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Mayday and SOS Origins

  Why People on Planes and Ships Use the Word Mayday When in Distress and What SOS Really Stands For In 1923, a senior radio officer, Frederick Stanley Mockford, in Croydon Airport in London, England, was asked to think of one word that would be easy to understand for all pilots and ground staff in the event of an emergency. The problem had arisen as voice radio communication slowly became more common, so an equivalent to the Morse code “SOS” distress signal was needed. Obvious a word like “help” wasn’t a good choice for English speakers because it could be commonly used in normal conversations where no one was in distress. At the time Mockford was considering the request, much of the traffic he was dealing with was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, France. With both the French and English languages in mind, he came up with the somewhat unique word “Mayday,” the Anglicized spelling of the French pronunciation of the word “m’aider,” which means “help me.” Four years later, in 1927, the International Radiotelegraph Convention of Washington made “Mayday” the official voice distress call used only to communicate the most serious level of distress, such as with life-threatening emergencies. When using Mayday in a distress call, it is traditional to repeat it three times in a row, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday.” This is to make sure it is easily distinguishable from a message about a Mayday call and from any similar sounding phrases in noisy conditions or garbled transmissions. In situations where a vessel merely requires assistance, but is not in grave and imminent danger, a distress call of “pan-pan” can be used instead. Essentially, it means you need aid, but you don’t need support personnel to necessarily drop what they’re doing right that instant and come help you, as with a Mayday. Like Mayday, pan-pan is the Anglicized spelling of a French word, in this case “panne,” which means “broken / failure / breakdown.” Also, as with Mayday, one should state it three consecutive times: “pan-pan pan-pan pan-pan,” followed by which station(s) you are addressing and your last known location, nature of your emergency, etc. If there is no reply to a Mayday or pan-pan call by the Coast Guard or other emergency agency, and a couple minutes have passed since the last call, some other radio source, such as another ship or plane that received the call, should transmit their own Mayday call, but on behalf of the ship or plane that first made the call, repeating the pertinent information they heard when they received the Mayday message.   Post from Today I found Out…

Sweet Fanny Adams

  Today is the anniversary of Fanny Adams’ death (30 April 1859 – 24 August 1867), a young English girl murdered by solicitor’s clerk Frederick Baker in Alton, Hampshire. The expression “sweet Fanny Adams” refers to her and has come, through British naval slang, to mean “nothing at all”. On Saturday, 24 August 1867, at about 1:30 pm, Fanny’s mother, Harriet Adams, let the eight-year-old Fanny, her friend Minnie Warner (aged 8) and Fanny’s sister Lizzie (aged 7) go up Tanhouse Lane towards Flood Meadow. In the lane they met Frederick Baker, a 29-year-old solicitor’s clerk. Baker offered Minnie and Lizzie three halfpence to go and spend and offered Fanny a halfpenny to accompany him towards Shalden, a couple of miles north of Alton. She took the coin but refused to go. He carried her into a hops field, out of sight of the other girls. At about 5:00 pm, Minnie and Lizzie returned home. Their neighbour, Mrs. Gardiner, asked them where Fanny was, and they told her what had happened. Mrs. Gardiner told Harriet, and they went up the lane, where they came upon Baker coming back. They questioned him and he said he had given the girls money for sweets, but that was all. His respectability meant the women let him go on his way. At about 7:00 pm, Fanny was still missing, and neighbours went searching. They found Fanny’s body in the hop field, horribly butchered. Her head and legs had been severed and her eyes removed. Her eyes had been thrown into the nearby river. Her torso had been emptied and her organs scattered (it took several days for all her remains to be found). Her remains were taken to and put back together in a nearby doctor’s surgery at 16 Amery Street. Harriet ran to The Butts field where her husband, bricklayer George Adams, was playing cricket. She told him what had happened, then collapsed. George got his shotgun from home and set off to find the perpetrator, but neighbours stopped him. That evening Police Superintendent William Cheyney arrested Baker at his place of work: the offices of solicitor William Clement in the High Street. He was led through an angry mob to the police station. There was blood on his shirt and trousers, which he could not explain, but he protested his innocence. He was searched and found to have two small blood-stained knives on him. Witnesses put Baker in the area, returning to his office at about 3:00 pm, then going out again. Baker’s workmate, fellow clerk Maurice Biddle, reported that, when drinking in the Swan that evening, Baker had said he might leave town. When Biddle replied that he might have trouble getting another job, Baker said, chillingly with hindsight, “I could go as a butcher”. On 26 August, the police found Baker’s diary in his office. It contained a damning entry: 24th August, Saturday – killed a young girl. It was fine and hot. On Tuesday, 27 August, Deputy County Coroner Robert Harfield held an inquest. Painter William Walker had found a stone with blood, long hair and flesh; police surgeon, Dr Louis Leslie had carried out a post mortem and concluded that death was by a blow to the head and that the stone was the murder weapon. Baker said nothing, except that he was innocent. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder. On the 29th, the local magistrates committed Baker for trial at the Winchester County Assizes. The police had difficulty protecting him from the mob. At his trial on 05 December, the defence contested Millie Warner’s identification of Baker and claimed the knives found were too small for the crime anyway. They also argued insanity: Baker’s father had been violent, a cousin had been in asylums, his sister had died of a brain fever and he himself had attempted suicide after a love affair. The defence also argued that the diary entry was typical of the “epileptic or formal way of entry” that the defendant used and that the absence of a comma after the word killed did not render the entry a confession. Justice Mellor invited the jury to consider a verdict of not responsible by reason of insanity, but they returned a guilty verdict after just fifteen minutes. On 24 December, Christmas Eve, Baker was hanged outside Winchester Gaol. The crime had become notorious and a crowd of 5,000 attended the execution. Before his death, Baker wrote to the Adamses expressing his sorrow for what he had done “in an unguarded hour” and seeking their forgiveness. Fanny was buried in Alton cemetery. The headstone, erected by voluntary subscription, reads: Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months who was cruelly murdered on Saturday August 24th 1867. Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10 v 28. In 1869 new rations of tinned mutton were introduced for British seamen. They were unimpressed by it, and suggested it might be the butchered remains of Fanny Adams. The way her body had been strewn over a wide area presumably encouraged speculation that parts of her had been found at the Royal Navy victualing yard in Deptford, which was a large facility which included stores, a bakery and an abattoir. “Fanny Adams” became slang for mutton or stew and then for anything worthless – from which comes the current use of “sweet Fanny Adams” (or just “sweet F.A.”) to mean “nothing at all”. This is not the only example of Royal Navy slang relating to unpopular rations: even today, tins of steak and kidney pudding are known as “baby’s head”. The large tins the mutton was delivered in were reused as mess tins. Up until that time, when sailors and Royal Marines lived, ate and slept in their mess decks, wooden buckets were used to collect food from the galley, water for washing crockery etc. and to collect the Rum Ration. The empty meat tins were modified and gradually replaced the wooden buckets. These new buckets were given the slang name ‘Fannies’. Mess tins or cooking pots are still known as Fannies.    

