William Leefe Robinson VC (Royal Flying Corp)

The following is an extract from the official combat report written by Robson:

3 September 1916

From: Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, Sutton’s Farm

To: The Officer Commanding N0.39 H.D. {Home Defence} Squadron

Sir

I have the honour to make the following report on night patrol made by me on the night of 2-3 instant. I went up at about 11.08 pm on the night of the second with instructions to patrol between Sutton’s Farm and Joyce Green.

I climbed to 10,000 feet in fifty-three minutes. I counted what I thought were ten sets of flares, there were a few clouds below me but on the whole,  it was a beautifully clear night.

I saw  nothing until 1.10am  when two searchlights picked up a Zeppelin S.E. of Woolwich.  The clouds had collected in this quarter and the searchlights had some difficulty keeping on the airship.

By the time I had managed to climb to 12,000 feet and I made in the direction of the Zeppelin which was being fired on by a few anti-aircraft guns; hoping to cut it off on its way eastwards I very slowly gained on it for about ten minutes.

I judged it to be about 800 feet below me and I sacrificed some speed in order to keep the height. It went behind some clouds avoiding the searchlights and I lost sight of it. After fifteen minutes of fruitless search I returned to my patrol.

… At about 1.50 am I noticed a glow in the N.E. of London. Taking it to be an outbreak of fire I went in that direction. At 2.05 am a Zeppelin was picked up by searchlights over N.E. London as far as I could judge.

Remembering my last failure, I sacrificed height, I was about 12,000 feet, for speed and nosed down in the direction of the Zeppelin. I saw shells bursting and night tracers flying around it.

When I drew closer, I noticed that the anti-aircraft aim was too high or too low, also a good many shells burst about 800 feet behind, a few tracers went right over; I could hear the bursts when about 3,000 feet from the Zeppelin.

I flew 800 feet below it from bow to stem and distributed one drum {ammunition drum on a Lewis machinegun}, it seemed to have no effect.

I therefore moved to one side and gave them another drum along the side, also without effect. I then got behind it and by this time I was very close, 500 feet or less below, and concentrated one drum on one part (underneath rear). I was at a height of 11,000 feet when attacking the Zeppelin.

I had hardly finished the drum before I saw the part fired at glow. In a few seconds the whole rear was blazing.

When the third drum was fired there were no searchlights on the Zeppelin and no anti-aircraft was firing.

Having little petrol left I returned to Sutton’s Farm, landing at 2.45 am. On landing I found the Zeppelin gunner had shot away the machine gun wire guard, the rear part of the centre section and had pierced the main spar several times.

Wreck of the Schutte-Lanz airship at Cuffley – note that this airship was commonly referred to as a Zeppelin at the time.

YOUTUBE   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7Sqs6D1iIQ

The above represents the  official and clinical account written for the benefit of his commanding officer by Leefe Robinson and does not capture the true events. From eyewitness accounts  First world War aviation historian David Marks gave the following account of the events of that night and what happened afterwards:    

“SL11 {Zeppelin} caught fire and in full view of the Metropolis, the giant raider fell in a roaring mass of flame, striking the ground at Cuffley. The crew of 16 died as millions of Londoners cheered the unknown hero who had been the first to shoot down an airship over mainland Britain.

Railway whistles blew, factory hooters were sounded, whilst people poured  into the streets, singing and dancing. People broke out into spontaneous renditions of God Save the King and Rule Britannia.

Robinson landed safely at Sutton’s Farm with little petrol and oil left in his machine’s tanks. The exhausted pilot was borne shoulder-high in triumph from his biplane.

On 3 September, which was later referred to as “Zepp Sunday”, news of Robinson’s victory spread with incredible speed.  Over the next two days 10,000 people travelled to the tiny village and police and troops were called in to control the crowds who clamoured for souvenirs of the wreck.

For shooting down SL11, Robinson was now the most famous pilot in the country and could not go without official recognition for long. On 9 September 1916 King George V handed him the Victoria Cross at Windsor Castle.

