Category Archives: Remembrance

RAF Benevolent Fund Day of Action

British propaganda poster during the Battle of...

Image via Wikipedia

Today marks the RAF Benevolent Fund’s ‘Day of Action’, and also seventy years since the height of the Battle of Britain over the skies of Southern England. To mark the day, I thought I would share a couple more stories about young fliers over Portsmouth in 1940. I’ve already written about Flight Lieutenant John ‘Nine Gun’ Coghlan DFC, a Hurricane Pilot who was killed in a secret mission over France in August 1940. The next two men might not have come from Portsmouth, but they died bravely in the skies over the city in 1940, and both were part of ‘the few’ of the Battle of Britain.

Sergeant Hubert Hastings Adair, 23 and from Norwich, was flying a Hurricane of 213 Squadron when he was shot down in the skies over North Portsmouth on 6 November 1940. He has no official grave, and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey.

Adair had joined the RAF in 1936, and flew Fairey Battles over France in 1940. In August he transferred to the Hurricane-equipped 213 Squadron, based at Tangmere in West Sussex. Adair was last seen in Combat over Southampton Water, and when he failed to return it was assumed that he had crashed into the English Channel. After the war, however, it was discovered that his Hurricane had crashed in farmland a mile north of Portsdown Hill, near Pigeonhouse Lane. Locals were aware of the crash, but the RAF neither investigated the site nor recovered Adair’s remains.

In 1979 the Wealden Aviation Archaeological Group excavated the site. They recovered much of the aircraft, including the Browning Machine Guns and the Merlin Engine. Adair’s remains were also recovered. The coroner, however, stated that an inquest would not be held, and that the remains were to be disposed of. Because of this H.H. Adair is still officially Missing in Action.

A memorial plaque has been erected near the Churchillian Pub on Portsdown Hill, which overlooks the crash site roughly a mile to the north.

Flying Officer James Tillett, 22 and from Northamptonshire, was flying a Hurricane of 238 Squadron from Chilbolton, North Hampshire when he was also shot down north of Portsdown Hill later on the same day. He is buried in Ann’s Hill Cemetery, Gosport. Tillett joined the RAF as an officer cadet in 1937. Graduating from Cranwell in 1939 as a Pilot Officer, he was promoted to Flying Officer in 1940.

On 6 November 1940 Tillett’s Squadron was scrambled to intercept a Bomber formation heading for Portsmouth. Tillett was shot down over Fareham by a Messerschmitt 109 fighter. The crash site was recorded as ‘near Whitedell, Fareham’. His Hurricane was seen to crash land with its wheels in the air near White Dell Farm, North Wallington, Portsmouth. According to eyewitness accounts the plane was in flames; two brothers attempted to rescue Tillett who was slumped over the controls, but the fire engulfed their aircraft. A memorial plaque has also been placed near the site where Tillet’s Hurricane crashed, near the junction of Pook Lane and Spurlings Lane.

In a day of high drama over the skies of Portsmouth, it is believed that both men were shot down by Hauptmann (Major) Helmut Wick, the Commander of 2 Jagedschewader of the Luftwaffe. After claiming 56 kills Wick was himself shot down on 28 November 1940. Wick’s logbook for the day states that he had shot down two Hurricanes over the Portsmouth area on 6 November 1940.

What must it have been like to be a young person in Portsmouth on that day in 1940? Its hard to believe, but my Granddad can remember watching dogfights over the channel and over Portsmouth in 1940. One time, he saw a Heinkel flying so over Portsmouth that he could see the pilot’s blonde hair.

We think of war as something that happens to other people, in far-off places, in a bygone age. Yet Adair and Tillett were killed just a couple of miles away from my house, and were younger than me. Adair and Tillett, and indeed John Coghlan, and all of the other young men who fought and died with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War should never be forgotten. Of course today we remember the few of Fighter Command, but as well we must remember those who died in Bombers, in Transport Aircraft, Ground Crew, the WAAF’s, men and women, young and old, who served and died overseas or at home.

