top of page
Search

Stanwell War Memorial - World War II

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

The total number of military casualties from World War I and named on the Stanwell War Memorial comes to 55, so when the names of those who fell in the Second World War were unveiled on Remembrance Day 1952, the reduction to 18 service personnel would have been as noticeable then as it is today. However, the aerial bombing campaigns of the UK by the German Luftwaffe during World War II created a new category of victim, and a further 7 civilian casualties are inscribed on the memorial.



This is an attempt to identify the villagers that died in the conflict, to go a little beyond the two-dimensional inscriptions, to give some context to the part they played, and make them more three-dimensional to us - the beneficiaries of their sacrifice.


There were also families that for reasons known only to them chose not to have the names of their loved ones on the memorial. To represent them I include one such villager, killed in action and not commemorated locally.


Stanwell War Memorial, World War II Armed Services panel, 2013 © Author


Fusilier Frederick Donald Frith, 2nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (18) died from his injuries on 3rd June 1940.


Britain and France declared war with Nazi Germany on 3rd September 1939. Just over a month later Fred's regiment, the 2nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers were mobilised and embarked Southampton on 5th October to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). During the next few months they moved around the Franco-Belgian border, eventually billeting near Lille from late March 1940.


When the Germans invaded Holland and Belgium on 10th May, the so-called 'Phoney War' ended. The Regiment initially moved into Belgium just north of Brussels to defend the capital, and it was there on 17th May their first engagement with the enemy took place.


The German army had pushed into France from the north, where they managed to bypass that country's main defence, the Maginot Line. The subsequent pace of the action fragmented the Fusiliers across the battlefield, stretching communications and causing heavy casualties amongst runners, the men tasked with relaying messages on the battlefield. After multiple strategic withdrawals the regiment eventually reached Halluin, just over the border in France.


However, withdrawal still required defensive engagement and losses started to mount, with fatalities, injuries, and men going missing or being taken prisoner.


In the UK, Churchill and his Generals could read the consolidated reports from the entre battlefield. As they watched the British Army become surrounded, the only option was to withdraw fully from France, and on 26th May 1940 'Operation Dynamo', the evacuation of Dunkirk commenced.


Two days later, on 28th May the King of Belgium surrendered without the consultation of his Government, making matters considerably worse for the BEF.


Fred's regiment were outflanked and exposed. Orders were issued for immediate withdrawal towards the Belgian coast, firstly to Poperinghe and then Nieuwpoort, where Battalion HQ was established, till the final orders were received on 31st May to withdraw and evacuate from the Belgian port of La Panne.


Dunkirk was the central port of embarkation for 'Operation Dynamo', but other coastal ports were also used, including La Panne in Belgium.


Churchill and his advisers had expected to rescue no more than 20-30,000 men, but when the operation ended on the morning of 4th June 1940, 198,000 British and 140,000 French personnel had been successfully evacuated. However, that still left about 90,000 men that were taken prisoner by the encircling German army.


From the records held by the National Archives, Fred was one of those taken prisoner by the enemy, but must have been wounded in the fighting, and succumbed to his injuries on 3rd June 1940 while the evacuation was in full swing. He is buried at the Oostende New Communal Cemetery outside the port city of Ostend, Belgium, about 20 minutes from Nieuwpoort, so it seems likely he was taken prisoner during the final stage of the withdrawal.


At the time of his death Fred's parents were living in Lauser Road, Stanwell, but the family hailed from Stanwell Moor. When Fred's father James married Florence Massey from Northampton in 1919, both the bride and groom gave their residence as "Elm Tree Cottage", Stanwell Moor, and when Fred was born three years later, in 1922 they were living in Park Road (sometimes referred to as Park Street) - now Horton Road - at the Stanwell entrance to the village. There were several cottages alongside Southern Farm and it's probable "Elm Tree Cottage" was one of them. By 1930 the family had moved and were living at 5 Kent's Cottages, one of 8 houses that used to stand south of The Hope pub.


Fred's uncle, his dad's brother, was also called Fred. He died during the First World War at Ypres in 1917 and is also commemorated on the Stanwell memorial.


* * * *


It's an indication of the change in warfare that the second person to be killed was not in some far flung battlefield, but on British soil and very close to home.


Eric Smith in Home Guard uniform, with sister Phoebe, likely beside 15 Southern Cottages 1940 © Tim Silver


Private Eric Smith, 1st Battalion, Middlesex Home Guard (17) of 15 Southern Cottages, killed during an air raid on 9th November 1940.


Eric's father, Albert Smith and his mother, Phoebe 'Cis' Hyman were both born in Stanwell, first showing up in the 1901 Census. When they married in 1919 Albert's address was 3 Park Cottages, Stanwell Moor, so they would have been close neighbours of the Friths. In the 1921 Electoral Register Albert's address is 3 Harris's Cottages, Stanwell Moor and still in Park Road, likely the same house renamed (cottage's were often referred to by their owner, and those in the village regularly changed hands). They welcomed their daughter Phoebe in July 1921, and son Eric was born in July 1923.


