07 – Flt Lt Richard William Wicks – Tragedy at Saxelbye

Flt Lt Richard Wicks

Richard William Wicks was born on the 3rd May 1905 at the family home, No 4 Springfield Road, Preston, Nr Brighton, Sussex. His mother was Ellen Louisa (Nee Offen) and his father, whom he was named after was Richard William Wicks who was a photographer.

At the time of the 1911 census, the family were residing at 2 Manwood Road, Grafton Park, Lewisham, London SE. Richard senior was listed as a photographer and also in the household was Ellen, the mother, Nellie (aged 9), Nora (aged 8), Richard junior now aged 5 and Minnie, aged 2.

Just a few months before Richards sixteenth birthday, he joined the Royal Navy on the 10th February 1921 as a Boy II Rating serving on HMS Ganges, the Royal Naval Training Establishment at Shotley, near Ipswich, where he stayed until 11th April 1922.

Following completion of shore training, Richard was transferred to HMS Queen Elizabeth, the dreadnought battleship that was the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet as a telegraphist.

HMS Queen Elizabeth during WW2

After completing just over 2 years on the Queen Elizabeth, Richard was assigned to HMS Victory I at Portsmouth, another shore training establishment from 17th May 1924 to 30th June 1924. He was then re-assigned to HMS Champion from 1st July to 14th August 1924, after which he returned to Victory I until 1st July 1925.

On the 2nd July 1925, he was transferred to HMS Effingham, a Hawkins class heavy cruiser. He remained part of her company until 11th November 1926.

HMS Effingham

After his stint on Effingham, he returned to Victory I until the end of the month, due to being Commissioned wef 1st Dec 1926. As a trainee Officer, Richard undertook a variety of courses at HMS Victory, RN College Greenwich, HMS Vivid and HMS Defiance.

Following completion of his training in Dec 1927, he was assigned to HMS Emperor of India an Iron Duke Class battleships serving with the Atlantic Fleet. He remained part of this ships company until 29th September 1928.

On 12th July 1928, he had expressed an interest in transferring tot he Fleet Air Arm and his Captain responded as follwos: “C.O. states he is unable to grant W/K Best. at present owing to his small experience of upper deckwork. Has done very well and shows excellent promise. Capt W F Sells.

Whilst serving on the Emperor, Richard married Hilda Bowditch on the 28th July 1928 at the Lewisham Registrar Office.

His service records show that he passed the RAF medical test on the 3rd Sept 1928 which was followed by him being attached to the RAF, under AFO 307/28, with effect 30th September 1928 and transferred to RAF Base Gosport on 13th May 1929.

Richard remained at Gosport until 5th Jan 1930, when he was assigned to HMS Furious which was a modified Courageous Class battlecruiser converted into an aircraft carrier. Her usual compliment of aircraft consisted of one flight of Fairey Flycatcher fighters, two of Blackburn Blackburn or Avro Bison spotters, one Fairey IIID spotter reconnaissance and two flights of Blackburn Dart torpedo bombers, each usually of six aircraft.

On the 16th Jan 1930, he passed his final deck landing and became qualified as a pilot.

On the 15th April 1930, he was assigned to HMS Glorious which was recommissioned on 24 February 1930 for service with the Mediterranean Fleet, but was attached to the Home Fleet from March to June 1930.

HMS Glorious

According to his service records, he was injured in air accident on on 15th Jan 1931, his injury was recorded as not serious but there is no mention of what the aircraft was.

The Flight Magazine of 4th Jan 1934 contained the list of RAF half yearly promotions and it confirmed that Richard William Wicks (Lieut RN) was promoted from Flying Officer to Flight Lieutenant.  This is also confirmed in the Royal Navy List issued 1st Oct 1935 which shows his promotion wef 1st Jan 1934.

RN List October 1935

On the 2nd March 1937, The London Gazette contained the following entry “Lieut. Richard William WICKS, R.N., is re-attached to the Royal Air Force as a Flight Lieutenant with effect from 19th Feb.1937 and with seniority of 1st Jan. 1934.” 

On the afternoon of Monday 15th March 1937 at 4:30PM, Melton Mowbray & District was enveloped in darkness.  A severe blizzard and low, heavy clouds formed a complete blackout.  Ten minutes later it had ceased snowing and the sky was bright again.

During those ten minutes, two RAF planes, passing over Melton, lost their bearings in the storm.  They were flying low.  A few seconds later, one of the machines was a complete wreck.  The engine and cockpit were buried some eight feet in a field near Saxelbye, and the head of the pilot, who must have been killed instantly, could be seen protruding through the mass of debris.  He was bare headed and around his neck was a red, white and blue scarf.  The deceased pilot was Richard Wicks.

The aircraft were Blackburn Shark II’s from the RAF 11 Fighter Group at Gosport.  The only piece of fabric that had survived the impact bore the identification number K43453.  A wheel of the undercarriage was lying some thirty yards away while it was obvious from the stench of petrol that the tank had burst when the machine crashed.

Blackburn Shark Torpedo Bpomber

Mr T Morris, of Manor Farm, Saxelbye, heard the machines and saw that one was in difficulties.  Later he saw it nose dive into the field.  He dashed to the scene and realising that it was hopeless to make any attempt to extricate the pilot, he telephoned Supt. Fotheridge, informing him of the tragedy.  PC Neal was immediately sent out from Asfordby to investigate, being joined some fifteen minutes later by Supt Fotheridge and Sgt Jones.

