Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Britain says "Goodbye" to the wonderfully Irascible Creator of its Most Beloved Children's Books, Raymond Briggs


Raymond Briggs, who has died at the age of 88, gave children his 'Father Christmas' in 1973, which featured a solitary old curmudgeon toiling through bad weather on his sleigh in oilskins, complaining all the way. Raymond commented : “Bloody awful job. He’s going to be a bit grumpy".

'Fungus the Bogeyman' followed in 1977 and 'The Snowman' in 1978, which has sold in excess of 5.5 million copies globally and has been translated into 15 languages. Ironically, Raymond hated Christmas, but has become inextricably linked that season and the animation of his picture book, which was first screened in 1982 and is now as traditional Christmas fare. He acknowledged that, with stage shows, adverts, toys, toilet paper, it became  : “A worldwide industry. China, Japan: a world of Snowmen. The whole blessed world. I was fed up with it years ago. I’m even more fed up with it now it’s been going on for nearly 40 bloody years.” 

Even Raymond's sweetest, most playful works are full of intimations of mortality : 'The Snowman' ends up as a pool of water with a scarf floating on top of it and now, over the 256 pages of his last book, he contemplated old age and death and didn't like them much. 



His collection of short pieces, entitled 'Time for Lights Out', which he worked on for thirteen years, is illustrated with his pencil drawings and is a collection of short pieces, some funny, some melancholy, some remembering his wife who died young, others about the joy of grandchildren and of walking the dog.

Most of the collection centred on his home in Sussex which featured in his poem :

Looking round this house,
What will they say,
The future ghosts
“There must have been
Some barmy old bloke here,
Long-haired, artsy-fartsy type,
Did pictures for kiddy books
Or some such tripe.
You should have seen the stuff
He stuck up in that attic !
Snowman this and snowman that,
Tons and tons of tat.

He reflected on the joys of the daily walk in the Spring : “Great clots of primroses everywhere! Good job this book’s not in colour. I’d have to paint the bloody things” and went on to investigate the mysteries of old men’s hair:]; the frailties of age and ill health; the passing of time and the stubborn endurance of objects and said : “The breadboard I use today, and the knife, have been with me all my life”.

He also returned to his childhood during the Second World War; to his evacuation to the countryside, and to his parents, previously immortalised in the 1998 graphic memoir 'Ethel and Ernest'.

Raymond generally sat uneasily in modern Britain. He hardly touched his : "iPad thing because it gets me in a temper. I need it to keep in touch through incoming mail, but that's all I use it for." He found tv programmes went on for too long and said : "I looked up 'Foyle's War'in the Radio Times and it was on for two hours, I mean two solid hours. I couldn't sit through that, however much I like Michael Kitchen". He didn't mind meeting his readers : "If it's brief", but confessed, that if they start singing the Snowman song, "I'm Walking in the Air" he was tempted : "To give them a kick up the arse." And on top of everything : "When you get older everything takes so bloody long, getting the food, clearing up, washing up, getting the bedroom ready, having a bath".

Fifteen years ago, when he was 73, he told 'The Telegraph' that 'Time for Lights Out' would “definitely be my last” book and was “bound to have a sad ending”. When he was 81 he showed 'The Independent' one entry from the book – a list of illustrators’ names, with the dates of their deaths beside them, and another list noting the health of living illustrators and said he : "Didn’t like being taken by surprise by people telling me one of them’s died.” 

Dan Franklin, who acquired the book for Jonathan Cape, said that : “In some ways, all of Raymond’s books have been about death. Here he confronts it head-on in a book that is honest and truthful and very touching. 'Ethel & Ernest', about his parents, was the very first book on the Cape graphic novel list. It’s wonderful to be publishing him again”.


For that wonderful irascibility : Raymond's 2017 interview on BBC's 'Newsnight (link)

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to its fearless Civil Rights Activist, Roy Hackett



As an activist, Roy said :

 "We have a saying : "You got be 'in it', to change it" and that is my word : " 'In it', to change it".(link)

Roy, who has died at the age of ninety-three, arrived in Britain at the age of twenty-four in 1952. He had grown up in Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica, on the same 7th Street that was immortalised in the Bob Marley and the Wailers song 'Natty Dread'. (link)

"I've got to reach seventh street (Natty Dreadlock)
Natty Dreadlock Bingy Bongo I (Natty Dread)
Natty dread, Natty Dread, now (Natty Dread)
Roots Natty Congo I (Natty Dread)"

