Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Ring of Memory - new memorial at Notre Dame de Lorette

Andrew Thomson has posted some photographs of the new memorial at Notre Dame de Lorette. 

This new memorial was opened on 11 November by President Hollande - and visited by me on the 15th!  It's high quality, original, and a 'must' for any visits to the Arras area.  Called "L'Anneau de Memoire" - the "Ring of Memory" - it's an oval-shaped enclosure on the hilltop overlooking the slopes up to Notre Dame de Lorette* where the French were fighting in the autumn of 1914 and spring of 1915.  You walk around the ring - cut into the ground where you first walk in, but suspended above the hillside as you make your way around - and see panels and panels listing in alphabetical order ALL those who died in the Nord / Pas-de-Calais region in 194-18.  580,000 names, of all nationalities - 40 nationalities in fact.  290,000 - i.e. around half - are British Empire, representing almost all our 'non-Ypres' and 'non-Somme' Western Front losses: Loos, Festubert, Neuve Chapelle, Arras, Cambrai, much of the 100 Days, etc.  

Names are strictly alphabetical, with no mention of nationality.  This gives a surprising and original perspective - it is so different to the CWGC's Lists of the Missing since on this new memorial there is no distinction by regiment.  Thus, ALL the J Smiths are together, as you see in one of the attached photos.  You see blocks of names that are clearly French or German or British - then swaths of names where all nationalties are all jumbled up.

You see famous names - John Kipling, Wilfred Own (warning: there are two Wilfred Owns: the poet is Wlfred Edward Salter Owen!) - and, the reason I was there, the names of relatives of UK clients.  It's an amazing complement to a Vimy Ridge visit too - obviously, all those Canadians are listed here.

It's smart, respectful, simple, stimulating, and quality - the materials used are first-class.

Friday, 9 May 2014

RAF Operation Circus 157, May 5th 1942

Commemoration ceremony, 7pm Monday May 5th 2014 - Ypres Town Ext CWGC, Ypres Belgium.

The accompanying images reveals some of those who attended a very special commemoration ceremony which took place during the early evening of Monday May 5th 2014 within Ypres Town Ext CWGC cemetery in Ypres, Belgium. 

Representing the fallen pilots was Lt Colonel Filip Borremans ( Belgian Air Force) Commanding Officer of the Belgian Military Component CCMP. 

Also in attendance were Belgian Reserve Officers, the Standards and Bearers of the Royal Entente, representatives of the Stevenage Branch Royal British Legion and of course the so welcome members of the public.

Dedicated Poppy tributes were offered as was a suitable musical tribute with the national anthems applicable to the various nationalities concluding the ceremony.

On conclusion of the short graveside ceremony the commemoration was fully confirmed with a dedicated RAF Operation Circus 157 wreath placement. This being duly placed by Lt Colonel Borremans assisted by Milena within the town’s daily last post ceremony.


RAF Operation Circus 157 was a composite force of 6 Boston bombers escorted by 36 Spitfires flown by British, Belgian, Czechoslovak, Norwegian, Rhodesian, Canadian and Dutch pilots. Their mission was to bomb a power plant near Lille.

The Luftwaffe scrambled a total of 21 Focke Wulf fighters to intercept the RAF fleet. 6 managed to make contact with the returning Spitfires in the skies above and around Ypres but that was enough. 5 Spitfires were lost with four of the five pilots killed:

Fl/Lt Bauduin de Hemptinne ( Belgian ) KIA
Sgt Karel Pavlik ( Czech ) KIA
Flt/Sgt Stacey Jones ( British ) KIA
Sgt Roland Ribout ( Canadian ) KIA

Sqn/Ldr Frantisek Fajtl (Czech) Shot down/survived

The four KIA pilots were eventually buried side by side in Ypres Town Ext CWGC cemetery. The Belgian pilot was later removed to the Belgian Air Force Cemetery in Evere. The surviving 5th shot down pilot Sqn Leader Frantisek Fajtl crash landed just over the border in France and made his escape, eventually returning back to the UK where he continued to fly and fight again. He survived the war.

Also remembered was F/Lt Robert “Bobby” Laumans, who was the last living RAF Belgian Spitfire pilot of WW II.

Bobby was born on 4 December 1920. He was a pupil at the Flying School Wevelghem at the outbreak of War. He evacuated with the Flying School to France and arrived via Marseille and Algiers to Morocco at the time of French capitulation. He escaped to Great Britain with a part of the Flying School, arriving there on August 5th, 1940. He volunteered for RAF VR and graduated pilot in March 1941. His last posting was with to 350 Belgian Sqn from April 3, 1942. His claim was one FW-190 Damaged in Rodeo above St-Omer on 23/05/1942, two weeks after the ill-fated Operation Circus 157.

On the 1st June 1942, the Squadron performed "Target Cover" to escort fighter bombers on a mission to Bruges. The Squadron encountered a large formation of FW-190 fighters.
During the melee Laumans was shot down near Ostend but succeeded to bail out before his plane crashed in to the sea. He stayed almost 3 days in his dinghy, before being picked up by a German vessel and sent as POW to Stalag Luft III in Poland. He received several military awards and started a successful career with SABENA after the War. He died on 21st April 2014 aged 93.

