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.

38 – Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire Mk IIb P8522

In my previous blog Melton & District Spitfire Fund I looked at how the people of Melton Mowbray and surrounding villages came together in a fundraising effort in late 1940 to buy a Spitfire fighter plane.

This blog continues with the story of the Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire P8522 and looks at its history from being built in 1941 right through to when it was retired from RAF service in 1945.

Spitfire P8522 was built according to the official Air Ministry list as a F Mk 1A, but during production it was converted to a F Mk IIB.  P8522 was built in April 1941 at the Vickers Armstrong Ltd. factory at Castle Bromwich, and was part of Contract No B981687/39/C.23(C) dated 12th April 1939 which was placed for the first batch of 1000 F MkII’s. 

As requested by the fund organisers, P8522 was adorned with the towns emblem of the Red Lion Rampant upon a white background and wore the title “Melton Mowbray & District” along the side of the fuselage under the windscreen. 

Alex Henshaw

On the 5th May 1941, P8522 took her maiden flight at Castle Bromwich with the Vickers test pilot Alex Henshaw at the controls.

Shortly afterwards on 12th May 1941, P8522 was transferred to No 24 Maintenance Unit at RAF Tern Hill in Shropshire where it went to be fully fitted out for operational duties. 

Following being fitted out for operation duties, P8522 was transferred to No 303 (Polish)  Sqn based at RAF Northolt on the 19th June 1941 and assigned to “B” Flight with the code  RF-W.  In addition to the codes RF-W, the 303 Squadron emblem was also added next to the Melton lion.

Rolling off the production line in 1941 meant that the Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire was too late into service to be involved in the Battle of Britain and it joined No 303 Squadron which claimed the largest number of aircraft shot down during the Battle, even though it joined the Battle two months after it had begun.

303 Squadron Emblem as worn on P8522

No. 303 Squadron RAF was formed in July 1940 in Blackpool, England before deployment to RAF Northolt on 2 August as part of an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom. It had a distinguished combat record and was disbanded in December 1946.

Flying Officer Wojciech Kolaczkowski was the first Polish pilot to fly the Melton Spitfire when on the 20th & 21st June he took P8522 up for a series of test flights to check it out before being declared operational on 303 Sqn.   

Wojciech Kołaczkowski shown here wearing Squadron Leader rank badges

The first operational flight came on the 24th June when Sgt Stanislaw Belza took P8522 to Martlesham Heath as part of “B” Flight which had been tasked with fighter escort duties protecting bombers on a raid over occupied Europe. This operation proceeded to plan except for haze over the target area.  

Belza again took P8522 on ‘Escort Duties’ the following day but this time, the Squadron encountered severe flak and were engaged in a number of dog fights with ME.109s. The first sortie of the day was at 06:10 Hrs for an hour, landing back at 07:10. Sgt Belza was again airborne in the Melton Spitfire at 11:40Hrs for another escort sortie, landing back at base at 13:40Hrs.

Sgt Stanislaw Belza

Later in the day, P8522 was again airborne for her 3rd sortie of the day, again escorting bombers. This time Kolaczkowski was at the controls and took off at 15:40Hrs and returned to base at 17:25Hrs.

On the 26th June, B Flight moved to Martlesham Heath at 07:30Hrs. P8522 was piloted again by Kolaczkowski for the 35 minute flight.

They had gone to Martlesham Heath to take part in Circus operations where bomber attacks with fighter escorts took place during day time. The attacks were against short range targets with the intention of occupying enemy fighters and keeping their fighter units in the area concerned. 

Kolaczkowski took off in P8522 at 11:00Hrs escorting 23 Blenheim bombers on a raid to Comines power station. The weather conditions over Commines made bombing impossible due to 10/10 cloud over France so the bombers turned back and the fighters encountered no opposition and returned to base, landing at 12:25Hrs. 

The 27th was a rather hectic day for 303 Sqn, with weather conditions making a morning circus impossible so the Squadron went on a mass Rhubarb operation resulting in various Messerschmitt’s being damaged or destroyed on the ground.

A Rhubarb operation is when sections of fighters or fighter-bombers, taking full advantage of low cloud and poor visibility, would cross the English Channel and then drop below cloud level to search for opportunity targets such as railway locomotives and rolling stock, aircraft on the ground, enemy troops and vehicles on roads.  

P8522 was not involved in the days Rhubarb taskings, but later in the day Kolaczkowski was at the controls of P8522 again for escort duties, initially going to Manston at 1600Hrs. At 20:30Hrs he took off as part of B Flight providing escort duties for 23 Blenheims as part of the Circus 25 operation to bomb the steel works at Lille. Minor skirmishes took place with one enemy aircraft being damaged by F/O Zumbach, but no action for P8522. 

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 1951) Circus Raid by Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 18 Squadron RAF, Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211308

Kolaczkowski was again flying P8522 on the 28th providing escort high cover for 24 Blenheims attacking Comines as part of the Circus 26 Op. Just West of Comines, he was in a dog fight with 5 Messerschmitt Me-109s. In his combat Kolaczkowski  report stated:  

After a prolonged dog-fight with with 5 ME 109’s west of Comines, I had come down low and near Desvres was joined by Sgt Belc. Flying across the aerodrome I fired a short burst at a Me.109 which was mounted on trestles. The aircraft collapsed amid a cloud of smoke. 

Rounds fired:  7 rounds each of 2 cannon, 15 rounds each of 4 M/G” 

On the 30th, P8522 RF-W was again part of the fighter escorts with F/L Jankiewicz at the controls providing escort for another Circus bombing trip for 18 Blenheims atacking the Pont-a-Vendin Power Station in France, but this time there was nothing special to report. 

