Some heroes wear capes. Others fling themselves down hills in pursuit of an 8-pound wheel of cheese.
As the BBC reports, a British man has set a record for the most cheeses won in the annual downhill cheese chase that takes place in the English county of Gloucestershire. Chris Anderson has won 22 races in the past 14 years; this year, he won the first and third of the three men’s races.
Anderson said his strategy was to “just run and try and stay on your feet,” according to the Press Association. For his efforts, he will get to take home the double Gloucester cheeses that he successfully chased.
Unfortunately, Anderson only likes cheddar.
It is not entirely clear when Gloucestershire’s unusual sporting event, which takes place in the village of Brockworth, first began. According to journalist Fraser McAlpine, the tradition could go back as far as the 15th century, possibly evolving from a “Beltane-style ritual of rolling burning bundles of wood.” In a 2014 article, the BBC reported that the earliest reference to the race was found in an 1826 message to the Gloucester Town Crier, but it seems to have been an established tradition by that point.
The rules of the game are simple: participants must chase a ball of cheese down Cooper’s Hill, which is so steep that it’s practically impossible to run down without tumbling over.
And tumble the contestants do. In 1997, a record 33 participants were injured—some even broke bones. Over his storied athletic career, Anderson has broken his ankle and bruised his kidneys.
In 2010, officials cancelled the race due to safety concerns, but rogue fromage fiends have continued to stage the event regardless. The BBC reports that “thousands of spectators” turned out to watch the most recent installment of the games.
This year, the race got dirty—and even weirder than usual. ”[T]he kid next to me was pulling my shirt all the way down,” Anderson told British media. His spotlight was also threatened by an Australian who showed up to the race wearing nothing but a swimsuit stamped with the words “budgie smuggler.”
But ultimately, Anderson prevailed. “I’ve got nothing to prove now,” he said of his record-breaking win, according to the BBC. “I’m happy.”
Whether you’re worried about pollution or stress, you may wonder if leaving your town or city for the countryside may boost not only your happiness, but your health.
But evidence-based research that can help us identify the healthiest environments to live is surprisingly scant. As scientists begin to tease apart the links between well-being and the environment, they are finding that many nuances contribute to and detract from the benefits offered by a certain environment – whether it be a metropolis of millions or a deserted beach.
“What we’re trying to do as a group of researchers around the world is not to promote these things willy-nilly, but to find pro and con evidence on how natural environments – and our increasing detachment from them – might be affecting health and well-being,” says Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter Medical School.
White and other researchers are revealing that a seemingly countless number of factors determine how our surroundings influence us. These can include a person’s background and life circumstances, the quality and duration of exposure and the activities performed in it.
Generally speaking, evidence suggests that green spaces are good for those of us who live in urban areas. Those who reside near parks or trees tend to enjoy lower levels of ambient air pollution, reduced manmade noise pollution and more cooling effects (something that will become increasingly useful as the planet warms).
The research shows that green spaces are good for urban dwellers, which should be welcome news to residents of Wellington, New Zealand (Credit: Getty Images)
Time in nature has been linked to reduced physical markers of stress. When we are out for a stroll or just sitting beneath the trees, our heart rate and blood pressure both tend to go down. We also release more natural ‘killer cells’: lymphocytes that roam throughout the body, hunting down cancerous and virus-infected cells.
Researchers are still trying to determine why this is so, although they do have a number of hypotheses. “One predominate theory is that natural spaces act as a calming backdrop to the busy stimuli of the city,” says Amber Pearson, a health geographer at Michigan State University. “From an evolutionary perspective, we also associate natural things as key resources for survival, so we favour them.”
This does not necessarily mean that urban denizens should all move to the countryside, however.
City residents tend to suffer from more asthma, allergies and depression – but they also tend to be less obese, at a lower suicide risk and are less likely to get killed in an accident
City-dwellers live longer than their countryside counterparts and are happier as seniors (Credit: Getty Images)
Although we tend to associate cities with pollution, crime and stress, living in rural locales may entail certain costs as well. Disease-carrying insects and arachnids can detract from the health factor of that otherwise idyllic cabin in Maine, for example.
In other cases, rural pollution poses a major threat. In India, air pollution contributed to the deaths of 1.1 million citizens in 2015 – with rural residents rather than urban ones accounting for 75% of the victims. This is primarily because countryside dwellers are at greater risk of breathing air that is polluted by burning of agricultural fields, wood or cow dung (used for cooking fuel and heat).
