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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
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PostPosted: 10 Sep 2008, 14:14 
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Bernard McKenna: British veteran of the Spanish Civil War

Bernard McKenna volunteered to fight fascism in Spain with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. He was one of 66 volunteers from Manchester and was wounded twice during the conflict.

When the civil war broke out, in July 1936, McKenna initially helped to collect food and medical supplies for the Republic as part of the Aid for Spain campaign. He then decided to travel to Paris by train, where he contacted the semi-clandestine recruiting offices of the International Brigades in Montmartre. McKenna bought a weekend rail ticket because that way, in the 1930s, he could still leave Britain without a passport. His motivation to fight General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces was strong: “In Spain, we never thought we’d lose. I never had any doubts.”

From Paris, McKenna travelled south and crossed the Pyrenees into Spain on foot. He headed to Albacete, the headquarters of the International Brigades, where he completed a basic training course. McKenna was a radio enthusiast and he also trained as a signaller before going into battle in July 1937 near Brunete, 15 miles west of Madrid. His family did not know that he was fighting in Spain.

McKenna described his experience fighting in the trenches as “dreadful”. He was wounded in the foot while laying communication cables on his first day in action and was evacuated from the front line on a donkey. He recovered to fight on the Aragon front, where he was wounded a second time, in December 1937, by an artillery shell. During his hospitalisation, McKenna fought for his life and, although he recovered from his physical injury, he later suffered from shellshock.

While recovering from his first wound, McKenna spent time in Madrid. It was a city under siege from the very first months of the war and was regularly shelled from the surrounding Nationalist positions. When he checked into a hotel, he was advised to wake up early because the artillery started firing at 6am and his side of the building was exposed. During the rapid Nationalist offensive in March 1938 McKenna was captured by Italian troops, Franco’s allies, when he was trying to recover telephone cables after a skirmish with the enemy. He was taken to the infamous San Pedro concentration camp in Burgos province, northern Spain. Here he was interrogated by members of the German Gestapo who were in the country searching for influential international communists. The camp was at an old monastery: “We had a stone floor to sleep on, a sardine tin for a dish and we were served very poor, watery food. Many were injured but there was no medical supervision,” McKenna remembered. He also expected to be executed as a foreign communist volunteer. “It was the worst moment of my life,” he later said.

Instead, he was selected by chance for a prisoner exchange in which International Brigaders were released for Italian soldiers captured by the Republic. As a result, Mckenna worked at an Italian camp for seven months, where conditions were much better. “They gave us a shower and uniforms, even underwear. I was making hay, wearing Italian army pantaloon-style trousers,” he remembered. Many of his international comrades, however, were executed in Nationalist Spain.

The exchange took place in October 1938, and McKenna sailed for Britain, via France, from San Sebastián, on Spain’s northern coast. The Foreign Office charged him £4 for his repatriation. McKenna kept the bill but never paid it off.

During the Second World War he served as a signaller in the RAF, where he was deployed in North Africa, the Middle East and Italy. He was keen, he said, to continue the fight against fascism. After the conflict, however, McKenna left the Communist Party and joined Labour. He became disillusioned and tore up his party card when the Soviet Union denounced Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia as a fascist for resisting Stalin’s intrusive regional pressure.

In 1946 McKenna trained as a secondary school teacher and specialised in coaching children with learning difficulties. He was a great believer in the power of education to help bring about social justice.

McKenna was born in 1915 to Irish-English parents living in the working-class Hulme area of Manchester. He was the seventh child, but his six elder siblings all died in infancy. McKenna himself survived both tuberculosis and diphtheria as a child. His parents were very poor: his father was often unemployed and his mother struggled to make ends meet working as a cleaner. McKenna, however, was an able student and was awarded a scholarship to St Gregory’s grammar school in Ardwick.

McKenna left school ay 14 and started work as a clerk in a textile mill, where he quickly became politicised. He joined the Labour League of Youth and later the Young Communist League. He was attracted to the Communists’ strong stance against fascism and sold the Daily Worker on the street and at party meetings. He was also among the crowd that forced Oswald Mosley to flee a meeting convened by the British Union of Fascists in Hulme town hall. “It opened my eyes to what a mass of people could do just by protesting,” he said.

In his eighties McKenna left Labour under Tony Blair and joined the Socialist Workers Party. He was a member of the International Brigades veterans’ organisation and, in 1996, he was granted honorary citizenship, along with other survivors, by the Spanish Government.

More than 2,300 Britons fought in Spain and more than 500 were killed. McKenna was the last surviving Spanish Civil War veteran from Manchester. He was married twice and is survived by his three sons and two daughters.

Bernard McKenna, Spanish Civil War veteran, was born on September 11, 1915. He died on July 31, 2008, aged 92

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 12 Sep 2008, 10:52 
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Norman Warden Owen: DSM, shipwright and diver


As ship’s carpenter of the Blue Funnel Line’s SS Deucalion in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1942, Norman Warden Owen was decorated for the part he played in helping to get the stricken tanker Ohio and her precious cargo of fuel oil, paraffin and aviation spirit through to Malta in one of the war’s most celebrated convoy actions. The arrival of the Ohio in Grand Harbour on the night of August 15, intact though in a sinking condition, saved the day for Malta, which was running short of fuel of all sorts. It enabled the island fortress’s aircraft and warships to strike back at Axis forces that had seemed to be winning the battle for domination of the Mediterranean and the struggle to supply Axis forces in North Africa.

Only a few days beforehand, from the deck of Deucalion, a shaken Warden Owen had witnessed the violent death throes of the aircraft carrier Eagle, which at noon on August 11 was hit by four torpedoes and sank within six minutes, though fortunately 900 of her company of 1,150 were rescued. Barely 24 hours later, Deucalion was to share a like fate. She was attacked first by Italian aircraft in the morning of August 12, and succumbed later the same day to the bombs of two Ju88s.

Picked out of the water by the destroyer Bramham, Owen volunteered to join magazine parties handling ammunition up to the destroyer’s guns. It was a terrifying experience, as he later admitted, with the warship under constant air attack and in the knowledge that if the ship was set on fire or holed below the waterline the magazines would be closed down and flooded with the ammunition parties inside them.

All effort was now concentrated on — from the Axis side to destroy, on the Allied side to succour — the American-built but British-crewed tanker Ohio, the very heart of the convoy’s raison d’être with its 11,000 tons of fuel. Only three merchant ships of the convoy’s original 14 were to reach Malta but every nerve was strained to make sure that Ohio was one of them.

So weakened was the tanker that she was in constant danger of breaking in two. So two destroyers came alongside on her port and starboard sides, acting as “splints” while she was towed and supported from fore and aft. When volunteers were called for to go aboard to try to stanch the flow of water into her hull, Owen was grateful, as he thought, to escape from the hell of his magazine duties aboard the destroyer. But as soon as he and other volunteers had come aboard her, another bomb struck, penetrating the engine room and starting a fire, which threatened her high-octane cargo. A further attack by a Ju87 Stuka wrecked her steering gear.

As a trained “chippy”, Owen had to stem the rush of seawater into the tanker through a gaping rent in her hull and was also responsible for making sure that the steel wire ropes lashing her to the destroyers did not part. The towing hawsers also had to be kept under constant surveillance.

Finally, after a painful progress, Ohio was brought safely to harbour, her main deck awash, and her precious cargo was pumped ashore. Warden Owen and six of his shipwright colleagues were each awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for the part they had played in keeping her afloat under enemy attack.

Norman Warden Owen was born in Holyhead, Anglesey, in 1917, the son of a caterer in mail ships on the Holyhead-Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) route. After an apprenticeship at the Holyhead marine yard he went as a shipwright to Cammell Laird in Birkenhead from where he went to sea as a carpenter in general cargo ships.

