Emanuel School’s Second World War Roll of Honour

WWII Memorial 2

Emanuel School Second World War Memorial

Emanuel School Second World War Roll of Honour

The names of 94 young men are on Emanuel School’s Second World War Roll of Honour (See link above). This is not just a list of names; it is a group of individuals, who lived but brief lives. Gaze your eyes down the list of ages and the majority were killed in action in their mid-twenties. They knew so little of life. Some had married, but all too brief was their joy before the Second World War tore them from loved ones. It must have been unimaginable to have the one you love never come home, only belongings such as a log book, a ring or some other personal item. Their photos and memories were all that was left for their parents, families and wives. Their families may have remembered that last cup of tea shared before their young men travelled the world, in daring raids at sea, terrifying battles in the sky and arduous treks on land, fighting across the globe to defend a way of life.

I would often gaze at the Second World War memorial when I was at school. These young men sat where I once sat, in silent prayer or full song. Unlike them I have been privileged to live in a time of peace and it is fitting to pay tribute to those who fought for it.

Rowing 1935 Staines Winning Crew

Emanuel School rowing IV 1935 having won Staines Regatta

Among these names are those of Alan Skillern, who became a Major in the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and who in 1935 was Captain of Boats at Emanuel. Seen in the photo above, first from left, winning Staines Regatta in 1935. Alan was killed fighting in the Italian Campaign, near the Garigliano river in January 1944 and was discovered by his school friend, Stanley Charles Warner who was also in the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and who lost his life a year later. In the same photo is Kenneth Millist, second from left, a Battle of Britain pilot who was shot down and killed in North Africa in 1941. Also in the photo is Howard Gordon Cross, first from right, killed at Dunkirk. They look such happy young men, winning a race, sadly to be cut down in youth only a few years later.

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Emanuel School’s First World War Roll of Honour

WW1 Memorial

The First World War Memorial

The names of 145 Emanuel boys and masters appear on the School’s First World War Roll of Honour. Since I started my research I have added 15 new names to the School’s Roll of Honour which do not appear on the School’s First World War memorial. In addition I have discovered the names of 5 Old Emanuels (OEs) who were originally included on the memorial but who are now known to have survived the war. The new Roll of Honour was compiled using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database and the School’s original Pro Patria lists, several versions of which were produced.

Emanuel School First World War Roll of Honour

Interesting notes:
12 OEs are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing.
4 OEs were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
The pre-war Headmaster, Harold Buchanan Ryley and his son H B Ryley Jr. are included on the Roll of Honour.

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Service for the unveiling of the Emanuel First World War memorial 1923

Emanuel’s Fallen Across the Globe

Here are two links to maps which show where Emanuel School’s Fallen from both world wars are either buried or remembered. Whilst the First World War fallen are mainly concentrated in France, those who fell in the Second World War are buried across the world from Nassau to New Britain Island.

First World War

Emanuel WW1 Fallen Map

https://maps.google.co.uk/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=214398614737166793049.0004d3523121d4681e40b

Second World War

Emanuel WW2 Fallen Map

https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=214398614737166793049.0004d183e77d786413541

Five of “The Few”: Emanuel’s Battle of Britain Pilots

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Emanuel School educated 5 of “The Few” who defended Britain against German invasion in the summer and autumn of 1940 in what became known as The Battle of Britain. By October 1940 around 544 Fighter Command pilots, including one Old Emanuel, had been killed.

Horace Stanley “George” Darley 609 Squadron

Darley, H S 32 c

History tells us that George Darley (OE1925-32) was a pilot “Ace” which means he had been involved in destroying at least 5 enemy aircraft. His totals are: 3 destroyed; 3 probables and 2 damaged. One of the Spitfires he flew in the Battle of Britain currently hangs from the ceiling of the Imperial War Museum. Darley was an Emanuel School all-rounder, as well as being Captain of Boats he also represented the school at rugby, fives, swimming and shooting. The shooting was to come in handy as Darley was a tremendous pilot and is often mentioned in books detailing the Battle of Britain, including James Holland’s recent book which pays tribute to the clever flying tactics Darley used. After leaving Emanuel and having gained Certificate “A” in the Officer Training Corps George applied for a commission in the RAF, and by the time the war started he was training other pilots in France. After being mentioned in Despatches he escaped back to the UK and was to fly continually through the Battle of Britain. Here Darley explains in his own words what he observed and how he came to make the vital change in tactics which subsequently reduced the number of pilots being killed:

