Wednesday, 19 June 2019

'Anging 'Round Pubs

Chief Warden Hodges, as played by Bill Pertwee, together with his nemesis, Capt. Mainwaring as played by Arthur Lowe (Author's collection)

This article is an updated and modified version of a piece which first appeared in the July 2010 edition of this blog.

For those of us of a certain generation and thanks to the constant re-runs, many younger people too, the mention of a Second World War Air Raid Warden will often automatically lead to thoughts of Chief Warden Bert Hodges, played superbly by the late Bill Pertwee in the classic BBC comedy Dad's Army. To use the words of Sergeant Wilson of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, Hodges was a "rather course man" who revelled in his newly-found importance and indeed was heard to state in at least one episode "...I do enjoy this war." What Hodges doesn't realise, at least until much later in the series, is that he is roundly despised by not only the Home Guard platoon but also by pretty much everyone in the town and is shocked into tears when he learns of this - not that it seems to change him much.

Whilst the character of Hodges was obviously written for comedic effect by Jimmy Perry and David Croft - who both were of the wartime generation - as the 'Pantomime Villain' for the series, there are certainly some parallels between the depiction of Hodges and how the British public viewed their real-life Air Raid Wardens, at least at the earlier period of the war. 

Some of the rhetoric and mythology that has emanated from the 1940 Blitz period propaganda is still wheeled out to this day, sometimes by those who really should know better. On the other hand, works such as Clive Ponting's execrable "1940: Myth and Reality" basically would have us believe that everything that happened in 1940 was a lie - at least as far as the British were concerned. This would have come as news to my parents and grandparents, as well as the many others who lived through it!

As always, the truth lays somewhere in between the extremes and one of the happier aspects of any serious research is to sometimes discover that a story that one had come to believe was a complete fabrication, is actually true. This is the case with the assertion, that I have heard from one or two other guides, that an article in a local London newspaper stated that ARP should stand not for "Air Raid Precautions" but instead for "' Anging 'Round Pubs". Good for a laugh but a story that has never been backed up with a shred of evidence, at least not by anyone that I have heard peddling it. Closer investigation of the British Newspaper Archive reveals that such a phrase was indeed heard in 1939 and 1940 but far from it being a local newspaper story, it was a gag used by the great Bud Flanagan in his act, which was then repeated in various articles in the national and entertainment press, an example of which is repeated below. I can now use this gag when guiding groups and have some evidence to support the story!

The Bud Flanagan gag, as explained in 'The Bystander' of 27 October 1939 (Author's photo)

As the Wardens' main job was the ensure the enforcement of the Blackout, there were some members of the public who viewed them as lackeys of the police, whilst others resented their calls of "Put that light out" or "Cover that window" whenever a chink of light was detected, thus breaking the blackout regulations. As with any sample of the population, there were some wardens who were officious and bossy and of course, any reports of such individuals gave the rest of the service a bad name, even though the vast majority were of wardens were diligent citizens doing their best to help defend their local neighbourhood. 

Whilst the relatively few full-time ARP Wardens were paid £3 5s a week for men and £2 3s 6d for women (about £3.25 and £2.18 respectively), the majority of wardens (around 90 percent) were part timers, who were basically paid expenses only. Full-time wardens over 35 were also "frozen" (i.e. exempt) from the call-up to the armed services effective from October 1940. By the end of the war, the numbers of wardens across the country had swollen to some 1.4 million, of whom around ten percent were full timers.

The origins of the Wardens' Service goes back to 1935, when the then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin published a circular called Air Raid Precautions which invited local authorities to make plans to protect their citizens against air attack in the event of a war. Some of the more responsible authorities responded by constructing public air raid shelters, whilst others ignored the advice perhaps hoping that by doing so, the problem would go away.

Air Raid Wardens in Lewisham outside their Post (Author's collection)

Faced with this attitude from some councils, in 1937 the government decided to create an Air Raid Wardens' service and over the following year, recruited some 200,000 volunteers. In addition to the wardens, the government extended the provision of public air raid shelters by digging trench shelters in public parks and issuing corrugated steel shelters to households for installation in gardens. These were known as Anderson Shelters after Sir John Anderson, whom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had placed in charge of Air Raid Precautions in 1938. At first, it was decided not to use the London Underground for sheltering purposes but this was quickly countermanded in the face of civil disobedience as soon as the Blitz started.

Once the Blitz started, the public's attitude towards the Air Raid Wardens changed almost overnight, for as well as patrolling during the quieter "all clear" periods, the Wardens would remain on the streets on patrol, invariably in pairs during raids, when they would often be the first to arrive on the scene of an incident. They would then assess the situation, decide which services were required and then make their report to the Post Warden, who would then telephone for the requested services. The warden would then return to the scene of the incident and take charge until such time as the services arrived, at which point they would continue their patrol of their designated area.

Being in the front line as it were, it was inevitable that many wardens would be killed and these were amongst the total of 2,379 Civil Defence workers including 231 women lost their lives during the conflict.

Published Sources:

London at War, Philip Ziegler - Sinclair Stevenson 1995
Backs to the Wall, Leonard Mosley - Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1971
Blitz, M J Gaskin - Faber & Faber 2005
The City that Wouldn't Die, Richard Collier - Collins 1959
Carry on London, Ritchie Calder - English Universities Press 1941

The Myth of The Blitz, Angus Calder - Jonathan Cape 1991
The People's War, Angus Calder - Jonathan Cape 1969

Unpublished Sources:

British Newspaper Archive - 'The Bystander', 27 October 1939

Thursday, 9 May 2019

The aircrew on my doorstep

The grave of Flight Lieut FJ Kemp at Charlton Cemetery (author's photo)

This piece was originally posted in January 2017 and concentrated on just one grave that I had discovered at Charlton Cemetery. Since then, I have now researched all of the aircrew buried at this cemetery and thought it would make sense to update the article so as to pay tribute to all of the RAF boys on my doorstep. As always, the photos used to accompany this article are credited accordingly and none may be used without my express written permission.

When I wrote the original piece in 2017, it was very much the result of some accidental researching that came about whilst engaged on an unrelated project for a paying client. Following on from my recent exploration of All Saints' Churchyard in Carshalton which I wrote about here in January 2019, it seemed a sensible progression to come back to my own local cemetery in order to look at the RAF aircrew buried here, especially as one of the Charlton buried aircrew had a coincidental Carshalton connection which linked the two projects nicely.

Charlton Cemetery in Southeast London contains 114 burials commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, of which 55 are from the Second World War. I was aware of these and indeed had already written about a member of the Home Guard buried there in the May 2015 edition of this blog. The headstone that had caught my eye in 2017 was that of a Royal Air Force pilot, Flight Lieutenant Frederick John Kemp, who had died in July 1944. 

30 year old Frederick Kemp was born in Greenwich in 1914 and had married his wife Ellen in 1938, settling in the Charlton area of Southeast London. The 1939 Register shows Fred living with his wife in what must have been crowded conditions with his parents at 27 Mascalls Road, although they were later to move to a house of their own at 35 Eastcombe Avenue.

Upon the outbreak of war in September 1939, Frederick had joined the Royal Air Force, eventually qualifying as a pilot in 1941. By 1944, he had risen to the rank of Flight Lieutenant and was serving with 68 Squadron at RAF Castle Camps in Cambridgeshire, flying the De Havilland Mosquito NF XVII, which was a night-fighter variant of the sleek and versatile 'Wooden Wonder' as it was frequently referred to at the time.

Flying Officer James Donald Farrar (Aircrew Remembered)

His navigator was the 20 year old James Farrar from Carshalton, Surrey. James obviously had aviation in his family's blood, as his elder brother was the aeronautical engineer David Farrar. James had been called up in February 1942 and received his commission as a Pilot Officer the following year, serving with 68 Squadron. James was also an accomplished poet and had an anthology of his work, entitled "Unreturning Spring" published posthumously in 1950. He had been a pupil of Sutton Grammar School and his talent as a writer was described by Alwyn Trubshaw, his former English teacher who said of him "I say taught English but it would be truer to say that I taught English in his presence only. He had no need of my teaching. He was a natural born writer."

By July 1944, London was once again under German bombardment, not this time from manned bombers but from the V-1 Flying Bomb, known to Londoners as the Doodlebug or Buzz Bomb. These fearsome weapons were launched mainly from fixed sites in the Pas-de-Calais region and were programmed for their engine to cut out when over the London area. Thus, they were the first, albeit crude form of Cruise Missile, technologically advanced in their propulsion and guidance but aimed only in the general direction of London, falling indiscriminately on their target, whether factory, house or hospital.

