41 – Courageous Duty Done in Love, He Serves His Pilot Now Above

“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?

CWGC Headstone of Flt Sgt John Hannah VC at Birstall St James Churchyard

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.

Sergeant John Hannah VC

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.

Victoria Drive Secondary School

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.

A class of trainee Wireless Operators receiving instruction in morse code IWM CH 002040

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.

De Havilland Dominie aircraft operated by the “Yatesbury Wireless Flight”

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.

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 Squadron crest (IBCC Archive)

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.

Battle of Britain Day painting by Gary Eason

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.

German invasion barges being loaded with supplies for Operation Sea Lion

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.

83 Squadron Hampden P1355 OL-W

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.

Illustrated London News 10th Oct 1940

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.

VC Recommendation

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”.

Sergeant Hannah VC writing home in hospital. IWM CH 1378
A letter John wrote to his brother whilst in RAF Rauceby Hospital (RAF Museum)
Sergeant Hannah, VC with some of his ward companions. IWM CH 1379

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 John Hannah and Pilot Officer Clare Connnor at Buckingham Palace

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.

                                                                        S.M.C.D.

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. 

Sergeant John Hannah VC & Flight Lieutenant Roderick Learoyd VC with Mr Frederick Handley Page

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.

Painting of Sgt John Hannah VC by Mr Frank O Salisbury

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.

Sergeant J Hannah, VCby Eric Kennignton (Art.IWM ART LD 638)

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.”

Janet and John wedding photo Sunday Mirror 22 June 1941

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.

Flight Sergeant John Hannah V.C. instructing WOp/AG students at RAF Yatesbury (IWM CH 3926)

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.

RAF Association Leicester branch Warriors of the present battles of the skies ball at Leicester Palais de Danse 1943

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.”.

Sergeant John Hannah behind his guns in his Hampden WOp/AG cockpit

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. 

Ipswich Hippodrome Theatre

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. 

Markfield Sanitorium & Isolation Hospital

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. 

St James the Great Church Birstall

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’.

Birstall War Memorial
Birstall War Memorial with plaque showing Johns name

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.

Hannah Parade in Birstall
Hannah VC Citation plaque

On the 15th September 2016, a green plaque was unveiled at the Royal British Legion in Birstall.

John Hannah VC Green Plaque at Birstall Royal British Legion

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.

Victoria Cross Stone of Remembrance at Hawkhead Cemmetery Paisley. (IWM WMR 57780)

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.

John Hannah VC Plaque 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.

St John the Baptist Church Scampton Rose Garden
St John the Baptist Church Scampton Rose Garden Plaque

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.

RAF Scampton Honours & Awards Memorial Board St John the Baptist Church Scampton
RAF Scampton Honours & Awards Memorial Board St John the Baptist Church Scampton

At RAF Swinderby, one of the accommodation blocks was named ‘Hannah’ in honour of John.

Hannah Block RAF Swinderby

The RAF also named a rescue boat Sgt John Hannah at West Freugh near Stranraer in Scotland.

Paisley Daily Express 30 November 1988

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.

John Hannah VC display at RAF Museum
Close up of Johns helmet and goggles at RAF Museum
Johns mic tel/intercom lead at RAF Museum
Johns VC Medal at the TRAF Museum

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.

At the grave of John Hannah VC in St James Churchyard Birstall. Leicester RAF Association Standard Bearer Roy Rudham and Branch Chairman Barry Smart with Sgt Bhav Chouhan and Cadets form 1947 Birstall Squadron ATC. Photo taken 2018

40 – Melton Officer Dies in a Nazi Camp

“Melton Officer Dies in a Nazi Camp” was the headline of the news article published in the Leicester Evening Mail on 11th January 1943.  The officer in question was Peter Anthony Lovegrove.

Leicester Evening Mail 11 January 1943

Peter was born in Melton Mowbray on the 3rd March 1920 as the middle child of 3.  His parents were the late Edward Tyler Lovegrove and his wife Hilda, of Thorpe Arnold.  Peter’s elder brother Vernon was born Sept 1917 and his younger sister Joyce in Dec 1921.

Within a few years of the children being born, their father Edward, died on 16th May 1922 at their home in Thorpe Arnold.  His death was put down to War Related Sickness”…a victim of consumption [pulmonary tuberculosis], primarily contracted through War service.”

Edward had served with the Royal Army Service Corps during the First World War.  He was given a commission in the ASC in 1915 as a Lieutenant when he proceeded to France in the December 1915.  He was promoted to Captain whilst serving with the 55th Division until the summer of 1918 when he was invalided out of the service with a Silver War Badge suffering from the effects of being gassed and having 2 attacks of pleurisy.

Peter, aged 8 was sent for schooling at the Oakham School from 1929 starting off in the Junior House, followed by the School House which he left in 1936.  Whilst at school he had the following achievements

  • Relay Race (under 13): won with team B – Spring 1930.
  • Form 1 Arithmetic Prize: Summer 1930.
  • Scouts: in the Fox patrol – Summer 1932.
  • Cricket under 14: awarded Colours – Summer 1933.
  • Form 4 Trustees’ Prize: Winter 1933.
  • Drama: played Blanch of Spain in the Form 5 production of King John – Spring 1936.
  • Fives: Captain – Winter 1936.
  • O.T.C.: Certificate ‘A’ – Winter 1936.

After leaving school, he trained as a chartered surveyor and on the 24th May 1939, the Nottingham Journal published a list of ‘local candidates’ who had passed their professional examinations of the Chartered Surveyors Institute. Peter was one of those listed that had passed Intermediate Examination Part One.

Fg Off Peter Anthony Lovegrove RAF (VR) (Photo: The Oflag 64 Record website )

Peter volunteered for the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) in November 1939 and was enlisted in 1940 as a Leading Aircraftman and allocated service number 1164992. According to the London Gazette, he was granted a commission for the duration of hostilities as a Pilot Officer on probation wef 9th March 1941 and allocated service number 62324.

After being commissioned, he trained as a pilot and earnt his wings.  He spent some time at RAF Cottesmore and whilst there he visited his old school in Oakham on several occasions.

At some point in his military career, Peter was posted onto No 83 Sqn based at RAF Scampton.

83 Sqn Crest

On the 8th April 1942, No 83 Sqn had been tasked with a bombing raid on Hamburg with their target being the Blohm & Voss shipyard.  Five aircraft from No 83 sqn were involved from the total of 272 aircraft made up of 177 Wellingtons, 41 Hampdens, 22 Stirlings, 13 Manchesters (of which 5 were from 83 Sqn), 12 Halifaxes and 7 Lancasters.

The 83 Sqn Manchesters involved in the raid were: L7484, L7385; R5833; R5838 and L7427 and all equipped with a bomb load of 6 x 1,000lb general purpose bombs.

