Tag Archives: war graves

Foreign war graves in Chichester Cemetery

Regular readers will know I have developed something of an interest in war dead and war graves, be it from a particular space dotted around the world, from a particular nation, or in a particular place. Equally, regular readers will know that some six months ago I made the quantum leap from Paulsgrove (if you don’t know, wikipedia it) to Chichester (ditto, and compare).

Anyway, I digress. Yesterday while walking to Lidl to go and do the shopping, I stumbled upon Chichester’s Portfield Cemetery. And a very interesting stumble it was too. Like 99% of municipal cemeteries it has its fair share of war graves. Apart from a few dotted around the cemetery, most of the war graves are collected into three beautifully tended plots – separate plots for WW1 and WW2 protestant graves, and a separate one for Roman Catholic burials. But here’s the interesting bit – there are 13 foreign (ie, non commonwealth) WW2 burials – 7 Czech, 4 Polish and 2 German. The Poles and Germans are RC burials, but the Czechs are split between  protestant and RC.

What I find really interesting, is that every nationality has its own shape and format for CWGC gravestones – UK and commonwealth are rectangular with a shallow curved top; polish have a more pronounced, pointy-curved top; Czech have a very interesting angular design; whilst German have a more straight, perpendicular look to them.

Obviously at the moment I have my hands full with looking into Australians buried in Portsmouth and Portsmouth’s WW1 dead, but at some point in the non-too distant future I am going to start taking a look at the foreign war graves in Chichester. My hunch is that many of them must be airman, with important WW2 air bases nearby at Westhampnett and Tangmere.


Filed under World War Two

RSM Frederick Frampton and Gunner George Frampton

Given the large number of men who died in the First World War, sadly its not surprising that in some cases fathers and sons were killed in action.

Frederick Frampton, 46 and from North End, was Regimental Sergeant Major of 65th Heavy Group of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed on 24 August 1917, and is buried at Bard Cottage Cemetery in Belgium. Bard Cottage is located in the Ypres Salient, and Frampton was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele. At the time of his death more heavy Artillery was being brought up in order to support the attack. To reach the rank of RSM Frampton was almost certainly a career soldier.

His son, Gunner George Frampton, must have followed his father into the RGA. He was 19 when he died on 29 September 1918, serving with 355th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Siege Batteries were equipped with large, heavy Howitzers in order to take on the enemy’s artillery. Gunner Frampton is buried at Doingt Cemetery, France. Doingt was captured by Australian forces on 5 September 1918, during the 100 Days offensive leading up to the Armistice. The front line had moved on by the time of Frampton’s death. It would seem therefore that he died whilst at either the 20th, 41st or 55th Casualty Clearing Stations, which were near Doingt at the time.

Marion Frampton, of 291 Chichester Road, North End, would have received two War Office Telegrams in just over a year. She may in fact have received more than one, as an S.H. Frampton appears on the Portsmouth War Memorial. There is no trace, however, of anyone with this name on the CWGC database.


Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, World War One

The three Dugan brothers

The First World War exacted a heavy toll on the Dugan family from Portsea.

Private Wesley Dugan was part of the 15th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, a Portsmouth New Army ‘Kitchener’ unit. He was killed on the Somme on 15 September 1916. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. The 15th Battalion suffered incredibly heavy losses on this day the first day of the battle of Flers-Courcelette – an attempt to renew the Somme offensive that had started in July 1916.

His brother Private James Dugan was killed just under a year later. Serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, he died on 21 August 1917 at the age of 43. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. He was killed during the battle of Passchendaele, between the battle of Langemarck and the battle of the Menin Road.

The third Dugan brother fell in the spring of 1918. Private Edwin Dugan killed on 19 April 1918 in the Ypres Salient, while serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. He is remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial. This was during the Kaiser Offensive, the German’s last -ditch attempt to turn the tide of the war on the Western Front in 1918.

Thus the Dugan family lost three sons in 18 months of bloody fighting. As tragic as this seems, apparently some families in Britain lost as many as 5 sons between 1914 and 1918.


Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, World War One

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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Filed under Army, d-day, Navy, portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, World War Two

Flt Lt Patrick McCarthy DFC & Plt. Off. Alan Hargrave

A Bomber crew preparing for their next mission

A Bomber crew preparing for their next mission

One thing that my research into Portsmouth’s Second World War dead has shown is the sheer number of young men who were killed on operations whilst serving in the RAF, and in particular in Bomber Command. There were young men who were going into action night after night in the skies over Europe. Bomber Command lost more men killed than any other comparable command in the British armed forces during the war.

We tend to think of Portsmouth as being a naval town, which of course it is – we all know about the devastating loss of life caused by the sinkings of HMS Royal Oak, HMS Hood and HMS Barham. We are also perhaps more conscious of the armies role, especially as Portsmouth was the launchpad for D-Day.

Yet we hear very little about the young men of Portsmouth who were killed serving in the RAF. And they were overwhelmingly members of Bomber Command, killed in the strategic Bomber offensive during 1943 and 1944. They were mostly called-up servicemen, the peacetime RAF had expanded massively. They were also remarkably young – most were in their early to mid twenties. Not only were they going into action every night, but they were performing roles operating a complex aircraft – Pilots, Navigators, Wireless Operators, Flight Engineers, Air Bombers and Air Gunners.

Remarkably, two un-related Portsmouth men were killed on the same aircraft. Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy DFC (21 and from Southsea) and Pilot Officer Alan Hargrave (24 and from Portsmouth) were members of 7 Squadron, which operated Lancasters from Oakington. Crew members of PB148 MG-C ‘C for Charlie’, McCarthy was the Pilot and Hargrave the Navigator. Bomber Crews formed by a process of ‘palling-up’, so either McCarthy and Hargrave teamed up as two Portsmouth lads, or by a huge coincidence they found themselves on the same crew.

On an operation to bomb a target at Sterkrade in the Ruhr, 7 Squadron was in the Pathfinder role. C for Charlie, however, came to grief in the skies over Holland. There is no indication as to how the she was lost, but all of the crew are now buried in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery in Holland.

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, World War Two

Lance Corporal George Sullivan – the Portsmouth Chindit

A Chindit Mule Train moving through the Jungle

A Chindit Mule Train moving through the Jungle

Lance Corporal George Sullivan, 23 and from Cosham, died in Burma on 1 August 1943. He is buried in Rangoon War Cemetery in what is now known as Myanmar.

A member of the 13th Battalion of the Kings Regiment – a Regiment that normally recruited from the Liverpool area – he served on the first Chindit expedition, Operation Longcloth.

The Chindit Operations were the brainchild of Brigadier Orde Wingate, who had trialed forms of long range penetration warfare in East Africa. In Burma, he was given the 77th Indian Brigade to train as a force to fight behind Japanese lines. They were trained to be supplied by stores dropped by parachute, and to use a minimum of heavy equipment. The force was structured into a number of columns, instead of the usual Battalions.

Operation Longcloth was originally to have been part of a wider campaign in Burma. Despite the wider offensive being cancelled, Wingate was persuaded to take his men into the jungle anyway. Beginning their march into Burma on 8 February 1943, on 13 February they crossed the Chindwin River. They stayed in the Jungle until late March, when Wingate decided to withdraw. They had been fighting the Japanese continually, and had often had to leave their wounded behind. Much of their time was spent clearing paths through the dense jungle with kukris and machetes.

Of the 3,000 men who set off on the first Chindit expedition, 818 died. Those that returned had covered between 1,000 and 1,500 miles. Of those that returned only 600 were fit for further military service. It took many months for some of the survivors to return to British lines. Despite these huge losses, the principle of deep penetration warfare in the Jungle had been proven, and a much larger expedition was approved for 1944.

It is unclear how Lance Corporal Sullivan died. We know that he was a Prisoner of the Japanese, although POW records give no indication of when or where he was captured. However he met his fate, Lance Corporal Sullivan was part of one of the most legendary British units of the Second World War, and had taken part in a significant feat of arms.


Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, World War Two

War Cemeteries and young people

Tyne Cot War Cemetery, Belgium

Tyne Cot War Cemetery, Belgium

I was having a bit of a browse on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Website earlier today, and happened upon their excellent Respect micro-site, aimed at helping school parties gain the most out of their visits to War Cemeteries.

I was, however, shocked and disappointed to read a set of correspondence reproduced from the Bulletin of the Western Front Association. Now, I’m someone who was worked with young people before, and dealt with some bigoted and old-fashioned attitudes. But to read someone inferring a snobbery about visiting War Cemeteries is very sad indeed. I’ve written before about how these ridiculous arguments that ‘years ago everyone was respectful, now young people are yobs, its the end of the world as we know it’ are based on nothing more than prejudice.

I want to share an experience that I had visiting a War Cemetery as a young person. On a school trip to Arnhem in Holland, we were not even due to visit the Cemetery or the Museum. But when I told the teacher in charge that my Granddad had fought at Arnhem, the itinerary was changed. We went to the Museum. Now, initially this didn’t go down too well with most of the other people on the coach – not a bloody Museum! But when we got off the coach, one of the teachers stood everyone around, and explained about the Battle, and about my Granddad, and how important it was that we pay our respects. You could have heard a pin drop. I’ve never seen a group of kids so attentive in a Museum. At the end, some of the younger kids were even buying me things from the shop, and one even talked about how they wanted to join the Parachute Regiment. Then on to the Cemetery, everyone got off, and walked round the Cemetery in little groups, talking about the names, the ages, the fact that one of the graves had a Jewish Star of David on it. It was an incredible experience.

Make no mistake, this was a bunch of kids from what was at the time one of the worst schools in the country. Only months earlier the local bus company had banned Pupils in school uniform from getting on their buses. Yet this group, which included some of the most hardened tough-nuts in the school, behaved impeccably at Arnhem. What amazes me, looking back, is that the young people who were most interested and most respectful, were the ones who would have played up the most in the classroom. The were exactly the kind of young people who might have found themselves jumping out of Dakotas over Ginkel Heath. Yet if the gentleman in the article had his way, they wouldn’t have visited the Cemetery at all.

What does that teach us? Certainly it cautions us against assuming that all young people care not a jot for battlefield heritage. And also, that it is not only the public schoolkids that have respect for national heritage, but it is there in all young people too – it is just a case of finding it. It takes a more informal, young-people focussed aproach to do this. The National Curriculum has resulted in a ‘lost generation’ who have been spoonfeed turgid and mindnumbing versions of history. This is not their fault, yet it is a worrying trend that needs addressing.

As someone who has sat in a fair number of History lessons, I am the first to admit that it is one of the most uninspiring subjects when taught in a classroom, particularly if the teacher is lacking in dynamism. But take that same group of young people out for a walk round the battlefield, and to the Museums and the Cemeteries, and see how different they react.

The snobbery of suggesting that only a ‘genuine kind of pilgrim’ should visit war cemeteries is ludicrous. Like, only the ‘right kind of chap’ should be allowed to join a certain regiment. The many thousands of British and Commonwealth men buried in France and Belgium came from all walks of life, some of them were no doubt ‘genuine kinds of soldiers’ and some were surely rogues too. That is human nature. But they all paid the ultimate sacrifice all the same, a bullet neither knows nor cares whom it is killing. To suggest that some people are more worthy to visit War Cemeteries should be anathema for anyone with an interest in military history. If I found myself thinking like that, I would be ashamed.

It is so very important that we engage meaningfully with young people around wars and conflict. I feel that the real growth area for this is in informal learning projects, such as the Discovering D-Day Project ongoing at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s recent project on footballers in war. These kinds of projects meet young people on their level, rather than expecting them to subscribe to outdated ideas of learning.

So, instead of bleating on about young people, which is hardly helping matters, why not get involved and do something to help matters? Its no use moaning about something if you’re not prepared to make a difference yourself. I don’t mind people being critical, as long as they are constructive about it too.

