Private Ian Ray (Australian Army)

19 year old Private Ian Ray

19-year-old Ian Ray from Melbourne Australia, was serving with the 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion, Australian Army when he was wounded in the left arm during the Battle of Morotai.

After receiving medial treatment at a field hospital, on 18 September 1945 the aircraft used for his evacuation failed to arrive in Australia and a subsequent investigation failed to locate the crash site.

In 1967 the wreckage of an aircraft was found in a remote valley in Papua New Guinea (formally Dutch New Guinea or Netherlands New Guinea) but after several failed attempts the crash site was not reached until 2005.

This fountain pen given to Ian Ray by his father in 1944 which he used to write letters home was found among his personal belongings.

The remains of Private Ian Ray were later buried at Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea.

(Photograph credit: Australian War Memorial)

Alan Malcher.

Alexander Vass: SOE Hungarian Section wireless operator

Alexander Vass was born in Limburg, Germany, he spoke fluent Hungarian and was a child when his family moved to Canada and became naturalised Canadians.

 In early 1943 Vass enlisted into the Royal Canadian Medical Corp and several months later he came to the attention of SOE’s Hungarian Section who were looking for agents who could speak fluent Hungarian and after passing selection and training in England he went on to pass the wireless and security course at Thames House in Oxfordshire.

Vass and three other agents boarded a converted Halifax bomber of 148 Special Duty Squadron RAF to be dropped by parachute north of Lake Balaton in western Hungary and after the aircraft failed to return it was assumed all had been killed.

Several months after the war it was discovered the Halifax had been intercepted by German night fighters and Luftwaffe documents stated the aircraft exploded after hitting the ground and all the crew were killed.  After three SOE agents were liberated from a German prisoner of war camp Alexander Vass was not among them and the three surviving agents later described what happened.

They were not aware the aircraft had been lost because the agents had been dropped before its interception. One agent named Broughay said they had been dropped at the wrong location and landed in a forest and he found himself about 30 feet up a tree and there was no way of concealing their presence. After splitting up into two groups he and Vass avoided enemy forces for over 24 hours but were eventually captured, stripped searched and interrogated. They were then taken down a hill where the other two agents were in custody and were told they would be shot. The three agents were then taken to a Secret Police Headquarters were the interrogation continued and the following morning were put into the back of a lorry and were greatly relieved after finding themselves at a German Prisoner of War Camp controlled by the Luftwaffe.

During an allied air raid sometime in December 1944 a bomb hit the camp and Alexander Vass was killed.

Alan Malcher

Lieutenants Philippe and Joseph Rousseau who served with Canadian Airborne Forces during WW2.

Brothers

Two brothers, Lieutenant’s Philippe Rousseau (left) and Joseph. Photograph taken at a transit camp near Down Ampney, England on 13 February 1944 and both served with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.
Philippe was killed in action on 7 June 1944 in France and Joseph was killed on 20 September 1944 also in France. Both are buried next to each other at the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Ranville, Calvados France. (Colour by Piece of Cake)

Alan Malcher

White Eagle Resistance Group in Poland during World War Two.

After Germany occupied Poland on 1 September 1939 underground movements began their protracted war of resistance against the occupying forces and their administration.  Resistance was often symbolised by culturally coded signs and symbols in the form of graffiti, shrines and other public displays like Kotwica (anchor) which carried ethnic and religious meaning while other symbols like the image of a turtle had the practical purpose of organising work go slows and resistance also promoted Polish culture and nationalism against the occupying forces of the Third Reich.

Resistance was also symbolised by the creation of small shrines where Nazi executions and other atrocities had taken place.

The White Eagle Resistance movement, a symbol of the Polish nation, had a large following and one of their early acts of aggressive resistance was the attack on a German police station in German occupied Bochnia, a town on the river Raba in southern Poland. Two of the members who took part in the attack, Jaroslav Zrzyszowski and Fryderyk Piatkowski were arrested by German forces and publicly hanged from lampposts.

