Category Archives: History

Victor Comic and me (5)

On the front and back covers, Victor would always have the story of a brave man, or a number of brave men. I can well remember this edition of Victor, Number 25, arriving at our house. It tells the story of the courageous South African, John Nettleton VC, who led a brave daytime attack on the MAN Diesel works in Augsburg. Seven of the Lancasters were shot down, and at least 37 men were killed:

The drawings are seldom completely regular in Victor. The top of the next row is often visible in the frame above.

Here is the next frame, thumbs up, and everybody happy to set off on their desperate mission:

The bombers flew low and this is emphasised by the old cliché of horses being frightened. Sometimes, hats are blown off, but not today:

The agility of the fighters compared to the bombers is often emphasised by the different angles at which the two aircraft are flying. The sinister nature of the German fighter pilot is underlined by his lack of kindly eyes. Instead his evil eyes are masked by his goggles. Nobody in the RAF ever covers his eyes with his goggles:

In real life, operations like this one were always costly in lives. And a bomber pilot could take more than two years to train and it was an extremely expensive process. The story, though, makes the reader feel better by mentioning heavy German losses among the fighter pilots. That ignores, however, the fact that each bomber had seven men in it, and on average, when there was a terminal situation in a Lancaster, fewer than two of that seven would survive. And the fighter pilot, if he were shot down, would parachute down onto German soil. With luck, he could be back flying only three or four hours later:

This is the worst bit of a raid, flying straight and level just before the bombs were dropped:

This type of attack seldom had great effects and the effects it did have were seldom long lasting. The American bombing of the ball bearing works at Schweinfurt and of the oil wells at Ploesti in Rumania would fall into this category and people still argue about the Dambusters raid:

A thousand feet is not very high. And one or two of those Lancasters at the back seem to be morphing into B-24 Liberators:

It would have been one hell of a long way back, with, presumably, all of the German fighters knowing that the surviving Lancasters would be coming past any time soon:

And now came the question which is always asked around the time when the bombers are scheduled to arrive back at base. “How many are left?”

The British and the Americans always seemed to overestimate vastly the effect of their bombs on these specialised missions, especially early on in the conflict. Investigations after the war revealed that at Augsburg only 8 machine tools were destroyed out of 2,700. Of 558 cranes, just 5 were destroyed:

What cannot be denied is the bravery of every single crewman and the huge effect that this raid had on morale. Nettleton toured widely, addressing meetings both in Britain and in North America. Here is a news film of the time about the raid:

John Nettleton was killed on his way back from Turin after a bombing raid on July 13th 1943. Luftwaffe fighters were scrambled as the returning bombers passed over Brittany in the early hours of daylight. It is believed that an Fw190 shot his Lancaster down over the sea. Nettleton’s body has never been found. Much to my amazement, the Nettleton School in Braeside, Harare, in Zimbabwe, still exists. I need to be less cynical.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

A young German dies (1)

Death in war is very strange.  As kindly old Uncle Joe Stalin used to say, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” He would frequently ease his constantly untroubled conscience with wise old peasant maxims like that one.

The Russian means “Glory to the Great Stalin!”

Let’s just take a look at a million deaths and a single death.

This account isn’t quite a million deaths but it makes a good contribution to the overall total. These are the statistics about a single night during the Second World War. They are taken from “The Bomber Command War Diaries and Operational Reference Book 1939 to 1945” by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt.” This is one of the best, if not the best, reference work about the activities of Bomber Command. It is not in the slightest bit gung-ho. It is factual and leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind. And it relates the death toll both in the air and on the ground.

“April 22-23, 1944.  Düsseldorf bombed by 596 aircraft….323 Lancasters, 254 Halifaxes, 19 Mosquitoes.  29 aircraft… 16 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters were lost, 4.9% of the force.”

In those 29 bombers, a minimum of 134 men were killed.

