Sunday, July 30, 2006

One of the memorable stories I came across for the BBC “People’s War” project

This is a photograph of Squadron Leader John Edward Blair DFC DFM (known to family and friends as Jack). Jack and five of his RAF crewmates died while returning from a mission to Duisburg in May 1944. They were buried with the greatest respect by the villagers at Molenaarsgraaf, Netherlands, the nearest village to where their aircraft crashed. That remains their final resting place, with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission providing headstones after the war.

In addition to Jack Blair, the other five airmen who were buried at Molenaarsgraaf were: Sergeant J.T.E. McCaffery, Flight Sergeant E.E.E. Roberts and Flight Sergeant R.G. Watts. One of the crew, Flight Sergeant William Ward, was thrown out of the aircraft before it crashed and landed alive, but wounded, with the aid of his parachute.

While acting as a volunteer for the BBC CSV Action Desks to post stories to the “People’s War” website, I came across the wartime history of Jack Blair and his comrades and made five separate postings. A few months after the “People’s War” project ended, I was contacted via the BBC WW2 “Message Board” by a Dutch local historian, Mr Arjan Wemmers, about the stories I had written I had posted concerning the airmen who had died at Molenaarsgraaf during the night of 21 / 22 May 1944.

Mr Wemmers was able to provide me with some additional material that I have subsequently passed on to the surviving relatives of Jack Blair, who come from my home area of West Cumbria. With the Blair family’s permission, I have placed a file of documents, letters and photographs in the Cumbria County Archives for use by other researchers.

I was recently asked by the BBC CSV Action Desk for one memorable story I had come across while I was a volunteer for the “People’s War” project, and I selected the story of Jack Blair and his comrades. I felt this was amongst the most remarkable accounts of WW2 that I had come across. For further information about what I told the BBC, click on ‘Comments’ below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

When I was asked by the BBC CSV Action Desk if there was one memorable wartime story that had stood out for me during my time as a volunteer story-gatherer, this is what I said:

« One of the memorable wartime stories I wrote for the BBC ‘People’s War’ concerned Squadron Leader Jack Blair DFC DFM from Egremont. As an Air Gunner in the RAF during WW2 Jack Blair had a virtually unequalled service record and became one of the RAF’s best known and most highly decorated servicemen before being lost in action while on an important mission in May 1944.

With the help of Jack Blair’s family, members of Egremont British Legion and a WW2 Site Helper with the ‘‘People’s War’’ (Ross McNeil) I was eventually able to post the wartime story of Jack Blair and his family to the BBC website. In addition, with the family’s permission, I was able to donate some documents and photographs to the Cumbria County Archives for use by other researchers.

The ‘‘People’s War’’ stories are read by people from all over the world, not just Cumbria or Britain. A few weeks after posting the stories about Jack Blair, a Dutch local historian by the name of Mr Arjan Wemmers from the area where Jack Blair and five of his crewmates are buried, contacted me after reading the ‘‘People’s War’’ articles I had written.

Arjan had been trying to find out about Jack Blair and the other aircrew buried in the village and had come across the ‘‘People’s War’’ stories. Subsequently, Arjan sent me some additional information that I was able to pass on to Jack’s son, Mr Eddie Blair. As a result of becoming a volunteer story gatherer for the BBC CSV Action Desk the wartime story of Jack Blair and his comrades is more widely known in their homeland and also in the land where they were laid to rest. In the Netherlands as well as in Britain these airmen are still honoured for their sacrifice in the cause of Liberty».

J. Ritson
July 2006

Sunday, 30 July, 2006  

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