Tag Archives: Penzance Cemetery

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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Four poor Germans, a very long way from home

On a number of previous occasions, I have written about the Allied servicemen who are interred in Penzance Cemetery. There are also four German combatants from the Second World War, all of them buried, quite fittingly, alongside their erstwhile adversaries:

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Ernst Erich Elsperger and Conrad H.W. Schweizer were both members of the German Navy, the Kreigsmarine.

Ernst Erich Elsperger was born on October 27th 1924. He reached the rank of Obergefreiter (Senior Lance Corporal) and died on March 22nd 1945 aged only twenty one:

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Ernst Elsperger is recorded as being a crew member of the U-1169, which was sunk by depth charges from HMS Duckworth, just south of the Lizard. It was commanded by Oberleutnant Heinz Goldbeck who was himself only thirty one years old when he was killed. Here is HMS Duckworth:ff_hms_duckworth_k351

This particular U-Boat, the U-1169, had not sunk or damaged a single enemy vessel in the almost two years since it was launched at Danzig on April 9th 1943. No photographs of the vessel seem to have survived, and neither do any of its captain. Here is the only surviving Type VIIC U-Boat in the world, the U-995, currently on display at the Laboe Naval Memorial near Kiel. It is exactly the same type of vessel as the U-1169. 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. Look for the yellow circles on the photograph of the tower:

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There seems to be some kind of mix-up in the dates of Ernst Elsperger’s death as the U-1169 was sunk on March 29th, and the inscription on the grave says March 22nd. It is possible, of course, that he was a member of the crew of one of the other U-boats sunk in the area in early 1945, namely the U-399, the U-1199, the U-1208, the U-605, or the U-1018.

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Conrad H.W. Schweizer was born on January 1st 1915 and died on December 18th 1944 aged twenty nine. He is buried alongside an unknown German naval casualty:

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Both Conrad Schweizer, and the unknown seaman buried in the cemetery, were members of the crew of the U-Boat U-1209 which was scuttled after hitting Wolf Rock near the Isles of Scilly on December 18th 1944:

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Forty four crew members survived and were picked up by the Canadian destroyer, HMCS Montreal. There were nine fatalities, including the Captain, Oberleutnant zur See Ewald Hüsenbeck, who had a heart attack during the journey into Plymouth. This is the Montreal:

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This second photograph was snapped by Charles James Sadler, RCNVR, a First Class Stoker who was serving in the Canadian destroyer HMCS Columbia:

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Earlier in the war, the Montreal had rescued 33 survivors from the Norwegian merchant ship Fjordheim, which had been torpedoed and sunk north of Ireland by the German submarine U-482. The Montreal survived the war and was sold in 1947.  It was finally broken up for scrap in Sydney, Australia, shortly afterwards.

The unfortunate U-1209 was built to exactly the same design as the U-1169 and the U-995, (pictured above). It had been launched at Danzig on February 9th 1944, but, exactly like the U-1169, during its entire career, it had not sunk or damaged a single enemy vessel:

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The final grave is that of Richard Hille. Richard was a member of the Luftwaffe. He was in the crew of a Heinkel He 111 bomber of Kampfgeschwader 28, serial numbers 1T+LH, which was shot down on the night of January 31st / February 1st 1941.

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This aging aircraft crashed into the sea off Treen just to the south east of Land’s End after being engaged by a naval patrol vessel, whose name I have been unable to ascertain.

