Thursday, May 19, 2011

ARP Warden Thomas C. Graham


1. The main road at Distington, Cunbria
(Between Workington and Whitehaven)
[Where Thomas Graham was injured on 8/9 September 1940]

2. Whitehaven Castle, Cumbria
(Used as a hospital during WW2)
[Thomas Graham died here on 10 October 1940]

3. Distington Parish Church (Church of England)
[Thomas Graham's funeral service took place here]

4. ARP Warden Thomas Graham's Headstone
[Located in Distington Churchyard]

For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) Thomas C. Graham and the Distington A.R.P. service

This article has been written as a tribute to A.R.P. Warden Thomas C. Graham of Distington, Cumberland (now Cumbria), a civilian casualty of WW2. Warden Graham died on 10 October 1940 as a result of injuries sustained while on A.R.P. duty on the night of 8 - 9 September 1940. At the time of his death, Thomas Graham was 43 years old.

Originally from the Cumbrian town of Wigton, WW2 Warden Thomas Charles Graham of the Distington A.R.P. was the son of Mr and Mrs John Graham. Having enlisted the army at the age of 18 Thomas Graham served throughout the 1914 - 1918 war. In 1921 he married Miss Ethel Brown. The new Mr and Mrs Thomas Graham made their family home in the West Cumbrian village of Distington at 6 Kilnside.

Distington is approximately midway between the towns of Workington and Whitehaven. The main road between Workington and Whitehaven runs through Distington, and this fact would be significant in what happened to Warden Thomas Graham one dark night in early September 1940.

Before WW2 Thomas Graham worked as a carpenter for the Distington firm of Myers & Bowmans. As an ex-serviceman, Thomas Graham joined the Distington Royal British Legion and became treasurer. He also helped with the local football club. Thomas Graham was a member of the Church of England and in addition to being a regular church-goer, he was also fulfilled the role of sidesman at Distington Parish Church.

The Air Raid Patrol service (A.R.P.) was formed before WW2. With the increasing likelihood of war local A.R.P. groups were formed in towns and villages throughout the U.K. At Distington, the local A.R.P. was formed by Reverend Charles Warren, the rector of Distington Parish Church (Church of the Holy Spirit). Among those who joined the Distington A.R.P. was Thomas C. Graham. Wartime HQ for Distington A.R.P. was approximately in the middle of the village at No 56 Main Street.

Sunday, 05 June, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(2) 'Cromwell' weekend (September 1940)

(a) Saturday, 7 September 1940: 'Cromwell':

Just after 8 o'clock on Saturday 7 September 1940 the British Chiefs of Staff issued the significant codeword 'CROMWELL'. What led the Chiefs of Staff to issue this codeword that put the Home Defence on standby alert that an invasion might be imminent? Firstly, British reconnaissance aircraft had spotted 'unusual activity' in the Channel. Secondly, information obtained from captured German agents made them think an invasion force was going to cross the Channel. Thirdly, three days before - on Wednesday 4 September - the German Chancellor Adolph Hitler had addressed a rally of women nurses and social workers in Berlin promising an invasion of Britain.

Although the issue of 'Cromwell' did not necessarily mean there was going to be an invasion, many of the forces receiving the alert believed - incorrectly as it turned out - that the expected invasion was actually taking place. In any case German bombers arrived to bomb targets on the British mainland. Whilst it is true that the targets were mainly of a military nature nevertheless many civilians were also bombed.

At 5.00 pm on this glorious late summer day German planes made a mass attack on London's East End. In his 1976 work 'The Home Front' the eminent British social historian Arthur Marwick (Open University) put this into context: "Civilians were now right bang in the middle of the war."

The whole of Britain was effectively in the Front Line of a new kind of war. Among the 'front line' troops at this time were the volunteer civilians in the NFS, ARP, Home Guard etc. The usual occupations of the civilians in the front line reflected the communities they lived in. In the Cumbrian village of Distington among the ARP Wardens on duty over this weekend were Thomas C. Graham (a carpenter) and John Davey (a retired farmer).