The Smith family moved into 10 Southern Cottages in 1928, moving again in 1933-34 to number 15.


Between September 1940 and May 1941 the German Luftwaffe started bombing civilian targets in what was called 'The Blitz'. With its industry, Staines and the surrounding towns were regularly caught up in the bombing spree, and on Saturday 9th November 1940, several high explosive bombs fell on the outskirts of Ashford. Many people died that night across the London region and one of them was Eric - he was not at home but visiting a house in Feltham Road, Ashford, close to Fernhurst Road.


During World War II Feltham was a garrison town and played a significant role in the war effort. The Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) had their main Vehicle Reserve Depot there, along with their Mechanical Transport (MT) Stores Depot, Heavy Repair Shop and Driving School. Feltham marshalling yard linked multiple railway lines, and was the UK's second largest junction for the rail network at the time, and the General Aircraft Ltd activities at Browells Lane included the manufacture of heavy-lift gliders and the repair of damaged aircraft such as Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mosquitos, all of which made Feltham a regular target for the German Luftwaffe.


It's likely that the bomb that killed Eric had been destined for Feltham and fell short - a house in nearby Mornington Road, Ashford was hit on the same night, killing a father and his 5 year-old daughter - and there were other air raids that hit streets within a short distance throughout the war despite it being a civilian residential area.


Stanwell War Memorial, World War II civilian panel, 2013 © Author


Eric was buried at Stanwell Burial Ground on Saturday 16th November 1940, and according to the Middlesex Chronicle was accorded full military honours. Despite that, Eric is listed as a Civilian casualty on the memorial, as are two fellow members of the Home Guard, Stanley Jenkins (17) and Fred Holt (35), who died along with Fred's wife Dorothy (25) and their infant son Clifford when German bombs struck Viola Avenue on 23rd February 1944.


Eric's mum had already lost a younger brother George Hyman who died in 1916 while serving with the Royal Fusiliers, and two years after losing her son she was to lose another younger brother, Hedley, killed in action in Tunisia in 1942 while serving in the 5th Battalion, The Buffs. George and Hedley are both commemorated on Stanwell's memorial.


On the first anniversary of Eric's death, his mum & dad, sister & brother-in-law, Gran & Auntie Ivy all posted intimations to his memory in the Middlesex Chronicle, and the short poem in his parent's message needs no further comment...


Loved in life, treasured in death,

A beautiful memory is all we have left.

" A grief too deep for words."


* * * *


The Battle for the Mediterranean had begun on 11th June 1940, one day after Italy declared war with the Allies, when the Italian air force, recognising the significance of Malta in their supply lines to North Africa, started an aerial bombing campaign of the island.


The Allies, fully aware of the significance of Malta to their own supply lines and war with Germany, sought to defend the island and maintain both a stopping point for Allied convoys and a base from which to attack the enemy.


During early 1941 the German Luftwaffe joined the battle, followed in September the same year by German U-Boats.


The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal had been used on several occasions to ferry new aircraft into Malta. They would sail until they were within range, then the aircraft were flown off the deck of the ship on a one-way flight to the besieged island. On 13th November 1941, after one such mission and while returning to Gibraltar, the Ark Royal was struck by a torpedo fired by U-Boat U-31. While only one seaman was killed, the ship was badly damaged and sank under tow the following morning.


It would not be the Royal Navy's only loss that month...


HMS Barham, Portsmouth c1940 © Stephen Cribb


Able Seaman Frederick Champion, Royal Navy (31), killed at sea on HMS Barham, 25th November 1941.

Fred originated from Brentford and joined the Royal Navy in 1925 when he was 15 years old, starting as an Errand Boy, then gaining promotion to Ordinary Seaman and finally Able Seaman when he served on HMS Royal Oak in 1929. The following 2 years he served on HMS Hermes, the first purpose built aircraft carrier, then HMS Rochester in 1934 and HMS Cardiff in 1937.


Fred was a serving member of the Royal Navy and shore-based at Southampton when war broke out. His first war posting was to the navy's shore-base at Alexandria, HMS Nile, where he arrived in January 1941, eventually transferring to HMS Barham on 11 May 1941.


HMS Barham was a battleship and part of the Mediterranean Fleet based out of Alexandria, Egypt. The fleet had been based at Malta until just prior to the outbreak of the war, when they relocated to Egypt to be out of range of Italian bombers.


Within two weeks of being aboard HMS Barham Fred had his first encounter with the enemy when the ship came under attack from German Junkers 88 and Heinkel 111 bombers during the evacuation of Crete. The Barham was hit on the aft 15-inch gun turret, penetrating its 2-inch armour plate and exploding inside, killing 5 crew, wounding 6 others, and starting a fire that took 20 minutes to be brought under control. Another bomb narrowly missed the ship on the port side, but the explosion ruptured her hull plates leading to heavy leakage. She made it back to Alexandria where some basic repairs were carried out, but the ship was too large for the floating dry-dock at the base, so she sailed south through the Suez Canal to Mombasa, Kenya where a more thorough assessment was made. The ship's damage was too severe to attempt a transatlantic voyage, and instead she sailed on to Durban, South Africa where repairs took 6 weeks.


