Did you know that a Meltonian was one of the most important civil servants in Tudor England?
William Gonson was born in 1482 in Melton Mowbray. His parents were Christopher Gonson and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Trussell). William’s brother, Bartholomew, became the Vicar of Melton Mowbray.
Not a lot is known about his early life, but William became a ship owner and merchant who sailed in government service and later directed shipping movements becoming one of the most remarkable civil servants in the Tudor period.
He was certainly a clerk in the navy storehouse at Deptford, Kent, receiving ropes and artillery pieces (1513) and armorial banners (1514) for ships.
He had already made his fortune through his merchant shipping before he began a naval career. It was as a public servant for the navy that he rose to prominence. He nearly single-handedly managed the Royal Navy for over twenty years.
In 1509, William married his wife, Bennett Benedicta Walter in Deptford, Kent. Together they had six sons: Richard, David, Christopher, Arthur, Benjamin and Anthony as well as three daughters Elizabeth, Avis, and Thomasine. They resided in Thames Street, London, in the parish of St Dunstan-in-the-East.
Gonson was well paid, both from his naval appointments and as one of Henry VIII’s squires of the body, though his great wealth probably came through his commercial activities. In 1525 he was a warden of the Grocers’ Company, and he may by then have owned the ‘great Mary Grace’, which traded to the Greek islands. Thus, in 1530, he was one of twenty-two merchants trading with Candia (Crete); and in circa 1534 his ship Matthew Gonson (300 tons), with his son Richard as captain, sailed with a consort to Chios (where Richard died) and Candia (Crete).
William was finally made an officer of the Navy in 1536 and became the English Vice-Admiral of Norfolk and Suffolk.
The priory, what we know today as the Anne of Cleves pub, was owned by the Lewes Priory and in 1532 they leased the property to William Gonson, brother of the vicar, for 55 years. However, following the dissolution of the Lewes Priory in 1537, the rectory of Melton Mowbray with its tithes from Welby went to Thomas Cromwell and after his execution in 1540 the rectory reverted to the Crown and given to Anne of Cleves as part of the divorce settlement.
In March 1539 foreign merchants’ goods in an unidentified ship of Gonson’s were valued at 50,000 marks sterling (over £33,000), and in 1541 he was assessed for subsidy on £1000. In 1524 he became keeper of the storehouses at Deptford and Erith, Kent, and an usher of the King’s chamber, and for part of the period 1532–7 he handled sums of money totalling more than £15,589. Hence he was concerned with rigging warships, paying money for wages and victualling, purchasing masts, repairing Thames forts, building ships (for example, the Galley Subtile).
In 1539 he was responsible for sending a fleet to bring Anne of Cleves from Calais to Dover for her marriage to Henry VIII. He was vice-admiral—the first in England—of Norfolk and Suffolk from 1536 until 1543, and held courts at Kings Lynn and elsewhere.
William’s son, David Gunson, was admitted to the prestigious Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in 1533 and became a Knight of Rhodes, as the Knights of Malta were still known. His spirited career in that Order is documented in The Book of Deliberations of the Venerable Tongue of England 1523-1567… published in Malta in 1949 by Hannibal P. Scicluna.
His bête noir in the Order was his fellow knight Sir Philip Babington with whom he quarrelled in 1535, and suffered imprisonment as a result. On a visit to England in 1540 it was Babington who informed on him, declaring that Gunson denied that Henry VIII was the Supreme Head of the Church of England and that the King and his supporters were in effect heretics. Gunson was confined to the Tower, had no trial, and was condemned to death under a bill of attainder. He was removed to the King’s Bench prison, Southwark, and on 12 July 1541 he was dragged on a hurdle to St Thomas Waterings, the second milestone from the city, where he suffered a traitor’s death.
The event was chronicled by Charles Wriothesley as follows: “1541. The 12th daie of Julie, one of Mr. Gunston’s Sonnes which was a Knight of Rodes, was drawen from the Kinges Bench to Sainct Thomas Wateringes and there hanged and quartered for treason.”
Following his death, David was posthumously dubbed “The Good Knight”. He was beatified in 1929 as Blessed David Gonson, a martyr for religious principles. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Southwark (London) on 12 July 1541 under the English Act of Supremacy.
William died in 1544, after falling from grace, leaving the Navy disorganised. It took two years for Henry VIII to reorganise control. William Gonson’s son, Benjamin Gonson, became the Treasurer of the Navy and helped Henry regain control.
Benjamin became one of the founding members of the ‘Navy Board,’ responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Navy, which ran from 1546 to 1832. Benjamin Gonson was Treasurer of the Navy when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 and held the post until his death in 1577
Plainly, William Gonson’s responsibilities imposed great strain, particularly with the Anglo-French war (1543–6), and in 1544 (before 5 August, when Benjamin was accounting) he ‘feloniously killed himself’ (LP Henry VIII 20/1, no. 125/7).
A suicide’s body had, by law, to be buried, with a stake through the heart, near local crossroads: Gonson was interred in his parish church, St Dunstans in the East, which suggests that matters were hushed up.
No will or administration has been found. Gonson’s value to his country was recognized, after his death, by the creation of a ‘navy board’ to replace him.
In Blog 37 I looked at the Melton & District Spitfire Fund and how the people of Melton Mowbray and surrounding district pulled together in the latter half of 1940 to purchase a Spitfire fighter at a cost of £5,000.
Between 1941 and 1942, the British Government introduced a similar savings scheme, this time in the concept of National Savings where each region in the country was provided with a savings target to achieve. The target was based on the region’s population, with each level of savings having a class of warship assigned.
This became known as Warship Week, due to its similarities with War Weapons Week – which was a drive to replace the materiel lost at Dunkirk through a savings campaign.
There were a total of 1,178 warship weeks organised across the country during the campaign, involving a total of 1,273 districts. A press announcement quoted the adoption of eight battleships, four carriers, forty-nine cruisers, three hundred and one destroyers, twenty-five submarines, one hundred and sixty-four corvettes and frigates and two hundred and eighty-eight minesweepers.
In early 1942, it was announced the Melton had adopted one the Corvettes. “Terriers of the seas, those are Corvettes. One of them has been adopted by Melton. It is aid that the job of the Corvette is one of the toughest of the war at sea. Melton and District is to raise £120,000 to buy one during Warship Week in March. First in service in the summer of 1940, already they have given a very good account of themselves. The precise details of their engagement has not been published; but officers and men have been mentioned as having received decorations or medals for successful operations against enemy U-boats.”
It was announced in the Melton Times on Friday 6th February 1942 that Melton Warship Week would be held from 7th to 14th March 1942 and it was hoped that Earl Beatty would be able to be present to take the salute.
A community would sponsor a ship through individual savings in government bonds and national savings certificates and Melton Mowbray was no exception. At a meeting of savings group secretaries at the Oddfellow’s Hall on Wednesday 4th February, Mr R Stuart Smith provided an update on the fundraising activities:
“There are now 231 savings groups in Melton and District, 116 of these being in the latter. During the past 6 months, the 50 Melton street savings groups have saved £2,285.00”. He went on to say that from November 1939 to the end of January 1942, people in Melton and district have saved £655,512 or approximately £6,000 per week.
The deputy commissioner, Mr Peter Stevenson also spoke about the coming ‘Warship Week’ and Superintendent R W Stapleton spoke to the meeting about the parade. Joining them was Lieutenant P W Woodriffe RN who gave an interesting talk on the Battle of Jutland which he illustrated with lantern slides.
One of the earliest purchasers of certificates at the central selling centre in the Market Place, was a youth by the name of Teddy Stapleford who bought £24 worth of certificates for the Sydney Street savings group, of which he was secretary.
Six children representing various schools purchased the first certificates towards their group targets.
On 24th April 1942, the Market Harborough Advertiser and Midland Mail published an article detailing the warship weeks fundraising activities for the county. In total, £6,616,247 had been raised, enough to pay for 16 warships. By the end of the campaign, Melton Mowbray & District raised a total of £181,139.00 for their ship.
Target £ Amount
Total £ Raised
Barrow Upon Soar R. D.
Market Harborough & District
Melton Mowbray & District
HM MTB No 102
Market Bosworth R.D.
Ashby de la Zouch
HMS S/M P43
Castle Donington R.D.
Throughout Melton Mowbray and the district, there were a total of 231 savings groups, of which 116 were in the rural area. At a savings committee meeting, presided over by Councillor Oliver Brotherhood, it was revealed that practically every street in the town had a savings group. By February 1942, the groups had raised a total of £655,512 since November 1939, approximately £6,000 a week.
The Melton’s Warship Week was launched in Windsor Street at 8PM on 7th March 1942 by the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Sir Arthur G Hazlerigg Bart, and the Chairman, R W Brownlow Esq, JP, chairman of the Bench of Magistrates with a contingent from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps forming a guard of honour.
it was announced by Mr J Green, Chairman of the bonds Committee, that their target was more than half subscribed with over £76,000 of the £120,000 target.
A parade to launch the campaign took place on Sunday 8th March with members of the HM Forces, together with the Home Guard and Auxiliary Forces. The parade assembled at the Scalford Road car park and was directed by Superintendent R W Stapleton who had directed the 1941 War Weapons Week parade which was over a mile long.
The parade set off at 2:45PM marching down Scalford Road, Norman Street, Bentley Street, Sage Cross Street, Sherard Street, Market Place and High Street to the Wilton Road car park. The following bands also took part in the parade: The Band of the Navy League Sea Cadets, the band of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the band of the Leicester Air Training Corps.
Taking the salute on the saluting base in the Market Square was Surgeon Lieutenant Commander F T Doleman, RNVR, of Leicester instead of the Earl Beatty. He was accompanied by Air Commodore Sir W Lindsay Everard, the Duchess of Rutland, Mrs P Cantrell Hubbersty and Mrs A E Burnaby.
As the crowd of spectators made their way to the Wilton Road car park for a drum head service, a mounted Policeman’s horse mounted up, narrowly missing the Chief Constable of Leicestershire, Captain C E Lynch-Blosse, but Alderman T Sarson received slight injuries to his leg in the incident.
HMS Samphire was built by Smiths Dock Company, in South Bank-on-Tees, and was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 30th June 1941. Shortly after entering service, from the 15th – 21st July 1941, Samphire took part in anti-submarine exercises off Tobermory with a Dutch submarine HrMs O 10, commanded by Lt J H Geijs Royal Netherlands Navy, and other Royal Navy vessels including HMS Brora, HMS Cumbrae, HMS Flotta, HMS Islay, HMS Le Tiger, HMS Romeo, HMS St Mary’s & HMS Wells
Samphire was tasked with convoy escort operations between Liverpool and the Mediterranean Sea and assigned to the 36th Escort Group commanded by Captain F J Johnnie Walker of the Western Approaches Command Group.
On the 30th July 1941, Samphire was part of the escort group for convoy OG.70, Outbound from the British Isles to Gibraltar. This convoy consisted of 20 merchant vessels and 9 escort vessels including Samphire.
On approach to Gibraltar, HMS Samphire along with 7 other Navy escort ships parted company with OG.70 to join the northbound convoy HG.70
Convoy HG.70 was an allied trade convoy of the Homeward from Gibraltar series and comprised of 25 ships sailing from Gibraltar on 9th August 1941.
Convoy HG.76 was an allied trade convoy of the Homeward from Gibraltar series and comprised of 32 ships sailing between 19th and 23rd December 1941.
It whilst escorting convoy HG.76 when at 06.15Hrs on 19th December 1941, that German U-boat U-108 fired a spread of two torpedoes at the convoy west of Lisbon. A flash and a large column of black smoke was observed on one ship and two detonations were heard. The steamer Ruckinge was damaged by one torpedo and the survivors were rescued by the Steamer FINLAND and sloop STORK. The Ruckinge was later shelled and scuttled by HMS Samphire (K 128) (LtCdr F.T. Renny, DSC, RNR).
A couple of days later on 21st December 1941, north of the Azores, Samphire successfully released depth charges with the British sloop Deptford resulting in the sinking of the German submarine U-567 in the North Atlantic northeast of the Azores resulting in the loss of all 47 men on board the U-567.
On 8th November 1942, she was escorting USS Leedstown (AP-73) from the Mediterranean after she had been attacked by German aircraft, which hit the Leedstown with an aerial torpedo in the stern the day earlier.
At 12:55Hrs on 9th November, German aircraft attacked again with 3 bombs straddling the Leedstown. Although Samphire managed to shoot down one attacker, vibration from the bombs exploding added further damage to that caused the night before.
