27 – Melton prepares ‘George’ for trip down under!

One of Meltons’ claim to fame during World War 2 was the despatch of a famous war veteran to Australia in the form of a Lancaster bomber known as G for George.

Avro Lancaster Mk.I serial number W4783 AR-G (for George), operated by No. 460 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The aircraft flew 90 combat missions over occupied Europe with 460 Squadron, and is the second most prolific surviving Lancaster, behind R5868 S for Sugar which flew 137 sorties with No. 83 Squadron RAF, No. 463 Squadron RAAF and No. 467 Squadron RAAF.

The aircraft was built to contract B.69275/40 by Metropolitan-Vickers Ltd. at Trafford Park, Manchester and was taken on charge by No. 460 Squadron on 22nd October 1942 and allocated to A Flight as ‘G for George’ at RAF Breighton in Yorkshire.

The first operational sortie for ‘George’ was on the 6th Dec 1942 when 10 aircraft from 460 Sqn took part in the raid on Mannheim. George took off from RAF Breighton at 17:23Hrs with a bomb load of 1 x 4,000lb bomb and 10 Small Bomb Containers, each loaded with 236 x 4lb Incendiary bombs. The bombs were dropped over the target at 20:18Hrs and returned to base at 23:58Hrs.

George took part in ‘minor ops’ on the night of 17th/18th December 42 when 27 Lancasters from No 5 Group were sent on raids to 8 small German towns and a further 50 aircraft were tasked with ‘Gardening’ Ops laying mines from Denmark to Southern Biscay. George was one of the aircraft on Gardening Ops.

The aircraft took off from Breighton at 16:50Hrs with 1 x PIM8 mine and 5 x B200 mines. Due to 10/10 low cloud and sea fog rising to 800 feet, the mines were brought back to base with the pilot reporting the operation as a ‘waste of time’. George suffered damage from anti aircraft flak resulting in hole 8″ in diameter being made in the starboard wing. The damage was categorised as Cat.Ac/FB with the repair being beyond the unit capacity, but was repaired on site at Breighton by another unit or a contractor).

W4783 is visited by the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, when it was serving in No. 460 Squadron

On 14th April 1943, George was part of a force of 208 Lancasters and 3 Halifaxes bombing the docks area of La Spezia in Italy. During this raid, George again received damage which was categorised as Cat.A/FB. This time, though, it wasn’t a result of enemy action, but the cockpit windscreen was shattered, possibly after being hit by falling bombs from above. The entry in the Sqn Operational Record Book states “The windscreen was shattered by below average bombing partly due to fog”. Again it was repaired on site and moved with 460 Squadron to Binbrook on 14th May 1943.

The famous 460 Squadron (Australia) Lancaster bomber ‘G’ George resting at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, after completing 90 operations over enemy territory during WWII
(Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2119392/A-modern-day-mission-Lancaster-bomber-crew-preparesaction-70-years-remarkable-set-airfield-pictures.html)

The last operation for ‘George’ was against Cologne on the 20th April 1944. During it’s sixteen months operational service, ‘George’ carried out some 90 bombing operations against Germany, Italy and occupied Europe. ‘George’ was damaged over twenty times by enemy action and once by friendly forces. It has the added distinction of bringing home, alive, every crewman who flew aboard it. This is a surprising feat considering the aircrafts history.

The senior fitter, Flt Sgt Tickle kept a diary of ‘George’s’ active service record. One of the most exciting entries was dated 22nd October 1943, when the Lancaster, which was on its 67th trip, carried a heavy load of bombs to Kassel with Flt Sgt W. A. Watson, of Clarence River (NSW), as pilot and ran into a violent electrical storm.

‘George’ survived another severe test on the night of 16th June 1943, when over Cologne it collected 17 flak holes in the wings, tailplane. fuselage, and midupper turret. The propellers and under–carriage had also sustained some damage too.  The Lancaster on 6th September 1943, came home on three engines. ‘George’ also made many trips to Italy. The pilot: on the 90th and last war flight was Flying-Officer J. A. Critchley, of Brighton (Vic).

On the night of the 31st August 1943, ‘George’ was just one of 21 aircraft from 460 Sqn detailed to attack Berlin. the main bomber force they were part of consisted of 622 aircraft: 331 Lancasters, 176 Halifaxes, 106 Stirlings and 9 Mosquitoes. it was during this sortie that ‘George’ suffered ‘friendly fire’ damage when incendiary bombs dropped from an aircraft above ‘George’ put a hole in it’s tail.

Ninety small bombs painted on the side of the drab-coloured fuselage of “G for George” illustrates the proud record of many battles this plane has fought over enemy territory.

Before leaving England, men of the RAAF decided that ‘George’ deserved more than his 90 bombs’ painted on the fuselage for 90 missions, so they awarded ‘George’ the DSO, the DFM and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal which are an affectionate tribute paid to ‘George’ by men who remember the bomber as the luckiest and the staunchest they have ever flown and the best they have ever serviced.

Among 200 men who spent between them 664 hours and five minutes of operational flying in ‘George’ ‘many have been decorated or promoted.

On 29th May 1944 the Sqn ORB recorded that ‘George’ was despatched to Waddington prior to despatch to Australia.

HQ No 44 Group issued a special Air Movement Order to RAF Melton Mowbray on the 25th September 1944 headed “Lancaster MkI W4783 to be flight delivered to Australia, Special Commitment”.

The Air Movement Order provided details about what preparation was required to enable George to fly down under:
Weight – 52,260lbs
Height – 10,000ft
IAS – 170-160mph
Boost – +4lbs/sq in
AMPG (Air Miles per Gallon) – 1.15 statute miles

The aircraft was prepared for the journey by No 4 Aircraft Preparation Unit whilst the training of the specially selected crew and despatch of the aircraft would be undertaken by No 304 Ferry Training Unit. Note that both of these units were amalgamated on the 9th October 1944 and became No 12 Ferry Unit.

The crew members were specially selected for ferrying ‘George’ to Australia and were all tour-expired members of the RAAF being transferred from operational squadrons. They arrived at RAF Melton Mowbray on the 30th September and were:
Pilot – A/Sqn Ldr E A Hudson DFC and Bar
2nd Pilot – Fg Off F P Smith DFC
Navigator – Fg Off W C Gordon DFC
Bomb Aimer – Fg Off T V McCarthy DFC
Wireless Operator – Fg Off C H Tindale DFM
Air Gunner – Fg Off G B Young DFM
Senior Fitter – Flt Sgt H Tickle MID
Fitter – Sgt K A Ower

The crew assembled for the marathon flight. L to R: Wilfred Gordon, George Young, Francis Smith, Clive Tindale, Harry Tickle, Eddie Hudson, Keith Ower and Tom McCarthy

Awards gained by members of the crew include two DFC’s, two DFC’s and Bars, two DFM’s and one mentioned in dispatches.

Sqn Ldr Hudson, who comes from Rockhampton, Queensland, participated in attacks against most heavily defended targets, such as Hamburg, Kiel, Cologne, Dulsburg and Rostock.  He is noted for pressing home at tacks from low level.

Flt Lt F. P. O. Smith, of Newcastle (NSW), the second pilot, won the DFC for courage and skill in securing many fine photographs, particularly one of Turin in July, 1943.

Fg Off W. C. Gordon, of Raleigh (NSW), the navigator, gained the DFC for nursing the plane to the target and back to base after the compass, the airspeed indicator and radio had been put out of action.

Fg Off T. V. McCarthy, DFC and Bar, the air bomber, from Mossvale (NSW) is one of the most experienced Australian Air Force bomb-aimers. He had done 13 trips to Berlin.

Fg Off C. H. Tindale, DFM, the radio operator and air-gunner, of Cremorne (NSW) improvised the inter-communication system after it had been put out of action during a flight to Berlin.

Fg Off G.B. Young, DFM, airgunner, of Matraville (NSW) received his award for extinguishing a fire in the plane on his first operational flight.

Flt Sgt H. Tickle, of Adelaide, has been mentioned in dispatches. Tickle, from the time “G for George” began operations in December 1942. has been in charge of the maintenance flight which did the Lancaster’s repairs.

Sgt K. A. Ower, fitter, from Telamon (NSW) had long service with the Australian Air Force Coastal Command squadron before he was posted to the Lancaster squadron. Ower has a grand record as a member of the ground staff.

Standard training for new ferry crews usually took around ten days and included subjects such as long range flying, dinghy and parachute drills, compass and direction finding, navigation exercises, using the sextant and astro-compass, auxiliary fuel systems and petrol consumption. In addition tot he usual training, they were given instruction on the use of the radio range receiver that was being installed for the journey.

In October 1944 it was transferred to the RAAF and re-serialled ‘A66-2’. On the 6th October, ‘George’ and her all Australian crew left Melton Mowbray for RAF Prestwick in Scotland on the first leg of the journey.

On 11th October 1944 it departed Prestwick and commenced the long flight to Australia. A message before take-off was received from H.R.H The Duke of Gloucester, the Governor General Designate of Australia, who sent a good-will message wishing them a safe voyage and hoping that George would be joined by many Australia-built Lancasters.

The Sphere – Saturday 28 October 1944

The journey would take them from Prestwick via Reykjavík in Iceland; Goose Bay – Labrador, Canada; Dorval – Montreal, Canada; San Francisco – USA, Honolulu, Suva – Fiji and onto Brisbane. Whilst at San Francisco George had a problem with the radio transmitter which delayed the aircraft until it was repaired. After leaving San Francisco, the automatic pilot went and it was reported that one of the crew said “It is time the pilots did a bit of work.”

The aircraft experienced more trouble when it landed at the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Suva in Fiji when the radio receiver went unservicable

George finally arrived at RAAF Station Amberley, to the west of Brisbane at 11:32am on the 8th November 1944.

The aircraft was required for a tour in the south, as part of campaign to raise war bonds but a request by the father of the pilot, Mr. S.G. Hudson of Rockhampton was first granted and after taking off on the 10th and circling Brisbane, ‘George’ landed at Rockhampton at 3 p.m. after twice circling that town.  The crowd cheered as the aircraft’s captain stepped out to be greeted by his father and family from whom he had been parted for over four years.

It was still touring in April 1945 when it visited Rockhampton again in company with Beaufort A9-580 in connection with the 3rd Victory Loan.

3rd Victory Loan poster

The  ‘3rd Victory Loan’ tour in which ‘George’ took part, ran from 13th March to 27th April 1945. On 6th April 1945, ‘George’ flew in formation over Brisbane with nine Beaufighters of 93 Squadron, six Liberators, nine Mustangs, three Kittyhawks, and one Boston as part of the “Victory Loan” campaign.  93 Squadron had earned the nickname the “Victory Loan” Squadron buy raising over 8,000 Pounds towards the Victory Loan fund.

In July 1945 it was flown into outside storage at RAAF Fairbairn, Canberra. In the early 1950’s a decision was made to preserve the aircraft and work commenced to prepare it for display. It is still housed at Canberra A.W.M. where it can be seen today.