The plane was a complete wreck, the engine, cockpit and pilot being embedded in a confused mass well below the surface of the ground.  Although spades were brought, digging operations were too heavy a task to be worth even attempting.  Until the arrival of suitable mechanism, all that could be done was to gaze on in despair.

The difficulties of recovering the pilot’s body were added to by darkness, thick fog, and the saturated condition of the land.  Later in the evening, a breakdown gang from the Midland Garage was brought to the scene and under considerable difficulties driven to within a few yards of the wreckage.  In the glare of its headlights and the feeble light shed by hurricane lamps brought from neighbouring farms, a twelve foot tripod, fitted with block and pulley was erected and with the assistance of some hundred villagers, attempts were begun to haul the wreckage out of the ground, to enable the pilots body to be released.  For over four hours, this herculean task was carried out.  Parts of the machine were raised with the pulley and lengthy tow ropes, manned by villagers who had flooded to the scene, pulled the wreckage clear.

When the heaviest of the debris had been removed, Sgt Jones was able to recover from the clothing of the pilot documents from which it was hoped means of identification would be obtainable.  The pilots body was eventually released on the instruction of the Melton Coroner to the Melton War Memorial Hospital mortuary with identification “Lieut. R.W.Wicks RAF Base Southampton”.

At the subsequent inquest, Herbert Walter Brook, the NCO in charge of C Flt Training Squadron RAF Station detached at Southampton said that on the morning of 15th March 1937 he instructed the mechanics to do an inspection on the aircraft K4353, Lieut Wicks machine, and it was certified as airworthy.  This was carried out and the engine ran satisfactorily on the ground test.  “I myself certified the machine as airworthy after the inspection” he said.  In reply to the coroner, he said that when the machine started at 10:10am he was satisfied that it was perfectly airworthy.  It was not a brand new machine, but had been reconditioned in October.  Corroborative evidence was given by William Shellick, an aircraftsman and one of the mechanics who examined the machine.  Evidence was given that the machine was replenished with petrol and oil at Brough in company with 5 other machines.  They left the aerodrome, one after another at about 4 o/clock.

Anthony John Trumble, Pilot Officer, Royal Air Force Base, stationed at Southampton, detached from Gosport, said that he left Brough in a similar machine about five minutes after Lieut. Wick’s machine had gone and joined it in formation over the Humber.         “About 35 minutes after leaving Brough we ran into a thick snowstorm”. “I remember passing Newark but as we were flying in formation I was not doing navigation.”  Trumble told the coroner that the snowstorm was intensely thick and that there were three of them in the first case, but they became separated. They were only flying together for a minute after entering the snowstorm- probably less.  He went on to say “I did not know there had been an accident until the next morning”.

The pilots widow, Mrs Hilda B Wicks, of Timsbury Somerset, gave evidence of identifying the body.  She told the inquest “Her husband was 31 years of age.  He was a Flt Lt in the Fleet Air Arm of the RN. I last saw him on 11th February when he was home on leave”.

Richard Wicks was given a funeral with full military honours and was buried at Thorpe Road Cemetery, Melton Mowbray.  The coffin was draped in a Union Jack and was carried to the cemetery on a Royal Air Force goods trailer.  The standard bearer party consisted of six RAF Sergeants from Grantham, and the service was conducted by Canon P. Robson, Vicar of Melton Mowbray.

The funeral was attended by the widow Mrs Hilda B Wicks, Miss M Wicks (sister), and Mr & Mrs H P Morris.  The Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Coastal Command, was represented by Lieut.V.C. Grenfell, R.N.  Others present were Lieut Commander Shattock, R.N. (Gosport), Group Capt Iron and Flight Lieut. Langston of Grantham RAF Depot.

06 – Major Ronald Anthony Markham

In this blog, we move away from the Royal Air Force and take a look at the Major Ronald Anthony Markham, one of Meltons best known soldiers who served with the Coldstream Guards. He was killed in France shortly after the outbreak of WW1 and his body was one of the few repatriated back to the UK for burial.

Ronald Anthony was born in on the 15th October 1870 in West Cowes, Isle of Wight, Hampshire and baptised on the 24th November 1870 in St. Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.  Born and officially registered at birth with the Christian name of Ronald, at his baptism he was given the second Christian name of Anthony, and latterly he was also referred to as Roderick Anthony Markham.

Major Tony Markham

He was the son of Colonel William Thomas Markham who had served in the Crimean War in the Rifle Brigade and Coldstream Guards and his wife Anne Emily Sophia Grant (also known as Daisy Grant or Mrs Colonel William Thomas Markham). Anne’s father was the famous Scottish painter Sir Francis Grant. Her portrait, painted by her father, hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland, and has been noted for its depiction of Victorian womanhood.  Another of his famous paintings, The Melton Hunt, which he completed in 1839 was purchased by the Duke of Wellington.

His siblings were, Mabel Wilhelmine Frances, born 5th April 1858, William Hope, born 13th December 1859 , Cecile Mary Isabella, born 6th February 1861, twins Claron Henry and Cyril Faulke, born 21st July 1866 , Hermione Violet Cyril, born 9th September 1867 and Rupert Evelyn, born 13th December 1868, Ethel Winifred Victoria, born 21st November 1871, Nigel Ivan, born 10th November 1872, Averil Constance Antoinette Janetta, born 1873, Gwendoline Beatrice Sanchia May, born 1876, and Sibyl Annesley Giana, born 1877

In April 1881, Ronald was a school boarder, and was residing at Palmer Flatt Boarding School, Aysgarth, Yorkshire and latterly he was educated at Charterhouse (Daviesites 1884-1887).

