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.
In Blog 22, I looked at the story of Flt Lt Hugh Richard Aden Beresford and how his body was recoevered forty years after being shot down in his Hurricane fighter.
In this blog, I look at some of the other Beresford family members that made the ultimate scarifice serving their country.
Opposite the Memorial to Hugh, his father and grandmother, you will see the stained-glass window, appropriately named the South Chancel Memorial Window, and as its name suggests can be found in the South Chancel and was installed in the early 1920s. It was gifted to the Church by Hugh’s grandparents, Rev Edward Aden Beresford and his wife Annie Mary Beresford and their initials appear at the very top of the window.
The Beresford family have been Rectors for Hoby cum Rotherby for many years since Reverend Gilbert Beresford became Rector in 1838. He married Anne Browne, the only daughter of Rev Henry Browne of Hoby, in 1805. The last Beresford to hold the post was Hugh’s father the Reverend Hans Aden Beresford.
The bottom panels of the window lists the members of the extended Beresford family who were killed whilst serving their country during the First World War and as such, it is classified as a war memorial by the War Memorials Trust and the Imperial War Museum.
The Beresford’s commemorated on the window are all descendants of, or married to descendants of, Rev Gilbert & Anne Beresford.
The inscription on the light windows reads:
THOMAS BERESFORD OF FENNY BENTLEY, DIED MARCH 20TH 1473 IN PROUD AND LOVING MEMORY OF THE DESCENDENTS OF THOMAS BERESFORD WHO DIED IN THE GREAT WAR LT COL PERCY WILLIAM BERESFORD D.S.O ASSISTANT PRIEST OF WESTERHAM DIED IN FRANCE OCTOBER 25 1917 – ALSO OF MAJOR BERESFORD A.J. HAVELOCK OF THE NORTH STAFFS REGT KILLED IN ACTION SEP 14 1918 AT BAKU, CASPIAN SEA. ALSO OF MAJOR WILLIAM C. BERESFORD DIED OF WOUNDS IN WEYMOUTH HOSPITAL AND OF HAY FREDK DONALDSON, K.C.B./ DROWNED IN H.M.S. HAMPSHIRE JUNE 5TH 1916 THIS WINDOW IS DEDICATED BY EDWARD ADEN BERESFORD RECTOR FROM 1855 AND HANS ADEN BERESFORD BORN 1884
Who were these members of the extended Beresford family that made the ultimate sacrifice during World War One?
Lt. Col. Percy William Beresford D.S.O
Percy was born in 1875 and was the son of Frank Gilbert and Jessie Ogilvie Beresford. He was baptised 2nd Dec 1875 at St Phillip and St James Church at Whitton near Richmond upon Thames. He was educated at Rossel School and Magdalen College, Oxford.
After graduating from Magdalen College he had hoped to enter the Church, but the ill health of his father, a Wharfinger on the Thames, meant he had to join the family business.
In 1900, he was promoted from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant whilst he was serving with the 4th Volunteer Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment,
In 1902 he moved to Westerham in Kent where he set up the first parish cadet corps in the country – the Westerham and Chipstead Cadet Corps, which was attached to the 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment. He apparently felt that military training acted as a sort of national university.
On the 10th October 1903, The London Gazette announced that Captain R. Galloway resigns his Commission with the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) and Lieutenant P. W. Beresford to be Captain.
In 1905 he went to Kings College London where he studied Theology, after which his earlier wish was fulfilled, and he was ordained as a Deacon. The following year he was ordained as a Priest by the Bishop of Rochester and was fortunate enough to be appointed as curate to the Rev. Sydney Le Mesurier, vicar of St. Mary’s, Westerham, where he was working when war was declared.
On 1st April 1908 it was announced that Captain Percy William Beresford of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) is appointed to the 3rd Battalion, City of London (Royal Fusiliers) Regiment; with rank and precedence as in the Volunteer Force.
In the London Gazette, his promotion from Captain to Major in the 3rd (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) was published on 16th August 1910.
Following the outbreak of World War One, he was initially sent to Malta after which he saw a lot of action across the Channel in France and Flanders. He was wounded in April 1915 and was gassed at Loos in September the same year and allegedly it was reported that, within a week of him being gassed, he was back with his battalion where he officiated at a celebration of Holy Communion, though hardly able to speak.
It was at Bullecourt in March, 1917 where he won his DSO: For conspicuous gallantry and ability in command of his battalion during heavy enemy counter-attacks. The skill with which he handled his reserves was of the utmost assistance to the division on his right, and his determination enabled us to hold on to an almost impossible position. He repulsed three counter-attacks and lost heavily in doing so.
He was killed in action during the 3rd Battle of Ypres on 26th October 1917 whilst commanding the 2nd / 3rd Battalions when a shell burst close beside him and he only lived a few minutes after being hit. He was known to his men in the Royal Fusiliers as “Little Napoleon”.
The Adjutant of his battalion was present when Beresford was mortally wounded gives a graphic picture of the last scene; and so, does Dr. Maude, who was in the same regiment with him. After being hit, he turned to the Adjutant saying, “I’m finished carry on”. A painful pause; then, to the field-doctor who went to see what could be done for him, “I’m finished; don’t bother about me, attend to the others”. A smile lit up his pale, handsome, and still boyish face. “Look after my sister. ..” A longer pause, and, “This is a fine death for a Beresford”, and he was gone.
He is buried in Gwalia Cemetery, Belgium (Near Poperinghe) where upon his gravestone is inscribed the following inscription “HE BRINGETH THEM UNTO THE HAVEN WHERE THEY WOULD BE”. See his CWGC Casualty Record for more information.
Major Beresford Arthur Jardine-Havelock
He saw action at Neuve Chapelle, Hohenzollern Redoubt. Bullecourt, Ypres & Givenchy, the Duck’s Bill, and Poelcapelle and on the 23rd May 1916 was appointed as an acting Lt. Col of 2nd/3rd Royal Fusiliers.
He was born on the 10th October 1889 in Bankura, India and was the son of George Broadfoot Havelock, late Bengal Police, and Annie Helen Beresford. He married Kathleen Margaret Smith on the 6th March 1916 and they had two children Patricia Margaret Helen and Beresford Aileen.
He joined Elizabeth College on the island of Guernsey in 1903, becoming a member of their Dramatic Society in 1904 and a prefect in 1906. He left in Dec.1906 when he went to the military college at Sandhurst, leaving in 1907.
He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion (Prince of Wales) 98th. North Staffordshire Regiment on 6th February 1909. Just over a year later he was promoted to Lieutenant on the 1st April 1910, (Army List), followed by Captain in 1915 then Major in 1917.
He was serving with the 7th (Service) Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment in Mesopotamia from 1914 – 1918. After Mesopotamia, he was sent to Baku, Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, most probably as part of the Dunsterforce “Hush Hush Army” to help support the City of Baku. Dunsterforce was named after General Lionel Dunsterville and consisted of about 1000 men and undertook a 220 miles journey in a convoy of Ford vans and cars from Hamadan near Quajar in Iran to Baku in Azerbaijan.
The Dunsterforce fought in the Battle of Baku from 26th August to 14th September 1918 between the Ottoman–Azerbaijani coalition forces led by Nuri Pasha and Bolshevik–Dashnak Baku Soviet forces, later succeeded by the British–Armenian–White Russian forces.
The Dunsterforce received orders to leave Baku as the Ottoman forces were bombarding the port and shipping with artillery fire. Two ships had been readied in the port for the evacuation of the force. Major Havelock and his unit, the 7th (Service) Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, were providing rear-guard cover during the night of the 14th/15th September allowing the main force to retreat to the port when he was killed on the 14th September 1918 aged 28. He was mentioned in dispatches and is commemorated on the Baku Memorial.
Major Cecil William Beresford
Cecil was born in 1875 and was the son of a Barrister of Law, Cecil Hugh Wriothesley Beresford and his wife Caroline Felicie Octavia. He was baptised on 24th June 1875 at the Holy Innocents Church, Kingsbury in Middlesex.
