Physics is Fun Memoires of Richard Wilson Version of September 25th 2009


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Physics is Fun

Memoires of Richard Wilson

Version of September 25th 2009

(page numbers may not be accurate as further details are added)

Introduction 3
Personal activities
Early Years. 3

The War Years 16

Oxford University 30

Girls, Walking and Climbing 37

Graduate Work 40

Mrs Wilsons’ at Hillend Farm 45

Morris Dancing 47

Christchurch SCR 49

Dick Wilson discovers America 53

Andrée 61

Headington, Binsey and the Scuttle 64

Cambridge and Arlington 72

Palaiseau 76

Chocorua 77

The trips west 81

Aspen and Wyoming 83

Glacier National Park 88

Berkeley 89

UK and Vienna 91

TMI and Russia 92

Puerto Rico and the Carribean

Family Cars 102

Visits to the Middle East 107

Andrée comes to the Middle East 118

Kuwait Oil Fires 124

Arab Fund consulting 124

Iraq 126

Scientific work
Beginnings 130

Nucleon-Nucleon (and nucleus) interactions 138

CEA 141

Form Factors 148

Fermilab 151

Visit to USSR 154

Colliding beams of electrons and positrons 157

Parity Violation experiments 168

Medical Experiments and Treatments 170

Atlantic Legal Foundation 173

Nuclear Power and other Energy Issues 177

Chernobyl 192

Safety Committees 195

Risk Analysis 199

Sabotage and Terrorism 203

Chemical Carcinogens and risks thereof 206

The role of bioassays in understanding risks of chemicals 208

Uses of Risk Analysis for Regulation 213

Arsenic 218

Electromagnetic Fields 219


Armenia and Azerbaijan 227

Russians 235

Sergei Kapitza 236

Yuri Orlov 238

Andrei Dmitrevich Sakharov 239

Pietr and Anna Kapitza 244

Fadhel and Sarah Jamali 246

Conclusion 266
Publication List 267

In writing these reminiscences for others to understand my life, I break it into sections. For a scientist, the science and his personal life are closely intertwined. But the scientific work has already been put in front of the public in 911 published papers and letters, either alone or in collaboration. As with all scientists I believe that my work should speak for itself in my various publications and reports. In the text therefore, I mostly write about the context of these reports and personal notes on why an experiment was done or not done. If a search is made on the web, a click will pick up the full paper in the most recent instances. In my office I keep a copy of all of these not on the web. I attach the full list of these reports and papers at the end and refer to them by number in the text. I therefore put the more personal section of these reminiscences first. These include of course discussions of the many interesting trips that we made as a family, often as an adjunct to work. I then discuss my scientific career. I start with nuclear and elementary physics, including some major disappointments. I then go on to how I branched out into other applications of physics. My friend, the late Edwin Land, used to pose a conundrum. In answering a question; “What is a physicist?” he would say: “a physicist is a person who works on physics.”. When asked what physics is, he would reply: “physics is what a physicist does”. With less of a conundrum my former colleague Professor Ed Purcell would say: “Physics is where you find it”. Finally, in response to a direct request of some young Russian friends I add some short pieces about Russians that I have known and admired.

I recognize that I am one of the lucky members of the human race. Many studies have suggested that only 20% of people enjoy their work. I am one of the 20%. On the whole I believe I have been successful. It has been said that mankind is basically monogamous. Until problems set in. I have been lucky. I found, or she found me, a beautiful, intelligent and interesting girl to marry. I loved her in December 1951 and fall in love with her again and again and again. I thank her for putting up with me and for bringing up our six fine children. She is also an avid gardener and makes the garden of our house one of the most beautiful in Newton. We invite people to visit it with one major warning: “Beware of the Gardener: she talks.”
I hope that our children and grandchildren will find these lengthy pages as interesting as I found my grandfather Wilson’s, much briefer, description of his early years.
Early Years.
My earliest memory is of crawling on the floor; putting 2 fingers of one hand into the 230 volt electricity outlet and retiring with curiosity satisfied. At least that is what I was told so that my memory is probably merely a memory of being told. Another early memory of what I was told was when Geoffrey and I decided to clone the small apple tree in the garden. We cut a dozen blossoms and planted them in several places around. Grannie Wilson, who was with us at the time thought that we should be soundly spanked. Mother was much more lenient and merciful. She explained what we had done wrong and we promised not to do it again.