To find out more about what happened in 1940, to find out about the RAF Benevolent Fund’s 1940 Chronicle Campaign, or to donate to the RAFBF, click here

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – the Army (part 4)

Unlike Navy casualties, most soldiers killed in action where either buried or commemorated very close to where they fell. This allows us to analyse quite closely the battlefields on which young men from Portsmouth fought and died.

Theatres

Firstly lets take a look at the parts of the world in which Portsmouth soldiers died during the Second World War:

168 – N Europe (24.93%)
141 -UK (20.92%)
131 – Mediterranean (19.43%)
105 – Far East (15.58%)
94 – North Africa (13.94%)
17 – Indian Sub-Continent (2.52%)
10 – Rest of Africa (1.48%)
9- Middle East (1.33%)
1 – N America (0.15%)

My first impression is that Army casualties were spread far more evenly around the world than we might imagine. Also, that the second highest proportion of men died in the UK suggest just how many men were in uniform, and died of natural causes, illness or accidents while at home. An extremely large number of men died whilst serving in the Mediterranean (see below for more detail), and also in the Far East and in North Africa. The statistics for the ‘D-Day Dodgers’ and ‘Slim’s Forgotten Army’ in particular suggest both how many Portsmouth men served in both places, and how heavy their casualties were.

There are several other interesting statistics. The British Empire maintained a presence throughout much of Africa throughout the war – including a number of strategically important staging ports. Many army personnel served in India during the war, to guard against civil unrest and also to provide a base for the war in Burma. The campaigns in Syria and Iraq are frequently forgotten, and many British troops also served in Palestine.

Countries

141 – United Kingdom (20.92%)
110 – Italy (16.32%)
103 – France (15.28%)
46 – Tunisia (6.82%)
32 – Egypt (4.75%)
31 – Holland (4.6%)
30 – Singapore (4.45%)
23 – Burma (3.4%)
22 – Germany (3.26%)
17 – Thailand (2.52%)
17 – Hong Kong (2.52%)
16 – Greece (2.37%)
14 – India (2.07%)
9 – Algeria (1.34%)
9 – Japan (1.34%)
8 – Belgium (1.18%)
7 – Libya (1.04%)
6 – Malaysia (0.89%)
4 – Malta (0.59%)
4 – Syria (0.59%)
3 – Indonesia (0.44%)
3 – Israel (0.44%)
3 – Kenya (0.44%)
3 – South Africa (0.44%)
2 – Iraq (0.29%)
2 – Poland (0.29%)
2 – Sri Lanka (0.29%)
1 – Canada (0.15%)
1 – Czech Republic (0.15%)
1 – Ethiopia (0.15%)
1 – Gambia (0.15%)
1 – Nigeria (0.15%)
1 – Norway (0.15%)
1 – Pakistan (0.15%)
1 – Sudan (0.15%)

Again, its noticeable that more men at home in the UK than in any other country. Also, that more Portsmouth men died in Italy than in France is at first glance surprising. But once look at the reasons, it doe make more sense. Fighting took place in France for around a month leading up to Dunkirk, then from June until late August 1944. Whereas the war in Italy began with the invasion of Siciliy in 1942, and ended in May 1945 after a long fought slog up the spine of the country. Also, several Hampshire Regiment Battalions fought in Italy, whereas only one fought in North West Europe, and none in 1940.

Another surprise might be the number of men killed in Tunisia, but this was where the Hampshire’s who later fought in Italy got their first taste of action as part of Sir Kenneth Anderson’s First Army. Tunisia also saw heavy fighting, after Hitler ordered the Afrika Korps to fight to the the last man rather than evacuate.

High casualty rates are noticeable in the Far Eastern Countries. This was no doubt caused by the harsh treatment of Prisoners of War by the Japanese, and the resulting high mortality rates – particularly on the Burma Railway in Thailand, and after the surrenders at Singapore and Hong Kong. By comparison, very few men died whilst prisoners of the Germans – six, as far as I can tell, including one Engineer murdered by the Gestapo in Norway.