Indonesia’s slash and burn-style land clearing likewise causes a blanket of toxic haze that lasts for months and sometimes affects neighbouring countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Meanwhile, smoke pollution from fires lit in South America and southern Africa has been known to make its way around the entire southern hemisphere. (That said, the air in the southern hemisphere is generally cleaner than in the northern hemisphere – simply because there are fewer people living there).
Because of practices like agricultural clearing, pollution can kill more people in the countryside than even in cities (Credit: Getty Images)
It’s not just developing countries, either: wildfires in the western US are wreaking havoc on air quality, while pollution from fertilizers used on farms are detracting from air quality in Europe, Russia, China and the US.
While people who live in in places 2,500m or higher seem to have lower mortality from cardiovascular disease, stroke and some types of cancers, data indicate that they also seem to be at an elevated risk of death from chronic pulmonary disease and from lower respiratory tract infections. This is likely at least in part because cars and other vehicles operate less efficiently at higher altitudes, emitting greater amounts of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide – which is made even more harmful by the increased solar radiation in such places. Living at a moderate altitude of 1,500 to 2,500 meters, therefore, may be the healthiest choice.
It’s not always true that the higher the altitude, the healthier the place (Credit: Getty Images)
There is a strong argument to be made for living near the sea – or at least near some body of water
On the other hand, there is a strong argument to be made for living near the sea – or at least near some body of water. Those in the UK who live closer to the ocean, for example, tend to have a better bill of health than those who live inland, taking into account their age and socioeconomic status. This is likely due to a variety of reasons, White says, including the fact that our evolution means we are attracted to the high levels of biodiversity found there (in the past, this would have been a helpful indicator of food sources) and that beaches offer opportunities for daily exercise and vitamin D.
Then there are the psychological benefits. A 2016 study Pearson and her colleagues conducted in Wellington, New Zealand found that residents with ocean views had lower levels of psychological distress. For every 10% increase in how much blue space people could see, the researchers found a one-third point reduction in the population’s average Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (used to predict anxiety and mood disorders), independent of socioeconomic status. Given that finding, Pearson says, “One might expect that a 20 to 30% increase in blue space visibility could shift someone from moderate distress into a lower category.” Pearson found similar results in a follow-up study conducted near the Great Lakes in the US (currently in review), as did White in an upcoming study of Hong Kong residents.
Researchers found that the more ‘blue space’ people saw in their everyday life, the less distress and anxiety they experienced (Credit: Getty Images)
Not everyone can live on the coast, however. So Simon Bell, chair of landscape architecture at the Estonian University of Life Sciences and associate director of the OPENspace Centre at the University of Edinburgh, and his colleagues are testing whether restoring neglected bodies of water throughout Europe can help. They are interviewing residents before and after restoration, including at a rundown beach outside of Tallinn, Estonia and an industrial canal near a Soviet bloc-style apartment complex in Tartu, also Estonia, among other places in Spain, Portugal, Sweden and the UK.
The team’s second analysis of nearly 200 recently redeveloped water sites will allow them to tease out how factors such as climate, weather, pollution levels, smells, seasonality, safety and security, accessibility and more, influence a given water body’s appeal. The ultimate goal, Bell says, is to find “what makes a great blue space.” Once the results are in, he and his colleagues will develop a quality assessment tool for those looking to most effectively restore urban canals, overgrown lakes, former docklands, rivers and other neglected blue spaces to make residents’ lives better.
How much we benefit from even a single visit to the coast depends on a variety of factors (Credit: Getty Images)
Just as some green and blue spaces may be more beneficial than others, researchers are also coming to realize that the environment’s influence on well-being is not evenly distributed.
People living in lower socioeconomic conditions tend to derive more benefits from natural spaces than wealthy residents, White says. That’s likely because richer people enjoy other health-improving privileges, such as taking holidays and leading generally less stressful lives – a finding with important real-world implications. “Here in the UK, local authorities have a legal obligation to reduce health inequalities. So one way to do that is to improve the park system,” White says. “The poorest will benefit the most.”
A clean, oceanside city like Sydney may be one of the best options (Credit: Getty Images)
It’s also important to point out that simply moving to a relatively pristine coast or forest will not solve all of our problems. Other life circumstances – losing or gaining a job, marrying or divorcing – have a much greater impact on our health. As White puts it, no matter what environment you’re in, “It’s more important to have a house than to be homeless in a park.”
