Archive

Stories behind the names

There’s an interesting article on the BBC News website today about a mountainous region of North West Pakistan called Waziristan.  Bordering Afghanistan, Waziristan is known to be occupied by pro-Taleban and al-Qaeda militants and is believed by some to be the hiding place of Osama Bin Laden.

Back in 1919, when a young officer in the British Army, Captain Francis Stockdale, was stationed in the region, Waziristan was no less dangerous.  Stockdale wrote a book about his experiences called ‘Walk Warily in Waziristan‘, which was published by his family in the 1980s.  Many of the local tribesmen were hostile and regularly attacked British troops and encampments.  Unfortunately they were also renowned as excellent shots.  The area was remote and inhospitable, a terrain of barren mountains and ravines, where temperatures could rise as high as 55°C (131°F).  Not without reason was it known as ‘Hell’s door knocker’.

Read more from BBC News

Running up the engine of Bristol F2B Fighter Mark II at Dardoni, before taking off on a bombing sortie to Spinwam in North Waziristan, early 1923.The British employed modern warfare techniques  against the tribesmen, using planes such as this Bristol F2B MkII fighter to drop bombs.

We have a good number of memorials that refer to Waziristan.  17 have been recorded so far, dating between 1894 to 1937, which indicate just how dangerous the region could be. 

A plaque in St Giles Church, Wrexham, remembers 18 men of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers who lost their lives on active service in Waziristan between 1920 and 1923.

Others, like Captain Stockdale, lived to tell the tale.  One such was Major Charles Davies Vaughan DSO, who served in Waziristan in 1894, as well as in South Africa during the Boer War, but died at Gallipoli in April 1915, at the age of 46.  A memorial to Major Vaughan can be found St Michaels Church, Ystrad, Wales.

It’s 90 years to the day that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were merged to form the Royal Air Force (RAF).   There are a great many war memorials that commemorate the members and actions of the RAF – over 800 if we search the database for ‘RAF’.

One notable, recent memorial (unveiled in 2005) is the Battle of Britain Memorial on Victoria Embankment, London.  It features friezes cast in bronze depicting scenes from the Battle, during 1940.  These include: pilots at rest; members of the Observer Corps watching for an attack; ground crews arming hurricanes; pilots scrambling; pilots sharing stories in the mess hall; hop pickers in Kent watching an aerial battle; anti-aircraft gunners; women working in an aircraft factory; a pilot closely pursued by a Luftwaffe plane; St Paul’s Cathedral surrounded by smoke from the Blitz; people searching the ruins after an air raid; and a family making tea in an Anderson shelter.   The memorial also lists the names of 2935 members of the RAF who served or died during the Battle of Britain.

Battle of Britain Memorial

Also in London, you will find many RAF memorials in St Clement Danes church.  The church was gutted by fire in 1941 and rebuilt by the RAF to become their central church, commemorating personnel killed on active service.

Another very significant memorial is the Air Forces Memorial to the Missing at Runnymede, built and managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  It is a large shrine that commemorates over 20,000 airmen by name, who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves.

On a window of the shrine, is a poem written by Paul H Scott.

The first rays of the dawning sun
Shall touch its pillars,
And as the day advances
And the light grows stronger,
You shall read the names
Engraved on the stone
Of those who sailed on the angry sky
And saw harbour no more
No gravestone in yew-dark churchyard
Shall mark their resting place
Their bones lie in the forgotten corners
Of earth and sea.
But, that we may not lose their memory
With fading years, their monument stands here,
Here, where the trees troop down to Runnymede.
Meadow of Magna Carta, field of freedom,
Never saw you so fitting a memorial,
Proof that the principals established here
Are still dear to the hearts of men.
Here they now stand, contrasted and alike,
The field if freedom’s birth, and the memorial
To freedom’s winning.

As the evening comes,
And mists, like quiet ghosts, rise from the river bed,
And climb the hill to wander through the cloisters,
We shall not forget them. Above the mist
We shall see the memorial still, and over it
The crown and single star. And we shall pray
As the mists rise up and the air grows dark
That we may wear
As brave a heart as they.

