During the spring of 1943, the airfield atMelton Mowbraywas still in the process of being built, but the sight of Royal Air Force aircraft over the skies of the market town would not have been an unfamiliar sight due to aircraft overflying the new airfield and the location of other RAF airfields in the locality.
The RAF was going about its usual business training new crews from training bases just across the border in Nottinghamshire.
RAF Wigsley was situated to the East of the County, 12 miles North East of Newark. It was the home of No. 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire, No. 5 Group, Bomber Command whose role was to train new crews on operating the mighty Lancaster Bomber.
At another base, again just North of Newark, No 12 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit was busy training new pilots on the Airspeed Oxford at RAF Ossington.
During the early evening of the 8th April 1943, Lancaster L7545 of No 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit was airborne from RAF Wigsley training a new Lancaster crew for Bomber Command.
Lancaster L7545 was a war veteran having previously been on No 44 Squadron as KM-K and taken part in a raid a year earlier on 28th/29th April 1942 on the German Battleship Tirpitz which was moored off Fættenfjord in Norway.
The crew onboard L7545 on the evening of 8th April 1943 consisted of 6 students and 2 instructors:
WALKER George Frederick Maurice, 566666, Sergeant, Flight Engineer, RAF.
WALLACE John, 1030121, Sergeant, Pilot, RAF(VR)
WOLTON James Herbert DFM, 143996 Pilot Officer (ex-1101527 Sergeant), Flight Engineer, RAF(VR).
Lancaster L7545 had been airborne for about 30 minutes after taking off from RAF Wigsley when it was flying over Burton Lazars, a little village just on the outskirts of Melton Mowbray when tragedy struck.
Also flying in the same area was an Airspeed Oxford Mk. I, Serial No. AB665, of No. 14 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, No 21 Group at RAF Ossington crewed by two Canadians.
LEMMERICK John Albert, R/123711, Sergeant, Pilot, RCAF.
MOORS Arthur Anthony, R/119562, Sergeant, Pilot, RCAF.
Both aircraft were flying at a height of about 2,000 feet when they collided at 18:15Hrs over Burton Lodge, Burton Lazars, approximately 2 miles South East of Melton Mowbray.
Tragically, all 8 of the Lancaster crew plus the 2 Canadians in the Oxford were killed in the collision. The Oxford came down near Burton Lodge farm and the Lancaster just a few fields away on the old polo ground at Brentingby.
The bodies of the deceased crewmen were taken to were taken to the Station Mortuary at Cottesmore. The Two Canadians plus two of the Lancaster crew were buried in the St Nicholas Churchyard extension at Cottesmore, whilst the other 8 crews bodies were claimed by their families and repatriated to their home towns.
Maurice enlisted into the RAF on 5th September 1933 at the age of 16 and began his RAF career on No 1 Wing at RAF Halton taring to be a fitter. According to his service records, his posting wish list following completion of training was 1 – Biggin Hill, 2- Farnborough and 3 – Northolt.
On the 11th March 1936, Maurice was posted from No 1 Wing RAF Halton to 19(F) Sqn at RAF Duxford and was promoted to AC 1st Class on the 21st August 1936. He stayed on 19(F) Sqn until 5th May when he was transferred to 66(F) Sqn at Duxford. He remained on 66(F) Sqn until 2nd March 1938 when he was posted to the RAF Deport Middle East at RAF Aboukir, near Alexandria in Egypt.
On the 17th March 1939, Maurice was promoted to LAC and then to Corporal on the 1st November 1939. He remained out in the Middle East moving between units: No 103 Maintenance Unit, No 31 (Middle East) Air Stores Park, No 51 Repair & Salvage Unit, No 254 Wing, Maintenance Section Port Said and High Speed Launch Marine Craft 121.
Throughout his career as an aircraft fitter, Maurice qualified to work on aircraft such as the Gauntlett II, kestrel, Hart, Blenheim and Hurricanes plus the Mercury VI and Merlin engines.
On the 1st September 1941, Maurice got promoted to T/Sgt and was posted to 171 Sqn. As a Sgt, Maurice became a Flight Engineer and underwent training at various units including No 1656 Conversion Unit, No 4 School of Technical Training, No 1654 Conversion Unit, No 106 Sqn and back to No 1654 Conversion Unit in March 1943.
P/O James Herbert Wolton was the instructor Flt Engineer aboard Lancaster L7545 when it crashed.
PO James ‘Jim’ Herbert Wolton was the fourth son of Mrs Wolton and the late Mr T Wolton, of Kenya, Eric Avenue, Chelmsford. A native of Clacton, where the family was well known, he was 27 and unmarried.
Of his 6 brothers, John Wolton was a company officer in the NFS, Fred was a patrolling officer in the same service, Leslie and Kenneth were both in the RAF and Tom was serving with the RASC.
Jim, as he was known, had previously completed an operation tour with No 50 Sqn as a Sgt Flt Eng and was awarded a DFM only two months prior to the crash in recognition of his actions in helping to bring a crippled aircraft back.
During my RAF career, I had the pleasure of being posted to RAF Cottesmore twice, once in the 90’s on the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment, and 10 years later as part of the Joint Force Harrier. On both occasions, I worked in offices adjoined to ‘C’ Hangar, and as usual with RAF folklore, I heard the story relating to the bravery of a former Station Commander on several occasions.
Located north of Cottesmore village, with Market Overton to the North West and Thistleton to the North East, the airfield was planned during the 1930’s expansion period and was originally known as the ‘Thistleton site’.
On the 1st May 1936, the Air Ministry announced their intentions to start building an airfield on the site and work started in July clearing the hedgerows and levelling the ground ready for the grass runways. The other main task was the construction of four large ‘C’ Type hangars, typical of pre-war construction being 150ft wide and approx 300ft in length, designed to take several bombers.
In March 1938, the Air Ministry declared that RAF Cottesmore would operate under No 2 (Bomber) group and the site opened as an airfield on the 11th March 1938.
On the 8th April 1940, No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU) was formed from No 185 Squadron at Cottesmore and its role was to train aircrew to an acceptable standard before they joined an operational Squadron. The OTU was initially equipped with Hampdens, Herefords and Avro Ansons.
The crest of No 14 OTU shows its links to Cottesmore and its location being in some of the best hunting country. It features the head of a hunting hound, hunting horn and the hunting whip. The motto “Keep With The Pack” was selected because the Units role is to train airmen whose duties are to hunt and destroy the enemy and concentration has long been a principle in Bomber Command.
Mid-September 42 saw the OTU re-equip with the Wellington bomber and the early ones to arrive were all tired MkIc’s which had been withdrawn from front line operational service and transferred to the OTU to take up the training role.
31st March 1943 was a quiet day for the Royal Air Force Bomber Command with no raids planned. The Force had been active on the night of the 29th/30th with two ‘Ops’ planned with the first to Berlin involving 329 aircraft comprising of 162 Lancasters, 103 Halifaxes and 64 Stirlings. The second Op was to Bochum comprising of a main force of 149 Wellingtons supported by 8 Oboe Mosquitos.
A much smaller third raid was also carried out on the 30th by 10 Mosquitos who bombed the Philips works at Eindhoven.
On the 31st, it was just a normal, albeit a bit misty, day for No 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore with crews undertaking routine training sorties.
One of those training that day was Australian Flight Sergeant R W Humphrey of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) who was the pilot of a Wellington MkIc serial number AD628 ‘M’ of No 14 OTU. His crew that day also comprised another 3 Australians, Pilot Officer M A Crombie, Sergeant W T Cuthbertson (Air Bomber) and Sergeant T McDaniel along with RAF Airman Sgt E A Robinson (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) of Runwell in Essex.
The crew had been tasked with a practice bombing sortie and all had gone well until an incident on landing back at Cottesmore. At 17:30Hrs, Flt Sgt Humphrey had brought his aircraft safely back to base at Cottesmore when he landed his Wellington AD628.
Unfortunately, he landed it too far down one of the short runways and was heading straight for the control tower. Luckily, he managed to swing the aircraft away and miss the tower, but in doing so, he crashed into another Wellington serial number X9944 that was parked in front of ‘C’ Hangar.
Both aircraft were set alight as a result of the crash and Humphrey’s aircraft AD628 careered into the corner of ‘C’ Hangar setting alight the offices that ran along the front of the hangar and also putting at risk another four Wellingtons that were inside the hangar undergoing maintenance.
Cottesmore’s Station Commander, Group Captain Strang Graham MC was quickly on the scene and disregarding the danger from exploding ammunition, petrol tanks and oxygen bottles, and although he was aware that one of the aircraft carried a 250lb. bomb, he led the rescue party in extricating three members of the crew from Humphreys blazing aircraft.
Group Captain Graham then led the firefighting party in an endeavour to save the burning hangar. He was attacking the fire, which had spread to the offices of the hangar, when the 250lb. bomb on the aircraft, less than eight feet away exploded.
The CO’s face was badly cut by splintered glass and flying debris, and bleeding profusely he was persuaded to go to the station sick quarters. Once at the sick quarters, he ignored his own injuries, making light of them and inspired others who had been injured by the explosion.
After receiving first aid treatment he returned to the scene of the accident and directed the firefighting operations until the fire had been subdued.
The accident was handled with professionalism and bravery by many airmen and local firefighters who managed to save the hangar and the four aircraft within it. The two Wellingtons AD628 and X9944 were destroyed in the incident, and tragically, two of Humphrey’s crew were killed.
Sgt William Tait Cuthbertson, 415310, Royal Australian Air Force was born 20th May 1921 in Kalgoorlie and was the son of Douglas and Mary Lorna Cuthbertson of Leonora Western Australia. He enlisted into the RAAF on 14th September 1941 aged 20 is buried in Cottesmore (St Nicholas) Churchyard Extension with a CWGC headstone.
Sgt Eric Arthur Robinson, 1330303, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was the son of Harry Algernon Robinson and his wife Doris Emily. He was laid to rest on the 7th April 1943 at Runwell (St Mary) Churchyard, Essex and his grave is marked with a CWGC headstone.
The three Australian crewmen that survived the crash with injuries, survived the war:
Plt Off Mervyn Andrew Crombie, discharged from the RAAF: 14 Mar 1946 Flt Sgt Robert Wallace Humphrey (Pilot), discharged from the RAAF: 24 Sept 1945 Sgt Terence McDaniel, discharged from the RAAF: 9 Jan 1945
Group Captain Strang Graham MC was later awarded the George Medal for his gallantry and inspiring leadership under difficult circumstances.
Graham was a veteran of World War One, initially serving a Private with the 5th Cameron Highlanders, then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps where he was promoted to the rank of Corporal. On 27th Sept 1916, he was discharged from the MGC on Temporary Commission to 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch).
It was while serving with the Black Watch that he was Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during a night attack. When the advance was held up by a strong point, he halted his men under cover, and himself led a party round to outflank it. Although wounded in the knee, he remained to consolidate the ground won.” His award was published in the London Gazette on the 7th March 1918.
Shortly after this, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps serving at RAF Cattewater/Mount Batten. He transferred to the RAF on its formation on 1st April 1918 and was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer on 24th October 1919.
On the 1st Jan 1920, he was on the staff of No 2 (Northern) Aircraft repair Deport where he stayed until September when he joined No 2 Flying Training School (FTS), being awarded his pilots wings in Feb 1921.
His postings in the UK saw him undertake the roles of Flight Commander on No’s 7 & 27 Sqn’s as well as a tour at No 5 FTS and overseas tours in India and Iraq.
He was promoted to Group Captain on 1st June 1940 and became the Commanding Officer of RAF Cottesmore/No 14 OTU on 8th Jane 1943, the sixth Station Commander the base had had since it opened in 1938.
Behind every gravestone there is a story to be told
Christ Church in Wesham Lancashire is the Church where my parents married back in 1956 and also where there is a memorial to my Uncle, Frank Coulburn who was killed at Dunkirk in 1940 serving as a Sapper with the No 9 Field Company Royal Engineers.
As you walk down the path at the side of the Church and enter the cemetery through the gap in the wall, you will see a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone on your left hand side commemorating Reverend P T Jefferson a Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Chaplain of HMS Nightjar.
Percy Taylor Jefferson was the son of Mary Elizabeth Taylor and Matthew Jefferson, a Clerk in the Steelwork company. He was born 17th November 1892 in Middlesborough and was baptised 30 September 1893 in Linthorpe Yorkshire. He was the eldest of 6 children, his siblings being: Hilda (1895); Lilian (1896); May (1900); Arthur (1904) and Gladys (1906).
In 1901, the family were living at 9 Leamen Terrace, Linthorpe Road, St Barnabas Middlesborough where Percy attended the Victoria Road Juniors (Boys) School, from 3rd Oct 1899 to 28th Sept 1900. He later attended the Middlesborough High School for boys, admitted 9th Jan 1906, left 22nd July 1910.
By 1911, the family had moved to 15 Orchard Road, Linthorpe.
Prior to the outbreak of the War, Percy was a second term theological student at St. Augustine College, Canterbury in Kent.
Not long after the outbreak of World War One, at some point between 27th April and 5th July 1915 he enlisted into the Army as a Private (Number 450) with the Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force) serving with the 1/1st South Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance in Canterbury.
He set sail from Liverpool in September 1915 aboard the HMT Olympic which after completing a few Atlantic runs, she had been requisitioned by the British Government for use as a troop transport vessel. Her designation was changed from R.M.S (Royal Mail Steamer) to H.M.T (Hired Military Transport, often falsely interpreted as ‘His Majesty’s Transport’) at this time.
She was given interesting changes to help fulfil this role, including a 12 pounder naval cannon mounted on a platform on the forecastle deck, a 4.7 inch naval cannon on a platform on the poop deck, extra lifeboats on the aft well deck and a canvas screen/platform atop the bridge.
Olympic was bound for Gallipoli where Percy would be assigned to stretcher bearer duties at a Field Ambulance advanced dressing station on the Cape Helles front as part of the 42nd Division. The South Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance landed at ‘W’ Beach, Cape Helles on the 7th October 1915.