After leaving school, by day he worked in a drug store for for £5 a week and by night for the Blue Mountain Coffee Company for the same pay, but only for five months a year and once he paid his shilling a day for rent, he had barely enough to survive. Ironically, he says he was drawn to Britain by the promises of a better life made by none other than Enoch Powell – the man whose racist “rivers of blood” speech, delivered in 1968, warned of the danger of allowing immigrants like him, into the country.(link)

He had travelled from Jamaica to Britain across the Atlantic by ship, because at £35, it was half the price of the plane journey. When bad weather forced his ship stop on the eastern seaboard of Canada he remembered watching a polar bear trying to steal some fish and mistakenly tried to disembark, assuming he had arrived in England. When he did arrive, it was Liverpool, where he lived for a time, before moving to Wolverhampton and then London. Roy recalled : "When I came to London I got a job with the engineering firm Taylor Woodrow. They brought me to Somerset to build England's first atomic power station, Hinkley Point, in 1957, I worked in the turbine hall. While I was there at least a quarter of the workforce were black and Jamaican, and we got talking".

Roy now moved to Bristol and on his first day in 1956, he walked around the city looking for a boarding house. It was in the middle winter around Christmas time, he recalled : "I walked down Ashley Road looking for housing and found one house which didn't have a card on it to one that said 'No gypsies. No dogs. No Irish and No coloureds'. The lady opened the door, saw me, and without saying a word, just slammed the door. It was a struggle, people were blatantly racist".(link) He spent his first night sleeping in a doorway and said : "I wanted to go to the police station, but really, I didn’t know where the police station was. There wasn’t one in St. Paul's, the nearest one was in town".

A white passerby took pity on him and he recalled that he : “Just come and throw an overcoat on me”, before walking off and Roy told himself : “It’s not all of them as bad as we think”. For many, though : “If they think, I had two other legs somewhere else, because they didn’t talk to me as though I was a human”. In 2020, Roy reflected : "Great Britain was not 'great' to its Commonwealth people because we were of different colour". After he had the door slammed in his face : "I said to myself : "I think that's the norm here". There was no rule about discrimination and what you couldn't do. They thought they could do any thing and get away with it".

When eventually he found lodgings in the city, in the St. Paul's District, it was just one room he shared with his cousin and two other men. In the downstairs front room, there was a family with three children and every other room in the house was similarly overcrowded. They all shared a bath that was kept outside and dragged in once a week to be filled with water. He said : "We would either use that, or once a week on a Saturday we would walk about two miles down to Broadmead Centre for a bath, where we paid one shilling for a towel and soap".

Every morning, Roy, who was working for the construction firm Robert McAlpine in Wales, had to rise at 4am to get to work on time. He said :  "I worked there as a labourer, but during my time I became a teaboy and worked with Tom Jones. We were all young men at that time. He was always singing. When I said : “Where are you from?”  In a thick welsh accent he said : “From the Rhondda Valley,” and I said : “Get back there with that noise!”

When he did get the chance for leisure, he said it wasn't safe for a lone black man, or a couple, to go into the city centre after dark. Violent racism meant there had to be a group of at least six or seven people, if they were to be safe from assault by the local teddy boys. The police, he said, always looked the other way. Roy confessed : "I lived a dog's life for the first five years in this country. If I could have afforded the fare, I would have gone back the next day, actually. I didn’t think I belonged here at all. A lot of people who came here at the same time as me said the same thing: if they could have afforded the fare they would have gone back the next day".

In 1959 at the age of thirty-one, he married his childhood sweetheart, Ena, who arrived in Bristol from Jamaica, in 1958, and subsequently they had a daughter. In the 1960s he said : "When I tried to buy my first house there was a big crowd of white people standing out and I thought they'd come to welcome me in their midst. 'No'. You know what they did ? They said they didn't want me there. I said : "Why did God make two colours or three colour people ? Why didn't he just make everybody, black ? Everybody white ? Everybody pink ? We wouldn't have this trouble". I felt extremely degraded, but thought : 'What am I doing Here ? And I think I've just got to put up with it until something comes along".(link)

Roy recalled : "After I got settled in Bristol I met a friend. He and I were born in the same month, in the same year, in the same county. His name was Owen Henry. He gave me a lot to think about and said we should form something to tackle the Council's attitude towards the black population, because with the Council when you went for a job they could tell you anything and kick you out of the office". At Roy's suggestion, in 1962, they formed an association because : "As with today, one voice is not really enough, you have to have somebody behind you". He said : "We were going to include Bristol in the name but we decided, no, we were commonwealth people so we called it the 'Commonwealth Coordinated Committee'". 

