Sunday 16 December 2018

The Auxiliary Fire Service: From Army Dodgers to Heroes with Grimy Faces

A group of AFS firemen (and cab) at Gordonbrock Road School (author's collection)

The Auxiliary Fire Service or AFS was formed in 1938 at the time of the Munich Crisis and on its formation, there were many who doubted the motives of those who volunteered for firefighting duties. An explanation for this early hostility could perhaps have been due to the fact that volunteers for the Fire Service were automatically exempted from the call-up to military service. As a result, a fair number of conscientious objectors were attracted to the AFS and although attitudes towards these principled individuals were more enlightened than during the Great War, there were still many small-minded citizens who could not bring themselves to show any sympathy towards this attitude.

As a result of this, aided and abetted by some of the more hysterical sections of the press, both local and national, there was still some lingering hostility towards the AFS during the dying days of peace and during the so-called "Phoney War" period immediately after the declaration of war in September 1939. "£3 a week Army Dodgers"  and "£3 a week to play darts" were just two of the insults directed towards these volunteers. There was also some hostility towards the Auxiliaries from the regular firemen themselves; some of this was aimed at the conscientious objectors from a minority of firemen who had previously served in the armed forces themselves and harboured outdated views. Sadly though, some was racially motivated, especially towards the considerable Jewish contingent who volunteered for service in the AFS. Some of this was the casual anti-Semitism which pervaded (and which sadly sometimes still pervades) society, whilst some of the more overt hostility came from members of Mosley's British Union of Fascists, some of whom served within the Fire Services.

Firemen in Cheapside on the morning of 30 December 1940 (author's collection)

Fortunately, once the bombs began to fall, it was clear to the public at large that the firemen (and women) were not "Army Dodgers" at all and had in fact, volunteered for the most dangerous role within the Civil Defence and the prejudice aimed at them rapidly evaporated. The truth of the matter was that the newly formed Civil Defence service, of which the Auxiliary Fire Service was a major part, was essentially a citizen army of local people and tended to reflect the ethnicity of the local recruits. For example, in the Aldgate and Whitechapel areas of East London, some 85-90 per cent of the Civil Defence was Jewish - simply local people playing their part in helping to defend their own neighbourhood.

The London Fire Brigade in 1939 was under the control of the London County Council and across the whole of the United Kingdom, the Auxiliaries were similarly held under municipal control. Such a vast expansion of the Fire Services required a similar increase in the number of accommodation and equipment. The former was easily solved by invariably using school premises, newly vacated as a result of the evacuation of school children and which with their catering facilities and ample space for parking, were ideal for use as makeshift fire stations. More of a problem was the provision of sufficient vehicles to act as fire engines. In the capital, the London Taxi came to the fore, towing a trailer pump and with a ladder strapped to the roof rack. Their drivers also went to war and their encyclopedic knowledge of the streets made them an invaluable weapon in the fight against the fires lit by Hitler's bombs.

A London Taxi in attendance at All Hallows-by-the-Tower on 30 December 1940 (author's collection via LMA)

As the word 'auxiliary' suggests, the AFS provided additional or extra capacity to the regular fire brigades and was designed to supplement them by acting as a sort of mobile reserve which could be deployed from city to city in times of great need. The fragility of this plan became evident on the first day of the Blitz, when AFS units arrived from outside the capital only to find that their equipment was not always compatible. For example, hydrant connections were of differing gauges and the standards of training often differed from region to region, so whilst the provincial volunteers were certainly willing, they were not always able to assist. There were also sometimes petty arguments between the various local authorities who controlled the country's fire services. which sometimes prevented the rapid movement of the AFS volunteers from one municipality to another.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, the men and women of the AFS performed heroically during the Blitz. Despite their intensive training, most of the firemen of the AFS had never tackled a 'normal' fire prior to the commencement of the Blitz on 7 September 1940, let alone the sort of fires caused by incendiary and high explosive bombs but during the first twenty two days of the bombing of London, they had fought almost 10,000 fires across London. The Firewomen (the use of the word 'Firefighter' didn't begin until the 1980s) didn't actually tackle fires during the Second World War but instead performed equally vital duties such as Fire Watchers, Drivers and managing the communications network and by 1943, over 70,000 women had volunteered for the Fire Service across the United Kingdom. As a result of their work during the Blitz, the firefighters found themselves feted as "Heroes with grimy faces" a phrase originally coined by Winston Churchill but one which caught the imagination of a grateful public.

Firemen Remembered plaque at Invicta Road School (author's photograph)

However, as a result of the experience gained during the Blitz, it was clear that coordinated action was required, not only to ensure commonality of equipment and training but also to ensure that the petty regional jealousies were overcome. Therefore, on 18 August 1941 the 1,400 separate fire services in Britain were nationalised and a new body, the National Fire Service or NFS was formed in their place. This new service quickly set about tackling the problems caused by the differences in organisation and equipment thrown up by the huge number of former municipal brigades. There were some frictions at first as old habits died hard but it was quickly realised that the nationalisation was for the greater good and the new NFS under the command of the former head of the London Fire Brigade, Sir Aylmer Firebrace, was soon to prove itself more than equal to the challenges thrown up by the Baedeker Raids of 1942-3 and the Little Blitz of 1943-4 as well as the greater problems caused by the V-1s and V-2s of 1944 and 1945.

After the War, the NFS was eventually disbanded in 1948 and the regional fire brigades were taken back under municipal control. However, the standardised procedures and equipment remained in place and thus it is fair to say that the National Fire Service formed the template for today's modern fire services that we all take for granted in their efficiency and dedication to duty.