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 1926) Vertical aerial photograph taken during a ‘Circus’ operation by No. 2 Group aircraft, showing smoke rising from direct hits on the generating plant of the power station at Pont-a-Vendin, France, during an attack by 18 Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs drawn from Nos. 18 and 139 Squadrons RAF. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211305

Kolaczkowski was back in control of P8522 on the 1st July when they carried out a couple of evening bomber escorts over France with all aircraft returning safely. 

The second combat victory for Kolaczkowski and P8522 occurred on the 2nd July 1941 when 303 & several other Fighter Sqn’s were on escort duties again from Martlesham as part of a Circus Op to the Fives/Lille steel and engineering works at Lille. No opposition was met until they were over the target area and a series of dog fights developed. Some fighters stayed with the bombers whilst others became involved with the fighters. 

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1939-1941. (C 1944) Annotated vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight raid on the Fives/Lille steel and engineering works at Lille, France, by Short Stirlings of No. 3 Group. Bombs can be seen exploding on the east side of the works (‘1’), while other bombs fall to the east and south-east (‘2’). For a short period in July 1941, Stirlings, with a heavy fighter escort, were used in ‘Circus’ operations with t… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023064

The Fives/Lille steel and engineering works at Lille was to be the target of several attacks carried out by the RAF and USAAF bombers during the war.

The Operations Record Book entry for the 2nd July states “F/Lt Kolaczkowski attacked two Me’s who were attacking the bombers; one was destroyed by the Blenheim and the other by F/Lt Kolaczkowski. F/O Zumbach shot down 1 Me in flames and damaged others. P/O Lipinski attacked and probably destroyed another Me109. Sgt Wojciechowski was wounded in the shoulder but returned to Martlesham suffering from loss of blood. It transpired later that he had shot down one Me109 in a series of dog fights. S/Ldr Lapkowski was missing from this operation and it was thought that he had collided with another Spitfire belonging to Sgt Gorecki. This transpired to be incorrect as Gorecki was picked up three days later after 74 hours in Channel. There has been no further news of S/Ldr Lapkowski.” 

According to the personal combat report that Kolaczkowski submitted, the attack took place in an area from Lille to mid-channel at around 12:45Hrs.

Luftwaffe fighters and 303 Sqn Spitfires engaged in a dogfight over the English Channel. (Photo Gary Eason)

“As soon as we had reached Lille Me.109’s began to engage our Squadron and the other escort Squadrons, and the dog-fights continued until we had reached mid-channel.  During the many engagements which took place between 15,000 and 10,000 ft, I saw two Me.109Es diving towards the bombers and after the first E/A had had a wing shot away by a Blenheim, the second pulled up and I followed him. I was able to fire 3 short bursts from my cannons and M/Gs from astern at 150-200ydsand the Me.109 rolled down emitting black smoke.  The pilot was seen to bale out but the aircraft went down out of sight. I fired 26 rounds from each of 2 cannons and 100 rounds from each of 4 M/Gs.” 

On the 3rd July, the Squadron took part in two sorties over France.  In the second, ten Spitfires took part, 7 from “A” Flight and 3 from “B” Flight of which P8522 piloted by Flt Lt Jankiewicz was one, taking off at 10:30Hrs and returning at 12:55Hrs as part of Circus 30 escorting Blenheim bombers from No 139 Sqn attacking Hazebrouck marshalling yards.

The following day (4th July), was a heavy day for 303 Squadron with uneventful operation trips, convoy patrols, night flying practice and a variety of aircraft tests. P/O Marciniak took P8522 on a Sector Recon sortie in the late morning followed by an operational sortie for bomber escort duties just before midnight with Sgt Belc at the controls. 

It was similar on the 5th when Plt Off Daszewski took P8522 on a training flight (practice formation flying) in the morning with Flt Lt Zak taking P8522 on an uneventful patrol after lunch. 

Zak again took P8522 the following morning when they were tasked with providing top cover for three Stirling bombers attacking Le Trait shipyards.  Several more uneventful bomber escort mission were undertaken by P8522 on the 10th & 11th July. 

Formation of 3 Short Stirling bombers

On the 12th July, the Squadron was once again involved in escort duties over France and was involved in a few minor skirmished with the enemy.  It is thought that Flt Lt Zak flew P8522 in the afternoon of the 12th on bomber escort duties but cannot be confirmed due to the illegibility of the ORB records. 

The 12th of July was the last operation flight of the squadron before leaving Northolt for Speke in Liverpool.  There are no more records of P8522 flying with 303 (Polish) Squadron after the 12th July. 

After five months of operations, No. 303 Sqn was rested on 13th July moving to Speke near Liverpool, in 9 Group, Fighter Command.

No 65 (East India) Sqn Crest

According to the aircraft transfer record card, P8522 Melton Mowbray & District was transferred on the 15th September to No 65(East India) Sqn at RAF Kirton Lindsey.  It is thought that P8522 was allocated to “A” Flight with the code ‘YT-D’ to replace K9907 YT-D which had been shot down a few months previous..  

