by Frank E Earp
U.F.O’s fit in well within the remit of both the folklorist and social historian. When most people come across the term U.F.O’s they autocratically think of extraterrestrial space craft, – flying saucers, – but this should not be the case. The acronym U.F.O., stands for ‘Unidentified, Flying Object’, in other-words, something unidentified seen in the sky. Placing the emphasis on the first word means that U.F.O’s are part of an observable phenomena, whilst the belief of the observer that they are an extraterrestrial craft is a part of a much wider social phenomena.
It is true to say that after further investigation the majority of reported U.F.O. cases, – estimates range from 80 to 95%, – are later found to be observations of some real but conventional object or natural phenomena. The most common of these being aircraft, balloons and astronomical objects like bright stars, planets and meteors, – and on rare occasions, freak weather conditions. A small percentage of cases turn out to be deliberate hoaxes. Until positive proof that extra terrestrial craft are flying in the skies of our World, all we can truly say of the remaining cases is that they remain ‘unidentified’, the rest is speculation.
The acronym U.F.O. was created by the United States Air Force in 1952 to describe sittings of flying disc shaped objects previously referred to as ‘flying saucers’. This spate of sittings began in 1947 when aviator and businessman Kenneth Arnold, reported seeing nine such objects flying in formation over Mount Rainier on 24th June of that year. Arnold’s sighting was widely reported in the media and between 1947 and 1952 there followed many thousands of reports of unidentified flying objects of various shapes and sizes from all over the U.S.A. Certainly there was a general consensus of opinion amongst the general public that these were piloted extraterrestrial craft. Thus was born the modern U.F.O story.
The reported sightings of U.F.O’s. are by no means a modern phenomena. In England the earliest recorded sighting of a U.F.O., – in this case a classic silver disc shaped object, – comes from the 12th century. At Byland, or Begeland Priory in the North Riding of Yorkshire, a flat, round, shining silvery object is said to have flown over the building whilst the prior and monks were eating their meal in the refectorium. This apparently caused “utmost terror”. However, although this case is frequently quoted, there is some dispute over the authenticity of its origin.
In the “first hour of the night” on the 4th Nov. 1322 “a pillar of fire the size of a small boat” was said to have been seen in the sky over Uxbridge. Some 65 years later, something of a ‘U.F.O flap’ (a modern term used to describe a spate of sightings over a period of time), occurred over Leicester and parts of Northamptonshire when between Nov. and Dec. 1387 a revolving burning wheel of fire and long fiery beams of light where seen in the night skies. Although these two cases are frequently quoted as supporting of the existence of extraterrestrial craft, no original source is given to verify the accounts. However, there is one medieval case of the U.F.O. phenomena observed by in-access of 5,000 witnesses, which as far as I’m aware has never been used to support the more fanciful idea of alien craft.
I came across this reference whilst research for an article of what is perhaps the most bloodiest battle ever to take place on English soil. The Battle of Stoke Field, which took place close to the Nottinghamshire village of East Stoke around 13 miles north-east of Nottingham, is generally regarded as being the last battle in ‘The Wars of the Roses’. On the morning of the 16th June 1487, rebel Yorkist forces under the command of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had taken-up a position on high ground somewhere to the south-west of the village. Fast approaching them from the direction of Nottingham, was the vanguard of the army of king Henry VII led by the Earl of Oxford. Shortly before the commencement of hostilities, contemporary eye-witness accounts report that ‘unusual lights in the sky’ were seen above the Yorkist army. These were interpreted as ill-omens by the Lancastrian forces and led to a number of desertions. However, words of encouragement from Oxford and other nobles soon restored order.
