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Those who Served
Len Chapura . US Army C Coy 574th AAA WA Btn. from USA)
I sailed on the Queen Elizabeth in December 1944 and landed at Gerwick, Scotland with the 574th AAA AW Btn, `C' Coy. It was a beautiful ship. Herb Johnson and I were radio men in the 574th.
Sld. Jacobus Johannes Charite . Dutch Army
Gnr. John Charles . British Army 6th Anti Aircraft Regiment, 12 Bty Royal Artillery (d.25th July 1945)
John Charles died age 23, whilst serving with the Royal Artillery. he was the son of John and Agnes Charles of Monkton, Jarrow. He is remembered on the Singapore Memorial.
Pte. S. Charles . South Caribbean Force Windward Islands Bn. (d.1st July 1945)
Private Charles is buried in the St. George's (River Road) Cemetery in Grenada.
William Charles . Army Durham Light Infantry from Birtley, nr Newcastle)
My dad was no-one special to anyone but his family. He was of the Old School – boss in his house, Ma got a share of his wage if he was working, but only as much as he chose. She worked wonders with the pittance he gave her, and she brought up two kids, my sister Jean, and myself, Jim. He would be in the bar, or later the Club almost every night, he was a Committee Man, at times a sponger, at times totally stubborn, would not back down to anyone, and had an opinion on just about everything. My sister and I were afraid of him until he died, alone, probably bitter, but reaping, as he had sown. BUT, He was MY DAD, and when I was a young lad, and asked, “What did you do in the War da?” he told me. He later told more tales, some true, some jokey and some plain daft. This little attempt at literature is to give him some pride back. He said he would do it again, with the same lads, said National Service should never have been withdrawn, that I had missed it and sometimes, when the pints were flowing and he was in a good mood, he and some of his mates would draw me into that special circle, to listen, in awe, at ordinary men, men I knew only as middle aged and sometimes grumpy. But then I noticed the blazers they wore. On the breast pocket was a badge, usually in gold, or silver thread, and there were many different ones, and then a special look came over their faces, they were back in uniform, remembering, and by the end of the night, I appreciated them and Dad a lot more.
Of the badges, there was a hunting horn with DLI under it, the same as Dad's badge in pictures I’d seen. There was a Cannon with a pointing barrel, GR in big letters, a WW1 Tank Corps, but one I knew was missing. I remember my Ma saying it was the best looking badge in the Army, it had a star, a wreath, and a hunting horn, now who was that? No one wore that one in our local club, but I had seen it but where? Then it hit me, it was in a picture of Dad in uniform, so questions asked when I was small, were asked again. This is a way to pass on to my nephew, and his sons, and even my son, and his son, a small record of what my dad did in the War so for them and to them, I rack my memory for some war stories of Billy Charles, of Birtley, England, near Newcastle upon Tyne, an ordinary soldier. His war service began in August 1939, when his TA unit, Durham Light Infantry, was embodied into the Army; the war was just a couple of weeks away but the call up was in effect before September 3rd. He had hurried home from the brickyard where he worked with his father, he was going to take his girl Jane to Newcastle to see a new film, as he was washing up, his mother said someone was coming to the door with a blue envelope. Dad knew what that was, so he told her to say he’d gone out, and to come back tomorrow, But, the messenger told Nana the lads were meeting in the William, a pub in Birtley. After discussing what was happening with Jane, they decided to go to the pub and see what was up.
It seems that many a pint was drunk that night, as the lads in uniform were told to report to the drill hall, now! Being the true soldiers they were, hardly anyone turned up that night, but next day, with thick heads, dry mouths and a following crowd, the unit formed up in the drill hall. They were tasked with digging holes in the farmer’s field next to the hall; dad had a rifle and two bullets, and said, “If I fire these, can I go home again as there are no more?” He was on night sentry and only had a couple of curious dairy cows snuffling around for company. Next night they were allowed home, but had to be back the following night to be moved to parts unknown. As was related to me by both Mam and Dad, “you could have sailed a ship down Harras Bank that night” women crying, old timers like my Granddad asking to be allowed to go, as they had been there before, and all the while, drink flowing from the pub, the landlord was losing a lot of his best customers that night.
