Tag Archives: Canada

My New Book

We have just finished publishing my new book about the High School’s casualties in WW2. Here is the front cover:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

In the Footsteps of the Valiant: The Lives and Deaths of the Forgotten Heroes of Nottingham High School (Vol.1).

This is the first volume of a series detailing the Old Nottinghamians of all ages who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom during the Second World War. After nearly five years of ground breaking research, I have been able to add at least forty new names to the official casualty list. I have also uncovered details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties wherever they died, from Saskatchewan to Iran.

This is not, however, a book just about death. I also tell the stories of their lives: their families, where they used to live and their years at school with Masters very different from those of today. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their deaths, the details of which were completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research. And all this is spiced with countless tales of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city so different from that of today.

No tale is left untold. No anecdote ignored.

Now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-one/paperback/product-24309191.html

The book has 348 pages and is 24 x 19 cms in size (9½ inches x 7½ inches). Any profits will go to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The title refers to “the Valiant” because for the last hundred years or so, the hymn sung in the very first assembly of the school year is that old favourite, “He who would valiant be”. The hymn was the only one ever written by John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Here are the words of the three verses. They don’t write them like that any more:

“He who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster
Let him in constancy follow the Master
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound – his strength the more is
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit
We know we at the end, shall life inherit
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say
I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim”

Here’s the video:

Apparently the boys back in the 1920s wanted to sing the original unexpurgated John Bunyan version, but were not allowed to. Verse 3 lines 1 and 2 used to be:

“Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,

Can daunt his spirit “

Verse 2 lines 5 and 6 used to be equally exciting with:

“No lion can him fright,

He’ll with a giant fight,”

You can read all about it here.

This hymn has nowadays become the Battle Hymn of the SAS.

One Old Nottinghamian was killed fighting with the SAS in the Mediterranean theatre. Another died at Arnhem:

And another in Iran:

Another in Burma:

Another in Egypt:

In Leicester:

In Greece:

And in Saskatchewan, Canada:

And now, after nearly five years of completely original and ground breaking research, at least forty new names can now be added to the old list of eighty.

And the hitherto unknown details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties have been discovered.

The full story is available here.

 

 

25 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, Film & TV, France, History, Nottingham, Politics, Russia, The High School, Writing

The Avro Lincoln at RAF Cosford

During a recent visit to the museum at RAF Cosford, I was able, as a confirmed fan of the Avro Lancaster, to view its successor, the Avro Lincoln:

cosford c xxxxxxxxxxx

The Avro Lincoln flew for the first time in June 1944, just a few days after the Normandy landings. The first examples of the new bomber were actually called the Lancaster Mark IV and the Lancaster Mark V, but they were eventually rechristened the Lincoln Mark I and the Lincoln Mark II. The new aircraft was the last bomber in the RAF with good old-fashioned piston engines and proper propellers:

lincoln_rf570_heritage_centre

The theory was that the Lincoln would be used in “Tiger Force”, Bomber Command’s contribution to a potentially catastrophic invasion of Japan in 1946. The bombers would have acted, presumably, as the RAF’s equivalent of the B-29 Superfortress or the much less well known Consolidated B-32 Dominator. Here is a B-29, “Fifi”, sadly the only example left flying from the 3,790 constructed:

fifi xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is the little known B-32, the aircraft which actually flew the last combat mission of World War 2. Only 1156 of these bombers were ever built:

b32-main

At the time of “Tiger Force”, my Dad had already had all his medical injections for this next phase of the war, and the squadron’s Lancasters were all being crated up to be transported out to the Far East. Then suddenly, the Americans dropped their two atomic bombs and the war finally came to an end.
The Lincoln was certainly an improvement on the Lancaster, but the performance figures given in Wikipedia are not particularly startling, with bomb loads, aircraft size and speeds all roughly similar.  Here is the capacious bomb bay:

cosford b xxxxxxxx

The range of the Lincoln was greater than its predecessor, and the maximum speed was an improvement, with the aircraft able to cruise happily at 215 mph.  Similarly, the service ceiling and the rate of climb were better than the Lancaster.
Eventually, more than six hundred Lincolns were to be manufactured, with a further 73 in Australia where it was the largest aircraft ever to be built there.

