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.
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.
No doubt you’ve all heard of the phrase “The balloon’s going up!”, but did you know it was an expression for an impending battle?
The phrase is derived from the fact that an observation balloon’s ascent likely signalled the beginning of an artillery barrage, guided by information provided by the observer in the balloon.
Balloons were used by the military for aerial observation and provided their operators with a great view of the battlefield and the first military use of observation balloons was by the French Aerostatic Corps during the French Revolutionary Wars and the first recorded use was during the Battle of Fleurus in 1794. They were also used by both sides during the American Civil War of 1861–65 and continued in use during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The British Army also used them during the Boer Wars in South Africa in the 1880s/90s.
The First World War was the high point for the military use of observation balloons. Despite it’s experience in operating balloons in South Africa, the British Army were behind in developments and were still using spherical shaped balloons.
These were quickly replaced by more advanced types, known as kite balloons, which were more aerodynamically shaped to be stable and could operate in more extreme weather conditions. Kite balloons were used for observation over their sector of the Western front, gathering intelligence and artillery spotting.
The First World War kite balloons were fabric envelopes filled with hydrogen gas. Kite balloons, were controlled by a cable attached to the ground, were often known as ‘sausages’ and first used on the Western Front on 8 May 1915 in the Aubers Ridge area.
Each balloon was maintained and tethered by a team of 48 highly-trained men, carried two passengers, known light-heartedly as ‘balloonatics’ – a commander and an observer, who, via a telegraph wire down to the ground would send back information on troop formations and artillery locations.
Each basket was equipped with telecommunication equipment, binoculars, a long range camera, maps, sandbags, pressure gauge, code book, a barometer, an air speed indicator and, more ominously, two sheath knives, two life savers and two parachutes.
Due to the flammability of the gas it unfortunately led to the destruction of hundreds of balloons on both sides with the loss of the ‘Balloonatics’ commanders, observers and also the pilots of the attacking aircraft.
The ‘Balloonatics’ who manned these observation balloons frequently had to use a parachute to escape when their balloons were attacked by enemy aircraft whose pilots earned themselves the name of ‘Balloon Busters’.
The parachutes were nicknamed ‘Acorns’ and were fitted to the outside of the basket. The idea was to grab the end of a static line as you leapt over the edge of the basket if the balloon came under attack, hoping very much it would open and you would manage to jump free of any potential entanglement.
One of these ‘Balloonatics’ was a young Canadian Officer named Elfric Ashby Twidale. Elfric was the grandson of the late Reverend Joseph Twidale, the long standing rector of over 50 years at the Melton Mowbray Congregational Baptist Church.
Elfrics father, Ashby Pearson Twidale was born in Melton Mowbray as the 5th child of the Rev Joseph and his wife Catherine and was a timber merchant by trade. In the late 1880s, Ashby emigrated to Canada where on the 3rd June 1891 he married a Canadian lady named Clara Wilhelmena Heinrichs whose father, Peter was a native of Germany.
For the last 6 years, since his 18th birthday, Elfric had been part of the 44th Lincoln and Welland Regiment in the Militia.
Just as the First World War was erupting around the globe, Elfrics German grandfather Peter died on the 15th July 1914. I wonder if the events around the globe caused any unrest in the family due to the German patronage?
On the 6th August 1914, Elfric was a Sergeant with the 44th when they were placed on active service for local protection duties as part of the Welland Canal Force. The Welland Canal is a ship canal in Ontario, Canada, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie that enables ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment and bypass Niagara Falls.
Elfric enlisted into the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on the 8th April 1915 aged 24 years. He was allocated service number 651 when he joined the Canadian Machine Gun Brigade, serving with the No 2 Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery.
The Eatons were formed in January 1915 under the Command of Major W J Morrison. They were named after Sir John Eaton who had given $100,000 for the purchase of “quick-firing machine guns mounted on armoured trucks” This paid for fifteen guns and the government supplied twenty-five.
Prior to joining the Army, Elfrics trade according to his attestation papers was a chemical engineer and whilst he was at Toronto University, he was a member of their Track Team who were the Inter-Collegiate Champions in 1913.
The Eatons unit recruited mainly from Toronto and appealed to motor mechanics, drivers and athletes so it could be this that attracted him to join this unit.
On the 4th June 1915, Elfric along with 263 other ranks and 24 officers embarked for England on the RMS Metagama. The ship was operated as part of the Canadian Pacific North Atlantic Service and remained in Canadian Pacific service throughout the FWW. She however, carried Canadian troops in her third-class accommodation on East bound crossings.
It seems that not only was the Metagama a new and capable ship, she was a lucky ship as only a month before, the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat U-20 off the coast of Ireland with the loss of 571 lives. Throughout the war the Metagama continued to transport troops across the North Atlantic without incident.
