75th Anniversary of Raid on St Nazaire

Tuesday 28 March 2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of the Raid on St Nazaire. Old Emanuel Seymour ‘Peter’ Pike played a crucial role that day.

Seymour Charles ‘Peter’ Pike DSM (Emanuel 1933–1937)

Seymour Charles Pike 1942

At Emanuel Seymour Charles, known as Peter, coxed junior rowing crews. He is seen in a photograph of one Emanuel crew on the hard just outside Tom Green’s Boat House which was adjacent to Barnes Bridge in the mid-1930s.  Peter was also a member of the Tooting Sea Cadet Corps. Both roles would have allowed Peter to gain a familiarity with the sea and rivers from an early age.

He was also interested in languages and Emanuel in the 1930s had excellent German language teachers which proved essential to Peter in the Second World War. His father, Roy Seymour Pike, also attended Emanuel and served as a mechanical engineer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the First World War.
On leaving School Peter worked as a shipping clerk for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. As the impending European crisis unfolded he volunteered for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 10 May 1939. After training in signals at the Royal Navy shore establishments, HMS President and HMS Pembroke between August 1939 and July 1940 Peter saw active service with the Dido-class light cruiser HMS Naiad which spent much of 1940 and 1941 on convoy protection in both home waters and on voyages to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Between April 1941 and March 1943 Peter served at various times in HMS Eglinton. However, it was his selection for a pivotal role in Operation Chariot – one of the most daring raids of the Second World War – that secured Peter’s name in the annals of that conflict’s history.
During the days of the British Expeditionary Force’s retreat from Dunkirk, Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Clarke, a General Staff Officer who was military assistant to the then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir John Dill, contemplated how Britain might make its return to the continent. His thoughts drifted to historic examples such as the Boer Commandos in the Second Boer War who had harried the much larger British forces with their use of raiding parties. Out of these musings was conceived the idea for Combined Operations and the beginning of the Commandos.
In the summer of 1940 Britain’s war was defensive, with efforts concentrated in repelling a German invasion. However, Churchill and other like-minded individuals
wanted to take the offensive at the earliest opportunity. If raids on the continent were to be carried out the infantry would need naval support to land them at designated targets, hence the term Combined Operations – a force which utilised all three main services. In early 1942 such a raid was planned by Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ), to attack the Atlantic seaboard dry-dock in the port of St Nazaire.
The ‘Louis Joubert’ (Forme Ecluse Louis Joubert) lock/dry-dock, as it was officially known, was constructed to accommodate the building of the 83,000-ton super passenger liner SS Normandie, after which the dock’s name became popularly known. It was a huge feat of engineering enclosed at either end by two gates or caissons. The ‘Normandie Dock’ could be used as either a lock or dry-dock, the latter requiring water to be pumped out by powerful machinery in the pump houses on the west side of the dock, where the hydraulic plants for operating the caissons were also situated. The caissons were structurally extremely strong, both to withstand the pressure of water from the outside and accidental ramming by ships, a fact that was critical in the planning of the raid on the dock.
St Nazaire, at the mouth of the river Loire could be reached by navigating the five-mile long Les Charpentier channel. Navigation of the channel required careful planning due to the features of shoals and mud-banks which could prove disastrous if the tides were misjudged. After the fall of France in June 1940, St Nazaire became one of five strategic positions for the German occupying forces along the country’s Atlantic coast.
The destruction of the dry-dock would reduce the threat posed by the German battleship Tirpitz which, in the event of engaging Allied shipping in the Atlantic, would require the dock at St Nazaire for maintenance between patrols. But according to Captain John Hughes-Hallett, who was Lord Mountbatten’s [Commodore Combined Operations] head naval planner at the Directorate of Combined Operations, the target’s location was chosen for two main reasons: firstly, because it was the furthest target which a raiding force could reach within a window of only one period of daylight and secondly, during the spring tides, vessels could pass over the shoal water to the south of the Les Charpentier channel, getting within reach of the deepwater channel close to St Nazaire. Central to the plan was the use of a ship packed with explosives, timed to go off after the Combined Forces attacked the dock area, escorted by a series of motor launches and machine gun boats. It was an audacious plan that relied on precision; timing was the key to the whole operation. The Attacking Force An ageing American destroyer, HMS Campbeltown, was chosen as the ship to carry the explosives with delaying fuses. Disguised as a German Möwe Class destroyer she was ultimately to be rammed into the Normandie dock gate. The base of operations was centred on Motor Gun Boat (MGB) 314 which, along with Motor Launches (ML) 270 and 160 would form the spearhead of the operation and it was in MGB 314 that Commander Robert Ryder directed the raiding force. In addition to MGB 314 there were sixteen motor launches, including 270 and 160, one Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) and two escorts, HMS Atherstone and HMS Tynedale that accompanied them for part of the journey.