The above ceremony was arranged by Milena Kolarikova BA, Director,
Lest We Forget Battlefield Tours (Flanders) and assisted by Chris Lock,
Principal Assistant.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Private James Cooper VC and Sergeant Albert Gill VC

The Jewellery Quarter Research Group

The Victoria Cross

Private James Cooper V.C. and Sergeant Albert Gill V.C.

The Church of England Cemetery
Warstone Lane

The Overgrown Grave of Private James Cooper V.C.

As is quite well known, Warstone Lane is the proud resting place of an early recipient of the Victoria Cross which was made in 1867 to Private James Cooper who, with a party of others ‘gallantly’ assisted the rescue of a landing party from the ship “Assam Valley” who were missing on the Little Andaman Island. Sadly James Cooper’s resting place is in section P grave number 1428, a public grave which means a memorial is not allowed so a plaque has been placed at the rear of the former cemetery offices in Warstone Lane, close to the war memorial. James Cooper V.C. died 1882 in what was described at the time as "extreme poverty" and the following notice appeared in the Birmingham Daily Mail:

To the Editor of the Birmingham Daily Mail.
Sir, - A gallant soldier, who for distinguished bravery was awarded the Victoria Cross, has just died at Hockley, after a lingering illness there of two years, leaving a widow and three children, aged ten, five, and two years, utterly destitute. The poor fellow contracted the disease (consumption) whilst serving in India. Extreme poverty and anxiety soon completed the work.
I therefore venture, through you, to appeal to some of your generous and sympathising readers to assist the poor destitute widow and orphans; and I shall be glad to receive the smallest contribution in stamps or otherwise.
I am, sir, yours faithfully,
ARTHUR TINKLAR, Captain R.N., Governor of H.M. Prison,
H. M. Prison, Birmingham, November 16 1882


To the Editor of the Birmingham Daily Mail
Sir,- I beg to thank you for your kind insertion of letter of the 17th inst, appealing to a generous public on behalf of the destitute widow and children  of the deceased distinguished solder, Private Cooper, 24th Regiment who by his bravery was awarded the V.C.
I shall feel further obliged by your allowing me once again to encroach upon your valuable space by acknowledging the under mentioned contribution, for which I am thankful, and hope that I may still receive further such sums for the benefit of these poor people in the coming winter
I am, sir, yours faithfully,
ARTHUR TINKLAR, Captain R.N., Governor of H.M. Prison,
H. M. Prison, Birmingham, November 22 1882,

Mrs. T., 10s; X.Y.X., 1s; Mr. W. Webb, 5s; Anonymous, 5s.; Sergent Oliver, 1s,; Mr, Charles Docker, 2s; Inspector-General Grieg, M.D., £1; Anonymous, 2s,; Mrs Hodgson, 10s; Anonymous, 2s 6d,; Mr G. M. Haw(?), 5s G. B. H., 5s,; Mr. James Hinks, 5s; A.M.H., 2s 6d,; Mt. T. Williams, 1s 6d,; I. E., Cy., 2s 6d.; S. and S, 2s 6d.; H.C., 2s 6d.; F. T., 2s,; A. B. P. and M. E. P., 2s.; R. H., 10s,; Mr. Fredk. Elkington, £1,; H. T. W. 2s 6d.; Lancer, 1s.; A Countryman, 6d.; Sergeant Warren 2s. 6d.

However, work on the transcription project has brought to light a reference to yet another holder of the Victoria Cross who (JQRG eBooks No 6), while not actually buried in the cemetery, is recorded along with members of his wider family in Section I. The memorial inscription reads:

In loving memory of my dear husband Harry GILL who died
December 8th 1947 aged 69.
Also brother Sergeant Albert Gill V.C., killed in action July 27th 1916.
Also son H A GILL died January 29th 1951 cremated aged 44.
Also Selina Sophia Gill who died April 28th 1920 aged 5.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission “Debt of Honour” website provides a few more details:
Sgt. Albert Gill 2815 1st Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps.
Son of Harry & Sophia Gill of Birmingham;
husband of Rosetta Gill (nee Smith).
Buried Delville Wood Cemetery, Longeval, France.

An extract from "The London Gazette" dated 24th Oct., 1916, sets out in detail the events which led to the award of the medal: -

"For most conspicuous bravery: The enemy made a very strong counter-attack on the right flank of the battalion, and rushed the bombing post after killing all the company bombers. Sergeant Gill at once rallied the remnants of his platoon, none of whom were skilled bombers, and reorganised his defences, a most difficult and dangerous task, the trench being very shallow and much damaged. Soon afterwards the enemy nearly surrounded his men by creeping up through the thick undergrowth, and commenced sniping at about twenty yards' range. Although it was almost certain death, Sergeant Gill stood boldly up in order to direct the fire of his men. He was killed almost at once, but not before he had shown his men where the enemy were, and thus enabled them to hold up their advance. By his supreme devotion to duty and self-sacrifice he saved a very dangerous situation.”

The memorial is easily located. It lies to the left (two rows in), of the vehicle entrance gate on Pitsford Street – off the path leading across the top of the catacombs to the former cemetery offices in Warstone Lane.

The medal itself can also be seen. It forms part of the magnificent collection of 164 Victoria Crosses in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum in London.