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.



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)



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.

VJ Day 70th Anniversary Commemorations

Chiles John001

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.


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.

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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.

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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.’

‘The Great Trek’ – one man’s journey to retrace his uncle’s footsteps

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Douglas Finlay DFC 103 Squadron Bomber Command.

In The Telegraph Magazine (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/11558345/The-Long-March-retracing-the-footsteps-of-10000-World-War-Two-PoWs.html) on Saturday 25 April 2015, photographer James Finlay is interviewed about his new project which finds him retracing his uncle’s footsteps during the winter of 1945 when thousands of Allied POWs were forced to march west by their German captors as the Soviet forces pushed forward into Germany. James’s uncle Douglas Finlay was Captain of Emanuel School in 1940.

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Douglas Finlay in Emanuel OTC uniform 1938.

He served in 103 Squadron Bomber Command and was awarded the DFC. Douglas was made a POW after his aircraft was shot down over Germany in September 1943.

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A map from Douglas’s POW Log Book showing where he and fellow POWs landed after either being shot down or crashing in Nazi occupied Europe.

He was imprisoned in Stalag Luft-III, the famous ‘Great Escape’ camp until 27 January 1945 when he, with 10,000 fellow POWs were forced to march west during a bitterly cold winter.  His story is retold in Emanuel School at War: The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was pp. 499-505 (available to buy from Emanuel School, Troubador or Amazon for £30) James is photographing what is left of the route the POWs followed.

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Douglas Finlay (first from right) in room 6 Block 123, Stalag Luft-III.