When SL11 was shot down, it was described officially and in the press as Zeppelin L21. This misidentification persisted for decades and was probably deliberately done for propaganda purposes.” (David Marks)

“We think nothing now of high-speed interceptors taking off and attaining incredible altitudes within seconds. In 1916 men were flying aircraft made of wood and canvas, with engines with only tens of horse-power and small capacity fuel tanks. Maximum heights would have been not much over 10,000ft and it would take many minutes to get there. There was one advantage – the airships they were hunting were fairly sluggish.

We are also talking about one man, in control of a low powered and often unreliable aeroplane, at night with no electronic navigation aids, just a canvas backed map and a compass. Then you need to appreciate that Leefe Robinson was buffeted by cold air in an open cockpit, with a leather helmet and a thick and bulky sheepskin lined outfit. He had no radio and had to fire his often-unreliable machine gun by hand.” (David Marks)

After being  awarded the VC and becoming a national hero the army was reluctant to send him to the front line and  used him for public relations and propaganda. Not liking his celebrity status Robinson made constant requests to be assigned combat duties on the Western Front and in April 1917  his request was granted  and was ordered to report to No.48 Squadron as a flight commander.  

On 15 April 1917 Robinson led a formation of six aircraft against Albatrol D.111 fighters from Jasta 11 led by the legendary ‘Red Baron’ Manfred Von Richthofen.  During the dog fight four British fighters were shot down including Leefe Robinson who was injured whilst crash landing behind German lines and was quickly captured.  

Jasta 11

Manfred Von Richthofen (Red Baron)

After being reported dead by British newspapers two months later his family received a letter from him which said he was safe and was a POW.

Due to making several escape attempts Robinson was moved to various prison camps and kept in solitary confinement and was eventually repatriated in early December 1918 and spent Christmas with his family and friends in Stanmore Middlesex.  Shortly after Christmas day, at the age of 23, Robinson contracted Spanish flu and died on 30 December at his sister’s home in Stanmore which is now part of Harrow.

William Leefe Robinson VC was buried with full military honours with thousands lining the route to All Saint’s Church Harrow Weald and a solitary RAF aircraft dropped a wreath which was laid on his grave.

LInks and additional reading:

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/zeppelin-wreck-at-enfield

Additional reading   https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-37164689

Louis Strange MC, DFC (bar)

During the First World War there are many accounts of RFC (Royal Flying Corp) pilots modifying their aircraft. Whilst serving with No. 6 Squadron on the Western Front Pilot Officer Louis Strange decided to improve the fire power and accuracy of his aircraft by fitting a Lewis Machine Gun on the top wing above the cockpit of his Martinsyde S.1 Scout.

On 10 May 1915 Strange was engaged in aerial combat against a German Aviatik two-seater and during the lengthy dog fight Strange had to reload his Lewis Gun. After standing up in the cockpit to change the drum his aircraft immediately became unstable, flipped on its back and Strange was thrown from the aircraft but managed to grab the ammunition drum which was still attached to the Lewis Gun.

As his aircraft started to develop a slow spin towards the ground from five thousand feet strange was seen  hanging from his inverted aircraft.

Strange later explained: “I kept kicking upwards behind me until at last I got a foot and then the other hooked inside the cockpit. Somehow, I got the stick between my legs again and jammed on full aileron and elevator; I don’t know exactly what happened then, but the trick was done. The machine came over the right way up and I fell off the top plane and into my seat with a bump.”

It was later estimated Strange was only 500 feet from the ground before he eventually regained control of his aircraft.

On his return to the airfield Strange was reprimanded for causing unnecessary damage to his instrument panel and seat.

During the Second World War Strange was too old for operational flying and on 21 May 1940 was the control officer with No. 34 Squadron (RAF) at Mervile.  After the airfield had been evacuated and with no other pilots available, Strange flew a Hurricane fighter back to England. Apart from this being an advanced aircraft he had never flown before the guns had been removed and  most of the  instruments were missing.

 At 8000 feet Strange dodged anti-aircraft artillery before being attacked by several Messerschmitt Bf 109’s and was forced to fly at very low level to lose his attackers. One month later Strange was awarded a bar for his DSO.

Awards and citations

Distinguished Service Order

Lieut. Louis Arbon Strange, M.C., D.F.C.

