musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: World War 2

Loving Liverpool (5) Birkenhead

Continuing where we left off… 

It was now day two of my Liverpool trip and outside all was grey and gloomy and I was at a momentary loss as to what to do with myself. While researching my navigation I discovered that Liverpool was also home to “U-534“,  a Type IXC/40 U-boat from World War II. She had been raised on 23 August 1993 by the Dutch salvage company Smit Tak  after being undiscovered for nearly 41 years. She now formed the nucleus of the U-Boat Story museum at the Woodside Ferry Terminal in Birkenhead, which, was a short train journey underneath the Mersey. You can see the dismembered U-Boat in the image below.

Woodside ferry terminal

I actually did not use my brains when I decided to hop the train across the river, for starters I was at least 2 hours too early, and secondly I could visit the museum free if I bought a ticket for the river cruise on the ferry.  With the clouds hanging over my head I picked up the underground at Lime Street and headed to Hamilton Square Station in Birkenhead.

Hamilton Square Station

It was chilly too, and I regretted not bringing my jacket with.  I also regretted missing the lift and hoofing up an infinite number of stairs to get out of the station. 

The promenade, U-Boat Story and Waterside Ferry Terminal were about a block away. A quick walk and I was there, but everything was closed and not a soul was in sight. It was only 8.15, why was everything closed? It was very depressing indeed. The only item that looked reasonably interesting was a replica of the Victorian submarine “Resurgam

The original ill fated vessel met its end in Liverpool Bay off Rhyl on 25 February 1880 while en route for Portsmouth. How successful it may have been as a functioning submarine is not noted. However, the information plaque records that she did sail and submerge successfully. 

At the waters edge I discovered that not only was the tide out, but there was actually a ship alongside at the ferry landing on my side of the river! Huzzah! let’s go have a look!

She was busy loading and there was no way of knowing when she would sail and of course I was on the wrong side of the river to get a proper look at her (for the record she was the Stena Mersey).  And, to my amazement a movement on my right revealed a tanker running light outbound.

I idled along checking my watch. The first ferry to Woodside was destined to arrive at 10H30 and  the museum only opened at 10H30 and it was only 8.20! I had a decision to make because nothing was happening here. Looming next to the terminal were the segments of U-534 and I peered at them through the fence with interest. 

I really wanted to see this exhibition so I either had to hang around till opening time, or head back to the other river bank and come across with the ferry after 10H30. 

There were a few other surprises on this short stretch of river bank. 

The Birkenhead Monument.

The HMS Birkenhead is one of those definitive shipwrecks that litter the pages of history, and especially early South African History, as she foundered after colliding with an uncharted rock near Danger Point (today near Gansbaai, Western Cape) on  26 February 1852. The sinking of the Birkenhead is the earliest maritime disaster evacuation during which the concept of “women and children first” is known to have been applied. There were of the approximately 643 people on board the ill fated vessel of which only 193 were saved. 

The memorial was unveiled on 5 March 2014

The HMS Thetis Memorial.

A bit further along the promenade I found a memorial to the men lost in the sinking of HMS Thetis on 1 June 1939. I recall reading the story of the disaster and unsuccessful attempts to rescue the men trapped inside her, and it was really one of those disasters that could have been prevented.

Ninety-nine lives were lost in the incident: 51 crew members, 26 Cammell Laird employees, 8 other naval officers, 7 Admiralty overseeing officers, 4 Vickers-Armstrong employees, 2 caterers and a Mersey pilot.

Thetis was successfully salvaged and repaired, being commissioned in 1940 as HMS Thunderbolt but was sunk by depth charges by the Italian corvette Cicogna on 14 March 1943 off Sicily.  All hands were lost and Thunderbolt settled to the bottom in 1,350 m of water.