After dark, when the blackout was in force, a chink of light was reported from a house on the outskirts of the village at Belle Vue to the south of the village. With the expectation of German bombers and possibly paratroopers in the skies above any light showing was particularly serious. The wardens went round the village checking for this and any other lights that were showing.

Nevertheless, not everyone was sufficiently distracted to let the turn of events prevent them from their own personal affairs. According to evidence given later to the coroner at the inquest into Mr Graham's death, on this night of high tension two men from Whitehaven (about 4 miles / 6 kms) south of Distington drove to the nearby town of Workington on 'important business'. At Workington they met two women. This was the 'important business' for which they had travelled to Workington. Although the two men did not learn the names of these women, before leaving Workington on the night of the 7th / 8th September they made arrangements to meet up with the women again on the following night.

Sunday, 05 June, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(b) Sunday night 8 September 1940

Following nightfall on the night of 8 - 9 September, like most other British people the ARP wardens at Distington remained vigilant for a possible German invasion. Thomas Graham and John Davey were again on duty. In the dark of the night the wardens were on the lookout for unobscured lights. Close to midnight Mr Graham and Mr Davey set out in the dark from the ARP headquarters along the main road to go towards the house at Belle Vue where the light was reported to have been seen the previous night.

After crossing the road near the Black Cock Inn the two wardens then heard the sound of a motor car behind them heading in the direction of Whitehaven. Warden John Davey shouted out a warning to his colleague. But the car struck Mr Graham who was dragged along the road for some distance despite the car driver applying the brakes. Mr Davey was knocked against the roadside wall but not seriously injured. Mr Graham received a number of injuries - a compound fracture of the right leg (with the bone intruding) and what were later described as 'shocking' head injuries. Mr Graham subsequently died as a result of his injuries.

After hitting the two ARP wardens the car driver stopped and went to the local doctor's to call for help. Arrangements were made to take Thomas Graham to the local Whitehaven and West Cumberland Hospital at Whitehaven. A local policeman was also called - P.C. Lowther who also gave evidence at the later inquest. The car driver was from Whitehaven and the car lights were properly masked for the blackout. The driver said he had been to Workington 'on business'.

There was no suggestion that the driver was anything but sober. On the other hand P.C. Lowther's evidence indicated the male passenger he saw on the night of the accident had been drinking rather heavily although the car driver would not say this passenger had been drinking. P.C. Lowther had not seen any other passengers, nor was he told on the night of the accident there had been any other passengers. What 'important business' had led the two men from Whitehaven to make a return journey to Workington during the blackout on a night when many people in the country were expecting an imminent German invasion? They had met up with the two women and at the time the car struck the two ARP wardens at Distington they were being taken to Whitehaven. While the car driver went for the doctor the two women must have got out of the car and were not seen again. The car driver and his friend still did not know the names of their women companions.

Sunday, 05 June, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(3) Subsequent events

Thomas Graham was taken to the Whitehaven and West Cumberland Hospital, then housed in Whitehaven Castle on of the former homes of the Earls of Lonsdale. Initially Mr Graham made progress. On the twelfth day in hospital Mr Graham' s health started to deteriorate and he died on Thursday 10 October 1940. The cause of death was given as 'septic absorption'.

The inquest was held at Whitehaven on Friday evening, 11 October 1940, with the Coroner for West Cumberland, Mr D.J. Mason, presiding. The coroner was somewhat doubtful about some of the evidence given by the car driver, particularly that the car was travelling at only 10 - 15 m.p.h. (c. 16 - 18 km / h). Mr Mason was also rather scathing about the reasons the car driver and his male friend were making a car journey while the blackout was in force.

This is part of Mr Mason's comments on the matter:

"There is no doubt as to the cause of death. It was septicaemia set up by the head and other injuries which Mr Graham suffered on the night of the accident.