65 Sqn Spitfire MkIa K9907 YT-D

No 65 Squadron was in the process of re-equipping with the MkIIb Spitfires and as a result, was involved in quite a lot of training flights.  It was on the 18th September when Sgt Grantham took P8522 YT-D on an “Air Firing” sortie.  The ORB entry for the day states “1 section of three aircraft proceeded to North Coates from where a convoy patrol was carried out without incident.  2 sections of 2 aircraft proceeded to Sutton Bridge for air firing (canon testing) on re-equipment of squadron with Spitfires Mark IIb.  There was also 1 dusk patrol of 5 aircraft.  Practice flights were carried out during the day.” 

The 19th was a “nothing of interest to report” day for 65 Sqn and the only aircraft to fly was P8522 YT-D at the hands of P/O Mitchell who took ‘D’ for a training flight calling at Digby, Wittering, Colley Weston  and back to Kirton. 

The next day was another day of training with 2 aircraft from “A” Flight and all aircraft from “B” Flight proceeded to Manby for air firing due to testing of canons on re-equipping to MkIIb Spitfires.  That day, Sgt Chandler was the first to take ‘D’ off to Manby and back on an air firing sortie, leaving Kirton at 11:55Hrs.  Sgt Oldnall did the same in the afternoon departing at 14:30Hrs. 

P/O Mitchell was back in control of P8522 when on the 22nd; the Squadron left Kirton for Detling, about 3 miles NE of Maidstone in Kent to take part in an offensive sweep.  The aircraft returned to Kirton in the afternoon on the account of “unfavourable weather conditions”.  P/O Mitchell and P8522 were one of two aircraft tasked later that day in taking part in an operation sortie from Kirton, the other being F/Lt Grant and P8576. 

65(East India) Squadron were next involved on operation flying on the 24th, with 2 sections of 2 aircraft undertaking operation patrols but this didn’t include P8522.  However, Sgt Chalmers did get airborne in YT-D when he was tasked with a local practice flight involving formation flying.  Sgt Warden did the same on P8522’s next trip on the 26th September when they were tasked with formation flying again. 

Sgt Chalmers took P8522 up twice on the 1st October and again on the 2nd taking part in Army Co-Operation “Bumper” Exercises at RAF Oulton in Norfolk.  He returned to Kirton on the 3rd

Bumper exercises were undertaken in East Anglia during October and November 1941 to test the ability of British forces to destroy a German Army after invading Great Britain. Two Army Headquarters and four Corps participated. The total number of divisions taking part was twelve; three of these were armoured. Two army tank brigades and corps troops in large numbers were also involved. The force engaged amounted in all to about a quarter of a million men.

65 (East India) Squadron must have done a good job on the Bumper exercise as the post exercise report stated ” Air Support. On the air aspect, the C.-in-C. mentioned the following
points. (A) Don’t use your air support ” in penny packets. (B) The fighter appears to present a serious menace to troops and transport on the move. (C) The Air Support Control should be at Army HQ if this is as far forward as it ought to be. It does not follow, however, that it should not be sent to some lower formation’s HQ if the main weight of air support is being directed to this formation’s area.” To read the full report, click here.

The 4th October saw P/O Hewlett getting airborne first in P8522 on a weather test followed later in the day by P/O Mitchell taking P8522 to North Coates for Shipping patrol duties. 

It wasn’t long before P8522 was re-allocated again, when on the 6th October 41 she went to 616 (South Yorkshire) Sqn due to 65 Sqn converting to the Spitfire MkV. 

No 616 (South Yorkshire) Sqn Crest

616 were currently at RAF Westhampnett, near Chichester in West Sussex and the Squadron ROB states:  “We heard today, with mixed feelings, that we were to move up to Kirton Lindsey on the sixth to replace 65 Squadron.  It will be remembered that at the end of February we came down to Tangmere to take the place of 65 Squadron after a stay of over 5 months at Kirton Lindsey.  The reason why our feelings are mixed is because we shall be sorry to miss all the operational activity, which only No 11 Group Stations can offer, although naturally this decreases as the long nights set in.  Also, when we go to No 12 Group, we find that the squadron has to do many more duties for the Station, making it sometimes difficult to obtain a sufficient number of men to service the aircraft.  On the other hand Kirton is nearer to most of the homes of the airmen and the accommodation is better than down South.” 

The ORB entry for the 6th Oct states “The main party travel up to Kirton.  The pilots could not fly up owing to rain and low clouds.  Four New Zealand Sergeant pilots join the Squadron, i.e. H. A. Chandler, G.L.Davidson, J.H.Davidson and G.H.Lattimer.  They were with 65 Squadron and as they were not trained they were transferred to us.  Sgt Pilot A.H. Gunn (Rhodesia) posted to us from 56 O.T.U Grangemouth. 

The 7th goes on to state “As weather was still bad the pilots came up by train.  Once again we are bitterly disappointed with the dirty conditions of the aircraft, dispersal huts and billets which we took over from 65 Squadron. (see entry of February 26th 1941).  Even the ammunition and canon barrels were rusty.  The engineer officer insisted on the Squadron being made non-operational for at least 10 days in order to overhaul the aircraft (old Spitfire IIBs).  136 Squadron (Spitfire IIB) and 121 Squadron (the second Eagle Squadron) Hurricane IIBs are at Kirton.” 

It would appear that 616 Squadron moved to Kirton Lindsey on or around the 6th October leaving their Spitfire MkVs at Westhampnett and re-equipped with the older  MkIIs  inherited from 65 (East India) Squadron, who moved South to Westhampnett on the 7th and re-equipped with the newer MkV version, possibly those left behind by 616 Squadron.  

