Jen Waller is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s young ambassador from Wales. She has worked with the CWGC on work experience, after gaining an interest on a school trip to Thiepval.
Good on her!
Jen Waller is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s young ambassador from Wales. She has worked with the CWGC on work experience, after gaining an interest on a school trip to Thiepval.
Good on her!
Losing a member of your family in war must be heartbreaking. But to lose two, both brothers, in the same incident? Not only that, but in what seems to have been an accident, after the fighting had finished.
Flying Officer Arthur Venables and his brother Guy, from Hilsea, were both members of 78 Squadron, Royal Air Force. The had been re-equipped with Douglas Dakota transport aircraft and in September 1945 were in the process of moving to the Middle East.
Arthur and Guy both died on 5 September 1945, and are buried at Mazargues Cemetery in Marseille, south of France. That they both died on the same day suggests that sadly their plane might have crashed. Also, the location suggests that they crashed en-route to their new posting in the Middle East.
This is the first possible evidence I have found of two brothers flying in the same aircraft. The details are still a little sketchy, but hopefully I can find out more soon and tell the story of the Venables brothers.
The Venables brothers were flying in Dakota IV KP235, taking off from Istres in France. The aircraft was taking off at night in poor visibility and a thick mist beyond the end of the runway, the presence of which Flying Control did not warn the pilot. It is thought that the pilot saw the bank of mist ahead and, thinking it to be high ground, pulled the nose of the aircraft up and stalled. With insufficient height to recover, the aircraft struck the ground and was destroyed. The injured were Corporals G W Blewett, G H Orman, E M Lamb, and R W H Williams, and Leading Aircraftmen W Cunningham, E Armitage, and W Graham.
17 men were killed, four of them air crew and 13 ground crew who were being transported to the Middle East. 7 men escaped injured.
I am very grateful to Peter Clare from WW2talk for drawing my attention to this information, which comes from ‘A Catalogue Of RAF Aircraft Losses Between VE-Day And The End of 1945′ by Colin Cummings
After the end of the First World War, the people of Portsmouth raised funds to erect a Cenotaph in memory of all of Portsmouth’s sons and daughters who died in between 1914 and 1918. Every name is listed, from A to Z.
But after the Second World , people were tired of war, and the will to erect a new memorial was just not there. This is how it remained for almost 60 years. The almost 3,380 people of Portsmouth who died between 1939 and 1947 have not been memorialised in their home city.
Mrs Jean Louth, whose father Harry Short died at Dunkirk, was horrified to discover this, and set about raising funds and awareness. The centrepiece of the memorial itself has been unveiled, in Portland stone, bearing the arms of Portsmouth and the three armed services, and the inscription ‘IN MEMORY OF THE SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN AND THE CITIZENS OF PORTSMOUTH WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN DEFENCE OF THEIR COUNTRY DURING WORLD WAR II’.
This, however, is only the start. There are plans to erect a memorial wall surrounding the centrepiece, which will be engraved with the names of those who gave their lives. As each name costs £30 to engrave, this will cost a fair bit.
Portsmouth City Council have published a list of portsmouth people who died during the second world war. It is very much a work in progress, with a lot of details missing and possibly incorrect.
Looking at the list got me thinking. As well as possibly filling in the gaps, would it be possible to use a database to compute and analyse these details? If I can add in details such as those you find on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website, the picture is even more detailed. It would be possible to produce reports on average ages, where in the city they came from, in what units they fought, where they died. Some interesting stories should come to light. And hopefully, I can just do something to raise awareness of these brave people when there is a risk that they might become forgotten.
So far I am up to halfway through the B surnames, around 180 people. Its going to take quite sometime, and im still tweaking with the database, but hopefully over time it will be an interesting project!
In memory of all those past, present and future who have lost their lives in combat, those who have served and those who have suffered in war and conflict
When you go home, tell them of us and say:
for your tomorrow, we gave our today
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
David Lord joined the RAF in 1939, training to fly biplanes on the Indian North West Frontier. In 1941 he Squadron were the first in the RAF to received the Douglas Dakota, an aircraft that would become synonymous with Lord. Early in the war he flew on resupply missions in the Middle East, India and Burma, being commissioned as Flight Lieutenant in 1942 awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1943.
By early 1944 he had returned to the UK with 217 Squadron, based at RAF Down Ampney, training to drop paratroops, supplies and to tow gliders. He took part in the D-Day operations of June 1944.
In September Lord also took part in the massive airlift operations that were part of Operation Market Garden. Having already flown as a glider tug on the first two days of the battle, by the 19th he and his crew were tasked to drop desparately needed supplies to the British Airborne Soldiers fighting in Arnhem.
