My father, Walter Mansey, was in the First World War. He was invalided out after being gassed in the battle at Ypres (Wipes as the soldiers called it) of course, we now realise the gassing probably saved his life. He was one of the temporarily blinded soldiers who walked to safety with one arm on the shoulder of the soldier in front. I have been to Ypres and have seen the trenches and the awful conditions the men fought under – horrific! My going was in the tradition of my father, who, whilst he seldom spoke of his experiences, was keen for his children to understand the horrors of war. To this end he never hid from us the shocking events of World War Two. I would have been 8 or 9 at the time and we then lived on Harvey Road, Alvaston, Derby. My father took us all out one night and told us to look up the road; on the horizon was a great glow of light. He said ‘that is Coventry on fire’. From Coventry to Alvaston the horror of bombing, burning and death was laid upon us. Speaking for all his children, we never forgot.
I joined the military in September 1939 at the age of twenty. I was in the desert at the end of 1940 in time for the Italian War. After a ‘forced march’ of 36 hours non-stop we captured over 50,000 Italian and German prisoners. Later, I was wounded, captured and taken to a German A.D.S. (Advanced Dressing Station) where I received excellent treatment by a German Surgeon. I was sent to Benghazi Hospital. Our chaps were pushing west again and I was taken from the hospital and joined other prisoners in a cargo boat, two holds down. The German and Italian troops on the boat ostensibly going on leave. Halfway across the Mediterranean we were hit by 2 torpedoes. I miraculously managed to escape from the hold, by climbing up a rope of a hatch tarpaulin, and dived into the sea which was full of fuel oil. The boat sank within minutes. Buoyant deck cargo floated off the boat and I was able to scramble on top, together with German and Italian Military clinging around the sides. I must have been there for about 48 hours, or even longer. Everyone died of their wounds or exhaustion except for me. I landed on the southern tip of Greece virtually unconscious and eventually received help from a Greek farmer. My skin was completely saturated by oil and it took almost a year to rid myself of it.
The story is quite simply a love story between two ordinary working class people set against the backdrop of World War II, unremarkable and similar to a thousand others that took place during that period. What is different is that Eric chose, years later, to commit his memories to paper. When he did this we do not know nor do we know why the manuscript remained hidden until it was found by his wife after his death, when, by his own words this "memorandum of memories" was meant to be read by Ann and himself. Perhaps he had just forgotten that he had written it and it remained out of sight for all of those years, as you can imagine it was very emotional for Ann to read it for the first time and it remained one of her most treasured possessions until her death in 2006.
Wars have come and gone, technology, fashion, music, ideals etc. have all changed since that era but was had remained is that soldiers have and will continue to fall in love and then, somewhere, sometime go off to war.
ROBERT HAMILTON RUSSELL McAUSLAND was born in June 1896 and lived in Derby with his parents.
Local newspaper report shows that he joined a "Comrades Corps" in 1914 which was merged with the 13th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derbyshire Regiment) and were quartered at Normanton Barracks, Derby. At some point he became part of the 5th Reserve Battalion, Sherwood Foresters as there is a newspaper report in 1916 showing that he was arrested for being absent without leave, brought before the court and handed over to military escorts.
Robert (Bert) was killed in action near Ypres in July 1917 whilst serving with the 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters. Twelve of his comrades from the 9th Battalion were also killed in the same month.
Captain George Kirkup talks about his time in Italy during the Battle of Monte Cassino. He said: “A walk with the mule-train along the ‘mad mile’, a rough road directly beneath the monastery walls, was an experience I will never forget. I delivered some cakes to forward troops and had a word with casualties waiting to be carried back down the line. Here I first heard the guns called ‘sobbing sisters’ or ‘moaning minnies’. Flares lit up the sky and snipers aimed at our convey, and yet the morale of the men was significant.
The impact of war on the lives of children, usually the innocent victims of appalling adult actions and exploitation, touches all of us who hold any degree of humanity. This piece reflects on evacuation in World War Two and how it affected the lives of young people.
According to the diary of John Robert Sherratt, who lived in Hartington throughout his life, 1900-1977, children were being evacuated from Salford to the village on 1 September 1939, two days before Great Britain declared war on Germany. It is not easy for subsequent generations to imagine how a child must have felt moving from noisy, heavily industrialised cities like Salford to the quiet of a rural farming location like Hartington, let alone the trauma of suddenly being separated from home and family. It must have been as equally traumatic for parents, entrusting young sons and daughters to completely unknown guardians, and it was not uncommon for parents to ‘reclaim’ children after just a few weeks and take them back home. Parents nowadays find it hard to imagine the sudden enforced removal of their children.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939 I was living in Leigh-On-Sea alongside the River Thames in Essex. On June 2nd 1940 (I was 10 years old) all of the children in that area were evacuated. When we waved goodbye to our parents outside our school we had no idea when we would see them again or where we were going.
We were only allowed to take a change of clothes, our gas masks and sandwiches – no drinks. We also had a label round our necks with our name on.
My brother and I were very fortunate with our foster parents. We lived next door to each other in cottages in Bradbourne, Derbyshire. I can remember the German bombers going over Leigh-On-Sea to bomb London.
Yvonne Grimbly (L’enfant)
On the nights of 23rd and 24th August 1943 a Halifax heavy British bomber set off from 78 Squadron RAF Breighton near York to bomb Berlin along with hundreds of other bombers from its own and other squadrons.
On the way one of the four engines malfunctioned but the crew decided as one to continue their mission with 3 engines.
