one has ever explained why Michael Ryan did what he did. And that’s because, in my opinion, it is not something that can be explained.’

Ryan took his victims indiscriminately and during the police attempts to coax him out of John O’Gaunt Community Technology College – where he barricaded himself into a classroom – he said his mother’s death was ‘a mistake’.

His victims were:

Susan Godfrey, 35; Roland and Sheila Mason; Kenneth Clements, 51; PC Roger Brereton; George White; Abdul Rahman Khan; Francis Butler; Marcus Barnard; Douglas Wainwright, 67; Eric Vardy; Sandra Hill, 22; Victor and Myrtle Gibbs; Ian Playle, 34; and his mother, Dorothy Ryan.

A detailed account of the events of the day is available on the Crime Library website.

Aug 182014

life_quotes_quoteIt’s a crazy world we live in these days. Who would have been able to foresee, when I was in the Brownies, that in thirty years time we would all be so reliant on mobile phones, tablets, computers, the Internet…. Little more than an hour goes by each day without me using either my laptop or my Samsung Galaxy (other makes and models are available) and I was one of those people in the 1990s who said ‘I’m never going to have a mobile phone‘!

Thirty years ago, my parents worked ludicrous hours, teaching and trying to manage the crazy workload which came with the job. Has the workload of those educating the children of our future been changed? No…. if anything, it’s even worse in the 21st century. Expectations are constantly raised and employees must – ‘no matter what’ – achieve the goals set, whether they are possible or impossible. Having hung up my teaching boots, am I working shorter hours? No…. if anything, my working hours are much, much longer (who ever thought that was even possible!) but I work for a cause. For all the people out there who need to find people – present or past (future is a little challenging). I don’t work for applause…. if it happens to come my way for the work I have done, that’s great. I certainly don’t like being noticed (anyone who knows me will be aware of my desire to stay out of the spotlight/camera lens)…. though, my presence or work efforts being missed means the world to me.

What do you work for? Work for a cause and love what you do…. it’ll make your world a great place to be.

Aug 172014

Sometimes, my ancestors have very interesting and different names. No Elizabeth, Sarah or Ann here…. nope, Jessamine! Jessamine Maria Gosling was born in Farnham on 13 November 1795 and was baptised in Witley All Saints on 28 May 1796, a few months after her brother, John Thomas Gosling, who was baptised on 22 February 1796. I wonder which of them was the eldest child of Thomas and Maria Gosling?


Thomas Gosling and Maria Douglas married in Elstead St James Church on 1 January 1794 – Maria’s parish church. Maria had four known siblings, including Jessamine, Jemima, Kezia and Marmaduke, so it would appear that she named her daughter after her sister and gave her own name as a second name. John Thomas was named in a similar way, it would seem, as Thomas’ father and brother were called John and of course, Thomas was his first name:

There were no other known children of Thomas and Maria Gosling. Thomas – Jessamine’s father – died at just 44 years of age and was buried at Witley All Saints in 1814. Unfortunately, Jessamine Maria died five years later – in 1819 – aged 22. It is such a shame that parish registers do not record the cause of death in burial registers as I would love to know what happened to cause Jessamine’s early demise….

And where did the name Jessamine come from? It doesn’t appear – according to my current research on the family – prior to Jessamine Douglas’ baptism in Elstead (pictured below). More digging required, I think.


Aug 162014

Twenty-seven years ago today, the Northwest Airlines flight 255 crashed on take-off in Detroit, killing 154 people on board; the sole survivor was a four-year-old girl.

The flight was cleared for take-off at 20:44 on 16 August 1987. After an usually long take-off roll, the plane finally lifted off. However, the DC-9 never soared upward. The left wing clipped a lamp post in the rental car park about half a mile from the end of the runway. Hitting the ground, the plane started to break apart as it skidded along a road and it was almost immediately engulfed in flames. The death toll of 156 included two people in cars. Among the dead were the Phoenix Suns centre Nick Vanos. So, how did Cecelia Cichan (in Seat 8C) survive?

Northwest255A list of fatalities was originally published in The Arizona Republic and has been reproduced online. The crash was remarkable for its ferocity even in the physics of air disasters. Cecelia was found by a paramedic who heard her moan and saw her arm twitch. The medical examiner for Wayne County in Michigan had no explanation for how she survived.

Cecelia suffered horrific injuries including a fractured skull, broken leg and collarbone and third-degree burns. She underwent four skin grafts for the burns on her arms and legs. She was released from hospital in October 1987 and lived with her aunt and uncle, Rita and Frank Lumpkin, in Alabama, where they shielded her from the media.

In an interview in 2012 with The Mirror, she said that the pain from her injuries had faded over time but she has a tattoo of an aeroplane on her left wrist to remind her of a tragedy that she thinks about “every day”. The tattoo helps to remind her of her lucky escape.

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