Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sophie Scholl.

The photo above shows the Erith Playhouse, which was taken on Friday afternoon - click on the photo to see a larger version. Workers are taking advantage of the theatre's temporary closure due to the Covid-19 lock down to carry out some alteration work to the photo frames inset into the outer wall of the building - these normally show still photographs from the current performance taking place inside the theatre, and notices announcing forthcoming productions. The Playhouse, which is the largest theatre in the London Borough of Bexley, is run entirely by volunteers, and receives no external funding whatsoever. Whilst the frontage of the building dates from the early 1970’s, the bulk of the building is far older; it was originally built as a cinema, which means it has very little backstage space when compared to a purpose built theatre. The cellar of the building is used to store large pieces of furniture and larger props; there is also a small doorway which leads to the orchestra pit, which is often used for prompting. The upper floor contains a compact rehearsal space, more prop storage, and the dressing and makeup rooms for the actors . Outside in the rear car park there is a large scenery dock and storage facility. You can read more about Erith Playhouse by clicking here. Comments and suggestions to me at

Last week I wrote at some length about the group of misguided and deluded anti vaccine conspiracy theorists who have been gluing stickers with their scientifically wrong, and extremely harmful propaganda on bus stops in Upper Belvedere. I mentioned that the person or persons responsible were using the name White Rose - which was originally used by a group of heroic anti Nazi protesters in Germany during World War II. As I wrote, I feel that the misuse of the good name of the White Rose resistance group by a contemporary conspiracy theorist is insulting to the memory of the original group in the extreme. Following my original article, I was contacted by a couple of readers with additional information regarding the original group, and specifically on one of the White Rose group leaders, which has prompted me to write a follow - up piece. Thanks especially to reader David, who provided me with some very specific information on one particular member of the original White Rose leadership group. It is a story of amazing bravery and fortitude. Sophia Magdalena Scholl was born May 9, 1921, the fourth of sixth children. Her father was the mayor of Forchtenburg, a small town in the south of Germany. When Sophie was 9, the family moved to Ludwigsburg and later Ulm, before settling in Munich. In 1933, like most girls age 12, she joined the League of German Girls, founded in 1930 as the female branch of the Hitler Youth movement. (By 1939 membership would be compulsory). At first Sophie and her brother were enthusiastic Hitler supporters, but she soon began criticising the organisation for its militarism. Her father’s influence certainly played a part in their early dissent, as he and many of his friends opposed Adolf Hitler from the beginning. At home, he also exposed his children to works by banned writers like Thomas Mann and Paul Claudel. Sophie Scholl was a skilled artist, and another shaping factor in her political outlook was her friendship with so-called ‘degenerate’ modern artists whose work didn’t exalt the “blood and soil” values of militaristic Nazi Germany. In 1937 her brother Hans and some friends were arrested for participating in the German Youth Movement, a longstanding organisation that had been banned by the Gestapo. Later, her father was also jailed for telling his secretary that Hitler was “God’s scourge on mankind.” To complete the compulsory pre-college National Labour Service, Scholl became a kindergarten teacher but was later told she also had to serve as a nursery school teacher to fulfill her duties. Seeing the growing regimentation of the Labour Service further helped turn her against Hitler. At some point during her service, she also began studying the philosophy of non-violent resistance. Scholl enrolled at the University of Munich in 1942, where her brother Hans was studying medicine, and started hanging out with a group drawn together by their love of art, literature and music. Increasingly, they found themselves discussing politics and decided something must be done. Along with philosophy professor Kurt Huber, five students – Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf and Christoph Probst – formed a group called The White Rose. To protest the Nazi regime, they participated in subversive activities including weekly discussion groups, painting “Freedom” outside the university’s entrance and encouraging students to think for themselves. Most troubling to the Nazis, however, were the anonymous leaflets they printed and distributed throughout Germany. In the summer of 1942, the friends began to question and resist the principles and policies of the Nazi regime. The group decided to adopt the strategy of passive resistance that was being used by students fighting against racial discrimination in the United States. This included publishing leaflets calling for the restoration of democracy and social justice. These were distributed throughout central Germany and the Gestapo soon became aware of the group's activities. The group co-authored six anti-Nazi Third Reich political resistance leaflets, they instructed Germans to passively resist the Nazis. They had been horrified by the behaviour of the Germans on the Eastern Front where they had witnessed a group of naked Jews being shot in a pit. Although relatively few copies of the six leaflets they wrote were produced, it still proved a difficult and dangerous undertaking. Paper was scarce, buying lots of postage stamps would have drawn suspicion, and they risked getting caught distributing copies of their writing in phone booths and other public places, or transporting them on their person by train. Of the 100 copies of the first leaflet they produced, fully 35 were handed over directly to the Gestapo. In 1943 as the war situation worsened for Hitler, The White Rose grew bolder. By the fifth pamphlet, they were producing between 6,000 and 9,000 copies. Three members painted “Down with Hitler” and “Hitler Mass Murderer” slogans on one of Munich’s main boulevards. On the night of Thurs., Feb. 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie were distributing their latest leaflet in an empty classroom when they were seen by a school caretaker named Jakob Schmid. He immediately informed the Gestapo. The White Rose leaders were questioned for four days. Then, after a show trial that lasted just a few hours, Hans and Sophie Scholl were convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Their sentences were carried out the very same day by guillotine. Gestapo prison officials noted Scholl’s courage in their reports, giving her last words as “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” Three others in the White Rose group were also later executed, but far from providing a spark that would lead to the regime’s downfall, the whole affair went largely unnoticed by Germans at the time. Seventy eight years later, Sophie Scholl is celebrated in Germany as a national hero, appearing on postage stamps and having countless schools, streets and public squares named in her honour. She is quite rightly now regarded as a martyr in the fight against the evils of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. 

