2020 marked 75 years since Victory in Europe Day. As part of the national commemoration, we collected stories and memories from members of the Hampton community that tell of how their families and relatives were affected by the Second World War. Below are just some of these remarkable accounts. From soldiers to secret agents and from prisoners of war to school children – they are a poignant reminder of the service and sacrifice of those who lived through wartime.
My granny (now 98) was one of Winston’s Churchill’s secretaries in the War Rooms. She also attended the Quebec Conference with him. She says that the Prime Minister was never anything other than faultlessly polite and charming to her.
My grandfather’s story: In 1941, I became the first flight sergeant in my grammar school Air Training Corps (Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School). We were sent on a summer camp to RAF Millom in the Lake District where bomb-aimers were trained on twin-engined Avro Ansons. We ATC cadets flew daily and our job was to manually wind the undercarriage up and down. On one flight, the pilot told us that one of the 25lb practice bombs had failed to release over the bombing range so he would try to make as smooth a landing as possible! He did so and I lived to tell the tale!
Undeterred, I volunteered for aircrew duties when I was 17, was accepted and did my pilot training in Arizona. 12,000 RAF pilots got their wings in the USA in World War Two. Back in the UK, I was selected to be a flying instructor and as such I trained army NCOs and officers who were destined for the Glider pilot Regiment and also naval officers who were destined for the Fleet Air Arm. One of my best naval pupils flew Seafires in the Korean war and retired as Admiral of the Fleet! By the time I was demobbed, I had flown over 1,000 hours in seven different aircraft. A highlight of my service was the one week’s leave in the middle of the training in Arizona – we all hitch-hiked to Hollywood and met some film stars! The most dangerous part of my service was the journeys to and from America which we did in unescorted troop ships which were steered clear of U-boats thanks to the code-breaking work by Alan Turing at Bletchley!
My maternal great-grandfather, Brigadier Francis Curtis worked in the War Office. In 1942, he was involved in planning and drawing up the documents for Operation Torch. This is the code name for the Allied-American invasion of French North Africa: the first great joint amphibious attack. He said ‘Of all the work which I did when on Joint Planning Staff, I am most proud of this particular work.Three signatories, of which I am one, are at the bottom of the ‘Appreciation of Operation Torch’ document, which we drew up together. In 1943 – 1944 he was appointed Director Brigadier of post hostilities plans in the War Office.
My paternal grandfather was Dutch and went to university in 1941, in a town called Delft. After a year the Germans who had occupied Holland closed all universities and made students go and work in German factories. My grandfather refused and went into hiding on a farm with a friend. The Germans came to the farm and it is likely that they were betrayed because the Germans went straight to their hiding place. My grandfather was taken to a concentration camp called Kamp Amersfoort. This was designed as a transit camp for people who would be transferred to other camps in Germany or Poland. He spent nine months in the camp not knowing when he would be sent further east. The conditions in the camp were so bad that there was a medical inspection of people before they were moved because the German factories were unhappy with the condition of the prisoners sent to them. When my grandfather was selected to go to Germany, he managed to fail the medical exam by faking a stomach ulcer so luckily, he was sent home.
Our great-grandfather, Wladek Nakoneczny, or G-dad as we called him was born in Sidorow, Poland, in a time of great political upheaval after the First World War. He was a vocal supporter of Polish Nationalism and often spoke out about his views and beliefs.
On 1 September 1939, the world changed when the Germans invaded Poland. G-dad was in real danger due to his passionate opinions and he was forced into hiding to escape capture by both the Nazis and the Russians.
His luck did not hold and he was apprehended and sent to a brutal and barbaric Siberian Gulag. Here he was forced into extreme labour in appalling conditions – sub-zero temperatures, food riddled with maggots and surrounded by disease and death.
On 22 June 1941, the Germans invaded their former allies, the Russians and in the turmoil that followed, G-dad seized the opportunity to escape. Unable to return home to war-torn Poland, he joined the Polish Resistance Movement and was evacuated to England. A voyage that took him around the world to avoid enemy controlled seas.
Off the coast of South Africa, his ship was torpedoed by an Italian submarine. Low on supplies, hope wavering and health diminishing, they began to row to the shore, 200 miles away. However, fate intervened and an English seaplane alerted the Royal Navy and G-dad was rescued.
His final destination was Liverpool, where he trained in the Royal Airforce as a spitfire pilot. Although Europe was still in the midst of war, G-dad finally found companionship and brotherhood in his squadron, which went some way in helping lessen the loss of the family he’d left behind.
His heroics and life achievements were recognised by the Polish Embassy in 2003. He also wrote a book describing his journey.
Mr Knibbs’ paternal grandfather, Arthur Knibbs, was living in inner city Manchester when the war began. He joined the Lancashire Fusiliers and it was expected that they would be part of a relief force heading to France. However, in early 1942, at very short notice, his battalion was deployed to India.
By 1943, Arthur’s regiment was part of the 14th Army formed of UK, Commonwealth and Indian forces. It was commanded by General William (Bill) Slim, whose statue is in Whitehall outside the MoD building. Known as the ‘Forgotten Army’, they were operating 4,000 miles from home with the tropical monsoon climate and diseases to cope with; contact with home and family was only via occasional letter. Their task was to prevent a Japanese invasion of India. The Lancashire Fusiliers fought at the battles of Kohima and Imphal, which halted the Japanese advance and proved be a turning point in that theatre of operations. Sergeant Major Knibbs came home in late 1945, returning on the Strathnaver (a converted P&O passenger liner). He was ‘demobbed’ in spring 1946 and, with his War Gratuity of £91, returned to civilian life in the same newspaper office that he had left behind 6 years 3 months and 2 days before.
As with many servicemen, this defining period of Arthur’s life was remembered by him for the comradeship with his fellow soldiers as much as for the hardship and trauma of war.
Mr Knibbs’ maternal grandfather, John Robbins, was stationed in Portsmouth with the Royal Artillery, manning the guns to protect the Harbour prior to the D-Day landings.
After VE day, John was part of a War Graves unit based in Valkenswaard, burying soldiers from the British Irish Guards regiment that had fought nearby in September 1944 as part of Operation Market Garden. John’s brother, Alf, was captured by the Japanese in Singapore and forced to work on the Burma railway (made famous by the film Bridge on the River Kwai).
Afterwards, he was shipped to Japan as a prisoner of war to work in a munitions factory in Tokyo, from where he witnessed the atom bomb cloud from Hiroshima.
Upon his return to England, he weighed just 5 ½ stone and was almost unrecognisable. He always refused to speak to anyone in the family about his experiences, but his imprisonment in Burma is recorded at the national Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Poppa’s story: “I was only three when World War Two started and my father went away. He wasn’t home again until I was ten-years-old in 1946.