It astounds me that there are military history enthusiasts out there who profess to have great respect for our war dead, yet in another breath talk about young people as ‘teenaged morons’.

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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.



Filed under Army, Navy, portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, Royal Marines, World War Two

Flying Officer Roy Cooper

How did the son of the original owner of much of Portsmouth come to be buried in Uganda?

Flying Officer Roy Cooper, 29 and from Paulsgrove, was serving with an unknown unit in the Royal Air Force when he died in Uganda on 28 October 1945. Exactly what he was doing there is unkown, but at that time much of Africa was still part of the British Empire and British forces were still serving in many places.

Before it was purchased by the council for the building of a Council estate, Paulsgove consisted of a few houses and several pig farms, the largest of which was owned by George Cooper, Roy Cooper’s father.

Flying Officer Roy Cooper is buried in Jinja War Cemetery, Uganda.


Filed under Local History, portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, World War Two

‘D-Day Dodgers’? Portsmouth’s war dead in Italy

Catania War Cemetery, Italy

Catania War Cemetery, Italy

When people think of the second world war in Europe, their attention tends to naturally gravitate towards D-Day, Arnhem, or maybe the Eastern Front. However, there was also a sigificant campaign fought in Italy, from the Invasion of Sicily late in 1942 through to VE Day on 8 May 1945. Statistics show that almost as many Portsmouth men died fighting in Italy as did in France on and after D-Day.

The war in Italy found various Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment fighting. The 1st, 2nd, 2/4th, 1/4th and 5th Battalions were all there at some point or other. The 1st and 2nd in particular would probably have been made up of pre-war soldiers, regulars who had joined up before 1939. And although local recruiting did fall away during wartime, it does seem that more Portsmouth men fought and died in the Hampshire Regiment than in any other infantry unit.

The war in Italy was a long, bloody war fought in varying conditions, and without the public attention of the battles in France, Belgium and Holland. In some quarters men who fought in Italy were often referred to as ‘D-Day Dodgers’. Arguments even raged amongst the Allied command as to how effective the war in Italy was. For an excellent appraisal of the war in Italy, have a look at Rick Atkinson’s ‘The Day of Battle’.

So far I have found these Portsmouth men who died in Italy while serving with the Hampshire Regiment: Private Frank Vaughan, Southsea; Corporal Alfred Buckner, 25 and from Cosham; Private Herbert Edwards, 19 and from Cosham; Lieutenant Rupert Deal, 31 and from Paulsgrove; Private Frank Osman, 25 and from Southsea; Lance Corporal Albert Vear, 22 and from Southsea; Lance Corporal Harry Adams, 24; Private Alexander Kinkead, 25 and from Southsea; and Private Victor Devine, 28 and from Buckland.

They are buried in War Cemteries up and down Italy, at Caserta, Catania, Minturno, Naples, Montecchio and Coriano Ridge.

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Pompey’s WW2 Paras

The Parachute Regiment

The Parachute Regiment

Many Portsmouth men served in the Parachute Regiment during the Second World War.

The Parachute Regiment was formed during the Second World War, after the Germans had used Airborne forces to great effect in the invasion of Holland and Belgium in 1940. Although initially Britian’s Airborne forces operated as small raiding parties, by the time it came to invade Europe in June 1944 the Airborne forces had expanded into 2 full Divisions, each of over 10,000 men. Each contained 2 Brigades of Parachute troops, and there was also an independent Parachute Battalion in the Mediterranean. The Parachute Regiment had expanded enormously to more than 10 Battalions.

During the war men could only volunteer for the Para’s from another unit, not directly from civilian life. They underwent strenuous physical training, and in addition had to complete a number of parachute jumps to obtain their parachute wings and additional pay. Naturally, they soon earned a reputation as among Britain’s toughest troops. The Germans nicknamed them ‘Der Roten Tefuel’ – the Red Devils. Field Marshal Montgomery paid the paras perhaps their most timeless tribute when he described them thus:

‘They are in fact, men apart. Every man an Emperor’

More Pompey paras are bound to emerge from the records as I carry on analysing the list of war dead, but here are some names and stories from among the first 600 names I have researched.