The Eatons arrived at Devonport in Plymouth on the 13th June 1915. From Devonport, the Brigade proceeded to the Shorncliffe Military Base known as “Caesers Camp” near to Folkstone, Kent. Shorncliffe had been set up in April 1915 as a Canadian Training Division for the Second Canadian Contingent to overcome difficulties such as excessive rain, mud and exposure experienced by the First Contingent troops at the initial Canadian camp located on the Salisbury Plain. Shorncliffe was also used as a staging post for troops destined for the Western Front due to its location. As the crow flies, it is only 90 miles from Ypres in Belgium.
Whilst at Shorncliffe, Elfric was promoted and became a Signalling Sergeant and at some point later he became a Sergenat Major with he unit. Whilst in England, he applied to his Commanding Officer Captain E.L. Knight for a commission in the New Army, Imperial Forces – that is the British Army.
This request was granted and he was Struck Off Strength from the Eatons on the 19th November 1915 due to being granted a Commission with the Royal Field Artillery in the New Army.
Elfrics promotion to 2nd Lieutenant (2nd Lt) with the Royal Field artillery was ‘gazetted’ on the 25th November 1915 “The undermentioned to be Second Lieutenants (on probation) Dated 20th November 1915 Elfric Ashby Twidale”.
He was appointed as a 2nd Lt with ‘C’ Battery 64th Brigade and went to France in April 1916 serving on the Western Front from Wailly to Hohenzollern Redoubt and at the Somme in the Montauban-Longueval and Auchonvillers-Ovillers areas
The London Gazette published on the 25th November 1916 recorded his promotion to Acting Captain “Whilst commanding a Trench Mortar Battalion.” He held this rank until 26th January 1917 when he relinquished the rank of Captain and reverted back to 2nd Lt due to no longer commanding a Trench Mortar Battalion.
It would have been after this that he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps taking on the role of an Observer becoming one of the ‘Balloonatics’ with No 16 Kite Balloon Section based in the area around the town Arras at map reference 51c.K.18.a supporting the VII Corps.
From the 9th April to 16th May 1917, the British were involved in a major offensive on the Western Front in what was known as the Battle of Arras, or the 2nd Battle of Arras. The Battle of Arras was the British Empire’s part of a larger offensive planned by the French. Arras would both divert German attention from the French attack, to be launched further south along the Aisne, and allow the British to test newly developed offensive tactics.
Aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), along with their observation balloons were used in conjunction with rifle fire and trench mortars from infantry and artillery units to attack the German trenches, supply lines and observation posts.
Although the RFC entered the battle with inferior aircraft to the ‘Luftstreitkräfte’, this did not deter their commander, General Trenchard, from adopting an offensive posture. Dominance of the air over Arras was essential for reconnaissance and the British carried out many aerial patrols.
The RFC carried out artillery spotting and photography of trench systems using both fixed wing aircraft and balloons. The aircraft were also involved in bombing enemy positions as well as patrolling their own front lines.
Aerial observation was hazardous work. For best results, aircraft had to fly at slow speeds and low altitude over the German defences whilst kite balloons were essentially sitting ducks. It became even more dangerous with the arrival of the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen in March 1917 and the presence of ‘Jasta 11’.
It was during the Arras campaign that 2nd Lt Elfric Twidale lost his life. From 16th April, it was apparent that the French part of the Nivelle Offensive further South on the Aisne had not achieved a breakthrough. Field Marshall Haig continued to attack at Arras, to continue to divert troops from the French on the Aisne.
On the 22nd April, the day before the Second Battle of the Scarpe which took place on the 23rd & 24th, Elfric was performing his duties as a ‘Balloonatic’. He would have been observing and recording enemy positions from his balloon basket, most probably observing actions on the front-line and behind it, spotting enemy troop movements or unusual activity of any sort, and to call down artillery fire onto any worthwhile targets.
Due to their importance, kite balloons were usually given heavy defences in the form of machine gun positions on the ground, anti-aircraft artillery, and standing fighter patrols stationed overhead. Other defences included surrounding the main balloon with barrage balloons; stringing cables in the air in the vicinity of the balloons; equipping observers with machine guns; and flying balloons booby-trapped with explosives that could be remotely detonated from the ground. These measures made balloons very dangerous targets to approach.
In the early days of the war, balloons were occasionally shot down by small-arms fire but generally it was difficult to shoot down a balloon with solid bullets, particularly at the distances and altitude involved. Ordinary bullets would pass relatively harmlessly through the hydrogen gas bag, merely holing the fabric. Hits on the wicker car could however kill the observer. It was not until special Pomeroy incendiary bullets and Buckingham flat-nosed incendiary bullets became available on the Western Front in 1917 that any consistent degree of success was achieved,
Unfortunately for Elfric, his kite balloon came under attack from a German ‘balloon buster’ aircraft and in an attempt to save his own life, he leapt over the side of the balloon basket. Tragically, his parachute didn’t open properly and he plummeted to his death.
