A week of classic paperbacks: The Dam Busters #1

The Dam Busters
             The Dam Busters

Celebrating great books and their covers.

These are the classic paperbacks many of us grew up with.

I used to scour second hand book shops for them. I’d often end up with two or three versions of the same book.

Kicking off seven days of classic books – all with a WW2 flavour – here is The Dam Busters by Paul Brickhill. 

It was originally published in 1951 and was the first of dozens, if not hundreds, of books about the raid on the Ruhr dams.

Brickhill had been a fighter pilot, who had been shot down and imprisoned in Stalag Luft III. His first book, The Great Escape, was about events at that camp.

The heroes of the raid on St Nazaire

Raid on St Nazaire
Raid on St Nazaire

A ceremony has been held to remember the heroes of the raid on St Nazaire.

In March 1942, more than 600 men left Falmouth in Cornwall in a flotilla of three destroyers and 16 smaller boats.

The special fleet included HMS Campbeltown, which was packed with explosives and was used to to ram into the gates of the docks in the French port.

HMS Campbeltown being converted for the raid
HMS Campbeltown being converted for the raid

St Nazaire was targeted because the loss of its dry dock would force any large German warship in need of repairs, such as the Tirpitz, to return to home waters rather than having a safe haven available on the Atlantic coast.

HMS Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates
HMS Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates

The raid put the dry dock out of commission until the end of the war – but success came at a cost. Of the 622 men of the Royal Navy and Commandos who took part in the raid, only 228 men returned to England.

Heroes as prisoners
Heroes as prisoners

One hundred and sixty-nine men were killed and another 215 became prisoners of war. The fallen British raiders were buried at the Escoublac-la-Baule cemetery, near St Nazaire, with military honors.

Commandos under prison escort
Commandos under prison escort

Five of the raiders escaped overland via Spain.

Eighty-nine awards and medals were bestowed for the raid, including five Victoria Crosses.

The organiser of this weekend’s event in Falmouth, Eric Dawkins, stated:  “The destruction of the dock meant those facilities were no longer able to be used. Falmouth played a major part.

“I’ve known these veterans [who took part], including those few who are still remaining, for 30-odd years and know their tales.”

 

For St David’s Day: the Welsh National War Memorial

Welsh National War Memorial
Welsh National War Memorial

The sun shines on the Welsh National War Memorial in Cardiff.

It commemorates the servicemen who died during the First World War. A plaque to those who died during the Second World War was added in 1949.

The memorial takes the form of a circular colonnade surrounding a sunken court and was unveiled in June 1928 by the then Prince of Wales.

It features inscriptions in Welsh and in English, and was designed by Sir Ninian Comper, the Scottish architect who mostly worked on designs for churches.

At the centre of the court is a group of bronze sculptures by Alfred Bertram Pegram, arranged around a stone pylon.

Around the base stand three figures, a soldier, sailor and airman, holding wreaths aloft.

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It is situated in Alexandra Gardens, Cathays Park, and is made from the same stone as the civic buildings which surround the gardens.

Today in WW1: Stretcher-bearer wins the VC

George William Burdett Clare took part in actions in France which would win him the Victoria Cross.

Clare, who was born in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, on May 18, 1889, was a 28-year-old private in the 5th Lancers (Royal Irish).

He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on November 28/29, 1917 at Bourlon Wood, France, during the Battle of Cambrai, at which he was killed.

This photograph, taken earlier this year, shows his name on the Cambrai Memorial to the Missing at Louverval.

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The citation for his VC, which was published in the London Gazette on January 8, 1918, reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when, acting as a stretcher-bearer during a most intense and continuous enemy bombardment, Pte. Clare dressed and conducted wounded over the open to the dressing-station about 500 yards away. At one period when all the garrison of a detached post, which was lying out in the open about 150 yards to the left of the line occupied, had become casualties, he crossed the intervening space, which was continually swept by heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, and having dressed all the cases, manned the post single-handed till a relief could be sent. Pte. Clare then carried a seriously wounded man through intense fire to cover, and later succeeded in getting him to the dressing station. At the dressing-station he was told that the enemy was using gas shells to a large extent in the valley below, and as the wind was blowing the gas towards the line of trenches and shell-holes occupied, he started on the right of the line and personally warned every company post of the danger, the whole time under shell and rifle fire. This very gallant soldier was subsequently killed by a shell.”

