REFLECTIONS OF A WARWICKSHIRE'LARRIKIN'*

A merry road, a mazy road,
And such as we did tread,
The night we went to Birmingham,
By way of Beachy Head.

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

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PREAMBLE

My name is John Bradford, and after some 32 years of a career in defence science - the majority of them spent conducting air defence studies on behalf of the RAN - I retired from the Commonwealth of Australia's Defence Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO) in 1992.

Retirement is generally regarded as an opportune time to develop fresh interests, or, put another way, as one door closes, it's best another should open as soon as possible. Frankly, when it came my time to retire, I had not the slightest inkling, nor did I feel the slightest bit concerned about how I would utilise all the extra time now available to me.

As it happened, perhaps I was just plain lucky, three newspaper articles over a June 1992-August 1993 timespan opening up a whole new world for me.

Early on in my defence science career I recall sighting a stanza taken from, arguably, G. K. Chesterton's most famous poem "The Rolling English Road". This stanza had been used as an Introduction to a chapter of Jeffreys and Jeffreys', Methods of Mathematical Physics - a well-respected textbook published in the 1940s. While Chesterton's words must have had a lasting impression on me, truth to tell, this probably had more to do with the fact that for someone Birmingham-born and bred, any poem containing even the slightest reference to this city had to have something going for it! My guess is Chesterton's poem has been interpreted in any number of ways. One observer surmised it was no bad thing - even allowing for the Roman roads cutting across the country - that England's development in years past had been largely unplanned. Indeed, part of the country's erstwhile charm could be said to have stemmed from the haphazard development of its road system. (Perhaps Chesterton was alluding to this when his band of nighttime revellers took the most convoluted of routes before arriving at their final destinations.) However, with the first phase of my own, largely unplanned, literary journey now behind me (and staging posts which, at the time seemed to have little relevance to how it all might pan-out), perhaps it's possible to relate in some small way to what Chesterton was driving at when he penned this poem.

Of the nine topics included for this website, seven fell in my lap when I was least expecting them - one of them, painfully so. Of these, three, as noted previously, were found through the agency of newspaper articles. They were:

1. An Adelaide Advertiser feature article by Peter Stone canvassing the opinions of some of the world's top golfers re- how they saw their own chances of winning a Grand Slam. Remarkably - and this is what had sparked my curiosity - none of them seemed to have the slightest idea of the odds needed to be overcome to make their pipedreams a reality.

2. A throw-away line in an 'Adelaide Review' article led me to thinking of 'what might have been' had the future King William IV of England married someone else other than Adelaide of Saxe-Coburg-Meiningen.

3. An Adelaide Advertiser article, written by Sheryl-Lee Kerr in July 1993, describing how one of Australia's Collins-class submarines came to be named after Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, an 18-year old Tasmanian, who had sacrificed his life valiantly defending shipmates from the corvette, HMAS Armidale, against an overwhelming attack by Japanese torpedo bombers, dive bombers and fighters. Sheryl Lee's article profoundly influenced the future direction of my research interests and led to other gallantry issues involving Royal Australian Navy WWII personnel being investigated. The manner in which the gallant actions of LCDR Rankin of HMAS Yarra, and CAPT Hec Waller of HMAS Perth, were dealt with by Australian government and navy authorities immediately following WWII, helped explain why no RAN personnel, serving in the South-West Pacific area in that conflict were ever recommended for the award of the Victoria Cross, let alone awarded one.

4. Another line of research resulted from a quiet afternoon stroll through a churchyard in Aldenham, Hertfordshire - fortunately for me this particular day just happened to be the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

5. A 'thank you' note to those who rescued survivors from the sinking of USS Peary in Darwin harbour on 19 February 1942 was found on a scrap of paper tucked away in the HMAS Southern Cross logbook held at the National Archives in Sydney, and.

6. The Far East PoW retrospective recognition issue arose from a chance finding of correspondence on an Army matter in an Admiralty file held at the Public Record Office (PRO) in London.

7. A road accident in the Lower Dandenongs, east of Melbourne, caused me to have serious doubts about the operation and safety characteristics of a particular traffic light system. This led to my conducting a survey of signalised T-junction systems in Adelaide.

*The Macquarie Australian English Dictionary defines 'larrikin' as a good-natured but independent or wild-spirited person, usually having little regard for authority or accepted values. The term dates back to the mid-nineteenth century and was a label given 'mischievous or frolicsome' youths from the counties of Warwickshire and Worcestershire. All sounds vaguely familiar to me.


This webpage last updated: November 2015


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