In 2003, G-George returned to display at the AWM in the new ANZAC Hall after a five year restoration program, which restored the aircraft as faithfully as possible to its wartime configuration. It is displayed in conjunction with a sound and light show that attempts to convey something of the atmosphere of a World War II Bomber Command raid, and incorporates a German ’88’ flak gun and a Bf-109 fighter. The display is based on a sortie captained by Flying Officer “Cherry” Carter to Berlin on “Black Thursday” December 1943, so called because Bomber Command lost 50 of the 500 bombers detailed for the raid – more than half were lost in landing accidents due to bad weather.

No 460 Squadron flew the highest number of Lancaster sorties in Bomber Command, but also suffered the highest loss rate of any Lancaster unit in No. 1 Group. Quite rightly, ‘George’ serves as a memorial to all Australians who flew with Bomber Command, and to the 1,018 dead of 460 Squadron.

Extract from the RAF Melton Mowbray ORB from Oct 44 which states:

“There were two bright spots – we finally liquidated the arrears on commitments No’s 91 & 166 and we successfully despatched the special commitment of one Lancaster to Australia. This aircraft has been much photographed at various stations throughout the world, but was prepared and the crew trained for this overseas flight and despatched secretly from this station.”

For more information on RAF Melton Mowbray and its role in ferrying aircraft across the world during WW2, see my previous blog: 15 – RAF Melton Mowbray

26 – The Death of a Melton WW1 ‘Ally Sloper’

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,

Army Club Ally Sloper cigarettes advert

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. 

Army Service Corps badge and uniform

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.

CWGC Headstone of TS/4251 Strapper George Essex ASC

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. 

Remount Depot Recruitment Poster

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. 

Romsey Remount Depot

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.

Romsey War Horse Memorial

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.

Pension Record Card

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.

25 – Tragic Accident or A Case of Mistaken Identity?

As you wander around the Leicester Gilroes cemetery, you can’t fail to notice the Cross of Sacrifice outside of the main crematorium building. In front of the Cross is a screen wall containing the names of 31 casualties from all 3 branches of the services, Army Navy and RAF plus the Home Guard.  All of whom died during WW2 and their bodies were cremated.

Gilroes Crematorium Cross of Sacrifice and Screen Wall

Also, scattered around the cemetery are the graves of a further 272 military personnel from both WW1 and WW2.  The majority of the graves have the standard CWGC headstone made out of either Portland, Stancliffe or Botticino stone, whilst others have a private memorial stone erected by the family.

As you meander around the site, looking at the graves, you will also see headstones that mention individuals that were killed on military service and are buried elsewhere.  These are actually classed as war memorials as they commemorate a deceased service person who as previously mention is buried at another location.

One example was the Browne family headstone, and as usual it was the inscription that grabbed my attention as it referred to the individual being Killed on Active Service in Malta.

Browne family headstone at Gilroes Cemetery
In
Loving Memory of
Percy
Beloved Husband of
Beatrice Browne
Died July 14th 1927 Aged 53
Also of
LAC Cyril Browne RAF
Beloved Son of the Above
Killed on Active Service at Malta
Dec 17th 1942 Aged 38
Also of Beatrice Julia
Beloved Wife of
Percy Browne
Died January 22nd 1948 Aged 74
“Re-United”
Also of
William James
Beloved Son of the Above
Died July 1st 1977

A quick check of the CWGC casualty database soon confirmed that indeed the individual was buried in Plot F. Coll. grave 18. of the Prot. Sec. (Men’s). in the Cappucini Naval Cemetery in Malta and not in Gilroes Cemetery.

The Grave Registration Report Form can be viewed and downloaded from the CWGC casualty record and this shows several personnel from 138 Sqn who were killed on the 17th Dec 42 and are buried in Cappucini Naval Cemetery.

But who was Cyril Browne and what happened to him?

As we have already gathered from the inscription on the headstone, Cyril Browne was the son of Percy and Beatrice Browne.  He was born on 5th June 1906 in Blaby district of Leicester.  He had 3 elder brothers, 1 younger brother and 2 younger sisters.

When the 1911 census was carried out, Cyrils father Percy was listed as a Provision Merchant and was recorded as living with his family at Roseleigh, Fox Lane, Kirby Muxloe, Leicester. Listed on the census return along with Percy, was his wife, Beatrice and their children Willie (11), Archie (10), George (7), Cyril (4) and Charles (1).

At the start of the First World War, the family were residing at 371 Fosse Road South in Leicester, but by 1918, they had moved to 44 Glenfield Road.  Within a couple of years, they had moved a few doors down the road to No 23 Glenfield Road.

By 1930, the family had moved from Glenfield Road and were now residing at Glen-Haven on Narborough Road. At the time of the 1939 register, Cyril was listed as living at Glen-Haven, Leicester Road, Blaby with his mother Beatrice, his younger brother Charles, and their younger sisters Beatrice and Kathleen.  Cyril’s occupation was listed as Grocer and Fruit Salesperson.

Following the outbreak of War, Cyril enlisted into the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) as a Mechanised Transport Driver, undergoing training at RAF Padgate and allocated service number 1069726.

After completing his training, Cyril was serving with No 21 Personnel Transit Centre at RAF Kasfareet, part of No. 216 Group, Royal Air Force Middle East Command in Egypt.

On the 17th December 1942 he was returning to the UK, departing Cairo and staging via Malta and Gibraltar.  He was a passenger aboard a Handley Page Halifax Mk2 DT542 NF-Q of 138 (Special Duties) Squadron. 

The crew of the Halifax were all Polish Air Force serving in the Royal Air Force with the exception of the Flight Engineer:
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Krzysztof Leon Dobromirski, (Pilot)
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Zbigniew Idzikowski, (Observer)
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Stanislaw Pankiewicz, (Pilot)
Sergeant (Sierzant) Alfred Edmund Kleniewski, (WOp/AG)
Sergeant (Sierzant) Roman Wysocki, (Wop/AG)
Flight Sergeant (Starzy Sierzant) Oskar Franciszek Zielinski (Gunner)
Sergeant Alexander Clubb Watt (Flt Eng)

In addition to Cyril and the above crew members, the following personnel were also passengers onboard the aircraft:
Maj Allen Algernon Bathurst. (Lord Apsley) DSO, MC, TD. 1 Royal Gloucester Hussars Royal Armoured Car and MP
Maj Arthur David Curtis Millar. Indian Army
Sqn Ldr Jefferson Heywood Wedgwood DFC. Pilot, RAF 92 Sqn
Fl Lt Peter Earle. RAF air Gunner, 76 Sqn. Ex 462 Sqn
Fl Lt Leonard Arthur Vaughan. DSO, DFC. RAF Air Gunner, 40 Sqn
Sgt Dennis Spibey. RAF. Fitter Grade 2 (Engines), 138 Sqn
Cpl Douglas Sidney Hounslow. RAFVR. Fitter Grade 2 (Airframes) 138 Sqn
LAC Richard Clegg. RAFVR. Flight Mechanic (Engines) 138 Sqn
AC1 Stanley Edward Kelly. RAFVR. Clerk/General Duties, 244 Wing Middle East Command

After it had been refuelled, DT542 NF-Q took off from RAF Luqa Airfield in the dark at around 04:00hrs to continue its journey to England via Gibraltar.

Shortly after it was airborne, the aircraft passed over Zeitun when a loud explosion was heard, and it crashed onto fields between Il-Bajjada and Ta’San Girgor, limits of Zejtun 04:05hrs and caught fire. Tragically all the crew and the passengers were killed in the crash.

There are conflicting stories that the aircraft suffered engine trouble just after take-off from Luqa and was returning when it crashed.

The Island’s defenders would certainly have been wary of any aircraft, as it was not until 20th November 1942 that the siege of Malta could be considered as over. Enemy air attacks continued for some time, albeit only sporadically and on a much reduced scale. The cost to both sides had been high, with well over 1,000 aircraft written off and thousands of military personnel and civilians killed and injured.

At least one account claims that the Halifax was mistakenly identified as an enemy aircraft and shot down by Anti Aircraft fire. 

It is not clear what the aircraft was doing out in Egypt as there is no record of any sortie for the crew around that date other than an entry for the 17th listing the crew names and stating “Killed on Operations”.

The Operational Record Book of 40 squadron which Flt Lt Leonard Vaughan DSO DFC belonged to merely states that the aircraft “crashed on landing after being recalled”.

Cyril is buried in the Cappucini Naval Cemetery Malta (Protestant Section Men’s Plot F Collective Grave 18. He is also remembered on the memorial at St Johns Church, Enderby plus on his parents gravestone at Leicester Gilroes Cemetery.

Cappucini Naval Cemetery Malta

I suppose we will never know the true answer as to whether it was a tragic accident or a case of mistaken identity, but according to the aircraft accident card, there was no mention of enemy action and certainly ne mention of a friendly fire incident.

Proudly and Thankfully We Will Remember Them

24 – Just Another Trip!

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.

No 14 OTU Crest

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.

Wellington Bomber

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. 

Crash site grid references

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.

Wellington crash site in Copley South Field

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. 

Walter Griffin commendation letter

“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 DFC

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 Owen DFC

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.

Norman and Mary wedding photo

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.

Norman Owen grave

Staff Navigator: Plt Off Sydney Jack Guiver 174686

Sydney Guiver

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. 

Sydney and crew mates in front of Lancaster bomber

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 Guiver back row 3rd from Right

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.

Death notice telegram

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.

Letters from RAF Market Harborough

Again on the 17th & 20th Aug, RAF Market Harborough wrote to the father.  The letter on the 17th reads:

“Dear Sir,
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
Grave number

Yours faithfully
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.

Yours Sincerely

Group Captain Commanding

RAF Market Harborough”

Grave of Sydney Jack Guiver

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

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.

Mansel Roberts KIA
Family grave with Edward Mansel Roberts

Sgt Edward Mansel Roberts is buried in the Non-Conformist Cemetery at Buckley.

Navigator: Sgt William Marshall Thomas 1652484

Sgt William Thomas

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).

William Marshal Thomas front row 2nd from left

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.

Aberdare Boys Grammar School Memorial

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

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. 

Sgt Peter Stafford AG Wing badge

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 Stafford grave Oxford (Botley)

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 gravestone

Sgt Leonard Wilson is buried in Grave 374 Section. T of the Alverthorpe  (St Paul) Churchyard.

W/Op: Sgt Robert McCudden 1822819

Sgt Robert McCudden

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).

Death notification telegram
Undertakers bill
Robert McCudden gravestone

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 Raby (centre)

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.

23 – Leicester’s Own Bomber Squadron

No 207 Squadron was part of No 5 Group Royal Air Force Bomber Command and was based at RAF Bottesford in North East Leicestershire from 17th November 1941 to 20th September 1942, after which it moved to RAF Langar just across the border in Nottinghamshire. The Squadron was known as ‘Leicester’s Own’ as in the immediate pre-war period the RAF had mounted a campaign to increase public support by encouraging cities to adopt squadrons officially.

