Gordon Murray 1921-2016

It was with much sadness that I received the news of Gordon Murray’s passing recently. In 2014 I interviewed Gordon about his war experiences. Gordon and his two brothers all attended Emanuel in the 1930s. Below you can read the piece I wrote about Gordon in Emanuel School at War. The photos belong to the estate of Gordon Murray and may not be reproduced.

G M Murray

Gordon Murray in the Second World War

Gordon Murray (Emanuel 1929–1937)

Here is the clock, the Trumpton Clock.
Telling the time steadily, sensibly, never
too quickly, never too slowly, telling the time
for Trumpton.

A generation of children in the 1960s and 70s grew up watching the Trumptonshire Trilogy. It was a gentle, nostalgic, children’s animation, was ground breaking for its day, and was shot both in colour and using stop-motion animation techniques. Its creator was Gordon Murray who attended Emanuel School between 1929 and 1937 and was interviewed
by Daniel Kirmatzis in 2014. Whilst at School Gordon was involved in the Dramatic Society playing a number of roles. On his love of drama Gordon said, ‘It was built in as it were.’ He made his debut playing a servant but later he says, ‘I got quite good parts.’ Gordon was also a member of the Officer Training Corps.

Gordon’s brothers, who were older than him, attended Emanuel in the 1920s. The family lived in St. James’s Drive, Wandsworth Common. On leaving School Gordon was
learning the business of journalism, working as an office boy on Home Gardening and the Smallholder in the Strand. Whilst working for Home Gardening he joined the local Territorials, who were part-time soldiers. Gordon went once a week to the Territorial
Head Quarters in Victoria taking part in their drills. He was in the Territorials when war broke out and on 2 September 1939 he received his call up papers from the London Scottish Regiment. Gordon’s brother Norman was also called up in the London Scottish and both became full-time soldiers. At this time the eldest Murray brother, Richard, was working for the Bank of India. He became the Adjutant in the local Territorials in Malaya rising to the rank of 2nd Lt. As the Japanese swept through the Pacific in 1942 Richard was made a POW and wasn’t released until September 1945.

On 3 September 1939, Private G. Murray (Service Number 314644) was in Olympia and was told by the Territorial Officer that war had been declared. As the war progressed
Gordon was trained as a Radio Mechanic in the London Scottish, receiving private instruction on electricity and radio. He trained with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers and after three months found himself on a searchlight patrol, where he had responsibility for the radio controlled searchlight. Searchlights were used to light up German bombers over Britain’s skies and assisted Fighter Command pilots and anti-aircraft guns at night as they made attacks on these bombers.

Gordon then applied for a commission into the Royal Corps of Signals. His war service had been carried out in England until 1944 when the Allies launched D-Day. As a platoon
commander Gordon moved to Portsmouth as preparations were made for the crossing on 6 June 1944. Gordon described the atmosphere amongst the men as being ‘quite ebullient.’
He recalls, after landing at Gold Beach, sleeping in a ditch on the first day after D-Day.

The Royal Corps of Signals were given the task of keeping the lines of communication opened for the Allied advance. The RCS set to work repairing switchboards and cables and laying new cables in what was essentially the most important aspect of the Allied advance, for without their vital contribution, the advance would have been considerably hindered.

During a halt in the Allied push forward in the winter of 1944 Gordon organised a play in Belgium called By Candlelight, which was performed to the various Allied Units. Gordon
both produced and took the leading part in the production. After the war ended Gordon also performed in a play called Women Aren’t Angels, produced by Bill Fraser, who ran a
repertory company in England.

Gordon’s brother Norman was commissioned into the Royal Scots and also took part in operations to liberate North West Europe in 1944 and 1945. Aside from the business of
war Gordon took the opportunity one day in 1945 to drive in a jeep to see Norman whose birthday it was. Norman was stationed on the banks of the Rhine at this time and no
doubt was pleased to share the bottle of brandy Gordon had brought him.

Norman Murray OE brother of Gordon

Norman Murray – Gordon’s brother

With the conclusion of hostilities and after serving in the Regular Army for six years Gordon was soon demobbed. It wasn’t long before his passion for drama was renewed. In the 1950s he was in a specially built tent on the sea front doing puppet shows. His love of puppets he describes as having been ‘built in’ and was ignited by his father who took him
to theatres in London which had puppet shows playing, including ventriloquist acts.