Owen, who ran a travel agency, was the Chairman and Paul Stephenson, had served in the RAF and worked as a support teacher, became the President and Spokesperson and Roy was the Public Relations Officer, 

Roy recalled : "We used to meet in the 'Speedy Bird Cafe' on  Sundays, drinking fish tea and red stripe beer and listening to calypso music with a paraffin heater to keep warm. After 1962 once we had the CCC name we started a recruitment drive for membership". Roy recalled : "We decided to fight anything that a black person was involved, to help them out" and challenged Bristol Council, pressuring it to act on housing and employment. 

Having said that, one day in early 1963, Roy was walking in the Broadmead area of Bristol, when he saw a man outside the 'Bristol Omnibus Company', who was crying. He told Roy that he was weeping because the Company had told him he could not get an interview for a job there. The memory of that injustice stayed with Roy for the rest of his life and when he was interviewed last year, he said that it still stuck in his throat : “Not because he was a Jamaican, or foreign, but because he was black. It is degrading”. Roy marched straight into the bus company to demand answers. He was, he said : “Born an activist” and saw it as his duty to challenge racism whenever he saw it. Once in front of the manager, he made it clear he was not asking for black people to be treated equally – he was demanding it and he remembered telling the man : “If he can’t drive it, then the bus won’t be moving, will it?”

It is hard to believe, but in 1963, it was entirely legal for British companies to discriminate against someone because of the colour of their skin and the Bristol Omnibus Company was one such company, notorious for racial discrimination in recruitment. (link) Roy said workers from the colonies and former colonies were allowed to : “Wash the buses at night”, but were barred from the better-paid work on the bus crews. This segregation was not only upheld by the bus company, but also vigorously defended by the local branch of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, which did not want its members to lose jobs to immigrants. The company now became the target of the Commonwealth Coordinated Committee's most important fight against discrimination. 

Roy recalled : "They were not shifting. We said : "We've got to take it to the other level. We are going to form ourselves into a group and stop the buses". We physically sit down in the road. At the time Arthur Scargill was having a miners' strike up north and we were having the strike down here and at one stage they said : "Arthur Scargill, Roy Hackett and Tony Benn is the three worst persons in England".(link)


Roy had never worked on the buses, nor had any intention of doing so, although Ena had been turned down for a job as a bus conductor. In fact, at one time,  Roy worked for St Anne's Board Mill Co Ltd Works in Bristol, where he became the foreman of 52 white employees, which, needless to say, was unusual for the time. He said he got involved in the struggle with the bus company : “For his countrymen”, because the bus service that they had to use every day served as a daily reminder of the racism in Bristol society. It was particularly galling, because London Transport was not only hiring black people to work on buses in London, but also actively recruiting in the Caribbean.

Together with Owen Henry, Audley Evans, Prince Brown and Paul Stephenson, Roy used his skill as an organiser to marshal the 3,000-strong Caribbean community in Bristol into a boycott of the bus service and proved to be charismatic leader who spoke with natural eloquence. The idea was partly inspired by the action in Montgomery in the USA in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white traveler. The Bristol Boycott was announced at a press conference on 29 April 1963 and  gained national attention as the first boycott of its kind in Britain. Roy organised the blockades in Fishponds Road, which ensured that no buses could make it past their barrier and into the city centre. Apparently, each time he recalled it, Roy's eyes flickered as he remembered the determination the campaigners felt and as he said : “No bus came in and no bus came out”.

The Caribbean community arranged lifts between themselves to get to work, but support for the boycott was much more widespread, because it had caught national attention. It included the local MP Tony Benn, students at the University of Bristol, anti-racist groups such as the 'Campaign Against Racial Discrimination' and sympathetic members of the general public. Even the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, backed them, wishing the protesters : “All the success”. Roy remembered Tony as a genuine friend to the campaigners who drank tea with the organisers and stood in the road alongside them. In fact, it was in his role as a Cabinet Minister that he helped the campaign pave the way for the 'Race Relations Act' of 1965 and Roy was convinced that Tony's influence was key in persuading the Wilson Government to pass anti-racism legislation.