In October 1915, he was evacuated from Gallipoli due to ill health to St David’s Hospital in Malta where he stayed until December 1915. St David’s Hospital was a tented hospital for 1,000 beds constructed near St Andrew’s barracks, close to St Paul’s Hutments and All Saints Convalescent Camp. The rocky ground for the large hospital marquees was levelled by the engineers and roads, paths, gardens, kitchens, ablutions, baths and stores were constructed. The camp commandant was Major Charles Henry Carr RAMC. On 25th July 1915, St David’s Hospital was ready to receive 500 patients. By August, it had become fully equipped for 1,000 beds. Initially, St David’s admitted mild surgical and convalescents, but like all other hospitals it was soon busy with the ever increasing stream of dysentery and enteric cases.
Following his recovery, Percy’s next assignment saw him serve with the Field Ambulance on garrison duties on the Suez Canal as part of the 42nd Divisions 3rd Dismounted Brigade. From December 1916 he was assigned to the Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport base at Alexandria whilst awaiting his commission.
On 27th Aug 1917, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant (492063) in The Army Service Corps. He served with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and the Egyptian Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli, Palestine & Egypt. He was awarded the 1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal and was Mentioned in Despatches whilst serving as a Lt. in Palestine.
On 4th Oct 1917, Percy was admitted to No 19 General Hospital at Alexandria with enterica. He was admitted for 53 days, being discharged on the 25th Nov 1917 to the No 1 Convalescent Home.
After the cessation of hostilities, he returned to education studying at St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, where he obtained a BA in 1921, and an MA in 1926.
In July 1920, Percy married Constance Eve Ridsdale at Glaisdale, Whitby, North Yorkshire.
He was a Candidate Scholar at the Lincoln Theological College and was made a Deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln for Colonies. He was ordained Priest in 1922 by the Bishop of Kimberley, he was Curate of St Paul, De Aur until 1924; Rector of Prieska and Upington until 1928. Beaconsfield 1928–32; Christ Church, Fordsburg 1932–35 (South Africa), then Vicar of St Andrew, Bugthorpe in the Archdiocese of York 1935.
Percy, his wife Eve, and their 3 children Charles, Jessie and Hilda are listed on a shipping passenger list, departing Beira in Mozambique on the Gloucester Castle ship operated by the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd, arriving at Southampton on the 3rd May 1931. On the 16th Sept 1931, the family left London, returning to Beira in Mozambique, aboard the ship Durham Castle, again operated by the Union Castle shipping company.
On 31st May 1935, the Leeds Mercury reported that the Ven. Archdeacon A C England tonight instituted the Rev. Percy Taylor Jefferson to the vicarage of St Andrews at Bugthorpe. He stayed at Bugthorpe until 1941 when he left to undertake welfare work at a large shadow factory in the South of England.
British shadow factories were the outcome of the Shadow Scheme, a plan devised in 1935 and developed by the British Government in the buildup to World War II to try to meet the urgent need for more aircraft using technology transfer from the motor industry to implement additional manufacturing capacity. The term ‘shadow’ was not intended to mean secrecy, but rather the protected environment they would receive by being staffed by all levels of skilled motor industry people alongside (in the shadow of) their own similar motor industry operations.
On the 3rd September 1943, Percy enlisted into the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Temporary Chaplain. He was assigned to HMS Nightjar at Royal Naval Air Station Inskip. He lived with his wife Eve at Mowbreck Hall, Kirkham, Lancashire.
HMS Nightjar (Inskip) was the home of No.1 Operational Training Unit and as a result many Fleet Air Arm (FAA) squadrons were based there for a few weeks, working up, prior to embarkation.
Their son Charles Edmund Hugh Jefferson was also serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Lieutenant on HMS Stalker (D91) a CVE escort carrier. Between the 15th & 27th August 1944, Stalker, equipped with No 809 Sqn FAA operating Seafires joined Task Group 88 as part the covering force for the allied invasion of Southern France as part of Operation ‘DRAGOON’.
Back home in Lancashire, Percy was admitted to the RAF Hospital at nearby RAF Weeton where he died on 31st October 1945. He is buried in grave 416, Christ Church Churchyard, Wesham Lancashire and his grave is marked by a CWGC Portland Headstone.
Eve must have been devastated to lose both her husband and son in just over a year whilst serving their country in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. The same goes for the daughters Jessie and Hilda who lost a brother and father.
The personal inscription that was chosen by the family to be engraved on Percy’s headstone is “ALSO IN MEMORY OF HIS SON HUGH. LT. (A) R.N.V.R. KILLED IN ACTION 26. 8. 44 BURIED AT ST. REMY. FRANCE”
Both Percy and his son Charles are commemorated on the WW2 memorial tablet in Christ Church Wesham along with my Uncle Frank Coulburn and 20 other villagers who loost their lives during WW2.
For those who are not familiar with the role of RAF Melton Mowbray during World War Two, it was a base within Transport Command and was used for ferrying aircraft to overseas bases. More information can be seen in my previous blog 15 – RAF Melton Mowbray.
One airman based at Melton with No 1 Ferry Crew Pool was Flt Sgt Kenneth Hansen of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).
Kenneth was born on the 21st September 1921 to Hans Helge Wagner Hansen, and Isabel Hansen (nee Swetman, later Sardelich). He was educated at Northcote Intermediate School, and became a farmer on the property of Mr. D. Christie near Te Awamutu.
Prior to joining the RNZAF, he served for four and a half years in the New Zealand Territorial Army with the 15th North Auckland Regiment. He joined the RNZAF on the 6th of May 1942 at Ohakea as an Aircraft hand (General Duties).
On the 6th of June 1942 Kenneth started training at the Initial Training Wing, RNZAF Station Levin, and on the 15th of that month he officially remustered to become a Wireless Operator-Air Gunner under training.
Kenneth embarked for Canada on the 20th of July 1942, and was attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force on the 18th of August 1942. The following day he arrived at No. 1 M Depot to await a course, and on the 30th of that month he was posted to No. 3 Wireless School at Winnipeg, Manitoba. After passing his wireless training, Kenneth was posted to No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School, at Lethbridge, Alberta, on the 17th of April 1943.
On the 31st of May 1943 Kenneth passed out of training, being awarded his Air Gunner’s badge, and being promoted to Sergeant. He was also remustered to officially be part of the trade as a Wireless Operator-Air Gunner.
Kenneth was posted next on the 12th of June 1943 to No. 36 Operational Training Unit, RAF, which was flying Lockheed Hudsons from Greenwood, Nova Scotia. After three months he proceeded on the 11th of September to No. 1 Y Depot, Halifax to await a troopship to England. He was now attached to the Royal Air Force and set sail for the UK on the 13th of September 1943.
Following his arrival in the UK, seven days after leaving Halifax, Kenneth was posted to No. 12 Personnel Dispatch & Reception Centre at Brighton, where he awaited the next course. This came on the 2nd of November 1943 when he reported to No. 104 Operational Training Unit to gain experience on Vickers Wellingtons.
On the 21st of December 1943 Kenneth was posted to No. 44 Group, Transport Command and on the 11th of January 1944 he became a member of No. 1 Ferry Crew Pool (FCP) based at RAF Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.
No 1 FCP had just arrived at Melton in January 44 from RAF Lyneham. The FCP was a group of ferry crews which worked with Ferry Training Units to provide specialist ferry crews whenever they were needed. No 1 FCP had 160 crew members available and were trained to fly several aircraft types including the Wellington, Beaufighter, Hudson, Boston, Blenheim, Halifax, Spitfire, Mosquito and Beaufort.
Whilst assigned to No 1 FCP, Kenneth would be used by No. 1 Overseas Aircraft Despatch Unit, part of Transport Command, to act as Wireless Operator aboard aircraft being ferried from Britain to overseas stations.
Ferry crews normally did 3 or 4 trips a month. The return trip could be a source of delays for the crews as they had to hitch rides back to the UK and had to wait for an aircraft coming back with the necessary space to accommodate them.
On the 6th of February 1944 Kenneth was part of a crew that ferried a Vickers Wellington bomber to to Staging Post 70 at Rabat Sale in Morocco, returning to Britain aboard a Consolidated Liberator on the 11th of February.
A few weeks later, on the 6th March 1944, Kenneth was part of the crew aboard another Wellington X, serial number LP199, piloted by Flying Officer George Ballard, RAAF. They took off from RAF Portreath, Cornwall, at 02.25hrs and headed south, well out to sea away from enemy fighter cover. The other crew members aboard LP199 for the ferry trip were: Flying Officer Peter Bradley, Flying Officer Ronald Gee and Sergeant Francis Marchant.
As they were making their final approach to Gibraltar (Staging Post 73), and were only two miles out, when the aircraft stalled just 40 feet off the water, and crashed into the sea. It is believed that the airspeed was inadvertently allowed to drop too low while the pilot concentrated on his approach to the aerodrome in poor weather.
Kenneth and his crew mates died on the 6th of March 1944, in the sea off Gibraltar, and are commemorated on The Runnymede Memorial.
Fg Off George Jamess (Dood) Ballard 425417 Royal Australian Air Force was the son of James William Ashby Ballard, and of Elizabeth Beatrice Ballard of Tooting, Queensland Australia. George Ballard is commemortated on Panel 257 of the Runnymede Memorial.
Fg Off Ronald Gee was the youngest son of George and Georgina Gee of Wheeldon Avenue Derby. Ronald joined the RAF(VR) in January 1942 and completed his training in Canada where he received his commission. Prior to joining up, he worked for Rolls Royce Ltd at Derby. His brother George, was killed in January 1942 whilst serving in the RAF as a pilot. They were both Old Bemrosians. Ronald is commemorated on Panel 206 of the Runneymede Memorial.
The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Vernon Hill. The Memorial was unveiled by HM The Queen Elizabeth II on 17th October 1953.
It has engraved glass and painted ceilings designed by John Hutton and the words from the 139th Psalm, sometimes referred to as the Airman’s Psalm engraved on the gallery window was written by Paul H Scott.
If I climb up into
Heaven, thou art there;
If I go to hell,
Thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the
Morning and remain in the
Uttermost parts of the
Sea, even there also
Shall thy hand lead
Me; and thy right
Hand shall hold me
It soon became the best known of the Commission’s memorials in England. Maufe shunned the grandiose of the Commission’s tradition as he was determined to use the drama of the site both internally and by exploiting its broad views from Coopers Hill on on the banks of the River Thames sweeping down towards Heathrow and Windsor.
The site is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and commemorates over 20,000 men and women of the air forces by name, who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves
They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.
Leonard Ashby Court was born in Leicestershire in 1919, his father was also called Leonard Ashby Court and his mother was Kate (May) Eagle.
According to the 1911 Census, his father Leonard Ashby Court was living at home at 25 Lonsdale Street Leicester and was listed as a 15 year old employed in hosiery manufacturing. The other occupants of the household were, a 3rd generation relative also called Leonard Arthur Court aged 40, who was a cigar maker originally from Warwick, Eliza Court his wife aged 42 and Frederick Court aged 6.
In the 1st Quarter of 1919, Leonard Ashby Court married Kate May Eagle in Leicester and on the 13th September, the 3rd generation Leonard Ashby Court was born.
Sadly in 1922, just a couple of years later, Leonard (2nd Generation) died, leaving his wife Kate May as a widow at the age of 25. However, a couple of years later, she re-married, Bernard Toms with whom she went on to have more children with.
On the 1st September 1939, the same day that World War 2 started when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland and Britain declared war against Germany, the National registration Bill was read out in the House of Commons. Two days later, the National Registration Act was passed and the 29th September 1939 was declared as the National Registration Day.
According to the 1939 register, Leonard Ashby Court was a costing clerk working within the machine tools industry. He was living with his parents, Kate and Bernard in a property on Main Street in Barkby, Leicestershire and their sons, Carl, Terence and Brian.
At some point after this, Leonard joined the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) as a pilot and after gaining his wings, he joined No 7 (Coastal) Operation Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Limavady.
In 1941 at Barrow Upon Soar, Leonard was married to Joyce Enid Whiles and the couple had a son born in September 41.
Royal Air Force Limavady near Derry in Northern Ireland was the first of over 20 new airfields constructed in Northern Ireland during the war and was handed over to 15 Group.
The base was used by Coastal Command in the fight against German U-Boats in the Atlantic Ocean and was home to several RAF Units during WW2 operating large numbers of Whitleys, Hudsons and Wellingtons of 502, 224 and 221 Squadrons, respectively.
Operations from Limavady accumulated about 25,600 flying hours on convoy patrols during its first year of service which was a record achievement among airfields of No 15 Group during the period.
In April 1942, it was transferred from 15 Group to 17 Group for training purposes and the operational squadrons withdrew being replaced by No 7(C) OTU equipped with Wellingtons and Ansons until January 1944.
After No No 7(C) OTU had departed, Limavady once again became an operational base with Nos 172, 407 and 612 Squadron operating the Wellington and the Fleet Air Arm 850 Squadron operating Avengers within 15 Group.
After the war, the base was handed over to the Royal Naval Air Service who operated out of it until 1958.
No. 7 OTU was originally formed on 15 June 1940 at RAF Hawarden in Flintshire, Wales and operated a variety of aircraft including Supermarine Spitfires and Fairey Battles. After a few months, the Unit was disbanded on 1st Nov 1940 when it became No 57 OTU.
On the 1st April 1942, it was reformed at Limavady operating Vickers Wellingtons and Avro Ansens. The OTU role was to train and build together crews for Coastal Command’s operational Squadrons, similar to the OTU’s in Bomber Command.
Each member of the crew would have undertaken their basic service training prior to this before going on to learn their particular trades at separate training facilities. At this stage in 1943, it is possible that some of the crew members may have done some off their initial training in Canada or another of the Commonwealth countries.
On 28th February 1943, a Mark VIII Wellington bomber, serial number HX737 operated by No 7(C) OTU took off from RAF Limavady on a training flight with 6 crew on board with Sergeant Leonard Court as the Captain for this particular sortie. The crew who were all Sergeants, consisted of 2 pilots, 1 Navigator and 3 Wireless Operator/Air Gunners.