He was serving in the freighter El Argentino in South American waters when the Second World War broke out, and in December 1939 entered Montevideo harbour shortly after the pocket battleship Graf Spee had been scuttled there after the Battle of the River Plate and saw her superstructure protruding above the waves.

After his Ohio experience he remained in the Merchant Navy until the end of the war, and afterwards worked for the Blue Funnel Line in Birkenhead. In the 1950s he went back to Holyhead to work on an RNLI project to build a slipway and lifeboat station. Training as a diver, he was subsequently employed by British Railways as its maintenance diver at Holyhead.

As such he nearly lost his life during the demolition of a pier. A 100-ton crane was being used to extract its remaining piles from the seabed but this was proving difficult. Owen repeatedly descended beneath the surface of the water in his diving suit to cut a notch in each pile with an axe, and then attach a wire hawser to it. One of these suddenly snagged and when Owen went down yet again to the seabed to try to unsnag it, two fingers of his right hand were trapped against the pile by the tightening steel wire. Although the crane stopped exerting pressure as soon as this was realised, the wire continued to clamp his fingers to the pile. With oxygen running short and no chance of cutting or releasing the wire Warden Owen pulled out his sheath knife with his left hand and cut through the trapped fingers to release himself. Then he collected his remaining tools and slowly surfaced, accompanied by a rising cloud of his own blood.

For this he was awarded the Daily Herald’s Order of Industrial Heroism. This decoration, instituted by the socialist newspaper in 1923, was known as the “Workers’ VC”. Of the 440 awards made before the paper’s demise in 1964, many were posthumous.

This accident put paid to his diving career, and he continued thereafter to work as a handyman. He was also a keen weekend sailor for the Holyhead and Trearddur Bay sailing clubs and continued to race well into his eighties. He is survived by his wife Gwladys, and by a daughter and two sons, one of whom is a master mariner, the other an Olympic yachtsman.

Norman Warden Owen, DSM, shipwright and diver, was born on May 17, 1917. He died on August 16, 2008, aged 91

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 18 Sep 2008, 22:58 
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Harry Challenor: SAS soldier decorated for bravery in Italy

On July 11, 1963, Central London was gripped by colourful, noisy left-wing demonstrations against the presence of Queen Frederika of Greece, a descendant of Queen Victoria and a former member of the Hitler Youth movement. Back in Greece, after a civil war in which communist forces had been defeated 14 years earlier, the jails still held 1,000 political prisoners, some of them former partisans who had resisted German occupation.

One of the protesters arrested at about 10pm outside Claridge’s hotel, where Queen Frederika was resting, was Donald Rooum, a cartoonist working for Peace News. The arresting officer was Detective Sergeant Harry “Tanky” Challenor.

As a wartime SAS soldier Challenor had also fought fascism. At West End Central police station he listed his prisoner’s personal possessions for signature, adding to those a half brick with the comment: “There you are, me old darling. Carrying an offensive weapon. You can get two years for that.” Challenor’s other prisoners that night also received half bricks with the cheerful greeting, “Here’s a little present from your Uncle Harry.”

The grotesque nature of Challenor’s behaviour during his self-appointed mission to become (as a fellow officer put it) “the saviour of the West End, to clean it up” generated more than a cause célèbre from which the star performer, Challenor, was absent because of his descent into mental illness. It suggested a culture of reverse values reminiscent of The Beggar’s Opera.

It also undoubtedly gave rise to Joe Orton’s Inspector Truscott in his savage farce, Loot. (“Most people think Loot is a fantasy,” said Orton, “but Scotland Yard know it’s true”). It also spawned the character of Inspector Potter who has psychic visions, played by Nigel Davenport, in The Bone Yard, a 1966 television drama by Clive Exton.

Harold Gordon Challenor was born in 1922 and left school at 14. He was a motor mechanic, a male nurse and a lorry driver before joining the Army on April 30, 1942. He volunteered to join 2 SAS, which was commanded by David Stirling’s brother William, and fought with it, often behind the lines, in Italy and France.

The citation of his Military Medal, gazetted on November 9, 1944, says: “This NCO was dropped by parachute near Borgo val di Taro, north of Spezia, on September 7, 1943. The total detachment consisted of two officers and four other ranks. After landing the detachment split, Lance Corporal Challenor accompanying one officer. This small detachment succeeded in derailing two trains on the Spezia-Parma line on night of September 14 at a point north of Pontremoli. Again, on the night of September 18 a third train was derailed south of Villafranca. Having no further explosives the detachment started to return to our lines. During this time the enemy were continually searching for escaped prisoners of war, and on December 27 the officer was captured. Lance Corporal Challenor continued southwards alone; he was captured north of Chieti, but succeeded in escaping later from Aquila prisoner of war camp. He continued south and on April 5, 1944 was again captured while attempting to pass through enemy lines; on April 7 he again escaped and reached our lines. Throughout the seven months spent behind enemy lines this NCO displayed the highest courage and determination.”

Challenor joined the Metropolitan Police on September 24, 1951, and was a spectacular success in tackling Soho’s gangsters, with 600 arrests and 18 commendations to his name.

It was not an unblemished record, however. As many as 13 men may have been wrongly imprisoned on his word. He also became obsessed, working more than 100 hours a week, marching 15 miles home, arriving with feet that bled and, according to one source, reliving his wartime escapes after dark in Hyde Park.

It was only after the failure of the prosecution of Rooum that Challenor’s superior officers understood that his boisterous, eccentric behaviour and habit of shouting were not due merely to a volatile, hyper-energetic temperament combined with growing deafness. The medical diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia. The official report into “the circumstances in which it was possible for Challenor to continue on duty at a time when he appears to have been affected by the onset of mental illness” did not consider the possibility that he might also have been a victim of what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Challenor’s explanation for his mental illness was, as he told a friend: “When a man is obliged to spend months behind enemy lines and is taught to take a pleasure in killing, it is bound to leave some mark on his personality.”

After his discharge from hospital, into a care home supported by Combat Stress, the SAS family did not forget him. Now widowed, he was visited regularly by old comrades. Soon after 22 SAS moved into new quarters in 2000, he was a guest at an officers’ mess open evening, a small, awkward figure who greeted those who wished to meet him: “I’m Harry Challoner. I’m mad. Everyone knows that.”

His care home confirmed that up to the end, he still refused to use his hearing aid, so they had to shout at him sometimes. “But he was a lovely man,” said the matron.

Challoner was married to Doris May on August 1, 1944. He is survived by a son.

Harold Challenor, MM, soldier and policeman, was born on March 16, 1922. He died on August 28, 2008, aged 86

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 20 Sep 2008, 12:02 
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Warrant Officer Gary O’Donnell: selfless soldier and George Medal recipient

Warrant Officer “Gaz” O’Donnell was killed in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while attempting to disarm an improvised explosive device (IED). He was the 93rd soldier to be killed in action in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001. More than 400 others have been seriously injured by enemy action or roadside bombs.

O’Donnell was an ammunition technician, trained in the handling of the ammunition and explosives, including their fuses, used in his own service and knowledgeable about those used by allied or enemy forces that he might be called on to render safe.

Despite a high degree of training, systematically updated to keep abreast of developments, his speciality carried heavy responsibility for the lives of other servicemen and, inevitably, high risk of death or serious injury.

Gary O’Donnell began his career in this demanding expertise in 2004 in the rank of staff sergeant, passing the “high-threat operator” test on his improvised explosive device disposal course at the first attempt.

The IED business is a two-sided battle in any campaign, as the designer of each type of device strives to make it increasingly difficult to disarm without a critical degree of risk to the technician.

The use of wire and then radio-controlled firing devices has raised the risk level to new levels of severity and a requirement for increasingly sophisticated counter-measures.

O’Donnell was engaged in clearing a route blocked at a point where a search team had identified a high-risk IED, to allow the 5 Scots (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) battle group to operate around the western side of Musa Qaleh. The original British mission in Helmand province was to support a process of reconstruction to persuade the local population to reject their former fundamentalist Taleban rulers.