I was born at home on April 29th during the general strike of 1926 and thankfully the midwife was not on strike, Nowadays I like to jest that I am a born strikebreaker. This, in some quarters, cancels my support for trades unions when appropriate. I am told that I was scheduled on the day that Princess, now Queen, Elizabeth was born but was late. Again, I argue that this is why I am always slow on the uptake! We lived in Putney, SW 19, London at 48 Clarendon Road, now renamed Clarendon Drive to distinguish it from another Clarendon Road in London. My father, Percy Wilson was born in Halifax on March 8th 1893, the eldest son of a poor family. My paternal grandfather has left a 30 odd page handwritten account of his early life and his struggles. My grandmother, born Emma Tomlinson, came from a Derbyshire family of stone masons. Emma in particular was a very strong person but she had little education. At age 14 her mother, my great grandmother, hung herself and her father and elder brother left home leaving her to bring up 3 younger siblings. When my father, her eldest son, was 14, school leaving age, he was expected to go to work and augment the family income. But his school teacher came to the house to persuade his parents to let him continue at school. The family story is that she pawned her wedding ring to allow that to happen. A few years later he came around again, to persuade them to let my father compete for a scholarship at Oxford. “Your son is a born mathematician. Mathematicians are born: not made” then he made an offer that I try, on appropriate occasions to emulate. “I will pay for the fee to compete and he can pay me back after he gets his first job.” My father went on and got first class honors in both Honor Moderations after the first year and Finals after three. He was the first in his family to go to school after age 14. At college to save money he ate breakfasts in his room using canned goods sent by his parents from their wholesale supplier. After the first class honors his parents sent him a silver pocket watch which he always wore on a chain. It is a treasured possession of mine although I do not wear it. In the USA buildings are too warm to wear a waistcoat with a watch pocket.
My mother, Dorothy Kingston, was a couple of years older, born December 23rd 1890, from a prosperous middle class merchant family. My maternal grandfather was a successful small businessman who, at the time of their marriage, was running the Castle Laundry in Wandsworth which continued after his death until about 1950. She also was the first in her family to go to college, and spent 3 years in London University, followed by a year staying with a French family in Paris, and a year in a teachers training college, now defunct, in Oxford whose buildings were taken over by St. Hilda’s college. At the time both were Unitarians. At Oxford, Manchester College may be found. It is not an official part of the University but it existed and exists today to train Unitarian ministers. The master of Manchester College entertained one Sunday afternoon at his house at 10 South Parks Road. There my parents met, and my father walked with my mother the 2 miles back to college. A couple of years later when the first world war had begun and my father had entered the Royal Navy as an instructor Lieutenant, a smart young naval officer turned up at the Wandsworth Unitarian church and after the service asked for Miss Kingston. “Which one?” was the reply. It turned out that my mother had stayed at home that morning cooking the Sunday dinner. My grandfather, Thomas Kingston, invited the handsome young Naval Officer home for dinner, and then he stayed for tea. A warning to the reader: be careful. It is hard to get rid of a Wilson. My parents got married just after the end of the world war (WWI) while my father was still in the Navy, teaching in Devonport, I believe. My mother remembered long walks on Dartmoor. Then my father applied for the Administrative Civil Service and after passing the rigorous examination joined the Board of education. They then bought the house in Putney. My father would walk to Putney station on the Richmond line of the Southern railway to take a train to Waterloo, from where he would walk to the Board of Education building just off Whitehall. He could have taken the district line (Underground) to Westminster station, which was closer to his office, but he preferred the comfort of the main line suburban train.

Around the corner was a bridge taking the road over the 4 track “Richmond Line”. I used to go there and ask to be picked up to look over the parapet to the trains below. Half a mile west was Barnes Common and a special treat on a Sunday morning was to walk up the hill to Putney Heath. I am not sure why it was, and is, a heath and not a common. My mother was usually with us on these walks, and I do not remember an occasion when my father came. One or two days we continued walking until we reached the windmill on Wimbledon common which was contiguous to Putney Heath.. Maybe we would stop briefly at the house of my grandmother Kingston. I have a very brief memory of the outside of my grandmother’s house at 337 Upper Richmond Road but very soon she moved with her two unmarried children, Aunts Kathie and Nora and often a widowed child, Auntie May, to Gwendolen Avenue, just south of Upper Richmond Road the other side (south side) of the railway tracks. It was a close family and the married children lived close by. Another memory was of a sunny Sunday when the routine was varied. Joined by one of my aunts and cousins, we went to Richmond, and walked along the towpath to Teddington lock. Then we took a couple of buses back. Just after leaving Richmond following the tow path upstream we found a fine meadow of buttercups and daisies. It is the only time I remember making a daisy chain. An early photograph shows me and my three elder brothers in our garden in Putney. I always looked up to Laurie, the eldest child in our family. I have n early memory of his Hornby O guage model railway. He set it up at Christmas time, probably in 1932, to form a loop around his bedroom, run down the hall, and then loop under the bed in my parents front room. Half the engines were clockwork, but a couple were electric.

When I was 7 years old Granny Kingston had moved again to a large house in Wimbledon on Worple Road on a 2 acre plot As our family grew bigger, in size but not in numbers, we also moved to a larger house. It had to be close to Granny so it was “Penshurst” in Merton Park, near Wimbledon. I did not see the move because my mother sent all her 4 rambunctious children to stay with one or another of her sisters: I stayed with Florence Nightingale (Birdie) Barron in Sutton, whose son Hugh is nearly the same age as myself. I was taught at home till that time, but then went to the local elementary school in September 1933, which had large classes of 50 students each. Normally promotion was at the end of the year but for some it was half yearly. The half yearly promotion through the classes was limited by the space available in the next one but I was quickly moved up the classes to leave as top student in the top class in July 1935 after my 9th birthday. I liked walking to school and - it was just over one block. We walked back for lunch. I remember also playing in the school yard at recess. One game we played was enacting the Battle of Waterloo, and I was Blucher coming at the last moment to turn the tide against Napoleon. Little did I think that I would in later years get to know a Corsican, Jean Baptiste Orsini, Andrée’s step father, who admired Napoleon and kept pictures of him all over his apartment! All the teachers in the elementary school were ladies. At 9 years old I was the top boy in the top class. I was too young, by definition, to go to the next state (government) school so I was taught at home for another year. During that year I learned some world history by listening to the afternoon broadcasts on the BBC’s school broadcasting system. That was aided by my father being in the Board of Education and on the School Broadcasting Committee. There were school broadcasts for languages and mathematics too, but they were less fruitful. My mother was a good teacher but I never was as good at her subject - French - as I would have liked. One summer in the 1930s a young French girl came to stay with us in a system we would now call, in the USA “au pair”. She, Ginette Ginelle, was the daughter of the French family with whom mother stayed in 1912. As the later pages will recount, Ginette’s daughter came to stay with us in Arlington and Newton “au pair” in 1962-3. In 1936 I went to Colet Court Preparatory School on Hammersmith Road which my three elder brothers had attended and Geoffrey was still attending. I went to Colet Court school for three years.

