Archive for the 'Commemoration' Category



What happens when those that are left grow too old?

It has long been the case that, following their return from war or warlike service, many veterans will become involved in ex-service groups. These organisations – many set up and run by the veterans themselves – provide support and comradeship for the years immediately following return from war. Regular reunions, typically based around ANZAC Day or other significant dates on the calendar, helped keep alive the close friendships that develop out of shared combat or other adversities. And of course they would also allow time for reflection and remembrance of those who did not come back. As Laurence Binyon wrote, “They shall not grow old.”

But of course there are more words that follow that line from Binyon’s famous poem, For the Fallen:

“..as we that are left grow old.”

Time, inevitably, marches on, and those that are left from WWII are now very, very old indeed. The last Australian to serve overseas in WWI died in 2005. It won’t be many more years before WWII veterans go the same way. Once they are no more, will the ex-service organisations carry on? Who will run them? Who will carry the banners? Who will remember them, at the going down of the sun, and in the morning?

Enter Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. Reasoning that the earlier you get ‘em, the greater the impact, the Shrine runs a programme that as far as I know is unique in Australia. They match ex-service organisations with primary and secondary schools, usually with either a geographical or a historical connection. The Shrine facilitates and hosts initial meetings between the interested parties. It provides guidance on how to proceed. And then it steps discreetly out of the way, leaving the two bodies to continue and develop the relationship that has been cultivated.

Usually targeting a particular year group at the school, the history of the adopted unit is integrated into the school’s curriculum. As the Shrine notes on its website, this works nicely with the Civics and Citizenship part of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (AusVELS) curriculum. Just this in itself is a good reason for becoming involved. But then they go further.

Many different ex-service organisations hold annual commemorative services at the Shrine (that for Bomber Command, of course, is in June each year). But as the veterans age, it becomes harder for them to organise, run or even attend the ceremonies themselves. For units that have been adopted under the Shrine’s programme, the solution is obvious. The school students, who have been learning about the unit at school, meet the veterans, become part of organising the ceremony and then play a role in actually running it. Because the programme is targeted at a specific year group (say, Year 9), different students are involved every year – and thus the unit’s legacy becomes, hopefully, self-perpetuating.

It’s a great idea and one that has already borne fruit. Some 33 schools are already taking part and there are a number of others in the pipeline.

Just imagine learning at school about a particular aspect of WWII, and then meeting people who were actually there. What a fantastic way to inspire an interest and bring the history alive. Wish they’d have thought of it when I was at school!

 

(c) 2015 Adam Purcell

 

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Smoke and Mirrors at the Shrine

One of the things that impressed me the first time I visited the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne was one of the most symbolic architectural features in the building. When the Shrine was built in the 1930s it was designed with a small hole in the roof, in just the right position and at just the right angle that it would catch a ray from the sun and funnel it down such that it would fall on the Stone of Remembrance that is sunk into the floor in the Sanctuary, the main commemorative area.This would happen at 11:00 on 11 November each year in recognition of the time and day when the guns on the Western Front finally fell silent in 1918.

The stone is inscribed with the Biblical phrase, ‘GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN’. And for about four decades, at the appointed hour on the appointed day, a sunbeam would come through the hole and rest lightly on the word ‘LOVE’.

But then in the 1970s Daylight Saving Time was introduced in Victoria. Clocks went forward an hour. And the sunbeam made its grand entrance  at midday, too late for Remembrance Day ceremonies. For four or five years the Shrine made do with an artificial replacement, simulating the beam with a theatrical spotlight, but, well, it just wasn’t the same.

Enter Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology surveyors Frank Johnston and Rod Deakin, who came up with a beautifully simple solution. They installed two mirrors to catch the sun’s light from its ‘new’ 11:00 position and bounce it into the original shaft leading to the Stone of Remembrance.

Genius!

In the days leading up to Remembrance Day each year, the pair, along with their understudy Steven Sheppard, go up into the roof of the Shrine and take observations to recalculate and adjust the mirrors to make certain that it will work. And in the 32 years that Deakin has been involved, clouds have ruined the show on only five occasions (nothing to be sniffed at given Melbourne’s notoriously changeable weather).

They were up there again this week, and Bridie Smith from The Age newspaper wrote an article about them. You can find it, with a short video showing the surveyors at work, here. And there will be the annual Remembrance Day service at the Shrine, next Tuesday from 10:30. Two hours later the brand new Galleries of Remembrance will open to the public for the first time. Details here.

