Can you imagine what life would be like if people behaved in the supermarket, like many do on the roads?
Shouting aggressively at someone for cutting you up with their trolley, pushing your trolley inches from the person in front because they are taking their time. It wouldn’t be seen as acceptable behaviour, and most people wouldn’t do it.
Despite this, when people are sitting behind the wheel they find it acceptable to swear at other motorists, and behave aggressively towards them. Normally placid people will happily gesticulate at other motorists because of a perceived slight.
What is the point of it though? Does the other person think “I have done wrong there, I should apologise and modify my behaviour”?
Nope, they perceive you as a threat and get defensive. They go into fight or flight mode and either gesticulate back (or worse), or try to get away from you. Either way, it raises your stress levels and achieves nothing.
Often you arrive at your destination stressed out, and that sets the tone for the rest of your day. All you have done by getting angry is spoil your own day.
It doesn’t end there though. You arrive at work and take out your anger on others for seemingly minor things. Now you have upset your co-workers. Depending on the individual, they will either get defensive and argue back (fight) or walk away (flight).
As a result, you end up stressed and alienated by others. For the rest of the day you are either wound up, or feeling guilty, either way, you are probably not performing to the best of your ability.
This reduced performance may lead to criticism and a dressing down from a superior, and that is really not going to improve your day.
When you get home from work you may then become irritable with your family, it goes on and on. So the question I ask myself on a regular basis is…
How many of you have honestly thought that something bad will never happen to you? Sub consciously many people believe this. It’s reassuring, after all, we don’t want to go through life worrying about everything.
There is another way of reducing worry though, and that is preparedness. Knowing what you should do in an emergency, is far better than believing it will never happen, and then it does, because sometimes it just does.
Now, I’m not talking about building underground bunkers, and stocking up with three months worth of food, there are far simpler things you can do to keep you and your family safe.
First rule; prevention is better than cure. It is far better for example, to take steps to prevent a fire occurring in your home, than it is to have to escape from one.
Second rule; basic preparation can make all the difference, knowing where all the exits are in an unfamiliar building for example, or carrying a basic first aid kit in the car. The little things can make a big difference if the worst happens.
Third rule; remain calm. Panic is contagious, as is a calm head. Panic serves no purpose, it clouds your judgement and can lead to poor decision making. Many disasters throughout history have been exacerbated by mass panic. One panicking person leads to another, and another until it becomes an avalanche.
It is one thing to advise someone to remain calm, and another to get them to do it in an emergency though. It’s far easier said than done. Follow rules one and two though, and number three becomes a lot easier.
Loftus William Jones was born in 1879 in Petersfield, Hampshire, a small town 17 miles to the north of the Naval Base at Portsmouth. His Father was Admiral Loftus Francis Jones, who retired from the Navy twenty years after his son was born in 1899. Given his Father’s position in the Royal Navy and the traditions of the day, a career in the Navy was the obvious choice for Loftus, and he attended the Royal Navy Academy in Fareham before going on to HMS Britannia in 1894, a shore-based training establishment.
On completion of his training he was posted to HMS Royal Sovereign, a pre-dreadnought battleship, as a midshipman. From this point, until he took command of HMS Shark in 1914, he became something of a nomad, moving from ship to ship, and holding more than 25 separate appointments. This gave Loftus a rounded education in the ways of the Senior Service. In 1901 he served aboard HMS Spiteful, a torpedo boat destroyer which at the time was only two years old. This suited Loftus more than the big ships, as he discovered that he preferred serving aboard the smaller vessels.
His first destroyer command was HMS Success, a four-year-old B-Class torpedo boat destroyer. He married in 1910 and would spend the rest of his time up until his promotion to commander serving in destroyers. In 1914, in what would become his final appointment, he was given command of HMS Shark. Shark was an Acasta class destroyer built in Wallsend by Swan Hunter. She was launched in 1912 and had a top speed of 29 knots, relatively fast for the time. Her armament consisted of 3 four-inch Mark IV guns, 1 QF 2 pounder pom-pom gun, and 2 single torpedo tubes.
Shark was part of the 4th Flotilla, which at the outbreak of war became part of the Grand Fleet based out of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. In 1916 the Grand Fleet took part in a huge naval battle with the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet off Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula.
On the afternoon of the 31st of May 1916 Commander Jones in HMS Shark led a division of destroyers to attack a German battlecruiser squadron. The fighting was intense, and HMS Shark’s bridge was hit by a German shell, disabling the steering gear, and killing or wounding many of the bridge crew. The commanding officer of another destroyer selflessly placed his ship between Shark and the enemy, in an attempt to protect her, but Jones, realising that this would almost certainly see the other vessel destroyed, ordered her to remain clear.
Jones had been wounded himself but made his way to the aft steering position to help to connect and man the aft steering gear. In the meantime the Germans had shelled and destroyed both the forward and aft gun positions. Jones now made his way to the midships gun, and personally took command of it, ensuring that it continued firing. Shark was being pummeled from close range by the German light cruisers and destroyers, and a few minutes after arriving at the position Commander jones was hit by a shell which tore off his leg above the knee.
Despite the severity of his wounds, Jones to everybody’s amazement, remained in position giving orders to the gun crew while a chief stoker improvised a tourniquet in an attempt to stem the bleeding. In the greatest traditions of the Royal Navy, Jones noticed that the Navy Ensign was not properly hoisted and ordered that another be raised in its place. Moments later Shark was dealt the fatal blow by the enemy.
HMS Shark was struck by a torpedo, fired from one of the German destroyers. She sank quickly, leaving only a few survivors in the water. These survivors were later picked up by a neutral ship, sadly Commander Jones was not amongst them. He had gone down with his vessel, fighting to the very end despite suffering wounds that would have incapacitated most men immediately.
This courageous and selfless commander refused to give in, and even when he was certain the ship would soon sink, he ordered his crew to prepare by donning lifejackets, while he himself remained at his station and continued fighting to the very end. For his immense bravery, and selfless actions he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross by the King in 1917 and is remembered on the war memorial Kviberg Cemetery in Sweden.
The Leeds to Bristol Express Mail train struck a glancing blow to the freight train before smashing into the engine tender that was shunting the freight wagons off the main line. The express train continued out of control smashing into the carriages of a second freight train before overturning and landing on its right-hand side. Behind the wrecked engine lay a scene of utter devastation, beyond the bridge a tangle of wrecked steel and timber, but nothing resembling the train carriages that minutes earlier were on a routine trip from the North of England carrying mail and passengers. Flames began snaking their way through the wreckage of the train, their flickering orange glow lighting up a scene of complete devastation.
In the early hours of the 13th of October 1928, a freight train was slowly making its way south towards the sleepy village of Charfield in Gloucestershire. Mr Gilbert, the driver had made this journey many times before, and there was nothing to suggest that this day was going to be any different to the others. As he approached the Berkeley Road Junction, he saw that the distant signal was set at danger, so he began to slow the train in preparation to stop at the next signal. The signalman at Berkeley Road had decided to shunt them on to a branch line to allow a fast parcel train from Leicester to pass by. As a freight train driver, Gilbert was used to this, as the slow lumbering freight trains were often shunted out of the way of the express passenger and mail trains. If this was not the case, then the network would grind to a halt.
E. H. Adlington had worked on the railways for a little over 37 years. Today was an early start, and he arrived at the station in Birmingham to start his shift at 1.45am. He would be taking the mail and passenger express train to Bristol, returning later the same morning on the 7.40am from Bristol to Birmingham. He would be in the engine with Fireman Want for the southbound journey. Want had worked with Adlington for just short of 2 years and did not know the route as well as his driver did. Adlington new every inch of the line, including the location of every signal.
At 4.45am Driver Mr Honeyfield slowly propelled his empty freight train out of the yard at Westerleigh. He was heading north towards Gloucester, passing through Charfield with 45 wagons. The train slowly made its way north through patchy and often thick fog. Honeyfield was surprised given the conditions that the fog signalmen had not been sent out.
By now the Leicester Express parcel train had cleared Berkeley Road, and Gilbert’s freight train had been shunted back onto the main line and was once again making its way south. At Charfield the signalman Mr Button had shunted another freight train off the line and into a siding to allow the Leicester to Bristol train to pass through the station. This freight train was passing through and running low on water. Despite this the driver made no attempt to inform the signalman that he required water. The Leicester train passed by, and Button cleared the through freight train to return onto the main line to resume its journey south towards Wickwar. Without informing the signal box, the freight train stopped on the main southbound line at the water crane to fill up.
This unscheduled water stop meant delays, and had Button known about it he would have left the through freight train in the sidings to allow the Leeds to Bristol Express to pass by, giving him more time to get them watered and on their way. This was frustrating and put more pressure on Button by reducing the time he had between trains.
As the Leeds to Bristol Express was approaching Charfield, Adlington the driver moved across to the left-hand side of the footplate to get a better view of the signals as he approached Charfield. As he approached, he saw that the distant signal was showing a green light, meaning that the signals for Charfield were clear, and he could make safe passage through the station. Further south, Button was busy shunting a freight train off the main southbound track to allow Adlington’s train to pass. This train, the southbound freight train driven by Mr Gilbert was slowly being propelled northwards, off the southbound line and into a siding.
The northbound freight train driven by Honeyfield had by now arrived in Charfield. He was travelling at a speed of around 20 to 25mph approaching the road bridge just to the north of Charfield station. Gilbert was still propelling his train backwards into the sidings at a speed of around 5mph. At this point Button was unconcerned, as far as he knew the signals for the southbound line were closed, and the Bristol to Leeds Express would pull up until the line was clear.
On the Bristol to Leeds Express Adlington was happy that his way was clear and was heading towards the road bridge at Charfield at round 45mph, a reduced speed owing to fog in the area. All of a sudden there was a bang as his train struck something. Adlington immediately operated the brakes and crouched down, he could feel the train ploughing out of control and leaving the tracks. The next impact threw him, and fireman Want into the coal stock, and then he became aware that the train was falling over onto its right-hand side. The last thing he was aware of was coal falling and partially burying him.
Aboard the northbound freight train, Honeywell felt a slight tug behind him, but did not feel as though anything serious had happened. He saw the mail train passing him and brought his train to a stop as the signal on his side of the track was at danger. As he climbed down for the footplate, he realised that the last two wagons of his train were damaged and had come off the rails.
On board the Leeds to Bristol Express Adlington found himself partially buried by the coal, and it took him over ten minutes to dig himself out. Once he was free, he made his way to the signal box and informed Button that the southbound signal was clear, Button was convinced he had set the signals to danger and replied that this was “impossible”. He could not understand why the express had proceeded, but both Adlington and his fireman were convinced that the distant signal was showing a green. Button must have made a mistake.
The scene was one of complete carnage. The rearmost carriages of the express train had been unable to pass under the road bridge due to the wreckage blocking it. As a result, they had ploughed into the back of each other and piled up on the north side of the bridge. The impact had caused a fire which was now burning furiously in the tangle of steel and timber.
Of the sixty passengers aboard the Leeds to Bristol Express, sixteen were killed and a further twenty-four were injured. Thirteen post office workers and the guard of the train were also injured. Tragically, just three months later another train on the Bristol to Leeds route was involved in a collision near the village of Ashchurch. The passenger guard who had been on board the Leeds to Bristol Express in the Charfield Crash was on board the Bristol to Leeds train involved in this collision. Two collisions in just less than three months. The Ashchurch crash resulted in the loss of two lives.
You can read our report into the Ashchurch crash by clicking here.
It’s 3am a faulty games console has set alight quickly spreading to the curtains. The house is filling with thick black toxic smoke. Just a couple of breaths in this will render you unconscious. The temperatures downstairs is several hundred degrees, hotter than your oven on full.
Racing through the quiet streets a fire crew are receiving information over the radio that people are trapped upstairs in the house. Two in the back are securing their breathing apparatus that will allow them to breath in the otherwise unsurvivable conditions. The boss is in the front running through in his mind what he can expect when he gets there, and what needs doing.
In the control room an operator is calmly passing advice to the terrified person on the other end of the line while another passes information on to the onrushing crews. On the inside the operator finds the screams of the trapped occupier distressing, but outwardly they remain calm, knowing that the information they are giving May just save a life.
On the street a crowd has gathered, people are filming the fire crews as they arrive, social media gold. The two firefighters leap from the back of the truck in their heavy breathing apparatus and the driver hands them the hose.
The boss is speaking to witnesses gathering vital information, “In you go lads” he shouts in the calmest tone he can muster. They throw their tallies at the entry control officer and in they go disappearing from view through the black smoke billowing through the door.
Hit by a wall of heat they feel their way in zero visibility towards the stairs. A second team from another station have entered behind them, “you get the casualties and we will hit the fire” they shout.
As they ascend the stairs the heat becomes unbearable, their ears and neck are starting to burn, the stairs are like a chimney, funnelling the heat upwards. They spray water into the air hoping to cool the smoke around them. Reaching the top they begin searching the rooms one by one, feeling in the dark with their hands and feet.
Downstairs the other team are battling the flames that are by now engulfing the living room, it’s hot work, but they are starting to knock back the flames. Above them the team have located the casualties and are helping them into the arms of a colleague at the top of a ladder. They are terrified, and struggling to breath, but they are safe. The relief amongst the crew is palpable.
Downstairs the fire is out, a lucky escape has been had by all, but it could have been so very different, another minute or two and the smoke would have overcome those trapped upstairs. Had the thick black flammable smoke ignited the firefighters would have been exposed to temperatures that their gear could not protect them from.
The margins between life an death in these situations are fine, minutes, even seconds can make a difference. The men and women of the fire and rescue service are dedicated, and highly trained but they are also human. They feel fear, they are affected by the distressing scenes they are exposed to. They enter situations knowing that one wrong move could be their last.
Yes they like a grumble from time to time, and who can blame them? Their service has been decimated over the last couple of decades, a sustained period of cuts that is unheard of in other sectors. Despite this, when the ‘bells go down’ and they climb on that fire engine they are utterly professional and dedicated to the work that they carry out.
Their is plenty of banter, they need a sense of humour, it is how they get through the difficult jobs. But at the scene of an incident you will see a professional group of people giving everything to protect lives and property.
What you don’t see is the work going on in the background, the control room operators coordinating resources, giving vital fire safety advice and having to listen to the harrowing screams of those who are trapped, all the time they are multi-tasking, passing information on to the crews, talking to the other emergency services, and dealing with terrified victims.