One feature about our move in 1933 was a large upstairs room into which my father and Laurie thought we should put a model railway. Not on the floor as before, but a semi permanent installation on tables supported by trestles. The start was the original Hornby “tinplate” track. But there was a grandiose scheme for making more “realistic” track with metal rails, fastened onto roofing felt, sanded to look like ballast, on pieces of wood. My father made a little gadget for cutting pieces of cardboard into realistic model sleepers. A hole was made in the wall into the corridor to allow for a turntable at the end of the station tracks. About 1936 Laurie carefully constructed a beautiful scissors crossover for the entry from the double track into the station. I did what I could to help. But after a couple of years the interest of both Laurie and my father flagged and as I seemed to be the only boy interested I could get little of the help I needed. The initial project was never completed and the whole was a disappointment. By the time I was capable of doing the work on my own, the war had come. I always wanted for Christmas a scale model of the LNER engine: the Flying Scotsman. But it was expensive: a full ^5, and I was saving up for it when the war came.

I was never a real “train spotter” taking down the numbers of engines as they passed. That seemed to me a little dull but I found another pastime. It was about 1935 and 1936 that I became interested in track and signal layouts. It stated when there was a “fly over” built at Wimbledon to let the arriving slow trains heading for Waterloo go over the fast tracks so that they did not have to do so in the complex switch arrangements at Waterloo. Someone bought me a copy of the Railway Gazette describing this. During that year until about 1940, I bicycled over much of the area, peering over road bridges and foot bridges to make plans of the tracks, and occasionally buying for a penny a platform ticket to see more carefully. On longer sections I would look out of the window, often poking my head out as was possible, and even allowable, at the time. The line from Waterloo was in a paper roll which is now lost. But the track and signaling diagrams are also in an old note book that my father brought from the Board of Education.

I have always thought that American children are somewhat deprived. America celebrates independence day with fireworks. But fireworks in July have to be very late in the day. English children celebrate Guy Fawkes day to celebrate the time on November 5th 1605 when Guy Fawkes was caught under the houses of parliament with kegs of gunpowder hoping to blow it up when King James I (of England James VI of Scotland) was opening parliament.
Remember, remember

The fifth of November

Gunpowder treason and Plot

I see no reason

Why gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot

Some children would make a stuffed effigy of a person and wheel it around the neighborhood. “Penny for the guy, sir, Penny for the guy”. These pennies were spent on fireworks. We made a guy once but it was financially more effective to skimp on my lunch and have the rest to spend. A penny would buy a box of sparklers or some jumping crackers. A rocket would cost sixpence or more. Roman candles were intermediate. Laurie organized us and was very safety conscious. Whereas most children set off a rocket by dangerously holding in the hand, or , better, putting the stick handle in a milk bottle, Laurie built a wooden stand for setting off the rockets, with a place for Roman candles also. I remember setting this up in Cannon Hill Park, 1 mile SW of our house a couple of nights, and when we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the reign of King George V we all went up to Wimbledon common. But I suspect that safety issues now prevent children doing this, as they have on July 4th in the USA It is interesting in the 2008 context that this was a “Papish Plot”. The conspirators all claim ed to be Roman Catholics who objected to the Protestantism of King James. But it was a catholic peer who told the authorities about the plot and there is no indication that Roman Catholics as a whole approved of it. In 2008 it is the Moslems who are blamed for terrorism in spite of the fact that terrorism is against their religion.

When we moved to the house at Merton Park, with its’ large garden (enough for 1 ½ tennis courts) my father took to gardening. A gardener-odd job man, Mr Shepherd, came every Saturday. In addition to gardening they concreted some paths and built an incinerator for garden waste. We were all given a little garden plot for our own. I decided to grow radishes. But it was a dry summer and I did not water them The radishes survived with roots many inches long but very spindly and uneatable. My enthusiasm for gardening vanished. But my father was proud of his tennis court, One day he offered us a penny each for each weed we could pull out. He revised his offer after I collected about 30 pence in an hour. But there were very few weeds. Rolling the lawn was a penny. It had to be done every day and it was hard work. Not as hard as Laurie’s job of mowing the lawn (with a hand mower) for threepence.

Our house was nearly a mile south of Wimbledon station on the District Line of London’s underground system. This took a full 15 minutes walk or perhaps 13 minutes with a run at the end. I used to try to catch the 8.44 am train but often missed it and caught the 8.49. If that was on time it would be alright. A run down the escalators at Earl’s Court Station took me to the Piccadilly Line where a train would come in a couple of minutes to Baron’s Court. Then a walk (or run if I was late) of 5 minutes or so to school by 9.20. I hated to be late. The formal penalty for being late more than three times in the term (without adequate excuse) was three of the best with a cane on the part of the anatomy intended for the purpose: the backside. I was never late more than once in the term. When there was fog and delays, (and bad London fogs occurred for about 3 weeks every autumn) it was always an inadequate excuse that the 8.49 was late. The school masters knew the schedule. “You should have caught the 8.44". But if the 8.44 was late and did not depart till 8.52 (for example) that was OK. By the time I was 13, I was in the top form and remember Mr Berry, who I believe was the history teacher, explaining one day why he was late. He came down from Watford, with a “fast” train every 20 minutes only - and then there was the connection at Willesden Junction. He had to run from the train at the lower level up two sets of stairs tor the train to Addison Road, Kensington which was at the highest level. That ran every twenty minutes also so if he missed that one he was not just a minute late but 20 minutes late. We were all delighted by his candor! In general I liked all the school masters. But there were only masters. There were no ladies teaching boys over 10 years old in that school until of course the second world war came.

