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.
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 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 Memorialalong 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.
In 2019, Catherine was ineterviewed as part of the War Widows’ Stories project. To hear the recording of the interview, visit their website here.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Leonard Ashby Court was born in Leicestershire in 1919, his father was also called Leonard Ashby Court and his mother was Kate (May) Eagle.
According to the 1911 Census, his father Leonard Ashby Court was living at home at 25 Lonsdale Street Leicester and was listed as a 15 year old employed in hosiery manufacturing. The other occupants of the household were, a 3rd generation relative also called Leonard Arthur Court aged 40, who was a cigar maker originally from Warwick, Eliza Court his wife aged 42 and Frederick Court aged 6.
In the 1st Quarter of 1919, Leonard Ashby Court married Kate May Eagle in Leicester and on the 13th September, the 3rd generation Leonard Ashby Court was born.
Sadly in 1922, just a couple of years later, Leonard (2nd Generation) died, leaving his wife Kate May as a widow at the age of 25. However, a couple of years later, she re-married, Bernard Toms with whom she went on to have more children with.
On the 1st September 1939, the same day that World War 2 started when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland and Britain declared war against Germany, the National registration Bill was read out in the House of Commons. Two days later, the National Registration Act was passed and the 29th September 1939 was declared as the National Registration Day.
According to the 1939 register, Leonard Ashby Court was a costing clerk working within the machine tools industry. He was living with his parents, Kate and Bernard in a property on Main Street in Barkby, Leicestershire and their sons, Carl, Terence and Brian.
At some point after this, Leonard joined the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) as a pilot and after gaining his wings, he joined No 7 (Coastal) Operation Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Limavady.
In 1941 at Barrow Upon Soar, Leonard was married to Joyce Enid Whiles and the couple had a son born in September 41.
Royal Air Force Limavady near Derry in Northern Ireland was the first of over 20 new airfields constructed in Northern Ireland during the war and was handed over to 15 Group.
The base was used by Coastal Command in the fight against German U-Boats in the Atlantic Ocean and was home to several RAF Units during WW2 operating large numbers of Whitleys, Hudsons and Wellingtons of 502, 224 and 221 Squadrons, respectively.
Operations from Limavady accumulated about 25,600 flying hours on convoy patrols during its first year of service which was a record achievement among airfields of No 15 Group during the period.
In April 1942, it was transferred from 15 Group to 17 Group for training purposes and the operational squadrons withdrew being replaced by No 7(C) OTU equipped with Wellingtons and Ansons until January 1944.
After No No 7(C) OTU had departed, Limavady once again became an operational base with Nos 172, 407 and 612 Squadron operating the Wellington and the Fleet Air Arm 850 Squadron operating Avengers within 15 Group.
After the war, the base was handed over to the Royal Naval Air Service who operated out of it until 1958.
No. 7 OTU was originally formed on 15 June 1940 at RAF Hawarden in Flintshire, Wales and operated a variety of aircraft including Supermarine Spitfires and Fairey Battles. After a few months, the Unit was disbanded on 1st Nov 1940 when it became No 57 OTU.
On the 1st April 1942, it was reformed at Limavady operating Vickers Wellingtons and Avro Ansens. The OTU role was to train and build together crews for Coastal Command’s operational Squadrons, similar to the OTU’s in Bomber Command.
Each member of the crew would have undertaken their basic service training prior to this before going on to learn their particular trades at separate training facilities. At this stage in 1943, it is possible that some of the crew members may have done some off their initial training in Canada or another of the Commonwealth countries.
On 28th February 1943, a Mark VIII Wellington bomber, serial number HX737 operated by No 7(C) OTU took off from RAF Limavady on a training flight with 6 crew on board with Sergeant Leonard Court as the Captain for this particular sortie. The crew who were all Sergeants, consisted of 2 pilots, 1 Navigator and 3 Wireless Operator/Air Gunners.
Pilot – Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court (Captain)
Pilot – Sergeant John D’Arcy Wall
Navigator – Sergeant John Steen Campbell
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant Geoffrey James Scott Farthing
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant James Gilmore
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sergeant Ronald William Gutteridge
The aircraft they were flying that day, HX737 was built by Vickers at their factory in Weybridge, Surrey. It was delivered to the RAF and taken on strength by No 32 Maintenance Unit on the 2nd of September 1942, thence to 33 Maintenance Unit and was delivered to 7 (C) OTU only on the 9th of February 1943, less than 20 days before the crash.
Many of the residents of Falcarragh, a small Gaeltacht town in County. Donegal were on their way to mass on the morning of Sunday the 28th Feb when they heard a plane circling overhead. At around 0915hrs, Vickers Wellington HX737 crashed into turf banks at Meenderry near to Falcarragh. This area was in the “Donegal Corridor”, an area of airspace over neutral Ireland in which Allied planes could operate on the Atlantic coast.
The impact destroyed Vickers Wellington HX737 killing all 6 crew members. Wreckage lay across surrounding fields while the aircraft’s heavy Pegasus engines submerged in the boggy ground.
A rescue and recovery operation by 17th Infantry Battalion found 4 bodies on the day of the crash. The following day the bodies of the remaining 2 crew members were recovered. The army also collected 4 Browning machine guns, 2 Vickers K machine guns, and around 200 rounds of damaged ammunition. A military truck removed around 2 tons of scrap metal, leaving the rest buried at the crash site.