Despite Paul Stephenson's optimism in front of the press (link), the group faced hostility and threats of violence, but Roy remembered how, undeterred, they felt and said :What we started now, we won’t stop until we get what we want”. After four months of disruption, on 28th August, the day Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, the Transport Union and the company caved to the boycotters’ demands and the colour bar at the bus company was lifted. The success of the boycott, with its size and the level of public support, added to the pressure to change the law.(link)

Three years after Roy had met the man weeping outside the bus company, he met him again when he stepped on to a bus and saw the man behind the wheel but it had been a far from a simple triumph. To get to this happy ending, Roy had to take on an entire bus company and the structures that allowed an informal, but devastating segregation to flourish in parts of the Britain and it had taken months of the bus boycott to finally overturn open discrimination.

After the boycott, Roy stayed very active in the community and that year founded the 'St Paul’s Festival', which later became the 'St Paul’s Carnival', which has become one of the biggest events in Bristol’s cultural calendar. Eventually, even the Union honoured him, with a 'Roy Hackett Training Room' in their offices which prompted his response : “If you can’t beat them, join them”. He himself gave talks in schools about the Boycott, his life and his experiences in Bristol and he said children were  always keen to know what life was like “back then”. Of the Boycott, he said : "They never taught it in school, that this happened here and I said : "Why, are they ashamed of what they done to us ?" I talk to the primary schools and I always tell them that we had to do that to bring you up and never forget your roots".(link)

From 1965, until he was seventy-seven in 2005, Roy served on the 'Bristol Race Equality Council' which was the first of its kind in the country. He chaired the Committee of the legendary 'Bamboo Club', which hosted international music artistes like ‘Bob Marley and the Wailers’ and Jimmy Cliff. In his latter years memory of his legacy in Bristol waned, but there were calls to replace the toppled statue of the slave trader, Edward Colston with a tribute to him, to which he wryly responded with :  “So they can pull me down in 20 years?” He continued to offer help to young activists with the one stipulation that he could : “Sit in the shade”. He said that seeing the 'Black Lives Matter' protests gave him hope, because he wanted : "The younger people to fight it. We fought for what we have now. Let’s push it further”.

LaToyah McAllister-Jones, Executive Director of the St Paul's Carnival, said : "Rest In Power, Mr Roy Hackett. You have inspired so many, your service and dedication to your community lives on through us all".

Bristol West Labour MP, Thangam Debbonaire said: "It was an honour to know him. He was an inspiration to so many and taught us all so much about standing up for justice and equality. I will miss his warm smile, quick wit and charm, as well as his deep and lasting commitment to the people of Bristol and to ending racism".

Roy said : 
"Try and try and never stop trying, because trying is what I did in my life, in my whole life. I keep trying because everybody think I'm a 'no good' and I keep trying, until I become a 'too good' ".(link)

In 1965, Harold Wilson stood up in Parliament and said : "As from today, any person discriminating against another because of politics, religion, colour, creed or disability, you have committed a crime punishable, five months in prison or five thousand of both". And I cried. I said "Thank Heavens for this". I said :"We won".(link)

"Trying is a great thing and if you ever fail one, try another time or try to improve what you fill in. You know and try again, because young people today, they are tomorrow's people and we must try our best to make them be a good, 'Tomorrow's People'".(link)

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Britain is no Country for Old Men and Women, forced out of retirement and back into work

Apparently, spiraling inflation, volatile financial markets and the soaring cost of living are leading to the 'Great Unretirement', with research suggesting retired people are returning to the workplace. The Office for National Statistics has said that data suggests that there are now more people aged 50 and older 'in work' or 'looking for work' than since just before the pandemic and its analysis shows there was an increase in their number by 116,000 in the past year. Apparently, 66,000 of these were older men over 65 and 37,000 of them were older women.

In addition, qualitative data from the ONS supports the notion that the figures reflects those coming out of retirement, rather than simply continuing to look for work after the age of 65. It asked 12,000 people aged 50 to 70 years old who were not currently looking for work :

"Would you consider going back to work in the future ?"

* One in three of those aged 50-64 said "Yes"

* One in 10 of those aged 65 and older said "Yes"

Experts say in-depth research indicates the increase is driven by former people in retirement returning to work, rather than people working longer. Stuart Lewis, the Chief Executive of 'Rest Less', a digital community for the over-50s said : “People who thought they could retire comfortably during the pandemic are having to unretire and find work again to bring in extra income and top up their pensions while they still can. Increasing numbers of retirees are feeling poorer than they’ve felt before, with consumer confidence at a record low and purchasing power eroded on a monthly basis. All this is driving the trend of unretirement”. 