Regular reader and occasional contributor Julian took the photo above last week. It shows the Woolwich ferry, the Dame Vera Lynn off travelling upriver. Julian took the photo from Erith Riverside Gardens. The ferry was travelling towards Woolwich, presumably from another location further downriver. Unfortunately by the time I was able to check the Port of London Authority ship movement website, details of the Dame Vera Lynn journey had been removed.  I was aware that one of the two Woolwich ferries had been out of action over the Christmas and New Year period, but I was not aware of the reason why. I am guessing that it may have been sent back to the Remontowa shipyard in GdaƄsk, Poland, where it was built, for updates and modification work - it is well known that the electromagnetic docking system that the two new ferries use has not been working as intended. If you have any information on the unusual movements of either of the new (ish) Woolwich ferries, please drop me a line to Many thanks in anticipation. 

Last week, revolutionary electric car maker Tesla announced a new 2021 version of its range topping Model S luxury saloon. The prototype features an aircraft style control yoke, instead of a traditional steering wheel. I have been talking to Miles, an Erith based, long term Tesla owner, who owns the current version of the Tesla Model S, for his thoughts on the forthcoming replacement model. He writes:- "I agree, they've (the aircraft - style control yoke) never worked successfully in a production car - if anything I think it could be dangerous, imagine reaching for the wheel during an accident to find it wasn't there? The steering wheel has worked fine for a century, I see no improvement here. Tesla (and much of the rest of the automotive industry) have a bit of a history of presenting prototypes that are more fanciful than reality - the Cybertruck being Tesla's most recent example. The design doesn't seem that much different from the current Model S - no bad thing. I'm not too much of a fan of the air intake at the front which I think ruins the otherwise smooth lines, I'm glad they didn't take too much inspiration from the Model 3 and instead continued the lineage of the Model S. The addition of a rear display for passengers just makes sense and would be great for families or maybe some sort of exec taxi service. The real changes here are not visible on the surface in my opinion. The improved utilisation of space through improved battery design should aid capacity - though I should note, the density of the battery has not changed substantially. The 'Plaid' tri motor system also looks compelling, moving power around the motors to best translate energy into tractive effort. As for the driver and passenger, of course the autopilot and infotainment improvements appear on the surface to be a significant step forward. I'd like to learn more about the speed at which the batteries can be charged, or more precisely the ability to put a meaningful amount of range in to the car - it's pretty good now, but a magical 100 miles in 5 minutes would finally put to bed most people's concern (assuming the price is right, some of the third party rapid/ultra chargers are far from cheap). Probably the last thing you'd expect to hear from me, I do wonder if these incredible torque and 0-60 numbers are getting a bit out of hand. I borrowed a RWD Tesla Model S this week and it constantly kept slipping out and then engaging the traction control which resulted in a very unpredictable driving experience - I was glad to get my car back. Whilst EVs are making inroads to reducing the impact traditional cars would otherwise make on the environment, these incredibly powerful machines are still the proverbial "muscle car" of the EV world. The current P100DL is known to go through a full set of 21" Michelin Sport Continental tyres in less than 10 thousand miles (admittedly with enthusiastic driving) - I would like to see Tesla invest more energy into improving their driving efficiency. For example, rather than using the tri-motor to accelerate the vehicle so quickly it slows the rotation of the earth, why not enhance 'chill mode' so the car can be as efficient as possible? 90 percent of the time you spend driving, it'll be around town and other locations where this sort of capability isn't required, and can indeed be a liability in poor traction environments - why not instead then allow the driver to enable the 'show pony' mode when only when appropriate? (chill / standard/performance/ludicrous are not really economy focussed, they change the driving response)". 