James Farrar remembered at Runnymede Memorial (Author's Photo)

At first, the V-1 caused havoc amongst the war weary Londoners. The first one fell on 13 June 1944, barely a week after D-Day and at a time when the British people could have been forgiven for thinking that the end of the war was finally in sight. The British defences were quickly re-organised; the anti-aircraft guns located in and around London were quickly re-located to form a defensive strip around the Kent and Sussex coasts, where the majority of the missiles crossed on their steady course. Inland of the guns, the barrage balloons were re-deployed and behind these, RAF Fighter Command was given free reign to shoot down any of the Buzz Bombs that had not been brought down by the first two layers of this new and hastily improvised defence. The new arrangements proved extremely effective; the anti-aircraft guns with their proximity shells and radar guidance shot down the most, eventually gaining a success ratio of one V-1 for every hundred shells fired. The Barrage Balloons were less successful but were still thought to have been responsible for bringing down about three hundred missiles. The RAF shot down 1,954 of them, with the Hawker Tempest being the most successful with 638 'kills' and with other types such as the Mosquito taking 623, Spitfire 303 and Mustang 238, with other types accounting for the remainder, including the then new Meteor jet fighter, which gave the people of Kent and Sussex an early vision of the jet age. Overall, out of 9,250 Doodlebugs aimed at England, only some 2,400 reached their target, which represents a remarkable change in fortunes.

The extract from 68 Squadron's Operational Record Book (author's image)

The RAF nicknamed their flights against the V-1s as Anti-Diver Patrols and it is was on these missions that Flt. Lieut. Kemp and Flying Officer Farrar were employed in July 1944. As the threat from these weapons was of a round the clock nature, 24 hour patrols were maintained, with the fighters being vectored onto the Divers by radar. On the night of 25 July 1944, ten Mosquitos of 68 Squadron were on patrol, with Kemp and Farrar flying in aircraft serial number MM679 with a callsign of "Ferro 19". Shortly before midnight, they were vectored to intercept a Diver over the Thames Estuary. They replied to say that whilst they could see the V-1, they were out of position and that another aircraft of 219 Squadron was better placed to intercept. Shortly after making this transmission, they sent a further message to say that the Diver had exploded. At 04:12, they were given a new vector by control to intercept but did not respond to the message. Despite repeated efforts to contact Ferro 19, they could not be raised and had to be considered as missing.

Frederick Kemp's body was later washed ashore in the Thames Estuary but there was no trace of either the Mosquito or James Farrar, who is today commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. Fred Kemp left a wife (who never remarried) two daughters and a son.

The grave of LAC Ronald Brooks at Charlton Cemetery (author's photo)

The above mentioned incident occurred whilst an experienced crew were on an operational flight but as can be imagined, the vast majority of those aircrew who are buried in local cemeteries such as Charlton were killed as a result of some sort of training accident. In Bomber Command alone, some 8,195 aircrew were killed in flying or ground training accidents and the following casualties interred in the cemetery reflect this.

On my return to the cemetery, the first RAF grave that I discovered was that of a young pilot under training, Leading Aircraftman Ronald Edward Brooks, who lived with his parents in Tallis Grove, Greenwich. So far, it has not been possible to discover much about this family but young Ronald, who had doubtless volunteered to fly on the strength of the then recent events of the Battle of Britain, died on 10 October 1940 when the Magister training aircraft in which he was a pupil pilot, crashed shortly after taking off from RAF Woodley on what should have been a routine stage in his training.

The circumstances of the accident are not recorded but when rescuers reached the stricken aircraft, both Brooks and his instructor, 24 year old Pilot Officer Ivor List were both seriously injured, and sadly died shortly after admission to hospital. Ronald Brooks was just 19 years of age and the news of his death whilst still under training would have been a heartbreaking blow to his parents

Sgt. HR Jennings grave at Charlton Cemetery (author's photo)

The next grave I investigated was not of the usual CWGC style and had obviously been erected privately as a family plot as it commemorated several members of the Jennings household. The person I was interested in was Sgt. Henry Rupert Jennings, who had died whilst serving in RAF Coastal Command as part of the crew of a Liberator bomber, used extensively on maritime patrol duties.

Henry had been born on 10 Jun 1918 to parents Henry Hough Jennings and Eva Florence Jennings who lived at 6 Church Street, Greenwich. The 1939 Register describes Henry junior as a 'Cycle and Tool Shop Manager' but shortly after this time, in common with many other young men across the country, he had volunteered to serve as aircrew. In his case, Henry qualified as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and was posted to 224 Squadron in Coastal Command, which had recently converted to fly the Consolidated Liberator, a large four engine bomber, which was to prove a game-changer in the Battle of The Atlantic.

Until the advent of the Liberator, Coastal Command had had to make do with the ever reliable Short Sunderland flying boat, a fine aircraft which could carry a formidable weapon load and which was a proven U-Boat killer but which did not have sufficient range to close the "air gap" between the United States east coast, Iceland and the UK in the North Atlantic. Other aircraft such as the Catalina and Lockheed Hudson also failed to meet this criteria and the Air Officer Commanding Bomber Command, the formidable Sir Arthur Harris refused to release any of his precious Lancasters for the task. The VLR or Very Long Range Liberator was the answer to this problem and these aircraft began to be introduced in penny numbers from December 1941 but did not appear in greater numbers until the spring of 1943.

The Liberator of which Henry Jennings was a crew member took off from RAF Beaulieu at 08:49 on Saturday 7 November 1942 under the command of 31 year old Flight Sergeant Kenneth Crabtree for an anti-shipping patrol over the Bay of Biscay. As far as is known, all had proceeded according to plan when the aircraft returned to Beaulieu at 19:30 that evening. The squadron's Operational Record Book does not state whether or not the aircraft was in a damaged condition when it attempted to land but merely states that the aircraft crashed on landing and subsequently exploded, with the loss of the entire crew of seven. Henry was just 24 years of age.

The grave of Sgt JV Hay at Charlton Cemetery (author's photo)

The next grave that I came across was that of Sergeant James Vincent Hay, aged 28 who had been born on 15 April 1916 and was recorded in the 1939 Register as being a Constable in the Metropolitan Police Force, based at Blackheath Section House. He had also recently married Madge Patricia Sheldsick but had not at that time set up home together as Madge was recorded as still living with her parents at Maidenstone Hill in Greenwich.

James would have no doubt served in the Metropolitan Police throughout the worst of the London Blitz and V-1 campaign but in common with many younger police officers, would have been released when things became a little quieter and had enlisted in the RAF towards the middle part of 1944. Sadly, it would appear that he never saw operational service with the RAF, for whilst he was training at No. 3 (Observer) Advanced Training Unit, based at RAF Halfpenny Green, Wolverhampton, his Avro Anson aircraft serial AX538, which was piloted by a Canadian, Sgt. John Mervyn Penonzek,  was involved in a mid-air collision with another similar aircraft over the Isle of Man. The second aircraft was able to make a forced landing nearby but sadly, AX538 crashed at Ballacurphy Farm with the loss of all four crew members on board. In addition to his wife Madge, John left a four year old son, a year old daughter and would also be a father to another daughter that he would never see, born in the third quarter of 1945.

Sgt. JH Atkinson's grave at Charlton Cemetery (author's photo)

Sgt. Jack Holder Atkinson was born on 20 February 1910 and is recorded in the 1939 Register as living at 15 Balloch Road, Lewisham, with a recorded occupation as a Motor Dealer. He had married Thelma Shutt during the fourth quarter of 1941 and had settled in the Charlton area of Southeast London. Jack had enlisted into the RAF during the second half of 1942 and by January 1943, he had completed his basic and operational training to be posted to serve in Bomber Command as an Air Bomber (Bomb Aimer). The large four engine heavy bombers such as the Stirling, Lancaster and Halifax were now coming on stream in steadily increasing numbers and so "Heavy Conversion Units" or HCUs were formed in order to mould the crews into the units required to man these large (and for the time) technically advanced aircraft. 

On 2 January 1943, Sgt. Atkinson formed part of  a crew of a Halifax bomber, serial R9388. The Halifax normally carried a crew of seven but for the purposes of this exercise was carrying a depleted crew of four, having dispensed with the services of a Navigator, Wireless Operator and an Air Gunner. The aircraft took off from the base of 1658 HCU at RAF Riccall in North Yorkshire just after 10:00 on a morning that was described in the Operational Record Book as "Fine, becoming cloudy with strong wintry showers". At around 10:20, the aircraft was seen from the ground as flying with one engine stopped and the propeller feathered, when it suddenly began to climb very steeply before it stalled and plummeted into the ground at Cawood, near Tile Bridge. Of the four man crew, there was just one survivor, Sgt. Gordon Maxwell Lipsett of New Brunswick Canada. He had been the tail gunner and was recovered from the wrecked aircraft suffering from extensive injuries. He was taken to nearby Selby Cottage Hospital and later transferred to the RAF Hospital at Rauceby. Fortunately, he recovered and survived the war, only to pass away at the young age of 53 in Winnipeg in 1974.

