Work has been progressing steadily on my Portsmouth Heroes project. At the moment I am researching a handful of some of the most interesting stories in detail, right down to when they were born, what kind of a background they came from, absolutely everything I can find out about them in order to try and understand what makes them tick.
I can remember reading Supreme Courage by Sir Peter de la Billiere, which is a fascinating profile of a number of Victoria Cross winners. DLB doesn’t just state the bare facts, he tries to get into the minds of the men in question, and explains how the came to show such inspiring bravery. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve here, only looking at Portsmouth men. Who stories, I hope, will be more accessible to local people.
Recently I have been researching:
- Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth, a First World War veteran who served for years in submarines, transferred to B0mb Disposal and was killed defusing a Parachute Mine during the Blitz. He was awarded one of the first George Crosses posthumously.
- Sergeant Sidney Cornell, a Paratrooper who won the Distinguished Conduct Medal in Normandy, fought in the Ardennes and the Rhine Crossing and was killed in the final battle for Germany in April 1945.
- Lance Corporal Leslie Webb, a member of the 1st Hampshire Regiment who was mortally wounded landing in the first wave on D-Day, and was awarded a posthumous Military Medal.
- Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan, a Battle of Britain pilot who fought in the Battle of France, over Dunkirk and over southern England, claiming at least 6 downed enemy aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In August a Westland Lysander he was flying over northern France on a secret operation vanished.
- Major Robert Easton, a pre-war Lancashire Fusilier who transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps, and won a Distinguished Service Order in the battles around Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944. He was killed while second in command of his Regiment later that year.
- Wing Commander John Buchanan, a Bomber pilot who flew early missions against Nazi Germany, then transferred to flying Beaufighters in North Africa and from Malta, where he commanded Squadrons. He was killed in the Mediterranean in 1944, after being awarded a Distinguished Service Order, a Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar and a Belgian Croix de Guerre.
- Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey, a young Destroyer commander who saw action escorting convoys in the North Sea, Channel and Atlantic, took part in evacuating Dutch officials in 1940, and then saw service in the Mediterranean, escorting Convoys to Malta and attacking Axis shipping to North Africa. He was killed when his ship was sunk off Tobruk in May 1942. He was awarded the DSO, a DSC and was mentioned in despatches three times.
Its amazing how much you can find out. Navy, Army and Air Force lists are a godsend for tracing the careers of officers. Other ranks are slightly more tricky. Medal winners are easier too, as awards were announced in the London Gazette and you can obtain citations from the National Archives. The Portsmouth Evening News is very useful, but on microfilm it can take an age to trawl through! You can also get long-serving sailors and marines records from TNA too. A lengthy trip to the National Archives is in the offing, and probably the Imperial War Museum as well. And I can feel a few interlibrary loans in the offing too!
There are some other men I am keen to research too – such as Colour Sergeant Willie Bird of the Royal Marines, Petty Officer Frank Collison and Electrical Artificer Arthur Biggleston of HM Submarine Triumph, Battery Quartermaster Sergeant Stanley Thayer and Major Maurice Budd. Then there are the interesting stories such as the Venables brothers who were killed in the same plane crash, Private Bobby Johns the underage Para, the massive losses on the Battleships Royal Oak, Hood and Barham, the POW’s in Europe and South East Asia, the brothers who died during the war, the Boy Seamen, the men who were killed on the SS Portsdown, the Merchant Seamen and NAAFI personnel, WAAFs, Wrens and ATS girls…
If there any stories that I have forgotten, or if anyone has any information about any of these men, or would like to chip in on anything about the whole project, I’m all ears. It’s hard knowing who to focus on, as with the best will in the world it would take me forever to research all 2,000+ men in such detail, and I’m hoping to take a representative sample of men and women who could have been anyone from Portsmouth.