He initially joined the 3rd Battalion Prince of Wales’s Volunteers, South Lancashire Regiment and according to the Army and Navy Gazette published 20th April 1889 he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on April 13th.

He joined the Coldstream Guards from the Militia in December 1890, becoming a Lieutenant in August 1896, and Captain in December 1899.

He served with the first advance against the Khalifa in the Nile Expedition of 1899, for which he received the Egyptian Medal and Clasp.  An important and largely unsung figure in the early exploration of the Bahr-el-Ghazal region, he is a rare and officially confirmed officer recipient of the Bahr-el-Ghazal clasp.

From August 1899, to August 1903, he was employed with the Egyptian Army, serving as the Aide De Camp to the Sirdar Sir Reginald Wingate from April 1900 to December 1902, for which he received the Insignia of the 4th Class of the Imperial Order of the Medjidieh.

He travelled up the White Nile from Khartoum on 3 July 1901 with Pasha Von Slatin in the gunboat ‘Sheikh’ to deliver important communications from the Sirdar to local commandants in the region, and to seek news from the Austin-Bright Survey Expedition in July 1901. In the course of this journey he travelled inland, meeting and negotiating with local Sheikhs and tribal leaders.

Nile Gunboat “Sheikh”

After the murder of Bimbashi Scott Barbour on 10 January 1902 and the subsequent punitive expedition, there was much tension and potential danger in the region. A few months later, Bimbashi Markham was sent on an expedition up the White Nile from Khartoum (with Pasha Von Slatin) in the gunboat ‘Sheikh’ with several private communications from the Sirdar to the local commandants. Leaving on 3 July 1902, his expedition took several weeks.

binbashi, alternatively bimbashi, (from Turkish: Binbaşı, “chief of a thousand”, “chiliarch”) is a Major in the Turkish army, of which term originated in the Ottoman army. The title was also used for a Major in the Khedivial Egyptian army as Bimbashi (1805–1953).

As recorded in The Sudan Intelligence Report No.84 (1st to 31st July 1901): ‘Bimbashi Markham left Khartoum on the 3rd instant in the gunboat “Sheikh” for Sobat, Baro, and Pibor rivers to endeavour to open up communication with the Austin-Bright Survey Expedition, about which no news is as yet forthcoming. He carried letters from the Sirdar to the commandants of the Abyssinian posts at Gore and in the neighbourhood of Lake Rudolf, as well as one for Major Austin himself.

Markham was also with Miralai Sparkes Bey, Commandant of the Bahr-El-Ghazal Expedition, when they arrived at Khartoum from Wau on 28 September 1901. Markham had joined him from Meshra er Rek, as mentioned in Sudan Intelligence Report No.86 (1st to 30th September 1901).

On April 19th 1901, the London Gazette published the following notice “Whitehall, April 18, 1901, THE King has been pleased to give and grant unto each ot the undermentioned Officers His Majesty’s Royal licence and authority that he may accept and wear the Insignia of the Imperial Ottoman Order appearing against his name, the Decorations in question having been conferred by His Highness the Khedive of Egypt, authorised by His Imperial Majesty the Sultan of Turkey, in recognition of the services of these Officers while employed in His Highness’s Army. Medjidieh, Fourth Class, Captain Ronald Anthony Markham, Coldstream Guards.”

Major Markhams medals

His medals were sold by the Auctioneers Bonhams in November 2014 for £360 incl premium.

He was promoted to Major in 1907 and was serving with the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards.  At the time of the 1911 Census, Tony was stationed at Malplaquet Barracks, Marlborough Lines, Aldershot, Hampshire.

In August 1914, the 2nd Battalion were based at Windsor.  Eight days after the declaration of war, on August 12th 1914, Major Markham and the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards entrained at Windsor on two trains at 3:10am and 5:15am bound for Southampton.  On arrival at Southampton, the right half of the Battalion embarked on SS Olympia and the left half on SS Novia and sailed for Le Havre at 8pm and 7pm respectively.

The Battalion arrived at le Havre around noon on the 13th and disembarkation was completed by 2:30pm after which they marched in hot weather to rest camp, arriving at 4:30pm.

The 2nd Bn was with the BEF during the historic retreat from Mons.

On the 21st the Battalion was ordered to advance at 8.00am and to gain the Zonnebeke – Langemarck road, from which point it was to conform with converging attacks by the Irish Guards and the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, on the right and left flanks respectively.

The Battalion entrenched a strong position which they held throughout the 22nd and 23rd, under an exceedingly heavy fire (principally high explosive) from the enemy’s artillery. Considerable opposition was found and the whole of the battalion was absorbed into he firing line, but by 3pm, the line of the road had been gained.

The Battalion was ordered to fall back during the night to conform with the line held by the remainder of the Brigade.  This operation as successfully carried out under the cover of darkness and the Battalion entrenched a strong position which they held throughout he 22nd and 23rd under exceedingly heavy fire, principally high explosive from the enemy’s artillery.

Tony was Mentioned in Dispatches twice by Field Marshal Sir John French, 1st Earl of Ypres who commanded the British Army on the Western Front.

The casualties of the 2nd Battalion from the 1st Battle of Ypres were Major Markham (killed), 2nd Lieutenant R. L. C. Bewicke – Copley (wounded), 15 Other Ranks killed, 34 wounded, and 4 missing.