HMS Barham eventually returned to Alexandria in August and was soon back in service as the flagship of the 1st Battle Squadron. Malta was under siege with only limited relief being provided from the odd convoy out of Gibraltar, so in September the Barham, its sister battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, and other members of the Mediterranean Fleet were sent to sea as a diversionary exercise to distract the enemy while a convoy of 9 Merchant ships were sailing from Gibraltar to Malta to bring in much needed supplies. The tactic was a success, the Merchant ships made it through, and the battle fleet had no sight of the enemy.


To put a stop to the flow of enemy convoys and despite the enemy air activity over Malta, it was decided to put surface ships back into the island. A new cruiser squadron fresh from the UK Home Fleet was dispatched, and within a relatively short time of arrival they achieved a great victory. Using aircraft sightings, on 9th November they were directed to a large enemy convoy southeast of Sicily sailing for North Africa, and during the ensuing night action they sank all 10 ships of the convoy along with one enemy destroyer.


An encounter with the Italian Fleet during a convoy escort from Alexandria to Malta

© Imperial War Museum IWM A 8166


On 23rd November 1941 news came through to Alexandria from Malta that two further enemy convoys were sailing from Italy to North Africa, and a third from Greece. Being such a large contingent, a battleship escort was likely, so the Barham along with the Queen Elizabeth, Valiant and 8 destroyers sailed as support for the cruisers Ajax, Neptune, Naiad, Euryalus and Galate plus 4 destroyers. The plan was to work with the new Malta-based convoy to engage with the Italian fleet.


Two days later, on 25th November news came through from Malta that there had been no sightings of the convoy and it was assumed they'd turned back, but the British battle convoy decided to continue westward in case they could still spot the enemy, and the Admiral of the Fleet, on board HMS Ajax, used the opportunity to put the ships through their paces. There was no sight of any enemy aircraft and the exercise was concluded, but not long after, at around 4.30pm the crew on the Valiant turned violently to port.


The sudden manoeuvre on HMS Valiant was to avoid the Barham that was immediately in front and had been hit. She was falling out of line, listing heavily to port, and there was chaos amongst the other ships as they took evasive action.


HMS Barham assumed an increasingly alarming position in the water. The ship was keeling over, and as the port side entered the water the starboard side rose up out of the sea, The men on board tried to get to safety but the Barham's demise was rapid, and as she listed further and was almost at right angles to the waves, the battleship exploded. It all happened in around 4 minutes.


The ship had been hit point-blank by 3 torpedoes from a German U-Boat, U-331. The submarine was so close that the force of the torpedoes hitting the ship had driven her to the surface, but despite being fully exposed to the guns of the British fleet and several ships taking chase, the U-boat escaped.


Of 1,184 Officers and Ratings on board HMS Barham, 841 were killed and just 343 survived, although many were so badly injured they never returned to active service.


Next of kin were informed but asked to keep the issue quiet to maintain morale, and HMS Barham's loss was only confirmed publicly in January 1942.


Fred's wife Gladys, nee Cooper lived at L'Antre Bungalow in Stanwell Moor.

The couple had only been married about 18 months when Fred was killed. The family were no stranger to tragedy: Gladys' Uncle Harry Cooper had died during WWI when his ship HMS Vanguard blew up while docked in Scapa Flow, and he is also commemorated on the Stanwell memorial.

The harrowing footage of Barham's last moments, taken by a Pathe News cameraman from HMS Valiant, remains one of the few occasions a ship's sinking has been captured on camera. It's difficult to watch, as it must have been in July 1945 when it first aired in cinemas.


Gladys eventually remarried, and along with her new husband William Gibbard, continued to live in Stanwell Moor at L'Antre Bungalow until it was sold to developers and demolished in 1965. She was well known locally for her piano playing and one ex-resident remembered her being a regular performer at The Anchor, owned by her grandmother Sarah Cooper. Gladys died in Ashford in 1995.


Fred's body was not recovered and he's commemorated on both the Stanwell War Memorial and the Chatham Naval Memorial


* * * *


HMS Arethusa, 1935 © Edwin Seward


Able Seaman Arthur Pailes, Royal Navy (34), killed at sea on HMS Arethusa, 18th November 1942


The battle for supremacy over Malta was still at play when almost 1 year to the day after HMS Barham was lost, HMS Arethusa was torpedoed and Arthur Pailes lost his life.


Arthur was born in Staines in 1908 when the family lived at 76 Edgell Road. His father William worked at the Lino Factory and his elder brother, also William, at Ashby Brewery. Arthur married Kathleen Coff in 1935 and by 1938 they had moved into Beck Cottage, Stanwell Moor which at that time was the first house on the left hand side of Hithermoor Road.


Like Fred Champion, Arthur had served with the Royal Navy before the war, although he'd returned to his civilian life after serving 7 years full-time. He was in the Royal Fleet Reserve in 1939 when war broke out, and at some stage soon after he was called on to serve.