For his exceptional services in organising his wing and his brilliant leadership on low bombing raids this officer was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross not long ago. Since then, by his fine example and inspiring personal influence, he has raised his wing to still higher efficiency and morale, the enthusiasm displayed by the various squadrons for low-flying raids being most marked. On 30th October he accompanied one of these raids against an aerodrome; watching the work of his machines, he waited until they had finished and then dropped his bombs from one hundred feet altitude on hangars that were undamaged; he then attacked troops and transport in the vicinity of the aerodrome. While thus engaged he saw eight Fokkers flying above him ; at once he climbed and attacked them single-handed; having driven one down out of control he was fiercely engaged by the other seven, but he maintained the combat until rescued by a patrol of our scouts.

 London Gazette, 7 February 1919[24]

Military Cross

Second Lieutenant (temporary Captain) L. A. Strange, The Dorsetshire Regiment and Royal Flying Corps.

For gallantry and ability on reconnaissance and other duties on numerous occasions, especially on the occasion when he dropped three bombs from a height of only 200 feet on the railway junction at Courtrai; whilst being assailed by heavy rifle fire.

— London Gazette, 27 March 1915[15]

Distinguished Flying Cross

Lieut. Louis Arbon Strange, M.C. (Dorset R).

To this officer must be given the main credit of the complete success attained in two recent bombing raids on important enemy aerodromes. In organising these raids his careful attention to detail and well-thought-out plans were most creditable. During the operations themselves his gallantry in attack and fine leadership inspired all those taking part.

— London Gazette, 21 June 1940[39]

Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross

Pilot Officer Louis Arbon Strange, D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C. (78522), R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve.

Pilot Officer Strange was detailed to proceed from Hendon to Merville to act as ground control officer during the arrival and departure of various aircraft carrying food supplies. He displayed great skill and determination whilst under heavy bombing attacks and machine-gun fire at Merville, where he was responsible for the repair and successful despatch of two aircraft to England. In the last remaining aircraft, which was repaired under his supervision, he returned to Hendon, in spite of being repeatedly attacked by Messerschmitts until well out to sea. He had no guns in action and had never flown this type of aircraft previously, but his brilliant piloting enabled him to return with this much needed aircraft.

John Hannah VC

John Hannah was born on 27 November 1921 in Paisley Scotland and joined the RAF in 1939.

After being trained as a wireless operator and air gunner in 1940 he was promoted to sergeant and assigned to 83 Squadron which flew Handley Page Hampden bombers.

At the age of 18 John Hannah become the youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross for aerial operations during the Second World War.

Victoria Cross citation the London Gazette 1 October 1940

The King has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery.

652918 Sergeant John Hannah

On the night of 15th September 1940, Sergeant Hannah was the wireless operator/air gunner in an aircraft engaged in a successful attack on an enemy barge concentration at Antwerp. It was subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire and received a direct hit from a projectile of an explosive and incendiary nature which burst inside the bomb compartment.

A fire started which quickly enveloped the wireless operators and rear gunners’ cockpit, and as both the port and starboard petrol tanks had been pierced there was grave risk of the fire spreading.

Sergeant Hannah forced his way through to obtain two fire extinguishers and discovered that the rear gunner had had to leave the aircraft. He could have acted likewise through the bottom escape hatch or forward through the navigator’s hatch but remained and fought the fire for ten minutes with the extinguishers and beating the flames with his logbook when these were empty.

During this time thousands of rounds of ammunition exploded in all directions and was almost blinded by the intense heat and flames but had the presence of mind to obtain relief by turning on the oxygen supply. Air admitted through the large holes caused by the projectile made the bomb compartment an inferno and all the aluminium sheet metal on the floor of the airman’s cockpit was melted away leaving only the cross bearers.

Working under these conditions which caused burns to his face and eyes Sergeant Hannah succeeded in extinguishing the fire. He then crawled forward and ascertained the navigator had left the aircraft and passed the latter’s log and maps to the pilot. This airman displayed courage, coolness and devotion to duty of the highest order and by his action in remaining and successfully extinguishing the fire under conditions of the greatest danger and difficulty enabled the pilot to bring the aircraft to its base.

