Sunday, 10 June 2018

Dulwich Hamlet FC: Community Football in peace and at war


Regular readers will know that in recent years, I have drifted into the world of following non-league football and have found myself supporting my local team, Dulwich Hamlet FC. Non-league football has a way of getting under one's skin and it is very easy to get involved as a volunteer performing all manner of duties. Supporting the Hamlet has allowed me to meet some fantastic people and make many new friends and this aspect has really rekindled my love of the sport.

I guess that it was inevitable that my love of history would cross over in to the world of non-league football and last year, I was honoured to be asked to write about the history of the four players who feature on the club's Second World War Roll of Honour. This book would eventually become entitled "For Freedom" as this was the motto of 106 Squadron, with whom one of these casualties, Reg Anderson, was serving when he was killed.

Last week, I was asked to speak at Wolverhampton University as part of their Football and War initiative, both about the casualties who are honoured in the booklet and about the club's wider history, both in peace and wartime. For those readers who are based "down south" or based overseas, I appreciate that Wolverhampton isn't the easiest place to reach and although we hope to repeat the seminar in the autumn at a London venue, I thought it a good idea to repeat the talk here for anyone interested.

Dulwich Hamlet is one of the oldest and best known names on the non-league circuit, having been founded as a Sports Club in 1893 by Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson, who was a Bible teacher at Dulwich Hamlet School and also a local councillor. This was done at the request of some of the pupils of the school who collected the princely sum of 1/8 (about 8 pence in today’s money) for him to do so. You will no doubt note from the founding year of 1893 that we are celebrating our 125th anniversary this year.

Lorraine "Pa" Wilson (Hamlet Historian)

Next month we travel to Hamburg to play Altona 93 who also commemorate the same anniversary and will be perpetuating a fixture that was first played in 1925 in Hamburg.

The club began in very humble circumstances in Woodwarde Road, Dulwich and the park players amongst you will recognise the routine of carrying corner flags and kit to the ground on match days, which is what these early Hamlet players had to do, only in their case, they also had to carry the goalposts as well! There was a local pub on the route and no doubt after matches, a few beers would be taken on the way home for those old enough to imbibe!

The Club’s first colours were described as “dark blue and red” but in reality was most likely a collection of whatever could be gathered together at the time. Fortunately, one of the founding members of the club, WT Lloyd, also happened to be a former pupil of Westminster School and had played football for “The Pinks” which was the name of their ‘Old Boys’ team. The Club’s colours were changed to pink and blue – the same as Westminster School’s – allegedly in his honour but most likely because he had obtained some second-hand kit from his old school. The Club’s colours have remained the same with minor variations ever since.

Champion Hill Stadium in the 1930s (Hamlet Historian)

The Club first played at Champion Hill in 1912, playing initially on the Greendale pitch, which visitors to Champion Hill will know as being the pitch at the top end of the current ground. The stadium was moved to the site of the current stadium in 1931 to become one of the largest and best appointed stadiums in non-league football and was also used during the 1948 London Olympics when it staged South Korea v Mexico on 2 August, which the Korean side won 5-3 in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. The stadium often attracted five-figure crowds for league matches, amateur internationals and representative matches – the stadium record being 20,744 for the Amateur Cup final between Kingstonian and Stockton in 1933. With the abolition of amateur status in the early 1970s and the subsequent decline in the club’s fortunes, the stadium fell into disrepair and was redeveloped into its present form in 1992. It remains to be seen when we will be allowed to return home.

The club once had thriving athletics, gymnastics, cricket, cycling and chess sections, as well as the football club and today would no doubt be called a “Multi-Sports” club. The football club itself is Wilson’s enduring legacy and memorial. Wilson was a far-sighted man, who like many of his contemporaries embraced the Corinthian ideal of “Playing the game for the sake of the game” but took this a step further to ask “How can we improve the game?” He was looking at the game from the point of view of players, officials and spectators and how they were treated; he wanted to ensure that anyone who visited Champion Hill went away knowing that they had been well looked after and had been treated with respect. He also felt it was part of the club’s duty to become an integral part of the community and to serve it, rather than just being a sports club that happened to be in Dulwich.

Because of this, he would be undoubtedly proud of the our current reputation as being an integral part of the local community and serving it with imaginative initiatives such as the Aspire Academy for young players, support of local charities and matches played against Stonewall in support of the LGBT community, Assyria (a Syrian expat team) to support the refugee community, to name but a few. We hold a Charity Day at a home match each year and ‘adopt’ a local charity – last season we adopted the Coplestone Centre, a community centre in East Dulwich based around a local multi-denominational church that does great work in helping local disadvantaged people. We also support the Royal British Legion every year around Remembrance Weekend.

Today, our support has a reputation encouraged by some lazier journalist as being “hipster” and “Left Wing” – incidentally, for what it’s worth I fit neither of those labels but just happen to think that I am supporting a football club that has a social conscience. In any event, I am immensely proud of what the club has achieved and continues to achieve both on and off the pitch at the centre of our community – and I’m sure ‘Pa’ who incidentally was a Conservative Councillor – would also be proud of what his club has become.

The War Memorial is rededicated in 1949 (Hamlet Historian)

This involvement in the local community began with the formation of the club itself and was cemented after the Great War, during which over 100 members served, of whom a staggering 22 perished, with others suffering life-changing injuries. During the war, Wilson had allowed the ground to be used to entertain the troops on leave and had published a magazine named “News of the Pink and Blue Brigade” for the men serving overseas in order for them to keep up with news from home and also keeping them updated as to news of their friends serving elsewhere. After the war, he ensured that a fitting memorial was established to preserve the memory of those who had died and from May 1921, began to sponsor a bed at nearby Kings College Hospital – “The Pink and Blue Bed” which remained in situ until 1947, long after Wilson’s own death in 1924.

The football club started by playing in the local Camberwell league but in 1907 joined the Isthmian League and was a member for 111 years until our recent promotion last month. The first Isthmian League title came in 1919/20 and we also won the FA Amateur Cup in that same year. In total we’ve won the league on four occasions – the last time being in 1948/49 and have won the FA Amateur Cup on four occasions, the last occasion being in 1936/37. Dulwich Hamlet’s strongest period was undoubtedly during the inter-war years, when the mainstay of the side was the legendary Edgar Kail.