She is listed on the Submarine Memorial at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

It was time for me to head back to the other bank of the river. The ferry was currently running 10 minutes trips across the Mersey between the terminal in Liverpool and Seacombe/Wallasy and if I arrived too early I would ride her up and down until I got tired. The round trip on the “River Explorer Cruise” runs from Pier Head Ferry Terminal to Seacombe Ferry Terminal, Wirral and then to Woodside Ferry Terminal, Wirral where the U-boat Story was and then back to the pier head. It was a 50 minute hop off and hop on trip and I intended to climb off at Woodside, check the exhibition and then reboard at 11H30 to return to the starting place.

However, I am going to skip the ferry trip in this post as I really want to do a post about the ferry separately so this one will deal with my visit to U-534. (the ferry is dealt with in Loving Liverpool (6) Having bought a River Explorer ticket I was entitled to free entry to the exhibition and I had allocated enough time to grab the ferry back at 11H30, although I was equally prepared to catch the next one at 12H30 too, although it would be much more crowded on that trip. There were not too many of us at the museum at that awful time, and I headed directly for the vessel instead of pausing at the exhibits in the hall. The submarine had been sawn into 4 parts, with the conning tower balanced between two of them. Each sawn end had been “sealed” with a transparent bulkhead that allowed you to see inside it.

I am however ambivalent about what was done because they really sliced up an intact (albeit rusty) U-Boat, but it did allow for a limited view of the interior of a U-Boat. The limitations of what they did were several: the biggest being that you could only really see a jumble of badly rusted machinery but nothing that lay beyond roughly 2 metres away. The state of the transparent bulkheads did leave much to be desired because they were badly smeared and I would have thought that they would been cleaned every morning before the exhibition opened. In some sections the machinery was also covered in pigeon crap! and if a pigeon can get in then so can the rain.     

But, those slices were fascinating to see, and while there were cross section explanations that marked certain components it was not always easy to understand what you were seeing. The vessel was full of water for over 40 years so the interiors are badly rusted, and the few wooden parts that I saw were rotten and there was a certain eeriness about that interior. I recall reading a book called “The Night Boat” by Robert R McCammon many years ago, and it was about a submarine full of zombies, and what I was seeing looked very much liked what I imagined that literary submarine looked like (although without the zombies and pigeons). I am not going to even try explain the images because it is beyond me.

It was fascinating to say the least. What really amazed me was how they squeezed so much machinery into such a small area and routed pipework and cables through the hull. The vertically orientated image shows the inside of the saddle tanks, with the curvature of the pressure hull on the right hand side. I never thought to check the underside of the saddle tanks because technically they were free flooding.

On 5 May 1945 she was underway heading north towards Norway, when she was attacked by a Liberator aircraft from RAF 547 Squadron which dropped depth charges. the submarine took heavy damage and began to sink by the stern. Forty nine of the fifty two crew members survived, including four who escaped via a torpedo hatch.

Inside the main building is an exhibition of items that were found inside the submarine, and these were very poignant, and obviously from long ago. 

For me it was a rare glimpse at the inside of a ship that could have ended the war if affective countermeasures were not found, and at times it was a close run thing. U-534 never sank a ship but did shoot down two British aircraft. Her end came right at the end of the war, and today we are able to catch a tiny glimpse into a vessel that descended from primitive hand powered machines that were considered an ungentlemanly weapon. We have come a long way since U-534 was built way back in 1942, and today the nuclear powered submarine is a true submarine and even deadlier than before.

It was time to catch the ferry on the next part of my journey, so I headed outwards, slightly miffed because the shop did not have prices on their ferry models.

My next post will deal with the ferry and my 2 trips on board the ferry Snowdrop.

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DRW © 2018. Created 03/05/2018

Updated: 19/06/2018 — 12:54

Loving Liverpool (1)

There are many places in the UK that are famous for their maritime history, and Liverpool is no exception. This was where Cunard sailed from and where the Lusitania and Mauretania were based. The Titanic was registered in the city, and of course Liverpool was home to the escorts that shepherded convoys across the Atlantic during the 2nd World War. And, like so many ports in the UK it became bereft of ships as the passenger traffic died away and containerisation replaced the conventional cargo ships that used to call this place their home port. 

