On the 13th May 1944, another fatal crash occurred near Melton this time involving an Airspeed Oxford Mk.I DF517 from No. 1655 Mosquito Training Unit (MTU), killing all four crew members, of which two had been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
No 1655 MTU (which operated Mosquito Mk. IV and Oxford Mk. I aircraft at that time) was based at RAF Warboys in Cambridgeshire and was part of No. 8 Pathfinder Force. The purpose of 1655 MTU was to train Mosquito crews in the use of Oboe and they did this throughout 1944 and in early 1945.
Oboe training was a six week course for pilots and observers who were eventually sent on to No’s 105 and 109 Squadrons for Oboe marking duties, most were on their second tour. The Pilots at 1655 MTU had to learn how to fly a Mosquito whilst the Observers were being taught Pathfinder navigation and marking techniques.
Oboe was a British aerial blind bombing system in World War II, based on radio transponder technology. The system consisted of a pair of radio transmitters on the ground, which sent signals which were received and retransmitted by a transponder in the aircraft. By comparing the time each signal took to reach the aircraft, the distance between the aircraft and the station could be determined. The Oboe operators then sent radio signals to the aircraft to bring them onto their target and properly time the release of their bombs.
The system was first used in December 1941 in short-range attacks over France where the necessary line of sight could be maintained. To attack the valuable industrial targets in the Ruhr, only the de Havilland Mosquito flew high enough to be visible to the ground stations at that distance. Such operations began in 1942, when Pathfinder squadron Mosquitos used Oboe both to mark targets for heavy bombers, as well as for direct attacks on high-value targets.
DF517 took off from RAF Warboys on a training flight at 14.55 hours on 13th May 1944 and after coming out of cloud cover, the aircraft was out of control and disintegrated in mid-air, crashing at 16.08 hours, near the Great Dalby railway station.
It was assumed that loss of control had occurred through icing up of instruments on the aircraft, or turbulent conditions in cloud, and that the complete structural failure was a result of severe overstressing, although this could not be proved. All four members of the crew were killed in the accident, and the bodies of the RAF personnel were taken to Melton Mowbray Mortuary. The crew of DF517 was Fg Off GH Bowen, Flt Lt AEH Cattle, Flt Lt M McIver DFC and Fg Off GG Halestrap DFC.
Fg Off Geoffrey Hugh Bowen was the 1st pilot and was commissioned as Plt Off on probation within RAF(VR) GD Branch wef 27th Oct 1943 supplement to London Gazette 21 Dec 1943. Geoffrey was the Son of Percival and Mary A. Bowen (nee Smith), of West Cross, Swansea. He was educated at Tenby Council School and at Greenhill School prior to enlisting into the Royal Air Force. He is buried at Swansea (Oystermouth) Cemetery. Geoffrey is not commemorated on the main Tenby War Memorial, but at both his former Schools. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.
Flt Lt Aubrey Edward Henderson Cattle was the 2nd pilot aboard DF517. He had previously served on No 214 (Federate Malaya States) Squadron. He had worked his way up through the ranks as According to London Gazette 28/4/1942, awarded rank of Temp WO wef 5 Mar 42 RAFVR GD Branch. He had completed 1,245 Flying hours across all types, of which 95.30 Hrs were on the Oxford. He is buried Sec. T. Grave 70. Southend-On-Sea (Leigh-On-Sea) Cemetery. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.
Flt Lt Malcolm McIver DFC was one of the navigators aboard DF517. He was born in Toronto on the 4th Feb 1920 and was the son of Scottish parents Murdoch McIver and his wife Mary (nee Glenn). He had two brothers, Murdoch Glenn McIver, who served as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Infantry and John Samuel McIver who was a Sgt in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He also had four sisters, Catherine Margaret, Jean, Mary and Agnes Isabel.
Malcolm enlisted on the 20th May 1941 joining the No 23 Basic TC as part of the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) and was allocated Regimental Number B-610642. His occupation was listed as School teacher. On the 24th July 1941, he was struck off strength from the NRMA and transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force and allocated service number J/11107.
He completed his initial training at Victoriaville, Quebec Trained at No.3 ITS, graduating on 7th October 1941. He then completed his Air Observers course on 19th January 1942 before moving onto his Armament Training Course at the No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School located at Jarvis, Ontario, which he completed on 28th February 1942. Next was learning how t become an Air Observer and so he moved to the No.10 Air Observer School at Pannfield Ridge for Advanced Air Observer training and graduated on 30th March 1942 with the award of his Observers Badge.
Malcolm had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross – No. 106 Squadron – Award effective 4 October 1943 as per London Gazette dated 15 October 1943 and AFRO 2610/43 dated 17 December 1943. DFC Citation “This officer has completed a tour of operational duty during which he has displayed outstanding ability and the greatest keenness and enthusiasm for his work. He has taken part in attacks on many of the major targets in the Ruhr Valley as well as the more distant objectives in Germany and Italy. He participated in a successful attack on Friedrichshafen and returning from North Africa materially assisted his pilot in the raid on Spezia. Flying Officer McIver has performed his navigational duties with skill, accuracy and steadiness, setting a fine example to the other navigators in the squadron.”
Flt Lt Malcolm McIver was buried at the Brookwood Military Cemetery, at 15:00Hrs on the 19th May 1944. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.
Fg Off Geoffrey George Halestrap DFC was also a Navigator and was the son of Fred Francis Henry and Gladys Mary Elizabeth Halestrap, of Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey.
His Distinguished Flying Cross award was Gazetted on 7th December 1943, there was no citation but the entry read: “Flying Officer Geoffrey George HALESTRAP (127308), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No 192 Squadron.”
Geoffrey is buried in Sec. W. Grave 4171 Thorpe Road Cemetery and his funeral took place at 15:00Hrs 18th May 1944 and according tot he RAF Melton Mowbray Operational Record Book, was attended by his next of kin. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.
As the Country and the rest of Europe were rejoicing in the end of fighting and their countries being liberated from Nazi Germany, tragedy struck a Melton family as they received news that their son had been killed in Holland, two days after VE Day.
The Melton Times published an article titled “MELTON SINGER KILLED“ about Private Lawrie Hart. ‘Lawrie’ is the Great Uncle of my wife.
“Mr. and Mrs. T. K. Hart, of 14, Eastfield Avenue, Melton, this week received news that their youngest son, Pte Lawrie Hart, had been killed in Holland.
The funeral took place at Hilversum with full military honours.
Pte Hart was a popular Melton singer. He had been a member of the Melton Operatic Society for about six years, and used to sing in the choir of Sherrard Street Methodist Church.
Aged 24, Pte Hart had been in the forces three years. He went to France about 10 months ago.
After leaving school, he served his apprenticeship with Messrs E Clarke and Sons, Snow Hill, Melton, until he was called up.”
Lawrence Copley Hart was born 6th March 1921 and was the youngest son of Tom Kemp Hart and his wife Alice Hart (Nee Copley). His 3 elder brothers were Albert Ernest (b.1905), William (Bill) (b.1908) and Cecil Harry (b.1910).
As the Melton Times had reported, he served his apprenticeship with Messrs E Clarke and Sons and his trade was a bricklayer, the same as his elder brother Cecil.
On the 19th Feb 1942, Lawrie was enlisted into the Leicestershire Regiment and started his military career at No. 22 Infantry Training Centre at Warwick, used for training soldiers from both the Leicestershire Regiment and the Royal Warwick Regiment. according to his enlistment papers, his height was recorded as 6 feet and half an inch.
He stayed at the Warwick ITC until he completed his basic training when he was transferred to join the 1st Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment on 30th July 1942 at the historic and renowned Gresham School at Holt in Norfolk.
In 1942, Lawrie qualified as a Gunner by passing his Mortar training.
In early 1943, The Bn moved from Holt to Purley in Surrey taking up defence duties in London and the south of England. In April 1944 the battalion was deployed between Goodwood and Chichester organised into flying columns reinforcing RAF regiments defending sixteen airfields in the area including the famous Tangmere airfield. An additional task was to guard the cordoned area for the Mulberry Harbour construction site.
After ‘D’ Day, 6th June the battalion moved back to Purley on the 14th where a V1 rocket (buzz bomb) took out 21 vehicles including Bren-gun carriers enabled for amphibious landing. The next morning drivers reported to collect replacements vehicles.
At 21:00Hrs on Saturday 1st July 1944, the Brigade Major arrived with orders for the Bn to move to France on the next day to replace the 6th Duke of Wellingtons Regiment who had received heavy casualties and had been withdrawn to the UK following heavy losses at the battles of Le Parc de Boislande and Juvigny on the Western outskirts of Fontenay-le-Pesnel.
The following day, at 14:00Hrs, the 1st Bn Leicestershire Regiment left Purley on the first part of their journey into France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany. On leaving Purley, the troops shouted to their well-wishers “Monty has decided he cannot do without us!”.
From Southampton, they sailed on the Princess Maud a veteran of the Dunkirk evacuation. The ship was shelled in the engine room taking fatalities on 30 May 1940. On 4 June 1940 following repairs she was able to return to the evacuation rescuing 1270 in a single trip being the penultimate ship away from Dunkirk.
She subsequently assisted the evacuation of British and French troops from Veules-les-Roses around 12 June 1940 at the time of the surrender of the 51st Highland Division at Saint-Valery-en-Caux, a few miles to the west, transporting 600 British and French troops of the 2,280 rescued.
She then reverted to serving the Stranraer-Larne route on behalf of the Admiralty until in 1943 when she received modifications for D-Day landing operations to turn her into an infantry assault trip capable of launching six Landing Craft Assault (LCA) boats via hand hoists.
For the D-Day landings she was attached to the US Task Force Operation Neptune Force O at Omaha beach. She is reputed to have carried 1,360,378 troops in her war service.
The 1st Bn Leicestershire Regiment was part of the 148th Brigade, 49th Division, known as the Polar Bears. Alongside the 1st Leicesters, the 49th was also made up of units including the Durhams, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, the Lincolns, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Tyneside Scottish, the Kent Yeomanry, the Loyal Suffolk Hussars, 89th LAA (the Buffs) and in August 44 were joined by the South Wales Borderers, Gloucesters and Essex Regiments.
On arrival in France, the 1st Bn landed on the beaches at Arromanches Mulberry Harbour on the 3rd, just a few miles from Courseulles-sue-Mer and concentrated at Carcagny on the 4th July. Under the command of Lt Col Novis, they marched to Cristot and joined the 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers and the 7th Duke of Wellingtons Regiment of the 147th Brigade on the 6th July. They then had 5 days when most of the officers and NCOs had a short attachment to the units in the line. On the 13th, the Bn went fwd into the line near Fontenay having relived the 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the 53rd Welsh Division.
The Leicesters spent from 24th July to 10th August in the line at Le Poirer with a 2,000 yard front where they actively patrolled frequently under enemy shelling and mortaring.
On the 22nd August, The Leicesters played a big part in the battle to take Ouilly-le-Vicompte with their pioneer platoon setting up ropes for them to cross the 20 feet wide river Toques. Their first battle was a success despite a fierce counter attack in the afternoon. The rifle companies nearly ran out of PIAT and small arms ammunition and approximately half of their 20 stretcher bearers had been hit. Despite heavy shelling which had cost the lives of 1 officer and 11 men plus wounding a further 35, the Leicesters had defended their bridgehead.
During the period 10-12 September, the Leicesters were involved in Operation Astonia, The assault on Le Havre. At 23:00Hrs on the 10th, the 1st Leicesters attacked, the tracks and roads were still found to be heavily mined and progress was slow. By noon on the 11th, the Bn finally captured its objective East of the Forêt de Montegon and a vital bridge leading into the port.
After a weeks rest, the Bn was re-organised near Pont Audemer and was now commanded by Lt Col F W Sandars DSO. The key road was still heavily mined with blown up vehicles blocking it.
The 1st Leicesters were again in battle on the 29th in what was known as the Battle for Mendicité, a formidable barrack block made up of a combined prison, workhouse and lunatic asylum. Situated in 100 acres of farmland, intersected by deep ditches, the main enemy position had been reinforced by a second battalion and was surrounded on 3 sides by a moat, 20 feet wide and 3 feet deep.