Edgar Kail (Hamlet Historian)

No talk about Dulwich Hamlet would be complete without mentioning this legend of amateur football, who joined the club as a 15 year old in 1915 and broke through into the First Team as a result of the absence of older, more established players who were serving in the forces. With other young players coming to the fore at the same time, Kail ensured that the club kept going during the war and in the immediate post-war years. He scored 427 times in a career lasting from 1919 to 1933 and once scored 53 goals in a season (1925/26) which is not surprisingly, a club record. He was a committed amateur who resisted all calls to turn professional. He was an England Amateur International and also played three times and scoring twice for the Full England side, being the last non-league player to do so (although not the last amateur – Bernard Joy of Arsenal holds that distinction.) The club suffered harder times during the 1970s and in 1977 found itself in the second tier of the Isthmian League, as we did also in 2001. More recently, under the management of Gavin Rose, the Club regained its position in the top tier of the Isthmian League in 2013 and finally achieved promotion to the National League South by winning the play off final on May 7 against a very good Hendon team. Quite an achievement considering everything that the club has had thrown at them off the field this season .

When Shall Their Glory Fade (author's photo)

My friend and fellow Hamlet fan Roger Deason has written about the club’s Great War casualties and hopefully will contribute a future seminar concerning these men but until recently, the casualties from 1939-45 have been somewhat overlooked – even though two of them were relatively high-profile England Amateur Internationals – and it is for that reason that we will concentrate on these men tonight. In November of last year, we released “For Freedom” which tells the story of the four players on the Second World War Roll of Honour.

DHFC Juniors - September 1940 (Hamlet Historian)

The coming of another war in September 1939 meant that Dulwich Hamlet would once again lose players to serve in the armed forces and ensured that once again would look to the juniors to ensure that fixtures were fulfilled.

The Isthmian League was suspended at the outbreak of war but the club carried on and continued to play in a much smaller and more localised league, known as the South Eastern Combination, which consisted of teams including Bromley, Epsom, Erith & Belvedere, DHFC, Sutton Utd, Tooting & Mitcham, Walton-on-Thames, Wimbledon and Woking – all reasonably local, so as to cut down travelling. As the league was quite small, there were not enough fixtures to fill every Saturday in the season and so vacant weeks were filled by friendly fixtures quite often against service teams. The composition of the teams we fielded varied greatly and as in the Great War, consisted of a few older players and guest players from amongst locally serving servicemen, with the gaps filled by members of the junior teams who were given their chance.

A wartime friendly programme against the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Hamlet Historian)

By January 1945, some 80 Dulwich players had been called up, of whom about half served with the RAF, of the remainder, the split was roughly 50:50 between the Royal Navy and the Army and at least one who served as a Bevin Boy in the coal mines.

Flight Lieutenant Richard Boyd DFC (Hamlet Historian)

One of these players who served as aircrew – Richard Boyd – is still with us at the age of 97 and today lives in the USA, quite appropriately for a former Bomber Command Pilot, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Richard was born in Brockley in November 1921 and lived in Evelyn Street, Deptford. He joined the Dulwich Hamlet junior team following a trial at the beginning of the 1938/39 season. His big chance came in August 1940 when he made his senior debut in another trial match and was by all accounts, man of the match playing at right half.

Richard’s debut in a league match came on Saturday 7 September 1940 against local rivals Bromley. This date proved to be the first day of the London Blitz and with about 20 minutes play remaining, with the Hamlet winning 3-2, the air raid sirens sounded and the referee duly abandoned the match. By 5pm, having quickly showered and changed, the players were heading out into Dog Kennel Hill but by this time, there were scores of aircraft appearing overhead. As the bombs began to fall, it was now all about getting home to Deptford, which he managed to do with great difficulty and not without fear. As part of his local Scout group, Richard acted as a messenger during the Blitz and later joined the Home Guard helping to protect the Surrey Docks. Richard volunteered to serve as aircrew and following his initial flying training in 1941, was sent to the USA as part of the Arnold Scheme. He was an excellent pilot and after qualifying, was retained as an instructor and did not return to the UK until 1943, when he was posted to Bomber Command. He served a full tour with 195 Squadron and was awarded the DFC for gallantry in bringing his damaged aircraft home. In Spring 1945, he transferred to Transport Command but in April 1946, was involved in a crash in which he broke his leg and which kept him in hospital for three months. He was demobbed in January 1947 but when he attempted to play again, he found that his leg would not stand up to the strain of playing competitive football. He later took up a non-flying role with BOAC and moved to the USA where he still lives.

Sadly, the new war ensured that further members of the club's playing staff were to lose their lives and we now look at those who feature on the club's Roll of Honour.

Eric Pierce (Gavin Heaton)

The first of our 1939-45 casualties was Eric Pierce, whose senior Dulwich Hamlet career would be over almost as soon as it started. Eric was born in Camberwell on 15 June 1921 and had played all of his football prior to the outbreak of war for the club’s junior teams. He was also a keen cricketer who played for Dulwich Hamlet Cricket Club whenever possible. It seems an alien concept for footballers nowadays but it was by no means uncommon at the end of the football season to simply swap one set of playing kit for another and continue to play another sport for the same club.

The loss to service of many of the club’s more senior players saw Eric break through into the First Team for some of the local wartime league matches that replaced the usual Isthmian League fixtures but on 23 January 1941, Eric enlisted into the RAF to train as a pilot. He was undergoing training at 16 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Burnaston and had passed a major milestone for any aspiring pilot by achieving solo flight - about a quarter of any new intake of prospective pilots failed to go solo, so Eric was obviously a competent pilot. Unfortunately, on 12 October 1941 when undertaking aerobatic duties, his Miles Magister trainer aircraft suffered an engine failure whilst at low altitude and despite his attempts to make a forced landing, Eric’s aircraft crashed into a field at Broken Flats Farm in Derbyshire, which killed the young pilot instantly.


Ron Ebsworth (Hamlet Historian)

The second to perish was 35 year old Ron Ebsworth, who had been born in Ilford in 1906 and played for his local club Ilford FC who were at that time an established amateur club who also played in the Isthmian League. He joined Dulwich in 1936 and in contrast to Eric Pierce, was perhaps coming towards the end of his playing career when he joined us. Ron was one of those people that you need at any amateur club, whether it be football, cricket, rugby or whatever sport – he was always available to play and would happily play in any team and in pretty much any position. He was a very popular figure at the club because of this willingness to play anywhere and his uncomplaining nature. 

He preferred to play either at full-back or wing-half and whilst he played a number of times for the Hamlet First Team, he played the majority of his football for the club’s Reserves. He was initially Vice Captain of the reserves but was named Captain of the Reserves for the 1938-39 Season and led the team to the runners-up spot in what must have been a very tight competition as his team had remained unbeaten until 13 April 1939 but were pipped at the post by his former club, Ilford. He would have been Reserve Captain again for the 1939-40 Season had it not been cancelled due to the outbreak of war. He was also a keen cricketer and in common with many of his team mates, played for Dulwich Hamlet CC during the summer months. 

