Category Archives: Documents

William Reid VC Postal Cover

Tonight we have a rather attractive postal cover depicting a Wellington bomber, dating from 1984. The cover itself commemorates the 31st anniversary of the last flight of the Wellington back in March 1951 and the cover itself was flown in a Lancaster bomber:skm_c30819010908040 - copyOf more interest to us however is the signature, which is that of William Reid VC:skm_c30819010908040 - copy - copyWilliam Reid was born in Baillieston, near Glasgow, on 21 December 1921 the son of a blacksmith. He was educated at Swinton Primary School and Coatbridge Higher Grade School and studied metallurgy for a time, but then applied to join the RAF. After training in Canada, he received his wings and was a sergeant when he was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 19 June 1942. He then trained on twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords at Little Rissington before moving to the Operational Training Unit at RAF North Luffenham. There, his skill as a pilot led to his being selected as an instructor, flying the Vickers Wellington, albeit with the promise of a posting to an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber unit. He was promoted to flying officer on 19 December 1942.

The posting did not materialise until July 1943, when he was sent to 1654 Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, near Newark-on-Trent, where he flew his first operational mission as second pilot, in a Lancaster of 9 Squadron, in a raid on Mönchengladbach. In September he was posted to 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston, Newark, to commence Lancaster bombing operations, and flew seven sorties to various German cities before the raid on Düsseldorf.william_reid_vcHis official VC citation recorded the action for which he won the medal:

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.

Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay he managed to return the Messerschmitt’s fire and it was driven off.

During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.

Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190. This time, the enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.

Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorised his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer, who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain’s injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.

Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semiconsciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.

The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on. captureWounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.

Flight Lieutenant Reid died in 2001.

NFS No 5 Fire Force Area Map

In August 1941 the National Fire Service was formed by amalgamating nearly 1600 local fire services and the Auxiliary Fire Service into a single entity covering the whole country. This new nationwide service was administratively split into around forty regional fire forces and the force covering much of the West Riding of Yorkshire was the No 5 Fire Force. Tonight we have a period map of the region with the different fire forces labelled:imageNo 5 Fire Force Area is the focus of the map and its borders are clearly marked with a deeper and darker outline than the adjoining forces:imageA small key indicates what the map depicts and includes the badge of the National Fire Service:imageNo 5 Fire Force Area’s Chief Clerk, AB Trundell, writing in late 1941 described the elements that made up the new regional force:

For the purposes of administration the No 5 Fire Force Area is within the No 2 Region under the Chief Regional Fire Officer, who is responsible to the Regional Commissioner. The Fire Force Area covers approximately 900 square miles and extends from Sedbergh in the north to Holmfirth in the south, and from Wharfdale on the east to Bowland at its boundary with Lancashire on the west. There are within the Fire Force Area at present time some 33 local government authorities as follows:-

County Boroughs- 3

Boroughs-3

Urban Districts- 21

Rural Districts-6

The area as a whole has again been divided into Divisions covering 84 stations now established. The total administrative strength is 226.

J Downs, the commander of the area reflected on nationalisation:

In August 1941 the territory now known as No 5 Fire  Force Area consisted of 33 local authorities, each possessing fire brigades and AFS organisations of varying sizes and types. These were spread over some 900 square miles and contained the major portion of the woollen and worsted industry, with a population of approximately one million. A very important part of this country and a vital one from an industrial point of view.

The regulations provided for this to be taken over in so far as fire cover was concerned, “lock, stock and barrel” both operationally and administratively.

Operationally it meant the organisation of large numbers of pumps, special appliances and personnel into a unified Fire Force in divisions, and the establishing of an effective system of control with a definite chain of command. This involved new headquarters and control rooms, a complete new lay out of telephone communications, new stations and improvements to existing ones. It involved the up of schools for both men and women where instruction could be given on a nationally adopted standard and where women could be taught to take over duties previously carried out by firemen and thereby release the latter for active fire-fighting duties. It involved the construction of static water tanks with a total capacity of millions of gallons, the laying of 12 1/2 miles of steel piping and the building up of a predetermined water relay system for the purpose of delivering water to the fire ground and replenishment of supplies.