According to the Bomber Command War Diaries, the raid on Hamburg was not a success.  Icing and electrical storms were encountered and out of the 272 aircraft involved in the raid, only 188 reported bombing in the area.

Later records from Hamburg reported that the equivalent of 14 aircraft loads fell on the city causing 8 fires of which 3 were large.  There was no particular reference to property damage and 17 people were killed and a further 199 injured.

Bremen reported a load of incendiaries were dropped very accurately on the Vulkan shipyard which caused damaged to 4 U-boats under construction plus several surrounding buildings.

In addition to the Hamburg raid, Bomber Command were also carrying out smaller minor operations involving 13 Wellingtons to Le Havre, 3 Blenheims intruding over Holland, 24 aircraft minelaying near Heligoland and 16 aircraft on leaflet flights to Belgium and France.

It was these leaflet raids that 83 Sqn provided 2 Manchesters R5837 and R5873 to carry out a nickel raid on Paris.

From a total if 328 aircraft involved in the two Ops that night, 6 aircraft were lost, 5 from the Hamburg raid and 1 from the leaflet drops.

Bomber Command Report on Night Operations 8th April 1942 Pg 1
Bomber Command Report on Night Operations 8th April 1942 Pg 2

R5837 that took part in the leaflet raid on Paris, took off from Scampton at 21:01Hrs and the crew were: Plt Off Proule; Plt Off Renvoize; Sgt Fitchett; Fg Off Goodman; Plt Off Dickinson; Sgt Neary and Sgt Porter. In addition, the Sqn Intelligence Officer Plt Off R J Dyer had accompanied the crew to gain an insight into operational flying.

On the outbound leg of the sortie, the aircraft was hit by flak in the Starboard engine.  Unable to maintain height, they ditched their leaflets near Calais and started an early run home.  The aircraft ditched in the sea off Manston and only the pilot (Plt Off Proule ) managed to make it to the dingy. The W/Op followed correct procedure and gave a fix which enabled the pilot to be found by the Search and Rescue unit after 14½ hours.  Sadly, the rest of the crew didn’t make it and within a couple of days, the bodies of Plt Off Renvoize and Sgt Fitchett were washed ashore and taken for burial at Thundersley St Peter Churchyard in Essex and Vlieland General Cemetery in the Dutch Friesian Islands respectively.  The rest of the crew have no known grave and are commemorated on the Runnymede memorial.

Manchester L7427 OL-Q 83 Sqn

Peter Lovegrove was the 2nd pilot on Manchester L7427 OL-Q for Queenie tasked with the raid on Hamburg.  His crew mates were:

  • 67046 Pilot Officer Jack Heathcote Morphett RAFVR – 1st Pilot
  • NZ/402188 Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Douglas Hutchinson RNZAF – Navigator
  • 647009 Flt Sgt Albert Henry Salter RAF – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
  • 923926 Sergeant Reginald Stanley Williams RAFVR – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
  • R.66159 Sgt George Charles Fisk RCAF – Air Gunner
  • R.69897 Sgt Charles Dewitt Gellatly RCAF – Air Gunner

According to the 83 Sqn Operational Record Book, they left Scampton at 22:15Hrs and were reported ‘missing without trace’.  Further information has since come to light that L7427 was last heard on wireless transmission at 00.10 hours, at which time it was believed to be in the Lastrup area of Germany.

It was later reported to have crashed in the small town Ermke near Lastrup-Cloppenburg.  It was claimed to have been shot down by Fw Gerhard Goerke 1/NJG3 – West of Lastrup South East of Cloppenburg at 00:49Hrs and also claimed by Flak of 1/schw Res Flak Abt 603 (unknown type) near Lastrup, Cloppenburg at 00:45Hrs.

Sadly, all the crew died in this incident, apart from Peter Lovegrove who as mentioned previously was the 2nd Pilot.

The crew who died on the 9th April were originally interred at the Russian Vechta Cemetery but later they were exhumed and re-buried on the 12th June 47 at the Sage War Cemetery.  Most of the 816 casualties buried in the Sage cemetery were airmen lost in bombing raids over northern Europe whose graves were brought in from cemeteries in the Frisian Islands and other parts of north-west Germany.

There is an interesting story on the ‘Short Stirling & RAF Bomber Command Forum’ website posted by a user relating to this aircraft and the sortie on the 8th April.

“I am doing some research into the earliest use of the radar system H2S first used officially by Bomber Command in January 1943.
The reason is my wife’s uncle was 21 year old commanding Pilot Officer Jack Heathcote Morphett who died on the 9th April 1942 in a raid over Germany.
The story in the family goes that Jack had completed 30 successful missions and was on leave in Wales, R&R when he got a call from his commanding officer at Scrampton.
Two Avo Manchesters were to take part in a raid over Hamburg and the nominated Pilot Officer was regarded as not being sufficiently experienced, and the mission was an important one.
This plane was fitted with some experimental equipment- he told his sister but could not say more, -and it was essential an experienced pilot ensured that if the plane was in difficulty
and had to crash, that the equipment did not fall into the hands of the Germans.The plane left RAF Scrampton at 22.15h.
The last signal was received at 1am over the Lastrup area of Germany, and the plane crashed NE of Cloppenburg.
My mother in law was told by the RAF that Jack managed to get his co-pilot free who bailed out but the plane lost control and he had to ensure that the secret equipment was totally destroyed.
The reference was L7427-01-Q.
Sadly Pilot Officer Lovegrove who bailed out was captured and died in November 1942 in Pozen Old Garrison Prison, Poland.
Does anyone know if this plane might have been fitted with a test rig of H2S? the first operation use was 30th January 1943, and on the 2/3 February a Sterling Pathfinder crashed without destroying
the H2S equipment and Telefunken developed within 6 months a detector of the equipment from the crashed plane.
Surely, before the system went into full operation there must have been some trials?
Any thoughts or advice on where to research this would be much appreciated.
Stephenph.

There is no mention in the record books that Jack Morphett was recalled from leave nor any mention of any special equipment being fitted to L7427.  However, the chat forum goes on to say;

“Two RAF officers came and consoled Barbara Morphett his sister,(later Lady Barbara Lawrence, wife of the Senior Master and Queen’s Remberencer) whom he had taught to fly. They gave her the impression that he may have been forced to crash the plane to destroy certain vital secret equipment.”

