A simple plaque on a memorial stone situated at the junction of the A169 and A171 roads two miles west of Whitby in North Yorkshire tells an interesting wartime story. Fighter ace Fl. Lt. Peter Townsend was on coastal patrol from RAF Acklington in Northumberland on 3rd February 1940, when he spotted an enemy Heinkel bomber. He chased the bomber inland and shot it down close to the spot marked by the plaque. The enemy plane crashed in flames into a tree, narrowly missing a pair of remote cottages nearby. It was the first enemy aircraft to be shot down on English soil in the Second World War. The plaque reads :
The first enemy aircraft to be shot down in England during the second world war
fell 80 yards opposite this tablet on 3rd February 1940.
Townsend, subsequently Group Captain, was later to become closely involved with Princess Margaret.
THE FAULD EXPLOSION
A plaque on a memorial stone alongside a huge crater near to the village of Hanbury in Staffordshire, tells a dramatic story:
‘ Just after 1100 hours on 27th November 1944, the largest explosion caused by conventional weapons in both world wars, took place at this spot, when some 3500 tons of high explosives accidentally blew up. A crater some 300ft deep and approximately a quarter of a mile in diameter, was blown into the North Staffordshire countryside. A total of 70 people lost their lives and 18 bodies never being recovered. The 21 MU RAF Fauld disaster is commemorated by this memorial, which was dedicated on 25th November 1990, some 46 years after the event.
The stone which is of fine white granite, was a gift organised by the Commandante of the Italian Air Force Supply Depot at Novara, a sister depot of 16 MU RAF Stafford, from the firm Cirla & Son, Graniti-Milano.’
The explosives were apparently being stored in old mine working prevalent in this area.
The Fauld Crater
THE DAM BUSTERS
The Royal Air Force Station at Scampton in Lincolnshire closed down in 1996, to be remembered as one of the famous wartime bases. This is where the famous 617 Squadron – The Dambusters – were based. It is also the site of Nigger’s grave, Wing Commander Gibson’s dog, immortalised in the film ‘The Dambusters’ and a book of the same name. It is now the home of the Red Arrows flight.
Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, the legendary leader of the Dambusters, was shot down near Steenbergen in Holland on 19th September 1944 and, together with his navigator, Sqdn Leader J.B Warwick DFC, was buried in the local cemetery.
During WW2 the invasion of Normandy in France needed a vast amount of advanced planning to get the invasion troops, vehicles and supplies across the English Channel. Land arrangements were mainly satisfied by floating huge piers across the channel to construct the artificial Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches.
Another important logistic was the supply of fuel and this was solved by Operation PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean). A pipe line was laid across the 70 miles of channel between Shanklin on the Isle of Wight and Cherbourg in Normandy enabling a million gallons of fuel to be pumped daily.
The place where the pipeline conmmenced can be seen on the promenade at Shanklin and part of the pipeline can be seen in nearby Shanklin Chine where it has been preserved.
A MEMORIAL SEAT
In the Rose Garden of the Abbey Gardens at Bury-St-Edmunds in Suffolk, is a metal memorial seat on which the inscription reads :
Presented to the City of Bury-St-Edmunds
By the US Army Air Force.
The seat was constructed from parts of a ‘Flying Fortress'.
A very fine memorial recalls the period of the Second World War between 1943 and 1945, at the USAF Station Deenethorpe in Northamptonshire. Situated on the roadside alongside the now derelict airfield, the inscription reads :
To remember the 401st Bombardment Group H
8th United States Air Force Station 126 Deenethorpe
October 1943 – June 1945
The best damned outfit in the USAF
Between April and June 1942 Allied prisoners of war at Tandjong Priok POW Camp, Java, built a chapel which was consecrated as St George’s Chapel. Two stained glass windows set into the wall behind the altar were designed and painted by a British Officer Lt. Commander H.C Upton, RNVR. Part of the design included the Royal Coat of Arms and, known only to a few of the prisoners for fear of retribution, the artist replaced the face of the lion with that of Winston Churchill, smoking his trade mark cigar.
Those original windows are now on permanent display at the Anglican Church of All Saints, Jakarta.
In 2005 faithful copies of the windows were produced and placed in the Far East prisoners of war building at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire and Churchill’s face can be clearly seen.
The infamous Changi prison in Singapore was built in 1936 to house just 600 prisoners. During WW2 after the fall of Singapore the prison was used by the occupying Japanese army to hold some 3000 POW’s and civilian detainees whilst some 50,000 POW’s were held in various camps nearby. Thus the hell hole of Changi became synonymous with Japanese prison camps. About 850 POW’s died at Changi and a lychgate was built at the entrance to the burial ground by 18th Division REs. The original gate was subsequently dismantled and in 1952 it was re-erected and dedicated at the entrance to St Georges Garrison Church, Tanglin Barracks, Singapore. In 1971 it was again dismantled during the withdrawal of the British Garrison and the gate was once again re-erected at Bassingbourn Barracks, near Cambridge. In 2003 the gate was finally moved to the site of the Far East Prisoners Of War Grove at the National Memorial Aboretum near Alrewas in Staffordshire. A block of stone and a cell door from the demolished Changi Prison, together with a portion of the infamous Thailand Burma Railway, are also preserved at the site.
The original lychgate
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery ‘Monty’, was the most famous British soldier of WW2 and led armies to success in North Africa and Europe. Whilst leading his troops in North Africa, Monty was very fond of his Humber staff car known as ‘Old Faithful’. When he was chosen to be one of the leaders of the D Day landings in France he asked for a new Humber, which fell into the sea as it was being unloaded off the supply ship. Monty had it recovered and when it was serviced it was as good as new. Known as the ‘Victory Car’ Monty used it from Normandy, June 6th 1944 to Berlin, August 25th 1945 and it never let him down. the victory car was returned to the UK in 1947 and can be seen in the Motor Museum at Coventry.
THE CHURCHILL BARRIERS
The barriers are a series of four causeways which link the Orkney Mainland to South Ronaldsway via the islands of Burray, Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm, a total length of 1.5 miles. They were built in the 1940’s at the instigation of Winston Churchill as naval defences to protect the naval anchorage in Scapa Flow. They now carry the A961 road from Burwick To Kirkwall.
In 1939 the Royal Navy battleship, HMS Royal Oak was moored in Scapa Flow and on 14 October she was sunk in a night time attack by a German U-boat which had entered this natural harbour between the mainland and Lamb Holm island. 833 lives were lost and the sunken battleship is a designated war grave marked by a buoy next to Scapa Beach where there is a Memorial Garden.
Although the shallow eastern passage into Scapa Flow had been protected by sunken block ships and anti-submarine nets the U-boat was able to navigate around them at high tide and escaped the same way. The barriers were constructed using Italian prisoners of war to provide the labour. The use of POW labour for war effort work was prohibited under the Geneva Convention but their use was justified as ‘improvement to communications between the islands’ which resulted in the present day A961.
Gabions enclosing 250,000 tons of broken rock from local quarries were used as foundation and were covered by 66,000 locally cast 5 ton concrete blocks with 10 ton blocks alongside to act as wave breaks.
As a war grave, the remains of the Royal Oak are protected by a ‘cage’ and diver’s are forbidden to trespass. However a diver did recover the ship’s bell and after a period of time he handed the bell over to the authorities and it is now preserved in Kirkwall Cathedral as a memorial.