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Wick II: 25 January

2W150125aHave you ever heard of Operation Outward? I’ve just come across it, and it’s so bizarre I thought I’d share it with you.

It dates from the Second World War, and was one of those cunning, strange, left-field ideas the British came up with to disrupt the Nazi war effort. The inspiration came out of the Blitz: one night during the German bombing of London a number of barrage balloons got loose in a gale and drifted away, and next day reports came in of chaos over Sweden.


Barrage Balloon
Imperial War Museum

Inspired by this, the military had the bright idea of sending small-airship-sized hydrogen balloons to float over occupied Europe, trailing long cables in the hopes of snagging power lines and causing outages, or with incendiary devices attached to the wires to start forest fires.

Well, you might think, fair enough: but how many did the British send – a few hundred? A thousand? Well, by August 1942 over a thousand of these balloons were being launched each day. All in all almost a hundred thousand were despatched, stopping only with the D-day landings; trains were disrupted and forests set ablaze, and finally the Luftwaffe had to divert their planes to shoot the damn things down.


Operation Outward balloon launch, Felixstowe
National Archive

It’s strange to think that you could be standing on the south coast of England, and look up and see an armada of airborne jellyfish floating on the breeze, trailing long stings, disappearing towards the Continent, bringing destruction and chaos in their wake. (Actually, this is probably a policy commitment in UKIP’s manifesto, now I come to think of it.)


Happy Burns Night – 25 January

I am now eight inches into the body of the gansey, and I notice my knitting is tightening up as I go, now that the pernicious influence of all that Lopi knitting is wearing off. Another week or so and I’ll have to think seriously about the pattern: I’ve factored in the width, but I need to count rows to make sure I start at the right point so the pattern fits vertically.

In parish notices, Tina has sent us a photo of her new gansey.

Meanwhile the weather is continuing in much the same way as usual for this winter—one day the birds are cheerfully building their nests and dreaming of spring, the next they’re bitterly shovelling out several inches of hail and snow—but as none of it is very dramatic just now I thought I’d end this week by sending our best wishes to all of you living along the east coast of North America for the coming snowstorms. Wrap up warm and stay safe, and we’ll see you on the other side…


16 comments to Wick II: 25 January

  • Lynne

    Thanks for the interesting piece of history regarding Operation Outward, I read it to my husband, who reads a lot of WWII history and he had never heard of it, but he did know that the Japanese sent balloons with BOMBS in them – westward, and one hit the Oregon coast and actually killed a half dozen people.
    Great progress on the new gansey, love the traditional navy.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne,

      Yes, I’ve read a lot about WW2 but never come across this story either – I suppose because it was more of a nuisance than a life-and-death initiative it gets squeezed out of the narrative. But it sounds perfect for an hour-long BBC documentary, I think! (I knew about the Japanese firebomb balloons, much nastier but fortunately there were far fewer of them, just under 10,000. Though any deaths are too many and the Oregon incident was particularly tragic.)

  • Gail Donkin

    It’s started; southeastern Massachusetts supposed to be hard-hit with ferocious winds although not as much snow (16″) as Boston (24-30″). Stay tuned…

  • Nigel

    Good news: After puzzling over the fault in my gansey arms I decided the only thing to do was to redesign the sleeves and pick-up a lot less stitches. It has worked. I’m onto my first sleeve; I just have to finish that, then pull out (or maybe I’ll cut it off!) the other sleeve and restart that. I have been knitting this on and off for two years!

    • Gordon

      Hi Nigel,

      We’ve all been there, and can sympathise—my only consolation is, the more you knit, the easier it gets t rip things out and start again. It was the same when I started writing novels: deleting a paragraph when you’v only written a page is awful, but after you’ve written 100,000 words you can send it to the firing squad without a second thought!

      Hang on in there – the sleeves are downhill all the way…

  • Jane

    Lovely gansey and such good “growth”! The navy looks super too. With our lengthening days, supposedly, the navy should be all right to work with too.

    I feel a bit ashamed when I say this, but no snow in the South, no ice either. However, plenty of mud and dullness. Today at midday, 9 degrees Centigrade, no breeze and no sun, deeply thankful for that whisper of warmer climates for a day or two. The Heogh Osaka has been pulled back into port so no chance of it being in the way of the passenger liners!

    Operation Outward sounds interesting, a sort of war within a war! Down the road we have the remnants, fairly carefully conserved, of a decoy airfield, a “fake” to confuse the bombers heading for the port!