“2150 tons of bombs were dropped in this heavy attack which caused much destruction but also allowed the German night fighter force to penetrate the bomber stream. Widespread damage was caused on the ground. Among the statistics in the local report are: 56 large industrial premises hit, of which seven were completely destroyed, more than 2000 houses destroyed or badly damaged”:

“Casualties recorded by 2 PM on April 25th were 883 people killed, 593 injured and 403 still to be dug out of wrecked buildings ; at least three quarters of this last figure would have been dead.”

For my single death, I will go to the programmes of Norm Christie, one of my very favourite presenters of historical programmes on TV:

Christie always presents the Canadian point of view, which is very often different, and may well be a lot less favourable to the British ruling classes than, say, the BBC one.  One of his best programmes contained a portrayal of Arthur Currie, the leader of the Canadian forces in World War One and a man from very humble origins. He changed the face of warfare at the time. I realised that Norm Christie would have some interesting ideas when he contrasted a photograph of Haig’s Generals with one of Currie. Do you see what makes Currie a man apart?

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And Norm Christie is not directly related to an officer involved in masterminding the carnage of the First World War. At least one regular television presenter can’t say that and I refuse to watch any programmes he has made. To be continued.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, France, History, Politics

Victor Comic and me (4)

This time in Victor, it’s Coastal Command. Patrolling the Ocean Blue in their aircraft and bombing U-boats. Until the German anti aircraft gunners take a hand….

And that single event, that single exploding shell, seems to put a very abrupt end to all of the crew’s sentiments about peace on earth which might be talked about in church on a Sunday morning . We are moved on very quickly from love for our fellow man to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth! And what about the words of the world’s most misspelled holy man, Gandhi? An eye for an eye and the whole world is blind?  All those lovely thoughts are completely knocked on the head. Literally. Vengeance is the order of the day. Just listen to what he says…..

And the next frame asks some very pertinent questions about staffing levels in the wartime RAF.

If we don’t need a bomb-aimer, then why did we bring one?

He could have been at home, spending his afternoon with his stamp album and his hinges, sticking in that German set with ships on, rather than bombing the real thing….

Aircraft recognition anyone? Well, it’s a Consolidated PBY Catalina, dropping old oil drums on a U-boat…..

No real man likes a hand placed tenderly on his shoulder, even if he’s wounded.

Leave me alone and go and look after Jack, we’ve all been very worried about him…..

I’ve spent my whole life being a facetious commentator on life.

In actual fact, I am a great admirer of Victor comic and even as an adult, I can see lots of positive teachings within its heavily serrated pages.

Soooooo…it will be a Victor true story with no facetiousness whatsoever next time. Well, only a teeny weeny bit.

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The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (5)

A few days after I finished writing this blog post, I was wandering across the Internet when I came across an auction webpage called “The Saleroom” which featured a copy of my programme but in much, much, better condition:

The programme had no autographs but did have some team changes written on it, in pencil, of course:

The first one revealed that the RAF goalkeeper may not have been Corporal Timms but “Hardwick England”

I have taken this to refer to Ken Hardwick who played for Rossington Colliery, Doncaster Rovers (308 appearances), Scunthorpe United (96 appearances) and Barrow (12 appearances). He never played for England but he did suffer one of the cruellest and shameful things ever experienced by a footballer. It occurred in a letter which he received out of the blue about an England appearance. In 1955, he was invited by the FA to play for England, but it was for the Under 23 team and George was, by then, 30 years old. Well, done the Football Association, always with their eye on the ball! Here’s Ken, in his younger days:

Alternatively, the best fit for “Hardwick England” might conceivably be George Hardwick of Middlesbrough and Oldham. He had 13 England caps, some as captain, but he was a left full back, rather than a goalkeeper. Here he is, on a cigarette card which he has autographed in later life:

It’s difficult to imagine, though, that Griffiths of Manchester City would not have changed position to accommodate somebody as important as George Hardwick, ex-Captain of England. Having said that, most professional outfield players would be able to play as goalkeeper in a charity game without too many problems. Perhaps George was just amused by the idea, so he had a go in the atmosphere of universal happiness that must have been in the air for all of that First Day of Peace in Europe.