Eventually the buses, not trucks, set off, no one knew where to, and hours later they were in a strange part of England, with no means of letting anybody know they had arrived safely. At least that’s what the officers and NCOs thought. A bright lad had stuffed a couple of his champion pigeons in his kit bag, and he sent one home now, they were in Oxfordshire for Home Defence, and the people in Birtley knew before anyone else.
After some to-ing and fro-ing as a prisoner escort, back home some nights, but all over the country with his mate Bob Elliot, Dad was settling into wartime life. He was trained on the PIAT, and until he died he had a scar over his eye, where the “bugger hit me”. He swore he could tell a PIAT man by that scar, and he did a number of times.
All good things come to an end, some of the Battalion had been sent to France, some would die, and some escape from Dunkirk, some were captured, to spend almost six years as prisoner, and some simply disappeared. Dad was posted to Iceland, he spent eighteen months there, coming back for invasion training, late 1942 I believe. He was trained to drive a Bren Carrier, and loved it. Many years later I took him to the DLI Museum in Durham, and he literally taught me to drive a carrier, there in the museum. The guard was about to say something until dad told him he was an ex-Durham, and an ex-carrier driver. He showed us some places that only those crews knew….
I could retell some tales from his training days, but this is about his Cameronian days, so we’ll skip to June 1944, not D-Day, but D+6, when Billy Charles invaded France, was told to drive his carrier into that field, park it that side, then get a cup of tea. Not a bad start? Then he’s told to drive out again, through that gate, and now, by the way, you are re-badged as Cameronian. Being rebadged to the Cameronians occurred either during, or just after the Battle of Caen. The DLI and the Cameronians had taken a good hiding and it was decided to consolidate, so he and others were told to report into a certain field, as he said, “I was told to drive into this field, told to wait, have a cup of tea, then report to an Officer. He told us we were now in the Cameronians, and God help anyone who said Camerons!, so get your transport and prepare to move".
I asked about the pipes, “Fine music, stirs the soul, but when you see the Scots charging, it’s not the Germans they want, it’s the guy playing those bloody things”. I asked about the kilt: “We could wear trews, tartan just the same, and as easy to start fights” and of course “What’s worn under the Kilt?, “Absolutely nothing son,- It’s all in first class condition.” Oh yes, Dad took to his new regiment with great spirit, and that spirit went with him through Belgium, Holland and into Germany, to be drunk when it was all over, but that was a way away just yet.
He landed at Arromanches about D+6, driving his carrier over the Mulberry Harbour, a marvel of engineering, but he was glad to get to firmer ground, he was no great swimmer. I’m not sure if they went to Bayeux from here, or what happened, I’d love to know from anyone else who was re-badged. He travelled to Villers Bocage, it was here he came under fire for the first time, at least it was here he “heard and felt somebody was trying to kill me”. He recalled how he was in a field, a Spandau opened up from another side, and he could see the trail of tracer and earth as it was spurting up. He dived to the ground and found great relief to be behind a blade of grass, “as thick as a tree trunk” it was amazing he said, how anything, no matter how small, could be as big, as to hide behind when the bullets were flying. That was his baptism of fire. He was scared, feared for his life, but lived to tell the tale, with a glint in his eye. Villers Bocage was a fierce battle. I’m sure all who were there do not need reminding of that fact, I have read the tales of it, and am proud my Dad was there.
As the carrier driver, he became a shell carrier when his team was ready to start a mortar shoot. He used to laugh as he retold how when he pulled up somewhere, the regular Infantry would call him names, and tell him to go elsewhere, because as soon as they’d fired off a few rounds, the Germans would reply in kind, by which time S Company was on its way somewhere else, “thereby missing that which we had sown”.
He never spoke much of France, except to say he’d like to see parts of it again, like Bayeux (he’d seen the Tapestry), and while sitting in a shell hole from WW1, he wondered if he was sitting where his Father had been.
After France was Belgium, and some fun times: he told of the Union Jack club in the main square next to the railway station. He said he had some good times in there. He loved Brussels, some things he would not share, like a certain sergeant who was famous for his dancing and that was all I got on that subject. He also told me how he met up with a big French Canadian, and they became friends, bumping into each other now and again up until the end of the War. One story was that he and Frenchy were in a bar in Brussels when a Yank started to become “aggressive and argumentative” and was about to fight any and all comers. He pulled a flick-knife, to which Frenchy pulled a hunting knife from his boot, threw it so it landed on the table, and told the Yank to be quiet. He was, and Dad was happy Frenchy was his friend.
