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Friday, 30 May 2008

A casualty

Being a history freak is really quite an extraordinary occupation. A Russian friend visited some years ago and she made the comment that England, or Britain, is really just a vast museum. And so it is. Wherever I go & whatever I do there is always something to stir the imagination or give cause for reflection.

I have been checking out memorials close to home over recent weeks, going over old ground and expanding into Dalton & Barrow, and in the course of these perambulations I came across this small alabaster memorial in Dalton Methodist church that made me pause awhile.

572144, Aircraftsman 1st Class Cecil Readhead, son of John & Ethel Elinor Redhead of Dalton in Furness, was serving with 11 Squadron, RAF when he died on May 22, 1941. Such a young guy, just 19 years of age.

11 Squadron has a proud history.

Formed at Netheravon, Wiltshire on February 14, 1914 it lays claim to being the oldest fighter squadron in the world. (The twin Eagles on the crest represent the twin seat Vickers Gunbus of the First World War.) In September 1939 the squadron was in India flying the Bristol Blenheim I fighter but in May 1940 was moved to Egypt, to meet the imminent threat posed by Italy's aggressive posturing, and on June 10 to Aden from where it launched bombing raids on Italian bases in East Africa after that country went to war with Britain. This began a series of movements that saw the squadron move to Egypt (December 1940-January 1941) and then to Greece (January-April 1941).

Greece was a disaster. German forces sent into the country to support the Italians advanced swiftly down to Athens and the Peloponnese. Until April 19 the Blenheims of 11 squadron had continued their attempt to delay the enemy advance. However, on April 20, the surviving aircraft concentrated on the work of flying key airmen to Crete—first air-crew, then ground staff. On April 22 - 23 the squadrons took off from Menidi and Eleusis for the last time. A planned consolidation at Suda Bay on Crete was aborted after the German capture of that island through May, and the squadron moved to Palestine from where it took part in the campaign to occupy Syria.

It was during the devastating German airborne invasion of Crete that young Redhead died. He was buried in Ramleh War Cemetery, Palestine.

During the Second World War this cemetery was used by the Ramleh (Ramla) RAF Station and by various Commonwealth hospitals posted to the area for varying periods. These facts, and the wording of the dedication on his memorial, suggest that he died either of illness or of wounds incurred in Greece or Crete, a young man, a long way from home.

I don't know where the quote on the memorial is from!

Now I do! Courtesy of friend Howard Martin, former Sunday School boy, - it is from Jeremiah!

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