Sadly, the remaining crew members did not survive the crash and Jack Atkinson was returned to his young widow to be buried at Charlton Cemetery.

Sgt WH Lacey's grave at Charlton Cemetery (author's photo)

After a bit more exploration of this large cemetery, I came across another CWGC headstone which contained the grave of yet another RAF aircrew member who was sadly killed whilst undergoing his training.

Sergeant William Haylett Lacey was born on 3 August 1922 and was the only child of William Haylett Lacey (Senior) and Nora Lacey of 6 Ormiston Road, Plumstead. Young William's occupation in the 1939 Register was recorded as a Junior Clerk in a Gas Company but along with many thousands of others, he volunteered to serve in the RAF as aircrew and joined the service in late 1941. By April 1942, he had completed his basic training and had qualified as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and had already completed the "crewing up" process at 23 Operational Training Unit based at RAF Pershore in Worcestershire. He and his crew mates were nearing the end of their operational training and would no doubt have shortly been posted to an operational squadron, when on 8 April 1942 at 15:37, the Wellington serial R1597 in which he was flying, crashed at Llangammarch Wells in Breconshire. In addition to the embryo crew, there were two instructors also killed in the accident.

Pilot Officer Barton-Smith's grave at Charlton Cemetery (author's photo)

Our next grave revealed only the second officer to be found here at Charlton Cemetery and was yet another airman killed whilst undergoing training at a Heavy Conversion Unit, in this case 1654 HCU based at RAF Wigsley in Nottinghamshire. Reginald Lionel Barton-Smith of Charlton was the husband of Irene Miriam Barton-Smith and was aged 22 at the time of his death.

On 11 November 1943 at 17:30, Lancaster I serial W4902 piloted by Barton-Smith, took off from RAF Wigsley on a long cross-country flight which was to be the final conversion exercise for this crew prior to their being posted to an operational squadron. By 22:45 they were close to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire in poor visibility when suddenly, the pilot had to manoeuvre sharply to avoid a collision with a Wellington aircraft. As a result of this, the collision was averted but the pilot lost control and the Lancaster crashed at Hackthorne, about one mile from Scampton. Of the seven man crew, there were four survivors, Sgt JF Snedker, the Flight Engineer, Sgt. CSW Wilkes, the Air Bomber and two Air Gunners, Sgts. WB Crawford and FW Murphy, both of the Royal Australian Air Force. The first three were taken to the RAF Hospital at Rauceby, whilst Murphy, who had a fractured left femur was admitted to Lincoln Military Hospital. All of these men subsequently survived the war. Sadly, the remaining three aircrew did not survive.

The next headstone revealed another officer and on this occasion, although his death was accidental, it occurred during an operational mission, rather than during training and is arguably the most tragic of all of the various incidences recalled above.

Geoffrey Richard Davis was born on 12 June 1922 to Maxwell Charles and Lilian Davis of 77 Maze Hill, Greenwich. Maxwell was a wholesale tobacco merchant according to the 1939 Register but so far, we have not been able to ascertain Geoffrey's peacetime occupation. He had volunteered to serve with the RAF as aircrew and had qualified as a Sergeant Pilot, having been posted to 98 Squadron of 2 Group flying the twin engine Mitchell bomber. The squadron had by this time passed from Bomber Command to be part of the new Second Tactical Air Force as part of the prelude to Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe in June 1944.

The squadron was based at RAF Dunsfold in Surrey, which gave the squadron easier access to it's intended targets within the invasion area of Northern France. In late April, Davis had been commissioned to the rank of Pilot Officer but the promotion hadn't been officially recognised in the squadron's Operational Record Book, when at 12:24 on 20 April 1944, the Mitchells of the squadron took off on a daylight bombing raid  on targets in Croisette, France. Unfortunately, Davis's Mitchell had been seen to crash shortly after take-off, about three miles from the airfield. There were no survivors amongst the four man crew.

What makes this loss particularly tragic is that Davis had been married just a month or so earlier, perhaps in anticipation of his impending promotion. He had tied the knot with Irene Marjorie Noble in North Bucks., and at the time of his death, were still living with Geoffrey's parents in Maze Hill. The headstone has the heartbreaking inscription "Forever In My Thoughts".

Our final aircrew grave at Charlton reverted to type with a Sergeant being killed whilst undergoing training as a fighter pilot but which does have a fascinating, albeit tragic link with another member of the same family. Eric John Easton was just 19 years of age at the time of his death and little is known about his early life. He shares a grave at Charlton with his grandmother, Margaret Easton, so perhaps this suggests that he lost his parents at an early age.

Whatever the circumstances, Eric had volunteered to serve as aircrew in the RAF, no doubt in his case spurred on by the recent events of the Battle of Britain. He had qualified as a pilot and was undertaking his operational training at 52 OTU at RAF Debden in Essex, where he was in the latter stages of learning how to fly the Hawker Hurricane fighter.

Sadly, on 30 April 1941, his aircraft failed to pull out of a high speed dive and crashed off Danocoys Lane, Bishop's Stortford. He was undergoing an oxygen test at the time of the crash and it was thought that oxygen supply problems was the main contributory cause of the crash.

As mentioned earlier, the Easton family grave contains another family member from the Royal Air Force who gave her life in heroic circumstances later in the war and her story will be recounted in the next edition of this blog.

In the meantime, if any of our readers have connections with any of the families mentioned in the above piece and can obtain photographs of any of the people mentioned, I would be delighted and honoured to share these, so please leave a comment below and I will get back to you with my contact details, or you can leave a message via the contact page on my main website.

In Memoriam:

68 Squadron De Havilland Mosquito NF XVII serial MM679

Flight Lieutenant FJ Kemp RAFVR (Pilot) of Charlton, London
Flying Officer JD Farrar RAFVR (Navigator) of Carshalton, Surrey

8 EFTS Miles Magister I serial R1891

Pilot Officer IH List RAFVR (Pilot, Instructor) of Stoke on Trent, Staffs
Leading Aircraftman RE Brooks RAFVR (Pilot, Under Training) of Charlton, London

224 Squadron Consolidated Liberator III 'XB-C' serial FK245

Flight Sergeant K Crabtree RAFVR (Pilot) of Bingley, Yorkshire
Sergeant RS Horsley RAFVR (Pilot) of Old Coulsdon, Surrey
Sergeant KE Hunt RAFVR (Flight Engineer) of Lewisham, London
Sergeant AW Colston RAFVR (Navigator) of Southville, Bristol
Flight Sergeant ES Bayley RAFVR (W/Op Air Gunner) of Higher Crumpsall, Manchester
Sergeant RWJ Harrison RAFVR (W/Op Air Gunner) of Burnley, Lancashire
Sergeant HR Jennings RAFVR (W/Op Air Gunner) of Charlton, London

3 (O) Advanced Flying Unit Avro Anson I serial AX538

Flight Sergeant JM Penonzek RCAF (Pilot) of Rossburn, Manitoba, Canada
Sergeant EC Comer (Observer) of North Finchley, London
Sergeant JV Hay (Air Bomber) of Greenwich, London
Flight Sergeant AJ Bell (W/Op Air Gunner) of Wellingborough, Northants

1658 Heavy Conversion Unit Handley Page Halifax II serial R9388

Sergeant TD Watson RAFVR (Pilot) of Lanark, Scotland
Sergeant WF Hewitt RAFVR (Flight Engineer) of Wellington, Somerset
Sergeant JH Atkinson RAFVR (Air Bomber) of Charlton, London

23 OTU Vickers Wellington Ic serial R1597

Sergeant JM Kennedy RCAF (Pilot) of Red Lake, Ontario, Canada
Sergeant WM Lomax RAFVR (Observer) of Liverpool
Sergeant W Smith RAFVR (Observer) of Wallasey, Cheshire
Sergeant FT Ellingham RAFVR (W/Op Air Gunner) of Morden, Surrey
Sergeant WH Lacey RAFVR (W/Op Air Gunner) of Plumstead, London
Sergeant N Griffin RAFVR (W/Op Air Gunner/Instructor) of Palmers Green, Middlesex
Sergeant DW Dowling RAFVR (Air Gunner) of Salisbury, Wiltshire