The trend is also supported by a recent poll of 'Rest Less' retired members, 32% of whom said they would consider returning to work or that they were already working again. Almost 70% of those said they were “unretiring” purely or partly for financial reasons.

Stuart said that volatile financial markets were creating significant fear and uncertainty in people’s perceptions of their future retirement income and the one-off suspension of the state pension triple lock last April meant that the state pension only increased by 3.1%, while inflation increased at 9.4% in June. He said : “It’s no surprise that people are looking at ways to make additional earnings”.

Caroline Abrahams, the Charity Director at Age UK, said it was no wonder that significant numbers of retired people were : “Scrambling to return to work in an effort to shore up their finances against the storm. Judging from what we’re being told at 'Age UK', many older people are looking ahead to the winter with extreme trepidation. With inflation high and rising we can see why: the prospect of scrambling to afford to keep the heating on is truly frightening. Carefully laid retirement plans, which looked economically sustainable a year ago, are now shot to pieces and that’s a huge disappointment if you’ve been looking forward to a rest and the chance to enjoy yourself after many years of working”.

Ros Altmann, the former Pensions Minister and Conservative peer, said the Government was wrong to remove the promised protections from pensions and : “The fear of inflation has caused huge anxiety and driven some to return to work even if their health may not be up to it”.

Cora Adcock, a part-time music teacher who retired at 64, had to return to work when she was 69 because her pension did not cover her increased living expenses. She said : "I just couldn’t manage financially on my state and teacher’s pensions, especially as I missed a few years of contributions because I took time off to care for my children when I was younger”. Cora has found work playing the organ for up to 13 funerals a day at a local crematorium but, now aged 71, has lost her job. Partially sighted, she is still trying to find work and said : “I’m looking for work that I can’t really physically do because the bills are such a worry. I’ve already cut everything I can. I don’t even use the oven”.

Dr James Derounian, was a National Teaching Fellow and Visiting Professor at the University of Bolton. He specialised in research and teaching around community engagement, rural issues, and blended learning who retired at 62, was forced to return to work at 62. He was not alone when he said :  

“I had planned to retire, but life had other ideas. The cost of living curtailed all my plans”.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Why is Britain still a country with an unrecognised and forgotten hero and Mighty Warrior of the Second World War : Desert Commando, Mike 'Lofty' Carr ?

Mike, who died on the 5th April at the age of 101 and was in active service during the Second World War for five years and received an obituary in the 'Times' and 'Telegraph' and a notice of his passing in the 'Wirral Globe', but no other press coverage and only a eight mentions on Twitter. On the other hand the passing of another old Second World War veteran, Harry Billinge, who died on the 5th April at the age of 96 and was in active service for two years in the War, received widespread press, TV and radio coverage and comment in social media. This can partly be explained that Harry's face was familiar because he spent more than 60 years collecting money for the Royal British Legion. He also helped raise more than £50,000 for the British Normandy Memorial and would visit the site in Northern France each year and it was his appearance on BBC Breakfast TV in 2019 which saw him go viral.(link) By contrast, Mike's part in the conflict would have remained unknown, had it not been for the publication of Gavin Martin's book, 'The Men Who Made the SAS', published in 2015.

* * * * * * *

Mike was born 'Stuart Michael Carr' in the Autumn of 1920 in the town of Frome in Somerset and later moved with his elder brother and two sisters, 140 miles north, to the market town of Stone in Staffordshire where his father, an accountant, became manager of the Joules  Brewery. Before this his father and grandfather had both belonged to a family of Anglo-Irish soldiers. Mike must have been an adolescent when they moved, witness the facts that : it was in the West Country that he had learned to use a shotgun and he never lost his Somerset accent. He was already something of a dare-devil who could remember the times he trespassed on railway lines and watched the express trains go by so close, he could have almost touched them.

His mother was ambitious for her two sons and both gained a place at Alleyne’s Grammar School for Boys in Stone, with its Tudor origins and motto : 'Nisi Dominus Frustra / Without the Lord everything is in vain'. Although Mike was not an academic enthusiast, he was encouraged by his grandfather, who worked on the passenger ships to Australia, to take an interest in astronomy and navigation. With his help, he made a theodolite, using pieces form his Meccano set for boys and used it as a navigation surveying instrument with a rotating telescope for measuring horizontal and vertical angles.