The Leedstown was again attacked at 13:10Hrs, this time by 2 torpedoes which struck her amidships, exploding with tremendous force. The ship started to settle with an increased starboard list and when the midships were about 3 feet under water, the decision to abandon ship was taken.
HMS Samphire was standing by and assisted in the rescue of the survivors from the Leedstown. At 14:30Hrs, Commander Cook had gone over the side of Leedstown and was rescued about an hour later. Samphire rescued 104 survivors who she put ashore the following morning at Algiers.
During the early hours of 12th November 1942, HMS Tynwald was at short notice, ready to sail from 04:45Hrs in anticipation of a dawn Axis air raid. Tynwald was part of a task force sent to capture an airfield near Bougie (modern Béjaïa) 100 miles east of Algiers. At the centre of the force were infantry landing craft, and the covering force included the cruiser HMS Sheffield, the monitor HMS Roberts, and fourteen other supporting vessels.
Just 30 minutes later, Tynwald was hit by 2 torpedoes launched from the Argo, an Italian submarine commanded by Lt Pasquali Gigli resulting in Tynwald settling rapidly in 7 meters of water and 10 of her crew killed. The survivors were rescued by HMS Samphire and HMS Roberts.
The Leicester Evening Mail published the following article on the 4th December 1942:
“Melton Corvette saved Melton Man. After being in the sea for two hours, Able Seaman Horace E Main, of Salisbury Avenue, Melton, was picked up by Melton’s adopted corvette HMS Samphire.
As soon as he got on board, he was asked by members of the crew where he lived, and when he told them he was asked to convey to the Melton people the ship’s company’s thanks for all they had done for them. Able Seaman Main was given a jumper to wear which came from Melton. Able Seaman Main says the finest sight he had ever seen was the corvette bearing towards him as he was clinging to a float.”
On 14th December 1942, Samphire assisted in the rescue of nine survivors from the British merchant ship Edencrag, which had been torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-443 west of Algiers.
Samphire was torpedoed and sunk on 30 January 1943 off Bougie, Algeria by the Italian submarine Platino. Samphire was escorting convoy TE-14 which was taking part in the North African campaign. The captain, two officers and 42 of the ship’s crew perished.
On the 7th November 1947, the Leicester Daily Mercury reported the following: “Melton’s ship no longer – A letter from the Admiralty intimates that HMS Samphire, the ship that Melton adopted, is now out of commission, and the association between the crew and the town is thus ended.
Melton Mowbray was preseneted with a commemorative shield in recognition of their adoption of HMS Samphire. This shield is now on display in the Royal British Legion Office in Melton Mowbray.
Following the publication of my Melton’s Warship blog, I was contacted by an individual who lives on the Kirby Lane Fields Housing Estate in Melton Mowbray who told me “When we moved in to our house back in 2000 the site forman told us all the roads on the estate were named after wild flowers. However, the site manager told us they were named after WWII Corvettes. I wonder who was correct as I know there was an HMS Celandine.”
So naturally, I did a little bit of investigation into the street names from that estate and yes they are all flowers but out of the 16 street names, 13 are used by the Royal Navy as Ship names, with 12 in the Flower Class Corvettes.
There is 1 name connected to a WW1 Acacia Class Minesweeping Sloop and 3 others where I can find no connection to RN ships at all.
Anemone Close – HMS Anemone (Flower Class Corvette) launched 22nd April 1940 – Sold in November 1949. Resold on 3 October 1950 to Norway as buoy tender Pelkan, 1951 rebuilt as whale catcher, sold December 1963, renamed Østfold, Scrapped 1 November 1964.
Bluebell Row – HMS Bluebell (Flower Class Corvette) launched 24th April 1940 – Torpedoed and sunk on 17th February 1945 by U-711 off the Kola Inlet at 69-36N, 35-29E.
Campion Place – HMS Campion (Flower Class Corvette) launched 20th June 1941 – Sold on 20 April 1947 and scrapped at Newport.
Celandine Drive – HMS Celandine (Flower Class Corvette) launched 28th December 1940 – Shared sinking of U-556 on 27th June 41. Sold in October 1948 and scrapped at Portaferry.
Clover Drive – HMS Clover (Flower Class Corvette) launched 30th January 1941 – Sold on 17 May 1947 as mercantile Cloverlock. Resold to People’s Republic of China as mercantile Kai Feng.
Coltfoot Way – HMS Coltsfoot (Flower Class Corvette) launched 15th May 1941 – Sold in 1947 as mercantile Alexandra.
Cowslip Drive – HMS Cowslip (Flower Class Corvette) launched 28th May 1941 – Sold in July 1948. Scrapped in April 1949 at Troon.
Foxglove Avenue – HMS Foxglove (Acacia Class Minesweeping Sloop) entered service 14th May 1915 – Sold for scrapping on 7 September 1946. She was scrapped at Troon, Scotland
Harebell Drive – HMS Harebell (Flower Class Corvette) Cancelled on 23 January 1941. Pennant K202
Heather Crescent – HMS Heather (Flower Class Corvette) launched 17th September 1940 – Sold on 22 May 1947 and scrapped at Grays.
Honeysuckle Way – HMS Honeysuckle (Flower Class Corvette) launched 22nd April 1940 – Sold in 1950 and scrapped in November 1950 at Grays.
Marigold Crescent – HMS Marigold (Flower Class Corvette) launched 4th September 1940 – Torpedoed and sunk on 9 December 1942 by the Aviazione Ausiliara per la Marina while escorting convoy KMS.3Y off Algiers at 36-50N, 03-00E. 40 crew were killed.
Orchid Close – HMS Orchis (Flower Class Corvette) launched 15th October 1940 – Sank U-741 single-handed 15 August 44. Mined and heavily damaged on 21 August 1944 off Courseulles-sur-Mer. Beached on Juno Beach and declared a total loss.
Camomile Road, Teasel Drive and Trefoil Close no connection to RN Ships as far as I can tell.
Sadly, there is no street named Samphire after Melton’s Warship. So was this a deliberate naming strategy by Melton Borough Council to name the streets after the Flower Class Corvettes in honour of the towns connection, or was it just a coincidence. If theye were named after the Corvettes, it is a shame there is no street named Samphire!
Craufurd (Crawfurd/Crawford) House, No 19 Burton Street was named after Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Charles Craufurd.
Before becoming a private house, the property was the “Three Horse Shoes” public house kept by Mr J Adcock.
Alex was born on 30 Jun 1794 and was the 2nd eldest of 4 children for Sir James Gregan-Craufurd (2nd Baronet of Kilburney) and his wife Maria Theresa. Maria was the daughter of General Thomas Gage, Commander in Chief of the British Forces in North America.
Alex’s elder brother was Thomas, and the younger siblings were Jane and George.
Alex was educated at Eton and then went to Trinity College, Cambridge on 19th Mar 1810. Whilst at Eton, he became known as “Tea Pot Craufurd” through his tendency for brewing tea in a black teapot. He kept and cherished this tea pot whilst he was a soldier in the Peninsular War.
In his spare time he enjoyed riding with the hounds at Melton Mowbray and Belvoir Castle where he was described as “Plucky in the extreme”.
After leaving Trinity College, he joined the Army and on the 3rd Jun 1811 he became an Ensign in the 1st Battalion 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards. He was assigned as a replacement for Ensign George Parker Cookson who was killed in action at the Battle of Fuentes de Onora on the 5th May 1811.
After Fuentes de Onora, the Regiment moved onto Celerico; Pinhel. In January 1812, the Regiment took part in the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain from the 7th –20th January.
The casualties were heavy for the British, with over 500 being killed, wounded or missing during the assault and over 1,000 casualties in total for the siege, though despite this, the British took Ciudad Rodrigo. It was during this Siege that Alex’s uncle, Major General Robert Craufurd, who Commanded the Light Division, was mortally wounded on the 19th January 1812 whilst directing the stormers of the Light Division.
Robert, who was known as ‘Black Bob’ due to his habit of heavily cursing when losing his temper, his nature as a strict disciplinarian and even to his noticeably dark and heavy facial stubble was carried out of action by his staff officer, Lieutenant Shaw of the 43rd. After lingering four days, he died on 23rd January 1812 and was buried in the breach of the fortress where he had met his death.
The next major engagement for Alex and the 1st Battalion was the Battle of Salamanca or as the French & Spanish called it the Battle of Arapiles which took place on the 22nd July 1812.
Salamanca was another victory for Wellington, although the Allied losses numbered 3,129 British and 2,038 Portuguese dead or wounded. The Spanish troops took no part in the battle as they were positioned to block French escape routes and suffered just six casualties. The French suffered about 13,000 dead, wounded and captured.
As a consequence of Wellington’s victory at Salamanca, his army was able to advance to Madrid and liberate the city for two months, before
Engaging the French again at the Siege of Burgos.
During 1813, Alex’s Regiment took part in the Battle of Vittoria; the Siege of San Sebastian, the Battle of Bidassoa and the Battle of Nive.
Alex was promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant (by purchase) and transferred from 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards to the 10th Light Dragoons.
In 1806 the 10th Light Dragoons became the first hussar regiment in the British Army, in imitation of the famous Hungarian light cavalry.
The 10th (Prince of Wales’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars), had been based in England since 1809 and were returning to Spain in the Summer of 1813.
Lieut-Col Alex Craufurd was a friend of the Prince Regent and when the 10th Hussars paraded before him before their departure for Spain, the Prince said to him “Go, my boy, and show the world what stuff you are made of. You possess strength, youth, and courage, go, and conquer”.
After arriving in Spain, the 10th Hussars fought in the Battle of Morales on the 2nd June 1814, followed by the Battle 0f Vitoria on the 21st June. After Vitioria, the Regiment advanced into France and fought in the Battle of Orthez on the 27th February 1814, where he was first in the charge and by all accounts, behaved splendidly.
Another Meltonian who served with the 10th Hussars during the Peninsular Wars was Colonel Charles Wyndham, of Wyndham Lodge, Melton Mowbray. You can read more about him in one of my earlier blogs here. Colonel Charles Wyndham.
On the 9th June 1814, Alex was promoted to Captain and transferred from the 10th Light Dragoons to the 2nd Ceylon Regiment. The 2nd Ceylon Regiment, also known as the Sepoy Corps, was first raised in 1802, the British became the first foreign power to raise a regular unit of Sinhalese with British officers. (Sinhalese people are an Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group native to the island of Ceylon or as we call it today, Sri Lanka).
In 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, Alex volunteered to take part in the Battle and was transferred from the 2nd Ceylon Regiment and joined the 12th Lancers (or the Prince of Wales’s Regiment of Light Dragoons) as a Captain.
During the Battle of Waterloo, Alex’s eldest brother, Thomas Crauford was killed whilst serving with the Scots Guards at Hougemont. He is commemorated with a memorial tablet on the garden wall at Hougemont.
Alex & Thomas’s sister, Jane, was present at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball at Brussels, where she witnessed the departure of the troops and the return of the wounded.
Alex married his wife, The Honorable Lady Barbara Coventry at St George’s Church, Hanover Square in Lndon on the 23rd July 1818. Barbara was the daughter of George William (7th Earl)(Viscount Deerhurst) COVENTRY.
At some point after Waterloo, Alex was transferred to the 60th Regiment of Foot as on the 26th Oct 1820 he was officially transferred from them back to the 12th Light Dragoons.
Just less than a year later, he was promoted to Major (Brevet) on the 30th Aug 1821 staying with the 12th Light Dragoons an in August 1824, he was promoted to Major (by purchase) and transferred from 12th Light Dragoons to the Cape Corps (Cavalry).
The Cape Corps consisted of two small units of about 200 men for the defence of the Cape Colony’s eastern frontier. The two units were named the Cape Cavalry (consisting of one troop of dragoons) and the Cape Light Infantry.
On the 24thJun 1825, Alex was transferred with the rank of Major from Cape Corps (Cavalry) to the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussar (Light Dragoons). Almost a year later, he purchased his promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel and transferred to 94th Regiment of Foot.
On the 6th Aug 1829, he came off the half pay list on exchange with Henry Salway to be Captain and Lieutenant-Colonel in the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards.
Alex died on the 12th March 1838 aged 43 and was buried at Gresley Parish Church near Swadlincote Derbyshire on 17th March 1838.
Mowbray Lodge which used to be on Dalby Road opposite Warwick Lodge was built to the same design as Wicklow Lodge on Burton Road. The Mowbray Lodge was a hunting box for several seasons until 1898 when it was purchased by the Vicar of Melton, Reverend Richard Blakeney M.A. and his wife.