It’s not just fires either. The service attend road traffic collisions, rescues from water, incidents involving dangerous chemicals, they rescue people from heights, people who are trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings, and those who become trapped by flooding. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year the men and women of the fire and rescue service are there for you in your hour of need.
William Barnsley Allen was born in Sheffield on the 8th of June 1892 to Parents Percy and Edith. He was educated at Worksop College before going to Sheffield university to study medicine, eventually earning himself a bachelor’s degree in Medicine. He proved to be a talented and knowledgeable physician, gaining a gold medal for pathology in 1913, three other medals, and a scholarship award.
Four days after the outbreak of war, William decided that his talents would be invaluable at the front and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a territorial. This would take him right into the thick of the fighting, operating in the trenches on the front line, and dealing with the horrific injuries caused by German shells, bullets, and poison gas. He was attached to the West Riding Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and sent to France.
In August 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions near Nesnil at the Battle of the Somme. An artillery officer had been badly wounded, and William was called for at once. The ground between William’s dugout and the casualty was being shelled heavily by the enemy, but William grabbed his kit, braving the bombardment to reach and treat the wounded officer.
On the 3rd of September 1916 an artillery detachment was unloading high explosive shells for their guns when the Germans scored a lucky hit on one of the trucks. There followed a huge explosion as the ammunition went up. Witnessing the carnage William leapt into action running towards the scene despite the risk of more German shells and further explosion. He began dressing the wound of the injured men, doubtless saving many lives, he himself was hit four times during the action, including two shell splinters in the chest which fractured two of his ribs.
Despite the pain he must have been in he never once mentioned his own injuries until his work was finished. When he had dressed the last man he finally returned to his own dugout, tired and in pain, to report his own injuries. The brave doctor had put the wellbeing of his patients ahead of his own, saving many lives in the process, and for his actions that day he was awarded the Victoria Cross, to add to the Military Cross he had been awarded earlier in the year for similarly brave actions near Nesnil.
On the 26th of September, a few weeks after his exertions in the German artillery attack, the Town in which he was staying came under an intense artillery attack consisting of both high explosive and gas shells. William left the advance dressing station to search for wounded men. He was informed that there were some wounded in a remote part of town, he made his way to their location and supervised their transfer to the dressing station. Despite now suffering from the effects of gas himself, he was about to set out to locate another party of men that had not returned, fortunately they appeared just as he was setting off. For this he was awarded a bar to his Military Cross.
After the war he was transferred to the regular Royal Army Medical Corps and promoted to acting Major. He would serve with the unit until he was placed on the reserve list due to illness. He became so ill that eventually he was retired on the grounds of ill health.
In July 1933 William found himself in court on a charge of drink driving, the story told in his defence was a rather harrowing one, describing how he had been wounded multiple times during the war, including eye injuries that caused him to go blind for six months. He had then travelled to India after the war where he contracted malaria and dysentery. His return to England saw a brief upturn in his condition but this was to be short lived as he again suffered from malaria, dysentery, pleurisy, and bouts of insomnia. The insomnia drove William to drink and drugs, and although he was able to stop the drugs, the whisky took hold. He lost his licence for five years and received a fine for the drink driving, tragically he would not live long enough to get his licence back, as the heroic doctor was found dying in his bedroom by a maid on the 27th of August. At the time his wife Mary was not at home, she was ill in a nursing home. Aged just 41 William Barnsley Allen had taken a fatal overdose of drugs and died in his bed. A tragic end for such a talented and courageous man.
Trawling through the newspaper archives from 1914 to 1918 I came across the occasional story of awards for nurses, for their courage under fire at the front. Given the current global situation we find ourselves in, and all the praise rightfully directed at the amazing doctors and nurses of the NHS, I decided that this was worth a little more investigation.
Stories of courage and gallantry from the fighting men at the front are easy to find and are so numerous that it would be impossible to research and write about them all. Was I did find rather odd was the lack of stories about the red cross nurses, who worked tirelessly all along the front, rarely complaining, just quietly getting on with their vital work. The stories that did find their way to print very rarely named the nurses who were to be commended officially.
There is the story of a Scottish physician, Doctor Elsie Inglis, who set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service. Field hospitals staffed by volunteers, and set up on the battlefields of Belgium, France, Serbia, and Russia. At the outbreak of war Dr Inglis offered her services to the war office and was reportedly told to “go home and sit still!” Undeterred Dr Inglis set up her field hospital.
Where the British government had shunned the offer of support, the French government gratefully accepted, and the first hospital was set up in France. Another unit was set up in Serbia, which Inglis would lead herself. Volunteer nurses arrived in their hundreds, and eventually around fourteen teams were sent to battlefronts right across the continent.
Unarmed, often working under canvas which gave no protection from enemy air attack, and dealing with the most horrendous injuries, and diseases brought about by most unsanitary conditions in which they would also live and work, these courageous nurses, who rarely slept, would spend hours treating physical and mental injuries, comforting the men at their lowest points, and watching men die. Some of the nurses would succumb to the very diseases they were trying to treat.
One of the volunteers for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals was Louisa Jordan from Glasgow. Jordan had worked at several hospitals in Scotland before volunteering for foreign service. She travelled to Serbia and joined the 1st Serbian unit. In 1915 Serbia suffered from a typhus epidemic, and Jordan was placed in charge of the typhus ward that was set up in response. She volunteered to look after Doctor Elizabeth Ross, who had answered an appeal by the Serbian Government for Doctors. While treating patients she had contracted typhus. Tragically both died of typhus; they knew there was the risk of this when they volunteered, and they volunteered all the same.
This article is dedicated to all the Doctors and Nurses, past and present who have worked, and continue to work in hospitals, both civilian and military, all around the globe.
At just after 9pm on a freezing January evening a freight train of some 24 wagons was being shunted between sidings in the sleepy Gloucestershire village of Ashchurch. A relatively routine operation that had been carried out here hundreds of times before. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary as the railway foreman strolled along beside the engine overseeing the operation. Just then he heard a noise he recognised, a noise that struck fear into his heart. The Bristol to Leeds express mail train was approaching from the south, in its path, and barely visible in the fog was his freight train.
At twenty-five past six in the evening on the 8th of January 1929, a freight train of 16 carriages left Gloucester headed for Ashchurch, where it would pick up more wagons, and then remain there until 10.25pm, when all the passenger and mail trains were clear, and it could continue its slow run north without holding anyone up. Its driver was a Mr Reynolds, who was on board with the Fireman Mr Trotman, and the Guard Mr Gardener. They arrived at Ashchurch at 7.20pm and pulled up in the Provender Store Sidings.
At five past eight the fast mail train from Gloucester to Leeds left Gloucester Station on time, headed for the first stop of the journey at Ashford. Half an hour behind the Leeds bound train the Birmingham Express mail train left Gloucester approximately 6 minutes late; six precious minutes that sealed its fate.
Back in Ashford the freight train was waiting patiently for the Leeds express mail train to clear the station, there was no particular hurry, after all, they were not due to depart until later that evening. The Leeds train arrived on time and left promptly at 8.40pm. Things were running on schedule, and railway foreman Bunn sought permission from the signalman Mr Horne to commence the shunting operation that would take the freight train, now consisting of twenty wagons, from one set of sidings, to another on the down line. The two men spoke briefly on the telephone, with Bunn asking Horne “how is the fast mail running”, before telling him that “we are ready to go to Ashchurch junction with about 20 wagons on.” Horne did not reply to the first question, simply stating “Right, come in then.” Foreman Bunn, a man of 28 years’ service, six of which were at Ashchurch, seemed a little surprised by the response, but got to work immediately carrying out the move, with first involved shunting the train up onto the up line, and then backing it across onto the down line and into the sidings.
Bunn was walking slowly besides the engine when he heard the approaching mail train. He hurriedly signalled the driver by waving his hands, urging him to hurry up. There was no chance of reversing the move in time. Just as he was shouting to the driver, he heard a detonator explode as the fast-approaching mail train ran over it, this was followed by a violent collision which threw Bunn to the ground and covered him in dirt.
At the time of the impact, the Guard on the fast mail train, Francis Molson was standing in his box carriage, when it seemed to collapse around him. The impact threw him clear of the train and he landed in a field surrounded by mail bags. Despite having broken his arm and suffering other injuries he ran back to the signal box to ensure that the line had been stopped, and then joined in with the rescue operation, managing to pull several people from beneath the wreckage. He modestly heaped praise on other postal workers who came to help, playing down his own contribution, and describing them as the finest men he had ever seen. Francis Molson refused medical treatment until he had been assured that nobody remained trapped within the wrecked train.
The express mail train was carrying 44 people at the time of the collision. The collision was so severe that the express train’s engine buried itself underneath the rails and sleepers of the adjacent sidings, destroying some 75 yards of track. Two people were killed in the crash and a further eleven, including Francis Molson, the heroic guard, suffered injuries. A routine operation led to tragedy, a tragedy that was avoidable, and cost the lives of a train driver, and a company employee who was simply making his way home that cold and foggy January evening.
On the 10th of December 1937, in blizzard conditions, an express train bound for Glasgow collided with the rear of a stationary train bound for Dundee, causing the rear carriages of the Dundee train to disintegrate, killing 35 people and injuring 109 others. This was Britain’s worst snow related crash and sent ripples through the local community. The blame was first laid at the feet of the driver of the Glasgow bound train, but then switched to the Signalman at Castlecary, neither man ever accepted responsibility.
The Dundee train left Falkirk on time at 4.20pm, passed Bonnybridge 2 minutes late, and Greenhill Junction 1 minute 45 seconds late. The train was low on steam and water, and as a consequence of trying to deal with the steam issue the Fireman, Fleming, had not observed any signals since leaving Falkirk.
On approach to the distant signal the driver was certain that the arm was standing clear, but he missed the home signal which was standing at danger. Signalman Sneddon, upon realising that the train was still steaming on, displayed a red hand lamp from the signal box. As the driver did not whistle to acknowledge the signal, Sneddon believed he was continuing through the home signal, and assumed that he had entered the next section of track. The Driver Mr Macauley had actually applied the brakes and brought the train to a halt at the advanced signal which was standing at danger.
As Sneddon thought the train was continuing, he signalled Signalman Smith at the next junction to warn him, as there was a goods train waiting ahead and he believed that there would be a collision within the next couple of minutes. From his position in the Castlecary Signal Box, Sneddon could not see the stationary train. Sneddon had made a critical mistake. When a train passes a signal into a section of track, a circuit operates to confirm the presence of the train. Sneddon failed to observe the indicator in front of him, which would have confirmed that the train had indeed stopped. He also made no effort to try and look for the train to confirm whether it had indeed continued or observed his warning and come to a halt.
Despite bringing the train to a standstill, Macauley still failed to use his whistle to acknowledge receipt of Sneddon’s warning lamp. The Fireman, Fleming, made his way to the back of the train to see if he had spotted the warning. Inglis, the Guard confirmed this, and the train remained at a standstill. The station master at Castlecary, a Mr Scott, was returning from the nearby brickworks. Before reaching the booking office at the station he could clearly see the tail lamp of a stationary train at a range of about 175 yards. He was unaware at the time, despite having spoken to Sneddon in the Signal box via telephone, that this was in fact the Dundee Express that he could see. He was only informed of this when he reached the signal box and spoke to Sneddon in person.
The next fatal error occurred when instead of phoning Dullatur to find out what had happened to the Dundee train, he phoned Greenhill to discuss accepting the Edinburgh express. He told Greenhill that the Dundee train had passed the home signal at danger, he had seen its tail lamp, and that his track was clear. He was unsure under the circumstances whether he should accept the Edinburgh express. At this point, Sneddon claimed that his track circuit indicator was clear, he was certain of it.
Fleming, the Fireman on the Dundee train had by now made his way back to the signal box, and there was visible relief on Sneddon’s face when he realised that the train had actually come to a stop. Sneddon told Fleming that he would have to see about getting the Edinburgh train stopped. Just at that moment the signal was received that the Edinburgh train had passed Greenhill and entered the Castlecary section. Stationmaster Scott ran for the detonators; devices that are placed on the track and emits a loud bang when a train passes over it to warn of danger ahead. Time was short, and only one detonator was secured properly. Sneddon, as he had done with the Dundee train, displayed held out his red lamp.
Anderson the driver of the Glasgow train, failed to observe the signals on the approach to Castlecary due to deteriorating weather conditions, but did see the red lamp held by Sneddon. He though it unusual to see a stationary lamp in such a position, as standard practice for stopping a train was to wave the lamp from side to side. He applied the brakes, and as he did so he heard the single detonator explode. Anderson attempted to throw the train in reverse in a desperate attempt to slow the train, which was travelling at between sixty and seventy miles per hour when he applied the brakes. He spotted the tail lamp of the Dundee train and, realising that a collision was inevitable, shouted to Kinnear, his fireman, to hold on.
The first two carriages of the Dundee train disintegrated on impacted, which was estimated to be at around sixty miles per hour. In total, 35 people were killed in the collision and 109 were injured. Initially charges were brought against the driver of the Edinburgh express, as it was alleged that he was exceeding the speed limit for line at the time of the impact and failing to adjust his speed on account of the weather conditions. Later the blame was switched to the signalman Sneddon, for accepting the Edinburgh train and failing to properly investigate the location of the Dundee train. Sneddon would not accept this charge.
The Station Master at Castlecary Mr. Gardner Scott and his wife were actively engaged in rescue attempts. Mrs. Scott worked tirelessly in blizzard conditions throughout the night. At 10am the following day, seventeen hours after the accident, she was finally convinced by fellow rescuers to take a break. Mr Scott was also exhausted by the time the couple finally took a break from rescue operations.
On Tuesday the 18th of March 1913, William Parry a 35-year-old sewer man working for Kensington Borough Council was carrying out some work in a sewer beneath Pembridge Place, Notting Hill. While he was working, he was completely unaware that coal gas from a nearby main had saturated the surrounding ground and was now beginning to seep into the very sewer in which he was working. There were four others working in the sewer that day, four men who were extremely lucky to survive.
Theodore Blakeston, one of the men working in the sewer suddenly realised that three of the others had collapsed, and he was feeling unwell himself. He and another man, Charles Washington, managed somehow to drag two of the unconscious men to the surface, despite themselves suffering from the effects of the coal gas. Once on the surface the incident was reported to the fire brigade who responded immediately.