The Operation Record Book for No 7(C) OTU dated 28th February 1943 shows the following entry: “Wellington a/c H.X. 737 (Capt Sgt Court) crashed in Eire and caught fire. The crew of 6, Sgts Wall, Court, Campbell, Gutteridge, Farthing and Gilmore were killed.”
The Leicester Chronicle reported on the 13th March 1943 that “Mrs Court of Barkby, has received news that her husband, Sergeant Pilot Leonard Court, Coastal Command, RAF; has been killed on active service. The Sergeant pilot was the eldest son of Mr & Mrs Toms, of the Stores, Barkby. He was aged 22.
Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court was buried in Grave 48, Section W of the Barkby Cemetery. He would have had a standard Portland Stone grave marker (Commission headstone) provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as according to his CWGC recordsthe family chose the following personal inscription “LIFE’S RACE WELL RUN LIFE’S WORK WELL DONE LIFE’S VICTORY WON NOW COMETH REST”
This inscription has a strange history. It comes from the first verse of a poem written in 1879 by Edward Hazen Parker for a friend’s funeral. He based it on the words from The Epistle of St Paul to the Hebrews 4:9, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God”. Translated into Latin by another friend, W.H. Crosby, both the English and Latin versions were published in the New York Observer on 13 May 1880.
Following a clamour in the newspapers, the author of these lines was eventually traced back to Edward Hazen Parker.
It received no further publicity until over a year later when much to Parker’s surprise a slightly amended first verse appeared on the plaque placed on the assassinated US President James Garfield’s coffin.
Life’s race well run, Life’s work well done, Life’s crown well won, Now comes rest.
The difference was explained by the fact that someone had come across the Latin version first. Not realising it had originally been written in English they had freely translated it, improving the scan, so they thought, as they went. This is the version that was picked up, circulated and became extremely popular all over the world. It’s popularity boosted in 1882 by its publicised usage on the headstone of one of Queen Alexandra’s faithful servants.
It would appear that at some point in time, the Commission headstone was removed and replaced by a personal memorial which commemorates both Leonard and his mother Kate.
Sergeant Leonard Ashby Court is commemorated on the Barkby War memorial located inside St Mary’s Church.
The memorial consists of a wall mounted, portrait orientated white marble tablet with a laurel wreath surmounted by a crown encircling a cross, all in relief. Within the wreath are the names of WW1 fallen, in black lettering. Inscriptions to either side of cross & below wreath, also in black lettering.
Immediately below WW1 tablet is a landscape orientated, WW2 tablet with scalloped top corners containing the names of the WW2 casualties & inscription in black lettering.
The first fatal accident involving a Saro Lerwick flying boat occurred on 20th Feb 1940 when the pilot of L7253 ‘WQ-G’ of 209 Squadron attempted to land off Lismore Island near Oban in poor visibility.
The pilot was Flight Sergeant George Arthur Corby (known as Arthur), Mentioned in Dispatches and 2 Bars, was the Son of George William and Mary Jane Corby, of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire and husband of Nellie Corby.
George was born in Ketton, near Stamford on 23rd April 1912 and was the middle child of 3 sons, John Charles being the elder and Philip Anthony the younger.
According to the Chelmsford Chronicle, George was educated at Palmer’s School from 1925-1927.
He joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice on 23rd August 1927, joining the 16th Entry, No 4 Apprentice Wing at RAF Halton. He is listed on the Old Haltonians 16th Entry Roll of Honour.
When George turned 18 on the 23rd April 1930, he signed on for a 12 year engagement.
At some point in his career, Arthur transferred to aircrew and became a Sergeant Pilot.
No 209 Squadron was originally equipped with Stranraers, which arrived in December 1938. On the outbreak of World War Two, No.209 moved to Invergordon to fly patrols over the North Sea between Scotland and Norway. In October 1939 it moved to Oban for patrols over the Atlantic and in December began to re-equip with Lerwicks.
The crew onboard L7253 ‘WQ-G’ at the time of the incident was: Flight Sergeant (Pilot) George Arthur Corby, Pilot Officer William Edwin Ogle-Skan, AC2 Alan Taylor, AC1 Richard J. Webber, AC2 Lawrence H. Trumay, and LAC George Peterson.
The aircraft took off from Oban at 11.30 Hrs and was forced to return at 12.30 Hrs due to bad weather. On reaching Oban the pilot decided to land well out in the Firth of Lorne due to poor visibility. Apparently owing to an error in judgment he stalled the aircraft onto the water causing it to bounce several times some 5 miles west of Oban off the lighthouse at the southern point of Lismore Island. In doing this the starboard wing tip float was knocked off and the aircraft heeled over causing water to enter through the windows. All the crew managed to get out into the water before the aircraft sank. The aircraft was salvaged and used as a training airframe and sinks later in a gale at Wig Bay Loch Ryan.
Arthur Corby drowned in the incident and his body was recovered. The bodies of three of the airmen: AC1 Richard Webber, AC2 Lawrence Trumay, and LAC George Peterson were never recovered and P/O William Edwin Ogle-Skan, AC2 Alan Taylor survived.
The CWGC Casualty database shows that Arthur was interred in Block B, Row 4 Grave 54 at Langdon Hills(St. Mary and All Saints) Old Churchyard Essex.
The Lerwick seaplane was not a success. They had a poor service record and a high accident rate; of the 21 aircraft built, 10 were lost to accidents and one for an unknown reason. After flying patrols from Wales and Scotland they were declared obsolete and replaced by Catalinas in April 1941.