1654 HCU Avro Lancaster I 'UG-Q' serial W4902

Pilot Officer RL Barton-Smith RAFVR (Pilot) of Charlton, London
Sergeant DH Ryder RAFVR (Navigator) of Leeds, West Yorkshire
Sergeant RJ Huish RAFVR  (W/Op Air Gunner) of Weston super Mare, Somerset

98 Squadron North American Mitchell II 'OE-J' serial FL182

Pilot Officer GR Davis RAFVR (Pilot) of East Greenwich, London
Sergeant G Aldridge RAFVR (Navigator) of Grays, Essex
Flying Officer JP Diversi RAAF (W/Op Air Gunner of Wavell Heights, Queensland, Australia
Sergeant T Shehan RAFVR (Air Gunner) of Cwmburla, Swansea

52 OTU Hawker Hurricane serial P3864

Sergeant EJ Easton RAFVR (Pilot) of Eltham, London

Unpublished Sources - Operational Record Books held at The National Archives, Kew:
68 Squadron - AIR 27/604 
8 EFTS - AIR 29/618/1
224 Squadron - AIR 27/1387/20
3 (O) AFU - AIR 29/544
RAF Jurby - AIR 29/545
1658 HCU - AIR 29/613/5
23 OTU - AIR 29/667
1654 HCU - AIR 29/613/1
98 Squadron - AIR 27/783/7 - 8
52 OTU - AIR 29/681/1
Published Sources:
Bomber Command War Diaries 1939-1945 - Martin Middlebrook & Chris Everitt, Pen & Sword 2014

Monday, 15 April 2019

Football & War and The Football of Loos at Champion Hill

Poster signed by all of the participants (author's collection)

Regular readers of this blog will know that in June of 2018, I had the honour to be invited to speak at The University of Wolverhampton as part of their Football and War Project. This fascinating initiative, convened by Dr. Alex Alexandrou, researches, studies and disseminates subjects such as the role of football during the two world wars, footballers who have been involved in armed conflict, the relationship between the armed forces and football clubs and the social impact of the game upon the public during times of war.

In the aftermath of that talk, Alex floated the idea of opening up the seminar talks to a wider audience outside the Wolverhampton campus and suggested that we might like to host such an event at Dulwich Hamlet FC. As the club was still in enforced exile at this point, staging the event in our own clubhouse was out of the question, although it was thought that perhaps the event could be held in a local pub to act as a fundraiser. This all changed when the momentous news was received towards the end of last year that the club would be returning home to Champion Hill; the whole complexion of the event had changed - we could now pay tribute to our own players and those of other clubs in the comfort of our newly revamped clubhouse and hopefully attract a much larger audience into the bargain.

The idea of taking the seminar talks on the road was to open them up to a wider football audience, as we know that supporters of all clubs have a genuine interest and affection for the history and heritage of not only their own clubs but also of the game in general and care deeply for it. It was with this in mind that we set out to make it an evening that would appeal not just to the many Dulwich Hamlet fans with an interest in history but to fans of all clubs and so Alex devised a programme of events that would hopefully achieve this ambition.

Our speakers from left to right - Steve Hunnisett, Roger Deason, Jack McInroy, Alex Alexandrou, Tony Robinson (with the Football of Loos) and Tim Godden (photo courtesy Mishi Morath)

In the event, we provided three speakers from within the Dulwich Hamlet community - Jack McInroy, aka The Hamlet Historian, spoke eloquently about Hussein Hegazi, the first Egyptian footballer to play in England, a hundred years or so before Mo Salah became big news in this country. Jack has just completed writing a fantastically informative book on Hussein Hegazi, which was released on the night of our seminar.  Jack recalled that when he began his research into the player, he had made a phone call to the Egyptian Embassy in London to obtain contact details of the Egyptian Football Association in order to further his research. When Jack answered the question as to which player he was investigating, he was astonished to be told that "Hussein Hegazi is the greatest footballer this country has ever produced - he was the father of the game in our country." Such is the esteem that he is still held.

Hussein Hegazi: Dulwich Hamlet's Egyptian King by Jack McInroy

Roger Deason told us of the club's history during the turbulent years of The Great War between 1914 and 1919 and spoke of the casualties from amongst the playing staff, numbering twenty two fatalities and numerous others who suffered life changing injuries, both physical and mental. Roger also explained how the club took an early decision to actively involve themselves in the recruiting process and so encourage all players, officials and supporters to join up in order to help the war effort and declaring that it was everyone's patriotic duty to do so.

Quite appropriately in view of the major involvement of our playing staff who served as Royal Air Force aircrew in the 1939-1945 conflict, I acted as "Tail End Charlie" and brought the evening to a close by discussing the club's history during the Second World War and of the four players - all aircrew - who feature on the Roll of Honour. We also looked at how we had two club officials who served as Air Raid Wardens, one player in the Fire Service and at least one who had served as a Bevin Boy. We also looked at the impact of the war on the immediate locality and how the Borough of Camberwell was the fifth most bombed borough in London. We closed by revealing how two further players appeared to have been accidentally omitted from the Roll of Honour and our hopes of adding these two men at some point in the future. One of those omitted players, Alan Adams was covered in the November 2018 edition of this blog.

Alan Adams - one of our 'missing men' (Luuk Buist)

Interspersed between the in-house speakers, we were honoured to have two guest speakers with us. Firstly, Tim Godden, the well-known artist and illustrator, who went above and beyond the call of duty by driving up to Southeast London from Devon and back home again on the night.  Tim gave a fascinating talk on "Footballers of The Great War - The Stories Behind The Drawings" in which he provided insights not only about the subject matter of the drawings and the reason for choosing them but also something as to the technical aspects of how the drawings are produced. Tim had recently produced wonderfully evocative drawings of Edgar Kail and Hussein Hegazi, as well as Adolf Jager of our good friends at Altona 93 in Hamburg and showed us these portraits along with many others that he has produced. Tim is most generously ensuring that ten percent of the proceeds of all sales of his Dulwich Hamlet portraits goes to our Twelfth Man Scheme, thus helping the club financially.

Our other guest speaker had something of a shorter journey to reach us, as Tony Robinson of the London Irish Rifles Association had come from the Regimental Museum at Camberwell and had brought with him an artefact that perhaps most easily demonstrates the connection between football and war. This was the actual "Football of Loos", secreted about his person by Rifleman Frank Edwards of the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles and dribbled by him towards the German front line on 25 September 1915. Edwards himself was injured early in the advance but the task was taken up by several of his colleagues as they advanced but sadly, the ball became impaled on barbed wire and so was never actually kicked into the German trenches.

Tony explained that the London Irish succeeded in achieving their objective of holding the village of Loos and when they were relieved after a few days and were proceeding back down the line, one of the soldiers of the regiment retrieved the ball from the barbed wire, thus ensuring its survival.

Lady Butler's famous but inaccurate portrayal of The Footballer of Loos (author's collection)

Tony also explained that following the Christmas Truce of 1914, when a few impromptu games of football were played between British and German soldiers, senior officers had taken a dim view of this activity and promptly banned any such contact in the future, regarding it as something approaching mutiny. As a result, in the immediate run-up to the Battle of Loos, officers of the London Irish had gotten wind of what the men had planned and had succeeded in locating three other footballs, all of which were deliberately punctured by bayonet. Frank Edwards managed to keep his deflated ball a secret and had hidden it beneath his his tunic. As the battalion was preparing to advance, he managed to inflate the ball and once the order was given to "go over the top" history was made as the ball was revealed and the epic dribble toward the German line began, immortalised by Lady Butler's famous but inaccurate painting of the event. Inaccurate, because as Tony explained, the Battle of Loos saw the first use of poison gas during the Great War, used not by "The Nasty Germans" but actually by the British and as a result, Frank Edwards and his colleagues were all wearing gas hoods, as correctly depicted in Tim Godden's drawing, which appeared for the first time on the night of our event, in which Tim was able to photograph the image as a backdrop to the actual football itself.
Tim Godden's Tweet showing his new (and accurate) portrait of a gas-hooded Frank Edwards forming a backdrop to the actual Football of Loos

Tony went on to explain the regiment's role during the Second World War in which they played a prominent part during the Sicilian and Italian campaigns, becoming part of the "D-Day Dodgers" - the response to a supposed comment by Viscountess Astor that somehow the men fighting in this theatre were having a relatively easy time of things compared to those fighting in Normandy, despite the steady stream of casualties incurred at places like Salerno and Monte Casino. Tony closed by telling us of how the regiment still exists as part of the Army Reserve and is now of Company strength, based at Camberwell and informed us that "You don't have to be Irish to join but you'll become Irish by adoption!"