Along with the Lincolns, the Leicesters cleared the north bank of the canal, they then proceeded to attack the Mendicité from the West whilst the 7th Dukes and Glosters attacked from the South. The Leicesters battled away throughout the day capturing the key road bridge. By late evening, Mendicité had been captured at a cost with the Leicesters losing 70 men either killed wounded or captured.
There were many feats of gallantry and some were awards were given out, For the Leicesters, Lt V F W Bridgwood won an immediate MC, as did Lt F A Gaunt. D Companys CO Peter Upcher who led the assault won a DSO. Pte C H Woods, Cpl W A Saunders, Sgt W Irwin and Sgt T Johnson all received the MM. Following the capture of Mendicité, the Bn moved from Belgium into Southern Holland.
On the 28th October, the Leicesters were once again in battle, this time as part of the Battle for Roosendaal. The main attack was from the 147th Brigade from the south, the 1st Leicesters on the left and the 7th Dukes on the right with eh 4th KOYLI and 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers to pass through and capture the town.
On their way north towards Roosendaal, the Leicesters were involved in a battle at Brembosch. Under heavy fire the Bn proceeded to Roosendal which they made by nightfall having suffered 17 casualties.
The Leicesters were involved in the Battle of Zetten took place on the 18th/19th January 1945 and during he 2 days of fighting they suffered 60 casualties whilst they accounted for 150 Germans killed wounded or captured.
From Zetton, the Leicesters made their way through Holland passing through Nijmegen and travelled down the river Neder Rijn to Arnhem using the 36th LCAs of the 552nd Flotilla. On reaching Arnhem they made their way to the top of Westervoorsedijt near the harbour and dug in near the Elisabeth Hospital.
On the evening of the 4th May, came the news that all German troops in NW Germany, Denmark and Western Holland had unconditionaly surrendered, to take effect from 08:00Hrs on the 5th. On the 6th, Maj Gen Rawlins met the Commander of the German 88th Corps to arrange the occupation of NW Holland and the disarming and concentration of the enemy.
The plan was for the 49th Division to disarm the three divisions holding the Grebbe Line based on Holversum and Utrecht. The 49th ‘customers’ were the 6th German Parachute Division who they had previously engaged in battle at Nijmegen bridge. The 1st Bn moved to Hilversum to disarm the Wermacht.
On Saturday 5th May 1945, the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment was located in the area around Lunteren when they were visited by their popular (former) Commander, Lieutenant Colonel PAB Wrixon. He was warmly welcomed by the soldiers who had served under him in Hinckley, Holt and Purley. On Monday 7th May they left Lunteren to arrive in Hilversum after a stop en route on 9th May.
On arrival at Hilversum, they saw large numbers of German troops against whom they faced up earlier in their journey through the Netherlands. Their Germans transport column consisted mainly of horse-drawn wagons, rather old-fashioned compared to their own military vehicles.
During their arrival in Hilversum, they were literally surrounded by a delirious crowd. Their hospitality towards the Leicesters soon became apparent and a short time later the Bn was well quartered.
The Support Company was housed in a school and soon the schoolyard was filled with the Leicesters military vehicles. The Germans had robbed the population of almost everything and the people were starving. The authorities realized this well and immediately after the announcement of the armistice, trucks loaded with food drove to all corners of the Netherlands.
The enemy was gathered and taken to designated areas where they had to hand over their weapons and were searched. On the 10th May, the Leicesters started their mission: to disarm the German troops in their area. The German troops belonged to the ‘Hermann Goering Para Division, with whom they had previously fought.
The disarmament area was located in a site a few kilometers outside Hilversum. After a successful start, the Battalion was soon afterwards faced with a tragedy. When the Germans arrived on the ground, they first delivered their rifles and small arms under the supervision of our Support Company and then walked on to deliver machine guns and mines. Finally, they had to go across the site to hand in their connectors and other equipment.
The order for the platoon was to let the Germans do the work. A short time later, a closed horse carriage with a door at the back entered the site. The driver said he had bread rations for the German troops. He told Sgt Dixie Dean to open the door at the back and he saw that the cart was indeed half filled with bread. The driver wanted to close the door quickly again, and Dixie became suspicious and let him unload all the bread. No wonder he was so strange: under the bread a square wooden box, about 45 by 45 cm, full of pistols, mainly Lugers was found! The box of Lugers was confiscated and he was allowed to put the bread back in the cart and continue on his journey.
A few minutes later, a lorry with trailer came onto the site and the driver was instructed to drive to the unloading point. The truck was mainly loaded with mines and grenades. A company of soldiers had entered the site on foot when there was a huge explosion. Sgt Dixie Dean was blown upside down, together with some Germans who were stacking their guns. Fortunately, he got up unharmed and ran to the truck, blown over by the explosion, along with the trailer. The explosion had created a crater about 1.80 meters deep and 3.50 meters in diamter.
The dazed survivors were put to work trying to free the injured from the debris. Unfortunately, there were only a few. After a roll call was taken, it became clear that eleven men from the Mortier platoon and two from the Antitank platoon were missing and most likely killed. A number of Germans also died in the explosion.
When the roll call was taken after the explosion, Sgt Dixons attention was drawn to a Dutch citizen who was waving in the middle of the site next to us. A soldier was sent to ask what he wanted. When he returned, he said that a body had been found. It was undoubtedly the body of a British soldier. It turned out to be the body of soldier H. Hall, who had been added to the Mortier platoon since the Normandy landing. The force of the explosion can be measured by the fact that his body was more than 80 to 90 meters from the crater.
The only ones of the Morter platoon to survive, although severely wounded, were soldier Jack Knight along with Sergeant Gosling. As far as Knight could tell, it was seen that a German who was unloading the truck threw a Teller mine (used to destroy the tracks of tanks) on a pile of mines previously unloaded . This or one of the stacked mines must have exploded. If the ignition hadn’t been in the mine, it would have been nearly impossible for it to explode.
This was confirmed by a sergeant ammunition expert, who arrived at the scene of disaster shortly after the tragedy. Since the German who threw the mine had also died, it was impossible to give a more accurate description of what happened. Whether the explosive was deliberately thrown to make casualties among the English soldiers and whether the ignition was set will never be revealed.
This tragic event was particularly hard on everyone, especially the men of the Morter platoon who had lost so many comrades. After the landing on the beaches of Normandy, they had all moved up without further losses and now, a few days after everything was over, lost their lives in this very tragic way.
On 12th May, the killed soldiers were buried in the cemetery in Hilversum, where they still have their final resting place to this day. The Bn experienced genuine compassion as the trucks with the coffins aboard passed lines of the Dutchmen gathered along the route who expressed their feelings with flowers.
On Sunday, May 13, the day after the funeral, the Adjutant, Captain John Stevenson, summoned the Commander of the Anti-Tank Platoon and Sgt Dixon. He said that a report had been received from Headquarters regarding a German unit that also reported several casualties as a result of the explosion. They had taken away a body they suspected may have been one of our people. They were instructed to visit this German unit and to verify all this.
On arrival they were taken to a place where the body had been placed, but identification proved impossible. Although a British boot, trousers and spats, were seen, these were not marked with an army number. We returned to our unit and reported to the Adjutant. Later we heard that the body was buried under the supervision of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in the cemetery in Hilversum.
The members of the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment killed in the explosion were: Mortar Platoon: Private TVH Atkin, Corporal J. Fisher, Private H. Hall, Private LC Hart, Lance Sergeant OW Hartshorn, Private VG Langley, Private EC Obeney, Lance Corporal S. Onion, Private DE Wain, Lance Corporal RJ Walley, Corporal LGE Whitehall and of the Antitank Platoon: Private RHC Hyde and Private R. Wood.
German soldiers also died in the accident. The names of two of them are: Obergefreiter Franz Rauecker and Gefreiter Max Salzinger.
After the War, the Hart family visited Lawries grave at Hilversum.
Grave of Pte Lawrence Copley Hart taken during our visit to his grave on 28th May 2015
As we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of WW2 ending in 1945 and the celebrations begin with #VEDay75, the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe (more commonly known as VE Day) on the 8th May, I take a look at the story of RAF Melton Mowbray and its role during WW2.
As you go from Melton Mowbray to Great Dalby along the B6047 road, the airfield is on your right and the road was once part of the perimeter track. The airfield was built in the early 1940s as part of the Royal Air Force expansion during the Second world War.
The original plan for RAF Melton Mowbray was for it to become a Maintenance Command Station, but by the time it opened on 1st August 1943 control had been given to No 44 Group, Transport Command.
It was designed, with the intention of it eventually becoming an operational bomber station, as it was built with two bulk fuel installations. This was the usual provision for fuel installations on operational bomber stations. The two tank units, each holding the maximum 72,000 gallons was policy for operational units which had to store enough fuel for six weeks of intensive operations.
One of the first serviceman to arrive at the new unit was Flt Lt J Milton (Equip) who performed the duties of the Senior Equipment Officer, and it was his job to arrange for the supply of stores. Sqn Ldr R J Sanceau (G.D.) was posted in and became the first Commanding Officer of the new unit. Once the NAAFI was built and the camp had been certified fit for use by a Senior Medical Officer the Permanent Staff would be posted in.
During August 1943, the units strength of personnel increased to 12 Officers and 123 Airmen and Airwomen who were employed on routine work, preparing the station for the arrival of the aircraft.
The newly opened station was inspected on 6th August by Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO. Back in 1941 when he was AOC in C Coastal Command, he used his knowledge of the sea and plotted the Bismarck’s likely course. This resulted in a Catalina being sent to search the area, successfully finding it resulting in the Bismarck sinking on the 27th May 1941.
The newly opened airfield was again inspected on 1st September, this time by The Air Officer Commanding No 44 Group, Air Commodore Kingston-McCloughly CBE, DSO & DFC.
The first unit to arrive was No 4 Overseas Aircraft Preparation Unit (OAPU) which handled various types of aircraft including Spitfires, Mosquitoes, Corsairs, Vengeances, Hellcats & Halifaxes.
Wing Commander B A Oakley arrived at Melton on September 4th and took over command of No 4 OAPU and the station from Sqn Ldr R J Sanceau.
John McCafferty was an airframe fitter who was posted to No 4 OAPU B Flight as an LAC after returning to the UK from a tour in West Africa. He arrived at Melton during November 1943 and he remembers that all new arrivals spent their first 7 days on duty crash crew at the watch tower, or to use its modern name the control tower, before proceeding to their respective flights.
As the title of the unit suggests, No 4 OAPU was responsible for prepping aircraft and dispatching them to overseas units. A large number of modifications were required to convert a Spitfire for tropical operations. These included the deletion of two lower engine cowling panels, the standard oil tank had to be replaced with one of a larger capacity, the air intake fairings were replaced, a tropical air filter was fitted and fixed fittings were installed to accomodate the additional fuel tanks known as either ‘overload’ tanks or ‘slipper’ tanks.
Slipper tanks came in various sizes, ranging from 30 gallons up to 170 gallons, and it was the 170 gallon tank that was fitted to Spitfires for ferry flights. The advantage of the 170 gallon tank was obvious, but it did have its disadvantages. The shear size of the tank, which was fitted to the underside of the fuselage behind the air intake caused an increase in drag, which subsequently made the aircraft very difficult to fly unless flying straight and level. Another problem was that the guns and ammunition had to be removed due to the extra weight that the aircraft was carrying, This subsequently meant that the ferry aircraft were prone to attack from enemy aircraft after the fighter escorts had left them at the Bay of Biscay. The guns and ammunition would be refitted when the aircraft reached its destination.
After carrying out the modifications to the aircraft as part of the preparation for overseas tours, John remembers the codeword ‘SNAKE’ being painted on the fuselage of the aircraft. Quite often, as the aircraft stopped off on route to refuel, resident squadrons that were short of aircraft acquired the newly arrived and modified aircraft for use by themselves and the aircraft never reached its final destination. The painting of the word ‘SNAKE’ was supposedly a deterrent to ensure that the aircraft arrived at its destination in the Far East, although some aircraft were still diverted from their original destination.