This photograph comes from a splendid Australian website where you can learn, more or less, to fly a Lincoln, especially the long nosed version, the Mark 31. Every single one also contains two or three  of the author’s laugh-out-loud feelings about life. My favourite one is:

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”

 

australian mark 31
Just one single Avro Lincoln was constructed in Canada. Here it is:

canadian _Lincoln_ExCC

With the RAF, the Lincoln was used in the 1950s to oppose the Mau Mau terrorists/freedom fighters in Kenya. You can read the story for yourself, but I do love the British evaluation of the Mau Mau by Dr. John Colin Carothers as

“an irrational force of evil, dominated by bestial impulses and influenced by world communism”

I also enjoyed the description of the traitorous Africans who continued to support the nasty British as:

“the running dogs of British Imperialism”

Very Mao Tse-Tung. And here is the Great Man, ordering five beers:

Chairman-Mao-Zedong-007
The Avro Lincoln was also employed against terrorists/freedom fighters who operated in Malaya (now Malaysia). They too were influenced by world communism, although they were unable to import any running dogs of British Imperialism because of the rather strict customs regulations in force at the time.

All of that history is fairly predictable, except for the sad story of the single Avro Lincoln (RF531 “C”) which was shot down by the Soviet Air Force.  The bomber was attacked by a MiG-15 fighter on its way to Berlin on March 12th 1953. This is a MiG-15:

mig15takeoff05 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The Lincoln was being flown by members of the Central Gunnery School at Leconfield in Yorkshire, and all seven of the crew were killed. The whole very sad, rather ghastly tale, is told on the Spyflight website. What a sad, sick waste of young men’s lives that was. There was just no need for it.

A lot further south, the use of the Avro Lincoln by the Argentine Air Force, the Fuerza Aérea Argentina is quite interesting:

Avroaregenrtine 2Lincoln_B-010_0084_2006-0

These Lincolns (and indeed, Lancasters) were initially employed by the I Grupo de Bombardeo to bomb the rebels, during a military coup in September 1951.  Four years later, the British aircraft were obviously highly thought of, because, in what seems to have been another rather over-vigorous political argument, they were used by the government to bomb the rebels, and by the rebels to bomb the government. Here is the paint scheme of the rebels, apparently influenced, if only slightly, by world communism:

rebel lincoln

This was, of course, the Revolución Libertadora which ousted Juan Peron and his wife Madonna.

(“She plays Evita with a poignant weariness and has more than just a bit of star quality. Love or hate Madonna-Eva, she is a magnet for all eyes.”)

Some things I just cannot resist. Nobody could:

One interesting feature about these ageing South American bombers was that both the Lancasters and the Lincolns in Argentina were serviced, and kept viable, for many, many, years, by ex-Luftwaffe engineers.  For some unknown reason, they had all decided to leave the Fatherland in 1945 to live out the rest of their sad lives in South America:

lincoln argentine

I was fascinated to read as well that Avro Lincolns were used to support the Argentinian bases in the Antarctic. One aircraft therefore, was flown back to Avro in England. Engineers there added a civilian nose and tail, removed all armament, and put in generous extra fuel tanks. Registered as a civil airliner called the Cruz del Sur, the aircraft dropped supplies to the Antarctic San Martín Base from December 1951 onwards:

crfuz del sud
Sixty or so years later, the Argentinians still have two Avro Lincolns preserved. You have already seen two photographs of one of them. Here is another:

argen best picture

The Australians have one of their Lincolns in storage for restoration in the future, and there is also the aircraft that we all saw at RAF Cosford, with its rather disconcerting blue bosses to the propellers:

cosford a xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And, as far as I know, that’s it! What a wonderful regard we have for preserving RAF aircraft. Are we embarrassed that we were ever forced to use them in anger?

38 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

Off to the Great War (Part Two)

I wrote about my grandfather, Will Knifton, in a previous blog post:

A1 hard man

When he first joined the Canadian Army in Toronto, he was soon sent across the Atlantic to receive his initial training in England. He started at  Shorncliffe Training Camp in Kent, learning how to be a Canadian soldier from late July 1916 until the end of November. There was a Canadian Training Division at Shorncliffe and I suspect he was stationed there. Will seems to have enjoyed his stay in Kent, the so-called “Garden of England”. I have already shown you some of the post cards he sent to his fiancée, in an article imaginatively entitled “Off to the Great War (Part One)”.