The talks were of a universally high calibre, well researched and presented, which all seemed to be well received by an excellent attendance of over sixty supporters from not only Dulwich Hamlet but also from other clubs as widespread as Exeter City, Charlton Athletic, Epsom & Ewell, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Ipswich Town and Sutton United. I understand from Alex that future seminars are planned in the summer and autumn for Exeter City and Charlton Athletic but such was the successful nature of the evening, both with content and attendance, that the event will be returning to Champion Hill sometime in 2020. We look forward to doing so and will be actively thinking of new subjects to cover!

Thanks are due to Alex Alexandrou of the Football and War Project for choosing Dulwich Hamlet FC to host the first of these 'on the road' events, to all of our speakers, Roger Deason, Jack McInroy, Tim Godden and Tony Robinson for giving of their time so freely and to Tom Cullen, Managing Director of Dulwich Hamlet FC and to Davey Wade-Brown, Bar Manager of Dulwich Hamlet FC and his staff for making the clubhouse available to us and for ensuring the evening ran smoothly and of course, many thanks to all who came along and supported the event on the evening.

Web Links:

Football and War Network

The Hamlet Historian

Tim Godden Illustrations 

London Irish Rifles Association

Thursday, 28 February 2019

What Still Remains

This article first appeared in the very early days of this blog back in November 2011. I thought it worthwhile to update it slightly, correct some of the grammar and to post a few additional images. As always, the photographs used in this piece are my property and MAY NOT be reproduced anywhere without my express written permission.

Shelter Sign in Frankham Street, Deptford (author's photo)

As someone who frequently guides walks around the bombed areas of our capital city and who frequently studies this aspect of our wartime past, I'm often asked what clues of London’s wartime past remain visible. The answer is that perhaps surprisingly, there is still evidence to be seen - not exactly plentiful but certainly still out there if one uses one’s eyes, knows where to look or has the occasional piece of luck. Sometimes, it can be it a tip-off from a friend or occasionally one can blunder across a little gem by accident

Finding these pieces of our wartime heritage using one’s own detective skills is half of the fun, so it would not be right to spill the beans about everything that remains and unlike some of the so-called experts out there, I certainly does not profess to know about everything that still remains. For those that wish to make their walk to work or school, around their local neighbourhood or simply a stroll around a much loved area, a little more interesting, here is a guide to the sort of thing that can still be spotted by the discerning eye.

Splinter damage at St Clement Danes Church (Author's photo)

Probably the most striking evidence of London’s bomb strewn past are the “honourable scars” worn by many buildings in the capital caused by bomb splinters. Sometimes and incorrectly referred to as shrapnel, this now generic term comes from the name of Colonel Henry Shrapnel. Whilst he was still a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1784, he invented on his own initiative, a hollow cannon ball, filled with shot that after firing, burst in mid air, thus spreading the shot over the unfortunate soldiers beneath. This first crude form of anti-personnel weapon, when formally adopted by the British Army in 1803 was immediately christened the Shrapnel Shell and whilst during the Second World War, neither side used this sort of weapon against either civilians or military, any sort of bomb or shell fragments were also given the Colonel’s name.

So it is that many buildings in London still bear scars caused by this terrifying by-product of bombing. Some of the better known examples can be found at St Clement Danes Church in the Strand, the General Wolfe Statue in Greenwich Park, Waterloo Place in Westminster and perhaps best known, the Victoria & Albert Museum in Exhibition Road, which even has a helpful commemorative plaque explaining what the damage is, how it was caused and why it has been left unrepaired. There are many other examples of this sort of damage to be found right across London and it is probably the most vivid reminder to be seen of our wartime past. It also provides ample food for thought. If pieces of white hot steel, flying through the air at massive speed can cause the sort of damage to solid masonry that can be seen today, what it could do to the vulnerable human frame does not bear thinking about. If one does think about it, the bravery of the Air Raid Wardens, the Fire Brigade personnel, Police, Ambulance and other Civil Defence workers, both men and women exposed to this lethal barrage, defies belief.

Shelter sign on St John's Estate, Bermondsey (Author's photo)

Whilst out walking, look for the tacit signs of damage; the replacement brickwork around windows, the lighter coloured masonry that even after almost eighty years, still hasn’t quite blended back in with the original, or the most tell-tale sign of all, a terrace of Victorian or Edwardian houses that is abruptly interrupted with a more recent building before resuming its original progression. These are all sure signs of bomb damage, not a dramatic memorial to the Blitz, but a memorial nevertheless. A closer examination of Civil Defence Incident Logs for the area concerned will usually prove one’s suspicions correct and will often reveal that on the site in question, people perished in the own homes. Each piece of repaired damage or replacement building is often therefore a mute memorial to times gone by.

Less widespread, but still visible in places are the painted Air Raid Shelter Signs. The Wartime lead-based paint was surprisingly durable, although with the passage of seventy-odd years, even the hardiest of these signs are starting to look their age now. In some cases, it is the paint used to obliterate the sign which has worn off, thus re-exposing them to public view long after they became obsolete. For some reason, there is a plethora of these Shelter signs in southeast London, with Deptford in particular, being the Shelter Sign Capital of London. Quite why London SE8 has so many of these surviving signs is a bit of a mystery; perhaps it is because (with all due respect to the area) it has escaped serious redevelopment until recently, perhaps it is just good luck. Whatever the reason, we can only hope that with the rediscovered interest in our Wartime past, some or all of these signs can be preserved. Already, one of these southeast London signs, in Jerningham Road, has been lost forever after the wall it was on was recently demolished as part of a housing scheme. Let us hope it is the last to be lost in this way, for these signs deserve to survive and act as a reminder of more troubled times. Apart from Deptford, there are Shelter signs to be found in Westminster, in Poplar and opposite the Oval Tube Station, although this sign has recently been partially covered with a street sign.

Shelter with intact blast wall at Croydon Cemetery (Author's photo)

From Shelter Signs, we go to the Air Raid Shelters themselves. As has been discussed on this blog in the past, Shelters came in many shapes and sizes, from the corrugated Anderson Shelter in the back garden to the communal ‘Morrison Sandwich’ shelter via the Deep Level Shelters in Central London. Examples of all these and more remain; most Anderson Shelters have long since been uprooted from their original back garden locations but some remain as sheds on allotments in odd parts of the capital. The communal brick and concrete shelters were christened ‘Morrison Sandwiches’ by some laconic Londoners, when some of the early examples of these structures showed a propensity to collapse at the merest hint of a nearby blast. The concrete slab base and roof of these shelters provided the bread and when the poorly keyed in and frankly Jerry-built brickwork was blown out by the blast of a near-miss bomb, the unfortunate occupants of these buildings provided the meat in the sandwich – enough said. Some of these shelters still survive; Fawe Street in Poplar, Battersea Park, Raynes Park and Norbury all possess surviving examples as does a splendid example complete with intact blast walls at Croydon Cemetery. The Deep Level Shelters were built from 1941 based on the experiences of the London Underground stations used as shelters; eight were built in total, four north of the Thames at Chancery Lane, Belsize Park, Camden Town and Goodge Street and four south of the River at Clapham North, South and Common as well as at Stockwell. Designed to take 8,000 people each in relative comfort and unrivalled safety, these shelters all survive and the ungainly concrete entrance structures can all still be seen at these locations.

EWS sign at the site of St Paul's School, Hammersmith (Author's photo)

Altogether a rarer specimen of wartime signage is that which signifies the “EWS” or Emergency Water Supply. This usually takes the form of a white or sometimes yellow rectangle with diagonal black stripes painted across it with the letters E W S in the lateral and lower quadrants, with the water capacity shown in the upper. These Emergency Water Supplies were large static water tanks, originally formed from the sealed basements of bombed out building, but later often purpose built tanks designed to augment the Fire Brigades’ supply of water should the regular water mains be damaged by bombing. A few of these signs still survive - there are two faded examples at the site of the former Wilson's Grammar School in Camberwell, another in Copperfield Street in Southwark, on Albert Embankment, at Boston Manor and at the former site of St Paul's School in Hammersmith.

Other sundry structures remain; Wardens’ Posts, Pillboxes, Anti-Tank defences, Anti-Aircraft Gun emplacements, rifle loopholes and the like remain across our capital. Putney Bridge Station is the home to a highly visible pillbox, Blackheath is the home to a set of Home Guard rifle loopholes and Epsom Downs is the home to a set of Tank Traps. These defences all formed part of the ‘Stop Lines’ formed to slow down and delay the advance of the advancing Germans in order to buy time for the British defenders to call up reserves. Fortunately, these defences were never put to the test but this fascinating and untried part of our wartime history can still be seen gently crumbling away in many parts of suburban London. Mudchute Park on the Isle of Dogs is the home to an almost complete Anti-Aircraft emplacement. Wardens’ Posts are rarer creatures although one or two others are still extant, with extant examples still to be found in Blackheath, Blackfen and Barnes amongst other places.