John remembers working on numerous different types of aircraft such as: Spitfires, Grummen Martlets, Grummen Hellcats, B25 Mitchells, A20 Bostons, P51 Mustangs, Wellingtons, Lancasters, Stirlings and Liberators. Many of the aircraft were flown into Melton by female ATA pilots who were not familier with the type of aircraft they were flying. To get round this problem of unfamiliarity, the pilots had a pad of pilots notes strapped to their right leg, just above the knee, from which they worked out the starting procedures. John recalls watching many aircraft perform ‘hairy’ take-offs which was another problem caused by unfamiliarity.
One incident that John remembers was when a female ATA ferry pilot had just delivered a brand new Wellington bomber from the Vickers factory. After landing the pilot had reported to the groundcrew that the elevator controls were the heaviest she had known. After lots of investigation by the groundcrew and various test flights, the controls were still heavy. Eventually someone had the idea of removing the fabric from the elevator control surfaces which revealed the problem – a complete tool kit in a canvas tool bag had been left inside the elevator when it had been manufactured.
Another aircraft that John remembers stationed at Melton was a Percival Proctor MkIII serial number Z7252 and this was the Station Commanders aircraft.
Sunday 26th September was the annual Battle of Britain parade and a detachment of RAF and WAAF personnel took part in Meltons parade.
During October, various new units were formed at Melton. Sqn Ldr I R Blair (T.Eng) arrived on 1st October on attachment from No 1 OADU to form a maintenance wing on the station. On the 7th October, Flt Lt N H Kellitt (G.D.) reported from Long Kesh by air in connection with the movement of No 306FTU from Long Kesh to Melton. On the 9th October Flt Lt W M Smedley (T.Eng) accompanied by Flg Off F R Mason (G.D.) and Flg Off P H C Pinnock arrived from Finmere in connection with the movement of No 307FTU to Melton. The advance party from No 306FTU consisting of 3 Officers and 68 other ranks arrived at Melton on the 14th October, and the advance party of 12 Officers and 217 other ranks from 307 FTU arrived on the 15th.
The role of the FTU was providing the newly formed bomber crews with all the training they required prior to them being posted to operational squadrons. The training usually lasted about 8 days in total. The short but intensive course consisted of 4 days ground instructional and 4 days flying, after which the aircrew would proceed overseas.
Prior to travelling overseas the aircrew should be fully innoculated, vaccinated and fit for overseas service before arriving at Melton. Quite often the aircrew would arrive at Melton requiring Yellow Fever, Typhus and TABC innoculations and vaccinations. This subsequently meant a frantic rush for the medical staff to get the aircrew fully fit without hindering the short flying programme and most of all not to hold up the delivery of aircraft overseas.
Even worse than arriving at Melton without innoculations was when aircrew reported sick immediately upon arrival at Melton with complaints, some of which they had been nursing for months. Sometimes the complaint was serious enough to be admitted into hospital for investigation, this meant removing the crew from their training course and subsequently the flow of aircraft overseas was interrupted. For the ‘genuine’ cases that did require investigation, the RAF Hospital at Rauceby realised the rush nature of Meltons problem and co-operated as much as they could.
Ron Acton was an Engine fitter posted to Melton during 1943 purely by chance. Ron was posted from his current unit to the top of Scotland and on his way to get his posting details from the clerk he noticed that postings to RAF Melton Mowbray were being advertised on the blackboard. Ron spoke to his clerk about swapping his posting who replied that it would cost him ten bob. Ron paid him the money which was equivalent to about a weeks wages and was posted to Melton which pleased Ron as he came from Asfordby Hill, on the outskirts of Melton.
Initially the new camp was not a good unit to be based. Ron began to wonder what he had let himself in for, getting posted to Melton. The first thing that he remembers about arriving at RAF Melton Mowbray was being issued with a pair of Wellington boots. Everywhere was ankle deep in mud and sludge as the footpaths had not yet been built. The accomodation was not that brilliant, John recalls being billeted in Nissen huts with coke stoves to provide the heating, although there was not enough coke available to heat them. Proposals were made to the Medical Officer to have all the ventilators in the sleeping accomodation blocked up due to the excessive amount of draughts and dampness that they caused. This was vetoed by the Medical Officer for the reason that the huts are heated by slow combustion stoves burning coke which are known to give off poisonous gases, adequate ventilation must be maintained.
The airmen had outside ablutions and the accomodation was situated miles from the dining hall, sick quarters and work. Due to the large area that the sites were dispersed over, the bicycle was a common and popular mode of transport. It also proved to be a popular cause of accidents, people quite often requiring minor surgery, sometimes major after having accidents with bicycles.
The water supply to the station was severely rationed following a breakdown at the pumping station on the 29th October. The supply of water was fully restored by the 31st.
Although the country was at war, and there was lots of work to be done prepping the numerous different types of aircraft for overseas duties, Ron recalls there still being time to relax and play a game of football against the hanger doors.
A discussion group was formed on the station, and for its first meeting which was held during October, the chosen subject was ‘Post War Housing’. An entry in the Daily Operations Record Book for Melton states that ‘most of the W.A.A.F.s appeared to be keenly interested in this subject.
This month also saw strenuous efforts being made in connection with entertainment after ‘cease work’. An ENSA concert party and the Hurricane concert party made appearances and a recently organised Station Concert Party gave a show at the Corn Exchange in Melton.
Ron remembers working on numerous different types of aircraft such as Spitfires, Lancasters, Liberators, Flying Fortresses and lots of different American aircraft. The aircraft would get fitted out with extra fuel tanks and painted in the appropriate colour scheme for whichever theatre of war they would be operated in. Once ready, the aircraft took off from Melton for Redruth in Cornwall where they stopped and refuelled. After taking off from Redruth they were joined by the fighter escorts who would escort them as far as the Bay of Biscay. Apparently there were a lot of losses after the escorts departed.
At the end of November airmen started to arrive at the station on posting to the Maintenance Wing.
On New Years Eve a station Dance was held in the Sgts Mess and was open to all ranks.
On 13th January 1944 No 304 FTU arrived from Port Ellen operating Beaufighters, Beauforts, Bostons and Wellingtons. By the end of January the 3 FTU’s had amalgamated and were to be known as No 304 FTU under establishment WAR/AT/134.
Jimmy Learmonth was stationed at Melton during 1944/45. He arrived at Melton during the first week of 1944 as part of the advance party for No 304 FTU which was transferring from the Isle of Islay. The party was flown down in Bombay aircraft which were stationed at Doncaster Racecourse.
After an overnight stay at Doncaster they took off again in the Bombay’s and headed for Melton. Jimmy remembers arriving at Melton and not being able to see ‘a single blade of grass’ due to the large amount of aircraft such as Halifaxes, Lancasters, Mosquitoes, Beaufighters and numerous other types that were scattered across the airfield.
On 17th January 1944 No 1 Ferry Crew Pool was transferred to Melton from Lyneham in Wiltshire, but only stayed two months and then moved on again to Pershore.
During January 1944 personnel had to frequently work overtime due to the shortage of staff through sickness. Several much appreciated concerts took place throughout January and were held on the Communal Site.
In February 1944 the compliment of station personnel had grown to 1830 Officers, SNCOs and Airmen with 295 WAAF Officers and Airwomen and again concerts were held in the Gymnasium on the Communal Site at least once per week.
The airfield was closed on 27th February 1944 due to heavy snow falls. The depth of the snow on the main runway varied between 6 and 12 inches and it took until 15.00hrs on the 27th to clear the main runway. It was not until 16.00hrs the following day that the other runways were cleared of snow and the airfield became fully operational again.
The AOC No 44 Group Air Commodore G R Beamish, CBE visited the station on the 17th/18th March and according to the resume written by G/Capt C F H Grace, the Station Commander, the AOC congratulated No 4 OAPU on their work, although he was not satisfied with much else that he saw.
Whilst at Melton, Ron remembers one of the Physical Training Officers that was posted in, it was the boxing champion Len Harvey, who arrived at Melton on March 1st. Whilst stationed at Melton, Len consented to coach the boys from No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn Air Training Corps (A.T.C.) at boxing and these coaching sessions turned out to be popular with the boys.
The following report appeared in The Melton Times on 30th June 1944.
‘ATC Boxing Champions in the Making?
The first of the boxing lessons given by F/O Len Harvey took place on Wednesday when over 40 cadets attended. It is of course too soon to predict whether there are any potential champions in Melton!’
On 31st March 1944, three American aircraft diverted into Melton as the runways at their own units were still closed due to snow and Melton was the first unit to clear its runways. Melton was quite often used as a diversion airfield for the aircraft that normally operated from places like Leicester East and Wymeswold. If the aircraft couldn’t make it back to their own base they would divert into Melton as it was in a direct line with their unit.
The month of March was a notable one as far as aircraft dispatches were concerned, with a record number of 105 various aircraft being dispatched from No 4 OAPU and No 304 FTU.
German and Italian Prisoners of War used to work the land on local farms around Melton. Ron remembers one particular day when a German PoW escaped from the farm and he was found on the airfield, in the cockpit of an aircraft trying to start the engines and escape.
Personnel based at RAF Melton were invited by Lt/Col Sparling, Officer Commanding Army Remount Depot stationed in Melton to take part in horsemanship classes. No charge was made for these classes and those personnel with experience at horse riding were allowed to ride without supervision and the classes proved very popular with all ranks.
There was a reduced number of aircraft dispatched during April. This reduction was partly due to the record output during March and the fact that the commitments have temporarily eased off. In spite of this No 4 OAPU managed to dispatch 53 various aircraft, their highest figure since the formation of the unit.
Even though the airfield had been open for approximately ten months, there was still a lot of building work going on around the station. Work by McAlpine Ltd. started at the beginning of April with the filling of spaces between the spectacle hard-standings and the construction of new aprons outside No 1 & 3 hangars.
The beginning of April saw the formation of the stations National Savings Group which proved very successful with a total amount of £919/2/6d being saved, an average of 10/8d per person.
The Stations new theatre was completed during May and fully equipped with up to date equipment. The first show given by the Station Dramatic Society lasted for 3 successive nights and was an outstanding success.
Flt Lt Carter, who was the Catering Officer, was also kept busy during May reorganising the stations messing facilities and fitting a lot of new equipment which had been painstakingly sought out.
The month of May saw the arrival of Meltons first fully equipped crash ambulance. It was an Albion ambulance with a crane and hook apparatus on the roof for attachment to parachute harnesses.
It also contained a fireman’s axe and two pairs of asbestos gauntlets for fire rescue. Inside the ambulance was an oxygen apparatus contained in a specially constructed wooden container secured to the wall, comprising an oxygen bottle, mask and flowmeter etc.
A large number of the stations airmen underwent training in stretcher bearing and loading ambulances during May. The station was ‘gearing up’ for the reception, housing and disposal of casualties arriving at Melton by air. The ‘Operational Record Book’ quoted that casualties could be disposed of at the rate of 28 per load per one and half hours. Three ambulances and four lorries equipped with Flint stretcher gear were made available. Sign posts were being erected at all prominent positions around the camp.
May ‘44 was again a quiet month as far as aircraft dispatches were concerned, approximately 60 aircraft were dispatched. Full advantage was taken with the lull in aircraft work when a lot of ‘self help’ work was done with the cleaning up and improving the general appearance of the station.
June was another month where aircraft dispatches were at a low. A total of 26 aircraft, of which 10 were Stirlings were prepared and dispatched.
It was becoming quite a frequent occurrence for personnel, in particular WAAFs, to report sick with complaints of nerves, rundown, insomnia and anorexia usually accompanied with emotional outbursts. The main reason for these complaints was the lack of leave. The best possible cure for all these complaints would be leave, but if the SMO started recommending leave then there was a great possibility of an epidemic breaking out with the illnesses, however leave was granted on compassionate grounds. The main cause of the ‘leave sickness’ as it was called, was put down to the inequality that existed on all stations. Personnel who lived within a reasonable distance of the station usually managed to get home during their 24 hours off duty, whereas those personnel who lived several hundreds of miles away were not able to get home at all.