It took 15 years to save MT-2800

After decades of neglect and threat of destruction MT2800 has a proper home and a future. MT 2800 built by British Power Boat Company at their Hythe yard as a 24ft marine Tender Mk II and was assigned the Yard number 1961.   She was completed and taken on charge by the RAF at 62 MU Dumbarton on 24 September 1941, allocated the RAF hull number 2800 and was immediately allocated for service in Durban in South Africa, arriving there in late 1941.   She served until the 1990s and then languished in various locations, her continued survival fought for by a few dedicated individuals who have passed on the baton of care from one to the other.Durban Harbour on the East coast of South Africa is renowned as a major port, but from the 1930’s to the late 1950’s it was an important hub for civilian and military flying boats.   Imperial Airways Short C class, which opened the first commercial air route to Europe, and warlike Sunderland and Catalina flying boats that watched over the convoys of World War II and ships in peace time, used the harbour as a base.   The MT was assigned to Durban to support the flying boat service between South Africa and Great Britain and then to 262 Squadron RAF from November 1942.   Initially operating Consolidated Catalina aircraft the squadron patrolled the increasingly busy Indian Ocean, watching for U boats and giving assistance to vessels in distress.   The many ship convoys that stopped in Durban for resupply interfered with flying and the RAF operations were moved to Langebaan on the west coast and St Lucia in the then Zululand in 1943. The Catalina’s were being gradually replaced by the large Short Sunderland Mk 5 which drew over five foot of water and St Lucia proved to be  too shallow. Looking for deeper water the Squadron moved to Umsingazi toward the end of 1944.   RAF records show that 1961/MT2800 was based at St Lucia in 1943 and it is probable that she moved to the new base in 1944. Contemporary photographs show a number of similar vessel tied up to the Squadron jetty.   By 1945 there were so many South Africans on strength that it was decided to transfer the squadron to the SAAF and it became 35 Squadron SAAF.  Once again operations returned to Congella in Durban. However the planes were not allowed to land in Durban at night for fear of colliding with the fishing boats active in the harbour and the Umsingazi base was retained as an alternative alighting facility.   With the war over the famous SAAF shuttle service was put in place to bring the troops home. One route was flown by the flying boats from Cairo to Durban. During November and December 1945 it was recorded that 1022 troops had been brought home and 72526lbs or 32966kgs of Christmas packages delivered to the waiting men in Egypt.   The last Sunderland left North Africa on 26 February 1946 with the commander of the South African 6th Armoured Division, Major General Evered Poole on board.   Records show that MT2800 was based in Congella in February 1945, and it is possible that she was used to transport many of these returning soldiers from flying boat to shore.   Although the days of flying boats drew to close in the 1950s the SAAF retained some elements of it is maritime unit that had saved over 600 lives during the war. MT2800 served at Langebaan lagoon attached to the No I Motor Boat Squadron and was then transferred to No 3 Motor Boat Flight along with 3 SAAF 63ft Miami class high speed launches and two dinghies on 5 December 1956.   Service continued with the Air Force until the Navy took over the marine unit in 1969. MT 2800 was eventually ‘Struck Off Charge’ by the South African Navy (SAN) in 1990.   In SAN service she was painted grey with a green deck, yellow engine cover and displayed her number in yellow on the bow. For a short time she was used as a pleasure craft and was painted blue and christened CAMERON L, the name she still carried into the new century.   Willie Burger, of the West Coast SAAFA, saved the boat from destruction when the tender was up for disposal in 1997. He highlighted its’ historical importance and made plans for its preservation. Funding was difficult and there were ideas that using her as a pleasure cruiser would pay for the upkeep, but these plans failed.   