In actual fact, George Hardwick was considered Middlesbrough’s greatest ever player and they have a statue of him outside their stadium:

Near “Thompson” something has been written and it appears to me to be “Hall Spurs”:

This may be Albert E B. Hall, an outside right, who, between 1935-1947, had appeared 81 times for Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs, as they are better known by their fans, scoring 22 goals.

It may be Fred W. Hall who appeared 23 times  between 1944-1946.

It may be G Willie Hall, an inside right who managed 376 appearances, with 45 goals scored, between 1932-1944. He was actually a fairly local man, born in Newark in Nottinghamshire.

It may have been Jack Hall. This is the least likely because all of Jack’s 67 appearances between 1936-1946 came as a goalkeeper.

Overall though, this is a singular lesson in the value of including an initial!

Near ‘Chapman’ there is something written. If this programme was ever owned by a little boy, the little boyish handwriting says “lost 4-7” but this is far from definite in my mind. Other figures are written in near both Carter and Doherty but I really don’t know what they are:

What I need, of course, is a newspaper report, but that’s easier said than done!

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Derby County, Football, History, Personal

To bale out or not to bale out? (8)

Last time, I  told the story of how, on November 3rd 1943, Lancaster LM360, O for Oscar, took off from its base at RAF Syerston, piloted by 21 year old Flight Lieutenant William Reid. He and his crew were intending to bomb industrial facilities near Düsseldorf.

During the operation they were attacked at first by a Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 night fighter:

And then a Focke Wulf Fw 190 single seat, single engined night fighter:

During the latter attack, Flight Sergeant John Alan Jeffreys, the Navigator, was killed outright.

As I told you, for his bravery, Bill Reid received the Victoria Cross. Here is the citation which I hope will not upset too many people by my quoting it, albeit in shortened form:

“Air Ministry, 14th December, 1943.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

.
Acting Flight Lieutenant William REID, No. 61 Squadron.

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Reid was pilot of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.
Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. The rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately but after a brief delay he managed to return fire and the Messerschmitt was driven off.
During the fight, Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were out of action. Reid ascertained that his crew  were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.
Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke Wulf 190. The enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator and the wireless operator were killed. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though wounded, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.
Reid refused to turn back and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. Reid had memorised his course continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer knew nothing of his captain’s injuries. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.
Steering by the pole star and the moon, Reid set course for home. Weak from loss of blood, the oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He became semiconscious. The flight engineer and the bomb-aimer kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.
The North Sea was crossed and an airfield was sighted. The captain recovered, resumed control and prepared to land. Ground mist obscured the runway lights and he had lots of blood getting into his eyes. He made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed.
Wounded twice, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator and wireless operator dead, the aircraft crippled, Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating 200 miles into enemy territory to attack such a strongly defended target, every mile increasing the hazards of the long and dangerous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.”

On July 31st 1944, Bill was busy on a different mission, flying with his crew at 12,000 ft over the target, a V-weapon storage facility at Rilly-la-Montagne, not too far from Rheims. He was in an Avro Lancaster Serial Number ME557, Squadron Letters KC-S. At this point, Bill had left 61 Squadron and was flying with the glamorous 617 “Dambusters” Squadron. On this occasion, they were using Tallboy, 12,000 lb, bombs. Here’s one I photographed earlier:

Suddenly, Bill’s bomber was hit by another Tallboy bomb, released by an aircraft some 6,000 feet above him. It hit his Lancaster in the fuselage, causing catastrophic damage. Bill gave the order to bale out. That was not a straight forward action for Bill as the G-forces initially pinned him down in his seat. Just in the nick of time, he baled out, but because of the low altitude, he hit the ground with some force and broke his arm. A group of German soldiers had seen the whole thing, including the Lancaster’s spectacular splitting in two in mid-air, and they took Bill prisoner.

Not everybody escaped the Grim Reaper, however:

Flight Sergeant Donald George William Stewart, the Flight Engineer, was buried in Germaine Communal Cemetery some 25 miles north west of Chalons en Champagne. This was close to where the aircraft fell. Donald was just 27 years old and before the war, he had worked for Southern Railways, cleaning locomotives. He too, though, had answered the Call of the Skies, being a keen member of Redhill Flying Club.