Major R. A. Markham (Second in Command) who fell mortally wounded and whose loss was much regretted; was struck by a spent bullet and died without recovering consciousness two days later in hospital at Boulogne.

On Friday October 30th 1914 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article under the heading. “MELTON’S ROLL OF HONOUR” – SIX LOCAL OFFICERS KILLED – MAJOR MARKHAM TO BE BURIED IN SYSONBY. A deep gloom has been cast over Melton Mowbray by the fact that four of its prominent foxhunting citizens, and other officers from Eaton and Kirby Bellars, have lost their lives whilst serving their country. A week ago we recorded with great pleasure and pride that Major R. A. Markham, of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, had been mentioned in Field Marshall Sir John French’s latest despatches for special gallantry in the field. It is now our painful duty to announce that he was fatally wounded at the beginning of the week.

On Monday evening a cable was received from Lady Sarah Wilson stating that he had died in her hospital at Boulogne without regaining consciousness, having been shot in the head.

Corporal Handley, who served in Major Markham’s Battalion of the Coldstream Guards up to the time he was wounded on the 15th September, speaks in the most glowing terms of many excellent qualities which the deceased possessed both as a soldier and a gentleman. To quote his words, “He was a gentleman to the officers and the rank and file. He was a soldier who was wonderfully liked by every man in the battalion, and the 2nd Coldstream Guards will mourn his loss for many years to come. Several times when we were without food he ran down the lines giving us a cheery word, and said he had tried his best to get some for us, but was sorry he had failed. He always did the best he possibly could for us, and never omitted to look after our comforts. In my opinion there was no better officer in the British Army, both for the way he looked after his men, and as a soldier.

Major Markham was our senior Major, and would have been Colonel after the war had he lived through it. He never knew what it was to be afraid, and whenever the Coldstream’s were called upon to do any desperate fighting he was always in the thick of it. When he got into the firing line he would take his place in the trench, borrow the rifle from the man who happened to be next to him, and do his share just the same as an ordinary Private. He has performed numerous personal acts of gallantry. On one occasion he was instrumental in saving the No.2 Company from total destruction. We were posted on the summit of a hill, with instructions to hold the position at all costs. Soon we came under an exceptionally heavy artillery fire which in a very short time would have wiped us all out. Major Markham suddenly dashed up to us in the face of the fiercest fighting, and led us back to a place of safety. We all retired in good order, and have only Major Markham to thank that any of us escaped alive. It was Major Markham who brought to the notice of the General a gallant deed performed by Corpl. Brown and Pte. Dobson who have been recommended for the V.C. He asked for volunteers to fetch in a wounded soldier, and these two went out in the face of a heavy fire.

Major Ronald Anthony ‘Tony’ Markham was wounded in action on 23rd October 1914 and died 2 days later on the 25th.  An early casualty of the Great War, during which the repatriation of the bodies of officers and soldiers was still possible, his body was repatriated back to the UK.

On Thursday 5th November 1914, the Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham news reported the following:

MELTON OFFICER’S FUNERAL. MAJOR MARKHAM INTERRED AT SYSONBY. The esteem and respect enjoyed by the late Major R. A. Markham and Coldstream Guards, who died earlier in the week at a hospital in Boulogne from the effects of wounds in the head sustained whilst fighting for his country’s honour, was demonstrated by the large number of persons who attended the funeral at Melton Mowbray on Saturday afternoon , the body having arrived just previously.

It was in a polished oak coffin, with brass furniture, covered with the Union Jack, and was conveyed straight to the Parish Church. The chief mourners were Mr. Archibald Smith (brother-in-law), Mr. Guy Markham, Mr. Frederick Markham, Mr. Richard Pearson, Mr. Davidson, Corporal Handley, and Coldstream Guards (who has returned home from hospital after being wounded in France), and Mr. H. Wood.

Those present included many of the deceased officer’s hunting comrades, amongst those noticed in the church being the Countess of Kesteven, the Countess of March, Sir G. S. Hanson, Captain Sir P. T .Fowke, Colonel Bouverie, Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Muir, Mr. A. V. Pryor, Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Strawbridge, the Hon. Gerald Walsh, Captain and Mrs. F. Forester, Mr. C. J. Phillips, Colonel C. E. Fate, M.P.. Mr. F. B. Mildmay, M.P., Mrs. Cecil Chaplin, Miss Chaplin, Miss C. T Muir, the Misses Brocklehurst, Mr. Bernard Wilson, Mr. J. Montagu, Mr. Hare, Major T. B. Atkinson, Mrs. R. Blakeney, Captain H. Allfrey, Captain H. T. Barclay. Captain R. B. Sheriffe, Lieutenant Stewart Muir, Lieutenant Reynolds, the Rev. F. W. Knox (representing the Duke of Rutland), the Rev. R. C. Dashwood, the Rev. P. F. Gorst, Mr. E W. J. Oakley, J.P., Dr. H. C. Roberta, Dr. M. Dixon. Dr. Furness, Mr. G. W. Brewitt, MT. J. Gill, J.P., Mr. E sleeves. Mr A. H. Marsh, Mr. S. Fletcher, Dr. G. T. Wiliam, Mr. S. H. Garner, Mr. J. Atteriburrow, Mr. W. F. Hill, CC., Mr. F. Wright, Mr. G. Dickinson, and many others.