On an entirely different tack, as I have written in the past, Erith and Crayford were the historic home of Vickers Sons and Maxim Limited, who had factories in both locations which made a whole range of armaments and ammunition, principally the Vickers Machine Gun – which was an easier to produce, simpler, lighter and cheaper version of the original Maxim Gun, invented by Sir Hiram Maxim - possibly the most famous local resident. What is less well known is that Vickers Vimy heavy bombers were also constructed on a limited basis. It is thought that the aeroplane which transported Alcock and Brown on the historic very first flight across the Atlantic was one of those produced locally. In the present the fact that both Erith and Crayford were major arms manufacturing towns is unknown to many residents; indeed the only relic of the Vickers Sons and Maxim factory in Erith is that the area of shops and houses located at the bend where Erith Road becomes Fraser Road is still known by older locals as “The Pom Pom” – due to the sound of guns being tested in the dedicated shooting range that was adjacent to the factory for many years. I think it sad that many people still call the area by the informal name, but very few seem to know the actual reason for it. Nowadays one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the changes that have happened over the years that arms manufacturing was no longer something that no longer happened locally. In matter of fact nothing could be further from the truth. Slade Green is home to FN Herstal, formerly known as Manroy Engineering, a discreet company that specialises in the manufacture and refurbishment of machine guns and light cannon for the military. They also make all sorts of weapon mounts, gun turrets for armoured vehicles and assorted other military hardware such as specialised sniper rifles and vehicle armour packages. They keep a very low profile for security reasons, but they are actually located on the Power Works site on Slade Green Road, directly opposite St. Augustine's Church. It is amazing what a little bit of searching on Google Street view can find! Anyway, the Vickers machine gun or Vickers gun is a name primarily used to refer to the water-cooled .303 British (7.7 mm) calibre machine gun produced by Vickers Limited, originally for the British Army. The machine gun typically required a six to eight-man team to operate: one fired, one fed the ammunition, the rest helped to carry the weapon, its ammunition and spare parts. It was in service from before the First World War until the 1960s, with air-cooled versions of it on many Allied World War I fighter aircraft. The weapon had a reputation for great solidity and reliability. Ian V. Hogg, in the book Weapons and War Machines, describes an action that took place in August 1916, during which the British 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps fired their ten Vickers guns continuously for twelve hours. Using 100 barrels, they fired a million rounds without a failure. "It was this absolute fool proof reliability which endeared the Vickers to every British soldier who ever fired one.” The Vickers machine gun was based on the successful Maxim gun of the late 19th century. After purchasing the Maxim company outright in 1896, Vickers took the design of the Maxim gun and improved it, reducing its weight by lightening and simplifying the action and substituting components made with high strength alloys. A muzzle break was also added. The British Army formally adopted the Vickers gun as its standard machine gun on 26 November 1912, using it alongside their existing Maxims. There were still great shortages when the First World War began, and the British Expeditionary Force was still equipped with Maxims when sent to France in 1914. Vickers was, in fact, threatened with prosecution for war profiteering, due to the exorbitant price it was demanding for each gun. As a result, the price was slashed. As the war progressed, and numbers increased, it became the British Army's primary machine gun, and served on all fronts during the conflict. When the Lewis Gun was adopted as a light machine gun and issued to infantry units, the Vickers guns were redefined as heavy machine guns, withdrawn from infantry units, and grouped in the hands of the new Machine Gun Corps (when heavier 0.5 in/12.7 mm calibre machine guns appeared, the tripod-mounted, rifle-calibre machine guns like the Vickers became medium machine guns). After the First World War, the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) was disbanded and the Vickers returned to infantry units. Before the Second World War, there were plans to replace the Vickers gun. However, the Vickers remained in service with the British Army until 30 March 1968. Hundreds of thousands of these guns were manufactured in Erith and Crayford over several decades, and during both World Wars, this meant that the towns were legitimate wartime bombing targets. During both World Wars, the area economically benefited – for example in 1914, the number of trams run in Crayford and Erith was increased to transport the large number of munitions workers many of whom worked for Vickers making ammunition for use on the Western Front. With most of the young men volunteering for military service (conscription was yet to begin) many women entered paid employment for the first time, something that directly led to the start of female emancipation with the Representation of the People Act 1918

Last week I published an end video that featured activity at Slade Green Station; in the article I commented that Slade Green was the least used station in the London Borough of Bexley. It turns out that this is no longer true - I had used out of date statistics, as was rightfully pointed out to me by Nick Hair, owner and landlord of The Kentish Belle micropub adjacent to Bexleyheath Station. Nick is also one of the people behind the Community Rail Partnership. Nick writes:-"I saw you chalked Slade Green up as the least used station in the Borough. I thought I'd check.