No 611 (West Lancashire) Sqn Crest

P8522 was transferred from 616 to 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron who were based at RAF Drem, East Lothian Scotland.  611 Sqn had been based at RAF Hornchurch carrying out offensive sweeps over occupied northern France since January 1941, but had moved North to RAF Drem for ‘rest’ in November 1941 where they stayed until June ‘42.   

The first sorties with 611 Sqn took place on the 5th December 1941 when Flt Sgt Wright took her on a couple of shipping convoy patrols, the first at 08:15Hrs and returned at 09:30Hrs closely followed by another patrol at 10:25Hrs till 11:25Hrs.

On the 8th December, a dull and windy day by all account, two Spitfires from 611 Sqn were sent to Patrol Burnt Island in Fife. Flt Sgt Wright took P8522 and Sgt Johnstone in P7385.

The Squadron was tasked with operating out of Montrose for 3 days from the 12th December and 6 aircraft from B Flight proceed up to Montrose in the early afternoon. The Melton Spitfire however remained at Drem and at 17:00Hrs was on patrol over Eyemouth with Sqn Ldr Watkins in control.

Only 2 aircraft flew on the 15th from Drem, Flt Sgt Wright in P8522 and Sgt Haggas in P8468 were patrolling St Abbs Head. It was a bright day with high winds and bitterly cold. The Squadron was visited by 10 press reporters from various parts of Lancashire. the pilots ‘put on a good show’ and the visitors who were wined and dined by the Sqn left in a contented state of mind.

More patrols were undertaken by Flt Sgt Wright in the Melton Spitfire on the 16th December and then the aircraft didn’t fly again until the 28th when Sqn Ldr Watkins took her on a convoy patrol.

At lunch time on the 14th February, the Melton Mowbray Spitfire was 1 of 4 aircraft involved in a lunch time ‘scramble’ when the alarm bells sounded as an enemy aircraft (later identified as a Heinkel He111) approached the camp, flying at 30,000feet. The Spitfires gave chase but could not get within firing range before the enemy aircraft was lost in cloud.

P8522 flew twice the following day with Sgt Johnson at the controls. The first on a patrol around May Isle then at 11:30Hrs she was scrambled with Sgt Johnson again at the controls along with W3628 piloted by Flt Lt Winskill. Sgt Jones was at the controls when again she was scrambled on the 16th to intercept enemy aircraft approaching.

On 21st February 1942 P8522 was involved in an accident and was transferred to Scottish Aviation at Prestwick where the Melton Spitfire was ‘Repaired In Works’ on the 26th Feb and on the 7th March it was re-classified as a ‘Repaired Aircraft Awaiting Allocation’.  

On the 13th March 1942, P8522 was transferred to No 37 MU at RAF Burtonwood in Cheshire.  The role of 37MU was to receive brand new aircraft direct from the manufacturers and prepare them for squadron service and to incorporate all the latest modifications and armaments. The aircraft were then put into storage to be issued to the squadron as and when needed. 37 MU also operated an Aircraft Repair depot (ARD) repairing aircraft that had been battled damaged, or had crashed etc. P8522 remained at RAF Burtonwood until 21st April 1942. 

The next unit to operate P8522 was No 1 Coastal Artillery Co-operation Flight (CACF) located at RAF Detling, 3 miles North East of Maidstone in Kent.  On 1st January, 1942, No.1 Coast Artillery Co-operation Flight became No.1 Coast Artillery Co-operation Unit, and transferred from No.70 Group to No.35 Wing Army Co-operation Command. 

Within a couple of weeks of arriving on No 1 CACU, the Melton Spitfire was involved in another incident when Fg Off H L D Tanner made a heavy landing at RAF Weston Zoyland putting the aircraft out of action until the 15th May 42 when she returned to her home base at RAF Detling following repair.
 
Early in 1942 the Unit took part in various exercises with the Army and Royal Navy.  A number of practice shoots were carried out with 540 and 520 Coast Regiments at Dover, but no operational flying was requested during the first four months of this year.  Operational sorties were carried out from May onwards, mainly reconnaissance of shipping and targets for the long range guns.  A number of “Rhubarbs” were successfully carried out during the Autumn of 1942.  

On 16 July, Plt Off P F Sewell 47422 was flying P8522 on a non-operational (local flying) sortie when it was involved in an accident on landing.  Due to the amount of damage sustained, the aircraft was categorized as Flying Accident Category B  (FACB).  A Cat B accident is classed as beyond repair on site by station personnel but personnel from No 88MU were drafted in to carry out the repair which started on the 20th July 1942 and was completed with the aircraft being handed back to No 1 CACU on 7th August. 

The accident record card states: “Pilot made normal landing and starboard tyre (possibly punctured on take-off) deflated during run.  When passing over depression in the ground, the aircraft lurched causing Port u/c to stress at the anchorage and collapse, following which the starboard u/c collapsed. AOC: Pilot not to blame.” 

In August 1942, Sqn Ldr D J Hamilton was bringing the Melton Spitfire into land when he made a ‘wheels up’ landing on the airfield. The aircraft was repaired and a month later on the 29th September Hamilton was again flying the Melton Spitfire on a sortie tasked with spotting form the artillery when it collided with birds. On landing, the aircraft was damaged further when it tipped on its nose. Again it was repaired and declared operational on the 2nd October.

Example of a Spitfire on its nose.

On 23rd November, the training Flight returned to Detling with all aircraft and equipment.  Towards the end of 1942, night flying practice in Spitfires was carried out with 520 and 540 Coast Regiments at Dover in an effort to ascertain if spotting with Spitfires was feasible at night, but this was found to be impracticable. 

