Remembrance In Tuscany

Badge of the Central India Horse

Last weekend was spent in Tuscany as the guest of the local government and ex pat community.

I was asked over to commemorate two George Cross awards from WW2, and to represent Great Britain.

The plaque on the village wall in Monterchi has always had its wreath laid by the village mayor. It was my honour, to be the first non Italian to lay a wreath for almost 70 years, in fact since the plaque was placed there. I was also honoured by laying the first wreath, normally in the gift of the local mayor.

The region was the scene of fierce fighting and the area was strewn with German “shoebox mines”
The Schu or Shu-Mine is a small wood box fragmentation mine. It measures six-inch by six-inch and contains a detonator and a solid charge.  Another name or spelling of this mine is “Shoe Mine” or “Shoe Box ” mine. The “Shoe Box” was a favourite among the Germans. Small in size and constructed primary of wood, the Schu is next to impossible to discover with a normal metal mine detector.  It seldom kills instantly, instead the sinister device mutilates the unfortunate victim.

The citation in the London Gazette for 20th July 1945, states that the posthumous award of the George Cross was made “In recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner.” Lieutenant Young, in charge of night patrol realised that they were in a middle of an enemy minefield. Lt. Young received the full force of a blast and both his legs were shattered. Despite the terrible pain he continued to give such great encouragement to his men that the majority of them managed to reach safety in the early light of morning. One of Lt. Young’s soldiers, Sowar Ditto Ram, Central Indian Horse was also awarded the George Cross for actions in this same incident. Both died of their wounds on the following day.

I was welcomed by the entire village and the local Bersaglieri. The Commandante il Carabinieri invited me for coffee with him in his office, and the after the remembrance service-very much like our own here in Britain-most of the village attended a large meal at a a local restaurant. here the band of the Bersaglieri entertained us with songs and tunes.

At the end of the meal I was surprised to be included in the presentations by the Bersaglieri, and given a book on the history of this famous unit of Light Infantry.

Monterchi memorial plaque Laying the first wreath Bersaglieri

 

My thanks to Debbie, Roger, Chunky, Trevor et al involved  🙂

Living Military History on TV: Country House Sunday

Ragley Hall Warwickshire Living Military History

Ragley Hall,  Warwickshire

Living Military History were on TV last week in ITV’s new series Country House Sunday made by TwoFourProductions.

The show featured The Warwickshire Regiment 1914-1918 Living History Group at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire, family seat of Lord and Lady Hertford, for a Great War weekend Event. The Warwick’s gave a fine display for the visitors and the camera crew which featured in this new TV series.

The medical display was also featured and according to Lynda Bellingham’s voice-over, its Medical Officer was “perfectly placed for complete historical accuracy”.

This episode is available to view on ITVPlayer until the end of May.

Graham Bandy WW1 Display - Country House Sunday Ragley Hall 28 april 2013

WW1 Display at Ragley Hall

This Daytime series sees Lynda Bellingham take a tour around some of Britain’s most beautiful stately homes.

Lynda and her team of presenters and chefs explore the very best that the house and estate have to offer, unpicking their rich history, revealing their secrets and uncovering life both upstairs and downstairs from cooking in the kitchens to tending the grounds.

The series also features the beauty of the local countryside, afternoon walks, antiques and days out at markets rounding off each episode with a hearty Sunday lunch.

For more on the history of some of the wonderful Stately Homes of England or inspiration for more great days out, why not invest in one of the handy pocket guides available such as the AA’s Great Days Out

Living Military History – Wartime in The Cotswolds at Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway

Pitsford Home Guard

Pitsford Home Guard

This weekend Pitsford Home Guard  will be at The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway Honeybourne Line for their Wartime in the Cotswolds event.  The Home Guard will be setting up camp at Gotherington and look forward to seeing you there!

Pitsford Home Guard

Pitsford Home Guard

During the wartime weekend there’ll be plenty of opportunity to travel the line between Cheltenham Race Course and Toddington (air raids permitting) when they’ll be operating an intensive steam-hauled timetable.