At this time, Will’s fiancée, Fanny Smith, lived with her family in Woodville, a little village in South Derbyshire. Will sent Fanny many postcards. This one is of Sandgate, a little seaside resort in the area. It shows the High Street East:

sandg high st

The message reads:

“Sandgate is about 5 minutes walk from Ross Barracks. Love Will”

five mins ross back xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ross Barracks were themselves part of Shorncliffe Camp.

This next postcard was posted at 10.00 am. on August 4th 1916. It shows the low cliffs in this small village near Shorncliffe Camp and close to Folkestone:

sandgate cliff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the back of the postcard:

baxk of snadgate c;liff xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The message reads;

baxk of snadgate c;liff eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Once again, Will is able to retain an almost surreal quality in his writing:

“It has been so warm today and we walked 18 miles. Send me lots of news dear. Love to all. Yours Will”

This postcard was franked at 11.00 pm, on August 20th 1916, and had been posted in Folkestone, perhaps after a visit by train to the famous cathedral, only some twenty miles away in Canterbury:

camterbury cathedrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the back of the postcard:

back cathedralzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here is the message enlarged:

back cathedra jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

The message reads, as far as I can decipher it….

 “Sunday 1pm

I didn’t get my pass yesterday so couldn’t see Stacey. (name slightly illegible) May go next week. Trust you are alright. Fondest love, Will ”

This postcard shows the Lees and the Shelter at Folkestone:

folstone colour

The message reads:

“Yours to hand love (?) A letter is coming. I wish I were too. wont be long Fondest love Will”:

back folkstome colour

Here is the message enlarged. This seems to be in his more florid style of handwriting:

back folkstome colour enlarged

 

In retrospect, this next postcard may perhaps seem a little insensitive. Just a few short weeks after being asked to join the blood soaked antics of the Western Front, and due to depart on November 17th for the trenches, Will sent his fiancée a postcard of the large convalescent home in Folkestone. Presumably, the lone soldier on the seat is the only one left after “The Big Push”:

convalaecscnt home

This is the reverse of the card:

back hospitasl

Can you decipher the message, written in best quality pencil?

Here it is enlarged:

back hospitasl wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

And notice too, how the young prototype Canadian, once again, says “I will write you”, rather than the more usual English of “I will write to you”. In actual fact, the message reads……

“I will write you again tonight. Trust you are well. Love to all. Fond love to you. Will”

The postmark of 9.oo pm on September 5th 1916 reveals that Will could not have been convalescing at the hospital, as he had only just arrived in England from Canada on July 25th 1916, and he did not set off to join the Great War until November 17th 1916.

I am fairly sure that this was Will’s last card before he moved on in his Canadian Army career. I suspect that it was sent from Folkestone in Kent, just before Will embarked for France and the Western Front. The reverse, unusually for Will, is blank. Perhaps what faced him in the future was enough to take away his inspiration temporarily:

old sldier channel

The inscription on the front of the card reads:

“Crossing the Channel was quite a thrilling thing. But an old B.E.F. man rather spoiled the trip by swanking without his life belt, and otherwise showing everyone that the entire thing was far from new to him.”

On November 17th, Will left Shorncliffe, Folkestone and Kent to sail for France and the “3rd D.A.C.” He was “taken on strength” with the “3rd D.A.C.” on November 23rd, and could now be considered a fully fledged soldier.

Like many soldiers on the Western Front during the Great War, Will was shot by a German machine gun on at least one occasion. He had two wounds in the legs, and I believe that he may have gone back to Kent to recuperate. The position of his wounds was doubtless because German machine gunners were trained to sweep their guns backwards and forwards close to the ground:

a23_world_war_1_german_machine_gun_1

They were told to try and imitate a man cutting down grass with a scythe:

giphy

Germans, machine guns, bombs, mud, trench foot, sudden death, whatever. Will survived it all:

old age

 

 

 

14 Comments

Filed under Canada, France, History, Personal

Off to the Great War (Part One)

I have already mentioned in a previous blog post that my Grandfather, Will Knifton, emigrated to Canada in an unknown year before the Great War. Conceivably, he was with his elder brother, John Knifton, or more likely perhaps, John went across the Atlantic first and then Will joined him later on. I have only two pieces of evidence to go on.

