An extraordinary week of research

In the past week I have lived an historian’s dream. It started on Saturday 11 May when I met the son of Wing Commander Richard Kemp Wildey, DFC. Richard “Dick” Wildey was at Emanuel between 1926 and 1935 and on leaving school joined the RAF. He served in Bomber Command, flying Ops with both 78 and 10 squadrons. Dick died on a mission on 15 October 1942. In the Emanuel School War exhibition in 2014 you will be able to discover Dick’s log books, a selection of his letters (over 150), service papers and his Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), awarded in 1940 for gallantry.
Richard and Eileen Wildey001

Dick’s brother in-law, twin brother of Dick’s wife, Eileen, was Douglas “Sammy” Hoare, who was an RAF pilot in No. 74 squadron. Douglas crashed over France in May 1940, his Spitfire having encountered enemy fire. He was a POW for four years until his release in the summer of 1944. Douglas spent time in Stalag Luft III, the famous camp which was depicted in the films The Wooden Horse and The Great Escape. Among other photos I have now secured the donation of Douglas’ copy of The History of Emanuel School, by C. W. Scott-Giles, that was sent to him by his parents for a Christmas gift in 1940, whilst he was a POW.
Emanuel School History POW Hoare
Emanuel School History POW Hoare inscription
Douglas Hoare Stalag Luft III second from right
Douglas Hoare, second from right, in Oflag XXIB “Schubin”

On 12 May I discovered another Old Emanuel veteran, having traced his family I am to interview him next week. He won an MC for bomb disposal work in the North African theatre. He has never recorded his memories so this will be a unique encounter. He served with the Royal Engineers in North Africa and Italy, having landed at Taranto, he witnessed the destruction of Monte Cassino and ended up building a hospital in Austria.

On 13 May I was doing some research on the British Library Newspaper Archive website and discovered that John Edgar Burns, son of the famous Liberal MP, John Burns (MP for Battersea and famous early 20th century socialist figure) attended Emanuel (1907-1910) and in the Emanuel archive is a photo of John Edgar as a young man. John Edgar served in the Royal Garrison Artillery in the First World War and suffered from shell shock. After the war he worked for the Imperial War Graves Commission but sadly died at the age of 26 in 1922. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Battersea Rise.
Burns, J_08

On 15 May I was on board HMS Belfast for a communications workshop given by the Imperial War Museum in preparartion for events commemorating the First World War. In the evening I was in Westminster Hall, meeting the nephew of a Major in the Royal Corps of Signals. He showed me the letters from his uncle concerning his experiences in Burma in the Second World War. The letters include details of the famine in Calcutta during the war and experiences of signalling whilst in combat againt Japanese forces.

On Friday 17 May I received a phone call early in the morning from the cousin of the lead signalman of the St. Nazaire Raid, Seymour Pike. Having met Seymour’s cousin and her husband in the evening I now have copies of all his letters and papers, including a number of photos of him and a very special inscription from Commander R. E. Ryder VC to Seymour’s mother, Mrs. Nicholls in his book on the St. Nazaire Raid (Operation Chariot). Seymour won a Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) for the part he played in the Raid and I am now able to tell the story of Seymour’s service career for the first time in over 70 years. Seymour died on board HMS Laforey in 1944.
Seymour Charles Pike 1942
Ryder's book HR_Page_1
Ryder's book HR_Page_2

On Saturday 18 May I received a wonderful letter from another Old Emanuel who I got in contact with a couple of months ago and now have copies of a unique set of photos showing the 579 Army Field Company Royal Engineers building a Bridge near Salerno during the Italian Campaign and also a Bailey bridge being built in 1944.

It’s not every week that you get to discover so many unique aspects of a subject you thoroughly enjoy researching. It has been a privilege to share in these individuals’ life stories. I’m wondering what the next few weeks will bring? Well…another interview with a tank driver, who at the age of 20 was made a Captain and became Technical Officer of ‘C’ Squadron in the Burma Campaign. That will be on 1 June. So a busy few weeks of preparing interview questions, writing for the exhibition catalogue and discovering more about the lives of 1600 Emanuel boys who appear on the School’s First and Second World War Rolls of Service.


The bombing of Chelsea Old Church in the Second World War

Dacre tomb drawing by P K Kipps from Survey of London 1921 Godfrey volume 7 page 84dacre tombChelsea Old Church The War Illustrated 16 May 1941004Chelsea Old Church The War Illustrated 16 May 1941002

What may you ask is the connection between Chelsea Old Church and Emanuel School? The answer is that the tomb of Emanuel’s founders, Lord and Lady Dacre, is situated in the south side of the church. In April 1941 the church was heavily damaged in a bombing raid. See here images of the church before and after it was bombed in April 16-17 1941. It was fully restored in the 1950s. Also see here images of the Dacre tomb including a drawing by P. K. Kipps ‘Plate 84: Chelsea Old Church: monuments’, Survey of London: volume 7: Chelsea, part III: The Old Church (1921), pp. 84.

A daring escape from occupied France in WW2


In 1941 5 French boys crossed the Channel in a canoe to escape occupied France. They were greeted by Winston Churchill at Downing Street and on 26th September visited Emanuel School in its wartime location in Petersfield where they made a number of friends. A clip of the boys shows them being greeted by Winston Churchill at Downing Street (See first link below). (The boys were Pierre, 19, Jean, 17, Reynolde, 16, Guy, 16, and Christian, 17.) Their story was told in Life Magazine which can be viewed by clicking on the second link below. British Pathe footage and Life Magazine article

Leros November 1943 and an Old Emanuel POW

Bill Taylor in Brunswick026Bill Taylor War Time Log038

William “Bill” Taylor was at Emanuel School between 1929 and 1935. He obtained a commission as a Lt. in the King’s Own Royal Regiment, transferring to the Buffs in 1943. He was captured on the Island of Leros in 1943 when the Germans attacked the Island. For the next 17 months Bill was a Prisoner of War. After being captured Bill spent the following year being transferred to various German POW camps. His journey took him from Leros to Athens, Thermopylae, (Stalag) VII A (Moosburg), Oflag VIII F (Mahrisch-Trubau) and finally Oflag 79 (Brunswick). I have recorded Bill’s memories of his time during the Second World War and especially his experiences as a POW. I will be retelling Bill’s story in an exhibition catalogue to be published in 2014, recounting extracts from his wartime log, which was given him by The War Prisoner’s Aid of the Y.M.C.A.

A short clip of Bill discussing the topic of escape in Oflag 79 can be viewed on my You Tube channel

Photos on this blog include Bill (left) and his friend Ron Hills (right) as POWs in Brunswick POW camp. Also a photo of Bill’s wartime logbook.

J C F Hopkins Royal Flying Corps


You can now listen to J C F Hopkins’ memories of being a night flyer in the Royal Flying Corps. He was the first Captain of Boats at Emanuel School in 1915. He was recorded in 1972 and all six recordings are now available on the Imperial War Museum’s website which can be found here or by typying in J C F Hopkins into the IWM’s Collections search engine.