Thursday, 14 November 2013

The ancient rocks of Leek

I was showing my daughter the prominent bands of Sandstone rock that lies at the bottom of Broad Street and on the road to Cheddleton. They are noticeable by pebbles stuck in the rock like currants in a cake. The quartzite pebbles are very smooth and suggest that they were once part of a fast flowing river system. It must have been a formidable obstacle to the 19th century road builders blasting their way through the town.

I was right. The Sandstone dates from the Triassic period of around 250 million years ago at a time when life on Earth nearly came to an end. Other rocks around Leek are older; the grit stones of the Roaches are from the Carboniferous period of 380 million and the limestone of the White Peak marking the one time existence of tropical coral sea date from 340 million years.

I have always been interested in the age of the Earth, which irrespective of what Creationists might think, is about 4 billion years old. Recently, I bought a book on a history of the Earth and I looked up the early Triassic period and how the area might have looked.

During this period there was only one Continent called Pangea. Britain lay near to the ocean that circled Pangea called Tethys and was closer to the equator. The Leek deposit is part of a larger group called Sherwood Sandstone covering areas out to Cheshire and eastwards towards Nottinghamshire.

 Weather conditions during the early Triassic were monsoon- like in this time which accounts for the pebbles worked smooth by the deluge and indicate a delta type area similar to the Nile today. Temperatures were high and a desert climate existed.  It was a forbidding landscape with little life. Few fossils exist in the local rocks. Later in this epoch however the first dinosaur made their impression on the landscape.

 Chirotherium, a crocodile-like ancestor of the dinosaurs, left five fingered hand-prints behind in the sand which were found millions of years later by fossil hunters. A fine example can be seen in the World Museum in Liverpool found in a sandstone quarry on the Wirral.

The Triassic period saw a long process of re-birth after the calamitous previous era- the Permian- when the planet saw a Mass Extinction event with increasing volcanic activity, methane release and acidification of the seas resulting in raised temperatures and the extinction of around 90% of all species on the Earth. It was called the Great Dying. It took the planet millions of years to recover and the rocks in the south of the town bear witness to a period when the Earth was recovering from this cataclysm. It was the greatest Mass Extinction event of which there have been five. Scientists think that the current global warming might result in the sixth Mass Extinction event now.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Local women serving in the World Wars

A friend’s mother was wounded while serving on an anti aircraft battery near Hull during World War 2. This Remembrance week I would like to write about the many women who served in both World Wars. I have decided to concentrate of the Second War as the Post and Times has bound volumes of the period. During the war it carried features on the local men and women whom served.

 The largest organisation Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) which had by the end of the war over 190,000 serving women carrying out a variety of tasks such as manning anti aircraft batteries through to clerical, telephonists and radar operators. It was work that carried risks as over 700 were killed.

 Typical was Leek woman Isabel Williams who was 22 in 1943 and was attached with the Royal Corps of Signals as a wireless operator having joined the services from Leek Moorlands Building Society. Most local women joined the ATS which was followed in numbers by the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force- the WAAF. Evelyn Mee of Wellington St felt the call of patriotic duty and joined the WAAF working at an aircraft base in the South of England. Many WAAF’s were based at Fighter Command bases which put them in great danger as bases, such as Biggin Hill , were  targets in the first raids by the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. Many WAAF’s served as the eyes of Fighter Command as they plotted the movements of incoming enemy aircraft. There were 183,000 women, who joined the WAAF at its height in 1943, 191 were killed in combat.

 The Women’s Royal Navy Service was popularly known as the Wrens and had originally been set up in 1917, at the outbreak of the Second they were reformed and at their peak numbered 75,000. 100 died in the conflict. Again a Wren’s duties mirrored that of women in the other services working as cooks, wireless operators and clerical support.

 Among Leek women was Joan Aggas of Daisy Bank whose father had fought in the First War and was the Secretary of the local British Legion. Another Wren whose family will have particular memories of Victory in Europe day was May Goldstraw of West St who married Petty Officer Trowell of Cambridge in that week and left to live in East Anglia.

Women were engaged in all areas and not just in the Services. Isobel Ede of Longsdon served as a Queen Alexandria Nurse having trained at a local hospital. Women also worked in munitions including my Auntie Ethel at Swynerton following another relative who had cleaned out gas shells at a factory in Hanley during the First War.

 War inevitably brings casualties and sadly one local woman was killed working in the Land Army in May 1944. Nancy Meredith aged 21 of Park Road worked with the Timber Corps and died in a road accident. The newspaper report of her death said that she liked the outdoor life.

On a lighter note other women were doing their bit to help the war effort as in 1943 two young Macclesfield women were caught trying to break into the American camp at Blackshaw Moor and as the war progressed other women were stopped by the Police trying to fraternise with our war time allies.