Bell adds that proximity to nature actually tends to rank low on people’s lists of the most important factors for selecting a place to live, after things like safety, quietness and closeness to key locations like schools and work. But while the benefits of green and blue spaces should not be overplayed on an individual level, they are important for the scale at which they work.
And even so, one takeaway seems obvious: those living in a clean, oceanside city with ready access to nature – think Sydney or Wellington – may have struck the jackpot in terms of the healthiest places to live.
The loss of the Aral Sea in central Asia is an ecological disaster. Toxic chemicals in the exposed sea bed have caused widespread health problems. Can an ambitious project to plant millions of trees save the Karakalpak people of Uzbekistan?
Seventy-eight-year-old Almas Tolvashev shuffles through the sand towards the rusting hulk of a fishing boat.
The lighthouse that keeps watch over a crumbling flotilla of 10 or so ships is a stark reminder that Moynaq was once a thriving fishing port on the Aral Sea.
“The history of the Karakalpak people starts with the sea,” says the former fisherman. “Fishing was the first thing fathers taught their sons”.
Moynaq lies at the heart of Karakalpakstan, a semi-autonomous republic within Uzbekistan. In its heyday, this is where 98% of Uzbekistan’s fish came from.
“I was the first Muslim captain in Moynaq and my ship was the Volga. Captains were usually ethnic Russians,” Almas says proudly.
“There were 250 ships here. I used to catch 600-700 kilos of fish every day. Now there is no sea”.
The Aral Sea started to shrink in the 1960s when the Soviets diverted water from the two main rivers that flowed into the Aral Sea to feed vast new cotton fields.
As cotton production boomed, the Kremlin refused to acknowledge the problem. Locals had to put labelled sticks in the ground to prove the shoreline was disappearing.
As the volume of water decreased, the concentration of salt increased, poisoning everything in the sea.
“Fish stocks went down and in the end all we caught were dead fish. Now young people have to leave for other countries in search of jobs”.
The Aral Sea has shrunk to 10% of its former size – an area of water as big as Ireland has been lost. But it’s not just a way of life that has been affected.
The captain waves his hands above his head: “It’s not like before, the weather is bad, there’s all this dust in the air”.
Lives in danger
When Dr Yuldashbay Dosimov first came to work at Moynaq’s hospital in the 1980s the shoreline was already 20km (12 miles) away.
He remembers the illnesses that were specific to the region: “Respiratory problems, tuberculosis and kidney problems were widespread. Until recently, many children died of diarrhoea”.
The Soviet authorities who expanded Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan’s cotton industry did not foresee that herbicides and pesticides from their new plantations would run off into the rivers around them and end up in the Aral Sea.
Contaminated drinking water caused many problems and these were exacerbated when the water retreated.
As the sea dried up, toxic chemicals from the cotton industry were left exposed on the sea bed. These were carried through the atmosphere by sandstorms and inhaled by people across a vast area.
For decades, these illnesses were an open secret. The authorities only acknowledged the disappearance of the Aral Sea after the fall of the Soviet Union.
When they identified the problem, they started work on a solution. And it’s a solution that Dr Dosimov hopes will radically improve the wellbeing of the Karakalpak people.
“They have to lessen the impact of the dried up sea on people’s health and that’s why they are planting saxaul trees”.
Sea bed forest
Several miles from Moynaq two tractors are inching across the horizon side-by-side. They are scratching long lines into the salty sea bed that 40 years ago would have been 25m (80ft) underwater.
On the back of each tractor, a young man grabs a handful of seeds and feeds it into the thin trench.
“No matter if it rains or shines, we have two weeks to plant a hectare (2.4 acres),” says one of the men. “It’s been cold and rainy lately, but we won’t leave until we reach our goal”.
The men are sowing saxaul seeds. The saxaul is a shrub-like tree native to the deserts of central Asia, and now the first line of defence against climate change in Uzbekistan.
“One fully grown saxaul tree can fix up to 10 tonnes of soil around its roots,” explains Orazbay Allanazarov, a forestation specialist.
The trees stop the wind picking up contaminated sand from the dried up sea bed and spreading them through the atmosphere. The plan is to cover the entire former bed with a forest.
“Here almost one in two trees has survived. This is good.” He doesn’t hide his excitement as he strokes the branch of one white-grey shrub that stands two and a half metres high. It’s a long term project – this row of saxauls was planted five years ago.