Again I must say I am not sure of any timeline to these recollections, I wasn’t there, and Dad didn’t elaborate. He would just say something like “One time in Brussels…” or something along those lines. But I can recall how he told his stories, and how he enjoyed his war.
In the heat of battle some strange tales emerge. He recalled the time when he and some mates were in a farmyard and found some edible eggs, some potatoes, and decided to do some egg and chips, except they had no fat, so on searching again, found a jar of honey, decided this would do, and fried the eggs in the honey. He never said if they did the chips, but he did say the eggs were different. Another time they had real fresh pork after spending a lot of ammunition and a very long time trying to shoot this pig. “It just would not die", he said.
Driving the carrier, he was used to doing the Dixie run to outlying positions, so the lads could get a hot meal. He told of one time he was taking a hot box to a sniper lying up in a barn. Dad and his friends knew this guy, and they all had agreed they could not do his job. It was a quiet approach to his spot, Dad walking the last few yards so the enemy not too far ahead would not hear the sound of the carrier. He went in the barn, up the stairs, and was watching the sniper work. A German moved away from his group, to relieve himself behind a tree, but in view of the sniper, who offered Dad a look through his ‘scope. Dad saw the German was indeed “Havin’ a good un” and asked the sniper if he was going to shoot him. The sniper looked through his sight, shook his head and said not yet. They waited until the German had finished, pulled up his trousers, fastened his belt, and was starting to walk away. Then the sniper shot him, clean as a whistle. Dad asked “why the wait”, the sniper replied, "I’m not that hard hearted I’d shoot a guy on the toilet. He died happy, with nothing on his mind”. Dad swore that this story was true I have to believe it. All was not fun, and laughs I’m sure, but there must have been instances that broke through the seriousness.
He was driving his carrier and he caught an infection in his thumb. It swelled so badly and was so full of poison that it was touching the palm of his hand. He had to go back down the line to an aid post to have it lanced, when he got back, it was to the tail end of the Gheel battle. He was not happy to be sent backwards when his mates were going forward, but he was ordered to go, as he could not grip because the thumb was touching the palm of his hand, he told his Officer he would just burst it by driving, but the officer would have none of it and sent him back. I believe this officer was killed near Gheel, when he dived under a carrier to escape shelling, only to have blast blow under the carrier he was under.
Dad said all in all his Officers weren’t too bad. I’m not sure if one was a Captain Jurgensen, he may have been DLI, and he got on okay with them. One day toward dusk an officer came to Dad and his pal, another carrier driver, and asked if they would “Dash down the road to that Villa thing, load up with as many wounded as possible and get them back to the R.A.P.,” It was also pointed out that the road was under observation, and any dust brought forth some "nastiness that we didn’t want too near to us”. He and his pal set off, the Officer in Dad's carrier, until they were almost at the gate, “Turn Now !!!” and the gate post was demolished. “That made it easier for my pal to get in the drive” said Dad. Loading up with stretcher cases first, and doing a number of runs until it was just too dark to see, the two carriers did sterling work. Other drivers had "not exactly refused, but…” and the Officer told Dad, “You will hear more for this night’s work”. Alas, he was killed just a few days later, so no more was heard. Dad wasn’t bothered; he and his pal were just pleased to help other pals.
Leave came around, but so did the Battle of the Bulge and hardly had the lads got their boots off, than they were back to help the Yanks. This was not a pretty site he recalled, young men hanging from tank guns by wire, or their dogtags, and yet the one thing that stuck in his mind, was the fact that there was cake, and soda pop, and decorated trees. He always said the Yanks were not concentrating and were caught out because their troops were not as disciplined as ours. During this period, he and his mates were trying to sleep in a farmhouse, but just outside was the body of “The biggest bloody Jerry” he ever saw, and no-one could sleep just thinking of this poor man, so in the middle of the night, they had to bury him, so they could sleep. I asked if they marked the grave, so his family would be notified, “Nope” and that was that.