P8522 was involved in another accident on the 22nd October when flying over enemy territory France at very low level and collided with birds at 1045hrs. The pilot, Fg Off Robert James Gee managed to get her back home and the damage was classed as Cat AC – repair beyond unit capacity.  Again P8522 was repaired on site and was handed back to No 1 CACU on 17th April 1943. 

The Melton Spitfire remained No 1 CACU 19th June 1943 when it was re-allotted and taken on strength by the Tactical Air Force.  

On the 23rd October 1943 P8522 was transferred to No 61 OTU at RAF Rednal near Shrewsbury to train new pilots for Fighter Command.

ROYAL AIR FORCE FIGHTER COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 6448) A newly-qualified pilot is introduced to the Supermarine Spitfire, a Mark IIB, P8315, by his instructor at No. 61 Operational Training Unit, Rednal, Shropshire. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210218

It stayed until 11th August 1944 when it was transferred yet again to No 45MU at RAF Kinloss in Scotland where it stayed until it was eventually struck off charge on the 26th April 1945 due to it being deteriorated beyond repair. 

The Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire P8522 served the country well being utilised on the front line. As she became superseded by newer advanced versions of the Spitfire, she carried on serving her country in various other roles.

P8522 had been engaged in combat with German bombers and fighters, escorted allied bombers over enemy occupied territory, took part in Rhubarb and Circus Operations, help train the British Army in the Bumper exercises, escorted shipping convoys and carried out patrols to protect the UK from attack, helped train the Coastal Defence units and latterly assisted with training newly qualified fighter command pilots on the Spitfire.

All in a days work for The Melton Mowbray & District Spitfire that was paid for by the generosity of the people of our market town and surrounding villages. We should be proud of our achievement.

16 – Tragedy after Victory – Melton Singer Killed

As the Country and the rest of Europe were rejoicing in the end of fighting and their countries being liberated from Nazi Germany, tragedy struck a Melton family as they received news that their son had been killed in Holland, two days after VE Day.

The Melton Times published an article titled “MELTON SINGER KILLED“ about Private Lawrie Hart.  ‘Lawrie’ is the Great Uncle of my wife.

“Mr. and Mrs. T. K. Hart, of 14, Eastfield Avenue, Melton, this week received news that their youngest son, Pte Lawrie Hart, had been killed in Holland.

The funeral took place at Hilversum with full military honours.

Pte Hart was a popular Melton singer.  He had been a member of the Melton Operatic Society for about six years, and used to sing in the choir of Sherrard Street Methodist Church.

Sherrard Street Methodist Church

Aged 24, Pte Hart had been in the forces three years. He went to France about 10 months ago.

After leaving school, he served his apprenticeship with Messrs E Clarke and Sons, Snow Hill, Melton, until he was called up.”

Lawrence Copley Hart was born 6th March 1921 and was the youngest son of Tom Kemp Hart and his wife Alice Hart (Nee Copley).  His 3 elder brothers were Albert Ernest (b.1905), William (Bill) (b.1908) and Cecil Harry (b.1910).

As the Melton Times had reported, he served his apprenticeship with Messrs E Clarke and Sons and his trade was a bricklayer, the same as his elder brother Cecil.

On the 19th Feb 1942, Lawrie was enlisted into the Leicestershire Regiment and started his military career at No. 22 Infantry Training Centre at Warwick, used for training soldiers from both the Leicestershire Regiment and the Royal Warwick Regiment. according to his enlistment papers, his height was recorded as 6 feet and half an inch.

He stayed at the Warwick ITC until he completed his basic training when he was transferred to join the 1st Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment on 30th July 1942 at the historic and renowned Gresham School at Holt in Norfolk.

Greshams School, Holt, Norfolk

In 1942, Lawrie qualified as a Gunner by passing his Mortar training.

In early 1943, The Bn moved from Holt to Purley in Surrey taking up defence duties in London and the south of England. In April 1944 the battalion was deployed between Goodwood and Chichester organised into flying columns reinforcing RAF regiments defending sixteen airfields in the area including the famous Tangmere airfield. An additional task was to guard the cordoned area for the Mulberry Harbour construction site.

After ‘D’ Day, 6th June the battalion moved back to Purley on the 14th where a V1 rocket (buzz bomb) took out 21 vehicles including Bren-gun carriers enabled for amphibious landing. The next morning drivers reported to collect replacements vehicles.

V1 Flying Bomb

At 21:00Hrs on Saturday 1st July 1944, the Brigade Major arrived with orders for the Bn to move to France on the next day to replace the 6th Duke of Wellingtons Regiment who had received heavy casualties and had been withdrawn to the UK following heavy losses at the battles of Le Parc de Boislande and Juvigny on the Western outskirts of Fontenay-le-Pesnel.

The following day, at 14:00Hrs, the 1st Bn Leicestershire Regiment left Purley on the first part of their journey into France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany.  On leaving Purley, the troops shouted to their well-wishers “Monty has decided he cannot do without us!”.

From Southampton, they sailed on the Princess Maud a veteran of the Dunkirk evacuation. The ship was shelled in the engine room taking fatalities on 30 May 1940. On 4 June 1940 following repairs she was able to return to the evacuation rescuing 1270 in a single trip being the penultimate ship away from Dunkirk.

Troopship Princess Maud

She subsequently assisted the evacuation of British and French troops from Veules-les-Roses around 12 June 1940 at the time of the surrender of the 51st Highland Division at Saint-Valery-en-Caux, a few miles to the west, transporting 600 British and French troops of the 2,280 rescued.

