Never Forgotten: Tommy Ward’s Elephant

‘Done up like Tommy Ward’s elephant,’ is a common expression in Sheffield. Used to describe someone laden like a beast of burden, the idiom dates back nearly a hundred years, to the days of the local scrap metal merchant and ship breaker Thomas Ward, and Lizzie, his rather unusual employee. As the head of Thomas W. Ward Ltd, one of his company’s most prestigious tasks had been the demolition of the SS Majestic. Built by the White Star Line in 1890 and captained by Edward Smith, who went down with his new ship, the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912, she was turned into scrap at Ward’s Morecambe yard in 1914. A family business, Ward’s brother Joseph was also involved, and was appointed Chairman of the Scrap Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Munitions during the war.

In 1916, having given up his horses for the war effort, Ward hired Lizzie from William Sedgwick, who was struggling to look after the animals of his popular travelling menagerie, after a number of his employees had been conscripted. Indian elephant Lizzie was one of the show’s main attractions, but on a practical level, Ward’s need for her was greater – her immense strength enabled her to undertake the workload of three horses.

For those who had never seen a real elephant before, the sight of Lizzie lugging scrap metal and munitions across the city was an unusual spectacle. However, she soon became a well-known figure, with stories appearing about her exploits in the press, including the occasion when she was accused of breaking a window to steal a pie that had been left to cool, or the time when she was alleged to have pinched and then eaten a cap from the head of a cheeky schoolboy. In February 1916, an article about Lizzie featured in The World’s Fair newspaper claiming that some of the city’s remaining horses, who had crossed her path, ‘were startled by this unexpected ‘dilution’ of their labour, and sniffed and shied as the elephant passed.’ Continue reading

Wings of Peace: Sadako Sasaki’s Cranes

The 6th August 1945 started out like any other sunny morning in the Japanese city of Hiroshima in the Chūgoku region of Honshū, the largest of the country’s four main islands. Hiroshima’s 350,000 residents went about their business, ignorant of the fact that the city had been chosen as the target for ‘Little Boy,’ the American codename for the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon of war. Seconds after Little Boy was dropped, the once bustling metropolis became a scene of apocalyptic carnage.

It is estimated that up to 80,000 people were killed instantly, with a further 70,000 suffering horrific injuries. The majority of Hiroshima’s buildings were reduced to rubble. Dr Michihiko Hachiya who witnessed the dreadful aftermath and kept a diary of his experiences, which would later be published in 1955, remembered how, ‘There were the shadowy forms of people, some of whom looked like walking ghosts. Others moved as though in pain, like scarecrows, their arms held out from their bodies with forearms and hands dangling.’

Above: British Pathé footage of the bombing of Hiroshima (1945)

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The Whirl Of Life: Vernon Castle’s Walk

At the dawn of the Jazz Age, the birth of recorded sound allowed for the growth of exciting new musical genres, and these modern tunes required fresh ways to move to them. To many who filled ballrooms and dance halls across America in the years before the Great War, no dancer captured the public’s imagination more than Vernon Castle. Alongside his ravishing wife Irene, he caused a rhythmic revolution, and, as another major conflict loomed in 1939, their compelling story inspired the hit musical, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Above: Scene from The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)

Born William Vernon Blyth on 2nd May 1887, as the son of a publican he grew up in Norwich and London, before moving to New York with his actress sister Coralie Blythe (having changed her name from Caroline) and his brother-in-law, Lawrence Grossmith, a music hall performer and the son of the Victorian comedian, actor and composer George Grossmith.

Accepting minor roles under the wing of the legendary vaudeville star and manager Lew Fields, he became professionally known as Vernon Castle, and in 1910, he met Irene Foote, a 17 year-old amateur actress, at the New Rochelle Rowing Club. Though Irene later claimed, ‘I could tell by looking at him that he was not my cup of tea,’ her feelings rapidly changed and within weeks, ‘I realized that he was as much in love with me as I was with him.’ They were married a year later, to the dismay of her father, an eminent New York physician whose objections stemmed from his belief that ‘actors never had any money.’ Spending their honeymoon in England, Irene considered the local women to be ‘dowdily dressed,’ and complained of how she found London ‘inferior to New York.’ Continue reading

On The Sentimental Side: Al Bowlly And His Crooners Choir

Albert Allick ‘Al’ Bowlly was born in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique on 7th January 1898 (some sources claim 1899 and others 1890), to a Greek father and Lebanese mother who met on a ship sailing to Australia, married in Perth, and then emigrated to Johannesburg where their son spent his formative years. After leaving school to become a barber, in his spare time Bowlly developed an interest in singing and playing the ukulele, banjo and guitar, and began performing in nightclubs across the South African capital. It was in one of these nightclubs that the bandleader Edgar Adeler, who was on a nationwide tour of the country, first met the budding young musician and invited him on tour as his ukulele player. Adeler would soon discover that Bowlly’s magnificent voice surpassed his ukulele playing abilities, describing it as ‘out of this world.’

A disagreement with Adeler saw Bowlly quit the tour, before travelling to Indonesia. Funding his journey to Europe by busking, in 1927 Bowlly arrived in Berlin where he was re-united with Adeler, and provided the vocals for his recording of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies. The following year, Bowlly joined the Filipino bandleader Fred Elizalde as his singer, during Elizalde’s stint at the Savoy Hotel. Bowlly’s big break arrived in 1930, when he became the vocalist for Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Dance Orchestra. Pouring his heart into every lyric, Noble observed how Bowlly allowed himself to wallow in the emotion of every song, his eyes brimming with tears when he sung the more sentimental ballads so powerfully that, ‘never mind him making you cry, he could make himself cry!’

Collaborating with Noble, as well as other popular bandleaders, like Roy Fox and Lew Stone, Bowlly churned out hit after hit, such as Goodnight Sweetheart (1931) Love Is The Sweetest Thing (1932) and Midnight, The Stars and You (1934). His smooth style of singing, known as crooning, later adopted by countless male singers from Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole to Mel Tormé and Andy Williams, coupled with his leading man looks, earned him the nickname ‘The Big Swoon’ from his army of admirers.

Above: Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Dance Orchestra and Al Bowlly – Midnight, The Stars and You (1934)

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