Eventually he came to “The land of clogs and windmills”. That got past the censor, so Mother knew where he was heading, and she kept that letter for years. Market Garden, a mad dash to a sudden stop – he couldn’t explain why XXX Corps or the Second Army never pressed on. He felt they should have. Nijmegen and the flat tops of the Dykes, the bridges, being told by a Tankie to get that effing mess tin out of his way, or he’d be run over. Then came Tilburg, I have a picture that says “with the first troops to liberate Tilburg” it's dated, and I would love to go over there and find the house in the picture and some friends of Dad's; it may happen.
The War was winding down now, he was either in Kiel, watching over SS officers in the prison, “Several slipped on occasion, those uneven floors”. He met a cousin somewhere in a prison camp who begged him for a loan of his rifle as he had a score to settle. He was not overly impressed with the conditions the Germans had to live in, as they denied ever knowing about concentration camps nearby… so let the “buggers starve”.
He made another trip home just as the war was ending; in fact the war was over and by the time he got back to Newcastle the news was just breaking there. When a guard told him the War was over, he smiled and said I know. Leave over, War over, but he had to go back to Kiel, the picture there is dated June '45. He met a friend of his being de-mobbed, and they drank that spirit he had carried since landing. Swaps were made, another town was driven into, a manicure set was thrown at him, incomplete, but I have it still.
Werewolves as they called the German Underground were still active, and he was in on the hunt. One night, on returning to barracks, one of the new boys was playing cowboy with his pistol, a chip flew up and hit Dad over the eye, so now he had two scars, one from a PIAT, and one from “after the war”.
Now it was time to clean off the Carrier and park it for the last time, check the oil, redo the tracks, grease it, wash it, and say bye bye to a good friend who had saved “me walking all that way”. He missed that Carrier, and many years later in the DLI Museum in Durham, he showed me how to drive it. I’d love a real go at one, I’m sure he was a good teacher that way.
When the Surrender was signed, I believe he was on the banks of the Escaut Canal, when I asked how he felt, I was told this, “ I felt relief, a sadness at friends lost, I felt I needed to thank God I was in one piece, I kneeled and prayed, then we laughed, had a drink, and were very very careful, we wanted to be sure the guys on the other side knew it was finished too. There was also a sense of something ending, I would be going home to Birtley, the lads would be splitting up and going their own ways. Reunions were talked of, but I never went to any, except one of the DLI where I was told I could pick the best carrier they had, then I found out that it was a recruiting drive, not a reunion. I lost touch with the lads I served with, but if I could go back, would I? You bet I would, we had some good times, and I had some great pals”.
After his de-mob, he gave a load of his souvenirs to a relative, who in turn sold them, all that was left was a very small selection of pictures. My Grandmother wanted only his Cameronian cap badge, she got it, but on her passing, it was lost.
When I was old enough to ask about his war, he related these tales here, but in his style, eyes twinkling, a memory stirring, a thought of someone, somewhere I never would know, something he would not tell me about just yet, but that tale went untold, it had to do with a sergeant, and his “talent” it involved “dancing too” I never did get that one. As I said, I loved to hear the guys in the Club telling their stories, Tankies, Sloggers, Drivers, each a joy to my ears, I wish I could have written them all down, or recorded them. Time is passing, I hope someone reads this and recalls my Dad, but also I hope he recalls some of his own stories, and someone writes them down for him. It’s a legacy to be proud of, we need to have the Ordinary side heard, not just the medal-winning hero though that has its place, but also the guy who all he got was two Stars and two round ones, as Dad called his medals. Alas I stand guilty of playing with them and losing them.
So in ending, I thank all who served, I hope I hope I can meet some of you sometime, and listen to your stories. The last word of course is Dad’s, when he was talking to his best mate from before the war, in the bar sometime after it was all over:
“Colin, you flew in Lancs and bombed Kiel didn’t you?”
“Yes“ was Colin’s reply, “why?”
"What were you aiming at?”
The harbour he was told, “again, why?”
“Cos you hit every bloody thing but.”
Goodnight Da, sleep well, and I promise I’ll find that someone in Tilburg and we’ll meet, sometime. God Bless.