Recently I have been mulling over making another short trip somewhere, similar to the one I made to London in 2016 and Liverpool ended up on the top of the list. The logistics of getting there are not huge: catch a train from Cheltenham, bail out at Birmingham, catch a different train to Liverpool Lime Street Station and voila! there you were. The biggest snag was timing though. My original plan had been to head out on the last weekend of May, but the Monday was a bank holiday and rates and ticket prices tended to be higher over a weekend, so I ended up planning for 29 May till 01 June instead. I found a hotel easily enough, booked my train tickets, paid my deposit and started the countdown. 

Early on the morning of the 29th I was at Cheltenham Spa Station. I had tweaked my train booking so that I had roughly half an hour to change trains at Birmingham, but the train was late arriving at Cheltenham and that cut my changing time down to 20 minutes. I was curious about what Birmingham New Street Station looked like now that it was finally completed as I had last passed through it in mid June 2015 and it was a real mess. Hopefully things were better now. 

Upon arrival I dashed upstairs into the concourse and out the main entrance to the station (I may be incorrect about it being the main entrance). I got very disorientated when I saw that they had added a giant alien eyeball onto the front of the station!

While inside resembled something out of a cheesy science fiction show.  

Still, it is a major improvement, and the platforms are much lighter now than they were before but it is still a horrible crowded and frenetic place.

The train to Liverpool from Birmingham stopped at: Smethwick Gatton Bridge, Woolverhampton, Penkridge, Stafford, Crewe, Winsford Hartsford (Cheshire), Acton Bridge, Runcorn, Liverpool South Parkway and finally Liverpoool Lime Street. It was roughly a 2 hour train journey excluding train changes. 

When I was doing my navigation I had marked a number of places that I wanted to see, and I had planned to do them over the 3 days that I had. The big unknown was the weather though, it was overcast in Cheltenham when I left, although Liverpool appeared to be clear which was forecast to change. I would really have to play the weather by ear. My goals were: The waterfront with associated War Memorials and statues, the Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals, a ferry ride, the Cenotaph, museums, and anything else that caught my wandering eye.

I arrived at midday, and the sun was shining!

Liverpool Lime Street Station was yet another of those glorious cathedrals of glass but in total disarray as they were renovating it (and is going to be closed completely for 2 months).

The cuttings leading to the station from Edge Hill were amazing, at least 3-4 stories deep, they are covered in vegetation and moss with bricked areas and bare rock all on display. It was quite a view but getting pics was impossible because of angles and reflections. It was one of those sights that leaves you with admiration for those who built the early railways. They laid bricks by the millions and gangs of men created these artificial caverns in the city with picks and shovels. Lime Street (what a great name) is probably the most well known station in Liverpool, although there are a number of stations in the city because it also has an underground rail network. 

Imagine this space in the days of steam…. 

My hotel was literally a quick walk “around the corner*, and I believe it is the 2nd oldest hotel in Liverpool. It was a nice hotel, although I did battle with hot water and the bed. The staff however were awesome, and the rate was a good one. I would stay there again if ever I came this way in the future.

I dropped off my bag and headed down the road to my first goal: 

St George’s Quarter.

The map below gives a rough outline of some of the structures in what is known as “St George’s Quarter”, although I am not dealing with all of them in these posts.

1 – St George’s Hall, 2 – St John’s Garden, 3 – World Museum, 4 – Central Library, 5 – Walker Art Gallery, 6 – Empire Theatre, 16 – Lime Street Station, 18 – Queensway Tunnel approach

Liverpool’s War Memorial was unveiled in 1930, it was designed by Lionel B. Budden, an associate professor from the university of Liverpool.  It is was placed on the plateau below St George’s Hall and is a long low rectangular structure with two long friezes. There is a  more detailed post on the memorial on allatsea/

St George’s Hall (# 1 on the map) was somewhat of a puzzle because it was a huge building that seemingly had no visible purpose although it had quite a number of secrets in it. The whole area around it had a number of bronze statues, and was very impressive. It was probably even more impressive when it was built, but the traffic in front and size of the building really makes it look like a large tomb. My first goal was accomplished and it was now time to find the waterfront. Behind the building is a very pretty park known as St John’s Garden (# 2 on the map), and in it there is a Memorial to the Liverpool Regiment that lists men who died during the Anglo Boer War, Afghanistan and Burma.