On arrival Fireman William McLaren of the Manchester Square Fire Station, and Fireman Robert Frederick Libby of Euston found two men lying unconscious by an open manhole. It quickly became apparent that there was still another man below the surface in desperate need of rescue. When volunteers were asked for the two Firemen immediately volunteered to go below ground. Charles Washington, one of the two men who had already helped to drag one of his colleagues out of the sewer, volunteered to go with the two Firemen in order to direct them in the maze of sub-surface tunnels.
The two Firemen donned smoke helmets and made their way into the sewer, one either side of the Charles Washington. Their only means of communicating with the surface was a lifeline, but this turned out to be useless due to the number of corners between their entry point and the location of the stricken workman. They continued through the maze of pipes until they came across the body of William Parry, unconscious but still breathing. By now, McLaren and Libby had sent Washington back to the surface to see if he could sort out the problems with the lifeline, but there was nothing that could be done as it kept snagging in the brickwork at the corners of the tunnel.
Another Fireman, Newbury, who entered the tunnel found McLaren unconscious, he tied a rope around him and tried to drag him to the surface but could not, so he took off his smoke helmet and tried to shout for help. Unfortunately, the gas had now built up to such a level that Newbury was rendered unconscious himself and had to be rescued. Despite the valiant rescue attempts William Parry, William McLaren, and Robert Libby were pronounced dead at the scene. The others who went down into the tunnels that day survived, but all had to be treated in hospital.
At the inquest, the coroner recorded that death was due to asphyxiation caused by toxic levels of coal gas that had seeped into the sewer as the result of a leaking gas main. In response to the incident tighter regulations were introduced on the reporting of coal gas leaks in the vicinity of sewers and other underground installations.
See what I did there? An attention grabbing headline designed to entice you to click the link and read my article! I even used a picture I found on google! It is in fact completely made up, with absolutely no evidence to substantiate the claim! Thousands of people do this every day on the internet, and when you really think about it, it is frightening how easy it is to get people to believe what they see online. What is even more frightening is that some people will not even read the article, they will take the headline at face value!
Yes, I realise the irony of writing an article on the dangers of social media, and then posting it on social media. But I find it disturbing that someone can post an unsubstantiated article, or an opinion with no evidence to back it up, and hundreds of thousands of people will share it without taking the time to find supporting evidence. It’s instant, they read the article and share it, then it is shared again and again, often spreading fear and panic.
Take Coronavirus for example. Articles are beginning to appear claiming that people are becoming seriously ill shortly after having certain vaccines. These articles do not actually provide any evidence to back up their claims, some even use fake videos and photographs that have been used in articles to discredit other medications, yet people instantly tag their friends and family, who then tag their friends and family, and before you know it, dangerous misinformation makes its way around the globe.
If I posted a completely fake story (which would be completely irresponsible by the way), about any subject that is currently making the headlines globally; a percentage of those who saw it would believe it, and they would share it with others who believed it. Before you know it, a completely made up story would become the truth for a large group of people, they would use it as ‘evidence’ to back up their beliefs, and it would have gone from fabrication to fact in a matter of days.
The problem with all this information at our fingertips is that anyone can create and post it online for all to see. You don’t need credibility, or expertise, you can simply make something up and post it. If you type “Covid is a hoax” into google you will find articles from people purporting to be experts claiming, no stating, that Covid is a hoax, and they have the ‘evidence’ to prove it. Type “Covid is real” into google and you will find an equal number of articles to support that belief.
The other problem is, and I have been guilty of it myself in the past, is that people will only look for information that backs up their argument. They will not take the time to look for information that contradicts what they believe.
There are people out there that dedicate their lives to a chosen profession. They spend many hours studying, researching, testing theories to prove, or even disprove them, and they are backed by other experts doing exactly the same work. These people know their work inside out, they are the people who discovered penicillin, and the countless other vaccines that have saved millions of lives globally, and yet we chose to dismiss their work, and believe a car salesman from Milton Keynes who has spent an hour on google during their lunch break, or someone with a grudge against the NHS or the Government who has thrown together a Facebook post with no evidence, as some kind of revenge against a supposed injustice they have suffered.
If you are going to research a subject make sure that you look closely at both sides of the argument. Look at the source of your evidence. Who created it? What is their background? Are they an expert in their field, or are they simply looking for likes and shares on social media.
It is a minefield full of misinformation and propaganda. This misinformation and propaganda can ultimately cost lives, that is how serious it is. Those sharing fake news do not care what the consequences are for others, they only care about their own profile.
With the war a little less than 6 months old and following months of bitter fighting in rain filled muddy trenches, a most remarkable event occurred. In the midst of war we were given a stark reminder that humanity still existed. It started with an exchange of Christmas carols, and after a while a few curious soldiers from either side began to emerge from the trenches, giving assurances that they would not shoot each other. Over the course of the next few hours the two sides walked together, chatted, and exchanged gifts as though they were old friends strolling through the park.
In a letter to a local newspaper, Sergeant Mervyn Powell of the Royal Berkshire Regiment takes up the story.
“Well Christmas has come and gone by once more, and I don’t suppose I shall experience another one like this. To start with Christmas Eve, it was a nice frosty night, and about 11pm we heard singing in the German trenches only about 250 yards away. I went to the listening post and the sentries told me that the Germans were having a good time singing carols etc. I was so interested that I stopped up an extra hour on duty to listen to them, instead of having a sleep (We work more by night than by day, as it is impossible to get up on top in daylight). At daybreak and as soon as we were able to see the outline of the trenches and have a good look round, we heard the Germans on our left shouting. “Happy Christmas, Englishmen,” Which our chaps answered by looking over the top and wishing them the same. Then they shouted, “We no shoot, Englishmen, we no shoot.” I can hardly say how it came about, anyway our chaps got out of their trenches, then the Germans got out of theirs, then followed more waving of arms and shouting to one another, and then to cap all a couple of our fellows went a little way towards their trenches and they came a little way towards us, with the result that an hour after this we were exchanging bully beef for black bread, and we gave them fags, etc. Not a shot was fired, it was a proper local armistice. Don’t think we left anything to chance, far from that.
I was very glad myself we came to the understanding we did, as the roof of my “funk-hole” was just beginning to come in, so I set to work and re-roofed it, made it a little bigger, and fixed up a chimney with biscuit tins etc. It is difficult to believe that we were friends at Christmas now for on the night following boxing day, after coming into billets, we had to go back to our trenches, and our artillery was soon whizzing shells right over us, right into their trenches.”
These localised and unofficial truces took place all along the front line. In Rue Du Bois, France the 1st Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment got to know the Saxon Regiment opposing them. Private Oakes described his conversations with the Germans.
“They were a Saxon regiment and they told us their regiments had been in Kiel Harbour for three months waiting to go to England before they had been sent to the fighting line. They all seemed anxious for a speedy termination of the war, and one fellow said both sides ought to stand back to back and advance.”
The encounter was also recorded in the official regiment war diary:-
24th December 1914
“Quiet. Germans ask for armistice for Christmas. Sing songs in turn from opposite parapets.”
25th December 1914
“Not a shot fired. Germans bury their dead and we go and help. Baccy and cigars exchanged, and Germans and our men walk about together in the open together!! Return to trenches at 4am. Peace Reigns till midnight.”
Sent to war by their political masters, the soldiers on opposite sides of the divide showed us that despite the politics and rhetoric, at the end of the day, we are all human and share more in common than what divides us.
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Wishing you all a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
The 16 year old Boy Sailor stood by his shattered gun, his crew mates around him dead and dying. Despite continuing enemy fire and the exposed position he was in he stood quietly, awaiting further orders. His devotion to his duty compelled him to remain at his position “just in case he was called upon for further action.” Many would have sought shelter from the onslaught, but John Travers Cornwell stood firm in the face of the enemy.
John Travers Cornwell was born on the 8th of January 1900 in West Ham, London. He was the second child of Eli, a tram driver originally from Cambridgeshire, and Lily, a native of London. The family lived on Clyde Place, Low Leyton in West Ham. Eli’s Job as a tram driver was the family’s sole source of income, and the family just had enough to make ends meet.
John joined the Navy aged 15 on the 31 July 1915; less than a year later in May 1916 he found himself in action aboard HMS Chester at the Battle of Jutland aged just 16. HMS Chester was a Town Class Light Cruiser, originally ordered by the Greek Navy but pressed into service by the Royal Navy at the outbreak of hostilities. John was part of the gun crew on one of the ship’s 5.5 inch guns.
During the battle John’s position took heavy fire, and the ship sustained significant damage. John’s gun was put out of action as the men around him were killed or seriously injured. Despite the exposed position, and the carnage all around him John felt that he may be called upon for other duties, and that he should remain at his post.
Quietly standing by, despite suffering shrapnel wounds to the abdomen, John remained at his position until the ship withdrew from the battle. He was landed in Grimsby with the rest of the wounded but sadly died of his wounds just 24 hours later in Grimsby Hospital.
Following his Fathers death on military service in Essex, the family had fallen on hard times, and his mother’s poverty meant that John was buried in a common grave. Upon discovering his fate, and with the permission of his mother, John’s body was exhumed at the cost of the Admiralty and buried with full military honours. The tributes included a wreath from Admiral Sir David Beatty, and a floral anchor from his ship mates.
Smashing at Cologne for the third time this week, the R.A.F. made a successful attack on communications and inland port installations, the air ministry revealed this afternoon.
On Wednesday night the city got what was described as one of its heaviest attacks for some time, while on Tuesday the city was raided twice, one attack lasting some hours.
While London was bearing its heaviest attack for some time, our planes also bombed the naval shipyards at Bremen. Other forces of aircraft attacked the ports of Boulogne and Le Havre.
Sunday 30th November 1941
Submarines’ Great Triumph in Arctic Ocean
8 Nazi Ships Sunk: 4 More ‘Probable’
Fourteen Nazi transports and supply ships on their way to the Murmansk front with men and munitions for Hitler’s armies in North Russia have been sunk or damaged by British submarines.
Eight ships, two of which are known to have been transports laden with troops, have been sunk. Four others were probably sunk, and two others damaged. An Admiralty communique said:
“H.M. Submarines operating in Arctic waters have been inflicting severe losses upon German troop transports and supply vessels carrying reinforcements of men and material to the German armies on the Murmansk front.”
“HMS Tigris (Commander H. F. Bone, D.S.O. D.S.C R.N.) has sunk five enemy ships and seriously damaged a sixth by Torpedo.”
“HMS Trident (Commander G. M. Sladen D.S.C. R.N.) has successfully attacked seven enemy transport and supply ships.”
Monday 30th November 1942
We Cut Bizerta Rail Link
The Allies, making a new advance in Tunisia, have cut the rail link between Bizerta and Tunis. Troops moving in on Bizerta itself are forging ahead at a point twenty miles from the great port.
The British First Army is reported to be within gun range of Tunis. Morocco radio said last night that the enemy is being forced to retreat in face of Allied pressure in the Bizerta – Tunis sector. A communique from Allied Force Headquarters last evening said:
“Allied forces have occupied Djedeirda, north-east of Tebourba and twelve miles west of Tunis. Operations in the vicinity of Mateur (twenty miles from Bizerta) are proceeding satisfactorily.”
Tuesday 30th November 1943
8th Breaks into Winter Line
“Our Advance Continues”
5th Army Takes Town in Centre Attack
The 8th Army made up of British and Empire troops has broken into the main defence of the enemy’s intended “winter line” near the Adriatic coast of Italy, says this afternoon’s Allied Communique, giving news of the “Colossal Crack” offensive which opened on Sunday.
The bridgehead at the mouth of the Sangro has been enlarged to a depth of four miles and a width of twelve miles and “our advance is continuing.”
Thursday 30th November 1944
Bombs in Letterbox Raid Feat
Thousand Pound bombs were delivered through the letterbox of a house in Rotterdam by Typhoon Rocket Bombers in one of the most accurate and daring attacks ever made by the R.A.F.
Eight high priority targets ranging from this house on the corner of a tree shaded square, to an ancient moated castle where important formations of the German Army were believed to be gathered, were successfully dealt with by Spitfire and Typhoon Bombers.
Every day, often from the moment we wake we are bombarded by media. Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; YouTube; the list goes on. There is so much out there it can be hard to distinguish between real and fake news.
In this social media world we have a new generation of “celebrities” to whom the youth of today look up to. A generation of young people harbour ambitions to be famous when they grow up. What I think is missing are real role models.
Only a small percentage of people will succeed in this, yet many who harbour these ambitions have a plan B. They look at their social media icons and believe that it the way things should be, that somehow they are entitled to fame and fortune.
Those who have gained real success from social media have my respect. They have seen an opportunity and taken it. But what is missing in some cases is responsibility. We are living in a society where an increasing number of people have all the rights in the world, but do not seem to understand the responsibility that comes with these rights.
Go back a little over 100 years ago, and people truly understood the responsibility that comes with having rights. Men from all backgrounds volunteered to go away and fight against tyranny and oppression. They understood that the rights they enjoy came with great responsibility.
I’m not saying that some people today need to go to war, what I’m saying is that instead thinking they have an automatic right to everything, they should take a little responsibility for themselves. The NHS is not there to provide free paracetamol every time we sprain an ankle, or get a toothache, you can pick them up yourself for less than 50 pence; it’s called self-care.
So instead of relying on others, let’s all take a little responsibility for ourselves. Let’s look up to those who sacrificed themselves for our freedoms, those who thought of others before themselves, and did their bit for the country. Be resilient, look after yourself where you can; save the emergency services for genuine emergencies; think of others; work hard; be courageous, and remember that great things come with great responsibilities.
In 1885 George Bradford, a mining engineer from Chirnside, a small village just North of the border, married Amy Marian Nicholson from Brabourne in Kent. Nobody could have predicted at the time that this marriage would produce one of the most remarkable fighting families Britain had ever seen. Their four sons, Thomas; George; Roland and James would go on to win two Military Crosses, two Victoria Crosses, countless mentions in despatches, a Distinguished Service Order, and even a knighthood.
Tragically, of the four brothers who went to war, only Thomas would survive. George; James and Roland were killed in action, George and Roland became the only two Brothers in the Great War to be awarded the Victoria Cross, James won the Military Cross for his actions in the field, and Roland became the youngest Brigadier General in the British army; a reward for his remarkable courage and leadership ability.