In fact, although some reconstruction work has been done and other projects initiated, the campaign has deteriorated into a hard fight against an increasingly well-armed enemy operating in territory it knows well and supported by much of the local people out of fear, if not conviction.

The town of Musa Qaleh, in an area that the Taleban have persistently sought to dominate, has changed hands on a number of occasions.

O’Donnell was in the top flight of ammunition technicians and was awarded the George Medal for disposing of a highly complex, innovative IED in Iraq while working with the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group there in 2006.

Earlier, he had served on EOD duties in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone and previously in Iraq. It was his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.

His commanding officer in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-Colonel David Wilson, said of him: “He was hugely talented and unbelievably brave, at the very top of his extremely dangerous and difficult trade, at which he excelled.

“It was his passion and he took immense pride in making places safer for other people. The danger to his own life rarely seemed to affect him. If it did, he kept it to himself. He was a real character and a natural leader of men, his smile giving assurance to the less experienced or more anxious.”

Gary O’Donnell was born in Edinburgh in 1968 and joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, later incorporated into the Royal Logistic Corps, in 1992 at the age of 24.

He is survived by his wife, Toni, two young sons and a son and daughter from a previous marriage.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary O’Donnell, GM, ammunition technician of the Royal Logistic Corps, was born on July 21, 1968. He was killed in action in Afghanistan on September 10, 2008, aged 40

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 22 Sep 2008, 19:28 
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Carl Aschan: wartime MI6 officer

Carl Aschan was born in Sweden and after schooling in England and reading engineering at Pembroke College, Cambridge, he spent some years with German and British aircraft companies before taking British citizenship in 1929. He later worked in Hamburg as the local director of Wigglesworth & Company, sisal and hemp importers, returning to England at the outbreak of the Second World War. He joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve Engineering branch, but his fluency in German, Swedish and Norwegian soon led to his recruitment by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), though he retained his RAFVR uniform as cover.

His first assignment at the British Embassy in Stockholm led to his involvement with the embryo resistance movement in German-occupied Norway and attempts to establish an intelligence network in the country. Recalled to London in early 1941 for intelligence work on the Luftwaffe, his persistence in requesting a more active appointment brought secondment on intelligence duties to the Combined Operations Staff under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten.

The first operation in which he was involved in planning was the successful raid on the Casquets lighthouse on the approach to Alderney harbour on the night of September 2-3, 1942. A Royal Navy motor torpedo boat of the Small-Scale Raiding Force launched a collapsible dory manned by eight commandos close to the lighthouse, which was in use as a German radio station and listening post. The raiders returned with German codebooks and seven prisoners.

The next raid, a few months later, on the occupied island of Sark succeeded in gathering useful intelligence on the dispositions of the German garrison, but was to have long-lasting implications for future special forces operations. Five German prisoners were captured and their hands were bound. Accounts vary as to why they were left behind. They were found with their hands bound, leading Hitler to issue his infamous order that captured British commandos were to be shot.

Aschan’s knowledge of Norway drew him into the team planning an attack on the German heavy water plant — part of the country’s atomic bomb development programme — at Vemork, 50 miles west of Oslo over the winter of 1942-43. An advance party of two officers and two NCOs of the Norwegian Special Operations Executive (SOE) was parachuted on to the Hardanger plateau on October 18, 1942. The follow-up attack party of British Royal Engineers was towed to the region in gliders. One of its tug aircraft crashed into a mountainside with no survivors, the other glider crash-landed far from the target area and the survivors were executed.

The second attempt, codenamed Operation Gunnerside and carried out by an all-Norwegian SOE team, was completely successful. The SOE team was parachuted on to the Hardanger plateau on the night of February 16-17, 1943. The heavy water plant was wrecked without casualties to the SOE party or anyone at the plant.

Later, the local German garrison commander was ordered by General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, Commander-in-Chief German occupation forces in Norway, to free the Norwegian civilian hostages he had intended to have shot, remarking that it was a military operation conducted with great skill.

Aschan continued working on the staff of Combined Operations, planning raids or other forms of attack on facilities used by German forces in occupied Scandinavia. Towards the end of the Northwest Europe campaign, together with other fluent German speakers, he was attached to a British regiment in the forefront of the advance into Germany. The task of these officers was to capture key Nazi officers and officials.

In May 1945 he accompanied British forces sent to the relief of German-occupied Demark, again with the task of seeking out senior Nazis. He was awarded the King Christian X of Denmark Liberty Medal.

His marriage to the artist and enameller Marit Guinness in 1937 was dissolved in 1963. He later married Doreen Wentworth Fitzwilliam, who predeceased him. He is survived by a son and daughter of his first marriage.

Carl Aschan, wartime MI6 officer, was born on May 6, 1906. He died on July 27, 2008, aged 102

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 23 Sep 2008, 23:04 
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Captain ‘Andy’ Palmer: torpedo officer for HMS Belfast

Each Boxing Day in his retirement Captain “Andy” Palmer broke out several white ensigns in the windows of his home in Mousehole, Cornwall, to commemorate the sinking of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape in 1943.

It was a naval victory in which he had a particular interest since he had been torpedo officer of HMS Belfast, one of the cruisers involved in the coup de grâce to the Scharnhorst after her main 11-inch turrets had been silenced and she had been reduced to a wreck by the 14-inch guns of the battleship Duke of York, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser’s flagship. It was a point of honour among “old Belfasts” that it was their ship and their torpedo officer that had finally sent this powerful foe beneath the waves, and Palmer liked to think so too.

The operation to trap the Scharnhorst and remove a powerful threat to Britain’s Arctic convoys had begun on Christmas Day when the battlecruiser and six destroyers sailed north from Langefjord to attack the convoy JW55B as it passed North Cape en route to Murmansk. With foul weather reducing visibility almost to zero in the dim twilight of an Arctic mid-winter’s day, the German destroyers lost contact with Scharnhorst.

By the small hours of Boxing Day, Fraser’s force, which included a cruiser and four destroyers, was in a position to cut Scharnhorst off from her base while three cruisers, Norfolk, Belfast and Sheffield, bore down from the northeast. Furnished by their radar with accurate reports of the enemy’s position, Fraser was able to approach to within 12,000 yards of the unsuspecting battlecruiser before opening fire at 4.50pm. Within 90 minutes Scharnhorst’s guns had fallen silent. Torpedoes from the destroyers and further salvoes from the Duke of York reduced her to a flaming wreck but she still refused to sink. Finally the cruisers were ordered “to finish her with torpedoes”.

After firing a salvo of torpedoes from Belfast’s starboard tubes, Palmer had his view of the target obscured by the cruiser Norfolk as the ship turned to bring his port tubes to bear. When he next obtained a view, sometime after 7.45pm, the dull glow denoting the stricken battlecruiser had disappeared. Calculating the running time of his torpedoes, Palmer always maintained that Belfast had struck the final blow, though of course the truth of the matter will never be established. The official history estimates that of the 55 torpedoes fired at Scharnhorst probably 11 had hit, in addition to a dozen or so 14-inch shells, a testimony to the robustness of German naval construction.

Edward (always known as Andy) Palmer had joined the Navy as a boy seaman at 16 and was commissioned in 1937. Much of his wartime service was on Atlantic convoys and he was awarded the DSC in 1942. After the war he was involved in the development of sonar at Portland and ended his naval career as Commodore Superintendent of the Malta dockyard.

His wife, Marian, died in 2001. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.

Captain “Andy” Palmer, DSC, torpedo and ordnance expert, was born on August 14, 1916. He died on June 5, 2008, aged 91

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 24 Sep 2008, 20:28 
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Flight Lieutenant Alex McKie: wartime RAF navigator
McKie and the crew of his Lancaster survived when it crash-landed in a bog
As navigator of a Lancaster bomber in 617 Squadron in 1944, Alex McKie took part in the squadron’s first two attacks on the battleship Tirpitz in Norway, in September and October of that year.

