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Wednesday 17 December 2008

Charney Hall World War 2

When I was a child World War 2 remained a recent event that still resonated in people's lives. My father was immensely proud of his service, of his status as a soldier, of being a 'Tankie'. But most of all of being a member of Montgomery's desert army. He talked about it quite freely and, with me at his side, would pore over the many illustrated publications produced during the war. Names of places and people became very familiar.

Thus it was quite poignant when I discovered the memorial in Grange parish church that lists the old boys of Charney Hall school who died in the Second World War. One name on the memorial was very familiar; that of William Henry Ewart Gott, CB, CBE, DSO and bar, MC.

'Strafer' Gott was a long term desert officer rising from Lt Colonel in 1939 to Lt General commanding XIII Corps by 1942 by way of commanding the 7th Armoured Div - the immortal 'Desert Rats'. After Auchinleck's defeat by Rommel in the summer of 1942 he was appointed by Churchill to take command of he Eighth Army but having hitched a lift to Cairo from the front line was shot down and killed. He is buried at El Alamein War Cemetery.

The other 'Old Boys' served all over the world.

Derek Vionee Alexander, native of Colne and a pupil of King's School, Canterbury, was killed serving as a young Artillery Officer during the German invasion of Greece in April 1941. He has no known grave.

Almond, Barr, Bain & Coffey died at home.

Pilot Officer John Norman Fisher (RAFVR) was killed on April 9, 1941 while flying with 9 Squadron RAF, probably on a night sortie over Germany. His remains lie in the Reichswald British War Cemetery.

John Bernard Windham Hale (RNVR) died aged 40 in a road accident at Plymouth in August 1945 while serving as a Commander(S) on the battleship HMS Valiant.

Lt Commander Humphrey Wilkinson Metcalfe RN, Fleet Air Arm, served aboard the carrier HMS Victorious. He died in a crash on June 22, 1943 while engaged in flying duties off Noumea, New Caledonia and Bougainville in the Pacific.

JB Miller is uncertain, probably Major John Binns Miller MC., West Yorkshires, buried at Imphal War Cemetery, India.

Proctor, probably Lance Bombardier Richard Martin, died at home.

Pilot Officer Peter Herbert Rayner was killed flying his Hurricane over France on May 12, 1940 aged 27. He is buried at Seuil churchyard, close to where he fell to earth.

Lt Philip Overend Simpson, Royal Artillery, died at home.

2nd Lt Michael Stonehouse Royal Artillery died at home.

Pilot Officer Alan Roger Wales was killed on June 27, 1940 over Holland.

Blenheim L35434 took off at 12.55 hrs from Bircham Newton to patrol off the Ijsselmeer. The flight made landfall near Noordwijk and turned towards Amsterdam. Just south of Schiphol they were attacked at 15.00 hrs by a large number of Me 109's from Soesterberg.

Wales' plane was shot down at 15.30 hrs by Lt J. Schypek of 2./JG 76 and tried to make a forced landing. It ploughed through a meadow and came to rest against the embankment of a ditch in a field along the Valkenburgerweg at Oegstgeest close to the community of Rijnsburg.

Sgts John Needham aged 25 & Thomas Jordan aged 18 also died. All three are buried at Oegstgeest Protestant Cemetery, Holland together with 12 other flyboys and 2 Canadian artillerymen

Air Cadet Peter Eric Wolton died aged 16, probably at Bethnal Green Military Hospital.

An interesting tale. Odd that so many died at home but the numbers who died serving in the RAF is to be expected. The whole structure of loss in WW2 was vastly different to the Great War.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Low Wray - Philip Abbleby Robson

An intriguing question posed by War Memorials is why a memorial is as it is? In particular why a specific designer or architect?

When I first started looking at these things I spent a whole summer driving round The Lakes trying to look in every church and in every community. Many memorials were pretty unimpressive but I was also amazed at the originality and craftsmanship that had been employed in the creation of some of these things. One that blew me away when I first came across it was the memorial cross at the church of St Margaret of Antioch, Low Wray, on the west side of Windermere.

The church was built in 1856 by James Dawson, a retired surgeon from Liverpool, who built Wray Castle next door and intended the Church as a chapel for the spiritual benefit of his family, retainers, estate workers, servants and friends. After Dr Dawson's death in 1875, the estate was inherited by his nephew Preston Rawnsley who in 1877 appointed his cousin, Hardwicke Rawnsley, as vicar.

The cross was designed by the architect Philip Robson and sculpted by Jackson's monumental masons of Ambleside in beautiful local green slate. So why was Robson chosen as the architect? Quite honestly I don't know but there are some pointers.

Philip Appleby Robson (1871-1951) was initially articled to his father E R Robson, the first architect appointed by the London School Board in 1870, before joining J L Pearson’s office in c1890. He was in private practice in Westminster by about 1898, where he remained until 1939. However, there were other offices in Tunbridge Wells and near East Grinstead, where he lived from 1905. Between 1919-22 he also had an address in Manchester as an architect and designer. He was very much an architect of the establishment.