Living in Cardiff we did not get the full attention of the Nazis but we heard one bomb fall on a house about a mile away; very bad luck for them! Also, we heard the devastation of three nights bombing of Swansea.
My sister and I had to sleep under a steel table with the biggest mattress tied up against the windows to stop any flying glass. Mum dug up the whole garden and planted cabbage, leeks, carrots and much more. Our good friends over the road built a big chicken coop which gave us lots of eggs
In 1941, I started school. The clocks were on double summer time so it was very, very dark in the mornings and of course no street lights so quite spooky!”
Donald Calder (Rhys’ Great Grandfather): Donald Calder fought with the Royal Artillery at El Alamein in North Africa and then helped run a prisoner of war camp in Italy. He was deeply traumatised by his experiences and struggled to comprehend how man could inflict such damage on his fellow man. He almost never spoke of the War to his family. The family heard many years later that Donald broke up a potential riot at the POW camp, possibly saving many lives, by going in to talk to the prisoners unarmed, persuading them that there were plenty of soldiers that would love them to riot as that would give them an excuse to start shooting and that everyone, including the guards, was suffering equally from shortages of food and blankets.
Walter was born into a Viennese Jewish family who imported silk as their family business. The extended family worked in the fabric trade and his aunt and uncle were forced to sell their factory to Oskar Schindler who then used it to shelter Jews. In 1938, Walter was sent to the Dachau concentration camp, along with his mother Karoline, his sister Helene and his younger brothers Franz and Ernst. In 1939, the family managed to trade their house, their business and all their money for three exit visas, so the three boys were able to go to England.
Walter met another Viennese Jewish refugee called Vally Stiasny in London, and married her. He was initially interned as an enemy alien, but later was able to join the British army. After the war, he worked as an aircraft engineer designing engines. One of his brothers became a Professor of Architecture in Australia and the other a maths teacher. His mother and sister were not so lucky – in 1942 they were deported to Minsk and died.
I recently read Deal and District at War by David G. Collyer which describes, day by day, the events that happened during the war in the area where my father lived. I hadn’t realised how intense the action was, with things happening almost daily. The Battle of Britain was fought overhead, the planes – both enemy and our own – flew over Deal on their bombing raids, the enemy often dropping any left over bombs, and friendly aircraft struggling to return often ditching in the sea or landing in nearby fields.
On 9 January 1942, miners at Betteshanger Colliery near Deal in Kent went on strike for 19 days over the level of allowance for working difficult coal seams. This was in breach of the wartime emergency regulations and the Ministry of Labour decided to prosecute 1,050 miners for contravening Order 1305. Three local union officials were imprisoned and over a thousand strikers were fined. Other pits came out on strike in sympathy and on 28 January, a settlement was reached. In February, the Home Secretary dropped the prison sentences and most fines were never paid.
My father told me the mine was privately owned, and when the owners realised they would get conscripted workers they reduced pay for the miners.
It must have been a truly terrifying, yet exciting time. My father never really told us of much of this, like many, he chose to keep it to himself, perhaps not wishing to share the horror of war with his wife and children.
Memories of Hampton School during the Second World War:
I joined Mr James’s Form 1a in September 1944, just after D-Day and during the V1 flying bomb and V2 rocket bombardment. D-Day involved casualties with boys absent when their father/brother had posted killed or missing in action. Their schoolmates helped them where possible. Fortunately, the V1s/V2s missed us, their approach giving insufficient warning for us to get to the Air Raid shelters in front of the school. Extra curriculum activities included an Allotment Society which cultivated the land between these shelters. Also popular were the School Air Training Corps and Scout Troop.
In my second year, Mr James organised a Harvest Camp at Wallingford, at which I helped in the kitchen assisting Mrs James and his daughter as required. I was too young to work in the fields. It was hard but enjoyable work for all the participants. We all cycled from Hampton supervised by a prefect, and camped in a village school building sleeping in a dormitory on straw-filled palliasses.
Teaching staff included war veterans, one of whom had been a rear gunner in Lancaster Bombers, and was traumatised by loud bangs. I regret that we tormented him by accidentally slamming desk lids until the Headmaster had a “quiet word” with us.
My great-uncle, John Saunders, was a wireless operator and air gunner on a Wellington Bomber. Before the War he was a chorister at Durham Cathedral and then became a teacher. Unfortunately, John did not survive the war: his Wellington Bomber was shot down on the night of 30 November 1941 over Germany. A young girl who lived in a farmhouse near Kiel remembers seeing John’s bomber flying low to the ground and on fire. She distinctly saw three men in the cockpit, fighting to keep the plane in the air – it is possible that my great uncle was one of those men. The aircraft crashed in a field and all on board were killed. John Saunders was 28 years old.
This is the crew of Wellington bomber Z1292. John Saunders in second right in the back row. His bomber was tracked as it flew northwards from Lubeck – before crashing at ‘2224’ just east of Kiel.
Theo’s great-grandfather, John Mantel, was a volunteer in the RAF and became an officer, rising to the ranks of Squadron Leader. He travelled across to the USA and all over the world. Theo’s grandfather, Phillip, John’s son, was only very young at the time so he was moved to stay with his grandparents in Northampton as this was a safer place to live.
Theo’s grandfather Phillip explains his own memories of John Mantel.
“Early in 1940, Dad was coming home from working in the bank in Norwich on a bus and on a straight piece of road a German plane came flying towards them with machine guns blazing. The bus driver manoeuvred the bus under some trees and a fatal accident was averted. A gentleman took off his Bowler hat and placed a bank note in it and took a collection round for the driver who was well-rewarded for his prompt action in saving their lives!
Early in 1940, in Norwich there was a practice area for German pilots coming over and dropping bombs. Sirens went off when the planes were three minutes away and then the crash-warning came when the planes were overhead. As a five-year-old I walked a mile to school, four times a day, down a country lane but had been told by dad that when the crash-warning came I must sit in the hedge. Dad had just been commissioned in the RAF and was proudly walking down the road in his new uniform when the crash warning came; I called from behind the hedge, ‘Dad come and sit in the hedge with me.’ Needless to say, he would be embarrassed if some of his friends had seen him sitting in the hedge!
When the War ended on 8 May 1945, I was only seven years old and I attended a celebration party with friends and dad, some of whom he played tennis with for many decades.”
The man who didn’t escape, great-uncle Archie Sulston
My great-uncle was an allied airman who participated in the strategic bombing of Germany during World War Two. This was dangerous work, undertaken to try and break the industrial capacity and resolve of the Germans. Since the war, questions have been asked about whether such a bombing campaign was effective, necessary or desirable. The young pilots who served in the campaign suffered appalling casualties, as well as inflicting them on the enemy. In RAF Bomber Command, the death rate was 44% and nearly one in ten crewmen became prisoners of war (POWs).