“On return to the UK in June 1940 I was posted to a spitfire squadron in Essex. After 3 sorties I had discovered how NOT to command a fighter squadron, and on 28th June was pleased to be given Command of 609 spitfire squadron. This squadron suffered casualties in Dunkirk, and I closely questioned the pilots on how the losses were incurred. To me it was apparent that the main causes were too rigid a formation and no knowledge of deflection shooting. With my flying instructor background I considered these and other causes as yet another flying problem which eventually led me to examine all aspects of a fighter sortie from take off to landing. The squadron was then moved in July where I was to put my unproven theories into practice.”

In the following months he led more than 80 successful missions, with the loss of only 7 pilots.

In an interview years later another 609 Battle of Britain pilot John Bisdee remembered the role Darley played, “We got a rarely good regular Air Force CO called George Darley who really pulled the squadron together, we’d lost all these experienced pilots, they had probably been lost because lack of training, a lot of them never saw what hit them…under George Darley we were sent to Middle Wallop, this fellow Darley was an absolute first class chap and he worked at us and did a very good job at getting the squadron re-established and trained and then of course the Battle of Briatin was on us…” He continued by describing Darley’s tactical contribution, “The great contribution of people like this chap George Darley to us was that he flew as a target and trained us to attack from out of the sun to do quarter attacks to do head on attacks and so on…”.

1940 Buckingham Palace - receiving the DSO[1]

Darley proved to be an exceptional leader, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), for his contribution to the Battle of Britain, in the autumn of 1940, and his achievement is noted in the Emanuel School Magazine The Portcullis.

Colin Dunstan Francis 253 Squadron

Colin Francis140

Whereas Darley went on to fight throughout the war, in amongst other places the Far East, the life of Colin Francis (OE1932-39) was cut very short in that fateful summer of 1940. Sadly, the law of the RAF jungle dictated that rookie pilots often flew the oldest, slowest or most damaged planes. Also, statistics showed that there was a very high mortality rate of novice pilots flying in their first five missions: there was no such thing as beginners luck in the Battle of Britain. Sadly, Francis died on his maiden voyage of August 30th. He was killed under exceptionally brave circumstances, he had set off on a sortie with two other fighters to attack a much larger force of bombers and fighters. Being his first encounter with the Luftwaffe it is hard to imagine how he must have been feeling that morning. He was shot down and reported missing, however, his body and plane were not discovered until 1981 when an excavation in a Kent farm uncovered Hurricane L 1965 with a pilot’s body still in the cockpit. It proved to be Francis, whose body and craft laid untouched in time for 41 years. He was buried with full military honours at Brookwood Military Cemetery, and the story was widely reported in the press at the time as “The Lost Boy”. He was flying one of 3 planes who went up against 75 German aircraft, Group Captain Gleave who survived the battle stated: “after Brown was shot down, Colin and I went in by ourselves. We went right into the middle of them and I never saw him again. He was a damned fine kid and full of guts.” Pilot Officer Carthew added “we were close friends and were known on the Squadron as Tweedledee and Tweedledum”. These days the term hero is bounded around far too easily and frequently, actors, rich sports stars and spoilt musicians are quite undeserving of this monikor, however, the likes of Colin Francis certainly are.

Colin francis funeral

Harry Arthur Robin Prowse 266 & 603 Squadrons

Harry Prowse012

Harry Prowse (OE1932-39) also joined the RAF straight after school, where he was a scholar, a musician and an actor, his final performance being in “Saint Joan” in the Winter of 1938. When he died aged 89 the obituary in The Guardian noted “As a handsome Spitfire pilot, he rarely had to buy his own drinks. But at the age of 19, he was fighting in the Battle of Britain, and by the time he was 20 he had been shot down twice, interrogated by the Gestapo and shipped off to the notorious Stalag Luft III PoW camp”. After being shot down for the first time in northern France Harry escaped back to England. However, after shooting down two Messerschmitt Bf-109s he was himself shot down on 4 July 1941 by none other than Luftwaffe ace Josef “Pips” Priller, who was later depicted in the film The Longest Day. Like many others Harry found it difficult to talk about his wartime experiences. After surviving a forced march through Poland in January 1945 he arrived back in the UK around VE Day. He rejoined the RAF after the war, however, he found it difficult to settle in the UK and emigrated to Brazil to grow oranges, where he remained until his death. At his funeral, the Brazilian Air Force staged a fly-past.