Another observation has to be the number of countries in which men were serving – this truly was a global war. This shows not only the several theatres that we often overlook, but also the wider importance of the British Empire and its lines of communications to the war effort.

My final observation, however, has to be the number of men who died not on the battlefield, but at home, or in far-flung outposts. They may not have died in battle, but they were serving their country at the time of their death. In many cases their deaths may have been caused, or at least not helped by war-time factors – malnutrition, accidents, industrial or tropical diseases, possibly? Therefore, they deserve to be remembered for their sacrifice.

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Youtube picks

Royal welcome home for 11 Light Brigade

Members of the British Army’s 11 Light Brigade marched through Westminster recently, in front of HRH the Duchess of Cornwall. The Brigade recently returned from a 6 month tour of Afghanistan, where 64 soldiers were killed in action. The march through Winchester was followed by a service at the Cathedral.

The Altmark Incident

Richard Noyce of the National Museum of the Royal Navy tells us about the Altmark incident, and shows us an artefact from the Museum’s collections.

Muse featuring The Edge – Where the Streets Have No Name

I’m not normally a fan of the whole Glastonbury thing – more performers off the stage than there are on it – but this clip is amazing. Even though U2 couldn’t headline the Friday as planned, The Edge still turned up and joined Muse to play Where The Streets Have No Name, one of U2′s most epic songs.

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The Long March remembered

march

65 years ago this winter thousands upon thousands of people were on the move all over Germany and occupied Europe. As the Third Reich crumbled under the allied onslaught from East and West, the Nazi state attempted to move its prisoners back into the German homeland. In the harshest winter for many years, thousands died or were killed.

This week a group of relatives and young RAF recruits are recreating the march made by RAF Prisoners of War from Stalag Luft III at Sagan in Poland into Germany in the winter of 1944 and 1945. Temperatures were between -22 and -25 degrees centigrade. Most of the men had very minimal clothing. It was snowing most of the time. Some men fell out from the march and were shot by the guards. Sometimes the Prisoners slept in buildings, other times in the open. German civilians treated them in a variety of ways – some were kind, whilst others threw stones at the airmen.

At the same time my own Granddad, who had been captured at Arnhem, was being marched across Germany from Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel to Stalag IIIA near Luckenwalde, south of Berlin. But most men were being marched westwards, away from the advancing Red Army. Why? Well, its hard to explain just how chaotic the Nazi state was, especially near the end of the war. It might have been easier for the Germans to leave the POW’s to be liberated. But they may have planned to use them as hostages, or to liquidate them. At any point a rash order from Hitler or Himmler might have spelt doom. But whatever the reason, too many men died needlessly.

Andy Wiseman, an RAF veteran of the Long March from Stalag Luft III had these illuminating words to say about his expriences on the BBC website:

“What the long march taught me, and I go on long marches with current RAF people, is that cometh the hour cometh the man. There is no such thing “I can’t do it” there is no such thing “its impossible”. Have a go and you’d be amazed what you can do. If you see a barrier, don’t turn around and pretend it isn’t there, you’ve got to get over it or under it, there’s no other way of living.”

The Last Escape, by John Nichol and Tony Rennell, tells the story of the long marches very well.

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Portsmouth war dead project: News

I’ve now finished processing the list of Portsmouth’s World War Two Dead from the list on Portsmouth City Council’s website. Each name has been inputted into a database, along with their details from the Commonwealth War Graves online roll of honour. I have also done a lot of research on each person, using websites such as lostbombers, Far East Prisoners of War, RAF Web and Naval History.net.

I’ve managed to find some fascinating stories, which I have written about on my blog over the past few months. Stories of heroic deeds, medals, families, young and old, men and women, rich and poor. Men who have no grave, who are buried in Portsmouth, or who died far away from home. Men who died in famous battles, and men buried in cemeteries long forgotten. Men who served on the sea, on land and in the air. From all corners of Portsmouth.