During a routine mission, my great-uncle was shot down and severely burned. He only survived when his life was saved by a civilian German doctor, shortly after he bailed out of his stricken aircraft. When handed over to the German authorities he was sent to the infamous POW camp, Stalag Luft III, known from The Great Escape (1963).
This was a camp about 100 miles south of Berlin, chosen for the sandy soil in the area that would make building escape tunnels hard for allied POWs. Whilst my great uncle didn’t escape the camp, he survived the War and was liberated in 1945. He returned to the England, owing his life to an enemy doctor, but never spoke about his experiences.
Stalag Luft III is particularly well remembered because of two famous films, made after the War, which portrayed POW escape attempts. In one audacious plan, Allied prisoners set up a wooden vaulting horse. Whilst men practised on it in the exercise yard, a tunnel was dug underneath it right under the nose of the German guards! Watch The Wooden Horse (1950).
My granddad, Alec Tyler, used to work for the gas board during the war at their site in Saltley, Birmingham. One of his jobs was to climb up the gasometers – and there were several – to check for any small explosive devices which the German planes used to drop. Apparently he was paid danger money to do this!
My other granddad, Caramine Mancini, used to be an ARP warden, and part of his job was to walk round at night to check that none of the houses had any lights showing during the blackouts. Where they lived, there were a lot of factories which were used to manufacture ammunitions, so a few had barrage balloons fixed above them to deter the Germans from bombing them – my two aunts used to work in them. My granddad told us that on one particular night one of the balloons came loose and was floating around. As they were full of inflammable gas they would have exploded if they had hit any buildings, so they had to guide it with the tethering ropes until it was over the local park and could be made safe. There were also barrage balloons over the spitfire factory in Castle Bromwich (where I come from, and my parents still live).
My Grandfather was in the US Airforce and was shot down in his bomber on 14 May 1943 off the Danish coast. As his plane was falling from the sky he watched as the other members of the crew were jumping out, pulling their parachutes, at which point the enemy were able see them and shoot them in the air as they fell. Being the navigator he knew the altitude of the plane, and after considering how quickly he would be falling through the air he worked out what would be the last possible moment to pull his parachute. He jumped, counted down and at the last moment went to pull the cord. There was nothing there. He had put the parachute on upside down in his rush to get out of the plane alive and instead of hanging at his waist the cord was at his shoulder. Instead of dying as he hit the sea he realised what he had done, found the cord and pulled it. The chute opened and broke his fall before he hit the water head first. In the freezing sea he tried to use his parachute as a sail to get to the Danish shore, but it was no use. He resigned himself to death until a small fishing boat appeared and he was rescued. He thanked them for saving his life and passed out.
My grandfather was also one the Great Escape tunnellers in Stalag Luft III – which the film is based upon. He did not go through the tunnels as the Germans got wind of it and shipped out the US prisoners before they had a chance, but he did escape in the end and made it back to the UK in time to meet up with his British sweetheart, my grandmother, and propose to her in Leicester Square on VE day.
A separate story is that when in the prison camp a fellow prisoner drew a sketch of Donald Duck in prison saying he wanted wings. It is a joke in that ‘wings’ referred to the right to fly as part of the Airforce (I think) but Donald wants them to escape the prison. Walt Disney liked it, drew a version of it and had it sent to every US Airman in Nazi prison camps during World War Two in order to boost their morale. There is a newspaper story about this from the time including Walt Disney’s cartoon, which I have a print of on the wall in my house.
My grandmother (now 90-years-old) was 11-years-old during the Blitz and has very clear memories of that time. She often tells my family stories about the times she had but there are two stories which are my real favourites. Firstly, she used to talk about how she and her friends would go out looking for shrapnel after bombing raids – shrapnel is bits of bombs and explosives used by the Germans. One day while looking for shrapnel she came across her friend who was sitting and swinging her legs on an unexploded bomb in the field. That was certainly a find!
Another story she loves to tell is about her father who had fought in the First World War but was an air raid warden during the Second World War. He took his job very seriously during bombing raids wearing a tin helmet and ill-fitting gas mask. Every few minutes he would walk into the house where my grandmother and her family were sitting under the Anderson shelter (a sheet of metal that sat on top of the kitchen table) and would say “This one is definitely for us!” Then a few minutes later he would say “That was a close shave” only to return a few minutes later saying the exact same thing. It certainly didn’t make for a peaceful night!
Although a very dark time, my grandmother speaks about the Blitz with a sense of adventure commenting on the community spirit at the time.
George Brown joined the Royal Engineers (Sapper) as a boy soldier at the age of 14 and stayed in the army until he retired at the age of 61. He did not talk much about what happened during the war but we do know a certain amount.
He transferred to the Royal Artillery in June 1938, when the Gunners took over operation of searchlights for anti-aircraft defence from the Sappers, reverting to the Royal Engineers in July 1945, just after the war ended.
George joined General Alexander’s 1st Army in January 1943, as part of the US/UK Operation Torch. The Germans and Italians surrendered in Africa in May 1943.
George reverted to the Royal Engineers and was commissioned on 5 January 1946. He then moved to Padua near Venice, where a large engineer stores base had been established. In Venice, the Allies took over the big hotels from the Germans, complete with Italian staff and orchestras, etc. My grandmother and father went out in late 1945 to join him, within months of Victory in Europe. They lived in the Europa Hotel on the Grand Canal and my dad started school there. They came back to the UK by train in June 1947, taking five days to cross Europe. Although only six-years-old, my dad still has memories of war-damaged towns across Austria, Germany and France.
My grandfather George spent a lot of time with the American Forces, who had a very flexible approach to equipment and stores of all kinds. If they wanted something they got it with ‘no questions’ asked. My dad remembers that when they arrived in Venice, my grandfather had his own private Jeep kept on the mainland, which he had ‘bought’ from the Americans for a bottle of whisky. When they left Italy with him in June 1947, my dad believes my grandfather drove the Jeep into an Italian lake!
“Hilda and I had laid on a drill in the event of trouble. I would deal with any emergency in the house, whilst Hilda would take the children out. As was customary the bath was always half full of water and there were sandbags in the house and outside by the doorstep. At that time Graham had his cot in the small bedroom next to our front bedroom.
On the night in question, we decided to remove Graham from his cot and take him downstairs. Around 10 pm, I heard a noise upstairs and guessed we had had a bomb through the roof. Rushing upstairs there was the incendiary blazing away in Graham’s cot. Against all the rules laid down I poured all the water into the cot: all flames disappeared in one second but at the same time the remainder of the incendiary burst and bespattered the room. A splinter just caught my wrist and for weeks after I nursed a third degree burn.
A disturbed night followed all the tension – The one blessing was the decision to remove Graham from his cot as otherwise he may not have survived.”