Like many of his team mates, Ron volunteered to serve as RAF aircrew and enlisted into the service on 13 July 1940. He trained and qualified as a Wireless Operator/Gunner and was posted to 214 Squadron, Bomber Command, which flew the Vickers Wellington bomber, at that time the main workhorse of the RAF’s bomber squadrons. Ron and his crewmates completed four operational flights but they were not to return from their fifth, a mission to Hamburg on 30 November 1941, during which their aircraft was lost without trace near the Dutch coast. Only one crew member's body was ever recovered and today Ron, with the remainder of his missing crew mates, is remembered on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey.

Reg Anderson (kneeling, second from left) (Hamlet Historian)

Our third casualty was Reg Anderson, who like Eric Pierce had joined the club as a youngster and had progressed through the club’s junior teams. Reg was a local boy, born in Peckham and who lived in Woodwarde Road, the location of the Club’s original ground. He was a natural sportsman and had played football for Wilson’s Grammar School in Camberwell and subsequently for his Old Boys club before signing for the Hamlet in 1934 as an 18 year old. He played on the right wing and progressed quickly through the junior teams. He broke into the First Team in late 1936, making an early impression by scoring the winner over Margate in a shock FA Cup victory in November of that year. Margate were an unofficial ‘nursery’ side for Arsenal at that time and were regarded as the strongest team in the competition at that stage.

Reg was also part of the team that lifted the FA Amateur Cup for the final time in the club’s history in 1937 when they defeated Leyton 2-0 in front of 33,000 spectators at Upton Park, as seen in the photograph above. He played in another cup final that same season when he scored in a 2-0 victory over Kingstonian in the Surrey Senior Cup final that was played at Plough Lane

Reg’s form also attracted the attention of the selectors for the England Amateur side and he scored a hat trick on debut against Wales in an 8-2 victory at Rhyl in January 1938. Almost certainly as a result of this performance, Reg was approached by Sir Herbert Merrett, the industrialist and chairman of Cardiff City to play for them as an amateur, with the offer of a job in Wales as a sweetener. He accepted the offer and made his debut in a 1-1 draw at Notts County on Easter Saturday 1939 – he played at home against the same opposition two days later when he scored in a 4-1 win, in which he was by all accounts man of the match. The 1939-40 season was cancelled in common with all senior football but Reg nevertheless made three wartime appearances for the Bluebirds. Shortly after this time, Reg had decided to leave Cardiff and return to Dulwich – this was possibly down to a change of manager at Cardiff which wasn’t to Reg’s liking and in all subsequent representative matches, he is described as a Dulwich Hamlet player.

He played in some wartime football for the Hamlet and continued to play representative football but volunteered to serve as RAF aircrew and enlisted on 22 July 1940. Reg trained and qualified as an Observer and was posted to Bomber Command, joining 106 Squadron. Reg was lost on his fifth operational flight, when his Hampden bomber was shot down over the Danish island of Sylt whilst on a minelaying mission, with the loss of all four crew. Reg and his crewmates are buried together at Kiel War Cemetery in Germany.

Bill Parr in the RAF (John Cross)

The final name currently on the Roll of Honour is 26 year old Bill Parr, who unusually for the time was an established England Amateur International when he joined Dulwich Hamlet in early 1939, having already played seventeen matches for Blackpool in the old First Division of the Football League. Bill had played alongside Reg Anderson during the latter player’s England Amateur debut against Wales and the two men had run riot down the right hand side of the pitch, with Bill scoring four goals and Reg a hat trick, so he undoubtedly joined Dulwich in order to replicate this partnership with a player with whom he had formed an immediate rapport. The new club partnership bore immediate fruit when the Hamlet lifted the London Senior Cup but having played for Blackpool at the very highest level of English football, perhaps Bill found the Isthmian League a little too easy and in May 1939, Arsenal announced that he was to play the next season for them as an amateur. The 1939-40 season was abandoned and so there remains some doubt as to which club Bill would actually have played for, as some programmes for representative matches at this time still show him as a Dulwich Hamlet player. Like his three Hamlet team mates, Bill volunteered to serve as RAF aircrew and in his case trained as a Pilot. On completion of training, he was posted to Coastal Command to fly the Lockheed Hudson light bomber on Maritime Patrol duties covering the vital convoy routes on the Western Approaches. Bill was killed on 8 March 1942 when his aircraft suffered engine failure just after take-off on a night navigational training flight.

When I was asked to come and speak here tonight, I though that this was the end of the story - that was until a couple of months after the publication of “For Freedom”. I then received a slightly sheepish email from one of our supporters who had successfully bid for a job lot of old wartime programmes from an internet auction site. Wartime programmes for the Hamlet are quite rare as they were not produced in great numbers and long periods elapsed when they were not produced at all due to material shortages. 

Unlike most professional clubs, we do not have a club statistician, neither do we have a museum with an exhaustive database of programmes to call upon – like most amateur clubs, we accepted that there was quite a high turnover of players and that it was almost impossible to keep an accurate handle on everyone who had ever appeared for the club. Neither was there in those days quite the same obsession with statistics that we have in today’s game. We had however, assumed that the Club Committee at the time had kept an accurate record of the wartime casualties and had accordingly included all of the relevant names when the memorial was updated in 1947 to include the Second World War casualties. At the end of the day, when the booklet was written, we had to take a leap of faith and go by the information that was available to us on the Roll of Honour.

The email I received uncovered what can only be described as an astonishing oversight on the part of the then Club Committee, for these programmes revealed that two further players – one a former player at the time of his death but the other still very much a current member of the playing staff – had died on active service during the war but had not been included on the memorial.  To omit a former player was perhaps an understandable policy decision taken at the time but to ignore someone who had been acknowledged by the Club itself at the time as having represented Dulwich Hamlet in wartime matches seems unbelievable. It therefore seems only right and proper that we should record the stories of the two men concerned.