In late 1941  due to weak health as a result of the severe burns he had sustained John Hannah was discharged from the RAF with a full disability pension, but his health continued to deteriorate.

 After being unable to find a job to support his wife and three young children he became a taxi driver after his aunt borrowed him her car but due to increasing ill health, he returned the car in 1943 and could no longer work. John Hannah died on 7 June 1947, aged 27, at Markfield Sanatorium in Leicester where he had been a patient for four months.

Reference

http://www.bomber-command.info/vchannah.htm

 “No. 34958”. The London Gazette. 1 October 1940. p. 5788

Pathé News 1941

40 years since Warren Point, Narrow Water Northern Ireland

On 27th August 1979 an army convoy of three-ton lorries and land Rovers from the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment (2 Para) drove into a well-planned IRA ambush.

The first explosion (IED) is thought to have been a device weighing half a ton which was concealed under hay on a flat bed lorry. The explosion killed six members of 2 Para travelling in a lorry at the rear of the convoy. 

Warren point
Searching the area

Immediately after the explosion other members of 2 Para cordoned off the area, called for reinforcements and soldiers from the Queens Own Highlanders flew to the scene in helicopters from their base at Bessbrook in county Armagh.

The dead  and injured were being air lifted from the scene when a second explosion killed a further ten soldiers from 2 Para, a lance corporal from the Queens Own Highlanders and his commanding officer.   

After this explosion one eyewitness said they heard heavy automatic fire from the other side of  the canal which forms the border and soldiers returned fire.

RUC Inspector Error McDowell said, “We were patrolling in South Armagh at the time and we got the call to come to Narrow Water… It was just complete devastation, bodies everywhere… The second device detonated as troops raced to those killed and injured by the first…”

One member of 2 Para who survived the attack, Tom Caughey, later told the Irish Sun, “I was in the last wagon and I remember we just came through the roundabout and onto the dual carriageway and it went up… I remember it as a flash and a rumble, the sensation of flying… jettisoned from the three-ton truck…. I found myself coming around and seeing my legs on fire, not really taking it in. Sitting up and looking about… There was carnage everywhere, I couldn’t see anybody actually moving… I kept looking at my legs which were on fire, burning and suddenly a switch went off and I thought to myself, your legs are burning…”

18-year-old Tom Caughey  was being  evacuated by helicopter when the second large IED exploded.

The eighteen soldiers killed at Warren Point

Roll of honour Warren Point  27 AUGUST 1979

Andrews- Corporal Nicholas J, age 24 (2 Para) Married

Barnes -Private Gary I, age 18 (2 Para) Single

Beard- Warrant Officer Walter, age 31 (2 Para)

Blair- Lieutenant Colonel David, age 40 (Queen’s Own Highlanders) Married with two children

Blair- Private Donald F, age 23 (2 Para)

Dunn- Private Anthony G, age 20 (2 Para) Single

England- Private Robert N, age 23 (2 Para) Married with one child

Fursman- Major Peter, age 35 (2 Para)

Giles- Corporal John C, age 22 (2 Para) Married

Jones- Private Jeffrey A, age 18 (2 Para)

Jones, Corporal Leonard, age 26 (2 Para) Married with 18-month-old daughter

Jones- Private Robert D.V, age 18 (2 Para) Single

MacLeod- Lance Corporal Victor, age 24 (Queen’s Own Highlanders)

Rogers- Sergeant Ian A, age 31 (2 Para) Married

Vance – Private Thomas R, age 23 (2 Para)

Wood- Private Anthony G, age 19 (2 Para) Single

Woods- Private Michael, age 18 (2 Para) Single

Ireland- Lance Corporal Chris G, age 25 (2 Para) Married with one child

Hannie Schaft of the Dutch Resistance (The girl with the red hair)

(Unless otherwise stated all photographs are Public domain/common licence)

Hannie Schaft was born in Haarlem northern Holland on 16 September 1920.

After the German occupation of the Netherlands Hannie Schaft started providing stolen and forged identity papers to Jewish families to prevent them being deported to concentration camps. This first act of resistance by 20-year-old Shaft came to the attention of the Council of the Resistance which was a group closely linked to the Communist Party of the Netherlands and they decided to recruit her.