Since the battleship was at that time moored in the Kaa inlet off the Altafjord, high inside the Arctic Circle, the first of these attacks had to be launched from a Russian airfield, as the Lancaster could not deliver the Barnes Wallis-designed armour-piercing 12,000lb “Tallboy” bomb direct from any British airbase.

On the long flight from Lossiemouth in Scotland to Yagodnik in North Russia, McKie navigated the Lancaster of Flying Officer D. Carey, and, in almost zero visibility, played an important role in locating the remote airfield on an island in the Dvina river. In the event Carey’s Lancaster, which had been badly damaged by Russian flak over Finland, could not be repaired in time for the raid and he, McKie and other members of the crew had to fly as “guests” in other Lancasters for the Tirpitz attack.

This was adjudged a failure as the bombers had had to release their Tallboys virtually blind through the smokescreen which poured from the smoke pots sited along the shore of the fjord and rapidly enshrouded the battleship.

As a result, a second raid was ordered for October 29, by which time the battleship had been moved south to Tromsøfjord, where it was in range of a direct strike from Lossiemouth. (It was only later that 617 learnt that its first attack had in fact damaged Tirpitz beyond repair, and that she had been towed to Tromsø merely to be moored as a floating fortress because her fighting days were over.)

On the second occasion Carey’s Lancaster was hit by flak on his run to the target and his starboard outer engine was put out of action. With all the bombs dropped, Group Captain Willie Tait (obituary, September 13, 2007), commanding the operation, ordered the bombers to head for home, but as Carey’s aircraft dived down to pick up speed, a second engine was hit and put out of action by flak.

Two fuel tanks were now leaking aviation spirit, and though the two good engines were keeping the Lancaster airborne, McKie and Carey realised that there was no chance of getting the aircraft home. McKie navigated the Lancaster to neutral Sweden where Carey crash-landed it in a bog.

Carey, McKie and the rest of the crew were interned for several weeks before being released, which meant that they missed the November 12 raid which administered Tirpitz’s coup de grâce. “You might have waited for us, sir,” grumbled an aggrieved crew to Tait on arriving back at 617’s Woodhall Spa base.

Alexander Millar McKie was born in Crewe, Cheshire, in 1922. In 1938 at 15 he joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice at Halton, Buckinghamshire, and trained as a fitter. After a number of ground-crew postings he was accepted for pilot training in 1942.

He had plenty of aptitude and soon went solo. But on a further training course at a US air base in Florida, he was “washed out” as a pilot for “dangerous flying”. Determined to stay as aircrew, he retrained as a navigator in Canada and after returning to England was posted as a sergeant to an operational training unit, and then to 106 Squadron flying Lancasters.

He flew 30 operations with 106, including eight against Berlin, the costly raid on Nuremberg, the ball-bearing factory at Schweinfurt and many other heavily defended targets. Completing his tour of operations in April 1944, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. After a short rest he joined 617 Squadron in May. His first sortie was Operation Taxable, the D-Day deception plan, which was, with its demand for precision formation flying over a long period, very much a navigator’s operation.

Sixteen Lancasters led by 617’s commander, Leonard Cheshire (obituary, August 3, 1992), dropped showers of “window” — metal foil strips — at regular intervals in such a way as to give the impression to German radars that a large invasion convoy of ships was heading in towards the Pas de Calais. This was an important contribution to diverting the defenders of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall from the true destination of the Allied landings — Normandy. So complete was the deception that German coastal guns actually opened fire on this phantom “armada”.

McKie also took part in attacks on the U-boat pens at Brest and V1 and V2 sites in northern France. He was commissioned in September 1944. After returning from Sweden he flew two more operations with 617, the last being the destruction in March 1945 of the Bielefeld viaduct with the first of Barnes Wallis’s ten-ton “Grand Slam”, bombs, the RAF’s heaviest.

After the end of the war in Europe McKie was posted as squadron navigating officer to 9 Squadron flying missions to bring troops home from Germany and Italy for demobilisation. He was finally demobbed himself as a flight lieutenant in May 1946.

In civilian life he worked for many years as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company. He is survived by his second wife, Rene, and by the two sons of his first marriage, to Kathleen Jones, which was dissolved.

Flight Lieutenant Alex McKie, DFM, wartime RAF navigator, was born on July 17, 1922. He died on August 1, 2008, aged 86

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 02 Oct 2008, 11:07 
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Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Lowry: MC recipient


Lowry as a young subaltern on the North-West Frontier of India in 1941
Mike Lowry was a lean, tough and imaginative infantry commander, as devoted to his soldiers as to the job in hand. He won the Military Cross in unusual circumstances during the communist insurrection in Malaya, although contemporaries believe he had earned it earlier fighting the Japanese at Kohima in April 1944.

The campaign against the predominantly Chinese communist terrorists in Malaya had begun to turn in 1955 under the policy of the High Commissioner, General Sir Gerald Templer, of housing the landless rubber tappers in protected villages. This system, although not impossible to outwit, reduced the scope for the terrorists to extract food and support by coercion. Intelligence on terrorist intentions was also improving, because of information that surrendered terrorists were glad to offer. A tip-off about a large-scale terrorist food lift from the village of Kebun Bahru gave Lowry an opportunity to disrupt it while striking decisively at the local communist cell in southwest Johore.

Commanding D Company of 1st Battalion The Queen’s Royal Regiment, Lowry made a close reconnaissance of the village by small patrols at night and one by day, disguised as a Public Works Department sanitary inspector. As the date for the terrorist operation approached, he infiltrated his company into a patch of secondary jungle near the village. They remained concealed for eight days, kept alert by mind games Lowry devised.

When the moment came to move in, Lowry led the way. All the terrorists were taken alive except for two who dodged the main assault group only to be killed by a cut-off party. The food lift was foiled and the two terrorists killed turned out to be senior officials of the local communist cell, the rest of which surrendered shortly afterwards. The success of the operation was attributed solely to Lowry’s thorough planning.

Michael Alastair Lowry was educated at Uppingham and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from where he was commissioned into The Queen’s Royal Regiment in 1939. He served with 1st Queens on the North-West Frontier, being wounded in action against Waziristan tribesmen in 1940 and mentioned in despatches in 1942.

His battalion was moved to Burma after the Japanese invasion. Lowry was again mentioned in dispatches for his service in Arakan in 1943. In March and April 1944, he fought first at Imphal then at Kohima, as the Japanese 15th and 31st divisions threw themselves at these obstacles to their planned invasion of India. Lowry’s courage in both battles earned him lasting respect but no decoration.

Essentially a fighting soldier, Lowry eschewed staff appointments, although he served as military assistant and military secretary to the general commanding British troops in occupation of Austria from 1951 to 1952, living for a time in a house that Gustav Mahler had used in Vienna. He commanded a troopship during the 1956 Suez campaign and was second-in-command of the Somaliland Scouts from 1958 until appointed to command 1st Battalion The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment, following amalgamation of the Queen’s and East Surreys.

He took his battalion to Aden in 1961, then in the early stages of the unrest that led to British withdrawal in 1967, and to Hong Kong. Finally, he commanded a wing of the School of Infantry, Warminster, until leaving the Army in 1967. He farmed and worked on behalf of the Conservative Party and the European Union. He was appointed MBE in 1983 and was present in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, on the night of the IRA bomb outrage in 1984.

His wife, Rua Thesiger, predeceased him. He is survived by a son and two daughters.

Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Lowry, MBE, MC, infantryman, was born on January 30, 1919. He died on August 24, 2008, aged 89

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 06 Oct 2008, 23:34 
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Lieutenant Edward Briggs:

Ted Briggs, who has died aged 85, was one of only three men out of a crew of 1,421 to survive when the battle cruiser Hood was sunk by the German warship Bismarck in the North Atlantic in May 1941.