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway Toddington

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway

There’ll be lots of other things to keep the whole family entertained with wartime music,  soldiers on leave and on duty;  the auxiliary fire service and displays of military and civilian vehicles from the period. The extensive model railway will also be up and running.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota will be visiting the railway on Sunday 28th April, subject to weather and operational considerations. The low-altitude flypast is expected between 2pm and 3pm.

Free parking is available at Toddington and Cheltenham Race Course stations. Please note Winchcombe Station will be closed.

Gates open at 0930 on both days.

Fares for this event:

Adult £20, senior £18, child (aged 5 – 15) £10, family ticket (2 adults and up to three children) £55.

Tickets can now only be purchased on the day at Toddington or Cheltenham Racecourse stations.

A copy of the timetable for the event can be downloaded here.

 

A Weekend of Medieval Fun for Living Military History!

This weekend sees Living Military History making a first furtive excursion into the land of the medieval and the life of a Benedictine monk.

Graham Bandy Benedictine Monk

Benedictine Monk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The event is at Riverside Country Park, Gillingham, Kent for The English Festival with Black Knight Historical.

Riverside Country Park is a large coastal public park in Kent, situated alongside the River Medway estuary between Gillingham and Rainham.

Riverside Country Park Map

Riverside Country Park Map

 

There is limited parking on site but there are park and ride buses from Chatham Historic Dockyard and Rainham Mark Gramar School from 10am to 6pm. More details here.

 

 

 

And on Sunday, Medieval Living History will be at the National Trust’s Bodiam Castle in Sussex.

Bodiam-castle-10My8-1197

Bodium Castle  East Sussex

Bodiam Castle – East Sussex

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Trust are giving away Free Entry for up to four people this weekend (20th and 21st April) to a number of places – and Bodiam Castle is on the list!

 

All you have to do is register on their website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1355774281951/ and download a voucher (valid for up to four people).

Remember – the offer is for this weekend only!  

 

 

RAF Regt Meiktila Dinner RAF Honington

Yesterday was spent at RAF Honington as part of the official RAF Regt Historic Flight, exhibiting kit from the 1945 Battle of Meiktila. The RAF Regt SWO “Slap” looked after us grandly, entertaining us in the WOs and Sgts Mess…

537723_10200873007010267_513327544_n 156724_10200873006050243_924535469_n 600307_10200873013530430_1692536061_n

About the action

By December 1944 the XIVth Army was across the Chindwin River and preparing for what the Japanese General Kimura termed “the battle of the Irrawaddy shore” as part of his plan for the defence of Mandalay. Kimura had concentrated the bulk of his forces to defend Mandalay in the belief that it was to be attacked by the whole of the British XIVth Army. This was, in fact, the result of an elaborate deception plan by General Slim to draw the Japanese armies to the north, while delivering the main attack by crossing the river further south and striking at Meiktila, the Japanese communications and administrative centre in Burma. It was a brilliant example of the indirect approach and the result of the British plan was to enable XIVth Army to take Meiktila and drive south to capture Rangoon before the monsoon broke in May1945. At the end of February 1945 the 17th Indian Division struck at Meiktila and after hard fighting against a last-ditch Japanese defence the town was cleared and the airfield captured on 5 March. General Kimura thereupon ordered his 33rd Army south to recapture Meiktila and the rapid concentration of enemy units severed the British supply lines and isolated the British and Indian troops in Meiktila. The only solution to that was to both reinforce and resupply the garrison by air, for which use of the airfield at Meiktila East was now essential. Wing Commander Michael Lander’s 1307 Wing, consisting of 2708 Field Squadron supplemented by flights from 2941 and 2968 Field Squadrons and 2963 LAA Squadron, was flown in to Meiktila from Agartala on 6 March and placed under command of 99 Brigade. After taking up positions between Gurkha and Rajput companies within the defensive box overlooking the airfield, and digging their bunkers, the Regiment began patrolling thefollowing day. It was necessary to sweep the airfield every morning and to ensure that it was clear of the enemy before aircraft could begin flying in supplies and taking out casualties. At the end of each day all personnel and equipment had to be withdrawn into the box and preparations made for standing and fighting patrols to be sent out after nightfall. 2708 Squadron’s 3” mortar flight was absorbed into the brigade artillery line and carried out fire tasks in conjunction with Army field guns and medium mortars.