On the 26th June, WAAFs stationed at Melton started attending Melton Mowbray Senior Girls School for cookery lessons.
Another airman that was stationed at Melton was Jack Williamson. Jack was awarded the nickname ‘Snowy’ while at Melton as his hair was jet black. Jack remembers being asked to work late one night by his Chief as a Sqn of Fleet Air Arm Swordfishes came into Melton for an overnight stay.
Jack was a witness to the Wellington that crashed between Thorpe Arnold and Saxby Road on 13th August 1944. Jack remembers thinking ‘Whats he doing flying away from the airfield with one prop feathered?’ when it hit a haystack and burst into flames. Jack was one of the first people to arrive at the incident and managed to drag one of the crew members out of the flames, although to no avail as he was already dead from the fatal burns he had received.
As the RAF Ambulance and medics arrived at the scene, Jack said to one of them ‘look after this chap a minute’ and crept away from the scene as he didn’t want any publicity for his actions. After the accident, everybody was asking who was this brave airman was but nobody knew. A couple of days later back at camp, all the airmen were getting inspected as it was the CO’s parade and Jack was picked up as his uniform was all burnt from rescuing the crewman. From this they deduced that Jack must have been that airman whom they were searching for and he was subsequently awarded a citation for his heroism.
The dispatch of aircraft during August 1944 was reported as disappointing due to a problem with the Beaufighters. Apparently the rate of petrol consumption was too high to enable them to reach their destination in South Africa safely. A record number of aircraft were dispatched overseas during May 1944 when a total of 53 aircraft were transferred from Melton.
On 30th Oct 1944 a single Lancaster was secretly dispatched to Australia from Melton. G for George, an Avro Lancaster Mk.I serial number W4783 AR-G, operated by No. 460 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force. The aircraft flew 96 combat missions over occupied Europe with 460 Squadron, and is the second most prolific surviving Lancaster, behind R5868 S for Sugar which flew 137 sorties with No. 83 Squadron RAF, No. 463 Squadron RAAF and No. 467 Squadron RAAF.
On the 16th October 44, RAF Melton received another special tasking via Air Movement Order (AMO) regarding two special commitments, No’s 1075 & 1076 which had been issued by HQ No 44 Group. This AMO required both No 4 OAPU and No 304 FTU to prepare and deliver two specially modified Avro Anson aircraft. One for the King of Egypt and the other for the Regent of Iraq. Sqn Ldr Gallaway piloted Anson NK150 to Cairo for the King of Egypt and Flt Lt Smith piloted Anson NK151 to Iraq for the Regent. The aircraft were eventually dispatched in December 44 and January 45.
Bill Johnston of Ewetree Farm remembers being invited to a birthday party of an Airman’s son who lived in Gt Dalby. After the party, the airman took his son and Bill up to the airfield and let them sit in an American Grumman Hellcat fighter.
Bill recalls seeing lots of different types of aircraft such as Halifaxes, Bostons and Mosquitoes. The thing that he remembers most about the Mosquito is that they were white or silver in colour instead of camouflage. Another of Bills recollections is of the Airmen down in Gt Dalby village scrumping apples.
Jimmy Learmonth was a professional footballer before he joined the RAF and while stationed at Melton, naturally he was part of the RAF Melton Mowbray football team. The station team had just won the Loughborough Charity Cup in a local tournament. The CO at the time, Group Captain Pete Gomez, who was himself a football fan and proud of his team, invited them back to the Officers Mess for celebration drinks. The CO was doing his party piece and drinking a pint of beer down in one go when Jimmy said to his team-mates “Where’s he putting that, has he got hollow legs?” To Jimmy’s horror the CO heard his comment and spat out his drink in a burst of laughter and replied “Its better than that Jimmy” at the same time as tapping his leg. To the amazement of everyone, it was a false leg as he lost his real one in a flying accident earlier in his career. Jimmy immediately thought ‘I’ve gone and done it now’ but Gomez just laughed about it.
In addition to Jimmy Learmonth, the RAF Melton Mowbray FC team contained several other professional players such as Cpl Andy Bramley who was the team manager and came from Anstey, Bill Maclean was the Leics City trainer, Clem Stevenson played for Huddersfield.
Also serving at Melton was the England player Ivor Broadis, who won his first cap for his Country in 1952. He was a Flight Lieutenant navigator on Wellingtons and Lancaster bombers and had massed over 500 hours without going on a bombing mission. It is not sure if he’s on the team photograph.
Jimmy was an Armourer by trade and most of the time he worked in No 4 Hangar. He remembers one specific day when all the Beaufighters were being put into the hangar for storage. It was quite a common occurrence for the engineers to show people around the aircraft including the cockpit and controls. On this particular day, the engineer was showing the visitors the controls and how the machine guns operated.
The Beaufighters gun controls was a button which was located on the control column and protected by a flap/cover. All of a sudden, the hangar was filled with the deafening sound of machine gun fire. It turned out to be ‘friendly fire’ and came from the Beaufighter in which Jimmy’s colleague was showing the visitors around. Nobody was actually injured in this incident, except their pride. Normally the aircrafts ammunition was downloaded prior to the aircraft going into the hangar, but for some reason this aircraft was missed.
Another incident that Jimmy remembers began when he was walking his girlfriend (who incidentally is now his wife) home after an evening of dancing. At the bottom of Ankle Hill he was stopped by a couple of Service Policemen (SP’s) who questioned him about being out late at night. It turned out that he didn’t have a late night pass, so the SP’s took his details (Name, Rank and Number) and ordered him to report to the Guardroom immediately. Upon arriving at the Guardroom, Jimmy reported to the Orderly Corporal who told him to report back to the Guardroom at 06.30am the following morning for the Orderly Officers parade. The following morning, Jimmy arrived at the Guardroom only to find that it had been burnt down during the night.
A drunken Scots airman, who was known for being drunk and rowdy had been arrested by the RAF Police (RAFP), who were trying unsuccessfully to lock him up in one of the guardrooms detention cells. The tiny Scotsman who was only 5ft 3” tall managed to escape from the custody of the RAFP and his escorts and evict them out of the guardroom. He then locked him self inside and built a bonfire from all the paperwork, tables and chairs. When the fire was well ablaze, he went outside, started ringing the fire bell and shouted for assistance.
The RAF Fire Service could not attend as they were on airfield duties so the Melton Fire Brigade were called. Subsequently, the guardroom burnt down due to the building being constructed from wood. Upon arrival at the scene, the Scotsman was cooled down with a dowsing from a fireman’s hose and he escaped again, this time down Dalby Road towards town. He was arrested again at the picket post and taken to a more secure cell, this time in the local police station down town. Apparently the local police were not too keen on this as the same Scotsman had been detained in their cells on a previous occasion and had trashed them.
By 6th June 1944 No 304 FTU & No 4 Overseas APU (renamed as No 4 APU on 31st July 1944), both of No 44 Group were operating from Melton. Both of these units amalgamated on the 9th October 1944 and became No 12 Ferry Unit whose role was ferrying aircraft from Melton to overseas units and operated various types of aircraft which included Ansons, Beaufighters, Bostons, Oxfords, Proctors, Stirlings and Wellingtons.
Due to the closure of the APU, the station was able to accept part of No 107 Operational Training Unit whose parent station was Leicester East. The role of this unit was the training of Transport Command crews who were employed in glider towing and troop carrying. No 107 OTU operated Halifaxes and Dakotas along with a fleet of Horsa and Hadrian gliders.
No 1588 Heavy Freight Flight (HFF) was formed at Melton during September 1945 as ‘K’ Flight for service in India. The first of 1588’s Stirling V’s arrived in Bombay/Santa Cruz India on 10 October 1945. K flight was officially disbanded on 20 May 1946, although it actually ceased to exist in July 1946. 1588 was the last unit to operate Stirling’s and No 229 Group sent a signal on 17 July 1946 informing it that all its Stirling’s could be struck off charge and disposed of on site at Santa Cruz Bombay.
September 28th 1945 saw the formation of No 1589 ‘J’ HFF, again operating Stirling V’s. By 10th October 1945 all of the Stirling V’s belonging to J flight had moved to Cairo West, Egypt and the flight was disbanded on 30th April 1946.
November 1945 saw the departure of No 1333(T) SCU (formally No 107 OTU which was renamed in March earlier that year) and on the 7th No 12 Ferry Unit disbanded.
It was widely reported that there was a mass exodus from the RAF station following the Victory in Europe announcement and all duties at the camp had been suspended, dozens of bicycles were piled up at Melton railway station.
If anyone has any further recollections or photographs etc relating to RAF Melton Mowbray, please do let me know.
On the 1st May 1944, No 304 Ferry Training Unit based at RAF Melton Mowbray, dispatched Beaufighter MkVI KW199 on a fuel consumption test flight. The pilot was 25 year old Glaswegian Sgt John Joseph Bruce and the Navigator was 23 year old Yorkshireman Flt Sgt Cyril Woolfenden.
After attempting to make a landing at Melton they overshot the runway where the pilot, Sgt Bruce attempted to take the aircraft around again for another attempt. However, the aircraft didn’t make it as on climbing away from the airfield, one of the engines cut out after stalling, the aircraft subsequently spun out of control and crashed two miles from the airfield, near Kirby Bellars, sadly killing both crew.
Sgt Bruce was the Son of Joseph Robert and Elizebeth Bruce, of Glasgow and is buried in Section 8, Grave 109 of the Glasgow (St Kentigern’s) Roman Catholic Cemetery. For more information about his grave, visit his CWGC casualty record.
Flt Sgt Woolfenden was the Son of Allan and Evelyn Mary (Corcoran) Woolfenden, of Leeds, Yorkshire and was the youngest of 3 children with elder brother Allen and sister Dorothy.
Cyril is buried in Section W Grave 4170 of the Melton Mowbray Thorpe Road Cemetery. For more information about his grave, visit his CWGC casualty record.
Roy Beeken was a dispatch rider for the Melton Fire Station and was one of the first on the scene due to travelling the crash site on his motorcycle.
When I spoke to Roy a few years ago, he told me that once the crews bodies were recovered from the aircraft, they were brought back to Melton in an ambulance accompanied in the back by Roy and his motorcycle as it had run out of fuel!
In todays current climate when people are struggling with mental health issues due to the lockdown initiated as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, I take a look at the slang phrase “Going Doolally” and its origins.
Traditionally when British soldiers struggle to pronounce foreign place names, they anglicise them or call them something simple and easy to remember, Ypres on the Western Front during WW1 was known as “Wipers” and Ploegsteert became Plugstreet. Doolally is no exception as this was the soldiers’ name for the Deolali transit camp.
Established in 1861, the Deolali transit camp was a British Army transit camp in Maharashtra, India. It was in use throughout the time of the British Raj, the rule by the British Crown on the Indian subcontinent until they gained Independence from Britain in 1947.
The camp was located near Deolali, Maharashtra, around 100 miles North East of Bombay (or Mumbai as it is known today). The camp is situated near a prominent conical hill and the Bahula Fort.
The camp housed soldiers that were newly arrived in the country and those awaiting ships to take them back home to Britain.
For those awaiting to be shipped back home, they were disarmed and allocated light duties with little else to occupy the men.
It was said that soldiers who were waiting to be shipped back home, often had a long wait for a troop ship to take them back home.
The camp was often full by the end of summer with soldiers awaiting troop ships. New arrivals in this period often had to sleep on the floor owing to a lack of beds and suffered from sand flea bites.
Conditions in the camp were said to be poor especially for those stationed there for long periods. As a side effect of having little to do at the camp, combined with the heat of the long Indian summers drove many a soldier a little crazy and hence the phrase “Going Doolally” was coined and the term “doolally” became a slang term associated with mental illness. It is a contraction of the original form “Doolally tap”, where the latter part is derived from “tapa”, meaning fever” in Hindustani and “heat” or “torment” in Sanskrit.
