Tag Archives: Australia

The Bristol Beaufort at Hendon

I went on a trip to RAF Hendon Museum a few years ago, and I would like to share one or two of the more interesting aircraft with you over the months. Hopefully I will only be using my own photographs, so here are my excuses first. The Museum in  places is really quite dark, so that the daylight or bright artificial lights have no effect on the (poor quality) Second World War paint. This gives rise to a distinct purplish tone on many of the photographs. The museum is also very cramped, so try as I might, I could not get all of the aircraft into the shot at once.

This is a Bristol Beaufort, the only monoplane produced for the Royal Air Force that was designed from the start for general reconnaissance and as a torpedo bomber. It was named after the late and great Duke of Beaufort, whose very large ancestral home was near to the headquarters of the Bristol company.

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The prototype first flew on October 15th 1938 and Beauforts entered service with No.22 Squadron in November 1939. They were Coastal Command’s standard torpedo bomber until 1943 and also laid mines.

The Beaufort was very successful as a torpedo bomber, and saw action over the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic. In 1942, Beaufort squadrons were deployed to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean to meet a changing enemy threat. Malta-based aircraft were particularly successful in attacks on Axis shipping at a critical time in the war in North Africa.

Total Beaufort production was 1380, including 700 which were built in Australia.

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The Beaufort at Hendon was assembled from bits of various Australian aircraft found at Tadji Airstrip and West Sepik in Papua and New Guinea.  Five airframes were salvaged from these sites by Dr Charles “Bunny” Darby  in  1974  and as far as is known, significant bits of some 28 Beauforts are still there.
In October 1987, two Gate Guard Spitfire Mk XVIs were swapped for a P-40 Kittyhawk and a Beaufort. The latter eventually arrived at Hendon via a workshop in Hawkins, Texas and then Felixstowe and  Cardington in Bedfordshire.

To me, a Beaufort always looks like a half way between a Blenheim and a Beaufighter. Here is a proper photograph, purloined from my best friends at Google Images. I just didn’t want you to think that all Beauforts strongly resembled a very large twin engine blackcurrant:

bea

The best illustration of a Beaufort is, in fact, a model. There wasn’t an Airfix one, as far as I can remember, so perhaps this is a Frog kit or something even more exotic. I couldn’t find a good picture of a Beaufort in Australian colours:

beaufort

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John David Fletcher: Part 3

Flight Lieutenant John David Fletcher was buried in Cambridge City Cemetery on the Newmarket Road. As well as John Fletcher, four other casualties were buried in this cemetery, the rest being taken back to the cemeteries near to their homes.

The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Henry Stewart van Raalte of the Royal Australian Air Force was one of the four to be buried in Cambridge City Cemetery. Aged just 31, he was the beloved son of Henri Benedictus Salman van Raalte and Katherine Lyell van Raalte. He was the much loved young husband of Mrs Mary Ellen van Raalte. They all lived together in Albany in Western Australia:

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Here is Jimmy’s funeral in Cambridge Cemetery. His brother is labelled in the foreground:

van

Flight Sergeant Maurice Durn, the Flight Engineer, is buried in the churchyard of St Bartholomew’s Church in Marsden. He was only 21 years of age, the beloved son of Norman and Clara Durn, of Marsden, and the much loved husband of Mrs Dorothy Durn, who lived in the same village in West Yorkshire, seven miles west of Huddersfield.

Pilot Officer David Gethin Williams was the navigator. He was the beloved son of Gwilym and Dorcas Ann Williams, of Blaengwynfi, a village in the Port Talbot area of South Wales. He is buried in Plot T, in unconsecrated ground, in Rhondda (Treorchy) Cemetery.

David Williams’ nephew can still remember him:

“My uncle David Gethin Williams was the navigator in Van Raalte’s airplane. My father who was 14 when his brother was killed remembers that it was a sealed coffin that was returned home for burial as they could not be sure if it was David Gethin that was in it. My grandmother was always haunted by that. My father remembers the Van Raalte brothers coming home to Treorchy with David Gethin when they were on leave. The rear gunner Royston George Davies was also from Treorchy and both gravestones are in sight of each other which is very poignant!”

rhonfdd cemete

The Bomb Aimer, Warrant Officer Alfred Leonard Lambert of the Royal Australian Air Force was 25 years old when he died. He was the much loved son of John Leo and Rhoda Lambert and the beloved husband of Stella Irene Case Lambert, of Eastwood in New South Wales, Australia.

lambert

His daughter, later to marry and become Maree Pollard, was only eleven months old when her father was killed. She said:

“It has always been a big black hole in my life. I personally feel that LARG have done a fantastic job and I just can’t thank them enough. I find it very humbling.”

Maree never met her father, because she was living in Australia when he died. Alfred is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery:laambert

Flying Officer Alan Arnold was the Second Bomb Aimer, He was also a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and was aged just 26 at the time of his death. Alan was the much loved son of Edward and Lillian Evelyn Agnes Arnold, of Pascoe Vale South, Victoria, Australia. He was apparently flying as a visual air bomber. He too is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.

arnold

Flight Sergeant Eric Henry Peace was just 21 years of age. He was the wireless operator, the beloved son of Ernest and Ethel Maud Peace of York. He too is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.

The mid-upper gunner was Royston George Davies, aged just 22, and the much loved son of Gerildis and Gwenlian Davies, of Treorchy. He was the husband of Phyllis Mary Davies, and they lived in Cwmparc, Treorchy. Just like the navigator, David Gethin Williams, Royston is buried in Rhondda (Treorchy) Cemetery, both graves in sight of each other.

The other Lancaster involved in the catastrophe was ND981, also of 97 Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Edward Leslie John Perkins:

third time livcky

His friend Patrick Turner, the flight engineer in another Lancaster in 97 Squadron, recounted how the men enjoyed time to let off steam:

“One of the pilots, Flt Lt Perkins, had a small car and the whole of the flight lifted this car onto the top of an air raid shelter. After the accident we had the job of getting it down.”

Only one man was to escape alive from this horrendous collision, everybody else being killed.

Flight Lieutenant Perkins, the pilot, was buried in Cambridge Cemetery, but I have been unable to trace any further details whatsoever about him.

The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Frank Ernest Coxhead, aged 20, of Somercotes in Derbyshire. He was the much loved son of Frank Percy and Martha Coxhead. Frank is buried in Lea Brooks Cemetery in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

The Navigator was Flight Lieutenant William James Hunt who was only 22 years old. He was the beloved son of Sydney Herbert and Maud Adeline Margaret Hunt, of Romford, in Essex . The inscription on his grave in Romford Cemetery reads, “Tranquil you lie, Your memory hallowed, In the land you love.”