I will find that it was an accident. It was rather a pity that Mr Graham should have been walking on the near side of the road in the blackout. But, on the other hand, it is difficult to believe that a motorist, travelling at 10 to 15 miles an hour should not be able to pull up at once.

Unless there is good reason for people to travel at night in the blackout I think it is better to avoid it. It is a pity that people travel abroad in the blackout merely on pleasure bent."

On the other hand, only the highest tributes were given about ARP Warden Thomas Graham, including his army record in the 1914 - 1918 war and his voluntary work for the Distington British Legion and football and as a sidesman at the local parish church. Colonel P.D.C. Johnstone, Chief ARP Warden for the Ennerdale Rural District of Cumberland, on behalf of the Cumberland County and local ARP services expressed sympathy with Mr Graham's relatives. It was a pity that Mr Graham should have been killed while doing voluntary work of national importance. The Coroner, the police and the legal representatives of Mr Graham's family and the car driver all associated themselves with this sentiment. The Coroner then released the order for Mr Graham to be buried.

Mr Graham's funeral took place at Distington Parish Church (Church of the Holy Spirit) on Saturday 12 October 1940. The local newspaper, 'The Whitehaven News', reported that this was one of the largest funerals ever seen in the village. Colonel Johnstone led more than 20 members of the ARP service through the village to the parish church. Behind them were the men of the local Home Guard as well as representatives of the other services and local villagers. Mr Graham's coffin was draped with the Union Jack and many floral tributes had been sent. .

When the funeral cortege reached the churchyard Mr Graham's coffin was borne into the church by four ARP wardens: Messrs. H. Nicholson, O. Burns, J. Murray and R. Clark. The funeral service was taken by Reverend Charles J. Warren, B.A., Rector of Distington Parish. Mr H. Stalker played the organ during the service and Mr T. Crookdale (Head Warden for Distington) read the lesson. After the church service, the coffin was borne from the church to the churchyard by 4 work colleagues: Messrs. J. Slater, J. McCartney, C. Kane and W. Messenger. At the graveside the 'Last Post' was sounded by Bugler J. Bell of Distington Home Guard.

Sunday, 05 June, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(4) In Remembrance

Mr Graham was survived by his widow, Ethel, and four surviving children. After the war, Mr Graham's name was added to the Distington village war memorial along with the WW2 service casualties from the village. Because Thomas C. Graham died as a result of his ARP civilian service during the war he is also commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. However, because Mr Graham died in the hospital at Whitehaven the CWGC citation mentions his place of death (Whitehaven). The Commission does not give a grave reference or where Mr Graham is buried as usually happens for service casualties. Mr Graham's grave is marked by a private headstone rather than one of the standard CWGC headstones.

This is the CWGC citation for Thomas Charles Graham:

"In Memory of Civilian THOMAS C GRAHAM
Civilian War Dead who died on 10 October 1940.

Air Raid Warden of 6 Kilnside, Distington.
Husband of E. Graham.
Injured 8 September 1940, at Distington.
Died at Whitehaven and West Cumberland Hospital.

Commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission"

The epitaph on Mr Graham's headstone in Distington Churchyard reads as follows:

"In loving memory of
Beloved husband of

Died October 10th 1940
Aged 43 years"

(5) Acknowledgements:

1. Mr Jeff Wilson,
Author of 'West Cumberland at War'
and a Distington resident
(Jeff's house is the one at Belle Vue that was allegegedly showing a light on 7 September 1940).

2. 'The Whitehaven News'

3. Cumbria County Archives & Local Studies Library

4. Distington Parish (Church of the Holy Spirit)

[NB: The name of the car driver - who was a married man - has not been mentioned in this article. What his wife said or thought about her husband's activities on the two nights in question in September 1940 are not known].


Sunday, 05 June, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

To see photographs of the Black Cock Inn and ARP Warden Thomas C. Graham's name on Distington War Memorial Click here

Monday, 06 June, 2011  

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