The whole phrase is perhaps best translated as “camp fever”.The term was in use from the late 19th century and the contracted form was dominant by the First World War.
Soldiers could spend time in the nearby city of Nasik which offered numerous gin bars and brothels and consequently diseases such as venereal disease was common amongst the troops.
Also common in the Deolali area was Malaria, which can affect the brain. This remained a major issue for the British Army right through the Second World War despite the development of anti-malarial drugs.
Suicides in the camp were not uncommon. Despite its reputation the Deolali area actually has a milder climate than nearby Mumbai (Bombay) or Pune, though it was known to be incredibly dusty in the period leading up to the monsoon.
The camp had a sanatorium (military hospital) but, despite its reputation, there was never a dedicated psychiatric hospital there. Cases of mental illness were instead confined to the military prison or sent to dedicated hospitals elsewhere in the country.
The camp was also used for training and acclimatisation for soldiers newly arrived in British India. New drafts would stay at the camp for up to several weeks carrying out route marches and close order drill to get used to the hotter climate.
During the First World War it was used as a hospital for prisoners of war held in other camps in India, including Turks taken prisoner on the Mesopotamian campaign and German soldiers.
The hospital complex consisted of old barracks, stone bungalows and galvanised iron huts spread over a large area nearly two and a half kilometres long by one kilometre wide. Housing over 2000 beds, the nurses cared for patients with diseases such as malaria, smallpox, Spanish influenza and cholera, in trying climatic conditions. Such conditions were too much for some nurses, such as Staff Nurse Emily Clare, who succumbed to Spanish Influenza on 17 October 1918.
Margaret Walker Bevan was born in Swansea on 22 October 1883, the elder of two daughters to John and Harriet Bevan. In May 1902 she became a trainee nurse in Coventry City Hospital. On completion of her basic training, she joined the Becket Hospital in Barnsley, rising to the position of Matron by the time she resigned in 1915.
She joined the Welsh Military Hospital, Netley (near Southampton) in July 1915, volunteering for overseas service. The hospital, maintained by voluntary contributions from Wales, had 399 beds and was treating casualties of the Great War within weeks of the British Expeditionary Force crossing the channel in 1914.
In May 1915 the Commanding Officer received orders to take the Welsh Hospital overseas to India as a complete unit with staff and equipment for 3000 beds. It was known as the 34th Welsh General Hospital, Deolali, India, and the nursing staff had to join The Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS).
En route to India the personnel had three weeks stay at Alexandria where most of the nursing staff did temporary duties at various Military Hospitals. Around 20 June they landed at Bombay and were sent up in small numbers to Deolali as hospital wards were prepared. Margaret was put in charge of a ward of 70 beds, treating troops who had served in Basra.
Later wounded Turkish prisoners of war were sent to that section. This photograph was taken in May 1917 and shows Ward 11 in the hospital in Deolali, with Margaret standing on the left hand side.
Another Nurse serving at the 34th Welsh Genera Hospital was Australian Vera Agnes Margaret Paisley was born in Bunbury, Western Australia in December 1892. She was a certified nurse on enlistment in the Australian Army Nursing Service on 8 May 1917, serving until 12 November 1919.
She had previously worked for three years at the Perth Public Hospital. Embarking for service in India from Fremantle on 5 June, with the rank of staff nurse, Paisley reached Bombay on 18 June. On arrival she was posted to 34th Welsh General Hospital at Deolali, almost 260 kilometres from Bombay.
As well as the 34th Welsh, there was also the 44th British General Hospital and there was also a RAMC depot there.
The camp had a military prison that was used for soldiers of the British Army and, during the Second World War, for captured Indian nationalists who had served in the Japanese-founded Indian National Army.
During the Second World War the camp also boasted cinemas, swimming pools, amusement parks and restaurants for the troops.
No 159 Squadron with their Liberator Mk I bombers were based at RAF Deolali from 24th May 1942 to 1st June before moving onto RAF Chakrata.
No 656 Air Observation Post (AOP) Squadron was also at Deolali the OC Denis Coyle was told he would have to find and train all his own replacement pilots, which required his setting up an AOP Training School in Deolali, India, staffed and run by his own Squadron personnel, spreading his already limited resources ever more thinly. This school was only partially successful, providing only eight pilots from two AOP courses, before he changed tack and formed 1587 (Refresher) Flight, which instead provided jungle training and theatre familiarisation for newly-qualified pilots sent out from the AOP School in the UK.
After the Indian Independence in 1947, the camp was transferred to the Indian Army and was used as an artillery school and depot for at least 10 artillery and service corps units. It also hosted an army records office and an aerial observation squadron.
During the period leading up to independence the camp was known as the “Homeward Bound Trooping Depot” and was used to return large numbers of British troops and their families back home as British forces withdrew from the country under the scheme known as PYTHON
In the 1970s, the BBC sitcom series It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was produced about a Royal Artillery concert party based at Deolali Camp.
As we commemorate the birth of the Royal Air Force in April 1918, let’s take a look at the Hotel Cecil, the birthplace of the world’s first independent Air Force.
Hotel Cecil was named after the former London home of the powerful Cecil family, Cecil House (also known as Salisbury House) which once occupied the site, it opened in 1896, three years before the nearby Savoy, and stretched from the Strand to the Thames.
Designed by architects Perry & Reed in a “Wrenaissance” style, the hotel was the largest in Europe when it opened. The proprietor, Jabez Balfour, later went bankrupt and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. It had 800 spacious rooms – a staggering number when one considers that the Savoy today has just 268. Public areas included a bright and airy courtyard, a vast Palm Court ballroom (perfect for afternoon tea during the day and dancing at night) and three restaurants capable of feeding a total of 1,150 diners.
It was, by the start of the First World War, a fashionable venue for London Society. In 1917, the hotel was requisitioned for the war effort in 1917, and became the recruiting office for the Sportsman’s Battalion, later absorbed into the Royal Fusiliers.
The origins of the Royal Air Force lie in the increasingly-effective German air raids of 1917 and worries that the army’s Royal Flying Corps and the navy’s Royal Naval Air Service were competing for scarce resources. South African General Jan Christian Smuts was brought in by the British War Cabinet to review the nation’s air power position.
In August 1917, Smuts submitted his report to Lloyd George’s war cabinet, in which it was recommended that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service be amalgamated into one single independent force.
The report recommended, among other things, the creation of an Air Council and an air service independent of the Army and Navy.
Following the passage of the Air Force Constitution Act in November 1917 (debates on which included an unsuccessful attempt by pilot and notable scoundrel Noel Pemberton Billing to name the new force the ‘Imperial Air Force’), the new force came into being on 1 April 1918 with a strength of over 20,000 aircraft and 300,000 personnel, including the Women’s Royal Air Force.
Royal assent was received from the King on 29th November 1917, and on 1st April 1918 the Royal Air Force was officially formed at the Hotel Cecil, which served as its headquarters for the remainder of the war up to 1919.
In 2008, to mark the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force, the Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy unveiled a green plaque proclaiming: The Royal Air Force was formed and had its first headquarters here in the former Hotel Cecil 1 April 1918.
The Hotel Cecil was largely demolished in Autumn 1930, and Shell Mex House was built on the site. The Strand facade of the hotel remains and is now occupied by shops and offices, with, at its centre, a grandiose arch leading to Shell Mex House.
Unveiled in 1931, Shell Mex House, the former London headquarters of Shell-Mex and BP, is an imposing masterpiece, boasting 49,900 square metres of floor space and crowned with the biggest clock face in London (wags dubbed it “Big Benzene”).
During World War II, the Shel Mex building became home to the Ministry of Supply, which co-ordinated the supply of equipment to the national armed forces. It was also the home of the “Petroleum Board”, which handled the distribution and rationing of petroleum products during the war. It was badly damaged by a bomb in 1940.
The building reverted to Shell-Mex and BP on 1 July 1948, with a number of floors remaining occupied by the Ministry of Aviation (latterly the Board of Trade, Civil Aviation Division) until the mid-1970s. During this time, until the department’s move to the present location in Farnborough, the building was also the headquarters for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
On the Thames embankment, outside of the Shell Mex you will find the Cleopatra’s Needle. This obelisk, which dates back to 1450 BC, was given to London by the ruler of Egypt and erected beside the Thames in 1877.
Either side of the obelisk, you will find the Sphinxes and if you look closely you’ll see shrapnel holes on one of the sphinxes caused by a German First World War bomb.
A few meters from Cleopatra’s Needle you will also find the Royal Air Force Memorial, dedicated to the memory of the casualties of the Royal Air Force in World War I (and, by extension, all subsequent conflicts).
A committee to erect an RAF memorial was first established in February 1919, and relaunched in January 1920. Led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard and Lord Hugh Cecil, a descendant of the Cecil family that owned the original building that stood where Hotel Cecil was located, (the eighth and youngest child of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, three times Prime Minister of the UK). Lord Cecil served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.
The memorial designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield was unveiled on 16 July 1923 by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII). It became a Grade II listed structure in 1958 and was upgraded to Grade II* in 2018. It is considered to be the official memorial of the RAF and related services.
In this first blog about my Gt Uncle, George Hamer Badger (the brother of my Nanna, my Dads mum), I take a look at how a Lancashire lad ended up fighting at Gallipoli with the Australian Imperial Force ANZACs.
He was born on the 20th April 1897 and he was the second child from a total of 11 for Richard and Ellen Badger.
The family lived at Worston, a peaceful little village nestled at the foot of Pendle Hill in Lancashire with one street, a welcoming hostelry, run by the Badger family. Unspoilt, this was one of the locations used in ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ and today it is still a quiet one-street village.
Ellen Hamer who was originally from Stokesay in Shropshire, was working as a Nurse at the Lancaster Lunatic Asylum when she met Richard. They were married at Christ Church, Lancaster on 30 Oct 1895.
The Badger family were still at the Calf’s Head when the 1901 Census was carried out. However, at some time during 1901/1902 the family moved from the Calf’s Head in Worston to take over the Saddle Inn at Lea near Preston where they remained throughout World War 1.
It would appear that the advertising campaign by the Australians proved to tempting for the Badgers and in 1912, George and his father Richard emigrated to Australia with the rest of the family planning to follow later on. The motivation was, as is so often the case with emigrants, simply the hope to find a better life for their children somewhere other than in their home country.
As part of the “Grand Plan” of moving the Badger family to Australia, Richard packed all his woodworking and carpentry tools along with many others and a vast selection of guns.
According to the PRO archives in Victoria, the immigration index lists Richard’s age as 51 and George’s age as 26. I don’t know whether this is a transcript error with the application or whether the age annotated on the application form was incorrect. George was born in 1897, so in 1912 when he emigrated, he would only be 15 and not 26 as listed in the index.
The index also shows that Richard and George achieved unassisted immigration to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and they sailed from Liverpool travelling on the SS IRISHMAN ship operated by the White Star Line.
They set sail from Liverpool on March 15th 1912 and were due to arrive at Melbourne on May 14th 1912. On Wednesday 17th April, they heard by “Wireless” that the “Titanic” had gone down on her maiden trip, with 1500 lost.
In early May, there was an outbreak of measles on the ship and on 4th May, George had to go into the isolation hospital aboard the ship. On the 5th May, land was in sight and about 70 miles offshore, the ship took a pilot onboard. The ship got into Melbourne early on the 6th but was not allowed to dock and unload and the passengers were put into quarantine. They eventually disembarked on the 14th/15th May.
Richard and George had made an impression with the number of guns and tools they had brought with them. They initially stayed with William Angliss’s family in Toorak, then they went to the wool growing Geelong/Western District Area. Shortly after his arrival in Australia, George became a Jackaroo.
A Jackaroo is a young man working on a sheep or cattle station, to gain practical experience in the skills needed to become an owner, overseer, manager, etc. The skills required to be were to be an excellent horseman, skilled as a stockman with sheep, whip and droving, and learned about sheep and wool.