As an 18-year-old Flag-Lieutenant's messenger, Briggs was on Hood's compass platform when a shell from Bismarck hit the ship between centre and stern, penetrated the deck, exploded and touched off the ammunition in the four-inch and 15-inch magazines. According to one witness, the column of flame generated was “four times the height of the mainmast".

Ted Briggs himself recalled that he was lifted off his feet and dumped headfirst on the deck: "Then she started listing to starboard. She righted herself, and started going over to port. When she had gone over by about 40 degrees we realised she was not coming back." There was no time, or need, for an order to abandon ship. Hood sank within three minutes.

On his way to the compass platform shortly before the action, Briggs had bumped into a fellow-sailor, Frank Tuxworth, with whom he had earlier been playing cards. Tuxworth joked: "Do you remember, Briggo, that when the Exeter went into action with the Graf Spee, there was only one signalman saved?" Briggs laughed and replied: "If that happens to us, it'll be me who's saved, Tux."

Briggs was sucked down beneath the sea. He later wrote: "I had heard it was nice to drown. I stopped trying to swim upwards. The water was a peaceful cradle - I was ready to meet my God. My blissful acceptance of death ended in a sudden surge beneath me, which shot me to the surface like a decanted cork in a champagne bottle. I turned, and 50 yards away I could see the bows of the Hood vertical in the sea. It was the most frightening aspect of my ordeal, and a vision which was to recur terrifyingly in nightmares for the next 40 years."

Briggs swam clear of the stricken ship and, when he looked back, she had gone.

Only two other men - Midshipman William Dundas and Able-Seaman Bob Tilburn - survived. All three clung to small rafts for nearly four hours, singing Roll Out the Barrel to stay awake; even so, they were close to death from hypothermia when they were picked up by the destroyer Electra. Their rescuers could not believe that there was no sign of anyone else from Hood, alive or dead.

Hood, launched in 1918, was at the time still the biggest warship ever built. "She was the outward and visible manifestation of sea-power," wrote Sir Ludovic Kennedy in his book Pursuit: the Sinking of the Bismarck. "For most Englishmen the news of Hood's death was traumatic, as though Buckingham Palace had been laid flat or the Prime Minister assassinated."

Albert Edward Pryke Briggs was born on March 1 1923 at Redcar, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. He never knew his father, a builder and decorator who died in a fall from a ladder three months before his son's birth. Ted first saw Hood when he was only 12 and she was anchored off the mouth of the Tees. In his book, Flagship Hood, co-written with the late Alan Coles and published in 1985, he recalled: "I stood on the beach for some considerable time, drinking in the beauty, grace and immaculate strength of her."

The very next day he went to the local recruiting office and announced that he wanted to join the Royal Navy: "They patted me gently on the head," he remembered, "and told me to come back when I was 15. So I did just that. I had joined up within a week of my 15th birthday."

After his training at HMS Ganges, Ipswich, Briggs was surprised and delighted to be assigned to Hood; he joined her on June 29 1939, just before war was declared. "It never once occurred to me that she might be sunk," he said. "As far as I was concerned, she was invincible. And everybody on board shared this view."

The fact was, however, that this formidable vessel had one - and, as it turned out, fatal - weakness: her deck armour was not strong enough to withstand the vertical trajectory of a shell fired at extreme range. It was a weakness that the Bismarck was able to exploit.

The British were aware in May 1941 that the German fleet had left Norway, and guessed that it would attempt to use the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland to break through to the Atlantic, where it would attack the convoys carrying supplies and arms from America to Britain.

On the evening of May 23 Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were sighted in the Strait. Hood, along with Prince of Wales and six destroyers, went to intercept them. There followed several nerve-wracking hours of cat-and-mouse, as Hood and her sister ships tried to locate the Germans. Although dawn at this latitude was at 2am, visibility was poor; there were snow flurries, and radar at this stage of the war was not fully effective beyond 20 miles.

Finally, at 5.35am on May 24, Hood spotted the enemy. She moved to close in, and attacked. Briggs recalled: "We had taken them by surprise, and fired about six salvoes before she replied. And when she did, her gunnery was excellent. The third salvo hit us at the base of the mainmast, causing a fire - some of the ammunition was exploding.

"Then there was a hit just above the compass platform. It didn't explode but it caused some bodies to fall down. I saw one officer with no hands and no face - I knew every officer on the ship, but I didn't recognise him. We were closing in to get the range we wanted, and that's when the final salvo hit. I didn't hear any explosion - all I saw was a terrific sheet of flame."

Ted Briggs served 35 years in the navy, reaching the rank of lieutenant. He was appointed MBE in 1973, and until his retirement in 1988 worked as a furnished letting manager for an estate agent at Fareham, in Hampshire.

Both his fellow-survivors from Hood predeceased him: William Dundas in 1965, and Bob Tilburn in 1995.

Briggs, who was president of the HMS Hood Association, said shortly before the 60th anniversary of the sinking: "Hardly a day goes by when I don't think about it. I once said to an old Navy man that I sometimes wished I could forget about it. He said to me, 'You are a naval curio, and you will always remain so. You will never be allowed to forget.'" In July 2001 he visited the site of the wreck and released a plaque to commemorate the ship and those who served in her.

Ted Briggs married twice, and his second wife, Clare, survives him. There were no children.

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 14 Oct 2008, 09:17 
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Brigadier Hugo Ironside: PoW escapee and Colditz veteran

Hugo Ironside was taken prisoner in the first year of the war and spent the rest of it as a “guest of the Third Reich”, as it was sometimes ironically described, the final two years being in Colditz Castle in Saxony.

This was the prison for habitual escapers and Prominenten — persons whom the Germans believed might eventually be used as hostages. It is possible they thought that Ironside was related to the field marshal of that name, but there was no connection.

He was taken prisoner at Calais in May 1940, at the end of the desperate attempt to keep the port open for the evacuation of wounded and elements of the British Expeditionary Force in face of the German blitzkrieg. The 30th Infantry Brigade was hastily shipped from England and joined at sea by 3rd Royal Tank Regiment and an anti-tank battery of the Royal Artillery. It became clear before the force was fully disembarked that Calais was already cut off by General Heinz Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps sweeping northeastwards towards Dunkirk.

Despite this forlorn outlook, the Commander of 30 Brigade was ordered by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Ironside’s namesake, to remain where he was and “in an active manner”. The brigade subsequently held off an immensely superior German force for several days with great gallantry until forced to surrender. Ironside was the Intelligence Officer of 3rd Royal Tanks when taken prisoner and, gesturing towards the distant white cliffs of Dover, said to a German officer, “I expect you will be heading that way next.” “Oh no,” came the reply. “Next we are going to Russia.” (In May 1940 the German could only have been joking).

After staging in various prisoner-of-war camps, Ironside arrived at Oflag VII B at Eichstätt in Bavaria. The camp had a well-organised escape planning and co-ordination committee, and 65 prisoners, Ironside among them, escaped through a tunnel on the night of June 3, 1943. All were recaptured within two weeks because of the deployment of no less than 50,000 German troops, police, Volkssturm and Hitler Youth to search for them. The recaptured prisoners were sent to Oflag IV C at Colditz.

Ironside and others of the “Eichstätt mob”, as the escapers from Oflag VII B had been nicknamed by the British inmates of Colditz, were taken into the confidence of the Polish group of prisoners, who had been working for several months on a tunnel down an inside wall to the castle main sewer through which they planned to escape. He and other former Eichstätt prisoners worked with the Poles on the tunnel, but the Belgian, Dutch and Polish prisoners were all moved to other camps before an escape through the tunnel could be attempted.

A remark by a Dutch officer, Captain Machiel van den Heuvel, to the British escape co-ordinator, Captain Dick Howe, as he left the castle captures the feisty spirit of the Colditz prisoners. “Dick,” he said. “You must always give them (the German jailers) hell, so that they respect you and are afraid to bully. If you do not do so you are finished.” When the French prisoners left later, they handed their secret radio on to the British contingent.