For several years, prior to the Vicar taking ownership, it was home to Captain Gordon Wilson and his wife Lady Sarah, whilst they were hunting with the Quorn Hounds. Lady Sarah was the youngest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, John Spencer-Churchill. As a member of the Churchill family, she was aunt to Winston Churchill.
Their son, Randolph Gordon Wilson was born at Mowbray Lodge and was baptised by the Reverend Blakeney at St Mary’s Church on Sunday 26th February 1893. He later went on to serve in the Royal Naval Air Service during WW1 and later the Royal Air Force following the merge of the RNAS and Royal Flying Corps.
Following the sale of Mowbray Lodge, the Wilsons moved into Brooksby Hall in 1897 where they stayed until 1904.
Gordon Wilson joined the Royal Horse Guards from the Militia in May 1887, becoming a Lieutenant in December 1888 and a Captain in 1894.
He took part in the Boer War serving as Aide-de Camp to Colonel Robert Baden-Powell who was the Commanding Officer of the Frontier Forces at Mafeking from August 1899 to May 1900 and after appointment as Major General South Africa from May 1900 to July 1900.
He was present at the defence of Mafeking, taking part in the actions of 26th December 1899 and 12th May 1900. He was twice Mentioned in Despatches in the London Gazette on the 8th February 1901 and the 10th September 1901.
Lady Sarah went out to South Africa to join him and in 1899 was recruited by Alfred Harmsworth to cover the Siege of Mafeking for the Daily Mail after one of the Mail correspondents, Ralph Hellawell, was arrested by the Boers as he tried to get out of the besieged town of Mafeking to send his dispatch. Having thus become the first woman war correspondent, Baden-Powell asked her to leave Mafeking for her own safety after the Boers threatened to storm the British garrison.
This she duly did, and set off on a madcap adventure in the company of her maid, travelling through the South African countryside. when she was about 15 miles from Mafeking, she attempted to send back a message by carrier pigeon. The pigeon was not very well trained, and instead of flying back to Mafeking, it went and landed on the rooff of the Boer Commanders house who duly acertained who she was and where she was. She was captured by the enemy and taken prisoner before being returned to the town in exchange for a horse thief.
When she re-entered Mafeking she found it had not been attacked as predicted. Over four miles of trenches had been dug and 800 bomb shelters built to protect the residents from the constant shelling of the town.
On 26 March 1900, she wrote: “The Boers have been extremely active during the last few days. Yesterday we were heavily shelled and suffered eight casualties … Corporal Ironside had his thigh smashed the day before, and Private Webbe, of the Cape Police, had his head blown off in the brickfields trenches.”
Although death and destruction surrounded her, she preferred not to dwell too much on the horrors of the siege. She described cycling events held on Sundays and the town’s celebration of Colonel Baden-Powell’s birthday which was declared a holiday. Despite these cheery events, dwindling food supplies became a constant theme in the stories which she sent back to the Mail and the situation seemed hopeless when the garrison was hit by an outbreak of malarial typhoid. In this weakened state the Boers managed to penetrate the outskirts of the town, but the British stood firm and repelled the assault. The siege finally ended after 217 days when the Royal Horse and Canadian Artillery galloped into Mafeking on 17 May 1900.
He was promoted to Major in January 1903, Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in October 1907 and took command of his regiment in October 1911 as Lieutenant-Colonel.
On the outbreak of World War One, Gordon left for France as Lt. Colonel in the Royal Horse Guards.
Lady Sarah also went to France and was running a hospital for injured soldiers in Boulogne. It was at this hospital that Major Tony Markham who lived at The House, Melton Mowbray died after being wounded in action.
It was whilst she was at Bolougne that she heard that her husband Gordon had died from wounds received in action, on 6 November 1914. Gordon is buried in a CWGC grave at Zillebeke Churchyard in Belgium. See his CWGC recordfor more details.
“Melton Officer Dies in a Nazi Camp” was the headline of the news article published in the Leicester Evening Mail on 11th January 1943. The officer in question was Peter Anthony Lovegrove.
Peter was born in Melton Mowbray on the 3rd March 1920 as the middle child of 3. His parents were the late Edward Tyler Lovegrove and his wife Hilda, of Thorpe Arnold. Peter’s elder brother Vernon was born Sept 1917 and his younger sister Joyce in Dec 1921.
Within a few years of the children being born, their father Edward, died on 16th May 1922 at their home in Thorpe Arnold. His death was put down to War Related Sickness”…a victim of consumption [pulmonary tuberculosis], primarily contracted through War service.”
Edward had served with the Royal Army Service Corps during the First World War. He was given a commission in the ASC in 1915 as a Lieutenant when he proceeded to France in the December 1915. He was promoted to Captain whilst serving with the 55th Division until the summer of 1918 when he was invalided out of the service with a Silver War Badge suffering from the effects of being gassed and having 2 attacks of pleurisy.
Peter, aged 8 was sent for schooling at the Oakham School from 1929 starting off in the Junior House, followed by the School House which he left in 1936. Whilst at school he had the following achievements
Relay Race (under 13): won with team B – Spring 1930.
Form 1 Arithmetic Prize: Summer 1930.
Scouts: in the Fox patrol – Summer 1932.
Cricket under 14: awarded Colours – Summer 1933.
Form 4 Trustees’ Prize: Winter 1933.
Drama: played Blanch of Spain in the Form 5 production of King John – Spring 1936.
Fives: Captain – Winter 1936.
O.T.C.: Certificate ‘A’ – Winter 1936.
After leaving school, he trained as a chartered surveyor and on the 24th May 1939, the Nottingham Journal published a list of ‘local candidates’ who had passed their professional examinations of the Chartered Surveyors Institute. Peter was one of those listed that had passed Intermediate Examination Part One.
Peter volunteered for the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) in November 1939 and was enlisted in 1940 as a Leading Aircraftman and allocated service number 1164992. According to the London Gazette, he was granted a commission for the duration of hostilities as a Pilot Officer on probation wef 9th March 1941 and allocated service number 62324.
After being commissioned, he trained as a pilot and earnt his wings. He spent some time at RAF Cottesmore and whilst there he visited his old school in Oakham on several occasions.
At some point in his military career, Peter was posted onto No 83 Sqn based at RAF Scampton.
On the 8th April 1942, No 83 Sqn had been tasked with a bombing raid on Hamburg with their target being the Blohm & Voss shipyard. Five aircraft from No 83 sqn were involved from the total of 272 aircraft made up of 177 Wellingtons, 41 Hampdens, 22 Stirlings, 13 Manchesters (of which 5 were from 83 Sqn), 12 Halifaxes and 7 Lancasters.
The 83 Sqn Manchesters involved in the raid were: L7484, L7385; R5833; R5838 and L7427 and all equipped with a bomb load of 6 x 1,000lb general purpose bombs.
According to the Bomber Command War Diaries, the raid on Hamburg was not a success. Icing and electrical storms were encountered and out of the 272 aircraft involved in the raid, only 188 reported bombing in the area.
Later records from Hamburg reported that the equivalent of 14 aircraft loads fell on the city causing 8 fires of which 3 were large. There was no particular reference to property damage and 17 people were killed and a further 199 injured.
Bremen reported a load of incendiaries were dropped very accurately on the Vulkan shipyard which caused damaged to 4 U-boats under construction plus several surrounding buildings.
In addition to the Hamburg raid, Bomber Command were also carrying out smaller minor operations involving 13 Wellingtons to Le Havre, 3 Blenheims intruding over Holland, 24 aircraft minelaying near Heligoland and 16 aircraft on leaflet flights to Belgium and France.
It was these leaflet raids that 83 Sqn provided 2 Manchesters R5837 and R5873 to carry out a nickel raid on Paris.
From a total if 328 aircraft involved in the two Ops that night, 6 aircraft were lost, 5 from the Hamburg raid and 1 from the leaflet drops.
R5837 that took part in the leaflet raid on Paris, took off from Scampton at 21:01Hrs and the crew were: Plt Off Proule; Plt Off Renvoize; Sgt Fitchett; Fg Off Goodman; Plt Off Dickinson; Sgt Neary and Sgt Porter. In addition, the Sqn Intelligence Officer Plt Off R J Dyer had accompanied the crew to gain an insight into operational flying.
On the outbound leg of the sortie, the aircraft was hit by flak in the Starboard engine. Unable to maintain height, they ditched their leaflets near Calais and started an early run home. The aircraft ditched in the sea off Manston and only the pilot (Plt Off Proule ) managed to make it to the dingy. The W/Op followed correct procedure and gave a fix which enabled the pilot to be found by the Search and Rescue unit after 14½ hours. Sadly, the rest of the crew didn’t make it and within a couple of days, the bodies of Plt Off Renvoize and Sgt Fitchett were washed ashore and taken for burial at Thundersley St Peter Churchyard in Essex and Vlieland General Cemetery in the Dutch Friesian Islands respectively. The rest of the crew have no known grave and are commemorated on the Runnymede memorial.
Peter Lovegrove was the 2nd pilot on Manchester L7427 OL-Q for Queenie tasked with the raid on Hamburg. His crew mates were:
67046 Pilot Officer Jack Heathcote Morphett RAFVR – 1st Pilot
NZ/402188 Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Douglas Hutchinson RNZAF – Navigator
647009 Flt Sgt Albert Henry Salter RAF – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
923926 Sergeant Reginald Stanley Williams RAFVR – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
R.66159 Sgt George Charles Fisk RCAF – Air Gunner
R.69897 Sgt Charles Dewitt Gellatly RCAF – Air Gunner
According to the 83 Sqn Operational Record Book, they left Scampton at 22:15Hrs and were reported ‘missing without trace’. Further information has since come to light that L7427 was last heard on wireless transmission at 00.10 hours, at which time it was believed to be in the Lastrup area of Germany.
It was later reported to have crashed in the small town Ermke near Lastrup-Cloppenburg. It was claimed to have been shot down by Fw Gerhard Goerke 1/NJG3 – West of Lastrup South East of Cloppenburg at 00:49Hrs and also claimed by Flak of 1/schw Res Flak Abt 603 (unknown type) near Lastrup, Cloppenburg at 00:45Hrs.
Sadly, all the crew died in this incident, apart from Peter Lovegrove who as mentioned previously was the 2nd Pilot.
The crew who died on the 9th April were originally interred at the Russian Vechta Cemetery but later they were exhumed and re-buried on the 12th June 47 at the Sage War Cemetery. Most of the 816 casualties buried in the Sage cemetery were airmen lost in bombing raids over northern Europe whose graves were brought in from cemeteries in the Frisian Islands and other parts of north-west Germany.
There is an interesting story on the ‘Short Stirling & RAF Bomber Command Forum’ website posted by a user relating to this aircraft and the sortie on the 8th April.
“I am doing some research into the earliest use of the radar system H2S first used officially by Bomber Command in January 1943. The reason is my wife’s uncle was 21 year old commanding Pilot Officer Jack Heathcote Morphett who died on the 9th April 1942 in a raid over Germany. The story in the family goes that Jack had completed 30 successful missions and was on leave in Wales, R&R when he got a call from his commanding officer at Scrampton. Two Avo Manchesters were to take part in a raid over Hamburg and the nominated Pilot Officer was regarded as not being sufficiently experienced, and the mission was an important one. This plane was fitted with some experimental equipment- he told his sister but could not say more, -and it was essential an experienced pilot ensured that if the plane was in difficulty and had to crash, that the equipment did not fall into the hands of the Germans.The plane left RAF Scrampton at 22.15h. The last signal was received at 1am over the Lastrup area of Germany, and the plane crashed NE of Cloppenburg. My mother in law was told by the RAF that Jack managed to get his co-pilot free who bailed out but the plane lost control and he had to ensure that the secret equipment was totally destroyed. The reference was L7427-01-Q. Sadly Pilot Officer Lovegrove who bailed out was captured and died in November 1942 in Pozen Old Garrison Prison, Poland. Does anyone know if this plane might have been fitted with a test rig of H2S? the first operation use was 30th January 1943, and on the 2/3 February a Sterling Pathfinder crashed without destroying the H2S equipment and Telefunken developed within 6 months a detector of the equipment from the crashed plane. Surely, before the system went into full operation there must have been some trials? Any thoughts or advice on where to research this would be much appreciated. Stephenph.
There is no mention in the record books that Jack Morphett was recalled from leave nor any mention of any special equipment being fitted to L7427. However, the chat forum goes on to say;
“Two RAF officers came and consoled Barbara Morphett his sister,(later Lady Barbara Lawrence, wife of the Senior Master and Queen’s Remberencer) whom he had taught to fly. They gave her the impression that he may have been forced to crash the plane to destroy certain vital secret equipment.”
