Tag Archives: Devon

A very cunning Käpitan

In Penzance Cemetery lie the graves of twenty two Second World War casualties from four individual ships:

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These vessels were in a convoy which was attacked by six German E boats ten miles to the west of Lizard Point, during the night of January 5th-6th 1944. All four ships were sunk. The casualties included HMS Wallasea, an armed trawler which was acting as one of the escort ships, the S.S.Solstad, the M.V.Polperro and the M.V.Underwood. This attack was part of the German attempts to disrupt the Allies’ obvious preparations for an invasion of Western Europe that coming summer.

What is so very striking about Naval war graves, however, having seen the last resting places of literally thousands of Army and Air Force casualties, are that the latter can often be very similar in age, rank or nationality, and perhaps even as far as regiments are concerned: in other words, the same kind of details may be repeated over and over again. With Naval graves, though, you feel almost as if a whole family is involved, with people of often widely differing ages, all having performed some specific job within the ship. And like a family, that ship is the sum of these individual parts.
The S.S.Solstad was a Swedish steam powered cargo ship originally launched in 1924 by Lewis John & Sons Ltd. of Aberdeen, under the name of the “Gatwick”. It weighed just under 1,400 tons, and was travelling from Swansea to London with a cargo of coal when it was torpedoed by the German torpedo boats, S-136 and S-84. The ship sank in three minutes with the loss of five lives. Here is the Solstad in two different companies’ liveries:

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Alide Reicher was 53 years of age. She a stewardess on the Solstad. She is, I think, the only woman war casualty whose grave I personally have ever seen, and even more unique is the fact that she was Swedish, a neutral nationality in theory, and was serving on board a ship of the Swedish Merchant Navy. She really was somebody who gave their life for freedom:

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The second casualty from the Solstad was Kenneth Allen who was killed aged only eighteen. Kenneth was a Deck Hand and the son of Alfred Anthony Allen and Minnie Allen of Blyth Northumberland. He was the husband of Marjorie Gertrude Allen of Gravesend:

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The M.V. Polperro, registered in Fowey, had sailed from Manchester with a cargo of coal, joining a convoy bound for Penryn, Cornwall and then on to London. This is the only photograph that I could find:

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The Polperro went down with the loss of all hands, namely eight Merchant Navy seamen and three Royal Navy gunners:

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The wreck lies in 200ft of water. The Penzance graves from this nautical family are two Able Seamen:

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The M.V.Underwood, almost three hundred feet long and weighing two thousand tons, was travelling from the River Clyde in Scotland to Portsmouth, with military stores including vehicles. The crew of fifteen seamen and three passengers was all lost. This photo shows the M.V.Tuaranga, which was the sister ship of the Underwood, but in all respects save its name, it is the same vessel:

Port Tuaranga, was the sister ship of M.V.Underwood

The wreck of the Underwood was identified in 1975 by information on the boss of the propeller. This grave is that of the Radio Officer, Alexander McRae. He was 43 years of age and came from Carluke in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Graves do not have accents however. Alexander’s parents were William McRae and Annie McRae (nee Wilkie). His wife was called Edith :

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His Majesty’s Trawler Wallasea, (T-345) was an Isle Class Armed Trawler built in 1943. This vessel was part of the Royal Naval Patrol Service and weighed just under five hundred tons.

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Seventeen members of the Wallasea’s crew are interred at Penzance.  This closely knit sea-going family includes an Able Seaman, the Cook, an Engineman, a Leading Steward, an Ordinary Signalman, a Seaman, a Second Hand, a Stoker and a Telegraphist:

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All of these Allied vessels were sunk by German E-boats. These impressive vessels were capable of speeds up to almost 50 m.p.h. and were easily the most effective torpedo boats ever built:

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The attackers on January 5th-6th 1944 were the 5th Flotilla led by Leutnant-Kommander Karl Wilhelm Walter Müller. The flotilla comprised S84, S136, S138, S141, S-52, S142 and S14. In German, the “S” strands for “schnell” or “fast”. Rather imaginatively, in English the “E” stands for “Enemy”.