Pilot – Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court (Captain)
Pilot – Sergeant John D’Arcy Wall
Navigator – Sergeant John Steen Campbell
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant Geoffrey James Scott Farthing
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant James Gilmore
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant Ronald William Gutteridge
The aircraft they were flying that day, HX737 was built by Vickers at their factory in Weybridge, Surrey. It was delivered to the RAF and taken on strength by No 32 Maintenance Unit on the 2nd of September 1942, thence to 33 Maintenance Unit and was delivered to 7 (C) OTU only on the 9th of February 1943, less than 20 days before the crash.
Many of the residents of Falcarragh, a small Gaeltacht town in County. Donegal were on their way to mass on the morning of Sunday the 28th Feb when they heard a plane circling overhead. At around 0915hrs, Vickers Wellington HX737 crashed into turf banks at Meenderry near to Falcarragh. This area was in the “Donegal Corridor”, an area of airspace over neutral Ireland in which Allied planes could operate on the Atlantic coast.
The impact destroyed Vickers Wellington HX737 killing all 6 crew members. Wreckage lay across surrounding fields while the aircraft’s heavy Pegasus engines submerged in the boggy ground.
A rescue and recovery operation by 17th Infantry Battalion found 4 bodies on the day of the crash. The following day the bodies of the remaining 2 crew members were recovered. The army also collected 4 Browning machine guns, 2 Vickers K machine guns, and around 200 rounds of damaged ammunition. A military truck removed around 2 tons of scrap metal, leaving the rest buried at the crash site.
The Operation Record Book for No 7(C) OTU dated 28th February 1943 shows the following entry: “Wellington a/c H.X. 737 (Capt Sgt Court) crashed in Eire and caught fire. The crew of 6, Sgts Wall, Court, Campbell, Gutteridge, Farthing and Gilmore were killed.”
The Leicester Chronicle reported on the 13th March 1943 that “Mrs Court of Barkby, has received news that her husband, Sergeant Pilot Leonard Court, Coastal Command, RAF; has been killed on active service. The Sergeant pilot was the eldest son of Mr & Mrs Toms, of the Stores, Barkby. He was aged 22.
Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court was buried in Grave 48, Section W of the Barkby Cemetery. He would have had a standard Portland Stone grave marker (Commission headstone) provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as according to his CWGC recordsthe family chose the following personal inscription “LIFE’S RACE WELL RUN LIFE’S WORK WELL DONE LIFE’S VICTORY WON NOW COMETH REST”
This inscription has a strange history. It comes from the first verse of a poem written in 1879 by Edward Hazen Parker for a friend’s funeral. He based it on the words from The Epistle of St Paul to the Hebrews 4:9, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God”. Translated into Latin by another friend, W.H. Crosby, both the English and Latin versions were published in the New York Observer on 13 May 1880.
Following a clamour in the newspapers, the author of these lines was eventually traced back to Edward Hazen Parker.
It received no further publicity until over a year later when much to Parker’s surprise a slightly amended first verse appeared on the plaque placed on the assassinated US President James Garfield’s coffin.
Life’s race well run, Life’s work well done, Life’s crown well won, Now comes rest.
The difference was explained by the fact that someone had come across the Latin version first. Not realising it had originally been written in English they had freely translated it, improving the scan, so they thought, as they went. This is the version that was picked up, circulated and became extremely popular all over the world. It’s popularity boosted in 1882 by its publicised usage on the headstone of one of Queen Alexandra’s faithful servants.
It would appear that at some point in time, the Commission headstone was removed and replaced by a personal memorial which commemorates both Leonard and his mother Kate.
Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court is commemorated on the Barkby War memorial located inside St Mary’s Church.
The memorial consists of a wall mounted, portrait orientated white marble tablet with a laurel wreath surmounted by a crown encircling a cross, all in relief. Within the wreath are the names of WW1 fallen, in black lettering. Inscriptions to either side of cross & below wreath, also in black lettering.
Immediately below WW1 tablet is a landscape orientated, WW2 tablet with scalloped top corners containing the names of the WW2 casualties & inscription in black lettering.
The first fatal accident involving a Saro Lerwick flying boat occurred on 20th Feb 1940 when the pilot of L7253 ‘WQ-G’ of 209 Squadron attempted to land off Lismore Island near Oban in poor visibility.
The pilot was Flight Sergeant George Arthur Corby (known as Arthur), Mentioned in Dispatches and 2 Bars, was the Son of George William and Mary Jane Corby, of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire and husband of Nellie Corby.
George was born in Ketton, near Stamford on 23rd April 1912 and was the middle child of 3 sons, John Charles being the elder and Philip Anthony the younger.
According to the Chelmsford Chronicle, George was educated at Palmer’s School from 1925-1927.
He joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice on 23rd August 1927, joining the 16th Entry, No 4 Apprentice Wing at RAF Halton. He is listed on the Old Haltonians 16th Entry Roll of Honour.
When George turned 18 on the 23rd April 1930, he signed on for a 12 year engagement.
At some point in his career, Arthur transferred to aircrew and became a Sergeant Pilot.
No 209 Squadron was originally equipped with Stranraers, which arrived in December 1938. On the outbreak of World War Two, No.209 moved to Invergordon to fly patrols over the North Sea between Scotland and Norway. In October 1939 it moved to Oban for patrols over the Atlantic and in December began to re-equip with Lerwicks.
The crew onboard L7253 ‘WQ-G’ at the time of the incident was: Flight Sergeant (Pilot) George Arthur Corby, Pilot Officer William Edwin Ogle-Skan, AC2 Alan Taylor, AC1 Richard J. Webber, AC2 Lawrence H. Trumay, and LAC George Peterson.
The aircraft took off from Oban at 11.30 Hrs and was forced to return at 12.30 Hrs due to bad weather. On reaching Oban the pilot decided to land well out in the Firth of Lorne due to poor visibility. Apparently owing to an error in judgment he stalled the aircraft onto the water causing it to bounce several times some 5 miles west of Oban off the lighthouse at the southern point of Lismore Island. In doing this the starboard wing tip float was knocked off and the aircraft heeled over causing water to enter through the windows. All the crew managed to get out into the water before the aircraft sank. The aircraft was salvaged and used as a training airframe and sinks later in a gale at Wig Bay Loch Ryan.
Arthur Corby drowned in the incident and his body was recovered. The bodies of three of the airmen: AC1 Richard Webber, AC2 Lawrence Trumay, and LAC George Peterson were never recovered and P/O William Edwin Ogle-Skan, AC2 Alan Taylor survived.
The CWGC Casualty database shows that Arthur was interred in Block B, Row 4 Grave 54 at Langdon Hills(St. Mary and All Saints) Old Churchyard Essex.
The Lerwick seaplane was not a success. They had a poor service record and a high accident rate; of the 21 aircraft built, 10 were lost to accidents and one for an unknown reason. After flying patrols from Wales and Scotland they were declared obsolete and replaced by Catalinas in April 1941.
The last of a total of 21 Lerwicks was delivered in May 1941 but the type was withdrawn from front-line service in the same month. Most of the remaining Lerwicks were transferred to Number 4 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit at Invergordon; three were sent to 240 Squadron for service trials at the highly-secret Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Helensburgh.
In mid-1942, the Lerwicks were briefly returned to service, for the purpose of operational training with 422 Squadron and 423 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, based at Lough Erne. By the end of 1942 the type had been declared obsolete; by early 1943 the survivors had been scrapped.
The men of the Army Service Corps (ASC) were jokingly referred to as Ally Sloper’s Cavalry, after the scruffy, vulgar, gin-swilling loafer Victorian comic strip superstar famous for sloping off down the alley to avoid the rent collector. It was a good choice – the men in its ranks needed the same cheerful disregard for danger as they ducked and dived around the fighting soldiers,
Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition and during the Great War, they could not move without horses or vehicles. It was the job of the ASC to provide them. In the Great War, the vast majority of the supply, maintaining a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won.
A Remount Squadron consisted of approximately 200 soldiers, who obtained and trained 500 horses. The soldiers of the Remount Depots were generally older, experienced soldiers.
The Central Remount Depot was based at Aldershot with additional Remount Depots (No.1 at Dublin, No.2 at Woolwich, No.3 at Melton Mowbray and No.4 at Arborfield).
The acquisition of horses for the war effort was an enormous operation. In his book, The horse and the war, Sidney Galtrey states that 165,000 horses were ‘impressed’ by the Army in the first twelve days of the war alone. Records show that during the course of the war some 468,000 horses were purchased in the UK and a further 618,000 in North America.
This massive increase in numbers required a rapid expansion of the Remount Service. Four additional main Remount Depots were established at the following locations:– Shirehampton (for horses received at Avonmouth), Romsey (for Southampton), Ormskirk (for Liverpool) (depot situated at Lathom Park) and Swaythling (a collecting centre for horses trained at the other three centres for onward shipment overseas).
As you wander around Thorpe Road cemetery in Melton Mowbray, you will see the familiar gleaming white Portland stone grave markers/headstones. Standing proudly above the graves of military personnel, they mark the graves of those who had died whilst serving their country, some through enemy action but the majority through accidents. Some are in tended plots whilst others are scattered and isolated. This is no different to the other war graves throughout the UK.
One of the scattered war graves is that of an Ally Sloper – Strapper George Essex, Service Number TS/4251 of the Army Service Corps who died 10th February 1915. The TS prefix to his service number means that George was specially enlisted for his trade: in other words, he came from civilian employment in a trade that was of direct value to work in the Horse Transport.
A Strapper is the same rank as a Private and is essentially a groom working with horses. This is certainly no surprise seeing as there is an Army Remount depot in Melton.
There are, however, a couple of anomalies:
Firstly, the inscription on the headstone shows his unit as the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and the Regimental badge displayed on the headstone is also of the RASC. George died in 1915 and the Army Service Corps was not giving the Royal assent until 1919 by the King in recognition of its efforts during WW1.
Admittedly, the CWGC casualty record does display his unit correctly as the Army Service Corps (ASC). They are aware of this error and when the headstone is replaced, the correct Regimental crest will be engraved on the new stone.
Secondly, according to his casualty record on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, he was the husband of M.G. Essex of 13 New Street, Melton Mowbray. As a serving soldier from Melton that has died whilst serving their country, you would expect to find his name on the towns war memorial. Unfortunately, this is not the case, so why does George Essex not appear on any of Melton’s war memorials?
Let’s take a look at who George Essex was.
George was born 1878 to William Essex and his wife Fanny (nee Draper). He was baptised on 11th August 1878 by Reverend William Colles. According to the 1881 census, William was a brick labourer and George was the middle child, with an elder sister, Esther, and a younger sister, Fanny.
In 1889, Georges mother Fanny died, and William later re-married in 1892 to Ellen Wooding.
By the time of the 1901 census, William had become and engine driver, George was a bricklayer labourer and there was now Elizabeth and William in the family.
At the time of the 1911 census, the Essex family were living at 4 Bentley Street. Georges’ father, William, had passed away, Ellen was the head of the household as a widow. George was listed as aged 32, single and his occupation was a Furnaceman (Labourer).
George married Mabel Grace Winters on the 21st March 1914 at the Register Office. When they got married, Mabel already had an illegitimate child, Lillian May Winters. The family made their home in a small three bedroomed house, not far from the centre of town at No.5 Bentley Square, Melton Mowbray.
When the 1911 Census was taken, Mabel was residing at No 9 Wilton Terrace with her sister Violet Pearson, her husband Alfred Pearson and their daughter Zara.
Mabel’s daughter, Lillian May was born 11th October 1911 and the birth certificate listed her address and occupation as 24 Scalford Road, Melton, a Doubler in a Spinning Mill. The birth certificate did not name the father, consequently it is unknown as to whether Lillian is the child of George.
As soon as war was declared, George started working as a civilian Groom at the Melton Remount Depot. He subsequently enlisted into the Army on the 5th November 1914.
According to his attestation papers, he was aged 36 years and 158 days and his height was listed as 5ft 5in. His occupation was listed as Groom and his answer to Question 15, “Are you willing to be enlisted for General Service?” was “Yes Remount Depot Only”.
Shortly after enlisting, George was transferred from the Melton Depot and attached to the Romsey Depot to help train horses being received in Southampton following purchase in the USA.
George had been home on leave since Friday 5th February 1915. Prior to that, he had been hospitalised for about a month with injuries to his leg following being kicked by a horse he was training.
The Essex’s neighbour, Mrs Mary Cox, husband of Charles Cox at No. 3 Bentley Square believed George had got home late on the evening of Friday the 5th. She saw George on Saturday morning and she asked him how he was getting on. He told her “quite well” and how kind the people at Southampton and the other various depots were.
According to Mrs Cox, she said he seemed to be himself but she noticed a ‘sort of wildness’ in his eyes. She had also seen him on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and he still had a ‘glassy’ excited look in his eyes. She knew he had been in hospital for about a month with his leg and he had been to France and back since he came out of hospital.
Mrs Cox believed that George was going to be returning to camp on the Wednesday as his wife Mabel had got in some provisions that he usually took back with him.
On Tuesday evening, George and Mabel retired to bed at about ten o’clock. About half-past six the following morning, Mabel heard George get out of bed, and asked him where was going? He said was going downstairs for a “fag” and went and returned immediately.
The next moment George struck Mabel on the head with a hammer that he had brought upstairs with him. She struggled with her husband, and, though he succeeded striking her about the head three or four more times, twice on the stairs whilst she was endeavouring to escape, none of the blows were of sufficient force bring her down.
It was about twenty to seven when a Mr Carlton was walking home from his night shift at the Holwell Iron Works and saw Mabel stood on her front doorstep in her night clothes. Her hair was matted with blood and her nightclothes were covered in blood from the injuries sustained from the hammer blows.
Mr Carlton got the attention of the Cox family, next door at No.3 and Mary Cox asked Mabel “What the matter?” she replied, “Oh my baby, never mind me, my baby”. The Cox’s eldest son, pushed by her and went upstairs and grabbed the child, brought her downstairs and put herein her mother’s arms.