The Castle and Regimental Museum, Monmouth, is a small volunteer-run museum which tells the story of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia). The museum displays a wide range of artefacts relating to the Regiment, which can trace its origins back to the militia of the sixteenth century. It also holds the records of the Regiment, which cover the
period 1786-1976, and contain much fascinating information on the Regiment and on the men who served in it.

Among the records in the archive are several Regimental rolls and some very detailed enlistment registers, which record not just names and ages of recruits, but where they came from and their height and physical appearance and occupation. Information from these has been put online as a searchable database, so that family historians and others can look for individuals who they think may have been members of the Regiment or its predecessor, the Monmouthshire Militia.

So far, information from an enlistment register for 1786-1816 and a (much less detailed) Regimental Roll for 1914-1916 is online – over 3000 names in all. A further 3500 should be available shortly.  It’s worth noting that members of the Regiment didn’t just come from Monmouthshire.  Those listed in the early enlistment register came from various parts of south Wales and the West Country; by the First World War, the Regiment was drawing recruits from all parts of England and Wales.

The website can be found at http://www.monmouthcastlemuseum-archives.org.uk.  As well as the database of members of the Regiment, it has information on the archive and a selection of some of the fascinating photographs in the museum’s collection.

Lazare Ponticelli, the last surviving French veteran from the First World War, has died at the age of 110.  He is expected to received a state funeral and France will declare a national day of remembrance. 

Italian troops, 1916Ponticelli was born in Italy in 1897, but moved to France as a child.  At the outbreak of the First World War he lied about his age in order to join the French Foreign Legion, however by 1915 – when Italy entered the war – he was forced to join the Italian Army. 

He served as a machinegunner, fighting on the Austrian front where he was both wounded and gassed during the course of the war.  He eventually took French citizenship and remained there for the rest of his life, running a successful piping business.

Read more from The Times

Today’s blog post was written by one of our volunteers, Richard.

‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend…’

Wilfred Owen ‘Strange Meeting’

The reference in an earlier blog post to memorials to nationals of enemy countries may seem strange, although in recent times new memorials have been erected with inscriptions intended not to cause offence by referring to all victims of war or conflict.

While such inscriptions may seem colourless, if well-intended, they do recognize that the advance of technology during the twentieth century rendered civilian populations in wartime vulnerable to an unprecedented extent. So for example small children killed in Dresden or Hiroshima were as blameless as their counterparts in a Poplar school killed in a German air raid on London’s docklands in 1917. (Click to see memorial record)

Distinct from this, there is the recognition that it’s advisable for all concerned for there to be some constraints on the conduct of war, and part of this is the respect, including war memorials, paid to the enemy’s dead: some examples were quoted previously.

Another example is the memorial to French prisoners of war at Norman Cross on the A1 in Cambridgeshire. Significantly this was not unveiled until nearly a century after Waterloo, not long after the Entente Cordiale and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. Some Napoleonic memorials, however, are rather earlier such as the one at HM Prison, Dartmoor, and one now at Chatham. On this one part of the inscription refers to ‘...many brave soldiers and sailors who…have been laid in an honourable grave by a nation which knows how to respect valour and to sympathise with misfortune.’

From the First World War a German teacher is commemorated on a memorial at Manchester Grammar School. At Oxford at the insistence of the Warden of New College, Dr Spooner (he of the spoonerism), a tablet to three German students was unveiled in the 1920s, amid some controversy. 

Recent research has established that Gerhard Brumund, included on the Great Central Railway’s memorial at Sheffield was born in Germany. He was killed when that company’s steamship SS Leicester hit a mine in the English Channel and sank in 1916.

The last moments of the the German Army's airship, SL 11, in flames above HertfordshireSome enemies died in the skies over Britain. In the First World War, SL11 a German Army airship, was shot down over Cuffley in Hertfordshire in 1916 by Lt William Leefe Robinson. He was awarded the VC for ‘most conspicuous bravery’ in attacking the first German airship destroyed on British soil. The crew of SL11 were buried with full military honours at Potters Bar, the vicar of Cuffley having refused them burial. The photo opposite shows the last moments of SL 11, in flames above Hertfordshire. In 1967 the graves of Germans who died in Britain during the two world wars, including the crew of SL11, were concentrated at the Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire.