The leadership wanted her to become a courier but Schaft refused and said she wanted to fight the Germans.  

Schaft with Sten Gun

Shortly after completing her firearms and other training a member of the resistance pointed out a senior Gestapo officer and told her to kill him. 

Schaft walked behind the officer then put  her pistol to his head and pulled the trigger but all she heard was a click.  Unbeknown to Schaft the Gestapo officer was a member of the resistance, she had been given an unloaded pistol  and this was a test to ensure she was capable of assassinating members of the occupying forces and collaborators.

The pistol of Hannie Schaft (Haarlems Vertzts Museum)

One of several assassinations took place on 15 March 1945 when Hannie and 16-year-old Truus Oversteegen whose sister was also with the resistance shot dead Ko Langendisk who was a paid German informer.  Truus later said, after the assassination they both hid in a hotel and Hannie put on face powder because she wanted to die pretty.

Sisters (L) Freddie (R) Truus Oversteegen. Former members of the Resistance

Hannie Schaft had distinctive red hair and  after being involved in acts of  sabotage and several assassinations  she was high on the German wanted list and was known as ‘the girl with the red hair’. Aware the Germans had her description and were looking for her Schaft dyed her hair black and continued her resistance work.

Apart from assassinations and sabotage including her part in blowing up a power station near Haarlem she also transported and distributed weapons.

On 25 March 1945 Schaft was arrested at a routine German checkpoint in Haarlem but only after her interrogators noticed the red roots of her hair did the Gestapo suspect she was the woman on their wanted list. It has also been alleged another member of the resistance identified her after they had been tortured.

Three weeks before the end of the war Hannie Schaft was shot but the first bullet did not kill her. It has been widely claimed although seriously injured Schaft said to her executioner, “I shoot better than that”, after which she was killed by a second bullet to the head. 

On 27 November 1945 Hannie was reburied during a state funeral  along with 421 other members of the Dutch resistance who had served with various organisations.

Stamp dated 1962 issued by the DDR (Communist East Germany)

During the Cold War East Germany used Hannie Schaft in their propaganda and printed a postage stamp in her memory and due to increasing tensions between the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact and western Europe  the history of the Communist section of the Dutch resistance became politically unpopular. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall did the communist resisters who fought for the liberation  of the Netherlands once again start to be  recognised for their sacrifices and bravery.  

Further reading and information

Kathryn Atwood, Women Heroes of World War Two

Hannie Schaft foundation   https://hannieschaft.nl/to-all-international-visitors/

Andrée Peel (nee Virot) Heroine of the French Resistance

In March 2010 Andrée Peel died of pneumonia at a British nursing home at the age of 105 and was buried at All Saints Church in Long Ashton near Bristol. 

A casual observer seeing the honour guard from the Royal British Legion with their banners marching ahead of the funeral procession would be aware she had connections with the British military but it is unusual for the deceased to be honoured by two nations: her coffin was covered with both the French and British flags.

Andée Virot was born on 3 February 1905 in Brest and when Germany occupied France in 1940, she was running a beauty salon in Brest and immediately started to resist the German occupation  by distributing clandestine newspapers calling for patriots to resist the German forces.

After coming to the attention of the Gaullist Free French based in Dorset Square London, Andree was given command of the Breton clandestine circuit and used the field name ‘Rose’.

Her resistance activities quickly expanded and included gathering intelligence on  the German navy  and their submarine pens, German troop movements and the effects of allied bombing and her reports were sent to London by wireless.

She also organised weapons, sabotage stores and agents from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as well as the Free French Section (RF) to be dropped by parachute onto remote farmland  but she always said her greatest achievement was helping 102 allied aircrews shot down over France to evade capture and return to England and later said this was the contribution she was most proud off.

By May 1944 Andrée Virot was high on the Gestapo wanted list and after obtaining forged identity papers she left Brittany and travelled to Paris where she was less well known by the Gestapo and the Abwehr (German military intelligence).   