L/Bdr. Jack "Nipper" Charlesworth . British Army Royal Artillery from Carlton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire)
My dad, Jack, joined up 1939 and one amusing tale was when the dinner gong went, he asked his Sergeant "whats the gong for?" - "It's dinner time Charlesworth" was the reply, to this my dad said ""e had dinner yesterday, Sunday" to be answered, "We have dinner everyday in the army, Charlesworth".
Jack was taken prisoner at Dunkirk, apparently dismantling some communication set up. He was sent to Stalag XXb at Marienburg where he worked on a farm as a shepherd. His nickname was Nipper as he was 5ft 5". He used to tell a tale that he learnt German from a boot polish tin and him and his mates would take the "mick" out of the guards.
Sgt. Albert Charlton MID. British Army 4th Btn. East Yorkshire Regiment from Felling, Gateshead)
My father Albert Charlton was captured at Gazala on 31st of May 1942. He was imprisoned at Campo 54 Fara Nel Sabina, Italy.
After the armistice this camp was taken over by the senior British officer and the prisoners of war were organised into small parties which took to the hills. My dad was captured after 18 days at liberty. After eight days he was imprisoned at camp Avezzano. He was put on a train for Germany and jumped from the train about ten miles west of Avezzano and made his way south meeting allied troops at Piedimonte. His story to his family was that he thought that if he didn't escape he feared that he would not see us again.
My father passed away in 1974 aged 59 years. I believe it was some of his wartime experiences that contributed to his early death.
Stk. Alfred Osborne Charlton . Royal Navy HMS Nigeria
My late father-in-law, Alfred Osborne Charlton, (born 1913) served as a Stoker aboard H.M.S. Nigeria on the Malta and Archangel convoys. He spent time with the ship in America (presumably in the aftermath of the Italian torpedo) and at Trincomalee and in Burma. He died in South Shields, in 1989 aged 76.
Stoker. Alfred Osborne Charlton . Royal Navy HMS Nigeria
My late father-in-law, Alfred Osborne Charlton, (born 1913) served as a Stoker on board HMS Nigeria on the Malta and Archangel convoys. He spent time with the ship in America (presumably in the aftermath of the Italian torpedo) and at Trincomalee and in Burma. He died in South Shields, in 1989 aged 76.
Diana Mary Charlton . WAAF
I enrolled as No 884859 ACW2 WAAF (47 Wilts) Women’s Auxiliary Air Force on 19 September 1939 at RAF Old Sarum Called up and posted to RAF Rollestone — the RAF Anti-Gas School on October 27 1939.
Having enlisted on September 19 1939 at RAF Old Sarum, I was called back there, with about thirty others, on October 27 1939. Here we were given our service numbers, never forgotten, and issued with gas-masks, gas capes and identity discs — one red, one green, proof against fire and water, before piling into an open-backed three-ton lorry, our baggage thrown in after us, and driven out into the wilds of Salisbury Plain. I think we had been told we would be stationed at RAF Rollestone — the RAF Anti-Gas School — half-way between the Army artillery camp at Larkhill and the village of Shrewton.