In 1938 an extra minute got added on to the journey. Before 1938 the trains had doors which slid open manually. If I was in the front car I could jump off the train while it was slowing to a halt at Earl’s Court and be the first down the escalators (2 steps at a time) to the Piccadilly line at the bottom. I could sometimes jump on the train at Wimbledon just as it was moving away. But in 1938 London’s underground system got new cars with doors which were opened and shut by the guard. I tried for awhile beating the crowd of people who came out of the train ahead of me and who stood on the escalators, ignoring the sign “stand on the right walk; on the left”, by that means blocking legitimate impatient school children who wanted to run on the left. I avoided this for awhile by running down the spiral emergency stairs at the front of the platform. This was a little faster but the hand rail was filthy and I had to wash my hands when I got to school! (But I did not always). When I went back to Earls Court station in 2004 I looked again at the emergency stairs. They were still there and still filthy.

We had “Season” tickets for the train each term from Wimbledon to Hammersmith via Earl’s Court. Occasionally I would go to Merton Park Station and catch the small local to Wimbledon. It ran every 20 minutes and if trains were on time, the connection was good. So Geoffrey and I thought about getting the season ticket from Merton Park. But that turned out to be a bad idea. For reasons we never figured out, it cost more than the Wimbledon fare plus one way tickets Merton Park to Wimbledon! I mostly enjoyed the school which was every day till 4 pm (4.10 pm allowing for assembly and prayers), and Saturday morning till noon. Walking to Baron’s Court I could usually catch a train at 4.18 or so and then the 4.23 pm at Earl’s Court. It was due in at Wimbledon at 4.40, but often a couple of minutes late because it waited at the junction at East Putney for an “empty” train coming from the yards at Wimbledon Park and turning across our tracks to go to Waterloo for the evening rush hour. Then sometimes I would miss the 4.44 pm to Merton Park. Somewhere I have a photo of Geoffrey at Merton Park station taken with my “Baby Browney” camera

It was probably 1938, when I was 11 or 12 years old that the mathematics master asked the class what we wished to do when we were adults and independent (over 21). I immediately expressed a desire to join the British foreign service. War intervened and my ability (and interest) in mathematics and physics led the joint recruiting board to suggest I study radar - and this led after the war to my career in physics. But my interest in foreign countries remained and I was fortunate that my field of experimental particle physics led to many overseas journeys and friendships that I will describe later.
My parents gave me one shilling and threepence as an allowance for lunch and I usually spent most of it. I liked the “Empire” restaurant, upstairs in a small room on the south side of Hammersmith Road, which had a three course meal for one shilling - and lambs’ hearts on Thursdays. But my school friends preferred other places and we often went in the other direction to the Lyons Corner House in their headquarters in Cadby Hall in Kensington. At a table by the window was a chess board and chess men - which we used. It was some time before I realized that they belonged to the employees of Lyons, and when our game went on past 1 pm - as it did when we got better, they were upset at not having the chess set available. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons there were sports. I am not sure what I did the first year but then I remember going to the playing fields in Chiswick to play football - Association football or “Soccer”. I was never very good at it but enjoyed it anyway. I was very short, not quite the shortest in the class but was teased a little because of it. A boy would pick me up, turn me upside down “to see what came out of the pockets”. I did not like it but deemed it wise to accept the indignity My apparent equanimity persuaded my friends to stop.

During my teen aged years I was ill a lot of the time. Indeed I had at various times almost all the so-called “childhood” diseases. Scarlet Fever. Chicken Pox. Mumps,. Measles. German Measles. I was also sick for unspecified reasons a lot of the time. Many of my school mates thought I was a malingerer - an accusation some of my own children faced later. But I was really sick. One feature of Colet Court was, I believe, bad. The insanitary toilets. They were in a separate building and one had to go outside to reach them. There was water on the floor most of the time. Whether that was from cleaning, or bad aim by the boys, it was repulsive. The boys called the toilets;”the bogs”. Although one had to use the urinals, I tried to avoid using the stalls, but when I was coming down with some diarhoeal attack it was necessary. But there is often a bright side to unpleasantness. I was prepared for my visits to Russia and other USSR countries and their “eastern” style toilets. Several of my Russian born friends have commented how much better, and more civilized and sanitary, the “western” toilets are. But to travel on a Pakistani airways plane where obviously many of the passengers did not know how to use a western style toilet brings these bad memories back. I never complained about this to anyone in the family being too shy to refer to these necessary functions of the human body. Indeed this was a general reticence at this epoch. When in 1939 we were visiting Mother’s friends in South Shields on Tyne, we visited a Norwegian passenger ship. Mother was surprized at the urinals in the men’s room – apparently she had never seen one before.