It is interesting to note that any Lancastrian forces approaching East Stoke from Nottingham would have done so using the old Roman Road, the Fosse Way. From the crossroads at Newton, a straight section of road runs in almost due north-east for 61/2 miles to the crossroads at East Stoke. Using modern computer programs, (Google Earth and Sun-calc), we find that to the approaching Lancastrians on this section of road, the morning sun would have appeared behind and above the Yorkist army. As the strange lights appear to have only been witness by the Lancastrians, could they have been caused by sunlight reflected from the Yorkist armour, bouncing off of low cloud? This would be rather like the effect of using a mirror to reflect light onto a ceiling. This of-course is all speculation on my part, but could this be the explanation behind Nottinghamshire’s first recorded U.F.O case?
At the end of the W.W. II, (officially around 1947), increased tension and hostility between the former Soviet Union and the Western Allies led by the U.S.A., there began a period in history know as the ‘Cold War’. From the outset of this phony conflict, both sides engaged in an ‘Arms Race’, – an attempt to develop bigger and better nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. By 1959, again, both sides were equally engaged in a ‘Space Race’, – an attempt to be the first to put a ‘man in space’. It is now widely believed that it is no coincidence that the rise of the U.F.O. phenomena in the U.S. precisely parallels these events.
By the early 1950’s the U.F.O. phenomena in the U.S. had gained cult status. Fuelled by Arnold’s sighting of ‘flying saucers’ in June of 1947 and in the following July, – the rumour that an alien craft complete with occupants, had been found to have crash-landed in the desert near the small town of Roswell, New Mexico, – there was a genuine wide-spread belief that the Earth was being visited by extra terrestrial beings. There were two schools of thought regarding these beings; either they were alien invaders intent on conquering our Planet, or a race of super beings, inter galactic policemen attempting to pull us back from the brink of nuclear war and the threat of mutual annihilation. In a case of ‘art mimicking life’ – or in this instance popular belief, – two black and white Si Fi films took-up these themes; ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, released in 1951, Galactic Policemen, and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers’, released in 1956, hostile invasion.
It wasn’t long before claims of contact with, and later, abductions by such beings began to appear in the media. One of the first of these so-called ‘Contacties’ was Polish/American, George Adamski. After witnessing U.F.O’s for a period of some five years, Adamski claimed to have met and spoken-to a very human looking occupant of a Flying Saucer in the Colorado Desert in 1951. In his book ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’ published in 1953, Adamski stated that his alien visitor was a Venusian called Orthon, a member of a ‘Space Brotherhood’ who’s mission to Earth was to warn of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. Adamski went on to turn his encounter into a one-man industry, writing several books and travelling all over the U.S. spreading the message of the Brotherhood to anyone who would listen.
This side of the Atlantic, – another George, – a former London cab driver George King, also claimed to have contact with a Space Brotherhood, a race of Galactic Super Beings. King claimed to have had his first telepathic message in 1954 from one of the beings, yet another Venusian, calling himself, The Cosmic Master Aetherius. King went on to found a pseudo religion called the Aetherius Society. George King died in 1997 aged 79. The Aetherius Society continues to operate as an International organisation.
In Nottingham, a more scientific group of Ufologists were earnestly studying the U.F.O. phenomena. Many of these men had been R.A.F. bomber crew during the War and had been witness to a type of U.F.O. known as ‘Foo-Fighters. These strange balls of red, orange or sometimes white light, first made their reported appearance alongside a squadron of American aircraft in November 1944. From this date onward the crews of Allied aircraft, both American and British witnessed the appearance of Foo-Fighters in both the European and Pacific theatres of war.
It was genuine ambition of one of the founding members of the Nottingham group to persuade George Adamski, starting in Nottingham, to do a lecture tour of the U.K. However, this never came to pass as Adamski died at the age of 74 in 1965.