 

(c) 2014 Adam Purcell

A modern-day ‘Escape from Colditz’

Colditz Castle, in Saxony in Germany, is of course most famous for housing Oflag IV-C, the supposedly escape-proof prisoner of war camp during WWII. The prisoners held there all had a demonstrated history of escaping from their previous camps and so describing their new home as escape-proof surely had the same effect as would waving a red rag at a bull. Consequently the prisoners had in place significant secret ‘escapist’ infrastructure and numerous attempts were made to abscond – some 30 of them successful.

Playing an important part in that escaping effort was an unassuming Australian man named Jack Millett, a Lieutenant of the 2/11 Battallion who had a knack for drawing maps. His talent was considered so valuable that the Escape Committee wouldn’t let him escape himself. I was alerted to his story in an article by Tony Wright in yesterday’s The Age newspaper here in Melbourne.

Millett’s wartime adventures inspired another Australian man, 51-year-old Mike Druce, to attempt a modern-day walk from Colditz to Switzerland, retracing as much as possible one of the routes used by escaping prisoners. He walked more than 600km over 17 days in September and October this year, and last Tuesday crossed the Swiss border at Ramsen, just as escapers Airey Neave and Pat Reid did, aided by Jack Millett’s maps, some seven decades ago. Mike had a copy of one of the maps with him as well on his journey.

Mike wanted to use the walk to raise funds for the Fred Hollows Foundation, a non-profit aid organization based in Australia that focuses on treating and preventing blindness and other vision problems, particularly in less-advantaged parts of Australia and the world. He wanted to raise $15,000 – enough money to save the sight of one person per kilometre that he walked.

At the time of writing he has just cracked $10,000 (up $2000ish since Wright’s article was published yesterday).

Mike’s just finished an inspiring walk. The physical challenge was not insignificant. The Fred Hollows Foundation is a very worthy cause. And, by walking across Germany unassisted he has experienced, at least in a limited way, some of the difficulties that faced wartime escapees, alone in a strange and hostile land, and ensured that their exploits are not forgotten. At least the locals were friendlier this time.

Well worth your support, if you can spare a few bob. You can donate to Mike’s cause through his page at Everyday Hero, and read the blog he wrote while he was on the road here.

 

 

Flying over Lezennes

Five miles south-east of the centre of Lille is an airport. With an instrument landing system, VOR/DME and a main runway 2825m long it is now more than capable of handling aircraft up to about Boeing B767 size, and indeed today you can catch a flight direct from Lille to some 70 destinations around France, Europe and northern Africa.

But in 1944 it was the Luftwaffe air base known as Flugplatz Vendeville. Based there between April and September of that year was Fliegerhorst-Kommandatur E (v) 220/XI. On the north-west of the base was a battery of three heavy 88mm flak gun positions and it was this battery which probably shot down a 97 Squadron Lancaster, JB708, during the raid on the marshalling yards to the north on 10 May. [1]And after his own aircraft, B for Baker, was hit attacking the same target, Phil Smith landed nearby:

Not long after [being shot down and landing safely], I came to a heavy barbed wire fence, which I took to be the boundary of the fighter aerodrome to the SE of our target. Basis the guarding of English aerodromes, I reckoned that it would be better to walk across the aerodrome rather than make a long detour around it. Accordingly I started to look for a way under the wire but as soon as I did this, shots rang out. I had not been challenged but felt sure that they were meant for me. I changed my mind immediately and crept off as quietly as possible in a North-Easterly direction…        -Phil Smith, ‘Recollections of 1939-1945 War’

About ten hours short of exactly sixty five years after Phil Smith stumbled onto the boundary fence of an airfield near Lille, I was in a car being driven by my friend Olivier Mahieu across the boundary of the same airfield. We had spent the morning at the graves of the crew of B for Baker and Olivier had organised for me to go flying in a light aeroplane with a local instructor. His sister Sylvie came along in the aircraft to act as translator.

The aircraft was F-GKVV, a TB-9 (a French design, unsurprisingly), a type I had never been in before so I enjoyed the chance to fly something a little different.

F-GKVV, the TB-9 we flew over Lille

F-GKVV, the TB-9 we flew over Lille

Though English is the international language of aviation, the local air traffic controllers use French if you’re flying in a French-registered aeroplane. Which is fair enough, but can present some problems if you don’t speak French. The instructor pilot – whose name was Frank – had English as non-existent as my French and I could barely hear Sylvie’s translation over the headset, but with much gesturing going in both directions between Frank and myself we managed reasonably well.

Flying, particularly in a weird aeroplane in a foreign country, is always good fun. But this flight was memorable for more than just this. Because this was the same area where, sixty five years before, the crew of B for Baker had been flying in a Lancaster.

Not long after taking off we were already over Lezennes. The cemetery where we had spent the morning was clearly visible down below.

