The Devil’s Nutting Day, ‘Chips’ Channon and King George VI; Samuel Pepys and Beatrix Potter; Trouble in Hull and a Brave VC

21 September – This time last week I was talking about ‘Nutting Day’ – well today is sometimes called the ‘Devil’s Nutting Day’. This was the date on which mortals should never gather nuts as it would upset the Devil (never a good idea). In some areas of Britain, nuts were not to be picked on Sundays either. There’s a story in Alcester, Warwickshire that the Devil himself was out gathering hazelnuts on this day when he accidentally met the Virgin Mary – although the story doesn’t explain why Mary might have been wandering around picking nuts in Warwickshire. He was so startled to see her that he dropped his bag of nuts, which turned into a hill which is still called ‘the Devil’s Nightcap’.

Tuesday 22 September 1936 – I’ve put three brief ‘Chips’ Channon pieces in this week. The following has two of them
It was on this day in 1936 that Harold Nicholson wrote of him that: ‘He is not really a snob in an ordinary way. I suppose every-one has some snobbishness somewhere just like everybody has a few keys somewhere. What makes Chips so exceptional is that he collects keys for keys’ sake. The corridors of his mind are hung with keys which open no doors of his own but are just other people’s keys which he collects. There they hang – French keys, English keys, American keys, Italian keys and now a whole house-keeper’s truss of Central European keys.’
Rolling forward three years to 22 September 1939 we have ‘Chips’ himself recording that his wife, Honor, ‘came up yesterday and I took her, Brigid and Harold Balfour (two English keys?) to luncheon at the Ritz which has become fantastically fashionable; all the great, the gay, the Government; we knew 95% of everyone there. (more keys?) But Ritzes always thrive in wartime, as we are all cookless.’ Also, in wartime, the herd instinct rises.

Monday 23 September 1940: In a radio broadcast this evening King George VI spoke to Britain, the Empire, and America from his underground shelter at Buckingham Palace during an air-raid warning. In the broadcast he announced that he had decided to create a new, special order for civilian gallantry. In announcing the new award, the King said:
‘In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction, which will consist of the George Cross, which will rank next to the Victoria Cross, and the George Medal for wider distribution.’
The George Cross is second in the order of wear in the UK honours system and takes precedence over all other orders, decorations, and medals, except the Victoria Cross – it would share equal precedence with that honour. The George Cross remains the highest gallantry award for civilians, as well as for members of the armed forces in actions for which purely military honours would not normally be granted. The George Medal is the second level civil decoration of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth and is presented to those performing acts of bravery in, or meriting recognition by, the United Kingdom.

Friday 24 September 1880: Following on from last week’s report, the ‘Hull Packet’ newspaper asked ‘Have we got a new Chief Constable, or have we not? Is the old Watch Committee legally dissolved, or is it not? These are the questions which wayfarers are asking of each other in the streets of this busy borough. Acting upon the dictum of a learned counsel, the Corporation resolved itself into a huge Watch Committee, and the smaller body which once bore that title was politely relieved of its duties. Now comes a startling rumour that the whole proceedings were illegal, and that the appointment of a Watch Sub-Committee and the election of Chief Constable are consequently void. On the blush, it appears absurd to seriously credit such a rumour, but when we are told that a second legal opinion has been taken, and that the startling rumour is founded on this opinion, there is need for enquiry. It is well known that in the first instance the TOWN CLERK consulted Mr. FITZGERALD; consequently, it would be desirable to learn who submitted the case to Mr. CAVE, and who obtained his opinion on the matter. Certainly the TOWN CLERK would not, after the decision of such a high authority as Mr. FITZGERALD, seek a second ruling on the question at issue, and it therefore follows that some private member has been at the trouble and expense of consulting Mr. CAVE. When counsels disagree, how can a Municipal Corporation decide? The dispute is a very pretty one as it stands, but we should imagine a solution of the problem is easy enough. A meeting of the Council should be speedily called, and the whole truth relative to the consultation of counsel ascertained. Then, should it be found that the two eminent Q.C.’s are equally certain on the point of law, let some enterprising member of the deposed Watch Committee fight the matter out in the Law Courts. What a splendid field for distinction is here opened out!