On leaving school at 16 he worked initially as an insurance clerk and had begun training as a surveyor for the pottery industry when, in 1939, the War Minister, Leslie Hore Belisha, doubled the size of the Territorial Army and appealed for volunteers. Mike enlisted in the 'Staffordshire Yeomanry'.  He chaffed at the petty regulations of army life and his obvious intelligence and outspokenness antagonized his officers and he in turn regarded the Officers' Mess as the  'North Staffs Hunt in Khaki'. After training, in January 1940, he moved with his Regiment and nine other cavalry regiments to the Middle East for garrison duties in Palestine and Trans-Jordan, where they would exchange their horses for tanks.

Meanwhile, to the west, in North Africa, 
Italy, which had declared war in June 1940 and a huge army in Libya which threatened the Suez Canal in British-occupied Egypt which was critical to Britain's communication with India. The Libyan Desert posed a challenge to both sides with its vast sand dunes making it all but impossible for large forces to penetrate inland. It was now that Major Ralph Bagnold of the Royal Signals, who had spent much of the 1920s and 1930s exploring the desert suggested to General Sir Archibald Wavell, 'Commander-in-Chief Middle East', that he formed a desert scouting force, a small body of motor commandos, never more than 350 strong, known as the 'Long Range Desert Group'. Wavell readily agreed, and the LRDG began operations in September.


There was no shortage of volunteers, but what Bagnold wanted first and foremost, were navigators. When he told this to Brigadier John Chrystall, Commander of the Yeomanry Cavalry Brigade in Palestine, whom he met by chance in Cairo, the Brigadier said he had just the man, namely a 'Trooper Carr', who had just guided him through the buffer zone between Syria and Palestine. Given the lesson he learned from his grandfather Mike said : 
“I took to navigating easily. I’d trained as a surveyor and was comfortable using a theodolite”. 

When Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon Cox-Cox of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, who had taken a dislike to Mike, who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Regiment, both in size and intellect, refused to to give him a 'leg-up' and release Mike, the Brigadier sent sent two military policemen with instructions to escort Mike to the LRDG’s base in Cairo. There he joined 30 other 'possibles' from the cavalry division and was one of eight accepted to join. After a brief interview by Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Prendergast said to Mike : "You're ready-made".(link)

The were told by Captain Pat McCraith that they were :
"Bagnold's blue-eyed boys" and they should "forget everything we had learnt up to now because we were no longer regular army". Mike said  that he also : "Went on to give us a document which we signed and returned. It was our oath that we would never, for the whole of our lives, reveal what we had been up to in the LRDG".(link)

Mike, seen here on the left, wearing his woolen cap comforter, had a position in the LRDG which was important beyond his rank of 'lance corporal'. The Group prized Morse signalers and vehicle mechanics and, as in the navy, 'navigation' preceded 'gunnery' in importance. He soon made his presence felt since t
here were few men bigger than Mike in the Group. At six foot four inches, and nick- named 'Lofty', he weighed fifteen stone, had the brawn of a rugby player and the brains and ability of a top rank navigator capable of finding his way in the flat, featureless and unforgiving expanse of expanse of the Libyan Desert. Using his natural strength, the heavy Vickers K machine gun was his weapon of choice. It was a frightening gas-operated weapon that fired 1200 rounds per minute and Mike had a handle fitted and used his strength tp fire it from the hip. 

F
or navigation in the desert by day, Bagnold had invented a 'sun compass', which was a reliable, but rough indicator which was of no use by night. The theodolite, with its astral fixes, reduced the chance of error dramatically and Mike said that, in terms of accuracy : “In the desert I was down to 200m". Later in the War, during a discussion on whether navigation was an 'art' or a 'science', he amused Major Bagnold by suggesting it was : "The art of getting lost scientifically". Mike remembered one particular they had about the word 'courage'. He said : "One of the things I speculated with Bagnold about was whether people started with a reservoir of courage" and then it went down and was extinguished or increased with more action and experience. He ended with : "Bagnold never offered a solution, he offered examples that made me think".

Mike also found himself teaching navigation to the Special Air Service, formed by Colonel David Stirling in 1941, for offensive action behind enemy lines after the Germans had joined the Italians in North Africa that year. Indeed, Stirling tried to poach him, but Mike said “No” on the grounds that the SAS’s selection of recruits was too slack. He later said :"
The LRDG was a group in which every single man was a specialist in something, while people will tell you, not least people connected to the SAS, that the SAS absolutely worship the LRDG”. “We were regarded as an undisciplined rabble - but we were not a bunch of thugs. We were composed of selected people who all had a particular skill that was needed at that time. We had one specialist in knocking people about, because sometimes that had to be done, but most of us just did our own jobs. To serve in the unit was a privilege. The camaraderie was magnificent, it was a family”.

