Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Pilot's Wife Broke into 'Cold Sweat'

This book is about a spate of uncanny sights and experiences that took place in the Wiltshire town of Warminster in 1965-1966. Arthur Shuttlewood was the 45-year-old local reporter on the Warminster Journal. After following up many reports he became converted to the UFO theory and eventually organized a team of local sky-watchers. After this first book he wrote four more on UFO topics.

I noticed it in the voluntary donations tray outside a Swindon charity shop. Warminster is only seven miles from Frome, my other regular haunt; I know Warminster well, and I've often written (though mainly in a botanical vein) about one of the key sites in the book, the isolated chalk capstone Cley Hill, marooned on the greensand ridge to the west of the town. (To the east, on the other hand, it's all chalk; this is the edge of Salisbury Plain.)

The reports speak of cigar-shape and circular objects in the sky, moving silently and often at dazzling speed, both vertically and horizontally; evidently their flight technology was far ahead of ours. Sometimes the "Thing", as locals came to call it, emitted piercing noises and (hardest to explain) exerted tremendous downward pressure. Car engines, cameras and watches were apt to misbehave in its vicinity.

The sightings, though there were hundreds, produced few photos and no film evidence. This Tandem reprint has hardly any photos; the original edition had a few more, and it had the famous Gordon Faulkner photo of a flying saucer on its jacket; I don't know where the image on the front of this one came from.

If it happened today, when everyone carries a smartphone, there'd be thousands of images and videos. (Or would there? Shuttlewood implies that our visitors could disable cameras.)  [A well-publicized 2017 video of the Thing, seen performing dazzling loops above Cley Hill, turned out to be a stunt plane.]

The Warminster Mystery is, inadvertently, a social history of provincial England in the mid-sixties. That comes about partly from the voluminous testimony of ordinary Warminster people, and partly from Shuttlewood's prose style, an extraordinary amalgam of stuffy local newspaper formality and highflown pulp poetry. Let's dip in.


Have you ever heard of flying trains or of railway carriages hurtling about in space, with windows all lit up yet making not a whisper of sound as they guide evenly across the sky; not travelling forward as a compartment normally would, when pulled by a locomotive engine, but moving sideways? Do you think this sounds absolutely crazy? After laughing at several such reports in late May and early June 1965, I rejected them as far too ridiculous and far-fetched for publication. But I was wrong. Later that summer, I read a report of a similar phenomenon in the sky over Weston-super-Mare and Cheltenham and therefore had to take the possibility more seriously. My informants were not spinning a wild story, nor fabricating the impossible. This is what Mrs. Kathleen Penton saw at 8.35 p.m. on 19th June over Warminster:

'It was a fantastic spectacle -- so much so that my husband and daughter thought I was definitely going round the bend when I told them about it, later. I was opening an upstairs window, as it was a stuffy night, when I saw this shining Thing going along sideways in the sky from right to left. It glided over quite slowly in front of the downs. Porthole type windows ran along the whole length of it. To my eye, it was the size of the whole of a bedroom wall -- enormous. These windows were lit up, the colour of yellow flames in a coal fire.

'It was very much like a train carriage, only with rounded ends to it. And it did not travel lengthways, but was gently gliding sideways. I have not breathed a word outside this house about it, for I know people will only laugh at me. My husband, who is a sub-contractor and self-employed as a carpenter and joiner, thought I had dreamed it all. My daughter Angela thought I had been in the sun too long!'

No -- Mrs. Penton was not sunburnt . . . Nor were the elderly couple basking on their lawn earlier that day, who witnessed the same remarkable phenomenon. They did not wish their names mentioned. Secretly, I was thankful they did not, for I then had no intention of publishing such an unlikely story. Yet it was fully confirmed by six local persons and -- this is the important factor -- preceded the report of flying air trains at Weston-super-Mare and elsewhere. But I am jumping ahead in my narrative. Among early scraps of evidence that went to swell a puzzling jig-saw, then very much incomplete, came reports that dead mice had been found in gardens of sound-affected houses. I wanted tangible proof of this -- and had it, when I saw a number of these perforated creatures for myself after soil samples were dug to be taken away for analysis by a London research team. They were mainly of the dormice variety.


Young carpenter-joiner Eric Payne courted trouble as well as a pretty girl friend when returning from Sutton Veny at 11 p.m. on 28th March, 1965. Heavy snowfalls had just given way to thick fog, which clung in clammy coils to marshland around Sutton Common as he started his homeward trek of about four miles. He told me 'I had seen my girl home safely and was striding towards Bishopstrow through damp pockets of mist along a stretch of highway between the two villages. I had reached a point near Drayton's School at Bishopstrow, a little short of the bend in the road, when I heard a loud buzzing. It was not coming from the telegraph wires by the roadside, though it was similar to that kind of humming.

'I am not too sure from which direction it came. Fog was so thickly banked up by then that it blotted out most of the sky. It was pitch dark, anyway. Then the object made itself felt. It flattened treetops on either side of me, making a tremendous racket overhead. It sent shivers up my spine. If you imagine a gigantic tin can with huge nuts and bolts inside it, rattling just over your head, you will know how it sounded. I looked up to see if it was a low-flying plane. I felt great pressure on my head and neck. Something stung my hands and cheeks. I lifted my fists and tried to fight it off. The strength of it was too much for me.'

A knife-edged wind tore through his hair and burned at his eyes, it was so fierce and keen. Unable to ward off an invisible attacker on a lonely road, Mr. Payne had his arms bent back by the hidden power of the whining soundwaves. His shoulders bowed and his head sang, with eardrums threatening to burst.