On 9 June, three days after D-day she was arrested and sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp and later transported to the equally notorious Ravensbrück camp in Germany. The day she was due to be executed by the SS the camp was liberated by American forces.


Andrée kept the infamous blue-and-white striped pyjama suit issued to her at Buchenwald.

After the war Andree ran a restaurant in Paris where she met an Englishman named John Peel who she later married, and the couple moved to Long Ashton near Bristol and in 1999 she published her memoirs, Miracles do Happen.  After the death of her husband in 2003 Andrée moved into the care home where she later died peacefully in her sleep.

Her work with the resistance and the rescue of 102 British and American aircrews was honoured by several decorations including the King’s Commendation for Bravery presented to her by George VI, the US Medal of Freedom, the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honour which in 2004 was upgraded to Chevalier of the Legion.  She also received a personal letter from Winston Churchill thanking her for saving the lives of British aircrews. 

Narrative Strategies – the weaponization of information

Thank you for the encouraging messages I continue to receive regarding the content of this website.  I would like to take this opportunity to answer a regular question regarding my academic activities with Narrative Strategies.

 I am still a member of the Washington DC based think tank and consultancy Narrative Strategies and continue to work with subject matter experts from various disciplines researching and identifying new developments in the field of information warfare which is being  conducted by state and non-state players.  

This is my personal blog and has no connection with Narrative Strategies but further information regarding the  ongoing research in this field of non-kinetic warfare including the weaponization of information can be found by visiting the link below.

Again, thank you for your positive comments

Regards

Alan

Captain Robert Nairac, GC (Northern Ireland)

Robert Nairac was born in British Mauritius in 1948, not in Ireland as some journalists have stated, and his only connection with Ireland before joining the army was  during his time as a postgraduate student at Trinity College Dublin  where he studied Irish history.

Nairac was not an  SAS officer, as some journalists have also wrongly stated, he  was a Captain in the Grenadier Guards and served at least three tours of duty in Northern Ireland with his regiment before volunteering to undertake selection and training for intelligence work.

Taken in Northern Ireland before joining intelligence

As the disappearance and murder of Robert Nairac continues to be surrounded by myths, conspiracy theories and speculations the following is based on what is generally regarded as facts.

Robert Nairac was an intelligence liaison officer based at Bessbrook Mills which like Forkhill and Crossmaglen  were the most dangerous parts of Northern Ireland where roadside bombs were common and travelling in and out of the area had to be by helicopter. In these remote areas near the border with the Irish Republic  strangers were not welcome and were viewed with suspicion.

Left- taken whilst working under cover

Whilst travelling alone in this hostile area and meeting contacts Robert Nairac was using the name Danny Mcalevey from the Ardoyne in Belfast which was also an IRA stronghold. According to several writers he was happy with his cover identity and was seen visiting various places in South Armagh and the surrounding area which journalists at the time called Bandit Country because of the bombs and snipers who sometimes operated from the safety of the Republic.  

Bessbrook

On Saturday 17 May 1977, it is thought Nairac planned to meet a contact at the Three Steps Inn at Drumintee which was another dangerous area close to the Irish border and some writers claim he had made several visits to this bar.

Robert Nairac was wearing a black donkey jacket, a pullover, flared grey trousers and scuffed down suede shoes and took with him his Browning 9mm pistol and two additional full magazines. Although he also had an SLR and 80 rounds of ammunition he left this in the armoury.

Whilst signing out of the base he said he would only be going out for a few hours and would return  by 23.30 hrs. He then drove out of Bessbrook Mill in a red Triumph Toledo at 21.30 hrs.

His car had a radio concealed under the seat and using his call sign ’48 Oscar’ he told the operations room at Bessbrook he was travelling towards Drumintee.

The Three Steps

At 21.58 hrs he reached the pub and told the operations room he was closing down radio contact.

Several eyewitnesses recall Nairac drinking and speaking to customers but how his cover was blown may never be known.

Several customers recall Nairac fighting in the carpark with five to seven men and was holding his own before eventually being overpowered, thrown into the back of a car and driven away at speed.

Taken prior to is abduction by the IRA

It is known Robert Nairac was driven over the border and tortured for several hours but refused to divulge any information and stuck to is cover story of being Danny Mcalevey from the Ardoyne.