The whole of the men who have enlisted in the Reserve A Squadron of the Leicestershire Regiment were present under Major Wardsworth Ritchie, 116 were also the Reserve C Company 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment under Corporal Harker. and a detachment of non-commissioned officers and men from the Melton Army Remount Depot. under Captain Saunders, formed a guard of honour in the churchyard.

The Rev. Caron Blakeney read the service, the Rev. Canon Markham taking the lesson. Suitable voluntaries were played on the organ by Mr. M. Sargent, Mus. Bac and the choir rendered the hymns, “My God, my Father, while I stray” and “Peace, perfect peace.” At the conclusion of the service the mournful procession wended its way to the hamlet church Cemetery at Sysonby, where the interment took place, the Rev. Canon Blakeney officiating at the graveside.’ A very large number of handsome wreaths were sent.

Headstone of Major Tony Markham

He was a member of the Guards’ Nulli Secundus, and the Turf Clubs; also of the M.C.C. and I Zingari. He was fond of cricket and shooting, and was a very keen and hard rider to hounds. He grew up in Melton Mowbray, from which place he had hunted all his life, and is buried in Sysonby Churchyard.

05 – Flt Lt Richard Arthur Branson

Sgt Richard Arthur Branson

Richard was the son of Frederick Hartridge Branson, and Muriel Virginia Branson, he was born in Leeds and was the youngest of 3 siblings.  The eldest sibling was Eileen Constance, born 18 Feb 1913, followed by Peter Orchard born 25 Jul 1916, then Richard on 8th May 1918.

At the time of the 1939 Register being taken, Richard was living at home at Kenilworth, Allwoodley Lane, Leeds with his parents and brother and sister.

His father Frederick was listed as the Managing Director & Chairman Wholesale Drug & Surgical Company Limited. His mother Muriel was listed as Unpaid Domestic Duties with Eileen listed as a Qualified Dispenser on Medicines and both Peter and Richard listed as Electrical Instrument makers.  The register also noted that Peter was an ARP and Richard was in the RAF but not yet called up.

On the 1st May 1940, the Eastbourne Gazette reported a motoring fine “Excessive Speed – For exceeding the speed limit with a motor car in Willingdon Road on 6 April Sergt-Pilot Robert H Pinkerton was fined £1 at the Police Court on Monday. His licence was endorsed. For exceeding the speed limit with a motor cycle in Seaside on April 6 Sergt-Pilot Richard A Branson was fined £1.”

In May 1941 Richard was serving as a Sergeant Pilot with No 261 Squadron based at RAF Hal Far in Malta.  Shortly before midday on the 6th, four HE111s of II./KG26 approached the island escorted by elements of both III./JG27 and 7./JG26 consisting of 30 – 40 Me109s.

Richard Branson and his colleagues from C Flight were scrambled to intercept them.  He was involved in an aerial combat with Luftwaffe Ace Oberleutnant Joachim Müncheberg of The Red Hearts 7 Staffel/Jagdgeschwader 26, known as 7./JG 26 or the Staffe.

Müncheberg claimed his 43rd victory by shooting down Hurricane II Z3059 piloted by Branson.  Branson’s aircraft was lost about 1KM SW of Hal Far, but he managed to escape from his Hurricane. Hid suffer minor burn injuries to his right leg but managed to bail out successfully and landed in the sea and was back on the Squadron later that day.

Following service with 261 Sqn, Richard also served with 185 Sqn and the Malta Night Fighter Unit (MNFU).

The picture shows Richard as a Warrant Officer and wearing the Malta Night Fighter Unit “Maltese Cross” silver badge. 

These badges were locally manufactured during the siege of Malta and only given to RAF personnel who flew in defence of the island.

Engraved on the obverse with MNFU  (one letter on each arm of the cross) and on the reverse with the owners initials RAB.

The 185 Sqn diary recorded the following event: “Sgt Branson, ex-185, now in the MNFU, did some very low flying along the Sliema front for the benefit of a Girlfriend. Unfortunately, the AOC was also an interested spectator and decided that Branson could do some more low flying – along the banks of the River Nile. Apart from the injustice of the punishment, it puts ideas into people’s heads – if you want to get off the island, low fly along the Sliema front!”

The MNFU was formed in July 41 and led by former Battle of Britain flight commander Flt Lt George Powell-Sheddon. The unit was based at Ta Qali and operated a special fleet of 8 Hurricanes painted all in black.

The London Gazette published on 25 January 1944 recorded his promotion to Plt Off  (on probation) for 754270 Richard Arthur Branson (162939) 4th July 1943.

His promotion to Flying Officer was recorded in the London Gazette published 19 May 1944 “R A Branson (162939) 4th Jan 44”.

This was followed by a further promotion to Flight Lieutenant on 4th July 1945 which was published in the London Gazette on 7th July 1945.

On 31st August 1945, Flt Lt Richard Branson and Fg Off Harry Batcheler were part of No 12 Ferry Unit RAF Melton Mowbray and were tasked with a ferry flight onboard Beaufighter RD725.

As they were taking off, the starboard engine cut out resulting in the aircraft going out of control and crashing 1 mile South West of Little Dalby, sadly with the loss of both crew members.

His death was reported in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 0m 07 September 1945.