207 Squadron crest
RAF Bomber Command crest

On 21st June 1939 the Leicester Mercury reported:
Now Leicester Has An R.A.F. Squadron
Leicester was not mentioned when the scheme for the affiliation of R.A.F Squadrons to principal cities and towns of the country was announced in April last, but the Air Ministry now announces new affiliations, including that of No. 207 Bomber Squadron to Leicester. This squadron’s station is Cottesmore, and its Commanding Officer is Wing- Commander J. N. D. Anderson, who is now honorary member of the Leicestershire Aero Club. The squadron will pay an annual ceremonial visit to Leicester, and, it is understood, will give a display at Leicester Air port. On this occasion the public will be afforded an opportunity of inspecting aircraft when on the ground and meeting the crews. The squadron which will “watch over Leicester,” will probably co-operate with other air interests in important civic events, providing Service commitments permit.
Leicester Natives
The total number of towns now affiliated to R.A.F. squadrons is 59. Several members of No. 207 Squadron are Leicester-born men. Another squadron at Cottesmore is affiliated with the municipality of Shrewsbury. Mr. Roy Winn, of the Leicestershire Aero Club, to-day welcomed the news of the Cottesmore squadron’s affiliation to Leicester. a very good idea,” he said. At the opening of Derby Airport the Hucknall squadron, affiliated to Derby, put up great show. Leicester can look forward to similar display.”

On the evening of the 5th/6th August 1942, the Royal Air Force Bomber Command dispatched 25 heavy bomber to attack The Ruhr in Germany. 17 aircraft were targeting Essen, and the remainder 8 were sent to Bochum. The intention was for the bombers to reach their target areas by Gee and then bomb visually through gaps in the cloud.

Out of the 17 aircraft dispatched to Essen only 1 managed to bomb the target and 3 out of the 8 sent to Bochum bombed their target.

From the 25 aircraft sent, 5 aircraft were lost over Europe, 3 Halifax bombers, 1 Lancaster and 1 Wellington with a further aircraft crashing in England on its return.

In addition to the main bomber force, Bomber Command were also involved in minor operations with 57 aircraft on ‘Gardening’ Ops laying vegetables (minelaying) off France, Holland and Germany plus a further 14 aircraft on leaflet flights.

No 207 ‘Leicesters Own’ Sqn aircraft were involved in both the major and minor bomber forces. However, not all of the Squadrons crews took part in these ‘Ops’ as some of those newly arrived on the Sqn were tasked with local training flights.

According to the Squadron Operational Record Book (ORB), the entry for the 5th August states: “Fair. Six aircraft detailed for operations. Two attacked last resort targets. One a/c Captain (F/Lt Ings) failed to return to base. During local night flying Bar U crashed into B on landing. Five members of the crew ere killed and five injured.”

The ORB Record of Events records the following aircraft as being involved:

Lancaster R5633 ‘R’ – Bombing – Target not attacked owing to U/S T.R. Heavy accurate flak was encountered at 23000 feet consisting of box barrages with no searchlight co-operation. Trailing aerial shot away 0054 23000 target not reached, no cloud but heavy ground haze. 5 x 2000lbs and 16 bundles nickles jettisoned 0054 23000 feet at 5105N 0710E.

Lancaster R5761 ‘T’ – Bombing – Aircraft failed to return to base. No contact established. Crew
F/Lt Ings G A
Sgt Bell-Berry R
F/S Shapter W J A
F/S Everitt G C
Sgt Culley J
Sgt Manser D R
Sgt Holland J W E

Homeward-bound, ‘T’ for Tommy was shot down by the night fighter crew of Oberleutnant Loos & Unteroffizier Gumm of the 1./NJG 1, who were flying a Bf 110 F-4 from Venlo airfield.

Bf110’s of NJG1

Flt Lt Gerald Ings and the rest of the crew for ‘T’ for Tommy are buried in the CWGC Uden War Cemetery, approximately 23 miles South West of Nijmegan.

Lancaster R5674 ‘S’ – Gardening – Primary target gardening attacked at 0328Hrs from 400 feet in poor visibility. IAS 170mph, 5 vegetables at 7 seconds intervals. Garden identified by pinpoint from Point de Grave. No results seen.

Lancaster R5863 ‘K’ – Gardening – Primary garden attacked at 0330 from 600′. IAS 155mph TI 4 seconds. Weather conditions were hazy at 1000 feet and above but good visibility below. Garden was identified visually by pinpoint South of Grace Point and 5 mines were dropped. Opposition was encountered from light flak on both sides of estuary. 5 splashes seen, apparently successful.

Lancaster L7582 ‘D’ – Gardening – Primary garden attacked at 0322 from 800 feet at 160 IAS. Time interval 6 seconds. Visibility was good and garden was identified by pinpoint on Point de Grave 5 veg were dropped and no results were obtained.

Sea mines similar to those carried by 207 Sqn on Gardening Ops ready for loading onto a Lancaster

At 00:05Hrs on the 6th August, tragedy struck No 207 Sqn and RAF Bottesford when Sergeant Akerman landed Lancaster R5550 B for Beer after completing a local training flight.

The landing itself was uneventful but due to repairs being carried out on the Bottesford airfield perimeter track, Akerman was ordered by Flying Control to taxi back down the main runway due to the perimeter track being out of use.

Aerial photograph of RAF Bottesford dated 8th June 1942

Sergeant Frederick Akerman was the pilot of Lancaster MkI R5550 ‘EM-B’ of No 207 Sqn Conversion Flight and he and his crew had been on a routine training flight. In addition to Akerman, the pilot, the crew consisted of:
Flight Engineer – Sergeant Harold Curson
Observer – Sergeant John Brooks
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Flight Sergeant AFG Smart
Air Gunner – Flight Sergeant Dick Ikin

207 Sqn Avro Lancaster

At the same time as Akerman was in the air in Lancaster ‘B for Beer’, Sergeant Arthur Pearson was also airborne on a similar training flight in Manchester MkI L7385 ‘EM-U‘. Pearsons crew aboard ‘U for Uncle’consisted of:
Flight Engineer – Sergeant John Forbes
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, – Sergeant Caleb Shepherd
Air Gunner – Sergeant J Slater
Air Gunner – Sergeant A Whitehead

Meanwhile, confusion arose in the Control Tower and the controller believed that Akerman and his Lancaster B for Beer was clear of the runway and permission was given for Pearson to land in Manchester U for Uncle.

207 Sqn Avro Manchester Mk1

Sadly there was nothing that could be done and the two bombers met head-on on the runway. Immediately following the collision, there was an explosion during which four crew were killed instantaneously. RAF Bottesfords ambulance and fire tender raced to the scene but couldn’t do anything to save them. A fifth crewman died shortly after the collision in the arms of the Station Medical Officer, Alan Ambrey-Smith.

Amongst the dead were Frederick Akerman, pilot of the Lancaster B for Beer, his Observer Flight Sergeant John Brooks and his Flight Engineer, Sgt Curson. Also killed were the Flight Engineer and Wireless Operator/Air Gunner from Manchester U for Uncle, Sgt John Forbes and Sgt Caleb Shepherd respectively.

Miraculously, five crewmen had escaped from the collision alive, although with varying degrees of injury.

The pilot of U for Uncle, 20 year old Sergeant Arthur Pearson, was admitted to the Burns Unit at the RAF hospital at Rauceby. He later returned to flying, but not operationally.

RAF Rauceby Hospital

Known formally as No 4 RAF Hospital Rauceby, the hospital acted in many ways as a satellite to the Cranwell unit, with 1000 beds, focusing its Crash and Burns unit on supporting aircrew injured on operations. Most famously the pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe was part of this team, many of his early patients forming a drinking club known as the ‘Guinea Pig Club’. The wartime Burns Unit was situated in Orchard House, built alongside the hospital orchard.

Flight Sergeant Dick Ikin, sitting in the rear turret of the Lancaster suffered shock and concussion. His only recollection of the accident was of waking up briefly in the ambulance and seeing another airmen whose face was covered in blood, at which point he passed out again. Sent home to Brighton to convalesce, he stayed out later than usual one night and decided to catch a bus home. Unfortunately the driver was having none of it, and declared ‘This bus is for war-workers only!’, Dick lkin’s reply is not recorded.

Sergeant Frederick Samuel Akerman was born on 3rd April 1919 and was the son of Ernest John Akerman, and of Alice Akerman, of St. Albans, Hertfordshire.  

At the time of the 1939 register being taken, he was listed as living at 8 Colham Avenue, Hillingdon in the district of Yiewsley and West Drayton. Listed at the same address in the register were his father Ernest, a general Labourer, his mother Alice, unpaid domestic duties and his brother Ernest, a floor polish packer, whilst Fredericks job was listed as chief clerk and cashier.

Frederick enlisted into the RAF as a Sergeant pilot and allocated service number 655412. Following the accident, his body was claimed by his family and buried in Row F. Grave 4, Hillingdon and Uxbridge Cemetery. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

Sergeant Harold Curson was born in the 1st quarter of 1919 and was the son of Sidney Herbert and Mabel Frances Curson of Hockering in Norfolk.

At the time of the 1939 register, Harold’s parents were listed as living at The Mill Farm, Hockering in the Mitford and Launditch rural district of Norfolk. Harold’s father, Sidney was listed at a farmer (employer), and his mother Mabel as unpaid domestic duties. Also at the family address were his brothers Raymond and Kenneth as farm workers assisting their father, and the sister Alice who was a mental nurse. Te register made no mention of Harold.

Harold enlisted into the RAF as a Sergeant Flight Engineer and allocated service number 537658.  He is buried in Bottesford (St Mary) Churchyard. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

Harold enlisted into the RAF as a Sergeant Flight Engineer and allocated service number 537658.  He is buried in Bottesford (St Mary) Churchyard. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

Sergeant John Forbes was born in 1920 and was the son of John Forbes and of Elsie Forbes of Woodside, Aberdeen. Prior to the war, he was a mechanic at the Balgownie Dairy.

Sgt John Forbes

In September 1940, he married Mary Wigglesworth of Morcombe, Lancashire. The couple had their first child Valerie in March 1941. Mary was pregnant with their second child Christine when John was killed. Christine was born in December 1942.

John enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve as a Sergeant, Flight Engineer and was allocated service number 967145. He is buried in Aberdeen Grove Cemetery in Joint grave 2059 with his brother Sgt James Forbes who was a Flight Engineer in the RAF and died 9th March 1945. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

BROOKS John, 924977, Flight Sergeant, Observer, RAF(VR).  John was the son of Thomas William and Jane Brooks, of Old Windsor, Berkshire.  He is buried in Class C. Cons. Grave 3332, Arnold Cemetery. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.


Caleb Stanley Kenneth Shepherd was born during the 3rd quarter of 1922 in Chester. He was the son of Stanley and Jane Shepherd. According to the 1939 register, the family lived at 15 Queen Street Chester and Stanley was listed as a taxi driver/proprietor/owner/driver and Jane as unpaid domestic duties.