After working together for several years the Nottingham group broke apart around 1966/67, after the club secretary experienced a more sinister aspect of the U.F.O story. As early as 1947, U.F.O. witness Harold Dahl, reported receiving an intimidating and threatening visit from men dressed in black suits who claimed to be government agents. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s reports of visits by what became known as Men in Black or M.I.B’s, to both U.F.O. witnesses and Ufologist became more frequent. Popular opinion was that M.I.B’s were either genuine government agents or in some cases actual aliens. The Nottingham club secretary, – a man in his early sixties who had studied the U.F.O. phenomena for a number of years and had amassed a library of books and files, – announced that he had received a visit from M.I.B’s at his home in Wollaton. These two men had told him in no uncertain way that unless he gave up his interest in U.F.O’s, his house would be fire-bombed. Within days of the alleged visit he had sold or given away his entire collection of books, photos and journals and removed every reference to U.F.O’s from his home. Fellow members of the club, even those he had been fiends with for many years, never heard from him again.
My interest in U.F.O’s began around 1965 at the age of 14, when myself and a group of fellow school friends set up our own U.F.O. group after we had all read Adamski’s and other books on the subject. We had limited contact with the established Nottingham group. However, one of its members became a guiding mentor to our little band. We issued our own questionnaires to U.F.O. witnesses and I remember that one of our proudest moments was when we had a completed questionnaire returned from a Policeman who had witnessed a U.F.O. whilst on duty on the North Yorkshire Moors. None of us had a visit from M.I.B’s, however, many of the group experienced on more than one occasion, being followed and photographed with high-powered cameras. This culminated in a very strange event. Our mentor, who lived alone in a ‘prefab’ in Aspley decided to advertise for a lodger to help pay the bills. Within a short time of putting a post card in a shop window a young man in his early twenties answered his advert. Giving his profession as a ‘Civil Servant the young man state that he had business in Nottingham and need temporary accommodation. An agreement was made and the man moved in with nothing more than a single small suitcase. Over a few short weeks of his stay, our mentor stated that he demonstrated a good knowledge of Ufology and asked about both U.F.O. groups. At the end of his stay he asked to see members of our group. At the meeting which followed, he claimed to have been an MI6 field agent, one of a number of operatives dispatched by the Government to investigate the threat to National Security posed by U.F.O. groups. Thankful he announced that we were no threat, packed his bag and we never saw him again.
Having declared that l had been one of the founding members of a U.F.O. group, – all be it at the tender age of 14, – I suspect that many readers will be wanting to ask me; “Have you ever seen a U.F.O.?”. In most cases, the actual meaning of that question is; “Have you ever seen a ‘flying saucer’, (extra terrestrial craft)?”. In the strict meaning of the acronym, I have over the course of my life seen a number of ‘unidentified flying objects’. Can I truly say that any of these were of extra terrestrial origin? All I can say is that in my youth, I believed that some of the sightings were of alien craft. However, it must be remembered that at the time, (mid 1960’s), I and my fellows were avid Ufologist and Britain was in the heat of a ‘U.F.O. flap’ (or wave), centred on the Wiltshire town of Warminster. The media was full of talk of flying saucers and alien craft. This hardly makes me an unbiased reliable witness. By the very nature of things, if I could honestly say that I have seen a flying saucer, that particular sighting would cease to be classified as a U.F.O. I will relate an account of a U.F.O. sighting from the early 1970’s, – when my ‘mind set’ was different, – and allow the reader to answer the question.
On a clear winters evening at around 10 p.m., I was driving my then girl friend (now my wife) home to Chilwell. Our route took us through Bilborough past Strelley village and south along the Coventry Road. For those who do not know the area, this is a semi rural road on the extreme western edge of the City of Nottingham. We had reach the cross-roads at Strelley and were turning onto Coventry Road when both of us saw high in the sky, a moving bright star like object approaching us from the south. Making a modern comparison I would say that it was like observing the International Space Station or other artificial satellite. I stop the car a little way past the crossroads and we both got out the vehicle to get a better look. Almost immediately we saw that there was a second identical object approaching from the north. The two seemed to be on a collision cause, becoming larger and brighter as they approached. Slowly the lights drew together and at a point almost directly above our heads stopped and hung side by side in the sky like two bright stars. We continued to observe them in silence for what must have been 3 or 4 minutes. Suddenly the northern light again began to move. At this stage it became apparent that this object was lower in the sky than its companion, which now seemed even brighter. Moving a little faster than its original approach, it continued south and appeared to pass bellow its still stationary companion, which now shone with the intensity of Venus, (certainly, the brightest object in the sky). After several minutes the moving object was lost to view leaving our attention fixed on the bright object above our heads. It was at this point that something dramatic happened. A small pale blue, star-like light dropped from bellow the bright object. For a few seconds it appeared to free-fall and it shot off at great speed to the west. Seconds later a second identical light dropped and shot off to the east. This was repeated twice more with one light going south and the second north. The bright object now began to move and continued its original course north. The cold night air had gotten to us at this point and we realised that we had been observing the phenomena for over half an hour. Once back in the car we continued our journey back to Chilwell. I got a telling off from my future father-in-law for bringing his daughter home late. We did not tell him the reason why.