Otto Wachter SS

Four days later a German reprisal for the attack, said to have been managed by Major Albrecht and supervised by Governor Otto Wachter, resulted in 50 men thought to have no connections with the resistance being picked at random and forced to walk along Casimir Street to Uzbornia Hill whilst Jews were forced to dig a ditch to be used as a mass grave.  

After reaching the site of the execution the men were shot by a twelve-man German firing squad after which each man was shot again through the head by a German officer to ensure they were dead.  Kazyzhowski and Piatkowski were then cut down from the lampposts where their bodies had been on public display as a deterrent for four days and thrown into the mass grave before Jews were forced to bury the dead.

After the war Otto Wachter escaped from the allies with the assistance of pro-Nazi, Bishop Alois Hudal and died in 1949 from a kidney related illness.

Alan Malcher

Private John Condon 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment during WW1

6322 Private John Gordon of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment was killed in action at the age of 14 on 24 May 1915 and is believed to be the youngest battle casualty of the Great War. He is buried at the British war grave at Poelcapelle, Belgium

Alan Malcher

Orchard Court and its connection with World War Two.

Orchard Court today

Another little-known building in London with connections to the Second World War. Orchard Court is an expensive apartment block situated on the east side of Portman Square London. To hide the location of the building used by the French Section of the Special Operations Executive from their agents flat 6 was used for their briefing and debriefings. Outgoing agents were driven through the arch in a large car with blinds over the rear windows so they could not be seen and were driven to either RAF Tangmere to be flown to France by Lysander aircraft or RAF Tempsford to be dropped into France by parachute. Few agents returned and some who did are noted for showing symptoms of suffering from PTSD, a medical condition unknown at the time.

Alan Malcher

Two Minutes’ Silence by Charles Spencelayh 1928.

Two Minutes’ Silence by Charles Spencelayh 1928.
The clock marks the eleventh hour as the elderly gentleman prays for the son lost in the war, whose portrait hangs above the clock and a jar of garden flowers that have been arranged in his memory. Spencelayh was staunchly patriotic and deeply affected by the war. (Charles Spencelayh 1865-1958)

A little-known German Resistance Group during WW2

The district of Ehrenfeld, Cologne in Germany was a sanctuary for those escaping persecution from the German authorities including escaped prisoners, forced labourers and Jews. After escaping from a concentration camp in July 1943 23-year- old Hans Steinbrück went to Ehrenfeld and was taken in by a woman and they began stockpiling weapons and food in the cellars of bombed out houses and kept in contact with escapers. Cellars were also used to shelter Jews and others forced to go into hiding.  Steinbrück became known as ‘Black Hans’ and his resistance group was known as the Steinbruck Group also referred to as the Ehrenfeld Group or Ehrenfeld Pirates. 

On 29 September 1944 an informer gave an army patrol the address of their safehouse and arrests followed, and Hans Steinbrück was later captured and interrogated by the Gestapo. By 15 October the Gestapo made 63 arrests, including 19 teenagers and on 10 November 1944 thirteen members of the group including Hans Steinbruck, were publicly hanged near Ehrenfeld railway station where there is now a memorial plaque remembering Steinbruck and those executed. As can be seen by the photograph many of the resisters were young.

British Homefront during WW2: ATA Pilot Margaret ‘Mardi’ Gething.

Margaret ‘Mardi’ Gething (IWM)

Margaret ‘Mardi’ Gething was an Australian pilot with the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) who ferried military aircraft from British factories to operational RAF airfields throughout the United Kingdom. From 1941 to 1944 she ferried Spitfires, Hurricanes, Tempest, Typhoons, Mustangs, Wellington and Blenheim bombers. She flew 42 different types of aircraft, delivered over 600 aircraft to RAF operational airfields and often flew three different types of aircraft in a day. Margaret ‘Mardi’ Gething died in Australia in July 2005. 

Alan Malcher.