“Leeds RAF Man Killed – Flight Lieutenant Richard Arthur Branson (27), son of Mr. and Mrs. F Hartridge Branson, Winsterica Ghyll Head, Windermere (late of Alwoodley, Leeds), has been killed in a flying accident in Melton Mowbray.  An old boy of Roundhay School, he was junior director of Reynolds and Branson Ltd, wholesale chemists, Briggate Leeds, and had served in the RAF for more than six years.”

Richard is buried in Sec. W. Grave 4174, Thorpe Road cemetery, Melton Mowbray.

CWGC Headstone of Flt Lt Richard Arthur Branson

“THERE IS AN OLD BELIEF THAT ON SOME SOLEMN SHORE BEYOND THE SPHERE OF GRIEF DEAR FRIENDS SHALL MEET ONCE MORE”

His crew mate in the Beaufighter was Fg Off Harry George Walter Batcheler, 190812, serving as a Navigator with 12 Ferry Unit at RAF Melton Mowbray

Harry was born in July 1910 and was the son of Harry Thomas Batcheler and Olive Edith Batcheler, of Earlsfield, London; husband of Marie Louise Batcheler, of Wolverhampton.  father Harry worked for the London County Council as an Electric Tram Car Conductor.

Harry married Marie Louise Walters in 1935 in Wolverhampton.  He later joined the RAF in the NCO ranks and made his way to Warrant Officer.  He was subsequently commissioned on 24th November 1944 when his promotion to Plt Off on probation (emergency) was ‘gazetted’ on 13th March 1945.

Harry is buried in Plot H/3. Grave 106 at the Oxford (Botley) Cemetery.

CWGC headstone of Fg Off H G W Batcheler at Botley Cemetery

“IN SACRED MEMORY OF HARRY BELOVED HUSBAND OF MARIE

FOLD HIM IN THINE ARMS O LORD, TILL WE MEET AGAIN”

04 – A Mech 3 William Ernest Plumb

William Ernest Plumb was born 20th March 1899 in Oakham and his parents were Alfred and Harriet.  At the time of the 1901 census, William, his elder brother Cecil and their parents were living at No 6 Roseberry Avenue Melton Mowbray.

He was baptised on 25th December 1904 at Thorpe Arnold Church. By the time of the 1911 census, the family had grown in size. William was now aged 12, his elder brother Cecil was a plumbers apprentice and they, along with their 2 younger siblings, John (4) and Edith (1) were now living at 11 Stafford Avenue Melton Mowbray with Alfred and Harriet.

After leaving school, William became a joiner (Carpenter Apprentice) working for Mr. Waite.  Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, William enlisted in the Army on the 17th April 1915, being appointed as a bugler with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

On the 22nd February 1918, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps with the rank of Air Mechanic 2nd Class and was  promoted again to Air Mechanic 3rd Class on the formation of the Royal Air Force on the 1st April with the merge of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.

According to the RAF Nominal Roll, Williams service number was 145257 and his trade on joining the RAF was Rigger (Aero.) and he was earninmg 2s 0d per day.

RAF Nominal Roll

On the 4th May 1918, he was assigned to No 8 Training Depot Station at Netheravon, where he stayed until 31st May when he was re-assigned to No 207 Squadron.

As part of the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, No. 7 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service became No 207 Squadron Royal Air Force.

To ‘celebrate’ this occasion, on the last night of March 1918 preparations were put in hand for a raid in the early hours of 1 April against Bruges Docks and Thourout railway junction, involving four Handley Pages from 207 Squadron, (HPs 1459, 3128, 3119 and 1462), and five from 214 Squadron. The raids were carried out between 0330 and 0430 hrs and a total of seven tons of bombs were dropped.

It was the last raid to be flown by 207 Squadron for the moment because on 22 April the unit was withdrawn first to Cappelle and then to Netheravon, England, later moving to Andover on 13 May, in order to re-equip with new Handley Page 0/400s and to train replacement air and ground crews.

Handley Page 0/400

At the time, it was the largest aircraft that had been built in the UK and one of the largest in the world. It was built in two major versions, the Handley Page O/100 (H.P.11) and Handley Page O/400 (H.P.12).  The O/400s could carry a new 1,650 lb. (750 kg) bomb which was aimed with the Drift Sight Mk1A bombsight. In service, they were deployed in force, with up to 40 aircraft participating in a raid. 

Following re-equipping, the Sqn commanded by Maj G L Thomson DSC, returned to France, arriving at Ligescourt, from where it recommenced operations under the control of the 54th Wing, IX Brigade RAF.

Following the Armistice on the 11th November, the Squadron moved forward to Carmin aerodrome near Lille on the 1st December 1918, and then to Merheim, Cologne, on the 1st January 1919 where it was placed at the disposal of the Army’s 2nd Brigade for duty with the Army of Occupation.

Shortly after his arrival in Germany, William contracted bronchial pneumonia and died on 20th January 1919 at the age of 19.  He is buried in the Cologne Southern Cemetery in grave I.C.3.

His death was announced in The Melton Times on the 14th February 1919 and in the Weekly Casualty List (dated 20th Feb 1919) issued by the War Office & Air Ministry.

Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry ) – Tuesday 25 February 1919

William is commemorated by name on the World War 1 Memorial inside St Mary’s Church.

St Mary’s Church WW1 Memorial

In addition to the memorial at St Mary’s Church, he is also commemorated on the towns main war memorial at Egerton Lodge memorial Gardens plus on a 3rd memorial at St Mary the Virgin Church Thorpe Arnold.