A dress rehearsal for the raid took place at Devonport dockyard on the evening of 21 March 1942. Before and after the dress rehearsal the force assembled at Falmouth. At 1400 on 26 March 1942 the force sailed from Falmouth – destination St Nazaire.7 The raid ran into difficulty on the morning of 27 March when the force encountered a German submarine U-593 but fortunately the U-Boat, not realising that the force was heading for St Nazaire, signalled to German Group Command West that Ryder’s fleet was on course for Gibraltar, this was due to Ryder’s change of direction that the U-Boat mistook as their final destination.

 

St Nazaire Map

Map of St Nazaire

 

Peter’s role in the attack

The details of the raid have been well documented in a number of books but here it is important to reflect on Peter’s role. On the night of 27 March 1942 MGB 314 became operational when Cdr Ryder transferred to it from HMS Atherstone, accompanying him were Colonel Newman, who led the Commandos on the raid and Peter in addition to several others. Being guided to the river Loire by the submarine HMS Sturgeon, the attacking force made its way up the river whilst the escorts Atherstone and Tynedale waited out at sea to cover the returning fleet after the raid. There was a diversionary attack planned by RAF Bomber Command over St. Nazaire for 2330hrs but it was unsuccessful due to low cloud. However whilst Peter was on the sea another Emanuel boy, Richard Ryder (Emanuel 1930–1935) was flying as an Observer on a Whitworth Whitley Mark V heavy bomber (Z9481) of 51 Squadron RAF, which, after returning from the diversionary operation over St. Nazaire, crashed at Great Whernside injuring the crew with Richard being thrown from the aircraft.
The force proceeded up the Loire estuary over the shoals in the hour after midnight on 28 March. It had got within two miles of the harbour before they were illuminated by No. 3 Heavy Coastal Battery. If they were going to reach their target they needed a deception tactic to hold the German defences off long enough – enter Peter Pike. Cdr Robert Ryder continues the story:

We were challenged from the shore, first by one of the coastal batteries and later from somewhere in the dockyard. It was for this moment that Leading Signalman Pike, who could send and receive morse, had been attached to my staff. The challenge was accompanied by sporadic flak, aimed indiscriminately at the force. It was 1.23am, we were a mile and a half from our objective; ten minutes at that speed. How long could we bluff? … every minute still counted. We did not know the correct reply to the challenge, but we instructed them to ‘wait’ and then gave the call sign of one of the German torpedo-boats known to us. Without waiting for them to consider this Pike embarked on a long plain-language signal. With an ‘urgent’ prefix, the gist of this was, ‘Two craft, damaged by enemy action, request permission to proceed up harbour without delay.’ Firing ceased. Without finishing the first message we made the operating signal to ‘wait’ again. We had to reply to the second station. We were about to give them a similar message when we came under renewed fire from the north bank, heavier than the first … Using our Aldis lamp, we made the international signal for ships or vessels being fired on by friendly forces. … Our bluffing had practically achieved its object. 

 

MGB 314

MGB 314

 