“On September 19th, 1944, Flt. Lieut. Lord was pilot and captain of an aircraft detailed to drop supplies to our troops, who were closely surrounded at Arnhem. For accuracy this had to be done at 900 feet. While approaching the target at 1,500 feet the aircraft was severely damaged and set on fire. Flt. Lieut. Lord would have been justified in withdrawing or even in abandoning his aircraft but, knowing that supplies were desperately needed, he continued on his course. Twice going down to 900 feet under very intense fire, he successfully dropped his containers. His task completed he ordered his crew to abandon the aircraft, making no attempt himself to leave. A few seconds later the aircraft fell in flames, only one of the crew surviving. By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning plane, twice descending to 900 feet to ensure accuracy, and finally by remaining at the controls to give his crew a chance of escape, Flt. Lieut. Lord displayed supreme valour and self-sacrifice. “
For a total of eight minutes after his plane was hit, Lord remained at the controls. Only once all of the supplies had been dropped did he order his crew to bail out, while making no attempt to do so himself. This valiant effort was observed by the men surrounded at Arnhem and provided a brilliant boost to morale, particularly in such a bitter struggle. Stanley Maxted, a BBC Radio reported who was at Arnhem, made a memorable broadcast on the effect it had on the men of Arnhem to watch planes trying to get supplies to them. Many men were said to have been so mesmerized that they stood up out of their trenches to watch Lord’s plain flying overhead.
Sadly only Lord’s Navigator survived, and became a POW. The story of Lord’s supreme sacrifice was only known when he was released in 1945, and resulted in Lord’s nomination for the Victoria Cross.
Lord and those of his crew who were killed are buried in Arnhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery in Holland. Lord’s VC is part of the Ashcroft VC collection.
His headstone bears the fitting and moving epitaph:
“Greather love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends”
As I am currently looking through the London Gazette’s online records of Victoria Cross citations, I thought it would be both topical and appropriate, given the closeness to Remembrance Day, to take a look at one of the many books focussing on Britain’s highest award for gallantry.
Sir Peter, or DLB, needs no introduction. A long-serving SAS officer, commander of British Forces in the Gulf and highly decorated himself, he is one of Britain’s most high profile Generals of modern times, long before Mike Jackson and Richard Dannatt. Therefore not only is he well entitled to write about heroism from the first hand- unlike, say Lord Ashcroft – but his name on the cover of a book will always inspire interest.
DLB tells some fascinating stories in this book. Some of them are well known, such as Noel Chavasse and Guy Gibson, and will be a quick recap to most people with an interest in military history. Some of them are not so well known, such as David Wanklyn and Albert Ball. But all of the cases included in the book are treated in context – their lives before and after the VC. Selecting VC winners to write about must be impossible – there are so many deserving cases.
One aspect where DLB really adds to our understanding, is the multinational and multicultural element of the Victoria Cross. The VC has been won by many Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Indians, Gurkhas, and men from many other backgrounds. War can be a leveller as a human experience, and provides the same potential for tragedy and heroism to all men, regardless of race, colour or creed.
In taking this broader approach, DLB adds to our understanding of courage and heroism, and also our understanding of human nature and ourselves. What is it about human beings that makes such feats possible? Drawing on expert analysis by Lord Moran, and citing examples from his own career, DLB takes us away from a simple ‘this is what happened’ narrative. This is essentially a social history, a valuable addition to any military library.
If you like this, you might also like:
Warriors – Max Hastings
The Anatomy of Courage – Lord Moran
In the annals of history, there is no doubt that to perform a feat of such bravery to be nominated for a Victoria Cross, putting your life and limb on the line is part and parcel of the action. As unpleasant as it is, in all war, there is a chance that you might not make it home.
But some people take it a step further, and when faced with a difficult decision stare death in the face. This is not suicidal, because action in a suicidal manner is reckless. This is a calculated, balanced judgement, to take on the enemy when you’re heavily outgunned. A judgement that Second World War Destroyer Lieutenant-Commander Gerard Roope made.
On the 8th April, 1940, H.M.S. Glowworm was proceeding alone in heavy weather towards a rendezvous in West Fjord, when she met and engaged two enemy destroyers, scoring at least one hit on them. The enemy broke off the action and headed North. The Commanding Officer at once gave chase. The German heavy cruiser, Admiral Hipper, was sighted closing the Glowworm at high speed. Because of the heavy sea, the Glowworm could not shadow the enemy and the Commanding Officer therefore decided to attack with torpedoes and then to close in order to inflict as much damage as possible. Five torpedoes were fired and later the remaining five, but without success. The Glowworm was badly hit; one gun was out of action and her speed was much reduced, but with the other three guns still firing she closed and rammed the Admiral’ Hipper. As the Glowworm drew away, she opened fire again and scored one hit at a range of 400 yards. The Glowworm, badly stove in forward and riddled with enemy fire, heeled over to starboard, and the Commanding Officer gave the order to abandon her. Shortly afterwards she capsized and sank. The Admiral Hipper hove to for at least an hour picking up survivors but the loss of life was heavy, only 31 out of the Glowworm’s complement of 149 being saved. The VICTORIA CROSS is bestowed in recognition of the great valour of the Commanding Officer who, after fighting off a superior force of destroyers, sought out and reported a powerful enemy unit, and then fought his ship to the end against overwhelming odds, finally ramming the enemy with supreme coolness and skill.