To the right of the park there were three very old and visually impressive buildings (3 – World Museum, 4 – Central Library, 5 – Walker Art Gallery,)

Walker Art Gallery

World Museum and Central Library

I visited the museum on my 3rd day and it was absolute chaos with all the crowds of people. I was very glad to get out of there! 

There are two other structures to mention while we are in the area, the first is: the former North Western Hotel building which stands almost attached to the station complex (# 16 in the map). Originally opened as a railway hotel in 1871 it was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and had 330 rooms. The hotel closed in 1933, and at the moment it appears to be student accommodation. 

and next to is the Empire Theatre dating from 1925, (i# 6 on the map)

My hotel was in Lord Nelson Street that was sandwiched between these two buildings. 

It was time to find the waterfront! I had spotted the Liver Birds at some point so really just headed in the general direction where they were because the waterfront is a large area and I was bound to hit it sooner or later. I detoured to a number of buildings along the way but eventually reached my destination, and it was not to disappoint. I entered the area through Water Street, with the famous Royal Liver Building on my right, and the equally beautiful Cunard Building on my left. 

The former is famous because it is really a unique landmark on the waterfront and it is topped by a pair of “Liver Birds”.  Legend has it that while one giant bird looks out over the city to protect its people, the other bird looks out to sea at the new sailors coming in to port.  It is said that, if one of the birds were to fly away the city of Liverpool would cease to exist, thus adding to the mystery of the birds. The are  eighteen feet high, ten feet long and carry a cast sprig of seaweed in their beaks. They are officially cormorants but will always be known as the Liver Birds.

Royal Liver Building

The three buildings along this spot of waterfront are collectively known as the “Three Graces” (Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building), and all three are spectacular.

Cunard Building

Port of Liverpool Building

I was able to get into the foyers of the Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings, and I was stunned. The  building dates from 1917 although Cunard left the building in the 1960’s.  In fact the Cunard Shipping Company of today is owned by Carnival Cruise Lines and based in America. 

I would have loved to have seen this space back in the heady days of the Cunarders that used Liverpool as their base, but I would have ended up booking my passage in a very different looking room. The room in the images above is the 1st Class Booking Hall.

The Roll of Honour was placed in nearby Liverpool Parish Church in 1990

The Port of Liverpool Building was equally unbelievable. It was completed in 1907, and is a Grade II* listed building. The central area under the dome is where the passages lead off, and it reminded me a lot of a panopticon. But, unlike those it is much more beautiful.  

And seeing as I was at the pierhead I could check out the ships…  but unfortunately the only ship in sight was the Mersey Ferry “Snowdrop” and she was running cruises between the banks of the river spaced an hour apart.

Snowdrop

The queue was horribly long so I shelved that plan and went and hunted down some of the other items on my list. 

The Titanic Memorial with Royal Liver Building in the background

Captain Frederic John Walker RN. Memorial

The statue of Captain Frederic John Walker RN ties into the Merchant Navy Memorial in the two images below.  The escort groups he led sank more U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic than any other British or Allied commander, and he was instrumental in the Allied victory of the Battle of the Atlantic,  The statue, by Liverpool sculptor Tom Murphy  was unveiled in 1998 and shows him  in a typical pose on board his ship. Sadly he died of a cerebral haemorrhage in July 1944.

Many ships and men owed their survival to Captain Walker and the escorts of the Western Approaches Command. Their contribution to the war effort is often neglected, but these unsung heroes will always have a special place in my heart.  Most have no other grave but the sea. 