In fact Peter had to deal with two German signals, one from the guard ship Speerbrecher and one on MGB 314’s port beam. He gained the force vital minutes and Cdr Ryder noted in 1947, ‘Information now available confirms the valuable part played by Pike in thus delaying the enemy’s fire.’ A little later, during the heated exchange of fire and lacking a sufficient report as to the Campbeltown’s placing and sinking Cdr Ryder disembarked from MGB 314 at the north side of the Old Entrance of the Bassin St Nazaire, at which point he later recalled, ‘…Pike, who, discarding his signalling apparatus for a broken bayonet which he had discovered, decided that a bodyguard was required.’ In a desperate situation and under heavy fire Cdr Ryder made the decision to evacuate, leaving the raid now in the hands of the Commandos who continued to fight onshore. As they made their escape with 40 extra men on board the MGB the scenes were distressing as Ryder recalled, ‘The decks everywhere were slippery with blood, making it difficult to walk between the wounded lying crowded together.’ On the morning of 28 March the delaying fuses on the Campbeltown sparked and she blew up whilst being inspected by a large party of German officers. The explosion rendered the dry dock inoperable for the rest of the war and Operation Chariot was a success, although 169 men out of 611 lost their lives. For his integral part in the success of the raid Peter was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

 

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Peter’s mother and uncle collecting his DSM from Buckingham Palace 5 Dec 1944

 
Peter later served again in HMS Eglinton and was serving in HMS Laforey during Operation Husky – the invasion of Italy when the Laforey sunk the Italian submarine Ascianghi, and also during Operation Avalanche – the Salerno landings in September 1943. Peter was at sea off the coast of Salerno whilst those he would have known through rowing at Emanuel, like Alan Skillern, were landing on the beaches.
Peter had much to look forward to writing to his mother on 23 September 1943 with the happy news that he was to get married after the war as his girlfriend Marian had accepted his proposal. However fate was not kind and Peter lost his life when the Laforey, on anti-submarine patrols, was sunk by a U-Boat, the U-223, on the evening of 30 March 1944. The U-Boat was then sunk by other British destroyers who had been in company with Laforey. Peter’s mother received several letters of condolence from friends of the family and also a survivor from the Laforey, one individual remarking, ‘I always shall remember Peter as one of the finest characters I came across in this country.

In 2014 Peter’s cousin Patricia and her husband Tony travelled from Australia to London to bring items relating to Peter’s life for the Emanuel School at War Exhibition. You can read an earlier post about that visit here Emanuel Generations at Dacre Day

(Daniel Kirmatzis)

 

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Captured in France – May 1940

With Spitfire 1

Douglas “Sammy” Hoare first from left

Douglas “Sammy” Hoare (Emanuel 1929-1935) 74 Squadron RAF – recounts his experiences in the lead up to his capture in France during the evacuation – May 1940. His full story can be found in Emanuel School at War: The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was

Dunkirk – May 1940
During May 1940 Douglas, by now a Flying Officer, was contemplating the situation on the continent as the Germans launched their invasion of France and the Low Countries.
On 10 May, the day the invasion was launched, Douglas was looking forward to some leave when he wrote to his mother, ‘I was looking forward very much to the weekend at home and possibly a day at the coast. I expect Dick [Wildey] has been recalled also – it really is most annoying that the Blitzkrieg should have to start this weekend and just when
my leave is starting too.

On 21 May 1940 Douglas wrote again to his mother: ‘I don’t think I have written since you sent my Portcullis [Emanuel School Magazine] – thank you very much for it. It was very interesting reading through that list and seeing what some of the other fellows are doing.
There is actually hardly anything to say as everything here is still just the same as before
and there is very little real activity. We have had one or two more trips to the Dutch and
Belgian coast but have not seen anything worth shooting at. There is absolutely no sign
of life at all in any of the towns over there and we saw quite a number of large fires in Dunkirk which had been started by a raid the previous night. I hope that everyone is taking ARP [Air Raid Precaution] seriously now as it will not be very long before we get
some raids over here – that is when we shall start really hard work. The situation in France seems pretty bad at present but perhaps we will bring off a really good counter-attack soon. We are also very proud of the RAF squadrons out there – and slightly envious, though we are all quite certain we shall get all the chance we want when it starts over here.