As the son went upstairs, Mary Cox saw George sat at the kitchen table. When she said to him “George what have you done?” she noticed a wound in his neck from which blood was flowing and as he tried to speak, he could not and only turned his eyes. George walked around the kitchen table and collapsed on the hearth rug in front of the fire.
When Superintendent Hinton of Melton Police spoke to Mary Cox, he asked “Have you heard of any previous quarrel between the man and his wife?” the response was “No Sir, They have come into my shop together and have always seemed a comfortable pair.
The questions continued: “Was he a steady man, as far as you know?” Mary Cox replied “Yes, he had been a teetotaller for months, in fact, years.”
“Do you think he was jealous of his wife?” Mary again replied “No, I don’t think so. There is always one or two mischief makers who try to upset things, but I don’t believe the man was naturally jealous. He always spoke respectfully of his wife. There might have been a little trouble some months ago, but it was only hearsay, as far as she was concerned, and she did not take any notice of that.”
Dr. J T Tibbles examined the body of George Essex. He found him lying on the hearth rug, lying prone on his face and his feet towards the window. The Doctor could feel no pulse and pronounced him dead. He had a large wound in the neck, from beneath the left angle of the jaw right across the front of the throat to a point below the right of the jaw.
The wound and consequent loss of blood was sufficient to account for death. From the nature and direction of the wound he had no doubt that it was self-inflicted. On a chest of drawers Dr Tibbles saw a razor, it was open, and covered with blood stains. The actual cause of death was syncope from the loss of blood.
At the inquest, George’s sister, Sarah Pick stated that about fortnight ago she received a letter from George, which Mrs. Essex saw, and which she afterwards ascertained she had destroyed.
George wrote asking her to keep an eye on his wife. On a previous occasion when he came home on leave, he had said to Mabel that he knew about her as the talk was all over town. Sarah told him she had heard things, but he must not take notice of what people said, as possibly they made more of it than there was. He replied, “Well, seeing is believing, and if I hear any more you will not see me again.” She then asked him if he meant to keep away, and he nodded his head.
He was certainly very troubled about his wife and was very fond of her, but he thought she was going on in a different way from what she ought, and it preyed on his mind.
The incident was reported in the local press, the Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News. It was also published in other newspapers around the country such as Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Mail, Nottingham Journal, Nottingham Evening Post, Leicester Daily Post, Leicester Chronicle, Coventry Standard and Grantham Journal.
The verdict of suicide could well explain why George is not listed on any of the towns war memorials. There was no strict rule as to who was included on the war memorial or excluded from it. The list of names to be added to the memorials was approved by local committees and quite often, those service personnel who committed suicide were excluded.
Back in 2013, Princess Anne unveiled a new War Horse permanent memorial to commemorate the thousands of horses shipped into battle during WWI have unveiled a bronze model of their statue. Click here for more info.
About 120,000 of the 1.3 million horses and mules involved in the conflict passed through a giant military depot just outside Romsey in Hampshire.
Not everyone that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorate was killed by enemy fire. Consequently, all serving military personnel who died during the First or Second World War, irrespective of the cause or circumstances of their death are commemorated with a headstone where the burial location is known, hence why George has one of the familiar war grave headstones on his grave.
It would appear that around the time that George enlisted into the Army, his wife Mabel had fallen pregnant. Mabel gave birth to a baby boy on 7th July 1915. Tragically George and his new born son, Montague Kitchener George Essex never got to meet each other.
In August 1915, Mabel was informed by the Colonel IC Army Service Corps Records that in view of the circumstances of the death of her husband, a pension for herself and child can not be granted from Army Funds.
Following an appeal, the War Office confirmed that “it has been decided that the widow of No TS/4251 Strapper George Essex, Army Service Corps, may be regarded as eligible under the usual conditions for the grant of a pension from Army Funds”.
According to the pension record card, the amount awarded was 18/6 a week from 1th July 15. Following the successful appeal, the Army were instructed to pay the arrears as a lump sum and to make enquiries as to whether Mabel would like to invest the money into the War Savings scheme.
On 17th July 1919, the War Office issued a list of service personnel who had died on Active Service (A/S) and whose next of kin were to be issued with the Memorial Plaque, commonly referred to as the ‘Death Penny’ and Commemorative Scroll, the list contained the details of TS/4251 Strapper George Essex.
However, the Colonel IC RASC Records at Woolwich queried this in a letter dated 20th September 1919 asking the Secretary of the War Office as to whether the circumstances in which George died should debar the next-of-kin from receiving the plaque and scroll. On the 5th October, the War Office subsequently approved the issue of the plaque and scroll.
After the death of George, his wife Mabel continued living in Melton and never remarried. She passed away in 1948.
Lilian May went on to Marry Kenneth Daley in Melton and passed away in Macclesfield in 2000.
Montague Kitchener George joined the Northamptonshire Regiment during WW2. He married Joyce Weston in Northampton in 1943. He was taken Prisoner of War in 1943 in Germany held in Stalag IVG camp. He survived the war, returned to Northampton and passed away in 1981.
According to George’s service records, the cause of death was recorded as “Suicide self-inflicted wound during a state of temporary insanity due to A/S”.
What was the cause of this temporary insanity? Was it jealousy of his wife, was she having an affair? Was it a result of the injury sustained from being kicked by the horse? Was it the stress of military life, seeing the result of military action resulting in death and destruction in France?
I suppose that we will never know the truth behind this tragic incident in what the press reported as “Soldier goes mad – Suicide follows attempted murder at Melton” or “Another Domestic Tragedy at Melton”.
Soldiers described the effects of trauma as “shell-shock” because they believed them to be caused by exposure to artillery bombardments. As early as 1915, army hospitals became inundated with soldiers requiring treatment for “wounded minds”, tremors, blurred vision and fits, taking the military establishment entirely by surprise. An army psychiatrist, Charles Myers, subsequently published observations in the Lancet, coining the term shell-shock. Approximately 80,000 British soldiers were treated for shell-shock over the course of the war. Despite its prevalence, experiencing shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused of cowardice.
But the concept of shell-shock had its limitations. Despite coining the term, Charles Myers noted that shell-shock implied that one had to be directly exposed to combat, even though many suffering from the condition had been exposed to non-combat related trauma (such as the threat of injury and death) like George Essex. Cognitive and behavioural symptoms of trauma, such as nightmares, hyper-vigilance and avoiding triggering situations, were also overlooked compared to physical symptoms.
Luckily for the sufferers of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it has been recognised that it is these cognitive and behavioural symptoms that define PTSD. The physical symptoms that defined shell-shock during WW1 were often consequences of the nonphysical symptoms.
On the 13th August 1944, a Wellington bomber took off at 15:45Hrs from RAF Market Harborough for what was thought to be just another trip, a routine cross country training flight followed by a bombing detail at Grimsthorpe Bombing Range.
The aircraft in question was a Wellington Mk X, serial number LN281 operated by No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU).
The primary role of the OTU was to train aircrew to fly ‘medium’ twin engined bombers to an acceptable standard before joining an operational squadron.
No 14 OTU was originally formed at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland on 8th April 1940 when No 185 Sqn merged with the Station Headquarters flight. Its role was to train night bomber crews equipped with Hampdens and Herefords.
In recognition of the units’ achievements in training aircrew, an official badge for No 14 OTU was approved by King George VI. The badge depicted a hounds head with a hunting horn and riding whip. The badge design was based on the units location and role.
Originally being formed at Cottesmore in Rutland followed by a move to Market Harborough in Leicestershire, both counties are known to be some of the best hunting grounds in the country.
The role of the unit was the training of airmen whose duties are to hunt and destroy the enemy. The Motto ‘Keep With The Pack’ was selected because ‘concentration had long been a principle in Bomber Command and the airmen hunt in packs not only for securing greater defence but to obtain increased effect in bombing.
In the autumn of 1942, No. 14 OTU converted from the Hampden bomber onto Wellingtons and remained at Cottesmore until August 1943 when it was moved to Market Harborough.
The OTU courses lasted five months and involved 80 Flying Hours. Bomber Harris, C in C Bomber Command explains in his book ‘Bomber Offensive’ that training at OTUs only comes right at the end of a long period of flying training for each individual. The education of a member of a Bomber Crew was the most expensive in the world, costing some £10,000 for each airman, enough to send 10 men to Oxford or Cambridge University for 3 years.
Official records show that the total number of trained personnel output from No. 14 OTU whilst at Market Harborough was 516 Pilots, 484 Navigators, 480 Bomb Aimers, 497 Wireless Operator/Air Gunners and 931 Air Gunners. In order to achieve this output, flying took place on 510 days and 372 nights, during which a total of 45,835 Flying Hours were achieved. In the course of these training exercises, a total of 61 aircrew were to make the ultimate sacrifice due to being killed in training accidents, with dozens more wounded.
As mentioned above, the Wellington on this ‘ordinary trip’ was built to contract B124362/40 by Vickers Armstrong’s Ltd at Chester and delivered to MU store in October 1942 with the Serial Number LN281. Following delivery, it was issued to No 429 Squadron at RAF East Moor just north of York in early June 1943 and given the code AL-V for Victor.
Not long after being delivered to 429 Sqn, LN281 ‘V for Victor’ was taking part in her first operational sortie and was tasked with bombing Wuppertal, Germany.
This attack was aimed at the Elberfield half of Wuppertal as the other half had been attached at the end of May. This particular raid involved 630 aircraft from Bomber Command consisting of 251 Lancasters, 171 Halifaxes, 101 Wellingtons, 98 Stirlings and 9 Mosquitoes. A total of 34 aircraft were lost on the raid, 10 Halifaxes, 10 Stirlings, 8 Lancasters and 6 Wellingtons.
Post war analysis show that 94% of the Elberfield part of Wuppertal was destroyed that night with 171 industrial premises and 3,000 houses being destroyed, and a further 53 industrial premises and 2,500 houses being severely damaged. The loss of life is thought to be approximately 1,800 killed and 2,400 injured.
Canadian, P/O Keith McLean Johnston was the pilot in charge of ‘V for Victor’ and her multi-national crew when they took off from East Moor at 23.08hrs on 24th June 1943.
The crew consisted of:
Pilot – P/O Keith McLean Johnston RCAF (J/16067), of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Navigator – Sgt Howard William Clarke RCAF, of Talbot, Alberta, Canada.
Bomb Aimer – Sgt F W R Frost RAF (1320228).
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sgt Joseph Arthur Marcel Lortie RCAF, of St Agathe des Monte, Quebec, Canada.
Rear Gunner – Lt J C Elliott USAAF.
At 03.54hrs the LN281 was landing on return from the mission when a tyre burst, followed by the undercarriage collapsing resulting in both propellers, the starboard wing, starboard engine and the bomb doors becoming damaged.
It is unclear as to whether or not this was due to damage received by enemy night fighters or flak defences. As a result of damage sustained, the aircraft was taken out of active service to undergo repairs.
The aircraft was repaired in works and on completion of the repair it was issued to No 14 OTU at RAF Market Harborough in late-1943.
On the 13th August 1944, LN281 was tasked with a routine cross country training flight followed by a bombing detail at Grimsthorpe Bombing Range – Just Another Trip!
The normal crew of a Wellington would consist of the Pilot, Navigator, Wireless Operator, Air Gunners (x2) and Bomb Aimer. At times Staff Pilots and Navigators would be additional crew members as their role was to train the inexperienced crew and ‘check them out’ ensuring that the trainees were achieving the correct standard. Staff Pilots and Navigators were deemed to have enough experience due to recently completing a tour of ops at a front line Squadron, normally consisting of 30 sorties over enemy territory.
On this trip, the crew for LN281s training mission was no exception as the crew consisted of the usual six trainees plus a staff Pilot and Navigator.The crew of LN281 on the 13th August was:
Staff Pilot: Fg Off N Owen DFC 162950
Staff Nav: Plt Off S J Guiver 174686
Pilot: Sgt E M Roberts 1624053
Nav: Sgt W M Thomas 1652484
W/Op: Sgt R McCudden 1822819
Bomb Aimer: Sgt L Wilson 1684528
Air Gunner: Sgt P R Stafford 1881894
Air Gunner: Sgt G H Raby 3006707
At some point during the sortie, the aircraft started to experience trouble with the starboard engine and overflew RAF Melton Mowbray airfield at a height of 1000ft.
At this height, the aircraft was too low for the crew to safely bale out so the only option was to try and make a safe landing.
Whilst trying to execute a large circuit on one engine and make an emergency landing at Melton airfield, the aircraft lost flying speed, stalled and crashed four miles from the airfield between Saxby Road and Thorpe Road in the Copley South field and burst into flames.
The entry in the No 14 OTU ORB for 13th August states:- “Wellington LN281 crashed 4 miles north Melton Mowbray airfield. Staff Pilot – F/O Owen. Pupil Pilot – Sgt. Roberts. Attempted forced landing in field and blew up on impact, finally being destroyed by fire. 7 killed and 1 dangerously injured.”
The accident record card for LN281 goes on to state “The aircraft crashed and caught fire. Court of Inquiry: the aircraft started to execute a large circuit on one engine, lost flying speed, stalled and crashed and burnt out” ” Pilot lost safe S.E. flying speed and turned with the good engine and stalled”.
The official records state that LN281 crashed in a field known as Copley South which is approximately 4 miles north of RAF Melton Mowbray airfield and quoted the following Cassini map grid reference WF 225405 Sheet 630 and this equates to an Ordnance Survey map reference of SK783 197.
However, according to eye witness accounts, and the actual location of Copley South field, the crash site is at grid reference SK768 195, several hundred yards further West than the Cassini reference.
As one can imagine with this type of incident taking place in a well-populated town, there would have been numerous witnesses that saw the incident or are relatives of those who were involved in it some way or another.
The following paragraphs detail a few of those accounts of local people that witnessed the event or became involved in the rescue.
The Melton Times from Thursday October 4th 2012 reported the following: It was around 19:30Hrs when Melton man Walter Griffin spotted the aircraft pass overhead with 1 propeller feathered just clearing the houses in Saxby Road whilst he was playing cricket at the All England Ground on Saxby Road. At the time Walter was an air cadet and went to the rescue with two other fellow cadets.