The Liverpool Naval Memorial is also close to these Memorials, but it proved to be a very difficult memorial to photograph.

Liverpool Naval Memorial

I also passed this statue of these 4 guys.. but they don’t interest me.

And having reached the point on the pierhead we shall turn the page to reveal more about my trip to Liverpool.  I shall however leave you with this Superlambanana to keep you company. Or you can just bite the bullet and turn the page

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DRW © 2018. Created 02/06/2018.

Updated: 02/09/2018 — 08:46

A Honey of a Tank

A few years back, in 2011 I did the rounds of the usual haunts, hunting down plinthed and preserved tanks, there were three models that fell into my research, namely Crusaders, Shermans and M3 Stuarts. This post deal with one Stuart in particular.  I will not go into the history of these M3’s, suffice to say they were popularly referred to as “Honey’s”.

This vehicle I photographed in 2011 while visiting the Roll of Honour at the Cosy Corner MOTH Shellhole in Brakpan.

The history of this particular vehicle is not known, but it is likely that she was a gate guard at a former MOTH Shellhole somewhere in the Springs area and she is currently situated at Google Earth co-ordinates: -26.252307°,  28.446881°. This is a former park, but sadly it is more of the remains of a park. The tank when I photographed her was not a total wreck yet.

Those open doors at the back set off alarm bells in my mind when I saw her, sooner or later somebody was going to get in there and remove parts off her engine, assuming that it had not been done already.

Wind forward to 2017, and Joe Borain from Cosy Corner went to see whether she was still intact or not. rumours were that she was not looking good.  I will post the images more or less in the the same order as the “before (2011)” images.

As you can see, the engine compartment has had lots of attention from the scrap metal thieves.

It also appears as if the open viewing slits have been used to “post rubbish” into. It is only a matter of time before they get organised enough to go after her tracks and idlers. The scrap metal industry is not averse to assisting those who decide to remove steel from monuments and memorials. Remember, watched a whole collection of steam locomotives systematically stripped by illicit scrap thieves in 2010. Anything can happen.

What can be done? According to Joe site has been fenced, although he did manage to get in. And, a local garage was supposedly keeping an eye on her too. But, what really needs to happen is they need to weld the front viewing ports and rear engine doors shut. And ideally get her moved from the spot where she is now. Who does she belong to? probably the SANDF, and getting permission to move her will be quite a rigmarole. Springs city council were supposed to have renovated the derelict war memorial by mid 2015 and that too stalled so there is not much hope of help from them. But the way things are, one day that honey of a tank will be no more. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 08/01/2016. 2017 Images are by Joe Borain and are used with permission.

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:43

It is war I tell you!

Wartime in the Cotswolds played itself out this weekend, and I decided to share in the fun by visiting the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Steam Railway that runs between Cheltenham and Toddington. I have travelled with this heritage operation twice before and they run a very professional operation.  I had also encountered a very similar day on the Great Central Railway in 2015  so it would be interesting to see how this weekend played out. The weather was also very kind to us on this day, and apart from a chilly wind it was quite an enjoyable day weatherwise. I was also going to test my new camera on this trip and was very wary about running out of batteries, although I do have 3 batteries that I carry and if push comes to shove can still use my cell phone camera.

Of course being wartime you do have to be wary of surprises around every corner, so listen very carefully, I will say this only once… War is hell! 

The first train to leave Cheltenham Race Course was not a steam engine much to my dismay, instead it was the Class 117 diesel railcar. I have been on it before and it is somewhat of an odd vehicle. 

 

I managed to snag one of the front seats so was able to see the drivers controls and the view of the rails behind us,  This is a composite of 3 images. 

Driver sits on the left.

And then we were off, the train packed with people in period civilian outfits and military uniforms. It was amazing because they took so much effort to look the part, some of the women were truly stunning in their hats and gloves and seamed stockings, and for the first time I saw children in period clothing along for the fun too. They are the ones who will be doing this in 20 years time and it is great to see that the spirit will be carried forward with them. 