She then reverted to serving the Stranraer-Larne route on behalf of the Admiralty until in 1943 when she received modifications for D-Day landing operations to turn her into an infantry assault trip capable of launching six Landing Craft Assault (LCA) boats via hand hoists.

For the D-Day landings she was attached to the US Task Force Operation Neptune Force O at Omaha beach. She is reputed to have carried 1,360,378 troops in her war service.

The 1st Bn Leicestershire Regiment was part of the 148th Brigade, 49th Division, known as the Polar Bears.  Alongside the 1st Leicesters, the 49th was also made up of units including the Durhams, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, the Lincolns, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Tyneside Scottish, the Kent Yeomanry, the Loyal Suffolk Hussars, 89th LAA (the Buffs) and in August 44 were joined by the South Wales Borderers, Gloucesters and Essex Regiments.

49th Infantry Division Polar Bears emblem

On arrival in France, the 1st Bn landed on the beaches at Arromanches Mulberry Harbour on the 3rd, just a few miles from Courseulles-sue-Mer and concentrated at Carcagny on the 4th July.  Under the command of Lt Col Novis, they marched to Cristot and joined the 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers and the 7th Duke of Wellingtons Regiment of the 147th Brigade on the 6th July.  They then had 5 days when most of the officers and NCOs had a short attachment to the units in the line.  On the 13th, the Bn went fwd into the line near Fontenay having relieved the 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the 53rd Welsh Division.

The Leicesters spent from 24th July to 10th August in the line at Le Poirer with a 2,000 yard front where they actively patrolled frequently under enemy shelling and mortaring.

On the 22nd August, The Leicesters played a big part in the battle to take Ouilly-le-Vicompte with their pioneer platoon setting up ropes for them to cross the 20 feet wide river Toques.  Their first battle was a success despite a fierce counter attack in the afternoon.  The rifle companies nearly ran out of PIAT and small arms ammunition and approximately half of their 20 stretcher bearers had been hit.   Despite heavy shelling which had cost the lives of 1 officer and 11 men plus wounding a further 35, the Leicesters had defended their bridgehead.

During the period 10-12 September, the Leicesters were involved in Operation Astonia, The assault on Le Havre.  At 23:00Hrs on the 10th, the 1st Leicesters attacked, the tracks and roads were still found to be heavily mined and progress was slow.  By noon on the 11th, the Bn finally captured its objective East of the Forêt de Montegon and a vital bridge leading into the port.

Taking bridge near le Havre

After a weeks rest, the Bn was re-organised near Pont Audemer and was now commanded by Lt Col F W Sandars DSO.  The key road was still heavily mined with blown up vehicles blocking it.

The 1st Leicesters were again in battle on the 29th in what was known as the Battle for Mendicité, a formidable barrack block made up of a combined prison, workhouse and lunatic asylum.  Situated in 100 acres of farmland, intersected by deep ditches, the main enemy position had been reinforced by a second battalion and was surrounded on 3 sides by a moat, 20 feet wide and 3 feet deep.

Mendicité complex

Along with the Lincolns, the Leicesters cleared the north bank of the canal, they then proceeded to attack the Mendicité from the West whilst the 7th Dukes and Glosters attacked from the South.  The Leicesters battled away throughout the day capturing the key road bridge.  By late evening, Mendicité had been captured at a cost with the Leicesters losing 70 men either killed wounded or captured.

There were many feats of gallantry and some were awards were given out, For the Leicesters, Lt V F W Bridgwood won an immediate MC, as did Lt F A Gaunt.  D Companys CO Peter Upcher who led the assault won a DSO. Pte C H Woods, Cpl W A Saunders, Sgt W Irwin and Sgt T Johnson all received the MM.  Following the capture of Mendicité, the Bn moved from Belgium into Southern Holland.

On the 28th October, the Leicesters were once again in battle, this time as part of the Battle for Roosendaal. The main attack was from the 147th Brigade from the south, the 1st Leicesters on the left and the 7th Dukes on the right with eh 4th KOYLI and 11th Royal Scots  Fusiliers to pass through and capture the town.

Churchill tanks crossing a temporary bridge in Roosendal

On their way north towards Roosendaal, the Leicesters were involved in a battle at Brembosch. Under heavy fire the Bn proceeded to Roosendal which they made by nightfall having suffered 17 casualties.

The Leicesters were involved in the Battle of Zetten took place on the 18th/19th January 1945 and during he 2 days of fighting they suffered 60 casualties whilst they accounted for 150 Germans killed wounded or captured.

Private Lawrie Hart, (on left) 1st Bn Leicestershire Regiment

From Zetton, the Leicesters made their way through Holland passing through Nijmegen and travelled down the river Neder Rijn to Arnhem using the 36th LCAs of the 552nd Flotilla.  On reaching Arnhem they made their way to the top of Westervoorsedijt near the harbour and dug in near the Elisabeth Hospital.

On the evening of the 4th May, came the news that all German troops in NW Germany, Denmark and Western Holland had unconditionaly surrendered, to take effect from 08:00Hrs on the 5th.  On the 6th, Maj Gen Rawlins met the Commander of the German 88th Corps to arrange the occupation of NW Holland and the disarming and concentration of the enemy.

The plan was for the 49th Division to disarm the three divisions holding the Grebbe Line based on Holversum and Utrecht.  The 49th ‘customers’ were the 6th German Parachute Division who they had previously engaged in battle at Nijmegen bridge.  The 1st Bn moved to Hilversum to disarm the Wermacht.