Another member of the forum called Volker takes the discussion further:

“I know the crash site exactly. I have located the crash site and explored with a metal detector. I have found many small parts of this Manchester.
For me, a long time it was not clear which aircraft crashed on this pasture. The records in the village chronicles were totally wrong. A difficult case. In the last year I have a found a witness. He is 86 years old and in good health. We talked a long time and he said to me he remembered a name. The name was Palagref.
This crew member was injured taken at night by his family. After a short time I knew that it was the co. pilot P.A. Lovegrove. Now I am in very good contact with the nephew of Peter Anthony Lovegrove. His name is Peter Lovegrove. Peter comes to Germany on 23.April with his family and visit the crash site. We have full support of the community and authoritis. Near the crash site we built a memorial (rockstone with a plaque and a wooden cross) in Memoriam for the crew.
The story is very interesting and I hope other members of the crew see this report. Maybe additional contacts incur.
For any further assistance, I am very grateful. There are many pictures of this aircraft. Unfortunately, there seems to be no pictures of the crew. To date I have only a picture of P. A. Lovegrove.”

As confirmed in the eyewitness account above, Peter was injured and taken in by a German family.  The Leicester Evening Mail on the 10th June 1942 states he had slight injuries to his forearm.  At some point he must have either been captured or handed over to the German authorities as he became a prisoner of war (POW No 778).

He was initially held in Dulag Luft (Lazarett Hohe Mark), from 9th April 1942 until he was transferred to Stalag Luft III (Sagan) on 28th May 1942, then again transferred to Oflag XX1-B (Schubin) on 17th September 1942.

The Leicester Evening Mail and Leicester Chronicle reported in their newspapers on the 10th & 13th June 42 that Pilot Officer Lovegrove, son of the late Captain E T Lovegrove has been promoted to Flying Officer.

It was whilst he was at Oflag XX1-B that he died.  According to a telegram that his mother received from the Geneva Red Cross, dated 23rd November 1942, stating that, according to official German information, he had died in the camp hospital on 12th November 1942 from injuries received as a result of falling accidentally from a high window.

Telegram from the International Red Cross notifying Peter’s mother of his death

He was alone, and it was believed he had been surveying the surrounding countryside with a view to escaping, but lost his balance and was killed instantly when he fell on his head at 2.45pm onto the pavement at the hospital entrance, fracturing his skull.

Oflug Stalag XXI B

This story is recalled in the book “Moonless Night: The Second World War Escape Epic” by B A Jimmy James. “Another tragedy struck soon after.  A young flying officer called Lovegrove fell off the top of the big white house, used as a hospital, to crash to his death three stories below on the concrete path at the entrance.  He was a member of the mapping intelligence department, and a desire to get a good view for his survey had toppled him to his death.”

The last photograph of Peter, taken in the camp just 24 hours before his tragic death. Group portrait of prisoners of war (POWs) at Oflag XXIb in Poland, a German POW internment camp for officers. Left to right: back row: Bromiley, Leetham, John Dicker, unidentified serviceman and Organ. Front row: Lovegrove, Svenson and an unidentified serviceman (Photo Australian War Memorial)

His funeral service and burial at the Szubin Cemetery was described by the Red Cross in a letter to his Mother, on 23rd March 1943, as having taken place with full military honours at 10.30 on 14th November 1942.

Peters funeral

A Chaplain of the Forces conducted the Service where 30 Officers were in attendance, the ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’ were sounded by a British soldier, and 3 volleys fired by a German firing party.  Six wreaths were sent, 4 from his comrades, 1 from the RAF PoWs at Stalag Luft III, and 1 from the German Kommandatur (Military Government Headquarters).

Army bugler

The Oflag 64 Record website recalls a letter from Senior British Officer Wing Commander Harry Day (dated 20th November 1942) which describes in detail all the tragic circumstances of Peter’s death:

“I am a Senior British Officer at this camp and I am writing to tell you how very distressed we all are over the terrible and unexpected accident which overtook your good looking and brave son. I have known him since his first arrival at Stalag Luft 3 and since hence I have a very high opinion of him. I have called a strict investigation to be undertaken by S/L Tench, who knew your son in England and it appears that your son climbed out of the top of 3rd storey window in the hospital building at 2:45 in the afternoon he either became giddy of slipped and fell onto the pavement at the entrance of the hospital. The two British Medical Officers were actually on the scene and attended to your son, but your son must have been killed instantly as he fell on his head. The reason your son climbed out onto the window ledge is not absolutely clear but as there was no one with him, but it can be put down to his keenness to escape. The window being good vantage point to see the countryside. As you probably know your son made one unsuccessful attempt to escape with a man of his spirit I am certain he was planning another”.

Leicester Evening Mail 18 December 1942

The Leicester Evening Mail 18th December 1942 “PRISONER’S FATE A letter the Red Cross has been received by Mrs E T. Lovegrove of Thorpe Arnold stating that her son Pilot Officer Peter Lovegrove RAF a prisoner of war has died through an accident. No cause of death is given. The letter that states that confirmation from the Air Ministry will follow.  This has not come through and enquiries are being made. A few days ago Mrs Lovegrove received a letter from her son stating that he was well set up for the winter in a new camp. and had met old school friends.”

On the 8th October 1948, his body was exhumed from the Szubin cemetery and re-buried in the CWGC Poznan British Military Cemetery (now Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery), Plot 5, Row J, Grave 14.

Following the loss of Manchester L7427 OL-Q for Queenie, the next aircraft on 83 Squadron to be allocated the code ‘Q for Queenie ‘ was Avro Lancaster R5868 OL-Q which was delivered to No 83 Sqn on 29th June 1942.

Lancaster R4868 OL-Q in May 43 whilst with 83 Sqn (Photo Ton-Up Lancs)
Lancaster R5868 OL-Q Groundcrew 83 Squadron (Photo: Ton-up Lancs)

Lancaster R5868 is probably the most famous Lancaster as the one credited with the highest number of ‘ops’ to survive to the present day, completing 137 known operations whilst serving with 83 Sqn, 467 RAAF Sqn, 207 (Leicesters Own) Sqn and back to 467 RAAF Sqn.

The aircraft is now on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon wearing the codes PO-S for Sugar that she wore whilst serving with No 467 RAAF Sqn.

Peter is commemorated on his parents grave at Thorpe Arnold.

39 – Captain Stanley Keith Muir MC

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.

Captain Stanley Keith Muir (Military Cross)

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.

Light Horse Units in training at Broadmeadows 1914

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.

29th Light Horse Cap Badge

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. 

TSS Wiltshire

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. 

Mena Hotel hospital

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.

4th Light Horse Regiment (LHR) with No. 152 Corporal Stanley Keith Muir on the left. (Photo taken c 1 April, 1915)

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

Addington Palace War Hospital

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. 

Maurice Farman MF11 Shorthorn © IWM Q 58597

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.

Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No 2942
Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No 2942

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.

C flight No. 1 Squadron, Captain Richard (Dickie) Williams (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) the OC, is seen in the centre. From left the other officers are; Frank Hubert McNamara (the only AFC winner of the Victoria Cross (VC) in the first world war), L W Heathcote, S K Muir, E G Roberts and L J Wackett, in front of a Martinsyde aircraft. (Wing Commander E G Roberts collection).