Private John Byng, 21, was killed in action in Tunisia on 11 March 1943, during the invasion of French North Africa. He was serving with the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, and had originally been a member of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. After serving in North Africa the Paras then went on to Italy, where Private George Bayton, 34 and from Southsea, was killed on 8 December 1943, fighting with the 4th Battalion. He joined the Paras from the East Surrey Regiment.

The Regiment suffered heavy losses on D-Day and in the subsequent battle of Normandy. Private Ronald Kent, 24, and from the 8th Battalion, was killed on D-Day. He had originally joined the Royal Artillery. In the heavy fighting after D-Day the 6th Airborne Division was in action right through until August 1944. Sergeant Frank Kempster, 30, was killed on 19 August 1944. He had previously been a member of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.

The famous battle at Arnhem also saw heavy losses. Corporal Thomas Bedford, age 22 and from Paulsgrove, was killed on 18 September 1944, the day that the 11th Battalion landed at Ginkel Heath. Bedford had previously been in the Royal Artillery. He was serving in the same battalion as my Grandad, Private Henry Miller, also from Portsmouth, who interestingly lived in Paulsgrove for almost 50 years after the war.

Finally, the 6th Airborne Division later saw service in action supporting the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945 and subsequently on until VE Day. Sergeant Sidney Cornell, 31, was killed on 7 April 1945, just over a month before the end of the war. He is buried at Becklingen in Germany, not far from the site where the Germans surrendered to Field Marshal Montgomery at Luneberg Heath. Although we do not know what unit he had served in prior to the Paras, he had been called up after September 1943, and thus was very new to the Army.

Sergeant Cornell was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery in action during the Battle of Normandy, when he was a Private and serving as his company runner in the 7th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. The DCM was second only to the Victoria Cross for bravery shown by non-officers. The recommendation for his DCM is available to download from the National Archives website, and I’ll quote from it here:

‘This soldier was one of the parachutists to land behind the German lines in Normandy on the night 5/6 June 1944. During the next five weeks he was in almost continuous action of a most trying and difficult nature. Cornell was a Company runner and has repeatedly carried messages through the most heavy and accurate enemy mortar and Machine Gun fire. Four times wounded in action this soldier has never been evacuated and carries on with his job cheerfully and efficiently. Very many acts of gallantry have been performed by members of the Battalion but for sustained courage nothing surpasses Cornell’s effort. His courage and many wounds have made him a well known and admired character throughout not only his own Battalion but the whole Brigade. Space does not permit a record of all his feats as he distinguished himself in practically every action and fighting took place daily. On 18th June 1944 his company carried out a raid on a strong enemy position in the Bois de Bavent area. The position was stronger than expected and the company was hard pressed and the wireless set destroyed. Cornell was sent back with a verbal message, he was wounded during the journey but carried on and delivered his message correctly and set off with the reply. He was wounded a second time on the return journey but again carried on and again delivered the message correctly. During the remained of this raid, and despite his two wounds, he was outstanding for his courage and dash. The courage and devotion to duty displayed by Cornell on this occasion was an inspiration to all who witnessed it. He has performed similar runs on countless occasions and, as has been pointed out before, has been wounded twice more but is still the runner for his company and is as cheerful as before. On 10 July 1944 his company again carried out a raid on the same area and again, as usual, Cornell’s complete disregard for his own safety became the chief topic of conversation amongst his fellow soldiers. He has never failed to deliver a message correctly despite the fact that he has carried through a perfect hail of enemy mortar bombs and shells and very frequently aimed Machine Gun fire as well. He is a truly magnificent parachutist and I cannot recommend him too highly for a decoration’.


Filed under Army, Arnhem, Local History, portsmouth heroes, World War Two

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.


Filed under Local History, portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, Royal Air Force, World War Two

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.


Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, World War Two

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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Filed under debate, News, politics, Remembrance, World War One, World War Two

War Graves young ambassador

War Graves Commission youth ambassador – July 2009 from War Graves Commission on Vimeo.

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!


Filed under Remembrance, World War One, World War Two