The National Firefighters' Memorial (author's photograph)

In London alone, 327 firefighters - male and female - were killed during the war but thanks to the work of the charity Firemen Remembered, many memorial plaques have been places at locations where firefighters lost their lives. The National Firefighters Memorial, opposite St Paul's Cathedral was originally commissioned in 1991 following a campaign led by Cyril Demarne OBE, a former senior officer in the NFS and later the London Fire Brigade. Originally designed solely as a tribute to those London firefighters who gave their lives during the Blitz, in 2003 the monument was expanded into a national memorial with the names of a further 1,192 firefighters from across the country who have died in both peace and war being added. Today, this memorial with its evocative image of three firefighters tackling the fires of the City of London and also protecting the Cathedral serves as a lasting and fitting memorial to those men and women of the country's fire brigades who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Published Sources:

Jewish Participation in the Fire Service in the Second World War - Stephanie Maltman & Martin Sugarman, Valentine Mitchell 2016
London at War - Philip Ziegler, Sinclair Stevenson 1995
The London Blitz, A Fireman's Tale - Cyril Demarne OBE, After The Battle 1991

Friday 9 November 2018

Forgotten no longer: The Alan Adams story

Alan Adams (Luuk Buist)
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a supporter of non-league football and of Dulwich Hamlet FC in particular. I was honoured to be asked to write the history of the club's four players who feature on our Second World War Roll of Honour and in November 2017, we released For Freedom at the time of our annual Remembrance ceremony in the club's boardroom at our Champion Hill ground, little knowing that we were on the brink of an enforced and potentially permanent exile from our spiritual home.

As the author of the booklet, I was acutely aware that there were some gaps in the stories, particularly in the case of Eric Pierce, whose senior playing career for the club had ended almost as soon as it had begun. However, we made the best of the information that was available to us, starting with the Roll of Honour itself and had no reason to doubt the accuracy of this primary source of information.

Doubts began to arise shortly after publication, when I was contacted by one of our older supporters who had come across some old programmes on an internet auction site, one of which mentioned two players who had fallen during the Second World War, neither of whom featured on the club's War Memorial. Wartime football programmes, particularly for the non-league game can be rare beasts and many clubs, including Dulwich Hamlet, did not produce programmes for large periods of the war due to the lack of raw materials. As a result of this, information about wartime players and matches can often sneak 'under the radar' and such was the case with the two players mentioned in the programmes that came to light here.

The DHFC War Memorial at Champion Hill (Duncan Palmer Photography)

What was harder to explain was the absence of the two players from the Roll of Honour. One of them, Charles Ede, was a former player who had left the club for pastures new at Kingstonian in 1934 and so perhaps had been deliberately omitted for that reason; but the other player, Alan Adams, was by the admission of the club itself in the programme in question, very much a current player at the time of his death and this makes his omission from the Roll of Honour all the more inexplicable.

We shall probably never know the reasoning behind this oversight but we can at least put things right, albeit a little late in the day. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to produce a revised and updated version of For Freedom and pay tribute not only to the original four men whose stories we had already told but also to the two hitherto forgotten players and perhaps to also recall the wider history of the club during the Second World War. In the meantime, at this time of remembrance, it is now appropriate to share the story of Dulwich Hamlet's youngest wartime casualty.

Alan Adams was a first generation Londoner, as his parents Richard James and Pyarea Victoria Adams (nee Rhind) had both originally hailed from West Derby on Merseyside. Alan had an elder sister, Patricia, who was born on 13 August 1923 at the former family home at 18 Oban Road in the Walton district of Liverpool but sometime after this event, the family had moved to London and were established at 22 Bushey Hill Road, Camberwell by the time of Alan’s birth on 22 May 1925. The reason for the move south is unknown but could possibly be connected with Richard’s job as an accountant with a steamship company or was perhaps indicative of a general lack of work on Merseyside at that time.

By the time of the 1939 Register being taken shortly after the outbreak of war, the family had moved to 58 Sunray Avenue in Herne Hill but the then 14 year old Alan does not appear in the census. He had become a pupil of Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School at Kennington in 1936 and had been evacuated out of London with his school to the relative safety of Reading. Alan served with the school’s Officer Cadet Corps but later transferred to their Air Training Corps when this was established in 1940 and so appears to have taken a keen interest in the military from a young age, as well as perhaps having an eye on a future career as a flyer. Alan was also an accomplished sportsman who represented his school at athletics, cricket and football – the latter two at First Eleven level.

Alan Adams on the Roll of Honour at Archbishop Tenison's School (Laurence Weeks)

Alan left school in mid-1941 and returned to live at the family home in Herne Hill, from whence he took up a job as a junior insurance clerk for the Liverpool Victoria Insurance Company. Alan’s military life continued after leaving school, as he served in his local Home Guard Unit, the 18th County of London Battalion which was based at Lordship Lane, from 1942 pending his enlistment into the Army proper.

It was whilst serving with the Home Guard that the then 17 year old made his senior debut for the Hamlet on Saturday 7 November 1942 at Champion Hill in a 4-4 draw against the London Fire Force. Ironically, despite the match being played at Dulwich, this was in fact an away fixture for the Hamlet as the Fire Force also used the ground for their home matches – such oddities were not entirely uncommon in wartime football. Alan didn’t feature on the original team sheet but the following week’s programme explained that he had been a late call-up due to the regular left back Roger Bishop being detained at work and unable to reach Champion Hill in time for kick-off. Dulwich fielded a youthful team and in addition to Alan, there was another debutant on display, a young centre forward by the name of Charles Birdseye, himself a late replacement for Stan Smith who was suffering with influenza. Birdseye made an instant impression by scoring one of the goals during the Hamlet’s spirited fightback from 1-2 down at half time. Arthur Phebey with two and Gillespie were the other scorers in a match which the following week’s programme described as “…reminiscent of the peace time days when it was a bye-word that Dulwich Hamlet always played their hardest when up against it.” This same programme, which was for a match against the RAF on 14 November 1942, went on to say that “….the youngsters mentioned will be heard of again.” so we can only assume that Alan and his youthful team-mate performed well on their senior debut.