Lezennes Communal Cemetery from the air

Lezennes Communal Cemetery from the air

And not all that far away I could see the petrol station and hotel that are now built on the site where B for Baker crashed.

The crash site of LM475 B for Baker - between the motel and service station at top centre.

The crash site of LM475 B for Baker – between the motel and service station at top centre.

And also visible, a mile west of the crash site, were some of the big sheds and railway yards that formed part of the target that night. The Fives marshalling yards are the further set in this photo, just above centre.

Part of the Lille marshalling yards

Part of the Lille marshalling yards

Though the passage of time has unavoidably altered the landscape as more areas have been developed and the suburbs have sprawled, from the air the relationship between the target, the airfield and the place where the aeroplane crashed stands out clearly. They really did crash very close to the target area.

Flying over the same area where my great uncle Jack and his crew were lost was for me a profoundly moving experience. It can never come close, of course, to exactly what it was like that May night in 1944. The weather was good, we were flying in daylight and, critically, no one was shooting at us. At 1,500 feet we were also considerably lower than where the Lancasters would have been flying. But to be in the air, over the same railway yards, was to feel for a moment just a little closer to the crew of B for Baker.

F-GKVV passing a church in Hellemmes - snapped by a friend while we were flying

F-GKVV passing a church in Hellemmes – snapped by a friend of Olivier’s while we were flying

 

(c) 2014 Adam Purcell

 

[1] Jozefiak, Richard 1995. Crash of a RAF bomber occurred on the airfield Vendeville (Lesquin) during the Second World War. Unpublished typescript translated by Peter Harvey

Super Special Bonus Post: Bomber Command in Brisbane, Part II

My sleuths in Brisbane have uncovered three more photos from the Bomber Command Commemorations held there on 1 June 2014. These images were taken by Vicki Gray, used here by permission via Diane Strub. As you can see the weather was more co-operative than what we ‘enjoyed’ in Canberra!

Ethel Braun - widow of 467 Sqn wireless operator William Braun - on her way to lay a wreath

Ethel Braun – widow of 467 Sqn wireless operator William Braun – on her way to lay a wreath

Ethel Braun and Bryan McGill (463 Squadron gunner) right of centre, with Allan Vial of the Pathfinders left of centre, amongst the crowd at Amberley

Ethel Braun and Bryan McGill (463 Squadron gunner) right of centre, with Allan Vial of the Pathfinders left of centre, amongst the crowd at Amberley

The Australian Squadrons memorial following the service

The Australian Squadrons memorial following the service

Thanks to Vicki Gray – Ethel’s daughter – for taking and giving me permission to post these photos, and to Diane Strub for chasing them down for me.

Bomber Command in Brisbane, 1 June 2014

On Sunday 1 June 2014, Bomber Command commemorations took place all around Australia. In Queensland, the ceremony was held at the Memorial Gardens, near the front gate of RAAF Amberley. Tiana Walker-Adair, whose father was a Halifax navigator, sent me these photos:

Ron Hickey DFC, a pilot with 462 and 466 Squadrons, giving his address

Ron Hickey DFC, a pilot with 462 and 466 Squadrons, giving his address

Ron Hickey DFC with his son David

Ron Hickey with his son David

Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland, with Ron Hickey

Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland, with Ron Hickey

Joanne Adair (who was a former Secretary for Winston Churchill) with Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland

Joanne Adair (who was a former Secretary for Winston Churchill – and is Tiana’s mother) with Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland

Group photo of Bomber Command veterans at Amberley

Group photo of Bomber Command veterans at Amberley

 

Thanks to Tiana for these photos. Only Perth to go now, and I’ve collected the whole set!

 

Bomber Command in Sydney, June 2014

While many of the Bomber Command veterans who still live in Sydney travelled down to Canberra for the commemorations held there in early June, a small number attended a ceremony held at the Cenotaph in Martin Place in the middle of the city. I’m still waiting for ‘official’ photos from one of the organisers but, in the meantime, here are three photos from the 460 Squadron Veterans and Friends Group, courtesy of committee member Ray Berghouse.

460 Squadron veteran Fred Sargeant with his wreath

460 Squadron veteran Fred Sargeant with his wreath

Fred Sargeant laying 460 wreath

Fred Sargeant laying the 460 Squadron wreath at the Cenotaph

A rare photo of the four Bomber Command banners together in Sydney: Left to right, they represent 460 Squadron, the Bomber Command Association, 463/467 Squadrons and 462/466 Squadrons.

A rare photo of the four Bomber Command banners together in Sydney: Left to right, they represent 460 Squadron, the Bomber Command Association, 463/467 Squadrons and 462/466 Squadrons.

 

Images passed on to me via Richard Munro, Honourary Historian, 460 Squadron Veterans and Friends Group.


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