Harry Prowse talking with Rolf Pringel whilst Josef Priller  looks

Harry Prowse (left), shortly after his capture with Luftwaffe pilots Rolf Pringle (centre), and Josef Priller (right).

Brian Robert Noble 79 Squadron

Noble, B R_33

Brian Noble (OE1927-33) was both a rower, and like many future service men, a member of the Officer Training Corps. On 28 August 1940 he claimed a share in shooting down a Heinkel 59. On 1 September he was shot down after Combat with Bf 109’s over Biggin Hill, and baled out of Hurricane L2062. He was wounded and landed at Marley Lake Riverhead being admitted to Sevenoaks Hospital. Having needed surgery for his wounds he became a member of the famous Guinea Pig Club for RAF pilots who had been badly burned in the process of fighting and who required facial reconstruction. He was released from the RAF in 1946 but rejoined and retired with the rank of Wing Commander in 1969.

Kenneth Milton Millist 615 & 73 Squadrons

Millist, K M_35b

Kenneth Millist (OE1931-35) is another OE who had a celebrated school career. He was both a top rugby player and rower and was part of a very strong rowing squad in the mid 1930s recording many good wins at Staines, Twickenham, Reading, Richmond and Kingston Regattas. He appears in a slew of school rugby and rowing photos, littered with fellow boys who were to die in the coming war. Millist joined the RAF in 1939 and flew in squadrons 73 and 615 in the Battle of Britain, before seeing further active service in Libya and the Middle East where he was killed. In February 1941 he was shot down over Benina and evaded capture for 3 days by trekking 60km in the desert before meeting friendly Australian forces. After returning to his squadron he was killed in action on Monday 7 April 1941. It is believed that he was shot down by ground fire. He was 22 years old, and is remembered on the Alamein Memorial and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His commanding officer provided further details on the award: “Attacking an enemy aircraft and driving it off, then landing after the raid without exterior aids. PO Millist displayed exceptional courage, initiative and devotion to duty throughout the whole of the raid and showed complete disregard for his own safety.”

Kenneth Millist209

They defended their country when they were in their early twenties. They were remarkable young men who sacrificed so much for so many and they deserve to be recognised. From the corridors and classrooms of Emanuel School on Wandsworth Common to the skies above Britain they contributed no small part to saving western civilisation from Fascism.

Daniel Kirmatzis and Tony Jones.

“Take care of Christopher”: Hope and sorrow in war

Willett, A D_31

Arthur Daniel Willett was a keen cricketer at Emanuel. He attended the School between 1925 and 1933. Details about his service career are currently sketchy but it is known that he was captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell in February 1942. On 7 January 1944 an article appeared in the local Battersea newspaper, the South Western Star, which announced that Arthur’s father, Mr. Thomas Charles Willett, (who was the Mayor of Wandsworth’s secretary) and Arthur’s wife, Betty Moira Bell Willett had received information that he was alive and that he was in No. 4 POW Camp Thailand. In his letter to his wife he wrote, “Take care of Christopher“. Christopher was born after the fall of Singapore and never had the opportunity of seeing his father. The following year having had no more news of Arthur a second article appeared in the South Western Star on 19 January 1945. This time hope was turned into sorrow, the headline read, “Mayor’s Secretary Informed of Son’s Death“. For a whole year his family thought he was alive, not knowing that shortly after he had sent news home in 1943 he had died.

Arthur was a private in the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. We know that he was listed as prisoner 5955656. He was a POW for 22 months before dying of ulcers on 8 December 1943. One can only imagine the inhumane conditions Arthur would have experienced in those 22 months and perhaps the thought of home, his wife and the son he never met gave him the strength to survive for so long. A mere decade before he had been running across the Emanuel School cricket pitch on a summer’s day. He was 28 when he died. Originally buried in the camp in which he was a POW, Tasao No. 2, his remains are now buried in Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. It is likely that Arthur was involved in the construction of the infamous Burma-Thai Railway.

If anyone has any further information about Arthur’s war service then please do leave a message.

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