British Legion Remembrance Leaflet

By the early 1930s the British Legion and the Haigh Poppy Fund had become firmly entrenched in British life and was doing sterling service in raising money for ex-servicemen and their families. The charity published a small pamphlet in 1930 that gave details of its work, what it spent its money on and how supporters could donate to the fund. The cover shows a large crowd in London, presumably at some sort of commemoration for the end of the Great War:skm_c30819010908040 - copyThe interior of the leaflet has graphs and details of the different causes the charity supported along with a small number of pictures:skm_c30819010908050skm_c30819010908051skm_c30819010908052skm_c30819010908060skm_c30819010908061The rear has an advertisement for poppy wreathes that loved ones could purchase and arrange to have placed on a soldier’s grave:skm_c30819010908062The Daily Mail reported on the preparations for Poppy Day in 1929:

Nearly 500,000 volunteers throughout the Empire, it is hoped, will sell poppies on Armistice Day, November 11. No fewer than 37,000,000 poppies and 20,000 wreathes have already been prepared at the British Legion factories.

An attempt is being made to collect not less than £750,000 this year for ex-Service men…

Approximately 4,000 local committees are busy preparing for November 11 throughout Britain and over-seas.

A big poppy motor mascot has been manufactured with a metal clip so that it can be fixed to motor-cars. Arrangements are being made for the distribution of these emblems in garages throughout the country.

Watercolour of POW Camp

Just as British POWs were held in camps in occupied Europe, German and Italian prisoners were held in prison camps across the United Kingdom. These camps varied form converted mills in Oldham to proper facilities with wooden huts, fences and guard towers. Tonight we have a delightful amateur watercolour of a POW camp painted, I believe, by Lt Davies of the E Yorkshire Regiment. According to his grandson he was both an amateur artist and involved with the interrogation of prisoners at some point in the war and it seems likely that he painted this piece at that time:imageThe image shows the building and entrance to the camp, rather than the prisoner’s accommodation itself. In the foreground a sentry stands in a box by a raising barrier:imageA series of camouflaged buildings stand to the right:imageA large flag flies over these with what appears to be a red dragon on it, suggesting the camp might be in Wales:imageThe number on the flag appears to be 198, which would indicate this was Camp 198, known as island Farm which was near Bridgend in South Wales. A man pushes a handcart up the main entry road, his uniform looking distinctly Germanic:imageIn the distance a large wire fence and gate, along with a raised guard tower shows where the camp itself lies:imageThe journey from capture to a POW could be traumatic for the individual soldier. Kurt Bock was captured in Holland in 1944 and describes what happened when he reached England:

…hours later, a train took us elsewhere. It was not just an ordinary train; we sat on upholstered seats. There was no screaming and spitting at us like in Holland.

Hampden Park (a large Football ground in Scotland ): long rows of tables. Interrogation:

your name, your rank, your company, your papers. Delousing station. Shower & bath… 

Next day: Nottingham. A huge camp consisting only of tents. Of course, this caused a great disappointment. Here we received cigarettes, a bag and a white handkerchief, which made a great impression on me. But I already had one valuable extra possession: a second blanket… 

The next camp was Crewe Hall, Cheshire (Camp 191). My first days there I felt only relief at the narrow escape out of hell. And this hell was still going on on the other side of the Channel. My family did not know I was safe and I did not know if my parents were alive. I had already learnt of the death of my younger brother Martin…I had nothing but my uniform. Consequently when I caught my first cold I did not have my handkerchief. through the wire a soldier from my company passed me a small red handkerchief…Our daily diet was tea with milk and sugar twice daily poured into an empty corned beef tin-if you had one!

1941 Airgraph

Over the years we have looked at a number of different Airgraphs, often with delightful drawings on them. Tonight we have another example, however this one is not as visually appealing, being just text. The message however is delightful and well worth covering on the blog:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3)The Airgraph reads:

Dear Harry,

I guess you will be surprised receiving this airgraph from me, but last week Bob read your airgraph (only part of it) to us and you said you would like to hear from some of us as mail is so scarce. Well, I am glad you have arrived safely in the M.E., how d’you like the sand? Plenty of it by what Bill writes in his letters to me. I don’t know whether you knew my boy-friend had moved from W Africa to the middle east, of course I don’t know where he is and he seems to be on the move all the time, still you may run across one another in one of those sand storms on of these days. I don’t think you’ll receive this in time for Xmas, so I’ll wish you a happy and successful new year, and trust you had a good xmas. It seems hard to believe Harry, but we all miss you at the old squash lots, things aren’t anywhere near as jolly as they used to be. By the way, d’you still set your clothes on fire or do you behave now you’re an l’officer Da Dah!!! Cheerio for now, I’ll write another airgraph soon. Yours “Darkie”

Darkie’ was Miss Joan Hitchcock who wrote this airgraph in November 1941:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3) - CopyIt was send to a Pilot Officer Harrington, RAF Middle East:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (4) - CopyI love the personal and friendly nature of this note and a message from an old friend would surely have been a welcome arrival for the pilot officer on active service.