On the 10th December 1892, the South Wales Daily News announced his Commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Volunteer Rifles the 1st (Pembrokeshire) Volunteer Battalion of the Welsh Regiment.
He was educated at Trinity Hall Cambridge University entering the college in 1895.
The London Gazette published on 14th October 1910 announced the promotion of 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Beresford to Lieutenant with the 10th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (London Irish Rifles).
His promotion from Lieutenant to Captain was announced on the 26th July 1912 in the London Gazette, along with his transfer from the 10th Bn to the 18th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Paddington Rifles).
He was subsequently promoted from Captain to Major remaining with the 18th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Paddington Rifles) which was announced in the London Gazette on the 6th April 1915. A few months later the Gazette announced his promotion to Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel on the 19th July 1915.
On the 10th April 1916, the London Gazette announced that he relinquished his rank as Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel due to an alteration in posting. It is not clear what happened next in his military career, but when he died, he was serving with the Royal Defence Corps (RDC).
The RDC was formed in March 1916 by converting the Home Service Garrison Battalions which were made up of soldiers that were either too old or medically unfit for front line service. The role of the RDC was to provide troops for security and guard duties inside the UK, guarding important locations such as ports or bridges and prisoner of war camps.
He died of wounds on 9th October 1917 at Burdon Military Hospital Weymouth and is buried at Weston Super Mare.
Hay Frederick Donaldson was born on 7th July 1856 in Sydney Australia and was the son of Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson, the first Premier of New South Wales, and his wife Amelia Cowper.
Although he was born in Australia, he studied mechanical engineering at Eton College, Trinity College, Cambridge, University of Edinburgh and Zurich University.
After leaving University, he was initially employed at the locomotive works at Crewe in Cheshire working for the London and North Western Railway locomotive works.
He married Selina Beresford on 15 July 1884 in Kensington shortly before moving to Goa in India working on railway and harbour construction until 1887. Whilst in India, the couple had 3 children: Amy Elizabeth, Stuart Hay Marcus and Ethel Adeline.
After India, he returned to England working on the Manchester Ship Canal from 1887 to 1891 followed by becoming the Chief Engineer at London’s East India Docks from 1892 to 1897.
At the same time as working on the Manchester Ship Canal and the East India Docks, he was also the Chief Mechanical Engineer at the Royal Ordnance Factories at Woolwich from 1889 to 1903. Whilst at Woolwich, he served as the Deputy Director-General from 1989-99. In 1903 he was appointed Director-General, a role in which he continued until 1915.
In 1909, he was awarded a CB, Companion to The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, followed by the KCB (Knight Commander) in 1911.
In September 1915, he resigned from the position of Director-General to take up the role of Chief Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Munitions
In June 1916, he was selected as one of the advisers to accompany the Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener on his mission to Russia. HMS Hampshire had been ordered to take Lord Kitchener from Scapa Flow on his diplomatic mission to Russia via the port of Arkhangelsk.
The Hampshire set sail from Scapa Flow at 16:45Hrs on the 5th June 1916 and due to gale force winds, it was decided that she would sail through the Pentland Firth, then turn North along the western coast of the Orkneys. Approximately an hour after setting sail, she rendezvoused with her escorts, two Acasta class destroyers, the Unity and Victor.
As the convoy turned North west, the gales increased and shifted direction resulting in the ships facing it head on, causing the escorts to fall behind the Hampshire. The Commanding Officer of the Hampshire, Captain Savill, believed it was unlikely that enemy submarines would be active in the area due t the weather conditions, so he ordered Unity and Victor to return to Scapa Flow.
About 1.5 miles off Orkney, between the Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, the Hampshire was sailing alone in rough seas when at 19:40Hrs she struck a mine laid by a German minelaying submarine. The mine was one of several laid by U-75 just before the Battle of Jutland on the 28th/29th May.
The Hampshire had been holed between the bow and the bridge, causing her to heel to starboard. Approximately 15 minutes after the explosion, the Hampshire began to sink bow first. Out of the crews compliment of 735 crew members and 14 passengers aboard, only 12 crew members survived. A total of 737 lives were lost including Lord Kitchener and all the members of his missionary party. He is commemorated on the CWGC Hollybrook Memorial at Southampton.
The ships crew are also commemorated on the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Winchester War Memorial outside Winchester Cathedral.
In 2010, the War Memorials Trust gave a grant of £150 for conservation works to the memorial window and its ferramenta. On the Beresford window at Hoby, the ferramenta had rusted and this was causing problems to the stonework of the church on the window which the ferramenta is fixed to and if left untreated could cause damage and cracking to stonework. To see more information about this grant, see the grant showcase.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
“Courageous Duty Done In Love, He Serves His Pilot Now Above”, is the personal inscription or epitaph, written on the Commonwealth War Grave headstone of Victoria Cross recipient Flight Sergeant John Hannah, who is buried at Birstall St James the Great Churchyard in Leicester. What is Courageous Duty?
John, although a V.C. winner, is so typical of many veterans that I have come across in my career with the Royal Air Force and also in my time as a welfare caseworker with the Royal Air Forces Association, the charity that supports the RAF Family.
Many service personnel are too proud to ask for help and try and resolve their issues via their own means, sadly at times, only asking for help when it is too late. John was a prime example.
Being a shy and reserved character, John was not a fan of all the publicity he was receiving following his award of the V.C. and disliked having to go on tours giving public speeches.
In this blog, I try and tell the story of John, not only for his heroic deeds when he showed ‘valour in the presence of the enemy’ which earned him the V.C., but also his bravery and courage in fighting his life debilitating illness and the courage he showed in overcoming his shyness in giving talks to provide a means of income to support his family. I also look at his widow and three daughters and how they showed bravery and courage to fight through their daily struggles following his death.
John Hannah was born on 27th November 1921 in Paisley, Glasgow, to his parents, James a dock crane foreman with the Clyde Navigation Trust and his wife. John was educated at Bankhead Elementary School and Victoria Drive Secondary School in Glasgow, and he was also a member of the 237th Glasgow (Knightswood Church) Boys’ Brigade Company and played football for the local team. After leaving school he took up employment as a salesman in a local boot company.
He has an elder brother James, aged 25 who served in the Green Howards. There was also a younger brother Charlie, who described John as having a reserved disposition.
On the 15th August 1939, just 3 weeks before Britain declares war on Germany, John aged only 17 enlists in the Royal Air Force on a 6 year engagement. Following completion of his initial training at RAF Cardington, he was posted on the 14th September 1939 to the No 2 Electrical and Wireless Training School at RAF Yatesbury to train as a wireless operator.
John and his fellow students would have attended classes from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week to learn the theory of wireless and how to maintain and operate various types of wireless sets including the Marconi R1155 receiver and the T1154 transmitter.
They were instructed in morse code and how to transmit and receive messages. A competitive system was set up between the students where they would strive to achieve a standard of six words per minute in the sending and receiving of morse code.
After meeting the criteria of six words per minute, they moved on to another table that demanded eight words per minute and worked their way up to the required standard of twelve words per minute. In addition to learning about wireless transmitters and morse, the students were also taught the use of the Aldis signalling lamp for visual communication in morse code.
Once his ground training was completed, John would have then undertaken aerial training as part of his wireless course. The aerial training would have consisted of a series of air experience flights in De Havilland Dominie aircraft operated by the “Yatesbury Wireless Flight”, piloted by civilian employees of the Bristol Aircraft Company. During the air experience flights, John would have been introduced to radio receiver training consisting of sending and receiving messages from base and practicing the art of transmitter tuning by calibration and back tuning to the transmitter.
After completing his training at Yatesbury, John was next posted to the No 4 Bombing and Gunnery School at RAF West Freugh for a short course in air gunnery. After successfully finishing his course in air gunnery, he was next assigned to No 16 Operational Training Unit at RAF Upper Heyford on 18th May 1940 for the final part of his training before qualifying as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (WOp/AG).