The last of a total of 21 Lerwicks was delivered in May 1941 but the type was withdrawn from front-line service in the same month. Most of the remaining Lerwicks were transferred to Number 4 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit at Invergordon; three were sent to 240 Squadron for service trials at the highly-secret Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Helensburgh.
In mid-1942, the Lerwicks were briefly returned to service, for the purpose of operational training with 422 Squadron and 423 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, based at Lough Erne. By the end of 1942 the type had been declared obsolete; by early 1943 the survivors had been scrapped.
The men of the Army Service Corps (ASC) were jokingly referred to as Ally Sloper’s Cavalry, after the scruffy, vulgar, gin-swilling loafer Victorian comic strip superstar famous for sloping off down the alley to avoid the rent collector. It was a good choice – the men in its ranks needed the same cheerful disregard for danger as they ducked and dived around the fighting soldiers,
Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition and during the Great War, they could not move without horses or vehicles. It was the job of the ASC to provide them. In the Great War, the vast majority of the supply, maintaining a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won.
A Remount Squadron consisted of approximately 200 soldiers, who obtained and trained 500 horses. The soldiers of the Remount Depots were generally older, experienced soldiers.
The Central Remount Depot was based at Aldershot with additional Remount Depots (No.1 at Dublin, No.2 at Woolwich, No.3 at Melton Mowbray and No.4 at Arborfield).
The acquisition of horses for the war effort was an enormous operation. In his book, The horse and the war, Sidney Galtrey states that 165,000 horses were ‘impressed’ by the Army in the first twelve days of the war alone. Records show that during the course of the war some 468,000 horses were purchased in the UK and a further 618,000 in North America.
This massive increase in numbers required a rapid expansion of the Remount Service. Four additional main Remount Depots were established at the following locations:– Shirehampton (for horses received at Avonmouth), Romsey (for Southampton), Ormskirk (for Liverpool) (depot situated at Lathom Park) and Swaythling (a collecting centre for horses trained at the other three centres for onward shipment overseas).
As you wander around Thorpe Road cemetery in Melton Mowbray, you will see the familiar gleaming white Portland stone grave markers/headstones. Standing proudly above the graves of military personnel, they mark the graves of those who had died whilst serving their country, some through enemy action but the majority through accidents. Some are in tended plots whilst others are scattered and isolated. This is no different to the other war graves throughout the UK.
One of the scattered war graves is that of an Ally Sloper – Strapper George Essex, Service Number TS/4251 of the Army Service Corps who died 10th February 1915. The TS prefix to his service number means that George was specially enlisted for his trade: in other words, he came from civilian employment in a trade that was of direct value to work in the Horse Transport.
A Strapper is the same rank as a Private and is essentially a groom working with horses. This is certainly no surprise seeing as there is an Army Remount depot in Melton.
There are, however, a couple of anomalies:
Firstly, the inscription on the headstone shows his unit as the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and the Regimental badge displayed on the headstone is also of the RASC. George died in 1915 and the Army Service Corps was not giving the Royal assent until 1919 by the King in recognition of its efforts during WW1.
Admittedly, the CWGC casualty record does display his unit correctly as the Army Service Corps (ASC). They are aware of this error and when the headstone is replaced, the correct Regimental crest will be engraved on the new stone.
Secondly, according to his casualty record on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, he was the husband of M.G. Essex of 13 New Street, Melton Mowbray. As a serving soldier from Melton that has died whilst serving their country, you would expect to find his name on the towns war memorial. Unfortunately, this is not the case, so why does George Essex not appear on any of Melton’s war memorials?
Let’s take a look at who George Essex was.
George was born 1878 to William Essex and his wife Fanny (nee Draper). He was baptised on 11th August 1878 by Reverend William Colles. According to the 1881 census, William was a brick labourer and George was the middle child, with an elder sister, Esther, and a younger sister, Fanny.
In 1889, Georges mother Fanny died, and William later re-married in 1892 to Ellen Wooding.
By the time of the 1901 census, William had become and engine driver, George was a bricklayer labourer and there was now Elizabeth and William in the family.
At the time of the 1911 census, the Essex family were living at 4 Bentley Street. Georges’ father, William, had passed away, Ellen was the head of the household as a widow. George was listed as aged 32, single and his occupation was a Furnaceman (Labourer).
George married Mabel Grace Winters on the 21st March 1914 at the Register Office. When they got married, Mabel already had an illegitimate child, Lillian May Winters. The family made their home in a small three bedroomed house, not far from the centre of town at No.5 Bentley Square, Melton Mowbray.
When the 1911 Census was taken, Mabel was residing at No 9 Wilton Terrace with her sister Violet Pearson, her husband Alfred Pearson and their daughter Zara.
Mabel’s daughter, Lillian May was born 11th October 1911 and the birth certificate listed her address and occupation as 24 Scalford Road, Melton, a Doubler in a Spinning Mill. The birth certificate did not name the father, consequently it is unknown as to whether Lillian is the child of George.
As soon as war was declared, George started working as a civilian Groom at the Melton Remount Depot. He subsequently enlisted into the Army on the 5th November 1914.
According to his attestation papers, he was aged 36 years and 158 days and his height was listed as 5ft 5in. His occupation was listed as Groom and his answer to Question 15, “Are you willing to be enlisted for General Service?” was “Yes Remount Depot Only”.
Shortly after enlisting, George was transferred from the Melton Depot and attached to the Romsey Depot to help train horses being received in Southampton following purchase in the USA.
George had been home on leave since Friday 5th February 1915. Prior to that, he had been hospitalised for about a month with injuries to his leg following being kicked by a horse he was training.