Alan Adams' first mention in a Hamlet programme - 14 November 1942 (author's photo)

Alan was attested into the Army and duly swore allegiance to the Crown on 19 March 1943 but his actual enlistment date did not come until the following 6 May. It would appear that previous experience with the school Air Training Corps had hardened Alan’s ambition to become an airman, as after completing his basic training with the Gordon Highlanders, he transferred to the Army Air Corps on 14 January 1944 having volunteered to train as a Pilot with the Glider Pilot Regiment. At this point, Alan was promoted to the rank of Corporal, with a further promotion to Serjeant following on 15 June 1944.  He was awarded his Army Flying Badge to signify qualification as a glider pilot on 27 July 1944 and was then posted to E Squadron, No. 2 Wing, Army Air Corps, where he would fly the Airspeed Horsa glider. These large wooden aircraft could either carry 30 fully equipped soldiers, or a freight load of three tons on airborne operations.

The role of a glider pilot was an extremely hazardous one, for not only were they expected to fly the heavily laden gliders into their landing zones through invariably hostile skies but upon landing, they were then expected to fight as infantrymen alongside the airborne troops they had just transported, until such time as they could be evacuated out of the landing zone back to friendly territory. The photograph that illustrates this article shows a young pilot wearing civilian clothes rather than Army uniform – this type of photograph was taken in case a false identity was required to smuggle the glider pilots from behind enemy lines following airborne operations and further demonstrates the precarious nature of the glider pilot’s life. Whilst we are not absolutely certain that the photograph (which was kindly supplied by Dutch military historian Luuk Buist) definitely depicts Alan, we see a hitherto unidentified pilot of E Squadron who is simply described as “Boy”. Given Alan’s extreme youth, coupled with his position as the youngest pilot in his squadron, it must be a fair assumption that this is him, especially as the physical description given on his Army service record “fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair” matches that of the person in the photograph.

Airspeed Horsa glider as flown by Alan Adams (IWM)

In September 1944, Alan’s Squadron was required to take part in Operation Market Garden, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s bold plan to seize the bridges over the River Rhine and thrust directly into Germany. Had everything gone according to plan, the war could perhaps have been considerably shortened but for a variety of reasons too complex to go into in an article of this nature – a mixture of over-optimistic planning, poor weather, missed opportunities and intelligence failures – the operation went down in history as one of the “glorious failures” of the war which is still hotly debated amongst military historians to this day.

On 18 September 1944, as part of the Second Wave of landings, the Horsa glider piloted by Alan, which was chalked “837” left from RAF Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, towed by a Douglas Dakota transport aircraft of 271 Squadron RAF. Alan’s glider carried a heavy load of a Jeep plus two trailers full of ammunition as well as two passengers from Headquarters, 1 Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery. The Second Pilot on board was Serjeant Richard Ennis from Wallasey on Merseyside who thus had something in common with Alan, whose parents were both originally from that part of England.

"Handlebar Hank" aka Jimmy Edwards (with trombone) at a concert at RAF Down Ampney (author's collection)

Incidentally, one of the Dakota pilots of 271 Squadron was Flight Lieutenant JK Edwards, who became better known post-war as the handlebar-moustached trombonist and comedian “Professor” Jimmy Edwards of radio and television fame but who in wartime, appeared in RAF and service concerts under the stage name of "Handlebar Hank" in addition to his regular flying duties. Edwards was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery, when on 21 September 1944, the Dakota serial KG444 that he was piloting was shot down by FW190s over the Arnhem area. The aircraft caught fire and Edwards ordered his crew to bale out, an order which his Second Pilot and Navigator promptly obeyed. Edwards went aft to also bale out but discovered that three of his four Army Despatchers were injured and unable to jump. He promptly returned to the cockpit and despite having to stand with his head protruding from an escape hatch due to the smoke in the cockpit, he managed to crash land the Dakota in a lightly wooded area, at which point the aircraft went up in flames. Edwards had suffered severe burns to his face but was thrown clear by the impact. The unwounded Despatcher and his Wireless Operator, who had also remained on board to help, managed to escape the burning aircraft but the three wounded Despatchers were killed in the crash. In spite of his wounds and with some help from a Dutch civilian, Edwards was able to guide the other two men back to British lines.

Returning to our story, the operation initially went according to plan but shortly before 20:00 when approaching the Landing Zone at Wolfheze, Alan’s glider was taken under fire by German anti-aircraft guns and a flak shell burst close to the glider’s starboard wing. Alan was hit by shrapnel and slumped in his seat over the controls, at which point, the Second Pilot Serjeant Ennis took over. Unfortunately, he could not recover full control in time and as a result, the glider overshot the Landing Zone and ploughed into trees at over 100 mph. Ennis was catapulted through the Perspex windscreen whilst still strapped into his seat but amazingly survived more or less unscathed, as did the two Army passengers in the rear. Sadly, Alan was crushed by the load behind him which shifted forward with the impact of the crash. At first, he was given a field burial in a garden behind the Psychiatric Home at Wolfheze but on 24 August 1945, as part of the general peacetime consolidation of British and Allied war graves in the area, he was re-interred at Oosterbeek War Cemetery, which contains the graves of 1,691 British and Commonwealth servicemen as well as a further 79 Polish and three Dutch servicemen.

Alan’s death was reported in the match programme for the fixture against Pinner on 2 December 1944, which went on to describe him as “a promising left back for the Reserves, who had one or two games for the senior side before joining the Forces.”  The same article also hints at a wider family connection with the club as it mentions that “his father used to referee some of our games on the top pitch.” The report goes on to mention that Alan’s father had “some time ago suffered another great bereavement when his wife was killed by enemy action.”

