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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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

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.

There’s No Place Like Home. Except …

It’s not often that I find a day at work preferable to staying at home, but today is one of those rare times.

About three weeks ago I wrote about our ongoing home renovations. At that time we’d been reduced to bathing in a child’s paddling pool while the bathroom was being removed and replaced.

Not long after posting that report, we regained our shower and put the hot-pink pool behind us. Apart from some minor touches the bathroom is complete and we’re ready for the next stage of building.
But that’s not yet our planned laundry changes. We’re still waiting for the new cupboards. Instead we have other work starting today – the replacement of the ceiling throughout our open-plan lounge-kitchen-dining rooms.

Several years ago we found our ceiling had begun to sag significantly. A handy-man friend helped us out by pushing it back and fixing it into its rightful place. All we needed to do after his repairs job was repaint it to cover the filled in screw holes.

We kept putting it off.

When the builder came to quote on our bathroom Gloria thought it would be a good opportunity to get someone to do the long neglected painting.

Problem!

When the painter saw the job he wasn’t happy with the condition of the ceiling and in consultation with our builder it was suggested that the only solution was to replace the whole thing.
And THAT is what’s happening today.

On the weekend we had to empty the three areas of furniture, cramming everything into other rooms and leaving ourselves very little living space for the duration of the work. Fortunately the worst part, the ceiling removal and the first stage of its replacement should only take one day, and then the finishing of the new surface ought to take another day at the most.
*
I left Gloria at home this morning just as the builders were arriving. It’s now three hours later and I’ve had the first progress report.
The ceiling came down with unexpected ease. Apart from the screws our handyman friend had used there was very little holding it up, so hopefully the job will take less time than anticipated. The messy work will be over when I get home this evening and we should be able to get things back to “normal” in a day or two.

Sadly the work hasn’t exposed any interesting “archaeological” finds; no hidden artefacts left behind by previous owners of the house, just a few mummified rodent corpses.

Splish Splash!

Gloria and I finally got around to having our bathroom renovated. Our house was built in the early 1980s and seemed to have the original bathroom, which was both out-dated and in need of repair. Floor tiles were continually coming loose under foot and the wall tiles in the shower seemed to be held on (and together) entirely by the grout between the tiles.

img-607075612-0001We are now in the third week of building work, a period during which we’ve had no plumbed-in bathing facilities. Our way of overcoming that inconvenience involves a small plastic paddling pool (hot pink) and several buckets of warm-hot water. We bought the pool at the last minute to use as a temporary bathtub. I don’t know how we’d cope without it. The original plan had been to use a camp-shower provided by the builder, but we couldn’t get it working properly.

Ordinarily our simple bathing facilities wouldn’t be very comfortable in the middle of winter , but we’ve been blessed with abnormally warm minimum temperatures throughout these weeks of inconvenience. Usually at this time of year we’d be expecting days of heavy frosts, but so far most mornings have been well above zero (Celsius).
If things go well this week, we should have our bathroom back before the weekend. I’m REALLY looking forward to that first shower.

And then the next renovation stage starts: a total rebuild of our laundry.

Anzacs and WWI: a family connection?

2015 has been an interesting year.

It is the centenary of the WWI Gallipoli campaign, a defining event in Australia’s history that I knew very little about. As the commemoration of Anzac Day approached, I decided to end my ignorance, and started reading accounts about it from a variety of sources. I’ve already posted a few things about that journey earlier on this blog.

Alongside my own “Gallipoli campaign” I have also been doing some research into my family tree. That was something I started more than 30 years ago when my two Grandmothers were still alive. I obtained as much information as I could from them and then, in those pre-internet days, I hit a dead end.

Recently I decided to see if I could pick things up again after discovering a website that gave free access to basic genealogical records and was able to discover another 100 years of family records, taking me back to the mid-1700s and adding a bit of substance to a few family “myths”.

Yesterday those two different areas of research may have come together. Completely by accident I discovered a man who is possibly a distant relative who served with the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) in the Gallipoli campaign.AIF

He was born in the small English town where I grew up and his (not too common) family name is the same as my Grandmother’s maiden name.