The bomb aimer was Flight Sergeant John Fairbairn, aged 30, the much loved son of Frank and Ada Fairbairn, of Knottingley in West Yorkshire. John was the husband of Ivy Fairbairn, of Ferrybridge near Knottingley. He is buried in the cemetery at Knottingley. He had had a lovely wedding, perhaps at the very same Northern church:

fairnbairn%20wedding%20day

The wireless operator was Flight Sergeant Coman, with the first name John or Joseph, depending on where you look. Of him, more later.

The mid upper gunner was Warrant Officer Denis Gilbert Partos. He was 23 years old, and the much loved son of Francis Ferdinand and Pauline Partos, of Southgate, Middlesex. John is buried in Southgate Cemetery. Denis died without knowing that he had been awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal. The news only came through in the London Gazette on June 27th.

This death may have been the final moment of despair for Francis Ferdinand and Pauline Partos, of Southgate, Middlesex. Their other son, John Emil Partos, a Bomb Aimer with 427 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, had already been killed on February 27th 1943:002810029-vickers-wellington-iii

He was flying in a Vickers Wellington bomber which had taken off from RAF Croft at 1848 hours. This was ZL-C with the serial number BK268, piloted by Flight Sergeant  George Taylor. They were one of seven Wellingtons sent to bomb Cologne. Five aircraft returned safely. Flight Sergeant Taylor bombed successfully, but on the way home he crashed at R.A.F. North Luffenham, near Woolfax Lodge, and he, and four of his crew, were killed, including John Partos. Flight Sergeant William Harwood and his crew were also posted missing from this raid. The whole story can be found on the website of the Canadian 6th Group:

What makes these events, back at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, even more tragic and twisted is that Denis Partos was not even a normal member of the crew of this doomed Lancaster. The normal mid-upper gunner was Flight Sergeant M.H.McBride, but he could not fly on this particular day because he was on a charge and had been grounded for his bad behaviour.  So too was the other gunner in the crew, Flight Sergeant J.K.Russell. Flight Sergeant M.H.McBride went on to survive the conflict as far as I can trace. So too did Flight Sergeant Russell. They must have thought, though, that they had used up all of their good luck for the entire rest of the war! Here is the Operations Room of 97 Squadron

opr room

I cannot trace a rear gunner for ND981 on this particular occasion. Some sources give it as John David Fletcher but that is clearly an error. Perhaps the aircraft flew with just six crew members.

The only man to survive the crash was Flight Sergeant Coman who was the wireless operator of Flight Lieutenant Perkins’ Lancaster. Coman jumped out of the stricken bomber as it broke up and managed to get his parachute open. He was badly burned by parachuting down almost into the burning wreckage of the two aircraft. He owed his survival, it is thought, to the fact that he was conceivably blown upwards by the force of the explosion of the burning wreckage on the ground and was, therefore, able to open his parachute and come down safely.

After his almost miraculous escape, poor Flight Sergeant Coman left the squadron and, in actual fact, was to die of tuberculosis not too long after he left the RAF. According to at least one website, he was so traumatised that he was never flew again after the tragic events of Friday, June 23rd 1944. (not surprisingly, you might think).

Old Nottinghamian, John David Fletcher had intended to make his living by farming poultry when he left the RAF.

Sixty years after the tragedy,  at a commemorative ceremony, Roy Sturman, from the Nottinghamshire country village of Collingham, spoke about his feelings all those years ago. He was only ten when his brother-in-law, John David Fletcher, was killed in the crash. He said:

“I thought he was great. He was a hero to me. I’m so glad I came along to the ceremony, because this is history and it needs to be remembered.”

This stained glass window is dedicated to the memory of the brave young men of 97 Squadron:

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Needless to say, as I was not a witness to all of these dreadful events, this article could not have been written without using the series of excellent books by W.R.Chorley, and a number of other websites.

The final part of this sad tale to follow in the near future.

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The Beast of Ennerdale: Part three

This is the third instalment of the story of the Beast of Ennerdale, a strange creature that rampaged across the Lake District in north western England in 1810. In five months, it killed almost 300 sheep, often just eating their soft organs and then lapping up their blood. The story of its ravages is told in the first two parts of this series:

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Nowadays, we have almost an almost unbelievable ability to make contact with each other instantly right across the globe. Furthermore, we have immediate instant access to unbelievable amounts of knowledge and information.
Until very recently though, that was just not the case. There was no television. No radio. No access to books. Most people were illiterate, especially in the countryside. Nobody knew very much at all about natural history outside their own country. Contrast our situation with life outside London in 1198. Richard the Lionheart was the English king then, and he was the proud owner of his very own private zoo in the Tower of London. Richard had been on the Crusades and he must have known a little bit about some of the wildlife in the Middle East. Perhaps that was the reason that he had a pet crocodile in his collection of animals:

crocs

One day, the animal escaped. It somehow made its way to the marshes of north Essex. The reaction of the locals, of course, was that a dragon had come to visit them:

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And what would the shepherds of the Lake District made of a giraffe? The very first one ever to be seen in England had only arrived on August 11, 1827, less than 200 years ago, and well after the début of the Beast of Ennerdale:

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During the period of the Beast of Ennerdale, the whole country was visited by many travelling zoos. The cages were transported on wagons which were pulled around the countryside by horses. Conditions, of course, were appalling. The cages were cramped and the horses that pulled the wagons were grossly overworked.  No animal rights in those days. The Church taught that animals had no souls, so what you did to them was simply irrelevant. Work them until they drop and then leave them to die. And then you can eat them.
The most famous of these travelling zoos was Wombwell’s Travelling Menagerie, which had a total of fifteen wagons and a large number of exotic animals. Wombwell bought them directly from ships as they arrived in England. They included elephants, giraffes, a gorilla, a hyena, a kangaroo, several leopards, a number of lions, llamas, monkeys, ocelots, onagers (what?), ostriches, panthers, various snakes, tigers, wildcats and zebras:

wombwerr

Wombwell had a number of snow leopards and his rhino was publicised as “the real unicorn of scripture”. Other faulty labelling is actually known to have cost him money. What he exhibited as a chimpanzee is now thought to have been the first ever Gorilla to be seen in Western Europe.
Here is a link to the story of George Wombwell told by Wikipedia. It really is worth a look, with some really funny anecdotes on offer:

Menagerie_wombwells_1910

All of these menageries were rather careless with their animals and escapes were not infrequent. In 1835, for example, a lion and a tigress escaped together and four people were killed. And that is what takes us back to the Beast of Ennerdale.
Apparently a number of the different travelling menageries had creatures which were exhibited as “tiger wolves”. Nowadays these animals are thought to have been thylacines, the so called “Tasmanian Tiger” or “Tasmanian Wolf”.

Here is a brief film, thanks to the Thylacine Museum:

The Museum also has a video where the extremely talented animal is apparently playing a piano, harpsichord type of thing:

So that is it! Mystery solved! The Beast of Ennerdale was an escaped Thylacine.