Richard Ennis' story in the Liverpool Echo of 4 October 1944 (British Newspaper Archive)

Whilst the death of Pyarea Adams was undoubtedly a great tragedy for the family, the circumstances of her death as described in the Hamlet programme do not stand up to scrutiny. The 1939 Register recorded that Alan’s parents both served as Air Raid Wardens within the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell, which could lend credence to the “enemy action” theory but inspection of Pyarea’s Death Certificate reveals that she died at the age of 43 on 19 February 1944 from “Cardiac Asthma” at home in Sunray Avenue. Although there was indeed an air raid on the day of her death, the family home was not bombed and neither were any fatalities or injuries recorded elsewhere in the immediate area. The mystery is further compounded because she is not recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a Civilian War Death, which would have been the case had she been killed as a direct result of an air raid. Whilst the stress of working as an Air Raid Warden during the London Blitz would undoubtedly put a great strain on a weak heart, it would appear that Pyarea did, in fact, die of natural causes.

Alan Adams' grave at Oosterbeek War Cemetery (

There is also some confusion regarding Alan’s Christian names; his Birth Certificate records him as Richard Alexander Adams, whilst his Army service record and that of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission show him as Richard Allen Adams, although Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School’s obituary in December 1944 gives his name as Ronald Alan Adams. To compound matters further, Dulwich Hamlet programmes and the “Tenisonian” yearbooks refer to him simply as Alan Adams.  However, the details concerning his Army records, parents, schooling and home address leave us in no doubt that despite the various permutations of his name, these all refer to 'our' man.

Towards the end of October 2018, came the momentous news that a deal had been reached that would enable Dulwich Hamlet to return home sometime in December, thus ending a near ten month exile. A bonus to this emotional homecoming will be the fact that we will once again be able to hold our traditional Remembrance Ceremony in the Boardroom and pay tribute to all of the club's fallen of two World Wars and this time, we will be able to belatedly remember these two hitherto forgotten men. Before too long, we shall hopefully add their names to the Roll of Honour, thus ensuring that they are forgotten no longer.

Published Sources:

Dulwich Hamlet FC - programmes for various matches referred to in text - courtesy of Ian Colley
Glider Pilots at Arnhem - Mike Peters & Luuk Buist - Pen & Sword, 2014

Unpublished Sources:

Record of Service for RA Adams - Army Personnel Centre Historical Disclosures
Airborne Operations, NW Europe Arnhem: 2 Wing Glider Pilot Regiment, Army Air Corps - Enquiries into Missing Personnel - National Archives WO 361/505 & 636
Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell, Civil Defence Incident Log - London Borough of Southwark Archives
271 Squadron RAF, Operations Record Book - National Archives AIR 27/1574-9
RAF Down Ampney, Operations Record Book - National Archives AIR 28/211
The 'Tenisonian' Yearbook (various) - Archbishop Tenison School Archives, courtesy of Laurence Weeks

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Mr Midshipman VC: The short, accident-prone life of George Drewry, Gallipoli Hero

For this month's blog post, we stay with the First World War for a review of a book with which I must confess at the outset, I had a very small hand in the research on behalf of the author, Quentin Falk. This input was minimal however, and the work under review here is very much the fruit of the author's own labours.

The author of this splendid biography of George Drewry VC is perhaps better known as a show business journalist and film critic who has written acclaimed biographies of Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins and Albert Finney amongst others and so is venturing into somewhat uncharted waters with his latest work.

As Falk himself explains, it was a family connection that first took him to Gallipoli, with a mission to find a memorial to his wife's great uncle, Major John Jocelyn Doyne Sillery, known as 'Jack', who had served with the 11th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment and was most probably killed the day after going ashore on 6 August 1915. As part of this pilgrimage, Quentin and his wife had booked a battlefield tour, guided by a mutual friend, Clive Harris and it was his tour that he first heard the story of how no fewer than twelve Victoria Crosses had been won on the first day of the invasion, including the famous 'Six before breakfast' exploits of the Lancashire Fusiliers on 'W' Beach at Cape Helles. It was on the adjacent 'V' Beach that Quentin first heard the name of George Leslie Drewry, a 20 year old Royal Naval Reservist and former Merchant Navy officer with my old company, the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, known universally simply as the P&O. Further research on the campaign followed and having now decided to write George Drewry's story, a further visit ensued in 2017, as well as to another of the young officer's haunts, Scapa Flow, where he would meet his premature end.

George Leslie Drewry was born in 1894 and his career as a mariner was perhaps almost predestined, for his father Thomas was a Marine Engineer, originally from Lincolnshire but who by the time of George's birth, had relocated to Forest Gate. This was due to Thomas's job as a Engineer Superintendent for P&O, based at the nearby Royal Albert Dock. George was the second youngest of four brothers and eventually, all four of Thomas Drewry's sons were to follow in his footsteps by joining the P&O in various capacities. 

George was educated at Merchant Taylors' School but by May 1909, at the age of just fourteen and a half, he was one of six apprentices taken on board the Indian Empire and joined his new ship, a three masted barque, at Liverpool's Queen's Dock. It was whilst serving on board the Indian Empire, that George's 'accident prone' tag perhaps first became apparent when he fell some 20 feet from the rigging in to the Hunter River in Newcastle, New South Wales whilst in the course of clearing an obstruction from the vessel's top-hamper. He was fished out of the river by the Second Mate and suffered an injured ankle as well as from bruises and shock but was otherwise none the worse for his ordeal.

The author goes on to describe George's early exploits on the Indian Empire, culminating in a shipwreck in 1912 close to Cape Horn, following which he and his shipmates were marooned on an island for sixteen days before rescue was forthcoming. Following George's return to home shores and still just shy of his eighteenth birthday, he became an employee of the P&O and was registered as Fifth Officer on the passenger/cargo liner Palma. By the following year, he had risen in rank to Fourth Officer and was serving on a sister vessel, the Isis. It was around this same time, Falk informs us, that Drewry enlisted as a Midshipman in the Royal Naval Reserve, which was at the time the branch of the Royal Navy for professional (i.e. Merchant Navy or retired RN) seafarers, as opposed to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, which was for the so-called "weekend sailors" who had civilian occupations other than the sea.