“We chose saxaul trees because they can survive in the dry and salty soil,” he says.
The trees are planted in rows, 10m apart, so that when they mature and release seeds of their own, the gaps between the rows will be populated too.
Until now around half a million hectares of the desert have been covered with saxaul trees. But there are still more than three million hectares to be covered.
At the current pace, it could take 150 years to grow a forest here.
“We are slow,” admits Allanazarov. “We need to speed up the process. But for this we need more money, more foreign investment”.
Like the seasoned fishing captain Almas Tolvashev, Orazbay Allanazarov knows the Aral Sea may never come back.
But at least now there is some hope that the Karakalpak people’s quality of life can be improved – a lifetime after a decision was made to choose cotton over fish.
Photography by Paul Ivan Harris. Editing by Derrick Evans
The Ottoman Empire is one of the largest empires in history. In existence for 600 years, at its peak it included what is now Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Macedonia, Romania, Syria, parts of Arabia and the north coast of Africa. In some countries, it is a legacy best forgotten; in others, it is a hotly-debated topic and, in a handful, national pride has been nailed to this vital part of their history.
Putting aside all the nationalist politics, the Ottoman Empire is a fascinating subject covering a dynasty that lasted 600 years. Here, Jem Duducu presents six lesser known facts about this exotic, yet still relevant empire.
The founder of the empire was a man called Osman
Osman, a Seljuk Turk, is the man who is seen as the founder of the empire (his name is sometimes spelt Ottman or Othman, hence the term ‘Ottoman’). The Seljuks had arrived from the Asiatic steppes in the 11th century AD and had been in Anatolia for generations, while Osman had ruled a tiny Anatolian territory at the end of the 13th century and the early 14th century. He was very much a warrior in the mould of other great cavalry officers of the Middle Ages (like Genghis Khan before he won an empire).
It was on the coronation day of Osman’s successor that the tradition of wearing Osman’s sword, girded by his belt, began. This was the Ottoman equivalent of being anointed and crowned in the west and was a reminder to all of the 36 sultans who followed that their power and status came from this legendary warrior and that they were martial rulers. This certainly rang true in the first half of the history of the empire, and for the next 300 years, sultans would regularly be seen in battle. But as the empire matured and then waned, so the sultans began to shirk their duties on the battlefield.
Osman’s lavishly-decorated sword and belt are the Ottoman equivalent of the coronation crown jewels, but it’s doubtful that what is seen today on display in the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul is what Osman held in his hand. Putting it simply, Osman was unlikely ever to have had such an impractical sword, though it could be that the original blade was later plated and embellished.
Osman was definitely real, but in some ways, he’s like King Arthur in the west: a founder of an idea and a near-mythical figure. During his lifetime, he was regarded as unimportant enough that we have absolutely no contemporary sources about him. We don’t know what he looked like; we have no proclamations extant from his reign, as Osman’s reign began in what was then the Ottoman Dark Ages.
The Ottomans could be unlucky
Only once did a sultan die in battle and only one sultan was ever captured by an enemy. Unfortunately for the early empire, these sultans were father and son. In 1389, at the famous Battle of Kosovo, Murad I was in his tent as his forces fought a brutal and bloody engagement with Serb forces. A contemporary account states that: “having penetrated the enemy lines and the circle of chained camels, [serb forces] heroically reached the tent of Murat (sic) … (and killed him) by stabbing him with a sword in the throat and belly.”
While this account claims to describe how Murad died, it doesn’t ring true. The idea that a dozen Serbs were able to break through the entire central force of the Ottoman army, which we know held for the whole battle, doesn’t make sense. Instead, there is a later report that as the Serb lines crumbled, a Serbian aristocrat (often named as Miloš Obilić) pretended to defect and was brought before the sultan. Murad, believing that any change to the battle would finally break the deadlock, met Miloš in his private tent, where the Serb lunged forward and stabbed Murad before the guards reacted. This would make more sense against the overall events of the day. Either way, after 27 years of rule, Murad lay dead in a pool of his own blood.
Murad’s son and heir, Bayezid I, was present at the battle and had already proven himself to be a fearsome warrior. He was known as Bayezid Yildirm (thunderbolt) because he moved as quickly and struck as lethally as a thunderbolt. Amongst many other military successes, he was to annihilate the last serious crusade sent from Europe to counter the rising tide of Islamic power. However, in 1402, he had to face a new threat: that of the legendary warlord Tamerlane (actual title Emir Timur), a brutal 14th-century warlord born in what is now Uzbekistan, who amassed an empire that stretched from present day India to Turkey, and Russia to Saudi Arabia. The two met at the Battle of Ankara, where more than 150,000 men, horses and even war elephants clashed.
