Archive for the 'Family' Category

12
May
17

Albert’s Grave

In the cemetery photo included in my previous post, Albert’s headstone is visible: the third row back, third stone from the left.

Lareunion

Here is an enlargement with Albert’s memorial indicated with a red +

Lareunion edit

11
May
17

In Memory of a Cousin (who I never got to know)

On 11th May 1943, Albert Smith, aged 19, “died of wounds” at Oued Athmenia in Algeria, he was buried there and later reinterred in La Reunion War Cemetery.

His regiment was serving around Bou Arada in Tunisia. It is most likely that his wounds were received there requiring his evacuation to the 31 British General Hospital in Oued Athmenia.

From the war diary of Albert’s regiment, the following entry for 9th May possibly refers to the cause of Albert’s fatal wounds:

1 O.R. (other ranks) wounded by landmine.

I’m intending to apply for a copy of Albert’s service record which will hopefully confirm (or otherwise) whether that diary entry is referring to Albert.
Initially I was a little doubtful considering the distance between the mine incident and the place Albert died, but I later found that medical evacuations in that area were quite efficient around that time.

10
Nov
16

Glider 70

Thanks to Ian Murray and his website (http://www.operation-ladbroke.com/) I have more information about my cousin Horace and his fate during the glider operation that led the invasion of Sicily during WWII.

Ian has posted an article that identifies which Glider Horace flew in, and even provides a few details of his last moments.

Reading Ian’s article gave me a goose-bump moment equalled only by the time I finally found Horace and Albert after a year of searching for the “Maurice” and “Alfred” my dad had spoken of.

 

location of airfield where Horace's Glider 70 started it's journey.

Location of El Djem (El Jem) airfield, Tunisia,  where Horace’s Glider 70 started it’s journey,

Horace was a passenger in Glider 70, one of the American  WACOs brought in to supplement the larger British Horsa that couldn’t be supplied in large enough numbers. The glider was towed from the El Djem airfield in Tunisia, destined for Sicily as part of Operation Ladbroke.

On approaching the destination, landing zone 2,  (LZ2), trying to avoid enemy flak,  the tow-plane turned away from the designated release zone and the glider was set loose too far from land and came down a few miles off shore.

lz2a

lz2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though the glider floated, after exiting, some of the men couldn’t regain contact with it due to rough waters. Horace was one of those and he was heard calling for help before finally falling silent.

I suspect that Horace would not have been a strong swimmer. The only swimming pool in his local area would have been the same one I visited as a child 20 or so years later. Visits to the pool were rare and no one in my immediate family became proficient swimmers and I Imagine that in those earlier decades, Horace would have had fewer opportunities for learning to swim than I had.

In all one of Glider 70’s pilots and five others lost their lives, along with more than 250 from other gliders  who also drowned.

 

 

 

 

 

25
Oct
16

War Diary

title-page-edit

My research related to two cousins killed during WWII slowed down for a week or two. I ordered some books related to the campaigns in which their regiments were fighting leading up to their deaths, but haven’t had the chance to read them yet. However those books can only give a general background of what was going on where they were serving.

With Horace details are a little easier to find. He served with 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance and I’ve found several sources of information about them and the tragic events that led to his death on the first day of the attempted invasion of Sicily.

Albert’s story hasn’t been so easy to follow up. He served with 140 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery in North Africa, where he died of wounds received just prior to the surrender of the Axis powers in May 1943. Details of that particular regiment seem scarce.

This morning I received copies of his regiment’s war diary covering the period from January through to the time of Albert’s death. On the day he died the entry starts: “At 10.30 a.m. we fired our last rds in anger…”

For Albert it was so near and yet so far.

Heartbreaking!

I now need to take a closer look at the diary to get an idea of where Albert was serving leading up to his death.
Maybe the next step in my research will be to obtain the personal military records for both Albert and Horace. Unfortunately that won’t be as easy as getting the war diary. It is also not cheap.

28
Sep
16

Albert’s Grave

As recent posts indicate, I’ve been spending time researching my dad’s cousins who were killed in WWII. It’s a fascinating exercise and it surprises me how many small details I’ve found from unexpected sources.

Yesterday I found a reference to where Albert died (Oued Athmenia in Algeria), and that he’d originally been buried in that town before a year later being re-interred in the La Reunion War Cemetery in Bejaia. Previously I’d only known he’d died in North Africa and was buried in La Reunion.

Then this morning I was looking at a photo of the cemetery and realised his headstone was visible. Not close enough to read, but close enough to identify by comparing with a plan I’d found of the cemetery.