In those days dentists regularly used gas as an anesthetic. That was used when the dentist got rid of the last of my baby teeth; The first dentists visit I remember I was about 7 years old. He had to work fast to pull out 6 teeth in the 30 to 50 seconds. He was just fast enough. I woke up to see a couple of my discarded teeth flying across the room!
My grandmother (Kingston) had bought a bungalow (Sea Dreams) on the Beach on the south coast at Elmer Beach half way between Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. She rented it in August to recoup expenses, but allowed her children to use it for a week another part of the summer. Then she built another, larger house (Glenvar, named after a house she had owned in Chiswick) next door to increase capacity. My Uncle Charlie bought a house across the street. Between the houses and the beach was an earthen mound to keep the tide out. I remember being taken on our first visit to the earthen mound at high tide to see the sea. The waves were breaking. I was scared and cried. We spent many happy summer weeks in Elmer Beach during the next 6 years and occasionally at spring or autumn breaks also. There, and at my grandmother’s house in Wimbledon, I got to know most of my Kingston cousins. It was a happy time.

My father bought his first car about 1931 - a Singer, I believe, but I do not remember it. Then in 1933 or so he bought an Invicta touring car. This was one of only about 50 that were made, I believe in 1927. It was bright yellow, and had running boards on the side. The seats were inflatable, and constantly had to be fixed - like a bicycle tire. At the back was a rack for holding a food hamper in which was placed all the proper stuff for a picnic. There were plates, knives, cups, saucers, and a small paraffin stove for making tea. This car was “laid up” during the war from 1939 to 1945, but lasted till about 1953. When we went on holiday to the beach my father drove us all down to Elmer Beach (40 miles), or sometimes Granny would lend us her car and chauffeur. Chauffeurs changed of course but the chauffeur that I remember was called Kirby and he lived in an apartment above the garage . I remember one occasion when Kirby had driven another family of cousins down, and he and my father “raced” back each on a slightly different route just west of Horsham. The car I was in “won”. I suspect, but am not sure that I was with Kirby. We were on the A29 and took a cut off to join the A 24 at Kingsfield and saw my father waiting at the stop sign at Bourne end as we passed.
For as long as I remember, until 1940 as detailed below, we had a live in maid. The advertisement for such positions said “maid-general”. She cooked, cleaned and helped my mother in everything. She was paid one pound a week and accommodation. If my mother was busy on a Sunday walk the maid would come with us. I remember one year we had a Yorkshire lass from Rotherham. That summer when we went up to Hipperholme on Wakes Week to bring my grandfather and grandmother south, we dropped her off at he parents house. Wakes Week in Yorkshire is a week when the whole town takes a holiday. Everything, including my grandfather’s bakery shuts down. Most people go off to the seaside at Blackpool on the west coast of Lancashire or Bridlington on the east coast of Yorkshire. I still remember the row house in Rotherham where the maid’s family lived, with no garden in a poor smoke ridden community. Fortunately Grandpa and Grandma Wilson were by that time on top of the hill in Hipperholme. Then we had a German girl, Friedel Weidinger, from the Black Forest in southern Germany. I am not sure when she first arrived, but probably about 1935 or 1936. To us children, she seemed an ardent Nazi supporter when she came. I remember an argument about “Kyrstalnacht” ,November 9, 1938, when about 3,000 Jews were rounded up and killed. Hitler (or rather Goebbels) announced that there were only 200 and that they were enemies of the state. We had a hard time persuading Friedel that they deserved a trial. Later she changed and in 1939 she was saying: “I would like to boil that man (Adolph Hitler) in oil”. Her elder brother was in the German Navy. In summer 1939 she wrote him a letter warning him not to believe everything Hitler said. We were appalled. That letter may have been her brother’s death warrant. Be this as it may, Friedel never saw her family again. Although all the Wilson children were away from home after 1939, except for holidays, Friedel stayed with my parents till about spring 1941 when she left to work in a factory using a capstan lathe. She married a petty office from the Royal Navy. When he and his ship went to the Mediterranean there was a deliberate embargo from the British admiralty on information. She had not heard from him for 6 months. One day, when I was home on holiday, she came to the back door and fell against it. She was in a state of nervous collapse. So Mother, without the slightest hesitation, put her to bed where she recovered after a few days. This behavior of my mother surprised many friends who might not have looked after a “servant”. Across the street the family had a Viennese maid. During the war the British government had a curfew for enemy aliens. They had to be home by 10 pm. One day the Viennese maid came back at 9.55 pm and a policeman came out of the shadows and said “Just in time, miss. Just in time”. Neither Friedel nor her Viennese friend ever cut it so fine again. When Friedel first came she knew English but only the proper words. When she called me once a naughty little bugger, instead of naughty little beggar, I could not help laughing. I had already read the bible with its story of Sodom and Gomorrah and knew what both words meant. But I was too shy to explain it to her and Laurie had to do so. For some reason my family was not adventurous in cooking and eating. That got worse during the second world war when imported foods were hard to get. We ate peas, carrots, cabbage, and if we were lucky russel sprouts. But when Friedel was around we sometimes had a treat. She was from Bavaria and made an excellent Wiener schnitzel. It was not till I got to America in 1950 that I really had tasty food frequently.
In 1935 to about 1937 we went for many long walks in the countryside of Surrey on the Sunday.. Always with my mother and only on vacation with my father. We could get a special excursion ticket for a shilling. Go to one station, and come back from another. I remember the first visit to Boxhill by traveling to Boxhill and Burford Bridge Station, just north of Dorking, and walking up the steep path on Boxhill to the east. Another day we walked in the other direction from Boxhill station up to the downs, and came back from Effingham Junction. On still another day in summer 1938 we traveled on the same line one station further to Dorking North. Then a bus a few miles west where we walked a 3 mile path to Leith Hill, and back to Holmwood station. My aunt Winifred Smith (Derek and Graham’s mother) had joined us - with my cousin Graham I believe - in Epsom, as we came through on the train. Later on in the day we saw my other cousin Derek who had left ½ hour earlier, collecting butterflies on the path. The train home was a small electric train to Dorking. A week or so before it had been a steam train but the line had just been electrified and they were running the electric train on the same schedule as the steam train with a change at Dorking. Later that fall (1938) the train from Wimbledon went all the way to and from Horsham. On the line at that time each train was advertized by a wooden sign plugged into the socket at the station by a porter. He was busy at rush hours at Wimbledon station because a train came every 3-5 minutes! In 1980 or so, long after I had left England, the wooden signs were replaced by a computer driven electronic board. Some old signs were bought up by a second hand dealer in Newton and we bought one of the old signs which we hang in our eating porch. “Dorking, Epsom, Wimbledon and Waterloo”. That was obviously used at Horsham station and was the sign for trains in the line we traveled on to get to Boxhill or Leith Hill. Our son Michael has a sign, Ashford, Folkestone Dover and Sandwich from the south eastern part of the Southern Railway.