Karl Müller, when he was the commander of Schnellboot S-52, was already credited with the sinking of the British destroyer Eskdale on April 14th 1943:

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He was no doubt the very proud owner of his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, awarded on July 8th 1943. This is the only picture of Karl Wilhelm Walter Müller which I have been able to find. The lettering across the photo is in German and may refer to copyright problems, but on the other hand, the long word, when re-examined in Photoshop, does appear to have a swastika in the middle of it, so perhaps it is from some archival source:

Karl Müller received Ritterkreuz

On this particular occasion off the coast of Cornwall, Müller was again in command of Schnellboot S-52. He was tasked with attacking convoys in the English Channel. Skilfully, Müller lay in wait for these particular ships of Convoy WP457, very close to the Cornish coast. His little fleet was then able to surprise the convoy by an unexpected attack from the landward side. This is the little cove where the German E-boat fleet sheltered. Look for the orange arrow:

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This is the cove where the Germans took refuge. They were extremely close to the shore:

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The soldiers guarding the telegraphy installations at Porthcurno presumed that the motor boats must be British and took no action. It was later said that “Their role was to guard the telegraph and not to act as coastal lookouts.” Such pathetic, pompous stupidity was to cost a great many lives.

At three o’clock in the morning of January 6th, 1944, the British convoy was more or less ready to cross Mount’s Bay where:

“The weather was fine with good visibility. It was moonlight with a south-west wind force three and moderate sea. Leaving the cove they prepared to attack the convoy.”

The cunning Leutnant-Kommander Müller had the enormous advantage of complete surprise because his attack came from the landward, Cornwall, side. The escort led by the aging destroyer H.M.S. Mackay was overwhelmed by the firing of no less than 23 torpedoes and four ships were sunk:

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The German force’s first attack sank the Solstad and the second, some five miles south of Penzance, sent the Underwood, the Polperro and the Wallasea to the bottom. Nowadays, with the right knowledge from the Internet, these ships can be visited by divers. Look for the orange arrow:

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The rest of Convoy WP457 continued on their way, while the brave civilians of the Penlee lifeboat made valiant attempts to rescue any survivors. Those still alive, of course, were faced with a very low water temperature because of the time of year. In total more than sixty people were killed including, as we have already seen, one woman, Alide Reicher, who was a stewardess on the S.S.Solstad which, technically, belonged to the Swedish Merchant Navy.
Overall, Penzance Cemetery holds twenty two naval casualties from this action with the majority, seventeen, being members of the crew of HM Trawler “Wallasea”.
In April 1944, the Fifth Flotilla under Leutenant-Kommander Karl Müller, was among the E-boats who carried out another audacious attack, this time on Exercise or Operation Tiger, a large-scale rehearsal for the D-Day invasion of Normandy which was being held at Slapton in Devon:

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A total of 946 American servicemen were killed, with the almost inevitable communication problems causing many casualties from friendly fire. The majority of the casualties, however, were on the morning of April 28th, when a convoy of troops was attacked in Lyme Bay by nine German E-boats under the command of Korvettenkapitän Bernd Klug:

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Leutnant-Kommander Karl Müller survived the war and returned to serve in the West German Navy from 1956–1957. He died in Celle in 1989 at the age of seventy two. Had he been wearing a different uniform in 1944, perhaps an American one, they would have made movies about his daring attack during the 1950s.
It would have been impossible to have written this article without the basic research having been made freely available by David Betts. His excellent book about this most exciting episode in World War Two is advertised here:

There are two final points. Firstly, the war graves in Penzance Cemetery are kept immaculate, every single one. In order to make the inscriptions visible, I have had to photoshop all my photographs and that is the reason that the graves look so peculiar. And last of all, the real cost of war is in these last two photographs. How sad a fate for “our dear Bernard” and a “dear husband and daddy” :