The Essex’s neighbour, Mrs Mary Cox, husband of Charles Cox at No. 3 Bentley Square believed George had got home late on the evening of Friday the 5th. She saw George on Saturday morning and she asked him how he was getting on. He told her “quite well” and how kind the people at Southampton and the other various depots were.
According to Mrs Cox, she said he seemed to be himself but she noticed a ‘sort of wildness’ in his eyes. She had also seen him on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and he still had a ‘glassy’ excited look in his eyes. She knew he had been in hospital for about a month with his leg and he had been to France and back since he came out of hospital.
Mrs Cox believed that George was going to be returning to camp on the Wednesday as his wife Mabel had got in some provisions that he usually took back with him.
On Tuesday evening, George and Mabel retired to bed at about ten o’clock. About half-past six the following morning, Mabel heard George get out of bed, and asked him where was going? He said was going downstairs for a “fag” and went and returned immediately.
The next moment George struck Mabel on the head with a hammer that he had brought upstairs with him. She struggled with her husband, and, though he succeeded striking her about the head three or four more times, twice on the stairs whilst she was endeavouring to escape, none of the blows were of sufficient force bring her down.
It was about twenty to seven when a Mr Carlton was walking home from his night shift at the Holwell Iron Works and saw Mabel stood on her front doorstep in her night clothes. Her hair was matted with blood and her nightclothes were covered in blood from the injuries sustained from the hammer blows.
Mr Carlton got the attention of the Cox family, next door at No.3 and Mary Cox asked Mabel “What the matter?” she replied, “Oh my baby, never mind me, my baby”. The Cox’s eldest son, pushed by her and went upstairs and grabbed the child, brought her downstairs and put herein her mother’s arms.
As the son went upstairs, Mary Cox saw George sat at the kitchen table. When she said to him “George what have you done?” she noticed a wound in his neck from which blood was flowing and as he tried to speak, he could not and only turned his eyes. George walked around the kitchen table and collapsed on the hearth rug in front of the fire.
When Superintendent Hinton of Melton Police spoke to Mary Cox, he asked “Have you heard of any previous quarrel between the man and his wife?” the response was “No Sir, They have come into my shop together and have always seemed a comfortable pair.
The questions continued: “Was he a steady man, as far as you know?” Mary Cox replied “Yes, he had been a teetotaller for months, in fact, years.”
“Do you think he was jealous of his wife?” Mary again replied “No, I don’t think so. There is always one or two mischief makers who try to upset things, but I don’t believe the man was naturally jealous. He always spoke respectfully of his wife. There might have been a little trouble some months ago, but it was only hearsay, as far as she was concerned, and she did not take any notice of that.”
Dr. J T Tibbles examined the body of George Essex. He found him lying on the hearth rug, lying prone on his face and his feet towards the window. The Doctor could feel no pulse and pronounced him dead. He had a large wound in the neck, from beneath the left angle of the jaw right across the front of the throat to a point below the right of the jaw.
The wound and consequent loss of blood was sufficient to account for death. From the nature and direction of the wound he had no doubt that it was self-inflicted. On a chest of drawers Dr Tibbles saw a razor, it was open, and covered with blood stains. The actual cause of death was syncope from the loss of blood.
At the inquest, George’s sister, Sarah Pick stated that about fortnight ago she received a letter from George, which Mrs. Essex saw, and which she afterwards ascertained she had destroyed.
George wrote asking her to keep an eye on his wife. On a previous occasion when he came home on leave, he had said to Mabel that he knew about her as the talk was all over town. Sarah told him she had heard things, but he must not take notice of what people said, as possibly they made more of it than there was. He replied, “Well, seeing is believing, and if I hear any more you will not see me again.” She then asked him if he meant to keep away, and he nodded his head.
He was certainly very troubled about his wife and was very fond of her, but he thought she was going on in a different way from what she ought, and it preyed on his mind.
The incident was reported in the local press, the Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News. It was also published in other newspapers around the country such as Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Mail, Nottingham Journal, Nottingham Evening Post, Leicester Daily Post, Leicester Chronicle, Coventry Standard and Grantham Journal.
The verdict of suicide could well explain why George is not listed on any of the towns war memorials. There was no strict rule as to who was included on the war memorial or excluded from it. The list of names to be added to the memorials was approved by local committees and quite often, those service personnel who committed suicide were excluded.
Back in 2013, Princess Anne unveiled a new War Horse permanent memorial to commemorate the thousands of horses shipped into battle during WWI have unveiled a bronze model of their statue. Click here for more info.
About 120,000 of the 1.3 million horses and mules involved in the conflict passed through a giant military depot just outside Romsey in Hampshire.
Not everyone that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorate was killed by enemy fire. Consequently, all serving military personnel who died during the First or Second World War, irrespective of the cause or circumstances of their death are commemorated with a headstone where the burial location is known, hence why George has one of the familiar war grave headstones on his grave.
It would appear that around the time that George enlisted into the Army, his wife Mabel had fallen pregnant. Mabel gave birth to a baby boy on 7th July 1915. Tragically George and his new born son, Montague Kitchener George Essex never got to meet each other.
In August 1915, Mabel was informed by the Colonel IC Army Service Corps Records that in view of the circumstances of the death of her husband, a pension for herself and child can not be granted from Army Funds.
Following an appeal, the War Office confirmed that “it has been decided that the widow of No TS/4251 Strapper George Essex, Army Service Corps, may be regarded as eligible under the usual conditions for the grant of a pension from Army Funds”.