Arthur was posted to HMS Nile, the shore base at Alexandria in 1941, and eventually joined the crew of HMS Arethusa on 7th November 1942. Soon after Arthur joined the ship, on 16th November Arethusa left the safety of Alexandria as part of a large escort for a convoy of 4 ships destined for Malta. The Merchant convoy passed through the Suez Canal and met up with the escort fleet at Port Said.


On the following day a formation of German bombers attacking the convoy were seen off by Allied air fighters. However, at dusk on 18th November both the convoy and escort were attacked by Italian torpedo-bombers. The Merchant ships were unscathed but Arethusa was hit by an enemy torpedo just forward of the bridge, causing extensive fires and flooding, and the now disabled ship listed to port. The fires took a day to be brought under control and the ship was towed back to Alexandria.


The attack killed 156 crew and Arthur was one of them. A total of 43 men were wounded, many of whom, including the Captain, were badly burned. The bodies recovered were buried at sea and there's a very vivid eye-witness account of that sombre task in one of the links below.


HMS Arethusa did not sink, and after some temporary repairs at Alexandria - the hole in her port side measured 53 feet long and 36 feet deep - sailed to the US for a full repair. She returned to active service towards the end of the war and was one of several ships that bombarded 'Sword' beach during the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944. That included a bombardment of the Merville Battery, an enemy gun position that would slow down the British forces coming ashore. She also brought HM King George and the Chiefs of the Defence Staff to view the beach heads in Normandy on 16th June.


Kathleen continued to live at Beck Cottage until the early 1960's. It was demolished in the mid 60's and three terraced houses at 17-21 Hithermoor Road were built on the site.


Kathleen died in 2002 aged 88. She never remarried.


* * * *


25-pounder in action, North Africa, 9th July 1942

© Imperial War Museum IWM E 14114


Gunner Henry George Pizzey, 4th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (27) killed by enemy action at El Alamein, 25th November 1942


Henry (known as Harry) was born in Stanwell Moor on 28th June 1915 at the Old Workhouse Lodge, where Cheltenham Villas now stand. The First World War was underway and his baptism record lists his father, also Henry George and a lifetime resident of the village, as a Driver with the Army Service Corps. His mother Alice was also a lifetime resident: in 1911, when she was 16 year old Alice Kemp living close to The Hope pub, her future husband, 15 year old Henry, was living round the corner.


Just after the outbreak of the Second World War, in late September 1939 the National Register was taken, and at that time this branch of the Pizzey family were living at 7 Southern Cottages, having moved-in 5 years earlier when the second phase of houses were completed. Harry is listed as a Nurseryman, and with several Nurseries in the village, such as Rosscarbery beside The Hope and Robb's at Spout Lane, he was likely working close to home and with friends and family.


Harry's war record is sketchy, but given his age, his fitness from working the land, and the fact his father had served in World War I, it seems likely he would have signed up soon after war was declared, but the details are hard to come by.


For the time between the outbreak of war and Harry's death, his regiment served in Africa, more often North Africa, with just one period in Europe (Cyprus), although when he actually joined the regiment is not known.


In any event, Harry's last months were certainly spent in North Africa, and based on the date he was killed, he must have seen action in both the First- and the Second Battles of El Alamein.


The 4th Field Regiment Royal Artillery equipped with 25-pounder howitzers were serving under the 7th Armoured Division, better known as 'The Desert Rats'. In November 1942 a Field Regiment comprised 3 Batteries, and at the time Harry was killed the 4th Field Regiment was made up of C, F (Sphinx) and DD (Jerboa) Batteries. Each Battery was in turn made up of 2 Troops, to cover the left and right flanks, and each Troop managed 4 guns. So a Field Regiment commanded 24 guns.


As a Gunner, Harry would have been one of a six-man gun crew, comprising a commander, a breech operator/shell rammer, a gun aimer, a gun loader, and two ammunition suppliers, one of whom would have been known as the "coverer" and the second-in-command, as well as being responsible for preparing the ammo. When numbers were depleted, the gun was capable of being operated by a reduced detachment of four men.


The War Diaries of the 4th Field Regiment for November 1942 are all missing, so precisely how or where Harry died is not traceable. His body was never recovered and he's commemorated on the wall of the British Memorial at the Alamein War Cemetery, about 120km west of Alexandria. Another 3 members of his regiment died on the same date - 2 fellow Gunners and a Lance Bombardier - none of whom were recovered, so it seems likely they were manning the same gun, possibly as a reduced detachment, and were hit catastrophically by enemy fire.


Harry was remembered by his mum, dad, sister and brother in the Middlesex Chronicle a year after his death, in which they refer to him being killed at El Alamein.


Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt © CWGC

There's an inscription above the entrance to the Alamein Memorial that reads as follows:


"Within this cloister are inscribed the names of soldiers and airmen of the British Commonwealth and Empire who died fighting on land or in the air, where two continents meet and to whom the fortune of war denied a known and honourable grave. With their fellows who rest in this cemetery, with their comrades in arms of the Royal Navy and with the Seamen of the Merchant Navy, they preserved for the West the line with the East and turned the tide of war.”


