Propeller goes missing

SMITH and Daniels, the cutler and tool retailer that traded on Great Yarmouth Market Place for more than four decades until the mid-Sixties, was the shop where I was a regular customer in my far-off schooldays for Dinky Toys when they were in short supply soon after the war.

SMITH and Daniels, the cutler and tool retailer that traded on Great Yarmouth Market Place for more than four decades until the mid-Sixties, was the shop where I was a regular customer in my far-off schooldays for Dinky Toys when they were in short supply soon after the war.

Having to change buses in the town centre to travel to my home in Gorleston after lessons meant I probably made a nuisance of myself with my inquiry every few days: “Got any new Dinkies in yet?”

The answer was usually in the negative because the staff knew that I was disinterested in the Dinky models of military vehicles that were on display. I was seeking “civvie” ones like cars, vans, lorries, petrol tankers, buses and coaches that were harder to come by, and consignments were delivered infrequently.

So imagine my surprise recently, more than 60 years later, when I learned from a correspondent that within a few paces of where I had so often stood at the counter was a large propeller from a seaplane, propped up incongruously in a stairwell. It would have excited any lad - even one with a professed disregard for military Dinky Toys.

The writer of that letter was 85-year-old Robert Keenan, of Englands Lane, Gorleston, who had been reading the several columns in which I featured the two great world wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45. One in particular inspired him to put pen to paper and drop me a line: it centred upon Henry Allingham, the oldest survivor of the first world war who died in July, aged 113.

Henry Allingham served with the Royal Naval Air Service at its South Denes base in Great Yarmouth and was here when our town became the first in Great Britain to suffer an air raid, bombs dropped from a German Zeppelin killing two residents. “I would have loved a conversation with him, as I have had a great interest in aviation during that period and, indeed, up to the present time,” wrote Mr Keenan.

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“I worked at Smith and Daniels in the Market Place from 1950, during which time I had conversations with an ex-Royal Flying Corps (successor to the RNAS) pilot called Val Davis and who had flown from the South Denes. Perhaps Henry Allingham had met him.

“Another connection at Smith and Daniels was Horace Brewster, a master carpenter who had worked at Boulton and Paul, building Sopwith Camels. Val Davis and Captain Egbert Cadbury (famed for taking off from South Denes and shooting down a Zeppelin raider) flew Camels.”

A third link at Smith and Daniels “was a large propeller, about 10-12ft, which was standing in the stairwell. It was a two-bladed propeller which I believe was from an RNAS seaplane. The blades were coated with canvas.”

Mr Keenan continued: “When Smith and Daniels sold out about 1965, that propeller was collected by the Fleet Air Arm. We had the difficult task of man-handling it out of the window over the front of the shop where a lorry was parked.

“There was a photograph published in the Mercury that week showing the late Barbara Daniels and employee Gordon Wetherall standing by the now-loaded lorry: the rest of us were resting from our efforts!”

And my correspondent adds: “Perhaps Henry Allingham had helped to bring that propeller from South Denes - but those who would know are, alas, long gone.”

I am sorry to report that despite diligent rummaging through our picture files, I cannot find that photograph of the propeller being manoeuvred through Smith and Daniels' upper window and lowered on to the Fleet Air Arm lorry, or any other taken of that removal. My efforts to locate the propeller have proved equally fruitless, I regret to say.

I have been in contact with both the Royal Air Force Museum and the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton in Somerset. From Yeovilton, archivist Barbara Gilbert replied: “Unfortunately, no-one recalls any propeller with this sort of association, but we will trawl through our propeller records and see what we can come up with.”

She added that as this was back in the 1960s, “unfortunately, that long ago, the records will be fairly light on detail, and we may be unable to pin it down, even if it came here.”

As there was no further contact, I must assume that the Yeovilton hunt was in vain.

Smith and Daniels moved into King Street a century ago, in 1910, transferring to the Market Place premises nine years later. In 1964 the site was sold for �38,000 so retailer Woolworth could build a new store that also covered the land previously occupied by the old Central/Plaza Cinema.

While on the subject of the two world wars, recently I published a 1920 photograph of relatives of Norfolk soldiers killed in France between 1914 and 1918 gathered on a platform at Norwich Thorpe Station waiting for a train to take them to the continent on the first leg of their pilgrimage to see their official graves.

That led to a telephone call from 76-year-old Vera Traynier, of North Drive, Yarmouth, to tell me that she had spotted her grandfather in the back row. He was James Henry Nichols (1870-1950), of Filby, who would have been off to see the grave of his son, Frederick James Nichols, who was killed at Ypres, aged 20.

Another recent topic here was Nelsons, those buns/cakes dating back for perhaps the best part of a century but perhaps out of favour in 2010. An e-mail arrived from Harvey Gates, a long-time Shropshire resident who, as a lad, lived at the Mariners public house in Howard Street in Yarmouth, run by his parents.

“My memory of Nelsons is buying them from a bakers in Howard Street pre-war,” he wrote. “The shop was the other side of the road from the Mariners, almost in the centre of the pavement, along the now car-park (behind Palmers store).

“I was told they were made from stale cake - a very solid, chewy but spicy experience. I must have enjoyed them otherwise I would have no memory of them.”