Private Lawrie Hart aboard a Bren Gun Carrier, somewhere in Europe

On Saturday 5th May 1945, the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment was located in the area around Lunteren when they were visited by their popular (former) Commander, Lieutenant Colonel PAB Wrixon. He was warmly welcomed by the soldiers who had served under him in Hinckley, Holt and Purley. On Monday 7th May they left Lunteren to arrive in Hilversum after a stop en route on 9th May. 

On arrival at Hilversum, they saw large numbers of German troops against whom they faced up earlier in their journey through the Netherlands. Their Germans transport column consisted mainly of horse-drawn wagons, rather old-fashioned compared to their own military vehicles. 

German trrops with horse and cart transport near Hilversum

During their arrival in Hilversum, they were literally surrounded by a delirious crowd. Their hospitality towards the Leicesters soon became apparent and a short time later the Bn was well quartered. 

The Support Company was housed in a school and soon the schoolyard was filled with the Leicesters  military vehicles. The Germans had robbed the population of almost everything and the people were starving. The authorities realized this well and immediately after the announcement of the armistice, trucks loaded with food drove to all corners of the Netherlands. 
 
The enemy was gathered and taken to designated areas where they had to hand over their weapons and were searched. On the 10th May, the Leicesters  started their mission: to disarm the German troops in their area. The German troops belonged to the ‘Hermann Goering Para Division, with whom they had previously fought. 

Hermann Goering Parachute Division

The disarmament area was located in a site a few kilometers outside Hilversum. After a successful start, the Battalion was soon afterwards faced with a tragedy. When the Germans arrived on the ground, they first delivered their rifles and small arms under the supervision of the Support Company and then walked on to deliver machine guns and mines. Finally, they had to go across the site to hand in their connectors and other equipment. 

German weapons being stockpiled
German weapons stockpile near Hilversum

The order for the platoon was to let the Germans do the work. A short time later, a closed horse carriage with a door at the back entered the site. The driver said he had bread rations for the German troops. He told Sgt Dixie Dean to open the door at the back and he saw that the cart was indeed half filled with bread. The driver wanted to close the door quickly again, and Dixie became suspicious and let him unload all the bread. No wonder he was so strange: under the bread a square wooden box, about 45 by 45 cm, full of pistols, mainly Lugers was found!   The box of Lugers was confiscated and he was allowed to put the bread back in the cart and continue on his journey.

Disarming the German troops

A few minutes later, a lorry with trailer came onto the site and the driver was instructed to drive to the unloading point. The truck was mainly loaded with mines and grenades. A company of soldiers had entered the site on foot when there was a huge explosion. Sgt Dixie Dean was blown upside down, together with some Germans who were stacking their guns. Fortunately, he got up unharmed and ran to the truck, blown over by the explosion, along with the trailer. The explosion had created a crater about 1.80 meters deep and 3.50 meters in diameter. 
 
The dazed survivors were put to work trying to free the injured from the debris. Unfortunately, there were only a few. After a roll call was taken, it became clear that eleven men from the Mortar platoon and two from the Antitank platoon were missing and most likely killed. A number of Germans also died in the explosion. 

When the roll call was taken after the explosion, Sgt Dixons attention was drawn to a Dutch citizen who was waving in the middle of the site next to us. A soldier was sent to ask what he wanted. When he returned, he said that a body had been found. It was undoubtedly the body of a British soldier. It turned out to be the body of soldier H. Hall, who had been added to the Mortar platoon since the Normandy landing.  The force of the explosion can be measured by the fact that his body was more than 80 to 90 meters from the crater. 

The only ones of the Mortar platoon to survive, although severely wounded, were soldier Jack Knight along with Sergeant Gosling. As far as Knight could tell, it was seen that a German who was unloading the truck threw a Teller mine (used to destroy the tracks of tanks) on a pile of mines previously unloaded . This or one of the stacked mines must have exploded. If the ignition hadn’t been in the mine, it would have been nearly impossible for it to explode.

This was confirmed by a sergeant ammunition expert, who arrived at the scene of disaster shortly after the tragedy. Since the German who threw the mine had also died, it was impossible to give a more accurate description of what happened. Whether the explosive was deliberately thrown to make casualties among the English soldiers and whether the ignition was set will never be revealed. 

This tragic event was particularly hard on everyone, especially the men of the Mortar platoon who had lost so many comrades. After the landing on the beaches of Normandy, they had all moved up without further losses and now, a few days after everything was over, lost their lives in this very tragic way. 

On 12th May, the killed soldiers were buried in the cemetery in Hilversum, where they still have their final resting place to this day. The Bn experienced genuine compassion as the trucks with the coffins aboard passed lines of the Dutchmen gathered along the route who expressed their feelings with flowers. 

Tigers Funeral at Hilversum

On Sunday, May 13, the day after the funeral, the Adjutant, Captain John Stevenson, summoned the Commander of the Anti-Tank Platoon and Sgt Dixon. He said that a report had been received from Headquarters regarding a German unit that also reported several casualties as a result of the explosion. They had taken away a body they suspected may have been one of our people. They were instructed to visit this German unit and to verify all this. 

On arrival they were taken to a place where the body had been placed, but identification proved impossible. Although a British boot, trousers and spats, were seen, these were not marked with an army number. We returned to our unit and reported to the Adjutant. Later we heard that the body was buried under the supervision of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in the cemetery in Hilversum. 