From the winter of 1943 Ironside worked with the prisoners’ stage productions, first helping to build the sets and then as stage manager. The prison authorities were tolerant of these activities, believing that they kept the inmates from trying to escape. Castle workshop tools were allowed out “on parole”, and greasepaint allowed in. As well as revues on camp life, Gaslight, The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Importance of Being Earnest were staged for the enjoyment of all the prisoners — and some of the German staff. Ironside was released when Colditz was relieved by the US Army in April 1945 and returned to his life as a professional soldier. Like other former Colditz prisoners, he made a success of it.

Hugo Craster Wakeford Ironside was educated at St Edward’s School, Oxford, and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from where he was commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment in 1938. After his release from Colditz, he undertook a conventional career with alternate staff and regimental appointments, serving principally with the British Army of the Rhine. He took command of 8th Royal Tank Regiment in Fallingbostel in 1958 and, in the words of the adjutant at the time, “gave a bit of style to what had become a rather prosaic affair”. He was also responsible for the amalgamation of the 8th with the 5th Royal Tanks in 1959 and was appointed OBE in 1960.

Later he served as a colonel in the War Office, as the Brigadier Royal Armoured Corps at HQ Western Command and retired in 1968 at the end of a brigadier’s appointment in the Ministry of Defence.

He was three times married. He is survived by his third wife, Jane (née O’Gorman), and a son and daughter from his first marriage.

Brigadier H. C. W. Ironside, OBE, Colditz veteran, was born on June 14, 1918. He died on October 3, 2008, aged 90

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 16 Oct 2008, 00:20 
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Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal: casino operator

'Chicago-born but casino-bred': Rosenthal before the Senate Rackets Subcommittee in Washington, 1961
At the height of his unappetising career in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Chicago-born Frank Rosenthal simultaneously ran four casinos in Las Vegas, most notably the world-famous Stardust Hotel. He also, bizarrely, hosted a television talkshow, The Frank Rosenthal Show, among whose celebrated guests were such entertainers as Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope.

At one time he was officially chief executive officer of the Stardust, the Fremont, the Hacienda and the Marina, and was, through his activities as a dubiously connected sports handicapper on a hitherto unimagined scale, regarded as the unexampled pioneer of sports gambling. One of his most remarkable feats — in the peculiar pantheon of such exploits — was actually to operate a sports book from inside a casino, making the Stardust the world centre for sports gambling. Another innovation was the introduction of women blackjack dealers, a novelty which was at the time credited with doubling the casino’s income within the year.

A man whose connections with the mafia went back to his early days in his native Chicago, whose criminal organisation The Outfit boasted Al Capone among its alumni, Rosenthal was nicknamed “Lefty” because during one court hearing he pleaded the Fifth Amendment 37 times, keeping his left hand aloft throughtout while doing so. He survived numerous arrests and indictments for fixing football and basketball games.

But from the mid-1970s until the late 1980s when he was at last banned from being in, or even in the vicinity of, any casino in the state of Nevada, he appeared immune from the law’s attempts to bring him to book. Even after he had been blacklisted and officially “run out of town”, he was — so he claimed at any rate — able to sneak back in to Las Vegas under one of the many disguises he was able to call on, whenever he liked.

Unlike many of his less fortunate early associates he was able, too, to avoid a violent death. The most serious attempt to murder him in the classic (and somewhat old-fashioned) mafia mode — a car bomb triggered by the driver’s turning the ignition key — failed by a fluke to kill him.

Frank Lawrence Rosenthal was born in 1929 into a Jewish family on Chicago’s West Side. An early association that was to prove decisive in his subsequent career was that with Anthony Spilotro (“Tony the Ant”), the son of immigrants from the Apulian region of Italy. One of a large number of brothers, Spilotro had been active in petty crime in Chicago at an early age, but became more widely known to law enforcement officers from the early 1960s onwards when he was linked with a series of bribery attempts on university basket ball and football players. Rosenthal’s name also came to the notice of the authorities at that time

When in 1971 Spilotro was appointed by the Chicago Outfit to succeed the veteran Chicago mobster Marshall Caifano as its Las Vegas representative, he and Rosenthal joined forces in the city. It was always part of the Rosenthal mythology that on his arrival in Vegas he was arrested and told by a precinct chief of detectives: “You and your Chicago friends aren’t welcome in this town. I want you to catch the next flight out of here and don’t come back.” This advice was not to be heeded and it was not for another 20 or more years that Rosenthal could effectively and finally be sent packing.

In the event Rosenthal was to be responsible for the management of the casinos, while Spilotro, always more of a street gangster in his mental constitution, became more of a personnel “enforcer”. In the event the two men were to fall out after Spilotro began an affair with Rosenthal’s wife, Geri, a glamorous casino hustler. (Spilotro was to be gruesomely murdered along with his brother, Michael, as an element of Chicago mob turf wars in 1986.)

In Las Vegas, with whose image as the gambling capital of the world his own rise was inseparable, Rosenthal was to go on from strength to strength, “Chicago-born but casino-bred”, as it was said of him. As CEO of the city’s top four gambling venues he was regarded, by public, press and broadcast media alike, as one of the nation’s top experts on casinos and sports gambling. Bookmakers throughout the United States followed the principles he laid down.

His appearance on numerous television shows, and then as the host of The Frank Rosenthal Show, on which appeared a succession of glamorous showbusiness guests, while it shared his gambling wisdom with audiences, imbued him with an aura of untouchable respectability. Epithets like “unparalleled” and “visionary” were used to describe his achievements. Even after his disgrace his myth was given the imprimatur of a Martin Scorsese-directed film, Casino (1995), in which the character inspired by him (renamed for celluloid purposes Sam “Ace” Rothstein) was played by Robert DeNiro, and that of his glamorous screen wife by Sharon Stone.

But as early as the mid-1970s the state authorities were beginning to move against him. It was discovered that he was running casinos without a Nevada licence, and he was banned from obtaining one. But he was able to get this decision overturned on appeal. In the meantime, in 1982 he survived a murder attempt: he was actually sitting in the driver’s seat of his Cadillac and had turned the ignition key when a bomb went off under him. A reinforcing metal plate under the seat (installed, it is thought, as a designer improvement, not as personal armour) miraculously saved his life.

Eventually, in 1988 he was blacklisted by the Nevada Gaming Commission on suspicion of running casino operations on behalf of organised crime and supervising the skimming off of illegal profits from their businesses. An appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court failed in 1991, and, persona non grata, he left the state, eventually to settle in Florida. There he continued to practise his favourite activity, handicapping sports events, through his website.

Rosenthal married Geraldine (Geri) McGee, as his second wife in 1969. The marriage was dissolved in 1981 and she died of an apparent alcohol and drugs overdose in a Los Angeles motel the following year. There were a son and daughter of the marriage.

Frank Rosenthal, bookmaker, casino executive and television talk-show host, was born on June 12, 1929. He died on October 13, 2008, aged 79

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 20 Oct 2008, 11:14 
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Colonel 'Charlie' McHardy

A commanding presence and a friendly-sounding nickname derived while a schoolboy from the American comedy character Charlie McCarthy, made McHardy well-known in the Army. He had a fine war record, not essentially for gallantry but rather for taking over command in a desperate situation and restoring stability. His soldiers knew they could depend upon him.

The son of a colonial Civil Servant, William George McHardy was educated at Dulwich College and RMC Sandhurst, from where he was commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders in 1939. He went to France with a batch of reinforcements for his regiment with the British Expeditionary Force, but they never reached their destination, consequently avoiding capture when the 51st Highland Division was forced to surrender at St Valéry in June 1940.

Back home, he joined the reconstituted 2nd Seaforths and sailed with them to the Middle East in 1942.