Here we quite literally fell into the arms of the waiting airmen as they helped us down from the lorry, and we were officially welcomed by our WAAF Officer, Assistant Section Officer Margaret Wade, in her smartly tailored uniform. She was usually referred to at ‘Maggie’ of formally at Ma’am. We were to be housed in a row of wooden huts, previously Airmen’s Married Quarters, about six of us to a hut. You entered directly into a scullery, which had a large white china sink and a cold tap, also a copper which had to be filled with a hand basin from the tap — and a fire, literally our only means of hot water. We had a coal allowance in a large cast-iron bin, and kindling had to be foraged for. The bathroom had a cold water tap in the bath, and a lavatory led off. There was a large living-room with a coal fired range, our only source of heating. The room took three beds, and in addition there was a small single-bedded room and a twin-bedded room. The bed were cast-iron, springless ‘Macdonalds’, left over from World War I. The lower half left telescoped up under the top half. If they still exist, I hope they are in a RAF museum at ‘ancient relics’. We were instructed in the art of making them up from the three biscuits — hard mattresses about two feet square, with four brown blankets of doubtful cleanliness, two coarse narrow sheets and a sausage-shaped straw-filled pillow. Spread a blanket crosswise over the bed — place the mattresses down the centre — then the sheets and finally add the other blankets, folding them over to make a cocoon which was surprisingly snug and comfortable once you get the hang of it. All this to be made up by bedtime, dismantled and stacked before breakfast. Directed down to the cookhouse for tea, we were given tinned kidneys in gravy (never seen before or since), coarse bread with marge and mugs of sweet, Carnation milked tea, from a bucket. Following this we were assembled in a lecture room for a pep talk from Maggie and given some of our duties. After an uncomfortable night and breakfast, we were assembled on the parade ground still in our civilian clothes, high-heels and stockings, tight short skirts and hats. It was a music hall act, an absolute shambles. Our poor station Drill Sergeant! After this performance, down to the stores where we were issued with some items of equipment. Knife, fork and spoon (irons), button stick (brass), shoe-brushes (I still have mine — all stamped with our number) and a hussie (housewife — mending kit). Also, surprisingly, two officer material shirts and collars (detached, needing studs), two pairs of grey lisle thread stockings, one pair of black lace-up shoes, one black necktie, two pairs of navy-blue directoire knickers (P.K.s — passion killers) two Vedonis lock-knit vests reaching to the knees, an air-force blue cardigan, navy cotton overalls, navy blue slacks, air-force blue raincoat and a navy beret and RAF cap bridge — brass — to be highly burnished. A proud possession. We were a very mixed bunch from the Hon. Lady Lettice Ashley Cooper (immediately promoted to Corporal in charge of the Orderly Room) to a little scullery maid from the Isle of Wight who had to be forced to have a bath and supervised. However, we all settled down remarkably well. It was certainly a culture shock from our mostly comfortable houses to something approaching St Trinian’s. We had cooks, clerks, M.T. drivers and three telephonists — Ruby Elliot, a very pretty girl and a shop assistant from Weymouth, Tommy Ferguson a colourful girl and a laundress from Portsmouth (an expert on starching collars and ironing) and me who had been rather idling about at home, doing odd jobs, while waiting for the inevitable. We had a brief training session with our local GPO exchanges and could always ask politely ‘Number, please’ but whether we could ever get through was another matter.
It was a very hard winter and bitterly cold up on our windswept plain, with deep snow over Christmas and in the New Year. We had torrential rain which froze as it fell on the cold ground, encasing everything with ice. The scenery was spectacular, but tree branches came down, unable to carry the weight. So also did our telephone wires, so we were jobless. This also coincided with a bout of German measles so we were deployed to other tasks, self to the cookhouse tin room, washing up large greasy cooking tins, including a cast-iron porridge pot which took two to lift. I had only my own stove to light and stoke for hot water, shovelling coke from under the snow to fuel it. There were no detergents in those days (they had not been invented) so a large bar of hard yellow soap from which you shaved off flakes for lather with a potato peeler was the only addition to the water. I found it hard going and was thankful when our ‘phone lines were restored and we were back to our cosy sandbagged exchange hut, but still with our own stove to stoke. As the weather improved, we became more active outdoors. The old balloon hanger had been used for badminton, netball and volley ball and the airmen had a good soccer field but in that more religious age it was not encouraged to play on a Sunday, so those off duty would often, as a group, walk over the Plain, picking up mangol wurzels en route and kick them along towards Stonehenge which in those days was open to everyone with many of the top stones on the ground and in some disarray. Here we would have an impromptu game of soccer, using the stones as goal posts. Along the road, in the hedge, were cast-iron commemorative plaques to the many young Army pilots who had lost their lives attempting to fly in the lethal early aircraft. They are no longer there so I hope they are safe somewhere in a museum. This pleasant state of affairs ended abruptly with the invasion of the Low Countries and the evacuation of Dunkirk in May and June. I will never forget the endless busloads of exhausted and battered soldiers brought back on to the Plain from the Channel Ports. They just slept out on the grass in the glorious weather. One of them gave me a sixpence with a hole in it as a good luck token. It had got him through. I still have it. And so ended the Phoney War — from then on the War began in earnest.