Nowadays, the Thylacine is extinct, of course. The last known specimen, “Benjamin”, died in captivity in Hobart Zoo on September 7th 1936:

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The Thylacine had dark stripes over its back and could be up to eight or nine feet in length:

thyl one

It was a marsupial which looked vaguely like a wolf and it ate flesh. It preferred the softer flesh to tougher meat such as the muscles.
The Thylacine was an apex predator and it was mainly nocturnal. Its behaviour was just like the Beast of Ennerdale because it retreated to the hills and woodlands in the daytime, avoiding contact with humans. It spent the daylight hours in caves or hollow tree trunks, sleeping on twigs or plant stalks. At night, it hunted the open heathland:

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Supposedly, back in the wilds of Tasmania, it happily preyed upon farmers’ sheep and poultry and apparently liked to drink the blood of its prey.
And with that information, I really thought that I had found a solution for the identity of the Beast of Ennerdale. I really did. I really, really did:

Thylacine-tring

A second level of internet research, though, shows that more or less all of the answers which have been suggested by the many websites which discuss the Beast of Ennerdale are most probably entirely wrong. The explanation of an escaped Thylacine is a very neat one, but modern science just dismisses it totally and completely.
Firstly, the blood drinking story seems to have originated merely from a single account heard at second-hand by Geoffrey Smith (1881–1916) in a shepherd’s hut in Tasmania. Not exactly a proven piece of Thylacine behaviour, certainly not enough to identify this creature’s presence in Ennerdale.
And killing and/or eating sheep? Well not really, apparently. Modern studies have now shown that the creature had the jaws of a wimp, not a wolf. It couldn’t have dealt with a dead sheep. Advanced computer modelling in 2011 showed that its prey size limit would have been in the region of only five kilos, animals such as the tiny possum:

thylacine_berlin_museum_10th_september_2011-167306

And here is a link to a second study from 2012, “Tasmanian tiger was no sheep killer”. These are not just amateurs’ guesses picked out of the air, of course. These are both scientific papers, published for the judgement of the zoological world. They would not have been published in reputable journals if they were not serious research carried out by serious scientists.
Instead, the Thylacine is seen nowadays as having been just a scapegoat for the widespread mismanagement of sheep farms in Tasmania. Furthermore, the killing of sheep was far more probably carried out by the European dogs which had first reached Tasmania in 1798 with the arrival of the explorer George Bass and a number of seal hunters:

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These men’s sled dogs interbred and their offspring subsequently dispersed into the temperate rain forest of the island. Some dogs were befriended by the aborigines but the majority just went wild.

During the period when Europeans were first coming across the Thylacine, therefore, there was already a population of feral dogs in Tasmania. They are far more likely to have been the animals responsible for the killings of sheep on the island, rather than the Thylacine. It was just easier for Europeans to blame a weird new animal than “man’s best friend”.
And what about the time schedule? How could a Thylacine have reached Cumberland for May 1810? At this time, the very best ships took a minimum of three months to reach Australia and a further three months to return to England:

SS_Dunedin_by_Frederick_Tudgay
The first thylacine had been seen by the French on May 13th 1792. They would not have told the English because, surprise, surprise, the two nations were at war with one another.  More than ten years later, the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania sent the first full description of the animal for publication in the Sydney Gazette of April 21st 1805:

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At that time, it was not a particularly familiar animal to the European people on the island. In June 1805, five convicts escaped from the only recently established penal colony. The establishment’s pastor, Robert Knopwood, wrote in his journal on June 18th 1805, shortly after the convicts had been recaptured:

“Am engaged all the morn, upon business examining the 5 prisoners that went into the bush. They informed me that on 2 May when they were in the wood they see a large tyger that the dog they had with them went nearly up to it and when the tyger see the men which were about 100 yards away from it, it went away I make no doubt but here are many wild animals which we have not yet seen”

thyl three

At this point, in 1805, no Thylacine had been captured. It had only been briefly glimpsed at a hundred yards’ range. Tasmania was the size of Ireland and more or less completely covered in forest, with only one small settlement of convicts. How on earth could a Thylacine have reached Ennerdale by 1810? Just look at the timetable:

“Captured in Tasmania, in 1806 at the earliest—shipped to Sydney—sent to England—didn’t die on the three month journey—bought by a zoo keeper in London—taken by horse drawn cart to the north (three or four weeks?)—escaped—seen in Cumberland, doing things we now know a Thylacine could not do”

Not very likely is it?
Anyway, here is a nice longer film of a Thylacine from LINCTasmania. It dates from 1964 and is a wonderful period piece, well worth watching, just for the accents and the product placement :

And finally, here are two videos about the Thylacine from my hero, MK Davis, the man who has been called “The Hippy from Mississippi”. He is a photographic analyst and is well worth your time. The first film is an analysis of a modern home movie, purporting to show an animal which may be a living, surviving Thylacine:

The second film from MK shows his thoughts on where Thylacines may survive nowadays:

And the Beast of Ennerdale? Well, the locals at the time thought it was a feral dog, and they may well have been right:

“No one knew to whom the dog had belonged, or whence he came ; but being of a mongrel breed, and excessively shy, it was conjectured he had escaped from the chain of some gipsy troop. He was a smooth-haired dog, of a tawny mouse colour, with dark streaks, in tiger fashion, over his hide ; and appeared to be a cross between mastiff and greyhound. Strongly built and of good speed, being both well fed and well exercised, his endurance was very great.”

On the other hand, unlike most dogs that I know, the Beast was never heard to bark, growl or howl. And why would you go to the considerable expense of stuffing the corpse and displaying it in Hutton’s Museum in Keswick if it were just “a cross between mastiff and greyhound”. Perhaps the Beast of Ennerdale was the Beast of Gévaudan on his holidays.

