On far more than a few occasions, people have asked me what it was that prompted me to immerse myself deeply in the worlds of flying saucers, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Roswell, Area 51, Mothman, the Men in Black and…well, you get the picture, right? Actually, there was not one reason, but several. All of them were linked to matters of a definitive supernatural, conspiratorial, or just plain weird nature, but in very different ways. And here they are…
Number one: during the 1950s my father, Frank Redfern, like all young men his age at that time, had to serve three years of what was known as National Service – or, in the United States, the Draft. And, just as with its American equivalent, National Service was abandoned years ago. But, back in the 50s, unless there were specific reasons, such as health issues, etc., you were fully expected to sign up with the military. Which is what my father did: having a passion for aircraft, he joined the Royal Air Force.
During his three years in the RAF, and before returning to his regular job as a carpenter, he was trained in the field of, and worked on, radar. It was towards the end of his service, that he was involved in several radar-based UFO encounters, all of which occurred at the height of a NATO operation, which took place in 1952, called Exercise Mainbrace. On each occasion, fast moving objects of unknown origin were tracked on the radar-screens, fighter planes were scrambled, and the official stamp of secrecy came down on just about everyone and everything.
Indeed, my father didn’t tell me about this until I was in my early teens, around 1978 or 1979. It was an event that got me deeply interested in UFOs, and set me on a path to seek out the truth. And it’s a path that I’m still on. And, arguably, those 1952 events left a deep and lasting impression on my father, since he still talks about them to this day.
Number two: when I was barely four or five years old, my parents took me on a week’s holiday to Scotland. And, if you’re going to go to Scotland, well, you just have to visit Loch Ness! Which is precisely what we did. Although I have now been to the loch on many occasions, the first time is the one I have never forgotten. Granted, my memories of that long-gone day are brief and fragmentary, but I do recall standing on the shore and staring out, wondering if there really was a monster – or monsters – in those dark waters.
However, there was, arguably, an even more significant reason behind my decision to become deeply immersed in the world of Forteana.
I spent my childhood and teens living in a small village in central England called Pelsall, which is a very old village indeed: it’s origins date back as far as 994 AD. But, more important and relevant than that, Pelsall is located only a five or ten minute drive from the site of what ultimately became one of the most controversial, weird, and – some even said – paranormal-themed events of the early 20th Century. And it all focused upon a man named George Edalji.
Edalji, the son of a priest, lived in the very nearby town of Great Wyrley, and was thrust into the limelight in 1903 when he was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned for maiming and mutilating horses in the area – reportedly in the dead of night, and, some believed, for reasons related to occult rite and ritual.
Collectively, the horse-slashings, and deaths, generated not only a great deal of concern at a local level, but also anger, fear, and a distinct distrust of the Edalji family, who the locals had frowned upon ever since they moved into the area years earlier. Notably, however, such was the publicity given to the case of George Edalji, and his subsequent lengthy prison sentence, even none other than the creator of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – sat up and took notice.
Actually, Conan Doyle did far more than that. Believing that there had been a huge miscarriage of justice in the Edalji affair, he highlighted it, wrote about it, and even complained to the government of the day about it – events that, combined with the work of others, ultimately led to Edalji’s release from prison. But, for me, growing up practically on the doorstep of where all the old bloodthirsty carnage occurred, what I found fascinating – even as a kid – were the weirder aspects of the affair.
There were stories that not only was Edalji not the culprit, but that the attacker wasn’t even human! A giant, monstrous bird; a large ape – trained to kill the unfortunate horses; and an equally-well-trained group of wild-boar were all suggested as being the guilty parties.
Needless to say, however, just like the matter of what happened at Roswell, and the identity of Jack the Ripper, so the mysterious saga of George Edalji and the mutilated horses of Great Wyrley remains exactly that: a mystery. And, in a roundabout way, had I not stumbled upon the story in my early teens, I probably would not be writing these words now! So, thanks Dad, thanks Nessie, and thanks George!