    The haziness of the flu that hit thousands in the South after Xmas, has been slow to clear and very little knitting progress to report. However, to cheer Nigel up, I too have an unpick to perform on a rather nice grey fisherman aran jumper back that I did for my husband a while ago. We knitters have to be resolute now and again! Stay warm!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane,

      I walked home in daylight today, which made a nice change; of course, it was lunchtime, but even so it’s got to count for something!

      Not a lot of snow up here, as we’re locked into a pattern a day or two of sleet and snow, then mild, sunny weather, followed by freezing again and more snow; the jet stream is wiggling over us like an anaconda, and as a result the whole winter doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. But we’re nearly 1/12 of the way through the year, and spring is only a few weeks away; and then—Easter eggs!

      There was a decoy airport just a few miles south of Wick, which they lit up every night to confuse the German bombers, and which used to get bombed regularly as a result. But it’s all gone now. (Mind you, the car park at the Dounreay Nuclear Facility on the north coast used to be a runway for the airport there, so at least it was put to good use.)

      Best of luck unpicking—as Nigel’s post above, it’s never fun, but sometimes it’s got to be done…

  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon, making significant progress on the navy gansey, good knitting!
    I bought a new book on brioch knitting, now learning “barking and burping”. (I love to throw you a straight line to see what happens next.)
    Weather in Minneapolis continues unseasonably mild.
    Tina- good job! You are not grinning like a loon, but I sense some not undeserved pride.

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn,

      Brioche knitting, eh? I always wondered how they got that nifty braid effect on top of those sweet French loaves in Tescos…

      Did you know, by the way, that David Barking and Richard Burping were a notorious pair of “resurrection men”, or grave robbers, operating in Edinburgh in the 1820s, digging up recently-buried corpses and selling them to surgeons for dissection? According to Wikipedia they were forced to give up the trade after Edinburgh established its own police force.

      Barking, who had been showing signs of stress beforehand, moved to London and finally lost his mind, in a twisted variation on his old trade. He used to dig up newly-buried bodies and hide them, then replace them by climbing into the coffin wearing evening dress, but with startling orange teeth made out of orange peel. When the mourners arrived the next Sunday he would pop out of the coffin shouting, “Cooee!” and “Room for one more!” He was eventually incarcerated in the Bethlehem Lunatic Asylum, or Bedlam, and this is of course where the term “barking mad” is derived from.

      Burping emigrated to Australia with his ill-gotten gains and changed his name to Belcher. Scarred by his experiences he was haunted by the thought that anyone should ever dig up his body after he was buried. He settled in the community of Darwin and became notorious for growing his moustaches so long he could use them instead of braces or convert them into a watch chain. He stood for the office of mayor and was elected in 1843 but died before he could take up office, in a bizarre domestic accident. His wife was the State Champion mangler, and one day when she was running a particularly stiff pair of his long johns through the mangle he made the mistake of leaning too close and before she was aware of the fact, a chance breeze had blown his moustaches between the rollers and his wife mangled him flat. As a result, in June 1843, Richard Belcher or Burping achieved immortality as the first man in Australia to be buried in an envelope.

  • Sharon

    Gordon, you’re just awful!!!!
    I did enjoy the ‘Balloon’ story though. Must research that one. No storms here on the Wet Coast of BC this week although we had torrential rain & high winds last week. it’s 11C, the sun is out & some of the local willows are budding already. My Clematis is loaded with buds!! It’s shorts weather here – like the year we had the ‘Spring’ Olympics. All the tourists were out in shorts while we hauled snow in from the Interior. Winter/snow often hits mid February around here just in time for Valentines.
    Blew the dust off my ‘Knitting Ganseys’ by Beth Brown-Reinsel. Thought I might try knitting one in hot pink. Grin. That Navy is so not my color!!!

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon,

      Well, the balloon story is true, anyway!

      The weather is, you might say, changeable: if the sun breaks through and you go for a walk, chances are it’ll be sleet or snow by the time you come back. But we saw some snowdrops today, the first sign of spring (boy, are they in for a surprise…).

      Hot pink, eh? Go for it!

  • Jane

    Wow, gosh! Well, I’ll go to the bottom of our stairs, as they say in Yorkshire!

  • Jane

    It should be “foot” not “bottom”, the combination of general flu feeling and aspirins, a certain haziness in my life, sorry about that.

    It’s wonderful phrase, to which I was introduced by my dyed in the wool Yorkshire in-laws some 35 years ago. It expresses a tongue in cheek humorous reaction to an event or story, good isn’t it! My in-laws were deeply Sheffield from the cutlery and tool making trades, used dialect words and even thee and thou! Their sense of humour was highly developed and very dead pan, very confusing for a mere Midlander!

  • Love “the foot of our stairs – describes my feelings exactly. Actually my sister lost the tip of her finger in a mangle, but a whole body!!

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