At King’s Somborne in Hampshire is a small memorial to the crew of a Luftwaffe plane downed in 1940. A more substantial Second World War memorial at St Peter’s Italian church in central London commemorates enemy aliens, both Italian and German, lost when the Arandora Star carrying them to internment in Canada was torpedoed in 1940 by the German submarine U47. As a reminder that political alliances are not necessarily unchanging, the same church has a memorial to its members in the war of 1915-1918 (sic) killed at a time when Italy was one of Britain’s allies.

Following up on the story we covered yesterday (the new award issued to members of the Air Transport Auxiliary who served during the Second World War) there is an interesting interview on the BBC website with Margaret Frost, one of the women pilots who served in the ATA.  Click to read the full interview

Margaret said:

“It is marvellous to get the recognition but I also feel very embarrassed about it all really because there are so few of us left.  I should think that the original girls who started it all would be turning in their graves now at all the fuss.  When the war was all over people just went their own way and didn’t want any recognition. That was just the way it was.  Nobody wanted any fuss they just did what was needed doing at the time and after the war got back on with their lives.”

This is typical of the attitude of many others after the Second World War and can also been seen in the approach to war memorials.  We have written before about how people’s attitudes to memorials changed markedly after the Second World War.  The desire to erect elaborate memorials, such as had been seen after the First World War, was replaced with a preference for ‘functional’ memorials or even none at all.  Click to read full post

Pauline Gower (far left), Commandant of the Women's Section of the ATA with the eight other founding female ATA pilotsMembers of the Air Transport Auxiliary – pilots who ferried planes in the Second World War – are to receive a new award recognising their contribution to the war effort.

Read more from BBC News

The ATA was made up of trained pilots who were ineligible for a combat flying role.  This included men who were too old or unfit,  women and foreign nationals.  Among them were pilots like Stuart Keith-Jopp, a 50-year-old First World War veteran who’d lost an arm and one eye.  In all 1,152 men and 166 women served as pilots, with a number of engineers and ground crew.  Thirty different nationalities were represented.

The ATA ferried training aircraft, fighters and bombers around the country on behalf of the RAF, often flying aircraft they had little experience with.  The most qualified pilots were expected to fly up to 147 different types of aircraft.  They had no radios and little in the way of instruments, making flying in bad weather particularly hazardous.  German fighters were also a very serious threat as the planes were invariably unarmed.

Over 150 members of the ATA were killed and a small number of war memorials record their service.  These include a tablet in St Paul’s Cathedral, unveiled in 1950 and a recently unveiled memorial stone at Manchester Airport Memorial Gardens.

The photo above dates from 1939 and shows the first nine women pilots in the ATA.  At the far left is Pauline Gower, the Commandant of the women’s section.  She was a commercial pilot before the war and was instrumental in the decision to allow women to fly in the ATA.  Sadly she died in 1947, shortly after giving birth.

The other members (left to right) are Mrs Winifred Crossley, Miss M Cunnison, The Hon. Mrs Fairweather, Miss Mona Friedlander, Miss Joan Hughes, Mrs G Paterson, Miss Rosemary Rees and Mrs Marion Wilberforce.  

The founding members all survived the war, with the exception of Flight Captain Margaret Fairweather, who was killed in August 1944.  Margaret had been the first woman to fly a Spitfire.  Her husband, Captain Douglas Fairweather, was also an ATA pilot and was killed four months before his wife.  They are buried together in a joint grave tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

A memorial service has been held in the English Channel to mark the anniversary of the ‘Channel Dash’Watch a report about the service from BBC News.

The Channel Dash is the name given to an action that took place during the Second World War.  For several months, from early 1941, three German ships (the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen) had been trapped in the French port of Brest, where they were subjected to heavy bombing by the RAF. 

On 12 February 1942, RAF Spitfires reported that the German ships were making a break for the safety of a North German port.  The British hastily assembled a force of six Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers.  These were slow and vulnerable aircraft.  To have any success reaching and attacking the German ships they would need a large escort of fighter planes.  Unfortunately the Spitfire squadrons were too far away and speed in launching the attack was critial.  Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde – who was in command of the Swordfish bombers – made the decision to go after the German ships with a small escort of just ten Spitfires.