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The Diary of S.A. Casswell, 16¾

Four or five years ago, I had a phase when I bid for a few diaries on eBay. One particular diary that I bought was the “Charles Letts Schoolboy’s Diary for 1935”. The inscription on the inside front cover reads “With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and the New Year from Johnie” (sic)

Typical of a boy perhaps, the diary is barely filled in at all, and where it is, it is helpfully done in his own personal code. Whatever happened on June 11, it was 7  I  T and so was the previous Tuesday, June 4th.  June 3rd, however, was 8 Sw I T. January 1st was  “9 Sp I Party” and January 2nd was “Rec. Card (New Year). February 20th was “Sp.I. Party  T.Lodge”. It may be that the owner was using his old 1935 schoolboy diary to record events when he was in the R.A.F. (see below). This would be because it was not allowed to keep a diary in the British Armed Forces, in case you were captured, and your scribblings were of use to the Nazis. This cunning plan is certainly implied by his entry for January 16th which reads “Night Raid on Berlin 1943 spoke to one pilot”.

I  know only the young man’s surname and initials. He was called S.A.Casswell and he lived at a house called “Tudor Lodge”.

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This pleasant house was in the rural village of Sutterton, which is near Boston in Lincolnshire.

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S.A.Casswell  weighed nine stone seven pounds and was five feet seven inches tall. He took a size eight in gloves, a size seven in boots, a size one in collars and his hat was a six and seven eighths. His birthday was on August 25th 1919, so he was fifteen when he received the diary as a Christmas present. He seems to have liked it so much, that he didn’t start entering anything into it until possibly early 1937, when he would have been sixteen years old. Sadly, the very fact that I now possess his diary must surely mean that S.A.Casswell is no more. On the other hand, a quick search of the Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission website reveals that at least he did not die before his time in battle.

His bicycle frame number was Y27697 and his Unemployment Book serial number was 3243. He went to school on the 7.50 a.m. train, and possibly came back home on the 5.24 p.m. He only lists two trains which will take him to school but he lists a total of six trains which will bring him back home. They are the 11.30 a.m., the 2.46 p.m., the 4.10 p.m. (on Saturdays only), the 5.19 p.m. and originally the 7.50 p.m. although this was replaced by the 8.40 p.m. in later years. At school he did not study Scripture but he did study Arithmetic and Algebra and Geometry and Trigonometry and Mechanics. He studied Physics and Chemistry and Botany with English Composition and English Literature, along with History and Geography and Latin and Art. He has not recorded any of his marks in tests and exams, so he was either not particularly outstanding, or perhaps, extremely modest. For some peculiar reason, he has pasted a receipt inside the front cover of the diary. It is for the three pence  to join the Literary and Debating Society at school on October 5th 1937 when he not only paid out the money to join, but signed the receipt for it as well. Perhaps he was later to go into banking, or maybe even politics.

Casswell didn’t use his piece of “Forbes Blotting” which is still inside the diary as a free gift, but he has given us one or two really interesting insights into the life of a schoolboy. He certainly had some kind of interest in sport. He has recorded the fact that in 1934 and 1935 Cambridge won the Boat Race by adding it in pencil at the end of the printed list. On the page which records the athletic records for universities and schools, he has written what are now incomprehensible figures underneath the one mile, long jump and high jump. He has also inserted performance figures for Spalding Grammar School which may or may not have been achieved by him. For the hundred yards, for example, the school record was 10.6 seconds. For 220 yards the record was 24 seconds, for 440 yards the record was 55.6 seconds by P. Nicholson in 1933, for half a mile it was 2 minutes 14 seconds, and for a mile it was 4 minutes 57 seconds. For the long jump, J.B. Britain achieved 19 feet 8¾ inches in 1937 and H.G. Harrison or perhaps Hugh Harrison threw the cricket ball the magnificent distance of  96 yards 1 foot 2 inches in 1937. The high jump record for the school was 5 feet 1½ inches. This was achieved in 1938 and equalled in 1939.