Firstly, it is recorded that a John Knifton landed in Canada on May 9th 1907. His ship was the “Lake Manitoba” and he was twenty three years of age. His nationality is listed in the Canadian records as English.

On the other hand, I still have an old Bible belonging to my Grandfather, which says inside the front cover,

“the Teachers and Scholars of the Wesleyan Sunday School, Church Gresley, given to him as a token of appreciation for services rendered to the above School, and with sincerest wishes for his future happiness and prosperity. March 26th 1911.”

Whatever the truth of his arrival, Will lived at 266, Symington Avenue, Toronto. He then worked as a locomotive fireman on the Canadian Pacific Railways, between Chapleau, Ontario, right across the Great Plains to Winnipeg. He also talked many times of the town of Moose Jaw, although he never supplied any details that I can remember:

cab paint

Will joined the Canadian Army on June 12th 1916 at the Toronto Recruiting Depôt. He sailed from Canada for the Western Front on July 16th 1916 on the “S.S.Empress of Britain”:

ss_empress_of_britain

For many years, Will had courted a local English girl called Fanny Smith, the daughter of Levi Smith, a labourer in a clay hole in the area around the village of Woodville, in South Derbyshire, where they all lived. Will wrote to her from Canada and then, during his time in the army, he sent her regular postcards from France. During his leaves from the front, he always returned to see her and they married on July 15th 1917:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I still have quite a few of Will’s postcards. He had clearly bought this postcard just before he left Canada for England and the Great War:

montrealbxxxxxxxxxxxxx

He used to speak enthusiastically about Montreal and especially about the famous Hôtel Frontenac:

Château_Frontenac_02

On July 25th, Will duly arrived in England, and was taken on strength into the army at Shorncliffe in Kent. He posted his postcard of Montreal soon after he arrived at Shorncliffe Camp in Folkestone, Kent, at 7.00 pm on July 27th 1916. Here is the back of it:

shrncliffe campxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The message reads:

Englands shores   Dearest, arrived safely on the Empress of Britain, a pleasant voyage was free from sickness will write you later fondest love Will”.

Notice how Will is beginning to become a Canadian with his unusual lack of a preposition in “will write you later”.

Shorncliffe Camp was where Will, and many other young men, were to train for France and the Western Front. Having mentioned the idea of being sick in his previous postcard, Will continues the romantic mood with a picture of the men and horses of the Canadian Field Artillery drilling hard on the parade ground:

canadian cannons sepiaxxxxxxxxxx

The reverse is here:

reverse of shoercliffexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Will manages to make a charming juxtaposition of “men and horses at drill with the big guns” and “Fondest thoughts” to his true love. (And she really was his true love.)

Will began his training at Shorncliffe on July 27th and he remained there until November 17th 1916. The schedule for basic training makes interesting reading nowadays. This particular week was the one ending June 5th 1915, and it is difficult to imagine that Will would have done anything substantially different just over a year later:

Monday 

(6.30-7.00 am)                          Squad drill without arms

(8.00-9.00 am)                         Physical Training

(9.00-9.30 am)                          Bayonet Fighting

(9.30-10.00 am)                        Rapid loading

(10.00-12.00 am)                      Company Training

afternoon                                 as for morning less ½ hour squad drill

Tuesday

morning                                   as for Monday

afternoon                                Entrenching  (2 Companies), remainder as for Monday

Night March

Wednesday

morning                                   as for Monday

afternoon                                 Entrenching  (2 Companies), remainder as for Monday

Thursday                                  all day                      Battalion field training

Friday 

morning                                    as for Monday

afternoon                                 as for Monday

Saturday 

morning                                   as for Monday, less afternoon (holiday)

(If this were a restaurant, you would only go there once, wouldn’t you?)

Will’s next postcard continues the hearts and flowers theme with a photograph of the men’s tents.

Will’s own tent is marked with a cross:

tentxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is the reverse side of this postcard. Firstly, as Fanny received it:

back of tentxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And here is the message enlarged:

back of tent2xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Will remained at Shorncliffe until November 17th. He sent his girlfriend, or perhaps by now, his fiancée, some more post cards before he left. We will look at them in the near future.