03 – 2nd Lt George Howard Boorne

George Howard Boorne was born on 28th November 1893 and was the eldest son of Charles & Mary Boorne of 667 Gilmore Street, Ottawa, Canada.

George was a plumber in civilian life and on the 27th May 1915, aged 22 years & 6 months, he enlisted with Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force following his younger brother Samuel who enlisted a few months earlier in January 1915.

According to his attestation papers, prior to enlistment, George had 3 years previous military experience as liaison at engineers camp. 

His father Charles H Boorne [born Norfolk 18th December 1873-Caretaker]enlisted July 31st 1916 at Camp Hughes – he had been active in the militia, 99 Manitoba Rangers.

His brother,Samuel Thomas Boorne [born Ottawa June 13th 1896] – Dental Mechanic enlisted June 7th 1915 at Ottawa.

George embarked from Montreal on the 17th August 1915 bound for England aboard the SS Hesperian bound for the Canadian Training Depot at Shorncliffe. Only a few weeks later, on the 4th September, when the Hesperian was returning from Liverpool to Quebec, she was struck by a torpedo fired from U-20 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger, who sank the Lusitania four months earlier.The Hesperian stayed afloat for two days before finally sinking on the 6th September whilst being towed back to Queenstown Ireland.

SS Hesperian

His service records state that he was taken on strength at the Canadian Training Depot Shorncliffe on the 1st September. On the 10th September, he was promoted to Acting/Colour Sergeant Major. On the 15th January 1916, George reverts back to his previous rank of Corporal at his own request due to proceeding overseas.

George Howard Boorne Service Record

On the 20th Jan, he was taken on strength of the Signals Pool and on 10th April he was transferred again from the Signal Pool to 2nd Canadian Division Signals Coy serving with the Canadian Engineers in France and Belgium.

On 12th September 1916, he returned back to Shorncliffe and taken on strength of the Training Depot pending being granted a Commission.

On the 27th September, his service records show that he was “Discharged in consequence of appointment to a Commission in the Royal Flying Corps.” The London Gazette issued on 30 October 1916 contained the names of military personnel that were being assigned for duty with the RFC, one of which was Corpl. G. H. Boorne, from, a Can. Divnl. Sig. Co. 28th Sept. 1916.

The London Gazette issued on 30 October 1916 contained the names of military personnel that were being assigned for duty with the RFC, one of which was Corpl. G. H. Boorne, from, a Can. Divnl. Sig. Co. 28th Sept. 1916.

On the 28th September 1916, George was appointed the rank of Temporary 2nd Lt and achieved full promotion to 2nd Lt on 1st March 1917 upon posting to No 37 Reserve Squadron Royal Flying Corps and based at Scampton.

George was the pilot of RAF RE8 A3439 and was accompanied by 2nd Lt George T Potter as Observer on their training flight on 28th March 1917.

Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 at RAF Scampton

The Flight Magazine dated 5th April 1917 contained the following article: “At a Leicestershire town on  March 29th an inquest was held on 2nd Lieut. G. H. Boorne, 24, of the R.F.C., who died the previous day as the result of an accident whilst flying over the Midlands on March 8th, and a verdict of “Accidental Death ” was returned. 2nd Lieut. Boorne was a native of Ottawa, Canada.”

The Melton Times newspaper published on Friday March 30th 1917 contained the following article:

“FLYING OFFICERS FATAL ACCIDENT Lieut. George Howard Boorne, of the Royal Flying Corps, who was severely injured as the result of an accident whilst flying over the Whissendine district on March 8th suddenly expired at Wicklow Lodge Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, and at an inquest held yesterday afternoon, before Mr. A H Marsh, coroner, a verdict of accidental death was returned.  Deceased was a native of Ottawa Canada, and was 24 years of age. He was unmarried.”

The following weeks issue of the Melton Times contained more information about the inquest.

“Observer, 2nd Lt George Potter said that “on the 8th March he was flying from …. to …. as an observer with deceased as pilot. When in the vicinity of Whissendine station they had to make an emergency landing, owing to the engine not giving its maximum number of revolutions. Some little time previously, the engine had begun to give trouble, and they gradually lost height. They saw a field which was considered a suitable landing place, and came down all right until within about 60 or 70 feet of the ground, when the machine suddenly crashed down. He could not remember anything else until he got to the hospital.”

2nd Lt G H Boorne Casualty Card

George is buried in the St John the Baptist Churchyard at Broughton, near Preston in Lancashire. According to the Grave Registration Report Form on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/373632/boorne,-george-howard/ no headstone was required as a private memorial in the form of a granite cross was installed and maintained by family friends.

Granite Cross memorial stone for 2nd Lt George Howard Boorne at St John the Baptist Churchyard, Broughton, Preston, Lancashire.

As mentioned in the about section of this website, I am from Lancashire originally before i left to join the RAF and one of my relatives, my Aunty Alice Fare is buried in the same graveyard as George and she and my Uncle James (Jimmy) Fare were married in this church.

01 – Welcome to HistoryFare!

Firstly, let me introduce myself. My name is Brian Fare and due to my interest in history, mainly military history, especially Royal Air Force and aviation, but also local history, I am what some people would call a history geek!

I grew up in in Freckleton, a small village on the Fylde coast in Lancashire.

I lived close to the runway of BAE Systems Warton airfield, where my father worked as an aircraft engineer and this is where my interest in aviation stems from.

Whilst at High School, I joined my local Air Cadets, 967 (Kirkham and South Fylde) Sqn which pushed my interest in aviation and the RAF forward. After leaving school, I joined the Royal Air Force as a spritely 17 1/2 year Aircraft Engineer.