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Richard Hille was the only crew member to be recovered. On his gravestone, the date given for his death is February 12th 1941. This is because it was the usual convention at the time to use the date of the discovery of bodies found either at sea or on the foreshore, as the date of death. Richard Hille’s body was in fact initially recovered from the sea by a Newlyn trawler. The “Western Morning News” newspaper reported therefore, on the Friday, February 14th, that his body had been hauled up in a trawl off Land’s End on the previous Wednesday, February 12th. A report in the “Cornishman” newspaper of February 20th 1941 detailed his burial at Penzance Cemetery with full military honours:

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Finally, two things. Firstly, it would have been totally impossible to write this blogpost without using this source, a forum for exchanging information about the myriad events of World War Two. And secondly, I cannot understand why these four men have never been taken back the hundreds of miles to their own homeland and their own towns or cities. The two U-boats involved caused no damage whatsoever to anybody and the Luftwaffe were never known as war criminals. The four men in Penzance were not members of the Waffen SS or the Wehrmacht. Let them go home at last!

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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:

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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):

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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).

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Seven graves to Penzance

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. I have already spoken about some of the graves to be found there, and this article continues that theme.

This beautiful, tranquil place contains seventy one Second World War burials, including the six graves of the crew of H.M.Trawler “Royalo”:

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They were killed when their vessel was sunk by a magnetic mine on September 1st 1940 just outside Penzance Harbour, around one mile from the seafront. The orange arrow gives the approximate position:

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The “Royalo” was built by Cook, Welton & Gemmell of Beverley, Yorkshire, and was launched on December 6th 1915, being fully completed by August of 1916. I have been unable to trace any photographs of the vessel. A ship of only 248 tons, when the Great War broke out, it was immediately requisitioned and converted into a minesweeper. After the end of the Great War, in 1919, it was returned to its owners. In 1933 the ship passed into the ownership of Sleight & Humphrey of Grimsby, only for it to be requisitioned for a second time in November 1939, just after the beginning of the Second World War. This time it was converted into an APV, an “Auxiliary Patrol Vessel”. In 1940, the vessel was converted for the second time into a minesweeper and given the serial number of FY825. It was armed with just one six pounder anti-aircraft gun.
A short but very vivid account of the ship’s sinking is given on the “Hearts of Oak” website:

“The “Royalo”, under Commanding Officer, Skipper William Durrant Warford RNR, was sweeping Mount’s Bay clear of mines which had been previously laid there by a German aircraft. Around midday, there came the sound of a huge explosion, which was easily heard in Penzance. My brother-in-law remembers, as a child, hearing the sound of an enormous explosion. He ran out of the house, and down the road, to see nothing but a pall of smoke; there was no sign of the vessel. She had been blown up by a magnetic mine, and a column of water had lifted her out of the water.
And she was gone.
The Penzance lifeboat was launched, and small boats came to the rescue of the survivors.
The “Royalo” had sunk in position 50.06N : 05.30W, about one mile off Penzance.”

On at least one other website, Lieutenant Irvine Willox Watt is given as the Commanding Officer.

Given the dramatic way in which the “Royalo” had met its end, its position remained well known over the years to the people of Penzance. In 1962 a group of divers explored the wreck, which lay some ten metres below the surface. They were able to recover a wooden box. It turned out to contain a sextant, which is a navigational aid. This particular one was manufactured in 1939 by the celebrated Hughes & Son Ltd. of London. The Royal Museum at Greenwich acquired the sextant at some point during the 1970s:

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Of the casualties buried in Penzance Cemetery, Henry Thomas Dukes was an Engineman in the Royal Naval Patrol Service who was forty five years of age at the time of his death:

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He was the husband of Ellaline Isabell Dukes of Grimsby, Lincolnshire. The rather bittersweet verse inscribed on the lower section of his gravestone reads…

Honoured in life
Treasured in Death
A Beautiful Memory
Is all we have left.