Abbey Wood: 3,825,000 
Sidcup: 3,107,000  
Bexleyheath: 2,669,000 
Welling: 2,403,000 
Barnehurst: 1,554,000  
Crayford: 1,548,000  
Bexley: 1,310,000  
Belvedere: 1,197,000  
Erith: 1,009,000  
Falconwood: 1,006,000
Slade Green: 990,000
Albany Park: 973,000  

What is interesting, however, is that when the new Abbey Wood building opened in October 2017, and suddenly passenger usage "jumped" by 21 percent. It is widely believed this is because people actually had to start paying for travel in the case of just over 600,000 journeys per annum. Anyway, I thought you may be interested in the total usage numbers as they currently are; and sadly Albany Park does pip Slade Green to the title. That said, even at 973,000 per annum, this is roughly 3,200 commuter journeys a day (weekends are much less so skew the averages), so 1,600 people each way. Compared to Abbey Wood, which is potentially 12,000 journeys a day, or 6,000 individuals. Many leave at Woolwich and Greenwich, freeing capacity up further towards London. This is why those trains are considerably less busy on arrival at London terminals, on average". Nick also commented on a potential way to raise rail revenue by drastically cutting down on criminal fare evaders:- "The community partnership and myself personally have suggested first to last station staffing and barriers is more than appropriate. Even with a 10 percent increase in receipts across all stations (except Abbey Wood, averaged) and even at something daft like an average of £3 spent for some journeys, that’s an extra £5 million in the bank. That would more than cover the wages. The extra security and staffing offered would also be perfectly good. If you even modelled some stations (eg Falconwood) on Shepherds Bush London Overground, the staff don’t even need to stand on the barriers. They can also be selling tickets and buzz people through if their tickets don’t work". Some interesting and very thought provoking ideas. What do you think?

The photo above (click on it for  larger image) may look exceedingly unfamiliar to anyone who only knows the modern Erith – it was taken from the opposite end of Pier Road, where it met with Bexley Road, adjacent to Christ Church – which is just to the right of the scene, but out of the photograph. The building in the picture was the Wheatley Hotel – a popular pub that had overnight accommodation for travellers from the nearby Erith Station. The pub was located roughly where the De Luci fish roundabout now resides. I can tell that the photograph was taken at some point between 1964 and 1972, as the car at the turning of the road is a Morris 1800 mark one, better known colloquially as a “Land Crab” – a very popular model at the time. Since the premises in Pier Road were demolished in 1972 / 73, and the car only went on sale in 1964, hence the approximate ago of the image. Nevertheless it is quite difficult to visualise the location bearing in mind how much the basic geography of central Erith has changed since the horrendous 1970’s Brutalist Concrete shopping centre was built – the roads in and around the town centre were re – sited, renamed and in some cases totally ceased to exist. I have a couple of maps from the late 1940s’ that bear little resemblance to the town we see today. I suspect that much of the changes to the roads were quite necessary – the main aim of the work seems to be to permit far higher levels of motor traffic to pass through the town without causing a traffic jam – though the Bexley Road Bridge has historically always been a local choke point for traffic – an issue the Council have talked about addressing by widening the bridge to allow two lanes in each direction, instead of the current one lane. Whether it actually comes to pass is now debatable, as Bexley Council are cutting back their expenditure yet further, due to a number of factors - the Covid-19 pandemic being just one. The only way I see the work now being done is if a body like Transport for London takes up the task.

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Over the past week, the following crimes on Barnehurst Ward were reported to Police. In Colyers Lane a Citroen Berlingo registration number GK70 VBX was stolen on Sunday 24/01/2021 at 23.35 hours. On Wednesday 27/01/2021 between 04:55 and 05:10 an attempt was made to gain entry to a vehicle in Northumberland Way. The suspect was captured on CCTV before walking away from the venue.  On Sunday 24/01/2021 between the hours of 12:15 and 15:00 in Hillingdon Road graffiti was found on a garden wall. The team have been made aware of unknown persons taking photos of properties on Saturday 23/01/2021 between 15:00 and 15:30. If you see this happening please call the team direct at the time of the Incident. If we are on shift we could be just around the corner and could get these people stopped. The team have been paying particular attention to areas where suspected drug dealing has been taking place. Over the last week on separate occasions, we have stopped and dealt with two Incidents where vehicles have been parked and giving police no explanation as to why they were parked. We will continue to disrupt activity and deal with drug dealers as reports continue to come in. If you believe there is drug dealing in your area you can report this to crime stoppers or if you prefer you can call us direct". Belvedere ward - no report this week. 