My Grandmother’s father fought with the Allies during the Second World War, but as my Grandmother left Poland as a refugee aged only two, we know very little about him.
We know he fought in the Polish 7th Cavalry Division as a Bombardier and that he took part in the Battle of Montecasino and we know he is buried in Loretto, Italy, having been injured in battle. What we didn’t know, was that he was a hero and had been awarded the ‘Krzyz Walecznych Medal’ (The Cross of Valour.) This is awarded to an individual who “has demonstrated deeds of valour and courage on the field of battle.” It is the second highest Polish medal awarded in wartime.
My Grandmother’s journey took her through Russia, Kazakhstan, Zambia and on to England. She saw her father again only once before he died, the chaos of the war records and the sheer number of refugees, meant there was no way find the family and present the medal. So, it remained in an army vault in Warsaw, until an amateur historian from Krakow decided to trace the families of the soldiers from his village. Unfortunately, my grandmother was not alive to discover the bravery of her father, but last October my family and I travelled to a tiny village, in the deep south of Poland, for a very emotional presentation of the medal.
Before he died our great-grandfather, Peter Howlett, wrote down what he did during the war years. He worked as a secret British Special Operations Executive in a factory that made weapons and equipment supporting agents and cells of resistance throughout occupied Europe. The team that he was a member of was similar to the department in the Bond films, headed up by ‘Q’, that design and make the gadgets and secret weapons for 007.
“After the Battle of Britain my Battery moved to Tring. In 1943, I met Major Walter W. Chapman also stationed there with his R.E Regiment after service in India and the Middle east. A year later when I saw him again he suggested I take a ‘cushy job’ with him. The all-important interview took place in Northumberland Avenue and I found myself with Inter Services Research Bureau soon after D-Day under Col. Munn working closely with Professor Douglas Everett.
Many ‘dirty tricks’ gadgets were dreamt up to embarrass or hinder the enemy. One very small personal odour was named “Who? Me!’ and there were explosive horse droppings and three-pronged metal puncture devices. Other sophisticated equipment, included the underwater supply containers, timed to surface when resistance groups were ready to collect and solid air-supply petrol with triangles to squeeze it back into liquid again.”
Our grandfather, Tom Scott was a very young child living on a farm in Hunton, Kent during the war and he remembered the sound of Doodlebugs flying over on their way to London. These were V-1 flying bombs and were used by the Nazi German Luftwaffe. They were fired at London from launch facilities along the French and Dutch coasts and he remembered the buzzing sound that they made.
Edward was 29-years-old, married and a retail manager from Manchester when he joined the Royal Navy as an Ordinary Seaman in 1941. After training, he joined the Cruiser HMS Nigeria as it became Flagship in NW Approaches. The ship set off for Iceland to escort the Arctic Convoy PQ8 towards Murmansk in Northern Russia.
Soon came attacks from German Stuka bombers. On deck, Edward told the gunners to “Shoot the ‘blighters’” before an officer shouted at him to “Get below!” They faced not only enemy attacks but mountainous seas and dangerous topside ice, the latter hacked away by hand.
Safely home, Edward next trained as a Navy Writer, was promoted and posted to a second Cruiser, HMS Sheffield, joining in March 1943. Operations followed in the Bay of Biscay and then the invasion of Sicily on 10 July (Operation Husky) and then Salerno on 9 September (Operation Avalanche).
When hostilities ended in Naples, Edward was attached to the Commander in Chief Mediterranean based on HMS Byrsa. Promoted to Petty Officer, Writer Edward next moved with his ship and the Mediterranean Command to be based in Malta. Demobilisation Class A followed in June 1946.
My dad’s uncle, my great-uncle Kingsley, was a prisoner during the Second World War (he was shot down over Germany). He escaped on more than one occasion, and spent part of his war interned in Stalag Luft III, where he was involved in the ‘Great Escape’ preparations. He was not one of the ballot winners on that occasion so although he forged documents for the escape, from memory I think he remained in the camp during the actual escape. He definitely ended the war on one of the death marches, and was freed from his final camp by the Russians. The camp commanders had locked the camp and left the prisoners to it several days before. Great Uncle Kingsley was a Canadian, so it took him several months to be repatriated to Canada. He got back to Britain, and went and stayed with my Dad in his family home in Portishead until he could return to Canada. Dad was mostly annoyed by this, because he had to share his bed with his uncle during this period!
Sadly Dad (also Kingsley) and his Uncle Kingsley have both died, but Great Uncle Kingsley’s reminiscences were recorded in Bonds of War, his memoir (required family reading), a remarkably positive record of his time as a prisoner.
I am named after my great, great-uncle Alec Hamilton. He was a famous carpenter living in Aberdeen, Scotland. When he tried to join the RAF and they discovered what he did for a job, he was requisitioned to build a top-secret wooden plane called the de Havilland Mosquito. The plane was so well-designed, it could fly 19mph faster than the Spitfire. It was both a fighter and a bomber and could be repaired quickly by carpenters, helping the RAF to victory.
My great-randad Ronnie Hicks worked in in the Plessy factory in East London, making parts for submarines and aircraft. His job was considered so specialist that he wasn’t drafted to fight in the War. Part of the factory was so secretive that it was constructed to be totally bomb-proof, hidden in a tube tunnel under a roundabout in Wanstead. Access into the factory was via the three unfinished tube stations at Wanstead, Redbridge and Gant’s Hill and a train ran along to the factory floor.
My great-grandmother Winifred was evacuated from the East End to Castle Donnington in Leicestershire as she was pregnant. She gave birth to my grandma Carol in a stately home, Whatton House, which was used as a makeshift maternity hospital. Baby Carol and mum Winifred were then evacuated again to Sudbury in Suffolk and my family are still in touch with the farming family they stayed with.
My great-uncle Leonard Dawson was a Tail Gunner with the Canadian Air crew flying in a Lancaster bomber. He was shot down and killed over France.
In September 1944 the Germans upped the stakes and started launching V2 rocket attacks on London. These were like modern ballistic missiles, much bigger and faster than doodlebugs. They gave no notice of their arrival but caused massive destruction when they hit the ground. The Winter of 1944-45 was punctuated by V2 attacks. Faced with this added danger, 7,000 women and children were evacuated from the Borough. My mother took me to Sheffield for several months, where we lived with her father’s sister, Lucy and her husband George. They lived in a very basic terrace house in the Pitsmoor district, with a WC across the courtyard.