Saturday 25 September 1660 – Samuel Pepys records in his diary that: – ‘To the office, where Sir W. Batten, Colonel Slingsby, and I sat awhile, and Sir R. Ford coming to us about some business, we talked together of the interest of this kingdom to have a peace with Spain and a war with France and Holland; where Sir R. Ford talked like a man of great reason and experience. And afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (sic) (a China drink) of which I never had drank before, and went away.’   12 months later on 25 September 1661 he has a different experience when ‘Much against my nature and will, yet such is the power of the Devil over me I could not refuse it, to the Theatre, and saw ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ ill done.’
Monday 25 September 1939 and ‘Chips’ Channon’s tone has changed as he notes in his diary that: ‘The PM – Neville Chamberlain – flew back to London yesterday, convened the Cabinet, and had an audience with the King, who has been fitted, like everyone else in London, with a gasmask. There seems to be some hysteria: here all is calm and great beauty. We have our meals alone, the Regent Paul of Greece (another of ‘Chips’ keys?), Honor my wife and I, and wonder sadly when we will all be together again.’

Monday 26 September 1892: In 1870 Carlo Pellegrini had described the Duke of Sutherland, as ‘Simple and unassuming himself, yet magnificent and generous towards his fellow men, he is the very Prince of Dukes’.
The Third Duke had played a key role in the early history of the Highland Railway. He was a founder board member of the company and contributed extensively towards the Sutherland Railway. He funded the building of the Duke of Sutherland’s Railway out of his own pocket and actively supported the Sutherland and Caithness Railway. The Highland Railway had operated these lines and absorbed them all in 1884.
On this Monday in 1892 Beatrix Potter records that ‘last night, between eleven and twelve, we thought we heard the special [funeral] train taking the Duke of Sutherland on his long, last journey. Some people can see no sentiment or beauty in a railway, simply a monstrosity and a matter of dividends. To my mind there is scarcely a more splendid beast in the world than a large locomotive: if it loses something of mystery through being the work of man, it surely gains in a corresponding degree the pride of possession. I cannot imagine a finer sight than the Express, with two engines, rushing down this incline at the edge of dusk.
The Scotch dote upon funerals and mourning, but I have not seen a scrap of crêpe about the Highland Railway. The unfortunate ending of the Duke’s life would probably make little difference in Scotland in the way of dropping him out of favour. It is my opinion that, under a thin veneer of intelligence and gentility, they are all savages, highly descended of course, and the more savage the more hoity-toity, but, making certain slight allowance for circumstances, there are no Class divisions whatever’. Beatrix would appear not to have a high regard for the Scots – but a love of trains!

Friday 27 September 1918 – Before relocating to our present abode we lived quite close to the Haileybury College in Hertfordshire. The soldier we are remembering here went to Haileybury, so his story caught my eye in more than the obvious one of First World War bravery. Captain Cyril Hubert Frisby of the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards was born in Barnet, Hertfordshire in September 1885; earned his Victoria Cross in September 1918 and passed away in September 1961. His citation records his actions as the Company Commander when he led an assault across the Canal du Nord, near Graincourt in France on this September day:
‘On reaching the canal the leading platoon came under annihilating machine-gun fire from a strong machine-gun post under the old iron bridge on the far side of the canal and was unable to advance, despite reinforcing waves. Capt. Frisby realised at once that unless this post was captured the whole advance in this area would fail. Calling for volunteers to follow him, he dashed forward and, with three other ranks, he climbed down into the canal under an intense point-blank machine-gun fire and succeeded in capturing the post with two machine guns and twelve men. By his personal valour and initiative he restored the situation and enabled the attacking companies to continue the advance. Having reached and consolidated his objective, he gave timely support to the company on his right, which had lost all its officers and sergeants; organised its defences, and beat off a heavy hostile counter-attack. He was wounded in the leg by a bayonet in the attack on the machine-gun post, but remained at duty throughout, thereby setting a splendid example to all ranks.’

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