Portsmouth’s Senior Officers of WW2

Sir Roger Keyes

Sir Roger Keyes

The overwhelming majority of Portsmouth men and women who fought and died during the Second World War were ordinary servicemen – especially in the army and Royal Navy. The Royal Air Force was slightly different, as most aircrew were at least of Flight Sergeant rank, and most aircrew were commisioned as Officers.

The most senior Portsmouth person to die during the Second World War was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes. He died on 26 December 1945, aged 73. He is buried in Dover Cemetery in Kent. He is probably noted as having a Portsmouth connection as he had served as the city’s MP. His wartime career consisted of being Lord Louis Mountbatten’s predecessor as Chief of Combined Operations.

Funnily enough, so far I haven’t managed to find any other Royal Navy Officers from Portsmouth who were over the rank of Captain. I might have thought that being a Naval Town Portsmouth might have had its fair share of Naval Officers living here. I can only speculate that maybe they lived further afield.

The Royal Air Force, on the other hand, had a number of senior officer who came from Portsmouth.

Group Captain Gerard Hanly, 42 and from Cosham, died on 6 August 1942. He is buried at Habbaniya War Cemetery in Iraq. He was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and was obviously a senior Medical Officer. RAF Habbaniya was a vital base in Iraq, a country that had seen an attempted pro-Nazi coup in 1941.

Wing Commander Frank Dixon-Wright DFC, age 31 and from Southsea, was killed on 27 July 1942. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. The commander of 115 Squadron, he was flying in Wellington BJ615 on a raid on Hamburg. He and his crew were presumed lost in the North Sea. His DFC was Gazetted on 2 September 1941 for attacks on the German Warships Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen, which were berthed at Brest and La Pallice. These raids were executed in daylight, and in the face of heavy and accurate Anti-Aircraft fire and enemy fighters.

In terms of Army Officers, another interesting trend appears. So far Portsmouth seems to have had a healthy number of junior officers – Lieutenants, Captains and Majors – but no senior officers of Lieutenant-Colonel or above. There is a plausible explanation for this. Men who were given emergency commisions to serve as officers during the war only were very likely to have been junior officers. Therefore, it is possible that quite a few Portsmouth men joined the army as emergency officers, whereas most regular and senior Army officers probably lived in or nearer Garrison towns, such as Aldershot.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the social context of wartime service.


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

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