Accounts of the battle are fairly sketchy and often contradictory. What is clear is that a pivotal point in the battle took place when some of Bayezid’s Anatolian vassals switched sides or melted away, leaving him with an even greater numerical disadvantage against Tamerlane. However, the core of the Ottoman force fought bravely. The battle was vicious and the resulting carnage was enormous. By the end of the day it was said that around 50,000 Ottoman troops lay dead; the same was said of Tamerlane’s force. If these numbers are true (and there’s no way of knowing), it was one of the bloodiest battles in world history prior to the 20th century.
Bayezid might have been up against a man who was his equal in leadership, but Tamerlane simply had more of everything – and some elephants. Bayezid had thrown all of his empire’s resources into the battle, but he couldn’t overcome the fact that Tamerlane’s empire was bigger. By the end of that violent and sweltering July day, Bayezid’s army was in tatters, and he and his wife had been captured, showing that Bayezid had personally fought to the bitter end.
Bayezid’s death in captivity led to a period of civil war and infighting amongst his sons, each of whom wanted to become the next sultan. These events almost undid the empire just 100 years into its history.
Ottomans are not the same as ‘Turks’
Perhaps the most surprising fact about the Ottoman Empire is that many of the ‘Turks’ mentioned in the European chronicles were no such thing. It is thanks to European ignorance (that has lasted centuries) and to nation building in Turkey that the Ottoman sultans have become ‘Turkish’ sultans. Quite often in European Renaissance literature, the sultan was referred to as the ‘Great Turk’, a title that would have meant nothing to the Ottoman court. So let’s clear this up: the Ottoman Empire, for most of its existence, predated nationalism. The attacking forces at the famous ‘Fall of Constantinople’ against the Byzantine Empire in 1453 weren’t all ‘Turks’; in fact, not all of the besieging forces were even Muslim.
More than 30 of the sultans were the sons of women from the harem. Why is that salient? Because none of these women were Turkish; it’s unlikely any of them were even born Muslim. Most of their backgrounds have been lost to the mists of time, but it seems most were European women, so Serbs, Greeks, Ukrainians. It is likely that later ‘Turkish’ sultans were genetically far more Greek than Turkish.
Similarly, any of the legendary Janissaries [an elite fighting corps within the army], including the famous architect Mimar Sinan who started his career as a Janissary, were all Christian children who had been brought into this elite fighting force and then converted to Islam. The best modern analogy to describing anything Ottoman as ‘Turkish’ is like saying that the anything from the British Empire was exclusively ‘English’.
Suleiman was even more magnificent than you think
In the west, he has become known as Suleiman the Magnificent. In the east, he is remembered as Suleiman the Lawgiver. However, here is a full list of his titles and they are fascinating:
“Sultan of the Ottomans, Allah’s deputy on earth, Lord of the Lords of this world, Possessor of men’s necks, King of believers and unbelievers, King of Kings, Emperor of the East and the West, Majestic Caesar, Emperor of the Chakans of great authority, Prince and Lord of the most happy constellation, Seal of victory, Refuge of all the people in the whole entire world, the shadow of the almighty dispensing quiet on the Earth.”
Let’s break things down: the first title is obvious and “Allah’s deputy” implies his supreme Islamic authority without overstepping the mark (the word ‘Islam’ means ‘one who submits to God). The “possessor of necks’ harks back to his father Selim’s practice of beheading even senior officials; anyone who displeased the sultan could expect to be beheaded for certain crimes.
The next few titles are unexpectedly Roman. The Ottomans were aware that when they conquered Constantinople (in essence, the Eastern Roman Empire) the titles of “emperor” and “Caesar” still had importance. Claiming to be ‘”Emperor of the East and West” was not only an exaggeration, but also a direct challenge to the authority of Rome which, at this point, was hopelessly outclassed by the Ottomans.
“King of Kings” may sound a little biblical, but that’s only because the Gospels took the title from the Persian emperors’ shahenshah, literally, ‘king of kings’. So, again, the Ottomans are challenging a major rival, but this time it’s in the east, the Safavid Persians.
