Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Getting the record straight

1. Headstone of Rifleman John George Mossop
St John's C. of E. Churchyard, Cleator Moor
2. Headstone of Sapper Peter Doyle, R.E.
St Mary's R.C. Churchyard, Cleator. 
During the course of researching the Allied casualties of WW1 and WW2, over the past few months I have found several of the records seemed to be incorrect or incomplete. This has included the citations of the two casualties from the Cleator Moor area of Cumbria whose headstones are seen in the above photographs: Rifleman John George Mossop (Photograph No 1) and Sapper Peter Doyle (Photograph No 2). 
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New permanent link

Have added a unique record to our permanent links.

Monday, March 16, 2009

“In my Father’s House”

WW2 photograph of my Cousin Elizabeth (Betty) Cowan
(Betty is the WAAF standing up asking a question)
[Family album photograph]

The above photograph from my family album shows my Cousin Betty Cowan standing up asking a question during what I assume is a briefing or training session. Leading Aircraftwoman Elizabeth Cowan, 2096437, WAAF died at home in Whitehaven, Cumberland on 24 October 1945 as a result of what I was told were ‘bomb blast injuries’.

Betty’s name is one of 20 names listed on the WW2 Memorial of St Nicholas’ Church, Whitehaven (Church of England). Beneath the names is the following Biblical quotation:

“In My Father’s house there are many mansions”.

This is a link to the story I posted to the BBC “People’s War” website:
At Rest Her Duty Nobly Done

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Friday, March 13, 2009

“A Paratrooper’s Exploit”

Front cover of a wartime Christian tract by George Skelly MM
George parachuted into Normandy on the night of 5 / 6 June 1944
[Courtesy of Mr Eva Elliott, George’s cousin]

Some years ago while studying the Battle of Normandy of 1944 I came across the story of a Conscientious Objector by the name of George Skelly. Subsequently, George had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), parachuted into Normandy with the Parachute Regiment in the early hours of D-Day and then been awarded the Military Medal for gallantry. George Skelly MM originally came from my hometown of Whitehaven, Cumbria.

This is a link to a previous story I wrote about George Skelly MM and his brother John Skelly for the BBC "People's War" website
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Monday, March 09, 2009

"We must remember!"

Top - Madame Arunka Rajchnudel with her four eldest children
(L-R): Jacqueline, Claudine, Jean-Claude, Mme Rajchnudel, Marcelle

Bottom - Baby Eliane Rajchudel (1 year old)
This family were transported from France to Auschwitz in 1944 and died in the Holocaust
(Original photographs courtesy of the late M. J-P. Nogaret)
The above photographs show a mother and her five children who died in the Gas Chambers of Auschwitz. Madame Arunka Rajchnudel and her children - Jacqueline (10 years old), Claudine (6 years old), Jean-Claude (3 years old), Marcelle (13 years old) and Eliane (1 year old) were killed in the Holocaust because they were of the Jewish faith. There are those who deny there were Gas Chambers in the Nazi Concentration Camps, or at least the scale of what happened. Yet, individuals like Mme Rajchnudel were killed in the most horrific of circumstances as part of 'The Final Solution'. This is something we must always remember.
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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Flying with the wings of Pegasus

Symbol of the British Airborne troops:
Bellepheron astride the winged horse Pegasus
(A romantic symbol from Classical literature)

During 1941 / 1942 Britain made the decision to create an airborne army. The designated Commanding Officer of the 1st Airborne Division was the disciplinarian General Frederick "Boy" Browning, whose wife was the romantic novelist Daphne du Maurier. It was Daphne du Maurier who has been attributed with the suggestion that airborne troops wear the distinguishing red beret and have Bellepheron astride Pegasus the winged horse as their shoulder patch.

General “Boy” Browning was in command of the Airborne Forces during Operation ‘Market Garden’ in September 1944. ‘Market’ was the airborne part of the operation and ‘Garden’ was the ground-based part. In the film about this campaign, “A Bridge Too Far” (based on the book by Cornelius Ryan), General “Boy” Browning was portrayed by the British actor Dirk Bogarde . His wife, Lady Browning (Daphne du Maurier), wrote several books that were later made into films, such as ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

The first dwelling liberated on D-Day, 1944

The Gondrée Café, Bénouville, Calvados
This was the first dwelling liberated on 5 / 6 June 1944
[From the 60th Anniversary commemorations in 2004]
[Personal collection]
Adjacent to the Bénouville Canal bridge on the western side of the Caen Canal, the ‘Gondrée Café’ became the first dwelling in France to be 'liberated' from German Occupation on the night of 5 / 6 June 1944. The precise time of its liberation by airborne troops from the 2nd Battalion (Oxford and Buckinghamshire) Light Infantry Regiment is generally regarded as 00:20 local time (British time was one hour behind).

The first French municipality liberated is generally regarded as that of nearby Ranville on the eastern side of the Orne River. Ranville Town Hall was liberated at about 02.30 local time.
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French 'Refractaires' in WW2

(Top) Cover of 'Mémoires d'un Réfractaire' by M. J.-P. Nogaret
[A personal account of a French 'Refractaire' in WW2]

(Bottom) Personal dedication from M J.-P. Nogaret
(Personal collection of J. Ritson)
In France during the Second World War those Frenchmen who actively avoid the compulsory draft of being sent to undertake civilian work in Germany became known as 'réfractaires'. There is no real equivalent word in English (except perhaps to drop the 'é'). Refractaires were not the same as 'résistants' (members of the active French resistance) although many did actually join resistance groups.

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'Pegasus Bridge', D-Day, 6 June 1944

This is me standing beside the modern 'Pegasus Bridge', Bénouville
[Personal photograph collection]

The first company to go into action in 'Operation Overlord' (the Allied invasion of N.W. Europe) on D-Day, 6 June 1944 was D Company, 2 (Airborne) Battalion, Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment (Ox and Bucks). Their specific role was a 'coup de main' action to take, and hold until relieved, the Bénouville bridge over the Caen Canal and the Ranville Bridge over the River Orne in the French Calvados department.

The canal bridge was later renamed ‘Pegasus Bridge’ in honour of the 6th Airborne Division, whose insignia was Bellepheron astride Pegasus the winged horse (from Classical Mythology). Although the 1944 bridge has been replaced, the present bridge is still known as ‘Pegasus Bridge’. This is the one seen in the background of the above photograph.

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