The saddest and most stressful time of my W.A.A.F. service was the winter of 1943-1944 when stationed at R.A.F. Thornaby, on the outskirts of Stockton-on-Tees. It was a Coastal Command station training Air-Sea Rescue crews, with three squadrons of Warwick aircraft, Nos 279, 280 and 281, continually patrolling the North Sea, in the vain hope of spotting any debris and possible survivors of ‘downed’ aircraft, and to alert the nearest Marine Craft unit which would send a fast launch out to retrieve what it could. There were few survivors. Hyperthermia and sea-sickness were the killers, even if they had survived the ‘ditching’. R.A.F. stations were allocated designated areas in which they were responsible for ‘collecting’ any ‘fatalities which occurred to service personnel within these boundaries, and then making all the necessary arrangements, up to the funerals. I was the Assistant Adjutant at Thornaby and, apart from my mundane duties of postings, leave passes, ration cards etc., this distressing task fell to my lot. It was a hard winter, with freezing fog added to the hazards for bombers returning from their dangerous missions, often badly shot-up, and many crashed on landing. There was a Canadian Bomber station at nearby Middleton St George which suffered heavy casualties. They often got lost and crashed up in the Dales.
A ‘death’ from whatever reason has to be registered and signed by the Registrar in whose district it occurs. He then issues a Death Certificate, without which no funeral can take place. The Registrars had fixed routines covering their scattered villages, so in the event of our airmen landing and being killed in one of these remote villages a despatch rider had to be sent out with instructions to intercept the Registrar and obtain this essential signed Certificate. These despatch riders were the unsung heroes of the War years. They operated a network service throughout the U.K. — D.R.L.S. (Despatch Rider Letter Service) — and, like the Royal Mail, they always got through. Local undertakers (or village carpenters) would coffin the bodies which were then brought down to our mortuary. I then had to arrange with our local railway (L.N.E.R. in those days) for the coffin/coffins to be taken to Harrogate where there was a R.A.F. cemetery, or be sent back to the family. All coffins were sent by goods trains as it was considered unlucky to send them by passenger train. ‘Goods’ had no priority so were constantly shunted around and the railway clerks were always on the ‘phone telling me of the revised times when to expect ‘my coffins’ to arrive. This meant I was constantly on the ‘phone to my opposite W.A.A.F. in Harrogate who unenviable job it was to receive the coffins, arrange the funerals and welcome any family or friends who could attend.
One particularly sad crash I well remember was a British bomber, returning home, probably damaged and at the limit of human endurance, making a crash landing and bursting into flames a short distance from Thornaby. We could see it, and our Emergency Services rushed over but there were no survivors. The night sky was lit up. Our local undertaker had the difficult task of collecting what he could to put in the coffins, so I do not think the victims were separated in death, being unidentifiable. You could not become sentimental about these young men, so lately full of life, but you grieved for them and their families. I tried to look upon them as temporary postings, ensuring that all was carefully and correctly done for them when they left for their last journey.
One particular ‘personality’ who remained in my care for a while was a Sergeant Sacre — a ‘Colonial’ — washed ashore near our Marine Unit at Season Snook. There is a different procedure in such cases as the actual time, date and place of death cannot be confirmed and it often takes longer to sort out. Meanwhile the Sergeant’s identity discs, still on their grubby lengths of string, were in my safekeeping for quite a while. I have wondered since about his family, probably in Australia, because it is an unusual name.
The War finally ended. I married a R.A.F. Pilot and we had two sons. My husband’s last posting was to R.A.F. Rufforth, near York. We often went over to Harrogate as it was an excellent shopping centre, but I never visited the cemetery.
Pte. Douglas Charlton . British Army 6th Btn. Green Howards from Billingham, Co. Durham)
Doug Charlton took part in the rear guard action near Dunkirk and was eventually evacuated from the beach and returned home. He fought with his battalion in the Middle East and was captured at Mersa Matruh in North Africa.
As a prisoner of war in Italy he escaped after the Italian Armistice in September 1943 and made his way up into the mountains of Northern Italy above Turin. He lived and worked with Italian partisans for eight months before being recaptured by the Germans.
Doug was sent to Stalag 339 at Trieste for 'questioning' before being transferred to Stalag VII-A at Mooseburg in Bavaria. He remained there until American forces liberated the camp in 1945.
