Archive for February, 2011

Have the Brits changed their tune?

I’ve been thankful that the crew I am researching has four Australians in it. This is good because it means that it was very easy to access copies of their service records. The National Archives of Australia provide records to anyone who requests them, for a small fee – and once the records have been requested they are digitally scanned and placed onto their website where anyone can access them free of charge.

But getting British service records has always been much, much harder. They are still under the care of the Royal Air Force and previously you needed to write to their office at RAF Cranwell. You could access an extract of your record for free if you were a veteran, but anyone else was up for a GBP30.00 fee, payable by cheque only (rather difficult to organise from Australia!). On top of that, due to ‘privacy laws’ you required the written permission of the next of kin to access any records at all. If you didn’t have that permission (perhaps you were still searching for them… sound familiar?!??), you couldn’t access anything at all.

I managed to find Freda Hamer, daughter of Jerry Parker’s widow, and got a letter from her which I used to get his service record – which was two single pages of A4, with information limited to his promotions and postings. Useful, but at GBP30.00, rather steep – and a little unreasonable considering for AUD15.00, or about a quarter of the cost, you got a colour scan of an entire service record for an Australian airman – which could run to seventy or so pages! And I needed to trace Jerry’s family before the RAF even considered giving me that much.

But have things changed? Phil Bonner alerted me to this web page a few months ago. It would appear that an otherwise unannounced change has occurred:

 Under the scheme, and in recognition of the duty of care owed to the family of the deceased subject, for a period of 25 years following the date of death of the subject and without the consent of the Next of Kin, MOD will disclose only:  surname; forename; rank; service number; regiment/corps; place of birth; age; date of birth; date of death where this occurred in service; the date an individual joined the service; the date of leaving; good conduct medals (i.e. Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (LS&GCM)), any orders of chivalry and gallantry medals (decorations of valour) awarded, some of which may have been announced in the London Gazette.

After this period, and if it is held, in addition MOD will disclose without the requirement for Next of Kin consent: the units in which he/she served; the dates of this service and the locations of those units; the ranks in which the service was carried out and details of WWII campaign medals.

Note no further requirement for NoK consent.

So it looks as though I’ll now be able to get parts of the service records for Ken Tabor and for Eric Hill.

Still need to organise some cheques in GBP though.

 

 

 

Propeller

My good friend Joss le Clercq is a French aviation historian of some note. When I visited Lezennes and the graves of my great uncle’s crew in 2009, I stayed for a few nights with him in his farmhouse between Fromelles and Aubers, about 20km west of Lille.

Joss has the beginnings of a small aviation museum in his back shed. There are parts of many crashed aeroplanes, all dug up around the local area. Among them is one particular bit of metal. Though badly corroded, it is still unmistakably a fragment of a blade from an aircraft propeller. About fifteen years ago, a hotel and a petrol station was being built in Lezennes. While digging the foundations they found some rusted metal – which Joss identified as the remains of a Lancaster. He retrieved two pieces – the propeller blade and a flat fragment of alloy. From local records he deduced which Lancaster the wreckage was from.

These unassuming bits of metal in Joss’ back shed are most probably the only surviving pieces of Lancaster Mk III, LM475:

img_3755 copy

Of the crash site itself there remains now virtually no trace. The petrol station continues dispensing liquefied dead dinosaurs in its curiously French, completely automatic way. The hotel looked pretty empty when we visited. But there are two large rocks on a small bit of flat ground, which Joss says are pretty close to where he found the propeller blade a decade and a half ago.

I reckon they look ideal for the placing of a small plaque, to mark the spot where the Lancaster came down.

 

img_3854 copyA task, perhaps, for when next I visit.

© 2011 Adam Purcell

One Friday Afternoon’s Work

Gilbert Pate’s first flight – ever – was in a Tiger Moth from Mascot, Sydney in August 1939. His father, Sydney, wrote about it in a letter to Don Smith in July 1944, after the crew had gone missing (A01-346-003). Gilbert had gone flying with a good friend, Andrew MacArthur-Onslow. They even flew over the Pate family home in nearby Kogarah (“2-storey”, wrote Sydney Pate, “and in the nature of a local land-mark”).

Sydney also wrote that Andrew was “now alas deceased”. I decided to try and find out what happened to him.

It seemed likely that Andrew’s was a war-related death, so the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database was my first port of call. I found a match:

Name: MacARTHUR-ONSLOW, ANDREW WILLIAM
Initials: A W
Nationality: Australian
Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Regiment/Service: Royal Australian Air Force
Age: 25
Date of Death: 18/01/1943
Service No: 261535
Additional information: Son of Francis Arthur and Sylvia Seton Raymond MacArthur-Onslow, of Campbelltown.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Row A. Grave 6.
Cemetery: TAMWORTH WAR CEMETERY

Note that he died a Flight Lieutenant and is buried at Tamworth, NSW, the site of an Elementary Flying Training School. This suggested he was an instructor.

I next searched the National Archives of Australia for a service record – which exists, but is not digitised so I can’t access it from here. I did find a record of his enlistment in the Australian Army Militia pre-war. I also looked through some Tiger Moth accident reports but found no matches.

Perhaps Tamworth cemetery records would yield something. I found this page, which had the bloke I was looking for. It also had a record for another man killed on the same day – a Thomas Myles DAWSON of Queensland. Figuring two men was the normal crew complement at an EFTS, there was a good chance that both of these men were killed in the same accident.

Dawson proved the breakthrough. A search for his service number at the National Archives pulled up a service record (digitised) – and, more importantly, an entry in an accident file (also digitised). It was a simple matter to access the accident file, which answered the question of what happened to F/L AW MacArthur-Onslow.

Gilbert Pate’s great mate, who had held a pilot’s licence before the war and who took Gilbert for his first flight, possibly sparking Gil’s interest in flying, was killed in a flying accident while serving with the Central Flying School.  On 18JAN43  MacArthur-Onslow was flying with a Sgt TM Dawson in Wirraway A20-45, on an authorised practice low-level sortie 16 miles south-east of Tamworth. They crashed during the low-level segment of the flight and both were killed. The aircraft was written off. (A04-087-001, NAA: A9845, 102).

The most pleasing thing for me in this saga is that it all happened one Friday afternoon. I was reading through all of Sydney Pate’s letters in preparation for an article I’m working on about Gil when I read the July 1944 correspondence to Don Smith. That sparked the curiosity to find out what happened to Andrew MacArthur-Onslow – and over the course of a couple of hours I found what I was looking for. Another loose thread tied off, another facet of Gilbert Pate’s life uncovered.

© 2011 Adam Purcell