William Henry Greenfield was a Stoker in the Royal Naval Patrol Service. His age at the time of his death has not been recorded, and I have been unable to trace any further details about him:

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Raymond Ormerod was a Telegraphist in the Royal Naval Volunteer (Wireless) Reserve and was twenty years old at the time of his death:

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He was the son of Reginald and Octavia Ormerod, of Wroxham, Norfolk:

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His mother had the following verse inscribed on the lower section of his gravestone:

Loved one
You are never forgotten
In my heart
You are always near
Mother

Raymond is listed on the memorial plaque in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Wroxham:

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He also appears on the town’s War Memorial:

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Thomas Gardner Taylor was an Ordinary Signalman in the Royal Navy who was twenty one years of age at the time of his death:

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He had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He was the son of Thomas Gardner Taylor and Hannah Ann Taylor, of High Heaton, Newcastle-on-Tyne. The verse inscribed on the lower section of his gravestone reads:

Gone his happy smiling face
Those happy cheerful ways
His heart won many friends
In happy bygone days

Robert John Tilley was a Seaman in the Royal Naval Patrol Service who was twenty seven years of age at the time of his death:

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The verse inscribed on the lower section of his gravestone reads…

No one knows
How much we miss him
None but aching hearts
Can tell
Mum and Mary

Robert John Tilley’s sacrifice is commemorated on the Memorial of the Whitstable Royal British Legion Club in Kent.

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Irvine Willox Watt was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Patrol Service who was thirty three years of age at the time of his death.  He was the son of G. Fieldes Watt and Jean Fieldes Watt, of Kensington, London.

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Of the tiny crew of the Royalo, at least one is not buried here in Penzance, Sam Lockwood-Dukes was the son of Samuel and Emily Lockwood-Dukes, of Worsborough Bridge in distant South Yorkshire.  He was twenty two years of age when he was killed. He was not buried with the rest of his naval family in Penzance, as his parents no doubt wanted to be able to place flowers on his grave regularly, so he was interred in Saint Thomas Church Cemetery in Worsborough Dale.
Because of the nature of the incident, however, not all of the casualties were found.
One of these was Engineman Robert William Edward Grant Burgoyne who was an amazing sixty four years of age at the time of his death. He was the son of Robert and Sarah Burgoyne and the husband of Rosina Burgoyne. They all lived in Willington Quay, Northumberland. His sacrifice is commemorated on the Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial at Lowestoft:

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Second Hand Leonard Rye was in the Royal Naval Patrol Service. He was twenty six years of age at the time of his death and a holder of the Distinguished Service Medal. He was the son of Charles John and Clara Louise Rye and the husband of Florence Lilian Rye. They all lived in Hull in East Yorkshire. His sacrifice is commemorated on the Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial at Lowestoft:

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Engineman Jim Walker Pitts was twenty eight years of age at the time of his death. He was the son of Mr and Mrs James Pitts and the husband of Joan Agnes Norah Pitts. They all lived in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. His sacrifice is commemorated on the Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial at Lowestoft:

Surely one of these gallant seamen must be in this grave, whose date is the same, as the “Royalo”…

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I said that I had been unable to trace a photograph of the unfortunate “Royalo”. That is true, but I did find this…

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And this…

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 “Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two strange graves

Wandering around Penzance Cemetery looking for the graves of three Luftwaffe bomber crew members, I soon found the War Graves Section of the cemetery.

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Of the 110 identified casualties, two stood out from the rest for very different reasons. The first is a war grave of an extremely strange and unusual political background, coupled with a puzzling discrepancy over dates.
According to his grave, Sapper William Ormerod (1903548) of the 661st General Construction Company of the Royal Engineers died on June 17th 1941.

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William was born in Manchester and had lived in London. As Sapper Ormerod, he was a British Volunteer in the Winter War of 1939-1940 and was killed in action fighting against the Soviet Red Army in Finland.

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Sapper Ormerod was initially buried in Karelia, but at some point his remains were returned to England. This lengthy delay is presumably the reason that the date of death on his grave in Penzance is listed as June 17th 1941, when there is much evidence to support the idea that he was actually killed in the previous year. But neither is a death date of June 17th 1940 particularly likely either, given that the Winter War ended with the Peace of Moscow,  a treaty which was signed on March 12th 1940. Perhaps Sapper Ormerod was initially injured in combat, and then died of his wounds.