He won the Military Cross during the battle of Wadi Akarit in April 1943, when his battalion suffered heavily and was in danger of being overrun on the ground it had taken. McHardy took over the remnants of a company and drove back a determined German attack. He was the battalion adjutant at the time and subsequently reprimanded by his autocratic commanding officer for leaving the forward command post.

A similarly critical situation arose during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, during which there were many anxious moments in the early stages. Both the CO and battalion second-in-command were taken prisoner while on reconnaissance (they should not have been together for obvious reasons), and McHardy again stepped into the breach and commanded 2nd Seaforths until a more senior man took over. He was wounded but remained with the battalion until the 51st Highland Division was withdrawn to England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy.

Only a few days after the Allied landings on June 6, 1944, McHardy was again wounded, this time so severely that he was out of action until after the end of the war. He subsequently served with 1st Seaforths in the Malayan emergency in 1950-51, a period of the most intense communist terrorist activity, returning in time to take command of the Royal Guard at Balmoral, an event that may have influenced his choice of a second career.

After commanding his regimental depot at Fort George and teaching at the Staff College, Camberley, he was appointed to command 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Own Highlanders, following amalgamation of his regiment with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. He took his battalion to the Far East for Commonwealth operations in support of the new Federation of Malaysia, “confronted”, in military terms, by President Sukarno of Indonesia.

It was a difficult campaign in the jungle-clad hills of North Borneo but eventually successful and Sukarno deposed. McHardy was mentioned in despatches, a not inconsiderable recognition for service in a campaign unpopular in Whitehall for its expenditure of precious resources, stocked against the possibility of Vietnamese military adventures in South-East Asia.

Promoted colonel and returned to the Staff Collage to command one of its three student divisions, McHardy held reasonable expectations of being selected to command a brigade. An opportunity to become Her Majesty’s Resident Factor at Balmoral ultimately proved more attractive and he left the Army to take up this appointment in 1965. He also farmed on his own account, specialising in breeding Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle. He was appointed CVO for his services at Balmoral in 1980.

He married June CunninghamJardine in 1952. She died shortly after him, and he is survived by a son and two daughters.

Colonel W G McHardy, CVO, MBE, MC, the Queen's Factor at Balmoral 1965-79, was born on July 20, 1920. He died on his 88th birthday, July 20, 2008

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 22 Oct 2008, 20:40 
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Group Captain "Dickie" Haine: wartime night fighter pilot

Joining the RAF as a career officer in 1935, Dickie Haine was involved as a Blenheim pilot in the infancy of the evolution of night fighter tactics during the autumn of 1939 as the RAF tried desperately to ready itself for the night bombing onslaught it was to face in the following year. Flying these slow bombers-turned-fighters, with their primitive radar, was a world away from the fast and powerful Mosquito XIIIs with which he was to operate as a squadron commander in 1944, by which time the fight was being carried to the enemy over the Normandy beachhead, after dark.

Haine, who had won the DFC in July 1940, remained in the RAF after the war and in a rapidly changing world flew all the fastest types of jets of his day. A man who had gone solo in the biplane Tiger Moth in 1935 at a sedate speed of something less than 100mph, he had flown the Mach 2 Phantom — America’s superlative interceptor, supplied to the RAF — before the end of his career in 1970.

Richard Cummins Haine was born in 1916 and educated at the Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester. A five-shilling flip in an Avro 504K biplane at an Alan Cobham flying circus confirmed him in an addiction to flying and he went solo at the Cotswold Aero Club, Staverton, within a month of leaving school. Not long afterwards he joined the RAF as an NCO. His first posting was to 25 Squadron, flying Hawker Furies. A squadron with an elite reputation, it was chosen for the RAF Display at Hendon in June 1937, the last of the Hendon pageants.

After flying Demons and then Gladiators, the squadron was re-equipped with Blenheims — not in the bomber role as its young pilots feared but as night fighters, the first to undertake radar trials. The squadron flew a number of night training sorties with this primitive equipment, and flew the RAF’s first night patrol of the Second World War on September 4, 1939.

Its first shots fired in anger were in a dusk strafing attack on the German seaplane base at Borkum, in the East Frisian Islands, in November. In a raid that caused a good deal of damage to enemy aircraft and installations, Haine was credited with the destruction of a Henkel He59 floatplane on the ground. The six 25 Squadron aircraft, which had been joined for the raid by six from 601 Squadron, made good their escape in the gathering gloom and returned safely to base.

In April 1940 Haine was commissioned and posted to 600 Squadron, also flying Blenheim fighters. When the German Blitzkrieg opened in the West on May 1940, Haine and a flight of the squadron were dispatched to attack German troop-carrying aircraft at Waalhaven airfield. The Spitfire escort they had been promised did not materialise and although they caused a good deal of damage to Ju52 transport aircraft on the ground the Blenheims were completely exposed to a counter attack by Messerschmitt 109 fighters. No match for the singleengined Me109, the Blenheims fell easy victims, and all were shot down.

With one engine out of action from German cannon fire, and the aircraft close to stalling, Haine found himself flying alongside an Me109 which was apparently merely waiting, in curiosity, for him to crash. Haine had just time to order his gunner to shoot it down (which he did) before himself making preparations for a crash-landing successfully accomplished on the mudflats of the Waal estuary beneath them. It was one of the more unusual combat victories of the Battle of France campaign.

With the Dutch army in headlong retreat before the advancing Germans, Haine and his gunner were able to make their way, helped by friendly Dutch soldiers, to The Hague. There they were embarked in the destroyer Hereward which carried them to Harwich, with the Dutch Royal family.

Haine rejoined his squadron, which continued to fly patrols during the Battle of France. On June 7, with the Dunkirk evacuation completed, he was the pilot of one of three Blenheims dispatched to Boos, north of Rouen, where some wounded RAF aircrew had been stranded and were hoping to be rescued. In the event, before the men could be located German tanks hove in sight, and the Blenheim pilots, who were being handsomely entertained, beat a hasty retreat to their aircraft and got airborne with all possible speed. During the Battle of Britain, Haine flew sorties with 600 Squadron from Manston in Kent, and took part in attempts to repel the early night bombing attacks on London.

After commanding 96 Squadron Haine had a period as a liaison officer to night fighter squadrons in North Africa and then in January 1944 was given command of 488 Squadron, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Unit which soon afterwards became part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, formed to support operations over Normandy after D-Day. With its powerfully armed Mosquito night fighters, this was the summit of the wartime night fighter pilot’s ambitions. With his navigator, Flight Lieutenant Peter Bowman, Haine scored two combat victories in the night skies over Normandy, against Ju88s, in August and September 1944. He commanded 488 Squadron until November when he was rested from operations after more than 100 sorties with it, and transferred to test flying. He ended his war in the Far East as station commander of Kai Tak, Hong Kong.

Among his postwar commands was officer commanding administration at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, for which he was appointed OBE, and command of two V-bomber bases. In retirement he lived in Suffolk. His memoir, From Fury to Phantom, appeared in 2005.

Haine is survived by the daughter of his first marriage, which was dissolved, by his second wife Eve and by their two sons. Their daughter predeceased him.

Group Captain “Dickie” Haine, OBE, DFC, wartime night fighter pilot, was born on October 1, 1916. He died on September 30, 2008, aged 91

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 31 Oct 2008, 23:50 
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Brigadier 'Rory' Walker: SAS commander

“Rory” Walker was the assistant military attaché at the British Embassy in Jakarta when President Sukarno of Indonesia decided to demonstrate his opposition to the recently enlarged Federation of Malaysia. On September 16, 1963, an organised mob attacked the Embassy of the “imperialist” power responsible for bringing about Malaysia’s inclusion of the North Borneo territories Sukarno claimed. The defence attaché, Lieutenant-Colonel Bill Becke, and Walker strode up and down in front of the building to face the rioters down — Walker playing his bagpipes with no concession to restraint.