Another member of the forum called Volker takes the discussion further:
“I know the crash site exactly. I have located the crash site and explored with a metal detector. I have found many small parts of this Manchester. For me, a long time it was not clear which aircraft crashed on this pasture. The records in the village chronicles were totally wrong. A difficult case. In the last year I have a found a witness. He is 86 years old and in good health. We talked a long time and he said to me he remembered a name. The name was Palagref. This crew member was injured taken at night by his family. After a short time I knew that it was the co. pilot P.A. Lovegrove. Now I am in very good contact with the nephew of Peter Anthony Lovegrove. His name is Peter Lovegrove. Peter comes to Germany on 23.April with his family and visit the crash site. We have full support of the community and authoritis. Near the crash site we built a memorial (rockstone with a plaque and a wooden cross) in Memoriam for the crew. The story is very interesting and I hope other members of the crew see this report. Maybe additional contacts incur. For any further assistance, I am very grateful. There are many pictures of this aircraft. Unfortunately, there seems to be no pictures of the crew. To date I have only a picture of P. A. Lovegrove.”
As confirmed in the eyewitness account above, Peter was injured and taken in by a German family. The Leicester Evening Mail on the 10th June 1942 states he had slight injuries to his forearm. At some point he must have either been captured or handed over to the German authorities as he became a prisoner of war (POW No 778).
He was initially held in Dulag Luft (Lazarett Hohe Mark), from 9th April 1942 until he was transferred to Stalag Luft III (Sagan) on 28th May 1942, then again transferred to Oflag XX1-B (Schubin) on 17th September 1942.
The Leicester Evening Mail and Leicester Chronicle reported in their newspapers on the 10th & 13th June 42 that Pilot Officer Lovegrove, son of the late Captain E T Lovegrove has been promoted to Flying Officer.
It was whilst he was at Oflag XX1-B that he died. According to a telegram that his mother received from the Geneva Red Cross, dated 23rd November 1942, stating that, according to official German information, he had died in the camp hospital on 12th November 1942 from injuries received as a result of falling accidentally from a high window.
He was alone, and it was believed he had been surveying the surrounding countryside with a view to escaping, but lost his balance and was killed instantly when he fell on his head at 2.45pm onto the pavement at the hospital entrance, fracturing his skull.
This story is recalled in the book “Moonless Night: The Second World War Escape Epic” by B A Jimmy James. “Another tragedy struck soon after. A young flying officer called Lovegrove fell off the top of the big white house, used as a hospital, to crash to his death three stories below on the concrete path at the entrance. He was a member of the mapping intelligence department, and a desire to get a good view for his survey had toppled him to his death.”
His funeral service and burial at the Szubin Cemetery was described by the Red Cross in a letter to his Mother, on 23rd March 1943, as having taken place with full military honours at 10.30 on 14th November 1942.
A Chaplain of the Forces conducted the Service where 30 Officers were in attendance, the ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’ were sounded by a British soldier, and 3 volleys fired by a German firing party. Six wreaths were sent, 4 from his comrades, 1 from the RAF PoWs at Stalag Luft III, and 1 from the German Kommandatur (Military Government Headquarters).
The Oflag 64 Record website recalls a letter from Senior British Officer Wing Commander Harry Day (dated 20th November 1942) which describes in detail all the tragic circumstances of Peter’s death:
“I am a Senior British Officer at this camp and I am writing to tell you how very distressed we all are over the terrible and unexpected accident which overtook your good looking and brave son. I have known him since his first arrival at Stalag Luft 3 and since hence I have a very high opinion of him. I have called a strict investigation to be undertaken by S/L Tench, who knew your son in England and it appears that your son climbed out of the top of 3rd storey window in the hospital building at 2:45 in the afternoon he either became giddy of slipped and fell onto the pavement at the entrance of the hospital. The two British Medical Officers were actually on the scene and attended to your son, but your son must have been killed instantly as he fell on his head. The reason your son climbed out onto the window ledge is not absolutely clear but as there was no one with him, but it can be put down to his keenness to escape. The window being good vantage point to see the countryside. As you probably know your son made one unsuccessful attempt to escape with a man of his spirit I am certain he was planning another”.
The Leicester Evening Mail 18th December 1942 “PRISONER’S FATE A letter the Red Cross has been received by Mrs E T. Lovegrove of Thorpe Arnold stating that her son Pilot Officer Peter Lovegrove RAF a prisoner of war has died through an accident. No cause of death is given. The letter that states that confirmation from the Air Ministry will follow. This has not come through and enquiries are being made. A few days ago Mrs Lovegrove received a letter from her son stating that he was well set up for the winter in a new camp. and had met old school friends.”
On the 8th October 1948, his body was exhumed from the Szubin cemetery and re-buried in the CWGC Poznan British Military Cemetery (now Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery), Plot 5, Row J, Grave 14.
Following the loss of Manchester L7427 OL-Q for Queenie, the next aircraft on 83 Squadron to be allocated the code ‘Q for Queenie ‘ was Avro Lancaster R5868 OL-Q which was delivered to No 83 Sqn on 29th June 1942.
Lancaster R5868 is probably the most famous Lancaster as the one credited with the highest number of ‘ops’ to survive to the present day, completing 137 known operations whilst serving with 83 Sqn, 467 RAAF Sqn, 207 (Leicesters Own) Sqn and back to 467 RAAF Sqn.
The aircraft is now on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon wearing the codes PO-S for Sugar that she wore whilst serving with No 467 RAAF Sqn.
Peter is commemorated on his parents grave at Thorpe Arnold.
In my previous blog Melton & District Spitfire FundI looked at how the people of Melton Mowbray and surrounding villages came together in a fundraising effort in late 1940 to buy a Spitfire fighter plane.
This blog continues with the story of the Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire P8522 and looks at its history from being built in 1941 right through to when it was retired from RAF service in 1945.
Spitfire P8522 was built according to the official Air Ministry list as a F Mk 1A, but during production it was converted to a F Mk IIB. P8522 was built in April 1941 at the Vickers Armstrong Ltd. factory at Castle Bromwich, and was part of Contract No B981687/39/C.23(C) dated 12th April 1939 which was placed for the first batch of 1000 F MkII’s.
As requested by the fund organisers, P8522 was adorned with the towns emblem of the Red Lion Rampant upon a white background and wore the title “Melton Mowbray & District” along the side of the fuselage under the windscreen.
On the 5th May 1941, P8522 took her maiden flight at Castle Bromwich with the Vickers test pilot Alex Henshaw at the controls.
Shortly afterwards on 12th May 1941, P8522 was transferred to No 24 Maintenance Unit at RAF Tern Hill in Shropshire where it went to be fully fitted out for operational duties.
Following being fitted out for operation duties, P8522 was transferred to No 303 (Polish) Sqn based at RAF Northolt on the 19th June 1941 and assigned to “B” Flight with the code RF-W. In addition to the codes RF-W, the 303 Squadron emblem was also added next to the Melton lion.
Rolling off the production line in 1941 meant that the Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire was too late into service to be involved in the Battle of Britain and it joined No 303 Squadron which claimed the largest number of aircraft shot down during the Battle, even though it joined the Battle two months after it had begun.
No. 303 Squadron RAF was formed in July 1940 in Blackpool, England before deployment to RAF Northolt on 2 August as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom. It had a distinguished combat record and was disbanded in December 1946.
Flying Officer Wojciech Kolaczkowski was the first Polish pilot to fly the Melton Spitfire when on the 20th & 21st June he took P8522 up for a series of test flights to check it out before being declared operational on 303 Sqn.
The first operational flight came on the 24th June when Sgt Stanislaw Belza took P8522 to Martlesham Heath as part of “B” Flight which had been tasked with fighter escort duties protecting bombers on a raid over occupied Europe. This operation proceeded to plan except for haze over the target area.
Belza again took P8522 on ‘Escort Duties’ the following day but this time, the Squadron encountered severe flak and were engaged in a number of dog fights with ME.109s. The first sortie of the day was at 06:10 Hrs for an hour, landing back at 07:10. Sgt Belza was again airborne in the Melton Spitfire at 11:40Hrs for another escort sortie, landing back at base at 13:40Hrs.
Later in the day, P8522 was again airborne for her 3rd sortie of the day, again escorting bombers. This time Kolaczkowski was at the controls and took off at 15:40Hrs and returned to base at 17:25Hrs.
On the 26th June, B Flight moved to Martlesham Heath at 07:30Hrs. P8522 was piloted again by Kolaczkowski for the 35 minute flight.
They had gone to Martlesham Heath to take part in Circus operations where bomber attacks with fighter escorts took place during day time. The attacks were against short range targets with the intention of occupying enemy fighters and keeping their fighter units in the area concerned.
Kolaczkowski took off in P8522 at 11:00Hrs escorting 23 Blenheim bombers on a raid to Comines power station. The weather conditions over Commines made bombing impossible due to 10/10 cloud over France so the bombers turned back and the fighters encountered no opposition and returned to base, landing at 12:25Hrs.
The 27th was a rather hectic day for 303 Sqn, with weather conditions making a morning circus impossible so the Squadron went on a mass Rhubarb operation resulting in various Messerschmitt’s being damaged or destroyed on the ground.
A Rhubarb operation is when sections of fighters or fighter-bombers, taking full advantage of low cloud and poor visibility, would cross the English Channel and then drop below cloud level to search for opportunity targets such as railway locomotives and rolling stock, aircraft on the ground, enemy troops and vehicles on roads.
P8522 was not involved in the days Rhubarb taskings, but later in the day Kolaczkowski was at the controls of P8522 again for escort duties, initially going to Manston at 1600Hrs. At 20:30Hrs he took off as part of B Flight providing escort duties for 23 Blenheims as part of the Circus 25 operation to bomb the steel works at Lille. Minor skirmishes took place with one enemy aircraft being damaged by F/O Zumbach, but no action for P8522.
Kolaczkowski was again flying P8522 on the 28th providing escort high cover for 24 Blenheims attacking Comines as part of the Circus 26 Op. Just West of Comines, he was in a dog fight with 5 Messerschmitt Me-109s. In his combat Kolaczkowski report stated:
“After a prolonged dog-fight with with 5 ME 109’s west of Comines, I had come down low and near Desvres was joined by Sgt Belc. Flying across the aerodrome I fired a short burst at a Me.109 which was mounted on trestles. The aircraft collapsed amid a cloud of smoke.
Rounds fired: 7 rounds each of 2 cannon, 15 rounds each of 4 M/G”
On the 30th, P8522 RF-W was again part of the fighter escorts with F/L Jankiewicz at the controls providing escort for another Circus bombing trip for 18 Blenheims atacking the Pont-a-Vendin Power Station in France, but this time there was nothing special to report.
Kolaczkowski was back in control of P8522 on the 1st July when they carried out a couple of evening bomber escorts over France with all aircraft returning safely.
The second combat victory for Kolaczkowski and P8522 occurred on the 2nd July 1941 when 303 & several other Fighter Sqn’s were on escort duties again from Martlesham as part of a Circus Op to the Fives/Lille steel and engineering works at Lille. No opposition was met until they were over the target area and a series of dog fights developed. Some fighters stayed with the bombers whilst others became involved with the fighters.
The Fives/Lille steel and engineering works at Lille was to be the target of several attacks carried out by the RAF and USAAF bombers during the war.
The Operations Record Book entry for the 2nd July states “F/Lt Kolaczkowski attacked two Me’s who were attacking the bombers; one was destroyed by the Blenheim and the other by F/Lt Kolaczkowski. F/O Zumbach shot down 1 Me in flames and damaged others. P/O Lipinski attacked and probably destroyed another Me109. Sgt Wojciechowski was wounded in the shoulder but returned to Martlesham suffering from loss of blood. It transpired later that he had shot down one Me109 in a series of dog fights.
S/Ldr Lapkowski was missing from this operation and it was thought that he had collided with another Spitfire belonging to Sgt Gorecki. This transpired to be incorrect as Gorecki was picked up three days later after 74 hours in Channel.
There has been no further news of S/Ldr Lapkowski.”
According to the personal combat report that Kolaczkowski submitted, the attack took place in an area from Lille to mid-channel at around 12:45Hrs.
“As soon as we had reached Lille Me.109’s began to engage our Squadron and the other escort Squadrons, and the dog-fights continued until we had reached mid-channel. During the many engagements which took place between 15,000 and 10,000 ft, I saw two Me.109Es diving towards the bombers and after the first E/A had had a wing shot away by a Blenheim, the second pulled up and I followed him. I was able to fire 3 short bursts from my cannons and M/Gs from astern at 150-200ydsand the Me.109 rolled down emitting black smoke. The pilot was seen to bale out but the aircraft went down out of sight. I fired 26 rounds from each of 2 cannons and 100 rounds from each of 4 M/Gs.”