Caleb enlisted into the RAF Volunteer Reserve as a Sergeant, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and allocated service number 1112237.   He is buried  in Sec. C. New Portion. Grave 233 of the Chester (Overleigh) Cemetery. For more information, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

August was a particularly bad month for casualties for No 207 Sqn with the night of Wednesday 5th/Thursday 6th August standing out as the worst single night.

Personnel from Leicester’s Own No 207 Squadron that made the ultimate sacrifice are remembered in the Squadron’s Book of Remembrance on display at Leicester Cathedral. Displayed above the BoR is the Squadron standard that was Laid Up when the Squadron disbanded in 1984. This Standard was presented by HM The Queen to the Squadron in 1956 and was the first to be presented by the Reigning Sovereign in person.

207 Sqn Standard and Book of Remembrance, Leicester Cathedral
207 Sqn Book of Remembrance, Leicester Cathedral

In addition to the Book of Remembrance at Leicester Cathedral, there is a memorial and Roll of Honour/Book of Remembrance in St Mary the Virgin Church at Bottesford.

“We Will Remember Them”

22 – Never In The Field of Human Conflict Was So Much Owed By So Many To So Few

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

Flt Lt Hugh Richard Aden Beresford

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.

Memorial Stone for Flt Lt Hugh Richard Aden Beresford “One of The Few”

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.

Bristol Bulldog

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.

Painting by Robert Taylor depicting 257 Squadron Hurricanes in combat against Luftwaffe HE111 bombers and ME109 fighters

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. 

South Chancel Window (Beresfod Memorial 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.

Window Lower RH Light Panel
Window Lower Central Light Panel with family crest
Window Lower LH Light Panel with names

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

Lt Col Percy William Beresford DSO

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

Major Beresford 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.

Burdon Military Hospital (now Prince Regent Hotel)

He died of wounds on 9th October 1917 at Burdon Military Hospital Weymouth and is buried at Weston Super Mare.

See his CWGC Casualty Record for more information.

Brigadier General Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson KCB

Brigadier-General Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson KCB

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.

HMS Hampshire

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.

Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Winchester Memorial
HMS Hampshire Inscription

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.

21 – Victoria Cross Heroes Commemorated in Melton Mowbray

The Victoria Cross (VC) is one of the highest awards a British soldier can receive. It requires an act of extreme bravery in the presence of the enemy, and has achieved almost mythical status, with recipients often revered as heroes. 

The VC is Britain’s joint-highest award for gallantry. It was only equalled in status in 1940, when the George Cross (GC) was instituted for acts of conspicuous bravery not in the enemy’s presence.

The prototype Victoria Cross was made by the London jewellers Hancocks & Co, who still make VCs for the British Army today. According to legend, the prototype, along with the first 111 crosses awarded, were cast from the bronze of guns captured from the Russians in the Crimea. There is, however, a possibility that the bronze cannon used was in fact Chinese, having been captured during the First China War (1839-42) and then stored at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.

When you talk about VC Heroes and Melton Mowbray, the majority of people recall Richard ‘Dick’ Burton.  It is true to say that Dick Burton is the only Meltonian to be awarded a Victoria Cross, but as the word ‘heroes’ suggests there are actually more than one VC recipients commemorated in the town, but who are they and why were they awarded their VCs?

If you take a close look at the Corn Cross in Melton Mowbray at the junction of High Street and Nottingham Street, you will see two small plaques, one commemorating Dick Burton and the other commemorating another Meltonian who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross during World War Two; Air Vice Marshal James Edgar ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and One Bar, DL.

Corn Cross Melton Mowbray
Memorial plaques for Dick Burton VC and Johnnie Johnson

These same two individuals are also commemorated in the Royal British Legion Field of Remembrance at the entrance of the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens with the placement of two small black crosses with plaques inscribed with their names. The Gardens were bought in 1929 by Melton Mowbray Town Estate and developed into a permanent memorial of those who fought in both World Wars.

RBL Garden of Remembrance with Burton & Johnson crosses

Private Richard Burton

Private Richard Burton VC

Richard Henry Burton, known as ‘Dick’, was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire on 29th January 1923, the son of George Henry Burton and his wife, Muriel. He grew up in the market town, living on Egerton Road, and went to school in the town until he was 14.  One of the schools he attended was the Brownlow School on Limes Avenue where you will find a wooden memorial plaque commemorating him.

After leaving school, Dick became a bricklayer and followed his father into the building trade until the age of 19. Still a teenager, he enlisted into the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1942, before he joined the Duke of Wellington’s (Dukes) to go to French North Africa, where he fought in the Tunisian campaign.

With his regiment, Private Burton went onto capture the Island of Pantellaria in the Mediterranean Sea between Tunisia and Sicily in 1943.  Afterwards he took part in the famous Anzio beach landings in January 1944, fought his way up through Italy.  Anzio cost the Dukes 11 officers and 250 other ranks wiped out. Burton’s CO was wounded.

The northward slog was a costly affair for the Dukes. The atrocious weather conditions reduced the battalion to mule transport, laden mules becoming ‘bellied’ in the mud under the weight of ammunition or stores. Thus the Dukes confronted Monte Ceco, a crucial 2,000ft feature, on the Gothic Line in October 1944, a six-day battle ensued in rain. The initial attack from the south failed, one of the causes of the failure being the mud in places was knee-deep. On the evening of the 8th October, a silent second attack from the west was launched in a downpour whilst under heavy German mortar fire.

In the final stages of the assault on Monte Ceco, Captain A. Burns took Burton, the runner, with his platoon through to assault the crest which was held by five Spandau machine-gun teams. Despite withering German fire, Burton managed to kill the first team with his tommy-gun; and similarly the next until his ammunition ran out. He then picked up a Bren light machine gun and firing from the hip, neutralised two further German machine-gun teams, allowing his company to consolidate on the forward slope of Monte Ceco.

The Germans counter-attacked fiercely. Burton, with his companions lying dead or wounded around him, beat off that attack with accurate Bren fire. A second German counter-attack was mounted on Burton’s flank and, firing in enfilade, he again broke up the impetus of this attack, saving his company’s position.

In a letter to his parents in Melton Mowbray Private Burton wrote: “I think I am in for some sort of medal. The sergeant with me received the DCM, and three Military Medal’s were distributed at the same time. They told me mine ought to be a VC, but I don’t know about that. Anyway, I have paid the Boche back for my wounds. I must have gone bomb-happy or mad.”

Burtons VC Citation – London Gazette

The announcement of his award of the Victoria Cross in the Lancashire Evening Post stated that it was the 124th VC of the war and the 85th to go to the Army.  His award was published in The London Gazette 4th January 1945 and he received his award from King George VI at Buckingham Palace the same month.

Burton’s VC citation ends with: ‘Private Burton’s magnificent gallantry and total disregard for his own safety during many hours of fierce fighting in mud and continuous rain were an inspiration to all his comrades.’

Dick Burton was barely a man at the time, a quiet boy who knew his duty. His medal embarrassed him, not only then but in the years that followed. To the end he remained modest, disliking fuss. He was a man tall and well set up, with nothing abrasive in him. There are essentially two sorts of VC courage: the calculating and cold, calling on intellect (such as the pilots showed); and the fiercely physical, which is ‘hands-on’ and calling on reserves of will. Dick Burton had that will, that conviction, from boyhood.

When station in Scotland, Dick met a young Scottish lady called Dorothy Robertson Leggat in the foyer of the Pavilion Cinema at Forfar. During his time in Scotland, their relationship bloomed rapidly, and he used to go and visit her family in Kirriemuir regularly.

After the war, Dick and Dorothy were married in 1945 and they went to live in Kirriemuir, where they brought up three boys and a girl. The Leicestershire lad became a convert Scot, even to the accent. After the war, Richard had returned to the building trade, and stayed in the business until retirement. He passed away on 11th July 1993 in Kirriemuir, aged 70, and was laid to rest in Kirriemuir Cemetery in the same grave as his son.

In 1998, at an auction at Spink’s, London, Burton’s medals including his VC were purchased by Michael Ashcroft and are now part of the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.

Dick Burtons medals in the Lord Ashcroft collection

Victoria Cross Flower Beds

As you enter the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens, you will pass the Royal British Legion Field of Remembrance on your right hand side with the two black crosses for Dick Burton and Johnnie Johnson as mentioned previously.  Follow the path around and you will notice two large flower beds.  There is one bed either side of the central path leading up to Egerton Lodge and the War Memorial, both set out in the shape of a Victoria Cross.

Egerton Lodge & VC flower bed
Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens Information Board

The information board (above) at the entrance of the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens states that the flower beds were designed to honour two more recipients of the Victoria Cross who have connections to Melton Mowbray. Captain Paul Kenna and Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency who were both members of the 21st Lancers and visited Melton as part of the hunting society.

The two officers are known to have stayed in Melton Mowbray during the late 1890’s and are reputed to have been guests staying at the Bell Hotel in 1899.  Their friend, Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards was also present in Melton at the same time, staying at the Blakeney Institute.

The three Officers were veterans of the Battle of Omdurman that took place in 1898 where all three were involved in the famous Lancer Charge during the battle.  According to the book “Melton Mowbray Queen of the Shires” by Jack Brownlow, they all carried marks of the fight.

Battle of Omdurman

The Battle of Omdurman took place on 2nd September 1898 at a place called Kerreri, 6.8 miles north of Omdurman.  Omdurman today is a suburb of Khartoum in central Sudan and sometimes the battle is referred to as the Battle of Khartoum.

Battle of Omdurman

British General Sir Herbert Kitchener commanded a mixed force of 8,000 British regular soldiers plus a further 17,000 troops from Sudan and Egypt.  Kitchener’s enemy, led by Abdullah al-Taashi, consisted of some 50,000 soldiers including 3,000 cavalry.  They called themselves the Ansar, but were known to the British as the Dervishes.

Directly opposite the British force was a force of 8,000 men spread out in a shallow arc about a mile in length along a low ridge leading to the plain.  The battle began at around 6:00 a.m. in the early morning of the 2nd September when Osman Azrak and his 8,000 strong mixed force of riflemen and spearmen advanced straight at the British.

The British artillery opened fire inflicting sever casualties on the attacking force resulting in the frontal attack ending quickly after the attackers had received about 4,000 casualties.

General Kitchener was keen on occupying Omdurman before the remaining Mahdist forces withdrew there so he advanced his army on the city, arranging them in separate columns for the attack.  The 21st Lancers from the British Cavalry were sent ahead to clear the plain to Omdurman. 

The 21st Lancers were made up of 400 cavalrymen and thought they were attacking a few hundred Dervishes, but little did they know that there were 2,500 infantry hidden in a depression.  Consequently, the Lancers fought a harder battle than they expected losing twenty-one men killed and fifty wounded. After a fierce clash, the Dervishes were driven back.

The Charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman by Richard C. Woodville

One of the participants of this battle was a young Lieutenant by the name of Winston Churchill who was attached to the regiment from the 4th Hussars, commanded a troop in the charge. It was during this same battle that four Victoria Crosses were awarded, three of which went to the 21st Lancers for helping rescue wounded comrades.  Churchill’s book “The River War: an Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan” provides a good account of the Battle of Omdurman.

As a result of the charge at Omdurman, the 21st Lancers was awarded the title ‘Empress of India’s’ by Queen Victoria, becoming the only regiment entitled to wear her Royal Cypher, and was allowed to return its french-grey facings, which had previously been replaced by scarlet. To this day men of The Queen’s Royal Lancers still wear a form of Queen Victoria’s Royal Cypher on their uniform.

21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers

Two of the Lancers VC awards that day went to Captain Paul Kenna and Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency who as mentioned previously are commemorated in the Egerton Park War Memorial Gardens with the VC shaped flower beds designed in their honour.

Captain Paul Aloysius Kenna

Captain Paul Kenna VC

Kenna was 36 years old and serving as a Captain with the 21st Lancers (Empress of India’s) during the Sudan Campaign when he undertook the deed for what he was to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

On the 2nd September 1898, during the Battle of Omdurman, a Major of the 21st Lancers was in danger as his horse had been shot during the charge.  Captain Kenna took the Major up on his own horse and back to a place of safety.  After the charge, Kenna returned to help Lieutenant De Montmorency who was trying to recover the body of a fellow officer who had been killed.

Kenna VC Citation London Gazette 15 Nov 1898

Captain Paul Kenna received his Victoria Medal from Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight on 6th January 1899. 

Following the Sudan campaign, Kenna later served in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and was promoted to Brevet-Major on 29th November 1900.  For his service in the war, he was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 26th June 1902.

Following the end of the South Africa War, Kenna returned to England in July 1902.  He was promoted to Major on the 7th September 1902 and appointed to command a Mounted flying column in Somaliland. 

He retired from the regular Army in September 1910 with the rank of Colonel. However, in April 1912 he was appointed to command the Notts and Derby (Yeomanry) Mounted Brigade.

In 1912, he competed for Great Britain in the Summer Olympics as a horse rider in the individual eventing (military) competition.  He did not finish the individual event nor did the British team finish in the team event.  He also competed in the individual jumping event where he finished 27th.

At the outbreak of World War One he was appointed Brigadier-General. In the spring of 1915, he took the 3rd Mounted Brigade to Egypt and later to Gallipoli. On 30th August 1915, he was hit by a Turkish sniper’s bullet whilst inspecting the frontline trenches and died of his wounds.

Lala Baba Cemetery

He is buried in the Lala Baba (CWGC) Cemetery, Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, Turkey. For more details, see his CWGC Casualty Record.

He left a widow, Angela Mary (his second wife), and two daughters. His medals are held by the Queen’s Royal Lancers Museum, Thoresby Park, Nottinghamshire.

Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency

Lieutenant (TheHon.) Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency VC

De Montmorency was born on 5th February 1897 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and was the eldest son of Major General Reymond de Montmorency, 3rd Viscount Frankfort de Montmorency and his wife Rachel Mary Lumley Godolphin Michel.

He joined the Army on 14th September 1887 when he took out a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment.  He was promoted to Lieutenant on 6th November 1889 and transferred to the 21st Lancers (Empress of India’s).

After the charge of the 21st Lancers during the Battle of Omdurman on the 2nd September 1898, Lieutenant de Montmorency returned to help an officer, 2nd Lt R G Grenfell, who was lying surrounded by the Dervishes.  Montmorency drove the Dervishes away only to find the 2nd Lt Grenfell was dead.  He put the body on his horse which then broke away.  Captain Kenna and Corporal Swarbrick came to his assistance, thus allowing Montmorency to rejoin his cavalry regiment.

Montmorency VC Citation London Gazette 15 Nov 1898
Wills’s “Scissors” Cigarettes, “Heroic Deeds” (issued in India in 1913) #25 Lieutenant the Honourable R.H.L.J. De Montmorency of the 21st Lancers winning the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Omdurman, 1898

After Sudan, like his colleague Paul Kenna, Montmorency served in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902).  In October 1898 he had been despatched to South Africa on special service. He was promoted to Captain on the 2nd August 1899 following which he raised and commanded a special body of Scouts known as Montmorency’s Scouts. 

The Victorian illustrated weekly publication Black and White Budget provided its readers with coverage of the 2nd Boer War and in their issue on 13th January 1900 commented “Captain de Montmorency, who is the commander of some mounted scouts with General Gatacre’s force, is showing the great value of horsemen in fighting the Boers. As soon as the enemy find themselves out-flanked by Montmorency’s men, they make a very hurried movement to the rear, and the fight is over so far as they are concerned. Captain Montmorency is the hero of the 21st Lancers, and won the Victoria Cross at Omdurman in 1898 by returning, after the charge, for the dead body of Lieutenant Grenfell, and carrying it off from among the enemy. He is the eldest son and heir of Major-General Viscount Frankfort de Montmorency, while his mother is the daughter of a Field-Marshal.”

Another article published by the Black and White Budget the day after his death reported the following: ”While the Colonial division was thus employed on the right front of the Illrd division, which on the 11th February numbered approximately 5,300 officers and men, Lieut.-General Gatacre ordered a reconnaissance on the 23rd February, to ascertain the truth of rumours that, in consequence of Lord Roberts’ invasion of the Free State, the Boers were falling back from Stormberg. Five companies of the Derbyshire with one machine gun, and the 74th and 77th batteries, Royal Field artillery (four guns each), were posted north of Pienaar’s Farm, while the mounted troops, numbering about 450, and consisting of De Montmorency’s Scouts, four companies mounted infantry, and a party of Cape Mounted Rifles, were ordered to scout to the front as far as the height overlooking Van Goosen’s Farm, and to try to lure the enemy towards the position occupied by the guns and the infantry. The scouts were fired on from a ridge held by the burghers; their advance was checked, and General Gatacre, finding that the Boers were not to be tempted forward, ordered a general withdrawal. The reconnaissance was not effected without loss. About 10.30 a.m. Captain the Hon. R. H. L. J. De Montmorency, V.C., 21st Lancers, had mounted a small kopje, accompanied by Lieut. -Colonel F. H. Hoskier, 3rd Middlesex Volunteer artillery, Mr. Vice, a civilian, and a corporal, when sudden fire at short range was poured into the little party, and De Montmorency, Hoskier and Vice were killed. This was not at once known to those behind, who for a time were left without orders. The enemy’s fire was so heavy that until 3.30 p.m. it was impossible to extricate the remainder of the scouts. The losses in De Montmorency’s small corps were two officers and four rank and file killed, two rank and file wounded, one officer and five other ranks missing, of whom two were known to have been wounded. The result of the day’s operations, in Lieut.-General Gatacre’s opinion, tended to show that the enemy’s force at Stormberg had diminished”

The units strength was about 100 and over the next three months they constantly received praise from Major Pollock and others writing about the operations in the central Cape Colony.  In a skirmish near Stormberg at Dordrecht in the Cape Colony on 23rd February 1900, Montmorency was killed in action.  It is said that he fired 11 shots after being mortally wounded.

Montmorency is buried in the Molteno Cemetery in the Chris Hani District Municipality, Eastern Cape, South Africa. For more details see Find a Grave.

Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux

Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux

As mentioned previously, both Kenna and Montmorency were friends of Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards, and it was himself that was involved in the action for which the Lancers 3rd Victoria Cross was awarded to Private Thomas Byrne during the Battle of Omdurman.

During the charge of the 21st Lancers, Byrne turned back to go to the assistance of Lieutenant the Hon.R F Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards who had been dismounted from his horse, wounded and was being attacked by several Dervishes.

In the book “The River War: an Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan”, Churchill describes the incident as follows: Major Crole Wyndham had his horse shot under him by a Dervish who pressed the muzzle of his rifle into its hide before firing.  From out of the middle of that savage crowd the officer fought his way on foot and escaped in safety. (Note this was the incident in which Captain Paul Kenna received his VC for rescuing Wyndham) Lieutenant Molyneux fell in the Khor into the midst of the enemy.  In the confusion he disentangled himself from his horse, drew his revolver, and jumped out of the hollow before the Dervishes recovered from the impact of the charge.  Then they attacked him.  He fired at the nearest, and at the moment of firing was slashed across the right wrist by another.  The pistol fell from his nerveless hand, and, being wounded, dismounted, and disarmed, he turned in the hopes of regaining, by following the line of the charge, his squadron, which was just getting clear.  Hard upon his track came the enemy, eager to make an end.  Best on all sides, and thus hotly pursued, the wounded officer perceived a single Lancer riding across his path.  He called on him for help.  Whereupon the trooper, Private Byrne, although already severely wounded by a bullet which had penetrated his right arm, replied without a moment’s hesitation and in a cheery voice, ‘All right Sir!’ and turning, rode at four Dervishes who were about to kill his Officer.  His wound, which had partly paralysed his arm, prevented him from grasping his sword and at the first ineffectual blow it fell from his hand, and he received another wound from a spear in the chest.  But his solitary charge had checked the pursuing Dervishes. Lieutenant Molyneux regained his squadron alive, and the trooper, seeing that his object was attained, galloped away, reeling in his saddle.  Arrived at his troop, his desperate condition noticed and was told to fall out.  But this he refused to do, urging he was entitled to remain on duty and have ‘another go at them’.  At length, he was compelled to leave the field, fainting from loss of blood.”

Byrne VC Citation London Gazette 15 Nov 1898

It was for this action that Private Byrne was awarded the Lancers third Victoria Cross of the day.  Again, like both Kenna and Montmorency, Private Byrne served in the Second Boer War and returned to England afterwards.  He died on 5th March 1944 and is buried in Canterbury City Cemetery in Kent.

Molyneux also served in South Africa and was A.D.C. to Lord Errol. He went on the officers’ Reserve list in 1904 but at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he was re-employed on active service with his regiment and fought in France and Belgium in 1914 and 1915. 

After the war he finally retired from the army in 1919 with the rank of Major upon which he was appointed groom in ordinary to King George V and began his long and happy connection with the Royal Family which ripened as the years went by into close friendship. He was the groom in waiting to King George from 1933 to 1936 and in 1935 was created K.C.V.O. (Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order).

After the death of King George V in 1936 he became, until her own death, extra equerry to Queen Mary, whose interests “he shared to the full. 

Sir Richard Molyneux was unmarried and lived in Berkeley Square, London. He died 20th January 1954 at the age of eighty. His funeral took place at Kirkby on 23rd January.

Melton Mowbray had become a ‘mecca’ for the aristocracy and sporting gentlemen taking part in foxhunting.  At the time, it was just as important to be seen hunting at Melton Mowbray as it was to appear at the best Society Balls in London.

Kenna and Montmorency, along with Molyneux were just three of the many dozens of military officers that frequented Melton during the hunting seasons. Kenna and Montmorency must have made an impact on the town for them to be recognised with the VC flower beds being designed in their honour.

