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Friday 26 November 2010

Millom & district men in South Africa

For some reason Millom and district has a number of  memorials to those who died in the Boer War. Why I wonder? It is a small town but it did have a huge iron mining & smelting industry in the 19th century and as a consequence of this and its relative isolation, a strong sense of community. Some 37 men from the district fought in South Africa & 9 died. Three of these have individual memorials at Whitbeck, Haverigg & Millom Holy Trinity.

However, the most impressive is that which stands outside the east end of St George's church in the town upon which are listed all nine fatalities.

The cross was unveiled on a sunny summer day in 1904. In so many ways these Boer War memorials set a precedent for 1918; the form, the elevation of the common man & the 'elevated rhetoric', a language of service & death, was soon to be ubiquitous.
The long talked of memorial erected in St. George’s Churchyard from a design of Mr. W. (sic) Collingwood of Coniston, and supplied by Mr. Miles, sculptor, Ulverston, at an estimated cost of £300, was unveiled this afternoon at 2 o’clock by Colonel Bain M.P. for this division.....
Well, ladies and gentlemen, we who live in this county of Cumberland, and especially we who reside in this immediate neighbourhood, are proud – naturally proud – to do honour to those brave me who did their duty, and there is something more than that. We appreciate, we admire, their brave deeds, their patriotic devotion, but what they did, giving their lives, will live after them. It will be a memory, it will be an example and an incentive to those who come after them, when the occasion arise, to do their duty as these brave men did..
An interested spectator at the unveiling ceremony to-day was Mr. Richard Hodge, aged 74 years, and late seaman on the “Agamemnon.” He had the distinction of wearing four medals, two for service in the Crimea, including Sebastopol, one for Abyssinia, and one for good conduct and long service, covering over 21 years. He is the father-in-law of Sergt.-Inst. Jones, of the local Volunteer Corps, and for a man of his years is remarkably well preserved and vigorous.
For the rest of the memorials, two are of men who fought in the same unit, at the same action.

At Haverigg church a large marble plaque commemorates John Park of Hemplands who was wounded at Faber Spruit on May 30th 1900 and died the following day.

At Whitbeck, below, some miles to the north of Millom, a very similar plaque describes John Crayston of Monk Foss who was killed in the same action and fighting with the same unit, The Westmorland & Cumberland Yeomanry.

Faber Spruit was a bit of a sideshow and the casualties largely a consequence of the tactical incompetence of the column's CO, General Sir Charles Warren.

As the main British offensive neared the Transvaal capital of Pretoria, other forces, 'colonial' and Imperial Yeomanry, pursued Boer forces in the northern and western Cape Colony. One of these columns halted on the evening of May 30 to wait for supplies at Faber's Put. The choice was not a good one, as a number of ridges within rifle range overlooked the farm buildings.

That evening, 600 Boers surrounded the position and a party crept past the British outposts. At dawn the Boers poured fire into the mounted infantry lines, killing men and scattering scores of horses. In the Canadian lines, next to the British, the gun detachments ran to their guns while the drivers harnessed the horses and led them to safety. It was still too dark to aim the guns, so the gunners lay prone beside them.

As the sun rose, a British unit recruited in South Africa counter-attacked, while the Yeomanry engaged the Boers at close range. Two Canadian nine-member gun teams manhandled two guns across a fire-swept field and brought them into action, losing one man killed and seven wounded in the process. The combination of the counter-attack and the artillery fire was too much for the Boers, who abandoned the battle. Although Warren claimed victory, down-playing the 27 killed, 41 wounded and the loss of a large number of horses, the engagement was, in fact, a defeat.

The third memorial is in Holy Trinity, Millom's ancient parish church that stands next to Millom Castle, the one-time seat of the Huddlestones. I think the plaque has been re-located here from Kirksanton, a small community near to Whitbeck that lost its church some years ago.