There are a total of 2,023 names in the list. 1,027 in the Royal Navy, 539 from the Army, 319 from the Royal Air Force, 84 in the Royal Marines, 35 in the Merchant Navy and 11 in the NAAFI.

From Ordinary Seaman to Admiral of the Fleet, Private to Lieutenant Colonel, and Aircraftman 1st Class to Wing Commander. Youngest 16, oldest 73.

82 men died on HMS Hood, 60 on HMS Royal Oak, and 43 on HMS Barham. 12 Died on D-Day.

2 George Crosses, 5 BEM, 2 CBE, 1 Cross of St George (Russia), 1 DCM, 9 DFC, 5 DFM, 4 DSC, 1 DSC and Bar, 2 DSO, 5 MBE, 1 MC, 3 OBE, 35 Mentions in Dispatches and 32 DSM and 2 DSM and Bar.

113 are buried in France, 60 in Germany, 102 in Italy, 128 in the Far East and 100 in North Africa. 632 are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common. 147 are buried in Milton Cemetery, 96 in Kingston Cemetery, and 35 in Highland Cemetery. To put that in perspective, more are buried in Milton Cemetery alone than are buried in France.

I have found some amazing stories – the Chindit, the 16 year old Para, the two brothers who died on the same plane, the submariners, the Paras, Prisoners of War, the Bomber Crew, Engineers, Sappers, Gunners, Ground Crew… all manner of men and women, of all ages, from all parts of Portsmouth, and from all walks of life. I guess the moral of this story is that war, and death, knows no distinction. Like the gravestones in War Cemeteries – all the same, row upon row.

This list was generated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the Council, in order to compile a list of names for the proposed WW2 memorial in Guildhall Square. It is clearly far from complete, however. There are many names on local war memorials that do not feature in the list and will require some further research. Also, using Geoff’s WW2 search engine has already helped me identify that there are many people who’s location is given as ‘Fratton’, and not ‘Portsmouth’, for example, and hence may have slipped the net.

So, the project is far from completed. The names that are inputted still require a lot of research, and there are potentially hundreds of other names that can be added to the list. I’m already starting to think about what to do with my findings – clearly, such a database does need to be available to the general public. I especially hope that young people may be able to use it for school projects and such like. The statistics should be able to tell us so much. I also have plenty of ideas for a website including pictures of each grave, so families may even be able to find pictures of the last resting place of their loved ones.

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Portsmouth’s Glider Pilots

The Second World War saw the development of Gliders to transport airborne troops into battle. Alongside Parachute troops, Gliders enabled Armies to develop airborne forces on a substantial scale. The first decisive use of Gliders was in 1940 during the spectacular German coup-de-main seizure of Eben Emael, a border fortress in Belgium. By September 1944 the allies were able to launch 35,000 airborne troops during Operation Market.

One of the biggest problems with Gliders was their manning – just who was to fly them? The RAF was unwilling to waste precious aircrew on what it saw a peripheral task to its main roles or strategic bombing and air defence. Bomber Harris even scoffed at the thought of army troops flying Gliders.

But fly them they did. The Glider Pilot was formed from volunteers throughout the Army. Volunteers were given basic flying training to enable them to fly Gliders while being towed by a transport plane, and then to land them with a degree of accuracy and safety. Senior commanders in the Regiment flew Gliders on operations, including the CO, but the standard Glider aircrew consisted of a Staff Sergeant as Pilot and Sergeant as co-pilot. Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning qualified as a Glider Pilot after his attempts at Parachuting resulted in injury.

When they landed Glider Pilots formed up into infantry units, and provided a useful manpower reserve. In contrast, the American Glider Pilots were not combatants, and actually required troops to protect them. Flying Gliders was indeed a dangerous business: many paratroops remarked that they would rather parachute into battle than fly in an ‘oversize coffin’.