After successfully completing his WOp/AG training, he was promoted to Sergeant and posted on the 1st July 1940 to his first front line unit as what is known as a “Rooki”, serving with 106 Squadron at RAF Thornaby in Yorkshire who operated Handley Page Hampden bombers.
John didn’t serve on 106 Sqn for long as on the 11th August he was posted to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to join 83 Sqn who again operated the Hampden bomber.
83 Sqn was one of the few Bomber Command units that went into action on the first day of the Second World War by carrying out a bomber sweep over the North Sea searching for German warships. The Sqn continued with daylight ‘precision’ raids against German naval and coastal targets throughout 39/40, but as the daylight operations became more costly, they switched to night operations.
The summer of 1940 has become famous in RAF history for the actions during the Battle of Britain where RAF Fighter Command pilots became known as “The Few”.
Whilst Fighter Command were heavily engaged in defending the skies above Britain intercepting the German Luftwaffe, Bomber Command units were sent out night after night to attack the naval forces that Hitler was amassing as part of his preparations for the seaborne invasion of Britain known as Operation Sea Lion.
Huge numbers of barges had been observed making their way down the River Rhine as well as other European rivers to congregate in the Channel ports like Antwerp. No 83 Sqn had been flying against concentrations of invasion shipping in the Channel Ports and Germany during the late summer and autumn of 1940.
On Sunday 15th September 1940, the Luftwaffe launched its largest and most concentrated attack against London in the hope of drawing out the RAF into a battle of annihilation in order to destroy its airpower before Operation Sea Lion could be commenced. Around 1,500 aircraft took part in the air battles which lasted until dusk. The action was the climax of the Battle of Britain with the RAF Fighter Command defeating the German raids and the day is now known as Battle of Britain day.
During the daylight hours on the 15th, Bomber Command dispatched 12 Blenheim bombers on sea and coastal sweeps, but all bombing sorties were abandoned due to ‘too-clear’ weather.
Bomber Command were in action again during the night of the 15th/16th September with 155 aircraft taking part in operations against Channel ports and various targets in Germany against the barges and naval forces Hitler was amassing. No 83 Sqn dispatched 15 Hampdens as part of this force to attack target “Z11” at Antwerp.
All 15 of 83 Sqn’s Hampdens were detailed to attack barges in selected basins at target ID Z11. Eight successfully attacked the target, one aircraft attacked Antwerp in error, two aircraft successfully bombed the secondary target at Flushing (CC2), one aircraft had temporary engine trouble and had to jettison its bombs. One aircraft experienced electrical issues which prevented it from releasing its bombs when attacking the target and another returned to base with its bomb load. Another a/c failed to identify either the primary or secondary targets but attacked a ship in Dunkirk roads on its return leg to base.
John Hannah took part in this Op as the WOp/AG on Hampden P1355 OL-W. His pilot was Pilot Officer Clare Arthur Connor, with Sergeant Douglas A E Hayhurst as the Navigator and Leading Aircraftman George James as Rear Gunner.
During the first run over the target, the approach was inaccurate, and no bombs were dropped so the pilot went round again. In the second approach at 2,000 feet, the aircraft was subject to intense fire from the ground, but the attack was pressed home successfully. During the attack the bomb compartment was shattered by anti-aircraft fire and the port wing and tail boom were also damaged.
Fire soon broke out in the fuselage, enveloping both the wireless operators and rear gunners’ cockpits. Both port and starboard fuel tanks had been pierced by shrapnel giving risk to the fire spreading. Hannah forced his way through the flames only to discover that the rear gunner had left the aircraft.
He said in a letter to his parents “I am very lucky to be alive. When we got into a terrible ack-ack barrage, the plane caught fire and my whiskers were singed. It looked as if the plane would blow up. We made for our parachutes, but mine was on fire. By that time, the navigator and gunner had bailed out. The plane was a blazing mess and a perfect target for the ack-ack, which was still batting away. I did some quick thinking and started throwing out parts. During this time, the ammunition on the kite was going off at ten a penny and the heat was terrific.”
Thousands of rounds of ammunition was exploding all around Hannah and he was almost blinded by the intense heat. Air being admitted into the fuselage via the holes made by the ack-ack made the compartment an inferno with all the aluminium sheeting on the floor having melted away.
Using his oxygen mask plus returning to his WOp/AG cockpit for fresh air, he managed to fight the fire for 10 minutes using two extinguishers. Once they had run out, he used his log books and bare hands to successfully put the fire out. He then crawled forward and found that the navigator had also left the aircraft, and passed his log books and maps to the pilot.
On landing at Scampton, the true extent of the damage to the aircraft and the actions of the crew became apparent. The pilot, Canadian Pilot Officer Clare Connor was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), the navigator Sergeant Douglas A E Hayhurst was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) and the WOp/AG Sergeant John Hannah was recommended for the Victoria Cross. Unfortunately, the rear gunner, Leading Aircraftman George James didn’t receive any recommendations.
The Air Ministry announced on the 1st October 1940:-
“The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned airman, in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:-
652918 Sergeant John Hannah
On the night of 15th September, 1940, Sergeant Hannah was the wireless operator/air gunner in an aircraft engaged in a successful attack on enemy barge concentrations at Antwerp. It was then subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire and received a direct hit from a projectile of an explosive and incendiary nature, which apparently burst inside the bomb compartment. A fire started which quickly enveloped the wireless operator’s and rear gunner’s cockpits, and as both the port and starboard petrol tanks had been pierced there was grave risk of fire spreading. Sergeant Hannah forced his way through the fire to obtain two extinguishers and discovered that the rear gunner had had to leave the aircraft. He could have done acted likewise, through the bottom escape hatch or forward through the navigator’s hatch, but remained and fought the fire for ten minutes with the extinguishers, beating the flames with his log books when these were empty. During this time, thousands of rounds of ammunition exploded in all directions and he was almost blinded by the intense heat and fumes, but had the presence of mind to obtain relief by turning on his oxygen supply. Air admitted through the large holes caused by the projectile made the bomb compartment an inferno and all the aluminium sheet metal floor of this airman’s cockpit was melted away, leaving only the cross bearers. Working under these conditions, which caused burns to his face and eyes, Sergeant Hannah succeeded in extinguishing the fire. He then crawled forward, ascertained that the navigator had left the aircraft, and passed the latter’s log and maps to the pilot.
This airman displayed courage, coolness and devotion to duty of the highest order and, by his action in remaining and successfully extinguishing the fire under conditions of the greatest danger and difficulty, enabled the pilot to bring the aircraft safely to its base.”
His V.C. Award was Gazetted in the London Gazette Issue 34958 page 5788/5789 dated 1st October 1940.
It also became apparent how serious the injuries were to Johns hands and face and he was immediately dispatched to the nearby RAF hospital at RAF Rauceby, just 5 miles South of RAF Cranwell.
John was in Rauceby hospital undergoing treatment for about 3 weeks and whilst there, he said in a letter to his parents “I have had so many C.O’s and big shots visit me that I feel I’m a big shot too.” He goes on to say “Apparently, it was the first time a fire has been put out in the air. My pilot got a DFC, so I expect that I will be getting something too. But if you feel the way I do you will be quite thankful that I am alive without worrying what I am getting or am going to look like. They were worrying about shock when I came in, but I seem to be OK. The only snag I have is that I cannot eat. My skin is all frizzled up. You won’t likely know me when you see me. I have gone thin already and if they change my face, I hope I don’t get lost looking for my home”.
It was whilst a patient at Rauceby that he found out about his award. He was discharged from the hospital on 7th October, and on the 10th he accompanied Pilot Officer Clare Connnor to Buckingham Palace where they received their V.C. & DFC awards from the King.
Sergeant Douglas Hayhurst didn’t receive his award of the DFM as he and the rear gunner Leading Aircraftman George James were now both prisoners of war due to bailing out over enemy territory and imprisoned in Stalag 357 Kopernikus. Both were to survive the war and return to England in late 1945.