Later the IRA said he was a brave man till the end and never spoke and was eventually shot in the head.  Robert Parker in his book Death of A Hero, makes the valid point that if Robert Nairac had talked all his contacts would have been killed by the IRA and they owe their lives to his bravery.

According to a report by the Irish Times the Garda (Irish Police in the Republic) found blood, teeth and hair but could not find his body and after the Good Friday Agreement the IRA refused to tell the Garda where the remains  of Captain Robert Nairac are buried.

Robert Nairac’s GC and GSM with Northern Ireland Clasp

Citation for the award George Cross

“The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the George Cross to: Captain Robert Laurence Nairac (493007), GRENADIER GUARDS.

 Captain Nairac served for four tours of duty in Northern Ireland totalling twenty-eight months. During the whole of this time he made an outstanding personal contribution : his quick analytical brain, resourcefulness, physical stamina and above all his courage and dedication inspired admiration in everyone who knew him. On his fourth tour Captain Nairac was a Liaison Officer at Headquarters 3 Infantry Brigade. His task was connected with surveillance operations.

 On the night of 14/15 May 1977 Captain Nairac was abducted from a village in South Armagh by at least seven men. Despite his fierce resistance he was overpowered and taken across the border into the nearby Republic of Ireland where he was subjected to a succession of exceptionally savage assaults in an attempt to extract information which would have put other lives and future operations at serious risk. These efforts to break Captain Nairac’s will failed entirely. Weakened as he was in strength-though not in spirit-by the brutality, he yet made repeated and spirited attempts to escape, but on each occasion was eventually overpowered by the weight of the numbers against him.

 After several hours in the hands of his captors Captain Nairac was callously murdered by a gunman of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who had been summoned to the scene. His assassin subsequently said: “He never told us anything”. Captain Nairac’s exceptional courage and acts of the greatest heroism in circumstances of extreme peril showed devotion to duty and personal courage second to none.”  

Further reading:

John Parker, Death of a Hero: Captain Nairac GC and the undercover war in Northern Ireland

John Parker, Secret Hero: The Life and mysterious death of Captain Robert Nairac

The unknown Para who saved a Dutch family during the Battle of Arnhem

Albert Willingham was living in Drayton Hampshire before enlisting into the Dorset Regiment.

After volunteering for Airborne Forces and successfully passing selection and parachute training he was posted to Headquarters Company 10th  Battalion The Parachute Regiment and in September 1944 was killed in action during the Battle of Arnhem. It took 74 years for  his bravery and self-sacrifice to come to public notice.

Private Albert willingham

According to Dilip Sarker (Arnhem 1944: The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far, published in 2018)

 Whilst under enemy fire Willingham managed to drag an injured officer to a cellar which was full of wounded Airborne soldiers and around twenty Dutch civilians hiding from the fighting. After German forces started clearing  surrounding buildings a stick grenade was thrown down the steps to the cellar and landed in front of a young mother, Mrs Bertje Voskuil and her 8-year-old son Henri. Without hesitation Private Albert Willingham showed a total disregard for his life as he stood between the grenade and the young family to shield them from the blast and was killed.

Bertji Voskuil
Henri Voskuil

Pte George Peachment one of the youngest recipients of the VC during WW1

George Peachment was the son of a barber and  lived with his parents in Bury Lancashire. He wanted  to join the army and fight in the war but was aware the minimum age for overseas service was 19 so  decided to lie about his age. According to figures compiled by the British Legion George Peachment was one of 250,000 young men under the age of 19 who served in the Great War after claiming to be over 19 years of age.

On 19 April 1915, at the age of 17, he told the recruiting sergeant he was 19 years old  and one month and wore his father’s bowler hat to make him look older and successfully enlisted into the Rifle Corp, but his military service got off to a bad start.

Private Peachment was charged for being absent without leave from 0700 hrs on 2 July 1915 until 0810 hrs 5 July and was fined seven days loss of pay. Two months later he was confined to barracks for three days for having a dirty bayonet whilst on parade. Six days later he was fighting during the opening Battle of Loos, the largest British offensive on the western front during 1915.