Myself and my family settled in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Since settling in the historic market town, known as the “Rural Capital of Food”, i gradually became aware of its fascinating history and characters from over the centuries. As much as i love a pork pie, there’s more to Melton that Pork Pies and Silton Cheese!

Following 27 years service with the RAF I took retirement, which turned into a second career with the RAF Association, the charity that supports the RAF Family.

In my spare time, I became an active volunteer for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the War Memorials Trust as I honestly believe that those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their Country should not be forgotten.

Welcome to my first blog which is all about me, but I hope you will enjoy reading my history blogs about the places and individuals I have researched as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing about them.

History is meant to be shared.

Brian

02 – The Hanbury Brothers

Welcome to my first history blog on my new website HistoryFare!

In this blog I will be telling the story of two brothers, Reggie and Theo Hanbury of Melton Mowbray who both lost their lives whilst serving in the RAF during World War 2.

Reginald Lewis Hanbury and Henry Theobald Hanbury were two sons of Charles and Ethel May Hanbury (née Cranham), of 84 Burton Road, Melton Mowbray.  The other brothers and sisters were: Charles Henry (B. 1908), Kathleen May (b.1909), Elizabeth (b.1926).

Reginald, or Reggie as he was known, was born 7 Aug 1913 at Asfordby Lodge and lived at 84 Burton Road with his wife Norma Ruth Hanbury. Norma’s maiden name was Hart and she was born in 1920 in Oxbow, Saskatchewan, Canada.  She arrived in England on 28 Nov 1943 aboard the “S.S. Manchester Shipper” and arrived at the port of Manchester after setting sale from Halifax in Nova Scotia. 

Reggie joined the RAF as a ‘Halton Brat’ Number 563974 and served his apprenticeship in the 20th Entry.  In 1940 he was promoted to Flt Sgt pilot and was commissioned on 1st April 1940 to Pilot Officer (43690), followed by further promotions to F/O in 1941, Flt Lt in 1942 and Sqn Ldr in 1943.

Reggie was a Sqn Ldr Pilot serving with No 254 Sqn at RAF North Coates, the same Sqn that was stationed at Melton almost 20 years later as a Strategic Missile unit.  On 7th June 1944, the day after D-Day, he took off at 23:08 Hrs in Beaufighter X QM-S with F/O W Ogston as his Observer for an anti-shipping patrol with their duty to ‘PERCULATE F1’.  At 04:15Hrs, the Sqn took ‘Overdue Action as the aircraft had failed to return.

Just a few minutes earlier, Wg Cdr R E Burns DFC took off in QM-T with F/O R M Vimpany as his Observer, again on an anti-shipping patrol, but this time their duty was to ‘PERCULATE E’.  At 23:56Hrs, the aircraft was reported to be on patrol at 51˚54̍N, 01˚38̍E. At 01:17Hrs, they picked up a distress message from an aircraft and came of patrol at 01:53Hrs and reported ‘Nothing Seen’.

As the bodies of Reggie and his crew mate were never found, they are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Runnymede RAF Memorial

Henry Theobald Hanbury also joined the RAF, apparently before the war serving in the ranks reaching the rank of Sgt 527016.  In 1943, he was commissioned to the rank of Plt Off (52166) and was further promoted through the ranks and reached Flt Lt on 20th May 1945.  Henry was also aircrew, but served as a Flight Engineer with 511 Sqn.

On 20th November 1946, he was aboard 511 Sqn Avro York MW205 when it crashed 50 miles southeast of Cairo on a return journey from England to India with the loss of all 6 crew members aboard.

The telegram sent by a Squadron Leader of the same Squadron as Flt Lt Hanbury states that he was buried with honours on Wednesday at Shallufa, Egypt. Flt Lt. Hanbury joined the RAF just before the war and flew with Bomber command as a flight engineer. A telegram informed Mr and Mrs H.T. Hanbury of 84 Burton Rd, Melton of the tragic death of their son.

Jack Cook who served in the RAF was a Flt Sgt Wireless Operator on Lancasters and served with 100 & 104 Squadrons.  Jack remembers the incident as follows:

“On the 20th November 1946, I was stationed with 104 Squadron at RAF Shallufa (Egypt).  On that day Henry Theobald Hanbury, the younger of the 2 Hanbury brothers was flying in a York aircraft, with five other crew members.  The aircraft crashed south of Cairo and there were no survivors.  On the following day, we searched for this crashed aircraft along with other aircraft from our Squadron.  According to my flight log book on that day, we took off at 0620 Hours in a Lancaster VII aircraft No NX740 to help with the search.  After an unsuccessful sortie taking 9 Hours 45 Minutes, our aircraft returned to base.  The York was found, though I cannot remember the date.

Volunteers were asked to act as Pall Bearers and I along with two other members of my crew readily obliged.  The funeral took place with Full Military Honours and the York crew was buried together in one large grave.”

Thanks go to Jack and his crew mates for giving Theo a fitting & deserved burial.

Suez War Memorial Cemetery

Theo, as he was known, is buried in grave 5A4 in the Suez War memorial Cemetery.  There are now 513 Commonwealth casualties of the First World War and 377 from the Second World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery. A few, known to have been buried here or elsewhere but whose graves could not be located, are commemorated by special memorial. The cemetery also contains war graves of other nationalities and non-war graves.