His body was recovered and buried in the Bucquoy Road Cemetery at Ficheux approx. 9km from Arras. In November 1916, the village of Ficheux was behind the German front line, but by April 1917, the German withdrawal had taken the line considerably east of the village and in April and May, the VII Corps Main Dressing Station was posted there, near for the Battles of Arras.
For British soldiers the average daily loss rate at Arras was the highest of the war at 4,076. Total casualties amounted to 158,000, with the Germans losing around the same number.
The increased losses of RFC personnel providing British air support during the Battle of Arras in April 1917 resulted in it becoming known as ‘Bloody April’ for the RFC.
During April 1917, the British lost 245 aircraft, 211 aircrew killed or missing and 108 as prisoners of war. The German Air Services recorded the loss of 66 aircraft during the same period. As a comparison, in the five months of the Battle of the Somme of 1916 the RFC had suffered 576 casualties. Under Richthofen’s leadership, ‘Jasta 11’ scored 89 victories during April, over a third of the British losses.
However, the figure of 211 only relets to aircrew. The CWGC Casualty database actually records 258 casualties serving with the RFC who died during April 1917 across all theatres of war, not just on the Western Front.
During my RAF career, I had the pleasure of being posted to RAF Cottesmore twice, once in the 90’s on the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment, and 10 years later as part of the Joint Force Harrier. On both occasions, I worked in offices adjoined to ‘C’ Hangar, and as usual with RAF folklore, I heard the story relating to the bravery of a former Station Commander on several occasions.
Located north of Cottesmore village, with Market Overton to the North West and Thistleton to the North East, the airfield was planned during the 1930’s expansion period and was originally known as the ‘Thistleton site’.
On the 1st May 1936, the Air Ministry announced their intentions to start building an airfield on the site and work started in July clearing the hedgerows and levelling the ground ready for the grass runways. The other main task was the construction of four large ‘C’ Type hangars, typical of pre-war construction being 150ft wide and approx 300ft in length, designed to take several bombers.
In March 1938, the Air Ministry declared that RAF Cottesmore would operate under No 2 (Bomber) group and the site opened as an airfield on the 11th March 1938.
On the 8th April 1940, No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU) was formed from No 185 Squadron at Cottesmore and its role was to train aircrew to an acceptable standard before they joined an operational Squadron. The OTU was initially equipped with Hampdens, Herefords and Avro Ansons.
The crest of No 14 OTU shows its links to Cottesmore and its location being in some of the best hunting country. It features the head of a hunting hound, hunting horn and the hunting whip. The motto “Keep With The Pack” was selected because the Units role is to train airmen whose duties are to hunt and destroy the enemy and concentration has long been a principle in Bomber Command.
Mid-September 42 saw the OTU re-equip with the Wellington bomber and the early ones to arrive were all tired MkIc’s which had been withdrawn from front line operational service and transferred to the OTU to take up the training role.
31st March 1943 was a quiet day for the Royal Air Force Bomber Command with no raids planned. The Force had been active on the night of the 29th/30th with two ‘Ops’ planned with the first to Berlin involving 329 aircraft comprising of 162 Lancasters, 103 Halifaxes and 64 Stirlings. The second Op was to Bochum comprising of a main force of 149 Wellingtons supported by 8 Oboe Mosquitos.
A much smaller third raid was also carried out on the 30th by 10 Mosquitos who bombed the Philips works at Eindhoven.
On the 31st, it was just a normal, albeit a bit misty, day for No 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore with crews undertaking routine training sorties.
One of those training that day was Australian Flight Sergeant R W Humphrey of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) who was the pilot of a Wellington MkIc serial number AD628 ‘M’ of No 14 OTU. His crew that day also comprised another 3 Australians, Pilot Officer M A Crombie, Sergeant W T Cuthbertson (Air Bomber) and Sergeant T McDaniel along with RAF Airman Sgt E A Robinson (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) of Runwell in Essex.
The crew had been tasked with a practice bombing sortie and all had gone well until an incident on landing back at Cottesmore. At 17:30Hrs, Flt Sgt Humphrey had brought his aircraft safely back to base at Cottesmore when he landed his Wellington AD628.
Unfortunately, he landed it too far down one of the short runways and was heading straight for the control tower. Luckily, he managed to swing the aircraft away and miss the tower, but in doing so, he crashed into another Wellington serial number X9944 that was parked in front of ‘C’ Hangar.
Both aircraft were set alight as a result of the crash and Humphrey’s aircraft AD628 careered into the corner of ‘C’ Hangar setting alight the offices that ran along the front of the hangar and also putting at risk another four Wellingtons that were inside the hangar undergoing maintenance.