George became interested in becoming a wool classer responsible for the production of uniform, predictable, low-risk lines of wool, carried out by examining the characteristics of the wool in its raw state and classing it accordingly. After a year as a Jackaroo, George became an apprentice Wool Classer in 1914 and was working with a shearing gang contracted to a sheep station near Ivanhoe in Western New South Wales.
Following the outbreak of World War 1, recruiting committees were formed in nearly every town throughout Australia during 1915. At the outbreak of the War, there had been a great outpouring of Australian support for the ‘mother country’ England, and the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed from men who volunteered.
The requirements in August 1914 to join the AIF were that the volunteer had to be aged between 18–35 years, height of 5ft 6in and chest measurement of 34 inches. During the first year of the war approximately 33 percent of all volunteers were rejected.
On his attestation papers, George’s height was recorded as 5ft 7 in, his weight 140 lbs, chest measurement 34 1/2 – 37 inches, fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair.
So far so good, George met the majority of the recruitment restrictions except probably the most important one – the minimum age! To join the AIF you had to be at least 18 years of age but George was only 17 years and 10 months! To get around this, George lied about his age and recorded it as 21.
George Hamer Badger ‘signed on the dotted line’ on 9th March 1915 and was enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and assigned to Broadmeadows Camp. Whilst at Broadmeadows, George celebrated his 18th birthday and following his initial training,
George was assigned to ‘A Company’ 24th Battalion “Red and White Diamonds” of the Australian Imperial Force at Broadmeadows, Victoria with the rank of Private and the Service No of 154.
The 24th was part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division along with the 21st, 22nd and 23rd Battalions.
As a result of the hasty decision to raise the battalion very little training was carried out before the battalion sailed from Melbourne. A week after being formed, the 24th Battalion, including George and his shearer mates, departed Melbourne on 8th May 1915 aboard HMAT Euripides (A14) destined for Alexandria in Egypt where the Australians had several training camps.
When they arrived at Cairo, the Australians were told they were to go to a big camp at Mena, ten miles south of Cairo, close to the wonderful Pyramids and the Sphinx. Mena was an enormous camp built to hold around 20,000 troops and had been made ready for them just a mile from the Pyramids.
Following their training in Egypt, the 24th Battalion were assigned to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and 28th August 1915 they received orders from 6th Bde to entrain at Helwich on the night of 29-30 Aug to proceed to Alexandria and embark on transport “Nile”. At 9.45pm on the 29th, George and his colleagues from A Coy, along with B Coy,Signallers and Machine Gunners entrained for Alexandria and at 5:30am on the 30th, were embarked aboard transport ship HMT Nile.
The “Nile” set sail at 4:30pm on 30th August, with 32 Officers and 233 Other details from the 24th Battalion. Local Routine Orders were issued to the troops along with Special Instructions to protect vessel against submarine attack.
The “Nile”, carrying George and his shearer pals along with the 24th Battalion and well ahead, had spotted the sub and managed to outrun it. The “Scotian” with the 22nd Battalion on board also managed to dodge it, but the first the “Southland” knew of her predicament was the approaching torpedo.
“My God – a torpedo!” was the shout from a sentry. “We watched the line of death getting nearer until it crashed, and the whole ship reeled. Then the order was given, ‘The ship is sinking – abandon ship.’” A subaltern on board the Southland went on to say, “Without a cry or sign of fear, or more hurrying than on a brisk march, and singing ‘Australia Will Be There,’ the order was carried out.”
The “Nile” received a further signal confirming that help had been sent and that “Southland” was making port under easy steam.
Colonel Richard Linton, OC 6th Brigade, was in one of the first boats lowered. Unfortunately it was soon overturned, and being a strong swimmer, Linton decided to remain in the water, allowing others to take his place in the boats. However, many hours later when he was finally taken on board the French destroyer Massuo, the shock and exposure had proved too much and his heart gave out. Surviving him was his son Richard who was rescued by the Neuralia.
Colonel Linton was buried at East Mudros at 7am on the 3rd September. Following his death, OC 24th Bn AIF, Lt Col William Walker Russell Watson, took over command of 6th Brigade. His first job as OC 6th Bde, was to concentrate all of “Southland’s” surviving troops aboard transport “Transylvania”. In all, 1324 all ranks was collected from 8 different vessels in port.
Whilst at Lemnos, George and his mates from the 24th Bn, had developed an admiration for the poetry of Rupert Brooke. One of Brooke’s famous poems was “The Soldier”.
If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England’s, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away, A pulse in the eternal mind, no less Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given; Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day; And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness, In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Brooke was a Sub-Lieutenant serving with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve when he died a few months previously after developing sepsis after an infected mosquito bite. He is buried on the island of Skyros.
At 9:30pm on the 3rd September, Lt Col William Walker Russell Watson received orders to transfer troops from the “Nile” and “Scotania” to “HMT Abbasieh” for transfer to ANZAC Cove on the 4th.
George Badger and his mates from the 24th Battalion served in the Lone Pine sector, taking over responsibility for the front line the on 12th September. The position was very close to the Turkish trenches and was hotly contested. The position was so tenuous, that the troops holding it had to be rotated regularly, and as a result the 24th spent the remainder of the campaign rotating with the 23rd Battalion to hold the position against determined Turkish mining operations.
All through September, the 24th were either in Lone Pine experiencing constant sniping and bombing throughout day and night or resting in White Valley after being relieved by the 23rd Bn. The battalion remained at Gallipoli for three months until the evacuation of Allied troops took place in December 1915.
The 24th Bn were mainly involved in the fighting at Lone Pine. All the ground that was won by the Australians during the main battle at Lone Pine during August was actually reached within a couple of hours of the start of the attack. However, the fighting at Lone Pine continued for several weeks as the Turks counterattacked incessantly and at great cost. The 2nd and 3rd Infantry Brigades were poured in to reinforce the Australian gains.
Family folklore has it that George was offered a King’s Commission and a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant or a MID Mentioned In Dispatches. As George had previously agreed with the AIF to have most of his pay sent back to his Mother, Ellen, back in England, he refused the MID and accepted the Commission as it would mean he could send her more money. There is nothing documented in his service records to show this filed promotion, but the War Diaries for the 24th Bn records on the 14th October that “6 Officers have been promoted from the ranks”.
Another family rumour is that towards the end of the campaign, George served under the Command of Captain Stan Savige. Savige enlisted alongside George back Melbourne on 9th March 1915. His service number was VX13 and George’s was VX154.
Savige was passed over for a commission due to his lack of education, but was promoted to corporal on 30 April and lance sergeant on 8 May. The 24th Infantry Battalion landed at Gallipoli on 5 September 1915 and took over part of the line at Lone Pine. Savige became company sergeant major on 20 September. There, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 9 November 1915. Savige was one of three officers chosen to serve with the battalion rearguard unit C3 along with Lt McIlroy and lt Brinsmead who was appointed OC C3, of which George was part of. Rear party C3 consisting of 1 Officer and 6 Other Ranks from the 21st Bn, 2 Officers and 18 Other Ranks from the 22nd and 3 Officers and 34 Other Ranks (including George and Savige) from the 24th left Lone Pine at 2.40am and embarked at the pier at 3.30am.
To reduce noise whilst walking down to the beach, George and his colleagues placed woolen socks over their boots in order to reduce the noise.
The rear parties embarked on “Heroic” and landed back at Mudros shortly after day break.
Whilst at Gallipoli, George became acquainted with Phillip Schuler, a newspaper correspondent for the AGE newspaper based in Melbourne. Schuler, covered the Gallipoli campaign alongside Charles Bean. His bravery was legendary. His dispatches were evocative and compassionate. He captured the heroism and horror for Australian newspaper readers in ways the meticulous yet dry prose of Bean never could.
After Schuler’s classic account of the campaign, Australia in Arms, was completed in early 1916, Schuler abandoned the relative safety of a correspondent’s job and joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as a humble soldier. In June 1917, he was killed in Flanders. He was 27 years old.
In my next blog about Uncle George I will take a look at what happened to him after leaving Gallipoli.
Colonel Charles Wyndham was born in 1796, the 5th child and 3rd son of George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont and Elizabeth Ilive. The first four children were born illegitimately, before the Earl married Miss Ilive in 1801, so Charles and his brothers Henry and George were illegitimate.
He married Hon.Elizabeth Anne Hepburne-Scott, daughter of Hugh Hepburne-Scott, 6th Lord Polwarth and Harriet Brühl, on 3 October 1835.
Charles Wyndham joined the Army by purchasing his commission as a Cornet in the 10th (Prince of Wales’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars) on the 13th May 1813. A Cornet was originally the lowest grade of commissioned officer in a British cavalry troop. The rank was abolished along with the purchase of commissions in the Army Reform Act of 1871 when it was replaced by Second Lieutenant.
The painting of the three brothers is by Sir William Beechey. Henry Wyndham is depicted standing on the left wearing the uniform of Aide de Campe to the Commander in Chief. The central figure is George Wyndham wearing a blue light dragoon uniform and the figure on the right is Charles Wyndham wearing a hussars uniform .
In 1813, having landed once more in Spain, the 10th Hussars fought at the Battle of Morales in June 1813. During the battle, the regiment destroyed the 16th French Dragoons between Toro and Zamora, taking around 260 prisoners. Later in the month, the Regiment also fought at the Battle of Vitoria while still in Spain and then, having advanced into France, fought at the Battle of Orthez in February 1814 and the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814.
As a Cornet, he saw action in the Peninsular War with the army in Portugal, Spain, and France, being present at the battles of Vitoria, Orthez and Toulouse.
The Battle of Vitoria took place on 21st Jun 1813 where a combined British, Portuguese and Spanish army under General the Marquess of Wellington broke the French army under King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain, eventually leading to victory in the Peninsular War.
The Battle of Orthez was on the 27th Feb 1814 and saw the Anglo-Portuguese Army under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington attack an Imperial French army led by Marshal Nicolas Soult in southern France. The outnumbered French repelled several Allied assaults on their right flank, but their center and left flank were overcome, and Soult was compelled to retreat. At first the withdrawal was conducted in good order, but it eventually ended in a scramble for safety and many French soldiers became prisoners. The engagement occurred near the end of the Peninsular War.
The Battle of Toulouse was one of the final battles of the Napoleonic Wars and took place on 10th Apr 1814, four days after Napoleon’s surrender of the French Empire to the nations of the Sixth Coalition. Having pushed the demoralised and disintegrating French Imperial armies out of Spain in a difficult campaign the previous autumn, the Allied British-Portuguese and Spanish army under the Duke of Wellington pursued the war into southern France in the spring of 1814.
In a skirmish near Toulouse in April 1814, Charles and one trooper were wounded. The regimental history says, ‘A story was told of him, that he was a very good-looking young boy, and in one of the cavalry engagements he was at the mercy of the colonel of a French cavalry regiment, who, instead of cutting him down, lowered his sword, saying, “Allez, petit diable d’Anglais.”’
Following his service in the Peninsular War he was promoted to Lieutenant on the 4th May 1815 and served in the Battle of Waterloo as part of the 2nd (Royal North British) Regiment of Dragoons (Scots Greys) No 2 Troop, commanded by Captain Edward Payne. During this conflict he was injured, being shot twice, once in the foot, but refused to be returned on the list of wounded. It was during this battle that Sergeant Charles Ewart captured the Eagle and Standard of the 45th French Infantry Regiment on the 18th Jun 1815.
During the Battle of Waterloo, the Greys lost 102 men killed and 97 wounded. No.2 Troop had a nominal strength of 77 but perhaps 15 or more of these would have been at the rear with baggage etc. with the Troop losing 22 men in the battle.
Following Waterloo, The Greys marched to Harfleur in October 1815 and remained there until the Treaty of Paris had been signed on 20 November. They embarked at Calais and left France on 10 January 1816.
For his service at the Peninsular war and Waterloo he was awarded the Army Gold Medal / Military General Service Medal, 1793-1814 with three clasps for Vittoria, Orthez, and Toulouse and the Waterloo medal 1815.
Apparently, Charles Wyndham was nicknamed – “the handsomest man in the Army” by King George IV.