She was stored undercover in a set of open sheds within a secure lock up outside the Langebaan air force base, where she suffered very little damage, but was under continual threat of a scrapping order.   The Old Boat Trust was established by Guy Ellis in 2003 to preserve the boat. For two years various schemes and ideas were explored to find a location or organisation which could provide a secure future for MT2800. Westlake Technical College came to the rescue.   The College had established a shipwrights’ school and agreed to take the boat on as an educational project. One hot February day in 2006 the SAAF provided a large truck and staff to load the boat and drove it south to Westlake. Unloading a two and a half ton boat and its cradle took a great deal of ingenuity and muscle power, as there were no heavy lifting capabilities at the College. Through brute force, clever thinking and care MT2800 was put under cover.     At this stage she represented the last vestige of an RAF link to Westlake, which during the war had served as barracks to the RAF personnel who served on the SAAF air sea rescue launches. It is a good possibility that some men who had been accommodated at Westlake had at some stage driven or been transported by MT2800.     Modern day boat building does not demand the skills needed to work on a clinker built wooden marine tender. There was no space in the curriculum for work on the boat and it remained untouched, luckily mostly undercover and reasonably secure.   By the end of 2009 it was clear that a new location had to be found. Richard Hellyer began to investigate the feasibility of returning the boat to the UK for the Portsmouth Naval Trust. There were no funds for the building of a new cradle or to cover the costs of shipment on a container vessel.   When it was clear that MT2800 would remain in South Africa, Charles Hellyer took on the task of finding a solution. These ranged from a private organization to mounting the boat at the entrance to the collage as a gate guard. The former would not have ensured her existence as an artefact of military history and the later was fraught with issues around protecting the boat from the elements and vandalisation.     Contact was made with of the South African Navy in November 2011 and through the efforts of Leon Steyn of the Navy Museum she was moved to Simons Town naval base on 6 September 2012. Here she will be restored over three years as part of the Armscor apprentice scheme and put on display when complete.   Bibliography Hellyer, R., British Military Powerboat Team, http://www.bmpt.org.uk/ Jackson, Allan., Facts about Durban, http://www.fad.co.za/ Ellis G., Serve to Save, The South African Air Force at Sea, Freeworld Publications, 2001 http://www.asrmcs-club.com/boatswebsite/index.html Thanks to: Richard Hellyer Charles Hellyer John Leech South African Navy – Cdr Leon Steyn Westlake Technical College – Mark Cornelise, Tracy-Lee Anderson, Johan, Mike and the Class of 2006 SAAF – Pretoria – General Derek Page Langebaabweg – Herman Els, Mattrass van Staden and Col Jacques Niemann  

HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall

The Cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall were attacked and sunk on the 5th April 1942 Japanese aircraft.   The ships were spotted by a reconnaissance aircraft from the heavy cruiser Tone, and subsequently attached by over 50 Val dive bombers. In less that 8 minutes HMS Dorsetshire had been hit by 10 bombs, and sank stern first after one bomb detonated a magazine.   HMS Cornwall was hit 8 times and sank bow first 10 minutes after HMS Cornwall.   The following day the cruiser Enterprise, accompanies by two destroyers Panther and Paladin rescued 1,122 men out of a combined crew of over 1,546. Among the casualties were 39 South Africans.   These two links provide an insight into the experiences of the crew: Lt E. A Drew, Engineering Branch, HMS Cornwall Walter Fudge, HMS Dorsetshire   The South Africans are honoured on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

Moroccan Navy orders Damen water barge

The Royal Moroccan Navy has contracted Netherlands-based Damen Shipyards to build a water barge to help relieve the severe drought in the country, the company announced on 15 August. Damen said this would be the first time that it will combine its Stan Pontoon 3011 barge with water-making Source: Janes