Gerard Roope as last seen holding onto a rope dropped by the Admiral Hipper, but could not hold on and presumably drowned. The Captain of the Admiral Hipper was so impressed by the valour shown by HMS Glowworm that he ensured the British authorities were informed, via the Red Cross. Full details only emerged after the war, however, and Roope’s widow and son were presented with his Victoria Cross in 1946.
To this day Royal Navy Commanders are taught that one day, they may have to make the same sacrifice as Roope. During the Falklands War in 1982, Commander Christopher Craig, was ordered to take HMS Alacrity through Falkland Sound, attack anything in the way, and zig zag around the entrance of Falkland Sound to check it if was mined. Hitting a mine would have spelt disaster for the small frigate. Craig could have expected very high praise indeed if Alacrity had been sunk, but as she was not, almost nothing is remembered of her story.
As October comes to an end this years Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal is upon us. In a year which saw the passing of the last veterans of World War One, and has seen yet more deaths and injuries in Afghanistan, it is more important than ever to remember.
The annual Poppy appeal is the Royal British Legion’s fundraising drive leading up to Remembrance Day, on 11 November. The idea of wearing Poppies dates back to In Flanders Fields by John McRae, which includes the line ‘in Flanders Fields the Poppies grow’. After the First World War battlefields fell silent the churned up quagmire of no-mans land was transformed into fields of Poppies.
Throughout the year a team of 50 people – many of them disabled ex-servicemen – work to produce millions od poppies. In recent years the Legion has organised a Field of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey in London, where members of the public can place poppies, crosses or wreaths in memory of loved ones.
The annual Poppy appeal culminates on the nearest weekend to the 11th of November. On the Saturday evening the Royal Albert Hall hosts the festival of remembrance, featuring military bands, and in recent years popular artists such as Katherine Jenkins and Hayley Westenra. It closes with the moving spectacle of millions of poppies falling from the ceiling onto the servicemen paraded in the hall.
On the Sunday morning closest to 11th November the official Remembrance service takes place in Whitehall, centred on the cenotaph. The queen, royal family, politicians and service chiefs all place wreaths. There then follows a march past by thousands of veterans, all making their own tribute.
Most cities and towns also have their own services. In Portsmouth this takes place on the steps of the Guildhall.
And if the 11th does not fall on a Sunday, it is customary to observe a 2 minutes silence in the memory of fallen servicemen past and present.
The Victoria Cross is the highest award for Gallantry that any British or Commonwealth Serviceman or woman can receive. It is always awarded first at any ceremony, and always the first medal worn. And with apologies to the Medal of Honour and the Iron Cross, there really is something special about that crimson ribbon and dark metal pattee cross. It has a history and a mystique all of its own. Go to a Museum where they have VC’s on show, and gaze through the gleaming glass at those hallowed medals, and try and argue that they are ‘just a lump of metal’.
Created in the Crimean War to recognise brave and heroic acts by all sailors, soldiers – and later airmen – regardless of class, rank or creed, in recent years it has become harder and harder to earn. This is shown by how many of them are awarded Posthumously, after the recipient has died in action. Of the two awarded for the Falklands War, both Sergeant Ian McKay and Lieutenant-Colonel H Jones were killed in Action. Corporal Bryan Budd was also killed winning his VC in Afghanistan. Only Private Johnson Beharry, in Iraq, has survived to receive his award in person in recent conflicts. And even then, he suffered terrible brain damage in the process. There are also countless stories of men being nominated for VC’s, but in the long process they were awarded a more minor medal.
It has occured to me more and more that although we are fully aware of some of the more famous VC winners – Guy Gibson, Leonard Cheshire, and of course the famous action at Rorkes Drift. But what of the hundreds of other recipients who did amazing things, but that we dont hear about?
So, starting now I’m going to take a periodic delve into the London Gazette’s records of Victoria Cross Citations, and look at some unsung holders of the Victoria Cross. This week we look at Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson.
Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson was the flight engineer in a Lancaster detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April, 1944. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. A fire started near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine. Sergeant Jackson received shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder. Recovering himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and obtained his captain’s permission to try to put out the flames. With a fire extinguisher and parachute, he started to climb out of the cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing. Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit. Undeterred, Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the extinguisher, which was blown away. By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was involved. His face, hands and clothing were severely burnt. Unable to retain his hold he was swept through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places. Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew landed safely. The captain and rear gunner died. Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. This airman’s attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry. To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat.