* * * *


Advert for serving men to join the Airborne Forces

© Imperial War Museum IWM Art. PST 2910


Sergeant James Henry Frith, 9th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, AAC (25) killed by enemy action in France, 19th August 1944.


Having witnessed the German army parachute into western Europe so successfully and to the detriment of the British Expeditionary Force during the fall of France, in June 1940 Winston Churchill wrote to the Chiefs of Staff directing them to create a Corps of parachute infantry.


After setting up the necessary infrastructure the numbers started to build and several airborne regiments were created. On 5th November 1942 the 9th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment was formed. The core of the regiment came from the 10th Battalion, Essex Regiment whose role was changed to parachute duties, with numbers supplemented using volunteers from other regiments. Jimmy was serving in the Royal Berkshire Regiment and was one of those volunteering for airborne forces, although it's unclear when he enlisted; if it was early enough in the war then he may have been part of the BEF evacuated from Dunkirk.


The initial specialised training to toughen the men up - and weed out any that had only signed up for the extra pay - took place at Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield, and only those that survived went on to parachute training.


A Parachute Training School had been established at Ringway, near Manchester to deliver on Churchill's request, and James attended course number 51 which ran for just under a fortnight, from 15th to 27th February 1943. Having been reported to be a "good jumper" Jimmy passed the training and was posted to 'A' Company of the Battalion.


On 2nd April 1944 the Commander of the 9th Battalion Lieutenant-Colonel Otway, was invited to a top secret meeting during which he received their orders for the D-Day landings, and giving them just 2 months to train for the mission: the destruction of the German's coastal gun battery near Merville. This gun was to the left of 'Sword' beach and its destruction was considered crucial to the success of the landings and to minimise British casualties, it was also deemed one of the most dangerous missions of D-Day.


Otway immediately started work on a rehearsal plan that included the requisition of farm land in Berkshire and the construction of a full scale model of the battery, using reconnaissance photographs and intelligence reports to ensure accuracy. The approaches to the target were also created so the practice would be as close to the real thing as possible, and practice they did, using live rounds for the most part, until all the officers and men, around 650, knew the part they would play.


9th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, Merville Battery rehearsal memorial stone,

Walbury Hill, Inkpen, Berkshire 3rd October 2023 © Author


As well as the main force there would be a smaller Pathfinder team that would depart first and carry out initial reconnaissance and prepare the site. The main force itself would be split into two, with the majority in Dakotas and parachuting in, and a smaller team split across three Horsa gliders called the 'G-B' force after their Commanding Officer, Captain Gordon-Brown.


Those parachuting in would be the groups that would breach and assault the battery from the outside perimeter, working inwards towards the guns; those in the gliders, the 'G-B' force, were to land on the battery itself to distract and overwhelm the enemy and supplement the assault.


The elite from 'A' Company would be selected for the 'G-B' teams and Jimmy was amongst them, under the command of Lieutenant Smythe.


On 31st May the battalion moved closer to the departure airfields for a further 5 days of intense briefings, and eventually, in the early hours of 6th June 1944, boarded Dakotas at RAF Broadwell and gliders at RAF Harwell, bound for Normandy.


Despite their meticulous planning, navigating the parachute drop zone proved difficult for the pilots, and that, combined with evasive action to avoid anti-aircraft fire, meant the battle force were dropped over a much wider area than intended: 50 square miles instead of half a square mile.


The Pathfinder team landed on target and although not all their equipment was recovered, they could get on with their groundwork.

Fewer of the main force were dropped on target, and of the 640 fighting men taking part, only 150 showed up on time at the agreed point, and with considerably fewer weapons & equipment than they set off with. Regardless, they had to proceed: the Normandy landing parties would be underway and there was an agreed time by which the Parachute Regiment had to be clear of the target, and safe from a planned bombardment from HMS Arethusa should they not succeed.


Reconnaissance image of the Merville Battery, May 1944

© Imperial War Museum IWM MH 24804


The Merville Battery comprised four guns, all trained on 'Sword' beach, and when the reduced force reached its perimeter those tasked with the assault were divided into groups of twelve, one for each gun. At that moment, two of the 'G-B' gliders from the original force appeared overhead attracting the attention of anti-aircraft guns, and at the same time six enemy machine guns outside the perimeter along with four from within the battery itself, started to open fire on the men on the ground.


With all this going on around them, the assault party moved against the battery, bravely crossing the land riddled with bomb craters, barbed wire and mines. It's worth considering at this point that for most of these men, who had an average age in their early 20's, this was their first experience of war.


When they reached the guns there was hand-to-hand combat, until one of the enemy Gunners spotted a parachute insignia - paratroopers were recognised as an elite force - and the Germans promptly surrendered. The four guns of the battery were then put out of action and a carrier pigeon was released by the battalion's signals officer to make HQ back in England aware of their victory.


The third glider, carrying Jimmy and his comrades, including Sgt. Mobsby and Cpl. Carey, had to fly directly through bad weather early on in their journey. Aside from the difficulties of being a heavily laden passenger in a wooden glider getting thrown around, as they exited the clouds their tow rope detached from the aircraft. This required them to make an emergency landing before even leaving England, but due to some good fortune, they found themselves very close to RAF Odiham and managed to land safely and without injury. They then managed to secure transport to RAF Brize Norton and board another glider to join the remainder of the battalion in Normandy.