 

 

22 Comments

Filed under Canada, France, History, Personal

A very long way from home

If you cast your minds back what seems now a very long time, my continuing researches about the German bomber shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall on September 27th 1942 , had led me to the cemetery in Penzance:

P1500367 XXXXXX

Of the seventy one Second World War burials in this cemetery, the grave of one particular sailor is very noticeable, because he lies such a very, very, long way from his home.

His name was Earl William Graham. Earl was an Able Seaman in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (R.C.N.V.R):

March 29th 1945 cropped

Earl was born in 1917, the son of Arthur John Graham and Gertrude Graham. He was the husband of Regina Graham, of Preston, Ontario, Canada:

ontario

Earl Graham, aged just twenty eight, was serving on board H.M.C.S. Teme (K 458) not far off Land’s End, in position 50º07’N, 05º45’W. At 08.22 hours  on March 29th 1945, just six or seven weeks from the end of the conflict, the warship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-315. The Teme was hit in the stern and the rear sixty feet of the ship was blown off.
Three sailors were blown into the sea by the explosion, and poor Earl Williams was killed outright. The Teme might well have been thought, perhaps, an unlucky ship. It had already been the apparently jinxed victim of a significant collision, when an aircraft carrier struck her amidships in the Bay of Biscay in June 1944. The Teme only just avoided being sliced completely in half:

Capture

The “Teme” had been escorting the convoy BTC-111 off Land’s End. The Canadian warship had been “sweeping” to the rear of the convoy of merchant ships when it was attacked. Debris was flung some fifty feet into the air, and one man, later ascertained to be the unfortunate Earl Williams, was blown from the quarter deck up onto the after gun deck. He died moments later from his injuries. The three other seamen were never seen again, although they were initially posted as “missing in action”.
My internet researches have revealed their names as Gordon Walter Bolin, Thomas Joseph Hackett and Robert Everett Rowe. Thomas Hackett’s body was eventually found and his remains are buried in Falmouth Cemetery in Cornwall. Gordon Bolin and Robert Rowe, sadly, were never found, and their supreme sacrifice is commemorated on the Halifax Memorial, along with 2,842 others.
On this occasion, it took twelve hours to tow the mortally stricken “Teme” to Falmouth in Cornwall but the ship was so badly damaged that it was declared a Constructive Total Loss (CTL). A legal definition of the latter is…

“Insured property that has been abandoned because its actual total loss appears to be unavoidable, or because it could not be preserved or repaired without an expenditure which would exceed its value.”

The “Teme” was a Frigate of the River class, with a tonnage of some 1,370 tons. It had only just been completed in 1944 at Smith’s Dock Co Ltd, South Bank, Middlesbrough, in the north east of England. The ship was decommissioned and returned to the Royal Navy on May 4th 1945. They sold it to be broken up for scrap on December 8th 1945. So far researches are ongoing but the names of at least eight people serving on the ship are known:

frigate_river_hmcs_teme dertfyThe U315 operated with a grand total of some thirteen different Wolfpacks during its career, in some cases for just a few days. Their names included Blitz, Donner, Grimm and Panther. Launched at Flender Werke AG, Lübeck  on May 29th 1943, the U-315 went on eleven different patrols, and was commanded throughout by Oberleutnant Herbert Zoller:

zoller_herbert

The submarine surrendered at Trondheim, Norway on May 9th 1945. The craft was declared unseaworthy. and cut up for scrap on site in Norway in March 1947. I have been unable to trace any photographs of the U-315, but here is another Type VIIC U-Boat, the U-995, currently on display at the Laboe Naval Memorial near Kiel. Do not fail to click on the link to the German website, and make sure that you try the Panorama views. They are guaranteed to scare you (top of the tower) or make you very seasick indeed. Just look for the three yellow-orange circles on the photograph:

u boat xxxxxxx

The U-315 did not suffer a single casualty throughout its fifteen month career, and sank only two ships, the Teme and the Empire Kingsley, a merchant vessel of just under 7,000 tons:

empire_kingsleyI would highly recommend this website about U-Boats. It has a vast database of the more than 80,000 people who were in the crews of ships attacked by U-boats, as well as the most astounding detail about the U-boats themselves. I was also strongly attracted by the “U-boat of the Day” feature (bottom left).