On the 3rd July, the Squadron took part in two sorties over France. In the second, ten Spitfires took part, 7 from “A” Flight and 3 from “B” Flight of which P8522 piloted by Flt Lt Jankiewicz was one, taking off at 10:30Hrs and returning at 12:55Hrs as part of Circus 30 escorting Blenheim bombers from No 139 Sqn attacking Hazebrouck marshalling yards.
The following day (4th July), was a heavy day for 303 Squadron with uneventful operation trips, convoy patrols, night flying practice and a variety of aircraft tests. P/O Marciniak took P8522 on a Sector Recon sortie in the late morning followed by an operational sortie for bomber escort duties just before midnight with Sgt Belc at the controls.
It was similar on the 5th when Plt Off Daszewski took P8522 on a training flight (practice formation flying) in the morning with Flt Lt Zak taking P8522 on an uneventful patrol after lunch.
Zak again took P8522 the following morning when they were tasked with providing top cover for three Stirling bombers attacking Le Trait shipyards. Several more uneventful bomber escort mission were undertaken by P8522 on the 10th & 11th July.
On the 12th July, the Squadron was once again involved in escort duties over France and was involved in a few minor skirmished with the enemy. It is thought that Flt Lt Zak flew P8522 in the afternoon of the 12th on bomber escort duties but cannot be confirmed due to the illegibility of the ORB records.
The 12th of July was the last operation flight of the squadron before leaving Northolt for Speke in Liverpool. There are no more records of P8522 flying with 303 (Polish) Squadron after the 12th July.
After five months of operations, No. 303 Sqn was rested on 13th July moving to Speke near Liverpool, in 9 Group, Fighter Command.
According to the aircraft transfer record card, P8522 Melton Mowbray & District was transferred on the 15th September to No 65(East India) Sqn at RAF Kirton Lindsey. It is thought that P8522 was allocated to “A” Flight with the code ‘YT-D’ to replace K9907 YT-D which had been shot down a few months previous..
No 65 Squadron was in the process of re-equipping with the MkIIb Spitfires and as a result, was involved in quite a lot of training flights. It was on the 18th September when Sgt Grantham took P8522 YT-D on an “Air Firing” sortie. The ORB entry for the day states “1 section of three aircraft proceeded to North Coates from where a convoy patrol was carried out without incident. 2 sections of 2 aircraft proceeded to Sutton Bridge for air firing (canon testing) on re-equipment of squadron with Spitfires Mark IIb. There was also 1 dusk patrol of 5 aircraft. Practice flights were carried out during the day.”
The 19th was a “nothing of interest to report” day for 65 Sqn and the only aircraft to fly was P8522 YT-D at the hands of P/O Mitchell who took ‘D’ for a training flight calling at Digby, Wittering, Colley Weston and back to Kirton.
The next day was another day of training with 2 aircraft from “A” Flight and all aircraft from “B” Flight proceeded to Manby for air firing due to testing of canons on re-equipping to MkIIb Spitfires. That day, Sgt Chandler was the first to take ‘D’ off to Manby and back on an air firing sortie, leaving Kirton at 11:55Hrs. Sgt Oldnall did the same in the afternoon departing at 14:30Hrs.
P/O Mitchell was back in control of P8522 when on the 22nd; the Squadron left Kirton for Detling, about 3 miles NE of Maidstone in Kent to take part in an offensive sweep. The aircraft returned to Kirton in the afternoon on the account of “unfavourable weather conditions”. P/O Mitchell and P8522 were one of two aircraft tasked later that day in taking part in an operation sortie from Kirton, the other being F/Lt Grant and P8576.
65(East India) Squadron were next involved on operation flying on the 24th, with 2 sections of 2 aircraft undertaking operation patrols but this didn’t include P8522. However, Sgt Chalmers did get airborne in YT-D when he was tasked with a local practice flight involving formation flying. Sgt Warden did the same on P8522’s next trip on the 26th September when they were tasked with formation flying again.
Sgt Chalmers took P8522 up twice on the 1st October and again on the 2nd taking part in Army Co-Operation “Bumper” Exercises at RAF Oulton in Norfolk. He returned to Kirton on the 3rd.
Bumper exercises were undertaken in East Anglia during October and November 1941 to test the ability of British forces to destroy a German Army after invading Great Britain. Two Army Headquarters and four Corps participated. The total number of divisions taking part was twelve; three of these were armoured. Two army tank brigades and corps troops in large numbers were also involved. The force engaged amounted in all to about a quarter of a million men.
65 (East India) Squadron must have done a good job on the Bumper exercise as the post exercise report stated ” Air Support. On the air aspect, the C.-in-C. mentioned the following points. (A) Don’t use your air support ” in penny packets. (B) The fighter appears to present a serious menace to troops and transport on the move. (C) The Air Support Control should be at Army HQ if this is as far forward as it ought to be. It does not follow, however, that it should not be sent to some lower formation’s HQ if the main weight of air support is being directed to this formation’s area.” To read the full report, click here.
The 4th October saw P/O Hewlett getting airborne first in P8522 on a weather test followed later in the day by P/O Mitchell taking P8522 to North Coates for Shipping patrol duties.
It wasn’t long before P8522 was re-allocated again, when on the 6th October 41 she went to 616 (South Yorkshire) Sqn due to 65 Sqn converting to the Spitfire MkV.
616 were currently at RAF Westhampnett, near Chichester in West Sussex and the Squadron ROB states: “We heard today, with mixed feelings, that we were to move up to Kirton Lindsey on the sixth to replace 65 Squadron. It will be remembered that at the end of February we came down to Tangmere to take the place of 65 Squadron after a stay of over 5 months at Kirton Lindsey. The reason why our feelings are mixed is because we shall be sorry to miss all the operational activity, which only No 11 Group Stations can offer, although naturally this decreases as the long nights set in. Also, when we go to No 12 Group, we find that the squadron has to do many more duties for the Station, making it sometimes difficult to obtain a sufficient number of men to service the aircraft. On the other hand Kirton is nearer to most of the homes of the airmen and the accommodation is better than down South.”
The ORB entry for the 6th Oct states “The main party travel up to Kirton. The pilots could not fly up owing to rain and low clouds. Four New Zealand Sergeant pilots join the Squadron, i.e. H. A. Chandler, G.L.Davidson, J.H.Davidson and G.H.Lattimer. They were with 65 Squadron and as they were not trained they were transferred to us. Sgt Pilot A.H. Gunn (Rhodesia) posted to us from 56 O.T.U Grangemouth.
The 7th goes on to state “As weather was still bad the pilots came up by train. Once again we are bitterly disappointed with the dirty conditions of the aircraft, dispersal huts and billets which we took over from 65 Squadron. (see entry of February 26th 1941). Even the ammunition and canon barrels were rusty. The engineer officer insisted on the Squadron being made non-operational for at least 10 days in order to overhaul the aircraft (old Spitfire IIBs). 136 Squadron (Spitfire IIB) and 121 Squadron (the second Eagle Squadron) Hurricane IIBs are at Kirton.”
It would appear that 616 Squadron moved to Kirton Lindsey on or around the 6th October leaving their Spitfire MkVs at Westhampnett and re-equipped with the older MkIIs inherited from 65 (East India) Squadron, who moved South to Westhampnett on the 7th and re-equipped with the newer MkV version, possibly those left behind by 616 Squadron.
P8522 was transferred from 616 to 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron who were based at RAF Drem, East Lothian Scotland. 611 Sqn had been based at RAF Hornchurch carrying out offensive sweeps over occupied northern France since January 1941, but had moved North to RAF Drem for ‘rest’ in November 1941 where they stayed until June ‘42.
The first sorties with 611 Sqn took place on the 5th December 1941 when Flt Sgt Wright took her on a couple of shipping convoy patrols, the first at 08:15Hrs and returned at 09:30Hrs closely followed by another patrol at 10:25Hrs till 11:25Hrs.
On the 8th December, a dull and windy day by all account, two Spitfires from 611 Sqn were sent to Patrol Burnt Island in Fife. Flt Sgt Wright took P8522 and Sgt Johnstone in P7385.
The Squadron was tasked with operating out of Montrose for 3 days from the 12th December and 6 aircraft from B Flight proceed up to Montrose in the early afternoon. The Melton Spitfire however remained at Drem and at 17:00Hrs was on patrol over Eyemouth with Sqn Ldr Watkins in control.
Only 2 aircraft flew on the 15th from Drem, Flt Sgt Wright in P8522 and Sgt Haggas in P8468 were patrolling St Abbs Head. It was a bright day with high winds and bitterly cold. The Squadron was visited by 10 press reporters from various parts of Lancashire. the pilots ‘put on a good show’ and the visitors who were wined and dined by the Sqn left in a contented state of mind.
More patrols were undertaken by Flt Sgt Wright in the Melton Spitfire on the 16th December and then the aircraft didn’t fly again until the 28th when Sqn Ldr Watkins took her on a convoy patrol.
At lunch time on the 14th February, the Melton Mowbray Spitfire was 1 of 4 aircraft involved in a lunch time ‘scramble’ when the alarm bells sounded as an enemy aircraft (later identified as a Heinkel He111) approached the camp, flying at 30,000feet. The Spitfires gave chase but could not get within firing range before the enemy aircraft was lost in cloud.
P8522 flew twice the following day with Sgt Johnson at the controls. The first on a patrol around May Isle then at 11:30Hrs she was scrambled with Sgt Johnson again at the controls along with W3628 piloted by Flt Lt Winskill. Sgt Jones was at the controls when again she was scrambled on the 16th to intercept enemy aircraft approaching.
On 21st February 1942 P8522 was involved in an accident and was transferred to Scottish Aviation at Prestwick where the Melton Spitfire was ‘Repaired In Works’ on the 26th Feb and on the 7th March it was re-classified as a ‘Repaired Aircraft Awaiting Allocation’.
On the 13th March 1942, P8522 was transferred to No 37 MU at RAF Burtonwood in Cheshire. The role of 37MU was to receive brand new aircraft direct from the manufacturers and prepare them for squadron service and to incorporate all the latest modifications and armaments. The aircraft were then put into storage to be issued to the squadron as and when needed. 37 MU also operated an Aircraft Repair depot (ARD) repairing aircraft that had been battled damaged, or had crashed etc. P8522 remained at RAF Burtonwood until 21st April 1942.
The next unit to operate P8522 was No 1 Coastal Artillery Co-operation Flight (CACF) located at RAF Detling, 3 miles North East of Maidstone in Kent. On 1st January, 1942, No.1 Coast Artillery Co-operation Flight became No.1 Coast Artillery Co-operation Unit, and transferred from No.70 Group to No.35 Wing Army Co-operation Command.
Within a couple of weeks of arriving on No 1 CACU, the Melton Spitfire was involved in another incident when Fg Off H L D Tanner made a heavy landing at RAF Weston Zoyland putting the aircraft out of action until the 15th May 42 when she returned to her home base at RAF Detling following repair.
Early in 1942 the Unit took part in various exercises with the Army and Royal Navy. A number of practice shoots were carried out with 540 and 520 Coast Regiments at Dover, but no operational flying was requested during the first four months of this year. Operational sorties were carried out from May onwards, mainly reconnaissance of shipping and targets for the long range guns. A number of “Rhubarbs” were successfully carried out during the Autumn of 1942.
On 16 July, Plt Off P F Sewell 47422 was flying P8522 on a non-operational (local flying) sortie when it was involved in an accident on landing. Due to the amount of damage sustained, the aircraft was categorized as Flying Accident Category B (FACB). A Cat B accident is classed as beyond repair on site by station personnel but personnel from No 88MU were drafted in to carry out the repair which started on the 20th July 1942 and was completed with the aircraft being handed back to No 1 CACU on 7th August.
The accident record card states: “Pilot made normal landing and starboard tyre (possibly punctured on take-off) deflated during run. When passing over depression in the ground, the aircraft lurched causing Port u/c to stress at the anchorage and collapse, following which the starboard u/c collapsed. AOC: Pilot not to blame.”
In August 1942, Sqn Ldr D J Hamilton was bringing the Melton Spitfire into land when he made a ‘wheels up’ landing on the airfield. The aircraft was repaired and a month later on the 29th September Hamilton was again flying the Melton Spitfire on a sortie tasked with spotting form the artillery when it collided with birds. On landing, the aircraft was damaged further when it tipped on its nose. Again it was repaired and declared operational on the 2nd October.