Charles Ede (Richard Coulthard)

Charles Ede was born in Croydon in 1911 and thus was another local lad. He’d joined the club as a junior and had progressed through the ranks. He was a good player in his own right but unfortunately for him, played at inside right – which was the same position as the legendary Edgar Kail. Because of this, he played most of his football for the reserves for whom he was a regular goal scorer. Appearances for the First Team were largely restricted to when Kail was injured or on representative duty but when he did play, he rarely let the side down, which must have added to his frustration. In early 1934, Charles requested a transfer to Kingstonian, which was granted by the club committee. He made 43 appearances for the Ks and scored 20 goals for them before he faded from the football scene at the end of the 1934/35 season, perhaps to concentrate on his job as an editor of a food magazine. He was called up in 1940 and served with 45 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which after serving on Home Defence duties outside Crewe during the Blitz, was deployed in October 1942 to North Africa as part of Operation Torch. On 20 November 1942, his unit was based in Djidjelli (now called Jijel), on the Algerian coast about 320 kilometres east of Algiers, which was the location of an Allied airfield. On this day, Charles was killed during an air raid on the airfield by a single Ju88 bomber. He is today buried at the Deli Ibrahim War Cemetery, near Algiers.

Alan Adams - nicknamed "Boy" whilst in the Army (Luuk Buist)

Alan Adams was yet another local boy, born in Camberwell in 1925 and thus by far the youngest of our casualties, being only just 19 when he died. Alan was a pupil of Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School (the large school opposite the Oval Cricket Ground) and on the outbreak of war, was evacuated with the entire school down to Reading in Berkshire. He was an accomplished sportsman and represented his school at athletics, cricket and football – these latter two at First XI level. He also appeared to have an interest in military life from an early age and was a member of his school Cadet Corps from 1937 to 1940 and then transferred to the Air Training Corps when this was established in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, which would indicate that he had an eye on a career as a flyer. He left school in 1941 and took up a job as a junior insurance clerk but also joined his local Home Guard unit in Dulwich the following year once he turned 17.

He made his senior debut for Dulwich Hamlet at this time, having been previously a member of our junior team. His first match was against the London Fire Force at Champion Hill and thus played in an away match at his normal home ground. He was a left back and his first appearance came about due to the absence of the regular left back, Roger Bishop, who had been detained at work. No doubt the fact that Alan lived close to the ground at Herne Hill enabled him to make a quick dash to Champion Hill. Alan enlisted into the Army in May 1943 and after basic training with the Gordon Highlanders, he transferred to the Army Air Corps to train as a Glider Pilot. He qualified just too late to serve at D-Day but did serve at Arnhem. On 18 September 1944, the Horsa glider that he was piloting was shot down whilst part of the Second Wave of landings during Operation Market Garden. Alan had been hit by shrapnel from an anti-aircraft shell and although his Co-Pilot made a forced landing, they overshot the landing zone and hit trees at over 100 mph. The Co-Pilot was catapulted through the Perspex windscreen of the glider but survived unscathed but unfortunately, Alan was killed when the load (a Jeep and two trailers of ammunition) shifted forward and crushed him. The remaining two Army passengers also survived the crash. Alan was buried initially in the grounds of the Psychiatric Home at Wolfheze but later reinterred at the main British war cemetery at Oosterbeek.

We hope to add the names of these last mentioned men to our Roll of Honour but obviously, as this is on display in the Boardroom at our historic home of Champion Hill Stadium, access is currently not possible. 

In normal times, today’s fans of Dulwich Hamlet continue to honour these players from the club’s past who made the ultimate sacrifice. Hopefully, the impasse over the future of Champion Hill Stadium will soon be resolved and we will be able to add these men’s names to the Memorial and provide belated recognition to their sacrifice.

Thanks are due to Alex Alexandrou at the Football and War Project for inviting me to speak at the seminar. Hopefully a London date will be arranged in the autumn, which will also include other speakers. Once this date is arranged, I will advise this via social media.



Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Aldwych Tube, Bomber's Moon and Negley Farson

Negley Farson (Wikipedia)

Blitz aficionados will be aware of the name of James Negley Farson, the American author, adventurer and fisherman, who wrote one of the best accounts of the London Blitz, Bomber's Moon, published in 1941 and which apart from Farson's vivid descriptions of life in London during 1940, contains some beautiful pencil illustrations from his friend and commercial artist Tom Purvis.

Almost an entire chapter of the book is devoted to shelter life, more specifically to the experiences of those sheltering in the London Underground. The small branch line station at Aldwych - actually located in the Strand - features prominently in this chapter and was the subject of some of the most famous photographs taken of Tube shelterers. This station has been closed to the public since 1994, when the little-used Aldwych branch was finally discontinued. This was partially due to the prohibitive cost of replacing the original 1907 lifts, which although still in perfectly good working order at the time, could not continue to be used for Health & Safety reasons owing to the exposed moving parts in the lift machinery. The station is still in situ and although different schemes have been floated over the years for its re-opening and incorporation into various Tube extensions, it remains as a mute reminder of London's wartime past. The site is occasionally opened to the public in conjunction with the London Transport Museum's Hidden London initiative but tickets are expensive and sell out quickly, so I have never actually been able to visit the station since closure 24 years ago. My memories of the place were those of a vague air of decay but also of a station that would have been instantly recognisable to a wartime shelterer.

Setting the scene outside Aldwych Station (Tom Day)

In addition to these rare public openings, the station is often used for filming and is also utilised by TfL and various Government Departments for training purposes. It was in connection with this latter use that I was recently able to pay a visit, as part of my guiding duties for a British Army group's Battlefield Study tour looking at the London Blitz, amongst other subjects. 

Mother & Baby drawn by Tom Purvis (author's collection - from 'Bomber's Moon')

To try and give the reader some background to the notion of spending the night in an Underground Station whilst bombs are falling "up top", I can do no better than quote directly from Farson himself:

"One night, about six o'clock, I stood in the Strand with the long line of shelterers waiting to go down the famous Aldwych Tube. It was very much in the newspapers at the time. Nearly everyone (except those who were occupying it) believed it had just been opened as a public shelter. The Press, unwittingly, was giving the impression that great things were being done.

As a matter of fact, when the Authorities were complacently accepting all the ballyhoo about throwing it open as a shelter, it had been packed to capacity for over three weeks.

The first person in line was a girl, twenty years old, holding an eighteen-months-old baby in her arms. She told me later, that she was "expecting" again in January. She had been standing there and hour and a half. The next seventy people in line had, of course, been standing there for slightly shorter periods. And there were more people piling up behind them while I was waiting to go down with them. She bared her gums and laughed saying:

'Maybe I'll faint. I did yesterday. Then there was an air raid and they had to let us all down.'

The collapsible steel gates of the tube were locked. They were not supposed to be open until 6:15. But this evening an Underground worker came along and let the crowd down shortly before six. We descended 132 steps. 