Walter said: “I thought it might crash because it only had one engine going. When I got to the crash site the Wellington was broken in half and it had caught fire straight away.”
“There were three airmen on the ground. One was very badly burnt, another was alive and the other one I didn’t know.”
Walter pulled two of the men clear of the wreckage while the rear gunner was shouting from the twisted-up tail of the aircraft.
He said: “I couldn’t get to him because of the rear turret. I got a hold of his arm but I couldn’t free him. The fire came along the aircraft and he burned to death while I was trying to get him out.”
It wasn’t long before more people soon arrived at the scene to help in trying to rescue the crew.
Walter, whose arms were badly burned as a result of his brave rescue bid, was commended for his efforts after trying to save the lives of young airmen after the Wellington bomber crashed.
“Sir, I am commanded by the Air Council to inform you that their attention has been drawn to the assistance you gave when a Royal Air Force aircraft crashed and caught fire at Melton Mowbray on 13th August 1944.
The Air Council wish me to convey to you their warm appreciation of your services and to thank you for your help.
I, am Sir,
Your Obedient Servant
Permanent Under Secretary of State”
The following statement is an extract from The Melton Times dated Friday October 6th 1944.
Gallant Action of Melton Air Cadets.
The Officer Commanding Melton Air Training Corps has received the following letter from Air Marshall Sir Leslie Gossage, Chief of the Air Training Corps.
Flt/Sgt R.S. Baber, Cpl Moore and Cdt W. Griffin.
“The Commandant for the Midland Command Air Training Corps has drawn my attention to the gallant action performed by three members of No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn cited above, who, on the 13th August 1944 with complete disregard of the danger involved, joined in an attempt to rescue the rear gunner of a Wellington aircraft which had crashed and caught fire. The ammunition was exploding during the time that the rescue attempt was being made and eventually the intense heat and flames drove them back but not before they had made every effort to release the Sgt Air Gunner who was trapped in the burning wreckage. I consider that the action of these cadets which is in accordance with the high tradition of the Royal Air Force and the Air Training Corps, reflects the credit both on themselves and No 1279 Sqn to which they belong. As Chief Commandant I shall be glad if you will convey to them my sincere appreciation of their gallant conduct.”
Another ATC Cadet, Keith Doubleday, who was an apprentice working at Boulton & Pauls on Horsa gliders, also remembers the incident very well.
Keith says “I was an ATC cadet. A cricket match was being played at the time. The aircraft came almost directly over the All England Ground. As I recollect one of its engines had stopped. It banked and side slipped into the ground, bursting into flames. I have a feeling this was in the early evening but, due to Double British Summer Time, it was quite light. The sports facility was always well patronised with ATC cadets. Many of us raced to the scene of the crash and attempted rescue of the crew but it was a hopeless task. Being a Wellington and fabric covered the heat was intense. What we didn’t realised at time was the ‘hissing’ noise passing us was live ammunition exploding. Amazingly, none of the cadets were injured due to this. As the “Swans Nest” swimming club was very close by, many service personnel also came to the rescue. The Rear Gunner was the most prominent of the crew and many brave attempts to rescue him were made. As the Wellington is of geodetic construction and being metal it was red hot. It was impossible to reach the gunner from inside the fuselage. It is a memory those of the remaining cadets will always have imprinted on our minds. I was 17 at the time as was most of the other cadets.”
Jack Williamson was an airman stationed at RAF Melton Mowbray and was known as ‘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 August 13th 1944. Jack remembers thinking ‘What’s 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. 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.
Another eyewitness to the crash was a gentleman called Ken Digby. Ken was just 12 at the time and was one of the first on the scene. In an article published in The Melton Times on 25th October 2012, he said “I can remember it vividly to this day and will never forget what he saw.”
Ken recalls: “I lived at Thorpe End and was walking near the Swan’s Nest with a friend and saw the plane flying low. We ran across the road and could see smoke pouring out as it crashed near to Copley’s South field. As we entered the field a gentleman called Jack Gibbs came up to us and told us to keep away. There was ammunition on board and bullets were going off in all directions. We saw one of the airmen trying to get out of the cockpit but all of a sudden it just went up in flames.”
Ken went on to say that Trevor Woods, the fireman in charge, gave him some money to go and get some beer for his crew and he went to the White Hart in Melton to fetch it.
He said: “My dad got some Toddy’s Ale and I carried it back down to the gate to give it to the firemen.
Another witness to the crash was a Mrs Orridge of Melton who recalls the crash in a Melton Times article on the 4th Jan 2013:
“My friends and I stood on a bridge spanning the railway line and we watched a Wellington bomber circling above.
It came so low we could clearly see the men in the plane and we started waving to them.
Suddenly, to our horror, the plane was alongside the bridge, almost touching, the noise was horrendous. It vanished from sight. Then a loud explosion and smoke told us the plane had crashed.
That day remains with me still and the sadness we felt.”
Ron Barrow was swimming with his friend Derek Woodman in the River Eye at the Swans Nest or Chippy Dixons Lido as it was also known. Ron remembers the Wellington circling round, maybe upto 3 times before it crashed in the ‘100 acre’ field.
Ron and Derek rushed over to the site but as they were only in their swimming trunks there was not a lot they could do as the aircraft was already engulfed in flames. They returned to the Swanns nest with sore feet from all the thistles in Copley South field.
Rons main recollection of the crash was the smell of burnt flesh that stayed with him for several days after the crash. When asked about the position of the aircraft, he recalls that the fuselage was broken in two with the tail part angled up in the air.
Back in the early 70’s, a young Melton man named Joe Perduno had been discussing the crash with another witness called George Charity. As a result of being told the rough area where the crash occurred, Joe went metal detecting and found an aircraft fuel gauge which he remembers the words “Rear Tank 160 Gallons”.
Back in the early 70’s, a young Melton man named Joe Perduno had been discussing the crash with another witness called George Charity.
As a result of being told the rough area where the crash occurred, Joe went metal detecting and found an aircraft fuel gauge which he remembers the words “Rear Tank 160 Gallons”.
In an interview on 30th October 2013, Roy Beeken was 20 at the time of the crash recalls the incident vividly.
Roy explained to me his version of events. Roy worked part time for the Melton Fire Service and was at home on the Kings Road ‘extension’ when the Wellington flew overhead in a North West – South Easterly direction flying low over the houses on Thorpe Road with one engine smoking and getting lower and lower all the time. He didn’t see it crash, but saw the smoke rising up from the scene.
Roy kept his fireman’s uniform at home and instead of reporting to the fire station, he put on his fireman’s tunic and got on his bicycle and went to the site of the crash. As he was cycling down Saxby Road (B676) he was passed the Melton fire tenders.
Roy recalls running away from the burning aircraft as the oxygen cylinders were exploding and also remembers the same as Ron Barrow in that the tail part of the aircraft was angled slightly up from the ground.
Staff Pilot: Flying Officer Norman Owen DFC 162950
Norman Owen was born in 1918 and was the son of Richard and Diana Owen, of Colwyn Bay, Wales. He grew up on Pendared Farm, Llysfaen, with his sister and five brothers and was educated at the local primary school, probably in Llysfaen and then from 1929 – 1932 at Colwyn Bay Central School.
Prior to joining the RAF, Norman served as a constable with London Metropolitan Police from 1937 – 1941, serving at Hammersmith throughout the Blitz.
Following the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on the 14th May 1941 as an Aircraftman 2nd Class Aircrafthand/Pilot and allocated service number 1390425. He trained as a pilot at Turner Field, Georgia, USA and completed his training in Britain. He was promoted to temporary Sergeant on 13th December 1942 after which he was commissioned on 23rd November 1943. During his flying training he sometimes took a detour to fly over Pendared Farm, where his mother would wave a sheet which led to some local complaints about low flying!
Following completion of training Norman was posted to No 207 Squadron at RAF Spilsby, Lincolnshire where he completed a full operational tour of 30 operational sorties as a Lancaster pilot. It was normal procedures that after completing an operational tour, the crew would then be posted to training units for a rest tour and sometimes this required the crew to be split up. Norman was transferred to No 14 OTU at RAF Market Harborough, Leicestershire to become an instructor. Approximately a month after leaving 207 Sqn at Spilsby
Norman completed 36 operational tours over enemy territory with No 207 Sqn, Norman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and this was announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette dated 13th October 1944 page 4693. However, as DFCs cannot be awarded posthumously, the Gazette stated that the award will take place with effect 12th August 1944.
Norman’s first operational trip over enemy territory was a “2nd Dickie” trip with an experienced crew before taking his own crew on 35 ops. Some were to French targets, which until late May 1944 were deemed to count as only a third of an op. Norman is amongst several pilots recorded in 207’s ORB as complaining about this. After the losses on the Mailly raid in May 1944 the powers-that-be relented and French trips were then re-counted as a whole op. However, by the time Norman was nearing the end of his tour the number of required ops had been raised to 35 and this continued until near the end of the war when the number of 1st tour ops were changed down and up several times, presumably as a surplus of aircrew arose due to the training programme output, and the reducing losses then being seen.
At the time of the crash, Norman had amassed a total of 506 Flying Hours, of which 68 were in Wellingtons. He was aged 26 when he died and left behind his wife Mary Owen, of Dolwen.
Many thanks to Normans nephew, Raymond Glynne-Owen who has provided valuable information and photographs regarding Norman.
Flying Officer Norman Owen DFC is buried in Grave 34 of the C of E Section at Old Colwyn Church Cemetery.
Staff Navigator: Plt Off Sydney Jack Guiver 174686
Sydney Guiver was born in 1921 in the Rochford region of Essex and was the 3rd child of Frederick George and Maud Emily Guiver, of Southend-on-Sea. Prior to joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1941 as trainee aircrew, Sydney was a bank clerk.
Following his aircrew training, he was posted as a Sgt Navigator onto Lancaster bombers.
According to the Supplement to the London Gazette dated 30 May 1944, Sydney’s promotion from NCO aircrew to Commissioned Officer was announced. The entry stated that he was appointed to Commission within the General Duties branch and was awarded the rank of Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) wef 31st Mar 44.
Sydney married Dora Isabel Gunning in 1944 in Holywell Flintshire in Wales. Dora served in The Land Army and they lived with Frederick and Maud at 641 Southchurch Road, Southend-On-Sea. Although they lived in Southend, Sydneys death certificate recorded his address as Bryn Awel, Leeswood, Mold, Flintshire.
Two telegrams sent to Mrs GF Guiver informing her of the death of her son and when the coffin will be dispatched from RAF Market Harborough.
The first telegram reads:
“Mrs F G Guiver, 641 South Church Road Southend on Sea, Essex. Deeply regret to inform you that your son 174686 P/O Sydney Jack Guiver lost his life as a result of a flying accident on 13/Aug/44. Please accept my profound sympathy further telegrams follows OC RAF Market Harborough.”
The 2nd telegram advises the family about the coffin and reads: “16 Aug Coffin late P/O S J Guiver will leave Mkt-Harboro Station 7.49PM today and will arrive Southend Station 6/44AM repeat 6/44AM Thursday 17th August – RAF Market Harborough.”
This letter was sent to Sydneys father on the 20th Aug and reads:
“Dear Mr Guiver, I write with the deepest regret to convey to you the feelings of this unit in the very sad loss of your son, Pilot Officer Sydney Jack Guiver, as the result of a flying accident.
Your son was the Navigator of an aircraft which crashed near Melton Mowbray at approximately 7.30pmon the 13th August 1944. Death was instantaneous.
During the short time your son was at this Unit he made himself very popular with everyone. The loss to the service is great as the Royal Air Force can ill afford to lose such a keen and cheerful member of aircrew.
I have today written to your sons wife, giving full particulars of her husband’s death.
Again on the 17th & 20th Aug, RAF Market Harborough wrote to the father. The letter on the 17th reads:
Pilot Officer S J Guiver (deceased)
It would be appreciated if the flag forwarded with the coffin could be returned to this Unit please. An official paid label and wrapper are enclosed for your convenience.
It would be appreciated if the flag forwarded with the coffin could be returned to this Unit please. An official paid label and wrapper are enclosed for your convenience.
Date of burial
Place of burial
Name of cemetery
Group Captain Commanding
RAF Market Harborough”
The 2nd letter from the 20th reads:
“Dear Mr Guiver, I am enclosing herewith three photographs of your son which we happen to have on the Station as I am sure you would like to retain them.
I would be pleased if you would be good enough to give one of the photographs to Mrs D I Guiver.
Group Captain Commanding
RAF Market Harborough”
Pilot Officer Sydney Jack Guiver is buried in Plot C Grave 722 in the Sutton Road Cemetery Southend-On-Sea.
Pilot: Sgt Edward Mansel Roberts 1624053
Edward Mansel Roberts joined RAF (Volunteer Reserve). He was the son of Wilfrid and Martha Roberts of Buckley, Wales
Edward Mansel Roberts completed 140 Flying Hours of which 23 were on Wellingtons. He was aged 20 when he died.
Sgt Edward Mansel Roberts is buried in the Non-Conformist Cemetery at Buckley.
Navigator: Sgt William Marshall Thomas 1652484
Sgt Thomas was the son of Haydn & Jane Thomas of 28 Byron Street Cwmam Aberdare Glamorganshire and was born in 1923 in Aberdare (Merthyr Tydfil).
He was educated at the Aberdare Boys’ Grammer School where he is commemorated by name on the schools’ Memorial Plaque, dedicated to those who fell in the Second World War.
The wording on the memorial plaque states:
“This memorial was erected to honour and perpetuate the memory of those past students of the Aberdare Boys Intermediate School who fell in the World War 1939-1945.”
“Thomas, Wm Marshall Sgt Navigator RAF”
Sgt William Marshall Thomas is buried in an unconsecrated Grave X/4120 at Aberdare Cemetery Glamorganshire.
Air Gunner: Sgt Peter Robert Stafford 1881894
Sgt Peter Stafford was born on 29th Aug 1923 in Croydn, Surrey to John Francis and Dorothy Mary Stafford, of Addiscombe. He was educated at Asburton School and was a keen cyclist and a member of the Addiscombe Cycling Club. Prior to joining the RAF he was an electrician serving with the Borough Valuer’s Dept in Croydon.