Cottesmore’s Station Commander, Group Captain Strang Graham MC was quickly on the scene and disregarding the danger from exploding ammunition, petrol tanks and oxygen bottles, and although he was aware that one of the aircraft carried a 250lb. bomb, he led the rescue party in extricating three members of the crew from Humphreys blazing aircraft.
Group Captain Graham then led the firefighting party in an endeavour to save the burning hangar. He was attacking the fire, which had spread to the offices of the hangar, when the 250lb. bomb on the aircraft, less than eight feet away exploded.
The CO’s face was badly cut by splintered glass and flying debris, and bleeding profusely he was persuaded to go to the station sick quarters. Once at the sick quarters, he ignored his own injuries, making light of them and inspired others who had been injured by the explosion.
After receiving first aid treatment he returned to the scene of the accident and directed the firefighting operations until the fire had been subdued.
The accident was handled with professionalism and bravery by many airmen and local firefighters who managed to save the hangar and the four aircraft within it. The two Wellingtons AD628 and X9944 were destroyed in the incident, and tragically, two of Humphrey’s crew were killed.
Sgt William Tait Cuthbertson, 415310, Royal Australian Air Force was born 20th May 1921 in Kalgoorlie and was the son of Douglas and Mary Lorna Cuthbertson of Leonora Western Australia. He enlisted into the RAAF on 14th September 1941 aged 20 is buried in Cottesmore (St Nicholas) Churchyard Extension with a CWGC headstone.
Sgt Eric Arthur Robinson, 1330303, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was the son of Harry Algernon Robinson and his wife Doris Emily. He was laid to rest on the 7th April 1943 at Runwell (St Mary) Churchyard, Essex and his grave is marked with a CWGC headstone.
The three Australian crewmen that survived the crash with injuries, survived the war:
Plt Off Mervyn Andrew Crombie, discharged from the RAAF: 14 Mar 1946 Flt Sgt Robert Wallace Humphrey (Pilot), discharged from the RAAF: 24 Sept 1945 Sgt Terence McDaniel, discharged from the RAAF: 9 Jan 1945
Group Captain Strang Graham MC was later awarded the George Medal for his gallantry and inspiring leadership under difficult circumstances.
Graham was a veteran of World War One, initially serving a Private with the 5th Cameron Highlanders, then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps where he was promoted to the rank of Corporal. On 27th Sept 1916, he was discharged from the MGC on Temporary Commission to 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch).
It was while serving with the Black Watch that he was Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during a night attack. When the advance was held up by a strong point, he halted his men under cover, and himself led a party round to outflank it. Although wounded in the knee, he remained to consolidate the ground won.” His award was published in the London Gazette on the 7th March 1918.
Shortly after this, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps serving at RAF Cattewater/Mount Batten. He transferred to the RAF on its formation on 1st April 1918 and was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer on 24th October 1919.
On the 1st Jan 1920, he was on the staff of No 2 (Northern) Aircraft repair Deport where he stayed until September when he joined No 2 Flying Training School (FTS), being awarded his pilots wings in Feb 1921.
His postings in the UK saw him undertake the roles of Flight Commander on No’s 7 & 27 Sqn’s as well as a tour at No 5 FTS and overseas tours in India and Iraq.
He was promoted to Group Captain on 1st June 1940 and became the Commanding Officer of RAF Cottesmore/No 14 OTU on 8th Jane 1943, the sixth Station Commander the base had had since it opened in 1938.
Behind every gravestone there is a story to be told
Christ Church in Wesham Lancashire is the Church where my parents married back in 1956 and also where there is a memorial to my Uncle, Frank Coulburn who was killed at Dunkirk in 1940 serving as a Sapper with the No 9 Field Company Royal Engineers.
As you walk down the path at the side of the Church and enter the cemetery through the gap in the wall, you will see a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone on your left hand side commemorating Reverend P T Jefferson a Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Chaplain of HMS Nightjar.
Percy Taylor Jefferson was the son of Mary Elizabeth Taylor and Matthew Jefferson, a Clerk in the Steelwork company. He was born 17th November 1892 in Middlesborough and was baptised 30 September 1893 in Linthorpe Yorkshire. He was the eldest of 6 children, his siblings being: Hilda (1895); Lilian (1896); May (1900); Arthur (1904) and Gladys (1906).
In 1901, the family were living at 9 Leamen Terrace, Linthorpe Road, St Barnabas Middlesborough where Percy attended the Victoria Road Juniors (Boys) School, from 3rd Oct 1899 to 28th Sept 1900. He later attended the Middlesborough High School for boys, admitted 9th Jan 1906, left 22nd July 1910.
By 1911, the family had moved to 15 Orchard Road, Linthorpe.
Prior to the outbreak of the War, Percy was a second term theological student at St. Augustine College, Canterbury in Kent.