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.”

De Havilland DH5 scout (fighter) aircraft (Serial A9245) of 68 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (renumbered as No 2 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps from 19 January 1918) at Harlaxton aerodrome in Lincolnshire, England. AWM C01855

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.

68 Sqn at Harlaxton September 1917

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…”

CWGC Headstone at Harlaxton

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”.

Sqn Ldr Bradley Machan of No 2 Sqn RAAF paying his respects to Captain Stanley Muir MC (Photo Flt Lt Joseph Noble/Australian Air Force News)

36 – “The balloon’s going up!”

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.

A school in the sky over London town – how officers are trained in the Royal Flying Corps. Balloons flying over the capital, training RFC officers in observation and navigation skills in preparation for their role as pilots and navigators. The balloons were often mistaken to be for defence purposes but were used purely for training. Date: 1917

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.

Two observer officers in the basket of a kite balloon. Note the telephones, map rest, parachute and parachute harness. Photograph taken in Gosnay, 2 May 1918

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.

Kite balloon observer testing his telephone before ascending, Sep 1916.

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’.

German Balloon Buster by Larry Selman

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.

An example of an Eaton armoured truck

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. 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO TRACK TEAM, INTER-COLLEGIATE CHAMPIONS, 1912.

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.

RMS Metagama

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.

Kite balloon view of the trench lines around Arras, Nov 1917.

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.

Battle of Arras 1917

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,

A British Caquot kite balloon falling down in flames after having been attacked by an enemy aircraft. Boyelles, France, 3 February 1918.

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.

Bucquoy Road Cemetery

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.

35 – Meltons ‘Barnstormer’ and Pioneer Aviator.

Samuel Summerfield was born in Osmaston in South Derbyshire in 1894.  Records show by his sixth birthday his parents Samuel and Alice Summerfield had arrived and were living in the small community of Sysonby near Melton, they set up as graziers and produced meat for the local market.

Samuel junior was one of eight children and their second son. Ten years on the family were established in their own butchers shop and young Samuel seemed already obsessed with the idea of flight‘.  When not working as a clerk at the Gas works in town, the majority of his spare time and money was directed towards his hobby.

As a young teenager Samuel is recorded as supplying aviation materials by mail order from an address in Sherrard Street. Surrounded by the materials he needed to construct a rudimentary flying machine, it was not long before he was able, at the age of 15 – from eyewitness accounts given by local inhabitants, to glide aboard home-made machines at around the time of Bleriot‘s great achievement.

The Flight magazine published 4th March 1911 published the following:

“Catalogue: Model and Full size aeroplanes, Engines and Accessories. S Summerfield, Sherrard Street, Melton Mowbray. Price 3d.”

In September 1912, Sams enthusiasm and focus shown as a youth, together with a series of flying lessons as a teenager had paid off. Samuel Summerfield was awarded a prestigious Aviators Certificate; No. 292 from the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom having passed the necessary test on a Bristol biplane.

Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates
Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificate No 292

The Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News reported on the 31 July 1913 “A large company assembled on the Nottingham Road ground on Saturday to witness an exhibition by Mr Sam Summerfield, of Melton Mowbray, on his Bleriot monoplane.  Considerable delay was occasioned by a mishap to the machine, and when eventually the local airman attempted a flight, he was caught by a gust of wind directly after leaving the ground and ran with considerable force into a hedge.  The machine was partially wrecked but Mr Summerfield escaped with slight injuries.  In the evening, Mr F Manley made a very successful parachute descent.

Sam Summerfield and Bleriot at Melton Mowbray

Sam sorted out each problem as it arrived and he was known to use two or three different fields, all reasonably close the edge of the town, with possibly ‘his first choice being the Polo ground which lies just south of the railway line that passes the village of Brentingby. Long used as a sports venue, it was an unobstructed and level area of grassland that would have suited his needs adequately.

His second choice was likely to have been the large field that stretched between Nottingham Road, at the junction next to Sysonby Lodge Farm and the rear of the Wymondham Grammar School Farm on Scalford Road. This was a venue which was later to be used by the Government during the period of the Great War by the fledgling members of the new Royal Flying Corps.

Much later, during the 1920‘s, Sam would use the new landing field which was then situated at what is now Norfolk Drive, which runs between Sandy Lane and the Burton Road, but this was at a time when the phenomenon of flying an aeroplane had lost some of its pioneering zeal and a club had been started in Melton for the many new recruits and enthusiasts.

The Flight magazine of 20th December 1913 contained the following article: Mr. Summerfield at Melton Mowbray. In anything but ideal weather Mr. S. Summerfield made a fine flight on his Bleriot machine at Melton Mowbray last Saturday. For most of the time he kept about 1,000 feet up and came down by a splendid spiral vol plane’. There was one apprehensive moment when the machine side-slipped, but the pilot skilfully corrected that in good time.

Shortly afterwards, on the 26th June, the magazine reported ―Mr. Summerfield, of Melton Mowbray, who has recently been flying the Watson rocking wing machine at Buc, had a narrow escape whilst flying his Bleriot monoplane recently. He was coming down in a steep spiral, and, when trying to flatten out at a height of about 50 ft., found that one of his rudder control wires had come adrift, thus rendering the rudder useless. Taking his feet off the rudder bar and placing them on the tank he awaited the smash. The machine struck the ground with great force and was totally wrecked, but Mr. Summerfield escaped practically unhurt. He is of the opinion that had he kept his feet on the rudder bar he would have broken his legs.

Samuel Summerfield Certified Aviator – No 292 – On the Watson Rocking Wing Aeroplane at Buc aerodrome, France.

In 1914 as the world was engaged in the Great War, the Summerfield family were affected, just like many others across the country.  On the Melton Mowbray war memorial, there is a S Summerfield listed and it is often thought to be Sam.   

Sam was the Chief Flying Instructor at the Bournemouth Flying School which had been established by the Bournemouth Aviation Company on farmland at Talbot Village. It was used to train prospective Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilots and, although it was wartime, flights were also available to the public at a cost of £3.

The school was equipped initially with three Caudron type Biplanes of 35,45 & 60 Horsepower and , under the instruction of the chief instructor ,Mr S Summerfield,the pupils built another similar machine.By August 1916 there were 4 aircraft and an additional instructor – Mr E Brynildsen.

Bournemouth Flying School 1916

There was avid public interest in flying and at weekends numerous spectators gathered to watch the aircraft.
A (weekly) report from Flight (May 25 1916) stated…..