After The Greys returned home to England, they spent 18 months in Canterbury. In 1817 they went to Edinburgh, then Ireland in July 1818.
On 24th June 1819, Charles was promoted to the rank of Captain and after spending 3 years in Ireland, the Regiment moved back to England in 1821, where, after a spell in the Midlands they attended the coronation of George IV.
Next they returned to Scotland where they were on hand when King George IV visited in 1822. The Regiment moved south by stages in 1823 with various postings from Carlisle to Ipswich. Charles Wyndham was promoted to Major on 12th Dec 1826.
There was another tour of duty in Ireland from 1827 to 1830, then back to southern England. When the Reform Bill was passed by the Commons and the Lords in April 1832, it was scuppered at the committee stage.
This triggered civil unrest and the Greys who were in Birmingham at the time found themselves caught up in the turmoil. Five thousand people had forced their way into the barracks as a prelude to demonstrations and unrest. The cavalry would be needed to tackle the unruly mobs but soldiers began to write letters to the authorities stating that they would not hurt peaceful citizens.
When the politicians lost confidence in the army to keep the peace, the Bill was passed. The Duke of Wellington had a letter published in the Weekly Dispatch denying the army’s reluctance to fight the population but this was refuted by a trooper in the Scots Greys, Alexander Somerville, an articulate private soldier who also had his letter published.
Although the letter was anonymous the officers of the Greys knew who the author was. Somerville was court-martialled and sentenced by the acting CO, Major Charles Wyndham, to 200 lashes of the cat o’nine tails. Somerville’s fame spread and he became a symbol of martyrdom for the rebellious working class.
From the Midlands the Greys were posted to York, and from 1834 -35 were in Scotland. In 1836 they went to Ireland where Charles Wyndham was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on 30th Dec 1837 when he took over command of the Scots Greys.
On Friday 29 May 1840, the Dublin Morning Register reported the following “ THE ARMY The head of the Royal Scots Greys, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wyndham, embarked the North Wall, yesterday, for Liverpool, and were relieved by the 6th Dragoon Guards, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jackson. They will be quartered in Portobello Barracks.
Colonel Charles Wyndham resigned his commission on 1st April 1841 with the Sussex Advertiser reporting on Monday 12 April 1841 “Lieut.-Colonel Charles Wyndham has retired from the 2d Regt. of Dragoons, and has been succeeded by Major Clarke, whose majority has been purchased by Captain Hobart.”
In 1840, due to his passion in fox hunting, Colonel Charles Wyndham bought Hill House and renamed it Wyndham Lodge.
Hill House, situated on Ankle Hill was the first house built in Melton that was South of the river. The former owner of Hill House was a retired leather dealer, Mr Hind, who leased the property out in 1928 to the Earl and Countess of Chesterfield.
In 1852, the Colonel left Melton due to being appointed as the Master of the Jewel Office at the Tower of London, taking over from the previous incumbent Edmund Lewis Lenthal Swifte who had been in post since 1814.
The Cork Examiner reported on Monday 02 August 1852 “Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Wyndham, formerly of the Scots Greys, has been appointed Keeper of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, vice Mr. E. Swift, who retires on full pay.”
The Stamford Mercury published the following article on Friday 09 July 1852 “Colonel Charles Wyndham, of Melton, has just been appointed to lucrative office the Tower of London. The Gallant Colonel has not been a feather-bed soldier, but was present through the Peninsular War, and received severe wound while acting Major in his regiment the Scotch Greys. He has resided at Melton for the last 12 years, and highly respected amongst the gentlemen of the hunt and the inhabitants generally”.
The office holder was responsible for running the Jewel House, which houses the Crown Jewels. This role has, at various points in history, been called Master or Treasurer of the Jewel House, Master or Keeper of the Crown Jewels, Master or Keeper of the Regalia, and Keeper of the Jewel House.
The following article published by the Berkshire Chronicle on Saturday 01 April 1854 makes mention of Colonel Wyndham as Keeper of the Jewels. “A Ghost in the Tower. The Tower of London was thrown into some confusion on Saturday night, owing to the nervousness of a young recruit. About 12 o’clock the sentry posted at the back of the Jewel house was heard screaming in a frightful manner. Colonel Wyndham, the Keeper of the Jewels, jumped out of bed. Other sentries of the guard ran immediately to the assistance of the man, whom they found nearly paralysed with fear and his firelock on the ground. He was immediately relieved and taken to the guard-house, where he gave the following story:—‘That as St. Paul’s clock was striking 12, a figure approached him, whom he instantly challenged, but receiving no answer he challenged a second time, and so it approached nearer and nearer towards him. It grew in size, until he thought it reached the moon.’ The poor fellow got into such a nervous state the sight of the monster, that it was some time before he recovered.”
In September 1852 he was appointed to the position of Deputy Lieutenant for Sussex.
Wyndham retained his position at the Tower until his death on 18th Feb 1866.
The Dublin Evening Mail published the following on Friday 23rd Feb 1866 “Death Colonel Charles Wyndham.—We regret to learn the death of Colonel Charles Wyndham, at his seat Lodge, Sussex. Colonel Wyndham, who had attained his 69th year, was the only surviving brother of Lord Leconfield, and was for a considerable time M.P. for West Sussex. He was well known many years ago in Dublin as officer in the Scots Greys, when that corps was stationed here. He is succeeded in his estates his eldest son Hugh, born in 1836.”
His funeral was held at Petworth Friday 2nd Mar 1866.
Today, the Wyndham name lives on in Melton with a street off Craven Street being named after him – Wyndham Avenue. A new housing estate built on the land of the former lodge is now known as Wyndham Grange.
Horatio Ross was born at Rossie Castle, Forfarshire (near Montrose) about 35 miles northeast of Dundee, Scotland, on 5th September 1801. He was the only son of Hercules Ross, a rich landowner and his wife Henrietta (nee Parish) Ross and baptised on the 27th day of October.
His Godfathers were The Right Honourable Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (Lord Nelson), after whom he was named, and John Parish Senior, Merchant in Hamburg. His Godmothers were The Right Honourable Lady Jane Stewart and The Right Honourable Countess of North Esk.
His father Hercules Ross and Lord Horatio Nelson corresponded over the period 1780 to 1802 and their letters are in the Archives of the Royal Naval Museum.
A story developed that when Horatio was six, his father got him to present Colours to the Rossie Regiment of Yeomanry, but that when they fired a volley the boy fled in terror. Horatio’s enraged father ordered a servant to fire a musket several times over his head daily which unsurprisingly made him even more frightened. The story goes that one day, the servant made him fire the gun at a sparrow, which he hit and killed.
Following his father’s death in 1817, he inherited the large Rossie Castle estate.
The 14th Light Dragoons Regiment arrived back in England in mid-May 1815 following the previous two years fighting at the Battle of New Orleans in America. They were too late to join the army that went to face Napoleon’s return from Elba and thus missed the battle of Waterloo.
In 1816 the 14th consisted of 530 all ranks, and were posted to Ireland for 3 years. In 1819 they returned to England and sailed to Liverpool and marched to Canterbury. Their duty in England was as police to apprehend smugglers on the coast from Yarmouth to Deal. They were especially busy in Romney Marsh in 1820 but it was an unhealthy area and they suffered greatly from ‘ague and similar complaints’.
Horatio Ross joined the 14th Light Dragoons in October 1820 and in 1821 they were relieved to be posted to Brighton with detachments at Hastings, Arundel and Eastbourne. During this period a school was set up for the 110 children of the married men in the regiment. This was not officially sanctioned but paid for by the regiment.
This posting lasted a year and they were then moved to Coventry, Dorchester and Exeter. Ross had no taste for barracks life and went on half-pay as an Infantry Ensign in November 1823. In 1825, the 14th Light Dragoons were back in Ireland and Ross retired from the Army in 1826.
Between 1825 and 1830 he became a notable figure in the world of sport, making and usually winning matches for large sums in steeple chasing, rowing and shooting. He excelled in the last, with both pistol and rifle. He won large sums in prizes for shooting and steeple chasing.
In the late 1820’s Horatio Ross took ownership of the hunting lodge at No 10 High Street, Melton Mowbray. It was owned by Melton Solicitor Samuel Caldecott, known as Count Faddle, and the property had huge garden that stretched all the way back to Park Road. The property was known known as “The Thistle” due to the large number of “huntsmen” from Scotland that stayed there.
In 1826 Horatio Ross bought Clinker, described as ‘the largest thoroughbred ever known’, for 1200 guineas. In 1826, on Clinker, a direct descendant of Flying Childers, he won the famous steeplechase against Captain Douglas, on Radical, a horse owned by Lord Kennedy.
The painting by local famous artist John Fernley shows ‘Clinker’ with Horatio Ross up, before the start of his victory over Captain Douglas riding ‘Radical’ for a wager of £525 from Barkby Holt to Billesdon Coplow.
This is the earliest recorded steeplechase and is listed as such in the first ‘Steeplechase Calendar’ published in 1845 recording a consecutive chronicle of the sport from 1826 to 1844.
From 1832 to 1834 Horatio served as Member of Parliament for Aberdeen, Montrose and Arbroath having ousted Sir James Carnegie. During this time he presented and cordially supported a petition from Aberdeen woollen manufacturers against the extension of the bill to restrict the hours worked by children in cotton factories in Scotland. If it was, it would have facilitated the introduction of Poor laws into Scotland, which were considered a curse. He did concede that some Glasgow cotton factories might need regulation. He was also involved in the Ministerial majority against the Irish union of Parishes bill.
On 26 December 1833 Ross married Justine Henrietta Macrae, the daughter of Colin Macrae of Inverinate. They had five sons, who inherited a fair share of their father’s sporting prowess. Three of whom shot with their father as four of the Scotch eight competing with the English for the international trophy, the Elcho Shield.
Ross’s way of life, though in many ways enviable and not conventionally extravagant, was not profitable and, as time went on, he found himself obliged to retrench.
Horatio Ross was so often successful and so highly regarded that the British NRA honored him with some long-range shoots at the Bisley Ranges. The firm of Holland & Holland also named a model of rook rifle for him.
In the mid-1840s Ross took up early photography. He was a Daguerrotypist from 1847 and a Calotypist from 1849. In 1856 he was a founding member of the Photographic Society of Scotland, of which he later became the President. He took numerous photographs, in particular, of Highland scenery, stalking and fishing. His work is now much sought after by collectors.
However, Ross’s greatest feats were as a marksman. He took part in many matches with the leading shots of the day, such as General Anson, and was much assisted by his extraordinary fitness and stamina, which lasted into his old age. On his 82nd birthday, he killed 82 grouse with 82 shots. On one occasion he challenged the Honourable George Vernon to a shooting match at 100 yards, which he won, despite using a pistol while Vernon used a rifle. On the same day, he won £100 from Henry Baring by hitting a hat with his pistol at one hundred yards’ distance.
Horatio Ross sold Rossie Estate in 1856 as it was rumoured there were no game left and purchased Netherley Estate near Stonehaven for £33,000, where he had a 1400 yard rifle range installed on his estate.
Col William Macdonald Farquharson Colquhoun Macdonald, of St. Martin’s Abbey at Burrelton near Perth, bought the Rossie Estate in 1856 for £64,000. He was Lieutenant-Colonel of the Perthshire Highland Rifle Volunteers, and Archer of Her Majesty’s Scottish Body Guard.
He and his sons regularly carried all before them at the most prestigious annual rifle competitions at Wimbledon, London. Perhaps his most remarkable feat with the rifle was performed in 1867. In that year he won the cup of the Cambridge Long Range Rifle Club against nearly all the best shots of the three kingdoms. The competition extended up to eleven hundred yards, a test of nerve, judgment, and, most of all, of eyesight, which it would seem wholly impossible for any man in his sixty-sixth year to stand successfully.
Between 1858 and 1862, Horatio Ross undertook a number of hunting trips to the Bengal region of India where he went on bear, wild boar and tiger hunting expeditions. His ‘Journal of Sporting Adventures in India from 1858 to 1862,” featuring his own charming, but naive, sketches and watercolours of colonial life in India was sold by auctioneers Christie’s back in September 2000 for £4,700.00.