At some stage prior to 1914 he moved to Australia.
He enlisted with the 1st Field Ambulance in Sydney early in September 1914 only three weeks after its formation. A month later he boarded the HMAT Euripides to join the convoy sailing from Albany WA to join the war in Europe. However, the destination changed while they were en route, and they disembarked in Egypt.Euripides

As part of the 1st Field Ambulance he would have been part of the first ANZACS to be sent from Egypt to Gallipoli and could have been among those in the 25th April landing, dealing with the high number of heavy casualties.

So far I’ve not been able to find any specific records related to his service, but as a survivor of Gallipoli, he would have been posted to the Western Front with the rest of the 1st Field Ambulance, where again he survived and returned to Sydney after the war.

Just over 20 years later he was killed in a workplace accident in Sydney.

______________________________________

After writing the above I’ve been able to find a copy of his military record on the National Archives of Australia website and have confirmed that he was at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915, but a few days later was shipped off to No.1 General Hospital at Heliopolis, Egypt with a bullet wound to the right thigh.
He re-joined his unit at Gallipoli on 10th July.

“Sparky”

A magpie has adopted my wife.
Whenever she is in the garden the bird follows her around, picking at any bug or worm it finds and waiting for Gloria to unearth a curly-grub or two (beetle larvae). Our garden has an abundance of those grubs and it’s satisfying to put them to good use feeding the bird instead of having the grubs feeding from our plant roots.

The magpie is very trusting and doesn’t hesitate to come within easy reach. We first saw it two evenings ago, curled up on the ground near the side fence. Assuming it was injured, Gloria went to check whether it was alright, but as she approached it hopped away. Then yesterday, it joined her while she was weeding one of the veggie beds.

A magpie similar to "sparky"

A magpie similar to “sparky”

Having a close view showed that its left eye was badly injured and for some reason it was unable to fly. The injury to its eye was possibly explained a little later when two healthy magpies swooped down and attacked it. These attacks were repeated a few times during the day until the aggressive birds were chased away.

Gloria has given her bird the name “Sparky” and was concerned that it may not survive the night. Our neighbour’s cat Leroy is a regular visitor and I have no doubt what would happen should the two of them meet. But Sparky made it through the night and joined Gloria in the garden again this morning. We’re not sure where it found shelter, but hope wherever it was it will continue to provide safety from cats and the frosts.

Tree Change – The Country Difference

It must be six years now since Gloria and I left Sydney, moved a few hours inland, and started “country life”. At home we now have the benefit of a garden, not quite the acreage that was part of our initial dream, but it is a lot more than we had in our Sydney flat. It is also much more manageable than our dreamed of acreage would have been. Our ¼ acre gives us more than enough to do on weekends.

Disappointingly my employment situation means that my working week is little different to my life in the city. From Monday to Friday I’m still stuck at a desk, staring at a computer. While the details of the work are different, the broad nature of the work is much the same.

It’s not quite the change I had imagined when we decided to make the move but there are some positives. I no longer drive to work through city streets choked with traffic. I work several kilometres out of town and I can get from home to the office in about 10 minutes on traffic free roads.

Instead of streets lined with buildings I drive through farmland populated by sheep or planted with various crops. Apart from the occasional truck loaded with stock, or sheep on the road being moved from one paddock to another, the main driving hazards are the wildlife.

Kangaroos have frequently jumped in front of or even into the side of vehicles around dawn or dusk, and smaller critters can see the road as a suitable place to bask in the sun and it’s not uncommon to see large lizards, small turtles and various bird species “playing chicken” with traffic.

My thoughts today have been inspired by the sounds around the office. While we do have a few vehicles moving around the company’s compound, the most consistent sounds over the last couple of days have been from the neighbouring farms mustering their sheep.

Their pens are close to our boundary and the sheep have been vocally protesting about the disturbance of their usual routine. This current reminder that I’m no longer in the city almost makes up for the disappointment of being cooped up in this office.