” Bournemouth School. Pupils rolling alone last week: Messrs. Kennedy, Barlow, Brandon, Pritt, Scaramanga, Daniel, GreenTurner, Hammersley, and Minchliff.
Straights alone: Messrs. Morley, J. Wilson, O. Wilson, Morris, A damson, Smith, Gordinne, and Barlow.
Figures of eight and circuits alone : Messrs. Frank Simpson and Morley.
Instructors: Messrs. S. Summerfield and Brynildten. 35-45 and 60 h.p. Caudrons in use.
Certificate was taken by Mr. Frank Simpson, who attained a height of 1,300 feet, vol plane’d down, landing right on the mark. His flying was exceedingly good.
On Wednesday Mr. Summerfield gave various exhibition flights before a fair-sized crowd, his steep dives being a feature.
The usual number of visitors were again present on Saturday, and witnessed some fine steep banks and spirals by the same pilot. On one flight he attained a height of 3,000 feet, indulging in all sorts of evolutions with engine off.
Towards the evening, two passengers were taken up, one of whom was Mr. C. Hudson, of Birmingham, who had the pleasure of enjoying several stunts performed by Mr. Summerfield at an altitude of 2,000 feet; afterwards, he spiralled down to earth.”

The school moved to nearby Ensbury Park in 1917 and the site reverted to farming.

Ensbury Park, then on the northern outskirts of Bournemouth, took over from Talbot Woods at the beginning of 1917. Although still a civilian flying school, the Bournemouth Aviation Company continued to train pilots for both the RFC and Royal Naval Air Service, as well as Belgians and Canadians. It claimed to be the best -equipped flying school outside London. Aircraft used included Caudron, Curtiss JN-3s and Avro 504s. On 1 April 1918 the Royal Air Force was formed and the site became RAF Winton.

Sam served in the RFC/RAF during the First World War and survived.  However, the name of the casualty on the memorial is actually that of his younger brother Sidney who was serving with the 8th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment.

On Friday October 13th 1916 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article under the heading. “MELTON AND THE WAR.” – MELTON SOLDIER’S KILLED. During the past week news has reached Melton Mowbray of the death of several more local soldiers. On Sunday morning Mr. S. Summerfield, butcher, Nottingham-street, received the following letter:- “3rd October, 1916. Dear Mr. Summerfield, – It is our painful duty to write and let you know that poor Sid was instantly killed by a shell on the night of the 24th September. Unfortunately neither of us was near him at the time, so his officer took his papers, and was afterwards wounded. We, being great friends of Sid, can sympathise deeply with you in your great loss. If there is anything further you would like to know, we shall be only too pleased to do anything in our power on hearing from you. Yours sincerely, W. G. Butteriss, E. Simpkins.”
The following letter was received by Mr. Summerfield on Tuesday:- “B.E.F., October 5th. Dear Mr. Summerfield, – I write to you with much regret of the sad news of your son Sidney in the recent action that took place on the 24th September, this being my first opportunity of writing. I hardly know how to write such sad news. Though I was not actually with him at the time, I learn from those who were by his side at the time that a wiz-bang shell bursted against him and caused instant death. having been a great chum of Sidney’s for many years, we always made it understood that whatever happened to either of us, one should break the news if possible, and believe me, I am awfully upset to have to write such heart broken news, yet one never knows out here when your turn may come. I saw Sidney only a few hours before he went into the line, and he was the same as he always has been – very cheerful up to the time I left him. I am sure it is very hard for me to write such sad news, but I think it my duty to tell you the truth. It’s lucky for myself that I am able to do so. Sidney being much liked amongst platoon, and always having a good heart, is very much missed by us, and those who have once more returned along with myself, wish me to send you and family their deepest sympathy. I now close my letter, this being our wish made between us to write home who ever got through safely. I remain, yours truly, Pte. H. Warner.
Pte. Sid Summerfield was the third son of Mr. S. Summerfield, and was 20 years of age. He was educated at Melton Mowbray Grammar School, where he took a foremost place in sports and athletics, and won a number of prizes. Afterwards he played for Egerton Park C.C., and in several matches made big scores, always batting in splendid style and seldom failing to punish home balls. Deceased also became a member of Melton Rugby Football Club, for whom he played half-back, and was also a member of the Young Men’s Institute. At the outbreak of the war he was employed at the Great Northern Railway Station, and at once enlisted in the Leicester’s with his friends, Butteriss, Dixon and Simpkins. It will be remembered that some years ago Pte. Sid Summerfield and his brother Alfred nearly lost their lives on the river at Sysonby, at the time their parents resided at Sysonby House, now known as the Riverside Colony. After a frost they were sliding on the river, when the ice broke, and let them in. Mrs. Summerfield and her two daughters bravely rescued them at the risk of their own lives by forming a human chain, and were afterwards awarded life saving certificates. One of the deceased’s brothers is serving with the forces at Salonika, while another is chief flying instructor at the Bournemouth School. It will be noted from the first letter that Sergt. Simpkins, who was last week stated to have been killed, is still safe.

Sids body was never found and he is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme in France.

In addition to the Thiepval Memorial, Sid is also commemorated locally on the King Edward VII Grammar School War memorial at Sage Cross church, the WW1 tryptych at St Marys Church, the WW1 tablet at the RBL Keswick House and the Egerton Lodge War Memorial.

Melton Mowbray King Edward VII Grammar School War Memorial

After serving in the RFC/Royal Air Force during the Great War, Sam earnt a living ‘barnstorming’ and providing leisure flights with a travelling air circus. He also served in the Reserve of Air Force Officers (RAFO) where his promotion to Pilot Officer was ‘Gazetted’ on 23rd March 1926. He held this rank until he relinquished his commission in the RAFO on the 23rd March 1931.

London Gazette 1926

In the summer of 1926, Sam was a pilot working for the Northern Aviation Company taking passengers on pleasure flights. On one occasion, he was the pilot of one such trip with Pearson Hardcastle of Colne Bridge near Huddersfield and Margaret Mercer of Heysham in Lancashire were passengers on a pleasure trip around the Morecambe area.

Shortly after takeoff, Sam noticed an unusual draft around the back of his neck. Almost at the same time as the other passenger touch him on the shoulder, he turned around and saw Pearson Hardcastle in the 2nd seat behind the pilot standing up with his hands above his head.  In a flash, the man had disappeared over the side of the plane falling to his death.  The inquest into the incident concluded that the man had suffered a sudden heart failure resulting in him falling from the aircraft and no blame was attributed to Sam as the pilot.

Sam, aged 40, made a life-changing commitment when he left England on the 2nd November 1934 aboard the P&O Electric Ship Strathnaver, The first of five Strath Sisters was specifically designed for the UK-Suez-Bombay-Australia run.

A painting of Strathnaver on the Suez Canal Egypt by artist Roger H. Middlebrook

He travelled to Brisbane in Australia with another pilot, 28 year old Maurice Brunton whom he lived with at 13 Lewin Road Lambeth, London SW16.  The two pilots travelled 3rd/Tourist class.