Gordon had established a puppet company touring theatres around the UK when one day in the mid 1950s his talent was  recognised by BBC producer Freda Lingstrom whom he had invited to a performance. From this Gordon’s career took off. He operated Spotty
Dog in the BBC Children’s show The Woodentops and oversaw the BBC’s puppet theatre in the 1950s producing an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s Nightingale and thirtythree episodes of the Rubovia Legends. In the early 1960s Gordon
was offered Head of Children’s Television but he turned it down and decided to form his own production company.

Gordon then created Camberwick Green which became the first series of the classic children’s television trilogy, Trumptonshire, which included Trumpton and Chigley. In 2014 the character Windy Miller from Gordon’s Camberwick Green, was made into a Royal Mail stamp for their Classic Children’s Television collection.

Gordon Murray 1

Gordon as Puppet Master

Millions of children in the 1960s and 1970s adored Gordon’s programmes. They had a gentle and nostalgic feeling and a host of memorable characters. Perhaps most fondly
remembered are the Trumpton Firemen, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb. Their names were given in a roll call given by their commander, Captain Flack and as with all of the Trumptonshire series there were memorable musical numbers or rhythms as in the opening titles of Trumpton: ‘Here is the clock, the Trumpton Clock…’

After the Trumptonshire series Gordon made new animations Skip and Fuffy and The Gublins which appeared during Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, another classic children’s television show aired between 1976 and 1982.
In 2012 the original Trumptonshire series was restored by BBC Studios and Post Production and can now be enjoyed by a new generation.


D-DAY 70: In Memoriam – Robert Edwin Fielder (Emanuel 1935-1941)

Friday June 6, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day. On that day in 1944 tens of Old Emanuels (OE) took part in the largest amphibious invasion in history to free Western Europe from Nazi domination. 70 years later we remember the actions of the only OE to lose his life on that fateful June day.

Fielder aged 18

Robert aged 18

Robert Fielder came to Emanuel from Holden Street Boys’ School in 1935. A talented musician he played the violin. Robert was also a member of Emanuel’s Officers’ Training Corps. On leaving Emanuel he trained as a chartered accountant before being called up at the age of eighteen. He joined the Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.S.C.). Normally four companies of the R.A.S.C. supported a Division by keeping it supplied with ammunition, petrol and rations.

Robert was transferred to 716 Company (Airborne Light) which in 1943 became part of the 6th Airborne Division. It was soon designated for special operations in connection with Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. It wasn’t until the spring of 1944 that the commanders of the Airborne Division were given the code word Overlord. Lower ranks would have been kept in the dark until much nearer the time of the invasion.

Robert was in No. 1 Parachute Platoon 716 Airborne which jumped with the 5th Parachute Brigade. Robert had passed the required eight jumps in order to qualify for airborne operations.

Robert Edwin Fielder

Private Fielder 14384200

On May 30 1944, Robert wrote to his sister Margaret:

By the way, if and when the second front does start, will you please save me the morning papers for me for the first fortnight or so and when you write again please send a couple of Penguin books, not too blood-thirsty.

We were inspected last week by the King and Queen and Princess Elizabeth…They looked like what I expected except Princess Elizabeth who was smaller than she seems to be in photographs.

I’m afraid that leave is out of the question for some time yet. I think however that it will be sooner than you will expect.

In the early hours of June 6 No. 1 platoon took off in a Stirling aircraft from R.A.F. Keevil. 5th Parachute Brigade’s objective that day was to support Major Howard’s Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry glider-borne assault team who were tasked with the capture of the Bénouville and Ranville Bridges which crossed the Caen Canal and the River Orne. 5th Parachute Brigade was also tasked with clearing German anti-airborne defences. Members of 716 Company R.A.S.C. were tasked with gathering the various supplies being dropped by bombers and transport aircraft and distributing them to the fighting units.

However, on that fateful dark morning as Robert descended over Ranville his parachute caught on telephone wires. As he hung on the wall of the Chateau below he was shot by German troops. A French Countess recovered Robert’s body and covered him with a shroud, an act for which she was later awarded the Croix de Guerre, a French military decoration. Robert was later buried in Ranville War Cemetery. Robert was only 19 years old when he was killed on D-Day. As the sun sets over Normandy on Friday June 6, 2014, this brave young man and his family will be in our thoughts.

Fielder grave with cross

An early photo of Robert’s grave in Ranville

Montgomery with Fielder mum and sister

Robert’s mother and sister meeting Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery in Normandy in the late 1940s.

The Mulberry Harbours: In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day

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Images Copyright Wates Ltd.

The 6th June 2014 will mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. It will be a time to remember the significant contribution three Old Emanuel brothers, Allan Charles Wates (Emanuel 1919-1927) Norman Edward Wates (Emanuel 1917-1921) and Sir Ronald Wallace Wates (Emanuel 1917-1923) played in the construction of the Mulberry Harbours.