The plaque commemorates George Mason Park of the Royal Lancaster Regiment who was killed on Spion Kop. See here for a comprehensive description of the battle and its consequences. It was a bloody affair that left 1500 casualties including some 243 dead. In terms of the Great War an insignificant number but devastating in 1900.

The dead were buried in the trenches where they had fallen in such numbers.

The action at Spion Kop was largely fought by men of the north & its memory is kept alive at a number of football grounds that have stands named after it, most famously, perhaps, at Liverpool FC's ground.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Mary Kynaston Watts Jones @ Winster & Beatrix Potter

The first post I put on this blog a few years ago (!!) described the memorial at Winster, probably my favourite in south Cumbria. In spring the beautiful red sandstone cross stands in a carpet of wild daffodils. Stunning! Orginally it was much taller - how imposing it must have been - though it still is.

Unusually it is signed, by Mary Kynaston Watts-Jones (nee Potter) - her grave stands immediately behind her creation.

Known in the family as 'Dot' due to her diminutive size she died in 1951 aged 73 at Bannon Hey, Windermere. In 1903 she married her first cousin, Hector Lloyd Watts-Jones, a Captain in the Royal Navy (died Jan 1933 aged 61). She is further described on her gravestone as the daughter of Edmund Potter. 

One day when I was in the churchyard a local lady informed me that she was a relation of Beatrix Potter and I questioned what the relationship was, but she did not know. However, a family tree that has appeared online clarifies the position. Mary K was the daughter of Edmund Potter who was first cousin to Rupert Potter, Beatrix's father. So Mary K & B are second cousins. The Watts-Jones, Kynastons & Potters were all engaged in the Lancashire cotton industry in some manner and which made the family fortunes.

So there we have it ...

Mary was a sculptress & miniaturist, though I find no reference to her online or anywhere else easily accessible. However, an email correspondent sent me the following pic out of the Illustrated London News of July 19 1919.

I am unaware of whether this memorial was actually erected somewhere or whether Mary K W-J has any other memorials in the country.

I imagine she was called upon to design the Winster cross because she was living within the parish during the Great War, at Bowfell and she was a woman of some status -- well connected! Her grandfather & her husband's grandfather were both MPs and industrialists so she will have been well acquainted with the Holt & Higgin-Birkett families, both of whose son's names appear on the memorial and who will in turn have had some say within the community as men of property & influence. But that is not to detract from her evident skills as a designer and artist.

Sunday 21 November 2010

A hazardous operation

This blog owes a great deal to Mr Andy Moss; as I have researched memorials he has researched the names - at astonishing length! Some of the stories he has come up with are extraordinary.

I have barely covered Barrow memorials in either my researches or in this blog - a fact that I regret. But the probable numbers of them and the fact that all the churches and chapels in the town are locked makes the task rather daunting.

There are hundreds of names on Barrow's war memorials, specifically that in Barrow Park, the towns primary place of commemoration.

One name has a remarkable tale attached; that of Flying Officer (navigator) Alfred John Baythorp, RAFVR, who died on July 14, 1944 while flying aboard RCAF Handley Page Halifax JN 888 of 624 (Tiger) squadron out of Blida, North Africa. The aircaraft crashed high in the Pyrenees, above the town of Nistos, while engaged in the dropping of supplies to the French Resistance. 

624 was a special squadron that conducted clandestine operations over France, Yugoslavia, and other occupied countries in Europe. From its base in northern Algeria, it utilised the long range and large load capacity of the Halifax to drop weapons, ammunition, radios, supplies and agents to local resistance units. The details of flights by other crews provide further hints about the nature of the operations: 

"Not successful–incorrect reception at Panane;" "Not successful–no recognition at Diddle...;" "Successful at Accorduer–stores dropped; reception doused at other targets; nickels (leaflets) dropped;" and at Taille Crayon "Successful–15 agents and stores dropped."

Halifax JN 888 was piloted by PO Leslie Arthur Peers of Chatham, Ontario a married man of 27 and father of a young son. To fulfill their missions Peers had to fly at very low level and on the night of July 14, 1944 was flying over the peaks and forests of the Pyrenees peparing to drop supplies to a group of Maquis.