On the outbreak of war on 3 August 1914, George was in Port Said and was called up for Naval service, along with 30,000 of his fellow officers and men. He was now a Midshipman RNR and after a short spell at HMS Egmont, a "Stone Frigate" or shore base at Malta, he was sent to his first seagoing draft, HMS Hussar, a veteran minesweeper serving in the Eastern Mediterranean.

It would not be fair on the author for me to describe in this review George's Victoria Cross winning exploits at 'V' Beach whilst serving aboard the River Clyde and so you will need to purchase a copy of the book to read about this amazing action. Suffice to say, like all those awarded the VC, George showed total disregard for his own safety, in his case trying to assist troops who were being cut down under murderous fire and despite having received a head wound early in the action.

George's Victoria Cross citation was announced in August 1915, although the wheels had been set in motion for his and the other awards almost immediately following the action. His medal was awarded on 22 November 1915 by King George V at an investiture at Buckingham Palace. His VC award was followed by the presentation of a Sword of Honour from the Imperial Merchant Service Guild in recognition of George being the first officer of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Merchant Service to win the Victoria Cross.

Following the award of the VC, Quentin goes on to describe George's subsequent career in the Royal Navy as well as something of the exploits of his brothers during their own wartime service. George, by this time promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant, was drafted to the battleship HMS Conqueror on 28 December 1916 and whilst undoubtedly a prestigious appointment for the young officer, it would have seemed a strange life after the excitement and action aboard the Hussar and River Clyde, as the great battleship spent most of her time in the anchorage at Scapa Flow, rarely proceeding to sea in the post-Jutland days.

The promise of further action appeared on the horizon when in  early 1918, now promoted to Lieutenant, George attended an anti-submarine course at Portland, during which he received instruction in the use of hydrophones, which in those days were an integral part of the new art of submarine detection. Following completion of the course, he was appointed in command of HMT William Jackson, a naval trawler designed for minesweeping, patrol and anti-submarine work. George took command of the vessel upon her completion at the shipyard of Cochrane & Sons in Selby and saw her through her trials and working-up exercises.

Sadly, George was never to take command of his new charge in action, for on 2 August 1918, barely two days after he had brought the vessel from the successful completion of sea trials and working-up to the fleet base of Scapa Flow, he was dead, having suffered a fractured skull and broken arm when a derrick (a ship's crane) fell on him following the failure of a retaining shackle and block.

Thus ended the short, action packed but accident-prone life of Lieutenant George Drewry VC. Quentin Falk has brought him back to life in this illuminating biography that not only tells of his life but also captures something of the period in which George lived. I commend this book to you most heartily.

Mr Midshipman VC: The short, accident-prone life of George Drewry, Gallipoli Hero by Quentin Falk, is published by Pen & Sword Books Limited and is available direct from the publisher's website at the price of £15.99 or from all good booksellers or other online sources.

Monday 17 September 2018

Journey's End


As regular readers of this blog will know, I am an avid film fan and have covered the subject of war films in the past, although my interest in movies is not limited solely to that particular genre. Last year, I became involved as one of the volunteer organisers of my local Charlton & Woolwich Free Film Festival and helped to stage an open air showing of the 1969 classic Battle of Britain, which we screened in the open air surroundings of the magnificent St George's Garrison Church in Woolwich.

This year, we wanted to mark the centenary of the ending of the First World War in 1918 with a suitable film and it didn't take much persuasion on my part to convince my colleagues that the latest screen version of Journey's End was a "must have" for the 2018 Festival.

Journey's End was originally written as a stage play in 1928 by RC Sherriff, who himself served during the Great War in the 9th East Surreys and was wounded during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. It was also adapted as a novel by Sherriff and has remained a popular and powerful work ever since it appeared. It has been produced on stage both professionally in the West End and on Broadway, as well as with numerous amateur productions. It has also been adapted for film and television over the years prior to this most recent release.

As with the previous screening that I had event-managed, I wanted to make the experience for the audience more than just a case of turning up, watching the film and then going home again and wanted to provide some insights behind the original work as well as to the real-life events that inspired Sherriff to write the piece.

Using the power of social media, I contacted Taff Gillingham, who had acted as Military Historical Advisor for the film and who is a stickler for correct detail in any production with which he is involved. Although we have never met, Taff and I have followed each other on Twitter for many years and are very much on the "same wavelength" when it comes to matters of military history. Taff immediately and very kindly offered to help and although he was unable to come down to London to appear personally at the screening, he very kindly recorded a video introduction to the film in which he provided many fascinating insights, not only into his own involvement with the project but also concerning the events which lay at the centre of the story. Relevant to the introduction was the fact that Taff spoke standing in front of the very uniform worn by Asa Butterfield in the movie.

Taff Gillingham makes his video introduction (author's photo)

Taff began by explaining the difficulty of staging or filming the story for a modern audience who would not necessarily be aware of the German Spring Offensive. The play revolves around the events immediately leading up to the opening of the Kaiserschlacht as it was known, in the early hours of 21 March 1918. At the time, intelligence had ascertained that the offensive was definitely coming and was also able to predict with some confidence when this would occur and so the key to the play is the suspense - the men in the Redoubt all know that the attack is coming and it is their reactions to this grim fact that forms the central part of the plot. Even in 1928, the opening date of the Spring Offensive was etched in the memories of everyone that had been involved and even of those people back home in Britain who remembered the news coming in. As Taff explained, it was the equivalent of setting a modern play in an office block in New York on 10 September 2001 - there would be no need to explain what was going to happen because everyone watching the play knows what is about to happen - the suspense being in how the characters are going to react and what is going to happen to them.