The first ever published photograph of a U.F.O. appeared in an 1886 edition of L’Astronomie magazine. The photograph was taken three years earlier on 12th Aug. 1883 by José Banilla, astronomer and director of the Zacatecas, Mexico Observatory. Banilla was observing the Sun’s corona when he spotted what he later described as ‘cricket -shaped’ object passing over the face of the Sun. Over the next 36 hours Banilla and his assistant observed over 400 objects, mainly disc shaped pass across the Sun’s disc. A new study of Banilla’s observations has concluded that he and his companion had witnessed the brake-up of a massive comet passing close to Earth’s orbit.
Since this early example, there are now thousands of what are claimed to be photos of U.F.O’s in circulation. But how-many are of genuine U.F.O’s? What do I mean by this?; It is to be remembered that U.F.O’s are a self-perpetuating and complex phenomena. Once the object in the photo has been identified, it ceases to be a U.F.O. Although it has been around for over 100 years, if we except the new theory that the object on the 1883 photo was a part of a comet, then it is no-longer a U.F.O. photo. The belief in alien visitors is as strong today as it has ever been and a high proportion of images are offered-up by the photographer as photo’s of extraterrestrial craft. We must of course first except the photographer’s word that the photo is genuine, but in doing so we then automatically exclude it from being a U.F.O. photo. However, we then enter a whole new realm with its own consequences for the future of humankind.
A high percentage of U.F.O. photos have been proven to be hoaxes, fakes and practical jokes, – deliberate attempts to exploit the U.F.O. phenomena and obtain money. With film photography it was quite difficult to fake a convincing U.F.O. photo. Now with modern digital photography it has become relatively easy. There is even an ‘app’ which allows anyone to place a classic flying saucer image in the sky of any photo’s taken on a digital camera or phone. When we take into account all of these factors, only a small percentage remain as photos of ‘unidentified flying objects’.
Some photos are what might be termed ‘accidental’ U.F.O. photos. These are photo’s where the object has not been directly observed by the photographer or any one else before or after the photo was taken and has only become apparent on the resulting image. A number of this kind of photos were or are later proven to be the results of ‘camera flare’, faulty film stock or other such photographic anomalies.
It is one of these accidental U.F.O. photos which I have chosen to accompany this article. The photo, which has never been published before, was taken in Wollaton Park around 1965/66, by one of our little group who I will refer to as G. G became the groups official photographer, mainly because of the fact that he was the only one of us who at that time had his own camera and both the expertise and resources to use it. The original image was intended to show a small group of friends enjoying themselves on the Park. It was not until the photo was developed that the strange object (highlighted) became apparent. None of the other photos taken on the same film roll showed any kind of anomaly. The original negative film roll was sent off to the maker, Kodak for analysis. It was concluded that the image was not the result of any fault with either the camera or film and consequently must be of something in the sky (a U.F.O.?). In reproducing this image nothing has been added or changed in any way. The enlargements have only been added to make the image more easily viewed. I will conclude by saying that to this day very few people outside the original U.F.O. group have ever seen this photo and until someone positively identifies the object, the photo is of a genuine U.F.O.