According to the pension record card, the amount awarded was 18/6 a week from 1th July 15. Following the successful appeal, the Army were instructed to pay the arrears as a lump sum and to make enquiries as to whether Mabel would like to invest the money into the War Savings scheme.
On 17th July 1919, the War Office issued a list of service personnel who had died on Active Service (A/S) and whose next of kin were to be issued with the Memorial Plaque, commonly referred to as the ‘Death Penny’ and Commemorative Scroll, the list contained the details of TS/4251 Strapper George Essex.
However, the Colonel IC RASC Records at Woolwich queried this in a letter dated 20th September 1919 asking the Secretary of the War Office as to whether the circumstances in which George died should debar the next-of-kin from receiving the plaque and scroll. On the 5th October, the War Office subsequently approved the issue of the plaque and scroll.
After the death of George, his wife Mabel continued living in Melton and never remarried. She passed away in 1948.
Lilian May went on to Marry Kenneth Daley in Melton and passed away in Macclesfield in 2000.
Montague Kitchener George joined the Northamptonshire Regiment during WW2. He married Joyce Weston in Northampton in 1943. He was taken Prisoner of War in 1943 in Germany held in Stalag IVG camp. He survived the war, returned to Northampton and passed away in 1981.
According to George’s service records, the cause of death was recorded as “Suicide self-inflicted wound during a state of temporary insanity due to A/S”.
What was the cause of this temporary insanity? Was it jealousy of his wife, was she having an affair? Was it a result of the injury sustained from being kicked by the horse? Was it the stress of military life, seeing the result of military action resulting in death and destruction in France?
I suppose that we will never know the truth behind this tragic incident in what the press reported as “Soldier goes mad – Suicide follows attempted murder at Melton” or “Another Domestic Tragedy at Melton”.
Soldiers described the effects of trauma as “shell-shock” because they believed them to be caused by exposure to artillery bombardments. As early as 1915, army hospitals became inundated with soldiers requiring treatment for “wounded minds”, tremors, blurred vision and fits, taking the military establishment entirely by surprise. An army psychiatrist, Charles Myers, subsequently published observations in the Lancet, coining the term shell-shock. Approximately 80,000 British soldiers were treated for shell-shock over the course of the war. Despite its prevalence, experiencing shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused of cowardice.
But the concept of shell-shock had its limitations. Despite coining the term, Charles Myers noted that shell-shock implied that one had to be directly exposed to combat, even though many suffering from the condition had been exposed to non-combat related trauma (such as the threat of injury and death) like George Essex. Cognitive and behavioural symptoms of trauma, such as nightmares, hyper-vigilance and avoiding triggering situations, were also overlooked compared to physical symptoms.
Luckily for the sufferers of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it has been recognised that it is these cognitive and behavioural symptoms that define PTSD. The physical symptoms that defined shell-shock during WW1 were often consequences of the nonphysical symptoms.
As you wander around the Leicester Gilroes cemetery, you can’t fail to notice the Cross of Sacrificeoutside of the main crematorium building. In front of the Cross is a screen wall containing the names of 31 casualties from all 3 branches of the services, Army Navy and RAF plus the Home Guard. All of whom died during WW2 and their bodies were cremated.
Also, scattered around the cemeteryare the graves of a further 272 military personnel from both WW1 and WW2. The majority of the graves have the standard CWGC headstone made out of either Portland, Stancliffe or Botticino stone, whilst others have a private memorial stone erected by the family.
As you meander around the site, looking at the graves, you will also see headstones that mention individuals that were killed on military service and are buried elsewhere. These are actually classed as war memorialsas they commemorate a deceased service person who as previously mention is buried at another location.
One example was the Browne family headstone, and as usual it was the inscription that grabbed my attention as it referred to the individual being Killed on Active Service in Malta.
Loving Memory of
Beloved Husband of
Died July 14th 1927 Aged 53
LAC Cyril Browne RAF
Beloved Son of the Above
Killed on Active Service at Malta
Dec 17th 1942 Aged 38
Also of Beatrice Julia
Beloved Wife of
Died January 22nd 1948 Aged 74
Beloved Son of the Above
Died July 1st 1977
The Grave Registration Report Form can be viewed and downloaded from the CWGC casualty record and this shows several personnel from 138 Sqn who were killed on the 17th Dec 42 and are buried in Cappucini Naval Cemetery.
But who was Cyril Browne and what happened to him?
As we have already gathered from the inscription on the headstone, Cyril Browne was the son of Percy and Beatrice Browne. He was born on 5th June 1906 in Blaby district of Leicester. He had 3 elder brothers, 1 younger brother and 2 younger sisters.
When the 1911 census was carried out, Cyrils father Percy was listed as a Provision Merchant and was recorded as living with his family at Roseleigh, Fox Lane, Kirby Muxloe, Leicester. Listed on the census return along with Percy, was his wife, Beatrice and their children Willie (11), Archie (10), George (7), Cyril (4) and Charles (1).
At the start of the First World War, the family were residing at 371 Fosse Road South in Leicester, but by 1918, they had moved to 44 Glenfield Road. Within a couple of years, they had moved a few doors down the road to No 23 Glenfield Road.
By 1930, the family had moved from Glenfield Road and were now residing at Glen-Haven on Narborough Road. At the time of the 1939 register, Cyril was listed as living at Glen-Haven, Leicester Road, Blaby with his mother Beatrice, his younger brother Charles, and their younger sisters Beatrice and Kathleen. Cyril’s occupation was listed as Grocer and Fruit Salesperson.