Putney Bridge Station pillbox (Author's photo)

Another evocative piece of wartime London still visible, albeit not being used for its original purpose and in declining numbers, is the once ubiquitous stretcher fencing. Mass produced in steel and wire mesh for the expected vast numbers of civilian casualties caused by German bombing, the ‘ARP’ stretcher was designed to be easily cleaned and re-used in clearing the dead and wounded. Many of these were never used and the end of the war saw hundreds of thousands of these simple pieces of equipment suddenly made redundant. In an early piece of recycling, an ingenious use was made of these stretchers in order to replace the wrought iron railings sacrificed for the war effort. There were also many new estates being built to replace the vast swathes of local authority housing destroyed in the Blitz. The stretchers provided a simple and effective solution and can still be seen in several locations across the London suburbs; Watergate Street in Deptford, Amherst Road in Hackney, the Springfield Estate in Stockwell are but three of the places that these can found.

Stretcher Fences in Marlborough Lane, Charlton (Author's photo)

Apart from these physical reminders, there are of course, an abundance of monuments which commemorate events, people and places connected with the wartime past, not only of this country’s wartime achievements but the Allied cause as a whole. So, across London we find plaques and statues galore commemorating such diverse personalities as the Polish General Sikorski, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied invasion at Normandy, Dwight D Eisenhower, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Viscount Alanbrooke and General De Gaulle as well as many others. Plaques mark the spot of the first V-1 Doodlebug falling in Bow, the V-2 Long Range Rocket in Chiswick as well as the location of the Special Operations Executive, the Headquarters of the Norwegian Merchant Marine. There are also memorials to the fallen; across London there are still new plaques being erected by the charity Firemen Remembered marking the locations where members of the Fire Services fell in the course of performing their duties whilst under fire.

English Heritage Blue Plaque in Bow (Author's photo)

The reminders of our wartime past referred to above merely scratch the surface of what is still out there to be seen. As mentioned earlier, there is much enjoyment to be found in discovery and as always, any comments from the readership are welcomed. If you know of some aspect of London’s wartime heritage that can still be seen, then please feel free to share the information with us.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Tales behind the graves in Carshalton

The grave of Sgt. Frederick Postlethwaite at All Saints Churchyard, Carshalton (Sam Dorrington)

One of the more satisfying aspects about my enthusiasm for history (or obsession depending on who you talk to) is how this tends to rub off on to my friends. This is partially because many of them have always shared this fascination in the subject but because we're never far from our wartime past in this country, they do all seem to notice points of interest much more easily these days!

Whatever the reasons, they all seem to have caught the history bug and are always quick to let me know about their finds. Sam Dorrington is one of my longest standing friends and has always shown a particular interest in the subject but in his case, this has perhaps been more a rekindling of a dormant fascination. Back in November 2016 I was proud to tell the story of his grandfather, Able Seaman Jack Dorrington and since then Sam, who is a talented professional photographer, has frequently accompanied me in searching out old wartime structures, visiting wartime airfields and often sends me photographs of various memorials and other wartime points of interest that he has discovered on his travels.

One such photograph he sent to me recently recalled memories of my own 'accidental researching' in Charlton which I reported on in January 2017 and which incidentally, had a connection with Sam's own local neighbourhood of Carshalton in suburban Surrey. Whilst taking a shortcut to the shops through his local churchyard, he came across a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone and upon closer inspection, discovered many more located around All Saints' Churchyard.

Despite being familiar with the area, Sam doesn't often use the churchyard as a short cut and had thus never previously noticed the distinctive CWGC headstones and as a result, decided to send me a photograph of the RAF airman's grave that had caught his eye. As always, I needed to know more and so set about trying to find something of the story of Sergeant FE Postlethwaite and the circumstances of his death, at the tragically young age of 19.

Frederick Postlethwaite and a letter from the King (Kelvin Youngs, Aircrew Remembered/Michael Taylor)

Frederick Edgar Postlethwaite was the son of Frederick William and Alice Marion Postlethwaite and had been born in Southwark in 1922. However, his mother and father both appear to have both died at a relatively young age in 1928 and 1932 respectively and so by the time of the 1939 Register being taken, the 17 year old Frederick had become the ward of one Elsie May Cogger of 2 Queen Mary's Avenue, Carshalton Beeches. In August 1941, having volunteered to serve as RAF aircrew and having qualified as a Sergeant Pilot, he was posted to the famous 92 Squadron, flying the Spitfire Mk. Vb based at Biggin Hill in Kent and on the 31st of that month, flew his first two operational patrols, a fighter sweep over the Channel, followed by a convoy patrol off the North Foreland. The beginning of September saw further fighter sweeps over France, interspersed with convoy patrols. On 8 September 1941, the Operations Record Book reports a "big party in the mess" to celebrate the anniversary of the squadron's arrival at Biggin Hill, which fortunately coincided with a day of non-flying due to bad weather!

The 92 Squadron Operations Record Book dispassionately records Sgt. Postlethwaite's death (author's photo)

The bad weather continued to play a part in the squadron's fortunes, with only one day of suitable flying weather on 11 September, which saw 'Rhubarb' fighter sweeps over France. The 13th saw another day of poor weather over France, which precluded any operational flying but which did allow the squadron to take part in training exercises. At 19:00 hours, whilst taking part in formation flying exercises, Postlethwaite's Spitfire, serial number W3562 was seen to go into an uncontrolled dive from about 2,500 feet from which the pilot did not bale out. The aircraft plunged into a house near Biggin Hill airfield, killing Sgt. Postlethwaite instantly. No explanation was ever discovered as to the cause of the accident.

This tragic incident caused us both to reflect upon this accidental death and as a result, we chose five more RAF headstones at random in the churchyard to try and discover more about these War Graves that were almost on our doorsteps.

Sgt. Frederick Jones at All Saints Churchyard, Carshalton (Sam Dorrington)

The first of these additional names we looked at concerned Sergeant Frederick Jones, who was aged 34 and at the time of his death, married to Violet Ellen Jones. Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of people bearing the name Jones, we have been so far unable to discover anything further regarding their family life, other than that they were living somewhere in North Cheam at the time of his death on 14 September 1943. Closer examination of the excellent CWGC website reveals that Frederick was serving in Bomber Command as a mid-upper gunner with 115 Squadron.

A look at the squadron's Operations Record Book for the date in question shows that as with our first casualty, he died as a result of a tragic accident.

At this stage of the war, 115 Squadron was one of the relatively few squadrons that flew the Avro Lancaster Mk II which was powered by four Bristol Hercules engines instead of the more usual Merlin power plant used for other marks of the iconic heavy bomber. The Bristol-powered variant was never as successful as the Merlin-powered Lancaster, being restricted to a smaller bomb load and having a lower ceiling, so when the expected shortage of the Rolls Royce and licence-built Packard Merlin engines failed to materialise, production of the Mk II was curtailed after just three hundred had been built. The Hercules engines were then used to power the Mk III version of the Halifax bomber, which ironically became a far more successful aircraft with this choice of engine than the original Merlin powered variants of this Handley Page aircraft!

On 14 September, the crew had been allocated a new aircraft, serial DS780 and at 10:53 took off from their base at RAF Little Snoring in Norfolk to carry out air tests on their new charge. In addition to the regular crew of seven, the Lancaster was carrying an additional crew member, Sgt. Harold Ashwin, a Flight Engineer who was on detachment from 1678 Conversion Flight but serving as a member of 115 Squadron. All seemed to have been going well until the operation of levelling and calibrating the bomb sight, at which point the Air Bomber, Sgt. M Read, requested the pilot, F/Sgt. Bradford RNZAF to maintain a height of 2,000 feet to ensure that the bomb sight would not jam but it soon became apparent that something was wrong and the pilot advised that he was unable to maintain height. F/Sgt. Bradford ordered the crew to their crash stations but shortly afterwards, the aircraft ploughed into a railway embankment at Magdalan, about four miles north of the RAF airfield at Downham Market. There were only two survivors, the Wireless Operator, Flight Sergeant Williamson and the Air Bomber, Sgt. Read. The investigation revealed that the two starboard engines had been feathered as part of the air test but could not be restarted due to the master fuel cock having been closed.

The cold facts of the loss of DS780 in the 115 Squadron O.R.B. (author's photo)

With the exception of Sgt. Ashwin, who was not a regular member, this was an experienced crew which had completed thirteen operational missions, with Flight Sergeant Bradford having logged a total of 743 flying hours, since he joined the squadron on 14 July 1943 from 1678 Conversion Flight. Of the survivors, the Wireless Operator, F/Sgt. Ivan Williamson RNZAF went on to complete two operational tours with 115 and 75 Squadrons, and left the service in 1946 as a Flying Officer. He died in his native New Zealand, aged 69 in 1981.

