Today`s blog is about a strange occurrence during World War One near the Jenkin(a) Chapel area of the Peak District, in the vicinity of Saltersford. I wrote a letter to Animals & Men a few years ago asking for further information but none turned up. Like so many Fortean stories I have found, this one was discovered whilst I was a patient in a psychiatric hospital. But it wasn`t a delusion, because I have the extract right in front of me. The story of the Kaiser`s caterpillars was published in In And Around The Peak District by Doug Pickford (1993), a Macclesfield historian who has been connected with Old Macc magazine.
'Did a German Zeppelin drop millions of caterpillars around the Jenkin Chapel area of Saltersford? An unlikely if not preposterous question may well say,but some senior Saltersford and Rainow residents are firmly of the opinion that this very much the case during the First World War. Since hearing of this strange incident I have spoken to a number of inhabitants of the area who can recall the events that unfolded during the dark days of war in the year 1917, when a plague of millions upon millions of caterpillars descended on the area.' (1)
Now when I first read this I thought of three things: I have read about swarms of insects appearing, even in the unlikeliest of places, such as in urban areas. But I have not heard of millions upon millions; that does seem a lot. I am no entomologist, but Pickord describes them as being 'furry' (2) and 'black and yellow', 'some one and a half inches in length' (3) and a great number of crows ('thousands' 4) came from a wide area to feast on the multitude of insects. Also, I remembered that pre-World War One was a time of phantom airship scares, which I know nothing about. Does anyone know of associations between swarms of insects and U.F.Os? Thirdly, if this wasn`t an early U.F.O. was it a German attempt at 'plague warfare'? Note the caterpillars, if that is what they were, appeared just in time for the harvest.
Pickord picks up (if you`ll pardon the pun!) the story at around harvest time, 1917. This would be around the time of the Russian Revolution:
'The only Zeppelin - a gas filled balloon powered by propellers - known to have flown over that particular area came one moonlit night in 1917. The exact date has not been ascertained but it was around harvest time. The German aircraft is said to have dropped a bomb at Pott Shrigley but it did not explode and then it turned and flew over the valley, over Rainow and on to Saltersford. It was eventually brought down when it reached the coast. However, that night and the following morning locals discovered literally millions of black and yellow coloured furry caterpillars some one and a half inches in length. They were everywhere. The plague of wriggling creatures appeared to be centred on Greenstacks Farm where all the downstairs rooms were covered inches high with the creatures. Green Booth and Hollowcowhey Farms were also affected very badly. My 83 year old informant told me “It was though a stone had been thrown in a pool, with the ripples strong in the middle at Greenstacks and they went out for about a mile in circumference. Farms were almost bankrupt after. The caterpillars had eaten everything. There was no grass, no greenery at all growing. There was no food for the cattle and there was no hay to be harvested. Afterwards the area was black where grass and crops should have been [this blackness is interesting, it occurs in some mystery snake reports-RM]….And then the crows came. Apparently “thousands of crows” came from all around and started to eat those furry caterpillars with a vengeance. They gorged themselves until they were so full they could not fly. A lot of them managed to get on to the tops of the drystone walls and stayed there for hours, unable to move off. The walls were turned white with their droppings.' (5)
The story goes on to describe how the curate of St Peter`s in Macclesfield [this may be the same as the church I used to go to-RM] was posted to Rainow during the Great War. He collected some of the caterpillars but there is no record of what he found out about them. As for the villagers: '…It was a frightening experience for them, not least because they appeared from nowhere…dropped from the sky,perhaps, as a secret weapon by an enemy hell bent on destruction? Or was it one of nature`s aberrations?' (6)
a. Jenkin was a drover who preached at a 'preaching cross' at a crossroads in this area.
1. D.Pickford. In And Around The Peak District (1993). pp5-6
2. D. Pickford Ibid. p7
3. D. Pickford Ibid.p7
4. D. Pickford Ibid. p.8
5. D. Pickford Ibid pp 7-8
6. D. Pickford Ibid p 10.
Muirhead`s Mysteries will be taking a short break till Tuesday November 3rd. I will be 43 on the 5th. Yipee, bank, wizzzz!! - Bonfire Night. Rare crypto books and bottles of ginger wine kindly appreciated. Just don`t ask me to blow up Parliamant, I`m not that radical!
October, trees are stripped bare,of all they wear,
Do I care?
October,kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall,
But You go on and..on. (U2 October)