After several days and nights of constant patrol activity, Japanese artillery opened intensive fire on the box on 15 March. This closed the airfield and, during the barrage of 75mm and 105mm shells, a direct hit on a 2941 Squadron bunker caused several casualties. The enemy guns were eventually silenced by airstrikes and the airfield reopened for flying until darkness fell. Japanese infantry attacked the box during the night but were repulsed and, unknown to the defenders, took up positions on the airfield to await the morning sweep by 2708 Squadron. As two Regiment flights moved out of the box and into the open, two companies of enemy infantry opened fire from concealed positions on the airfield. Despite the strength of the opposition, the Regiment force pushed the Japanese back several hundred yards during a running fire fight. Flying Officer Furlong’s flight was fortuitously reinforced by Flying Officer Kelly’s flight, which was returning to base after mounting an overnight standing patrol beyond the airfield, but Flight Sergeant Norman Gerrish’s flight was pinned down by enemy fire. Despite being wounded, Gerrish seized a Bren gun and gave covering fire to enable his men to withdraw and when he ran out of ammunition he picked up another Bren and continued firing to keep the enemy’s heads down. When all his men had disengaged and reached safety, he walked calmly across open ground in full view of the enemy to rejoin his flight. The action had lasted for two hours, by which time a counter-attack force of tanks and two companies of infantry were assembled to reinforce the Regiment and the combined force cleared the enemy from the surrounds of the airfield. 2708 Squadron’s casualties in this action were seven killed and eight wounded, but the Japanese left 150 of their dead and wounded behind. Surprisingly, Gerrish was not awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for which he had been strongly recommended, but received the lesser award of the Military Medal instead.

Michael Lander was tireless in commanding his wing and in setting a personal example to his officers and men. He insisted on leading from the front by participating in patrolling and in the daily sweeps of the airfield. It was while leading the morning sweep on 24 March that he and his runner, LAC Dakers, while ahead of the supporting flights, were both killed by enemy snipers. It was not until the Japanese were finally driven back from Meiktila that Flying Officer Kelly, Corporal McKenzie and LACs Bartlett, Finch and Hooson, were able to recover the bodies of Wing Commander Lander and LAC Dakers and give them temporary burial on the battlefield on 30th March. During the fighting 2708 Squadron had lost nine men killed in action, and 2963 Squadron a further four, in addition to many more wounded who were evacuated by air.

What was noteworthy about the Regiment’s action at Meiktila was that the units involved had landed in India two months previously after a long sea voyage from the UK and had been sent directly into action only two days after completing their training at the forward echelon of the Depot at Agartala. The results reflected very favourably on the quality of the officers and airmen, some of whom were primarily anti aircraft gunners, their training and combat skills, and the inspiring leadership of their Wing Commander,

The forward airfield at Ondauk was under constant threat from Japanese attack, which was kept at bay by the energetic patrol activity of 2945 Field Squadron until, in the early hours of 8 March 1945, the redoubtable Captain Inane and his Butai, disguised as Burmese peasants, reached the outskirts of the airfield. Surprised by a patrol from 2945 Squadron, led by Flight Lieutenant Hollingdale, a brief but intense fire fight followed and the intruders left an officer’s pack and sword, radios, arms, ammunition and demolition charges on the bloodstained ground as they fled into the jungle taking their dead and wounded with them, among whom, it was hoped, might have been Captain Inane. One Japanese soldier was taken prisoner but when he attempted to escape he was shot and killed. Regiment casualties were one airman killed and three wounded. In any event, this was the last attempt made by the enemy to infiltrate saboteurs onto an airfield. Sweeping south from Mandalay, the divisions of 33 Corps linked up with those of 4 Corps at Meiktila and continued to advance south on two axes, one along the Irrawaddy towards Mingaladon and Rangoon, the other along the Sittang to Toungoo and Rangoon. As a result, most of the Japanese 28th Army was trapped between the Irrawaddy, in the lower reaches of the Arakan, and the rugged mountains of the Pegu Yomas, from where the only escape to safety was towards the Japanese-held Shan hills to the east. The airfield at Toungoo was soon operational with two RAF fighter squadrons, and Squadron Leader Charles Killeen, wearing the hats of OC 2759 Field Squadron, acting OC 1307 Wing and Toungoo area defence commander, was responsible for blocking the enemy’s escape routes to the north and south of the airfield. 2759 and 2964 Field, with 2963 and 2965 LAA Squadrons in the field role, mounted over eighty fighting patrols in appalling weather conditions and inflicted numerous casualties on the demoralized Japanese troops whose sole objective was to make their way to safety. At this point the GOC 19th Indian Division ordered 1307 Wing to send a fighting patrol to deal with a platoon of enemy troops who were reported to be in the area of Tabetgwe, some twenty miles west of Toungoo. Although 2759 Squadron was selected for this operation, most of the squadron’s officers had been detached to support operations in the Arakan and the attack on Ramree Island, so the task of leading the patrol fell to a junior NCO.