I’ve marked the position of Albert’s grave with a small red mark in the top right corner of the headstone: third row back, third grave from the left.
lareunion-alberts-grave

Here are the locations of Oued Athmenia (red indicator) and La Reunion War Cemetery.

oued-athmania-map

14
Sep
16

Cousins “Found”.

The search began…
Around a year ago I was told about two of my dad’s cousins who were killed in the Second World War. I tried to find out more about them but after taking a few investigative wrong turns I hit a dead end.

And then…

I came across an article about a new war memorial being unveiled in the cousins’ home town; a memorial that OUGHT to include their names on its roll of honour. With the help of the local branch of the Royal British Legion, I was able to get a copy of the listed names and finally got the breakthrough I’d been looking for. My RBL contact was also able to provide a few details of their service and where and when they died.

Albert, the younger of the two had been a gunner in the 140th Field Regiment Royal Artillery and was killed in North Africa on 11th May 1943 only two days before the enemy Axis forces surrendered in Africa.

Horace

Horace

 

Horace, the older brother was a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, part of the 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance, and was killed a few weeks later at the very beginning of the invasion of Sicily on 9th July 1943.

The family story had been that his death was due to an American pilot releasing him too soon, causing him to land in the sea instead of on land. The meaning of that cryptic anecdote became clear when I looked for details of what British forces had been doing in Sicily at the time of Horace’s death. Records in an official RAMC diary state: “All our gliders are away” and “Apparently the tug pilot was upset by the small amount of flak, took then off their course and cast them off into the sea”.

 

I found more details in The Second World War: a military history by Gordon Corrigan [p399-400].

The airborne phase of the operation was a disaster. The air-landing brigade of 1,200 men were to be delivered in 144 gliders, a mix of American Wacos, which could take fourteen men and their equipment, and British Horsas, which could carry thirty. The towing aircraft were 109 USAAF C-47b Dakotas and thirty-five Albermarles of the RAF. The RAF pilots of the towing aircraft all had considerable experience of training with gliders, and the British Glider Pilot Regiment crews (two to a glider) had practiced the operation over and over again in the UK. Unfortunately for their passengers, many of the Waco pilots had not completed their training while the C-47 pilots had little or no experience of glider operations and some had done little night flying. During the night the weather worsened and the wind got up to 40mph. The defenders were fully alert and as the airborne armada approached, their anti-aircraft guns opened up.

sunken Waco glider, Sicily

sunken Waco glider, Sicily

A military glider has the aerodynamic properties of a brick: once it is released from its towing aircraft, the only way is down, although turns to right and left and even complete circles, are perfectly possible. What is critical is that the towing pilot releases his glider at the correct distance from the target, and this depends on the height at which the release takes place. Also critical is the ability of the gliders to ‘stream’, that is to arrive at the landing ground from the same direction, which is achieved by the towing aircraft flying in formation to the release point. It was not easy to tow a fully laden glider at night while being shot at and to many of the inexperienced USAAF pilots it was just too much. Sixty-nine gliders were released too soon and crashed into the sea; fifty-six were released in the wrong place and did make landfall, but scattered all along the coast. Only twelve, all towed by RAF pilots, landed where they should have done.

A Wikipedia article about Horace’s 181st Airlanding Field Ambulance unit gives a slightly more personal angle on the glider story:

On 9 July 1943, … they encountered strong winds, poor visibility and at times were subjected to anti-aircraft fire. To avoid gunfire and searchlights, pilots of the towing aircraft climbed higher or took evasive action. In the confusion surrounding these manoeuvres, some gliders were released too early and sixty-five of them crashed into the sea, drowning around 252 men. The 181st required thirty-two Waco gliders for the mission, but with the overall shortage, they were only allocated six, and five of their gliders were amongst those that failed to reach Sicily and crashed into the sea

The 181st losses during Operation Ladbroke were one officer and sixteen men who were all drowned.

Horace was clearly one of those casualties. He was initially posted as missing, but later his death was acknowledged, although it seems his body was never recovered. His name is listed on the Cassino Memorial, part of the Cassino War Cemetery in Italy, one of over 4,000 Commonwealth servicemen who took part in the Italian campaign whose graves are not known and have their names recorded on the memorial’s panels.

cassino-panels2

Cassino Memorial

 

But what about Albert?

Apart from the date of his death and the name of his regiment, I’ve yet to find out anything else. Details of his regiment’s actions haven’t been as easy to find. I have however just tracked down his burial site. His grave is in the La Reunion war cemetery in Algeria.

La Reunion war cemetery

La Reunion war cemetery

13
Sep
16

Missing Cousins

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…
memorial-2About 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.




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