“C’était comme un chien, mais ce n’était  pas un chien”…

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RAF Elsham Wolds: Part Six: a few loose ends

While I was doing the researches for these sad and grim tales of Bomber Command, I came across a number of interesting details which I would like to share. Perhaps one or two loose ends might be tied up.
The first is only loosely connected with the collision of the two unfortunate Lancasters returning from Leipzig on February 20th 1944.  I noticed that one of the casualties, Flying Officer Ronald Harry Fuller, was buried in Cambridge City Cemetery. Given that Cambridge is not particularly close to Marylebone in London, where Ronald lived, I decided to look up the details of this cemetery on the Internet. I was genuinely shocked by what I found about the war casualties there. Their names and most basic of details occupy fully an unbelievable 68 pages on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Just enter the words “Cambridge City Cemetery” in the line marked “Cemetery or memorial” and press “Search”:

cambrigde vity cem

The very last page is grimly ironic. It lists four Australians, all of them obviously interred a long, long way from home.
One is from the Great War, George Ernest Young of Camberwell, Victoria, Australia. He was aged 28 and died only 12 days from the end of the conflict. The other three interments are all Second World War flyers:

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Flight Sergeant George Louis Yensen was a Mid Upper Gunner aged just 20. He was killed on August 31st 1943 in a Short Stirling I of No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit of Bomber Command, Serial Number N6005,Squadron Letters probably F-D2. Here is a flight of three Stirlings:

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The name of George’s unit means he must have perished well before his training for heavy bombers was even complete. George died along with eight other young trainees on board this aircraft. Two of them were from the Republic of Ireland. Apparently the plane took off from Downham Market near Cambridge at 9.30 pm. presumably just as the daylight was beginning to fade. Suddenly, ten minutes after takeoff, for no apparent reason, the aircraft banked steeply and then spun into the ground just a mile or so north of Shippea Hill on the Cambridgeshire-Suffolk border, and around seven miles from Ely. The orange arrow marks the crash site:

yensen
The next Australian, Alan Geoffry (sic) Young was 21 years old when he was killed. A member of the RAAF’s 460 Squadron, he was returning from a bombing raid on Stuttgart. His Lancaster was caught in a blizzard and crashed some ten miles south of Grantham at North Witham. All seven members of the crew were killed. By coincidence, young Alan perished on February 21st 1944, the very next day after the Leipzig raid which inspired the first of these articles:

lanc crash
Flight Sergeant Ian Bailey Yorkston was killed in an accident on March 4th 1945, flying in a Lancaster  I, Serial Number PD431,Squadron Letters H4-V. Ian was in No. 1653 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF, and he was just 25 years of age. His parents were Christian missionaries and had worked in China where Ian grew up. Seven other young men perished in the crash. The plane had taken off from North Luffenham for a cross-country training flight at 11.30 in the morning, and returned to base at 4.00 pm. As the aircraft landed, it bounced quite severely. The pilot increased the power and prepared to go round for a second landing attempt. As it climbed away, the aircraft’s undercarriage hit an obstruction and then ploughed into the tops of several trees. It finally crashed near the village of Edith Weston, just four miles south east of Oakham in Rutland. The orange arrow marks the crash site:

yorkston
This was not Ian Yorkston’s first crash. On August 18th 1944, with “D” Flight of No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit he was flying in a Short Stirling III, Serial Number LK519, Squadron Letters QQ-O. Taking off on a night exercise from Wratting Common at three minutes to ten the previous evening, the crew were returning at six minutes past two. They requested, and were given, permission to land, but then there were problems with the Stirling’s immensely lofty and complicated undercarriage:

_giant_Stirling_modzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

For forty minutes, a tense dialogue took place between the aircraft and Flying Control. At three minutes to three, a garbled  message came from the aircraft which was heard to contain the phrase “crash land”. The Stirling came in at tree top level, flying towards No 4 runway which already had a second Stirling parked on it, having suffered a burst tyre. In the resulting collision, the Trainee Pilot, Flight Sergeant Alan Woodbridge (aged 23) was killed. He was buried in his native village Up Nately, in Hampshire. Alan had himself already been in an accident on July 26th when a slightly misjudged landing resulted in part of the Stirling’s undercarriage being ripped off. Three weeks later, as we have seen, he was dead.
Ian Yorkston’s brother, Flying Officer Gordon Cameron Yorkston, was also killed, not in training though, but in combat with No. 251 Squadron. He was only 21 years of age when he perished on March 17th 1945, in the icy waters off Iceland. The squadron was tasked with carrying out Air Sea Rescue and Meteorological Flights out of Reykjavik This was only 13 days after his elder brother, Ian, had been killed. Gordon’s remains were never found and his sacrifice is commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede near Egham in Surrey. This memorial is dedicated to RAF personnel who died in World War II and who have no known grave anywhere in the world.  Many were lost without trace. There are an amazing 20, 310 names on the memorial:

runny
I actually found a website which listed all of the brothers who had died in service with the RAAF in World War Two. There were at least fifty pairs and included three Sandilands, three Eddisons and four brothers called Bernard. What a sacrifice to be asked to make!

The second final, grim, point concerns the unfortunate collision witnessed by Driver Marie Harris. This took place on December 16th 1943, as the two aircraft took off to bomb Berlin.
What I found really quite shocking was that there is another memorial very close by in what is actually only a very small area of Lincolnshire. It pays tribute to yet another crashed Lancaster, a plane from No 12 Squadron at RAF Wickenby, which was shot down by a German night intruder just before half past midnight in the early hours of March 4th 1945.

_ulce 2 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This was Lancaster PB476, Squadron letters PH-Y, and the brave young men remembered were the Flying Officer Nicholas Ansdell (Pilot, 21 years old, from Churt in Surrey), Flying Officer Alexander Hunter (Navigator, age 33, from Dunfermline, Scotland), Flying Officer Freddie Heath (Bombaimer, aged 22, from New Malden, Surrey), Sergeant Ronald Schafer, (Flight Engineer, aged 23 of Earley in Berkshire), Sergeant Robert Parry, (Wireless Operator, aged only 19 from Dagenham, Essex), Sergeant Arthur Walker, (Mid – Upper Gunner, aged only 20, of Risley, Derbyshire) and Sergeant William Mellor (Rear Gunner, aged just 19,from Hatherton, a hamlet in Cheshire.)

Here is the lane next to the field where the aircraft crashed and the monument on the left:

yulceby cross

They were victims of a German night fighter initiative called “Unternehmen Gisela” or “Operation Gisela
This involved large numbers of twin engined German night fighters, armed with Lichtenstein radar:

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The aircraft left the Continent and flew across the North Sea to England in an effort to destroy as many of the vulnerable bombers as possible as they arrived back from Berlin:

Junkers_Ju88

The fighters flew at low level, under a storm front and in heavy rain, to remain under the British radar defences. They were then able to attack over a wide area, looking for RAF navigation lights and then flying underneath the bomber to make use of their upward pointing Schräge Musik twin cannons. In this case, the cannon are just behind the cockpit, clearly offset for some reason:

Junkers_Ju_88G-6

 

Around 25 Lancasters or other bombers were either destroyed or severely damaged in this operation. A total of 78 aircrew were killed and 17 civilians perished. The Germans lost 45 airmen.

One final word. All of the websites I have used can be reached through the links above. I could not have produced this article, however, without recourse to the superb books by W.R.Chorley. Their detail is almost unbelievable and I would urge anyone interested by the bomber war to think seriously of purchasing at least one of them. The books bring home just how many young men were killed in Bomber Command during the Second World War. When the first book arrived, my daughter thought it contained all the casualties for the whole war, but, alas, it was just 1944.