The people scampered about the deserted tube platform below to find their favourite places. This girl carried her baby to the far end, spread out a blanket. Then, from somewhere, she produced two sheets of corrugated cardboard - the thick packing case stuff. She placed her baby on top of it:

'So that he won't get damp,' she said simply."

At this stage of the war, there were no facilities at the station and as Negley Farson alluded to in his narrative, it had only been available as a shelter for around three weeks at the time he wrote his piece. He goes on to confirm the lack of basic facilities thus:

"Well, it was quite a scene for a dark, damp, smelly tube - with an open "Gent's" latrine staring you straight in the face. Lest I be accused of painting the picture, this was the Aldwych Tube; the position of the bucket latrine, used by the men, was some ten feet from the stone steps at the end of the platform - and I'll take a chance on it that there will be plenty of witnesses to come forward and swear that the only veil that covered it from public view at that date were two torn strips of burlap - with a jagged unclosable gap between them of at least eighteen inches from top to bottom.  

As one woman put it:

'We have a free public view - stalls. Ha ha!'"


An elderly lady shelterer drawn by Tom Purvis (author's collection from 'Bomber's Moon')

On the outbreak of war, the Chamberlain government had decreed that unlike the 1914-18 War, the London Underground would not be made available for Air Raid Shelter purposes. The vaguely ridiculous reasoning behind this was that allowing the public to shelter in the Tubes would "encourage a troglodyte mentality" - in other words, they were afraid that people would enter the Tubes, never to emerge again, with the resulting catastrophic effect on war production, followed by a general collapse of society. 

When the bombs did start to fall on London, the population used their common sense, ignored the Government's edicts and simply invaded the Tube Stations, invariably by simply buying a ticket to the next station and then refusing to board a train. The Authorities quickly relented and allowed the Tube stations to be used but as Farson mentions in his book, the complacent attitude that had previously been demonstrated took some time to put right and it took some time, running into months, before steel bunk beds, chemical toilets and first aid posts, amongst other facilities began to appear on those stations selected for use as shelters.

Recreated station signage (author's photo)

Aldwych Station had opened in 1907 as part of the Great Northern & Strand Railway and was originally named Strand. It was intended to be the terminus of a line running from Wood Green (now Alexandra Palace) via Finsbury Park and Kings Cross. Whilst under construction, the line was taken over by the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway (the modern day Piccadilly Line) and permission was granted to link the two lines via a new tunnel running between Piccadilly Circus and Holborn to connect the two routes. This left the line running down to the Strand as a somewhat superfluous spur that eventually became the Aldwych Branch. The station was renamed Aldwych in 1915 to avoid confusion with the station of the same name (now Charing Cross) owned by the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (now the Charing Cross Branch of the Northern Line).

The Aldwych Branch settled down to life as basically a shuttle service that ran to-and-fro between Aldwych and Holborn Kingsway Stations. It is possible to walk between these two points in less than ten minutes, so it was never a particularly well used service. Probably because of this relative lack of use, the entire branch was selected for use as a shelter and closed to the public on 22 September 1940, shortly after the beginning of the London Blitz. The station had originally been named consisted of two platforms serving a double track line in two tunnels to Holborn but one platform had been closed in 1917, as just one platform and a single track was more than sufficient to cater for the shuttle service. For shelter purposes, the disused platform was also opened up to the public and the train running tunnels (including the disused tunnel) were used by the British Museum to store some of their collection, including the Elgin Marbles. The electric current was switched off and eventually, the platform was built out over the tracks so as to create a much wider area for the shelterers than was normally found on a working station but initially, some of the shelterers had to sleep on the tracks, as the accompanying photo shows.

Aldwych Station - then and now (author's photograph)

My entry into the station was through similar "collapsible steel gates", perhaps the very same that Negley Farson and his fellow shelterers had used nearly 78 years previously. I then walked through one of the original 1907 Otis lifts - both of which are now held statically by large steel beams beneath them - into the Booking Office area, part of which is original and the remainder an elaborate film set which has been retained in situ. Following a safety briefing, our group descended the spiral staircase towards platform level. It was whilst walking down the stairs that my memories of this station began to be rekindled; a somewhat musty, damp smell pervaded the staircase and the passageways leading to the platform. There was also a strange, unaccountable feeling of melancholy - as if the old station was trying to tell us that it was lonely and missed the sound of commuters footsteps.

The beginning of the 132 steps (author's photo)

Walking through the original 1907 Otis elevator (author's photo)

A now lonely passageway echoes to the sound of footsteps once again (author's photo)

Once on platform level, I explained a little of the station's wartime history as well as hearing a interesting briefing as to the history of tunnels and tunnellers in warfare through the ages, a fascination which continues to this day. Whilst listening to this talk, we were disturbed by various distant rumbling sounds and periodical bursts of cool breezes, all of which reminded us that not far away, up the line at Holborn, the Underground network was still operating. The area we had been visiting was Platform "A" which had been the working platform when the line closed to the public in 1994 and which, we had been warned at the Safety Briefing, still contained energised live rails and which was still frequently used for filming. The station has featured in numerous movies, ranging from Battle of Britain, Patriot Games, V for Vendetta and Atonement, to pop videos, perhaps most famously The Prodigy's "Firestarter" in 1996.

Looking south towards the buffers (author's photo)

Looking north towards Holborn (author's photo)

We then moved across to the other platform, disused since 1917, which although bricked off from the main running tunnels, still contained a stretch of the original one hundred year old track, which lay flat on ballast as with surface railway lines and did not contain the now familiar "Anti-Suicide Pit" which we see today at Tube stations. Unfortunately, the sensitive nature of some of the equipment being demonstrated in this area meant that it was not possible to take photographs here on this occasion but the platform presented a strange mixture of old and new, due to the fact that London Underground sometimes use this area to trial new systems of lighting, tunnel panels and other equipment.

The footbridge leading across to the 1917 platform (author's photo)

"Way Out" sign, together with the 'A N' from STRAND which was the station's original name (author's photo)

After about 90 minutes below ground, it was now time to return to the surface and it was at some point during the ascent of the 132 steps that I became painfully aware of how much we took lifts and escalators for granted. Some of my Army colleagues sprinted up the steps, leaving the oldest man in the group to bring up the rear somewhat wearily!

The Leslie Green designed Ticket Hall (author's photo)

Back at surface level, I made a brief inspection of the original Leslie Green designed Ticket Hall, with an elaborate "BOOK HERE" sign, as well as discovering an original 1930s direction sign pointing would-be interchange passengers in the direction of the nearby Temple Station.