I was close to my brother Geoffrey. We were only 18 months apart in age and we shared a bedroom. I admired my brother Laurie as only oldest siblings can be admired, and especially his construction of a scissors cross over for our model railway. In later years Laurie and I drew closer. But I have fewer memories of my brother Arthur. He was called Arthur Hey in honour of my great uncle Hanson Hey who was a tobacconist and secretary of the Tobacconists union in Halifax. Hanson Hey died, I believe, before I was born. In summer 1937 I remember that my parents were worried about his work at school. I understand that he was picked on by various people, especially the French teacher, E.A.C. Downes, a French veteran of World War I who had survived a gas attack. My mother decided to give Arthur extra tuition personally. But on December 2nd 1937 it all came apart. I had gone to bed and was asleep. There was a small workshop opening from the drawing room which was one floor with flat roof. It had been raining and rain was overflowing the gutters. My father set out to clean them that night. He walked out onto the balcony of the bedroom which Arthur and Laurie shared, climbed over the railing into the flat roof, and started to clean the gutter. Arthur followed, paused to put a light in the window, and walked onto the flat roof. He had his hands in his pockets as he often had. He went too far and hit his head on the concrete below. Apparently he said one word: ‘Oh!” as he fell He seemed semiconscious and was brought inside where my mother had made tea. But he was in a coma and was taken to Nelson’s hospital where he died about 11 am the following day. My father while waiting for the sad news fainted. My mother had to look after him too. As I remember it that was always her chosen role. Making sure everyone was looked after.

The following morning as I was preparing to go to school, my mother told me the news. I could not believe that Arthur would not recover, but could do nothing so I went to school. I got back from school at, I suppose 5 pm as usual and Auntie May who had come to support her sister, told me what had happened.. I took my bicycle and went out for ½ hour or more. It must have been dark. I do not know now, and never could remember where I went. It is all blanked out. I do not know what other sad memories are blanked out, but no doubt a lot of happy ones too. Why did I not grieve publicly as other people do? I do not know. I did not have time to mope. Almost at once I came down with a bad attack of chicken pox. With a high fever, I was in bed for a week. I am not sure but believe that Geoffrey got the chicken pox too. Although I was told not to scratch, I scratched anyway and for many years my arms and back showed signs of my lack of control. Mother, as usual, was a fine nurse. Arthur was cremated in Mitcham and his ashes scattered there. I never got to the funeral but would not have gone to the crematorium. It was the custom in the Kingston family, which custom my father agreed to, for only men to go to the grave side or crematorium.

Christmas in our house that year was very restrained. My parents decided that the school fees to St. Paul’s school that they had been paying for Arthur would continue to be paid as a charitable contribution to their benevolent fund. No one was officially supposed to know which of the schoolboys was thereby helped but I found out that my friend Klaus Roth, of whom more later, was thereby helped. Since I became prosperous I have been making yearly contributions. It may have been that year but more probably the year before that we were all contributing to the “the home for little wanderers”. Again it was mother who suggested we do this. Each of us contributed what we wanted out of our pocket money, and mother sent it all off just before Christmas. It was mother’s practical way of doing something and ensuring that the happy memories of Arthur would not be forgotten.