The navigator, Flying Officer Joseph Ovila Peltier, a French Canadian was 26 years old. He was the son of René and Emilie Renaud Peltier from Windsor in Ontario and the husband of Lillian Ilene Peltier also from Windsor. He was buried in Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery at Hautot-Sur-Mer.

The bomb aimer, Pilot Officer Leslie George Rolton was the son of Olander Rolton, and of Elizabeth Rolton from Romford in Essex. He was only 22 years old, and was buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery on the northern periphery of Paris:

The wireless operator, Flying Officer David Luker became a prisoner of war in two different camps, Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria, the same camps as Bill Reid.

The mid-upper gunner, Flight Sergeant Albert Arthur Holt was 31 years of age and the son of Henry Holt and Florence Elizabeth Holt. He was the husband of Gladys Maude Holt from Douglas on the Isle of Man. He was buried at Clichy, in the same plot as Leslie Rolton but not absolutely next to him as far as I can ascertain.

The rear gunner, Warrant Officer John William Hutton was also buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery. His grave is next to that of Albert Holt.

Bill Reid died in 2001. His family sold his medals at auction where they realised a record price for a Victoria Cross of £335,000. They included a 1939-1945 Star, an Air Crew Europe Star, a War Medal, a 1953 Coronation Medal and a 1977 Jubilee Medal:

 

 

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Victor Comic and me (3)

I would be the first to admit that Victor could sound a little clichéd on occasion:

But the British always overcame every problem. Only two British guns and 132 German tanks. Don’t worry! We’ll get ’em all! And make sure you don’t miss any!!

Tank recognition classes can now put their knowledge into practice. The men who drew these tanks had probably seen them for real:Disaster strikes. But the British are used to recovering from disaster and muddling through. Norway. Dunkirk. HMS Hood. Greece. Malaya. Singapore. Tobruk. Countless cricket matches against Australia. Penalty shoot outs in football. God knows, we’ve had the practice:Let’s be honest. A great many of the comic’s drawings  have something hackneyed, or even ridiculous, hiding away inside them. Not to mention exaggeration. Whoever saw a hole in a ship that big?Still, at least the German officer in the next frame doesn’t say “to ze vaterland” :Contrast the British approach below. In the kayak, two commandos, who are perfectly well aware that Hitler’s personal order was that if they were captured, they would be shot. This was the “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here. The man on the submarine, though, might as well be offering to take their letters to the Post Office for them. “Right! Thank you! And could you see if they are still selling those cough sweets I like? Just get me a couple of packets, would you, old chap?”

More irreverence next time.

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The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (4)

Last time I talked about an old football programme. It was for a match played one day after the war ended in Europe, May 9th 1945. The programme was for “Gresley Rovers (Selected) v RAF”.  The top two stars in the RAF team were Raich Carter and Peter Doherty.  Here is the RAF team:

And here is the Gresley defence:

The next section shows the Gresley forwards, the ones below the black spot of the centre circle:

J Illsley, the outside right, signed for the club in October 1941 and made his first team debut on October 4th 1941 against Quorn Methodists (won 6-2). He scored a phenomenal 24 goals in 28 appearances, his last game, like Collier, coming against Holwell Works on February 22nd 1946 (won 2-1).
“Bradbury” the inside right, could be one of two different players, who, rather helpfully for the statistically minded, played together in the same team on many occasions. Ken Bradbury was signed in 1944 and made his début against Swadlincote Colts on October 7th 1944 (won 4-2, Bradbury 2 goals). He then went on to score 19 goals in 21 games before bowing out on April 6th 1946 against Morris Sports in the League Cup Semi Final (Rovers won this game 7-0 but lost the Final 1-7 to Kettering Town).