Sam had had been flying planes in England and western Europe since before World War One. He had been barnstorming around Queensland and the Northern Territory when he flew into the new Tennant Creek goldfield, being the first plane to ever arrive at the new settlement.

His plane was blown away by a dust storm, and damaged beyond repair. So he stayed on at Tennant Creek as a prospector, owning the Mary Lane lease for 30 years.

The trip ‘down under’ was only intended to be a six months return trip working to earn a few shillings in the ‘off’ season.  However, it became a one-way migration when, after a very short period of flying his plans were shattered.  He was diagnosed with a hearing defect which had been traced back to his exposure to an explosion in the early days of hostilities of the First World War.  The Australian authorities deemed this sufficient enough to prevent him from obtaining a commercial pilot’s licence in Australia which meant that he was never to fly again.

Sam Summerfield

He stopped prospecting in 1966 after falling and breaking a hip, then died the following year on the 2nd April aged 73. He is buried in the small mining town of Tennant Creek.

34 – Burton Lazars Mid Air Collison

During the spring of 1943, the airfield at Melton Mowbray was still in the process of being built, but the sight of Royal Air Force aircraft over the skies of the market town would not have been an unfamiliar sight due to aircraft overflying the new airfield and the location of other RAF airfields in the locality.

The RAF was going about its usual business training new crews from training bases just across the border in Nottinghamshire.

RAF Wigsley was situated to the East of the County, 12 miles North East of Newark. It was the home of No. 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, Nottinghamshire, No. 5 Group, Bomber Command whose role was to train new crews on operating the mighty Lancaster Bomber.

At another base, again just North of Newark, No 12 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit was busy training new pilots on the Airspeed Oxford at RAF Ossington.

During the early evening of the 8th April 1943, Lancaster L7545 of No 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit was airborne from RAF Wigsley training a new Lancaster crew for Bomber Command.

Lancaster L7545 was a war veteran having previously been on No 44 Squadron as KM-K and taken part in a raid a year earlier on 28th/29th April 1942 on the German Battleship Tirpitz which was moored off Fættenfjord in Norway.

The crew onboard L7545 on the evening of 8th April 1943 consisted of 6 students and 2 instructors:

BAILEY Thomas, 1412311, Sergeant, Bomb Aimer, RAF(VR)

DAVISON Robert Fairburn, 1123089, Sergeant, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, RAF(VR)

MARTIN Douglas George, 1810891, Sergeant, Air Gunner, RAF(VR)

PILGRIM Brian Gordon, 1388935, Sergeant, Air Gunner, RAF(VR).  

UPPERTON Leslie Raymond, 1318579, Sergeant, Navigator,  RAF(VR)

WALKER George Frederick Maurice, 566666, Sergeant, Flight Engineer, RAF.  

WALLACE John, 1030121, Sergeant, Pilot, RAF(VR)

WOLTON James Herbert DFM, 143996 Pilot Officer (ex-1101527 Sergeant), Flight Engineer, RAF(VR).

Lancaster L7545 had been airborne for about 30 minutes after taking off from RAF Wigsley when it was flying over Burton Lazars, a little village just on the outskirts of Melton Mowbray when tragedy struck.

No 44 Squadron Lancaster

Also flying in the same area was an Airspeed Oxford Mk. I, Serial No. AB665, of No. 14 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, No 21 Group at RAF Ossington crewed by two Canadians.

Airspeed Oxford

LEMMERICK John Albert, R/123711, Sergeant, Pilot, RCAF.

MOORS Arthur Anthony, R/119562, Sergeant, Pilot, RCAF.

Both aircraft were flying at a height of about 2,000 feet when they collided at 18:15Hrs over Burton Lodge, Burton Lazars, approximately 2 miles South East of Melton Mowbray.

Tragically, all 8 of the Lancaster crew plus the 2 Canadians in the Oxford were killed in the collision. The Oxford came down near Burton Lodge farm and the Lancaster just a few fields away on the old polo ground at Brentingby. 

The bodies of the deceased crewmen were taken to were taken to the Station Mortuary at Cottesmore. The Two Canadians plus two of the Lancaster crew were buried in the St Nicholas Churchyard extension at Cottesmore, whilst the other 8 crews bodies were claimed by their families and repatriated to their home towns.

Sgt George Frederick Maurice Walker (known as Maurice) is buried in the Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard Extension. He was born at Sydenham in London on 30 July 1917. His parents were Nancy and George Walker.

Sgt George Frederick Maurice Walker

Maurice enlisted into the RAF on 5th September 1933 at the age of 16 and began his RAF career on No 1 Wing at RAF Halton taring to be a fitter. According to his service records, his posting wish list following completion of training was 1 – Biggin Hill, 2- Farnborough and 3 – Northolt.

Sgt George Frederick Maurice Walker

On the 11th March 1936, Maurice was posted from No 1 Wing RAF Halton to 19(F) Sqn at RAF Duxford and was promoted to AC 1st Class on the 21st August 1936.  He stayed on 19(F) Sqn until 5th May when he was transferred to 66(F) Sqn at Duxford. He remained on 66(F) Sqn until 2nd March 1938 when he was posted to the RAF Deport Middle East at RAF Aboukir, near Alexandria in Egypt.

On the 17th March 1939, Maurice was promoted to LAC and then to Corporal on the 1st November 1939. He remained out in the Middle East moving between units: No 103 Maintenance Unit, No 31 (Middle East) Air Stores Park, No 51 Repair & Salvage Unit, No 254 Wing, Maintenance Section Port Said and High Speed Launch Marine Craft 121.

Throughout his career as an aircraft fitter, Maurice qualified to work on aircraft such as the Gauntlett II, kestrel, Hart, Blenheim and Hurricanes plus the Mercury VI and Merlin engines.

On the 1st September 1941, Maurice got promoted to T/Sgt and was posted to 171 Sqn. As a Sgt, Maurice became a Flight Engineer and underwent training at various units including No 1656 Conversion Unit, No 4 School of Technical Training, No 1654 Conversion Unit, No 106 Sqn and back to No 1654 Conversion Unit in March 1943.

Sgt Brian Gordon Pilgrim was the only son of of Mervyn and Lily Pilgrim, of Pembury, Kent. He is buried in the Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard extension.

Sgt Brian Gordon Pilgrim
Sgt Brian Gordon Pilgrim

Sgt John Albert Lemmerick was the son of George and Leta Lemmerick, of Traverse Bay, Manitoba, Canada. His brother, George Earl Lemmerick, also died on service.

Sgt John Albert Lemmerick RCAF

He is buried in the Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard Extension. His brother George was also serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Flying Officer with No 419 Squadron and was killed on the 28 January 1944 when his Halifax bomber JP119 VE-O crashed at Zuhlen near Rheinsberg. He is buried in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.