George Nicholson Bradford was educated at the Royal Naval School in Mottingham, Kent. In 1904 he was commissioned into the Royal Navy as a Midshipman. During his time in the Navy he developed a talent for Boxing, going on to become the Navy Welterweight Champion. In 1909 he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant following his daring rescue of a boy from below decks on a sinking trawler. By 1914 he had been promoted to Lieutenant and was serving aboard the Dreadnought Battleship, HMS Orion.
On the 22nd of April 1918, George, now a Lieutenant Commander, was appointed to lead a seaman storming party during the Zeebrugge Raid, a British attempt to block the port of Zeebrugge, denying the Germans the use of the port as a strategic base for its U-Boats. George and the storming party sailed aboard HMS Iris II, a requisitioned Mersey Ferry.
HMS Iris II came alongside the mole in order to put ashore the storming parties that would neutralise the German Guns protecting the port. The crew, however, were finding it almost impossible to secure the parapet anchors and secure the vessel. The storming party could not be put ashore until the vessel was secured. George saw the danger and sprang into action. He spotted a derrick projecting out from the ship and over the mole. Despite the heavy seas he managed to climb it and make his way out over the mole. The heavy seas were crashing the derrick into the mole, but George clung on. Spotting his chance between waves, George leapt ashore. He managed to successfully secure the anchor but was tragically killed by German fire seconds later.
In 1916, Lieutenant Colonel Roland Boys Bradford was serving with the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry at Eaucourt L’Abbaye in France. His battalion was in support and the leading battalion had been cut down by German machine gun fire, and its commander severely wounded. Roland requested permission to take command of the exposed forward battalion and was granted permission. He dashed forward to take charge. Now leading two battalions he charged forward, somehow managing to rally the beleaguered men through his own energy and commitment. Against all odds they succeeded in capturing their objective. For his courage and outstanding leadership, Roland was awarded the Victoria Cross. Roland died on the 30th of November 1917, having just learned that he had been promoted to Brigadier General.
The full story of the Fighting Bradfords will be available in “Courage: Tales from the Great War”, RG Books, expected early 2021.
As the prevailing wind changed dispersing the smoke screen, HMS Vindictive, the aging Arrogant Class Cruiser was hit by a torrent of fire from the German Guns on the shore. The upperworks bore the brunt of the barrage and many were injured by splinters from the battered vessel. Many of the Royal Marine Gunners in the foretop were killed, yet the guns continued to answer the German fire.
Norman Augustus Finch was born in Handsworth, Birmingham on Boxing Day in 1890. His Father Richard Finch was a Mail Porter for the Post Office, and the family had six other children, whom his Mother, Emma, stayed at home to care for. In 1983 the family had another child, George meaning there were now eight children living in the terraced property on Nineveh Road.
In 1908 Norman Joined the Royal Navy as a Gunner in the Royal Marines Artillery, and was posted to China, serving on board HMS Minotaur, a first class armoured cruiser, and the flagship of the China Station. At the end of 1914, Minotaur was transferred to the Grand Fleet and participated in the Northern Patrol, a blockade of German ships preventing them from entering the Atlantic. This was a particularly tough posting, and Norman transferred to a shore based posting.
On the 2nd of January 1915 he was promoted to Corporal, and two years later, promotion to Sergeant followed. In 1918 the admiralty planned a raid on the German occupied port of Zeebrugge in Belgium, which was being used as a strategic U-Boat station, from which the German Navy could terrorise allied shipping. The plan was to block the entrance to the port by sinking three obsolete cruisers filled with concrete, thus preventing German vessels from entering or leaving. Upon hearing about the raid, Sergeant Finch volunteered immediately, and was posted to HMS Vindictive.
For the raid, Sergeant Finch was assigned as second in command of the pompoms and Lewis guns situated in the foretop of the ship. As the Vindictive appeared from the dissipating smokescreen and the Germans let loose their maelstrom, the men around Sergeant Finch were cut down. Two shells hit the Foretop leaving all apart from Finch either dead or disabled. Despite being wounded himself, Finch continued to fire on the German defenders on the mole, scoring valuable hits before another direct hit finally put the guns out of action.
Following the raid Norman was treated at the Naval hospital at Deal, in Kent for gunshot wounds to the right hand and leg, and on the 19th of July he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallant actions. He married in 1919 and moved to Portsmouth, where he was promoted again in 1920 to Quartermaster Sergeant, before leaving the Navy and taking a job as a Bank Messenger for Lloyds Bank. He died at St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth in 1966 aged 74.
Of all the Victoria Cross recipients I have researched, the story of Edward Noel Mellish was the one that probably inspired me the most. A story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster and involving bravery of the very highest order; a story of unswerving devotion to duty, not only to king and country, but a duty also to care for those brave young men who went over the top to drive back the enemy at the point of a bayonet.
Edward Noel Mellish, the son of Edward senior, a Bill Broker and Mary, was born on Christmas eve in 1880. His father’s work had taken the family to China, but they had now returned to England and were living at Tenable House, Oakleigh Road, Barnet. The family had seven other children, six of whom were girls.
Edward was educated at King Edward VI School in Saffron Walden in Essex, and in 1900 he joined the Artists Rifles. He sailed from Southampton the same year aboard the SS Kildonan Castle Bound for South Africa, where his regiment were involved in the South African War.
During the conflict he and his colleagues found themselves trapped by Boers in a lonely, isolated farmhouse. Edward immediately volunteered for the near suicidal task of breaking through the enemy to summon help. As he went his comrades felt he was facing certain death, and that they had seen him for the last time. There did not seem to be more than a one in a million chance that a man could run the Boer gauntlet.
Despite the odds against it, Edward succeeded in breaking through enemy lines. Not satisfied with simply delivering the SOS message, he then turned around and went back, alone, through the encircling enemy to bring the news to his besieged comrades that help was on its way.
After the war he remained in South Africa working in a diamond mine in Jagersfontein, and also helping out at a local Native Mission in the evenings. He would often be found sitting up all night nursing dying Africans. It was this voluntary work that convinced him that his future lay with the church and the service of others.
On his return to England, Edward went to King’s College London to read theology, and in 1912 he began his service with the church. He was ordained a year later, and his first appointment was as curate of St Paul’s Church, Deptford in South East London.
When war broke out, as a former soldier he was certain that there must be a job for him at the front. He applied for and was given a temporary commission as an army chaplain and was attached to the 4th Royal Fusiliers. His position meant that he could have remained at headquarters, a safe distance and nobody was going to stop him.
On the 27th of March 1916 Edward’s battalion was involved in heavy and desperate fighting at St. Eloi, near Ypres in Belgium. The enemy have constructed a complex series of defensive positions, and the fusiliers are facing murderous fire, causing heavy casualties. The British were outnumbered two to one yet managed to drive back the enemy at bayonet point.
After each assault, all six feet of Edward Mellish was seen, striding out into no man’s land under heavy enemy fire, prayer book in hand, walking as though he was on a Sunday church parade. He tended the wounds of the injured and brought them back, one by one, to the British trenches. The fire was so murderous that three men were killed as he knelt beside them. This didn’t deter him, and he continued to bring in the wounded that had seemed beyond the reach of the stretcher parties.
The next day he got straight back to work, heading back out into no man’s land, without even waiting for the enemy barrage to abate. With shells exploding close by and bullets passing too close for comfort he continued his work, walking slowly and calmy out to the wounded, bringing each man back to safety. He only stopped for a breather when there was a lull in the fighting and the ambulance parties were able to go out.
His battalion was relived the next day, and he really should have left with them, instead he chose to stay and saved another 12 lives. Later that day he led out a party of volunteers and cleaned up the remaining inaccessible wounded. Describing the scene, a brother officer said, “he was walking into a tempest of fire, a prayer book under his arm as though he were going on a church parade in peace time” a Private adding “It made us think a bit more of parsons, to see how he walked quietly under fire.”
Edward was awarded to Victoria Cross in 1916, and later the Military Cross in 1918. After the war he went back to the Church becoming the Vicar of St. Marks in Lewisham. In 1939 thieves broke into the Vicarage at Great Dunmow in Essex and stole his V.C. and M.C. as well as two pounds. They left all the collection plates in the church though.
He retired from the church on October the 1st 1953 after 5 years as the Vicar of Baltonsborough, near Glastonbury and moved to Galhampton with his wife. He died on the 8th of July 1962 aged 81, leaving behind his wife Elizabeth, and three children.
Covid-19 is a wretched pandemic that has caused thousands of deaths in the UK. 2020 has been a bit of a write off, and there is no guarantee that 2021 will start off any better than this year ends.
Another thing it has shown us is that there are good people in society, and there are selfish people in society, and that has probably always been the way of things.
What is important right now is that we all take responsibility for looking after ourselves, and each other. Complaining about panic buyers on social media is not going to achieve much; those who want to will, regardless of what is written. The thing is, we tend to be friends, or follow like minded people on social media, so whilst everyone will agree with what we are saying, the message probably won’t get through to those who don’t.
Let’s learn the lessons of the last lockdown. There is no need to stock up on items. If we all shop responsibility supply chains will be able to cope and everyone will be able to get what they need. The supermarkets will remain open throughout, and for the benefit of each other and the hardworking staff we will all have to wear a mask. It’s not really a big deal. On the 11th we will fall silent to remember those who went through far worse to defend the freedom we enjoy. When you look at what people had to go through in the trenches in World War 1; it simply doesn’t compare.
Check in on your friends and family. It doesn’t have to be face to face, we have Zoom; Teams; Skype; FaceTime and many other ways of staying in touch, even if it’s just a quick phone call to say hello, how are you?
Whether you agree with the lockdown or not, it’s happening, and we need to do what we in Britain do best, and make the best of a bad situation. We have done it once we can do it again. The good times will return, as they have every time we have faced adversity.
Weighing in at 27,000 tonnes, the Norland was built by AG Weser, and launched in 1974. Registered in Hull, she was a roll on-roll off P&O ferry that spent her time crossing the North Sea between Hull and Continental Europe, carrying lorries and tourists to the Netherlands.
In 1982 she was plucked from the relative safety of the North Sea crossing and pressed into service carrying troops from the UK to the Falkland Islands as part of the Task Force that was being sent to recover the islands following the Argentinian invasion on the 2nd of April.
When requisitioned the Norland’s crew were given the option of remaining in the UK. Remarkably the Captain and crew opted to remain with their vessel. The plan initially was for the Norland to take troops most of the way and then transfer them to other vessels well away from any combat areas. This wasn’t to be the case.
At Ascension Island the crew were given another opportunity to leave the ship, and again they remained. They saw it as their duty to remain with their ship and look after the men who would soon be fighting on a remote island thousands of miles from home. As they approached the Islands the plans changed.
Somebody had noticed that the Norland was equipped for side loading, and had doors on the side that could be used to transfer men to landing craft. The ship would now be entering San Carlos bay, right in the middle of the Combat Zone. This must have been a terrifying prospect for a civilian crew with no combat training, despite this they did their jobs, and as the troops disembarked, the Captain put out an address over the Tannoy thanking the men for travelling with them, and wishing them a safe return.
Imagine a hospital and you probably picture a clean and clinical building with wards and surgical theatres, staffed by doctors and nurses in clean scrubs. What you probably wouldn’t picture is a freezing cold, abandoned refrigerated mutton plant in a wet, windswept and desolate bay. That is exactly what the British Field Hospital in Ajax Bay on the Falklands was.
Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly, the commanding officer of 3 Commando, Royal Marines medical unit, had initially set up a field hospital aboard the Canberra, a cruise liner that was requisitioned as a troop carrier for the Task Force.
The first casualties treated on board the Canberra were Argentinians wounded in the assault on Fanning head at the entrance to San Carlos bay, where the Canberra now lay. This would not be the case for long as Argentinian spotters began to relay British ship positions to Air Bases on the Argentinian mainland.
As the air raids came in, along with reports of casualties, Surgeon Commander Jolly, as lead medic, went up in a helicopter to search for casualties. Two men from HMS Ardent were spotted in the water, and despite the fact he had no life jacket or immersion suit, Dr Jolly volunteered to be winched down into the freezing water to rescue them. Twice he entered the water and brought bothy men to safety.
By the time he reached the Canberra the decision was made to withdraw the Canberra to a safe distance because of the risk posed to the unarmed vessel by the Argentinian air attacks. The medical team would be landed in Ajax Bay by landing craft without delay. It is reported that even as the medics were going over the side, the Canberra was taking in its anchors in readiness to move.
On reaching land they were faced with freezing temperatures, boggy ground, and a dusty abandoned mutton plant with few windows for natural light. This freezing, grey, and uninviting looking building was to become the British Field Hospital, including accommodation and surgical facilities. A far cry from the sterile and well lit surgical theatres back home.
In no time the medics and their accompanying Royal Marines set to work setting up surgical theatres, accommodation, and digging their own air raid bunkers outside, in which they would spend most of their time when not treating patients. The patients began coming in both British and Argentinian, injured from both sides being treated equally by the medics.
Eventually the inevitable happened, and Ajax bay came under attack from Argentinian Jets. The British had been unable to paint red crosses on the roof as the hospital was in the middle of a logistics dump, which was a legitimate military target, and to do so would have contravened the Geneva Convention. During the attack several bombs hit the ammunition dumps surrounding the hospital, and two landed in the roof space of the hospital itself. Both failed to explode but sat in the roof space above both the surgical areas and accommodation block. Throughout the whole attack, surgery continued.
Despite doubts over whether the unexploded bombs had time delay fuses, medical operations continued; there was nowhere else to set up. After 33 hours it was determined that the bombs had simply failed to explode, but this didn’t mean they no longer posed a threat. Despite the air raids, and unexploded ordnance, the medics of the British Field Hospital saved hundreds of lives from both sides; a demonstration of humanity in the midst of the horrors of war.
For his efforts Surgeon Commander Jolly was awarded the OBE by the Queen. He dedicated the award to all those involved in treating the wounded at Ajax Bay labelling it “Other People’s Bloody Efforts!” Ten years later during a visit to Argentina he was awarded their equivalent of the OBE for the excellent treatment of Argentinian airmen and soldiers during the conflict. This made Dr Jolly the first serviceman in any conflict to be honoured by both sides.
The Turkish Government has summarily ended all communication with the British embassy in Constantinople. The British Government must now take whatever action necessary to protect British interests and territory, and Egypt from attacks made or threatened.