He has recorded the books which he has read, although strangely they are both dated “1937” in this “1935” diary. Typically for a boy perhaps, he has read only two books. They are both by H.G.Wells and they are called “The Camford Visitation” and “Star Begotten”. Both of these were written in 1937, so they were pretty well hot off the presses.  The former work cost him the princely sum of two shillings. The latter book was one of the first, if not the first, to postulate the idea that aliens are visiting the earth to modify Mankind genetically, a scenario familiar to anybody who has dared to look into the vast internet swamp of claims regarding alien abduction.

It is only when S.A.Casswell lists the films that he went to see at the cinema, presumably in Boston, that we realise what a fascinating and attractive world the silver screen must have been for a boy, or a young man perhaps, of 16 or 17 years of age. I will just list the films that he saw, and their connection to the Internet.

There is a vast variety of films that he watched and they do not include those whose titles I have quite simply been unable to decipher. Presumably, in the absence of television during the 1930s, a weekly visit to the cinema must have been the norm for almost every family that could afford it. It is equally striking that even with the other six evenings of the week left largely vacant, this young man seems not to have been over tempted by the opportunity to read books…

Jericho,   Wee Willie Winkie,  Victoria the Great  , The Littlest Rebel, Green LightFive over England Three Smart Girls,  Take my Tip   ,Storm in a Teacup  The Prisoner of Zenda Souls at Sea   Oh, Mr. Porter!   The Squeaker  A Star is Born Dr Syn   Marie Walewska   Hells Angels    A Yank at Oxford   The Count of Monte Cristo    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Pygmalion    Blockade   Black Limelight   The Adventures of Robin Hood Kidnapped   Sixty Glorious Years   Alexander’s Ragtime Band Crime School If I were King   

“Crest of the Wave” and “Lot’s Wife” were both theatrical plays rather than films. He saw “The Prisoner of Zenda” while away at Oxford.

Man with Wings The Dawn Patrol  The Citadel  Angels with Dirty Faces That Certain Age  with Deanna Durbin, Old Bones of the River   with Will Hay You Can’t Take It with You It’s in the Air  and finally, Everything Happens to Me with Max Miller.

S.A.Casswell has recorded only one address in the relevant section. It is Roy Daughton who lived originally at 385, Kings Road Chelsea S.W. 10. Roy moved subsequently to 5, Gerald Road S.W.1 on an unknown date.

And that is probably all I will ever know for definite about S.A.Casswell. I did though make a more determined effort with his private code and came to what I thought was a reasonable explanation of events. As I said earlier, the major problem with the diary is that so many entries are in code, and they appear to be spread over several years. Nowadays, it is going to be extremely difficult to be absolutely certain about this code, given that the entries may refer to completely different circumstances. However, if we accept that S.A.Casswell, at the shy and tender age of 16¾ was sweet on a girl whose name began with a letter I then there is some kind of sense to it all. “Sp.I Party” therefore means that he spoke to Irene or Iris or even Ianthe at a party. “Rec. Card” means that he received a card from her for the New Year. “Ph to I” may well mean “Phone Irene”, and he may have done this after the “Panto” on January 16. On this date, there is another entry, an RAF one, which says “Night Raid on Berlin 1943 spoke to one pilot”. Towards the end of January he starts mentioning “Sp.I Cd  Pty  Ddke” and this is clearly something to do with the girl. On January 25, 1938 the Aurora Borealis was visible mainly from 6.30 p.m. until nine o’clock, but it then persisted to a lesser extent until at least midnight. On January 29th he has written “Three leave began” (an RAF reference?) and “Ph to I re tomorrow”. The next day, it is “Avec I 4 party at Peterboro”, presumably the day he invented texting.
In February, there is more French, with “Avec I 9 pty to Dnce Gldrdrm.” Presumably he is just missing out the vowels in this last entry. From then on S.A.Casswell’s diary is a mixture of, we presume, speaking to Irene at various venues, including the Post Office, and going to parties. There was an election on April 5th when he spoke to Irene, perhaps, at Tudor Lodge.