Sgt John Albert Lemmerick

Sgt Arthur Anthony Moors was the son of Walter Anthony and Gwendoline M. Moors, of Sanford, Manitoba, Canada. He is buried in the Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard Extension.

Sgt Arthur Moors RCAF
Sgt Arthur Anthony Moors

P/O James Herbert Wolton was the instructor Flt Engineer aboard Lancaster L7545 when it crashed.

Plt Off Jim Wolton

PO James ‘Jim’ Herbert Wolton was the fourth son of Mrs Wolton and the late Mr T Wolton, of Kenya, Eric Avenue, Chelmsford. A native of Clacton, where the family was well known, he was 27 and unmarried.

Of his 6 brothers, John Wolton was a company officer in the NFS, Fred was a patrolling officer in the same service, Leslie and Kenneth were both in the RAF and Tom was serving with the RASC.

Jim, as he was known, had previously completed an operation tour with No 50 Sqn as a Sgt Flt Eng and was awarded a DFM only two months prior to the crash in recognition of his actions in helping to bring a crippled aircraft back.

Jim is buried in the Broomfield (St. Mary) Churchyard.

33 – George Medal Award for Cottesmore Blazing Bomber Rescue

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.

RAF Cottesmore airfield Post WW2 with extended runways

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.

No 14 OTU Crest
No 14 OTU Crest Approval

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.

Wellington bomber in front of a hangar similar to 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.

Headstone of Sgt Cuthbertson at Cottesmore St Nicholas Churchyard Extension

Sgt Cuthbertson is commemorated on the Panel 121, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra (Australian Capitals Territory).

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.

Headstone of Sgt Eric Robinson at St Mary’s Churchyard, Runwell

Sgt Robinson is commemorated on the memorial plaque at the Runwell Village Hall, on the Wickford Memorial at Runwell Memorial Park and also on the memorial plaque at Wickford St Catherine’s Church.

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.

Group Captain Strang Graham

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.

Group Captain Strang Graham, MC., [fourth from right – front row] outside the Officers Mess at RAF Cottesmore. © IWM CH 10417

Behind every gravestone there is a story to be told

32 – The Death of a Royal Navy WW2 Chaplain

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.

Christ Church Wesham

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.

CWGC Headstone of Rvd Percy Jefferson MA

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.

HMT Olympic

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. 

W Beach Cape Helles Gallipoli

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.

No 19 General Hospital Alexandria

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

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’. 

HMS Stalker

Charles died on the 21st August 1944, and is buried in the St. Remy-De Provence Old Communal Cemetery in the private vault of the Leger family, France.

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.

CWGC Headstone of Rvd Percy Jefferson MA

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.

WW2 Memorial Tablet Christ Church Wesham

They Gave Their Today

31 – A Last Goodbye at Melton

In my last blog 30 – Melton Airmen killed in Mediterranean bomber crash we looked at the story of a New Zealand airman who was tragically killed when his Wellington bomber crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on a Ferry Trip to the Middle East.

In this blog, we look at another tragic accident involving a RAF airman with links to Melton Mowbray.

Catherine Drummond had been stationed in Oban, Argyll, as a wireless operator in the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force when she met Sergeant John Boyd who was a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and they eventually married in Catherine’s hometown of Bridge of Allan in October 1943.

Boston in ‘desert’ camo

RAF Melton Mowbray was completing the despatch of Boston Mk IIIs as part of Commitment 73 during May 1944. Many of the Boston Mk IIIs that were ferried out had already been with Squadrons in the UK either in either night fighter or intruder versions.

John & Catherine’s last treasured moments were shared in a B&B near his base at RAF Melton Mowbray. John left RAF Melton Mowbray on 25th May 1944 with his plane dipping its wings as a final goodbye to her as he flew off to Europe.

It may well be that John Boyd was with one of these squadrons in 1943 when he met Catherine and went through Melton Mowbray in May 1944 as part of a “refors“ crew taking a “redundant” Boston Mk III to the Mediterranean where he arrived eventually at 114 Squadron which then converted to Mk IVs.

There were two kinds of crew – reinforcement or “refors” and Ferry. By 1944 the majority of the crews were specialist Ferry Crews who carried out their deliveries and returned to Britain.

At the beginning of the war most crews had been “refors” and they had stayed with the aircraft at the squadron overseas. In that case both crew and aircraft were reinforcements. John Boyd appears to have been part of a reinforcement crew which stayed together with 114 Squadron once they had been assigned after arriving in the Mediterranean.

No 114 squadron

No 114 Sqn was moved to Blida in Algeria in November 1942 as part of No 326 Wing tasked with supporting the British First Army.  The Sqn was equipped with the Bristol Bisley, the ground attack version of the Blenheim.  It had poor performance and was vulnerable to fighter attack, and the Sqn was therefore largely confined to night bombing. Bisley losses continued to be high.

In January 1943 the squadron relinquished its Bisley aircraft to No 614 Squadron, and waited for new aircraft, receiving more Bisleys in February and returning to operations. In March the squadron finally received more modern equipment, replacing its Bisleys with Douglas Boston light bombers and returned to operation with its new aircraft on 21st April 1943.

The squadron then operated from Sicily and Italy, having been re-equipped with Douglas Boston aircraft.

On the 25th of August 1944 John was serving with 114 Sqn and crewed up with W/O Dowland pilot and F/Sgt Potter AG when their Boston Mk IV BZ465 developed engine failure and went down in waters just across from Elba, in Tuscany.

The ORB says that on that night BZ465 took off at 2.18am and landed at 5.23am. Then on 25th August W/O Dowland crashed in the sea off Piombino Point in Tuscany while on an air test. Nobody knows how the accident happened. The report came through that a Boston had been seen losing height over the sea. Unfortunately a New Zealand soldier on rest from the front line was also in the aircraft. All in the aircraft were killed”.

A day or so later -“The dinghy and two helmets were recovered from the scene of the crash of our aircraft on 25thAug. This is all that has been found so far.” Only two of the four crews bodies were recovered and John and his plane remained at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Catherine had written to John to tell him she was pregnant and he was overjoyed but just before her daughter’s birth in September she was informed he was missing in action. She prayed that he was a prisoner of war and despite receiving a telegram informing her he was almost certainly killed, without his body she failed to believe it and lived in hope he would return to her.

Catherine said: “His body hadn’t been found so I never gave up hope until all the prisoners of war were home. I was down for a long time. I missed him very much and I kept wondering, why me?” Her prayers remained unanswered and five years later, without even a covering letter, the MoD sent her John’s flight logbook. Its lists of sorties to France and Italy come to an abrupt stop with the words, “presumed dead”. “It seemed so final and it was such a shock to see that book suddenly arrive with his handwriting all over it.”