The Soviet Union, of course, were our allies for the vast majority of the Second World War. Before Hitler’s surprise attack on Russia, however, the Soviets, having signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in August 1939, the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, were considered by the British to be an ally of Nazi Germany.

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For this reason, when the Soviets attacked Finland on November 30th 1939, the gallant Finns were considered to be our allies. Presumably, this was the reason that men such as Sapper William Ormerod went out there to fight and in some cases, to make the supreme sacrifice. The great ironies of war were re-established, of course on June 22nd 1941, Operation Barbarossa, when Hitler attacked his erstwhile ally. The Soviet Union then immediately ceased to be a bunch of Commies and became our true and most wonderful of friends. The gallant little Finns became our treacherous, despicable enemies. Too late alas, for William Ormerod.

A second war grave in Penzance Cemetery is unusual for a very different reason. It is the grave of John Ostrich.

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John was a member of the Merchant Navy and served as a Mess Room Boy. He was aged only fourteen years and 344 days old at the time of his death. John was the son of Louis and Nancy Ostrich of Canton in Cardiff, and was a member of the crew of the S.S. Margo, a cargo ship registered in Cardiff, with a weight of 1,412 tons.

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John was killed on March 8th 1941. This account comes from a Merchant Navy Message Board and was written by a guest who signed in with the name of “SIF9HD8”. I hope he will not mind my quoting his words…

“On the afternoon of the March 8, 1941, sailing in the English Channel, the Margo came under attack from three German aircraft who proceeded to rake the ship with machine gun, cannon fire and bombs. Although no bombs or explosives hit the Margo, the ship was violently shaken by the concussion of the near misses and her hull and superstructure were pierced by cannon and machine gun fire. Crew members returned fire with small calibre weapons onboard the Margo, and in the process hit one of the aircraft, which was subsequently seen to break off the attack and black smoke was observed coming from the starboard engine. The remaining aircraft continued their attacks for several more minutes, which was eventually broken off and the aircraft disappeared over the horizon. While assessing the ship’s damage, it was found four crew had suffered various injuries and the young Mess Room Boy lay dead. A course was then set for Penzance to land the wounded and the dead”.

At the tender age of fourteen, John Ostrich was one of the youngest casualties of the Second World War. I found another part of the story on the Internet….

“Archie Richards, a former serviceman with the Royal Navy, who notified the local; newspaper, “The Cornishman” of the grave, said: “I don’t want this to be a competition for who has the youngest war dead. I just want to let people know that a 14-year-old died for his country and lies here.” His final resting place is sited across a path from other war graves, meaning John Ostrich is separated from fallen comrades . Mr Richards added: “I also hope that maybe a family member might come across this and want to visit the grave”.

For years,  the Royal Navy Association had held a service at the war memorial in Penzance cemetery and members had wondered about this boy. Recent government acknowledgement now allows Merchant Navy veterans to stand alongside armed forces personnel and their efforts and achievements in time of war have been recognised as an important part in winning the war.”

A book “They Shall Grow Not Old” by Billy McGee is dedicated to more than 500 boys aged under 16 who died in service with the Merchant Navy during the Second World War. It is only available from the author who can be contacted on “billy1963@ntlworld.com”

The Margo herself had a very long and complex history. Just one screen capture hardly does it justice.

Capture

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A Life on the Ocean Wave

After doing my researches on the German Dornier Do. 217E bomber which was shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall, I tried very hard to find the graves of the crew. It seemed likely to me that, whatever side they might have been on in the conflict, they had probably been interred a very, very long way from their homes and families. After failing to find their graves in the two cemeteries at St.Just, I visited the cemetery at Penzance.

The dead crew members of the Dornier bomber were not in that particular cemetery either, but I did find a great many other graves from the Second World War.