In May 1940 No. 74 Squadron was engaged on operations over the French Coast during the German Blitzkrieg which forced the BEF to coastal waters in a bid to escape the ferocity and speed of the German advance. On 24 May Douglas noted, ‘I was leading the sub-section of B Flight 74 Squadron on an offensive patrol over the Channel Ports. (Intelligence at that [time] was almost non-existent and we had no idea where
the German front line was).’ He went on to describe what happened that day:
We had on that occasion seen a Henschel 126, a German reconnaissance aircraft. Although our instructions were to patrol just the Channel coastline, we were told
that we could go inland, if we were investigating any aircraft, or for some other reason; in this case we had seen this other aircraft. Paddy Treacy had seen it and I was leading the second section. We must have been somewhere around St Omer, about 15 miles inland.
The Henschel was flying very low and in fact by the time I went into attack it with my section, it was down to about treetop height. It was in flames and just as I pulled away, I saw it crash and go up in a pall of smoke. Anyway, I managed to collect a bullet from somewhere; it may have been a German infantryman or light flack. It may have been from our own troops on the ground, or even the Henschel we’d just shot down. Nevertheless I reformed and intended to go back to base, when Mungo-Park called me up and said I was streaming glycol; so I thought the sensible things to do was what Squadron Leader White had done the previous day and go into Calais-Marck airfield. I knew the previous day that we had sent two ground crew over to the airfield to service his aircraft and repair it. I thought if I can get in here, perhaps they can do a quick patch up and then I can get home. But it didn’t work out that way, and I was too late. At that time the military intelligence just could not keep up with the speed of the German advance westwards. We were not told the disposition of British and French forces nor where the front line was (did anyone know!) and there was never any mention of an evacuation. In fact Calais had been reinforced only the previous day with a British armoured unit. When I landed on the airfield Corporal Higginbottom and Aircraftsman Cressay came out, and were beside the aircraft immediately; I told them what had happened. They saw a hole on the side of the engine cowling; … We found quite a large hole in the pipe leading. … Before I had landed my radiator temperature gauge, my oil temparature and pressure gauges were all registering well above the limits.

With German troops approaching the three men made their escape through the long grass. In a spirited but unsuccessful attempt Douglas and Corporal Higginbottom, (Aircraftsman Cressay had become separated from the two men and was later captured), made their way due north and on two ‘borrowed’ bicycles reached the coast, but they failed in their attempt to get any boat off the sand dunes and on the evening of 25 May, along with French civilians and some British Army officers they were surrounded on the beaches between Calais and Dunkirk by an SS Panzer unit. Douglas explained what happened to him next: ‘We did quite a bit of walking from the beach where I was first captured until reaching Germany in early June. The first organised POW camp I reached was Dulag Luft–III but this was only a transit and interrogation place and I moved a few days later.

For the next four years Douglas was a POW. He spent time in eleven camps including the following, with dates:
Spangenberg – Oflag IXA(H) (RAF Camp), Jun–Jul 40
Barth – Stalag Luft–I, Jul 40–Feb 41
Spangenberg – Oflag IXA(H), Feb–Mar 41
Thorne (Poland) – Stalag Luft–XXA, Mar–May 41
Spangenberg – Oflag IX(H), Jun–Oct 41
Warburg – Oflag VIB, Oct 41–Aug 42
Schubin (Poland) – Oflag XXIB, Aug 42–Apr 43
Sagan – Stalag Luft–III, Apr 43–Aug 44
Gross Tychow – Stalag Luft–IVD, Aug–Sep 44

Further reading:

‘Douglas S Hoare’ by Daniel Kirmatzis in Daniel Kirmatzis and Tony Jones, Emanuel School at War: The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was (2014), pp. 494-498

Richard C. Smith, Hornchurch Scramble: The Definitive Account of the RAF Fighter Airfield, Its Pilots, Groundcrew and Staff, Volume One: 1915 to the End of the Battleof Britain (2002)

RMS Titanic to Dunkirk – From one disaster to another

Just one of the hundreds of stories covered in Emanuel School at War: The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was is Charles Lightoller’s – the most senior surviving officer to survive the sinking of RMS Titantic –  Dunkirk odyssey. During Operation Dynamo Charles saved 130 men from the beaches of Dunkirk. In interviews after the Operation he attributed the safe return of those men in large part to his eldest son Brian Lightoller whho attended Emanuel School 1928-1929. Brian’s name appears on Emanuel’s Second World War memorial. The following is from the book Emanuel School at War:

H B Lightoller

Brian Lightoller

Herbert Brian, known as Brian, Lightoller was the son of Charles Lightoller, the most senior surviving officer of the sinking of the Titanic. Brian was a pilot of a Blenheim
Bomber, serial number N6189, part of 107 Squadron Bomber Command. In the opening salvo of the Second World War, Bomber Command sent out fifteen Blenheims and fourteen Wellington Bombers to attack German warships. Brian’s crew left for Wilhelmshaven, on the afternoon of 4 September in the second wave of bombers, where the German cruiser Emden had been spotted during reconnaissance operations. It is believed that Brian’s crew didn’t get a chance of firing upon the Emden and instead was shot down by anti-aircraft (flak) fire. 107 Squadron lost four of its five planes on the
raid. Brian was among the first British casualties of the Second World War.
At first, details were sketchy and it was hoped that Brian had survived but official German reports were received two months later confirming that Brian and his crew had all been
killed. They were initially buried with full military honours in the Naval Garrison Cemetery in Wilhelmshaven but Brian and his crew were later exhumed and reburied in the British
Military Cemetery at Oldenburg (Sage).

Nine months later on 31 May 1940, Charles Lightoller with his son Roger, left Cubitt’s Yacht Basin in Chiswick for Ramsgate. On his yacht Sundowner they made their way
to Ramsgate. At 10am on 1 June he sailed for Dunkirk. The resulting story of the rescue of 130 men, without loss, from the beaches of Dunkirk is one Charles Lightoller attributed in large part to Brian. The following account by Charles details how young Brian through conversations with his father before he was killed, contributed to saving men of the British
Expeditionary Force.

During the whole embarkation we had quite a lot of attention from enemy planes, but derived an amazing degree of comfort from the fact that the Worcester’s Anti-Aircraft guns kept up an everlasting bark overhead. Casting off and backing out we entered the Roads
again, there it was continuous and unmitigated hell. The troops were just splendid and of
their own initiative detailed look-outs ahead, astern and abeam for inquisitive planes as my
attention was pretty wholly occupied watching the steering and passing orders to Roger at the wheel. Any time an aircraft seemed inclined to try its hand on us, one of the look-outs would just call quietly, “Look out for this bloke, skipper”, at the same time pointing. One bomber that had been particularly offensive, itself came under the notice of one of our fighters and suddenly plunged vertically into the sea just about fifty yards astern of us. It was the only time any man ever raised his voice above a conversational tone, but as that big black bomber hit the water they raised an echoing cheer.
My youngest son, Pilot Officer H. B. Lightoller (lost at the outbreak of war in the first raid on Wilhelmshaven) flew a Blenheim and had at different times given me a whole lot of useful information about attack, defence and evasive tactics (at which he was apparently particularly good) and I attribute, in a great measure, our success in getting across without a single casualty to his unwitting help. On one occasion an enemy machine came astern at about 100 feet with the obvious intention of raking our decks. He was coming down in a gliding dive and I knew that he must elevate some 10 to 15 degrees before his guns would
bear. Telling my son “Stand by”, I waited till as near as I could judge, he was just on the point of pulling up and then “Hard a-port”. (She turns 180 degrees in exactly her
own length). This threw his aim completely off. He banked and tried again. Then “Hard a-starboard”, with the same result. After a third attempt he gave it up in disgust. Had
I had a machine gun of any sort, he was a sitter – in fact there were at least three that I am confident we could have accounted for during the trip.

Late on the evening of 1 June the Sundowner returned to Ramsgate with all 130 men, crew included, safely delivered.

Interestingly, Charles’s second son, Second Lieutenant R. T. Lightoller, had been evacuated from Dunkirk 48 hours previous to Charles arriving.

Listen to Charles Lightoller recount his Dunkirk experiences on the BBC Archive Dunkirk: A Personal Perspective

For more on the Sundowner see Association of Dunkirk Little Ships – Sundowner

VE Day 1945 – Emanuel’s exodus to Petersfield ended

On 8 May 1945 Emanuel’s exodus to Petersfield since 1 September 1939 was nearing its end. The School had spent six long years away from Battersea and in Petersfield as hosts of Churcher’s College. The war in Europe was over and next term they would return to the old building which had been partially bombed during the Blitz. Emanuel were on their way home – (although some boys only ever knew of Emanuel in Petersfield and Tutorial classes had started in the old building in Battersea in 1943 for around 100 boys). The following report was written for the School magazine The Portcullis in the summer term of 1945 about how the boys celebrated Victory in Europe.