Taff also told us something of Sherriff himself and how he had been adamant that the play was not an anti-war piece but rather a snapshot in time that reflected his own experiences and those of people that he knew and served with in the East Surrey Regiment. He referred to a famous photograph, reproduced below in which many of the prototypes for the officers depicted in Journey's End appear. There is an older officer, who is clearly Osborne, a portly gentleman who is destined to be Trotter, as well as all of the other main characters. Sherriff himself said that he was based on Hibbert, who is a man clearly struggling with his own reserves of courage in a different way to that of Captain Stanhope, the Company Commander.

RC Sherriff (back row, second left) and fellow officers of the 9th East Surreys (Exploring Surrey's Past)

For our "live" introduction, I enlisted the help of my good friend and fellow guide Clive Harris, who like Taff, kindly agreed to give up his time to help with the screening. Clive hadn't seen this particular film version and this formed part of his introduction, in which he skilfully exploded a few myths by telling us how he hoped that the film makers hadn't fallen for some of the common errors and cliches made by many of the makers of First World War dramas.

Firstly, he expressed the hope that the story wasn't depicted as a story of the trenches, as by the time of the Spring Offensive, there were no trenches as such. The impression of many people was that the Trench system so typical of the 1916 battles, was the standard throughout the Great War but by 1918, Clive explained, this had evolved in to a series of Redoubts. The film makers, no doubt following Taff's advice, had this aspect absolutely correct and Clive's fears were allayed!

Clive presents his introduction to the film (author's photograph)

Secondly, he echoed a comment earlier made by Taff in that the film makers had insisted on depicting the Battalion Commander (played in the film by Robert Glenister) as a rather elderly Colonel, who is sitting in an office in the rear, in relatively luxurious conditions, far removed from those endured by his men. This had irked Taff and it had the same effect upon Clive, as by the time of the Spring Offensive, the British Army had ensured that they had the right men serving in the right jobs and had become far more professional in the process. The average age of the British Battalion Commanders - typically holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel - was 30 years of age and these men were not in the rear out of harm's way but were fighting (and in many cases dying) alongside their men. One case in point being Lieut. Colonel Wilfrith Elstob VC of the 16th Manchesters, who had won his Victoria Cross posthumously on 21 March 1918 having previously issued the exhortation "Here we fight and here we die" - which as Clive said, was not what a soldier really wanted to hear from his Commanding Officer!

Clive then went on the mention the high esteem in which the play was held by veterans of the Great War. For them, it was simply the most accurate depiction of life at the front and of the interaction and camaraderie between officers and men living and fighting alongside each other. Clive went on to state that the Great War changed the social structure of this country for ever, largely because of the shared experiences of officers and men at the front which had brought about a more meritocratic system. The war had also given women a voice due to their involvement in the "Home Front" caused by the absence of men serving in the Armed Forces. He closed his talk by telling us how much he loved the work and as an ex-soldier himself, how much it rang true to him. He had read the novel as a young lad and to prove it, produced his original copy from his jacket pocket!

The screening itself took place in the splendid surroundings of Charlton House, a Jacobean Manor House originally built for Sir Adam Newton between 1607-12 but which later passed to the Spencer Maryon Wilson family and which, appropriately for our purposes, was used as a Military Hospital from 1915-18.

Some thirty five people attended and whilst the vast majority of those present were familiar with RC Sherriff's story, most were seeing this particular production for the first time. Directed by Saul Dibb, the film was originally given a limited release in 2017, followed by a wider release in the Spring of 2018. It stars Sam Claflin as Captain Stanhope, Paul Bettany as Lieutenant Osborne, Asa Butterfield as Second Lieutenant Raleigh, Tom Sturridge as Second Lieutenant Hibbert, Stephen Graham as Second Lieutenant Trotter and Toby Jones as Private Mason. 

The screening gets under way (author's photograph)

The plot will be familiar to anyone who has seen the play or read the novel but in order not to spoil the experience for anyone that doesn't know the work, I won't repeat it here suffice to say that it tells the story of the officers of 'C' Company in the run up to the Spring Offensive and how they each cope (or sometimes don't) with the knowledge of an impending attack upon their position and also the fact that they must mount a raid to obtain a prisoner prior to this attack. The acting is superb throughout but of those mentioned above, I would single out Paul Bettany as Osborne, known to his fellow officers as "Uncle" who represents the best of British-ness, unflappable, good-humoured and always with a kind word to say to his colleagues. Claflin as Stanhope, who is clearly suffering with PTSD, not recognised as such in 1918 (or in 1928 when the play was written) and who is self-medicating with alcohol is also very convincing as is young Asa Butterfield as Raleigh, a former school friend of Stanhope, who arrives full of wide-eyed enthusiasm, wanting to mix it with the enemy but who soon becomes more worldly-wise. Toby Jones as the Company Cook also plays a superb part, with many pithy one-liners to lighten the mood of the film at times.

The 2018 Charlton & Woolwich Free Film Festival is one of a series held across London during the course of the year and the process will soon begin of thinking up a programme for the 2019 Festival - watch this space!

For those interested, here is a link to Taff Gillingham's introduction to the screening.

Thanks are due to all who helped on the night with the screening and to all those who attended the event.

Internet Links:

Khaki Devil (Taff Gillingham's company)

Battle Honours Tours (Clive Harris's company)

Sunday 19 August 2018

Book Review: Zeppelin Onslaught: The Forgotten Blitz 1914-15

Ian Castle is perhaps our foremost historian and author on the air raids mounted against the United Kingdom by Germany during the Great War. Last month, I was lucky enough to attend a fascinating talk by Ian organised by the Friends of Lincoln's Inn during which he spoke about the raids that affected that particular area of London. I already have several of Ian's books and after the talk, took the opportunity to purchase a copy of his latest offering, Zeppelin Onslaught: The Forgotten Blitz 1914-15 which is intended to be the first in a series detailing the German air war against the British "Home Front" during the Great War.