Many years later, Douglas Hayhurst was the branch manager of the Eagle Star Insurance Company in Coventry and in 1966 there was an article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph about an annual reunion with a friend from Bristol that began in a POW camp. He recalled the incident when he bailed out “I bailed out, so did the rear gunner. We were taken to a prisoner of war camp. Two weeks later when new prisoners were brought into the camp, we learned that Hannah had won the V.C. We had thought the aircraft crashed. They told us that Hannah’s chute was burnt and he could not get out and the pilot stayed with him.”
On the 2nd November, the Strathearn Herald published a poem “A Schoolgirl’s Appreciation of Sergeant John Hannah V.C.”
O noble John Hannah, how much we admire you,
With your wonderful coolness and courage so true,
When you stayed in that ‘plane all riddled with bullets,
And fought with the flames which were eating it through.
O what did you feel in that terrible air-flight,
When the gas and the smoke must have blinded your sight?
Or were you benumbered by the sense of great danger?
And did you just do what you thought to be right?
O how joyful and proud will your dear mother be,
When she hears how you gallantly won the V.C.,
Her Brave son in safety she’s longing to see.
Following his discharge from hospital, John didn’t return to operational flying and on the 4th November 1940, he was posted to No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Cottesmore as an instructor.
Before he was posted to 14 OTU, he had public duties to perform as the Guest of Honour to Lord Hamilton of Dalzell. He had been invited along with his younger brother and their parents to the official opening of the German Junkers 88 exhibit at Motherwell to raise money for their Spitfire fund.
In March 41, more public duties followed when John was presented to the workers of an aircraft factory by the aircraft designer Mr Frederick Handley Page. It was reported that when he met the staff in the lunchtime break, they wanted him to speak and all he could say was “Thank you. I am very glad to be with all you boys and girls” due to being scared of the audience.
John Hannah and another V.C. winner from Scampton, Flight Lieutenant Roderick Learoyd of 49 Sqn, were honoured in a ceremony at the Scampton Base. As both men had won their V.C.s whilst operating as crew members on the Handley Page Hampden bomber, the aircraft designer Mr Frederick Handley Page, commissioned Mr Frank O Salisbury to paint their portraits.
The paintings were presented to the two men at a ceremony at Scampton by Mr Frederick Handley Page on 21st June 1941. At the ceremony, both airmen immediately handed the painting over to the Station Commander for safe keeping. Among those present at the ceremony were Air Vice-Marshal Arthur T Harris and Air Vice-Marshal Norman Bottomley who were both later to become Air Officer Commanding In Chief Bomber Command.
This wasn’t the first time he had had his portrait painted as back in October, shortly after his award of the V.C., his portrait was painted by the official war artist Eric Kennington.
Whilst at Cottesmore, John started a relationship with a local girl from Oakham by the name of Janet Beaver whose father was awarded the Military Medal whilst serving with the 5th Leicestershire Regiment during the First World War.
On Saturday 21st June 1941, Janet and John got married in secret at Oakham Register Office. The Sunday Mirror on the 22nd June published a feature on their wedding and a photo of the happy couple. It stated “Sergeant John Hannah V.C., nineteen-year-old RAF, bomber hero, was shy over his decoration, but shyer still over his wedding yesterday. He married Miss Janet Beaver, of Oakham, at the register office in that town and he had made careful plans to keep his romance secret.”
The Wednesday after his wedding, John was undertaking more public duties when he attended the Headquarters of the Market Harborough and District Air Training Corps where he and Squadron Leader J E C G E Gyll-Murray met the district flights of Market Harborough and Kibworth at the County Grammar School and made speeches to the cadets. After the speeches, there was great competition between the cadets to obtain the autographs of the two airmen, who duly obliged.
John stayed at Cottesmore until September 41 when he was promoted to Flight Sergeant and posted from 14OTU to No 4 Signals School at RAF Yatesbury as an instructor.
In November 1942, John was medically discharged from the RAF with a full pension as a result of being to unfit to serve due to his health deteriorating and the onset of Tuberculosis (TB) brought on from his injuries sustained in the fire.
John and his wife Janet and their children set up home in Birstall on the outskirts of Leicester. It was around this time that John had joined the Leicester Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association. On Friday 15th January 1943, John attended a ball held at the Palais de Danse in Leicester for “warriors of the present battles of the skies” sponsored by the old pilots and observers of the Royal Flying Corps on behalf of the Leicester branch of RAFA.
The Daily Record reported on 23rd January 1943 that he had been discharged from the RAF and the article went on to quote him as saying “I have been given a pension for a year. It will be reviewed at the end of that time after I have been before a medical board. I have a 100% pension, just now – £3 7s. 3d. a week for himself, his wife and his child.”
Asked why he is in Leicester, he pointed out that his wife was from Oakham and had worked in Leicester. He went on to say “I am here, also, because of the official attitude in Glasgow towards me. When I won the V.C., they had the bands out for me, but little has been done for me since. The people of Leicester have done more for me in a week or two than Glasgow has done for me in a long time. Dances and other functions are being organised for a testimonial fund for me, and I much appreciate what the people here are doing for me – so different from Glasgow.”
The Lord Provost of Glasgow, Mr John Riggar, expressed great surprise that Sergeant John Hannah V.C. should criticise official Glasgow. He stated “I have heard nothing of Mr Hannah from the time before I took office. That was over a year ago, when I believe, he was being recommended for a commission. We have not heard anything from him at all, and did not know where he was.”
Another article a few days later in the Daily Mirror quoted him as saying “I long to be back in the Royal Air Force again and to fly with the boys. After getting my V.C. I had two serious crashes and had to come off flying. My nerve gave way and I could not carry on, and was discharged. I love being home with my wife and daughter, but I should prefer to be behind my gun in the air. The medical authorities have told me I must not work for six months. I am now taking life easy and passing time giving short talks on flying, as I cannot forget the RAF. Everyone has been very kind to me, both at my home town in Glasgow, and here in Leicester.”.
Since being discharged from the RAF, he had returned to Glasgow to look at businesses in the area and had numerous offers of employment from various people in Leicester, but he had turned them all down as he wanted to concentrate on improving his health.
However, due to his much-reduced income, he had decided to take to the stage and his first appearance would be at the Hippodrome Theatre in Ipswich starting on Monday 15th February 1943. His stage manager was comedian Len Childs who introduced him to the audience.
His turn came about halfway through the show, just after a knockabout turn by the Tracey Brothers and O’Leary. The curtain went down on O’Leary singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” and swung up again on Len Childs singing “Lords of the Air”.
After his opening song, Childs went on to say: “I would Like to pay tribute to the Air Force, of which I was a member in the last war”. With that and amid cheering, Hannah walked on stage wearing his RAF Flight Sergeant uniform with his Air Gunner’s badge and V.C. ribbon.
Hannah told the audience a funny story about when he was a ‘Rookie’, another about his first flight and then about the flight during which he won the V.C. for batting out the flames with his bare hands over Antwerp. Afterwards he saluted the audience and marched off to whistle and applause to autograph the photos of himself which were being sold for 2s each in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund.
After his debut, he told the Daily Mirror “I have a wife and kiddie in Leicester, and I need the money. My pension is £3 7s. 3d. a week and I have been living on the £70 I saved while I was in hospital. I am receiving treatment for tuberculosis, and I cannot make a regular stage contract because I do not know how I shall feel”.
The first few nights of his shows he appeared on stage wearing his RAF Uniform, but after the show on Friday, he was approached by an RAF Officer accompanied by a Police Officer who told him it was illegal for him to wear his Flight Sergeant uniform and that he would be prosecuted if he continued to do so. After the show, he went with the officers to the Police Station where the regulations were read out to him.
On the Saturday, he appeared on stage wearing civilian clothes without his V.C. ribbon. Instead, he wore the badges of the British Legion and Royal Air Forces Association on his jacket lapels.
Even though he said he cannot make a regular stage contract due to his ongoing treatment, he still undertook public duties as the week after his Ipswich stage shows, he was touring Munitions factories on behalf of the Ministry of Information.