Incidentally, 115 Squadron was one of the 'original' Bomber Command squadrons, active at the outbreak of war and apart from a very short spell where they were attached to Coastal Command, served continuously with Bomber Command right through to the end of the war in Europe. They dropped the second greatest tonnage of bombs - approximately 23,000 tons - of any RAF Squadron during the war as well as participating in the third highest number of raids. As a counterpoint to these fine achievements and undoubtedly as a direct result of their almost continuous availability, 115 Squadron suffered the highest losses of any squadron within Bomber Command and were indeed, the only squadron to lose more than 200 aircraft in the war.

The grave of Sgt. Reginald Sharp at All Saints Churchyard, Carshalton (author's photo)

The next casualty that we selected at random was Sergeant Reginald James Sharp who died on 19 May 1942, aged just 22. Like the previous two individuals, he was a local boy and was an only child who lived with his parents George and Ethel Sharp at 196 Thornton Road, Carshalton.

After enlisting in the RAF and completing his aircrew training, Reginald was posted in November 1941 to Bomber Command as an Observer (the early-war phrase for Navigator) with 15 Squadron, based at RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire, from where the squadron flew the Short Stirling, the RAF's first four engine heavy bomber. The Stirling was an unsatisfactory design which had had it's wingspan reduced whilst still on the drawing board for reasons of expediency concerning hangar accommodation. As a result, its operational ceiling suffered and it became the least popular and worst performing of the three types of heavy bomber ordered by Bomber Command, with most crews preferring the Lancaster or Halifax types. However, in the early stages of the war, squadrons had to make do with what was available and wait for the other types to become available in quantity.

Reginald does not appear to have been part of a regular crew but despite this, by May 1942 had flown sixteen missions with the usual mixture of night bombing over Germany and occupied Europe and 'gardening' or minelaying missions over the North Sea and Baltic. Closer inspection of the Operations Record Books reveals that four of these missions were aborted at various stages into the flight due to various technical issues typical of the Stirling.

On 19 May 1942, Reginald formed part of an expanded crew of nine, including Charles Evans Woodhouse, a USAAF civilian contractor electrician attached to Bomber Command and a member of RAF ground crew, Aircraftman 2nd Class Thomas Edwards of North Sheen. The reason for the latter's presence is not known but was perhaps a flight as a favour from his south west London neighbour, Reginald Sharp. Whatever the now unknown reasons, the crew took off shortly after midday from RAF Wyton in Stirling Mk I serial W7523 under the command of Sergeant Albert Douglass. The reason for the flight was an air test and the presence of the USAAF Electrician perhaps indicated that the aircraft had been suffering from some sort of electrical problem and was being tested following repairs. However, shortly after taking off, the bomber crashed into trees just north east of Gravely, with the Operations Record Book for RAF Wyton suggesting that the aircraft had caught fire whilst in the air. The aircraft rolled onto its back soon after hitting the ground and seven of the nine on board were killed outright, including Reginald Sharp.

There were two survivors from the initial crash, the Air Bomber, Pilot Officer Lionel Hack, who survived and the American Charles Woodhouse, who sadly succumbed to his injuries in hospital the following day.

The grave of Kenneth Snuggs at All Saints Churchyard, Carshalton (author's photo)

Our next casualty was Sergeant Kenneth Snuggs, born on 12 May 1910 in Humberstone, Leicestershire but who by the time of the 1939 Register being taken was living in Carshalton, where his civilian occupation was described as a 'Master Hairdresser' who prior to joining the RAF, also had a wartime job as an Ambulance Driver with the Cheam & District Auxiliary Ambulance Service.

Following his enlistment into the RAF and on completion of his aircrew training, Kenneth served with Bomber Command, in his case as a Wireless Operator/Gunner in 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron based at RAF Waddington, another 'original' Bomber Command squadron which served without a break for the entire war and whose squadron badge carried the splendidly appropriate motto for a bomber squadron of "Fulmina Regis Iusta", which translates to "The King's Thunderbolts are Righteous".

Sergeant Snuggs appears not to have been part of a regular crew, as the 44 Squadron Operations Record Book shows him flying eight missions with three different crews during June and July 1941. However, on his second mission, a raid on the Marshalling Yards at Hamm on 12 June 1941, he was credited with having shot down a Bf110 night fighter over Enschede. On 6 July 1941, he flew on a mission to attack German cruisers at Brest under the command of a Flight Commander (and future Squadron Commander) of 44 Squadron, Squadron Leader Kenneth Smales DFC. Smales was a colourful character who had managed to escape from under the noses of the advancing Germans in 1940, when he and a colleague were able to reach the port of Brest by motorcycle (having previously been shot down and then having commandeered another aircraft) in time to catch one of the last ships to leave the port on 17 June 1940, just before the Fall of France. Smales had a very individual style of low flying when attacking such naval targets, often flying so low that his aircraft would return caked in mud and salt splashes. Despite this bold approach, Smales survived the war and served in the peacetime RAF during the 1950s.

Having survived this mission, Snuggs was then posted to the Central Gunnery School, located at RAF Castle Kennedy near Stranraer. On 27 July 1941, he took off in Hampden serial number P1162 piloted by Sergeant HG Turner as part of a crew of four Wireless Operator/Gunners for the purpose of Gun Camera trials but shortly after taking off, the aircraft stalled whilst turning and crashed at 10:32, about one mile southeast of the airfield, killing all five on board.

The grave of Sgt. Horace James Cox at All Saints Churchyard, Carshalton (Sam Dorrington)

Horace James Cox was yet another local boy, the eldest of two sons of Horace Walter and Edith Cox who in the 1939 Register, were recorded as living at 100 Westmead Road, Carshalton. In 1942, Horace junior had married his wife Jose and lived at 217 Gander Green Lane, Sutton. Having volunteered to serve as aircrew with the RAF, Horace had completed his initial training and had been posted as an Air Bomber to 11 Operational Training Unit Bomber Command, based at RAF Westcott in Buckinghamshire and was a member of Course 69. Here, Horace would have been found himself as part of a bomber crew via the time honoured Bomber Command process known as 'Crewing Up' in which the men were placed inside a hangar or similar large space and left to sort themselves into the required number of crews. Once this was achieved, the newly formed crews would complete their training for night bombing operations on Wellington bombers which had been retired from front line service and which could often justifiably described as 'tired'. Just occasionally, the fledgling crews would be sent out on ops themselves but this became a less common occurrence as the war progressed and the front line Bomber Command squadrons became more numerous.

Course 69 at 11 OTU - infuriatingly, the photographed is not captioned, so the names remain unknown (Author's collection)

An important part of the training regime at an OTU was in the continual practice of night time bombing, as this formed the major part of Bomber Command's work. This meant replicating as far as possible the conditions in which crews would be expected to bomb a target and so in the early hours of 2 May 1943, the newly-formed crew took off from RAF Oakley, a satellite station of Westcott with the intention of dropping bombs on the range at Warpsgrove. Their charge was Vickers Wellington Ic serial Z8866, a twin engined medium bomber, once the mainstay of Bomber Command but now being increasingly relegated to training duties upon replacement by the four engined 'heavies' in the form of the Halifax and Lancaster.  At 02:45, observers on the ground witnessed that the aircraft dropped two bombs but then flew away to the south west. Shortly afterwards, an aircraft was seen to be on fire and it was soon reported that a Wellington had crashed at Belcher's Farm, close to Stadhampton. The nearby base at RAF Mount Farm sent two crash tenders and an ambulance but on arrival reported that the crew had all been killed.

The grave of F/O George Wigley at All Saints Churchyard, Carshalton (Sam Dorrington)

Our final casualty was the only officer in the group that we selected but whose story is perhaps the most heartbreaking of all those recounted previously. Flying Officer George Alexander Wigley was 22 years old when he died and like the others whose stories we have examined, was another local lad who lived with his parents and siblings at 41 St Albans Grove, Carshalton. As with many of his RAF colleagues buried at All Saints Churchyard, George was serving with Bomber Command, in his case as an Air Bomber with 97 Squadron of the Pathfinder Force based at RAF Bourn but unlike the others we chose, had received a commission as a Flying Officer.

George formed part of the seven-strong crew of Lancaster Mk III, JB219 under the command of Pilot Officer J Kirkwood DFC and at 16:50 on 16 December 1943, the aircraft lifted off from the Cambridgeshire airfield, heavily laden with five 2,000 lb 'High Capacity' or HC bombs, popularly known as 'Blockbusters' to be delivered to the "Big City" as Berlin was universally referred to in Bomber Command. These were bombs with a very thin casing, so as to maximise the blast effect and by 1943, formed a standard part of the RAF's armoury, along with the larger 4,000 lb HC bombs, known as 'Cookies'.