20 – RAF Melton Mowbray Nuclear Missile Base

In blog No 15, I looked at the history of RAF Melton Mowbray during World War Two and its important role transporting aircraft around the world to support both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in whatever theatre of war they were engaged in.

In this blog, I continue the story of the former RAF station and skip ahead about 13 years after the end of World War 2 to the late 1950s when the country and the RAF was at the forefront of another global war – The Cold War and RAF Melton Mowbray became part of the countries vital nuclear defence network protecting our country.

Just over a year after the end of the Second World War, in November 1946, the Air Ministry issued an Operational Requirement, known as OR230, for an advanced jet bomber capable of carrying a 10,000-pound bomb to a target 2,000 nautical miles from a base anywhere in the world. The bomber needed to fly at an altitude of between 35,000 and 50,000 feet with a cruising speed of 500 knots.

A request for designs went to most of the United Kingdom’s major aircraft manufacturing companies including Handley Page, Armstrong Whitworth, Avro, Bristol, Short Brothers and English Electric. At the same time, another aircraft company, Vickers-Armstrong had produced a swept wing design, but this had been rejected as it did not meet the required specifications.

By the time the RAF’s strength reached its post war peak in 1956, the decision had been made by the Air Ministry and three companies that had made famous bombers during World War Two had been selected to produce the new jet bombers. They were Avro, producer of the infamous Lancaster bomber, Handley Page, producer of the Halifax bomber and Vickers, producer of the Wellington bomber. The three new aircraft that finally entered service were known as the Vulcan, the Victor and the Valiant respectively, becoming commonly known as the V Force.  These aircraft were to be used as the country’s Nuclear Deterrent.

RAF V Force with Vulcan (front), Valiant (center) and Victor (rear)

October 1956 saw the outbreak of the Suez War, and the RAFs aircraft were heavily involved in the crisis.  The diplomatic debacle of the Suez saw a dramatic rethink in defence policy.  The first manifestation of the new defence thinking was the infamous 1957 White Paper, in which Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Defence, forecast the end of manned aircraft and their replacement by guided missiles. 

It was during he Suez crisis that the British Government began discussions with the American Government the potential for basing a nuclear missile force in the United Kingdom.

The US gained much of its rocket expertise from German scientists that had previously been involved in the V1 and V2 vengeance weapons projects run by Germany during World War Two.  Apparently, there were over 500 rocket scientists that had voluntarily gone to the USA after the war to be employed in the aviation industry.

As a result of their experience, the USA already had two intermediate range missiles under development, one project run by the US Army named Jupiter (the bringer of Jollity) and the other by the US Air Force (USAF) named Thor (the God of Thunder).

The major problem the Americans were experiencing with both of these projects was the range of the missiles, which was limited to somewhere in the region of 1500 miles.  This was nowhere near enough to strike at targets deep within the Soviet Union with missiles launched from within the US homeland.  The only way the US could make practical use of the missiles was to deploy them in friendly countries nearer to the Soviet Union.

In 1957 an initial proposal from the USA was put to Britain to deploy Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) in the UK.  The plan was to deploy four Squadrons of nuclear tipped missiles with each squadron comprising fifteen missiles at a single base.  Two squadrons were to be manned by USAF personnel and the other two by RAF personnel.

The Thor missile was an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile with a range of 1,750 miles, armed with a two megaton nuclear warhead, it stood 65ft tall with a base diameter of 8 ft and could travel at a speed 12 times faster than sound. 

The proposal was regarded favourably by Britain’s new Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. Negotiations took place following concerns raised by the British Government and the original concept of having two USAF squadrons and two RAF Squadrons had now changed to all four squadron being run by the RAF with USAF support. 

The negotiations also reconsidered the bases where the missiles would be located.  The original plan included basing a squadron of missiles at RAF Brize Norton near Oxford, but this was rejected as the authorities could not contemplate the prospect of a Thor breaking up after launch and its war head  and 100,000lbs of fuel falling on the population and historic spires of Oxford.

The advantage of basing Thor in the UK was that there was hundreds of airfields across Eastern England that had been built on land commandeered during WW2.  The authorities clearly didn’t have the same concerns for the rural towns and cities across Eastern England and eventually for sites were selected to hose the Wing HQs and each base had four satellite stations around them. 

The sites chosen for the HQ’s were RAF Feltwell, RAF Hemswell, RAF Driffield and RAF North Luffenham.  Each HQ site had to be adjacent to an active airfield that could be used as the designated airhead so that the missiles and ground support equipment could be flown in as close as possible.  The airhead sites chosen were RAF Lakenheath for Feltwell, RAF Scampton for Hemswell, RAF Leconfield for Hemswell and RAF Cottesmore for North Luffenham.

Thor IRBM UK base locations

Final agreement on the deployment of Thor in Britain was reached at the Bermuda Conference in March 1957, when Macmillan and Eisenhower met to discuss key issues.

On 1 April, Macmillan reported to Parliament that: “The rockets will be the property of Her Majesty’s Government, manned by British troops who will receive their prior training from American experts. The rockets cannot be fired by any except the British personnel, but the warhead will be in the control of the United States – which is the law of the United States- and to that extent the Americans have negative control; but it is absolutely untrue to say that the President and not the British Government will decide when these missiles will be launched and at whom. So long as we rely upon the American warheads, and only so long, that will remain a matter for the two Governments”.

The emphasis was still on the Nuclear Deterrent, and with the White Papers forecast of missiles replacing the aircraft, 1958 saw the delivery of the American Thor IRBM to the RAF.  The missiles were flown into RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk in USAF Globemaster transport aircraft and then transported by road to the launch sites.

Unloading a Thor missile from a USAF C-124 Globemaster

Project Emily was then born and twenty sites were chosen to house the new missiles.  In 1958 No.144(SM) Sqn North Luffenham reformed with No 254(SM) Sqn being reformed at Melton on 1st December 1959.  The other satellite sites being No 130(SM) Sqn Polebrook Northamptonshire, No 223(SM) Sqn Folkingham Lincolnshire and No 218(SM) Sqn Harrington Northamptonshire.  (SM stands for Strategic Missile). Each of the five stations were equipped with a Thor missile complex housing 3 missiles and came under the control of Bomber Command.

The HQ was at a permanent station, in this case North Luffenham, as well as being the HQ it was also responsible for the care and maintenance of the satellite sites and their missiles.  The dispersed sites were erected in the middle of disused wartime airfields and the contract for the construction work was given to Monks Construction Company.

No 254 Squadron was reformed as a unit of No 3 Group Bomber Command on 1st December 1959 at RAF North Lufenham and its task was to operate the Thor missile from the disused former RAF airfield at Melton Mowbray.  Following reformation, the Squadron became known as No 254 (SM) Squadron .

The crest for No 254(SM) Sqn shows a Raven, with its wings endorsed and inverted.  The motto “Fljuga vakta ok ljosto” when translated means “To fly, to watch and to strike” refers back to when the squadron was initially formed in August 1918 at a Coastal Reconnaissance station and was employed on anti-submarine patrols.

No 151(S.A.M.) Wing, Fighter Command was formed equipped with Bloodhound missiles to provide anti-aircraft defence for the Thor sites.  No 62 Sqn was reformed on 1st Feb 1960 at RAF Woolfox Lodge in Rutland, No 257 Sqn was reformed on 1st July 1960 at RAF Warboys, Hunts and the Wing HQ was based at RAF North Luffenham.  These missiles which were the first to become operational in the Western world using continuous wave radar guidance systems, were intended to operate in conjunction with the Hunter and Javelin aircraft already operated by Fighter Command in the Air Defence role.

Bloodhound Missiles at RAF Woolfox Lodge in Rutland

The squadron consisted of three Thor missiles, each on a launch emplacement and the Squadron establishment as follows: Sqn Ldr D F Liddle, Squadron Commander, and 5 Flt Lts, G A Boston, G F Craig, K G Shaw, J Waiting and W P Wallington. 

Diagram of a Thor launch emplacement

Each of the Flt Lts commanded a launch crew consisting of one Flight Sergeant or Warrant Officer Master Aircrew as the Launch Monitor Console Operator, three technicians as Missile Maintenance Technicians, one Power Production Operator, four Firemen, four Cooks, eighteen Policemen and one Clerk, all of which were RAF personnel. 

The RAF launch crews had to undertake training courses to maintain this new weapon system.  Personnel who joined the Thor force had to undertake approximately 20 separate courses which were held in different parts of America and lasted anywhere between two and twelve weeks.  The main locations were Tucsan in Arizona and Vandenberg in California. 

Following the Sqn reformation, the first task for the RAF personnel was to undertake refresher training from 18th January 1960 to 8th March 1960 at RAF North Luffenham and RAF Feltwell.  During this period, the contractors continued to install the equipment for the launch pads and where possible, Sqn personnel assisted when they weren’t on training.

Diagram of a Thor launch emplacement

The Thor sites were subject to a number of “Ban the Bomb” demonstrations by groups from the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War.  Melton was subjected to several such protests with one taking place on the 18th/19th June 1959 and another on the 27th February 1960, when a protest march was undertaken from Leicester to RAF Melton Mowbray.  It is reported that the protest was ignored by the squadron personnel on advice from the civilian police and following a few speeches made by the protesters, it terminated peacefully.

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle published the following article on the Friday 19th June 1959 edition:

Rocket site protest party stays

Miss Pat Arrowsmith and her companions of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War were today still picketing the main gate of the rocket near Melton Mowbray (Leicestershire) where last night they demonstrated.

After the demonstrators had been warned they would be trespassing If they attempted to break In, Miss Arrowsmith the field organiser led her followers off along the road. Half a mile away they found a second unmarked gate. 

Some of the demonstrators climbed over and with banners held aloft began marching towards the site.  Five others stayed at the gate handing out leaflets. Police picked up the unresisting demonstrators who had sat down and carried them to the perimeter.

The demonstrators then pitched tents on the roadside verge. Today four members of the committee were still there.  Miss Arrowsmith proposes to stay on until the workers knocked off at the end of the day.

The Torbay Express and South Devon Echo also published an article on the same day:

Pat stays `on duty’

Miss Pat Arrowsmith, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. G. K Arrowsmith, of Torquay, and her companions of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, who last night demonstrated at a rocket Site near Melton Mowbray (Leics.) were to-day still picketing the main gate.

The demonstration started last might with pickets and police talking over cups of tea.

When the demonstrators started marching towards the site, Air Ministry and civil police moved round to block off their route and warned them to leave. Miss Arrowsmith and her followers promptly sat down.

Police picked up the unresisting demonstrators, and, with Miss Arrowsmith laughingly apologising for her weight, carried them to the perimeter. They then went back for the tents which the invaders had been carrying handed them over.

Local farmer Bill Johnston recalls one incident at Melton when he was in his tractor delivering a trailer full of manure to the airfield and when he arrived at the Crown Hill gate at the Great Dalby end of the airfield and protester Pat Arrowsmith was lying down in the road to prevent access to the site.  The Police had to be called to remove her and allow him access to the site. 