Today in WW1: A tank commander’s VC

Wales-born Richard William Leslie Wain was awarded the Victoria Cross after his actions on November 20, 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai.

Born in Penarth, near Cardiff, Wain had fought on the first day of the Battle of the Somme with the 17th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.

He had been wounded during the fighting for the village of Montauban.

He later joined the Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps which was equipped with tanks and took part in the Battle of Messines in June 1917.

In November 1917, aged 20, he was a section commander and acting captain in A Battalion, Tank Corps, when he took part in fighting at Marcoing, near Cambrai.

The citation for his Victoria Cross reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery in command of a section of Tanks. During an attack the Tank in which he was, was disabled by a direct hit near an enemy strong point which was holding up the attack. Capt. Wain and one man, both seriously wounded, were the only survivors. Though bleeding profusely from his wounds, he refused the attention of stretcher-bearers, rushed from behind the Tank with a Lewis gun, and captured the strong point, taking about half the garrison prisoners. Although his wounds were very serious he picked up a rifle and continued to fire at the retiring enemy until he received a fatal wound in the head. It was due to the valour displayed by Capt. Wain that the infantry were able to advance.”

This photograph, taken earlier this year, shows his name on the Cambrai Memorial to the Missing.

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Today in WW1: A VC on Hill 70

Frederick Henry Johnson led several charges on positions on Hill 70 on September 25, 1915, for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross.

A second lieutenant in the 73rd Field Coy., Corps of Royal Engineers, Johnson was 25 years old at the time of the attack which was part of the Battle of Loos.

The citation for his VC was published in in the London Gazette on November 16, 1915. It reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in the attack on Hill 70 on 25 September 1915. Second Lieutenant Johnson was with a section of his company of the Royal Engineers. Although wounded in the leg, he stuck to his duty throughout the attack, led several charges on the German redoubt, and at a very critical time, under very heavy fire, repeatedly rallied the men who were near him. By his splendid example and cool courage he was mainly instrumental in saving the situation and in establishing firmly his part of the position which had been taken. He remained at his post until relieved in the evening.”

Johnson later achieved the rank of major but was killed in action in Bourlon Wood, France, on November 26, 1917.

This photograph, taken earlier this year, shows his name on the Cambrai Memorial to the Missing.

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Bayeux: D-Day & the Battle of Normandy

Bayeux Cemetery
Bayeux Cemetery

As we approach the 70th anniversary of D-Day, here’s a little feature on a place of great focus to veterans on June 6.

Every year a special service of remembrance is held at Bayeux War Cemetery. It is a very moving event.

These photographs were taken two years ago, on June 6, 2012.

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The event was attended by many veterans and their families.

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The cemetery contains 4,144 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 338 of them unidentified. There are also over 500 war graves of other nationalities, the majority German.

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Australian WW1 graves at Pozieres

Pozieres British Cemetery
Pozieres British Cemetery

A selection of photographs taken during a recent visit to Pozieres British Cemetery.

Pozieres is a village about six kilometres north-east of Albert, and the cemetery is a south-west of the village on the north side of the main road (D929) from Albert to Pozieres.

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, the village of Pozieres was attacked on July 23, 1916 by the 1st Australian and 48th (South Midland) Divisions, and was taken on the following day.

It was lost on March 24-25, 1918, during the great German advance, and recaptured by the 17th Division on the following 24 August.

Here are three Australian graves from the cemetery: Privates DB Harford, FB Dowling and L Robinson.

Three Australian graves at Pozieres.
Three Australian graves at Pozieres.

There are 2,760 Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated in this cemetery -1,382 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 23 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. There is also one German soldier buried here.

Lines of graves at Pozieres.
Lines of graves at Pozieres.

This grave contains the remains of Military Medal winner, Private D Cottingham.

D Cottingham MM
D Cottingham MM