In this meticulously researched book, Ian tells the story of not only the raids themselves but of the planning and rationale behind them, of the British attempts at countering the raids and of the personalities involved on both sides. Each raid is also mapped so as to give the reader a good visualisation of the areas bombed and distances covered.

The book starts by giving the reading some insight into the development of manned flight and how, despite the rapid developments in Europe, Britain lagged behind the advances. Indeed, the first powered flight in this country only took place in October 1908, which was some five years after the Wright Brothers made their initial flight. Ironically, this was achieved by an American, Samuel Cody, who made a 27 second flight across Farnborough Common in Hampshire, covering a distance of 1,390 feet. Despite this, the British still trailed in aviation and matters only began to be placed on a more official footing in 1911 when the Royal Engineers Balloon Section evolved into the Army Air Battalion, later to become the Royal Flying Corps in April 1912, which at this time had both an Army and a Naval Wing. Developments continued apace and even in 1912, there were official fears that the opinion voiced in 1906 by newspaper tycoon Lord Northcliffe that "England is no longer an island" was indeed the case, such was the deadly potential of the German Zeppelin airships.

On the eve of the Great War, in July 1914, the Royal Flying Corps or RFC became exclusively an Army controlled organisation, with the erstwhile Naval Wing becoming the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), which as the name suggests, was under the control of the Admiralty. We learn that most of the RFC aircraft at the outbreak of war were either obsolete, or were worn out and only fit for the scrapyard. It was clear to those in power that the RFC was not at that time able to effectively defend the skies over Great Britain.  Fortunately, the RNAS did have suitable aircraft available and with bases near the coast, it was clear that they would initially form the first line of defence against any future German air attacks. We also learn of the organisation on the German side, the air arms of which, like the British were divided between the Army and Imperial Navy, both of which controlled Zeppelins.

The author then goes on to describe the efforts, under the direction of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, at organising static anti-aircraft defence in the form of guns and searchlights. As with the aircraft, initially there were too few available and what there were, were invariably obsolete or not fit for purpose. In the meantime, Churchill, ever one to look to take the offensive, decided to take the attack to the Germans with preemptive strikes against German Zeppelin hangars and airfields in Belgium and Germany itself. These raids had mixed results, with one raid in particular against Cologne yielding spectacular results. However, the German advances on the ground in Belgium soon rendered German targets beyond the range of British aircraft at this time and were not to be repeated.

From this introduction, which provides important background, Ian then switches to the raids mounted against British targets, predominantly by Zeppelin airships but also the occasional raids by conventional aircraft. Each raid is covered in meticulous detail, from the planning stage, to the courses flown by the aircraft on the raid and is brought to life by the use of personal accounts of eye-witnesses, both on the ground and in the air. Official reports and records are also used to provide the most detailed record of the German air offensive ever put into print.

The era of air raids upon Britain began in Dover on Christmas Eve 1914 at around 10:45 in the morning, when a German floatplane dropped a single 10 kg bomb, probably aimed at Dover Castle but which instead fell in the garden of a nearby house of an auctioneer, a Mr Terson. Fortunately, the damage was limited to the destruction of a summerhouse and some uprooted cabbages and there was no loss of life but Britain had suffered the first air raid in its history and was the precursor of many much more serious and destructive raids, culminating in attacks upon the capital city.

At first, the Kaiser, fearing death or injury to his cousin King George V and many other English relatives, forbade attacks on London from a line west of the Tower of London but notwithstanding this order, on 31 May 1915, the German Army Zeppelin LZ38 under the command of Hauptmann Erich Linnarz dropped bombs - both High Explosive and Incendiaries upon Stoke Newington, Dalston, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Stratford and Leytonstone. Some 41 fires were reported to the London Fire Brigade and more importantly seven civilians and a RNAS pilot were killed in the raid, with a further 35 people injured. Damage to property was estimated at £19,000 (in 1914 prices) and reaction to the raids on the ground was one of outrage. Some of this was aimed at those people and businesses thought to have German connections - mob rule in fact but fortunately, this was short-lived and the anger began to be aimed at the lack of meaningful response, both by the anti-aircraft guns and by the aircraft that were supposed to be defending the capital. It was at this time that the phrase 'Baby Killers' at first coined by Churchill in response to the German Navy's bombardment of Scarborough in December 1914, began to used by the popular press in connection with the raiders from the air.

Heinrich Mathy (author's collection)

Another German Zeppelin commander, this time Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy from the Imperial Navy, was to become a household name in Great Britain and gain notoriety as one of Germany's leading 'Baby Killers' before he met his death over Potters Bar in October 1916. Ian's book also examines Mathy's early raids with the same attention to detail.

This is an excellent book, which should appeal to both the serious Great War history buffs and also to the more general reader. It covers absolutely every angle of the story, from the planning and execution of the raids, to the countermeasures and the experiences of those involved in the 'front line' both on the ground and in the air. I thoroughly recommend it to you and look forward to the eventual companion volumes.

Zeppelin Onslaught: The Forgotten Blitz 1914-15 by Ian Castle, is published by Frontline Books and costs £25.00

Saturday 21 July 2018

Hamburg, the Stolpersteine Project and the Chinese community.

"The Horror didn't start in Auschwitz, Treblinka or the other camps. It started in our neighbourhood, in our house, outside our door."