After four-days of artillery bombardments against German lines at 0630 hrs on 25 September 1915 George Peachment took part in this major offensive but the preliminary artillery bombardment had not silenced the German machine guns, barbed wire defences were still intact and once in no man’s land many British soldiers were cut down by machine gun and rifle fire from the German trenches creating a scene of mass slaughter common throughout the Great War.

Due to the large number of dead and dying caught up in barbed wire defences and scattered across the battlefield,  the line was retiring so it could be reorganised when private George Peachment saw his company commander, Captain Dubs lying wounded near the German trenches. Instead of falling back or taking cover with other men in a shell hole, Peachment whilst under intense machine gun fire crawled towards Captain Dubs.

In 1996 Lord Ashcroft bought Peachment’s Victoria Cross at auction along with a remarkable letter from Peachment’s company commander to his mother which tells the story of how her son died saving his life. Captain Dubs wrote:

“I cannot tell you how sorry I am that your brave son was killed, but I hope it may be some consolation to you to know how bravely he behaved and how he met his end…

When we reached the {barbed} wire we found it absolutely untouched by our artillery fire and an almost impossible obstacle as a result. However, we had to push on and I gave the order to try and get through it and over it. Your son followed me over the wire and advanced with me about 20 yards through it till we were only about 15 yards from the German trenches. None of the other men of the line were able to get as far and he was the only man with me. As a matter of fact, I had not noticed your son with me, but at this point a bomb hit me in the eye blowing it and part of my face away.

I fell to the ground, but on sitting up found your son kneeling beside me. The German fire at this time was very intense but your son was perfectly cool. He asked me for my field dressing and started bandaging my head quite oblivious to the fire. His first thought was to help me, and although there was a shell hole nearby where he might have got cover, he never thought of doing so.

Of course, the Germans were bound to see us sitting up, and one of them threw a bomb which hit your son in the chest whilst at the same time I received a bullet in the chest. Your son was beyond feeling any pain though still alive. I tried to drag him into the shell hole and at the same time keep him from moving, but at that moment a bullet hit him in the head and killed him.

After his first wound he was bound to die, in fact he was already, immediately after he received it unconscious of any pain. I lay beside him there all day, and eventually we were picked up in the late afternoon when the trench was taken by a flank attack.

I can’t tell you how much I admired your son’s bravery and pluck. He lost his life in trying to help me and no man could have been braver than he was… I have recommended him for the Victoria Cross and have heard the commanding officer has seen the recommendation.

If he gets it, it is sad to think he is not in this world to receive all the congratulations he would get, but perhaps it may be of comfort to you… Your son died the finest death that man can die, he showed the greatest gallantry a man could show, and I hope these facts help you in your sad loss together with the fact he was spared all pain and suffering.”

IWW

Official Citation published in the London Gazette 18 November 1915

“During heavy fighting when our front line was compelled to retire to reorganise, Private Peachment, seeing his company commander Captain Dubs lying wounded crawled to assist him. The enemy fire was intense but though there was a shell hole quite close in which men had taken cover, Private Peachment never thought of saving himself.

He knelt in the open by his officer and tried to help him but while doing this he was first wounded by a bomb and a minute later mortally wounded by a rifle bullet.

He was one of the youngest men in his battalion and gave this splendid example of courage and sacrifice. “

Pte Peachment’s medals (Ashcroft Collection)

On 29 November 1916 the Victoria Cross was awarded to his mother by King George V at Buckingham Palace. His body was never recovered but he is commemorated on the Loos memorial which lists the names of more than 20,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died during the battle.

Third Supplement to The London Gazette of 16 November 1915. 18 November 1915, Numb. 29371, p. 11450

Name: George Stanley PEACHMENT

D.O.B: 5th May, 1897

D.O.A: 25th September, 1915

D.O.D: 25th September, 1915

Award: Victoria Cross

Occupation at time of action: Private, 2nd Battalion The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division

Loos, France 25 September 1915

(Primary source Lord Ashcroft Collection)

Source http://www.lordashcroft.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/LORDASHCROFT_NOV2013.pdf