Not long after the outbreak of World War One, at some point between 27th April and 5th July 1915 he enlisted into the Army as a Private (Number 450) with the Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force) serving with the 1/1st South Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance in Canterbury.
He set sail from Liverpool in September 1915 aboard the HMT Olympic which after completing a few Atlantic runs, she had been requisitioned by the British Government for use as a troop transport vessel. Her designation was changed from R.M.S (Royal Mail Steamer) to H.M.T (Hired Military Transport, often falsely interpreted as ‘His Majesty’s Transport’) at this time.
She was given interesting changes to help fulfil this role, including a 12 pounder naval cannon mounted on a platform on the forecastle deck, a 4.7 inch naval cannon on a platform on the poop deck, extra lifeboats on the aft well deck and a canvas screen/platform atop the bridge.
Olympic was bound for Gallipoli where Percy would be assigned to stretcher bearer duties at a Field Ambulance advanced dressing station on the Cape Helles front as part of the 42nd Division. The South Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance landed at ‘W’ Beach, Cape Helles on the 7th October 1915.
In October 1915, he was evacuated from Gallipoli due to ill health to St David’s Hospital in Malta where he stayed until December 1915. St David’s Hospital was a tented hospital for 1,000 beds constructed near St Andrew’s barracks, close to St Paul’s Hutments and All Saints Convalescent Camp. The rocky ground for the large hospital marquees was levelled by the engineers and roads, paths, gardens, kitchens, ablutions, baths and stores were constructed. The camp commandant was Major Charles Henry Carr RAMC. On 25th July 1915, St David’s Hospital was ready to receive 500 patients. By August, it had become fully equipped for 1,000 beds. Initially, St David’s admitted mild surgical and convalescents, but like all other hospitals it was soon busy with the ever increasing stream of dysentery and enteric cases.
Following his recovery, Percy’s next assignment saw him serve with the Field Ambulance on garrison duties on the Suez Canal as part of the 42nd Divisions 3rd Dismounted Brigade. From December 1916 he was assigned to the Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport base at Alexandria whilst awaiting his commission.
On 27th Aug 1917, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant (492063) in The Army Service Corps. He served with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and the Egyptian Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli, Palestine & Egypt. He was awarded the 1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal and was Mentioned in Despatches whilst serving as a Lt. in Palestine.
On 4th Oct 1917, Percy was admitted to No 19 General Hospital at Alexandria with enterica. He was admitted for 53 days, being discharged on the 25th Nov 1917 to the No 1 Convalescent Home.
After the cessation of hostilities, he returned to education studying at St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, where he obtained a BA in 1921, and an MA in 1926.
In July 1920, Percy married Constance Eve Ridsdale at Glaisdale, Whitby, North Yorkshire.
He was a Candidate Scholar at the Lincoln Theological College and was made a Deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln for Colonies. He was ordained Priest in 1922 by the Bishop of Kimberley, he was Curate of St Paul, De Aur until 1924; Rector of Prieska and Upington until 1928. Beaconsfield 1928–32; Christ Church, Fordsburg 1932–35 (South Africa), then Vicar of St Andrew, Bugthorpe in the Archdiocese of York 1935.
Percy, his wife Eve, and their 3 children Charles, Jessie and Hilda are listed on a shipping passenger list, departing Beira in Mozambique on the Gloucester Castle ship operated by the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd, arriving at Southampton on the 3rd May 1931. On the 16th Sept 1931, the family left London, returning to Beira in Mozambique, aboard the ship Durham Castle, again operated by the Union Castle shipping company.
On 31st May 1935, the Leeds Mercury reported that the Ven. Archdeacon A C England tonight instituted the Rev. Percy Taylor Jefferson to the vicarage of St Andrews at Bugthorpe. He stayed at Bugthorpe until 1941 when he left to undertake welfare work at a large shadow factory in the South of England.
British shadow factories were the outcome of the Shadow Scheme, a plan devised in 1935 and developed by the British Government in the buildup to World War II to try to meet the urgent need for more aircraft using technology transfer from the motor industry to implement additional manufacturing capacity. The term ‘shadow’ was not intended to mean secrecy, but rather the protected environment they would receive by being staffed by all levels of skilled motor industry people alongside (in the shadow of) their own similar motor industry operations.
On the 3rd September 1943, Percy enlisted into the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Temporary Chaplain. He was assigned to HMS Nightjar at Royal Naval Air Station Inskip. He lived with his wife Eve at Mowbreck Hall, Kirkham, Lancashire.
HMS Nightjar (Inskip) was the home of No.1 Operational Training Unit and as a result many Fleet Air Arm (FAA) squadrons were based there for a few weeks, working up, prior to embarkation.
Their son Charles Edmund Hugh Jefferson was also serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Lieutenant on HMS Stalker (D91) a CVE escort carrier. Between the 15th & 27th August 1944, Stalker, equipped with No 809 Sqn FAA operating Seafires joined Task Group 88 as part the covering force for the allied invasion of Southern France as part of Operation ‘DRAGOON’.