The members of the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment killed in the explosion were: Mortar Platoon: Private TVH Atkin, Corporal J. Fisher, Private H. Hall, Private LC Hart, Lance Sergeant OW Hartshorn, Private VG Langley, Private EC Obeney, Lance Corporal S. Onion, Private DE Wain, Lance Corporal RJ Walley, Corporal LGE Whitehall and of the Antitank Platoon: Private RHC Hyde and Private R. Wood. 

German soldiers also died in the accident. The names of two of them are: Obergefreiter Franz Rauecker and Gefreiter Max Salzinger. 

After the War, the Hart family visited Lawries grave at Hilversum.

Hart Family visiting Lawries grave after the war
Post War service at Hilversum cemetery
Hilversum CWGC Graves

Grave of Pte Lawrence Copley Hart taken during our visit to his grave on 28th May 2015

For more information about his grave, visit his CWGC casualty record.

We Will Remember Them.

02 – The Hanbury Brothers

Welcome to my first history blog on my new website HistoryFare!

In this blog I will be telling the story of two brothers, Reggie and Theo Hanbury of Melton Mowbray who both lost their lives whilst serving in the RAF during World War 2.

Reginald Lewis Hanbury and Henry Theobald Hanbury were two sons of Charles and Ethel May Hanbury (née Cranham), of 84 Burton Road, Melton Mowbray.  The other brothers and sisters were: Charles Henry (B. 1908), Kathleen May (b.1909), Elizabeth (b.1926).

Reginald, or Reggie as he was known, was born 7 Aug 1913 at Asfordby Lodge and lived at 84 Burton Road with his wife Norma Ruth Hanbury. Norma’s maiden name was Hart and she was born in 1920 in Oxbow, Saskatchewan, Canada.  She arrived in England on 28 Nov 1943 aboard the “S.S. Manchester Shipper” and arrived at the port of Manchester after setting sale from Halifax in Nova Scotia. 

Reggie joined the RAF as a ‘Halton Brat’ Number 563974 and served his apprenticeship in the 20th Entry.  In 1940 he was promoted to Flt Sgt pilot and was commissioned on 1st April 1940 to Pilot Officer (43690), followed by further promotions to F/O in 1941, Flt Lt in 1942 and Sqn Ldr in 1943.

Reggie was a Sqn Ldr Pilot serving with No 254 Sqn at RAF North Coates, the same Sqn that was stationed at Melton almost 20 years later as a Strategic Missile unit.  On 7th June 1944, the day after D-Day, he took off at 23:08 Hrs in Beaufighter X QM-S with F/O W Ogston as his Observer for an anti-shipping patrol with their duty to ‘PERCULATE F1’.  At 04:15Hrs, the Sqn took ‘Overdue Action as the aircraft had failed to return.

Just a few minutes earlier, Wg Cdr R E Burns DFC took off in QM-T with F/O R M Vimpany as his Observer, again on an anti-shipping patrol, but this time their duty was to ‘PERCULATE E’.  At 23:56Hrs, the aircraft was reported to be on patrol at 51˚54̍N, 01˚38̍E. At 01:17Hrs, they picked up a distress message from an aircraft and came of patrol at 01:53Hrs and reported ‘Nothing Seen’.

As the bodies of Reggie and his crew mate were never found, they are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Runnymede RAF Memorial

Henry Theobald Hanbury also joined the RAF, apparently before the war serving in the ranks reaching the rank of Sgt 527016.  In 1943, he was commissioned to the rank of Plt Off (52166) and was further promoted through the ranks and reached Flt Lt on 20th May 1945.  Henry was also aircrew, but served as a Flight Engineer with 511 Sqn.

On 20th November 1946, he was aboard 511 Sqn Avro York MW205 when it crashed 50 miles southeast of Cairo on a return journey from England to India with the loss of all 6 crew members aboard.

The telegram sent by a Squadron Leader of the same Squadron as Flt Lt Hanbury states that he was buried with honours on Wednesday at Shallufa, Egypt. Flt Lt. Hanbury joined the RAF just before the war and flew with Bomber command as a flight engineer. A telegram informed Mr and Mrs H.T. Hanbury of 84 Burton Rd, Melton of the tragic death of their son.

Jack Cook who served in the RAF was a Flt Sgt Wireless Operator on Lancasters and served with 100 & 104 Squadrons.  Jack remembers the incident as follows:

“On the 20th November 1946, I was stationed with 104 Squadron at RAF Shallufa (Egypt).  On that day Henry Theobald Hanbury, the younger of the 2 Hanbury brothers was flying in a York aircraft, with five other crew members.  The aircraft crashed south of Cairo and there were no survivors.  On the following day, we searched for this crashed aircraft along with other aircraft from our Squadron.  According to my flight log book on that day, we took off at 0620 Hours in a Lancaster VII aircraft No NX740 to help with the search.  After an unsuccessful sortie taking 9 Hours 45 Minutes, our aircraft returned to base.  The York was found, though I cannot remember the date.

Volunteers were asked to act as Pall Bearers and I along with two other members of my crew readily obliged.  The funeral took place with Full Military Honours and the York crew was buried together in one large grave.”

Thanks go to Jack and his crew mates for giving Theo a fitting & deserved burial.

Suez War Memorial Cemetery

Theo, as he was known, is buried in grave 5A4 in the Suez War memorial Cemetery.  There are now 513 Commonwealth casualties of the First World War and 377 from the Second World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery. A few, known to have been buried here or elsewhere but whose graves could not be located, are commemorated by special memorial. The cemetery also contains war graves of other nationalities and non-war graves.