1st November 1918
Turkey Unreservedly Surrenders to the Allies
Turkey now definitely out of the war. The Turkish armies will lay down their arms, all prisoners in the hands of the Turks are to be release immediately, and the allied fleets are to be given free passage through the Dardanelles. Vice-Admiral Sir S. A. Gough-Calthorpe signed the armistice on behalf of the allies.
World War 2
1st November 1939
SOVIET BLAME US: Stay Out
Russia remains neutral and will try to stop the war; they demand a free hand in international affairs. M. Molotov, the Russian Premier laid down these lines of policy in his speech to the Supreme Soviet in Moscow last night.
He began by blaming Britain for the war. “During the past few months” he said, “the definition of aggression and the aggressor has changed. Germany is now striving for peace, and Britain, which up until yesterday was for peace, is now for war.”
1st November 1945
BRITISH FORCE IN PERIL AS REBELS MASS
Seven hundred Gurkha troops are in peril in Magelang, Eastern Java where fighting broke out yesterday with Indonesian Nationalists, agitating for independence from the Dutch. The Gurkhas are far outnumbered by the Nationalists and more of the rebels are reportedly on their way to this new storm centre in the Netherlands East Indies.
1st November 1950
ATLEE: WE HAVE MADE A NOTABLE RECOVERY
Mr Atlee yesterday defended the Government’s determination – announced in the King’s speech – to take permanent powers to regulate production and trade, and to control prices. It has these powers already under wartime legislation which only last week, was renewed for a year, and the Prime Minister, emphasising that the main object is to preserve full employment, asked: “Why should we not make these powers permanent?”
In Other News
1st November 1960
‘I’VE DONE IT’ Cries Farah as the Shah Dances a Jig
After giving birth to an 8lb. 13oz. boy yesterday, Queen Farah of Persia looked up at the Shah from her hospital bed and said: I’ve done it… I’ve done it.”
And later, said doctors, the forty one year old Shah “danced a jig.” The baby prince, his full name will be Reza Koorosh Ali, is the first heir to the Peacock throne from the Shah’s three marriages.
George William Chafer, an orphan of a little over five feet in height was not your typical Victoria Cross recipient; indeed, he is the smallest man to ever receive the award. What he lacked in stature though, he more than made up for in courage and determination.
Born in Bradford in 1894, George lost his Father when he was an infant, and was orphaned before his 16th Birthday. He was brought up by his Aunt and Uncle before moving in with the Reed Family in Rotherham and taking up a job as a weigh clerk at the Silverwood Colliery.
In 1915 George joined the 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment; he was mocked by his friends at the time, who said he was far too small to join the army. Undeterred he completed his training as was sent to France around Christmas time.
On the night of the 4th of June 1916, during a very heavy enemy bombardment, a messenger carrying an important message to a company commander was knocked unconscious and half buried when an artillery shell exploded nearby. George, on seeing the messenger decided that the message must be of great importance and on his own initiative he grasped it from the unconscious man.
Although severely wounded in three places himself, and half choked and blinded by gas, he ran along the ruined parapet under heavy enemy fire and just succeeded in delivering it to the company commander before collapsing as a result of his own injuries.
For his efforts he was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Russian Order of St George, which was personally handed to him by the Tsar of Russia. He also unfortunately lost his left leg as a result of the injuries he received.
After the war he went on to work as a milk man but struggled to make ends meet as the coal stoppage meant that people could not afford to pay him, and as a result he could not afford to pay his suppliers. He eventually gave up the milk round and used the small amount of capital he retained to set up as a poultry farmer.
George passed away at his home in Rotherham at the age of 71.
George Peachment was born in Bury, Lancashire on the 5th of May 1897. His father, George senior was a hairdresser, Barber, and Newsagent originally from Norfolk, and his mother, Mary, was a school mistress from Cambridgeshire. The family moved to Bury following the Birth of their eldest son Charles. They had a second son, David, in 1895 and Shortly after George was born.
George joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps at the start of the war, aged just 17, and was sent with the 2nd Battalion to France. During September 1915 his Battalion were involved in fierce fighting in and around Loos on the outskirts of Lens in France. An attack on German lines was planned for the 20th of September. Zero hour was 5.50am and the attack began with a gas attack and smoke shells, a decision which turned the attack into somewhat of a disaster.
Despite reassurances from the gas expert, the wind changed at 6am, and the gas drifted back especially onto “B” Company who suffered losses severe enough to put them out of action. Twenty minutes later the wind changed again, and the gas was turned back on again. At 6.34 the Battalion began to move forwards to attack the German lines; they could see nothing because of the smoke and gas between the lines and direction finding was extremely difficult. On reaching the enemy wire it was discovered that it had not been cut. To add to their problems the Battalion had been slow to advance and the Battalion had to fall back and regroup. A rally was made on the left and the Battalion was able to move up again, but no sooner had they moved forwards, the gas from the 15th Division drifted up to their position and they were again forced to withdraw.
It was during the withdrawal that Private Peachment noticed his company commander, Captain Dubs lying wounded on the ground. Despite the fact that there was a shell hole close by in which several other men had found refuge, Private Peachment put his own safety aside and rushed to the aid of his Captain. As he knelt beside the wounded man, completely exposed to the enemy, and attempted to help him he was first wounded by a bomb, and then mortally wounded by a rifle bullet. He died on the Battlefield aged just 18, having made the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to save the life of a fellow soldier.
For his actions on that day he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on the 16th of November 1915. His actions were a striking example of courage, determination, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. So today we remember Private George Peachment V.C. A true hero.
Private Thomas Whitham was born in Burnley on the 11th of May 1888. He was one of seven Children brought up by Catherine Witham, who lost her husband when Thomas was only young. The family lived in Worsthorne, a small village in the borough of Burnley. Thomas trained as a mason and bricklayer in Burnley initially working for a local form before joining his brothers building firm, also based in Burnley.
A man of quiet disposition and imposing stature, Thomas immediately answered the call to arms and was enlisted in the Coldstream Guards in February 1915. He was posted to the first battalion and sent to France, becoming a respected and popular member of his battalion, being described by one of his colleagues as “one of the finest and bravest men in the army of heroes.” He also had several lucky escapes. On one occasion he was lost for three days, and officially reported missing, but was found by the Irish Guards. Even more miraculously, on another occasion he went out to look for a missing sergeant and left his kit bag behind in the trench. He had only got a short distance away when a German shell landed in the trench and exploded; no trace of his kit bag was ever found.
On the 31st of July 1917 he was serving with his platoon in Pilkem, Belgium when a German machine gun got into a position where it was able to fire on the Battalion to the right of Thomas’. Without hesitation Thomas fought hi was from shell hole to shell hole until he was in a position to rush the machine gun. Under heavy fire Private Whitham and three other men were able to silence the machine gun. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the 6th of September 1917.
Thomas was one of four brothers serving in the army. His Brother Willie, with whom he worked as a builder was in training with the Royal Engineers at the time; John was in the Coldstream Guards serving as a military policeman, and Harry was serving with the Royal Field Artillery in France. He was married and had three children. Tragically during his one period of leave in October 1916 the family lost their eldest son aged just eight years old.
Thomas died of Peritonitis in 1924 aged just 36. He passed away in Hospital in Oldham, leaving behind his wife and six children. He had fallen on hard times, and was out of work, having to sell his Victoria Cross just to earn a little money. While in hospital he also received gifts from the people of Oldham. A Sixth Form College in Burnley is named after him, and the Coldstream guards have funded plaques in his memory.
Land and air bombardments of German positions came to a terrific climax as the RAF launched a bomb avalanche at the estimated rate of 100 a minute. Earlier the Kent coast had rocked while British and German batteries fought a two hour battle, in which the British guns subjected the Nazi-occupied coast to the heaviest shelling of the war.
The RAF struck just as the German batteries were about to attempt to reopen their bombardment. An unbroken rumble of terrific explosions sounded like thunder. Doors and windows in the Kent coast towns rattled, and inside the houses ornaments tumbled to the ground.
The British long range guns also shelled twenty German ships attempting to pass through the channel.
October 20th, 1940
Watch Saved Life
As Mr J. A. Smith of Rotherhithe (London) was walking home during an air raid, he was hit in the waistcoat region by a piece of shrapnel. It smashed his watch and was diverted, and penetrated into his body.
Mr Smith pulled it out, but the shrapnel splinter was so hot that he dropped it.
October 20th, 1940
Hospital Hit Seven Times
Seven times in six weeks the Nazis have bombed an East End London Hospital. Yesterday 180 patients – babies, grown-ups, and aged; who had sought the healing hands of the gallant staff of nurses and doctors at this “military objective” – left the shattered shell.
The hospital has evacuated at last, only because there is no place left in the havoc of Nazi destruction for them to carry on.
In the long black hours of the night, nurses and doctors, themselves casualties worked to release those who had come to them in suffering and in pain.
In the happier daylight they saw every one of the helpless victims taken off to the country.
The Navy has shown it’s power again. It has wiped out an entire German convoy, including the escorting Kriegsmarine vessels. After blasting Cherbourg last week they have now turned their big guns on Dunkirk, blasting the port and starting fires.
The admiralty spokesman stated: “A German convoy of three supply ships and two escorting vessels accompanying them has been destroyed. One Merchant vessel was around 7,000 tons one of the others, which were smaller, exploded before sinking.” “In addition another vessel of around 7,000 tons has been successfully attacked and hit with three torpedoes.
Two Plotted to Aid Enemy
October 16th, 1941
After evidence by a witness had been heard, two men were sentenced at the Old Bailey yesterday on charges accusing them of “Intent to assist the enemy.”
Four men were on trial; Wilfred Gordon Snape, 41, grocer; James Chapman Winn, 46, engraver; Joseph Ashmore Thumwood, 50, fireman, and Ernest Wyatt, 34, decorator. It was alleged that they conspired to produce and distribute written and printed materials concerning enemy wireless communications with intent to assist the enemy.
Winn and Wyatt were found not guilty and discharged. Snape and Thunwood were found guilty and were each sentenced to three years penal servitude.
Midnight Bid to Sail Channel to Join Axis Army
October 16th, 1942
An attempt by two young men, British subjects of Italian parentage, to cross the Channel in a fishing boat with the object of reaching Italy to join the Italian Army, had a sequel a Folkestone.
Lorenzo Ogni, 20, and Nicodemo Vannucci, 18, were each sentenced to three months hard labour for the theft of a fishing boat; three months for going to a destination outside of the United Kingdom without leave, and three months for unlawfully attempting voluntarily to enter enemy territory.
Hugh Colvin was born to Scottish parents on the 18th of March 1887 in Burnley Lancashire. His Father, also Hugh, was a Gardener, and Hugh himself was sent off to work as Gardeners apprentice in Lancaster as a teenager. Hugh was one of four Children; his older sister Margaret was born in Scotland in 1885; his younger sister Mary was also born in Scotland in 1890, and Brother Thomas, the youngest child was born in Stockport in 1894.
At the turn of the century the Colvin’s were living in Stockport in Cheshire, Hugh now aged 14 was working as a hat packer at the Battersby Hat Works in the town, along with older sister Margaret who was working as a felt trimmer. In 1908, Hugh, now living in Belfast joined the 8th (Royal Irish) Hussars reaching the rank of Lance Corporal before returning England at the outbreak of war in 1914.
The same year Hugh was sent to France with the 8th Hussars, and proved himself to be a brilliant soldier, eventually earning himself a commission for “good soldiering” in April 1916. He was attached to the Cheshire Regiment as a Second-Lieutenant and excelled as an officer just as he had as a soldier, becoming a trusted and respected leader, and on the 6th of November 1917 he was awarded the Victoria Cross. The Citation Read:
“His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned:- Second Lieutenant Hugh Colvin, Cheshire Regiment.
For most conspicuous bravery in attack. On 20th September 1917 east of Ypres, Belgium, when all the officers of his company except himself – and all but one in the leading company – had become casualties and losses were heavy, he assumed command of both companies and led them forward under heavy machine-gun fire with great dash and success.
He saw the battalion on his right held up by machine-gun fire and led a platoon to their assistance. Second Lieutenant Colvin then went on with only two men to a dug-out. Leaving the men on top, he entered it alone and brought up fourteen prisoners. He then proceeded with his two men to another dug-out which had been holding up the attack by rifle and machine-gun fire and bombs.
This he reached and , killing or making prisoners of the crew, captured the machine-gun. Being then attacked from another dug-out by fifteen of the enemy under an officer, one of his men was killed and the other wounded. Seizing a rifle he shot five of the enemy, and, using another as a shield, he forced most of the survivors to surrender.
This officer cleared several other dug-outs alone or with one man, taking about fifty prisoners in all. Later he consolidated his position with great skill, and personally wired his front under heavy close range sniping in broad daylight, when all others had failed to do so.
The complete success of the attack in this part of the line was mainly due to Second Lieutenant Colvin’s leadership and courage.”
For his actions Colvin was also promoted to Lieutenant and remained with the Cheshire regiment for the remainder of the war, reaching the Rank of Captain. Colvin spent the remainder of his career as a recruiting officer and was promoted to the Rank of Major, working in Liverpool and Preston retiring in 1947 at the age of 60. He died in 1962 at the age of 75, and in 1963 his Nephew, also Hugh Colvin, Presented hi Victoria Cross to the Cheshire Regiment.
Edward Dwyer joined the East Surrey Regiment in 1912 aged just 17 and was posted to the 1st Battalion. Three years later he found himself in the middle of one of the fiercest battles of the 1st World War; the battle for Hill 60. Hill 60, despite being nothing more than a large spoil heap from the digging of a cutting on the Ypres-Comines Railway, was prized by both sides as it gave excellent views of the surrounding countryside and afforded the holder the high ground from which to fire on the trenches below.
Despite being just 19 years old, Dwyer displayed extreme courage under fire when his trench was attacked by grenade throwing enemy soldiers. He climbed up onto the parapet exposing himself to a hail of enemy grenades and bullets and used his own hand grenades to disperse the enemy. Earlier the same day he had rushed from his trench under heavy fire to bandage his wounded comrades.
For his extreme bravery, Private Dwyer received the Victoria Cross and was later promoted to Corporal in the 1st Battalion. Sadly Private Dwyer was killed in action on September 9th, 1916, at Guillemont, France during the battle of the Somme. At the time he was leading his section to victory. He is remembered on the memorial at Flatiron Copse Cemetery in France.
Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Harold Woolley
Born on May 14th, 1892 Geoffrey Harold Wooley would also go on to find himself in the midst of fierce fighting at Hill 60. Unlike Edward Dwyer he was not a regular soldier, he was a commissioned officer in the 9th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles), a territorial unit of the British Army.
