Tag Archives: Le Havre

Two brothers fighting fascism (4)

Old Nottinghamian, Robert Renwick Jackson was killed on Saturday, February 13th 1943. He was the pilot of a Boston III Intruder with the serial number AL766 and the squadron letters TH-unknown. Whatever that unknown letter was, “A-Able”, “Z-Zebra”, whatever, on a Boston it was never painted on the fuselage with the other two letters, either side of the roundel. Instead it was placed, in matt red, under the pilot’s side window, replacing those sexy ladies on the noses of B-17s:

And here is the more normal positioning of squadron letters, on a Supermarine Spitfire :

Robert took off from Bradwell at 23:57 hours on an Evening Intruder Sortie to Nantes, a large port on the River Loire in western France, 35 miles inland from St Nazaire. His mission was to drop propaganda leaflets for the occupied French. This activity was called “Nickeling” and, in the rich slang of the RAF, the men who did it were called “bumphfleteers”. Here’s Bradwell nowadays:

The last definite news about Robert’s aircraft came as it approached the French coast but it then crashed a few miles inland. There is much doubt about the exact reason for this, but, if we discount pilot error, we are pretty well left with just anti-aircraft fire or a night fighter.

Perhaps he had inadvertently flown over a German flak battery. Whenever the RAF reached the French coast they were never far from German guns. And the crews of these guns were always very good. They had plenty of practice. They were quite capable of shooting down a Boston:

One hugely relevant detail is that a straight line from Essex to Nantes passes more or less directly over some of the most heavily fortified sections of the Atlantic Wall. They may even have passed too close to the huge German troop concentration at Le Havre, a garrison of 14,000 men with an excellent concentration of 88mm guns protecting them from air attack. Many reports over the years have said that Robert’s aircraft crashed near Mantes, which, unless it is a misspelling for Nantes, must mean Mantes-la-Jolie, near Paris, around 30 miles from the city centre. This scenario can be pretty well rejected because Robert was initially buried at Saint-Riquier-ès-Plains, only 22 miles from Dieppe and 22 miles from Etretat, famous for its sea cliffs. Robert was then reburied on October 1st 1947 in a larger cemetery at Grandcourt, some 20 miles east of Dieppe. Clearly, everything is connected with Dieppe and the Channel coast rather than Mantes-la-Jolie and the city of Paris. I cannot agree either with those who say that he was killed not near Mantes but near Nantes, the original destination of his mission. Why would the Germans transport his remains some 250 miles for burial at Saint-Riquier-ès-Plains? That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Anyway, here is Grandcourt Cemetery:

(Picture of the black Boston borrowed from wp.snc.ru.)

 

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Filed under Aviation, France, History, military, The High School

Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 1)

I reported a long time ago how I had paid for the official records of my Grandad’s service with the Canadian Army during the First World War. In the early part of his military career, which had begun in July 1916, Will seems to have earned some fifteen Canadian dollars per month. This amount appears to have risen eventually to thirty dollars in 1917 and 1918. After his marriage, Will also received a separation allowance of varying amounts, ranging from six to fourteen English pounds. You never know much about your family’s private affairs but I suspect that it was Will’s money from the Canadian Army that allowed him and his wife to buy their own house during the 1920s. Here are their wedding photographs:

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His army documents recorded his leave from the Front after he was given permission to marry on July 15th 1917. There were two other periods when domestic problems caused his leave to be extended. The first of these was a week from October 21st 1918 to November 4th 1918, which was extended to November 9th for “private family affairs”. His service records say that he returned to the Western Front on November 10th, which means that he was probably present when the guns, his own included, fell finally silent the following day. It was too late for many men, though:

The same pattern occurred again with a leave from March 1st-March 8th 1919, which was extended to March 22nd. He had returned to the Fourth Brigade in the field by April 4th 1919. I suspect that both of Will’s extra leaves may have been because of his wife’s miscarriages, when she needed time to recover both physically and mentally from the ordeal. She lost a number of babies before her only son, Fred, was born, whole and healthy, on November 22nd 1922. Here he is, a few years later:

On one occasion when Will was back home on leave from the trenches of the Western Front, he was given a white feather by a woman who accosted him in the street. This was something that happened in the days before conscription had to be introduced, when women, especially suffragettes, would give any man they saw in the street who was apparently of military age, but not wearing military uniform, a white chicken feather as a sign of their cowardice.  Giving one to Will was made doubly ironic by the fact that at this particular time, he had just been given an extra long period of recuperation, because he was recovering from being wounded. Will didn’t get angry with the misguided, stupid, woman. He just laughed, which I suspect may have made her even angrier.

Here’s the caption:

On April 25th 1919 Will finally came back from France for the last time. He sailed for England from the French port of Le  Havre. Will’s journey home was not a particularly rapid process however. He had lingered in the port of Le Havre on his way back from the Western Front since at least Saturday April 19th 1919 when this postcard was posted, via the Army PO1 :

The message on the back of the card reads:

“Dear Wife Trust you are much better. Affectionate love Will  Sig W Knifton 19TH C F A”

“CFA” by the way. means “Canadian Field Artillery”. The following day, Sunday April 20th,  he sent another card:

On the back, he  labelled the card “on active service”.  The message reads “Thoughts of home and you. Sincere love Will. Sig W H Knifton 19TH C F A”

This next postcard was posted on Tuesday, April 22nd 1919, as Will continued his slow return from the Great War.  Perhaps he had important things to think about. He wanted to go back to Canada, but his wife didn’t want to, presumably wishing to stay with her family. Perhaps he was wondering whether they would ever have a child to love. Or perhaps he had just been allocated to a later sailing:

The faded pencil inscription reads “Monday Dear Wife I hope this finds you much better. I hope you enjoyed easter. We are having very cold weather Give my love to all (illegible) my thoughts are of (you ? ) with fondest love to (illegible) leave here Wednesday Sig W H Knifton  19TH C F A

Will’s military records show that he did not leave on Wednesday, the 23rd as he thought. Indeed, he was still in Le Havre on Friday, April 25th 1919, which may just possibly have been the date that he “proceeded to England”. These kind of delays, of course, were enough to provoke mutinies and other serious disorder, most notably among the Canadians in north Wales.

On March 4th and 5th 1919, at Kinmel Park in Denbighshire, north Wales, Canadian troops rioted against their dreadful living conditions, sick of the constant, apparently pointless delays, and longing to be allowed to go home at last back to their families in Canada. The rioters were fired upon by British troops. Five brave Canadian veterans were killed and 23 were wounded. It was one of 13 mutinous riots by Canadian troops, all for exactly that same reason. Here is a picture of Kinmel after the riot:

Will,  listed as a Signaller, seems to have been finally “struck off service on being discharged in British Isles” on May 23rd 1919. From his medical examination, he had put on some sixteen pounds during his time in the army, and now weighed a hundred and forty pounds, a glowing testimony to the quality of the food in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He had also apparently grown half an inch taller.

In later life, of course, Will was to become profoundly deaf. It is tempting to think that the very first steps in this unfortunate process began with the enormous volume of noise he must have experienced in the Canadian artillery during the First World War.

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Filed under Canada, France, History, Personal, Politics