A letter from his RAF Station said that after being posted there on the 28th June 1944, he had made himself most popular with everyone there and carried out his duties with keenness and efficiency, an example to all of them who knew him. The family were obviously devastated at the time, and his mother always maintained that this event largely contributed to her husband’s death from cancer in 1948.
Sgt Peter Robert Stafford is buried in Plot H/3. Grave 124 of the Oxford (Botley) Cemetery. Botley is a RAF regional cemetery used during the Second World War by RAF stations in Berkshire and neighbouring counties.
Bomb Aimer: Sgt Leonard Wilson 1684528
Son of Elsie Wilson, and stepson of Hedley Whittlestone, of Lupset, Wakefield.
Sgt Leonard Wilson is buried in Grave 374 Section. T of the Alverthorpe (St Paul) Churchyard.
W/Op: Sgt Robert McCudden 1822819
Robert McCudden was born in 1925 and was the son of Alexander and Christina McCudden, of Kilncroft, Selkirk.
He joined No 427 Squadron Air Training Corps in December 1941 and according to a newspaper report he was very quiet and self effacing. He applied himself most diligently to his instruction and overcame his handicap of leaving school early.
Prior to joining the RAF, he was employed at Ettrick Mills where he was very popular among his fellow workers.
Robert joined the RAF in May 1943, training first of all as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and later as a Sergeant (Signals).
Sgt Robert McCudden was buried in Section. H. Grave 2108 at the Selkirk Cemetery on the 18th August 1944 and his old ATC Squadron, No 427 Sqn, provided the Escort Party under the Command of P/O Beattie with Cadets aalso acting as pall-bearers.
Air Gunner: Sgt George Henry Raby 3006707
Sgt. George Henry Raby was the sole survivor from the crash. It is thought that George was the Fwd gunner but at the time of the incident was sitting in or near to the Wireless Operator position. During the flight he said he either did not plug in his intercom as he never heard the pilot say anything about a problem, he did not have his harness on and just went to sleep and woke up in hospital.
George was badly burnt as a result of the crash and subsequent fire. Initially, George was taken to the Leicester Royal Infirmary but eventually ended up at the notorious Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead under the care of Sir Archibald McIndoe.
George, who naturally underwent numerous operations for many years afterwards. On a recent trip to hospital for a cataract op, George bumbed into a nurse who remembered him from 30 odd years ago when he had some more surgery at the old Norwich Community Hospital. Although he has never spoken about the incident, he reeled off some details to the nurse about the crash. Apparently, after he was in East Grinstead Hospital, an RAF investigation team came every day to speak to him but was sent packing by Sir Archibald McIndoe and they never came back.
George passed away in Norwich on 29th August 2015 aged 90.
Melton Mowbray Wellington Bomber Memorial Unveiling & Dedication Service
During 2013 and 2014, I had the pleasure of leading the Wellington Bomber Memorial fundraising project with the aim of raising a target amount of £2,500 to erect a memorial to recognise both the sacrifice of the bomber crew, but also those local individuals who bravely attempted the rescue effort.
By the start of August 2014, a sum of £3, 399 had been raised.
Mowbray Fireplaces provided the granite for the plaque which the company have very generously donated free of charge. Richard Barnes Funeral Directors and Co-Operative Memorials offered to engrave the plaque but again to do it free of charge, and finally the memorial was built by Rutland Building Supplies. On the rear of the memorial is a display board printed by B&H Midland Ltd and housed in a wooden frame built by Bob Cox, sadly no longer with us.
The unveiling and dedication service took place on Sunday 17th August 2014 at 14:00 Hours.
Cadets from No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn and No 2248 (Oakham) Sqn along with the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Mayor of Melton Mowbray, Defence Animal Centre RAF Police and Leicestershire Constabulary.
Standard Bearers from the Melton Mowbray, Leicester & Oakham Royal Air Forces Association Branches and the Melton Mowbray Royal British Legion and Royal British Legion Womens Section were also in attendance.
Following the welcome speech and history of the tragedy, Air Marshall Sir ‘Dusty’ Miller gave a small speech on the history of No 14 OTU and Bomber Command. A Cadet SNCO from No 1279 Sqn gave a small talk on the involvement of the Melton Mowbray 1279 Sqn Air Cadets and the crash and subsequent rescue attempts.
After the speeches, the Dedication Service delivered by the Padre / Vicar was followed by a Wreath Laying ceremony, the Last Post, and the National Anthem.
After the event, refreshments were served at the RAF Association Club on Asfordby Road.
Eighty years ago in the Summer of 1940 the fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force were in almost daily combat with the German Luftwaffe in the skies over our country and surrounding waters. Initially the Luftwaffe were set on trying to destroy our airfields in preparation for an invasion, but on the 7th September they changed their plans and swapped from destroying the airfields and the RAF to bombing our cities which subsequently became known as the Blitz.
The Battle has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The British officially recognise the battle’s duration as being from 10th July until 31st October 1940.
“Never In The Field of Human Conflict Was So Much Owed By So Many To So Few” was to become the famous words mentioned by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his wartime speech that he delivered to the Nation on the 20th August 1940. By the time of Churchill’s speech, RAF fighter pilots had been in almost daily combat with the German Luftwaffe and those who flew combat missions during the battle have forever since been referred to as “The Few” and has been immortalised in posters just like the one below.
In this bog, I look at two very different war memorials that can be found in All Saints Church at Hoby near Melton Mowbray. Both memorials commemorate members of the Beresford family, one of which commemorates “One of the Few”.
War memorials can be found in all sorts of shapes, sizes and designs as mentioned in “Blog 19 – Protecting our War Memorials”. The memorials in All Saints Church take the form of a wooden Roll of Honour listing the names of 48 men from Hoby who served during World War One, a bronze tablet commemorating eleven men of the Parish who fell during the Great War, a stained-glass window commemorating the members of the extended Beresford family who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War One and a stone tablet commemorating another member of the Beresford family who was “One of the Few” and made the ultimate sacrifice during World War Two.
The memorials themselves are interesting, but they are more than just a name on a window or plaque, it is the stories behind those individuals names that make the memorials even more interesting providing links to not only military history, but also social history.
Flt Lt Hugh Richard Aden Beresford – One of The Few
On the Chancel wall opposite the Stained Glass window, is a plain stone tablet commemorating three members of the Beresford family, the Reverend Hans Aden Beresford, his mother Annie and the Reverends Son, Flight Lieutenant Hugh Richard Aden Beresford who was “One of The Few” and is the only Hoby casualty from World War Two.
Hugh Richard Aden Beresford was born 8th November 1915 and was the son of the Rector of Hoby & Rotherby, Hans Aden Beresford and his wife Dorothy Lydia Royston.
He was known by the family as ‘Tom’ and was educated at Rossell School in Fleetwood Lancashire. He was a keen sportsman and fine cricketer playing in the first XI team for four seasons and became team captain in his final year at the school.
Hugh joined the RAF on a short service commission in 1935 and after completing his training he was posted as a pilot to No 3 (Fighter) Squadron, arriving at Port Sudan as an Acting Pilot Officer on 23rd March 1936. Port Sudan is the Capital of Sudan and is located on the Red Sea coast. The aircraft operated by the Squadron was the Bristol Bulldog, until it was replaced by the Gloster Gladiator. Just over a year later, he was posted to the No 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit at Biggin Hill on the 12th April 1937.
On the 4th October 1937 he was appointed Personal Assistant to Air Vice-Marshal Ernest Gossage, Air Officer Commanding No 11 Group at RAF Uxbridge and on the 16th January 1938, Hugh was promoted to Flying Officer. Whilst at Uxbridge, in December 1939, Hugh married his wife Cherry Kyree ‘Pat’ Kemp, the daughter of a RAF Officer Walter Ernest Kemp.
On the 17th May 1940, No 257 (Burma) Squadron was reformed at RAF Hendon initially being equipped with Spitfires. Beresford joined the Squadron from HQ No 11 Group as Senior Flight Commander. The CO was Squadron Leader David Bayne who lost a leg in a flying accident whilst serving on No 3 (Fighter) Squadron, back in July 1935 when his Bristol Bulldog crash landed at RAF Duxford. This was the same Squadron that Hugh joined after leaving school.
During May and June, the Squadron was involved in training missions including bringing new pilots up to speed on Spitfires, Interception Exercises, formation flying, gunnery practice, night flying, high altitude (25000 feet) flying and dog fights.
On the 10th June, it was announced that the Squadron would be re-equipped with the Hurricane fighter, meaning more re-training for the pilots. The first eight Hurricanes arrived the next day with a further eight the day after. Training continued through June with the Hurricanes and on the 30th, the Squadron were informed they would be moving from RAF Hendon to their new base at RAF Northolt on July 4th.
Although the Battle of Britain hadn’t officially began (10th July), after settling in at Northolt on the 4th, the Squadron were put on Standby the following day at ¾ Hour before Dawn on the 5th. The Squadrons first scramble came on the 9th when Flt Lt Hall, PO Frizell and Sgt Forward were ordered into the air and Sgt Forward engaged a Do17 at 22000 feet.
Hugh had an aristocratic bearing which gave the men of his squadron much needed morale. He was affectionately known by his fellow pilots as “Blue-Blood Beresford” which was a reference to his aristocratic good looks and up-bringing.
Allegedly he was privately very nervous and vomited under the daily intense stress of the Battle of Britain. With exhaustion taking its toll on him, he was known for obsessively pacing up and down the dispersal hut continually asking “What’s the time?” and “I’m sure there will be a Blitz soon”. On 18th August, Hugh and Sgt Girdwood shared in destroying a He111 from III./KG 53 flown by Uffz Gustav Gropp which came down in the sea with all crew killed and a few days Hugh later claimed a Me110 on the 31st.
On 22nd July, the CO Squadron Leader Bayne was posted to HQ Fighter Command with Squadron Leader H Harkness taking over as Commanding Officer. Apparently the Squadron had poor leadership and was held together by two well respected Flight Commanders, Flt Lt Hugh Beresford and Fg Off Lance Mitchell.
Hugh Beresford and A Flight had patrolled Martlesham twice during the morning of the 7th followed by a 3rd patrol around Colchester at 11:15Hrs, landing at 12:20. At 14:15 the whole Squadron was called to 15 minutes readiness but were not ordered off.
Beresford in Hurricane P3049 along with 11 other Hurricanes of Yellow, Red, Blue and Green Sections of 257 Squadron left Martlesham Heath at 16:53Hrs to patrol Chelmsford area at 15,000 feet. They were vectored to the Rochester area under the Command of Squadron Leader Harkness when at 17:50Hrs they intercepted a formation of about 50 enemy bombers flying up the Thames estuary.
The large formation of enemy aircraft flying up the Thames were intent on sustaining the continuous bombing of London. An escort of Luftwaffe fighters above dived towards the squadron as they attacked.
The CO, Yellow 1 (Squadron Leader Harkness) passed the information about the enemy aircraft to “Kiwi 1” and the Squadron climbed up to their level, turning North. As they were coming from the Colchester area, they didn’t have the advantage of attacking out of the sun and must have been seen by the Me109s which were circling above the bombers at about 18-20,000 feet.
Yellow 1, followed by the Squadron, did a head on attack on the port section of three enemy aircraft. When Yellow 1 broke away to the right, Yellow 2 (PO Gundry) followed him without firing. Yellow 3 (Sgt Robinson) when following Yellow 2 in line astern, doing a steep turn to the right was thrown over on his back, losing control of his aircraft and dropped about 8,000 to 10,000 feet as a result of ant aircraft fire all around him.
Red 1 (Flt Lt Beresford) “A” Flight Commander followed Yellow Section into the attack and slightly to the right, is believed to have been unable to attack the bombing fleet head-on as his line of fire was obstructed by the leading Hurricanes. He climbed to about 500 feet in a clockwise circle above the bombers and turning to attack them from astern. At this point, Red 2 (Sgt Fraser) noticed at least four Me109 fighters with yellow noses swooping down on the section from astern.
Hugh Beresford tried to warn the other pilots of the danger over the radio by issuing a frantic warning “ALERT squadron – four snappers coming down now!” to the squadron about the attacking fighters, stating that he could not attack as another Hurricane was in his line of fire. (ALERT was the radio call sign for 257 Squadron). Then there was silence. In his final few moments of life he had used his last breath to save others.
None of the squadron saw what had happened to him, but a River Board worker inspecting the water ditches which criss-crossed the flat Isle of Sheppey, was watching the dog-fight developing above in a crescendo of engine noise and rattling of machine guns. He saw a lone Hurricane break away and dive vertically into the soft estuary ground alongside a ditch at Elmley Spitend Point, Sheppey.
There was no fire or explosion, just a small crater with a black stain and slashes either side where the wings had cut through the grass. No time could be spent during the weeks of the Battle of Britain to mount salvage operations and as the aircraft was deeply buried it was eventually forgotten.
From the combat action in the 7th, three pilots failed to return, Hugh Beresford, the other Flight Commander Lance Mitchell and Sgt Hulbert. Later, the Squadron received news that Hulbert was OK and had crash landed near Sittingbourne. None of the other pilots could provide any info on what had happened to the two Flight Commanders and enquiries were made with other RAF airfields, Police HQs and Royal Observer Corps observation posts but nobody saw what happened.
Hugh’s wife, Pat, rang the Squadron in tears on the evening when he failed to return. The Squadron Adjutant spoke to her and telling her that he might have been picked up by boats in the sea and not to give up hope. It was as if she new his fate as she asked if she could pick up his clothes.
Hugh Beresford was classified as missing in action and an Air Ministry telegram was sent to Pat telling here that he had failed to return from an operational flight and they would contact her again as soon as possible when they received further news. No news came forward, and one year after he went missing, he was officially presumed dead.