Our route takes us from Cheltenham Race Course Station to Gotherington, 

Through the Greet Tunnel,

To Winchcombe

Where we would wait for the next train to come past us heading towards Cheltenham Race Course. This train was headed by the immaculate 2807, a ’28xx’ class heavy freight locomotive, built in 1905. and owned by Cotswold Steam Preservation Limited and, after a 29 year restoration, is one of the GWR’s resident locomotives.

And then we were off again, heading to our final stop: Toddington. The station is really a destination on its own and in this case it was really a microcosm of Allied Servicemen and Women with a smattering of old civilian and military vehicles, although American equipment was dominant.

I bailed off the train, pausing to watch 4270 with the next train. She is a “42xx” class tank locomotive and made her debut at the 2014 Cotswold Festival of Steam and is now a regular performer on the GWSR.

I then ambled over to the exhibits, pausing to admire a really nice restored M4A4 Sherman that was formerly a “range wreck”

Behind the tank was Toddington Narrow Gauge Railway, and I had read that they would also be running trains on this day. There is a South African connection to this railway, and to Tewkesbury. But that was assuming the train was running. We had passed their loco shed and I had seen a steam loco in steam at their shed, so I was hopeful. 

Until then I walked around, looking at interesting exhibits, especially the military vehicles. 

Then there was movement and I headed down to the platform where the narrow gauge train was uncoupling, unfortunately it was a diesel as opposed to the steamer I had hoped for, The problem was that the train would not leave unless it had enough passengers, and so far I was the only one.

I drifted off to go look at the well armed half track that was parked nearby. Oh wow, I am so sorry they did not let off a few bursts with that quad browning.

And then there was movement at the narrow gauge railway and I headed back to it, boarding the small coaches en route for California Crossing where the steamer shed was.

The line is a short one, only 3/4 of a mile, and there is not much to see, However, the shed has 4 narrow gauge loco’s.

Chaka’s Kraal No 6 spent all its commercial working life in the South African sugar cane industry being delivered to Gledhow Chakaskraal Sugar Co. Ltd. for use on their estates in Natal. It was purchased by a group of members and returned to the UK in 1981. It had originally been built in Leeds in 1940.

My loco spotted, it was time to shake my head at the station name plate. 

Meanwhile, things were afoot back at the main station with the imminent departure of 7820- Dinmore Manor. 

Now which loco was at Platform 1?  

Talking about Loco’s I also went to the running shed viewing area hoping to get a decent pic of 35006 P&O, but once again a decent pic evaded me. I wish they would turn her to face the other way so that I can see her from the front.

The shed lines were surprisingly empty, but there was still a lot of trains and rolling stock in place.

It was time for another round of photography, and the images below are of various vehicles on display.

Unfortunately I was starting to tire a bit and decided to see what I could see at the station. Another loco was now waiting its turn and it was 2807, a member of the ’28xx’ class heavy freight locomotive, built in 1905.  I was considering heading back down the line to Winchcombe, and this train was not too far off from departure

Besides, the wartime music was driving me crazy. I still have “..it’s a long way to Tipperary….”  going around inside my head some 4 hours later!

I crossed the footpath in front of the loco and headed down to the field behind the station, it was jam packed with cars and was almost a mini military camp in itself.  In fact, there was even a sodding BREN there to torture me.

Fortunately I no longer have to worry about whether it is clean or not. My timetable said that the next train was about ready to leave in 10 minutes so I ambled across the footbridge.

The loco had moved to the head of the train so I decided to join this one and head back towards Winchcombe. It felt good to get a load off though. I was really pooped.

Departure was due to happen at 12.20, but nothing happened, instead the conductor came around and announced that we were delayed due to an “unexploded bomb” at Winchcombe. This delay threw my plans out because we would not budge until the train at that station was here. so we waited. It was now touch and go whether I would head fro home of bail at Winchcombe. Eventually the up train arrived and we were given the token to leave. 