VE Day arrived on 8 May 1945. Over the duration of the War, 143 civilians had been killed in Twickenham, 500 houses had been destroyed and 32,000 houses had sustained bomb damage. But now people could sit back for the first time for five years and be free of anxiety. VE Day unleashed an explosion of celebrations. Cinema newsreels recorded the vast crowds on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, with the Royal family waving graciously from the balcony. Rather less graciously, there was riotous dancing around Trafalgar Square and other central London locations. My mother and I returned from Sheffield in time for the Sherland Road, VE Day street party. Lines of trestle tables were set up on the site that had been levelled by the incendiary bomb. Flags and bunting were hung from houses. Kids in fancy dress tucked into sandwiches and cakes, albeit with restricted choice owing to food rationing. I still have a photograph of the event which conveys the joy of the occasion.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, my maternal grandfather Hermann Hilber (born 1910) re-joined his old Gebirgsjӓger unit, the German Mountain Infantry, as a military doctor only a few years out of university. The first entry in his military service book is from the very beginning of the Poland campaign in September 1939, followed by battles in France, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the invasion of Crete in May 1941, for which he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st class. He was medically discharged in 1943 and became a prominent paediatrician in Munich.
My great-grandfather William ‘Billy Phil’ Phelps was sent to Coventry as a fireman in his late thirties to help with the war effort. The colliery he had previously worked at had closed down and he was conscripted into the land army since 30-years-old was (thankfully) considered too old to fight.
My late father was a deputy commander of a Prisoner of War camp at Featherstone in Northumberland during the Second World War. He and two other senior officers at the camp were a part of a programme of re-educating senior Nazi officers in their charge. A couple of years ago my family and I became aware of the extent and importance of the programme. The Imperial War Museum now have the care of my father’s papers including letters written after the War from former inmates acknowledging the effect Dad’s and his colleague’s efforts.
The letter was addressed to “Captain W Merkel, Featherstone Park Camp, Northumberland” and dated 14 October 1946.
Featherstone Park was a Prisoner of War Camp. The letter’s author, Kurt Schilling, was a former Nazi officer who had just been released from the camp and returned to Germany.
“I cannot but thank you for all the kindness and humane understanding you showed, not only to myself, but also to the other PoWs in ‘C’ compound,” he wrote to Captain Walter Merkel.
“I myself am grateful to you and those officers like you who made my unpleasant duty much easier by their excellent understanding of the mentality of prisoners of war.
“Most of those British officers under the command of Colonel Vickers have done more for understanding between our two nations, by the way of treatment in the camp, than statesmanship can ever hope to achieve.”
Featherstone was one of a number of PoW camps operated in Britain to rehabilitate German soldiers, including many devoted Nazis.
What made it different from any other camp was that its key officers — Colonel Vickers, Captain Merkel and a Captain Herbert Sulzbach — were all Jewish.
“A siren. The War’s begun.”
1939/40 changed my life radically. I was four-years-old. Wartime, yes but it was the year that my parents split up. Two court cases awarded me to mother. In anger, father sold the house. We were on the streets. Mother found rooms, which are still there, 115 Uxbridge Road in Hampton Hill.
Mother was conscripted to munitions, first Vickers-Armstrong, then General Aircraft where she became a welder on the Wellington bomber. When they bombarded Berlin, she proudly said, “That’s my work.”
I attended Windmill Road Primary School, where air raid shelters replaced the playground. During raids, we fled to them and were taught to crochet which offered a distraction from explosions, bomb shrieks and shudders.
Later on the in the War we would use street shelters, then the Morrison sheet of steel to sleep under. They offered protection against falling masonry but not from gas and fire.
I remember sojourns in West Wales. We travelled by steam train: there was no electricity nor running water, we cooked on the fire and there was no toilet paper. My job: to cut up newspapers, hung on the outhouse nail.
Back in London where I was at school at Hampton Grammar – I remember living through buzzbombs, butterfly bombs, shrapnel and V3 rockets to victory.
Julien Verschelde was born on 5 April 1910, in a village in Belgium, called Hulste. He experienced the First World War when he was just a child. When he was 18-years-old, he joined the army, which was mandatory in Belgium at that time. In 1939 he married my great grandmother Zulma Deblock.
In 1940, he was called to join the army in the big fight against the Germans (World War Two). He and some of his army unit friends were caught by the German SS army while they were travelling through France. They were taken to Russia and Lithuania to work as prisoners of war in the salt mines. He was allowed to return to Belgium shortly after and worked (still as a prisoner of war) on a farm taken over by the Germans.
In 1971, he returned to his home town/village Hulste and began family life with his wife. During the war, he wrote many letters to his wife which my granddad and his siblings have kept and which remain in the family.
My two brothers and I were evacuated in 1940, to be away from the bombing. We elected to go to New Zealand. We three left our Hampton home and travelled to Liverpool, where we were boarded in an empty school awaiting our ship. We had been given a list of clothes that we had to have, but as we were not very rich we lacked a number of things such as great coats. We were given all that we were lacking. After weeks of waiting, on the 23 September we boarded our ship, the New Zealand shipping line’s Rangitani.
The ship sailed and we able to eat the most wonderful breakfast we had ever had in our lives. At that time rationing was very stringent and so we worked our way through the menu, from kippers to ice cream. We sailed close to the wreck of the “City of Benares” a ship carrying school children that had been torpedoed and we were just preparing to feast ourselves at lunch when a trawler came alongside and the skipper shouted “You must go back, there is no escort.” The ship turned around and we all went home.
Captain JA White RM OH (1924) joined the Corps at Chatham in 1942 as a “Hostilities Only” volunteer and served at RM Depot Deal from which he was selected for Officer training at the OCTU Thurlstone. Commissioned in 1943 as a 2nd Lieutenant he was posted to Minor Landing Craft. These units were being expanded in preparation for the forthcoming invasion of Europe.
His unit, 707 Flotilla, worked up at Invergordon, Cromarty Firth before sailing South in the Spring of 1944. On promotion to Captain he worked in the Combined Operations Division of the Admiralty until demobilised in 1946.
Operation Overlord, June 1944
On 4 June 1944, (then) Lt White was Second-in-Command of 707 Flotilla LCP(L) – Landing Craft Personnel (Large) – on despatch duties off Portsmouth with the Assault craft of Force “S”. The weather forecast was unfavourable. A 24 hour postponement of Operation Overlord was ordered.
As Duty Officer, Lt White had to give this order in person to the Commanding Officer of each LCT – Landing Craft Tank – of Force “S”. The LCTs had the Sherman DD “swimming” tanks of 13/18th Royal Hussars embarked which were to support 8th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Division in the landings on Sword Beach between Ouistreham and Lion-sur-Mer. The LCP(L)s were towed (to save fuel) across the Channel to be in position by 0600 hours on 6th June. The LCP(L)’s role was to carry FOOs (Forward Observaton Officers) to control firing by the tanks on the LCTs before launching and to guide the tanks onto the correct beach after they had launched from the LCTs. 31 out of the Regiment’s 40 Sherman tanks reached the beach.