 

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RAF Elsham Wolds: Part Five

In a previous article I wrote about the tragic collision of two Avro Lancaster bombers, both of them from 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds. The two aircraft were both trying to land at the same time, after permission to do so had been given to each of them by the Flying Control Officer. A subsequent Court of Inquiry found that “the accident was caused by the Flying Control Officer departing from the normal procedure.” They recommended that “Flying Control Officers must not depart from the normal procedure for landings”.
In the accident, therefore, Lancaster ND334, PM-unknown, was struck in mid-air by a second Lancaster Mk III, JB530, PM-F. That careless act, caused by the unfortunate decision of a still unnamed Flying Control Officer resulted in the deaths of five young men, namely the Flight Engineer Sergeant D.H.J.Cunningham, the Navigator Flying Officer R.H.Fuller, the Bomb Aimer Flight Sergeant C.Bagshaw,  the Wireless Operator Sergeant E.S.Gunn and the Rear Gunner Sergeant A.O.Haines:

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Sadly, this collision was not the first accident of this type to have occurred at Elsham Wolds. Searching on the Internet, I found a website detailing a collision which took place on December 16th 1943, as both aircraft took off to bomb Berlin. The accident involved one aircraft of 103 Squadron and one from 576 Squadron who were also based at the same airfield.
Apparently, low cloud was present and this was thought to provide a potential source of danger for the aircraft as they took off. At the pre-raid briefing, therefore, all of the crews were clearly told to climb away “into the climbing pattern” as soon as they left off the ground, and then to continue climbing until they reached the correct height to set off with the bomber stream across the North Sea to the target. Great stress was put on the problems which were possible with the low cloud base and that everyone should stick, therefore, “to the instructions”.
The first of the two doomed bombers to take off, at 4.36 p.m., was Flight Sergeant F.R.Scott of the Royal Australian Air Force in Lancaster LM332, UL-B2 of 576 Squadron. It was the crew’s very first mission:

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They were followed, at 4.37 p.m., by the second doomed aircraft, Lancaster JB670, PM-unknown, of 103 Squadron. The pilot was Flight Sergeant Richter and the crew were a last minute mixture of men from the two squadrons. This was fairly unusual, but I cannot see why it would have made any difference to events:

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As JB670 climbed away from the runway, LM332 came out of the clouds and there was a head-on collision, more or less directly over the village of Ulceby. As you might expect, nobody survived and the lives of fourteen young men came to a very abrupt end. Certainly, it would have been so quick that many of the crew may well have known very little about it. Wreckage was littered everywhere:

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Nowadays a plaque has been set up at the site of the War Memorial, remembering all fourteen men:

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On board the Lancaster JB670, PM-unknown, of 103 Squadron, the pilot was Flight Sergeant Valentine “Val” Richter, aged 22, of Chingford, Essex. He was a member of 576 Squadron.
The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Frederick Stanley Copping, aged 21, of Walthamstow, Essex. The navigator was Flying Officer Charles Reginald Jaques, aged 30, of Winterton, Lincolnshire, also a member of 576 Squadron.
The Bomb Aimer was Flight Sergeant Thomas Leslie Hobson Kay of the RAAF, aged 22, and from Redhead, New South Wales, Australia.

The Wireless Operator was Sergeant Peter Coopman. He was aged 21, and came from Cropthorne, Worcestershire.
Sergeant Cyril Walter Plampton was one of the two gunners. He was a member of 576 Squadron.

The other gunner was Sergeant Francis Andrew Furrie.  Young Sergeant Furrie was taken back to Scotland, to be interred in the New Stevenston (St Patrick’s) Roman Catholic Cemetery in Glasgow:

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He was the only member of the crew not to be buried in Cambridge City Cemetery:

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For the Avro Lancaster III, LM332, UL-B2 of 576 Squadron, the pilot was Flight Sergeant Frederick Roy Scott of the RAAF. He was 24 years of age and came from Cabramatta, New South Wales, Australia. Here are the shops in Cabramatta nowadays:

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The navigator was Sergeant George Gordon Critchley. Apparently his father was a miner in St Helens in Lancashire. The family lived in a tiny terraced house but both sons, George and his brother Harold won scholarships to a Catholic Grammar School called De La Salle in the West Park area of the town. It was run by the Jesuits, and allowed Gordon to avoid the coal mine like his father, in favour of the much cushier Civil Service in London.
The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Stanley Victor Cull. He was aged only 18 and was possibly the youngest casualty in Bomber Command in 1943. He came from Windsor in Berkshire.
The Wireless Operator was Sergeant John Hamilton Caldwell . He was 21 years of age and came from Glasgow.
The Bombaimer was Flight Sergeant Peter Martin Crowle Ellis. He was the beloved son of the Reverend Crowle Ellis, B.A. and Mrs Crowle Ellis, of The Rectory, Northfield in Birmingham.
One of the gunners was Flight Sergeant Brian Price Wicks of the RAAF.

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Brian was only 20 years of age and came from Highgate in South Australia. He was a clerk before he joined up.
The other gunner was Sergeant Joseph William Ross. He was also only 20 years of age and came from Westminster in London.

On the website which has supplied a good deal of the information I have used for this article, the collision is actually described by an eye witness, Marie Harris. Here is a very much abridged version of her words. I would strongly urge you to follow the link and read the full story for yourself. There are also a number of photographs of crewmembers on the site. They will give you a good idea of just how young these men were when they lost their lives so tragically:

I was a driver at Goxhill Haven in 1943. Most of the RAF were Air Crew and you would dance with one or two, and have a great night. Next evening you would ask “where’s Alec, Bob and Bill?” A shrug of the shoulders and you knew and felt very sad.

As I drove around you would see the Bombers going off and up into the clouds and away, up into one circle, two circles and third circle away on their mission.

Around 4.30 I was driving past a farm, it was very low cloud and the Lancasters were taking off into the circles, up and away. They were so low and so near.

One went into this low cloud and I was thinking it’s a wonder they don’t crash they are so close together, when in a split second as it came out of the cloud, God, it was a head on crash with another Lancaster, one almighty explosion and all Hell was let loose. It was awful, I couldn’t believe what had happened practically over my head, just over the farmer’s field. I was so stunned, streaks of fire shooting all over the road. In no time at all the fire engines were arriving. I still couldn’t believe what had happened. I pulled up at the Guard House. I was rooted to my seat and couldn’t stop crying, thinking of the Bobs, Alecs and Bills just blown to bits. It was awful and still is.
They took me into the Mess and gave me a cup of hot strong tea
When I went to bed I couldn’t shut my eyes, this terrific explosion flashed before me every time. I was like this for quite a few nights. I can’t bear even to this day to watch a film with planes crashing. I shut my eyes or go out of the cinema.

Driver Marie Harris W/44133 ATS.

This raid on Berlin seems to have been a complete disaster. My own researches show that, unless I have made some grotesque error in my counting, around 58 Lancasters were destroyed and not far short of 300 young aircrew were killed.