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And at the time, I was forcibly struck by two things. First of all, the majority of the dead were from ships, completely unlike, for example, the cemetery where my father is buried in South Derbyshire. Here more or less all the war casualties are from the Army or possibly, the RAF. Secondly, I became very aware of the discrepancy between what we do and say on Armistice Day, and what dreadful fates have befallen the people who are buried in these graves. We all wear our poppies, and dutifully pledge that “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” yet I am very sure that we don’t, despite all our best intentions.
The poor people in those graves in Penzance Cemetery no longer have any life whatsoever, thanks to their decision to join up and serve their country. They hit a brick wall in time, sometimes known precisely down to the very minute, and then no more. And they weren’t anonymous. They all had their own lives just like we do now, with families, girlfriends, wives, beer to drink and Christmases to celebrate.

William R.Baxter was an Able Seaman on the Merchant Navy ship, the S.S.Scottish Musician which was a motor tanker of just under seven thousand tons, registered in London. The ship was to survive the war, but William R.Baxter was not.

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On Friday April 18th 1941, the Scottish Musician was damaged by aircraft bombing at a position some three miles from St. Ann’s Head on a bearing of 205°. St. Ann’s Head is the extreme south western tip of Pembrokeshire in south west Wales.

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William Baxter was the only casualty. He was just twenty one years of age. William was the son of Richard George Baxter and Ruth Baxter of Penzance and the husband of Beatrice Joy Baxter.
P1500250xxxxxThe Scottish Musician was consequently further damaged on January 5th 1942 when she hit a mine at position 52° 16’ N, 01° 59’ E, which is near the port of Harwich in Suffolk in East Anglia. This resulted in the death of the twenty year old cabin boy, Albert Henry Jones. Albert is buried in Canada in the “Notre Dame des Neiges” Cemetery in Montréal.
P1500256XXXXXXXRonald Norman Neale was an Ordinary Seaman. He served on board HMS Warwick which was an Admiralty ‘W’ class destroyer. Young Ronald was only twenty years of age when he was killed, on February 20th 1944. He was the unmarried son of James and Linaol Neale of Grove Park, London. On his grave, his grieving parents have had inscribed “Gone from us all, but always in our thoughts”, as Ronald no doubt was for the rest of their lives. On the day that I visited, there were flowers on his grave, conceivably from one of his aging siblings perhaps, or possibly his nephews or nieces.

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HMS Warwick was itself only twenty seven years old, having been launched in 1917. As “D-25” she participated in both the First and Second World Wars, before she was torpedoed and sunk on the day that Ordinary Seaman Ronald Norman Neale was killed. From July to November 1943, she had been in the Bay of Biscay on anti-submarine duties, as part of the RAF Coastal Command offensive. In November she participated in Operation Alacrity,  helping to set up and supply Allied air bases in the Azores.
Having returned to Britain in January 1944,, HMS Warwick was tasked with leading an escort group operating in the South Western Approaches, guarding merchant ships against surprise attacks by German E-boats. The destroyer was patrolling off Trevose Head just north of Newquay on Cornwall’s northern coast when she was torpedoed by the U-413. At the time, HMS Warwick  was under the command of Commander Denys Rayner. The warship sank very quickly, in just a few minutes, with the loss of over half her crew.
The U-413 had been launched on January 15th 1942, and was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Gustav Poel, who, unlike the vast majority of German submariners, was to survive the war.

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As well as the Warwick, the U-413 was an extremely successful submarine which sank five merchant ships amounting to a total tonnage of 36,885 tons. By August 20th 1944, the U-413  was  commanded by the 26 year old Oberleutnant Dietrich Sachse.

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On this summer’s day, though, the U-413 was sunk in the English Channel to the south of Brighton, by depth charges from the British escort destroyer HMS Wensleydale and the destroyers HMS Forester and HMS Vidette. Forty five members of the Kriegsmarine were killed, including the fresh faced young Captain.  Only one member of the crew survived. His name is not recorded but it is thought unlikely to have been Ishmael. Oy vey!

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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.

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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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