After the initial assault phase, the Flotilla reported to Force “S” Headquarters ship, HMS Largs, and resumed Despatch duties, eventually from within the Mulberry harbour, for the following three weeks. In the June storms which severely damaged the Mulberry harbour, many of the LCP(L)s were swamped and sank and Lt White returned to the UK for 14 days survivors leave.
Lt White was Mentioned in Despatches for his actions in this Operation.
I was born in Shepperton at the start of the war. My Dad was unfit for active service so he served as a medical orderly in the Home Guard. Not sure which character he would have been in Dad’s Army!
He outlasted all of his contemporaries and lived to 97-years-old. I remember standing on our back step with him watching a Doodlebug in the sky. He said watch the light at the back, when it goes out the bomb may glide on or it might drop straight down so be ready to run to the shelter. Fortunately for us it flew past.
We had bombs dropped close to us as Shepperton Studios was taken over by Vickers to assemble aircraft, a bombing target. One bomb hit the railway station, another missed our primary school by about 60 metres. It left a huge crater which became a favourite playground for many years. I remember VE Day and the big street party with red, white and blue crepe paper streamers and rosettes. A massive bonfire at the crossroads with a lifelike effigy of Hitler hanged from a lamp post. Bombs, blackout, gas masks, rationing, tough times but they taught us appreciation and resilience.
My grandad, Leslie Sprigg, served as a Telegraphist in the Royal Navy throughout WWII. He served on Ml108, which was sunk while laying mines in the English channel. He recalled ‘I well remember our First Lieutenant swimming round, asking each in turn “Are you all right’?” before shepherding us to the rescue boats. All the crew were saved but we lost all our personal possessions. We were issued with a new uniform and sent to await a new posting. Not a long wait.’
Later, in 1944, Grandad served on in waters off Ymuiden, Holland, where he was on board another motor torpedo boat that sustained heavy damage.
My grandmother, Joan Sprigg (‘Nana Joan’), joined the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) in Birmingham in 1939, upping her age a little to do so (she was only 15). She recalled ‘We had not only to undergo a course of First Aid instruction, but also Home Nursing, and Anti-Gas training. It all sounded very exciting to us and we could hardly wait to get started. We attended a series of lectures, first of all learning the names of all the poisonous gases that may be used, and practised getting our respirators on in 7 seconds!’ She kept a diary and wrote about the bombing Birmingham sustained as part of the Blitz. Later, she served in the ATS at RAF Uxbridge, where her initial accommodation was a potting shed at the bottom of someone’s garden!
In February 1944 she wrote to her parents asking their permission to marry my grandad on his next leave (as she was not yet 21, she could not do so without their blessing). After some initial hesitation they agreed and my grandparents married in January 1945 using rationed goods from neighbours and a borrowed wedding dress. It was a very happy day.
I was born in April 1940 and with my father being a police officer we spent the whole of World War Two in Putney in London. The only exception being brief visits to the seaside village of Jaywick in Essex, where the war time beaches were littered with barbed wire. Bombers were overhead.
The War, even for a young child, was very real and very near. My Dad was out most nights. My mother had a stirrup pump and buckets of water on the landing to try to deal with fires from Incendiary bombs, used against domestic targets. Warning of air raids was given by pulsating wailing sirens. I still tear up, even today, upon hearing such – the sound forever burned in my memory. Our house was hit on at least one occasion. I was later told that a bomb, which did not explode had demolished my cot. Fortunately, I was elsewhere.
As the War progressed, the rockets known as V1’s or Doodlebugs were used by the Germans. I was old enough by then to be aware, that when their distinctive motors stopped, they would fall randomly. The fear in every one was tangible. I was bundled beneath the dining table, where a steel structure offered some protection against falling debris. The later V2’s gave no such warning.
I can well remember VE day. The festoons of banners stretched between houses across our street with people hooraying and dancing everywhere.
One of my grandfathers was in the Polish Airforce based in Bushy Park. My other grandfather was evacuated from Dunkirk. He was badly injured and therefore had to spend the rest of the war supervising the internment camp on the Isle of Man.
I lived in Twickenham, just across the A316 from the Rugby Ground. War was declared just weeks before my 5th birthday. It was on a nice summer’s day and I was playing with a friend in the garden. My mother insisted that the friend went home to be with his parents. Neither of us had any idea what was going on.
The next year was quiet. People built air raids shelters in their gardens, criss-crossed their windows with tape, and made blackout curtains. School continued as normal.
When the blitz began, it did not affect our area too much. At first there were daylight raids on London, and then night raids. I could look from my back door over towards London and see a red glow over the sky. My mother evacuated us to relatives in Reading. My father stayed behind still working as a delivery driver for a flour company. He joined the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) based on the Rugby Ground.
Once the blitz stopped my mother and I returned to our home. While we had been away, a bomb had landed close by and blown out all our front windows. Had we been living there at the time the shards of glass could have caused some serious injuries.
My father was called up in 1942, and joined the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps). He became a Lance Corporal and a qualified Driver Mechanic.
Meanwhile, Twickenham and the surrounding area became more and more filled with soldiers, mostly GI’s (American), as the plans for D-Day were worked on in the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) facility in Bushy Park.
In 1944, the raids by the German V weapons began. I remember well the first V1 (Doodlebug). It came over the top of our house going north over the rugby ground, the engine cut out and it plunged to the ground followed by a plume of smoke. War had entered a new phase. These planes could be heard coming and people became used to watching them. One day, one cut out over our house. My mother and I huddled in the Morrison, table shelter. I heard it coming down, and then silence, and it in fact landed in Whitton.
My father became part of the D-Day invasion force. He was driving a DUKW (Amphibious Vehicle) the second day landing supplies. He continued to drive trucks during the following bitterly cold winter delivering supplies into France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. After VE day, his unit was sent to Palestine, waiting to be sent to the Far East.
My dad was at D-Day.
Patrick Vincent Wood (born 19 October 1925) in Hove, Sussex. He won a scholarship to Brighton and Hove Grammar School, aged 11. He was both academic and sporty, captaining the football and cricket teams and was also in the athletics, swimming and tennis teams. He stayed on into the Sixth Form but in May 1943, aged 17, he joined the Navy as an Ordinary Seaman. After months of training, in January 1944, he was commissioned as a Mid-Shipman. More training followed in preparation for D-Day and he was posted to a motor launch (ML 207). On the eve of D-Day his motor launch swept for mines ahead of the big fleet of minesweepers. He swept a channel for Gold Beach. They went to within three miles of the French coast. They then stayed at sea and watched the fleet of ships head for the beaches. He was only 18-and-a-half-years-old.