On the night of the 20th of April 1915 Second Lieutenant Woolley was the only officer on the hill, and only had a handful of men with him. Despite this he successfully resisted all attacks on his trench. And continued throwing bombs and encouraging his men until relieved. Throughout the night his trench was being heavily shelled and strafed by machine gun fire. For his actions that night he was awarded the Military Cross and Victoria Cross, the first territorial officer ever to win the award.
Second Lieutenant Woolley went on to join the Church after the war and served as a chaplain to the British Army. He died in Surrey on December 10th, 1968, aged 76.
Hill 60 near Ypres in Belgium was actually a large spoil heap from the digging of a cutting on the Ypres-Comines Railway. The hill was a strategic landmark because of the view it gave to the surrounding area, and as a result it was fought over and changed hands numerous times. On April 17th, 1915, the British began a campaign to seize Hill 60 from the Germans, as with most battles of the period it would be a bloody affair, with many casualties on both sides.
Benjamin Handley Geary was born in Marylebone, London on June 29th, 1891. He was educated at Keeble College Oxford, and at the outbreak of war he was teaching at Forest School in Walthamstow. He was also a talented rugby player and played for England against France. When war broke out Geary immediately answered the call to arms and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. He proved to be a talented and efficient officer and was soon sent to the front.
In April 1915, the East Surrey Regiment was sent to Ypres to take part in the battle for Hill 60. Geary was attached to the 1st Battalion during the battle and on April 20th and 21st he found himself leading the defence of a large crater on the left of the British position. The crater’s defences were destroyed by a heavy German artillery barrage, and throughout the night was subjected to repeated bomb attacks leaving the area strewn with dead and wounded. With only his own platoon, a handful of men from the Bedford Regiment, and a few reinforcements who came up during the night, they managed to repel near constant German attacks. Geary himself used his rifle to good effect, as well as throwing grenades in order to beat off the attackers. In between attacks he spent his time arranging for the supply of ammunition and reinforcements.
Throughout the attack Geary repeatedly exposed himself to the enemy in order to use the light from flares to spot the enemy when they attempted to rush his position. Finally he was seriously wounded himself and had to be evacuated, but he had done his duty and the position was held. As a result of his wounds Geary lost the sight in one eye, and injured the other, forcing him to be evacuated back to England for treatment and recovery. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, and vowed to return to the front, which he later did as a Captain with the East Surrey Regiment. He was wounded again on August 21st, 1918, suffering a gunshot wound to the abdomen, he was treated by the 1st New Zealand Field Ambulance and later transferred from the front by the No. 16 Ambulance Train.
After the war Benjamin Geary followed in his fathers footsteps and joined the church. He was ordained at Chelmsford Cathedral on October 2nd, 1921, and later served as Chaplain to the forces from 1926 to 1927. He resigned in 1927 and moved to Canada. During World War 2 he again answered the call to arms and served with the Canadian Army, reaching the rank of Major. He died in Ontario, Canada on May 26th, 1976, aged 84, and was buried in St Mark’s Cemetery, Niagara-on-the-Lake.
HMS Jervis Bay, built by Vickers Limited in Barrow-in-Furness, and launched in 1922 started life as a Commonwealth Line steamer. In 1939 she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and converted into an armed merchant cruiser. She was fitted with seven outdated, late 19th century 6 inch guns and two, even older 3 inch guns for anti-aircraft defence. In May 1940 Jervis Bay was assigned to convoy protection duties and was handed the role of escort for a convoy of merchant ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Bermuda that were bound for Britain carrying vital supplies. Jervis Bay was the only escort for this convoy consisting of 37 vessels.
The Admiral Scheer was a German Heavy Cruiser of the Kriegsmarine, often called a pocket battleship, she was fast and heavily armed. Launched in April 1933 the Admiral Scheer had a top speed of just over 28 knots and was armed with six 11 inch guns in triple turrets, and eight 5.9 inch guns in single turrets. She was tasked with hunting down and sinking allied merchant vessels, and was extremely successful, as she was easily able to outgun and outrun most vessels assigned to escort duty. The slow lumbering merchant vessels were easy pickings once the escort vessels were dispatched.
In October 1940, the Admiral Scheer slipped through the Denmark Strait with orders to locate and destroy allied shipping. On the 5th of November, convoy HX 84, escorted by Jervis Bay was approaching the coast of Iceland, on route to Britain from Nova Scotia when lookouts sighted a ship on the horizon. The ship was eventually identified as a German pocket battleship. The Jervis Bay was no match for the Admiral Scheer; she had a top speed of just 15 knots compared with the Admiral Scheer’s 28, and her miniscule vintage 6 inch guns could have little impact on the German Heavy Cruiser’s thick armour plating. The Captain of Jervis Bay, Edward Fegen didn’t flinch. Ordering the convoy to turn away and scatter, he steered his ship straight at the heavily armed German vessel and steamed towards her, drawing her fire away from the convoy saving all but five of the vessels. Despite being no match for the Admiral Scheer, Jervis bay fought on valiantly until the very end.
In a one sided battle Jervis Bay was eventually sunk, but the lightly armed vessel had bought enough time for the majority of the convoy to escape. Captain Fegen went down with his ship and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his selfless and courageous actions that saved 31 vessels carrying vital war materiel. Further posthumous awards were bestowed on Ordinary Seaman Bennett Southwell for “great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty.” The other was awarded to Temporary Sub-Lieutenant Jack Maynard Cholmondeley Easton for equal heroism; both men were awarded the George Cross. George Medals were awarded to a further 9 officers and seamen.
Operation Market Garden was an ambitious plan to punch a hole right through German lines and secure the key bridges that would allow a thrust into Germany itself. British and American airborne forces would be dropped at strategic locations close to the bridges in order to secure them and 30 Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks would punch through enemy lines moving up from their base near the Belgian border crossing the bridges secured by the airborne elements and liberating the cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, securing the final river crossing before Germany. Eindhoven and Nijmegen were liberated quickly, but 30 Corps became bogged down on the narrow road, and the battle for Arnhem became a brutal battle for survival for Lieutenant Colonel John Frost’s airborne forces.
The task of securing the bridge at Arnhem fell to the British 1st Airborne Division, under Major General Roy Urquhart. Urquhart’s problems began before they had even left British soil. The drop zone proposed by the RAF was some distance to the west of Arnhem and far from ideal, and there were insufficient aircraft to drop the whole division at once. There was also intelligence suggesting that the German forces at Arnhem may be far stronger than anticipated and may in fact include two German Panzer Divisions. This intelligence was seemingly ignored and written off as unreliable, despite the fact that the RAF had carried out reconnaissance flights in the area and had managed to photograph elements of one of the Panzer Divisions.
The first airborne troops were dropped in the early afternoon of the 17th of September and met unexpected German resistance forcing them to fight to secure the landing zones. This meant that only a small force under Lieutenant Colonel Frost was able to reach and secure the road bridge at Arnhem. Communications between Urquhart’s headquarters and the unit holding the bridge were never established due to an issue with the radio sets that had been brought on the operation, effectively cutting off Frost’s men from the rest of the operation.
Meanwhile 30 Corps were making slow progress; the Germans had demolished a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, and although British Sappers built a Bailey Bridge over which 30 Corps could cross, they had been delayed by a further 12 hours. Another issue faced by 30 Corps and its armoured vehicles was the road itself; narrow and surrounded by ground unsuitable for heavy vehicles they were held up every time a vehicle was hit by enemy fire, broke down, or came off the road.
Back in Arnhem Frost’s paratroopers were meeting heavy resistance from German armour, but despite their lack of heavy weapons and mounting injuries they were fighting valiantly, refusing to surrender in the hope that Horrocks and 30 Corps would relieve them. Without communications they had no Idea of the delays and continued to fight despite being out gunned by the Germans and their heavy armour. The Germans had by now regrouped after the initial shock of the allied landings and General Wilhelm Bittrich ordered his Panzer Corps to destroy Arnhem and the allied forces occupying it.
With casualties mounting, Frost refused to surrender, possibly encouraged to continue the fight by the courage and steely determination of his men. There were several attempts to relieve the men at the bridge, including an attempted river crossing by the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade under General Stanislaw Sosabowski, who after being delayed constantly on the ground in Britain had finally landed near Arnhem. Finally, after 8 days of fierce resistance from the British, the order was given to withdraw. Alan Wood, a war correspondent with the combined press was part of that withdrawal as he had been with the 1st Airborne Division throughout. “It was half-light, with the glow of fires from burning houses around when we set out. We were lucky, we went through a reputed enemy pocket without hearing a shot except for a stray sniper’s bullet. Another group met a machine gun with a fixed line of fire across their path; another had top silence a bunch of Germans with a burst of Sten (Sten Machine Gun) fire and hand grenades; another had to pause while a German finished his evening stroll across their pathway. But we all got through without the enemy realising we were doing anything more than normal night patrolling” he continued “The worst part was waiting by the riverside until our turn came for assault boats to ferry us across. The Germans, if not yet definitely suspicious, were inquisitive. They kept sending up flares and it was vital to lie flat and motionless. In our boat queue we lay flat and shivering on a soaking field, with cold rain drizzling down.”
Shortly after Alan and the men with him had crossed the Germans figured out what was going on and opened up on the river bank with mortars, injuring some of the men waiting to cross. In all just 1,892 men of the 1st Airborne were evacuated safely with 1,174 killed in action or died from their wounds, and 5,903 captures or missing. The Germans lost an estimated 1,300 men killed, and 2,000 wounded. Although the battle will be recorded as a German victory, it will forever be remembered for the courage, skill and determination of the British 1st Airborne division. In Arnhem British airborne forces proved why they are a force to be feared, a reputation which lives on today as they continue to spearhead British action around the globe.
There are many stories of daring escapes from Nazi prisoner of war camps during World War Two, but the story of Sergeant Louis Massey, 35, of the Royal Army Service Corps and is particularly impressive. Captured during the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, Sergeant Massey was sent to a German prisoner of war camp in France. In December Massey managed to give his guards the slip and escape from the camp. Trapped in occupied France with only the clothes on his back, Massey set off in Bitter December weather on an epic 1,600 mile journey.
Hiding where he could during the day Massey only travelled at night in an attempt to avoid German patrols. He was almost constantly starving an ate what berries and mushrooms he could find in fields and woods, plus the occasional bit of food that sympathetic locals could spare from their own meagre rations he managed somehow to make his way through Belgium, Holland and Germany, eventually reaching Poland were he managed to befriend some locals who helped him to cross the Russian border.
The ordeal did not end there though. With no papers to identify him and corroborate his story he was arrested as a spy and sent to a Russian Jail until June 1941 when the Germans crossed the Soviet border and the British Embassy in Moscow stepped in to get Massey released. On his release he linked up with the British Military Mission as he felt his experience in the RASC would be useful. He spent his time organising the transport of supplies and equipment until it was time for him to return home, a journey that took him through Persia, India, Africa eventually taking him home to Hampstead.
For his efforts in escaping captivity and trekking 1,600 miles to safety, Sergeant Massey was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal which he received from the King in an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Following the ceremony Sergeant Massey told the press that “The King, who seemed very familiar with my adventures, congratulated me on my safe return”
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne, DSO & 3 Bars, is a man who has divided opinions over the years since his exploits during World War 2 in the newly formed Special Air Service. Fiercely brave, loyal, intelligent, and sometimes ruthless, Paddy Mayne was pretty much the perfect candidate for behind the lines raiding action against the Germans. Rumour has it that David Stirling found Mayne languishing in jail after punching a commanding officer, although there is no substantial evidence to prove this. Born in Newtownards on the 11th of January 1915, Mayne grew up to be quite the sportsman, excelling in Rugby for which he went on to represent Ireland, and the British and Irish Lions, he was also a talented boxer and could turn his hand to other sports such as golf, cricket, and shooting. He later studied Law in Belfast.
There were two sides to Paddy Mayne, the thoughtful, quiet and caring man, and the man he became when drinking. His exploits on a Rugby tour have become a thing of legend. Having smashed up one or two of his teammate’s rooms he then went on to free a convict he had befriended, who was working on one of the stadiums that they had played at. Attempts to curb his exploits had little effect once the effects of alcohol took over.
In 1939 Maybe signed up for the Royal Artillery Territorial Unit, and shortly thereafter on the 4th of April 1940 found himself transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles. With the phoney war well underway and not much in terms of action to satisfy his needs he volunteered along with his best friend Eoin McGonigal, to transfer to the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) who had put out a request for officers, the reason for which is not entirely clear. The transfer did not exactly end the boredom and when the opportunity arose to join a new elite raiding unit, Mayne and McGonigal jumped at the chance.
After Dunkirk, Prime Minister Winston Churchill set the wheels in motion for the creation of an elite raiding force that would carry out raids on enemy held coastline. Known as the Commandos, these units would be trained in rapid assaults on enemy installations, attacking from the sea and exfiltrating the same way. Perfect work for a young talented officer such as Paddy Mayne. Mayne was a natural leader and quickly established himself as an elite soldier and born leader; during the Litani River action in Syria Mayne distinguished himself as both.
When the SAS was in the process of being born, Mayne was hoping to be transferred to the far east, to take part in a top secret mission in China. Stirling was looking for a highly competent troop commander, he had already succeeded in convincing Jock Lewes to join him as training officer, and now he turned his attentions to Mayne. He convinced Mayne to join his fledgling unit, a decision that he wouldn’t regret. Mayne’s exploits in the SAS are the stuff of legend, much of which would seem out of place in a work of fiction; he was fearless, tactically brilliant, and occasionally ruthless. On countless occasions he put his own life at risk to save the lives of his men and took it personally when one was killed or seriously injured. Had he not been such a divisive character who had the ability to rub his senior officers up the wrong way he would surely have won the Victoria Cross for his exploits.
Following the capture of David Stirling in Tunisia in 1943, Mayne took his place as the commanding officer of the unit and went on to lead them with distinction in Italy, as ever leading from the front. he and his men fought off a fierce German counter attack against the odds to secure the town of Termoli during the allied invasion of Italy; yet another demonstration of Mayne’s tactical awareness, leadership and bravery. Like Stirling, he never really sat well with the traditional officers of the British Army, in spite of this he went on to achieve more than many, putting his life on the line and leading from the front wherever he went.