The next few titles are little more than showing off, but then we come to “Refuge of all the people in the whole entire world”, which shows that the sultans were well aware that their empire was multi-cultural and multi-religious, with Christians, Jews, Muslims and others all living together, not necessarily in harmony, but much better than anywhere else at the time. The ejection of the Jews and Muslims from Spain was still fresh in the minds of those living in the first half of the 16th century.
Only two of Suleiman’s military campaigns failed; he swept through everything else before him. When he wasn’t in the saddle, he was sitting in his opulent palace in the largest city in Europe. His empire stretched for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles in all directions. If anyone should be called ‘magnificent’, Suleiman fitted the bill perfectly.
The greatest humiliation in Ottoman military history was inflicted by Napoleon
On 20 May 1799, Napoleon laid siege to the port of Acre, where he fired the few cannons he had at the mighty defences, while the defenders sought refuge behind the city’s walls. As Napoleon was now committed to the siege, Ottoman forces were able to gather a relief force and march to the aid of the city. Napoleon had always picked competent generals and, even though his force was small, one Jean-Baptiste Kléber was a battle-hardened and highly capable general. His force of around 2,000 men (later joined by over 2,000 of Napoleon’s men) met the Ottoman relief force at Mount Tabor in Palestine. By comparison, Abdullah Pasha al-Azm, the governor of Damascus, had gathered an army of over 30,000. The French were outnumbered about 9-1; but, as we have seen, numbers don’t count for everything, and the Battle of Mount Tabor was possibly the greatest (often forgotten) humiliation of Ottoman martial power.
The Ottoman forces were made up of Sipahis, Mamelukes and other brave but outdated warrior classes. From dawn to late afternoon, Kléber sat in the hollow anti-cavalry squares, resisting every attack by Pasha al-Azm’s men. The Ottoman governor’s losses were mounting, but his army so dwarfed the French force that he could afford them. Meanwhile, after ten hours of fighting under the sweltering sun of Palestine, Kléber’s men were tired, thirsty and dangerously low on gunpowder and ammunition. It was then that Napoleon arrived with about 2,000 men, not enough to match the numbers in the Ottoman army but enough to distract them by sending a few hundred men to attack and loot the Ottoman camp. Abdullah Pasha al-Azm thought Napoleon’s tiny force was the vanguard of a larger army and panicked, thinking he was about to be attacked from the rear and flanks. He ordered a general retreat, at which point the two French forces charged the disengaging Ottomans, and the orderly Ottoman retreat turned into a messy rout.
Total losses of Ottoman soldiers were around 6,000 killed and another 500 captured, versus two dead French soldiers. An army of around 4,500 had fought an army of over 30,000 and not only won, but sustained just two fatalities. It was a devastating humiliation for the sultan Selim III, and a spectacular triumph that allowed Napoleon to continue his siege of Acre (although he would not take the port and this would mark the furthest extent of his conquests in the Middle East).
The Ottomans outlasted all their main opponents… just
From the middle to the end of the empire, when it was on its long slow decline to collapse, the empire faced three main rival powers that crop up again and again in Ottoman history: to the east, the Persian Safavids; to the north, the tsars of Russia; and to the west, the Habsburgs.
The Safavids fell first to Afghan invaders in 1736 and, while Persia/Iran would remain an opponent to the late Ottoman sultans, it was never the same expansionist threat it had been earlier under the Safavid dynasty.
Similarly, as the tsars of Russia began to spread their power south towards the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea, the Ottomans began to lose ground and were forced to fight multiple wars with the tsars. The most famous of these in the west is the Crimean War, when France and Britain joined sides with the Ottomans to prop up the failing state against the rising star of Russian power. However, the sultans were still seated in power when the last tsar, Nicholas II, was first deposed and later shot.
The Habsburgs and Ottomans fought so regularly that Vienna was twice besieged by Ottoman forces. There were so many clashes between the two empires that some of the war names sound half-hearted, such as the Long Turkish War (1593-1606). However, during the last war the Ottoman Empire was involved in (the First World War) the Ottomans were on the same side as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, led by a Habsburg. That dynasty didn’t quite make it to the end of the war, whereas the Ottoman Empire survived for a few years after it. The Ottoman sultans didn’t have time to gloat, however. The empire was dismantled by the victorious Allied powers of First World War, and a way of life that had lasted from the Middle Ages into the 20th century was gone by 1922, when the last sultan, Mehmed VI, was forced into exile.