Back home in Lancashire, Percy was admitted to the RAF Hospital at nearby RAF Weeton where he died on 31st October 1945. He is buried in grave 416, Christ Church Churchyard, Wesham Lancashire and his grave is marked by a CWGC Portland Headstone.
Eve must have been devastated to lose both her husband and son in just over a year whilst serving their country in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. The same goes for the daughters Jessie and Hilda who lost a brother and father.
The personal inscription that was chosen by the family to be engraved on Percy’s headstone is “ALSO IN MEMORY OF HIS SON HUGH. LT. (A) R.N.V.R. KILLED IN ACTION 26. 8. 44 BURIED AT ST. REMY. FRANCE”
Both Percy and his son Charles are commemorated on the WW2 memorial tablet in Christ Church Wesham along with my Uncle Frank Coulburn and 20 other villagers who loost their lives during WW2.
The men of the Army Service Corps (ASC) were jokingly referred to as Ally Sloper’s Cavalry, after the scruffy, vulgar, gin-swilling loafer Victorian comic strip superstar famous for sloping off down the alley to avoid the rent collector. It was a good choice – the men in its ranks needed the same cheerful disregard for danger as they ducked and dived around the fighting soldiers,
Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition and during the Great War, they could not move without horses or vehicles. It was the job of the ASC to provide them. In the Great War, the vast majority of the supply, maintaining a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won.
A Remount Squadron consisted of approximately 200 soldiers, who obtained and trained 500 horses. The soldiers of the Remount Depots were generally older, experienced soldiers.
The Central Remount Depot was based at Aldershot with additional Remount Depots (No.1 at Dublin, No.2 at Woolwich, No.3 at Melton Mowbray and No.4 at Arborfield).
The acquisition of horses for the war effort was an enormous operation. In his book, The horse and the war, Sidney Galtrey states that 165,000 horses were ‘impressed’ by the Army in the first twelve days of the war alone. Records show that during the course of the war some 468,000 horses were purchased in the UK and a further 618,000 in North America.
This massive increase in numbers required a rapid expansion of the Remount Service. Four additional main Remount Depots were established at the following locations:– Shirehampton (for horses received at Avonmouth), Romsey (for Southampton), Ormskirk (for Liverpool) (depot situated at Lathom Park) and Swaythling (a collecting centre for horses trained at the other three centres for onward shipment overseas).
As you wander around Thorpe Road cemetery in Melton Mowbray, you will see the familiar gleaming white Portland stone grave markers/headstones. Standing proudly above the graves of military personnel, they mark the graves of those who had died whilst serving their country, some through enemy action but the majority through accidents. Some are in tended plots whilst others are scattered and isolated. This is no different to the other war graves throughout the UK.
One of the scattered war graves is that of an Ally Sloper – Strapper George Essex, Service Number TS/4251 of the Army Service Corps who died 10th February 1915. The TS prefix to his service number means that George was specially enlisted for his trade: in other words, he came from civilian employment in a trade that was of direct value to work in the Horse Transport.
A Strapper is the same rank as a Private and is essentially a groom working with horses. This is certainly no surprise seeing as there is an Army Remount depot in Melton.
There are, however, a couple of anomalies:
Firstly, the inscription on the headstone shows his unit as the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and the Regimental badge displayed on the headstone is also of the RASC. George died in 1915 and the Army Service Corps was not giving the Royal assent until 1919 by the King in recognition of its efforts during WW1.
Admittedly, the CWGC casualty record does display his unit correctly as the Army Service Corps (ASC). They are aware of this error and when the headstone is replaced, the correct Regimental crest will be engraved on the new stone.
Secondly, according to his casualty record on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, he was the husband of M.G. Essex of 13 New Street, Melton Mowbray. As a serving soldier from Melton that has died whilst serving their country, you would expect to find his name on the towns war memorial. Unfortunately, this is not the case, so why does George Essex not appear on any of Melton’s war memorials?
Let’s take a look at who George Essex was.
George was born 1878 to William Essex and his wife Fanny (nee Draper). He was baptised on 11th August 1878 by Reverend William Colles. According to the 1881 census, William was a brick labourer and George was the middle child, with an elder sister, Esther, and a younger sister, Fanny.
In 1889, Georges mother Fanny died, and William later re-married in 1892 to Ellen Wooding.
By the time of the 1901 census, William had become and engine driver, George was a bricklayer labourer and there was now Elizabeth and William in the family.
At the time of the 1911 census, the Essex family were living at 4 Bentley Street. Georges’ father, William, had passed away, Ellen was the head of the household as a widow. George was listed as aged 32, single and his occupation was a Furnaceman (Labourer).