Shortly after his Hurricane had plunged into the marshy ground, RAF personnel from nearby RAF Eastchurch came to the crash site and as little could be done, they reported it to No 49 Maintenance Unit who covered the South East of England
Ten days after Hugh’s disappearance, Air Vice-Marshal Ernest Gossage wrote to Reverend Hans Beresford, explaining that Hugh had once been his personal assistant and that he had become very fond of him. His letter also said that he wanted to make sure that no possibility of him being alive before he wrote with his sincere and heartfelt sympathy.
For decades no one knew the exact spot where he laid buried. 39 years later, in August 1979, there was renewed interest by aviation enthusiasts in locating and excavating the wrecks of wartime planes. Hugh Beresford’s Hurricane was discovered and on 29th September 1979 the entire wreckage was recovered with Hugh’s body being found still in his aircraft. Hugh Beresford and his tattered identity card were recovered.
Forty years to the day he was shot down, on the 7th September 1980, BBC2 Television documentary series Inside Story screened a programme “Missing” all about Hugh Beresford and the remarkable story of him being reported as missing in 1940 and the discovery of his Hurricane fighter with his remains still in the cockpit.
He was laid to rest with full military honours in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, with the Band of the RAF and the Queen’s Colour Squadron providing the honours. Hugh’s sister, Pamela who lived in Hoby village attended his funeral along with a few other residents from the village.
His headstone bears the inscription “NO ONE SO MUCH AS YOU LOVES THIS MY CLAY, OR WOULD LAMENT AS YOU ITS DYING DAY” which is the opening verse from the poem “No One So Much As You” by World War One poet Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917).
No one so much as you
Loves this my clay,
Or would lament as you
Its dying day.
You know me through and through
Though I have not told,
And though with what you know
You are not bold.
None ever was so fair
As I thought you:
Not a word can I bear
Spoken against you.
All that I ever did
For you seemed coarse
Compared with what I hid
Nor put in force.
Scarce my eyes dare meet you
Lest they should prove
I but respond to you
And do not love.
We look and understand,
We cannot speak
Except in trifles and
Words the most weak.
I at the most accept
Your love, regretting
That is all: I have kept
Only a fretting
That I could not return
All that you gave
And could not ever burn
With the love you have,
Till sometimes it did seem
Better it were
Never to see you more
Than linger here
With only gratitude
Instead of love-
A pine in solitude
Cradling a dove.
For more details about his burial at Brookwood Military Cemetery, see his CWGC Casualty Record.
Additionally, the CWGC E-Files archives holds a series of black and white images showing CWGC staff erecting his headstone, levelling it off, applying soil to the border, cleaning it and finally with the plants in place around it. To view the images, visit the CWGC archive site and enter Beresford in the search box.
South Chancel Window (Beresfod Memorial Window)
Opposite the Memorial to Hugh, his father and grandmother, you will see the stained-glass window, appropriately named the South Chancel Memorial Window, and as its name suggests can be found in the South Chancel and was installed in the early 1920s. It was gifted to the Church by Hugh’s grandparents, Rev Edward Aden Beresford and his wife Annie Mary Beresford and their initials appear at the very top of the window.
The Beresford family have been Rectors for Hoby cum Rotherby for many years since Reverend Gilbert Beresford became Rector in 1838. He married Anne Browne, the only daughter of Rev Henry Browne of Hoby, in 1805. The last Beresford to hold the post was Hugh’s father the Reverend Hans Aden Beresford.
The bottom panels of the window lists the members of the extended Beresford family who were killed whilst serving their country during the First World War and as such, it is classified as a war memorial by the War Memorials Trust and the Imperial War Museum.
The Beresford’s commemorated on the window are all descendants of, or married to descendants of, Rev Gilbert & Anne Beresford.
The inscription on the light windows reads:
THOMAS BERESFORD OF FENNY BENTLEY, DIED MARCH 20TH 1473 IN PROUD AND LOVING MEMORY OF THE DESCENDENTS OF THOMAS BERESFORD WHO DIED IN THE GREAT WAR LT COL PERCY WILLIAM BERESFORD D.S.O ASSISTANT PRIEST OF WESTERHAM DIED IN FRANCE OCTOBER 25 1917 – ALSO OF MAJOR BERESFORD A.J. HAVELOCK OF THE NORTH STAFFS REGT KILLED IN ACTION SEP 14 1918 AT BAKU, CASPIAN SEA. ALSO OF MAJOR WILLIAM C. BERESFORD DIED OF WOUNDS IN WEYMOUTH HOSPITAL AND OF HAY FREDK DONALDSON, K.C.B./ DROWNED IN H.M.S. HAMPSHIRE JUNE 5TH 1916 THIS WINDOW IS DEDICATED BY EDWARD ADEN BERESFORD RECTOR FROM 1855 AND HANS ADEN BERESFORD BORN 1884
Who were these members of the extended Beresford family that made the ultimate sacrifice during World War One?
Lt. Col. Percy William Beresford D.S.O
Percy was born in 1875 and was the son of Frank Gilbert and Jessie Ogilvie Beresford. He was baptised 2nd Dec 1875 at St Phillip and St James Church at Whitton near Richmond upon Thames. He was educated at Rossel School and Magdalen College, Oxford.
After graduating from Magdalen College he had hoped to enter the Church, but the ill health of his father, a Wharfinger on the Thames, meant he had to join the family business.
In 1900, he was promoted from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant whilst he was serving with the 4th Volunteer Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment,
In 1902 he moved to Westerham in Kent where he set up the first parish cadet corps in the country – the Westerham and Chipstead Cadet Corps, which was attached to the 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment. He apparently felt that military training acted as a sort of national university.
On the 10th October 1903, The London Gazette announced that Captain R. Galloway resigns his Commission with the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) and Lieutenant P. W. Beresford to be Captain.
In 1905 he went to Kings College London where he studied Theology, after which his earlier wish was fulfilled, and he was ordained as a Deacon. The following year he was ordained as a Priest by the Bishop of Rochester and was fortunate enough to be appointed as curate to the Rev. Sydney Le Mesurier, vicar of St. Mary’s, Westerham, where he was working when war was declared.
On 1st April 1908 it was announced that Captain Percy William Beresford of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) is appointed to the 3rd Battalion, City of London (Royal Fusiliers) Regiment; with rank and precedence as in the Volunteer Force.
In the London Gazette, his promotion from Captain to Major in the 3rd (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) was published on 16th August 1910.
Following the outbreak of World War One, he was initially sent to Malta after which he saw a lot of action across the Channel in France and Flanders. He was wounded in April 1915 and was gassed at Loos in September the same year and allegedly it was reported that, within a week of him being gassed, he was back with his battalion where he officiated at a celebration of Holy Communion, though hardly able to speak.
He saw action at Neuve Chapelle, Hohenzollern Redoubt. Bullecourt, Ypres & Givenchy, the Duck’s Bill, and Poelcapelle and on the 23rd May 1916 was appointed as an acting Lt. Col of 2nd/3rd Royal Fusiliers.
It was at Bullecourt in March, 1917 where he won his DSO: For conspicuous gallantry and ability in command of his battalion during heavy enemy counter-attacks. The skill with which he handled his reserves was of the utmost assistance to the division on his right, and his determination enabled us to hold on to an almost impossible position. He repulsed three counter-attacks and lost heavily in doing so.
He was killed in action during the 3rd Battle of Ypres on 26th October 1917 whilst commanding the 2nd / 3rd Battalions when a shell burst close beside him and he only lived a few minutes after being hit. He was known to his men in the Royal Fusiliers as “Little Napoleon”.
The Adjutant of his battalion was present when Beresford was mortally wounded gives a graphic picture of the last scene; and so, does Dr. Maude, who was in the same regiment with him. After being hit, he turned to the Adjutant saying, “I’m finished carry on”. A painful pause; then, to the field-doctor who went to see what could be done for him, “I’m finished; don’t bother about me, attend to the others”. A smile lit up his pale, handsome, and still boyish face. “Look after my sister. ..” A longer pause, and, “This is a fine death for a Beresford”, and he was gone.
He is buried in Gwalia Cemetery, Belgium (Near Poperinghe) where upon his gravestone is inscribed the following inscription “HE BRINGETH THEM UNTO THE HAVEN WHERE THEY WOULD BE”. See his CWGC Casualty Record for more information.
Major Beresford Arthur Jardine-Havelock
He was born on the 10th October 1889 in Bankura, India and was the son of George Broadfoot Havelock, late Bengal Police, and Annie Helen Beresford. He married Kathleen Margaret Smith on the 6th March 1916 and they had two children Patricia Margaret Helen and Beresford Aileen.
He joined Elizabeth College on the island of Guernsey in 1903, becoming a member of their Dramatic Society in 1904 and a prefect in 1906. He left in Dec.1906 when he went to the military college at Sandhurst, leaving in 1907.
He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion (Prince of Wales) 98th. North Staffordshire Regiment on 6th February 1909. Just over a year later he was promoted to Lieutenant on the 1st April 1910, (Army List), followed by Captain in 1915 then Major in 1917.
He was serving with the 7th (Service) Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment in Mesopotamia from 1914 – 1918. After Mesopotamia, he was sent to Baku, Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, most probably as part of the Dunsterforce “Hush Hush Army” to help support the City of Baku. Dunsterforce was named after General Lionel Dunsterville and consisted of about 1000 men and undertook a 220 miles journey in a convoy of Ford vans and cars from Hamadan near Quajar in Iran to Baku in Azerbaijan.
The Dunsterforce fought in the Battle of Baku from 26th August to 14th September 1918 between the Ottoman–Azerbaijani coalition forces led by Nuri Pasha and Bolshevik–Dashnak Baku Soviet forces, later succeeded by the British–Armenian–White Russian forces.
The Dunsterforce received orders to leave Baku as the Ottoman forces were bombarding the port and shipping with artillery fire. Two ships had been readied in the port for the evacuation of the force. Major Havelock and his unit, the 7th (Service) Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, were providing rear-guard cover during the night of the 14th/15th September allowing the main force to retreat to the port when he was killed on the 14th September 1918 aged 28. He was mentioned in dispatches and is commemorated on the Baku Memorial.
Major Cecil William Beresford
Cecil was born in 1875 and was the son of a Barrister of Law, Cecil Hugh Wriothesley Beresford and his wife Caroline Felicie Octavia. He was baptised on 24th June 1875 at the Holy Innocents Church, Kingsbury in Middlesex.
On the 10th December 1892, the South Wales Daily News announced his Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Volunteer Rifles the 1st (Pembrokeshire) Volunteer Battalion of the Welsh Regiment.
He was educated at Trinity Hall Cambridge University entering the college in 1895.
The London Gazette published on 14th October 1910 announced the promotion of 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Beresford to Lieutenant with the 10th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (London Irish Rifles).
His promotion from Lieutenant to Captain was announced on the 26th July 1912 in the London Gazette, along with his transfer from the 10th Bn to the 18th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Paddington Rifles).
He was subsequently promoted from Captain to Major remaining with the 18th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Paddington Rifles) which was announced in the London Gazette on the 6th April 1915. A few months later the Gazette announced his promotion to Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel on the 19th July 1915.
On the 10th April 1916, the London Gazette announced that he relinquished his rank as Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel due to an alteration in posting. It is not clear what happened next in his military career, but when he died, he was serving with the Royal Defence Corps (RDC).
The RDC was formed in March 1916 by converting the Home Service Garrison Battalions which were made up of soldiers that were either too old or medically unfit for front line service. The role of the RDC was to provide troops for security and guard duties inside the UK, guarding important locations such as ports or bridges and prisoner of war camps.
He died of wounds on 9th October 1917 at Burdon Military Hospital Weymouth and is buried at Weston Super Mare.
Hay Frederick Donaldson was born on 7th July 1856 in Sydney Australia and was the son of Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson, the first Premier of New South Wales, and his wife Amelia Cowper.
Although he was born in Australia, he studied mechanical engineering at Eton College, Trinity College, Cambridge, University of Edinburgh and Zurich University.
After leaving University, he was initially employed at the locomotive works at Crewe in Cheshire working for the London and North Western Railway locomotive works.
He married Selina Beresford on 15 July 1884 in Kensington shortly before moving to Goa in India working on railway and harbour construction until 1887. Whilst in India, the couple had 3 children: Amy Elizabeth, Stuart Hay Marcus and Ethel Adeline.
After India, he returned to England working on the Manchester Ship Canal from 1887 to 1891 followed by becoming the Chief Engineer at London’s East India Docks from 1892 to 1897.
At the same time as working on the Manchester Ship Canal and the East India Docks, he was also the Chief Mechanical Engineer at the Royal Ordnance Factories at Woolwich from 1889 to 1903. Whilst at Woolwich, he served as the Deputy Director-General from 1989-99. In 1903 he was appointed Director-General, a role in which he continued until 1915.
In 1909, he was awarded a CB, Companion to The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, followed by the KCB (Knight Commander) in 1911.
In September 1915, he resigned from the position of Director-General to take up the role of Chief Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Munitions
In June 1916, he was selected as one of the advisers to accompany the Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener on his mission to Russia. HMS Hampshire had been ordered to take Lord Kitchener from Scapa Flow on his diplomatic mission to Russia via the port of Arkhangelsk.
The Hampshire set sail from Scapa Flow at 16:45Hrs on the 5th June 1916 and due to gale force winds, it was decided that she would sail through the Pentland Firth, then turn North along the western coast of the Orkneys. Approximately an hour after setting sail, she rendezvoused with her escorts, two Acasta class destroyers, the Unity and Victor.
As the convoy turned North west, the gales increased and shifted direction resulting in the ships facing it head on, causing the escorts to fall behind the Hampshire. The Commanding Officer of the Hampshire, Captain Savill, believed it was unlikely that enemy submarines would be active in the area due t the weather conditions, so he ordered Unity and Victor to return to Scapa Flow.
About 1.5 miles off Orkney, between the Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, the Hampshire was sailing alone in rough seas when at 19:40Hrs she struck a mine laid by a German minelaying submarine. The mine was one of several laid by U-75 just before the Battle of Jutland on the 28th/29th May.