Horsa glider being towed by Albermarle twin-engined aircraft, 6th June 1944

© Imperial War Museum IWM H 39183


Just 70 men from the 9th Battalion survived the Merville Battery assault unscathed, but they regrouped with those that had missed the drop zone on the morning of D-Day as well as Jimmy's team that arrived later on the 6th, and engaged with the enemy on several further occasions.


In Neil Barber's book The Day the Devils Dropped In (2002), a particular skirmish that involved Jimmy on the 10th June 1944 is detailed, and despite the severity of the fight, it's clear Jimmy "Cocker" Frith had a sense of humour. On the other hand, in The Red Beret (1950) by Hilary St George Sanders, it's inferred that by 12th June, the number of enemy casualties from Sergeant Frith's section was higher than most, and there's a story that Jimmy had a bet on that being the case.


As the regiment pushed further east into France, and on the night of 18th August 1944 members of the 9th Battalion were tasked with capturing Dozulé Railway Station. To reach the target they had to cross a canal and then follow the railway line into the village. The railway bridge across the canal had been destroyed so the men had to wade across, and by now it was midnight and pitch black. On reaching the other side they found the railway tracks had been removed, and as they followed the embankment their boots crunched noisily on the stone ballast. There were a few moments where they encountered the enemy as they approached the village and although it was nothing major, that changed when they reached the remains of a level crossing. After a brief stalemate, when both the British and the Germans were worried they were shooting at their own side, a battle commenced during which Jimmy, who was leading 'A' Company, stormed a small house close to the station to take up a defensive position. It was during the subsequent fighting that Jimmy was shot in the head and killed, aged 25.

Jimmy 'Cocker' Frith © Neil Barber

Jimmy Frith was the older brother of Fred Frith who had died on 3rd June 1940. He was born at Stanwell Moor in 1919 and like Fred, would have lived with his parents James and Florence, first at Park Road (now Horton Road) and then at 5 Kent's Cottages near The Hope. Much of his childhood would have been spent in the village.


Jimmy left a widow of just a few months, Nancy (nee Litchfield). He is buried in Ranville War Cemetery, 20 minutes from where he fell. One of Jimmy's commanding officers, Major Parry wrote to his wife to provide her with details surrounding Jimmy's death, and her response to the Major, which can be read via one of the links below, is poignant.


Nancy remarried in 1947 and lived in Surbiton with her 2nd husband, Arnold Smith, where she died in 2018.


Arthur Mobsby & Frank Carey pay their respects to their fallen comrade 'Cocker' Frith, at Ranville War Cemetery, France (IIA, B, 10) 1969 © Neil Barber


* * * *


Herbert Stepney's grave, Gradara War Cemetery, Italy (II, B, 12)

23rd September 2023 © Author


Private Herbert Stepney, 1st Royal Sussex Regiment (28), killed by enemy action in Italy, 6th September 1944.


In October 1940 the 1st Royal Sussex Regiment was transferred to the 7th Indian Infantry Brigade, one of the 5 units that made up the 4th Indian Infantry Division and with whom it remained for the duration of the war.


Precisely when Herbert enlisted is unknown, but it's highly likely he would have participated in the Second Battle of Monte Cassino in February 1944 where his regiment suffered horrific casualties.


The campaign in Italy was complex, and it's impossible to do the history justice in this brief post, but in summary, after the Allied forces landed in Italy, the German forces established defensive lines that spanned the width of the country, and as the Allies pushed through a given line, the Germans fought rearguard battles and gained time to re-establish a new line up country. The eventual fall of Monte Cassino led to the breakdown of what was known as the 'Gustav Line', and the Germans tracked north and built - using PoW conscripts - a 200-mile defensive wall called the 'Gothic Line'. It ran from the naval base at La Spezia on the west coast, across the Apennine Mountains and the Foglia Valley, to the port of Pesaro on the Adriatic coast, and included more than 2,000 military positions comprising machine gun nests, gun batteries, bunkers and observation posts.


The Allied forces struggled to break through the 'Gothic Line', partly due to the terrain, partly due to the redeployment of forces to France, partly due to the weather, and partly due to the German defences. It was not until April 1945 as the war was in its final throes that the Allies finally breached the line, however there were many attempts to do so, and based on the date of his death and the location of his grave, it was likely during one such effort, the Battle of Gemmano, that Herbert was killed on 6th September 1944.


Herbert's parents, William and Daisy Stepney had lived in Stanwell Moor all their lives. When Herbert was born in 1916 they were living at 7 Kent's Cottages which was one of eight cottages on the far side of The Hope, likely where 59 Hithermoor Road is now. Sometime in the early 1930's the family moved to Stanwell, and Herbert's parents were living at 150 Viola Avenue when he was killed.


You may remember that the Frith's had lived at 5 Kent's Cottages and would have been there at the same time as the Stepney's, so it's almost certain that they knew each other.