A total of 483 Lancasters had set off for Berlin along with 15 Mosquitoes. Some 25 Lancasters were destroyed during the raid itself as they overflew the target, attacked by anti-aircraft fire and night fighters.

On the return journey to England, a minimum of 29 Lancasters were destroyed between Berlin and home:

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Some of this was down to the persistent German night fighters, but the greatest problems seem to have come when the  bombers all arrived back at their respective bases. That very same low cloud which had caused the collision at Elsham Wolds was still there. It had not dissipated at all since the bombers had taken off at the beginning of the night, with catastrophic results for many aircraft:

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There is a slight difference in overall totals which I cannot readily explain, other than some aircraft may have crashed in England and then been repairable. Whatever the explanation, that is still a lot of young men to lose in just one cloud covered night.

One final word. All of the websites I have used can be reached through the links above. I could not have produced this article, however, without recourse to the superb books by W.R.Chorley. Their detail is almost unbelievable and I would urge anyone interested by the bomber war to think seriously of purchasing at least one of them. The books bring home just how many young men were killed in Bomber Command during the Second World War. When the first book of the series arrived, my daughter thought it contained all the casualties for the whole war, but, alas, it was just 1944.

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The Luftwaffe comes to Cornwall (and stays there)

For many, many, years, we have spent our summer holidays in Cornwall, in the very westernmost part, which is called Penwith, and where the major town is Penzance, the birthplace of the pioneer chemist, Humphry Davy. Ten miles or so to the north west of Penzance is the even smaller town of St Just. Just look for the orange arrow:

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In the nineteenth century, there were any number of tin mines around the town, which is made up for the most part of stone buildings with slate roofs.

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It has a beautiful ancient parish church with its centuries old frescoes of Christ and St.George.

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There is also the old battleflag of an old Great War battleship.

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Nearby is the medieval “Plen an Gwarry”, which is a small area of open grass, used for watching plays or sporting contests or perhaps just for relaxation.

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As you relax, you might want to eat a pasty or a pie from Mcfaddens, who are often quoted as making the best Cornish pasties in the world. The day I took these photographs, they had sold out. Fortunately, they do mail-order, although the pasties will not always be piping hot.

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St Just also hosts its popular Lafrowda Festival, a community and arts celebration that lasts for seven days.

There is the old bank, with its many changes of owner and cryptic lettering.

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More subtly famous is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel which was built in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is an enormous stone building, and I remember reading somewhere that, as vast numbers of impoverished Cornishmen were forced to emigrate overseas, given its position so close to the cliffs of Land’s End, this building was usually the very last thing that thousands of emigrants saw as they set off towards the mines of the USA, Canada, Australia or South America.

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Some of the very best and most spectacular cliff scenery is at either Carn Gloose or the nearby Cape Cornwall. This is the Brisons, a pair of storm battered sea stacks.

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It was here that a very, very lost Steller’s Sea-lion lived in the late 1980s and 1990s. It should have been living in Eastern Siberia or Western Alaska.

 

Every time that I have ever driven down Cape Cornwall Road to look at the cliffs or to watch the fierce ocean storms, I have always looked up at the old Methodist School on the left, to check that the conspicuous gap on the ridge of the roof is still there.

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From a tourist leaflet that I read many years ago, I know very well that, during an air raid in the Second World War, this gap was caused by a German bomber in its last few seconds before it crashed into Chapel Road.

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This year I decided to research the story more extensively, so I called in at the library in St Just, where the helpful staff tried very hard to check any references to this event in the books of their Local Collection. They were unfortunately unable to find anything but, not for the first time I suspect, they contacted long time St Just resident, John Harry, who came round to the library straightway to recount the full story. Mr Harry told me that the events had taken place in the autumn or winter of 1942.

As a little boy, he was always very excited indeed when the St Just air raid warning was sounded, and he always had to be dragged very reluctantly up to bed. In their home in Chapel Street, the family had a simple home-made air raid shelter downstairs in the kitchen. It consisted for the most part of a rather robust kitchen table which, in theory, should be able to withstand the majority of shocks which an air raid might cause. On most occasions, though, John’s aging grandmother would refuse to get inside it, but instead, ostrich like, would merely stick her head underneath.

This particular night, they could hear distant gunfire, which gradually grew louder and louder. Some kind of aerial dogfight was clearly taking place, as they could all hear the noise of aircraft engines, machine guns and a series of explosions. Granny kept shouting “We’ll all be killed! We’ll all be killed!”, but her daughter replied, “Be quiet! Don’t keep saying that! You’ll frighten the child!”.

“The child” himself thought that it was all extremely exciting, and was clapping his hands in sheer glee. Suddenly, there was a huge crash. John shouted, “We’re winning! we’re winning!”. Auntie went upstairs to see what was happening. She looked out of the bedroom window. Below her, she could see flames down in the street. “All of Chapel Street is on fire!”, she shouted, “All St Just is ablaze !”

The stricken bomber had destroyed two houses, but fortunately, nobody was injured. The first house was owned by an old lady, but she had gone away to her daughter’s for a two week holiday.

The other house was a second home for the newly married Mr and Mrs Vague. (sic) They did not normally bother to use their air raid shelter, but on this particular evening, their cat had kept making a huge fuss, walking repeatedly backwards and forwards from the bedroom to the shelter. In an effort to keep the cat quiet therefore, the two of them finally moved down to the air raid shelter. From this place of safety, they were able to feel their house shaking as if it were an earthquake.

When it was safe to do so, both Mr and Mrs ran to the emergency shelter in the St Just Town Hall. All they possessed at this moment were their night clothes. In later years, though, of course, Mr and Mrs Vague would dine out regularly on the fact that they had had their lives saved by the cat.

The next morning, more than half the town was cordoned off by the Home Guard. Hundreds of windows had been blown out by the explosions. On the Methodist School (look for the orange arrow), huge numbers of tiles had been knocked off.

street map

Fragments of the crashed plane were everywhere. In the nearby village of Kelynack, some mile and a half away, (see the previous map after Paragraph One), one member of the German crew had landed by parachute. He had a broken leg, and, a forlorn figure, he was duly arrested by Mr.Matthews, the owner of a small local farm. The rest of the crew, three men, sadly, were all killed.

In a house in Cape Cornwall Street, a woman stepped forward in the darkness to open the bedroom curtains. She tripped over a German’s dead body, which had been blown in through the window. A few days later, in another house in the town, a frightened woman was to find a German’s leg on the top of her wardrobe.

And for a very long time afterwards, John Harry was too frightened to leave his mothers’ side.