The Hampshire had been holed between the bow and the bridge, causing her to heel to starboard. Approximately 15 minutes after the explosion, the Hampshire began to sink bow first. Out of the crews compliment of 735 crew members and 14 passengers aboard, only 12 crew members survived. A total of 737 lives were lost including Lord Kitchener and all the members of his missionary party. He is commemorated on the CWGC Hollybrook Memorial at Southampton.
The ships crew are also commemorated on the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Winchester War Memorial outside Winchester Cathedral.
In 2010, the War Memorials Trust gave a grant of £150 for conservation works to the memorial window and its ferramenta. On the Beresford window at Hoby, the ferramenta had rusted and this was causing problems to the stonework of the church on the window which the ferramenta is fixed to and if left untreated could cause damage and cracking to stonework. To see more information about this grant, see the grant showcase.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
You are all undoubtedly aware of the sayings/speeches that are made at times of Remembrance and these are generally referred to as The Kohima Epitaph and The Exhortation.
The Kohima Epitaph is the epitaph carved on the Memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery of Kohima (North-East India). It reads:
‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’
The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958), and is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Greeks who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC.
The Exhortation is an extract from a poem written in mid-September 1914, just a few weeks after the outbreak of World War One, by Robert Laurence Binyon called “For the Fallen”.
The Exhortation is read out during Remembrance Ceremonies, immediately after the Last Post is played, and leads into the Two Minute Silence.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them.”
Response: “We will remember them.”
But how do we remember them?
Away from the Remembrance Ceremonies, everyone has their own way of remembering their fallen relatives and one method, especially for the families of those who never returned was, and still is today, via the erection of war memorials.
What is a war memorial though?
A war memorial can be any tangible object which has been erected or dedicated to commemorate war, conflict, victory or peace. They can also commemorate casualties who served in, were affected by or killed as a result of war, conflict or peacekeeping; or those who died as a result of accident or disease whilst engaged in military service. This can also include civilian casualties and not just service personnel.
War memorials can come in many different shapes and sizes, such as:
Boards, plaques and tablets (inside or outside a building)
Roll of Honour or Book of Remembrance
Community halls, hospitals, bus shelters, clock towers, streets etc
Church fittings like bells, pews, lecterns, lighting, windows, altars, screens, candlesticks, etc
Trophies and relics like a preserved gun or the wreckage at an aircraft crash site
Land, including parks, gardens, playing fields and woodland
Additions to gravestones (but not graves)
I suppose you could say that one of the first national war memorials in this country was The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. In 1681, responding to the need to look after these soldiers, King Charles II issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of the Royal Hospital Chelsea to care for those ‘broken by age or war’.
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building and in 1692 work was finally completed and the first Chelsea Pensioners were admitted in February 1692 and by the end of March the full complement of 476 were in residence.
War memorials can be found in just about every town or village across the country. There are so many First World War memorials in this country that it is easy to stop seeing them. For the majority of people, they just walk past them as if the memorial is so much part of everyday street furniture without even giving it a second glance. Even direct descendants of those named on them don’t pay that much attention to them.
Probably the most iconic war memorial in this country, and the one that most individuals are familiar with is The Cenotaph, located on Whitehall in Central London. It is the countries national memorial to the dead of Britain and the British Empire in the First World War and conflicts that have taken place since and is the focal point of the annual service of remembrance.
The Cenotaph was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens OM, the foremost architect of his day and was responsible for many of the commemorative structures built in the years following World War One by the Imperial War Graves Commission, now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Another famous war memorial that people will be aware of, but not necessarily associate it as a war memorial is another of London’s iconic landmarks, Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square. The monument was constructed between 1840 and 1843 to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It stands, 169 feet 3 inches tall from the bottom of the pedestal base to the top of Nelsons hat.
There are four bronze panels around the pedestal each cast from captured French guns. They depict the Battle of Cape St Vincent (14th February 1797), the Battle of the Nile (1st – 3rd August 1798), the Battle of Copenhagen (2nd April 1801) and the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805), all battles in which Nelson took part in.
Prior to the 1890s, the majority of war memorials across the country only commemorated aristocrats, the rich and famous who became officers of the British Army and Royal Navy.
However, in 1899 and the outbreak of the Second Boer War (1899-1902), regular soldiers were in short supply and volunteers stepped forward into the breach by joining the local volunteers Militia.
Thousands of these so called ‘amateur’ Militia volunteers were killed during the campaign, and those that returned home following the end of the war, were hailed as heroes as they had survived conflicts like the Sieges of Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley.
Consequently, thousands of Boer War memorials were erected up and down the country ranging from brass plaques to large elaborate sculptures in town centers. Whatever their design, they all had the same purpose of commemorating not only those Officers from well to do families but also the ‘common’ soldier that had made the ultimate sacrifice from either being killed in action or dying of illness contracted whilst serving in South Africa.
One such example of a Boer War memorial can be found in my local Parish Church of St Mary’s here in the market town of Melton Mowbray where I live.
On Saturday 20th December 1902, The Grantham Journal published the following article in their newspaper:
“Honour to Whom Honour is Due”—The memory of Meltonians who sacrificed their lives in the South African war is to be perpetuated by a splendid brass tablet, suitably inscribed, which is to be placed in the Parish Church, probably the nave. The names of the seven who fell, and which will appear on the tablet, are Privates John Lowe, Wm. Manchester, Wm. Redmile, and John Henry Green, Troopers Edward Dobson and Ernest Alfred Baker, and Bugler Albert Edward Peasgood, of Oakham, a member the Melton Volunteer Corps. The matter is in the hands of Mr. Willcox, who has collected most of the subscriptions for the purpose, a ready response being made in this respect. Work is in the hands of Messrs. J. Wippall and Co., of Exeter and London, and the tablet, which will be of an ornamental character, will be mounted a polished slab of black marble. The Vicar has kindly agreed to forego the fee of ten guineas which is entitled in respect of fixing of the tablet in the Church. It is expected that it will be ready towards the end of the month of February, and it will be unveiled at a special service arranged for the occasion, which will be attended by the local Volunteers and Yeomanry. A special effort is being made among the Volunteers in the matter of subscriptions the fund for memorial, and Sergt. J. Sutherland has undertaken to receive the same.
A special unveiling ceremony for the dedication of the memorial was held on Sunday 15th March 1903.
The brass plaque is described as “Containing a cross with red infill, encircled by a crown within nowy head & a cross at each corner fixing point, all infilled in black. An engraved single-line, inwardly radiused, at each corner, forms a border around inscription area, with a decorative open termination at top centre within nowy head.”
THIS TABLET WAS PLACED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION IN MEMORY OF THOSE FROM THIS TOWN WHO DIED SERVING THEIR COUNTRY IN SOUTH AFRICA PRIVATE JOHN LOWE DIED OF ENTERIC AT LADYSMITH 6th MARCH 1900 AGED 23 YEARS BUGLER ALBERT EDWARD PEASGOOD A NATIVE OF OAKHAM DIED OF ENTERIC AT KROONSTAD 27th MAY 1900 AGED 19 YEARS PRIVATE WILLIAM MANCHESTER DIED OF THROMBOSIS AT SPRINGFONTEIN 12th DECEMBER 1900 AGED 28 YEARS TROOPER EDWARD DOBSON KILLED IN ACTION NEAR WELVERDIERED 24th DECEMBER 1900 AGED 20 YEARS TROOPER ERNEST ALFRED BAKER DIED OF ENTERIC AT KROONSTAD 1st JUNE 1901 AGED 18 YEARS PRIVATE WILLIAM REDMILE DIED OF ENTERIC AT ALIWAL NORTH 14th SEPTEMBER 1902 AGED 18 YEARS PRIVATE JOHN HENRY GREEN DIED 12th SEPEMBER 1902 UPON HIS RETURN HOME FROM DISEASE CONTRACTED IN SOUTH AFRIVA AGED 22 YEARS
“WHEN THE PEOPLE OFFERED THEMSELVES WILLINGLY” “HONOUR TO WHOM HONOUR IS DUE”
As part of the unveiling ceremony, a parade of the Melton Mowbray volunteers took place including the Melton and Gaddesby troops of the Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry, twenty-nine members of the Oakham detachment of “N” Company of the Leicestershire Volunteers, under Sergt. J. C. Kernick and the Church Lads Brigade and a regimental band from Leicester was also in attendance.
A large congregation assembled in the Church and the unveiling ceremony was performed by General Brocklehurst who raised a toast to the King and an appropriate dissertation was also read by the vicar, Rev R Blakeney.
After the unveiling, the Last Post, and the anthem ‘Blest are the departed’ by Spohr was sung by the choir.
Another example of a Boer War memorial is that which can be found in the Town Hall Square Leicester on the corner of Every Street & Horsefair Street. This memorial takes on a different for to the plaque in St Mary’s and is a low granite wall with bronze plaques containing the names of 315 of Leicestershire’s men who died in the war. It is made up of a central squat pedestal with bronze kneeling angel in flowing robes holding sword and olive branch, showing Peace. Figures of grief & war are also mounted on the end pillars.
I have been interested in war memorials for just short of 40 years now and this stems back to when I was a young cadet of around 13 or 14 years of age with No 967 Kirkham and South Fylde Sqn Air Training Corps.
I can’t remember the exact year, but as I said previously, I must have been around 13 or 14 when I was given the honour of laying a wreath on Remembrance Sunday at my local war memorial at Wesham in Lancashire.
Believe me, it was an honour, as on that memorial is the name of my Uncle, Frank Coulburn, who was a Sapper serving with No 9 Field Company, Royal Engineers during WW2 and he was killed at Dunkirk on 2nd June 1940, last seen on the beach during the evacuation. Sadly, his body has never been recovered, or if it was, never identified and as such he has no known grave.
On what I think was the same year, I was also part of the Guard of Honour at the Kirkham War Memorial, being one of four cadets, one stood on each corner of the memorial during the wreath laying ceremony. The town Mayor and other local dignitaries laid the wreaths whilst us cadets stood there with our heads bowed and our Lee Enfield .303 rifles in the arms reversed position in an act of remembrance, a pose that is quite common with figures of military personnel on war memorials, just like the one at Wesham.
During my travels across the UK, and even overseas, when I come across a war memorial, I will always pay it a visit, read the inscription and take photographs of it. There are plenty of the memorials that are lovingly cared for and maintained by local authorities and communities. Sadly though, this is not always the case as it was slowly dawning on me that a lot of these memorials were either neglected or suffering from effects such as weathering, pollution, and in some cases vandalism.
Coming across quite a few memorials that, shall we say were not in the best of conditions for whatever reason, I decided several years ago to join the War Memorials Trust as a member and also as a Regional Volunteer to ‘do my bit’ and try to ensure that “We will remember them” and the individuals named on the memorial inscriptions are “Not Forgotten.”
Throughout the United Kingdom, there are estimated to be over 100,000war memorials. They were, and still are today, erected by communities and in the majority of cases via public subscription as a means for communities to focus their grief and provide a means of Remembrance because so many who died or are classed as missing were never repatriated or have no known grave.
As I have discovered during my travels, many memorials are treasured, maintained and cared for with maintenance plans in place, but others are sadly neglected, vandalised or left to suffer the effects of ageing and weathering.
This is where the War Memorials Trust comes in. They want to ensure that each and every memorial is preserved and the memory of the individuals recorded, whether they be from past or present conflict, civilian or service personnel, remembered.
Who are the War Memorials Trust?
Back in 1997 an ex-Royal Marine, by the name of Ian Davidson, went to one of the Committee Rooms at the House of Commons to report on the ‘scandal’ of Britain’s war memorials.
Ian Davidson shocked those in attendance with his report that although the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was doing a magnificent job caring for the graves and memorials to our war dead abroad (post 1914), no one – and no organization – took responsibility for the care of Britain’s war memorials at home, estimated to number more than 50,000 at the time.
As a fall out from this meeting, a new organisation known originally as Friends of War Memorials was formed, changing its name to War Memorials Trust in January 2005.
The War Memorials Trust works with communities, supporting them to provide care for their war memorials which remain a shared ongoing tribute and responsibility. They encourage best conservation practice giving the greatest chance of preserving the original war memorials as they were seen by those who lost loved ones. As current custodians we are acting today not just for ourselves but for those who went before, and will come after, us.
As a charity War Memorials Trust provides advice, offers grants and works with others to achieve its objectives. But it needs help as it relies entirely on voluntary donations to enable it to protect and conserve war memorials in the UK. Gifts, subscriptions, grants and in-kind contributions all assist the charity to achieve its aims and objectives.
The war memorial in the village of Great Dalby near Melton Mowbray commemorates 11 men of the village who died in the Great War and it was unveiled on 25 July 1920. In 2006 a project was undertaken on the memorial to restore it to its former glory. The fence surrounding the memorial needed to be repaired to ensure it was safe and the War Memorials Trust contributed £215 towards this work.
Egerton Lodge War Memorial Gardens are part of landscaped gardens surrounding Egerton Lodge, a grade II listed residential home for the elderly in Melton Mowbray.
In 2008, the War Memorials Trust gave a grant of £2,500 towards the restoration of the terrace. This included cleaning the balustrade and re-pointing the structure with lime mortar. Additionally, the tarmac surface of the upper terrace was replaced with stone paving. The York paving slabs had originally been used on the platform of the Great Northern Station on Scalford Road, Melton, until it’s closed in 1953. When the war memorial was restored in 2008/9, it was decided to use the stone labs on the upper terrace as it was deemed appropriate that those who gathered on the terrace to honour the towns fallen heroes would be standing on the same slabs as some of those who did not return may have stood during their embarkation when they went off to war.
The War Memorials Trust also relies on the efforts of volunteer Contributors to report on the condition of war memorials around the country. These volunteers used to be called Regional Volunteers and they looked after the memorials in their County but that volunteering scheme has now ended as more and more members of the public are also contributing.
If you want to get involved in any way, to help protect and conserve our nation’s war memorial heritage, you can join the Trust as a member. Members donate either an annual subscription of £20 or make a one-off payment of £150 for life membership.
Alternatively, you can get involved by volunteering and reporting on the condition of our war memorials. You can do this by registering online with their War Memorials Onlinewebsite and then submit photos and condition reports of any war memorials you come across.