Bill used to help cut the grass on the airfield and remembers one day when he was a passenger on a tractor when they stopped off for a T break at the NAAFI Wagon.  As they were sat enjoying their brew, Bill recalls how he was given a bar of chocolate from a black American serviceman.

During March 1960, the squadron took partial control of the equipment from the contractors and 24 hour watch keeping began on the 8th March 1960.  The installation programme was completed by the 8th April and the RAF squadron personnel took full control.  The squadron was represented by Flt Lt Wellington, Sgt Gibson, Cpl Techs Barron and Chatfield at the official handing over ceremonial parade at RAF North Luffenham on the 5th May 1960.

In June 1960, Flt Lt Waiting organised two large fire practices on the site involving both RAF personnel based at the site along with the civilian fire brigades from Melton Mowbray and Oakham so they could be familiarised with the site fire hazards.

RAF Thor with Victor V bomber at Vandenberg Air Force Base USA

The operational capability of the system was proven by carrying out a number of “Combat Training Launches”. The procedure for this was to remove an ageing missile from its launch pad, remove the nuclear warhead and fly the missile to America.  A new missile would be positioned on the launch pad so that a full complement was always kept.  The ageing missile would be set up on a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and fired down the Pacific Missile Range.  Three of these launches were carried out by crews from the Luffenham complex.  The first ‘North Luffenham’ Combat Training Launch was carried out in October 1960 by Flt Lt E G Shaw and his crew from 254(SM) Sqn RAF Melton Mowbray.

RAF Thor lifting off as part of a Combat Training Launch

Any launch order, simulated or otherwise, had to be authenticated by the RAF and USAF officers at Bomber Command HQ, High Wycombe, where Seventh Air Division’s HQ was also located, using a special and highly secret code. Operation of the Thor required a lengthy countdown procedure, so in time of war the system required considerable warning of impending enemy activity; on average, the sequence required something like 15 minutes from receipt of the positive launch order. At that point the RAF launch Control Officer turned a phase sequence key to initiate a fully automatic sequence of events:-

Phase 1: All equipment and targeting data checked. Countdown sequence initiated

Phase 2: Shelter retracted and missile erected. Targeting data entered.

Phase 3: Missile loaded with fuel. Target data and missile valves rechecked

Phase 4: Missile functions transferred to internal power source and missile topped up with liquid oxygen (LOX) if required.

Phase 5: Authentication launch codes received. Keys turned and engines started.

Another ‘North Luffenham’ Combat Training Launch was carried out in August 1961 and was rather unique.  Back home in the UK, a campaign was underway by ‘Rutlanders’ to try and prevent their tiny county being overtaken by its larger neighbour Leicestershire.  The launch crews were aware of this and slapped a “Hands off Rutland” sticker on the nose of the missile and as they watched the launch on TV, they saw the Rutland campaign go into orbit.  The third launch was on 19 June 1962.  All three launches were a success and proved the operational aspects of both the missile and the RAF crews.

On the 23rd November 1960, there was a security alert at the Melton Thor site when a light aircraft landed on the disused runway.  The aircraft as rapidly surrounded by the duty police patrol and security alert measures were set in motion by the duty officer Flt Lt Wallington.  The alert ceased when it transpired that the occupants of the light aircraft were two Frenchmen who were unsure of their position had landed at what they believed to be RAF Cottesmore.

At 05:30Hrs on the 4th December 1961, No 245(SM) Sqn received an issue of ‘Alert Condition 3’ from Bomber Command Operations Centre as part of the Bomber Command Exercise “Redouble”.  When the alert was received, the Squadron was engaged in carrying out periodic maintenance inspections on the launch pads.  One pad had power supply issues and a second was at Standby and brought to Exercise Ready state in seven minutes with a second following at 11:07Hrs and the third at 22:05Hrs.  During the exercise, the Squadron carried out 5 countdowns and the exercise was terminated at 12:06Hrs on the 5th December.

RAF Thor missiles raised to the vertical position

Exercise “Redouble” was Bomber Command twice yearly exercise testing the Thor force integration within the Bomber Command alert and readiness procedures. The exercise required all launch emplacements to be placed in Exercise Ready condition, meaning off duty crews had to be called back from leave, stand-down etc as the Launch Crews were doubled up and working 12 hour shifts.

Another method of testing the Thor force and its crews was the annual Exercise Mayshot which was the IRBM component of the Exercise Mayflight series. These exercises were designed to test the Bomber Command alert and readiness procedures, similar to that undertaken in Exercise Redouble. As the Thor force was already at constant alert at T-15. the only additional thing that could be tested was the time taken to augment the launch crews. However, Mayshot was a planned exercise with the Sqns having prior knowledge of when it would be executed and as such the crews did not see this exercise as a realistic test of their procedures.

Thor missile with clouds of liquid oxygen venting off

Meltonian, Dave Page joined the RAF in June 1959 as a National Service Policeman.  After doing his basic training at RAF Bridgenorth in Shropshire and trade training at RAF Netheravon, Wiltshire he passed out as a Cpl Policeman and was posted to RAF North Luffenham.  Dave was pleased with his posting as he was born and bred in Melton.  While stationed at North Luffenham,

Dave was responsible for the security of the Thor sites, including the satellite stations.  When on duty at Melton, he lived at home with his parents. Dave recalls that the Thor sites were surrounded by two chain link fences with barbed wire tops.   These fences ran parallel around the site with a 10m ‘sterile area’ between the two high coils of barbed wire were set up against the outer fence to prevent anyone climbing the fence. 

While on duty he was armed with a .38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver with six rounds.  As well as guard room duties, he was duties involved mobile patrols of the perimeter fence, both on foot and in a Land Rover. 

While on duty he was armed with a .38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver with six rounds.  As well as guard room duties, he was duties involved mobile patrols of the perimeter fence, both on foot and in a Land Rover. 

One of the tasks for the RAF Police protecting the Thor sites was carrying out security checks on other sites where the police would pretend to be intruders and try and gain access to the sites. In August 1962, No 254 (SM) Sqn was subjected to one such attack and three potential ‘intruders’ were captured within the sterile area.  Some of the intruder attacks were more successful than other.  A few weeks earlier, B Crew were on duty on the 31st July when the site was attacked by the so called intruders.  They admitted that they had managed to gain entry to the site and escape detection for almost half an hour but confirmed that they were unable to penetrate onto any of the launch pads or vital points due to the general busy activity by the site personnel.

RAF police dog handler protecting a Thor launch emplacement

The Cuba crisis in 1962 saw both the V-Force and the Thor Force at operational readiness. Across East Anglia, American pilots were strapped in their nuclear-armed aircraft at ‘cockpit readiness. RAF V-bombers were loaded with thermonuclear weapons and held on heightened Quick Reaction Alert at RAF Bases across East Anglia and Lincolnshire.

In addition to the V-force being put on readiness, the 60 Thor launch pads across Eastern England, had their launch crews doubled in strength and the missiles themselves were prepared for firing. On the 27th October 1962, No 254(SM) Sqn was called to Alert Condition ‘ Phase’ 3 with all of Meltons three missiles fully loaded with fuel, their target data and missile valves were rechecked and kept on hold at the end of Phase 3 with the hangars rolled back. It would have taken only a further two or three minutes to complete Phases 4 and 5. With the easing of political tensions, Bomber Command released the missile readiness state to Alert Condition 4 on the 5th November.

A Group Captain in charge of one of the Thor HQ sites recalled some 30 years later “Perhaps the worst thing was to realise that the station and dispersed sites would be hit and destroyed shortly after we had fired our own missiles, or before, if the Russians chose to make a pre-emptive strike. Although I chose not to think too much about it, while the crises was on, it was a great relief when the Air Officer Commanding Group rang to say the heat was off.”

Meltonian Ivan Farmer recalls his days on Thor missiles, although he was based at RAF Feltwell and not Melton: “The Cuban missile crises did change the atmosphere at RAF Feltwell and the other Thor bases. It was the same for everyone at the V-bomber bases too. You took it in your stride but there was a feeling that we may not be long long for this world. WE tried to keep up with it through the radio and the newspapers. We were put on 12 hour shifts and they doubled the number of safety officers to certify the launch codes. There was one lengthy ‘operational hold’ during the confrontation. It was a very tense period. In the local village, the local landlord complained that his pub was empty as no one came in during the crisis.”

Only the most rudimentary plans existed to protect the population and these relied on days of prior notice if they were going to be implemented effectively. Many years after the crises ended, it became clear that the Home Office had done nothing to activate the Civil Defence plans. I wonder how many of the local residents of Melton Mowbray, and other villages surrounding the missile base realised just how much danger they were in?

Civil Defence Handbook

On the 25th July 1963 a party of 48 Air Training Corps cadets who were on camp at RAF Cottesmore visited the site.  During their 2 hour visit, they conducted tours of the various areas of the Weapons System with he cadets watching a countdown demonstration on emplacement 57.

The Thor’s reign as the countries nuclear deterrent was a short one, and the missiles ceased to be operational in August 1963 which led to the closure of Melton.  The Luffenham complex was the last to close when on the 15th August the site ceased to be operational and No 254 (SM) Sqn disbanded on the 23rd.

An order of the day to Thor squadrons and stations from Air Marshall Sir Kenneth Cross, AOC-in-C, Bomber Command said: “You have maintained a higher rate of readiness in peacetime than has ever been achieved before in the history of the armed forces of the Crown.”  Mr. Hugh Fraser, Secretary of State for Air, also sent a message of appreciation to Bomber Command.

When the airfield was finally vacated by the RAF in 1964, most of the facilities including the hangars were dismantled, but the Control Tower survived although derelict until about 1970 when it was demolished.

Following the retirement from service of the missiles, the majority were returned to the US to be used in the space exploration program, either as single stage boosters or in combination with various upper stages, mainly in association with the Telstar, Pioneer and Discoverer programmes.  However, you can still see two examples of the Thor here in the UK with one being on display in the Cold War display at the RAF Museum Cosford and the other can be found in the Space Centre at Leicester

The Thor missile site at the former RAF North Luffenham has been given a Grade II* listing as a reminder of the “knife-edge moment in history”.  The site is one of two of the most intact examples of Thor missile bases in England, the other is at the former RAF Harrington in Northamptonshire – now mainly farmland -– which is Grade II listed.  The concrete launch pads and blast walls still remain at the former Rutland RAF base, along with mounting bolts for the platforms that would raise the missiles into a vertical firing position.

For more information visit the Historic England site to see their listing entries for the former missile sites at North Luffenham and Harrington

Tony Calladine, English Heritage’s designation team leader for the east of England, said: “Melton Mowbray wasn’t put on the list because it didn’t survive well enough. Only those which have survived most intact were selected.

Oh Happy Days” – Melton resident Mike Mayfield has clear recollections of the missiles:

“I can clearly recall visiting my Grandma’s farm at the top of Cuckoo Hill, between Stapleford Lane and the road to Whissendine, and on many a summer’s evening whilst hay making or harvesting, looking across towards Melton Airfield from the high vantage point, and seeing all 3 missiles in an elevated position and floodlit. Quite a sight as darkness fell!