Following the outbreak of War, Cyril enlisted into the Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve) as a Mechanised Transport Driver, undergoing training at RAF Padgate and allocated service number 1069726.
After completing his training, Cyril was serving with No 21 Personnel Transit Centre at RAF Kasfareet, part of No. 216 Group, Royal Air Force Middle East Command in Egypt.
On the 17th December 1942 he was returning to the UK, departing Cairo and staging via Malta and Gibraltar. He was a passenger aboard a Handley Page Halifax Mk2 DT542 NF-Q of 138 (Special Duties) Squadron.
The crew of the Halifax were all Polish Air Force serving in the Royal Air Force with the exception of the Flight Engineer:
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Krzysztof Leon Dobromirski, (Pilot)
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Zbigniew Idzikowski, (Observer)
Flying Officer (Porucznik) Stanislaw Pankiewicz, (Pilot)
Sergeant (Sierzant) Alfred Edmund Kleniewski, (WOp/AG)
Sergeant (Sierzant) Roman Wysocki, (Wop/AG)
Flight Sergeant (Starzy Sierzant) Oskar Franciszek Zielinski (Gunner)
Sergeant Alexander Clubb Watt (Flt Eng)
In addition to Cyril and the above crew members, the following personnel were also passengers onboard the aircraft:
Maj Allen Algernon Bathurst. (Lord Apsley) DSO, MC, TD. 1 Royal Gloucester Hussars Royal Armoured Car and MP
Maj Arthur David Curtis Millar. Indian Army
Sqn Ldr Jefferson Heywood Wedgwood DFC. Pilot, RAF 92 Sqn
Fl Lt Peter Earle. RAF air Gunner, 76 Sqn. Ex 462 Sqn
Fl Lt Leonard Arthur Vaughan. DSO, DFC. RAF Air Gunner, 40 Sqn
Sgt Dennis Spibey. RAF. Fitter Grade 2 (Engines), 138 Sqn
Cpl Douglas Sidney Hounslow. RAFVR. Fitter Grade 2 (Airframes) 138 Sqn
LAC Richard Clegg. RAFVR. Flight Mechanic (Engines) 138 Sqn
AC1 Stanley Edward Kelly. RAFVR. Clerk/General Duties, 244 Wing Middle East Command
After it had been refuelled, DT542 NF-Q took off from RAF Luqa Airfield in the dark at around 04:00hrs to continue its journey to England via Gibraltar.
Shortly after it was airborne, the aircraft passed over Zeitun when a loud explosion was heard, and it crashed onto fields between Il-Bajjada and Ta’San Girgor, limits of Zejtun 04:05hrs and caught fire. Tragically all the crew and the passengers were killed in the crash.
There are conflicting stories that the aircraft suffered engine trouble just after take-off from Luqa and was returning when it crashed.
The Island’s defenders would certainly have been wary of any aircraft, as it was not until 20th November 1942 that the siege of Malta could be considered as over. Enemy air attacks continued for some time, albeit only sporadically and on a much reduced scale. The cost to both sides had been high, with well over 1,000 aircraft written off and thousands of military personnel and civilians killed and injured.
At least one account claims that the Halifax was mistakenly identified as an enemy aircraft and shot down by Anti Aircraft fire.
It is not clear what the aircraft was doing out in Egypt as there is no record of any sortie for the crew around that date other than an entry for the 17th listing the crew names and stating “Killed on Operations”.
The Operational Record Book of 40 squadron which Flt Lt Leonard Vaughan DSO DFC belonged to merely states that the aircraft “crashed on landing after being recalled”.
Cyril is buried in the Cappucini Naval Cemetery Malta (Protestant Section Men’s Plot F Collective Grave 18. He is also remembered on the memorial at St Johns Church, Enderby plus on his parents gravestone at Leicester Gilroes Cemetery.
I suppose we will never know the true answer as to whether it was a tragic accident or a case of mistaken identity, but according to the aircraft accident card, there was no mention of enemy action and certainly ne mention of a friendly fire incident.
Eighty years ago in the Summer of 1940 the fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force were in almost daily combat with the German Luftwaffe in the skies over our country and surrounding waters. Initially the Luftwaffe were set on trying to destroy our airfields in preparation for an invasion, but on the 7th September they changed their plans and swapped from destroying the airfields and the RAF to bombing our cities which subsequently became known as the Blitz.
The Battle has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The British officially recognise the battle’s duration as being from 10th July until 31st October 1940.
“Never In The Field of Human Conflict Was So Much Owed By So Many To So Few” was to become the famous words mentioned by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his wartime speech that he delivered to the Nation on the 20th August 1940. By the time of Churchill’s speech, RAF fighter pilots had been in almost daily combat with the German Luftwaffe and those who flew combat missions during the battle have forever since been referred to as “The Few” and has been immortalised in posters just like the one below.
In this bog, I look at two very different war memorials that can be found in All Saints Church at Hoby near Melton Mowbray. Both memorials commemorate members of the Beresford family, one of which commemorates “One of the Few”.
War memorials can be found in all sorts of shapes, sizes and designs as mentioned in “Blog 19 – Protecting our War Memorials”. The memorials in All Saints Church take the form of a wooden Roll of Honour listing the names of 48 men from Hoby who served during World War One, a bronze tablet commemorating eleven men of the Parish who fell during the Great War, a stained-glass window commemorating the members of the extended Beresford family who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War One and a stone tablet commemorating another member of the Beresford family who was “One of the Few” and made the ultimate sacrifice during World War Two.