The Wates family have had an association with Emanuel for almost a century. Three brothers Allan, Norman and Ronald all attended the School between 1917 and 1927. The boys’ father and uncle started building light, compactly built houses to replace uncomfortable Victorian houses in the early 1900s and by 1926 Norman had joined his father and uncle in the business. Two to three years later Allan and Ronald also joined the Company which by the 1930s had moved from Streatham to London Road, Mitcham and then to Norbury. By the 1930s Wates Ltd. was firmly on the map and in the 21st century Wates Ltd. still flourishes as one of the largest construction companies in the UK.

Up to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the Company was constructing around 2000 houses per year. The Company’s Contract Department was inaugurated under the direction of Allan Wates in 1936 allowing it to expand its business, initially securing deals for the building of fire stations, drill halls, libraries and a variety of public works. These included Kingston Drill Hall and Sutton Library.

The Munich Crisis of 1938 did little to assuage those who firmly believed Czechoslovakia would not be the last in Hitler’s territorial ambitions and so by late 1938 Britain was preparing itself for a potential European conflict. At this time Wates Ltd. secured contracts from the War Office to erect camps and defence works in southern England. In collaboration with consulting engineers they also produced the designs and put into production precast concrete air raid shelters and trench linings in early 1939 including for the whole of the borough of Battersea. The Company also supported its staff in any National Service they wished to undertake including providing an extra week’s paid holiday to staff who were Territorials (reserve soldiers). Once the war began they also provided pre-cast floor slabs for a London tube station which was converted into a shelter.

At the outbreak of war the Company was handling over one hundred contracts for the War Office. At this difficult time Wates Ltd. moved to reassure its employees, “Each of us will find inconveniences, difficulties and hardships, but will tackle them cheerfully in the knowledge that each one overcome is a contribution to the national effort.”

In October 1939 the War Office wrote to the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors with a request for one hundred steel fixers and one hundred carpenters for urgent work overseas. The men were to be enlisted into a Corps of the Royal Engineers. At this time Wates Ltd. decided to offer their services to the War Office by forming the Wates Royal Engineers General Construction Company. This was later designated as 687 Company, Royal Engineers.

The Mulberry Harbours

Perhaps the most important project in the Wates Company’s history was the contract they took on for building components of the pre-fabricated harbour, code-named Mulberry, which assisted the supply of goods and military equipment in the wake of the Allied invasion of France in June 1944. Eventually two harbours were established, Mulberry A, to support the beaches on which US troops landed and Mulberry B at Arromanches, in the British invasion area. Mulberry A was largely destroyed in a powerful storm on the 19th to the 20th of June 1944.

Allied planners understood early in the war that once their forces landed in any planned invasion of the French coast they would need to be supplied with reinforcements. The disastrous results of the Dieppe Raid of 1942 led to a rethink of how the Allied forces could launch and carry out an amphibious assault of the French mainland. Their main obstacle was the lack of harbours along the stretch of coast that they eventually designated for the operation, known from 1943 as Overlord. The solution to this problem required the best engineering minds available.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote a memorandum headed, ‘Piers for Use On Beaches’, to Lord Mountbatten, the Chief of Combined Operations, on the 30th of May 1942, “They must float up and down with the tide. The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution worked out. Don’t argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves.” With this order a team of engineers were called upon to work out ways in which this could be achieved.

Between 1943 and June 1944 Wates Ltd. became one of a number of companies which set about putting the idea of an artificial harbour into reality. Wates Ltd. carried out their work on the Mulberry components at yards and docks across the country including at Goat Road in Mitcham and the West India Docks.

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At one of the construction sites where Mulberry components were built. Copyright Wates Ltd.

Essentially the harbours consisted of a line of floating breakwaters three miles out from the coast and inside them, sunken concrete breakwaters. Connecting these to shore were floating pontoons and bridges. Hundreds of thousands of men and women of the Allied forces landed at the harbour in Arromaches as supplies were delivered to Allied forces as they set upon driving German forces out of France and the Low Countries. The historian Max Hastings raised doubts in his book, Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy 1944, whether the huge costs and man-power in constructing the Mulberries was commensurate with the results delivered i.e. Hastings and other researchers questioned if a smaller scale operation would have delivered similar results and more efficiently than ended up being the case with the problems which beset the Mulberries once established. But there is no doubt that the indefatigable energy of the Wates brothers and their workforce was of the highest order when one considers the huge scale of the operation, which ultimately played no small part in supporting the Allied advance, despite the difficulties it faced.