After living a quiet laird’s life with his family for about 18 years he came again to public notice in 1862 as the captain of the Scottish rifle-shooting team which competed against England for the Elcho shield; he continued to shoot with great skill well into his old age.
It is noteworthy that Ross was in his 80th year, and the iron sights on the rifle were not user friendly to such chronologically enhanced eyes.
However, Ross had exceptionally good vision as demonstrated in his ability as a pistol shot. He killed 20 swallows one morning before breakfast, most of them on the wing. He was, in fact, known to be the best pistol shot in all of Europe.
So great was he with the use of a pistol that a Spaniard came over specially to study his methods, querying whether Ross was as proficient with the weapon as avowed. A match was arranged between the two men with dueling pistols- the distance being twenty yards, and the target a bull’s-eye, the size of a sixpence (.764 inch diameter). The Spaniard hurried off home after seeing Ross hit the bull’s-eye with twenty consecutive shots.
Ross was chosen to act as Second in 16 duels and was always successful in dissuading the combatants from carrying them out.
He ended his days in the Scottish Highlands to which he had devoted so much of his life. He died at Rossie Lodge in Inverness on 6 December 1886 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Horatio Seftenberg John Ross.
In 1899, The English Illustrated Magazine described him as “undoubtedly the deer stalker of the expiring century.”
It is believed that there were two streets named after Captain Horatio Ross in Melton Mowbray, but both were demolished in the 1980’s. As yet I’ve not manged to identify their names or locations so if anyone can provide further information, please do let me know.
George Edward Flint was born on the 17th August 1888 in Kirby Bellars, Leicestershire. He was the son of James Flint a railway labourer, born 1861 in Frisby on the Wreake, Leicestershire, and his wife Emma Flint (nee Mann, married in the 4th quarter of 1885 in the Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire district), born 1863 in Long Itchington, Warwickshire.
George was educated in the British School, Melton Mowbray and upon leaving school he went to work in the office of Messrs. Sharman and Ladbury for about 12 months, then he started work for the Midland Railway Co as a booking clerk, first stationed at Ashwell then at Luffenham.
George volunteered to enlist in the Royal Navy to serve a 5 + 7 year engagement on the 12th September 1907. His medical examination recorded that he was 5 foot 6¼ inches in height and had a chest measurement of 35 inches, his hair colour was black and he had brown eyes, his complexion was described as fair, it was noted that he had moles on the left side of his chest and on his right forearm, he gave his trade or calling as clerk.
His record of service began when he joined HMS Victory, the accounting and holding Barracks for the Fleet sailing out of Portsmouth on 12th September 1907 as an Ordinary Seaman and he was allocated the service number SS/2110.
He was re-assigned from Victory to HMS Prince George on 30th October 1907 where he stayed until 31st March 1908. Prince George was recommissioned on 5th March 1907 to serve as the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth Division of the new Home Fleet which had been organised in January 1907. On 5th December 1907 she collided with the armoured cruiser Shannon at Portsmouth, sustaining significant damage to her deck plating and boat davits.
Following his assignment on the Prince George, he was re-assigned to HMS Duke of Edinburgh, joining the ships company on the 1st April 1908. The Duke of Edinburgh was assigned to the 5th Cruiser Squadron from 1906 to 1908 and was then transferred to the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Channel Fleet. When the Royal Navy’s cruiser squadrons were reorganized in 1909, the Duke of Edinburgh re-joined the 5th Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet. Whilst serving with the Duke of Edinburgh, George was promoted to Able Bodied Seaman, staying part of her company until 14th March 1910.
On the 15th March 1910, George was assigned back to HMS Victory at Portsmouth until 31st May 1910.
From the 1st June, he was assigned to HMS Jupiter. Jupiter was the flagship of the Home Fleet Portsmouth Division from February to June 1909 and later second flagship of the 3rd Division. During this service, she underwent refits at Portsmouth in 1909–1910, during which she received fire control equipment for her main battery.
On 26th June 1910, he was allocated a new service number J/8281 and continued his service abord HMS Jupiter until 28th October 1910.
George was assigned to HMS Britannia on 29th October 1910. Britannia was a King Edward VII-class pre-dreadnought battleship, named after the Latin name of Great Britain under Roman rule. The ship was built by Portsmouth Dockyard between 1904 and 1906. Armed with a battery of four 12-inch (305 mm) and four 9.2 in (234 mm) guns,
George’s next assignment commenced on 15th October 1912 to HMS Excellent at the Whale Island Gunnery School where he went to gain experience in gunnery.
Following his successful completion of his gunnery courses, he joined HMS Dreadnought on 1st July 1913. Dreadnought was the battleship that became synonymous with revolutionising naval power due to the advance in naval technology that her name came to be associated with and an entire generation of battleships, the “dreadnoughts” were a class of ships named after her.
Dreadnought became flagship of the 4th Battle Squadron in December 1912 after her transfer from the 1st Battle Squadron, as the 1st Division had been renamed earlier in the year. Between September and December 1913 Dreadnought was training in the Mediterranean Sea.
George was re-assigned from Dreadnought back to HMS Victory I at Portsmouth where he stayed until 28th May 1914.
Following this stint at the shore base Victory, George was next assigned to HMS Psyche on the 29th May 1914. HMS Psyche carried a complement of 224 and was armed with eight QF 4-inch (25 pounder) guns, eight 3 pounder guns, three machine guns, and two 18-inch (450-mm) torpedo tubes. Psyche was part of the Pelorus class ships that displaced 2,135 tons and had a top speed of 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph). Most served in minor roles on overseas or colonial patrol work, not with the main battlefleets.
Whilst aboard HMS Psyche, he was despatched to the naval station at New Zealand where he is involved in training the naval men of that colony. When the outbreak of hostilities, the Psyche, along with other British Warships and units of the Japanese Navy were involved in the endeavour to round up the ‘notorious’ German raider, the Emden.
SMS Emden spent most of her career overseas in the German East Asia Squadron, based in Tsingtao, China. At the outbreak of World War I, Emden captured a Russian steamer and converted her into the commerce raider Cormoran. Emden rejoined the East Asia Squadron, then was detached for independent raiding in the Indian Ocean. The cruiser spent nearly two months operating in the region, and captured nearly two dozen ships. On 28 October 1914, Emden launched a surprise attack on Penang; in the resulting Battle of Penang, she sank the Russian cruiser Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet. On 15 August 1914 HMS Psyche, HMS Pyranus and HMNZS Philomel were escorts for the troopships Monowai and Moeraki which had been requisitioned from the Union Steam Ship Company as transports for the Samoan Expeditionary Force which departed Wellington for Apia with 1385 troops. The naval party brought about the surrender of the German occupied Samoan islands.
Two picket boats from Australia swept the channel as a precaution before the transports entered. The Union flag was hoisted at 12.45pm and the landing of the troops commenced at 1.00pm. At 8.00 am on Sunday 30th August the British Flag was hoisted over the Courthouse and a proclamation read by Colonel R. Logan ADC, NZSC, the Officer Commanding the Troops, in the presence of Naval and Military Officers and men, Native Chiefs and the residents of Apia. A salute of 21 guns was fired by Psyche.
The “Auckland Weekly News” published a pictorial about the surrender with Seaman Gunner Flint featuring in several of the images. Flint was one of the boat’s crew that took officers of the Psyche to the landing stage at Apia on August 29th under a white flag, with a despatch to the German governor demanding surrender of the islands. George was also shown in another image where the Union Jack was being hoisted up the flagpole of the Apia Court House on the morning of the 30th.
Upon the Psyche along with the Pearl Class cruiser HMNZS Philomel being handed over to the New Zealand Naval Department, the crews were taken by a P&O ship to the Suez where Seaman George Flint joined the company of HMS Swiftsure on the 9th January 1915.
Swiftsure and her crew took part in the defence of the Suez Canal when the Turks had tried to cross it. Following this abortive attempt, George was one of her crew that assisted in the burial of over three hundred Turks.
From the Suez, the Swiftsure then moved onto the Gallipoli Peninsua taking part in the landings of British, Australian and New Zealand troops at the now infamous historic ANZAC cove.
The Swiftsure was firing her guns until they were red hot covering the landing troops and when a lot of wounded soldiers trying to land on the beaches were seen in difficulties in the water, George and some of his shipmates left their gun battery to assist them.
George and his shipmates were working up to their necks in the water trying to save the wounded soldiers, resulting in him contracting a sever chill which subsequently turned into pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis).
In spite of falling sick he continued to perform his duties and witnessed the sinking of the Irresistible, Ocean, Triumph, and the French ship Bouvet, his own ship the Swiftsure being only narrowly missed by a torpedo which was fired at it from a submarine.
He was initially transferred to the hospital at Malta, then transferred again to Haslar Hospital in Portsmouth where he stayed until 9th July 1915 when he was invalided from the service.
After being discharged from the Service, he was transferred to the new Leicestershire Sanatorium at Mowsley near Market Harborough. Around the 26th January 1916, he was transferred to his parents home in Melton where he stayed until he passed away peacefully.
After being discharged from the Service, he was transferred to the new Leicestershire Sanatorium at Mowsley near Market Harborough which had recently been built during 1914-15 to hold fifty patients suffering from tuberculosis.
Around the 26th January 1916, he was transferred to his parents home in Melton where he stayed until he passed away peacefully.
His funeral took place on Saturday 12th February 1916 where the inhabitants of Melton Mowbray turned out in thousands last Saturday afternoon to pay homage to a local sailor who had given up his life in the service of his country.
Owing to the absence of Bluejackets in the Melton neighbourhood, Mr. A. E. Mackley, one of the local civilian recruiting sergeants made the necessary arrangements for full military honours to be accorded.
By the kindness of Colonel R. S. Goward, the services of the band of the 3/5th Leicestershire Regiment were secured and the bearers, a firing party, and a bugler were supplied from the Wigston Barracks – the Headquarters of the Leicestershire Regiment.
The Melton St. John Voluntary Aid Detachment under the command of Captain S. C. Hobson, also attended, as did likewise a contingent of 16 men from the Melton Farriery School under Sergt. T. Bugg, of the Duke of Wellington’s.
A few men were drawn from each Corps to represent the R.F.A., R.G.A., A.S.C., R.E., and Infantry. Lieut. Paget attended as representing the Leicestershire Yeomanry, and Sergt. Biddle, from the local recruiting office, was in charge of the bearers, the firing party being under Sergt. Grant.
The coffin was placed on an open hearse, and was covered with the Union Jack, on top of which deceased’s white naval cap was deposited. The body was taken to the Congregational Church, where the first portion of the service was read, the Rev. E. Williams officiating.
There was a crowded congregation amongst whom were noticed Mr. Josiah Gill, J.P., and Dr. Hugh Atkinson. The service was choral, the hymn “Nearer my God to Thee,” being feelingly sung, and Mr. Riley Brown, who officiated at the organ played suitable voluntaries. As the cortege wended its way from the Church to the Thorpe-road cemetery the band played the Dead March in “Saul.”
The streets were lined with spectators, and an enormous crowd assembled at the cemetery. After the coffin had been lowered into the grave the firing party fired three volley’s, and the bugler sounded the Last Post.
George is buried in Section J, Grave Reference 2120 at Thorpe Road Cemetery, Melton Mowbray. Even though this is a CWGC grave, the family chose to erect their own memorial in place of the CWGC headstone. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Record can be seenhere.
In 1913, Georges brother David James Flint married Sarah A Gunby and on the 19th May 1917, they had a son and named him George Edward Flint. When the 1939 register was taken, George was living at 22 Snow Hill with his parents and his brother Arthur. George was listed as a bricklayer, the same as his father David, and Arthur as an Apprentice Joiner.
In 1940, George married Florence A Woolley and in 1942 they had a daughter Margaret. At some point after 1939, George enlisted in the army serving as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers. George died on 21 January 1944 and is also buried in Thorpe Road Cemetery, Melton Mowbray. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Record can be seen here.