One of the major races of World War Two was the race to develop a reliable radar system to detect enemy aircraft early enough to send up the fighter intercept groups to shoot them down. Of course, both sides were determined to conceal their progress from the other, and the development of these systems was a closely guarded secret. By late 1941 the British had begun to suspect that the Germans had got their noses in front, and aerial photographs seemed to confirm this. There was only one course of action; send a raiding party across the channel and steal it!
The plan would involve parachuting into enemy held Northern France, attacking the German radar station, stealing the apparatus and then smuggling it back across the channel in Royal Navy gunboats; on top of all that they would have to create enough of a mess to convince the Germans that they had destroyed the radar and not stolen it.
The man chosen to lead the raid was Major John Frost, the man who would go on to distinguish himself in the assault on Arnhem Bridge during operation Market Garden in 1944.
The attack would take place on the night of the 27th of February 1942, when the 2nd Parachute Battalion under Major Frost would parachute in along with a number of engineers and radar specialists who had volunteered to go along on the raid in order to examine and dismantle the apparatus. The Royal Navy would send a number of Motor Gunboats and landing craft across the channel to transport the raiders along with the radar apparatus back to the south coast of England.
The weather on the night of the 27th was perfect with clear skies and good visibility. The parachutists were transported in Whitley transport aircraft from RAF Thruxton, near Andover in Hampshire. The Royal Navy flotilla left the South Coast of England in the Afternoon. Despite coming under heavy anti-aircraft fire as they crossed the French coast the drop was almost a complete success, and all of C Company were inserted right on target. The only mishap was when half of Nelson company were dropped 2 miles short of the drop zone.
The whole process of examining and dismantling the apparatus was carried out under heavy enemy fire, but with Major Frost leading from the front the paratroops fought tirelessly to hold off any German counter attacks. When the order was given to withdraw to the beach it quickly became apparent that the beach had not yet been cleared, and the men had to withdraw back to the Villa, which by now had been retaken by the Germans. Yet again the paratroopers took control. On returning to the beach Frost discovered that the soldiers of Nelson Company who had missed their drop zone had finally arrived and taken out the German machine gun nest that was holding the beach for the Germans.
Signal flares were put up, and out of the darkness the naval party arrived to evacuate the beach and take the men and radar apparatus out to the motor gun boats and back across the channel. Losses were limited to 2 killed, 6 wounded and 6 captured when they were left behind on the beach as the naval party left. The raid was a huge success, and gave the allies a significant advantage over the Germans when it came to radar countermeasures, which would eventually be used before the D-Day landings as part of a diversionary raid.
The Parachute Regiment displayed the same courage and skill that they would later show at Arnhem in 1944 when faced with overwhelming odds. They continue to be an elite part of the British Army today, and are often at the forefront of British operations all over the world.
David Stirling and Paddy Mayne are well known for their exploits as founder members of the SAS, the UK’s elite special forces, but less well known is the contribution of Lieutenant Jock Lewes, the original co-founder, who along with David Stirling helped to recruit and train the original members of the unit. Without Jock Lewes the regiment may never have existed, or at least not how we know it today. Sadly for Lewes he was killed in action by an enemy aircraft that strafed the truck he was sitting in as he and his men escaped across the desert following a raid on Axis airfields in Libya; he was bravely returning fire to cover his men as they sought refuge where they could.
John Steel ‘Jock’ Lewis was born in Calcutta on the 21st of December 1913 to an English Father and Australian mother. For the first eight years of his life his father was remote; as a senior partner in an accountancy firm in Calcutta, Jocks father had little time to spend with his children. Eventually the family reunited in Jock’s mother’s native Australia, in a house in the outback just outside Sydney.
Jock loved the outdoor life and proved to be an intelligent, caring and athletic boy. His father instilled the virtues of high integrity, high ideals, and generosity in Jock during his childhood, virtues which stayed with him for life. Jock was later educated at Oxford, where he began to show his belief in the importance of service to king and country. Despite the students of Oxford voting strongly against serving their country in the military, Jock campaigned for service to Britain, and openly wore a badge emblazoned with ‘For King and Country’.
In late 1938 Jock joined the First Battalion of the Tower Hamlets Rifles, a territorial unit, as an Ensign. His stint in the rifles was brief, and he was commissioned into the Welsh Guards in October 1939. He excelled as a soldier, showing particular ability on a small arms course run by Bill Stirling, the brother of David who would later work with Lewes to form the SAS. Jock was so successful on the course that despite his relatively lowly rank and lack of experience, he stayed on, eventually writing the training manual.
Jock eventually volunteered for Commando service, in order to satisfy his lust for action. He was posted to 8 Commando and sent to Scotland for mountain, and landing craft training. On the 31st of January he sailed from the Isle of Arran of the West Coast of Scotland bound for the Middle East as part of Force ‘Z’ under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Laycock. David Stirling, Pat Riley, and Jim Almonds, all future founding members of the SAS were also on board.
Due to aborted missions and broken promises of action Jock began to become frustrated with what he saw as ineffective training and a lack of organisation of the Commando force. He thought that smaller parties of well trained men could surprise the enemy by parachuting in behind the lines and carry out raids on enemy airfields. He managed to borrow a Mail plane from the RAF, which was somewhat unsuitable for parachuting, as well as some parachutes. He set a date for a practice jump and invited along a certain David Sterling. Stirling badly hurt his back in the Jump, although the others were more successful, the idea was never really taken up.
While recovering in hospital David Stirling gave great thought to Lewes idea of a parachute raiding force, and drew up a proposal based on the Idea. After visiting Lewes several times he convinced him that if they worked together they could get the idea heard and approved. With Stirling’s contacts and disregard for the chain of command, and Lewes attention to detail and rigorous training methods the SAS was born.
Despite their obvious differences the two men became firm friends, and recruited a group of men who became one of the most fearsome fighting forces in the world. Sadly Jock never got see the success of the unit which arguably would never have existed without him. We rightly remember David Stirling and Paddy Mayne, but without Jock Lewes we may never have seen the potential of a rapid raiding force in North Africa, and possibly the outcome of the war could have been very different.
This book would be difficult to put down as a work of fiction; the fact that it is real makes it almost impossible.
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition would be an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent for the first time. Led by experienced polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, a hand picked crew would attempt to sail to the Antarctic Continent via South Georgia, a tiny island in the South Atlantic on a ship called the Endurance. Once their they would attempt to cross the frozen continent on foot and by sled, to make a rendezvous with another ship on the other side.
On approach to Antarctica the Endurance became trapped in ice on the Weddel Sea, a place that would become a frozen prison. The ice eventually took the ship, leaving the men encamped on the ice with no hope of discovery or escape. This was before the days of radio or satellite communications, even if they could communicate, no ship could reach them, and the fledgling aircraft of the day were not equipped for such a mission. They were stranded thousands of miles from the nearest inhabited island, off all known shipping lanes with no means of contacting the outside world. If they were going to survive, they would have to do it alone…
Whatever your hobbies or whatever it is that interests you there will normally be a book written about it. Reading is a great way to learn new things, or explore new places that are currently beyond our reach. There are millions of titles out there to choose from; there are the works of fiction that transport you too another world, or another time and place, or biographies about our historical heroes.
I like nothing more than escaping reality for a few hours by reading about the exploits of a great explorer such as Ernest Shackleton, or the swashbuckling tales of David Stirling, Paddy Mayne and their band of piratical desert raiders; made all the better by the fact that they are true stories.
My house is littered with books, and keeping them organised can be somewhat of a challenge. I have always been a fan of ‘real’ books; I can never put my finger on why, I just am, but recently I discovered the convenience of eBooks. I bought myself an Amazon Fire Tablet, partly because they are cheaper than buying a Kindle and partly because you can watch films via Netflix or Amazon Prime.
In comparison to some other tablets they are very reasonably priced, albeit without the functionality of some of the more expensive models. The main reason for purchase was the Kindle function, for which I haven’t been disappointed; I now have hundreds of new books without having to purchase a new bookcase and take up even more space in the house.
As well as the Kindle function I have also downloaded apps such as BBC iPlayer, 4 on Demand, and 5 Player, allowing me to catch up on my favourite shows. The screens on most devices in the range are large enough to enjoy the programmes, and even the non-hd devices offer a quality picture.
The web browser isn’t the best in comparison with Apple’s Safari, Google Chrome, or Firefox, but it serves a purpose especially as it wasn’t the real reason for the purchase.
I purchased the Fire 7 Tablet, with a 7” screen and 32gb of memory. The memory can be upgraded by adding a micro SD card if you need more space for books and films. It weighs in at just under 300g and is small enough to fit in some pockets, making it nice and portable. Although it doesn’t come with 4g functionality, the ability to download most content means than this is no more than a minor inconvenience.
In terms of price, Amazon have a device to suit most budgets, and they can be paid for in 5 easy, interest free instalments. On top of the purchase price you will find that an eBook normally costs only a fraction of the cost of a paperback.
If it is portable entertainment you are looking for, at a reasonable price I would definitely recommend a Fire Tablet. There are plenty of great offers on subscription services too, including free trials allowing you to try before you buy.
Built in Ringkøbing on the West coast of Denmark and Launched in 1981 the Union Star was an Irish registered 935 tonne 70 metre mini-bulk carrier designed for use in coastal waters. On the 19th of December 1981 she was on her maiden voyage carrying fertiliser from the Netherlands to Arklow in Ireland when disaster struck. The weather off the south west coast of England was horrendous, with storm force winds whipping up the seas and generating huge swells. Struggling in heavy seas the Union Star suddenly lost power in her main engine leaving the ship drifting uncontrollably towards the Cornwalls south coast, with its treacherous reefs and razor sharp rocks that have been the final resting place for many unfortunate vessels throughout history. To make matters worse for Skipper Henry Moreton, his wife and teenage step daughters had boarded the vessel during an unplanned stop off in Essex so that they could spend Christmas together.
In the small fishing village of Mousehole the community was preparing for Christmas, the locals were holding a celebration in the local pub for a tradition known as Tom Bawcock’s Eve. The weather outside was worsening, and the wind was gaining in strength. Word soon got around that the lifeboat might be needed, and the crew were put on standby. Meanwhile a Royal Navy rescue helicopter from 820 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Culdrose was heading out to the Union Star to attempt to take the crew off the vessel of required.
On board the Union Star the crew had discovered that sea water had leaked into the fuel tanks and restarting the engines would be impossible. The captain had already refused help from a Dutch tug as they wanted him to enter into a contract known as a Lloyd’s open form committing the owners of the vessel to pay salvage costs. It was now dawning on the Captain that the crew would need taking off, and he requested that the Royal Navy crew attempt to winch his wife and step daughters off the heaving deck. Despite several high risk attempts, the helicopter crew could not safely get a winch man onto the deck, and the vessel was now perilously close to the shore. There was no more they could do other than standby and observe; the lifeboat would need to be launched.
Back in Mousehole the crew of the Solomon Browne, Penlee Lifeboat Station’s all weather Watson-class lifeboat, were alerted and raced to the station at Penlee Point. Knowing the kind of conditions they were facing the Skipper Trevelyan Richards chose his very best crew members, also making the decision to leave behind Neil Brockman, the son of assistant mechanic Nigel Brockman because he was reluctant to take two members of the same family out in such conditions. Getting the Lifeboat to sea at all was a masterful piece of seamanship.
Back at the scene, the Union Star was now almost upon the rocks; a helicopter rescue was out of the question now, and the fate of the Union Star now depended entirely on the crew of the Solomon Browne. The lifeboat arrived on scene as the Union Star battled desperately to hold her position. Richards, in another remarkable feat of seamanship managed to get the lifeboat alongside the Union Star, which was pitching and rolling heavily in now hurricane force winds; at one point the lifeboat was lifted completely out of the water and onto the deck of the stricken coaster. Undeterred the brave crew of the Solomon Browne managed to get four of the eight people off the coaster and on to the lifeboat. At this point, assuming that the lifeboat would take the four survivors ashore, the Royal Navy helicopter, now low on fuel, headed back to base, but Richards decided to make one last attempt to get the remaining four people off the stricken cargo ship. The crew of the lifeboat made one final radio call which was cut short; this was the last time anyone heard from the crew of the Solomon Browne.
All around Britain’s coast the brave men and women of the RNLI are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, ready to respond at a moments notice to help those in peril on the sea. They volunteer to put their lives on the line for others.
During the war many pilots were lost to enemy action, but in the days before ground proximity radar, gps and electronic instruments, flying accidents were a real risk. The Forest of Bowland, an upland area consisting mainly of moorland in Lancashire gained a reputation as an area that caused pilots particular difficulties, mainly due to its high ground, changeable weather, and a lack of navigational features.
In 1943 Lockheed P38 Lightning fighters of the 82nd Fighter group (USAAF) were to be transferred to North Africa, a move which would require modifications to be made to the aircraft in order to operate in the dusty conditions found in the North African desert. The aircraft would need to be flown from their base at Goxhill in North East Lincolnshire to a depot at Langford Lodge on the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland; a journey of some 251 miles taking them across Yorkshire and Lancashire before crossing the Irish Sea.
The 82nd fighter squadron had come into being in the US in February 1942, and was moved to Northern Ireland in October of the same year. It was part of the 78th fighter group based near the village of Goxhill in Lincolnshire, but later moved to Duxford in Cambridgeshire.
The P38 Lightning was a piston engined aircraft developed by the Lockheed Corporation in the late 1930’s for the US Army Air Corps. It was brought into service in 1941 and was used in a number of roles including fighter; night fighter; fighter bomber, and aerial reconnaissance. The aircraft weighed in and just under 8 tonnes; it was just under 38ft long, with a wingspan of 52ft. The power came from 2 V12 liquid cooled engines producing 1,600 horsepower each, taking the aircraft to a maximum speed of 414 mph, and a cruising speed of 275 mph.
Early on the morning of the 26th there were 45 aircraft making the journey from Lincolnshire to Northern Ireland for the required modifications. En route the aircraft encountered heavy cloud over Northern England. With the visibility deteriorating, two of the aircraft collided over the Trough of Bowland, an area of moorland fells in Lancashire. One aircraft flown by 2nd Lieutenant Stephen L. White crashed on Braxton Fell, Due North of the Village of Dunsop Bridge, while the second aircraft came down to the south on Dunsop Fell. Neither pilot survived.