Woo Lie Kien's Stolpersteine outside his former home at 7 Schmuckstrasse (author's photograph)

Regular readers will know that I have something of a love affair with the German city of Hamburg, which began in the 1980s when, as a wide-eyed youngster working for a Merchant Shipping company, I made my first visit to the great port city on the River Elbe. I've actually lost count of the number of times I've been here now but we must be talking in excess of thirty visits, during which time, as with any city worldwide, there have been many changes - in the fortunes of the port, the currency, the architecture, the status of the city's football clubs and of the country's name itself (Hamburg was in West Germany for my first few visits.)

Something that I've noticed on my more recent visits to Hamburg and indeed, to German cities in general, is the advent of the Stolpersteine, literally translated to Stumbling Stones. These small, 10 cm square concrete blocks, topped with a brass plaque and inserted into the pavement, commemorate victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution in general. They form an ongoing project by the artist Gunther Demnig which began in 1992 and which are placed outside the home, or occasionally the workplace, of a particular victim from which he or she was deported to a concentration or death camp, or fell victim to euthanasia or eugenics. The plaques are made to a standard format and all begin with the words "Hier Wohnte" or "Here Lived" followed by the name of the victim, their date of birth and their ultimate fate. The first stone was laid in Berlin in 1996 and spread to Hamburg in 2002.

Obviously, the majority of the victims are Jewish but the categories of those persecuted by the Nazis were widespread and so there are Stolpersteine in existence for Sinti and Romani people (then called 'Gypsies'), homosexuals, those with physical or mental disabilities, black people, communists, Social Democrats, members of the Anti-Nazi Resistance movement, the Christian opposition, Freemasons, conscientious objectors, those who assisted Allied escapees or evaders, looters - the list is almost endless but basically covers anybody who did not conform to the twisted ideals of the Nazi movement.

The bright lights of the Reeperbahn pre-war (author's collection)

One of the lesser known categories who fell victim to this oppression was the small Chinese community living in Hamburg. They were mainly located in the St Pauli area of the city and had settled in the area as a result of the employment of Chinese seafarers in the German Merchant Navy in the early 1920s and at its peak, the community numbered around two thousand people. Many of their businesses were connected with the shipping industry, such as ships' chandlers and laundries but also branched out into other areas such as restaurants and food stores. They were hard working, industrious, well educated and in some cases, married to Germans and lived harmoniously with the local people. 

This harmonious existence ended abruptly with the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933. The Chinese community naturally did not fit in with the Nazis' Aryan ideal and so would become natural targets for their thuggery. Those who could, fled and the population rapidly dwindled. By 1944, there were fewer than 200 remaining, one of whom was Woo Lie Kien, who was born on 8 September 1885 near Guangzhou. He originally worked as a stoker on board British and German merchant ships and thus visited European ports on a regular basis but by 1926, was living in Hamburg. In the early 1930s, he moved to 7 Schmuckstrasse, a road which runs parallel to the Reeperbahn and which was at the heart of the Chinese district. At the beginning of 1936, he took over the running of the restaurant next door to his home and operated it with the help of kitchen workers and waiting staff, both Chinese and German. The restaurant was a meeting point for visiting Chinese seafarers and the local Chinese population.

The Reeperbahn in April 1945 (author's collection)

However, in June 1938, he was accused by the Gestapo of smuggling foreign exchange by buying up foreign money at an elevated rate and acquiring German Reichsmark at very favourable rates in the Netherlands by using intermediaries. Despite extensive investigations, insufficient evidence could be gathered and no conviction followed. Ironically, because of his excellent command of German, Woo worked as an interpreter for the Hamburg authorities but following his investigation by the Gestapo, this activity was curtailed because he was felt not to be a reliable interpreter. This was almost certainly trumped up nonsense encouraged by the Gestapo as a reprisal for not being able to obtain their conviction but ensured that one of his sources of income was cut off.

The coming of the Second World War saw an intensification of raids against the Chinese community in Hamburg and on 13 May 1944, came the infamous "Chinese Action" which saw 165 Chinese arrested - virtually the entire remaining community - under the pretext of collaboration with the enemy. Woo Lie Kien was not amongst those picked up initially as at the time of these arrests, he was in hospital in Altona suffering with a heart condition. However, shortly after his release from hospital in June 1944, he was arrested, once again on the pretext of currency irregularities. He was initially held at the Gestapo prison at Fuhlsbuttel and subsequently at the Wilhelmsburg "Work Education" Camp, part of the infamous Neuengamme Concentration Camp complex. Here he was undoubtedly abused and beaten as Gestapo Agent Erich Hanisch tried to extract a confession out of him for currency smuggling. His explanation that many of his restaurant customers paid their bills with foreign currency fell on deaf ears. Woo's partner, known only as "Annemarie B" a native German citizen, later said that Woo, who was 59 years old and already in poor health due to his heart complaint, was literally beaten to death by the Gestapo.

Woo Lie Kien was taken to hospital in Barmbek following this beating and died there on 23 November 1944. Annemarie was also persecuted and told by the same Erich Hanisch that her life was "forfeited" because of her relationship with a Chinese man but despite being placed in "protective custody" at the notorious Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, she survived the war and was liberated on 27 April 1945.

2018 view of Woo Lie Kien's former residence & restaurant at 7 & 9 Schmuckstrasse (Google Streetview)

Today, almost the only knowledge we have of the existence of Woo Lie Kien and his fellow Chinese expatriates in Hamburg is because of the Stolpersteine initiative. Ironically, although Schmuckstrasse in Hamburg has largely been redeveloped, his former residence at number 7 and the former restaurant next door are still there, although in a very run down condition.

There are already over 61,000 Stolpersteine at 1,200 locations across Europe. For those wishing to contribute to the initiative can sponsor a new plaque for the price of 120 Euros and can do so by visiting the website by using this link.

"A person is only dead when their name is forgotten" - Quotation from the Talmud.

I am indebted to Amanda Lars and the Stolpersteine Hamburg website for the background information on Woo Li Kien's life story.

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.