On 23rd November, the training Flight returned to Detling with all aircraft and equipment. Towards the end of 1942, night flying practice in Spitfires was carried out with 520 and 540 Coast Regiments at Dover in an effort to ascertain if spotting with Spitfires was feasible at night, but this was found to be impracticable.
P8522 was involved in another accident on the 22nd October when flying over enemy territory France at very low level and collided with birds at 1045hrs. The pilot, Fg Off Robert James Gee managed to get her back home and the damage was classed as Cat AC – repair beyond unit capacity. Again P8522 was repaired on site and was handed back to No 1 CACU on 17th April 1943.
The Melton Spitfire remained No 1 CACU 19th June 1943 when it was re-allotted and taken on strength by the Tactical Air Force.
On the 23rd October 1943 P8522 was transferred to No 61 OTU at RAF Rednal near Shrewsbury to train new pilots for Fighter Command.
It stayed until 11th August 1944 when it was transferred yet again to No 45MU at RAF Kinloss in Scotland where it stayed until it was eventually struck off charge on the 26th April 1945 due to it being deteriorated beyond repair.
The Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire P8522 served the country well being utilised on the front line. As she became superseded by newer advanced versions of the Spitfire, she carried on serving her country in various other roles.
P8522 had been engaged in combat with German bombers and fighters, escorted allied bombers over enemy occupied territory, took part in Rhubarb and Circus Operations, help train the British Army in the Bumper exercises, escorted shipping convoys and carried out patrols to protect the UK from attack, helped train the Coastal Defence units and latterly assisted with training newly qualified fighter command pilots on the Spitfire.
All in a days work for The Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire that was paid for by the generosity of the people of our market town and surrounding villages. We should be proud of our achievement.
The donation of specially marked weapons of war to the actual combatants has been carried out for centuries, and in the First World War (FWW) the tank and the aeroplane joined the list of presentation weapons. The government urged the public to “do their bit” and donate to funds which would “buy” a tank, ambulance, field gun or aeroplane.
This idea was resurrected in the Second World War (SWW), and a “price list” was made out: £5,000 for a single-engined fighter (usually a Spitfire but sometimes a Hurricane or other type), £20,000 for a twin-engined aircraft and £40,000 for a four-engined aircraft. A Spitfire was a snip at £5,000, this being just half the cost for a torpedo at that time.
During the FWW, His Serene Highness, the Nizam of Hyderabad donated a squadron of D.H.9As, and had received a letter from the Air Ministry thanking him for his generous gift, saying that his name would be forever linked with a squadron of the RAF.
In recognition of this, each aircraft was marked with a suitable inscription and were operated by No 110 Squadron from that time on, the unit was officially titled No.110 (Hyderabad) Squadron, and eventually the Nizams’ crest depicting a demi-tiger was used as the basis of the squadron badge.
All 18 of the squadrons’ aircraft were inscribed on both sides of the nose ‘Presented by his Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad, Hyderabad No ……….’ They were individually numbered from 1 – 18 and F1010 on display at the RAF Museum at Hendon was the 13th aircraft but became No12a rather than 13 for superstition reasons and was coded ‘C’.
However, with the end of the FWW hostilities the government of the day began cost cutting, and the RAF suffered drastically. No 110 (Hyderabad) Squadron was disbanded on 27th August 1919. The squadron reformed on 18th May 1937 with Hawker Hinds at RAF Waddington and on the outbreak of the SWW, the Nizam enquired what “his” squadron would be doing.
This created some embarrassment at the Air Ministry as the name “Hyderabad” had long been forgotten, but they extricated themselves from the situation by explaining that his original donation covered the cost of perhaps two modern fighters. The Nizam promptly stumped up more cash, thus setting a precedent. He also had small badges made for the pilots, and even sent them £60 with which to have a party, though the pilots thought he could have been a little more generous.
No. 152 Squadron reformed on 1st October 1939 equipped with Gloster Gladiator biplanes. Two months later it began to receive Spitfires funded by the Nizam of Hyderabad on 21 December 1939 and went operational on 6th January 1940, flying coastal and convoy patrols. Just like like it’s predecessor 110., the squadron became known as No.152 (Hyderabad) Squadron.
Meanwhile, the idea caught on, and “Buy a Spitfire” funds sprang up overnight, being further encouraged in 1940 by Lord Beaverbrook when he was appointed by Winston Churchill to run the newly-formed Ministry of Aircraft Production.
The actual cost of a Spitfire was reported to be £8897.6s.6d, about £255,608 in todays money. Beaverbrook recognised that it would be difficult for cash strapped organisations to raise such large sums so he decided to make the public an offer that they couldn’t refuse. He dropped the nominal price of a Spitfire to just £5000, equivalent to £143,600 today. If communities or organisations could raise £5000 Lord Beaverbrook would build a Spitfire, stick their name on it and give it to the RAF.
Very soon the streets of every village, town and city resounded with the rattle of collecting tins, as well as assorted donations from overseas. From Accrington to Zanzibar, from Scunthorpe to New Zealand, from Iceland, America, Brazil, South Africa and India the money poured in.
On the 6th September 1940, the Grantham Journal reported that Melton is to have a Spitfire Fund and that a Committee had already been formed to manage the scheme.
The committee was made up of the following individuals: Mr Oliver Brotherhood, J.P., Chairman of Melton U.D.C; The Duchess of Rutland, Lady Daresbury; The Vicar of Melton the Rev H.R. Bates; The Rev T Lee; Mrs Cantrell-Hubbersty, J.P.; Mrs A E Burnaby; Mr & Mrs C J Clarke; Mrs E Crawford; Mr R W Brownlowe, chairman Melton Justices; Mrs Freckingham; Mrs A Leate; Mr James F Montagu, chairman of Melton and Belvoir R.D.C.; Alderman T Sarson; Mrs G Barrow; Councillor T R Stockdale; Messrs G W Whitlock, J.P.; A Bramley; Fred A Brown; J K Burton; F W Davies; W F Easom; L C Leader; A P Marsh and E P Sedntance; Mr J Green, manager of the Melton Branch of the Midland Bank is the hon. Treasurer, and Miss M J Gibson, also of the Midland Bank, hon. Secretary.
The fund was officially launched on Wednesday 11th September 1940 at a meeting held at the Plaza Theatre, arranged by the Rotary Club. The highlight of the evening was a talk given by Mr William Courtenay MM.
When he was seventeen, William Courtenay joined his local Territorial Army (TA) unit, the 4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment which was a large group of part-time reservists. When the FWW commenced a year later, the TA was mobilised and Courtenay, along with his pals in the 4th Cheshire was sent to the Middle East. Thus Courtenay came to be at Gallipoli and Gaza, where he was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for his part in the capture of the Turkish Headquarters staff in 1915.
Courtenay was recommended for a commission which he elected to take in the Royal Flying Corps. After the FWW, he became an aviation journalist focusing on the early development of British civil aviation, which led him to meet many of the well-known early aviators such as Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison whom he managed during their record breaking flights.
Shortly after Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, one of his main objectives was to work as closely with the Americans as possible. As part of that policy, in July 1941, the British government sent Courtenay to the United States, to undertake a six-month coast-to-coast lecture tour, telling American audiences about the Battle of Britain.
At the Spitfire Fund launch event on the 11th, Courtenay gave an inspiring talk dealing with many aspects of the war and told the audience he was glad to receive an invitation from the Melton Rotary Club. His talk was about the work of the RAF and about the momentous task to which it had committed itself in the historic battles which were taking place in the air.
These battles, he said, were perhaps the most momentous in the history of this country, because on the outcome depended not only the security of people in this country, but the whole future peace of Europe, and, indeed, all the things which man had built up in his upward struggle from the most primeval times of history. The issue was very clear cut and simple. They had got to seize this foul bestial thing which had arisen in Europe by the throat and thrash it until the last breath from its foul body was extinguished, adding; “We must give all that we haver in this time for freedom to crush this foul thing beneath our heel.” [Grantham Journal 13th September 1940].
Even before the launch event had taken place, donations were starting to come in and when the launch was held, the fund was already sitting at £600. Mr Joseph Wakerley J.P. got the ball rolling when he handed in a cheque to the Midland Bank. The Toy Soldiers band had started a series of whist drives on behalf of the fund. Every little helps as a profit of £2 11s 1d was raised from their first drive.
Both young and old were getting involved in the fundraising. The children of Asfordby Road Primary School started fundraising by holding a ‘white elephant stall’ and collected £5 for the Melton Spitfire Fund. Over in Twyford, two small children, Patricia Thody and Edna Johnson held a jumble sale and raised 10s.
The Nottingham Evening Post reported on the 19th September that the Junkers JU-88 German bomber that was currently on display at the Messrs Shipsides premises on Parliament Street in the city will be moving to Melton to raise funds for the Melton Spitfire Fund which had passed the £1,000 mark in a week.
The Leicester Evening Mail reported on the 11th October 1940 that the Melton Spitfire Fund had now reached £3,300 and approximately £300 of this was from contributions from the Ju88 bomber exhibit which over 10,000 people visited the bomber.
Fundraising efforts were being undertaken throughout the district. Local firms continue to assist the fund with Messrs T Denman & Sons employees donating £6 11s; Melton UDC Highways Depot employees £1 15s 3d; Melton Ladies Bowls Club £8 8s. A variety of concerts raised £64 and entertainment by Mr & Mrs Edgar Heawood of Thorpe Satchville raised £5 8s.
Throughout the villages as well as in town, fundraising events were being organised. Lady Daresbury, The Duchess of Rutland organised a Whist Drive in Waltham and raised £113 10s which included 16 guineas raised from the auction of a sheep by the Duchess.
The Duchess also organised another fundraising event at Croxton Kerrial in the form of a whit drive and the proceeds from which along with donations raised another £33 towards the fund.
The villagers of Ragdale responded generously by raising £26 3s. in response to an appeal by Mrs W P Cantrell-Hubbersty of Ragdale Hall.
At Frisby-On-The-Wreake, the village Childrens Effort raised £14 from a jumble sale.
Mrs O Pilkington organised a garden fete at her hunting home in Little Belvoir near Abb Kettleby. She was ably assisted by an enthusiastic band of helpers from the villages of Abb Kettleby, Holwell and Wartnaby. The opening ceremony was performed by Lady Daresbury and the Melton Toy Soldiers Carnival Band gave a display. The proceeds from the day raised nearly £100 towards the fund.
In Sproxton, Mr W H Birch organised a collection and raised £17 2s 9d.
The Leicester Evening Mail reported on the 25th October 1940 that Mr John Green, the funds treasurer, announced in a recent meeting that the fund is within £900 of reaching its objective. Mr Frank Brewitt, brother of Mr F H Brewitt of Eye Kettleby Hall sent in £50 from Ireland and Mrs A E Burnaby of Thorpe Satchville raised £20 from a whist drive she organised. Mr Green went on to say “An intensive effort is to be made to raise the required sum and it is hoped to do so by November 23rd.
Mrs Burnaby also raised a further £7 2s. 3d. from collections in the village for the same fund.
On the 30th October, the village of Hose held one of its most successful social events. The event comprised games, competitions and dancing was organised by Mr & Mrs H Brooks in aid of the Melton Spitfire Fund. The winners of the ankle competitions were Mrs H Brooks and Miss Joan Hourd; the spot waltz Mr & Mrs Job Baxter; the statue dance the Misses Jean Hunt and Norah Barnes; book competition Miss Mavis Hunt. Mrs A Pearson was at the piano for the games and competitions and Mr E Burnett and Mr H Brooks were the MCs with Mr B Mantle in attendance with his radiogram for the dance music. The effort realised £4 11s 8d.
Just a few days later, Hose held another fundraising event in the schoolroom where gifts were sold including garden produce and groceries. Messrs H Brooks, C Hunt and E Burnett were in charge of the sale with the assistance of several lady helpers! The event raised another £18 for the Spitfire Fund.
At another event in Hose, the village children’s effort raised £4 2s from a ‘Mile of Pennies’.
Over in Eaton, Messrs G Warr and F Williams of the Home Guard organised a whist drive for the benefit of the Spitfire Fund. The winners were Miss Bagshaw, Mrs M Darby, Mrs C Johnson, and Messrs Pearson, WH Shipman and W Gould. The winners of the knock-out whist were Mrs Johnson and Mr Pearson. The MC was Mr F Williams. Mr O’Leary won a competition arranged by Mr G Warr and the proceeds amounted to upwards of £3.
Messrs G Warr and F Williams of Eaton collected a further £30 10s which was sent to the fund in December.