The dispute over Glasgow’s support towards John continued throughout 43 and in March 44, Johns father, James wrote to the Sunday Post “To the Editor of the Sunday Post. I am the proud father of John Hannah, first and youngest V.C. of this war. I read your article on Carluke doing its V.C’s proud. There are many conflicting rumours about Glasgow’s recognition of my son. It has been said that he got £500 from Glasgow, and even as much as £1000. I would like to make it known that he received £25 in War Savings Certificates from the people of Knightswood and a wallet containing £12 from the personnel of Victoria Drive School. That was all, apart from a few personal gifts. I hope this letter will put an end to the rumours. James Hannah.”
Over the next couple of years, John took up employment as a taxi driver when he and a friend purchased two cars and started the taxi business. It was a struggle for them and the business was wound up in early 1945.
In January 1945, John branched out and opened his own cycle shop in Leicester.
Unfortunately, by 1947, his health had deteriorated to such a state that he became bed ridden in January 1947. By this time, Janet & John now had three daughters: Josephine, Jacqueline and Jennifer.
In January, Mr A E Carr, of Victoria Street London, who was a Cpl Instructor with John at Yatesbury in 1943 put out a call to the public to subscribe to a fund to send him to Switzerland for treatment.
Mr Carr told a reporter “if the Government at this late date cannot see their way clear to do what I am sure all air crew and indeed the whole of the Royal Air Force, believe to be their duty, then I think we members of the public, who are now being thanks for raising £7000 for China relief in cinema collections over the last few days should demand that a similar appeal be made immediately.”
Mr Carr goes on to say “Shy and reserved, he was persuaded to travel the country giving talks in aircraft factories and other war plants. We knew he hated this duty, but it was probably that experience which gave him the courage to go on music hall stages to try and earn sufficient money, not only to maintain his wife and children but to pay the expense of his treatment.”
As a result of the appeal being launched, a Government official from the Ministry of Pensions was instructed to visit John and his family to find out what help he needed. They had heard that he had to be fed on milk, brandy and eggs and that his wife was struggling to make ends meet. The People newspaper published on 27th January 1947 reported that they had been informed by a Ministry official “We are looking into his case immediately to see if we can give extra aid through the King’s Fund, and, possibly, an increase to his pension.”
The recent newspaper reports about Johns deterioration in his health also stimulated another former RAF airmen into trying to provide help and assistance. Mr Norman Dodds, who was an ex-ranker, was the MP for Dartford and the President of the Dartford branch of the Royal Air Forces Association had been in touch with his Czech friends in London who were in discussions with their Government in Prague about getting an invitation for John to go to one of their sanitoria and that the Association were prepared to pay the costs. However, John didn’t want any of this as his response was “I appreciate what Mr Dods and my old RAF friends are doing. I don’t want to seem ungracious, but I have always tried to stand on my own feet. If I go anywhere, I prefer Switzerland.”
John told a newspaper reporter that “I have had offers to go to Switzerland, but my doctors are against me taking the risk of making a journey to Switzerland or Czechoslovakia. I would prefer to go to the Swiss mountains but if I did so, I would have to accept the responsibility. It is heartening to know so many people are willing to help, and I hope they will not think I am ungrateful if I say I would like to go under my own steam. I have been advised to enter a local sanatorium, where I can build up my strength, but I believe I can do that by resting at home. There the matter must rest at the moment.”
When advised of Johns views, Norman Dodds replied “The offer remains open, and if at any time he is able to accept, Mr Hannah’s old colleagues of the RAF will be only too happy to render every assistance possible. I hope to visit Leicester shortly, and will state our views personally to him.” Mr Dodds mentioned that for some time, negotiations had been in progress between representatives of the Czech Government and Squadron Leader A J O Warner, Secretary of the RAF Association, for sick RAF men to visit Czechoslovakia for medical treatment.
A few days later, Norman Dodds visited John in his Birstall home and reported that John was frank about his attitude. He does not seek charity nor want it, and he cannot rid his mind of the thought that in some way he would be accepting charity by taking advantage of the offers made. Norman went on to say that “The Leicester Branch of the RAF Association are in close touch with the position, and in view of the several requests made to me to convey help to the V.C., I point out that Flying Officer W F Watson, Chairman of the Leicester RAF Association, will deal with these if made direct to him at the branch headquarters, Charles Street, Leicester.”
John was admitted to Markfield Sanitorium on 31st January 1947 after being seriously ill in bed at home for several weeks. His wife Janet, as well as looking after their three daughters, had also been his nurse at home.
The Markfield Sanitorium or Markfield Hospital was the County Sanitorium and Isolation hospital on Ratby Lane and was opened in September 1932 by Sir George Newman, the Chief Medical Officer to the Ministry of Health.
It had 203 beds in six wards, with isolation for fever patients and a sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis (TB). Fever patients were usually children, with fevers including diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhoid, smallpox and meningitis. Those with TB were mostly between aged 17 and 26 or were older people.
Stays were often lengthy, with TB patients there for up to two years. This was before more effective medicines became available, with the main treatment for TB being lots of bed rest, good food grown on the hospital farm and fresh air – patients were exposed to the Markfield winter air and snow too! Medical treatment for TB included PAS, an unpleasant medicine taken four times daily, streptomycin injections and air treatment for the lungs.
She had been overwhelmed by the large numbers of telephone enquiries and offers of assistance she had received at their home in Stonehill Avenue Birstall. “My husband’s illness has brought in its train inquiries and offers of practical help, not only from neighbours and friends, but from well-wishers in all parts of the country. The number has been legion, and it is beyond my powers to answer each one individually. I do hope that through the Evening Mail, many of them will learn of my heartfelt appreciation of their kindness.”
Mr Neil McKinnon Willmot, a veteran of Alamein and who was now a farmer in the Cape Province region of South Africa offered his home to the Hannah family. He said that if Hannah could be brought out to South Africa, he, as well as his family, could remain at his farm until he got better. He felt certain the South African climate together with plenty of good food would cure the RAF hero.
The Leicester Evening Mail on the 7th June 1947 reported that John had passed away in Markfield Sanitorium. Johns wife Janet, told one of their reporters “he was too proud to accept anything that had the appearance of charity. He had lived to regret having the V.C.. It meant nothing to him. All he wanted was good health and a chance of happiness with the children.” John was receiving full disability pension of £4 5s. a week for himself and his family and was in the process of buying the family home through a building society when he died. His wife Janet went on to say “It will be a struggle and I’m worried about the children’s education, but I’m not able to think of anything at the moment, except that I shall never see John again.”
On hearing the news of Johns death, Flying Officer W F Watson, Chairman of the Leicester RAF Association conveyed to Janet, on behalf of the whole of the membership of the Association, their deepest sympathy in her loss.
The funeral service was arranged for Wednesday 10th June, ironically, the day of his daughter Jacqueline third birthday. The service would be held at St James the Great Church in Birstall commencing at 1:30pm followed by the internment in the church cemetery.
The service was officiated by the Reverends Francis Pratt, the vicar of St James the Greater and Reverend Charles A Turner, Rector of Broughton Astley and Padre to the Leicester Branch of the RAF Association. The funeral arrangements were discussed with the Air Ministry, local units of the Royal Air Force and Air Training Corps.
At his funeral, the coffin was draped in the RAF Ensign and carried by a bearer party of RAF personnel from nearby RAF Wymeswold. The station also provided a firing party under the command of Squadron Leader C Wright from the base. The Leicester Air Training Corps Squadron provided drummers and trumpeters who sounded the Last Post. A contingent of RAF personnel also attended from RAF Leicester East airfield.
The family mourners were: Mrs Hannah, widow; Mr and Mrs James Hannah, parents; Mr James Hannah, brother; Mr Hugh McColl and Mr John Hannah, uncles; and Mr and Mrs Arthur Beaver, father-in-law and mother-in-law.