111 Maintenance Unit Christmas Menu

Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you are having a restful Christmas. Tonight we are taking a look at another festive object, a small menu from the Christmas Dinner served to members of 111 Maintenance unit, RAF Middle East Command:SKM_C284e18120709070Victor Flack was part of the 111 Maintenance Unit and describes the conditions:

From the station we were taken south 14 miles to 111 maintenance unit at Tura. This unit, previously located elsewhere as part of 101 M.U, had been the one major unit of its kind in Egypt in 1941, and as such, had been a particular target for German bombing. The caves in the Mokattam hills at Tura, had been decided upon as a suitable alternative site, being almost bomb proof. The caves were formed when limestone was quarried for the casing stones for the pyramids, across the Nile.

These caves were now used for storage, engine and airscrew repair shops, and, as I was to discover on a few months’ time, a small hospital. We lived in tents at the foot of the hills, and nearby were the engine test benches, the noise being baffled from the tents by sand dunes.large_000000Although conditions were Spartan, special efforts were made to cheer up the men at Christmas:

And then there was the Christmas show. Among the motley inhabitants of ‘treble one’ there were enough comedians, musicians’ singers, and other entertainers to provide a lengthy show (some of these may have been professional’s pre-war). It was really something to see familiar faces appear on stage and gallantly do their bit. Among them was a ‘store basher’ generally seen heaving propellers about and suitably attired for that task, but he was a singer. When he came stalking on to the stage in a smart homemade outfit, and began to sing, it was another unforgettable memory for me. It was truly professional delivery, – he sort of swelled up like a cockerel does when it starts to crow and an unexpected powerful voice stunned us all into a respectful silence. He sang “The Road to Mandalay” — we heard every word, and on the rare occasions I hear it now, I can’t help thinking it is not being sung as well as I heard it all those years ago, – to be fair, it may be that my ears were in better nick then, but it still brings back the vision of our store basher doing his bit in front of us all.

I hope you have an enjoyable time this Christmas and I leave you with one of my favourite wartime Christmas cartoons form the late great Express Cartoonist Carl Giles, Santa never got an easy ride from Giles’ pen, but this one has a particularly dark humour to it.. I love it!GetMultimedia

HMS Andromeda Christmas Card

Happy Christmas Eve! I hope everything is prepared and you are all ready for a merry Christmas tomorrow. As is traditional on this blog, over Christmas we look at a few items of militaria that fit in with the theme of the season. Christmas cards with a military theme are a perennial favourite for those serving away from home to send back to their loved ones. Although we have previously looked mainly at World War Two examples, this year we have a post war example sent from HMS Andromeda:SKM_C45817052313110The card depicts a line drawing of the ship, cutting through the water:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy (3)The ship’s badge:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy (2)And a map of her current voyage:SKM_C45817052313110 - CopyInside we can see that the card was sent from someone named ‘Julian’ to ‘Helen & Co’:SKM_C45817052313111HMS Andromeda was the last ship to be constructed at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1968 and was a Leander class frigate. She served throughout the Falklands and through until 1995 with the Royal Navy before being sold to India who continued to use her until 2012 when she was sunk as a target.

Christmas on board ship can be a difficult time for many who are away from loved ones, so every effort is made to make the day enjoyable for the ship’s crew. The following description is from the submarine HMS Vanguard, but is typical of many festivities across the navy:

Entertainment on board, although enhanced by modern technology (Kindles and hard drives being a God-send on a platform with limited space) remains broadly traditional.

Quiz nights and game nights all play a part, with the more traditional ‘Uckers’ now mixed with inter-mess Mario Kart.

A traditional service of carols was held on the Sunday before Christmas, with the choir of ‘King’s College Vanguard’ providing impressive harmony.

Christmas Eve was marked by a staging of ‘A Christmas Carol’ involving a spooky reappearance of the previous Executive Officer as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Christmas day itself included the opening of presents around the tree, before the Commanding Officer and others helped serve up a sumptuous Christmas dinner for all.

The chefs on board deserve special credit for managing to create such a varied feast.

There was something for everybody on board from carols to Secret Santa, but just as importantly some space for quiet reflection and thoughts of loved-ones at home.

It may sound like all jokes and jollities, but there are good reasons for making an extra effort when on patrol.

Christmas is a sensitive time of the year and for many of the younger ship’s company who have struck-up relationships almost three years ago, couples have still not spent a Christmas together.

Those with young children up to three years of age have yet to have their father home for Christmas.

Every member of the ship’s company has sacrificed something which is emotionally important in order to serve with HMS Vanguard.