Tom Bradbury was even more of a goalscoring sensation in the Rovers’ team than Ken Bradbury. His first game was on August 28th 1937 against Loughborough Brush Sports (won 4-2, Bradbury 3 goals) and according to the club’s player database, he finished his spell at Gresley on May 9th 1944 in the League Cup Final against Swadlincote Colts (won 5-1). Overall Tom scored 94 goals in 50 appearances, with his best two seasons coming in 1941-1942 with 23 in the League and 8 in the Cup. In the following season of 1942-1943 he managed 28 in the League with no surviving record of his Cup goals.

In September 1937, he had signed for Derby County for £200 and he played 4 games, possibly for Derby’s reserves. If he played for the First Team, then I have been unable to find any details of that in the Derby statistics I have seen. In 1939, he signed for Wrexham. When war broke out, he went to work in a munitions factory. He returned to Gresley where he played whenever that was possible. Tom finally had a spell with Rovers as player-manager. Presumably, that is why he was playing on May 9th 1945…he picked the team!

Three or four years later, Tom was one of the founder members of neighbouring Burton Albion.

He later became a director and then chairman of the club which now plays in League One,  England’s third tier of football. In less happy times, when Burton Albion was going bankrupt, Tom mortgaged his family home to save the club. His wife wasn’t best pleased when she found out what he’d done.

The centre forward was W Evans of Liverpool and Wales. I have found out nothing about him so far, except that it was definitely not Roy Evans, the ex-Liverpool manager:

It may be that W Evans played in wartime games which are more difficult to access, although according to “Soccer at War 1939-1945” by Jack Rollin, nobody of that name appeared for either Liverpool or Wales between 1939-1946. Neither does “Wales, the Complete Who’s Who” provide any clues. Perhaps that centre forward at Gresley was the last German spy, making just one last appearance. He was probably doing research about how English players took penalties.

The inside left is most likely George W. Chapman (1920 –1998). He was born in Linton, a village close to Church Gresley, and he signed for West Bromwich Albion although he did not ever play for them except during wartime fixtures (13 appearances, 2 goals).

In 1946–1948 he played for Brighton & Hove Albion scoring 12 goals in 43 appearances. He was the club’s top scorer in the 1946–47 season with 10 goals. After that, he moved to Tonbridge Angels, a club which had been formed as recently as October 1947. Here’s their badge, presumably based on the coat of arms of the town:

Harrison is perhaps Cyril Harrison who made his début against Marston’s on November 7th 1942 (won 14-1, Harrison 3 goals) and scored 21 goals in 27 appearances. He played his last game on April 26th 1950 against British Ropes (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal). Alternatively, it might have been Mick Harrison who made his début against RAF ‘H’ on September 23rd 1943 (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal) and went on to score 58 goals in 87 appearances. He played for the last time on April 26th 1950 against British Ropes on April 26th 1950 (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal…but which Harrison, Mick or Cyril, Cyril or Mick ?). Here’s the British Ropes factory. I couldn’t find a picture of their team:

If you have read any of my previous posts about non-league teams around Nottingham, you will know how fascinated I am with the names of these smaller clubs.

Let’s just look at who Rovers played against nearly 80 years ago.

An Army XI in a friendly match  to raise money for the Spitfire Fund, Briggs & Co, British Ropes, Broadway Youth Club,  Central Ordinance Corps, Cyclops, Cyclops Sports, Derby Corinthians, H R Mansfield Sports, Ibstock Penistone Rovers, John Knowles A, Leicester Nomads Reserves, Loughborough Brush,  Marstons, Measham Imperial, Midland Woodworkers, Morris Sports, Newbold Vernon, Old Dalby, Quorn,  Methodists,  Parkhouse Colliery, RAF, RAF ‘F’, RAF ‘H’, RAF ‘L’, RAF ‘M’, RAF ‘T’, RAF XI, Rolls Royce, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Stanton Ironworks, Whitwick Holy Cross, Whitwick Parish Church, Whitwick White Cross and the catchiest of all for those supporters’ songs, “351 Burton Squadron ATC”.

None as good though, as the first ever opponents in a home game of which records have survived, played at the Moat Ground on September 5th 1891…..Hugglescote Robin Hoods. Here is Rovers’ ground which has not changed much since that late summer day:

 

 

 

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