The RAF Station Commander at Manston said of Esmonde:

“He knew what he was going into. But it was his duty. His face was tense and white. It was the face of a man already dead. It shocked me as nothing has ever done since.”

 German Messerschmitts engaged the Spitfires soon after they had set out and the Swordfish were left on their own.  They approached the German ships, under heavy attack from the fighter planes escorting them.  Some were able to drop their torpedoes, although none made contact with the ships.  All six Swordfish were shot down with the loss of 13 of the 18 crew.  Those 18 crew were decorated for their part in the action, with Esmonde receiving a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Further attacks were launched by Royal Navy ships and RAF fighters and bombers but the German ships were able to reach safety.  It did however mean that the German navy was never again able to launch attacks on Atlantic convoys from Western French ports.

The German battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU travel in a line with their guns firing, allegedly taken during their escape from Brest, known as the 'Channel Dash' on 12 February 1942

This photo shows the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau travelling in a line with their guns firing.  It is believed to have been taken during the Channel Dash on 12 February 1942.

Read a detailed report on the action from the Ministry of Defence

There are a few memorials commemorating this action.  These include a wooden memorial board in Manston, Kent. It reads:

THE FLEET AIR ARM CREWS OF/ 825 SWORDFISH SQUADRON WHO LOST THEIR LIVES/ IN THE “CHANNEL DASH ACTION” AGAINST/ THE GERMAN BATTLESHIPS/SCHARNHORST, GNEISENAU AND CRUISER PRINZ EUGEN/ FEBRUARY 12TH 1942/ (NAMES)/ 825 SQUADRON WAS TEMPORARILY BASED HERE AT/ RAF MANSTON AND THE OPERATION TOOK OFF FROM HERE/PRESENTED BY THE EAST KENT BRANCH/ FLEET AIR ARM ASSOCIATION

HMS Belfast, now a floating museum and a branch of the Imperial War Museum, was later involved with the sinking of the Scharnhorst, on Boxing Day 1943.

Richard, one of our volunteers, writes the following…

The American Major Olmsted’s contemplation of his own death on active service sent me searching for an example from an earlier conflict.

When a young naval lieutenant, David Tinker, was sent to the Falklands he requested that if he were to be buried in earth the following be inscribed on his grave: 

“He wears
The ungathered blossom of quiet; stiller he
Than a deep well at noon, or lovers met,
Than sleep, or the heart after wrath. He is
The silence following great words of peace.”

Although Lt Tinker was familiar with the work of Wilfred Owen (whose unsentimental war poetry has been more in favour in modern times), it is interesting to note that the quotation is from the work of a poet often regarded as more idealistic and patriotic, Rupert Brooke’s ‘Fragments written during the voyage to Gallipoli April 1915’. (see A Message from the Falklands: The Life and Gallant Death of David Tinker, Lieut. R.N., compiled in 1982 by his father, Professor Hugh Tinker).

                             

Damage to the port side and helicopter hangar HMS GLAMORGAN caused by an Argentine Exocet missile on 12 June 1982.In the event, David Tinker was killed by the Exocet attack on HMS GLAMORGAN on 12 June 1982, and buried at sea with twelve of his comrades the same day. 

                          

Consequently, it is only with the recent unveiling of the Armed Forces Memorial that he is officially commemorated, although he appears on local memorials at Great Hampden (Buckinghamshire) and Clungunford (Shropshire).  The losses on HMS GLAMORGAN are commemorated by a window in Portsmouth Cathedral and on the Falklands Naval memorial on Plymouth Hoe.

  

——————————————————————————————————————-

The photograph above shows the damage to the port side and helicopter hangar of the destroyer HMS GLAMORGAN caused by an Argentine Exocet missile on 12 June 1982.  The missile was launched from a land-based mobile launcher near Port Stanley, some 18 miles away. Radar systems failed to detect the missile but in the few seconds available after making visual contact, GLAMORGAN was able to turn rapidly and the missile struck the hangar instead of the ship’s side. Thirteen lives were lost but the damage failed to put GLAMORGAN out of action, making her the first British warship to survive an Exocet missile strike.