Even now, though, at nearly eighty years of age, John was still unaware of where the three dead Germans were buried. And seventy years ago, his mother had been equally unable to ascertain their final resting place. Equally unsuccessful was her friend, who was actually a member of the local Home Guard. Indeed, at the time, everybody in St Just was curious about where the dead Germans were. They kept asking the Home Guard, who always replied with the same “Dunno”. It was thought, however, that some of them did know, but they were just not saying.

My own researches have been equally unsuccessful. I was unable to find the Germans’ last resting place either in the cemetery at St Just, or in the war graves section of Penzance Cemetery. Subsequent inquiries, however, reveal that most German war dead at this time were taken to the German Cemetery on Cannock Chase, and that after the end of hostilities, many of them were then re-interred in Germany. Let’s hope so. It is certainly a very long way from the frequently wet, windy and misty West Penwith to whatever churchyard in Germany where they rightfully belong.

The two destroyed houses were never rebuilt. Instead they were replaced by a row of garages. When the foundations for these buildings were being dug, the workmen found Mr.Vague’s gold watch.

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Amazingly, this was not the only air raid on tiny St Just. On another occasion, the Luftwaffe bombed Holman’s Foundry, which produced munitions for the Allied Forces, down in the Tregeseal Valley. Ironically, Mrs Holman had herself been born in Germany. She had originally come over to England around 1900 as a governess, and then married into a local family.

This particular bombing attack was actually mentioned in one of his broadcasts by Lord Haw Haw. He said, in very sinister and threatening fashion, “Don’t think we have forgotten you, St Just. You have not been forgotten.”

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The foundry’s owner, Ken Olds, lived in a house right next to the foundry. At the height of the bombing raid, when the grandparents went to look for the baby, they found that he was no longer in the bedroom. In actual fact, he had been blown out of the window, and they found him in the front garden. He was still in his cot, fast asleep and completely unharmed. Nearby houses had lots of cracks caused by the explosion of the bombs. In later years, this seems to have led to large scale subsidence, and all of the houses eventually had to be demolished. So too the foundry itself had to come down, and it was replaced by a housing estate.

I was genuinely surprised that after seventy years that it was still possible to talk to an eyewitness of all these amazing events. I will never forget my afternoon spent in the company of John Harry. He is a most charming man, and an amazing source of knowledge of the St Just area, the people who have lived there, and the people who live there still.

Subsequent, subsequent, subsequent researches on the Internet have now revealed the excellent website of Shauney Strick whose hobby is “The History of World War 2 in Penwith, Cornwall:Uncovering the evidence with a metal detector”.

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With his metal detector, Mr.Strick recently uncovered several small parts of a Luftwaffe aircraft buried in West Place, St.Just. (see street map above). The various objects of wreckage were from a Dornier Do. 217E, aircraft U5+1H of 1Staffel KG 2, which had crashed on September 27th 1942 as it made its way towards Penzance, after being pursued and shot down by a Bristol Beaufighter Mark IF of 406 Squadron from RAF Predannick. The Beaufighter was  flown by Squadron Leader Denis Chetwynd Furse with Pilot Officer John Haddon Downes as his radio operator.  

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One additional detail was that one of the diesel engines from the stricken bomber flew an enormous distance before smashing through three garden walls in West Place. 

As I mentioned above, my search for the final resting place of the Luftwaffe bomber’s crew led me to Penzance Cemetery, where, although I did not have any success with the Dornier, I did find that the World War II graves there had some very interesting, and very, very sad tales to tell. But that, as they say, is for another time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Armistice signed! But keep fighting!

Let me first say that it is not really my intention to offend anybody by my views in this blog post, but I believe that many uncomfortable truths about the Great War are quite simply ignored because they are so unpalatable, and it is far more convenient just to forget them.
Most people, therefore, are completely unaware that at the end of the Great War, inanely and insanely, combat continued right up until 11.00 a.m. on that very last day, November 11th 1918, even though it had been widely known for five or six hours across the whole world that hostilities would soon cease, and despite the fact that the war had already claimed an enormous number of lives.

On the Allied side there had already been 5,525,000 soldiers killed and 4,121,000 missing in action. A total of 12,831,500 soldiers had been wounded, including both of the veterans that I myself had the privilege of knowing. In the east, the Russian Empire had  suffered casualties of 3,394,369 men killed with as many as 4,950,000 wounded.  On the side of the Central Powers, 4,386,000 soldiers were killed and 3,629,000 were missing in action. A total of 8,388,000 soldiers were wounded.

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In total, Allied casualties were 22,477,500 and for the Central Powers the figure was 16,403,000. Overall, that is 38,880,500, roughly the current population of Poland, or a total more than Canada (35 million) or Belgium and Australia combined. Presumably, a few more pointless deaths on the last day were not seen as being particularly important.

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The last to arrive in the carnage of the Great War, of course, had been the Americans, but they soon began to waste their poor young “Doughboys” lives in the same way as their more experienced allies had already done for three long years.

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In the first four hours in the Argonne Forest, for example, they lost more men than they were to lose on D-Day. Indeed, the Meuse-Argonne was “probably the bloodiest single battle in U.S. history,” with the largest number of U.S. dead, at more than 26,000. Hopefully, this blood soaked struggle is not as forgotten as many websites claim, and if the Argonne War Cemetery, which contains the largest number of American military dead in Europe (14,246) is apparently often ignored by the tourist coaches, then it clearly should not be. Overall,  the American casualties in the Great War were to number 117,465 men.

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Negotiations to end hostilities had actually begun on November 8th but Marshall Foch, the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies, refused to stop the war, because of fears that the German delegation, led by Matthias Erzberger, were not totally sincere in their desire for peace.

ger,manThis was after Foch’s own country had lost 1,737,800 men killed. The story is told by Joseph E.Persico

“On average, 2,250 troops on all sides were dying on the Western Front every day. “For God’s sake, Monsieur le Maréchal,’ Erzberger pleaded, ‘do not wait for those seventy-two hours. Stop the hostilities this very day.’ The appeal fell on deaf ears. Before the meeting, Foch had described to his staff his intention “to pursue the Feldgrauen (field greys, or German soldiers) with a sword at their backs” to the last minute until an armistice went into effect.”

So, the next day, November 9th, the Canadians attacked Mons and General Currie, helped by the men of the Canadian Infantry Brigade, captured the town during the night of November 10th-11th. As for the Americans…

“Late on November 9th, instructions from the Allied Commander-In Chief were transmitted, directing a general attack, which was executed by the First Army on November 10th-11th. Crossings of the Meuse were secured by General Summerall’s (V) Corps during the night of November 10th-11th and the remainder of the army advanced on the whole front.”

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Summerall’s actions on November 10th-11th resulted in more than eleven hundred American casualties, mainly in the Marine Corps.