Among those present were Mr Montague Turnor, Mr Craston White, Mr Dick Kerr, Miss Henson representing SSAFA, Group Captain A P Ellis, representing the RAF Benevolent Fund; Mr R D Buxton, hon. Secretary and members of the Leicester Branch of the RAF Association, Mr J P Moore, chairman; Mr C Williams, vice-chairman; and members of the Birstall branch of the British Legion and Flying Officer W F Watson, representing the Leicester ATC.
The Nottingham Journal published an article on the 10th June “Immediate Pension for V.C.’s widow. Because it was first thought that her husband was a Sergeant (instead of Flight Sergeant) the Ministry of Pensions announced yesterday that Mrs Hannah, widow of Britain’s youngest RAF V.C., who died in Markfield Sanatorium (Leics.) on Saturday, would receive personal allowance of 37s. She will in fact get 38s. a week. In addition, she will receive 11s. for each of her three daughters and another 5 s. for each of the younger two. This makes a total of £4 1s. compared to the nearly £7 a week which John Hannah received while alive.”
Children’s Education but Mrs Hannah will be eligible for a rent allowance (maximum 15s. a week) and can also apply for educational allowances for the children. “Mrs Hannah has already filled in the necessary application forms” said a Ministry of Pensions official “and we shall make her a provisional allowance to help her and the children until such a time as the procedure is completed and then make any necessary adjustments.”
Following John’s death, a fund had been opened in Leicester to support Janet and her children. Money was donated from various things and in July the Fleckney British Legion Women’s Section donated £4 from the proceeds of a whist drive that they held in the school.
The setting up of this local fund had caused questions to be asked in the House of Commons. Air Commodore Arthur V Harvey, MP for Macclesfield, asked the Minister of Pensions, Mr J B Hynd, after he had announced the amount awarded to Janet “Do you consider that the pension is suitable for a man who served his country so conspicuously?”
Mr Hynd said that the pension and allowances amounted in all to £3 17/- a week. In addition, the normal family allowance of 10/- weekly was being paid. Mrs Hannah had been invited to apply for an education grant. The pension was the maximum payable under the Royal Warrant.
Mr Barnet Janner, (Soc Leister W.) asked – “Are you aware that owing to the very serious condition in which the widow and children find themselves, a public subscription list has been opened in Leicester and will you do what you can to see that this very deserving case is looked into quickly?” Mr Hynd said he was not aware of the circumstances being so hard as suggested.
John Hannah is commemorated in different ways. As mentioned at the start, at the head of his grave at St James the Greater churchyard, is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone showing the V.C. medal. He is also commemorated on the Birstall war memorial at St James’.
There are also a couple of other memorials to him in Birstall, the first being a row of shops being named Hannah Parade and there you will find a memorial plaque with his V.C. citation.
On the 15th September 2016, a green plaque was unveiled at the Royal British Legion in Birstall.
In 2007, a new memorial stone commemorating the Victoria Crioss recipients from Paisley was unveiled and dedicated in Hawkhead Cemetery. The meorial contains the names of 5 Paisley men who won the VC, 2 from the Crimean War, 2 from WW1 and John from WW2.
On VE Day 2020, Johns relatives attended the dedication of five memorial trees and plaques commemorating members of the Army, Royal Navy and RAF that were unveiled at the veterans’ monument in Knightswood, Glasgow.
A Rose Garden has been dedicated with special roses in memory of JOhn at the St John the Baptist Church Scampton.
Inside St John the Baptist Church Scampton there is the Honours and Awards Memorial Board from RAF Scampton on which John is name as one of the VC winners along with Flt Lt Learoyd & Wg Cdr Guy Gibson.
At RAF Swinderby, one of the accommodation blocks was named ‘Hannah’ in honour of John.
The RAF also named a rescue boat Sgt John Hannah at West Freugh near Stranraer in Scotland.
A trophy, initiated by Ron Durran, a former Cadet Airmen who was instructed by John at Yatesbury has been introduced at John’s old school, the Victoria Drive Secondary in Scotstoun, Glasgow for the ‘most distinguished pupil’.
At the RAF Museum in Hendon, there is a dispolay of a few of Johns items. As mentioned poreviously there is a letter he wrote to his brother whiolst in hospital. The dispaly also included his Flying Helmet and Goifggles and intercomm/mic tel lead plus his VC Medal that his wife Janet donated to 83 Squadron.
In 1953, John’s widow, Janet was allocated one of the four seats at Westminster Abbey for the Coronations of Queen Elizabeth II. The four seats had been reserved for widows of United Kingdom V.C.’s through the Ministry of Pensions who provided accommodation in London and provided transport to take her to the Abbey.
The Leicester Illustrated Chronicle published an article in January 1956 about Janet and the three girls. “Sergeant John Hannah who won the V.C. at the age of 18 and died at 25, was a modest man. But he would be proud of today. Proud of the wife and family he left at 87 Stonehill Avenue, Birstall. Proud of their courage, their ambitions – and their happiness.” In the article, Janet says how life was grim after his death and she had to sink or swim. She supplemented her pension of about £4 by doing hairdressing for friends. The Leicester Mercury organised a fund to help make life easier for the fatherless family “And the Ministry of Pensions and the RAF Association have been good to me” she said. The article finishes by saying “But his widow, who has so squarely faced the challenge to her own bravery, and those three fine children carry on the Hannah reputation for courage.” To read the full article click here: Leicester Chronicle 28 January 1956
On Tuesday 26th June 1956, Janet joined in with the ceremony where 300 V.C. recipients paraded in Hyde Park. The ceremony was an echo of the great parade that took place 99 years previous when Queen Victoria, accompanied by the prince Consort, rode to Hyde Park to present the V.C. to 62 men which she instituted.
Also, at Hyde Park with Janet were six V.C. winners from Leicestershire: Lt-Col John Cridland Barrett V.C.; Captain Tom Steel V.C.; Captain Robert Gee V.C.; The Rev Arthur Proctor V.C.; Robert Edward Cruikshank V.C. and Richard Burton V.C.
At the same time as the Queen made her speech, a poppy wreath was laid on John’s grave in Birstall. The Queen said “Today, I am proud to stand here, with men and women from all parts of the Commonwealth, to do honour to the successors of that gallant band, to the 300 brave men who are present and to those who can be with us only in spirit, or in the memory of family and friends.”
By 1962, Janet was looking at trying to stand on her own two feet instead of relying on charity and she was considering selling her husbands V.C. in the hope that it would raise £1,000 so that she could start her own hairdressing business. Her daughter, Josephine who was now 19 and married, told the Daily Herald “She’s had a tremendously hard fight bringing us up. Now all she wants is security. She’s grateful for the help she has received but she wants to make her own way now”. Officials from the RAF Association contacted Janet in the hope that the association’s financial aid may persuade her not to part with the V.C.
Janet had received offers around £1,000 for the medal from all over the UK including the Imperial War Museum. She had even turned down an offer of nearly £1,750 from an individual in New York plus offers from Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe.
“I want to make sure it goes to the right place. I don’t want to cash in on the medal. I simply want to raise enough money to start a hairdressing business and preserve my independence. The money will be shared with my three daughters. They have agreed this is the right thing to do. The second eldest wants to train as a hairdresser. I have been a widow for 15 years and it has been a struggle to make ends meet. I could go on another 15 years and still be in the same position. Without immediate capital, I could not start a business and selling the medal is the only way I can raise it. My husband was a practical man and I am sure he would have approved.”
An unexpected offer of help came in from a former World War One pilot meant that she may not have to sell the V.C. Mr S Burgess of Worcester was the principal of the Worcester School of Hairdressing and offered to give Janet as long a refresher course in hairdressing as she needed and providing her with accommodation during training. At the same time, his friend, Mr W Calway who was a manufacturing chemist had offered to provide her with £1,000 worth of hairdressing equipment. Mr Calway stated “We felt full of compassion for her in having to sell the V.C. and considered something should be done to help her in her predicament. There are no strings attached to these offers and Mrs Hannah may pay for the equipment whenever she can without the addition of any interest.”
