Saturday 15 August 2015 marks the 70th Anniversary since the end of the Second World War and also the day Japan surrendered. A large number of Old Emanuels served in the Far East during the Second World War. Here we remember John Chiles who died in October 2014. I was privileged to have interviewed John in 2013 and to mark the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Japan Day you can read about his experiences during the Second World War.
This photo shows the 1938-39 Old Emanuel First Fifteen at Blagdons, the Old Emanuel Rugby grounds. But the men in the photo were anything but ‘old’. Most of them had only left Emanuel a few years previously and when this photo was taken they were all in their early twenties. They couldn’t have possibly known what the future held as they gathered that winter afternoon in Raynes Park. Within nine months Europe was at war for the second time in less than a quarter of a century. Within two years the European war had become a world war and these young men signed up to serve in the forces. They served in Britain, Burma, France, Italy and North Africa. They saw action in some of the fiercest theatres including at Dunkirk, the Italian Campaign battles, Kohima, D-Day and the North African War. Three were made POWs and four were killed in action.
Below are six short portraits of six of the fifteen. The photos show each of them in the winter of 1938-39 and then a photo of them during the war.
Douglas ‘Sammy’ Hoare, F/O 74 Squadron RAF, later Group Captain, POW 25 June 1940 – September 1944. He was captured during the evening of 25th May on the beach between Calais and Dunkirk, together with French civilians and some British Army officers who had evacuated from Calais.
Ken Horseman, Rifleman, 6915329, Rifle Brigade. Captured 29/12/41. POW 1941-1945
On being captured in the Desert on 29th December 1941 Ken remembered: “I got up, and immediately about three Jerries came towards us, one with a revolver, and the other with Tommy-guns. They shouted ‘hands up, hands up’, and we had to explain that the Major was wounded and couldn’t put his hands up. We got to the truck and the Jerries were already looting the back. I saw Bert for the first time, and he wasn’t a pretty sight, so we put some of the truck sheets over his head as he was lying on the ground near the tailboard. The Jerries looked after the Major pretty well, and bandaged up his arm right away, while we asked the jerry sargent if we could bury Bert. He seemed quite pleased that we had suggested it, so Shirley, one of the other signallers and I dug a shallow hole (all we had time for), wrapped Bert in a couple of blankets, and covered him up.”
Ken Millist, P/O, DFC, 615 AND 73 Squadrons RAF. Killed in action 7th April 1941, North Africa.
Eddie Page, Captain, 1st Gurkha Rifles. Eddie saw action throughout the campaign in Burma, including in the Battle of Kohima.
Alan Skillern, Major, 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Killed in action 17th January 1944, Garigliano River.
Alan wrote about his experiences shortly after the Allied Armies launched their campaign to liberate Italy from German forces in September 1943. Writing a few days after the Salerno Landings in September 1943, Alan described how he felt the night before: “After dinner most of us went to our own cabins where, in the privacy of them, we studied our maps and mosaics for the hundredth time. As a Company Commander – I did. I remember asking myself, ‘what haven’t I done?’ – ‘Did I explain that?’ – ‘God, that road looks different’ – If “————“ goes, can I have Sergeant “————“ to take over the Platoon? – and so on unceasingly . Finally and almost in desperation, I tried to sleep but, like the others, I only turned restlessly; waiting for the loud-speakers to announce TROOPS PREPARE TROOPS PREPARE. It came and the reaction was in the pit of my stomach which momentarily experienced a sudden sensation of – nausea was it? I don’t know!”
David Warren, Major, later Brigadier, Hampshire Regiment, MC, DSO
From David’s obituary we learn that: “On September 8 1943, Warren, who had already taken part in the invasion of Sicily, was commanding C Company, 1st Battalion the Royal Hampshire Regiment, part of 231 Infantry Brigade, in an assault landing at Pizzo in Calabria. Racing up difficult, hilly country, Warren and his men reached the main coast road and surprised a column of German armoured fighting vehicles.
Taking command at once of the leading sections, Warren personally led an attack which killed a number of Germans and destroyed several vehicles. In the words of his MC citation: “By his promptness and eagerness for a fight he set a fine example, and in his personal leadership showed complete disregard of his own safety.
By June 1944 the Hampshires had been withdrawn from Italy to take part in the invasion of France, and on D-Day they were in the first wave of the landings at Gold Beach, Le Hamel. Warren, still commanding C Company, led his men across the beach under heavy fire and attacked the houses and pillboxes which were his immediate objectives. Later, when the CO was wounded disembarking from a landing craft and the second-in-command was killed, Warren took command of the battalion and, despite it having suffered very heavy casualties, led it on to capture a series of very stubbornly defended gun positions and infantry strongpoints.
In the words of his DSO citation: “Major Warren showed the greatest courage and leadership and captured ground essential to the success of the operation.” Warren remained in command of the battalion until the arrival of a more senior and experienced officer and then continued as second-in-command until, a few days later, he was wounded during the fighting to extend the Normandy bridgehead and evacuated to England.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.