Flt.Sgt. James Reginald Charlton . Royal Air Force 9 Squadron from Gateshead)
LACW Joan Charlton . Women's Auxiliary Air Force Clerk Accounts. 938 Squadron from Willington, County Durham)
My gran, Joan Hobson (nee Charlton) 468897, enlisted in November 1942. She went to RAF Innsworth initially, then on to no.3 WAAF depot, Morecambe, for the remainder of her training. (from 1st December 1942),
She joined 16 BC which I think is Balloon Command/Centre, on 16/02/1943. She then went on to 929 Squadron (Balloon squadron) on 13/04/43. Finally joining 938 squadron in December 1943. The only story we have is one event whereby during an air attack on the base or airfield where she was stationed, she dived for cover behind sandbags, hurting her ankle in the process. Luckily, she escaped the bombs.
Her trade was a clerk in accounts. She married in August 1944, and was discharged on compassionate grounds in November 1944. If anyone remembers her it would be fantastic to hear from you. Sadly, Joan passed away in August 1980.
She rarely talked about her service years and it is only through recent research and with the assistance of RAF Cranwell, that we have discovered the above. Please get in touch if you remember her.
Pilot Officer M Charlton . RAAF 59 Squadron
William Stanley Charlton .
My husband's stepfather William Stanley Charlton, known as Stan, was at Stalag 8B from 1941 to 1945. He cannot talk about it but often has terrible nightmares still ...trying to find out as much as we can.
Sgt. Herbert P D Charlton. . RAFVR 1664 HCU (d.9th Oct 1943)
Donald Charlwood . Royal Air Force 103 Squadron
Don Charlwood RAAF flew as a navigator with 103 squadron from 1942 on. He died recently at the age of 96 and was quite well known in Australia for his autobiography 'No Moon Tonight' which covered his experiences with 103 Squadron during 1942/43
Pte. Keith Joseph Charman . Australian Army
Stanley Charman . British Army Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from Worthing)
My grandfather Stanley Charman, who I sadly never met, was in R.E.M.E during WW2 and has the Italy and Africa Star. I would like to find out more, if you knew him or knew of him, please let me know.
J. L. Chartland . Royal Canadian Air Force 419 Sqd. (d.2nd May 1944)
Pte. Harry Charvill . British Army Northampton Regiment from Nether Heyford, Northants)
My father-in-law Harry Charvill, who has just passed away aged 90 was a D-Day veteran. He landed on Sword Beach at Lion-Sur-Mer with his Lincolnshire Regiment. His best mate, Reg, was shot and Harry ran to his aid carried him up the beach where he was attended and they both survived and stayed great friends. Harry also served in Palestine.
Carmen Chase . Royal Air Force 614 Sqdn.
PFC. Harry Arthur Chase . United States Army Quartermaster Corps from New York)
P/O Robert Fleming Chase . Royal Air Force 106 Squadron from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada)
(d.17th Sep 1942)
P/O Robert F. Chase (d. 17 Sept 1942) was with the 106 Squadron, stationed in Coningsby. He is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.
Band.Mstr. William Chatfield . British Army
I would be very interested to contact anyone who heard of my grandfather, William Chatfield, a bandmaster serving at Catterick in WW2.
F/Lt. Edward Chatterton . Royal Canadian Air Force 115 Squadron from Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
(d.30th Aug 1944)
Flight Lieutenant (Pilot) Edward Chatterton was the son of Thomas Eden Chatterton and Janet McNeary Chatterton, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was 26 years old when he died and is buried in the Ove Churchyard in Denmark.
Ord. Seaman W. Chattery . Royal Navy HMS Forfar
W. Chattery is listed as one of the survivors of the sinking of HMS Forfar.
Fred Chatwin . Royal Canadian Air Force w/op 419 Sqd.
Sgt. Rex Joseph Chatwin . Royal Air Force 106 Squadron from Blackheath, Staffordshire)
(d.19th Sep 1944)
Uncle Rex was my mother's brother who died on 19th September, 1944. He was 19 years old. He was based at RAF Metheringham and was "tail end charlie" gunner on a Lancaster bomber that was shot down either on the way or on the way back from a night bombing raid to Rheydt. The plane crashed at Elmpt. We believe of the 7 occupants, 6 were killed but this has not been confirmed.
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