1930s signage still extant (author's photo)

The way out to Surrey Street (author's photo)

As mentioned earlier, many proposals have been mooted to incorporate the Aldwych Branch into various other underground extensions and new lines but personally, I rather hope that the line remains preserved as a time capsule looking back into Underground history.

Blinking as we emerged back out into the bright spring sunshine, it was time for me to start earning my keep again as a guide but thanks are due to Major Christopher Garrard of 29 EOD & Search Group HQ for arranging the visit and for allowing me to add an unusual extra dimension to our Battlefield Study Tour.


Printed Source:

Bomber's Moon by Negley Farson, illustrated by Tom Purvis - Victor Gollanz Ltd, 1941




Sunday, 8 April 2018

Hitler Passed This Way


Amongst my collection of Blitz-related books is Hitler Passed This Way, a collection of 170 photographs from the London Evening News, which older readers may remember from a time when our capital city had not one, but three evening newspapers - the Evening News, the Evening Standard and The Star.

The booklet takes the form mainly of a series of 'before and after' shots of various buildings in London destroyed during the Blitz and subsequent V-Weapons campaigns. This anthology was published in late 1945 when memories of these events were still very fresh in the minds of Londoners and the linking text is very much of this time and not surprisingly, makes no mention of the fact that the RAF had until very recently been meting out the same sort of indiscriminate treatment, only on a much greater scale, to German civilians that is described in the book thus:

"Many times from September 1940 until March 1945, did Hitler single out London for his major effort of destruction. The docks, the City, the east end, the west end, north and south London, the railways, the bridges and the suburbs, all had their nights of high explosive bombs, great and small. Night after night Hitler rained incendiary bombs on London. He dropped huge land mines by parachute to wipe out whole districts. To make certain the killing of large numbers of non-combatants, women and children alike, he employed delayed action bombs of devilish ingenuity."

The mood of the British public had not yet mellowed following six years of war and the full impact of the destruction of German cities such as Hamburg and Dresden by the RAF had not been fully realised. At somewhere in the region of 42,000, the death toll from the Gomorrah raids on Hamburg in late July and early August 1943 had comfortably exceeded the 30,000 of London for the entire war and yet no mention is made of this aspect of the war that the British public were still happy to conveniently brush under the carpet at this point.

Taking this aspect aside, the photographs offer a fascinating view of a long-vanished London and whilst it would be unfair to reproduce more than a handful of photographs here, an interesting game of "then and then and now" can be played at some of the locations featured in the images.

"Before and After" views of the Cordwainers Hall (from Hitler Passed This Way)

Looking towards St Paul's with the ruined Cordwainers Hall (author's collection)

The same view today (Google streetview)

The above three photos of the Cordwainers' Hall in Cannon Street show how in many cases, new views of London were opened up by the Blitz. The Cordwainers' Hall that was destroyed on the night of 10/11 May 1941 only dated from 1909 but contained many relics and artefacts from the previous Halls on this site. These included chimney pieces and wooden escutcheon pieces which had survived the Great Fire of 1666, only to fall victim 275 years later. Fortunately, other items such as various portraits and silver plate had been stored off site and were therefore saved. The loss of the Cordwainers' Hall opened up a new vista of St Paul's Cathedral and the area is now a pleasant open space that is much loved by City workers as a summer lunch venue.

Another victim of the events of 10/11 May 1941 was the International Headquarters or "IHQ" of the Salvation Army, located then as now, at 101 Queen Victoria Street. On this, the heaviest night of bombing that London saw during the entire war, the firefighters were hindered by a strong wind, which was unusually blowing from the east, rather than the prevailing westerly wind. This was driving the fires westwards along Queen Victoria Street, threatening Faraday House, which at that time housed the largest telephone exchange in the world, including international lines and a radio link with Washington DC. A fortunate change of wind direction saved Faraday House but not before IHQ was consumed by the flames. There was one tragic incident whilst efforts were being made to save the building - one Salvation Army worker rushed out of the building, tripped over a fallen telephone cable and was run over and killed by a passing Fire Engine. There were the usual scenes of quiet heroism here too, with a Salvation Army canteen van serving refreshments to the army of Civil Defence workers fighting to save IHQ and Faraday House. One firefighter, George Woodhouse from Holloway noticed:

"The two Salvation Army lasses were handing out cups of tea and biscuits as if it were a Sunday School outing. They appeared to be completely unaware of the bombs falling all around them. I often wondered what the word 'courage' meant, but on that night, those two lasses had it in abundance."

101 Queen Victoria Street before the events of 10/11 May 1941 (from Hitler Passed This Way)

The ruined site (from Hitler Passed This Way)

The modern replacement (Google Streetview)

Today, 101 Queen Victoria Street is still home to the IHQ of the Salvation Army but it is now a modern steel and glass building, although still on a similar scale to that of it's predecessor.

Sometimes the views of 1940 and today cannot easily be compared. Today, residents of Greenwich and visitors alike are accustomed to seeing the Cutty Sark, the last surviving British tea clipper and a long-term fixture in Greenwich. It was not always the case though; the site in King William Walk was once occupied by a large public house, The Ship Hotel, which was renowned for serving freshly caught whitebait suppers, often complimented with champagne. The hotel attracted a varied clientele, including government ministers and members of the judiciary. It had already begun to fall upon hard times, when on the night of 1 November 1940, it received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb, completely destroying the premises. Today, the site would be unrecognisable and is another example of a new vista being opened up by the bombs.

The Ship Hotel 'Before and After' (from Hitler Passed This Way'

The site today (Google Streetview)


Sometimes though, it isn't possible to provide any sort of 'then and now' perspective, for the simple reason that the neighbourhoods that were bombed simply ceased to exist. There are examples of this in the East End of London but one which is covered in Hitler Passed This Way is particularly poignant.

'The Monster' public house in Sutherland Terrace, Pimlico (from Hitler Passed This Way)

If one looks for Sutherland Terrace in Pimlico today, it does not exist, for it was completely wiped out on the night of 16/17 April 1941. Inspection of a pre-war A to Z Atlas reveals Sutherland Terrace about halfway up the page, running between Sutherland Street and Cumberland Street, forming what must have been a slightly confusing crossroads with Winchester Street. A glance at the present day Google Streetview shows no trace of Sutherland Terrace. Such was the ferocity of the bombing that the terrace was obliterated, complete with it's once famous public house, the splendidly named 'Monster' of which we see 'Before and After' views in the book. It was a bad night in Westminster, with 148 killed, 173 high explosive bombs, seven parachute mines and a community destroyed.