The Manchester connection might be interesting. This church was the preferred place of worship for a number of families of considerable wealth and influence; industrialists who had great houses close by. Thus, inside the church there are four brasses for officers who died during the Great War. One commemorates Brian Crossley of the Halifax carpet family. The rest describe three brothers of the McIver family of Wanlass How, Bowness & of Bebington on the Wirral. The memorial itself was unveiled by a fourth brother, Captain Alan McIver MC, on Good Friday 1921. I rather suspect that these families, or the Rawnsleys, favoured Robson when the awarding of the commission to design the memorial was being discussed.

Saturday 6 December 2008

A death in Nelson's Navy - HMS Aeolus

Wonderful places - old churches - if time is taken to look around. They are rather like note books with monuments or memorials that act like prompts to remind the visitor of people and events long forgotten. Some, like a small memorial in the north of Cumbria, brush past famous men, in this case the immortal Nelson.
Kirkbride church is a small and ancient chapel built on the banks of the river Wampool. The chancel arch, described as Norman, may well have been the gate-arch of a Roman fort that once stood close by.

Set into the ledge of the window is a small marble memorial. It reads

to the Memory of
in His Majestys Ship AEOLUS, and
second Son of the Revd E Metcalfe
Rector of Kirkbride and HARRIET
his wife. Who died  6th Sept 1808
Aged 16 years

HMS Aeolus, a 32 gun fifth rate frigate launched in 1801 and broken up in 1817, was the second ship of the name. She fought throughout the Napoleonic wars and was involved at Santa Domingo (1803), in Strachan's action off Cape Ortegal (1805) and Martinique (1809). After Metcalfe's death she was heavily involved in the War of 1812 fought against American imperial ambition. On April 27, 1811 Frederick Marryat (1792 - 1848), who achieved fame for writing Mr Midshipman Easy & Children of the New Forest, joined the ship at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Captain Frederick Marryat - E Dixon - c1830

He earned distinction by leading the effort to cut away the Aeolus' mainyard to save the ship during a storm off New York and, continuing a precedent set in earlier ships, saved one of his shipmates from the sea.

This painting shows a 36 gun fifth rate of the size and type of the Aeolus
So what of 16 year old Midshipman William Metcalfe? He probably joined the ship when she sailed from Portsmouth in August 1804 under Captain Lord William Fitzroy to serve the King at Weymouth. He may have partaken in Strachan's action of November 4, 1805 when some of the ships that escaped Trafalgar were captured. The prize money will have been considerable.

Strachan's Action After Trafalgar - Francis Sartorius- 1807
The Formidable, of 80 Guns, Dugay Trouin, Mont Blanc, Scipion, of 74 Guns each, which had separated from the remains of the Combined Fleet after the Action off Cape Trafalgar, were taken the 4th Inst. off Rochefort, by the Squadron under command of Sir Richard Strachan, consisting of the Cæsar, Hero, Courageux, and Namur Men of War, Revolutionaire, Phoenix, Santa Margaritta, and Æoleus Frigates, after an Action of 3 hours and a half. The Enemy had between 5 and 600 killed and wounded; our loss about 30 killed and 100 wounded. The Cæsar, Courageux, Hero, and Revolutionaire arrived at Plymouth
In 1807 Aeolus was at Halifax. In the following year young William Metcalfe fell from the rigging. On these ships a fall is a long way down!
He was one of 12 children. His older brother, Francis, followed their father as vicar of Kirkbride. His next younger brother, Henry, was an ensign at Waterloo. John died at Madras in 1833 as a Captain in the army. Younger brothers Leonard died in Egypt as a Lieutenant, RN, and George died at sea. Some of his sisters married well, others found no match.
Quite a family, but typical of minor gentry where sons pursued careers in the church or in the forces of the crown and daughters sought husbands. Where would the Empire have been without them?
Prints of two of the pics can be purchased from the National Maritime Museum

Generosity - Nathan Harker Leach - Selside

Looking at the many war memorials through the county it is self evident that in almost every instance vastly more were killed during the Great War than in the second World War. Indeed, quite a few communities seem to have suffered no losses between 1939 -45.

At Selside, a small fellside community on the southern approaches to the Shap fells, a roll of honour and a brass plaque were erected after 1918 listing all who served and died.

No names were added after 1945 giving the impression that the village escaped fatalities in the later conflict. However, this was not the case.

On 12th May 1944, 25 year old Nathan Harker Leach, a driver in the Royal Corps of Signals, died of wounds in Italy and is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the countryside south of the town of Ancona. He was probably wounded in the Eighth Army's advance up towards the Gothic Line during the spring of the year. My own father was part of these actions.

Nathan was the son of Thomas Ellwood & Mary Leach of High Borrowbridge, Selside. Thomas was the local road mender - a man of low social status. For some reason his son's death was not commemorated in the community.

A few years ago I was sunning myself by the ancient church of St Anthony, Cartmel Fell and struck up conversation with a couple of guys, clearly gentry, one of whom hailed from Selside. It appeared that some years before one of these guy's had, I think at his own expense, paid for a memorial for young driver Leach.

A nice gesture