My father was devastated and returned to a family belief I had never heard about - Spiritualism. He hoped to have a communication from Arthur and to apologize to him. My mother grieved about Arthur too, very obviously, but was not consumed by this need that my father had. I had not known that as a boy his family held sances, and according to my father, my grandmother would go into trances and when trying to “communicate” by “table-tilting’ would end up running across the room with a tilted table. It became clear that my father desperately wanted to communicate again with Arthur and say he was sorry and get Arthur’s forgiveness. My parents got a new circle of friends We rearranged the house. An upstairs, inside, workshop became a sance room and the tools were taken to a workshop outside next to the living room. Then, being technically included, father thought that if a person could materialize with “ectoplasm” and be made visible and talk to the sitters, then it could materialize inside a box with a microphone. This appealed to this 12 year old. The box was made and the microphone connected to the amplifier in the living room where I could listen to anything that went on. But never did a voice materialize in the box. Over the years I read all about the growth of modern Spiritualism. The knockings on the wall that were heard by the Fox sisters in Rochester, NY in 1847. The séances held by Sir William Crookes in 1870, with Florence Cook as a medium, which he described in detail and which marred his scientific reputation so much that he dropped the subject until a return to it at his Presidential Address to the British Association for Advancement of Science (British Ass for short) in 1897. Of the Society for Psychical Research of which my father was a member, which I joined as a life member when I was 20 and became a member of their council. I was learning to be a scientist and looked at all of these with a mixture of awe and skepticism. Over the years I went to séances with 100 or so different mediums. They were nice, ordinary, people. Were they frauds, or what? One thing worried me always. The claims were so huge, so fantastic, so central to our transitory existence on earth, that I had to think about them if I was ever to claim to think about the important issues in science. Laurie, who had always been closer to Arthur was convinced about the reality of most spiritualist claims. I never understood my mother’s reaction to the turn to the spiritualist movement. I do not believe that she was ever even a partial believer, but she understood my father’s need for solace and was fully supportive of everything my father wanted to do. She invited the Spiritualist friends into the house. She prepared meals after the seances. Only once do I remember that she balked and not because of my father or religious or spiritual beliefs. A regular friend was Joseph Newton, who lived near Edgeware in North London, but had a tailor’s shop near the Elephant and Castle. He said he could bring the food for the dinner after the next week’s séance. It was a succulent leg of lamb. It had been bought on the “black market”. Mother rejected the offer on future occasions. She would stick with the food ration and unrationed foods and not accept anything from the black market. She felt very strongly that we should all stick together during the war and not try to gain a little advantage one over the other. I am sure my father agreed with this too, but did not want to antagonize Joe.

In 1940 Mr Morgan, a medium who worked with a lathe at a munitions factory next to Croydon airport needed somewhere to live and became a lodger. As far as I remember he had three “spirit guides” who turned up regularly. One was Bishop Samuel Wilberforce who was, when he was alive, active anti evolution in the late 1800s, an American Indian who always had lofty thoughts, and a Chinese or Tibetan who only turned up occasionally. One or another would say “Arthur is here” or “Hanson Hey is here”. I did my reading. In William James’ “Principles of Psychology”, he mentions the spirit guides of the medium with which he was well acquainted - his housekeeper, Mrs Piper. She also had a set of three guides and James commented that this was usual. I read Frederic Myers “Human Personality and its survival of Bodily Death”. A fine book with lucid accounts of various stories that convinced him. I also went out and read Myers and Gurney’s paper, “Malobservation and Lapse of Memory “ in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research about 1882. This is a classic study of how one tends to remember only those predictions which later turn out to be true (veridical). I was, tentatively, prepared to believe that telepathy might occur, but such physical phenomena as materializations seemed to me most unlikely.
It was in spring 1944 that we all became involved with Helen Duncan. She was a materialization medium. I could possibly accept the thought She claimed to be a vehicle for physical phenomena whilst in a trance state. A precious gift that brought comfort to many. 'Dead' loved ones appeared in physical form, spoke to and touched their earthly relatives and in this way brought both proof of survival and much comfort to many traumatized and grieving wartime families. Some years later, in 1949 I believe, Brigadier Firebrace, head of security for Scotland, told me the following story.

On the morning of 24th May 1941 the battle cruiser Hood was sunk in a 19 minute interchange with the German battleship and battle cruiser, Bismarck and Prince Eugen in the Denmark Strait between Denmark and Greenland. The latest battleship, the Prince of Wales, came back to port stern first. At 1.30 pm that day Brigadier Firebrace was at a séance in Edinburgh with Helen as a medium. This level headed officer described how Mrs. Duncan's ghostly “ guide’, Albert, materialized and claimed that a great British battleship had just been sunk, and named the Hood. Brigadier Firebrace checked with the Admiralty immediately after the séance and was told that no ship had been sunk. A few hours later the admiralty called him back. They had just been informed that H.M.S. Hood had gone down in with the loss of 1,418 lives. He believed that, at the time of the séance, not even the Admiralty had known of the disaster. Whether or not this was a psychic experience, from the point of view of the authorities, Mrs. Duncan was releasing classified information and was a dangerous person who had to be stopped. More important to the British government was the information about the cruiser HMS Barham which had been sunk in the Mediterranean in 1941. The British government wanted to keep this a secret from the Nazis, because this ship had been the one ship which had been able to intercept Nazi troop traffic from Italy to North Africa, and we desperately wanted to prevent a build up of forces to attack Egypt. Incidentally Friedel Weidinger’s British husband was on a ship in the Mediterranean at this time, and the it was this official secrecy that had prevented his letters from reaching her and had worried her as described earlier. During a séance in Portsmouth during the end of November of 1941, Helen “materialized” a sailor from the HMS Barham who told of his ship being sunk. The sailor was wearing a hat with the name of the ship on the hat band, a practice not done by active duty sailors to prevent the name of their ship being revealed if they were captured. The sailor allegedly gave the name, location and time of the HMS Barham sinking as well as the exact number of dead and several of the names of those killed. It seems that Naval intelligence wanted Helen Duncan out of the way for good during the build up to the invasion of France, where the biggest counter intelligence operation ever was being carried out to persuade Hitler that Allied forces were going to attack at the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy, and as we now know, the Panzer divisions were employed accordingly.