Sutherland Terrace in 1939

The same location today (Google Streetview)


Hitler Passed This Way is still fairly easily available today and provides fascinating images of a bygone London, not only during wartime but also during the more peaceful years immediately prior to the Second World War.


Published Sources:

Hitler Passed This Way - The Evening News, 1945
The Longest Night - Gavin Mortimer; Cassell, 2005

Thursday, 1 March 2018

"An Unprincipled Rogue"

First Edition cover of Bamboo and Bushido (author's collection)

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a football fan. My support these days is reserved for my local non-league side, Dulwich Hamlet but my league team, albeit one from which I am serving a self-imposed exile, is Charlton Athletic.

I've written on a few occasions about the club, most recently in November 2017 when we looked at the story of Jim Mackenzie, our very first Honorary Secretary, who lost his life whilst serving with the Merchant Navy on 30 September 1917. 

Today's story began with an innocent enquiry by a poster on the club's message board which concerned someone by the name of Vic Wilson, who was mentioned in a book called "Bamboo and Bushido" by Alfred Allbury (pictured left), who served in the Royal Artillery at Singapore and was captured, along with the vast majority of his regiment at the time of the surrender on 15 February 1942. Vic's name came up in the story as being a close friend of Alfred, who described him as "...an unprincipled rogue with a delightful wry sense of humour and a healthy hatred of the war that kept him from his wife and young baby back in Charlton."

A few things in this story intrigued me; it isn't often that my little backwater of Southeast London gets a mention in a book that doesn't concern football and the fact that the two men served in the Royal Artillery - a local regiment - meant that we were quite possibly looking at men from my immediate locality and perhaps who supported the same football club. Unfortunately, Allbury's book didn't say with which regiment of the Royal Artillery they had served but a delve in one of my many reference books provided the Order of Battle which informed me that a local Territorial Army Battery - 118th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery - was present at the fall of Singapore and this encouraged me further.

A search of the excellent Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, as it so often does, provided the basis for my research. It told me that Vic Wilson had sadly not survived the war but had indeed served with 118th Field Regiment. Vic had died in captivity on 27 July 1943 and was buried at Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery in Burma, which indicated that he was one of the many who perished whilst being employed as slave labour of the Japanese on the infamous Burma Railway.

Further research showed that Vic had been born in Greenwich in 1918 and lived at 49 Chevening Road. During the third quarter of 1939, Vic married Violet Elizabeth Wilson from 60 Inverine Road, Charlton and in the first quarter of 1940, Violet gave birth to a baby daughter, Valerie. With the onset of the Blitz, Valerie and Violet were evacuated to the relative safety of Hampshire but Vic and his colleagues, being members of the Territorial Army, had been mobilised upon the declaration of war.

The War Diary of 118th Field Regiment RA reveals early mobilisation plans (author's photo)

In normal times, 118th Field Regiment was based at their Drill Hall in Grove Park, Southeast London but inspection of the Regimental War Diary reveals that the process of mobilisation began as early as 23 August 1939 with the call-up of civilian transport and by the evening of 1 September, an advance party of 150 officers and other ranks marched from Grove Park to Cambridge Barracks at nearby Woolwich, to take up their wartime duties. Apart from a brief spell in late November 1939 when the Regiment took part in an exercise in the Ramsgate area, they remained at Woolwich Garrison until mid-January 1940 at which point they moved to Eastbourne to take up coastal defence duties. The Regiment was equipped with a mixture of 18 pounder field guns of Great War vintage and 4.5" howitzers, of similar ancestry. From late June 1940, they moved to the Norfolk coast to take up anti-invasion duties and whilst here, were re-equipped with 75mm artillery supplied from the USA. In September 1940, a further move occurred, this time to Worstead during which time the Regiment was finally re-equipped with the iconic 25 pdr guns so beloved of the Royal Artillery. Yet another move to the Scottish Borders followed in January 1941 and it was whilst here that the War Diary first mentions the possibility of a deployment to a "Tropical Climate" with training being arranged accordingly. In early April 1941, the Regiment moved to the Staffordshire area, where training continued. Study of the War Diaries tends to lend the lie to the usual perception that the British were forever unprepared for war and muddling through - the politicians may have been unprepared but the Regiment was making preparations for mobilisation over a week before the declaration of war and then training to fight in the Far East some eight months before the entry of Japan into the war.

The Regiment sailed from the Clyde on 30 October 1941 as Convoy CT 5 in eight large troopships, which in peacetime had been better known as the ocean liners ANDES, DUCHESS OF ATHOLL, DURBAN CASTLE, ORCADES, ORONSAY, REINA DEL PACIFICO, SOBIESKY and WARWICK CASTLE. The convoy took the troops as far as Halifax, Nova Scotia where they arrived on 7 November 1941. The next phase of the voyage saw them trans-shipped to six American Troop Transports, the JOSEPH T DICKMAN, LEONARD WOOD, MOUNT VERNON, ORIZABA, WEST POINT and WAKEFIELD. This particular aspect of the voyage is fascinating as the Americans were by now openly assisting their British allies some two months before their official entry into the war and were transporting the British soldiers to potentially fight against an enemy who had also not yet entered the war!

The American ships sailed as Convoy WS 12 X (a British convoy designation) even though the naval escort at this stage was entirely provided by the US Navy and proceeded via Port of Spain to Cape Town, where they arrived on 9 December 1941, two days after the USA's official entry into the war. From Cape Town, the naval escort was a mixed Royal Navy and US Navy affair and the convoy proceeded via Mombasa to Bombay, where they finally arrived on 27 December 1941. From here, the troops transferred to British ships for the final leg of the voyage to Singapore, where they arrived in mid-January 1941, barely one month before the surrender of the colony to the Japanese.

General Arthur Percival (IWM)

The fall of Singapore was arguably the biggest debacle in British military history and is a story of poor preparation, poor command  and a classic case of resources being spread too thinly. Despite this, the Allied forces enjoyed a huge numerical superiority over the Japanese, consisting of some 85,000 British, Australian, Indian and Malay forces against some 36,000 invading Japanese. The Allies however, had no tanks in Singapore and were initially convinced that any Japanese assault would come from the seaward side and not via the Malay Peninsular. The air cover was also insufficient, consisting at first of obsolete Brewster Buffalo fighters and later, small numbers of Hawker Hurricanes, which were no match for the Japanese fighters and were quickly overwhelmed. As a result, there were constant air raids on Singapore and the British commander General Percival, faced with a civilian catastrophe as well as a military defeat, surrendered his forces on 15 February 1942. It was an utter humiliation and one from which British prestige in the region never really recovered.