The LRDG, the secretive unit, which : never numbered more than 350 men; went deep behind enemy lines; stayed hidden for days in ditches or bushes just yards from the enemy; were unable to light fires in the freezing desert nights; rationed their water so tightly they were taught to “wash” using sand. As to his role, Mike said : “Being a navigator was extremely challenging. One minor fault or miscalculation could have tragic consequences, but I have no regrets whatsoever”. As a matter of interest, the men only wore the Arab headdress for the camera and preferred their cap comforters the the desert. 

Out on patrol in May 1941, Mike recalled : "It was a terrible heatwave, even by desert standards. We ran out of water and just had to sit there. We even drank the radiator water. We were really absolutely done". When they got on the move he said : "The navigation was difficult because I was delirious". By force of will, he kept navigating until he saw the dome of the oasis town of Jaghbub 
in the distance. He must have passed out, because he said that when he woke up he was in the lap of the Patrols Medical Officer, Sandle who was bathing his lips with salt water. He said : "He was telling me : "I have a beautiful sister in Bristol and after the War, I'm going to introduce you". He never did".

In November his patrol, in their unmarked vehicles, came under attack from three low flying RAF Beaufighters and under cannon fire he was forced to run for his life and his truck caught fire. The following day the patrol was spotted but not attacked by two German fighters who he said : "Waggled their wings waved to us and cleared off". 

Early in December his patrol spotted a large Italian camp at a road junction and he moved forward with the small bespectacled, Captain Frank Simms. Mike recalled : "He was a hero of mine, one of the few men I have met who appeared to have no fear, or certainly ne was able to control his fear". He also "frightened the pants" off Mike because : "He just loved bumping people off. It's part of war, but he didn't feel the need to kill because there was a war. He just quite liked the idea". Mike was also intrigued by his gentler side, admiring wild flowers in a wadi of weeping over a bird dying in the heat. In the attack of the camp. Mike was separated from the patrol, which had assumed he had been captured. Mike returned to the wrecked enemy transport and when an Italian soldier leapt from the back of a truck and Mike, unsure if he was about to be attacked, instinctively fired his rifle and killed the man in mid air.

The Senussi
were a Muslim political-religious tribe of desert nomads who had been brutally repressed by the Italians for years and in 
December 1941 he had much to thank them for. He was somewhere between Mekili and Berna in Libya when he became separated from fellow soldiers after raid which damaged 15 enemy vehicles and decided to walk to rejoin his unit. He now 
ended up seeking refuge in a Senussi camp, where he hid from patrolling Germans by dressing as an Arab. He remained a guest of the Senussi for more than a week and said : “I was provided with camel’s milk, macaroni and coffee by the natives”. He also became ill as a result of drinking down the camel dung the Senussi had drooped in the milk for medicinal reasons. He was now moved to a bed in the Sheikh's smaller tent and over a period of days, recovered and went to the water in a ravine, a 'wadi' where he scalded himself : "To kill bugs. fleas, etc".

During his time with them, he recalled saving the life of an Australian airman who had crashed in the desert, 40 miles from the camp. He recalled : “I dressed him as an Arab and put him on a donkey and we easily got through the German lines. He would have died within two days if I hadn’t got to him – but years later I read a book about how this airman found a donkey and was returned to safety, but it didn’t mention me!”

Still separated form his unit and lying beneath a heap of camel saddles in the camp, Mike watched as six tanks rumbled towards him. The drivers’ cap badges looked familiar and he hoped to cadge a lift back to his own unit with what he thought was a  British convoy. However, as he broke cover and walked towards the armoured vehicles, he realised his mistake. They were German tanks, part of Rommel’s fearsome Afrika Korps and he was  in their line of fire. He said : “The roundels on their forage caps looked like the RAF’s and I remember thinking ‘I didn’t know the British had those’. Fortunately, I was dressed as an Arab, so I very quietly turned around and ducked into a tent”. 
When he finally made it back to base, two days before Christmas in 1941, his native disguise was so convincing officers suspected he was a spy.

Cecil Beaton, operating as a war photographer was sent by the Ministry of  Information to Cairo in 1942 to photograph celebrities of the desert war, including the LRDG. He was also amused to photograph the “idlers” in the Group who spent their time at Shepheard’s Hotel, whom he dubbed the SRSG : 'The Short Range Shepheard’s Group'. In addition, to photos of the Group he also caught this striking image of Mike in which he captured the young and determined warrior.