The Glider Pilot Regiment served with distinction at D-Day, Arnhem and the Rhine Crossing. Several of those who were killed on operations. Staff Sergeant Roy Luff, 23 and from Buckland, was a member of the 1st Wing of the Glider Pilot Regiment. He was killed on 6 June 1944 – D-Day – and is buried in Ranville War Cemetery, Normandy. Staff Sergeant Leonard Gardner was also a member of 1st Wing. A native of Portsmouth and 27, he was killed on 17 September 1944: the first day of Operation Market. His Glider, carrying Royal Engineers, disintegrated in the sky over England. He is buried in Weston-super-Mare Cemetery.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about Portsmouth Glider Pilots is that one of the Gliders they flew in action was designed in Portsmouth – the Airspeed Horsa. The Airspeed Company had a factory at Portsmouth Airport. You can see Horsa Gliders at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, Airborne Assault at Duxford, the Army Air Corps Museum at Middle Wallop and the Assault Glider Trust at RAF Shawbury.

A Horsa Glider taking off

A Horsa Glider taking off

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RAF Bomb Disposal – Corporal Roy Henley

The vast majority of Portsmouth men who served in the RAF in the Second World War died serving in Bomber Command. A few more died while flying Spitfires or Hurricanes, or Lockheed Hudsons in the Coastal role.

But Corporal Roy Henley, 23 and from Fratton, was serving with 6225 Bomb Disposal Flight. 3 Special RAF Bomb Disposal Squadrons were formed, consisting of 8 flights, to provide bomb disposal support during Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe.

Corporal Henley’s unit was sent to Normandy on 7 June 1944, D+1. At 0400 the Landing Craft that they were in was engaged by German shore batteries and an E-Boat. The Landing Craft sank within 2 minutes, and Seven men were killed. 90% of their equipment was lost.

Corporal Henley was presumably lost at sea, as he is listed on the Runnymede Memorial, where all RAF personnel who have no known grave are remembered.

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They died on Christmas Day

Sadly, aside from the unique example of the 1914 Christmas truce on the Western front, war usually has no regard for Christmas. Of the 1,000 Portsmouth soldiers, sailors and airmen who I have so far researched, these three men died on Christmas Day.

Corporal Robert Davison, from Milton, was a Royal Marine onboard HMS Berwick when he was killed 25 December 1940. At the time HMS Berwick was serving in North West Approaches. Davison must have died and been buried at sea, as he has no grave and is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Private George Griffin, 21 and from Milton, was serving in the 1st Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Burma when he was killed on 25 December 1941, fighting the Japanese. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Rangoon Memorial.

Petty Officer Frederick Bulbeck, 35 and from Drayton, died on 25 December 1945. He was serving onboard HMS Zodiac, a Zambesi class Destroyer. He died after the war had ended, and is buried in Hamburg War Cemetery, Germany.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

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The Christmas Day truce

A scene from the 1914 Christmas truce

A scene from the 1914 Christmas truce

On 24 December 1914, German troops on the Western front near Ypres began dressing their trenches with decorations. They then began singing carols, and the English troops opposite replied. After shouting christmas greetings, visits were made across no mans land, where small gifts were exchanged. Artillery was silent for the night, and an unofficial truce fell into place. In some places football matches were even played out in between the barbed wire.

The events had an incredible impact on British and German culture. Generals were horrified, and forbade any future unofficial truces. The fact remains, however, that the Christmas truce proved one thing – the private soldiers on each side had more in common with each other than they did with their own Generals. They were all far from home, stuck in the same squalid trenches, facing the same dangers.

In the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, the protagonists discuss events of the past that led them to their current situation, including the Christmas Truce. Captain Blackadder was apparently still sore over being ruled offside during a football game with the Germans. He also cynically muses that “Both sides advanced further during one Christmas piss-up than they did in the next two-and-a half years of war.”

On 11 November 2008, the first official Truce memorial was unveiled in Frelinghien, France, the site of a Christmas Truce football game in 1914. After the unveiling and a Service of Remembrance, men from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) played a football match with the German Panzergrenadier Battalion 371. The Germans won, 2-1.