Kirkwood and his crew were highly experienced, having flown 23 missions with 207 Squadron since June 1943, before transferring to the Pathfinder Force (or PFF) on 29 November 1943. The PFF were viewed as something of an elite force within Bomber Command, being a specialist target finding and marking force. They were also viewed with some resentment amongst the senior echelons of the "Main Force" squadrons as the PFF tended to "cream off" the best crews to serve with them but the crews themselves were often keen to be selected. Partially, this was down to the professional pride at being seen to be part of an elite but was also due to more pragmatic reasons - a PFF tour of duty consisted of one single tour of 45 missions before being posted away from combat flying, whereas Main Force crews were expected to perform a first tour of 30 missions, then being rested as an O.T.U. Instructor for example, before undertaking a second tour of 20 missions.

Following their posting to 97 Squadron, this raid on Berlin was their first mission as part of the Pathfinder Force and according to the squadron's Operations Record Book, it went largely without incident, with only one aircraft from the squadron lost to enemy action over the target but this particular raid was to be tinged with tragedy upon the return to England.

George Alexander Wigley (Kelvin Youngs, Aircrew Remembered)

On the morning of the raid, low cloud and poor visibility had been forecast, so much so that the Met. Officer at RAF Bourn had been convinced that ops for the day would be cancelled by Bomber Command HQ at High Wycombe. No such order was received and the mission went ahead as scheduled, with 483 Lancasters from across Bomber Command being dispatched. During the raid itself, some 25 Lancasters were lost to enemy action but upon the return, the promised low visibility had indeed materialised and particularly affected the airfields of 1, 6 and 8 Groups (the latter of which 97 Squadron was a part). As a result, a further seven aircraft from the squadron were lost when attempting to land at their home airfields. Two of these crews managed to bale out safely, abandoning their aircraft, whilst of the remainder who attempted to land, none survived unscathed, ranging from one or two survivors from an aircraft, to entire crews being killed. Across the whole of Bomber Command, a total of 29 Lancasters were lost on returning to England as a result of the bad weather.

Lancaster JB219, of which George Wigley formed part of the crew, was one of those lost when attempting to land at RAF Gransden Lodge, a satellite airfield of RAF Bourn, when at 00:10 the bomber crashed killing all on board at nearby Hayley Wood. The aircraft immediately caught fire but the wreckage containing the bodies of the crewmen was not discovered until the following morning. This raid saw the worst bad-weather crashes incurred during the entire war and escalated the attrition rate for this mission to an unacceptably high 12.2 percent. No small wonder that Bomber Command crews dubbed this raid as "Black Thursday."

The 97 Squadron O.R.B. tells the sad story of JB219's end (author's photo)

It is a sobering thought indeed to consider that of the 55,573 killed in Bomber Command (out of an approximate aircrew strength of 125,000), some 8,195 of these lost their lives in flying or ground accidents such as we have examined above.

When all of the individuals whose cases we have examined joined the RAF, they must have had at least the occasional thought, quickly suppressed, that they may well be killed on active service and no doubt, the natural assumption would have been that it would always be someone else that would "buy it" but it somehow seems far worse that these men should have died by accidental causes, especially in the case of Flying Officer George Wigley, who with his crew-mates, had seemingly survived the worst dangers of a raid to Berlin, only to fall at the final hurdle when home and safety was so tantalisingly close at hand.

If any readers are in possession of any further photographs of those airmen mentioned above, or know members of their families who are prepared to share images, then please contact me using the 'comments' facility and I will be happy to add them to this article. My thanks are due to Sam Dorrington for alerting me to his latest find and for sharing his photos of the headstones with me.

In the meantime, the information garnered thus far will be shared to the excellent Aircrew Remembered website and linked to the relevant aircraft listed below, in order to ensure that these men and their crew mates are never forgotten.

This sort of history is on all of our doorsteps and the sort of research seen above is the type of service that we specialise in, so if you have a relative whose service you would like to explore further, then please contact us using the form on our main website.

As always, all of the photographs used in this article are copyright to me, or of the person credited in the caption and may not be used without my express written permission.

In Memoriam:

92 Squadron Spitfire Vb serial W3562

Sergeant FE Postlethwaite RAFVR (Pilot) of Carshalton Beeches

115 Squadron Lancaster II serial DS780

Flight Sergeant EAJ Bradford RNZAF (Pilot & Captain) of Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Pilot Officer CR Morse RNZAF (Navigator) of Hanmer Springs, Canterbury, New Zealand
Sergeant F Jones RAF (A) (Mid Upper Gunner) of North Cheam
Sergeant M Fearn RAFVR (Flight Engineer) of Inverness
Flight Sergeant RV Griffiths RNZAF (Rear Gunner) of Penrose, Auckland, New Zealand
Sergeant HJB Ashwin RAFVR (Flight Engineer) of Kilburn

15 Squadron Stirling I serial W7523

Sergeant A Douglass RAFVF (Pilot & Captain) of Nottingham
Sergeant RJ Sharp RAF (Observer) of Carshalton
Sergeant DW Lewis RAF (Flight Engineer) 
Flight Sergeant NF Payne RAFVR (Wireless Operator/Gunner) of Southampton
Sergeant HV Edmonds RAFVR (Air Gunner) of Exeter
Sergeant N Cash RAFVR (Air Gunner) of Broughton
Aircraftman 2nd Class TA Edwards RAFVR (Air Gunner) of North Sheen
EL2C CE Woodhouse USAAF (Electrician) of Oklahoma, USA

Central Gunnery School Hampden I serial P1162

Sergeant HG Turner RAFVR (Pilot)
Sergeant K Snuggs RAFVR (Wireless Operator/Gunner of 44 Squadron) of Carshalton
Flight Sergeant GE Appleton DFM RAF (Wireless Operator/Gunner of 49 Squadron) of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Flight Sergeant AHD Batty DFM RAF (Wireless Operator/Gunner of 226 Squadron) of Walsall
Flying Officer A Paterson DFC RAFVR (Wireless Operator/Gunner of 49 Squadron) of Clapham Common

11 OTU Wellington Ic serial Z8866

Sergeant JR Richmond RAF (Pilot & Captain) of Epsom
Sergeant LR Crouch RAFVR (Navigator) of West Ealing
Sergeant HJ Cox RAFVR (Air Bomber) of Sutton
Sergeant ED Scott RAFVR (Wireless Operator/Gunner) of Beckenham
Sergeant JA Cheetham RAFVR (Air Gunner) of Liverpool
Sergeant TN Harker RAFVR (Air Gunner) of Darlington 

97 Squadron Lancaster III serial JB219

Flying Officer J Kirkwood RAFVR (Pilot & Captain) of Kilwinning
Flight Sergeant EG Hubbard RAFVR (Flight Engineer) of Croxton
Sergeant RC Stewart RAFVR (Navigator) of Braemar
Flying Officer GA Wigley RAFVR (Air Bomber) of Carshalton
Sergeant RG Cleeve RAFVR (Wireless Operator) of Wyke Green
Sergeant L Madeley RAFVR (Mid Upper Gunner) of Manchester
Sergeant J Killen RAFVR (Rear Gunner) of Hollinfare

Published Sources:

The Berlin Raids - Martin Middlebrook, Viking 1988
Black Night for Bomber Command - Richard Knott, Pen & Sword 2014
The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book 1939-1945 - Martin Middlebrook & Chris Everitt, Pen & Sword 2014

Internet Sources:

49 Squadron Association
Aircrew Remembered

Unpublished Sources:

92 Squadron Operations Record Books - National Archives Kew, AIR 27/744/8 - 10
115 Squadron Operations Record Books - National Archives Kew. AIR 27/892/4 - 18
15 Squadron Operations Record Books - National Archives Kew, AIR 27/203/20 - 34
RAF Wyton Operations Record Books - National Archives Kew, AIR 28/963
44 Squadron Operations Record Books - National Archives Kew, AIR 27/448/10 - 18
RAF Castle Kennedy Operations Record Book - National Archives Kew, AIR 28/125
Central Gunnery School Operations Record Book - National Archives Kew, AIR 29/605
11 O.T.U. Operations Record Book - National Archives Kew, AIR 29/942
11 O.T.U. Appendices - National Archives Kew, AIR 29/645
97 Squadron Operations Record Books - National Archives Kew, AIR 27/767/22 - 24
Casualty Information - Sgt K Snuggs - National Archives Kew, AIR 81/7957