The opportunity came at a séance in a private house in the home port of Britain's Royal Naval fleet , the southern coastal city of Portsmouth on the evening of January 19 1944. Lieutenant R. Worth of the Royal Navy intelligence attended this séance. He bought two tickets for a guinea ($5 at the time) each and gave one to an undercover policeman. The policeman blew his whistle to launch a raid. Police hands made a grab for the “ectoplasm”, which he thought was merely a white sheet, but, according to Mrs Duncan’s supporters, the spirit world was too quick for them and it dematerialized quicker than they could catch. Nothing was produced in evidence. Thus Helen Duncan was brought before Portsmouth magistrates and charged with Vagrancy under the Vagrancy act of 1824, under which anyone pretending to tell fortunes was tried. The act allowed no jury trial. There was no possibility of explaining that the claim was true. At the first such conviction the maximum penalty was small but if there was a previous conviction under that act and she would have been called an “incorrigible rogue”. But there was no chance of a long jail sentence, and with that no chance of a jury trial. Helen was refused bail and instead tried under the witchcraft act of 1735, resurrected after nearly a century of disuse which stated that anyone who "pretend to exercise or use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,' shall be liable on conviction to a year's imprisonment”. This act had a long enough jail period, 3 months, that it allowed a jury trial. But as the judge said in his summing up, the court had no concern with whether “genuine manifestations of the kind are possible . . .this court has nothing whatever to do with such abstract questions”.

Mr Loseby, the defending Q.C., made an offer that Mrs Duncan would hold a special séance for the court. But would she be mentally able to do it? To determine this we had a special séance at our house. Of course the box with its’ microphone was switched on, and I listening downstairs heard everything. It seemed no different, from another of the many séances I had heard or attended, but it was deemed a success. The court, however, denied the suggestion and offer of proof


It came to my father’s notice in February 1944 that a man, or maybe two men, who I will call Messrs X, in Oxford had been in a pub in 1943 where a Lieutenant Worth, probably while “under the influence”, made a bet that within 6 months Helen Duncan would be behind bars. Geoffrey and I were asked to interview Mr X and get him to make a statement. We went to a local lawyer on Queen street who said that the statement was useless in law because it had to be in the right form. But he signed it anyway. I no longer have a copy. Mr Loseby, Q.C., defending Mrs Duncan at the old Bailey, referred to this briefly and the judge perked up at the thought of a conspiracy which would render the whole proceeding moot. Geoffrey was at the trial taking notes. Messrs. X were in London, waiting to be called. But for some inexplicable reason Loseby declined to call him (or them). A lot has been written about the trial but very little about this incident. In the 1990s a film was made of the trial at the Kingston criminal court as a substitute for the Old Bailey. I was in Kingston the day it was shot, visiting Kingston University to discuss the International Sakharov Environmental University, and I was filmed describing the missing testimony. The film was shown on British TV, and also on USA TV. My next door neighbor, Ed Farr, was surprised to see me thereon. I never saw it on TV but I was given a copy of the tape.

A few years later both the Vagrancy act and the Witchcraft acts were amended by the “Fraudulent Mediums” act of 1951:. This was “An Act to repeal the Witchcraft Act, 1735 and to make, in substitution for certain provisions of section four of the Vagrancy Act 1824, express provision for the punishment of persons who fraudulently purport to act as spiritualistic mediums or to exercise powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers.” The presumption that any pretense must be fraudulent was removed. The maximum penalty under the Vagrancy act was increased by one day, thereby automatically allowing for a trial by jury. It was my brother Laurence (Laurie) Wilson who drafted this brief bill which passed the House of Commons by a unanimous vote. Spiritualists understood. In the “Psychic News” when Laurie died one can find a head line which I quote from memory: “The man who won us our freedom died.” I have no doubt in my mind that Lieutenant Worth and Naval Intelligence conspired to get Helen Duncan out of the way. As time went on I believe she was a fraud - but one who brought solace to many people in a very difficult time in England’s history. When I say that I now believe she was a fraud I mean it in the same sense that many well meaning religious leaders perpetrate a fraud on their flocks. I do not, for example, believe in the virgin birth. But that is a complex discussion.
It was in the summer of 1938 and 1939 that I really got to bicycling. In 1933 when I got my first real bicycle I was restricted. I was only supposed to bicycle on side roads. I was to cross the main roads on foot, wheeling the bicycle. Geoffrey and I found a myriad of ways for bicycling long distances. The restrictions were never formally withdrawn but by 1938 I had slowly violated them although I still preferred side roads. Getting home from school just before 1 pm on a Saturday, I was out of the house about 1.30 or so, meeting my friend Philip Bachrach at the “Ace of Spades” roundabout on the Kingston bypass. Philip lived an equal distance the other side of the Ace of Spades in Hounslow. There were bicycle paths on either side of the 30 foot wide by pass road as far as this roundabout. Then we would desert the main road and head south on the Leatherhead Road and turn to Hook, Claygate, or Cobham. Then we got more venturesome and cycled down to Abinger Hammer beyond Dorking, or even the road to Farnham. On one occasion we returned to Philip’s house in Hounslow. I then bicycled home. I tried to do this as fast as possible. I bicycled about 13 miles in 40 minutes or 20 mph. Not bad for a 13 year old on a fixed gear 24 inch wheel bicycle. I remember that the lights were in my favor as I went through Kingston. The struggle up Kingston Hill delayed me but I sped across Kingston by pass (with the green light) in fine style. Philip Bachrach was bigger and stronger than I. In fact he was the principal boy who turned me upside down to my annoyance as described earlier. About that time he was observed dropping a piece of metal from the back of a District line train from Hammersmith to Hounslow to cause sparks. The owner of a house backing onto the line reported him and as a punishment he got 6 of the best on the part of the anatomy intended for the purpose. But in 1939 he was a fine companion and was a strong and safe bicyclist. After July 1939 I lost track of him and have never again met him. Alas Bachrach is too common a name for me to easily locate him.
But then the war came.

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