The memorials themselves are interesting, but they are more than just a name on a window or plaque, it is the stories behind those individuals names that make the memorials even more interesting providing links to not only military history, but also social history.
Flt Lt Hugh Richard Aden Beresford – One of The Few
On the Chancel wall opposite the Stained Glass window, is a plain stone tablet commemorating three members of the Beresford family, the Reverend Hans Aden Beresford, his mother Annie and the Reverends Son, Flight Lieutenant Hugh Richard Aden Beresford who was “One of The Few” and is the only Hoby casualty from World War Two.
Hugh Richard Aden Beresford was born 8th November 1915 and was the son of the Rector of Hoby & Rotherby, Hans Aden Beresford and his wife Dorothy Lydia Royston.
He was known by the family as ‘Tom’ and was educated at Rossell School in Fleetwood Lancashire. He was a keen sportsman and fine cricketer playing in the first XI team for four seasons and became team captain in his final year at the school.
Hugh joined the RAF on a short service commission in 1935 and after completing his training he was posted as a pilot to No 3 (Fighter) Squadron, arriving at Port Sudan as an Acting Pilot Officer on 23rd March 1936. Port Sudan is the Capital of Sudan and is located on the Red Sea coast. The aircraft operated by the Squadron was the Bristol Bulldog, until it was replaced by the Gloster Gladiator. Just over a year later, he was posted to the No 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit at Biggin Hill on the 12th April 1937.
On the 4th October 1937 he was appointed Personal Assistant to Air Vice-Marshal Ernest Gossage, Air Officer Commanding No 11 Group at RAF Uxbridge and on the 16th January 1938, Hugh was promoted to Flying Officer. Whilst at Uxbridge, in December 1939, Hugh married his wife Cherry Kyree ‘Pat’ Kemp, the daughter of a RAF Officer Walter Ernest Kemp.
On the 17th May 1940, No 257 (Burma) Squadron was reformed at RAF Hendon initially being equipped with Spitfires. Beresford joined the Squadron from HQ No 11 Group as Senior Flight Commander. The CO was Squadron Leader David Bayne who lost a leg in a flying accident whilst serving on No 3 (Fighter) Squadron, back in July 1935 when his Bristol Bulldog crash landed at RAF Duxford. This was the same Squadron that Hugh joined after leaving school.
During May and June, the Squadron was involved in training missions including bringing new pilots up to speed on Spitfires, Interception Exercises, formation flying, gunnery practice, night flying, high altitude (25000 feet) flying and dog fights.
On the 10th June, it was announced that the Squadron would be re-equipped with the Hurricane fighter, meaning more re-training for the pilots. The first eight Hurricanes arrived the next day with a further eight the day after. Training continued through June with the Hurricanes and on the 30th, the Squadron were informed they would be moving from RAF Hendon to their new base at RAF Northolt on July 4th.
Although the Battle of Britain hadn’t officially began (10th July), after settling in at Northolt on the 4th, the Squadron were put on Standby the following day at ¾ Hour before Dawn on the 5th. The Squadrons first scramble came on the 9th when Flt Lt Hall, PO Frizell and Sgt Forward were ordered into the air and Sgt Forward engaged a Do17 at 22000 feet.
Hugh had an aristocratic bearing which gave the men of his squadron much needed morale. He was affectionately known by his fellow pilots as “Blue-Blood Beresford” which was a reference to his aristocratic good looks and up-bringing.
Allegedly he was privately very nervous and vomited under the daily intense stress of the Battle of Britain. With exhaustion taking its toll on him, he was known for obsessively pacing up and down the dispersal hut continually asking “What’s the time?” and “I’m sure there will be a Blitz soon”. On 18th August, Hugh and Sgt Girdwood shared in destroying a He111 from III./KG 53 flown by Uffz Gustav Gropp which came down in the sea with all crew killed and a few days Hugh later claimed a Me110 on the 31st.
On 22nd July, the CO Squadron Leader Bayne was posted to HQ Fighter Command with Squadron Leader H Harkness taking over as Commanding Officer. Apparently the Squadron had poor leadership and was held together by two well respected Flight Commanders, Flt Lt Hugh Beresford and Fg Off Lance Mitchell.
Hugh Beresford and A Flight had patrolled Martlesham twice during the morning of the 7th followed by a 3rd patrol around Colchester at 11:15Hrs, landing at 12:20. At 14:15 the whole Squadron was called to 15 minutes readiness but were not ordered off.
Beresford in Hurricane P3049 along with 11 other Hurricanes of Yellow, Red, Blue and Green Sections of 257 Squadron left Martlesham Heath at 16:53Hrs to patrol Chelmsford area at 15,000 feet. They were vectored to the Rochester area under the Command of Squadron Leader Harkness when at 17:50Hrs they intercepted a formation of about 50 enemy bombers flying up the Thames estuary.
The large formation of enemy aircraft flying up the Thames were intent on sustaining the continuous bombing of London. An escort of Luftwaffe fighters above dived towards the squadron as they attacked.
The CO, Yellow 1 (Squadron Leader Harkness) passed the information about the enemy aircraft to “Kiwi 1” and the Squadron climbed up to their level, turning North. As they were coming from the Colchester area, they didn’t have the advantage of attacking out of the sun and must have been seen by the Me109s which were circling above the bombers at about 18-20,000 feet.