It is not a long ride to Winchcombe and I did not really feel up to spending an hour at the station, it was bad enough that it looked like the whole cast from Dad’s Army and ‘allo ‘allo was standing on the platform.

Then we were off again, next stop: Gotherington.

 

And the other train was standing at the passing loop over there, being serenaded by a very nice lady with a magnificent voice who kept on telling us the “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…

And finally we arrived back at Cheltenham Race Course. The war was over for another day. 

The loco moved to the back of the train (making it the front), and I headed for the exit. I still had a long walk to the bus stop and then once in Cheltenham I still had to catch the bus back to Tewkesbury. 

It had been a long and busy day but I had enjoyed it. I am amazed at how the English go headlong into something like this, the amount of people in uniforms and costumes was amazing. I also saw a number of old men who were obviously veterans from WW2, and their numbers are dwindling too. But as long as there are those who are willing to go to the expense of acquiring a uniform then days like this will give us all a taste of what wartime Britain was like. I see a lot of evidence of it, the war is still remembered, it has not faded from the national psyche, it is still a part of the people of this country.

V for Victory, and may we never tread that path again.

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 23/04/2016 

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 15:57

VE Day

 
The 8th of May is celebrated as “VE Day”, or more correctly, “Victory in Europe” day. It marks the cessation of hostilities in Europe, and a change of focus to the war in the Pacific. Germany had surrendered, and it was time to count the cost and bring the soldiers home. This year marked the 70th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in Europe.

 

Reading snippets about it today got me thinking about my late father who served in with the UDF forces in World War Two. 

Along with the 1st South African Brigade Signal company he embarked for Egypt from Durban on 09/10/1941, disembarking from the Mauretania in Suez on the 21st of that month. Barely 2 months later he was captured at Sidi Rezegh , being reported missing on 05/12/1941.  He was confirmed as a POW on 15/02/1942. He was not alone, alongside him were a lot of other South Africans who were soon headed to POW cages.
 
It is difficult to know what he went through, he did not speak about it too much, and I did not know what were the right questions to ask. All information I really have is what I have been able to glean from his service record with the UDF, and even that information is sparse.
 
 I do know that he was confirmed as being held at “Camp 52” on 01/02/1942, and he was presented with a pocket bible at this camp on 16/07/1942. Campo 52 was situated in Chiavari, a small town in the Province of  Genoa, Italy and  is situated near the Entella River. I had believed that he may have been amongst the POW’s who were on board the “SS Nino Bixio” that was  torpedoed by the British Submarine HMS Turbulent, on 16 August 1942. However, by then he was already in Italy so it is very unlikely that he was on board that ill fated ship. 
I know nothing of what happened to him between when he was given that small bible, and the rest of the war. At some point the POW’s were handed over the to Germans by the Italians, and I know he preferred the Italians to the Germans. He may have been involved in some of the forced marches of POW’s,  but cannot confirm it, and he is is not here to tell the tale. There is a good read about the POW’s at http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Pris-_N78986.html  although it does deal mainly with New Zealanders.
 
You can bet the time behind the wire was fraught with danger and fear, as well as inactivity, inadequate rations and over zealous guards. It is difficult to know what effect that time had on him. I have read all manner of theories over the years about soldiers who have ended up in captivity, but none have really described the father I once new. The only saving grace is that he was not a prisoner of the Japanese.
 
When the war ended on 8 May 1945, I am sure that all of those behind the wire were overjoyed because now they were the ones who were able to lord it over the guards that had been lording it over them. And of course there was the chance to go home. The record cards report my father as being repatriated to the UK on 31/05/1945. How he got there I do not know, and neither do I know where he was housed in the UK between then and when he boarded the ship back to the Union of South Africa on 26/08/1945.  I do not even know which ship he sailed on either, but he arrived in Cape Town on 11 September 1945 and was then sent to Pietermaritzburg.
 