Just one month before the crash, flight officer Wladyslaw Pucek of 317 squadron Polish Air Force crashed his Spitfire on nearby White Moss Fell. Remarkably, one month prior in November 1941 a Mustang A6208 on a photographic sortie being flown by Flying Officer S. P. Marlatt of No. 4 squadron Royal Canadian Airforce crashed into the ground at cruising speed on Holdron Moss, around 2 miles from the village of Dunsop Bridge.
A memorial stands near to the site of the Holdron Moss crash, at the top of which is Pilot Officer Norman J. Sharpe of 256 squadron Royal Airforce. On the night of the 18th of August 1941, PO Sharpe was on a night training flight from RAF Squires Gate (now Blackpool Airport), in a Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.1 when he crashed on Hawthornthwaite Fell near Abbeystead. Reports say the aircraft was flying straight and level when it hit ground at around 1,300 feet. PO Sharpe was found alive the next day having crawled around a mile from his wrecked aircraft, but sadly died in hospital from his injuries.
Anyone who has ever visited the area, particularly during the winter months will know just how remote and desolate it can seem, especially when the cloud comes in. It is also a place of great beauty, and well worth a visit in the summer months. If you decide to go and explore the area, take a moment to remember those brave pilots who died in the most unfortunate of circumstances upon those Lancashire moors.
By the time of the Battle of Britain Douglas Bader had already fought a major battle, not with a foreign enemy, with adversity. At the age of just 21 Bader lost both his legs in a flying accident when his wing tip hit the ground during a display of aerobatics at the Reading Aerodrome; indeed he was lucky to survive. Despite his horrific injuries Douglas Bader only had one thing on his mind; flying.
Bader’s love for flying stemmed from his boyhood visits to the RAF College at Cranwell to stay with his Aunt Hazel and her husband Flight Lieutenant Cyril Burge who was adjutant at the college. He was fascinated by the cadets doing their takeoffs, circuits, and landings. Bader would join in with the Cadets’ morning runs and games such as Cricket. Douglas himself secured a prized cadetship at Cranwell thanks to the support and generosity of a school master who saw something in Bader and wanted him to reach his full potential.
Surgeon Mr Joyce was finished for the day at the Royal Berkshire Hospital when he was called for by one of the nurses. A young RAF pilot had been brought in with horrific leg injuries following a crash and didn’t look like he was going to survive. Leonard Joyce was regarded as one of the finest orthopaedic surgeons of his day; if anyone could save Bader’s life it was him. The dedicated surgeon cancelled his evening plans and Bader was taken straight into surgery. His right leg was damaged beyond repair and had to be amputated above the knee; there was some hope for the left leg though. Bader’s life hung in the balance; hours in surgery had left Bader weak, but because of his excellent physical fitness he clung to life. When Bader became aware that his legs had both been amputated he fell into a depression that was uncharacteristic of the man, but it wasn’t to last. Thanks to the encouragement and care of the nurses, in particular Dorothy Brace, Bader’s sense of purpose and determination returned.
Once his stumps were sufficiently healed, Bader was sent to see Robert Dessouter, a prosthetics specialist and was fitted with two prosthetic limbs. Despite being told he would never walk without a stick he never walked with one; hours and hours of painstaking practice on his new legs saw to that. Eventually he was sent to the central flying school to see if he could still fly. Bader passed his flying test with, if you will excuse the pun, flying colours as his natural ability as a pilot shone through. His excitement at returning to the cockpit was short lived however, as despite been passed as fit, there was nothing in the regulations that permitted an officer with two prosthetic limbs to fly an aircraft. Bader couldn’t face the prospect of a ground job and was pensioned out of the RAF. He took a job with the Asiatic Petroleum Company working in the Aviation department. The pay was sufficient but the boredom of office life soon got to Bader. He spirits lifted somewhat when he realised that despite his handicap he was quite a talented golfer, and could compete on an equal plane with his able bodied friends.
The outbreak of war was the turning point; Britain was in desperate need of pilots; Bader sensed his chance and grabbed it with both hands. His old friend from Cranwell, now Squadron Leader, Geoffrey Stephenson recommended that he visited Air Vice Marshal Frederick Hallahan, their old training school commander from Cranwell to see if he could find him a job.
Bader, bitterly disappointed that Hallahan was only dealing with ground jobs made an impassioned plea, leading Hallahan to write him a note recommending him for flying duties. Bader subsequently passed both a medical and flying test and was restored to flying duties. Despite being older than his new RAF colleagues, Bader’s natural talent, and forceful personality meant that he was soon respected and began to work his way through the ranks, firstly as a flight commander, then a squadron leader and finally as a wing commander. Bader inspired confidence in those under his command, his relaxed manner in the air, and seeming invincibility made those around him feel invincible.
Bader’s seeming invincibility came to an end when he was finally shot down over enemy occupied France. While bailing out one of his legs became trapped in the cockpit, finally breaking free he was quickly captured by the enemy and taken to a hospital in St Omer. The Germans treated him well, asking the British to drop a new leg for him. He was invited to a nearby Luftwaffe airfield for afternoon tea, where he was treated with the same level of respect as the German pilots and even allowed to sit in the Cockpit of a Messerschmitt ME 109.
Not one to sit out the war, Bader promptly escaped from the hospital with the aid of a nurse and the local resistance, he walked for miles to reach the relative safety of a cottage owned by sympathetic locals were he was captured hiding in a cow shed under a pile of hay. Bader was moved from prison camp to prison camp; he made constant efforts to escape and generally be a thorn in the side of his captors. Eventually he wound up at Colditz Castle and was freed when the castle was liberated by the Americans. His first thoughts were to find a British fighter squadron in order to get back into the war, but he was forced to return home. He never got back into the conflict and his next flight was as a Group Captain in the lead aircraft in a victory parade.
Following the war, Bader did a lot of work with amputees, inspiring a generation of veterans, and ordinary people with amputated limbs to fulfil their ambitions and live full lives. So today we remember Group Captain Douglas Bader CBE, DSO and Bar, DL, FRAeS, the epitome of courage and determination against adversity.
Lying in his hospital bed, having been denied the treatment he required to make a full recovery, Captain Mike ‘Wild Man’ Lees of the Special Operations Executive, a secretive branch of the British Army, could have been forgiven for feeling as though his officers had betrayed him; and in all honesty that was probably the case. His crime? Using his initiative to plan and mount a raid on a German Army Command Headquarters that probably saved the lives of thousands of allied troops. He should have been rewarded, instead he was vilified by senior commanders and left forgotten in a military hospital.
Operation Tombola was an ambitious plan to destroy the headquarters of the 14th German Army, defenders of the Gothic Line, a line of fortifications stretching across Italy from east to west. The allied advance across Italy had stalled at the Gothic Line and the momentum needed to be regained quickly in order to avoid thousands of unnecessary deaths. The mastermind of operation Tombola was Captain Mike Lees of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Captain Lees had been parachuted in behind enemy lines on a mission to galvanise and organise local Italian partisan forces into a cohesive and effective fighting force capable of carrying out lightning raids on enemy patrols, supply convoys and infrastructure in order to cause chaos and confusion amongst axis forces. Lees proved to be a brilliant officer who used his charm, intelligence and enthusiasm to unite the local militia groups and turn them into a fierce fighting force. He formed defensive positions to protect the valley that housed his headquarters and put together an intelligence network to gather information on enemy movements, facilities and disposition which proved to be invaluable when planning Tombola.
Operation Tombola would involve trekking across enemy held territory, carrying all the kit they would need for the raid on the two Villa’s that formed the 14th Army Group headquarters in Bottega. They would be carrying out the assault in the dead of night with the aim of killing or capturing the senior enemy commanders and destroying the communications infrastructure in the hope that this would throw the defenders of the Gothic Line into disarray and aid the allied advance. It would be a co-ordinated attack involving elements of the SAS who would be parachuted in a few days prior to the attack, as well as Italian partisans, and a guerrilla force consisting of escaped Russian prisoners of war.
As the date of the raid approached, the relationship between Lees and SOE headquarters reached a new low. Frustrated at a lack of support, Lees had sent a curt signal requesting equipment and reinforcements which had upset a number of his superiors. Another blow to this relationship was dealt when Major Roy Farran (SAS) parachuted in with the SAS reinforcements against orders. Farran was impressed with Lees and his plan, and the two quickly became firm friends. They were both frustrated when the raid was called off, and then it was back on again but only with further interference from the top brass.
Disaster struck on the day when the raiding party were due to set off, as Lees suffered a reoccurrence of the Malaria he had been struck down with when on operations in the Balkans. Remarkably despite his fever, and against the advice of Farran, Lees insisted on going on the raid; it was his party and he was determined not to miss it. Shortly after the party had set off a message was received at Lees headquarters that the raid was to be called off again. By the time that the message had caught up with the column Lees was to sick to even read it, let alone make a decision, as a result Farran, who was the senior officer, read the message and took the decision to continue with the attack. Farran had feared that to call off the raid now would destroy morale amongst the partisan forces, and their current high levels of morale and enthusiasm for the plan would be irretrievable if lost.
Despite suffering terribly, Lees arrived at the German headquarters along with the rest of the party. The Russians had split off from the rest of the group to their pre-determined rendezvous point. The headquarters consisted of two villas in the hills above Reggio Emilia, Villa Calvi and Villa Rossi. The attack began with a burst of gunfire from a Bren gun, scything down a German patrol . The alarm was raised, and the German defenders were now fully aware of the attackers’ presence. Despite his fever, Lees led the charge on Villa Rossi. Armed with a Bren gun and firing from the hip, Lees took out several Germans including one at point blank range. After quickly securing the ground floor, Lees and his men began the assault on the more heavily defended first floor. The attackers met with stiff resistance, and in order to break the deadlock Lees himself charged the staircase; suddenly the flash of automatic gunfire lit up the darkness and Lees was thrown backwards down the staircase.
Badly wounded, Lees managed to crawl; it was agonising and slow progress but somehow he made it to the relative safety of the ground floor from where he was rescued by two of his partisan fighters. The attack had been a great success, with Villa Rossi a half burnt wreck, and Villa Calvi a raging inferno, the German headquarters and communications infrastructure was in ruins. Lees was taken from the village and hidden behind some hay bales in a barn in the village of Rivalta; his wounds were tended to by two Italian nurses operating with the local resistance. Later a doctor was brought to the barn to examine Lees’ injuries. Upon examining the English Captain the doctor discovered that he had suffered from serious leg nerve damage in his leg, and without hospital treatment soon, he would probably never walk without a stick again.
An ambitious plan was hatched to rescue Lees, involving the Italian resistance and an Italian flying ace who had carried out many daring rescues for the SOE previously. After an agonising journey in a stolen German ambulance, Lees arrived at a mountain top airstrip, just barely long enough to land the light reconnaissance aircraft that would fly him to safety. After a couple of passes the Italian pilot carried out an extraordinary landing on the tiny runway. Lees was duly flown back behind allied lines and taken to a military hospital, expecting to be treated quickly, Lees was shocked to find himself dumped in a bed and forgotten about. He was briefly examined by a doctor who confirmed the nerve damage, but for some reason he was denied the prompt treatment he required. By the time he finally got the surgery it was too late to save the use of his injured leg.
Lees’ crime? Being resourceful, adaptable, and possessing a burning desire to do everything within his power to aid the allied cause and secure ultimate victory. Captain Lees should have been given heroes welcome on his return, and afforded every treatment available to save his leg, instead he was denied the awards and treatment he deserved because he didn’t conform; he made bold decisions based on solid intelligence rather than misguided and misinformed orders from a remote and unimaginative hierarchy, and they didn’t like it. Captain Lees acted in the best traditions of the British Army and we should all remember him for his heroic deeds.
They came from the great sand sea, wreaked havoc amongst the enemy, and melted away into the shadows as quickly as they arrived. David Stirling’s band of piratical raiders struck fear into the hearts of the enemy. With their dusty mismatched uniforms and straggly beards they looked like a ragged collection of misfits and vagabonds; in truth they were an elite fighting force the likes of which the world had never seen before.
David Stirling was not exactly the 1940’s British Army Officer type. Partial to a little too much socialising and probably a little work shy, he was malingering in a military hospital after injuring himself in a parachute jump, when he came up with the idea for a special raiding force that would carry out lightning raids on enemy installations in North Africa. Britain already had a Commando force that carried out raids from the Sea; but the Germans expected seaborne operations and coastlines tended to be well defended; what they never expected was that the enemy would attack from the vast expanse of the North African Desert; the great sand sea.
Stirling’s idea involved small groups of heavily armed and highly trained commandos, attacking the lightly defended axis airfields from the desert, and then melting away into the night. To Stirling the idea of lightning night time raids promised adventure, and the opportunity to significantly disrupt the enemy’s operations.
Jock Lewes was Stirling’s polar opposite. Disciplined, fit, and dedicated to soldiering Lewes was the archetypal British military officer. The differences between the two men were as day and night, yet between them they recruited and trained a group of men that would become regarded as the finest special forces unit in the world.
Getting the idea through the chain of command would not be easy however. The Army’s doctrine had changed little since the Great War; new and somewhat radical ideas were seen as a threat to the traditions of the Army. Sneaking around at night blowing up aircraft and then retreating into the darkness was simply not the done thing. Stirling knew that only a General would even give consideration to an idea like this, but getting an audience with the top brass in the middle of a war would be a near impossible task. Undeterred, Sterling, who was still in crutches following his accident, made his was to Middle East Headquarters, ditched his crutches and proceeded to climb a wall and break in.
The guards were quickly alerted to Stirling’s break in by his abandoned crutches and promptly raised the alarm. Stirling made a dash for the nearest office marked ‘adjutant general’. The office was occupied by none other than one of Stirling’s former instructors, a red faced Major who thought little of Stirling as a student and promptly threw him out. Stirling had more luck in the next office, which was occupied by the Deputy Chief of Staff, General Sir Neil Ritchie. Stirling handed his proposal to Ritchie who was interested enough to order the Major in the next office, the very same former instructor who threw Stirling out of his office, to offer him every assistance in bringing his plan to fruition.
And so the Special Air Service was born. Over the next 12 months this band of highly armed desert raiders crept up to enemy bases in the dead of night, and destroyed everything they could lay explosives on, blowing up, and shooting up aircraft, petrol tankers and supply vehicles, then making good their escape across the desert, before their enemy knew what had hit them.
After the war the SAS was disbanded, but later reformed in 1947. The regiment survives to this day, and from its humble beginnings in North Africa, remains one of, if not the finest fighting force on the planet.