John is commemorated by name on panel 14 of the CWGC Malta Memorial along with the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives in the various World War II air sorties and battles around the Mediterranean and who have no known grave.

RAF Memorial Malta

30 – Melton Airmen killed in Mediterranean bomber crash.

For those who are not familiar with the role of RAF Melton Mowbray during World War Two, it was a base within Transport Command and was used for ferrying aircraft to overseas bases. More information can be seen in my previous blog 15 – RAF Melton Mowbray.

One airman based at Melton with No 1 Ferry Crew Pool was Flt Sgt Kenneth Hansen of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). 

Flt Sgt Kenneth Hansen RNZAF

Kenneth was born on the 21st September 1921 to Hans Helge Wagner Hansen, and Isabel Hansen (nee Swetman, later Sardelich). He was educated at Northcote Intermediate School, and became a farmer on the property of Mr. D. Christie near Te Awamutu.

Prior to joining the RNZAF, he served for four and a half years in the New Zealand Territorial Army with the 15th North Auckland Regiment. He joined the RNZAF on the 6th of May 1942 at Ohakea as an Aircraft hand (General Duties).

On the 6th of June 1942 Kenneth started training at the Initial Training Wing, RNZAF Station Levin, and on the 15th of that month he officially remustered to become a Wireless Operator-Air Gunner under training.

Kenneth embarked for Canada on the 20th of July 1942, and was attached to the Royal Canadian Air Force on the 18th of August 1942. The following day he arrived at No. 1 M Depot to await a course, and on the 30th of that month he was posted to No. 3 Wireless School at Winnipeg, Manitoba.  After passing his wireless training, Kenneth was posted to No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School, at Lethbridge, Alberta, on the 17th of April 1943.

On the 31st of May 1943 Kenneth passed out of training, being awarded his Air Gunner’s badge, and being promoted to Sergeant. He was also remustered to officially be part of the trade as a Wireless Operator-Air Gunner.

Kenneth was posted next on the 12th of June 1943 to No. 36 Operational Training Unit, RAF, which was flying Lockheed Hudsons from Greenwood, Nova Scotia. After three months he proceeded on the 11th of September to No. 1 Y Depot, Halifax to await a troopship to England. He was now attached to the Royal Air Force and set sail for the UK on the 13th of September 1943.

Following his arrival in the UK, seven days after leaving Halifax, Kenneth was posted to No. 12 Personnel Dispatch & Reception Centre at Brighton, where he awaited the next course. This came on the 2nd of November 1943 when he reported to No. 104 Operational Training Unit to gain experience on Vickers Wellingtons.

On the 21st of December 1943 Kenneth was posted to No. 44 Group, Transport Command and on the 11th of January 1944 he became a member of No. 1 Ferry Crew Pool (FCP) based at RAF Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.

No 1 FCP had just arrived at Melton in January 44 from RAF Lyneham. The FCP was a group of ferry crews which worked with Ferry Training Units to provide specialist ferry crews whenever they were needed. No 1 FCP had 160 crew members available and were trained to fly several aircraft types including the Wellington, Beaufighter, Hudson, Boston, Blenheim, Halifax, Spitfire, Mosquito and Beaufort.

Royal Air Force Transport Command

Whilst assigned to No 1 FCP, Kenneth would be used by No. 1 Overseas Aircraft Despatch Unit, part of Transport Command, to act as Wireless Operator aboard aircraft being ferried from Britain to overseas stations.

Ferry crews normally did 3 or 4 trips a month. The return trip could be a source of delays for the crews as they had to hitch rides back to the UK and had to wait for an aircraft coming back with the necessary space to accommodate them.

On the 6th of February 1944 Kenneth was part of a crew that ferried a Vickers Wellington bomber to to Staging Post 70 at Rabat Sale in Morocco, returning to Britain aboard a Consolidated Liberator on the 11th of February.

A few weeks later, on the 6th March 1944, Kenneth was part of the crew aboard another Wellington X, serial number LP199, piloted by Flying Officer George Ballard, RAAF. They took off from RAF Portreath, Cornwall, at 02.25hrs and headed south, well out to sea away from enemy fighter cover. The other crew members aboard LP199 for the ferry trip were: Flying Officer Peter Bradley, Flying Officer Ronald Gee and Sergeant Francis Marchant.

The crew of a Vickers Wellington Mk II board their aircraft. © IWM HU 107785

As they were making their final approach to Gibraltar (Staging Post 73), and were only two miles out, when the aircraft stalled just 40 feet off the water, and crashed into the sea. It is believed that the airspeed was inadvertently allowed to drop too low while the pilot concentrated on his approach to the aerodrome in poor weather.

Kenneth and his crew mates died on the 6th of March 1944, in the sea off Gibraltar, and are commemorated on The Runnymede Memorial.

Flt Sgt Kenneth Hansen is commemorated on Panel 264 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Fg Off George Jamess (Dood) Ballard 425417 Royal Australian Air Force was the son of James William Ashby Ballard, and of Elizabeth Beatrice Ballard of Tooting, Queensland Australia. George Ballard is commemortated on Panel 257 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Fg Off Peter Bradley is commemorated on Panel 204 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Fg Off Ronald Gee was the youngest son of George and Georgina Gee of Wheeldon Avenue Derby. Ronald joined the RAF(VR) in January 1942 and completed his training in Canada where he received his commission. Prior to joining up, he worked for Rolls Royce Ltd at Derby. His brother George, was killed in January 1942 whilst serving in the RAF as a pilot. They were both Old Bemrosians. Ronald is commemorated on Panel 206 of the Runneymede Memorial.

Fg Off Ronald Gee

Sgt Francis Marchant is the son of Harry and Winifred Marchant of King’s Stanley, Gloucestershire. Francis is commemorated on Panel 234 of the Runnymede Memorial.

Runnymede Air Forces Memorial

The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Vernon Hill. The Memorial was unveiled by HM The Queen Elizabeth II on 17th October 1953.

It has engraved glass and painted ceilings designed by John Hutton and the words from the 139th Psalm, sometimes referred to as the Airman’s Psalm engraved on the gallery window was written by Paul H Scott.

If I climb up into
Heaven, thou art there;
If I go to hell,
Thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the
Morning and remain in the
Uttermost parts of the
Sea, even there also
Shall thy hand lead
Me; and thy right
Hand shall hold me

It soon became the best known of the Commission’s memorials in England. Maufe shunned the grandiose of the Commission’s tradition as he was determined to use the drama of the site both internally and by exploiting its broad views from Coopers Hill on on the banks of the River Thames sweeping down towards Heathrow and Windsor.

The site is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and commemorates over 20,000 men and women of the air forces by name, who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves

They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.

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