Janet and her three daughters agreed not to sell the V.C. stating “I’m tired to death of all the worry and publicity my family has received. It was never intended this way. All I wanted was security for myself and family.”
After declining many offers for her husband’s medal, she eventually decided to give it away free by presenting it to John’s old Squadron, No 83 Squadron who had reformed and were back at RAF Scampton operating the Vulcan bomber. She said “Naturally, there were times when I was tempted to sell the medal. I’m glad I kept it, and I feel I am doing the correct thing in donating the V.C. to John’s old Squadron. I think they should have it for safe keeping.”
Johns Victoria Cross medal and several of hid belonging including his flying helmet, mic-tel lead and goggles plus a letter he wrote to his brother are now on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon.
In the Illustrated London News published on 1st September 1979, they published an article by John Winton titled “The high price of valour” – The qualities that make a man a hero in war do not necessarily fit him for a successful life in times of peace. The author looks at the sad histories of some winners of the Victoria Cross.
The article looks at various V.C. winners and how they coped after leaving the military and John Hannah is one of those mentioned.
“Suicide rates among VCs have dropped drastically since the horrific levels of 100 years ago; the last were two first World War VCs, in the 1950s. But memories are notoriously short (only a few years after the Armistice Boy Cornwell’s grave was found overgrown and neglected) and even in modern times life has not been easy for some VC’s. Officers seem generally to have prospered; Sir Tasker Watkins is a judge and Leonard Cheshire found a second fame as a philanthropist.
But for some, other ranks the going has been much harder. Private Speakman, the Korean War VC, found it extremely difficult to settle down in civilian in life. John Hannah, the 18 year old RAF Sergeant who won a VC for putting out a fire in a Hampden bomber over Antwerp in 1940, was hard pressed to support his young family after the war and died in a sanatorium aged 25.
Leading Seaman Magennis, the ‘frogman VC’, was the only Ulster VC winner of the Second World War and he was naturally feted when he went home to Belfast. But he and his wife soon spent the money raised for them and Magennis sold his Cross for £75. “We are simple people” his wife said. “We were forced into the limelight” Ian Fraser, Magennis’s captain, who also won the VC in the same exploit, put the problem in a nutshell: “A man is trained for the task that might win him the VC. He is not trained to cope with what follows.”
Going back to the question in the opening paragraph –“What is Courageous Duty?” Does it only apply to you while serving and something you carry out as part of a task that you have been trained for, or does it apply after you leave the service and apply to your duties of supporting your family?
I think that following his injuries, John and his wife both showed courage in their duties fighting Johns illness and supporting their family, especially Janet when she was having to nurse John and later bring up the three daughters all on her own with very little income.
“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.
Stanley Keith Muir was the youngest son of parents John Franklin Muir, a Scot by birth who emigrated to Australia in the 1870s & his wife Josephine Muir (nee Holmes). He was born on 6th April 1892 at Elsternwick in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and had 4 elder sisters and two elder brothers.
From the age of six, he was educated at Scotch College and later at the Church of England Grammar school in Melbourne from 1907. Whilst at the Grammar school, he was diagnosed with an illness which turned into hip disease resulting in him leaving the school.
After a period of six months laid up on his back, plus another six months on crutches, followed by a lengthy break at Gulpha (Gulpa) Station he eventually made a full recovery. At Gulpha station there were several houses and stock loading facilities at the rail siding.
Stanley, or Stan as he was known, joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 18th August, 1914. He enlisted with the 4th Light Horse Regiment (LHR) which had just been formed at Broadmeadows Camp Melbourne only a week earlier.
Light horse regiments were normally comprised of twenty-five officers and 497 other ranks serving in three squadrons, each of six troops. Stan was assigned to “A” Squadron and allocated service number 152 with the rank of Private.
According to his enlistment papers, he was aged 22 and gave his occupation as a Station Overseer. As an overseer he would have been an excellent horseman, skilled as a stockman with sheep, whip and droving. On his enlistment papers he also stated that he had served with the 29th Light Horse.
The Light Horse were mounted troops with characteristics of both cavalry and mounted infantry, who served in the Second Boer War. Prior to the First World War, the 29th Light Horse were known as Port Philip Horse or Victorian Mounted Rifles and were part of the Citizen Military Force/Militia part time forces.
Following the completion of his training at Broadmeadows camp, Stan and his pals from the 4th LHR embarked at Melbourne and sailed aboard the troopship HMAT A18 Wiltshire bound for Egypt where they arrived on the 10th December 1914.
Once in Egypt, the LHR were based at the Mena training camp at Cairo to undertake training prior to going to France.
When the rest of the division departed Egypt to take part in the Gallipoli campaign, the LHR were left behind as the authorities believed that mounted troops would not be needed in the campaign due to the terrain. However, infantry casualties were so severe it was decided to send them as infantry reinforcements without their horses. Whilst still in Egypt, Stan was taken ill on the 24th March 1915 suffering with Subacute Rheumatism and as a result he was admitted to the No 2 Australian General Hospital based in the Mena House Hotel at Cairo.
After staying at the Mena hospital for about a month, he was transferred to the convalescent hospital at Abbasia on the 25th April. Whilst at Abbasia, the 4th LHR left Egypt for Gallipoli, landing at ANZAC Cove between the 22nd & 24th May. On arrival, the regiment was broken up and provided squadrons as reinforcements for infantry battalions at various points around the beachhead, and it was not until 11th June that the regiment concentrated as a formed unit.
Following his convalescence break at Abbasiya, Stan rejoined to his Unit at ANZAC Cove as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) on 27thJuly, 1915.
On the 13th August, whilst at Gallipoli, Stan was promoted to Corporal. According to the book “War Services Old Melburnians” Stan was wounded during the Battle of Lone Pine which took place between the 6th and 10th August but there is no evidence of this in his service records. I wonder if it was due to his actions during the battle that he earnt the promotion.
However, just a few weeks later, he was taken sick on the 28th August with Rheumatic fever and transferred to the Hospital Ship Ascanius. On the 31st he was transferred to the St Andrews Military Hospital in Valetta Malta arriving on the 2nd September 1915.
After a two week stay in the St Andrews Hospital, Stan was transferred to the hospital ship Carisbrooke Castle on the 17th September for onward transfer to England.
On his arrival in England, Stan was admitted to the Fulham military hospital on the 24th September with Enteric Fever. A few days later he was transferred from Fulham to the Addington Palace hospital on the 28th, from which he was discharged for furlo (leave) on the 30th.
Whilst undergoing convalescence in England, Stan thought he would be re-assigned back to garrison duties. Being an ambitious type, this did not meet expectations and on the advice of friends, he applied for a commission. On the 16th November, he was discharged from the AIF due to being appointed a commission in the 20th Service Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps (British Empire League Pioneers). He was assigned as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant at Norfolk House, Laurence Pountney Hill, London.
After a short course at an Officers School in Cambridge, he joined his unit, the 20th Bn KRRC in London. By the middle of February the battalions strength stood at over 1,000 and Colonel Murray suggested to the War Office about moving outside of London in order to access better training facilities.
The 20th Bn KRRC were a new unit formed in London on the 20th August 1915 by the BEL. The BEL helped to mobilise troops during the Second Boer War and the First World War and was active in the dominions of Australia and Canada during the early part of the 20th Century.
In response, the War Office asked Lieut-General Wooley Dodd to inspect the battalion and to see if they were ready to go out to France. this took place in Hyde Park on the 18th February. As the unit had only just received its full complement of men and no training was given, especially in arms drill or musketry due to being no rifle range in London. Wooley Dodd advised the War Office that they should be moved to a training camp.
Stan wasn’t with the 20th Bn KRRC for that long as whilst based in London, near to the Hendon aerodrome, he had a strong desire to become an aviator. Contrary to the advice of his superior officers in the KRRC, he applied for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps which was granted in March 1916.