A very Happy Christmas to you all, wherever you are – especially all of the men and women who are far from home this Christmas, in harms way. Stay safe, and come home soon.

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Flying Officer Charles Goble

An RAF Short Stirling Bomber

An RAF Short Stirling Bomber

Aircrew who were lost in the skies over Europe between 1939 and 1947 and have no known grave are remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, in Surrey. More than a few Portsmouth men who served in the Royal Air Force are memorialised there.

One of them is Flying Officer Charles Goble, 21 and from Portsmouth. He was serving with 624 Squadron, flying in a Short Stirling Bomber. He was killed on the night of 14 July 1944 and has no known grave.

What makes Goble’s story all the more interesting, is that 624 Squadron’s role was to insert and supply special agents behind the lines of Nazi-occupied Europe. The Special Operations Executive was set up to co-ordinate and support guerilla and underground forces in various countries. Often small and nimble Lysander aircraft would be used to drop off and pick up agents. But Bombers were also used as transport aircraft, to drop men and supplies by parachute. Stirling’s were used as a large number of them were available, having been replaced in Bomber Commanded by the Lancaster and the Halifax. It was a particularly hazardous role – flying low, alone, darkened and facing very serious consequences if captured. It was certainly a job for brave and skilled men.

Where Goble was operating when his plane was shot down, we can only speculate. In July 1944 the battle of Normandy was raging, and the French Maquis further south were certainly active against the Germans. 624 Squadron are also known to have flown missions over Poland. Documented records of 624 Squadron are very limited due to the secrecy of the work involved.

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The Portsmouth Dambuster

617 Squadron 'the Dambusters'

617 Squadron 'the Dambusters'

Flight Sergeant Herbert Clarke, from Portsmouth, was 22 when he was serving as an Air Gunner with 617 Squadron of the RAF, the famous Dambusters. Although there is no evidence to suggest how long he had been with the Dambusters for, Clarke had been mentioned in Despatches. An operation that took place on 7 October 1944 would sadly cost him his life.

As advancing French and American forces prepared to cross the Rhine near Mulhouse in Eastern France, it was feared that the Germans would flood the Rhine valley by destroying the Kembs dam, which formed part of the hydro-electric system that also made the Rhine navigable. Led by Wing Cdr ‘Willie’ Tait, 617 squadron took part in a daring pre-emptive daylight raid fielding a total of 13 Tallboy armed Lancasters. 7 bombing from 8000ft to distract the AA fire and 6 from below 1000ft to stand the best chance of a hit. 2 Lancasters were lost but Tait’s bomb fell right next to the dam and 30 minutes later a violent explosion breached the dam, the resulting loss of water leaving boats high and dry as far back as Basle in Switzerland.

Flight Sergeant Clarke was onboard one of the lost Lancasters, serial number LM482. The Tallboy bomb failed to release on their first run in to the target. On the second run they were hit by light flak and crashed 8 kilometres away from the target. Attacking such a heavily defended target, with great skill and during daylight was a magnificent feat. And to go round again after their bomb failed to release was in the best traditions of the RAF, and especially of the Dambusters.

Flight Sergeant Herbert Clarke is buried in Durnbach War Cemtery, Germany.

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Portsmouth Heroes – Boy 1st Class Gordon Ogden

HMS Royal Oak

HMS Royal Oak

So far, the youngest person I have found who came from Portsmouth and died in the Second World War was Boy 1st Class Gordon Ogden, from Milton. He was aged 16 when the battleship HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed in Scapa Flow on 14 October 1939. The Royal Oak was a Revenge Class battleship, sunk at anchor by U-47, captained by Gunther Prien, who had avoided extensive anti-submarine defences in the area. 833 men died, out of a crew of 1,244. Many of these men came from Portsmouth, as the Royal Oak was manned from Portsmouth. Over 100 of the crew who died were Boy Seamen under the age of 18, the most ever killed in one incident.

