Monday 17 May 2021

Another local hero in Greenwich

The CWGC Memorial at Greenwich Cemetery (Author's Photo)

In the history of this blog, which is now in its twelfth year of existence, the post which seems to have prompted the most feedback is one that first appeared in December 2012 and which in itself was a rehash of a post that was originally written as a guest piece for another blog. The post concerned my own locality of Charlton in southeast London and the immediate surrounding area.

Back in February in the midst of the latest lockdown, I received another comment on this piece, this time from Martin Short, whose grandfather Lance Bombardier Henry W Short was killed whilst serving with 303 Battery, 26 Searchlight Regiment at the Maze Hill Searchlight Site on the edge of Blackheath on 23 June 1944 when a V-1 flying bomb exploded there.

Blackheath, in common with most of the other large parks and open spaces in London was the home to anti-aircraft and searchlight batteries, as well as a barrage balloon site. Similar locations at Woolwich Common, Plumstead Marshes, Southwark Park, Peckham Rye and just across the Thames on the Isle of Dogs and at Beckton were all home to heavy and light anti-aircraft batteries, as well as the accompanying searchlights. The heavy batteries, which were all part of the London Inner Artillery Zone (IAZ) would consist of 3.7", 4.5" or 5.25" guns which would concentrate on the higher flying aircraft, whilst the light batteries were concentrated on the 40mm rapid firing Bofors guns, which could deal with any incursions by lower flying fighter bomber types. Searchlights were an essential in illuminating the raiders at night, especially in the early days of the war before the introduction of gun-laying radar and the proximity fuze.

During the Blitz of 1940-41, the guns had had little impact, other than by perhaps boosting the morale of those on the ground, who did at least feel that the raiders were not dropping their bombs totally without challenge. By the time of Little Blitz in 1943 however, London boasted formidable anti-aircraft defences and these, combined with the night fighter force, took a heavy toll of the raiders.

Henry Short (back row, furthest right) and his colleagues from 303 Battery (Martin Short)

The onset of the flying bomb campaign on 13 June 1944 was something of a game-changer for the British anti-aircraft defences, for whilst the guns which were by now aided by gun-laying radar and equipped with proximity fuzes for their ammunition, could bring down the V-1s, shooting down a one tonne warhead over a heavily populated area was totally counter-productive and as a result, the guns and searchlights of the IAZ, as well as those elsewhere in southeast England, were relocated to the south coast some two weeks after the first of the missiles fell on England. Any V-1s shot down here could explode over open countryside and any of the missiles that evaded the guns and the barrage balloons (which had also been relocated), could then be left to Fighter Command's "anti-diver" patrols to deal with. So effective were these counter measures, that of the almost 10,500 V-1s launched towards Great Britain, only some 2,400 reached the Greater London area, although it must be stressed that these still caused great damage and loss of life.

One of those that did reach came before the redeployment of the guns and searchlights from the London IAZ and ironically, fell upon the Searchlight Site at Maze Hill, where Henry Short and his colleagues from 303 Battery were attempting to defend London from these very weapons.

Henry Short remembered on the Greenwich CWGC Memorial (Author's photo)

The War Diary for 26 Searchlight Regiment times the incident vaguely as being between 05:42 on 22 June and 05:42 the following day but the Civil Defence Incident Log for the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich gives us a precise time of 02:05 on the 23 June 1944. The incident log reports five fatal casualties, all military, whilst the War Diary reports "Lt. A Jullien and Lt. F.A.G. Smith wounded - 3 OR (other ranks) killed and 9 OR wounded. Lt Jullien died of wounds shortly after admission to hospital." The War Diary goes on to report, somewhat superfluously, "There was also severe damage to equipment."

These logs and diaries were written in the heat of the moment based on the information available but in reality, seven men were killed here:

Lieutenant Alfred Jullien
Serjeant Frank Lockwood
Gunner Albert Mason
Gunner Albert Rideout
Lance Bombardier Henry Short
Gunner Joseph Stevens
Serjeant John Travers

Henry Short was born in Basingstoke on 7 July 1905 and had moved to the Tooting area of London in 1909. Henry's father, who shared the same Christian name as his son, was described in the 1939 Register as a "Journeyman Tailor" and Henry junior followed in his father's footsteps to become part of the same profession. He had married Catherine Sparks in 1928 and had a son, Kenneth a year later.

Like many who saw that war was perhaps inevitable, Henry enlisted as a Territorial at Duke of York's HQ in Chelsea on 28 February 1939 and was mobilised shortly before the actual declaration. His trade as described in his Army Service Book was Driver Mechanic.

Serjeant Frank Lockwood remembered on the Greenwich CWGC Memorial (Author's photo)

Martin has kindly shared a photograph of his grandfather, who we see in the back row, top right of the image but sadly none of the other men are captioned, so it is quite possible that some of the other casualties are within this group.

Henry Short rests at Greenwich Cemetery in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission plot and is also commemorated on the screen wall of the 1939 - 1945 Memorial there, along with his colleague Frank Lockwood.

Unpublished Sources

26 Searchlight Regiment RA - Regimental War Diary - UK National Archives Kew WO 166/14864
Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich Civil Defence Incident Log
Martin Short family reminiscences