On April 8th we have “Sp I (drawing of a bell) W.D. avec C.C.”. On May 3rd we have perhaps “I and L ( with a square drawn around it) and “first-time” also in brackets. He saw I again on May 10th and two days later, he spoke to her again on the day of the Coronation. On May 31st he spoke to her at the tennis courts, and on June 2nd he heard, perhaps optimistically,  of the “break with Nigel”. On June 5 he played tennis with her. On June 13th he spoke to her but also wrote the enigmatic “gulls etc” alongside this entry. On July 4th he wrote “ I at Hendon phone”. On July 30th he played tennis with her again ( Plyd T. avec I.). On August 4th he went on holiday to Cornwall and Devon, visiting Cheddar, Penzance, Looe, Torquay, (when he got the Inter Science result) then Minehead and Burford before coming back on August 7th. On August 13th he went with “ I & six to Butlins & on the thriller”, presumably a fairground ride of some type but he also received his Higher result . On Saturday, August 31st, S.A.Casswell went on holiday again at exactly 10.30.a.m. visiting Oxford, Trinity and Stonehenge of which he has drawn a lovely little pencil sketch.

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He finally arrived at Bournemouth at 9.00.p.m.On September 2nd, he went to Poole Potteries where he sketched some of the pots.  The next day, he sailed around the Isle of Wight in the “Emperor of India”. He saw the Needles, Southampton Water, the Spithead forts, a submarine and an aircraft carrier. In the evening, he saw a variety show at the Pavillion (sic) in Bournemouth. On September 4th, he crossed Poole Harbour by ferry and visited “The Great Globe” and then the Tilly Whim Caves near Swanage. In the evening, he visited the illuminated gardens and fountain at Bournemouth. On the 5th, it was tennis at Meyrick Park followed by Lulworth Cove and the Cordite Works until continuous rain from 6.00p.m. brought the day to a close. Next day, there was a Buckhound meet at Barley, he bathed, he visited the library and museum, and then walked through the town and gardens. On Saturday he “went on (not in) the Boating Lake at Parkestone” before watching “Fanfare” at the Palace Court. He returned from his holiday on September 8th.

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“Sp I” continues fitfully through September and October but there are few entries in either November or December, so it looks as if the romance may have petered out. He seems to have spoken to her on occasion over the Christmas period, including Christmas Day itself, “9 Rec Card. Sp I  Pty Ddk”. On December 30th he seems to have “See I Bycl St Rd” where “St” must surely mean “Station”. He spent his last day as he had most of the year “Sp I Party Tud Lod”.

I did make valiant efforts to trace his rather distinctive name on the Internet, and this was not a total failure. During the Second World War, I found an S.A.Casswell who was in the R.A.F. Perhaps because he had studied Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Mechanics, Physics and Chemistry,  this  S.A.Casswell was a Meteorological Officer. He worked on the staff of the Meteorological  Office itself, rather than being attached to an individual squadron and lecturing aircrew about likely weather conditions before they flew off into combat. In 1998, what must surely be the same man, still living in Boston, Lincolnshire, appears as the author of an abstract entitled “A wind-direction display system”.  His subsequent death at home in Milnthorpe around November 29th 2007 was then announced on the Society News page of the magazine “Weather”. Unfortunately, there are two Milnthorpes, one near Wakefield in Yorkshire, the other a much likelier place to retire to, perhaps, on the coast of Cumbria, near Kendal and the Lake District. The paper “A wind-direction display system” was then posted posthumously on the Internet on April 30th 2012.

I was unable to discover if this particular S.A.Casswell  was married, and if so, what was his wife’s first name. Hopefully, it was Irene or Iris or even Ianthe.

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