Victorian trouble on the roads; Political disagreements; VCs at the end of the war; An invasion of England and a Parson’s Sunday; Resurrection Men and Rupert Bear are all here this week

Monday 2nd November 1896 was the day that the General Accident Company issued Britain’s first motor insurance policies. There was a clause in the policy that excluded cover for ‘damage caused by frightened horses.’
On this same day the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser carried the following letter to the Editor under the heading ‘MOTOR CARS’:
Sir; ‘I will bid good-bye to my wife and children when leaving home in the morning as soon as motor cars travel at 14 miles an hour. I had thought we had reached the highest point of danger in our crowded streets with trams, cabs, lorries, carts, bicycles, &c., moving up and down in far too narrow compass, but it appears that we had not. I write to ask if it would not be advisable to have underground passages whereby pedestrians, who value their lives, could reach the opposite side of main streets? One clear result of the introduction of motor cars will be to increase the business of insurance companies, who are accredited with the move, which is certainly a brilliant one.’

Saturday 3rd November 1990: This day’s newspapers provide us with some interesting comments on our world 24 years ago today:
Sir Geoffrey Howe, in his letter of resignation to Mrs Thatcher, says ‘I am, of course, very sad that our long years of service together should have to end this way’.
Mrs Thatcher in her reply says: ‘Your letter refers to differences between us on Europe. I do not believe these are nearly as great as you suggest’.
Edward Heath’s comment is brief: ‘There’s always the beginning of an end of every Prime Minister’.
Paddy Ashdown says, on the Prime Minister’s opposition to a single European currency: ‘You no longer speak for Britain, you speak for the past.’
Jacque Delors – the then President of the European Commission – adds: ‘Believe you me, we will have a single currency before the year 2000’.
And to round off this little set of exchanges – French radio, on the linking of the British and French sections of the Channel tunnel, says ‘Britain will no longer be an island’.
The headline in the Financial Times says simply: ‘Continent of Europe no longer isolated’.

Monday 4th November 1918 was the day that the British forces launched their final major offensive of the war across a 30 mile front along the river Sambre. Two Victoria Crosses were earned today. Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Johnson, DSO(2), MC of the South Wales Borderers was attached to the 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal. He led the assaulting and bridging parties under very heavy enemy fire and eventually completed the task. The citation tells us that: ‘During all this time Lt.-Col. Johnson was under very heavy fire, which, though it nearly decimated the assaulting columns, left him untouched. His conduct was a fine example of great valour, coolness and intrepidity, which, added to his splendid leadership and the offensive spirit that he inspired in his battalion, were entirely responsible for the successful crossing.’ A regular army officer Lt.-Col. Johnson had seen action in China in 1914 and fought at Gallipoli in 1915. He stayed in the army after the war and retired as a major-general in 1944. He died in 1975.
On this same day Lieutenant Colonel Neville Marshall MC of the Irish Guards, at this time attached to the 16th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in the same crossing. His citation says: ‘Under intense fire and with complete disregard of his own safety, he stood on the bank encouraging his men and assisting in the work and when the bridge was repaired attempted to rush across at the head of his battalion and was killed while so doing. The passage of the canal was of vital importance, and the gallantry displayed by all ranks was largely due to the inspiring example set by Lt. Col. Marshall.’ He had friends in Belgian and in 1914 joined the army there. He was wounded a number of times and was discharged as medically unfit in 1915. After a long convalescence he joined the British Army, suffered a few more wounds and earned two Military Crosses before his death described above.
It was also on this day that poet Wilfred Owen was shot and died.
7 days after these events – on 11th November 1918 – the Armistice was signed and the war was over.

On this Friday 5th November 1688 crowds gathered along the south coast of England and watched a flotilla of over 50 warships of a foreign country sailing along the channel between Britain and the French coast – and they were not French. The vessels carried nearly two thousand cannons – and the men to fire them. Behind this display of power came hundreds of transport ships – and on those was an army of 20,000 or more soldiers plus some 7,000 horses and many tons of weapons and other equipment. Also present were ten fire-ships – all primed with inflammable and explosive material and ready to be set ablaze and steered into any English ships that may come their way. Nothing like had not been seen since the Normans did something similar in 1066. Who or what were these ‘invaders’? They were Dutch – and they had just one aim in mind: to place William of Orange, the elected ruler of the Dutch Republic, and a devout Protestant, on the throne of England in place of the Catholic King James II who had already fled the country. There was no militia or army to offer resistance against the invaders – and six weeks later William of Orange entered London. In February 1689 he and his wife Mary accepted the offer for them to reign jointly and on 11 April 1689 in Westminster Abbey they would be crowned King and Queen of England.

Sunday 6th November 1796 – Parson Woodford had a great knack of making his diary entries a multi-layered story. For instance in his diary today he notes that ‘We breakfasted, dined, again at home. We did not go to church, Nancy having a bad cold, and myself but poorly, and it being very cold, and there being a smart frost this morning.’
Then we get: ‘ The general talk is now concerning an invasion from the French – Mr Pitt having Mentioned in the House of Commons that he had substantial reasons for believing it, but such as at present improper to mention. As Mr Pitt is prime minister, it is much credited throughout the whole Country, and creates a general alarm. The Militia are to be doubled, and new Cavalry to be raised. Dined today,’
And his diary entry rounds off with a ‘tasty morsel: ‘Skaite and a fine Hare rosted.’

Friday 7th November 1828: the Stamford Mercury reports today : RESURRECTION-MEN: These wretches have found their way to the neighbourhood of Peterborough and one night last week succeeded in taking the body of a young man recently buried from the churchyard of Stanground, Hunts (a near-by parish and now a part of Peterborough). A fellow is now in custody at Peterborough on suspicion: two others, supposed to be his companions, have escaped. A horse and cart belonging to the party, and left at Norman Cross, are now detained by the Peterborough constables. Various instruments, used in this horrid traffic, have been found in a ditch near the bridge.’
The same paper carried the story that ‘on Tuesday 4th November last a woman calling herself Sophia Thompson, and who says she comes from Stanground near Peterborough, was committed to Boston gaol for trial at the next sessions on suspicion of stealing silk handkerchiefs from Mr Hobson, draper, of that town. She had also succeeded in stealing and concealing some handkerchiefs from the shop of Mr Oates, draper. A man, who was her companion and assisted in the felony, decamped ere he could be secured.’

Monday 8th November 1920 saw the first Rupert Bear cartoon appear in the Daily Express newspaper. He began as a brown bear but turned white to save printing ink. Rupert’s initial purpose was to win sales from the Express’s rivals the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. Whether it succeeded or not to achieve these ends is now bye-the-bye. Rupert certainly clicked with the younger ‘readers’ and his original protagonists – Teddy Tail (a mouse in the Daily Mail) and Pip, Squeak and Wilfred (a dog, penguin and rabbit in the Daily Mirror) – have long since left the arena.
In 1935 the role of Rupert artist and storyteller was taken over by Alfred Bestall – a man with experience of providing illustrations for many magazines, including Punch. The Rupert Annual sprung from his arrival – first appearing in 1936 and continuing to this day. Rupert is six years older than Winnie the Pooh (born 1926) and 38 years older than Paddington Bear (born 1958).
For Rupert’s 90th birthday a party was held at the Rupert Bear museum in Canterbury – the Kent home of his original illustrator. To this day Rupert wears smart casual clothes and an unlined, round, never-ageing face, living a blamelessly middle England life in Nutwood with an irreproachable family and friends.

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