The view from Herbert Stepney's grave at Gradara War Cemetery, Italy.

23rd September 2023 © Author


* * * *


These were the villagers named on the Stanwell War Memorial and killed during World War II, but there were other villagers whose lives were lost during enemy action, and their omission from the memorial means their names have been lost too. In my research I've uncovered one such individual and I use his story here to represent the others that must surely exist and so that he, at least, is not forgotten.


Lieutenant Commander John Lane is remembered at St Nectan's Church, Hartland, Devon, 17th November 2021 © Author


Lieutenant John Lane, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) (34) killed at sea on HMS Avenger, west of Gibraltar, 15th November 1942


John Lane lived with his two older brothers, Allen and Richard at 'Silverbeck' on the northwest corner of Hithermoor Road. The three brothers launched Penguin Books in 1935 and having established their new premises at Harmondsworth on the A4, bought the house and land at Stanwell Moor in 1938 to be closer to their offices.


When war was declared Allen was too old to be called up and was in a 'reserved' occupation. John and his other brother Richard on the other hand were Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Officers and received their call-up papers in 1940, soon after Dunkirk, joining HMS King Alfred, a shore-based training facility in Hove, Sussex.


After they completed their training, Richard was placed back on civilian stand-by, while John joined HMS Mollusc. The Mollusc was a small steam-powered yacht that had been requisitioned from a private owner at the start of the war to provide anti-submarine patrols at the entrance to the River Blyth in Northumberland, where the Royal Navy had an operational submarine flotilla.


John's next ship was HMS Springbank, which he and his brother managed to join together, apparently announcing "Lane brothers reporting for duty, Sir" as they boarded. They probably joined the Springbank at Belfast in March 1941 where it was being converted to a Fighter Catapult Ship (FCS), in an attempt by the Royal Navy to provide air cover when the ship was at sea. The design was that, when required, the single Fulmer aircraft - there was only one on each ship - would accelerate off a cradle, on a track that ran across the width of the ship, using a catapult powered by cordite explosive, and take to the skies. Once the aircraft's mission was over, if it had sufficient fuel the 2-man crew would head to the nearest friendly airfield, but if not, they would either bail out or ditch in the sea alongside the ship and wait to be rescued.


In an interview with the Imperial War Museum, a Steward on board HMS Springbank, Charles Dove said that during one convoy escort from Scotland up to Iceland he was taking hot cocoa to the Bridge in the morning, and when he entered, all the Officers were looking through their binoculars in the same direction. When he asked one of the Seaman what was going on, he told him that HMS Hood had just been sunk (24th May 1941).


The first use of Springbank's catapult was on 10th June 1941 when she was providing escort duties for an Atlantic convoy inbound from Halifax. An enemy aircraft had been sighted in the vicinity and the Fulmar was deployed, however there was no trace of the enemy and the Springbank's aircraft landed in nearby Belfast.


In July 1941 the two brothers were given shore leave and returned to 'Silverbeck' for some rest, interrupting their elder brother Allen's honeymoon.


HMS Springbank from the deck of HMS Fowey, September 1941

© Imperial War Museum IWM A 5523


The men had long returned to HMS Springbank when she joined the escort of a convoy from Gibraltar to Liverpool on what would be her last voyage. The convoy had 25 Merchant ships, many of which were carrying ballast having delivered their cargoes, and the core escort was made up of 8 Corvettes, 1 Sloop (HMS Fowey) and the Springbank. The escort was augmented by several warships during the initial voyage and at different times throughout. The convoy set sail from Gibraltar on 17th September 1941 but had been spotted by German spies immediately over the border in Spain, at La Linea, and it was soon being shadowed by a Wolfpack of German U-boats supported by Italian submarines and the German Luftwaffe using long range aircraft.


Just one day out, the convoy was sighted by a German aircraft and the Fulmar deployed from HMS Springbank. It successfully chased off the enemy but then had to land back at Gibraltar.


Over the course of the next few days there were several engagements with the enemy but all were unsuccessful, until just after midnight on 25th September when a concerted U-boat attack had sunk 5 of the Merchant fleet by dawn. The U-boats repeated their tactics and just before midnight on 26th September they sank another Merchant ship, followed by another at 2am on 27th, and during the same engagement HMS Springbank was torpedoed and had to be abandoned. In fact she stayed afloat, but to prevent any secret military equipment getting into enemy hands, the escort ship HMS Jasmine sank her.


Around 32 men were killed during the attack, and the remainder including both John and Richard, were rescued by other ships in the convoy.


The story goes that when the order was given to abandon ship, the two brothers returned to their cabin and changed into their best uniform. One version is that they were two dapper men-about-town and wanted to be seen as such, the other less charitable version is that if any claim had to be made they would get a decent uniform!


A further Merchant ship from the convoy was sunk before it finally arrived in Liverpool, making it the worst loss of any Gibraltar-UK convoy, and one of the worst of the entire Atlantic campaign.


Absent a ship, on their return to the UK the brothers were given shore leave and decided to visit their parents, where they enjoyed several days in the countryside, eating home cooked food and drinking home made wine.