In the Grantham Journal on the 1st November 1940, Mr Green gave an interesting breakdown of the funds received up to the meeting mentioned above: Individual Donations £543, street collections £314, business houses £169, schools (excluding grammar school) £127, members of clubs including the Rotary and Masonic Clubs £196, from club funds £105, employees of firms £86; special efforts including Melton Bomber exhibition and Midland Woodworking Co.’s competition £783.
Mrs R E Strawbridge, a former well known hunting personality in the Melton District and now residing the United States collected sums amounting to $45, equivalent to £11 1s 1d. In a letter to the secretary of the fund, she wrote “Everyone in my country is working hard for Great Britain, and doing all in their power to help them in this their hour of need. Please remember me to all my Melton friends: they are always in my thoughts.”
Colonel F G D Colman gave a second donation of £5, and amongst village contributions received during the last few days are : Croxton Kerrial £33, Muston £10 4s 6d; Stathern second installment £6 7s 3d. The sum of £10 was also given by Snow Hill shoes Ltd.
£4,141 For Melton Spitfire was the headline in the Leicester Evening Mail published on 21st November 1940. Melton Spitfire Fund has reached a total of £4,141 19s. 5d. Included in the donations is £14 8s. 11d. from a sale of miniature Spitfires organised by Mr C Goldspink, headmaster of the Boys’ Modern School.
Across in Buckminster, villagers Mrs Black and Mrs T Simpkin collected £11 for the Melton and District Spitfire Fund.
Throughout Melton and the surrounding villages, the people of the district pulled together in a fantastic fundraising effort and when the decision to close the Melton Spitfire Fund was announced in the Grantham Journal on the 6th December 1940, to total raised stood at just over £4,240.
By the time the fund actually closed in February 1941, the patriotic action that awakened the people of Melton Mowbray and surrounding villages into forming the Melton District Spitfire Fund and, thanks to the Melton Times newspaper’s efforts, the ultimate goal of raising £5,091 14s. 4d. was reached by 12th February 194.
A cheque for £5,083 12s 10d was sent to Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production.
Spitfire P8522 was just one of 18 presentation Spitfires produced with funds raised by the City of Leicester and towns across the County.
According to the official Air Ministry list, P8522 was built as a F Mk 1A, but was converted to a F Mk IIB during production. she was built in April 1941 at the Vickers Armstrong Ltd. factory at Castle Bromwich, and was part of Contract No B981687/39/C.23(C) dated 12th April 1939 which was placed for the first batch of 1000 F MkII’s.
As requested by the fund organisers, P8522 wore the title “Melton Mowbray & District” along with the towns emblem of the Red Lion Rampant upon a white background.
No doubt you’ve all heard of the phrase “The balloon’s going up!”, but did you know it was an expression for an impending battle?
The phrase is derived from the fact that an observation balloon’s ascent likely signalled the beginning of an artillery barrage, guided by information provided by the observer in the balloon.
Balloons were used by the military for aerial observation and provided their operators with a great view of the battlefield and the first military use of observation balloons was by the French Aerostatic Corps during the French Revolutionary Wars and the first recorded use was during the Battle of Fleurus in 1794. They were also used by both sides during the American Civil War of 1861–65 and continued in use during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The British Army also used them during the Boer Wars in South Africa in the 1880s/90s.
The First World War was the high point for the military use of observation balloons. Despite it’s experience in operating balloons in South Africa, the British Army were behind in developments and were still using spherical shaped balloons.
These were quickly replaced by more advanced types, known as kite balloons, which were more aerodynamically shaped to be stable and could operate in more extreme weather conditions. Kite balloons were used for observation over their sector of the Western front, gathering intelligence and artillery spotting.
The First World War kite balloons were fabric envelopes filled with hydrogen gas. Kite balloons, were controlled by a cable attached to the ground, were often known as ‘sausages’ and first used on the Western Front on 8 May 1915 in the Aubers Ridge area.
Each balloon was maintained and tethered by a team of 48 highly-trained men, carried two passengers, known light-heartedly as ‘balloonatics’ – a commander and an observer, who, via a telegraph wire down to the ground would send back information on troop formations and artillery locations.
Each basket was equipped with telecommunication equipment, binoculars, a long range camera, maps, sandbags, pressure gauge, code book, a barometer, an air speed indicator and, more ominously, two sheath knives, two life savers and two parachutes.
Due to the flammability of the gas it unfortunately led to the destruction of hundreds of balloons on both sides with the loss of the ‘Balloonatics’ commanders, observers and also the pilots of the attacking aircraft.
The ‘Balloonatics’ who manned these observation balloons frequently had to use a parachute to escape when their balloons were attacked by enemy aircraft whose pilots earned themselves the name of ‘Balloon Busters’.
The parachutes were nicknamed ‘Acorns’ and were fitted to the outside of the basket. The idea was to grab the end of a static line as you leapt over the edge of the basket if the balloon came under attack, hoping very much it would open and you would manage to jump free of any potential entanglement.
One of these ‘Balloonatics’ was a young Canadian Officer named Elfric Ashby Twidale. Elfric was the grandson of the late Reverend Joseph Twidale, the long standing rector of over 50 years at the Melton Mowbray Congregational Baptist Church.
Elfrics father, Ashby Pearson Twidale was born in Melton Mowbray as the 5th child of the Rev Joseph and his wife Catherine and was a timber merchant by trade. In the late 1880s, Ashby emigrated to Canada where on the 3rd June 1891 he married a Canadian lady named Clara Wilhelmena Heinrichs whose father, Peter was a native of Germany.
For the last 6 years, since his 18th birthday, Elfric had been part of the 44th Lincoln and Welland Regiment in the Militia.
Just as the First World War was erupting around the globe, Elfrics German grandfather Peter died on the 15th July 1914. I wonder if the events around the globe caused any unrest in the family due to the German patronage?
On the 6th August 1914, Elfric was a Sergeant with the 44th when they were placed on active service for local protection duties as part of the Welland Canal Force. The Welland Canal is a ship canal in Ontario, Canada, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie that enables ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment and bypass Niagara Falls.
Elfric enlisted into the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on the 8th April 1915 aged 24 years. He was allocated service number 651 when he joined the Canadian Machine Gun Brigade, serving with the No 2 Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery.
The Eatons were formed in January 1915 under the Command of Major W J Morrison. They were named after Sir John Eaton who had given $100,000 for the purchase of “quick-firing machine guns mounted on armoured trucks” This paid for fifteen guns and the government supplied twenty-five.
Prior to joining the Army, Elfrics trade according to his attestation papers was a chemical engineer and whilst he was at Toronto University, he was a member of their Track Team who were the Inter-Collegiate Champions in 1913.
The Eatons unit recruited mainly from Toronto and appealed to motor mechanics, drivers and athletes so it could be this that attracted him to join this unit.
On the 4th June 1915, Elfric along with 263 other ranks and 24 officers embarked for England on the RMS Metagama. The ship was operated as part of the Canadian Pacific North Atlantic Service and remained in Canadian Pacific service throughout the FWW. She however, carried Canadian troops in her third-class accommodation on East bound crossings.
It seems that not only was the Metagama a new and capable ship, she was a lucky ship as only a month before, the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat U-20 off the coast of Ireland with the loss of 571 lives. Throughout the war the Metagama continued to transport troops across the North Atlantic without incident.
The Eatons arrived at Devonport in Plymouth on the 13th June 1915. From Devonport, the Brigade proceeded to the Shorncliffe Military Base known as “Caesers Camp” near to Folkstone, Kent. Shorncliffe had been set up in April 1915 as a Canadian Training Division for the Second Canadian Contingent to overcome difficulties such as excessive rain, mud and exposure experienced by the First Contingent troops at the initial Canadian camp located on the Salisbury Plain. Shorncliffe was also used as a staging post for troops destined for the Western Front due to its location. As the crow flies, it is only 90 miles from Ypres in Belgium.
Whilst at Shorncliffe, Elfric was promoted and became a Signalling Sergeant and at some point later he became a Sergenat Major with he unit. Whilst in England, he applied to his Commanding Officer Captain E.L. Knight for a commission in the New Army, Imperial Forces – that is the British Army.
This request was granted and he was Struck Off Strength from the Eatons on the 19th November 1915 due to being granted a Commission with the Royal Field Artillery in the New Army.
Elfrics promotion to 2nd Lieutenant (2nd Lt) with the Royal Field artillery was ‘gazetted’ on the 25th November 1915 “The undermentioned to be Second Lieutenants (on probation) Dated 20th November 1915 Elfric Ashby Twidale”.
He was appointed as a 2nd Lt with ‘C’ Battery 64th Brigade and went to France in April 1916 serving on the Western Front from Wailly to Hohenzollern Redoubt and at the Somme in the Montauban-Longueval and Auchonvillers-Ovillers areas
The London Gazette published on the 25th November 1916 recorded his promotion to Acting Captain “Whilst commanding a Trench Mortar Battalion.” He held this rank until 26th January 1917 when he relinquished the rank of Captain and reverted back to 2nd Lt due to no longer commanding a Trench Mortar Battalion.
It would have been after this that he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps taking on the role of an Observer becoming one of the ‘Balloonatics’ with No 16 Kite Balloon Section based in the area around the town Arras at map reference 51c.K.18.a supporting the VII Corps.
From the 9th April to 16th May 1917, the British were involved in a major offensive on the Western Front in what was known as the Battle of Arras, or the 2nd Battle of Arras. The Battle of Arras was the British Empire’s part of a larger offensive planned by the French. Arras would both divert German attention from the French attack, to be launched further south along the Aisne, and allow the British to test newly developed offensive tactics.
Aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), along with their observation balloons were used in conjunction with rifle fire and trench mortars from infantry and artillery units to attack the German trenches, supply lines and observation posts.
Although the RFC entered the battle with inferior aircraft to the ‘Luftstreitkräfte’, this did not deter their commander, General Trenchard, from adopting an offensive posture. Dominance of the air over Arras was essential for reconnaissance and the British carried out many aerial patrols.
The RFC carried out artillery spotting and photography of trench systems using both fixed wing aircraft and balloons. The aircraft were also involved in bombing enemy positions as well as patrolling their own front lines.
Aerial observation was hazardous work. For best results, aircraft had to fly at slow speeds and low altitude over the German defences whilst kite balloons were essentially sitting ducks. It became even more dangerous with the arrival of the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen in March 1917 and the presence of ‘Jasta 11’.
It was during the Arras campaign that 2nd Lt Elfric Twidale lost his life. From 16th April, it was apparent that the French part of the Nivelle Offensive further South on the Aisne had not achieved a breakthrough. Field Marshall Haig continued to attack at Arras, to continue to divert troops from the French on the Aisne.
On the 22nd April, the day before the Second Battle of the Scarpe which took place on the 23rd & 24th, Elfric was performing his duties as a ‘Balloonatic’. He would have been observing and recording enemy positions from his balloon basket, most probably observing actions on the front-line and behind it, spotting enemy troop movements or unusual activity of any sort, and to call down artillery fire onto any worthwhile targets.
Due to their importance, kite balloons were usually given heavy defences in the form of machine gun positions on the ground, anti-aircraft artillery, and standing fighter patrols stationed overhead. Other defences included surrounding the main balloon with barrage balloons; stringing cables in the air in the vicinity of the balloons; equipping observers with machine guns; and flying balloons booby-trapped with explosives that could be remotely detonated from the ground. These measures made balloons very dangerous targets to approach.
In the early days of the war, balloons were occasionally shot down by small-arms fire but generally it was difficult to shoot down a balloon with solid bullets, particularly at the distances and altitude involved. Ordinary bullets would pass relatively harmlessly through the hydrogen gas bag, merely holing the fabric. Hits on the wicker car could however kill the observer. It was not until special Pomeroy incendiary bullets and Buckingham flat-nosed incendiary bullets became available on the Western Front in 1917 that any consistent degree of success was achieved,
Unfortunately for Elfric, his kite balloon came under attack from a German ‘balloon buster’ aircraft and in an attempt to save his own life, he leapt over the side of the balloon basket. Tragically, his parachute didn’t open properly and he plummeted to his death.
His body was recovered and buried in the Bucquoy Road Cemetery at Ficheux approx. 9km from Arras. In November 1916, the village of Ficheux was behind the German front line, but by April 1917, the German withdrawal had taken the line considerably east of the village and in April and May, the VII Corps Main Dressing Station was posted there, near for the Battles of Arras.
For British soldiers the average daily loss rate at Arras was the highest of the war at 4,076. Total casualties amounted to 158,000, with the Germans losing around the same number.