The recruiting of Boys into the Royal Navy was nothing new – we have all heard of the Powder Monkeys. But up until the Second World War, when the Navy required a huge pool of manpower to crew the ships required to police the Empire, Boys were recruited to fill various tasks onboard ship. This also provided valuable training for young men who wanted to progress on to be Seamen.

Gordon Ogden would have enlisted with the rank of Boy 2nd Class, suggesting that he had served for some time before being promoted. As Naval service records are only available to next of kin at the time of writing, so we can only guess at how young Ogden would have been when he joined up – but it will almost certainly have been younger than 16. By the second world war the minimum age for joining the Royal Navy as a Boy rating was 15, and had to be approved for a Boys parents. The minimum terms of engagement for a Boy entering the Navy was at least 12 years. A boy had to have served at least 9 months as Boy 2nd Class, show proficiency in seamanship and gain at least one good conduct badge for promotion.

Once a Boy reached 18 he was automatically rated as an Ordinary Seaman and became subject to the Naval Discipline Act.

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Captain Bernard Brown MC

Royal Army Medical Corps

Royal Army Medical Corps

Some roles give soldiers the potential to do very brave things. Its perhaps no coincidence that Medical Officers, more often than not, seem to win awards for courage under fire. One Army Medical Officer, from Portsmouth, won a Military Cross in North Africa, and eventually lost his life in North Italy only months before the end of the war.

Captain Bernard Brown was born in Southsea in 1912. Qualifying as a Bachelor of Medicine from Oxford University, in the Second World War he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Each Battalion sized unit in the Army has a Medical Officer, usually a qualified Doctor given the rank of Captain. Their role is to look after the mens health and provide first aid in action, often right up in the front line, before wounded can be passed back down the line to dressing stations and field hospitals.

Captain Brown was the Medical Officer of 6th Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa in 1942, in a period that included the Battle of Gazala and the first Battle ofr El Alamein, where Rommel’s last-ditch attack towards the Suez Canal was finally blunted. The citation for his Military Cross can be downloaded online from the National Archives website.

The Regiment was virtually in constant action. Shortly after they began fighting Brown’s armoured Scout Car broke down, so he simply used an unarmoured truck instead. He was never back at Headquarters, always close up behind the Tanks where he could watch the battle and go up to any needing medical assistance. At one point the unit was fighting next to a Royal Horse Artilley unit that was under heavy fire, and Brown went right up to the guns seven or eight times to bring out 20 wounded gunners. During the first Battle of El Alamein the Regiment took heavy casualties from anti-tank guns, and twice Brown went up through gaps in minefields, under enemy fire, to give first aid. His coolness and courage under fire, especially as a non-combatant, must have set an amazing example to the men in the Regiment.

Bernard Brown was awarded the Military Cross on 18 March 1943. Sadly, he did not survive the war. Whilst serving as Medical Officer with the 1st Battalion of the Welch Regiment in North Italy he was killed, on 25 February 1945. He is buried in Forli Military Cemetery.

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War Graves Commission unveils new climate policy

A traditional war cemetery at Arnhem

A traditional war cemetery at Arnhem

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who look after thousands of Commonwealth War Graves around the globe, have unveiled a new climate change policy.

The Commission have selected four cemeteries in France and Belgium to trial new environmentally friendly methods of gardening. One cemetery in each country has had the turf removed and gravel laid. The other two have had a more drought tolerant grass laid to adapt to drier conditions. Borders in all four cemeteries will be planted in the traditional way with plants selected for their ability to withstand periods of drought.

War cemeteries in hot, arid countries have often used pebbles or gravel. But in Northern Europe the Commissions Cemeteries have forever been hallmarked as ‘a small part of the world that is forever England’. The pristine grass lawns and traditionally English planting makes these places not only very fitting locations for soldiers to lie, but almost nice places to visit in their own right.