‘Our first intimation that the end was so much nearer than we thought was on Sunday, then it was announced by the BBC that Mr Churchill was expected to make his speech announcing the end of the war in Europe before the end of the week, probably on
Thursday, the anniversary of his accession to office five years before. This news caused a considerable stir at Emanuel.

The next day, in break, Younger came out to announce, with a forced calm, that the German radio had stated that the Wehrmacht had accepted unconditional surrender terms. Milk drinking continued as before, but one could not help feeling that this announcement had produced a disturbing effect upon minds which, a few minutes before, had been in a state of scholastic contemplation for the past two periods. In the evening, we hung around the wireless set expecting an official announcement, but our hopes for an official celebration that evening were disappointed, for no such announcement came. There was merely a repetition of the German radio announcement. This, however, was a sufficient excuse for the Windsor Rhythm Kings, who, with the encouragement of a few senior members, proceeded to entertain the local populace in the Square. Dancing proceeded from 8 o’clock until about 10.30, when it began to get dark. During the course of the evening it had been announced that the next day, Tuesday, May 8th, would be VE Day and that the Prime Minister would speak at 3 o’clock.

Emanuel VE Day Petersfield

Emanuel boys celebrating VE Day by climbing the King William III statue in Petersfield Town Square 

The next morning a spirit of gaiety prevailed. An assembly was held at 9.30 outside the pavilion, and we were dismissed for the next two days. The crowd surged out of the gates of Churcher’s and down Ramshill. By the time we had reached the bottom of the High Street, we were strung out across the road, and, arm-in-arm, we marched up the flag-bedecked High Street singing. The march continued round the town and back to the Square, where it broke up, and we all dispersed to our various occupations, the Sixth Form mainly to imbibe coffee.

Emanuel VE Day Petersfield 2

Emanuel boys in Petersfield 8 May 1945

The afternoon saw many Emanuel seniors arrayed in original if somewhat loud costumes, which at times verged on the fancy-dress. Some idea of these may be gathered
from the photographs which were taken by Hardcastle that afternoon and afterwards
printed en masse and sold to the School. The chef d’oeuvre was a snap of the Headmaster standing at the foot of the statue, in the centre of a mob of gesticulating Emanuels, all obviously enjoying themselves immensely.

Petersfield_VE Day

The Headmaster Cyril Broom, centre, with Emanuel boys in Petersfield VE Day 1945

Many of those now at the School will cherish this photograph in after-years as typical of the spirit of Emanuel on VE Day. In the meantime, the equestrian statue of William of Orange had been variously decorated with School ties and scarves, and a certain well-known type of black headgear. The School’s greatest service to Petersfield that day was the re-appearance that evening of the Windsor Rhythm Kings, this time on top of the
shelter in the Square. Lights had been fitted up during the day by Manley, and the band was able to play until midnight. Petersfield’s own official celebrations were not until the following evening, so the band proved a great attraction. A large crowd of people were obviously extremely grateful for its efforts, and £15 was collected for
the Hospital. The crowd danced to its music for over four hours. The band that evening consisted of Younger, Higgs, Sutters, Rassell and Ley, the regular members, augmented by Goodchild and Dudley. To all of them we owe our thanks for an extremely happy time that night. Without the band there could have been no dancing or general jollifications such as took place, and without the School the town would not have been enlivened or amused during the day.’

Boxing Day 1944 – In memory of Bill Page

Bill Page at Emanuel001

Bill Page (First From Left) clearing the hurdles on the Emanuel School Sports Field

William known as ‘Bill’ was a talented athlete at Emanuel.
He was also a Prefect and Captain of Drake. The Portcullis
recorded some of his many sporting achievements:
“There have been few in recent years who could rival
Bill Page’s achievement in games. In both Rugger and
Cricket he received Colours in five successive seasons,
from 1935 to 1939. Tall and powerfully built, he was
a fine forward and a successful captain in his last two
seasons.

Bill and Emanuel boys on Emanuel cricket field001

Bill Page (Second from Right) Emanuel Cricket XI

In the Cricket XI he was a valuable bowler,
slow left-hand with a nice variation of pace and flight
and a forceful bat. He proved a skilful captain in the
1939 season. What one admired most, however, in his
sports activities was the tireless devotion with which he
coached younger boys in junior team rugger practices,
in the nets, or on the fives courts. His all-round
excellence, together with his seriousness and depth of
character, won him general respect and made his name
something of a legend.”