Yellow 1, followed by the Squadron, did a head on attack on the port section of three enemy aircraft. When Yellow 1 broke away to the right, Yellow 2 (PO Gundry) followed him without firing. Yellow 3 (Sgt Robinson) when following Yellow 2 in line astern, doing a steep turn to the right was thrown over on his back, losing control of his aircraft and dropped about 8,000 to 10,000 feet as a result of ant aircraft fire all around him.
Red 1 (Flt Lt Beresford) “A” Flight Commander followed Yellow Section into the attack and slightly to the right, is believed to have been unable to attack the bombing fleet head-on as his line of fire was obstructed by the leading Hurricanes. He climbed to about 500 feet in a clockwise circle above the bombers and turning to attack them from astern. At this point, Red 2 (Sgt Fraser) noticed at least four Me109 fighters with yellow noses swooping down on the section from astern.
Hugh Beresford tried to warn the other pilots of the danger over the radio by issuing a frantic warning “ALERT squadron – four snappers coming down now!” to the squadron about the attacking fighters, stating that he could not attack as another Hurricane was in his line of fire. (ALERT was the radio call sign for 257 Squadron). Then there was silence. In his final few moments of life he had used his last breath to save others.
None of the squadron saw what had happened to him, but a River Board worker inspecting the water ditches which criss-crossed the flat Isle of Sheppey, was watching the dog-fight developing above in a crescendo of engine noise and rattling of machine guns. He saw a lone Hurricane break away and dive vertically into the soft estuary ground alongside a ditch at Elmley Spitend Point, Sheppey.
There was no fire or explosion, just a small crater with a black stain and slashes either side where the wings had cut through the grass. No time could be spent during the weeks of the Battle of Britain to mount salvage operations and as the aircraft was deeply buried it was eventually forgotten.
From the combat action in the 7th, three pilots failed to return, Hugh Beresford, the other Flight Commander Lance Mitchell and Sgt Hulbert. Later, the Squadron received news that Hulbert was OK and had crash landed near Sittingbourne. None of the other pilots could provide any info on what had happened to the two Flight Commanders and enquiries were made with other RAF airfields, Police HQs and Royal Observer Corps observation posts but nobody saw what happened.
Hugh’s wife, Pat, rang the Squadron in tears on the evening when he failed to return. The Squadron Adjutant spoke to her and telling her that he might have been picked up by boats in the sea and not to give up hope. It was as if she new his fate as she asked if she could pick up his clothes.
Hugh Beresford was classified as missing in action and an Air Ministry telegram was sent to Pat telling here that he had failed to return from an operational flight and they would contact her again as soon as possible when they received further news. No news came forward, and one year after he went missing, he was officially presumed dead.
Shortly after his Hurricane had plunged into the marshy ground, RAF personnel from nearby RAF Eastchurch came to the crash site and as little could be done, they reported it to No 49 Maintenance Unit who covered the South East of England
Ten days after Hugh’s disappearance, Air Vice-Marshal Ernest Gossage wrote to Reverend Hans Beresford, explaining that Hugh had once been his personal assistant and that he had become very fond of him. His letter also said that he wanted to make sure that no possibility of him being alive before he wrote with his sincere and heartfelt sympathy.
For decades no one knew the exact spot where he laid buried. 39 years later, in August 1979, there was renewed interest by aviation enthusiasts in locating and excavating the wrecks of wartime planes. Hugh Beresford’s Hurricane was discovered and on 29th September 1979 the entire wreckage was recovered with Hugh’s body being found still in his aircraft. Hugh Beresford and his tattered identity card were recovered.
Forty years to the day he was shot down, on the 7th September 1980, BBC2 Television documentary series Inside Story screened a programme “Missing” all about Hugh Beresford and the remarkable story of him being reported as missing in 1940 and the discovery of his Hurricane fighter with his remains still in the cockpit.
He was laid to rest with full military honours in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, with the Band of the RAF and the Queen’s Colour Squadron providing the honours. Hugh’s sister, Pamela who lived in Hoby village attended his funeral along with a few other residents from the village.
For more details about his burial at Brookwood Military Cemetery, see his CWGC Casualty Record.
Additionally, the CWGC E-Files archives holds a series of black and white images showing CWGC staff erecting his headstone, levelling it off, applying soil to the border, cleaning it and finally with the plants in place around it. To view the images, visit the CWGC archive site and enter Beresford in the search box.
In 2022 I was on a visit to Brookwood Milirat Cemetery so whilst there, I took the opportunity of visiting Hugh and paying my regards.
The personal insciption at the bottom of his head stone was chosen by his family and comes from a poem titled “No One So Much As You” by Edwrad Thomas
NO ONE SO MUCH AS YOU LOVES THIS MY CLAY, OR WOULD LAMENT AS YOU ITS DYING DAY
No One So Much As You by Edward Thomas
No one so much as you Loves this my clay, Or would lament as you Its dying day.
You know me through and through Though I have not told, And though with what you know You are not bold.
None ever was so fair As I thought you: Not a word can I bear Spoken against you.
All that I ever did For you seemed coarse Compared with what I hid Nor put in force.
My eyes scarce dare meet you Lest they should prove I but respond to you And do not love.
We look and understand, We cannot speak Except in trifles and Words the most weak.
For I at most accept Your love, regretting That is all: I have kept Only a fretting
That I could not return All that you gave And could not ever burn With the love you have,
Till sometimes it did seem Better it were Never to see you more Than linger here
With only gratitude Instead of love – A pine in solitude Cradling a dove.