Let the Mayor of Nistos tell the story ...(left click mouse)

The men were buried in a clearing close to the crash site and after the war the CWGC decided that the bodies were too inaccessible to be recovered so they were left where they lay, on beds of French bracken. In 1994 the Canadians and the French built a permanent memorial garden which is maintained by local people who continue to have a great reverence for the men, who died for The Liberty of France.

Apart from Baythorp & Peers the other crew were as follows:

BROOKE, Sergeant JACK, 1451393. 624 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. 14th July, 1944. The Runnymede Memorial.

CLARKE, Sergeant HARRY, 1592499. 624 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. 14th July, 1944. Age 22. Son of Harry and Elsie Clarke, of Sheffield. The Runnymede Memorial.

GOBLE, Sergeant CHARLES SPENCER, 145381. 624 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. 14th July, 1944. Age 21. Son of David and Clarice Alma Goble, of Portsmouth. The Runnymede Memorial.

WALSH, Sergeant JAMES EDWARD, 1652695. 624 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. 14th July, 1944. Son of John and Ann Walsh; husband of Elsie May Walsh, of Grange, Cardiff. The Runnymede Memorial.

WHARMBY, Sergeant WILLIAM RONALD, 1248157. 624 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. 14th July, 1944. Age 23. Son of William and Florence Wharmby; husband of Jessie Elizabeth Wharmby, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire. The Runnymede Memorial. 

 The crew of RCAF Halifax JN 888.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Ireleth & Askam St Peter's

Grace recently asked for a pic of the memorial inside St Peter's parish church, Ireleth ... Here it is ...

Askam & Ireleth war memorial committee's initial proposals, were wildly over ambitious at a time of financial restraint (!sounds familiar!). Eventually the trustees, probably through the offices of the Reverend Ridley, approached Mowbray and Company of London, an established firm of church furnishers, requesting a design for a memorial plaque. This was produced and displayed in the window of Askam co-operative society’s shop in Duke Street through the course of September 1920. On October 4, a special parish vestry meeting was called to discuss the sanctioning ‘or otherwise’ of a faculty for the placing of the plaque on the south wall of the nave of St Peter’s parish church. In chairing the meeting the vicar noted that both the design and the suggested location of the memorial had ‘the sanction and support’ of the relatives of the named dead. The proposal for the faculty was unanimously accepted.

The memorial of cast bronze mounted on a pale cream marble slab was installed in the church by John Baxter Riley of Sea-View, Ireleth; undertaker, sexton, monumental mason, joiner and parish clerk. The plaque was formally unveiled on Sunday, March 19, 1921 by Captain J. M. Challinor, M.C., of  ‘Nether Close’, Ireleth. It cost something in excess of £150 of which £101.14s had been raised by public subscription up to that time.  Challinor was the son in law of Henry Mellon, chair of the war memorial committee.

Captain Johnson McMillan (Jack) Challinor was the son of Sam Challinor, the village doctor in the late 1800s. He had won the Military Cross serving with the King's Own Scottish Borderers at Hill 60 in 1915.

He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the Battle of St Julien on the 5th May, when the Battalion, part of a sorely depleted 13th Infantry Brigade, was ordered to retake a section of Hill 60 that had been retaken by the Germans. Two companies, 'C' and 'D' led the assault, but heavy fire forced them to retire to the trenches from which their attacks had been launched. However 2 platoons under the command of Lieutenant Challinor managed to gain a somewhat tenuous position, and stuck it out until only the officer and 3 men were left. This party only withdrew when the flanking forces were ordered to retire. He was promoted to Captain in May.

He  and his wife, Hilda, lost their son, Neil, to meningitis at new year 1919/20 when the boy was only 6 months old. He himself died in 1928 of heart failure, aged 41, and was buried in St Peter's churchyard.