Bill Page was politically aware in an era when international
politics was critical to the lives of ordinary citizens
everywhere, and was selected to take part in a Youth Group
discussion which was broadcast on the BBC.

Bill Page East Surrey Regiment uniform

Bill Page in East Surrey Regiment uniform

He was originally a Conscientious Objector but enlisted in the East Surrey Regiment, first serving in a pioneer unit, then in the Royal Engineers and, finally gaining a Commission as a Lieutenant, he was attached to the 9th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). Bill was killed in action around 5.20pm on 26 December 1944 during bitter fighting on the northeast coast of Italy as his company was ordered to hold the via Mazzolana, south-east of Ferrara. The Allied advance up the north-east coast had been fiercely contested by German forces during the Christmas period.

Bill Page Royal Fusilier

In 2013 I was in the archive of the Royal Fusiliers in the Tower of London researching Emanuel boys who had served in the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in the Second World War. I was looking through a scrap book of photos relating to the 9th Battalion and having found a number of items I put this rather delicate old book back in its case. I stood up to walk away when I felt that I had to open the book again – something was telling me that I hadn’t found everything I was looking for that day. As I opened the pages again a small photo dropped out of one of the back pages. When I looked closely at it I could see it was a photo of one of the original graves from the Italian Campaign with a simple wooden cross. On the cross were the initials W. L. Page. It was a photo of Bill’s grave taken by an anonymous photographer. It was a photo Bill’s family had never seen. Bill’s brothers had all died before I started writing the history of Emanuel School at War but during the Emanuel School at War Exhibition in November 2014 the Page family were all in attendance to see Bill and his brothers’ war service remembered.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Bill’s death and I wanted to mark it by remembering that young man full of life who could have scored many more runs on the cricket pitch had it not been for war.

Daniel Kirmatzis Boxing Day 2014

Bill Page Grave

Bill Page’s grave in Forli War Cemetery

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Bill’s brother Eddie and his wife at Bill’s grave in the 1990s

Emanuel School at War: A History

ESW FINAL FRONT HiRes

After 5 years of research the new history of Emanuel School at War will be published in November 2014. [639pp and fully illustrated].

This is the story of a school at war – the boys and masters who fought on every battlefront. It’s Emanuel’s hidden history – stories locked away in archives for decades. Now much of this is published here for the first time. These voices from the past reveal the contrast between a world at peace and a world at war. The experiences of Emanuel boys, from 1914 to the Liberation of Europe in 1945, are vividly brought to life in their own words – through letters, diaries, documents and interviews. Many never returned. Those who did never forgot them.

Recommendations:

This is an exceptionally moving and well-researched book to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. Richly illustrated throughout and with illuminating biographies of members of the Emanuel School community in two world wars, it offers a unique tribute to the service and sacrifice of these generations. This book is a fitting memorial to the lost generation, and a wake-up call to the young of today to seek to emulate the courage and service or duty of those who attended school a hundred years ago.
Sir Anthony Seldon Master, Wellington College

A truly fascinating and beautifully produced book which weaves diligent research and historical detail with the personal First- and Second-World-War stories of boys and teachers and thereby brings our history and our story to life. This is such a worthwhile and poignant tribute to those who went before us.
Jeremy Trevathan Publisher, Macmillan

Emanuel School has a rich history and has produced some remarkable characters who more than played their part in Britain’s two
world wars, and who repeatedly showed astonishing ingenuity, fortitude and bare-faced courage during these periods of national peril. From sailors to soldiers, to fighter-, bomber- and reconnaissance-pilots, as well as renowned entertainers, translators and war artists. Emanuel’s old boys served in almost every theatre from the Western Front in the First World War to the Atlantic and the Far East in the Second. They took part in the Battle of Britain, the air campaign against Germany and in the battles for North Africa and Italy and landed on the beaches in Normandy on D-Day. This is a superb book, beautifully written and illustrated, and a lasting testimony to the heroic contributions of these exceptional men.
James Holland Author and Historian

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.