No doubt by now you have all read or heard of the antics of Phil Laing, a 19-year-old Student who was photographed urinating on poppy wreathes laid on a war memorial in Sheffield.
The most important thing to remember, first and foremost, is that he does NOT represent his generation. Some of them, yes. A tiny minority. But not all. Plenty of people his age are serving in the forces, fighting overseas, raising money for charity, working as nurses, all manner of positive and good things. But as usual this lowlife gets the oxygen of publicity and lets everyone else down.
A serious example needs to be made of him, otherwise the message goes out that its OK to do this kind of thing. Maybe if people know they will suffer serious consequences, then they will think twice before behaving like this. A token fine or a slap on the wrist is not enough. I know the authorities wont make him scrub the memorial with a toothbrush, sadly.
But there are deeper problems here. How is it OK for an apparrently well adjusted young man who went to a ‘good’ school to do such a thing? How is it that a supposedly poor student can go out and get so rat arsed? How can it be right for companies to be allowed to organise events that cause such things? And how come his friends can even bear to defend him? Is this what public schools call ‘horseplay’, or ‘tomfoolery’? Its almost more disgusting that there are people out there who think it is funny.
I can’t help but think that if he was from a council estate, they would throw the book at him, no questions asked. But his parents will probably get him good lawyers, and talk about what a nice lad he is, and how it was just a silly mistake and how sorry he is. But, surely, if you do something that you know is wrong, then you pay the consequences. Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.
But if he is sorry, it will probably be for himself. He’s sorry that he might get kicked out of Uni, and it might affect his career. Is he sorry about the offence he has caused, or the people he has disgraced? I doubt it, because that takes decency and respect, things that I very much doubt Phil Laing possesses.
I’ll be following his court case closely.
The 70th anniversary of one of the Royal Navy’s blackest days, which saw the loss of 833 lives, was marked at a ceremony on HMS Penzance this week by The Princess Royal.
Shortly after 0100hrs on 14 October 1939, HMS Royal Oak, in the Home Fleet’s wartime anchorage of Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, suffered four torpedo hits, one at the bow and three amidships, from German submarine U-47. Captained by Gunther Prien, the submarine had infiltrated the natural harbour that was thought to be impregnable.
Of the ship’s complement of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed that night or died later of their wounds. Over a hundred were Boy seamen, under the age of 18. The loss of the Royal Oak had little effect on the war at sea, given the Royal Navy’s overwhelming superiority over the German fleet, but had a considerable effect on morale.
The Royal Oak, a designated war grave, now lies in 30 metres of water at the bottom of Scapa Flow where, from HMS Penzance on Wednesday 14 October 2009, The Princess Royal laid a wreath to remember those lost.
HMS Royal Oak was a Revenge class battleship launched in 1914 and commissioned in 1916. She fought at the Battle of Jutland soon after joining the fleet, and between the wars saw service in the Home, Atlantic and Mediterannean fleets. By the time she was sunk she was largely obsolete. She was one of four Royal Navy Battleships sunk in the Second World War, along with Barham, Repulse and Prince of Wales.
I’ve found this video on youtube. Its of Mark Knoplfer, who recorded a special Falklands Anniversary edition on the classic Dire Straits song Brothers in Arms.
Its a very fitting video, featuring original footage from 1982, and showing veterans returng to the Islands 25 years later. Knoplfers lyrics, vocals and guitar playing fits perfectly. Its a very nice tribute.
An estimated 5,000 bikers have paid tribute to fallen servicemen at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
The second annual Ride to the Wall event involved people from all walks of life, including Journalists and Clergymen. Major-General Lamont Kirkland, commander of the Army’s 4th Division, attended in full uniform after riding his Harley Davidson from his Headquarters in Aldershot.”I think what you have seen today is the start of something really big – this will grow over time,” he said. “It’s deeply emotional and it’s deeply poignant – bikers are deeply respectful people. It shows we are supported very strongly at home and that the Army has never been held in higher regard.”
Set in the 150 acre National Memorial Arboretum, The National Armed Forces Memorial commemorates British servicemen and women who have lost their lives in action. The Armed Forces Memorial, dedicated in the presence of The Queen on 12 October 2007, is the UK’s tribute to the 16,000 men and women who have been killed on duty or as a result of terrorist action since 1948. Their names are inscribed on the giant Portland stone walls. There is a Chapel, in which a short, poignant service called The Homage is held every day at 10.50am. This service includes the Two Minutes Silence and reflects the whole ethos of the NMA. This is the only place in the UK in which such a service is held every day.