A more direct and intimate reminder happened in the summer of either 1964 or 65. I was a student at Leicester College studying Quantity Surveying, and being unable to get temporary work in the Building Industry in Melton during the summer holidays, I found employment with Mr. George Houghton of Leesthorpe, a well-known gentleman farmer and Leicestershire County Councillor.

George had the grass mowing rights at RAF North Luffenham, and for 6-8 weeks we would leave Leesthorpe every morning with about 6 or 8 Fordson Major tractors pulling either 1 or 2 four wheeled trailers- quite a sight driving over the level crossing and through the centre of Oakham with a ‘long train of trailers behind’.

Each morning we checked in at the Guardroom at the main gates, and whoever was first there would purchase the tickets for lunch in the Airmen’s Mess, at a cost of 3 shillings and 6 pence in old money!!

After a morning of mowing, turning and baling hay, followed by a huge lunch in the said Mess, half of the afternoon was spent lounging around on a stack of bales reading the Daily Mirror or similar newspaper.

To get to the point, we in fact worked round all the missile bases, dodging in and around the blast walls etc and avoiding the open duct ways. Needless to say the missiles had long gone, but there was still evidence of their former presence.

We also worked in the Airfield’s ammunition compound, where we had to open up, enter and lock ourselves in for the day.

At the end of each working day we would load up the trailers and wend our way back to Leesthorpe, needless to say 1 loaded trailer was enough to tow on the return journey. I can recall one of the drivers losing his load somewhere between leaving Langham and descending Three Step Hill.

Coming from a farming background it was a very happy and interesting experience that summer, accompanied by exceptionally hot weather as I recall.  Oh Happy Days!!”

Thor Squadron

19 – Protecting our War Memorials

WW1 & WW2 Memorial at St Mary’s Church, Marston near Grantham

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:

Sculpted figures, crosses, obelisks, cenotaphs, columns, etc

Cheltenham Boer War memorial – a fine example of a column monument with a sculpted figure on the top

Boards, plaques and tablets (inside or outside a building)

Christ Church Wesham WW2 Memorial

Roll of Honour or Book of Remembrance

Book of Remembrance displayed in Selby Abbey commemorating the fallen from WW2 and the 1982 Falklands conflict

Community halls, hospitals, bus shelters, clock towers, streets etc

Harlaxton Village Memorial Hall built to commemorate those who served in the war 1914 – 1918
Harlaxton Village Hall memorial tablet

Church fittings like bells, pews, lecterns, lighting, windows, altars, screens, candlesticks, etc

St Mary’s Church Melton Mowbray – Stained Glass Window commemorating Captain Gordon Edward Buileau Wood of the Shropshire Company Battalion Imperial Yeomanry

Trophies and relics like a preserved gun or the wreckage at an aircraft crash site

Canon captured at the Battle of Omdurman on display at the Rifles Museum Winchester

Land, including parks, gardens, playing fields and woodland

Avenue of Trees at Desford Boys School Leicestershire planted to the memory of 36 old boys of this school who fell in the Great War 1914-1919

Additions to gravestones (but not graves)

Addition to his sister’s headstone at Asfordby, Leicestershire. Commemorating 77037 Pte Thomas Williamson 1/7 DLI who died as a POW on 16 Oct 1918 in Trelon.

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’.

RHS Hospital Chelsea

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.

RHS Hospital Chelsea WW1 & WW2 plaque

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.

Addition to a family gravestone at Melton Mowbray Thorpe Road Cemetery commemorating Private Alfred Octavius Wilcox KIA WW1 serving with 1st Artists Rifles Bn

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, Whitehall, London

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.

Nelsons Column, Trafalgar Square, London

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.

Memorial to Colonel Edward Hawkins Cheney in St Lukes Church Gaddesby – reportedly the only equine statue of a horse in an English Church

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.”

Memorial for the 1899-1902 Boer War located in St Marys Church Melton Mowbray

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.

Leicester Memorial for the Counties fallen from the South Africa War 1899-1902

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.

Wesham War Memorial

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. 

Memorial Plaque inside the Bell Centre Melton Mowbray, commemorating the return of Officers and Men of the 4th Parachute Brigade from Arnhem

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.”

Memorial plaque from King Edward VII Grammar School commemorating the fallen from both world wars. Now located in the Sage Cross Methodist Church.

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.

Memorial to Wellington Bomber LN281 that crashed in Melton Mowbray. Unveiled 2014

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.

Colsterworth war memorial damage from 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. 

Great Dalby War Memorial

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.

Egerton Memorial Gardens and VC Flower Bed

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 Online website and then submit photos and condition reports of any war memorials you come across.

17 – Decorated RAF Airmen killed in crash near Great Dalby

On the 13th May 1944, another fatal crash occurred near Melton this time involving an Airspeed Oxford Mk.I DF517 from No. 1655 Mosquito Training Unit (MTU), killing all four crew members, of which two had been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

No 1655 MTU (which operated Mosquito Mk. IV and Oxford Mk. I aircraft at that time) was based at RAF Warboys in Cambridgeshire and was part of No. 8 Pathfinder Force.  The purpose of 1655 MTU was to train Mosquito crews in the use of Oboe and they did this throughout 1944 and in early 1945.

Oboe training was a six week course for pilots and observers who were eventually sent on to No’s 105 and 109 Squadrons for Oboe marking duties, most were on their second tour. The Pilots at 1655 MTU had to learn how to fly a Mosquito whilst the Observers were being taught Pathfinder navigation and marking techniques.

Oboe was a British aerial blind bombing system in World War II, based on radio transponder technology. The system consisted of a pair of radio transmitters on the ground, which sent signals which were received and retransmitted by a transponder in the aircraft. By comparing the time each signal took to reach the aircraft, the distance between the aircraft and the station could be determined. The Oboe operators then sent radio signals to the aircraft to bring them onto their target and properly time the release of their bombs.

Oboe Navigation illustration

The system was first used in December 1941 in short-range attacks over France where the necessary line of sight could be maintained. To attack the valuable industrial targets in the Ruhr, only the de Havilland Mosquito flew high enough to be visible to the ground stations at that distance. Such operations began in 1942, when Pathfinder squadron Mosquitos used Oboe both to mark targets for heavy bombers, as well as for direct attacks on high-value targets.

Pathfinder Mosquito leading Lancaster heavy bombers

DF517 took off from RAF Warboys on a training flight at 14.55 hours on 13th May 1944 and after coming out of cloud cover, the aircraft was out of control and disintegrated in mid-air, crashing at 16.08 hours, near the Great Dalby railway station.

It was assumed that loss of control had occurred through icing up of instruments on the aircraft, or turbulent conditions in cloud, and that the complete structural failure was a result of severe overstressing, although this could not be proved. All four members of the crew were killed in the accident, and the bodies of the RAF personnel were taken to Melton Mowbray Mortuary. The crew of DF517 was Fg Off GH Bowen, Flt Lt AEH Cattle, Flt Lt M McIver DFC and Fg Off GG Halestrap DFC.

Fg Off Geoffrey Hugh Bowen was the 1st pilot and was commissioned as Plt Off on probation within RAF(VR) GD Branch wef 27th Oct 1943 supplement to London Gazette 21 Dec 1943.   Geoffrey was the Son of Percival and Mary A. Bowen (nee Smith), of West Cross, Swansea. He was educated at Tenby Council School and at Greenhill School prior to enlisting into the Royal Air Force. He is buried at Swansea (Oystermouth) Cemetery. Geoffrey is not commemorated on the main Tenby War Memorial, but at both his former Schools. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.

Fg Off Geoffrey Bowen
CWGC Headstone of Fg Off Geoffrey Bowen

Flt Lt Aubrey Edward Henderson Cattle was the 2nd pilot aboard DF517.  He had previously served on No 214 (Federate Malaya States) Squadron.  He had worked his way up through the ranks as According to London Gazette 28/4/1942, awarded rank of Temp WO wef 5 Mar 42 RAFVR GD Branch.  He had completed 1,245 Flying hours across all types, of which 95.30 Hrs were on the Oxford. He is buried Sec. T. Grave 70. Southend-On-Sea (Leigh-On-Sea) Cemetery. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.

Flt Lt Aubrey Edward Henderson Cattle

Flt Lt Malcolm McIver DFC was one of the navigators aboard DF517. He was born in Toronto on the 4th Feb 1920 and was the son of Scottish parents Murdoch McIver and his wife Mary (nee Glenn). He had two brothers, Murdoch Glenn McIver, who served as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Infantry and John Samuel McIver who was a Sgt in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He also had four sisters, Catherine Margaret, Jean, Mary and Agnes Isabel.

Malcolm enlisted on the 20th May 1941 joining the No 23 Basic TC as part of the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) and was allocated Regimental Number B-610642.   His occupation was listed as School teacher. On the 24th July 1941, he was struck off strength from the NRMA and transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force and allocated service number J/11107.

He completed his initial training at Victoriaville, Quebec Trained at No.3 ITS, graduating on 7th October 1941. He then completed his Air Observers course on 19th January 1942 before moving onto his Armament Training Course at the No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School located at Jarvis, Ontario, which he completed on 28th February 1942. Next was learning how t become an Air Observer and so he moved to the No.10 Air Observer School at Pannfield Ridge for Advanced Air Observer training and graduated on 30th March 1942 with the award of his Observers Badge.

Malcolm had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross – No. 106 Squadron – Award effective 4 October 1943 as per London Gazette dated 15 October 1943 and AFRO 2610/43 dated 17 December 1943.  DFC Citation “This officer has completed a tour of operational duty during which he has displayed outstanding ability and the greatest keenness and enthusiasm for his work.  He has taken part in attacks on many of the major targets in the Ruhr Valley as well as the more distant objectives in Germany and Italy.  He participated in a successful attack on Friedrichshafen and returning from North Africa materially assisted his pilot in the raid on Spezia.  Flying Officer McIver has performed his navigational duties with skill, accuracy and steadiness, setting a fine example to the other navigators in the squadron.”

McIver Casualty Record Card

Flt Lt Malcolm McIver was buried at the Brookwood Military Cemetery, at 15:00Hrs on the 19th May 1944. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.

McIver Burial return

Fg Off Geoffrey George Halestrap DFC was also a Navigator and was the son of Fred Francis Henry and Gladys Mary Elizabeth Halestrap, of Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey. 

His Distinguished Flying Cross award was Gazetted on 7th December 1943, there was no citation but the entry read: “Flying Officer Geoffrey George HALESTRAP (127308), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No 192 Squadron.”

Geoffrey is buried in Sec. W. Grave 4171 Thorpe Road Cemetery and his funeral took place at 15:00Hrs 18th May 1944 and according tot he RAF Melton Mowbray Operational Record Book, was attended by his next of kin. More details about his grave can be obtained via his CWGC Casualty record.

CWGC Headstone of Flt Lt G G Halestrap DFC