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Wates employees who worked on the Mulberry Harbour, with Allan, Norman and Ronald Wates Copyright Wates Ltd.

The following is the story of the Wates’ contribution to the Mulberry Harbour as retold in the Wates News Sheet in November 1944:

In recent weeks the story of the Prefabricated Port of Arromanches has been told and it is now possible for us as a Company to speak of the not inconsiderable part which we have played. Our connection started a very long time ago-back in the spring of 1942. Just previous to this Sir James Lithgow, the Controller of Merchant Shipbuilding, had asked us to help the Army with our experience of concrete barge building to solve some transport and constructional problems which were arising in Egypt and Persia. This put us in touch with the appropriate division of the War Office and from that time onwards we were always called upon to co-operate with them in some of the many problems with which they were grappling. We were able to be helpful in many ways-providing from Barrow floating crane pontoons and motor transport ferries and from London the beach landing mats from which and upon which, so many great operations took place-Dieppe, North Africa and Normandy. These, however, were sidelines compared with the main long term problem which faced the War Office-that of providing the means of landing on the continental shore the millions of tons of heavy equipment required for the invasion of Europe. Looking back now, it is seen that the War Office seemed always to have had in mind just the sort of conditions found at Arromanches-long flat sloping beaches which are so suitable in many ways for tank landing craft, but so unsuitable for larger ships and even coasters. To make these beaches more useful to all sorts of ships, it was necessary to construct the means of landing vehicles and other equipment from ships lying in deep water which might be nearly a mile from the shore. Many schemes were thought of in 1942 and several experiments made. The scheme which was ultimately to prove successful-the War Office scheme-was the one for which we were asked to provide the pontoons. This was a pier scheme embodying flexible steel spans supported on our reinforced concrete floats. Like all the other details of the proposal, the mere statement “reinforced concrete floats” conveys little of the complexity of the problem. These floats had the most difficult design conditions imaginable. They must be light, yet strong enough to support the weight of spans and tanks when aground. They must be of shallow draught. They could not be too beamy, otherwise they would foul the bridge in rough weather. It would be useful if they could tow as well broadside as bows on-and many other considerations. The responsibility for the reinforced concrete design was taken by Messrs. L. G. Mouchel and Partners, with whom we collaborated in order to ensure that the design should be as straightforward in production as possible, having regard to the complexity of the conditions.

These were built at Barrow in conditions of great secrecy in the autumn of 1942 and delivered to a place in Scotland where the first experimental pier was built in the early part of 1943, It must be remembered that all this was going on when the U-Boat menace was at its height and the nation’s whole shipbuilding resources were taxed to the uttermost and it is because of that fact that reinforced concrete was the material chosen, instead of steel, for the floating parts.

This pier was a great success from the outset and films of its performance were taken to Ottawa for the Prime Minister’s conference in August 1943, where the final invasion plans were decided upon. There it was decided that whilst the pier scheme was to go ahead up to ten miles, there should also be about five miles of breakwaters constructed partly to protect the piers and partly to provide protection to the beaches.

Upon the War Office experts’ return with this vast commitment-all to be completed in about five months-Brigadier Sir Bruce White, the Director of Ports and Inland Water Transport, set up two committees to give him certain advice concerning the breakwater scheme. The first was composed of many eminent engineers who were concerned with design. The second consisted of three contractors, Sir Malcolm McAlpine, Mr. Storey Wilson of Holloway Bros., and Mr. Norman Wates, whose job it was to say which designs were easiest to construct, what facilities and labour forces were required and how long the job would take. In less than a fortnight of continuous and intensive work by both committees, the report was submitted and the Ministry of Supply embarked upon their gigantic task.

The responsibilities with which we were entrusted were indeed heavy. Failure in quality or delivery in any of the various items would have had catastrophic results for the invasion. As an example, if our mooring shuttles had not been anchored in time. In all our production this was fully realised by everyone concerned and planning and production went ahead with a very keen sense of the momentousness of the task upon which we were engaged.

The Company’s commitment consisted of the provision of all the pier pontoons, some 450 in all, 12 pierhead pontoons, 500 shuttles or mooring vessels and proto-type S.L.U.G. boats. The work was carried out at West India Docks, Southsea, Marchwood, Beaulieu, Balham, Bedfont, Willow Lane and the Goat Yard. Barrow, on geographical grounds, was ruled out, but the pioneer work they did was of inestimable service. Despite the magnitude of the task we can say with pride that in point of time and quality, economy of labour and construction generally, we reached complete success in all the various craft.