The story began…
About a year ago I had the opportunity to ask my parents some questions about our family history.
Within that conversation my dad told me about two of his cousins; brothers, older than he was, who lost their lives during the Second World War.
They had apparently been named after my grandfather, their dad’s brother; one was named Alfred and the other Maurice. They’d been killed a week apart and the shock of losing her two boys had given their mum a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered.
The only thing my dad remembered about their deaths was a cryptic story of one of them being killed when an American pilot released him too soon and he ended up in the sea instead of on land. From that last piece of information I could only assume he’d either been a paratrooper, or a passenger in a glider.
The next step…
As soon as I was able I started to look for more information about Alfred and Maurice.
I tried genealogy websites with links to military records and seemed to hit the bullseye almost immediately. I found two men with the right names who had been killed in 1941 within a week of each other; but my excitement was undermined when I finally noticed that although the Alfred I’d found had been born in the right English Midlands town, Maurice had been born in London, so he couldn’t be the right one.
Further attempts continued to be fruitless. Then only men I could find were the two I mentioned above, one of whom I’d had to discount.
A dead end!
The breakthrough came…
About a week ago I came across a story of a new war memorial being unveiled in the English town where I’d spent my childhood, the town where my family had lived for generations, including those elusive cousins. There were photographs of the memorial and I knew their names ought to be on there, but unfortunately none were clear enough to read. But at least I had something to work with (possibly).
I was able to contact the local branch of the Royal British Legion to ask if they could point me in the direction of someone who could give me details of the names on the monument. I received a very prompt reply with more help than I could have hoped for. I was sent copies of photos of the monument, clearly displaying all of the names, and also a copy of the official programme for the unveiling ceremony that also had a list of names.
The photos and the programme showed there were two men with the right surname, and one of them had the initial “A”. Unfortunately the other had the initial “H” and not the hoped for “M”.
What was wrong? Why again weren’t things fitting together?
The first step was to find out whether those men had been brothers. My helpful contact at the Royal British Legion confirmed they had been, but they had died about two months apart instead of the week as recalled by my dad. Also their names were different. The men on the monument were Albert and Horace, not fitting with my dad’s memory of cousins named after my grandfather, Alfred Maurice – but not different enough to undermine everything.
I was given a little more information about the timing of their deaths; Albert, a gunner with the Royal Artillery had died in North Africa in May 1943, while the slightly older Horace a private with the Royal Army Military Corp had died in Sicily on the 9th July 1943.
While I was hopeful that these were the men I’d been trying to find for about a year, I had nothing to confirm it – until I looked for what had been happening in Sicily on 9th July 1943. It took only minutes to find out. On a website recording part of an official RAMC diary related to operations in Sicily for July 1943, I read the following statements: “All our gliders are away” and “Apparently the tug pilot was upset by the small amount of flak, took them off their course and cast them off into the sea.”
Reading that not only gave me goose bumps – but also the confirmation I’d needed. The two men WERE the cousins my dad had told me about, despite some of the remembered details being wrong.
The next step is to see what more can be found out about them and the events that led to their deaths.