In what surely is one of the most bizarre flying incidents ever to have occurred, two British Avro Anson bomber airplanes doing cross-country practice flights in preparation for World War II made sudden impact 3,000 feet above ground in Brocklesby, New South Wales, Australia.
The risk of mid-air collisions is very low, yet the most freakish thing about it was not that they collided, but the fact that the planes jammed precisely one over the other, and as such, interlocked as in a scene from a cartoon, remarkably landing without serious injuries in a paddock near a small farm, terrifying the horses who until that unexpected visit were feasting on the fresh grass, waving their tails, chasing horseflies, and having a blast on a sunny September morning.
And the funniest thing was that the pilot who went through a forced landing, and the plane piggybacking underneath it, was calm as a cucumber, acting as if nothing extraordinary had happened.
“I did everything we’ve been told to do in a forced landing–land as close as possible to habitation or a farmhouse and, if possible, land into the wind. I did all that. There’s the farmhouse, and I did a couple of circuits and landed into the wind. She was pretty heavy on the controls, though!”
Sure she was. One plane had the engines intact. The other one only its wings and controls. Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Leonard G. Fuller, the pilot of the latter, the one on top, who jokingly gave this nonchalant statement to his supervisor Group Captain Arthur “Spud” Murphy right after the incident had, in fact, a grave task at hand to fly them both and take them down.
According to every paper that covered the incident and wrote a story about it–and let’s just say there were many who did report this freakish event for it attracted worldwide media attention and for a few months was all over the news despite the fact that a war was raging on–the pilot, LAC Leonard Graham Fuller, aged 22, from Cootamundra, and LAC Ian Menzies Sinclair, 27, from Glen Innes, acting as his navigator, took off in their Avro Anson number N4876 from the flying training school ground of the Royal Australian Air Force near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.
The same morning on September 29, 1940, and just right after them, 19-year-old LAC Jack Inglis Hewson from Newcastle, Australia, assisted by his 27-year-old navigator LAC Hugh Gavin Fraser from Melbourne, left the ground in their L9162 aircraft.
Both were supposed to leave the airbase, make a joined round trip over Corowa and Narrandera, and return from where they took off. Unfortunately,somewhere around 10.45 a.m., the planes lost track of each other and Fuller’s plane smashed on the top of the other in what he later described, according to The Daily News and their story from October 2, 1940, “Risks life to save villagers,” a sound of a “grinding crash and a bang as roaring propellers struck each other and bit into the engine cowlings.”
The planes were now jammed tightly, his engines blew off almost instantly, but the ones of the plane underneath were working at full strength. Although Sinclair bailed immediately after the impact, as did Fraser, the navigator from down under, Fuller saw his controls were working and realized he could control the pair of planes at the very moment he saw Hewson jumping from the plane and getting hit by the propellers as he did so.
The aircraft was losing altitude and was about to start to spin. It was up to him to either jump now or try and take the planes down and save innocent lives that potentially could get lost by unmanned planes crashing down on them.
Good thing he was a skilled pilot, and cool, calm, and collected while everything was going on for he managed to fly 5 miles in search of the best possible place to land the now Siamese-twin-plane, before making an improvised emergency pancake landing in Mr. T. Murphy’s farm 6 miles southwest of Brocklesby. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt in the process. Not even Hewson, whose back was injured when the propeller struck him, and had troubles with his parachute that wouldn’t open until 100 feet off the ground. He slammed so hard on the ground that it left him paralyzed for four months.
In fact, everyone was just fine and Fuller’s plane was in such a good state that was put back into service almost right away.
However, it was not all because of one man’s courage and his unparalleled creative set of piloting skills but a conjoined effort of both that prevented this dual-plane aircraft from spiraling out of control.
Before bailing out, Hewson locked the controls of his plane and raised the engines to full strength right after the impact and said goodbye, for if there was any chance for the planes to belly land, it was to be his belly that would be the first to taste the ground. Without his reasoning and quick reaction, both of the planes were doomed.
But in the end, everything went fine, and this “small” accident in the sky made the small town of Brocklesby famous. Though it is safe to say the horses enjoying the sun that September morning in the nearby paddock where the plane landed and slid for 200 yards were running for their lives petrified, and Mr. T. Murphy was having trouble calming them down and getting them back inside his farm.
The greatest irony was that Fuller, the pilot who showed courage, landing a strange aircraft in an even stranger scenario, died four years later in 1944, when a bus struck and killed him on the spot. He was riding his bike.