Alfred Allbury wrote eloquently of the final hours before the surrender:

"My co-driver Vic Wilson and I sallied forth on nightly excursions to ammunition dumps scattered around the island-no transport could survive ten minutes on the road by day. Once our 15cwt was loaded, we had to deliver the shells to our guns. This called not so much for a knowledge of map reading as for the gift of clairvoyance. Jap planes and the unsuitability of the terrain for effective artillery positions kept our battery commanders roving the island in a desperate search for potential gun-sites. Those found and occupied were speedily made untenable by the sustained accuracy of the Japanese counterfire." 

"Vic Wilson and I had long been friends. He was an unprincipled rogue with a wry sense of humour, and a healthy hatred of the war that kept him from his young wife and baby back home in Charlton."

"On the morning of February 14th the first tentative shells landed among our supply-dumps. They quickly found the exact range and soon a searing bombardment developed that sent us scuttling into our fox-holes. The Japs were ranging on us from heights that overlooked the town. Bukit Timah was theirs after the bloodiest of struggles, the reservoir was stained crimson with the blood of those who had fought so bitterly to hold it, and the little yellow men whom we had ridiculed and despised were in swarm across the island. It was already theirs." 

"Next morning Vic and I set off on a last mad jaunt taking ammunition to ‘A’ Troop who were dug in behind a Chinese temple to the north of Racecourse Road. Vic drove like a maniac. He had, I found, been sampling a bottle of ‘John Haig’. We thundered along deserted roads, pitted and scarred with bomb craters. Wrecked and burnt-out vehicles lay everywhere, strewn at fantastic angles. The trolley-bus cables hung across the road in desolate festoons which shivered and whined as we raced over them. A few yards from the charred remains of an ambulance were a knot of troops gathered round a cook’s wagon. From them we scrounged a mug of hot tea and found out the guns of ‘A’ Troop were only a few hundred yards distant. We delivered our ammunition and an hour later rejoined Battery HQ close by the Raffles Hotel." 

"But late that afternoon came the news that we had surrendered. There was to be a cease-fire at four o’clock. We had fought and lost. And the ashes of defeat tasted bitter. At three o’clock all but a few of the guns were silent. Ammunition had been expended. From the hills there still came the occasional bark of a Japanese gun followed by the whine and crash of its shells. But by six o’clock, save for the spluttering of flames and the occasional explosion of ammunition, all was quiet over the island of Singapore. The carnage of the last ten days was quieted now, and in eerie silence our troops sat huddled together in puzzled but fatalistic expectancy."

"Vic and I returned to our lorry, ate some tinned bacon and biscuits and stretched ourselves luxuriously for our first uninterrupted sleep for many days. We took off our boots, smoked, talked and listened to the distant caterwauling of the Japanese." “They’ll probably,” said Vic “be crawling round us in the night, cutting off our ears.” 

"But we stretched out and slept the sleep of the utterly exhausted, while around us into the tropic rose a barbaric and discordant dirge: the victory song of the triumphant Japanese." 

With the fall of Singapore, some 80,000 Allied personnel became Prisoners of War. The Japanese had already signalled their scant regard for humanity when the day before the surrender, they had captured the Alexandra Hospital. A British lieutenant, clearly displaying a white flag, approached the Japanese in order to act as an envoy and explain the presence of a military hospital but was killed with a bayonet. As Japanese forces entered the hospital, they killed soldiers undergoing surgery and bayoneted doctors and nurses with no regard to their non-combatant status. The following day, a further 200 patients and staff were dealt with in the same manner. This was just the beginning of the now-familiar tale of atrocities committed by the Japanese.

With the exception of small parties who escaped Singapore by small boats, including a group of nineteen from the 118th Field Regiment, who safely arrived in India in April 1943 after an odyssey that lasted some fourteen months, the vast majority of those who surrendered went into captivity. After initially being held at Changi Prison, many of the men were sent to work as slave labour on the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway and this is where the story of Vic Wilson ended, succumbing to Beri-Beri on 27 July 1943 and thus never returning home to his wife and daughter.

The Nominal Roll records Vic Wilson's death (authors image)

The Regiment somehow managed to maintain a Nominal Roll which records the fate of Vic and his colleagues, despite the writer of the Roll being imprisoned at Changi and the Regiment being scattered far and wide. It makes heartbreaking reading and a manual count by this writer revealed that of the 744 Officers and Other Ranks that went into captivity at Singapore, 188 died whilst POWs, which represented a loss rate of 25.27%. The vast majority of these men died from disease but inspection of the Nominal Roll reveals some who died from acts of brutality, with one cause of death recorded as "Fractured skull caused by rifle butts" not being uncommon, all of which confirms the Japanese lack of regard for Allied Prisoners of War. 

Despite the sad loss of Vic's life, this story does have an uplifting ending, as following further research, I was able to ascertain that Vic's daughter Valerie is still alive and lives in the local area. I rather tentatively wrote her a letter, explaining who I was and asking whether or not she was aware that her Father featured in a book covering the fall of Singapore. I was delighted to receive a phone call a day or so later from Valerie and had a pleasant conversation with her. Valerie doesn't remember her Dad, as she was only a baby when he went overseas for what proved to be the final time and neither was she aware of Alfred Allbury's book. Valerie's Mum had of course told her something of her Father and had frequently told Valerie that she shared many of Vic's characteristics. She also confirmed that as far as she had been told, Vic was a Charlton football fan and had attended matches at The Valley before going overseas. I sent Valerie copies of the pages in which Vic had been mentioned and subsequently had another long chat on the phone. Valerie doesn't have a photograph of Vic but mentioned that she had given all of the family photographs to her daughter, who now lives in Australia. Hopefully, I will soon be able to share a photo of Vic - a Charlton Athletic supporter and
"unprincipled rogue" who now rests far away from Southeast London.


Published Sources:

Bamboo and Bushido - Alfred Allbury, Robert Hale Limited, London 1955


Unpublished Sources:


National Archives WO 166/1530 - 118th Field Regiment RA, War Diary 01 August 1939 - 30 September 1941

National Archives WO 361/235 - 118th Field Regiment RA, Malaya: Missing Personnel
National Archives WO 361/1300 - 118th Field Regiment RA, Thailand, Casualties
Naitonal Archives WO 361/2092 - 118th Field Regiment RA. Far East, Prisoners of War, Nominal Roll