Corporal Alex Miller, with Corporal Doverty as his deputy, and eighteen airmen from 2759 Squadron set off into the jungle for a ten- day patrol, mounted on fourteen elephants, ten of which each carried two airmen, with the remainder carrying ammunition, rations and supplies. It was the height of the monsoon season, the ground was waterlogged, the rivers and streams were overflowing and rain still fell steadily from the low dark clouds.

Establishing a patrol base at ShwekaungYwathit, the patrol mounted attacks on two Japanese positions over the next two days, killing over twenty of the enemy, most of whom were sheltering from the weather in makeshift bashas, and seizing considerable quantities of arms and ammunition. Searches for enemy personnel who had been wounded, or escaped, revealed only dead bodies, the Japanese survivors having killed themselves with their own grenades rather than surrender. The sortie was successful in clearing a large area of the enemy, re-establishing a British presence among the local inhabitants and removing a potential threat to aircraft operating from Toungoo airfield. The patrol returned without loss, the only untoward incident occurring on the last night when one of the elephants was bitten by a snake and collapsed while fording a river. LACs Currie and Dixon were pitched into the fast- running water and had to make their own way back to the squadron base, ten miles away, on foot in the dark, leaving a dead elephant and its grieving mahout on the river bank.

The Regiment wings and squadrons had moved through Burma on two principal axes: one with 224 Group along the coast from Maungdaw to Akyab, Ramree Mingaladon and Rangoon; the other with 221 Group through central Burma from Ondauk to Mandalay, Meiktila, Toungoo and Pegu to Rangoon. Their primary task was to secure and defend the forward airfields from which the RAF provided air support to the Army; on over thirty occasions squadrons moved from one to the next by air, in other cases it took somewhat longer to move by road. General Slim, commander of XIVth Army, acknowledged that his Army’s success was due to the superb support which it had received from the RAF, and, in his turn, Air Vice-Marshal Vincent, AOC 221 Group, made it clear that his ability to provide the best possible air support for the Army had depended on the reassuring levels of defence which his Regiment field and LAA squadrons provided for his airfields and forward radar installations, which were always sited far forward and close to the front line, and sometimes ahead of it. The value of the contribution made by the Regiment to air operations was subsequently confirmed by the AOC-in-C, Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park, in his final report on the campaign in South-East Asia.

The capture of Rangoon was planned on the basis of a pincer movement, with a land assault by 17th Division from the north and an amphibious landing (Operation Dracula) by 26th Division from the south. The Regiment’s contribution to Dracula was 1327 Wing with 2959 LAA and 2967 Field Squadrons under command. Embarking at Akyab and Ramree, the landings were made at Elephant Point, fifteen miles south of Rangoon, in early May, just as the monsoon broke. By this time, the remaining troops of the Japanese 28th Army had taken refuge in the mountains of the Pegu Yomas and the area had to be cleared to remove any remaining threat to the re-establishment of civil administration throughout Burma. 1307 Wing, with five squadrons under command, was detached to General Tuker’s 4 Corps which was tasked to deal with the break-out of the 18,000 enemy troops left in the Pegu Yomas. The main Japanese escape routes lay through 17th Division’s area of responsibility, where 1307 Wing found itself operating alongside old friends from Meiktila and Toungoo days. The exhausted, and often starving, Japanese troops suffered over twelve thousand casualties in their attempts to escape; the total British losses were under a hundred killed and just over three hundred wounded.

From http://www.rafregiment.net/RAF_Regt_Battle.htm