My Great-Grandfather, Lt Col D.R. Stewart Allward, was part of the British Expeditionary Force which went to France in 1940. He was with the 51st Highland Division (Gordon Highlanders) and was captured at St Valery. He kept a war diary which he wrote up on cigarette papers whilst in prison camp. Here is an extract of his diary from the day he was captured:
“So we gathered what was left of the 3 companies i.e. about 150 men and made our way along a sunken road through the French, sometimes walking and sometimes crawling. There was a car nearby and we could see bullets zipping through this but all got across safely. Here I discarded my groundsheet and changed my stick for a rifle. I threw away my German dagger and forage cap as I thought it better not to be caught with them, also destroyed my rifle bolt.
After we were captured our senior officers told us to stick together. This was the worst possible advice as they should have told us to try to escape in small number as soon as it was dark and go south west. I had never had any instruction on being a prisoner or even on the Geneva convention as the question of surrender up to that time had never occurred to me.
We crawled on several hundred yards through cornfields when those leading suddenly stood up with their hands in the air. Also standing up we saw we were entirely surrounded by German tanks. This was the end.”
Sgt Eric Ansell
My other Great Grandfather, Eric Ansell, was a sergeant in the Royal Marine Commandos and landed on D Day, as part of 4SS Brigade. He arrested the Nazi police chief of Eindhoven, Albrecht Hilmer, and confiscated his camera and binoculars.
Surgeon Lieutenant Vincent Joseph Redmond Sheridan R.N. (25th May 1914 – 23rd May 1941) graduated from medicine at the age of 22 and then joined the Royal Navy. He won the Distinguished Service Cross for services in the Sino-Japanese Conflict (presented to him by King George VI). He was then appointed to HMS Kelly, the destroyer captained by Lord Louis Mountbatten. He was with the Kelly during the Norwegian campaign, survived being torpedoed in the southern North Sea (two tugs took 92 hours to tow her back to the River Tyne). He was killed two days before his 27th birthday when HMS Kelly was sunk in the Battle of Crete 23rd May 1941.
My elder sister Lizzie, was born a month before D-Day six weeks prematurely and while she was small my mother was under doctor’s orders to stay indoors and keep her warm, venturing no further than the local shops in Teddington. Fortunately, my mother was not the staying-in type. But by the time she was able to go further afield the V1s, Hitler’s vengeance weapon, the doodlebugs, had begun falling on London in retaliation for the Normandy landings. She wrote her own account of what happened next before she died 22 years ago. I rediscovered it recently among some family papers:
We had heard rumours just after D-Day about Hitler’s secret weapon, but we did not realise when the first ones came over, they were pilotless flying bombs or Doodlebugs, as we later called them. Some of the first fell in Bushy Park, and I well remember the one that destroyed Pope’s Grotto in the poet’s garden in Twickenham. I had taken the baby for a walk and was on the way home when that one came over. I heard it cut out and ran like mad with the pram to try to reach home before it fell.
A few weeks later it was a beautiful day and I decided that I would go and visit friends at Weybridge, and call in at the office where I used to work as they so much wanted to see the baby. As I came out of my door, the lady opposite called over to say that, as she knew I was on my own, anytime the flying bombs were bad and I felt frightened, I was welcome to come over and share her Anderson shelter. I thanked her and told her that they were going to deliver a Morrison shelter to me soon so I could sleep in that with the baby. She told me how brave she thought I was, going on a bus ride while the flying bombs were around. I never saw her again.
While in Weybridge we heard flying bombs going over. Changing buses on the way home, I heard that Teddington had been badly hit. When I turned into Church Road, which led to Argyle Road where I lived, there was a police cordon across it. A policeman said: “And where do you think you’re going?” I said: “Home, I live at the end of Argyle Road.” He said: “You mean you did,” and then told me what had happened. There was nothing but heaps of rubble at that end of the road. He took me to a rest centre at the Baptist Church. I handed the baby over to a Red Cross nurse and he took me to see where my home had been. It was a terrible mess, rubble piled mountains high. It had fallen on the houses at the corner.
The American soldiers stationed in Bushy Park were wonderful, always first on the scene when bombs came down. They asked if there was anything they could do. I told them I had a black cash box which contained birth, marriage and savings certificates which I had locked in a drawer. I will never forget how they searched through debris. Eventually they found it, bent and battered but the contents were safe.
I slept, or rather tried to sleep, in the rest centre that night. Everyone was so kind. They gave me napkins, a change of clothes for the baby, washing things. The police were wonderful, too. They traced my husband and told him his home was completely destroyed but his wife and baby were safe.The casualties, considering the damage were very light, but I often think of the lady across the road who was so kind, and wonder what would have happened if I had not gone out that day.
When I read this account again, I was struck by its matter-of-factness, the lack of hysteria. Yet the emotional toll did surface occasionally, even years later. I still have that cash box taken from the rubble. My mother told me one other item was found intact – a single blue and white spotted plate on which cake was served at tea time, the only item left of all their wedding presents. A few years later, trying to be a helpful boy, I was carrying it to the table when it slipped through my fingers and shattered on the floor. My mother simply burst into tears. She was inconsolable.
The 24 August 1940 was like any other summer’s day. Warm and sunny, and now quiet, after the turmoil of the Battle of Britain. The war was now taking a major turn with the German Air Force discarding a direct “air to air’’ offensive and turning to night time bombing. Early that night the sirens went off, my Grandmother, Mother and I (every bit of 10 yrs old) got out of bed and went into the Anderson Shelter, embedded in the back garden. Now the Anderson Shelter (named after the Home Secretary), were not exactly the most comfortable of places to be.
We had only just got into the shelter when there was the whistle from descending bombs and three explosions. One bomb dropped onto the pavement (footpath) outside our house In Broad Lane, the second onto a house in Tudor Avenue and the third onto the shelter of a house a few doors down.
Fortunately they were only small bombs.
The first bomb blew up the granite footpath outside our house, and sent it down to the bottom of our garden and split a large shrub in half. The second landed on the house of Mr and Mrs Reddish in Tudor Avenue. At the time of impact they were standing on the landing, on the way to their shelter, and the rest of the house blew away around them. The third bomb hit the shelter of a family a few doors down. No one was hurt as they had been a bit slow in getting out of bed.
Two weeks later I made my first appearance at Hampton Grammar School.
My grandfather, Lechosław Bulzacki was born in Warsaw in 1926. Like many young people in his city, he was involved in the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. He was subsequently captured and interned in Stalag 344 Lamsdorf, and then Oflag VII A Murnau, Bavaria where he spent 9 months. The camp was liberated by the 101st Cavalry assigned to the U.S. 12th Armored Division on 29 April 1945.
From there, he found his way to Paris where the the Polish Government and Armed Forces in exile were waiting to return to a post war liberated Poland. Along with many ex POWs, he joined the Polish Armed Forces in the West regrouped in Southern Scotland, fighting under British command. When the formation was disbanded in 1947, many soldiers were unable to safely return to communist-controlled Poland, where they were often seen by the Polish communists as “enemies of the state”, and settled in other countries.