8 Comments

Filed under Canada, Cornwall, History

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

aaaaa50478

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.

ab5

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

P1330533xxxxxxxxxxxxx

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

TT8 xxxxxxxxxxx

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Do_217E-2_

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.

P1330546  yyyyy

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.”

williamjoyce_2041800i

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”.

metal detrector zzzzzzzz

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.  

Dornier-Do-217E2- zzzzzzz

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History, Humour

Frank Roy Daughton, friend of S.A.Casswell

A little while ago, I wrote about a Schoolboy’s Diary which I had bought on ebay. The 1935 diary had been owned by S.A.Casswell , who lived in Lincolnshire, at Sutterton near Boston. Only a few minutes searching on the Internet revealed some rather sad details about the one single person listed by S.A.Casswell in the address section of his Diary.
Frank Roy Daughton had lived firstly at 385, Kings Road Chelsea and then at 5, Gerald Road S.W 1. He was an officer originally in the RAFVR, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, and then in the RAF.
Given that Daughton’s job was to fly aircraft over long distances, both within Great Britain and abroad, he was surely continually in search of meteorological information before he set off on any of his trips. What more logical person to consult than his friend S.A.Casswell, who we know worked on the staff of the Meteorological Office as a Meteorological Officer?
Roy Daughton was born in London around 1915. His father was Frank Daughton and his mother was Bertha Daughton. The first personal detail that I have been able to trace is that before the war he was a member of the Metropolitan Police. His warrant number was 124334. He joined the force on July 15th 1935, and he left on February 25th 1944. His last posting was as a Police Constable in the C.I.D in X Division.

During the war, Roy Daughton was a Flying Officer, Number 133684. He began his career as a pilot with 9 OTU (Operational Training Unit) who were tasked with training long-range fighter aircrew. They operated from RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland, eighteen miles from Belfast. Roy Daughton must have served with 9 OTU at some point between 1942-August 11th 1944, as they were a comparatively short lived organisation.  He had received his commission on February 2nd 1943.

2' 2'43  supplement to LOndon Gazette
Roy Daughton then served with the OADU, the Overseas Aircraft Despatch Unit.  Their difficult and dangerous job was, quite simply, to co-ordinate the ferry flights of military aircraft, perhaps, for example, from the end of a factory production line in the United Kingdom to their new home on some distant foreign airbase. The commonest destination was North Africa or the Middle East. Sometimes, they ferried American aircraft which had just been flown across the Atlantic Ocean. This latter task in itself could be enormously dangerous, especially in the case of relatively small aircraft such as the Lockheed Hudson. The Overseas Aircraft Despatch Unit operated from RAF Portreath in west Cornwall.

The OADU’s very first customers were four Boeing B17C Flying Fortresses bound for Egypt. Other frequent flyers were Bristol Blenheims, Bristol Beaufighters, and Vickers Wellington bombers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Roy was to die on February 25th, 1944 aged only 29. I have been completely unable to trace the circumstances of his death, although it was presumably either while or after delivering an aircraft from the United Kingdom to North Africa.

map of rabat

Roy is buried in Morocco, a very long way indeed from his cosy home in London. He lies in Rabat European Cemetery, Mil. Plot 21. Grave 673.

Daughton_F_R grave

Roy is one of only nine war casualties in this far flung cemetery.

gereman websiteAt the time of his death Frank was a married man. His wife, who was about a year younger than him, was called Doreen Margaret Daughton, and the family home was in Maida Vale in London. In addition, I also discovered that in 1946, a Doreen M. Daughton left the port of Southampton in England and sailed to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. She later crossed the border into the USA, but after that, the trail has, as they say, “run cold”.
And that is it. Frank Roy Daughton’s life, or what I personally have been able to find out about it. No medals, no fanfares. Nobody even seems to remember why he died at that premature age of around twenty nine years, or how or exactly where. What was he doing when he was killed? Was it his fault? Was he flying? Did he run out of fuel? Was he just walking perhaps, tired and inattentive, across a busy Moroccan street? And did S.A.Casswell ever know that his brave young friend was dead?

Leave a comment

Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History