The brothers never sailed together again and were deployed on different ships.


* * *

HMS Avenger at sea, 1942 © Imperial War Museum IWM FL 1268


HMS Avenger finally entered military service on 30th April 1942 and had a difficult start in what would be a short career. From being handed over on 2nd March her engines had broken down no less than 4 times, and after her first mission, escorting a Merchant convoy of 10 ships that included liner Acquitania carrying 19,000 US troops from New York to Scotland, she returned to the dockyards for modifications on 12th May, only going back into service on 3rd September 1942 after an extended period of training.


The Avenger was a Merchant ship converted into an aircraft carrier. The flight deck could hold 6 Sea Hurricanes, with a further 6 disassembled in the hangars and storage areas below. The deck was particularly short and it took a certain type of pilot to take off and land.


Between early September and early November Avenger took part in several engagements, including convoy escort duties to and from Iceland that tested her abilities, identifying several shortcomings in the carrier all of which was reported by her Commander. She also sailed south to provide escort cover for 'Operation Torch', the invasion of French North Africa, and once the invasion began she flew 60 missions from her flight deck. Avenger then returned to Gibraltar and was laid up once more between 10-12th November for more engine repairs.


On 14th November 1942 HMS Avenger sailed from Gibraltar as part of the escort force for a convoy of ships that had taken part in 'Operation Torch'. Soon after 3am when the convoy was approx 185 miles west of Gibraltar it came under attack from U-boat U-155 that fired three torpedoes.


The first hit an American heavy equipment transporter, the second hit an empty British troop transport, and at 3.20am the third hit HMS Avenger port-side and amidships.


Bruce Burgess was an Air Mechanic on the carrier and around midnight on 14th November 1942 had just finished replacing a propeller on one of the Sea Hurricanes in the hangar. He grabbed himself a cup of tea then returned to the Squadron Mess, but all the hammocks were taken up as well as all surfaces and seats, so using his life-jacket as a pillow, he slept on the floor at the end of 'Burma Road'. This is the name given to the passageway that runs the full length of a ship, and on the Avenger it accessed the hangar and then on to the 4-inch gun at the stern of the carrier, where lifebuoys hung either side. Bruce had long since planned this to be his route in the event of an emergency.


A Sea Hurricane being brought down to the Hangar on HMS Avenger, September 1942

© Imperial War Museum IWM A 10982


He was awoken by an explosion and the ship's main lights went out, replaced by blue emergency lighting. He fumbled for his life-jacket but couldn't find it in the dark so he headed down the 'Burma Road' as planned. However, the passageway was inclining steeply and very quickly, so he had trouble getting past the 18-inch bulkheads rising from what had been the floor. Bruce made it to the hangar but before getting to the lifebuoys he was thrown from the ship. As he fell, he described being close enough to the stern to see the ship's propeller, still turning. He was carried down with the suction of the sinking ship but eventually resurfaced, and remembers coming across an empty fuel can and using it to keep afloat till joining some other survivors on a Carley Float. They were all picked up by HMS Bleasdale after about 11 hours in the water.


The lower centre section of the Avenger was the fuel tank, and immediately alongside was the bomb room, adjacent to the Officer's Mess. On impact, the torpedo's warhead had exploded, igniting the fuel in the tank and setting off the ammunition nearby. The centre section of the ship disintegrated, and the now disconnected bow & stern of the ship raised up in the water and sank within 2 minutes.


Bruce Burgess and 11 other Ratings survived the sinking, but the Commanding Officer, 67 Officers and 446 Ratings were killed, including Lieutenant Commander John Lane.


Richard Lane happened to be on leave at 'Silverbeck' in late November 1942 when he took a phone call from his parents, who read from the telegram saying John was missing, presumed dead. His body was never recovered and he's commemorated on the Chatham Memorial.


John died at sea just three days before his fellow villager, Arthur Pailes.

...at the going down of the sun, we will remember them.


* * * *


If you read this and happen to know the whereabouts of a picture of any of those killed, please do get in contact with me via the website and I'll be very happy to add it to this page.


And if you know of any other villagers that died from enemy action during World War II and have not been included on the memorial, please also let me know in the comments below and I'll do my best to research their story and add it to this post at a future date.


November 2023


Further reading...


German Prisoner of War Record, National Archives


Ashford - unexploded WWII bomb


HMS Barham's destruction and sinking captured by Pathe news

(Caution: contains images some may find distressing)


Interview with Cameraman John Turner who captured HMS Barham's loss


HMS Arethusa's torpedo attack, including eye-witness account of sea burials


Veteran's Description of El Alamein battles using 25-pounders, October 1942


El Alamain War, British CWGC Memorial


IWM interview with Lieu-Col. Otway, Commander 9th Battalion, Parachute Regiment


Account of the Merville Battery assault by Major Parry


Jimmy's bet!


Letter from Jimmy's widow Nancy to Major Parry, 12th September 1944


Veteran Fred Glover of 9th Battalion, Parachute Regiment, 'A' Company


Battle of Gemmano, Italy (note that the image used in the article was taken on the same day that Herbert Stepney was killed)



33 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page