In September 1942, Mike was a member of the force whose target was the Italian fort
at Jalo, a desert oasis some 250 miles south of Benghazi on the Libyan coast, 500 miles beyond the allied lines. As a prelude to General Montgomery’s coming offensive at El Alamein, the LRDG, supported by Sudanese troops led by British officers, were ordered to capture Jalo. 

Their long approach through the Libyan desert had gone well. Mike always said that after the first 50 miles, the only real danger was from aircraft, and not just the enemy’s. Their final approach was on foot in pitch darkness, carefully skirting a minefield, with Mike at the head of the leading column. All went well until promised success until a sentry shouted a challenge in Italian and Mike silenced him with a burst from his Vickers and the fort erupted with small-arms and mortar fire. The Sudanese soldiers who accompanied the Group fled and a mortar round incapacitated the LRDG commander. Unexpectedly the Germans had reinforced the post. 

Mike, whose Vickers had a rate of fire of more than a thousand  rounds a minute, covered the withdrawal until his gun abruptly stopped. The copper firing caps in the base of the .303 cartridges had melted, and jammed the mechanism. There was nothing he could do to clear the stoppage and there were Italian voices approaching. He now edged back round the minefield, but could find no one from the patrol. Eventually stumbling into the low wall of a well, climbed over, crouched low and waited. He slipped away before dawn and hid in a henhouse, but was captured flown to Benghazi for interrogation and, as a prisoner of war, was put on a ship to Taranto, in Southern Italy.

After the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and the capitulation of the Italians in September, the Germans began moving prisoners of war, north. The most prominent and potentially troublesome ones, including Mike, eventually found themselves in what is now Poland. From here, in early 1945, he escaped. He recalled : “Some of us had been moved to a farm building, and these two halfwits were guarding it from the inside – the last thing you would do!” Mike legged it, initially finding himself walking through : “A beautiful pinewood – one of the nicest walks I’d ever had. I walked for hundreds of miles and all I had to sustain me were carrots I pinched from farms. For years afterwards I couldn’t look at carrots! I was on my last legs and thought I was going to give myself up. I approached a farmer. I still don’t know where I was, and I didn’t know what nationality he was. I told him "I am British". He pointed me in the direction of a church nearly three kilometres away and said "Americans".

Mike said : “The Americans took me on trust. This big Yank gave me a tin of soup and the moment I smelled the soup I thought of my mother’s kitchen. I started crying and the big Yank took me on his knee and he started crying. When we had finished, I think everyone there was crying!” He had been travelling for two months and weighed just seven stone  and was now flown back to Britain. After a few days’ leave he rejoined the LRDG, who were training in Scotland for redeployment to the Far East, but this came to a sudden halt when the Japanese surrendered in August.

During the course of the War, Mike had been reported to his parents as 'killed in action'. He said : “My mother later told me how my father would approach her with the telegram in his hands. I then turned this round in my mind, and I thought if I shot some poor German, then somewhere in Germany someone was going to be told the same thing.” He said : “I just wish it had never happened, but being part of a secret unit and because of the type of work I was involved with, it happened three times to my poor mother and father. My parents were told I was missing, believed killed in action".

The LRDG, was disbanded at the end of the war and Field Marshal Montgomery himself said : "Without them, after El Alamein we would have been launching ourselves into the dark". Mike returned to the Atlas Insurance Company, becoming a building surveyor and valuer for their Liverpool office, and living on the Wirral for the rest of his life. In his mid-forties, when Atlas joined a larger group, Mike decided on a career change. An accomplished artist, particularly of birds and wildflowers, as well as a woodcarver and potter, he read for a degree, gained a teaching certificate and taught art until retirement.

Military historian, Gavin Mortimer, who made a number of references to Mike in his book
'The Long Range Desert Group' said : “Lofty Carr is one of the very last of the Greatest Generation, and during the Second World War he was one of the very greatest". Given the number of men Mike had killed in combat he was understandably equivocal about his role in the War and said : “I am not proud of anything" and  “I am thoroughly ashamed of the War and everything to do with it. I can’t believe people behaved like that". 

Modest and self-effacing, Mike himself said : 

“I’m not special, everyone would always tell me that I am, but no, I am not special. I’m just one of the many people and soldiers who went out. I was lucky, I had four million other soldiers helping me and most of them were engaged in far more dangerous work.”


In grateful acknowledgement to Gavin Martin and his book : 'The Men Who Made the SAS',