'Before it came for me I could spot nothing in the sky except a shadow. It was lighter in colour and shaped like an oval dish. But perhaps I was not seeing straight. The light was very poor. It could easily have been a bank of mist rising, as no aircraft lights or anything like that were visible. But it set up a jarring clatter, jumble and clanging that no plane could ever make! It was the shrill whining and buzzing which nearly drove me mad. My head was pushed from side to side and I might as well have left my arms and legs at home for all the use they were. I simply could not stop this tremendous downward pressure. I crawled round in the road for a bit and then sank to my knees on the grass verge, which was soaking wet. But that did not worry me. All I wanted was to get rid of the choking hold the Thing had on me. It was just like a vice.'

Eric (19) shuddered as he recalled how skin on his back contracted during his ordeal. He was scared stiff for the first occasion in his life and the back of his neck was raw with cold. Yet when it all started off he could feel heat and a prickling feeling, as though sharp needles were digging into his flesh. The fury passed. Collecting his shattered wits, he plunged on homeward and arrived white-faced, breathing deeply, eyes glazed and shocked. He sank straight into a chair in a sick stupor. His parents knew that something extraordinary was the cause, as young Eric Payne is a brave lad as a rule -- except that night when the Thing thrust down at him with blind rage. It was a long time before Mr. and Mrs. H. P. Payne learned the complete story of his nerve-racking ordeal. ...


Those were two extracts from Chapter 3. The book's range of styles is increased by some of Shuttlewood's correspondents. Here is Cyril F. Smith of Hereford, "a man with strong views":

'Aeronautical experts who say that a round aircraft could not be successful are speaking in terms of conventional aeroplanes, but a spinning disc is a different proposition entirely -- and helicopters are successful. Flying saucers are round and flattish because they spin from the time they start from the ground -- yet not from the centre -- so that centrifugal force replaces the gravity of the earth when they get into space. The smallest saucer must be over 50 feet across. They all consist of three concentric parts -- revolving gallery, de-spinning chamber and stationary centre. The latter is the mechanical, electrical and electronic nerve-centre of the craft. ... An elevator through the ceiling takes crews into the de-spin chamber and thus to the stationary centre, where those on duty have to endure weightlessness as in a simple rocket. The gallery and the de-spin chamber (which is in reality an inner gallery), plus the centre, must be separate airtight vessels. How the elevator cylinder passes between them without loss of air is not known...'

Certainty of a different sort comes from "the former Rajah Muda of Sarawak, Anthony Brooke", who popped in to see Shuttlewood and take tape-recordings.

'Humanity in its evolution is, in my conviction, moving at an ever accelerating pace towards a cosmic breakthrough for which the whole of past human history has been, as it were, a preparation. There is no longer a recognizable frontier between the natural and supernatural, even as there is no longer a frontier between matter and non-matter. All such boundaries are melting before our eyes. Scientists are already in fact acknowledging a conception of matter which corresponds more nearly to a spiritual than to a material universe; they will duly discover that matter and the physical are only different aspects of a single spiritual universe....Dr. J. B. Rhine, eminent authority on ESP, recently told an overflow audience in the Guildhall, London, that his discoveries compel a reclassification of the nature of Man; and that materialist labels no longer apply to an organism capable of non-physical exchange ... The international crisis is not unrelated to the fact that the world's population comprises about 120 sovereign states, each claiming the right to make and wage war, while at the same time we have an ever increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons. It needs no prophet to predict that, with continuing fear and mistrust between nations and ideological groupings, we are heading for some huge disaster, unless there is a greater revolutionary shift in Man's thinking in the course of the next two or three years than in all his previous history. ... Of course, there is a need to discriminate and sift the mass of material that is being channelled through the minds of those who are serving as conscious instruments to bring through to humanity the ideas that are to come to birth in our time. These are our prophets of the present day. But even if the purity of the channel may often be in question, it would be unreasonable to disregard the overwhelming accumulation of evidence directing our attention to events which are to take place in the skies and upon the earth in the next two years. ...'

[Anthony Brooke's Wikipedia entry:]


An appendix provides communications from the Aenstrian space visitors. They were supplied to Shuttlewood by telephone, and he professes to regard them as hoaxes. Whether they were or not, they seem pretty good advice. Here's an extract:

Traellison [Queen of Aenstria] told me: 'We have passed through numerous stages of evolution, and sickness of the mind was conquered on Aenstria thousands of your Earth years ago. *

'Moral decline, individually and collectively, is often the root from which such maladies flourish. In consequence, guilt-ridden complexes are set up. We too suffered badly, as you are suffering on your Earth today. Temptation comes to everyone, No-one is wholly immune until the soul is perfect. What you term "conscience" is a strong force for good. It is a shock-absorber that can resist tremendous pressures from outside. It is a barrier to wrong emotions and desires, when one has faith to sustain. Without faith or religion, conscience can degenerate into a broken rampart allowing evil forces to flood the mind.

'Changes occur in the chemical balances of the brain. The even flow of vibrations and magnetism, which you term electrical conductivity, is upset and disturbed. Instead of clear reason, dark confusion reigns, with malfunction of brain cells that are afflicted in this manner. This is one of the problems besetting your cantel [planet], as it was ours in the long ago. If you accept and trust us, we can help you. There is an unfailing recipe for curing each malady that attacks mind, body and spirit; a simple method of ridding a being of guilt complexes; a correct way in which to expend valuable energies, both of mind and body...'

* The Aenstrians seem to have long achieved many of the goals predicted for humanity in Yuval Noah Harari's recent book Homo Deus ...

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