Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"How sleep the brave"

(Top): Mildred Warner (Washington) Gale Memorial
(Grandmother of George Washington, 1st USA President)
[Located in St Nicholas' Church Gardens, Whitehaven]

(Bottom): Headstone of First Officer George Washington Holcomb, A.T.A. (Died 27 March 1941)
[Whitehaven Cemetery, Cumberland (now Cumbria)]

First Officer George Washington Holcomb, Air Transport Auxiliary, is interred in Whitehaven Cemetery, Cumbria. The headstone is inscribed with a quotation from William Collins' 1746 poem "How Sleep The Brave".

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

Ferry Pilot George Washington Holcomb, an American, died in service in his 32nd year on 27 March 1941 at "Tomlin", St Bees, Cumberland (now Cumbria). He was serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.). First Officer Holcomb was the son of William Henry and Bessie Mae Holcomb and the husband of Lena Holcomb of Miami, Florida, U.S.A. His body was taken to the nearby town of Whitehaven until the funeral arrangements were made. First Officer Holcomb was interred in Whitehaven Cemetery (St Bees Road) on 2 April 1941 (Grave Ref. 6 / E / 296). The ceremony was performed by Rev. H.E.W. Thurnham, R.A.F.V.R.

Nothing appeared in the local press at the time about First Officer Holcomb's death, nor does his name appear on the WW2 'Roll of Honour' for either St Bees (where he died) or Whitehaven (where he was buried). During the war reports of any deaths or accidents that might assist the enemy forces were kept quiet. The above information, such as it is, largely comes from the Whitehaven Cemetery Burial Register.

The A.T.A. was a WW2 civilian organisation that worked for and with the R.A.F. One high profile role undertaken by the A.T.A. pilots was transporting many of the newly-built military aircraft from the factories to the Maintenance Units (MUs) of the R.A.F. where weapons and other accessories would be fixed, airfields and between any other places where aircraft needed transferring. The A.T.A. pilots had a vitally important role, particularly in the 'Spitfire summer' of 1940. Skilled and experienced pilots were at a premium at this time for the defence of Britain against the German Luftwaffe. In effect, the A.T.A. pilots, such as First Officer George W. Holcomb, relieved the combat pilots of the RAF from transport duties. The R.A.F. pilots were therefore free to concentrate on combat duties.

Pilots recruited to the A.T.A. included those who could pilot aircraft but unfit for combat service for various reasons, such as age or infirmity, or being a national of a neutral power (which included the USA until December 1941). The A.T.A. also had a number of high-profile women pilots.

Although originally written in 1746 about the Jacobite Rebellion, "How Sleep the Brave" by William Collins became a well known poem in the 18th Century. It was often quoted in honour of the American heroes of the War of Independence. George Washington Holcomb was evidently named after George Washington - first President of the United States - whose paternal grandmother - Mildred Warner (Washington) Gale [1671 - 1701] - is also buried at Whitehaven (St Nicholas' Churchyard).

There are two memorials for Mildred Gale in Whitehaven: one in St Nicholas' Church Gardens (the one shown in the photograph above) and one inside the St Nicholas' Church tower. The Mildred Gale memorial inside the tower was unveiled by Lady Nancy Astor, who was reputed to have referred to the British forces serving in Italy in 1944 as "The D-Day Dodgers". The principal reason Lady Astor was asked to unveil this memorial was because, like Mildred Gale, she had been born in Virginia.

The choice of the first line of "How Sleep the Brave" to be written on the headstone of First Officer Holcomb was particularly appropriate for a fallen American hero of WW2 laid to rest at Whitehaven. One can envisage "How Sleep the Brave" being read out at the graveside when First Officer Holcomb was buried.
George Washington Holcomb (First Officer, A.T.A.)
Remember and honour this hero who gave his life, not just for his own country but also for the greater cause of Freedom

Thursday, 21 April, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

This is the full text of "How Sleep the Brave"
"How Sleep the Brave"
(By William Collins, 1746)

How sleep the brave, who sink to rest
By all their country's wishes blest!
When Spring, with dewy fingers cold,
Returns to deck their hallow'd mould,
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than Fancy's feet have ever trod.

By fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung;
There Honour comes, a pilgrim gray,
To bless the turf that wraps their clay;
And Freedom shall awhile repair
To dwell a weeping hermit there!

Air crash at "Tomlin" near St Bees Head

Although it was not reported in the local or national press at the time, First Officer George W. Holcomb met his death while he was ferrying an aircraft between Woodley in southern England to Prestwick, Scotland. The aircraft flew into the hillside at "Tomlin" near St Bees Head due to low cloud.

The crash site was just inland from the cliffs of St Bees Head, not far from St Bees Lighthouse. The cliffs rise steeply from sea level, and locals know this area to be a notoriously foggy location. Often there is thick fog (or sea mist) in this vicinity while elsewhere it is clear. Basically, it was a dreadfully tragic accident. There were many accidental air crashes in Cumbria during WW2, many leading to the loss of life.

Further reading about air crashes in Cumbria:

Hurst, Michael J. (1997), 'Air Crashes in the Lake District 1936 - 1976',
Crowood Press Ltd, Marlborough, Wilts.
(ISBN 1 85310 874 X).

Thursday, 21 April, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

To see a photograph of Mildred Washington Gale's memorial tablet located inside St Nicholas' Church Tower (referred to above) click on the following link:

Lady Nancy Astor WW2 & afterwards

[This article also mentions Lady Nancy Astor, the unveiling of the Mildred Gale Memorial in 1955 and Lady Astor's 'notoriety' among the "D-Day Dodgers" of WW2].

Friday, 22 July, 2011  

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