The resolution of the two attachés — and Walker’s withering bagpipe barrage, saved the Embassy, but two days later the rioters returned, pulled down the fence, smashed the windows and set the building on fire. Most of the Embassy staff were elsewhere, but Becke and Walker forced their way through the mob to join the Ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, taking a stand on British sovereign territory and to prevent the strong room being broken open.

Indonesian “confrontation” with Malaysia took the form of a three-year campaign in the jungle-covered hills of North Borneo that ended with victory for the Commonwealth forces in 1966.

Roderick “Rory” Muir Bamford Walker was born in 1932. After Cheltenham College and RMA Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the Sherwood Foresters in 1952. He later transferred to the Intelligence Corps and then joined 22 Special Air Service Regiment as a troop commander.

He won his Military Cross in December in an operation in Oman that was daunting even by SAS standards. Lured by the prospect of oil being discovered in the northwestern region of the country, three tribal leaders had raised an insurrection against Sultan Said bin Taimour, of Oman, and, after it was put down, took refuge on the Jebel Akhdar, the Green Mountain. From the central plateau of this feature measuring 18 by 12 miles, standing 6,500ft above the coastal plain and ringed by mountains 8,000 ft high, the three ringleaders continued to foment rebellion.

Surprise attack was inhibited by the few precipitous approaches to the plateau being easily held by a handful of determined defenders. Moreover, the long climb with weapons and water carried in extreme temperatures made dehydration a potentially lethal factor.

D Squadron 22 SAS, commanded by Major (later Lieutenant-General Sir) John Watts (obituary December 15, 2003), was summoned from Malaysia where the communist emergency was drawing to a close. Having lost an experienced corporal to sniper fire during a daylight reconnaissance, Watts decided to move only under cover of darkness, the cool night hours also reducing the risk of dehydration.

On December 27, 1958, in a preliminary approach to test enemy strength and reaction, two groups led by Walker gained a lodgement on the north side of the Jebel. As they climbed a rope fixed to the rock face, a rebel called in English from above: “Come on, Johnny.” Steadying himself in a cleft in the rock, Walker pulled the pin from a grenade and hurled it over the lip above him. It killed one of the enemy and scattered the rest. Walker and his men reached the plateau and by dawn they had killed another eight.

Although the SAS had secured a toehold on the northern edge of the plateau, it was clear that a larger force was required to defeat the rebels. A second SAS squadron was summoned from Malaysia and a complex night approach planned by the regiment’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel (later Major-General) Tony Deane-Drummond, incorporating deception, disinformation and dummy manoeuvres. Supported by other British troops, an element of the Sultan’s armed forces and an air strike by Venom ground-attack aircraft, the two SAS squadrons cleared the plateau of the rebels; although the three leaders slipped away to Saudi Arabia. Walker received the Military Cross.

He went on to command 23 SAS (TAVR), a service involving him in training potential “stay-behind” parties in northwest Europe in the event of a Warsaw Pact attack. He was appointed OBE on conclusion of his command. He returned to intelligence work and after promotion to brigadier became a deputy commander of a military district in England.

In SAS circles he is remembered for his dedication to the pipes. After composing an anthem for the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977 and hearing that the Royal Yacht was to pass near a base where he was serving, he had himself rowed out to sea and stood to play his composition.

In March 1979 he married Susette Aitchison, who survives him with two sons.

Brigadier “Rory” Walker, OBE, MC, SAS officer, was born on February 27, 1932. He died on October 15, 2008, aged 76

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Re: Obituaries - Ordinary People, Extraordinary lives
PostPosted: 10 Nov 2008, 12:10 
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Stanislav Hlucka: Czech wartime RAF pilot who was jailed by the communists after the war



The death of the distinguished Czech pilot Stanislav Hlucka leaves just a handful alive of the men who escaped their Nazi-occupied homeland to fight the Third Reich from exile. Pilots like Hlucka, while still young and often inexperienced, were determined and courageous, providing vital additional strength for the RAF during the war. He also made the hazardous journey to the Soviet Union in 1944 to provide air support for the assault on Nazi forces from the east.

Despite victory in 1945, however, life for Hlucka and his comrades after the war was far from easy. As the Communist regime took power in Czechoslovakia in 1948 they were regarded as tainted with Western imperialism due to their RAF service. Hlucka, like many other former pilots, was first imprisoned by the communist authorities and then banished to menial jobs. There was some respite during the political thaw of the 1960s. But only after the revolution against communism in 1989 were Hlucka and others who had survived given more of the recognition they deserved both in Czech society and in Britain.

Stanislav Hlucka was born in 1919 near the Moravian city of Brno. He trained initially as a machine fitter but then volunteered for air training. Hopes of being part of a national military resistance to Nazi expansion were dashed, however, after the sacrificing of Czechoslovak security at the Munich agreement in September 1938, and the unopposed German invasion of the Czech lands the following March.

Hlucka decided to join the resistance and escaped via Slovakia, Hungary and the Middle East, eventually joining other exiled Czechoslovaks in France in 1940. It was a frustrating period as the war changed so quickly and he and his colleagues remained distant from the front. He recalled later a surreal atmosphere as they enjoyed local wine around Bordeaux while the war happened elsewhere.

But then he moved on to Britain, and trained on Hurricanes and Spitfires at furious pace as the Czechs, Slovaks and other foreigners were desperately needed to make up RAF pilot numbers, though there were tensions as most pilots from abroad were given the lowest rank and treated with some suspicion by the RAF hierarchy. Hlucka joined the 313 Czechoslovak fighter squadron, flying Spitfires, based mainly in the South and South West of England including Churchstanton in Somerset. He notched up four “kills” of Luftwaffe aircraft. Hlucka, a keen sportsman and gymnast, was dubbed the “acrobat” by colleagues admiring his nimble manoeuvring. But there were narrow escapes — especially when he was wounded while escorting bombers over France.

“There were lighter moments too,” he remembered in an interview, “playing football, grabbing beers. At 5 in the morning it was back in line and you had to be ready. But it was OK because we knew why we were fighting”. Czech pilots, thinking of their families left trapped under Nazi occupation, never lacked motivation.

In February 1944 he was asked by his commanding officer, the charismatic František Fajtl, to accompany him to the Soviet Union and help to form a Czechoslovak air force unit there to support the Soviet counterattack against German forces from the east. Conditions there were often primitive, different aircraft had to be mastered, and the political machinations surrounding Czechoslovak deployment were often baffling. But Hlucka and his colleagues did enjoy the satisfaction of helping to drive remaining German occupiers from Slovakia as the war came to an end and Czechoslovakia was restored.

After enjoying a few years of postwar life in the Czechoslovak Air Force as an honoured war veteran, Hlucka and other former RAF pilots faced the sudden hostility of the Communists who took power in Prague in 1948 amid much Stalinist paranoia. He was arrested and sent to a forced labour camp for a year. Such camps often contained former SS and other Nazi prisoners of the authorities — sharing punishment with them was an especially bitter humiliation for those such as Hlucka who had fought the Nazis so bravely.

After release from prison he was limited to menial jobs. But in the 1960s, as Stalinism gave way to a less oppressive regime, there was some rehabilitation, and he was able to resume a limited military career even after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He kept in discreet contact with former RAF comrades and their families — several pilots had married British women and brought them back to live in Czechoslovakia after 1945.

After the revolution against communist rule in 1989 Hlucka, always a dignified figure in his uniform, was prominent as the former pilots were honoured by the new Czech democratic Government, which granted him the rank of major-general, and by the British Government. Charities were established to try to bring some relief to those who had suffered under communist persecution. And there was educational work to be done as their stories were told to younger generations who had never realised that some Czechs and Slovaks had risked so much to make a vital contribution to the air war against Nazi Germany.

Stanislav Hlucka, Czech pilot, was born on October 19, 1919. He died on October 15, 2008, aged 88

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