From there he seemed to have been on leave, until he was due to report back on 13/11/1945. Whether that was at Pietermaritzburg or Johannesburg I cannot say, however, the record confirms him as being at the dispersal depot at Hector Norris Park in Johannesburg on 20 November 1945, and he was finally discharged on the 28th of that month with the rank of Lance Corporal.
 
The Second World War had ended with VJ Day on 2 September 1945.
 
It is difficult to know what went through his mind as he sat with all those other soldiers for those 3,5 long years in captivity. My father was a reader and I hope that there was a lot to read during that time. I also do not know how much the whole experience affected him either, and how it affected his marriage to my mother. I have no answers to any of these questions, and to be frank I have never considered VE day in quite the same way before.  The one thing I am sure of that VE day was an important one for him and all those held in captivity by the Germans, I do not know where he was held in Germany, so do not know how the bombing or advancing armies on either side affected them, but, you can bet that 70 years ago, somewhere in Germany, a group of South Africans was celebrating, and 70 years down the line we are looking back on this day and remembering those who did not come back. My father was one of the former, and fortunately not one of the latter. 

 
© DRW. 70th Anniversary of  VE Day 2015-2018.  Images migrated 30/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 15:45

The Spitfire Legacy

Southampton is Supermarine territory. That most famous of World War 2 fighters was born in this town and there are a number of references to it. I believe that the Supermarine assembly plant used to be on the one bank of the Itchen River where the Itchen Bridge currently is and  and it is possible that some of the original factory buildings are still there. Further up towards Southampton Airport is the South Stoneham Cemetery, and within its walls/hedges/fences is buried RJ Mitchel, the man who designed this iconic aircraft. 
 
There are a number of interesting references to the aircraft in and around Southampton, and I have not found all of them yet.  The most obvious one of course is the sculpture of the original K5054 that may be found on a roundabout at Southampton Airport. Formerly Eastleigh Aerodrome, it was the site of the first flight of the aircraft in March 1936.
 
 
Reginald Mitchell is buried in South Stoneham Cemetery, which is on the approach path to Southampton airport, and while he died in 1937, he never lived to see the formidable aircraft that it turned out to be.
A bit further away, near Hamble-Le-Rice, is the Air Transport Auxiliary Memorial, and its main artwork is yet another Spitfire in all its glory. 
 
Oddly enough, there is only one example of the real aircraft in Southampton, and that is at Solent Sky Museum close to the harbour. 
 
 
This particular aircraft, a MK24 (PK683), was one of twenty seven converted from MK22’s. It would have been powered by a Rolls Royce Griffon engine. Interestingly enough, the museum also houses Supermarine S6A.
Finally, the Spitfire is also remembered at a complex called “Spitfire Close” which is almost on top of where where the original Supermarine factory used to be on the Itchen River. A Spitfire has been laid out in paving bricks, and at ground level may not be too noticeable, but from the bridge that towers above it you can plainly see the iconic wing shape of the legendary aircraft. 
 
There is a Memorial Plaque in front of the paving.

The whole complex has a Supermarine motief.

Although the real cherry on the cake is outside the complex, and I would have missed it if I had not known it was there.

The plaque is not easy to read, but in essence it reads:

In Memory of the Designer of the Legandary Spitfire Aircraft
REGINALD JOSEPH MITCHELL 1895-1937
On this site the first Spitfire was built by The Supermarine Aviation
Works (Vickers) Limited. Spitfires and their pilots played a decisive 
Part in the Battle of Britain 1940. This plaque was unveiled by
Mr Alan Clifton M.B.E.  BSr  FRAES

I do know there is a Spitfire House somewhere in Southampton, as well as a harbour launch called Spitfire, although I suspect Seafire would have been more appropriate.
And there is this strange mural on a subway wall near the stadium.

But I wonder what it was like all those years ago when the first Spitfire took off from Eastleigh and soared in the sky above, I am sure nobody recognised that a legend had been born.  

 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 09/06/2016
 
Updated: 29/12/2017 — 07:23
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