The increased losses of RFC personnel providing British air support during the Battle of Arras in April 1917 resulted in it becoming known as ‘Bloody April’ for the RFC.
During April 1917, the British lost 245 aircraft, 211 aircrew killed or missing and 108 as prisoners of war. The German Air Services recorded the loss of 66 aircraft during the same period. As a comparison, in the five months of the Battle of the Somme of 1916 the RFC had suffered 576 casualties. Under Richthofen’s leadership, ‘Jasta 11’ scored 89 victories during April, over a third of the British losses.
However, the figure of 211 only relets to aircrew. The CWGC Casualty database actually records 258 casualties serving with the RFC who died during April 1917 across all theatres of war, not just on the Western Front.
Samuel Summerfield was born in Osmaston in South Derbyshire in 1894. Records show by his sixth birthday his parents Samuel and Alice Summerfield had arrived and were living in the small community of Sysonby near Melton, they set up as graziers and produced meat for the local market.
Samuel junior was one of eight children and their second son. Ten years on the family were established in their own butchers shop and young Samuel seemed already obsessed with the idea of flight‘. When not working as a clerk at the Gas works in town, the majority of his spare time and money was directed towards his hobby.
As a young teenager Samuel is recorded as supplying aviation materials by mail order from an address in Sherrard Street. Surrounded by the materials he needed to construct a rudimentary flying machine, it was not long before he was able, at the age of 15 – from eyewitness accounts given by local inhabitants, to glide aboard home-made machines at around the time of Bleriot‘s great achievement.
The Flight magazine published 4th March 1911 published the following:
“Catalogue: Model and Full size aeroplanes, Engines and Accessories. S Summerfield, Sherrard Street, Melton Mowbray. Price 3d.”
In September 1912, Sams enthusiasm and focus shown as a youth, together with a series of flying lessons as a teenager had paid off. Samuel Summerfield was awarded a prestigious Aviators Certificate; No. 292 from the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom having passed the necessary test on a Bristol biplane.
The Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News reported on the 31 July 1913 “A large company assembled on the Nottingham Road ground on Saturday to witness an exhibition by Mr Sam Summerfield, of Melton Mowbray, on his Bleriot monoplane. Considerable delay was occasioned by a mishap to the machine, and when eventually the local airman attempted a flight, he was caught by a gust of wind directly after leaving the ground and ran with considerable force into a hedge. The machine was partially wrecked but Mr Summerfield escaped with slight injuries. In the evening, Mr F Manley made a very successful parachute descent.
Sam sorted out each problem as it arrived and he was known to use two or three different fields, all reasonably close the edge of the town, with possibly ‘his first choice being the Polo ground which lies just south of the railway line that passes the village of Brentingby. Long used as a sports venue, it was an unobstructed and level area of grassland that would have suited his needs adequately.
His second choice was likely to have been the large field that stretched between Nottingham Road, at the junction next to Sysonby Lodge Farm and the rear of the Wymondham Grammar School Farm on Scalford Road. This was a venue which was later to be used by the Government during the period of the Great War by the fledgling members of the new Royal Flying Corps.
Much later, during the 1920‘s, Sam would use the new landing field which was then situated at what is now Norfolk Drive, which runs between Sandy Lane and the Burton Road, but this was at a time when the phenomenon of flying an aeroplane had lost some of its pioneering zeal and a club had been started in Melton for the many new recruits and enthusiasts.
The Flight magazine of 20th December 1913 contained the following article: Mr. Summerfield at Melton Mowbray. In anything but ideal weather Mr. S. Summerfield made a fine flight on his Bleriot machine at Melton Mowbray last Saturday. For most of the time he kept about 1,000 feet up and came down by a splendid spiral vol plane’. There was one apprehensive moment when the machine side-slipped, but the pilot skilfully corrected that in good time.
Shortly afterwards, on the 26th June, the magazine reported ―Mr. Summerfield, of Melton Mowbray, who has recently been flying the Watson rocking wing machine at Buc, had a narrow escape whilst flying his Bleriot monoplane recently. He was coming down in a steep spiral, and, when trying to flatten out at a height of about 50 ft., found that one of his rudder control wires had come adrift, thus rendering the rudder useless. Taking his feet off the rudder bar and placing them on the tank he awaited the smash. The machine struck the ground with great force and was totally wrecked, but Mr. Summerfield escaped practically unhurt. He is of the opinion that had he kept his feet on the rudder bar he would have broken his legs.
In 1914 as the world was engaged in the Great War, the Summerfield family were affected, just like many others across the country. On the Melton Mowbray war memorial, there is a S Summerfield listed and it is often thought to be Sam.
Sam was the Chief Flying Instructor at the Bournemouth Flying School which had been established by the Bournemouth Aviation Company on farmland at Talbot Village. It was used to train prospective Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilots and, although it was wartime, flights were also available to the public at a cost of £3.
The school was equipped initially with three Caudron type Biplanes of 35,45 & 60 Horsepower and , under the instruction of the chief instructor ,Mr S Summerfield,the pupils built another similar machine.By August 1916 there were 4 aircraft and an additional instructor – Mr E Brynildsen.
There was avid public interest in flying and at weekends numerous spectators gathered to watch the aircraft. A (weekly) report from Flight (May 25 1916) stated…..
” Bournemouth School. Pupils rolling alone last week: Messrs. Kennedy, Barlow, Brandon, Pritt, Scaramanga, Daniel, GreenTurner, Hammersley, and Minchliff. Straights alone: Messrs. Morley, J. Wilson, O. Wilson, Morris, A damson, Smith, Gordinne, and Barlow. Figures of eight and circuits alone : Messrs. Frank Simpson and Morley. Instructors: Messrs. S. Summerfield and Brynildten. 35-45 and 60 h.p. Caudrons in use. Certificate was taken by Mr. Frank Simpson, who attained a height of 1,300 feet, vol plane’d down, landing right on the mark. His flying was exceedingly good. On Wednesday Mr. Summerfield gave various exhibition flights before a fair-sized crowd, his steep dives being a feature. The usual number of visitors were again present on Saturday, and witnessed some fine steep banks and spirals by the same pilot. On one flight he attained a height of 3,000 feet, indulging in all sorts of evolutions with engine off. Towards the evening, two passengers were taken up, one of whom was Mr. C. Hudson, of Birmingham, who had the pleasure of enjoying several stunts performed by Mr. Summerfield at an altitude of 2,000 feet; afterwards, he spiralled down to earth.”
The school moved to nearby Ensbury Park in 1917 and the site reverted to farming.
Ensbury Park, then on the northern outskirts of Bournemouth, took over from Talbot Woods at the beginning of 1917. Although still a civilian flying school, the Bournemouth Aviation Company continued to train pilots for both the RFC and Royal Naval Air Service, as well as Belgians and Canadians. It claimed to be the best -equipped flying school outside London. Aircraft used included Caudron, Curtiss JN-3s and Avro 504s. On 1 April 1918 the Royal Air Force was formed and the site became RAF Winton.
Sam served in the RFC/RAF during the First World War and survived. However, the name of the casualty on the memorial is actually that of his younger brother Sidney who was serving with the 8th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment.
On Friday October 13th 1916 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article under the heading. “MELTON AND THE WAR.” – MELTON SOLDIER’S KILLED. During the past week news has reached Melton Mowbray of the death of several more local soldiers. On Sunday morning Mr. S. Summerfield, butcher, Nottingham-street, received the following letter:- “3rd October, 1916. Dear Mr. Summerfield, – It is our painful duty to write and let you know that poor Sid was instantly killed by a shell on the night of the 24th September. Unfortunately neither of us was near him at the time, so his officer took his papers, and was afterwards wounded. We, being great friends of Sid, can sympathise deeply with you in your great loss. If there is anything further you would like to know, we shall be only too pleased to do anything in our power on hearing from you. Yours sincerely, W. G. Butteriss, E. Simpkins.” The following letter was received by Mr. Summerfield on Tuesday:- “B.E.F., October 5th. Dear Mr. Summerfield, – I write to you with much regret of the sad news of your son Sidney in the recent action that took place on the 24th September, this being my first opportunity of writing. I hardly know how to write such sad news. Though I was not actually with him at the time, I learn from those who were by his side at the time that a wiz-bang shell bursted against him and caused instant death. having been a great chum of Sidney’s for many years, we always made it understood that whatever happened to either of us, one should break the news if possible, and believe me, I am awfully upset to have to write such heart broken news, yet one never knows out here when your turn may come. I saw Sidney only a few hours before he went into the line, and he was the same as he always has been – very cheerful up to the time I left him. I am sure it is very hard for me to write such sad news, but I think it my duty to tell you the truth. It’s lucky for myself that I am able to do so. Sidney being much liked amongst platoon, and always having a good heart, is very much missed by us, and those who have once more returned along with myself, wish me to send you and family their deepest sympathy. I now close my letter, this being our wish made between us to write home who ever got through safely. I remain, yours truly, Pte. H. Warner. Pte. Sid Summerfield was the third son of Mr. S. Summerfield, and was 20 years of age. He was educated at Melton Mowbray Grammar School, where he took a foremost place in sports and athletics, and won a number of prizes. Afterwards he played for Egerton Park C.C., and in several matches made big scores, always batting in splendid style and seldom failing to punish home balls. Deceased also became a member of Melton Rugby Football Club, for whom he played half-back, and was also a member of the Young Men’s Institute. At the outbreak of the war he was employed at the Great Northern Railway Station, and at once enlisted in the Leicester’s with his friends, Butteriss, Dixon and Simpkins. It will be remembered that some years ago Pte. Sid Summerfield and his brother Alfred nearly lost their lives on the river at Sysonby, at the time their parents resided at Sysonby House, now known as the Riverside Colony. After a frost they were sliding on the river, when the ice broke, and let them in. Mrs. Summerfield and her two daughters bravely rescued them at the risk of their own lives by forming a human chain, and were afterwards awarded life saving certificates. One of the deceased’s brothers is serving with the forces at Salonika, while another is chief flying instructor at the Bournemouth School. It will be noted from the first letter that Sergt. Simpkins, who was last week stated to have been killed, is still safe.
Sids body was never found and he is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Thiepval Memorialon the Somme in France.
After serving in the RFC/Royal Air Force during the Great War, Sam earnt a living ‘barnstorming’ and providing leisure flights with a travelling air circus. He also served in the Reserve of Air Force Officers (RAFO) where his promotion to Pilot Officer was ‘Gazetted’ on 23rd March 1926. He held this rank until he relinquished his commission in the RAFO on the 23rd March 1931.
In the summer of 1926, Sam was a pilot working for the Northern Aviation Company taking passengers on pleasure flights. On one occasion, he was the pilot of one such trip with Pearson Hardcastle of Colne Bridge near Huddersfield and Margaret Mercer of Heysham in Lancashire were passengers on a pleasure trip around the Morecambe area.
Shortly after takeoff, Sam noticed an unusual draft around the back of his neck. Almost at the same time as the other passenger touch him on the shoulder, he turned around and saw Pearson Hardcastle in the 2nd seat behind the pilot standing up with his hands above his head. In a flash, the man had disappeared over the side of the plane falling to his death. The inquest into the incident concluded that the man had suffered a sudden heart failure resulting in him falling from the aircraft and no blame was attributed to Sam as the pilot.
Sam, aged 40, made a life-changing commitment when he left England on the 2nd November 1934 aboard the P&O Electric Ship Strathnaver, The first of five Strath Sisters was specifically designed for the UK-Suez-Bombay-Australia run.
He travelled to Brisbane in Australia with another pilot, 28 year old Maurice Brunton whom he lived with at 13 Lewin Road Lambeth, London SW16. The two pilots travelled 3rd/Tourist class.
Sam had had been flying planes in England and western Europe since before World War One. He had been barnstorming around Queensland and the Northern Territory when he flew into the new Tennant Creek goldfield, being the first plane to ever arrive at the new settlement.
His plane was blown away by a dust storm, and damaged beyond repair. So he stayed on at Tennant Creek as a prospector, owning the Mary Lane lease for 30 years.
The trip ‘down under’ was only intended to be a six months return trip working to earn a few shillings in the ‘off’ season. However, it became a one-way migration when, after a very short period of flying his plans were shattered. He was diagnosed with a hearing defect which had been traced back to his exposure to an explosion in the early days of hostilities of the First World War. The Australian authorities deemed this sufficient enough to prevent him from obtaining a commercial pilot’s licence in Australia which meant that he was never to fly again.
He stopped prospecting in 1966 after falling and breaking a hip, then died the following year on the 2nd April aged 73. He is buried in the small mining town of Tennant Creek.