Railway Chateau cemetery

Railway Chateau cemetery

Pebbles and gravel, however, are really not suitable and look terrible as can be seen above. The dignity and integrity of such important places should not be compromised for political brownie points. Its sad that the Commission are being forced to make these changes, but I suspect they come from on high. Increasingly Government departments are being forced into making changes based on a climate change agenda.

I’m not saying that the environment is not important, but the Commission’s Cemeteries represent a tiny pinprick of the worlds surface. Meanwhile, countries like India and China belch out tons and tons of Carbon Dioxide.

Using new forms of grass and plants is no doubt a good idea. But to suggest that they might have to change the whole outlook of hundreds of cemeteries, on the basis of a theory for which the scientific basis is not fully proven, smacks of scaremongering. I cannot help but wonder if someone is looking to gain some kudos from this project. I know of no municipal cemeteries who are looking at changing their landscaping like this.

To give your views on the War Graves Commissions plans, fill out their survey here.

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Updated: Sapper Ernest Bailey

Reading about people from your home city who died in the second world war can be quite a sobering experience. But what about someone who came from your very own neighbourhood, at a time when it consisted of a few streets and pig farms? And who, sadly, died in the most tragic circumstances.

By 1942, using heavy water obtained from Norway, the German atomic weapons programme had come close to developing a nuclear reactor. This, obviously, was not something that the Allies could allow to happen, and British forces devised a plan to cut off the supply of heavy water from Norway, and so bring the Nazi atom bomb programme to a halt. Bombing raids were not possible due to the difficulty of locating the plant, and the level of accuracy required.

The heavy water was obtained from the Norsk hydro chemical plant, near the village of Vermork. 2 Airspeed Horsa gliders, carrying 34 British Airborne Engineers, would land near the plant, destroy it, and make their way on foot to neutral Sweden. It was to be the first use of Gliders in action by British forces.

On 19 November 1942 the Gliders took off from northern Scotland. The Operation was doomed from the start. The first Glider crash landed. Of the seventeen men onboard, eight were killed, four were injured and five were unhurt. The second Glider also crashed, with seven men being killed on impact. Although brave Norwegians managed to shelter some of the wounded, they were eventually rounded up. The four injured surviviors from the first glider were poisoned by a German doctor, and the rest shot along with the survivors from the second glider.

These killings were in accordance with Hitlers Commando order, which ordered that all Commando troops were to be killed immediately on capture, as enemy spies. Several German personnel implicated in the killings were tried and executed after the war.

Among these brave but tragic events, was a Paulsgrove man. Sapper Ernest William Bailey, 31, of Paulsgrove, was a member of 9 Airborne Field Company, Royal Engineers. He is buried in Stavanger Cemetery in Norway. I am not sure exactly how he died – his date of death is given as 19th November, so it seems that he probably died in one of the crashed gliders. However there are quite a few files at the National Archives from the post-war investigation of war crimes, so hopefully there will be something at Kew that will tell the story of Sapper Bailey.

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I have manaed to find the following fascinating information from Stephen Stratford’s website on British Military Law. Stephen has pieced together what happened to the men of Operation Freshman from official documents at the National Archives. There is also some information on ParaData regarding operation Freshman.

Sapper Bailey was in the second Glider (Horsa HS114), which was being towed by a Halifax Bomber W7801 B for Baker. The glider crashed approximately 2.5 kilometres North East of Lensmanngard. Both glider pilots were killed in the crash, along with one of the passengers. The remaining soldiers, including Sapper Bailey, were captured and shot near Egersund on the same day.

After the war Stabsarzt Werner Fritz Seeling, Hauptscarfueher Erich Hoffman and Unterscharfuehrer Fritz Feuerlein were tried for war crimes by a British Military Court. Their specific crime was the murder of the poinsoned prisoners, who were also found to have been strangled. All three were found guilty. Seeling was executed by Firing Squad, Hoffman was hanged. Feuerlein was handed over to the Russians to answer charges regarding atrocities against Russian Prisoners of War. His fate is unknown.

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