He was at the Military School at Catterick Bridge where he passed all his examinations with credit and earned his pilots’ wings on a Maurice Farman Biplane, being awarded the Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No 2942 on the 11th May 1916.
As a newly qualified pilot, Stans next assignment was to No 1 (Australian) Squadron on the 27th July 1916 who were based at Heliopolis in Egypt as an instructor. The Sqn was declared operational at its new headquarters in Heliopolis on 12th June, when it took over aircraft belonging to No.17 Sqn RFC. According to his service records, whilst in Egypt, Stan was temporary attached to No 17 Sqn RFC at Kaulara en-route for Salonika.
From 12th September 1916, the British began to refer to No.1 Squadron as No.67 (Australian) Squadron RFC. His service records confirm he returned to his unit (67th Sqn on the 27th September.
Whilst serving with No. 67(Australian) Sqn he was admitted to hospital on the 18th October for treatment at the No 26 Casualty Clearing Station. His records do not say why he was admitted, but he was discharged back to his unit the following day.
Stan and his fellow members of No 1 Sqn were involved in the Sinai campaign in 1916. As a result of his actions during December, he was awarded the Military Cross. The following entry appeared in the London Gazette published on the 6th March 1917: “Temp, 2nd Lt. (temp. Lt.) Stanley Keith Muir, Gen List & RFC. For conspicuous gallantry in action. He carried out a daring bombing raid and was largely instrumental in shooting down aa hostile machine. On another occasion he pursued two enemy machines and succeeded in bringing one of them down.”
The recommendation for award held by the Australian War Memorial archive goes into more detail “Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Stanley Keith Muir, No. 67 (Australian) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. For conspicuous dash and skill on 22nd December 1916. In the attack of TEL-EL-SHARIA BRIDGE, he dropped his bombs from a low height and very accurately. In addition he afforded great assistance to the machine photographing BIR SABA during the same flight, by skilful fighting. He was mainly instrumental in shooting down a Fokker, which he followed down from 10,000 feet to 2,000 feet. Further, on the 1st January, 1917, he, single handed, pursued two enemy machines from EL ARISH to BIR SABA, one of which flew to the south, and the other he drove down over its own aerodrome, coming down to 3,000 feet to do so.During the chase he was under the enemy observer’s fire for 10 minutes, but with great coolness held his fire until within 70 yards, and must have inflicted severe damage on the enemy machine. He then waited over BIR SABA under heavy A.A. fire for the other machine, which flew in shortly afterwards, diving so fast to earth that he was unable to attack it. His ordinary work has been excellent.”
Stan and his colleagues on No 1 Squadron were involved in the third and final battle to complete the recapture of the Sinai Peninsula on the 9th January 1917 which became known as the Battle of Rafa otherwise known as the Action of Rafa.
The weather cleared on 5th January, allowing No 1 Squadron to carry our a patrol where they observed 2 – 3,000 Ottoman soldiers digging defences south of Rafa in the area of El Magruntein.
Two days later, British air patrols found Ottoman garrisons in strength at El Kossaima and Hafir el Auja in central northern Sinai, which could threaten the right flank of the advancing EEF or reinforce Rafa.
While the British air patrols were absent on 7 January, German airmen took advantage of the growing concentration of EEF formations and supply dumps, bombing El Arish during the morning and evening. The next day No. 1 Squadron were carrying patrols all day, covering preparations for the attack on Rafa.
On the 13th January 1917, Stan left the Middle East and embarked aboard the H.T. Kingstonian due to being assigned to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and disembarked at Southampton on the 30th January 1917.
According to records, the Fokker that he shot down was the first victory for the Squadron.
An entry dated 19th January 1917 in his service records show that he was ‘struck off strength 5th Wing’ which No 67 Sqn was part of due to having joined 68 Aust Sqn RFC.
The Shepparton Advertiser newspaper published in Victoria on 14th May 1917 stated that Stan had been promoted to Flight Commander and Captain. “Capt. Stanley Muir (brother of Mr C. R. Muir, Euroa), has been promoted to the rank of Flight-Commander in the Royal Flying Corps, Egypt. Captain Muir, who is only 24 years of age, has been twice mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatches, and has been awarded the Military Cross.”
The next entry on his service records was by OC 68 Sqn on the 26th August 1917 stating that Captain Muir had marched in to No. 68 Squadron at Harlaxton, from Overseas with effect from 18th August, 1917.
The village of Harlaxton lies 12 miles North East of Melton Mowbray and 2 miles South West of Grantham, just across the border into Lincolnshire. The airfield itself was located in a triangle of flat fields midway between Harlaxton Manor (now the University of Evansville’s British campus) and the nearby village of Stroxton.
The airfields that were chosen were not always ideal as OC 24th Wing stated in his memo to HQ Training Brigade dated 10 Jan 1917. ‘Ref. yr. secret TB/809 dated 3/1/17’. “ I was up at Harlaxton yesterday and of the opinion that the aerodrome is not fit to be classed as a Night Landing Aerodrome until the tree stumps on the aerodrome have been removed. Urgent application has been made to the contractors to do this.”
No 68 Sqn were based at Harlaxton until September 1917 when they deployed to France.
It was during the build up for France that tragedy struck the Squadron. The following entry is from the War Diary of No 2 Sqn for the month of September 1917.
“On September 12th, just before the squadron left England it suffered a terrible loss in the death of Capt. Muir (M.C.) as the result of an accident whilst flying a D.H.5. He was buried at Harlaxton Cemetery with full military Honours and Lieut. G. C. Wilson (D.C.M.) was appointed to command “B” Flight in his stead. The squadron finally mobilised 16.9.17 and Lieut Tooth in charge of Squadron Transport left Harlaxton on that date, the remainder of the personnel leaving by rail on the 21st…”
Stan is buried in the churchyard of SS Mary and Paul at Harlaxton. His grave is marked by a CWGC Commission headstone which bears the inscription “BELOVED SON OF JOHN AND JOSEPHINE MUIR MELBOURNE IN LOVING MEMORY”
Stans old Grammar School published an obituary for him in their Old Melburnians 1918” Stanley Keith Muir who was killed in England on 12th September 1917 as the result of an aeroplane accident was the son of Mr J. F. Muir. He was born in 1894 and was at the School in 1907 but left owing to illness, which eventually developed into hip disease. He as for six months on his back and another six months on crutches, but gradually grew out of his trouble, and after a long sojourn on Gulpha Station in Riverina was completely cured. He was a well-known amateur rider at picnic races in the Deniliquin district, and was a very fine horseman. He enlisted in the 4th Light Horse, was all through the Gallipoli campaign (though illness kept him back from the Landing), was wounded at Lone Pine and invalided to England. He was there given a commission in the King’s Royal Rifles, but soon transferred ti the Royal Flying Corps, and obtaining his wings in May 1916 was sent to Egypt to instruct an Australian flying squadron. He carried out single-handed the great Baghdad railway flight. He flew 600 miles without a stop in 6 ¼ hours, and bombed the railway line, and was highly commended for work at Et Arish. He was attacked by three German aeroplanes. He brought down one and pursued the others over the Dead Sea till his petrol gave out. For these feats he was awarded the Military Cross. He returned to England and was about to leave for the West front when the fatal accident occurred. He had been in the air for about twenty minutes, and was about to take his swoop for hanger when one of the wings snapped and he fell 500 feet and was killed instantly. He was regarded as one of the six best flyers in the British Army and was noted for his “stunts.” A comrade writing of him says: “Our crowd were all broken up over his death, for he was white to the soles of his feet.” Major Oswald Watt, writing to his father, says: “His sad death deprives the flying service of one they can ill afford to lose. Never was an officer more truly mourned by his fellow-officers or by his men.”
In 2017, whilst on a visit to the UK, personnel from No 2 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force paid their respects at his grave. Air Combat Officer Flt Lt Joseph Noble said for a unit with a long and proud history as 2 Sqn “the opportunity to visit its roots was not to be missed”. He went on to say, “One can imagine the impact of his death would have had on the other men of the squadron”.
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.