George married Mabel Grace Winters on the 21st March 1914 at the Register Office. When they got married, Mabel already had an illegitimate child, Lillian May Winters. The family made their home in a small three bedroomed house, not far from the centre of town at No.5 Bentley Square, Melton Mowbray.
When the 1911 Census was taken, Mabel was residing at No 9 Wilton Terrace with her sister Violet Pearson, her husband Alfred Pearson and their daughter Zara.
Mabel’s daughter, Lillian May was born 11th October 1911 and the birth certificate listed her address and occupation as 24 Scalford Road, Melton, a Doubler in a Spinning Mill. The birth certificate did not name the father, consequently it is unknown as to whether Lillian is the child of George.
As soon as war was declared, George started working as a civilian Groom at the Melton Remount Depot. He subsequently enlisted into the Army on the 5th November 1914.
According to his attestation papers, he was aged 36 years and 158 days and his height was listed as 5ft 5in. His occupation was listed as Groom and his answer to Question 15, “Are you willing to be enlisted for General Service?” was “Yes Remount Depot Only”.
Shortly after enlisting, George was transferred from the Melton Depot and attached to the Romsey Depot to help train horses being received in Southampton following purchase in the USA.
George had been home on leave since Friday 5th February 1915. Prior to that, he had been hospitalised for about a month with injuries to his leg following being kicked by a horse he was training.
The Essex’s neighbour, Mrs Mary Cox, husband of Charles Cox at No. 3 Bentley Square believed George had got home late on the evening of Friday the 5th. She saw George on Saturday morning and she asked him how he was getting on. He told her “quite well” and how kind the people at Southampton and the other various depots were.
According to Mrs Cox, she said he seemed to be himself but she noticed a ‘sort of wildness’ in his eyes. She had also seen him on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and he still had a ‘glassy’ excited look in his eyes. She knew he had been in hospital for about a month with his leg and he had been to France and back since he came out of hospital.
Mrs Cox believed that George was going to be returning to camp on the Wednesday as his wife Mabel had got in some provisions that he usually took back with him.
On Tuesday evening, George and Mabel retired to bed at about ten o’clock. About half-past six the following morning, Mabel heard George get out of bed, and asked him where was going? He said was going downstairs for a “fag” and went and returned immediately.
The next moment George struck Mabel on the head with a hammer that he had brought upstairs with him. She struggled with her husband, and, though he succeeded striking her about the head three or four more times, twice on the stairs whilst she was endeavouring to escape, none of the blows were of sufficient force bring her down.
It was about twenty to seven when a Mr Carlton was walking home from his night shift at the Holwell Iron Works and saw Mabel stood on her front doorstep in her night clothes. Her hair was matted with blood and her nightclothes were covered in blood from the injuries sustained from the hammer blows.
Mr Carlton got the attention of the Cox family, next door at No.3 and Mary Cox asked Mabel “What the matter?” she replied, “Oh my baby, never mind me, my baby”. The Cox’s eldest son, pushed by her and went upstairs and grabbed the child, brought her downstairs and put herein her mother’s arms.
As the son went upstairs, Mary Cox saw George sat at the kitchen table. When she said to him “George what have you done?” she noticed a wound in his neck from which blood was flowing and as he tried to speak, he could not and only turned his eyes. George walked around the kitchen table and collapsed on the hearth rug in front of the fire.
When Superintendent Hinton of Melton Police spoke to Mary Cox, he asked “Have you heard of any previous quarrel between the man and his wife?” the response was “No Sir, They have come into my shop together and have always seemed a comfortable pair.
The questions continued: “Was he a steady man, as far as you know?” Mary Cox replied “Yes, he had been a teetotaller for months, in fact, years.”
“Do you think he was jealous of his wife?” Mary again replied “No, I don’t think so. There is always one or two mischief makers who try to upset things, but I don’t believe the man was naturally jealous. He always spoke respectfully of his wife. There might have been a little trouble some months ago, but it was only hearsay, as far as she was concerned, and she did not take any notice of that.”
Dr. J T Tibbles examined the body of George Essex. He found him lying on the hearth rug, lying prone on his face and his feet towards the window. The Doctor could feel no pulse and pronounced him dead. He had a large wound in the neck, from beneath the left angle of the jaw right across the front of the throat to a point below the right of the jaw.
The wound and consequent loss of blood was sufficient to account for death. From the nature and direction of the wound he had no doubt that it was self-inflicted. On a chest of drawers Dr Tibbles saw a razor, it was open, and covered with blood stains. The actual cause of death was syncope from the loss of blood.
At the inquest, George’s sister, Sarah Pick stated that about fortnight ago she received a letter from George, which Mrs. Essex saw, and which she afterwards ascertained she had destroyed.