Bexleyheath ward:- from a resident in Latham Road:- "At 3 am on Friday 22nd January my RING doorbell captured two youths in their mid-teens, acting suspiciously. They walked up my driveway to my front door in Latham Road. As soon as one of them spotted my camera they quickly walked off.  Another youth was with them, but waiting on the opposite pavement". From the ward team:- "There has been no reports of any burglaries or attempted burglaries on the ward: The local petrol station had reported damage to their front door by youths late at night and had called the police on  Tuesday 26th January. On Sunday 24th January a victim had attended the CO-OP store in Long Lane and may have dropped their debit card. The victim discovered later card has been used locally by someone else. On Friday 22nd January there were reports of children’s bikes being stolen from outside an address at East Street Bexleyheath, suspects were seen on CCTV. Incident took place early hours in the morning. On the Wednesday 20th January, a report was made where a catalytic converter was reported stolen from a vehicle along Rydal Drive Bexleyheath, the incident took place early hours in the morning". Crayford ward:- "On Tuesday 26th January a van was reported stolen from Old Road Crayford at about 7 pm. On Wednesday 20th January there was a report of a parcel stolen from the location of Town Hall Square, Dartford. On Sunday 10th January there was a report of a garage door being broken open; nothing was taken, the incident took place at Iron Mill Lane Crayford. At about 1 am on the morning on Tuesday 19th January at Shuttle Road, Dartford the victim heard his bike alarm go off, two males were seen on CCTV trying to take the disc lock off the bike; the alarm had scared them off". 

Erith ward, from a coordinator in Vickers Road:- "On Wednesday 27th January at approx. 11:32 hours, two men (I only have the one on video) were knocking on doors in Vickers Road claiming to be ex-prisoners and wanting to attend college. The only way they can get college points is to sell items, luckily we are very clued up to such nonsense.  However, other people were purchasing such items. What college would send out ex-convicts during a pandemic to sell dishcloths?" From the ward team:- "This week in Erith we have had no burglaries. There have however been a few thefts of and from Motor Vehicles. Thursday 21/01/2021 – Theft from M/V Erith Road. Saturday 23/01/2021 – Theft from M/V Vickers Road. Tuesday 26/01/2021 – Theft of M/V St Johns Road. Wednesday 27/01/2021 – Theft of M/V Avenue Road.  Theft of catalytic converters is on the rise across Bexley". Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward:- "A vehicle was stolen in Bridge Road on Wednesday 20th January evening. The owner left the engine running and keys in the ignition. This seems to be happening every week. Please lock your cars when you get out, no matter where you are. Officers on our team have this week issued a Penalty Notice for possession of drugs in Forest Road, an Adult Caution issued for possession of Class A drugs in Erith and another caution for possession of Cannabis in Dale View. Catalytic converter theft has been on the increase in the borough this month, our ward hasn’t been hit in the last few weeks but please be aware. Your vehicle dealer can give advice of locks or guards if you have concerns. If you can park in a garage please do so or, if not, park in a well lit, overlooked, area if possible". Thamesmead East ward:-"No burglaries to report this week – However, remain vigilant at all times. No motor vehicle crimes this week. A pedal cycle was stolen from business premises in Hailey Road on Sunday 24/01/21 between the hours of 7:12 am and 6:12 pm". West Heath ward:- "No burglaries to report this week. However, once again, we have suffered several motor vehicle crimes. Attempted theft of a catalytic converter from First  Avenue on Thursday 21/10/2021 between 20:10 and 20:16. Theft of a catalytic converter from Lodge Hill on Friday 22/01/2020 between 04:00 and 09:00. Theft of a Land Rover from Selsey Crescent on Friday 22/01/2021. The victim is still in possession of the keys to the vehicle. Theft from a BMW parked on a driveway in Plymstock Road between Friday 22/01/2021 18:00 and Saturday 23/01/2021 at 09:00. A messy search of the vehicle was conducted and a woman’s coat and a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses were stolen. We are receiving ongoing reports of youths pulling up cars in the Pantiles and Ranleigh Gardens area, using Nitrous Oxide canisters and leaving rubbish behind. Please contact us if you see anything. We continuing to patrol these locations as often as we can to deter this activity".

The end video this week is a documentary on the historical site of the World War II Slade Green heavy anti - aircraft battery. Comments to me at

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