My grandfather settled in London and later in Wiltshire. Sadly, he died in 2000. I based some of my 5th year art work on photos of wartime Warsaw. He is mentioned in the archives of the Warsaw Rising Museum and we still have Grandad’s arm band from Chrobry I Battalion of the Polish Home Army ( AK).
My father and two uncles are Old Hamptonians and served during World War Two.
My father Alan Gordon Gibbs was at Hampton during 1933 and 1934 according to School reports that we have. During the war he was in the Indian Army and then transferred to the long-range desert group in Egypt, which was a reconnaissance unit keeping tabs on enemy movement.
He was possibly transferred to the SAS until the end of the desert war. Then to Italy and Crete and was involved in fighting at Monte casino.
He went to Greece by submarine. He met up with Xan Fielding who went on to become a well-known author. He also served with (possibly in Crete) William Stanley Moss and Patrick Leigh Fernor. These two became famous for capturing a German general and smuggling him out of the country. Made famous in the movie “Ill Met by Moonlight” starring Dirk Bogarde!!
Bill was studying to be a chartered accountant when World War Two broke out. He served in France, India and Burma during the war. He reached the rank of Major and was awarded the OBE and MBE after his service. After the war he was involved with the War Graves Commission. He lived in Penang, Solomon Islands (5 years helping the Church of Melanasia) before moving to New Zealand and settling on Waiheke Island.
He made his final move to Port Macquarie where he was happy to spend his time with cryptic crosswords and a weekly visit to the Port Macquarie Bowling Club.
He was survived by his wife of 62 years Jeanne, 4 children, 8 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild.
My Great-Grandad, Paddy Johnston, was a Merchant Seaman. He began at the age of 16, when he made his first voyage in May 1940 on board the S.S Atlantis, a converted Hospital ship, sailing to Narvik in northern Norway to evacuate the British forces. As the Atlantis left Norwegian waters accompanied by the transport ship Orama, they were attacked by the German cruiser, Admiral Hipper. The Orama was sunk but the hospital ship which he was on was allowed to pass. This good fortune was to be the pattern for all of Paddy’s wartime voyages. It was always the next ship that was hit.
His longest voyage lasted 18 months, arriving back to Swansea in December 1944, finally having a Christmas at home. Merchant ships and naval escorts were sunk during the various convoys. In January 1946 he was returned to the UK as a passenger aboard a troop ship. Paddy remained a seafarer in the years following the war.
He liked nothing better than to tell the tales of his life at sea over a pint or two and his fascination with all things American, stems not only from his love of the cinema but also from his frequent visits as an impressionable young man to his favourite city, New York.
Grandad was awarded the Atlantic Star, the 39-45 Star with France and Germany Bar, the Pacific Star and the War Medal 1939-45. The Campaign Stars are only awarded if you served in those war zones.
The France & Germany Bar on the ribbon of the 39-45 Star is for service during the Normandy campaign and in the low countries taking supplies and ammunition to the allies as they advanced across Europe.
George joined the RAF when World War Two broke out, where he flew Sunderlands (flying boats).
In battle he was attacked by German fighters and his plane became disabled. He was taken prisoners by the Italians.
It was 21 December 1941 and they were flying from Egypt to Malta. They were a crew of 11, with 12 passengers, a dog, a load of turkeys and a cargo of gold bullion. Apparently, there were a lot of pictures taken and they were written about in one of the newspapers of the day.
He survived the ordeal as a POW he was given a silver boot with a wing on it. After the war George emigrated to Canada, married a Canadian and they had two children.
My great-grandad, Thomas Williams, was in the Navy and he was on his way to fight in Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered. Because of this the ship carrying him was diverted to Burma/Thailand to recover the prisoners of war held in Japanese camps. The ships travelled up the rivers and brought the prisoners out to hospitals and transport ships.
While my great-grandad was carrying a prisoner, he noticed that the man had a scouse accent and asked what part of Liverpool the man was from. The man replied that his parents owned a newsagents at the end of Breck Road.
This was the newsagents at the end of the road that my great-grandpa and my grandpa lived on and where my grandad grew up!
My great-grandfather, George Frederick Wilson, joined the local T.A. 5th Battalion, Green Howards, in May 1939 and the battalion embarked for France on 19 January 1940. Within four months the 5th were retreating to Dunkirk arriving at Bray Dunes on 1 June with an artillery duel in full swing. The weary soldiers then began the six mile march to Dunkirk harbour. George was evacuated from the harbour aboard the HMS Venomous on 3 June. He arrived at Dover on 3 June and the Germans entered Dunkirk on 4 June.
George’s next posting was to the Middle East, then to Cyprus, Palestine and the Western Desert crossing into Libya in January 1942. He was captured and taken prisoner on 1 June 1942. He was sent from a transit camp in Derna to a camp in Capua about 15 miles north of Naples. By the time he got there he was down to six and a half stone. After the Germans took over the camp he was moved three more times, eventually ending up in Stalag 4C in Wistritz, Sudetenland in the now Czech Republic.
In early May 1945 with the Russians approaching, the prisoners were marched out of the camp. George and another prisoner managed to escape and after two days came across an American tank battalion. George stayed with them as a German speaking interpreter, eventually returning to Scarborough in July 1945.
After the war he campaigned for several years to have a remembrance column installed in the local church to honour the fallen members of the parish that had died in both of the world wars.
For his service, George Frederick Wilson was awarded a number of medals: the Benemerenti (Papal) medal, a medal from King Olaf of Norway, the Africa star, and three others.
Daniel said of his great-grandfather: “He truly embodied the characteristics of a hero and will forever be remembered by me and my family.”
My great-grandfather, Arthur John “Jimmy” Dooley, was no different from any boy, one of 13 children, home and school life was tough. Apparently, he worked at the mill, which must have been hard.
Jimmy joined RAF 103 squadron in 1940 aged 18, as a flight sergeant flying a Halifax. He was badly wounded on March 13th 1943. A copy of an article from the Berkhamsted newspaper depicts describes the following:
“The Mother of Sergeant Arthur John Dooley (21), an RAF gunner, was shot in the leg and eye during a raid over Germany but carried on at his job, saving the lives of the crew, has received a letter from the Pilot.”
It went on to say “besides his own family, nobody will be distressed as we are about Jimmy’s bad luck, and I venture to write to tell you on behalf of the six of us who flew with him. I can’t reveal just how or where, but we unquestionably owe our lives to the fact that him and others did their jobs so well, even after he had been wounded.”
On 12 June 1943, the rest of the crew were killed.
Hampton School had a fascinating history during the War. Click on the button below to explore our interactive WW2 map.