On arrival at Berlin the whole city was ablaze and there was no hiding place from the German night fighters and the radar controlled AA guns especially at only 9000 feet.
Despite many aerial encounters the crew carried out their mission and started to return home.
Over the Dutch coast a night fighter bomber a Junker 88 attacked them but was shot down by the Halifax. The Halifax continued over the North Sea however with a second engine failure on the same side. The plane crashed into the sea 64 miles from Cromer. Only four of the crew were thrown clear and the rest went down into the depths with the plane. Sixteen hours later the four were rescued but only one, the mid-upper gunner, survived. My father was one of those who later died in the rescue boat – he was the oldest of the crew at 29 years of age.
This story was all too common and typical – almost 1 in 2 RAF personnel were killed.
Like most young men he didn’t think that he would be an unlucky one; and despite the Squadron padre’s exhortations my father did not inform my mother that he was on open active service. My mother had thought my father was still in training as a navigator but he didn’t want to worry her as I was only 11 months old.
Obviously, when she received the official ‘killed in action’ telegram from the RAF the shock was profound, and the effects remained with her all her life. She never remarried and raised me as a single parent.
My mother saved their wartime letters which were very romantic and touching. One such letter revealed that my father had played tennis for the squadron against Fred Perry, the Wimbledon champion, and won! He wrote of watching films that made him more home sick, of missing me and of her having to work with old fogies!
Many families experienced such losses at that time, but it would have been nice to at least have heard my father’s voice, just once.
By Michael Rowen
John Edward Thomas, known as Jack to his friends and family, enlisted with the Territorial Army just after his 17th birthday in 1935. He attended a training camp at Redcar in 1936.
Jack was called up a year before war broke out despite having a reserved occupation with the railway. He spent the war in Tripoli, Egypt and Aden. At the end of the war he was pleased to hear he had a home posting but was very disappointed to find out it was to Northern Ireland.
When Jack eventually returned to Derby, life was anything but peaceful. He had to fight to regain his old job at the railway and his marriage ended as his wife had an affair with a soldier whilst Jack was away.
Later Jack met and married my mother, Joan, and they were happily married for many years.
By John Thomas
In December 1939 Alan Alfred Whitehead married his childhood sweetheart Beryl Violet Whitehead. Five months later, in May 1940, Alan was “called up”. He wanted to join the Navy but he was told that because of his Grammar School education and his ability to drive a car he should join the Tank Corp. After demonstrating his patient manner and impressive driving skills he was asked to be a driving instructor and became a Corporal in the Training Regiment training Tank Corps recruits at Farnborough.
In 1942, whilst demonstrating schedules to visiting Officers, Alan let it slip that he had done the planning for the event, not his Captain. His Captain overheard this comment and ordered an instant transfer for Alan. The next day Alan was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and posted to Sandhurst to train Officers - his Captain was not impressed.
At Sandhurst, Officer Cadets were addressed as “Sir” and the Training Sergeants were addressed as “Staff”. Gunnery practise took place on Salisbury Plain. One of Alan’s jobs was to collect the empty shell cases at the end of the days firing practise. On one occasion a shell had miss fired and as the Sergeants were loading it onto the truck it exploded. Alan sustained injuries from shrapnel in his arm and his colleague sustained a broken leg. Alan spent the night in a nearby American Army hospital. The shrapnel was removed and Alan commented that he “didn’t feel a thing!”
Every week at Sandhurst there was a passing out parade for the Cadets and dignitaries often attended to watch displays and demonstrations of the equipment. These dignitaries included Churchill, Princess Elizabeth, Eisenhower and Montgomery. On one occasion, when Montgomery was visiting, Alan took the role of Instructor and some of his Sergeant colleagues pretended to be Cadets, to ensure that they put on a good show. Unfortunately, Monty saw through it and said; “Good show, but you couldn’t do that with real Cadets.”
Alan stayed at Sandhurst training Tank Corps Cadets for the remainder of the Second World War.
In later life Alan spoke about the desire he’d had as a young man to be a Priest in the Church of England but, he said, the war got in the way. When he returned home to his wife Beryl and their young son, Brian, he discovered that Beryl was struggling with nervousness and depression. She had found it stressful being a young mother with her husband away.
Realising that Beryl was struggling Alan put his vocation to the Priesthood to one side and took a job with the Co-op and ended up as Secretary of the North East Cooperative Society and was joint leader with the General Manager.
Alan spoke about sometimes feeling embarrassed that he hadn’t been a “proper soldier”. Although he took great pride in his role training Cadets, but he was well aware that many of them would never return home again once they had passed out and left Sandhurst to fight on foreign shores.
On Remembrance Sunday, 2011 Alan’s grandson had a chance meeting with a man who had been in the Tank Corps and remembered being trained by Alan on Salisbury Plain. Although the two old Tank Drivers never met, they were both pleased to hear stories about each other after so many years.
Alan’s life changed when he was called up to serve his King and Country in the Second World War. He sacrificed his vocation to the Priesthood to deal with the effects of war on his wife - and he did a good job - blessed with good physical health, Alan and Beryl celebrated their 70th Wedding Anniversary in December 2009.
Throughout his life Alan remained devoted to his family and to the Church of England. Although he never achieved his own dream to be ordained his son Brian is a Lay Reader in Durham Diocese and his Grand-daughter (in-law) is an ordained Priest in Derby Diocese.
R.I.P. Sergeant Alan Alfred Whitehead; Tank Driving Instructor, husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather and ALWAYS a Priest at heart.
By Chris Whitehead