All of this military action took place despite the fact that the Armistice had already been signed at 5:10 a.m. on the morning of November 11th. Within minutes of the signing, news of the cease fire had been transmitted all around the world. The “war to end all wars”, was finally over. And every general and every high ranking officer knew this. They were all aware of what had happened that day at 5.10 a.m., a time which was then backed up officially to 5.00 a.m.

Even the primitive technology of the day allowed the wonderful news to be in every major city by 5.30 p.m. and celebrations began in the streets well before most soldiers were aware of the end of hostilities.
Except that technically, the “war to end all wars”, was not yet actually over, because the cease-fire was not to come into effect until Foch’s deadline: the eleventh month, the  eleventh day and the eleventh hour of 1918. In this way all the soldiers in the trenches would be completely sure of being told the news that the conflict had finished.

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For this reason General William M. Wright thought it would be a fine idea for the American 89th Division to attack the tiny village of Stenay in north-eastern France only hours before the war ended.

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A total of 365 men died because, in Wright’s words,

“the division had been in the line a considerable period without proper bathing facilities, and since it was realized that if the enemy were permitted to stay in Stenay, our troops would be deprived of the probable bathing facilities there.”

Indeed, the Americans were to take heavy casualties on the last day of the war. This was because their commander, General John Pershing, believed that the Germans had to be severely defeated at a military level to effectively “teach them a lesson”. Pershing saw the Armistice as being too soft. He supported the commanders who wanted to attack German positions – even though he knew that an Armistice had been signed.

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It says it all perhaps to reveal the detail that the French commander of the “80th Régiment d’Infanterie” received two simultaneous orders on that morning of November 11th. The first  was to launch an attack at 9.00 a.m., the second was to cease fire at 11.00 a.m..

The last British soldier to die in the Great War seems to have been Private George Edwin Ellison, who was killed at 9.30 a.m. after serving a full four years on the Western Front. He was forty years of age, and had seen combat on the very first day of the conflict.

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A soldier in the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, Ellison was scouting on the outskirts of the Belgian town of Mons where German soldiers had been reported in a wood. In just ninety minutes or so, the war would be over and George Ellison, an ex-coal miner and the son of James and Mary Ellison, would go back to 49, Edmund Street, in Leeds, to his wife Hannah Maria and their four-year-old son James.  And then a rifle shot rang out, and George was dead. He would never go home to his loving family, but would rest for ever in St.Symphorien Military Cemetery.

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The last French soldier to be killed was Augustin Trebuchon from the “415th Régiment d’Infanterie”. He was a runner and was taking a message to his colleagues at the front telling them of the ceasefire. He was hit by a single shot and killed at 10.50 a.m. Some seventy five French soldiers were killed on the last half-day of the war but their graves all give November 10th as the date of death. Optimists believe the reason for this discrepancy was that by stating that these men had died well before the end of the war, their family would be guaranteed a war pension. Realists believe that the government wanted to avoid any political scandal if it ever became known that so many brave men had died so pointlessly on the last day of the conflict.

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The last Canadian to be killed was Private George Lawrence Price of the Canadian Infantry (Second Canadian Division) who died, like Englishman George Ellison, at Mons in Belgium. Private Price was killed at 10.58 a.m., and he was officially the last Commonwealth casualty in the Great War. So Private Price would never be going home to Port Williams, in Nova Scotia to see again his loving parents, James and Annie Price. Instead their wonderful son would rest for ever in St.Symphorien Military Cemetery, just a short distance from the grave of Private George Ellison.

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The last American soldier to be killed was Private Henry Gunter who was killed at 10.59 a.m, one minute later than Private Price, the Canadian. A Private from Baltimore, ironically, of German ancestry, Gunter was officially the last Allied soldier to die in the Great War.

According to Joseph E.Persico

“His unit had been ordered to advance and take a German machine gun post. It is said that even the Germans – who knew that they were literally minutes away from a ceasefire – tried to stop the Americans attacking. But when it became obvious that this had failed, they fired on their attackers and Gunter was killed. His divisional record stated: “Almost as he fell, the gunfire died away and an appalling silence prevailed.”

Again according to Joseph E.Persico,

“The last casualty of the Great War seems to have been a junior German officer called Tomas who approached some Americans to tell them that the war was over and that they could have the house he and his men were just vacating. However, no one had told the Americans that the war had finished because of a communications breakdown and Tomas was shot as he approached them after 11.00 a.m.”

The total British Empire losses on the last day of the war were around 2,400 dead. Total French losses on that day amounted to an estimated 1,170. The Americans suffered more than 3,000 casualties, and the Germans lost 4,120 soldiers.

Indeed, Armistice Day, with its ridiculous totals of killed, wounded or missing, exceeded the ten thousand casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day, some twenty six years later. There was a crucial difference however. The men beginning to liberate Western Europe on June 6th, 1944, were risking their lives to win a war. The men who died on November 11, 1918, were losing their lives in a war that the Allies had already won.

This account occurs on an American website……

“When the American losses became public knowledge, such was the anger at home that Congress held a hearing regarding the matter. In November 1919, Pershing faced a House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs that examined whether senior army commanders had acted accordingly in the last few days of the war.”

The story is continued on another website….

“Bland, the other Republican on Subcommittee 3, knifed quickly to the heart of the matter when his turn came to question General Conner.
“Do you know of any good reason,” Bland asked, “why the order to commanders should not have been that the Armistice had been signed to take effect at 11 o’clock and that actual hostilities should cease as soon as possible in order to save human life?”
General Conner conceded that American forces “would not have been jeopardized by such an order, if that is what you mean.”
Bland then asked, regarding Pershing’s notification to his armies merely that hostilities were to cease at 11 a.m., “Did the order leave it up to the individual commanders to quit firing before, or to go ahead firing until, 11 o’clock?”
“Yes,” General Conner answered.
Bland then asked, “In view of the fact that we had ambitious generals in this Army, who were earnestly fighting our enemies and who hated to desist from doing so…would it have been best under the circumstances to have included in that order that hostilities should cease as soon as practicable before 11 o’clock?”
General Conner answered firmly, “No sir, I do not.”
“How many generals did you lose on that day?” Bland went on.
“None,” General Conner replied.
“How many colonels did you lose on that day?”
General Conner: “I do not know how many were lost.”
“How many lieutenant colonels did you lose on that day?”
General Conner: “I do not know the details of any of that.”
“I am convinced,” Bland continued, “that on November 11 there was not any officer of very high rank taking any chance of losing his own life….”
General Conner, visibly seething, retorted, “The statement made by you, I think, Mr. Bland, is exceedingly unjust, and, as an officer who was over there, I resent it to the highest possible degree.”
Bland shot back, “I resent the fact that these lives were lost and the American people resent the fact that these lives were lost; and we have a right to question the motive, if necessary, of the men who have occasioned this loss of life.”
With that, General Conner was dismissed from giving evidence.

Would that such a hearing had taken place in every country, especially Great Britain.

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