George wrote asking her to keep an eye on his wife. On a previous occasion when he came home on leave, he had said to Mabel that he knew about her as the talk was all over town. Sarah told him she had heard things, but he must not take notice of what people said, as possibly they made more of it than there was. He replied, “Well, seeing is believing, and if I hear any more you will not see me again.” She then asked him if he meant to keep away, and he nodded his head.
He was certainly very troubled about his wife and was very fond of her, but he thought she was going on in a different way from what she ought, and it preyed on his mind.
The incident was reported in the local press, the Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News. It was also published in other newspapers around the country such as Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Mail, Nottingham Journal, Nottingham Evening Post, Leicester Daily Post, Leicester Chronicle, Coventry Standard and Grantham Journal.
The verdict of suicide could well explain why George is not listed on any of the towns war memorials. There was no strict rule as to who was included on the war memorial or excluded from it. The list of names to be added to the memorials was approved by local committees and quite often, those service personnel who committed suicide were excluded.
Back in 2013, Princess Anne unveiled a new War Horse permanent memorial to commemorate the thousands of horses shipped into battle during WWI have unveiled a bronze model of their statue. Click here for more info.
About 120,000 of the 1.3 million horses and mules involved in the conflict passed through a giant military depot just outside Romsey in Hampshire.
Not everyone that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorate was killed by enemy fire. Consequently, all serving military personnel who died during the First or Second World War, irrespective of the cause or circumstances of their death are commemorated with a headstone where the burial location is known, hence why George has one of the familiar war grave headstones on his grave.
It would appear that around the time that George enlisted into the Army, his wife Mabel had fallen pregnant. Mabel gave birth to a baby boy on 7th July 1915. Tragically George and his new born son, Montague Kitchener George Essex never got to meet each other.
In August 1915, Mabel was informed by the Colonel IC Army Service Corps Records that in view of the circumstances of the death of her husband, a pension for herself and child can not be granted from Army Funds.
Following an appeal, the War Office confirmed that “it has been decided that the widow of No TS/4251 Strapper George Essex, Army Service Corps, may be regarded as eligible under the usual conditions for the grant of a pension from Army Funds”.
According to the pension record card, the amount awarded was 18/6 a week from 1th July 15. Following the successful appeal, the Army were instructed to pay the arrears as a lump sum and to make enquiries as to whether Mabel would like to invest the money into the War Savings scheme.
On 17th July 1919, the War Office issued a list of service personnel who had died on Active Service (A/S) and whose next of kin were to be issued with the Memorial Plaque, commonly referred to as the ‘Death Penny’ and Commemorative Scroll, the list contained the details of TS/4251 Strapper George Essex.
However, the Colonel IC RASC Records at Woolwich queried this in a letter dated 20th September 1919 asking the Secretary of the War Office as to whether the circumstances in which George died should debar the next-of-kin from receiving the plaque and scroll. On the 5th October, the War Office subsequently approved the issue of the plaque and scroll.
After the death of George, his wife Mabel continued living in Melton and never remarried. She passed away in 1948.
Lilian May went on to Marry Kenneth Daley in Melton and passed away in Macclesfield in 2000.
Montague Kitchener George joined the Northamptonshire Regiment during WW2. He married Joyce Weston in Northampton in 1943. He was taken Prisoner of War in 1943 in Germany held in Stalag IVG camp. He survived the war, returned to Northampton and passed away in 1981.
According to George’s service records, the cause of death was recorded as “Suicide self-inflicted wound during a state of temporary insanity due to A/S”.
What was the cause of this temporary insanity? Was it jealousy of his wife, was she having an affair? Was it a result of the injury sustained from being kicked by the horse? Was it the stress of military life, seeing the result of military action resulting in death and destruction in France?
I suppose that we will never know the truth behind this tragic incident in what the press reported as “Soldier goes mad – Suicide follows attempted murder at Melton” or “Another Domestic Tragedy at Melton”.
Soldiers described the effects of trauma as “shell-shock” because they believed them to be caused by exposure to artillery bombardments. As early as 1915, army hospitals became inundated with soldiers requiring treatment for “wounded minds”, tremors, blurred vision and fits, taking the military establishment entirely by surprise. An army psychiatrist, Charles Myers, subsequently published observations in the Lancet, coining the term shell-shock. Approximately 80,000 British soldiers were treated for shell-shock over the course of the war. Despite its prevalence, experiencing shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused of cowardice.
But the concept of shell-shock had its limitations. Despite coining the term, Charles Myers noted that shell-shock implied that one had to be directly exposed to combat, even though many suffering from the condition had been exposed to non-combat related trauma (such as the threat of injury and death) like George Essex. Cognitive and behavioural symptoms of trauma, such as nightmares, hyper-vigilance and avoiding triggering situations, were also overlooked compared to physical symptoms.
Luckily for the sufferers of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it has been recognised that it is these cognitive and behavioural symptoms that define PTSD. The physical symptoms that defined shell-shock during WW1 were often consequences of the nonphysical symptoms.