Sydney Victor Boothroyd (1887–1920)

8581 Private Sydney Victor Boothroyd
1/South African Infantry Regiment.
Died 25 June 1920, Richmond Park, Surrey.
Buried in the South African Section, Richmond, Cemetery, Richmond upon Thames.

On 21 February 1913 a 27-year-old warehouseman from Chorlton upon Medlock set out for Cape Town on board the Dunluce Castle, a ship of the Union Castle Line.  As you read his story, you may begin to understand the circumstances that drew him to the Far South, and away from his Lancashire home.

The Dunluce Castle, serving as a Hospital Ship in WW1

Two years later the Dunluce Castle would become a Hospital Ship and that warehouseman would be returning north, on a different vessel and as a soldier in the South African Infantry Brigade. 

Sydney was born at 50 Thomson Street, Ardwick on 7 October 1887, the ninth of eleven children.   His parents were John Boothroyd (1849–1904), a printer’s warehouseman, and his wife, Martha Jane Taylor (1851–1907). Like all his children, John Boothroyd was a native of Ardwick, the son of parents who hailed from Horwich, his father, George, becoming employed in Manchester as a calico printer.  Sydney’s mother, Martha, was born in Marple, which then was within the county of Derbyshire and grew up in the adjacent parish of Mellor, until her father, William, a joiner, decided to move his family to Manchester, where she was to meet and marry John Boothroyd.  The couple were married in the Parish Church (Manchester Cathedral, no less) on 27 July 1872.  Their firstborn, a son, John, was born the following year, followed by a sister, Louisa, who died in infancy.

Ardwick was relatively close to the centre of Manchester, an area that, by the time of Sydney’s birth, had become quite heavily industrialised.  The 1894 Ordnance Survey Map shows the parish intersected by the Manchester–Crewe railway lines, with a large Goods Depot as well as a Coal and Mineral Depot nearby.  Besides the pollution from the passing trains, to the north were further sources of noxious fumes—Saw Mills, Boiler Works, a Timber Yard, an Iron Foundry, a pair of Chemical Works, a Brick Field and a Pottery.  This may explain why so many of John and Martha’s children died in early adulthood. Of the eldest two, both would die before their parents. Of the remaining nine, four died in early adulthood, two in their 40s, and only two, Sydney’s sisters, Beatrice and Blanche reached their sixties. (If you were counting, Frank is the missing one here—if he is of interest to you, see an explanation at the very end, below the source list.)

The 1901 Census is the last in which we see the Boothroyd parents.  By then ‘our’ Sydney was working as an errand boy, and aged 13. He was already on a path that could enable him to eventually find work as a clerk. At the time Sydney had started school, in 1892, education was compulsory up to the age of 10, and a year later was made compulsory up to the end of the school year in which he attained the age of 11.  (As the upper limit was raised again in 1899, his younger siblings, Leonard and William Septimus would have been able to continue with their education until the age of 13.) 

Things changed dramatically for the Boothroyds in the first decade of the new century.  John Boothroyd died early in 1904, a few months before the marriage of his eldest daughter, Beatrice, to Henry Thomas Barnes, then a clerk, by whom she would have four children.  Three years later, their mother died but the youngest Boothroyds were able to stay together, under the wing of Beatrice and their brother-in-law, Henry.  Listed together in the Barnes household (at 22 Brook’s Road, Stretford in April 1911 were Henry, Beatrice and three children, as well as the three youngest of Beatrice’s siblings, Blanche, Sydney and William Septimus—Leonard having died in 1908.  The census record shows that the house was spacious, having seven rooms and a kitchen.  Blanche’s twin, Maud, was boarding elsewhere in Manchester—she died the following year and was buried in the family plot in Manchester’s Southern Cemetery.  Henry Barnes had by then abandoned his career as a clerk, and described his occupation as “Speculator House Builder”.  All three of the young Boothroyds were all employed, so no doubt contributing to the household’s income and running costs.  Blanche and Sydney were both working as clerks in a Cotton Warehouse, while William was an electrical salesman. 

Like Sydney, a number of the South African soldiers who lost their lives at the South African Military Hospital had been born, not in Southern Africa, but in England, Scotland or Ireland. Some were men who had stayed on in South Africa after the Boer War; some had left these shores to seek their fortune there.  We do not know whether Sydney was hoping to make his mark in the gold mines, but we know that he did make his way north from Cape Town, where he disembarked, and that he ended up in Johannesburg.  When Sydney attested on 20 December 1915, he named as his “next of kin” Ethel Franks, and in the relationship field, he wrote ‘Friend’.  Ethel lived in Eleanor Street, Kensington—in Johannesburg’s Southern Suburbs, the side of town where the gold mines were located.  This could suggest that Sydney had also been living on that side of town, and working either as a warehouseman or as a mine official.

Sydney’s military service card shows that he was serving in 1/South African Infantry Regiment and thus part of the prestigious First South African Infantry Brigade. The South Africans were attached to the 9th Scottish Division until after the Kaiserschlacht in March 1918, when they held up the Germans for seven hours at Marrières Wood, fighting almost to the last man—a feat which had the Kaiser seeking out South African POWs to compliment them on their countrymen’s magnificent stand. 

Sydney had arrived in France with reinforcements posted there following the South Africans’ heroic stand at Delville Wood in 1916. Ordered to capture and hold the wood “at all cost”, they did.  Sydney’s intake may have felt they had something to live up to. We know Sydney had reached France by February 1917, when preparations had begun for the great Spring Attack.  It was during these preparations that Sydney was first admitted to #12 Stationary Hospital, where he was treated for three weeks, suffering from deafness—perhaps as a result of a nearby blast. He returned to his unit in time t0 move with them from Arras to Ostreville where intensive training for the attack to begin.

The attack itself was launched early on Easter Monday (9 April 1917) with all three brigades of the 9th Scottish Division successful in performing all the tasks allocated to them, capturing over 2000 prisoners along with howitzers, field guns and machine guns.  This is likely to have been Sydney’s baptism by fire.  The author, John Buchan, was attached to the 9th Scottish Division and reported that the South African troops ended that day “in the highest spirits” and, according to General Dawson, were “on their toes, and the wounded do not want to leave the fighting line”.   It was a day John Buchan would describe as  “packed with individual exploits”  which had included the Brigade’s gallant attack on, and the capture of, the Potsdam Redoubt.  The opening salvo of the British guns would be “such a fire as had not yet been seen on any battleground on earth.  It was the first hour of The Somme repeated, but tenfold more awful.” (p.117)

Sydney continued free of serious injuries throughout that spring and well into the summer and Third Ypres/Passchendaele until, on 20 September 1917, he received the injury that would keep him out of action for the duration of the war. 

Buchan summed up the day in his history of The South African Forces in France thus:

By the evening of that day, on nearly all the British front of attack, the final objectives had been reached.  The 9th Division had carried theirs in the record time of three hours.

The day’s battle had cracked the kernel of the German defence in the Salient…every inch of the ground won was vital.  Few struggles in the campaign were more desperate or carried out in a more gruesome battlefield.  (p.142)

Sydney had incurred a gunshot wound to his right arm so severe that he was repatriated to England three days later.  There he was admitted to the King George Hospital in Stamford Street, London on 26 September from which he was discharged to the Shepherd’s Bush Military Orthopaedic Hospital on 6 November 1917.  It appears he was then discharged on 17 November, but it is not clear whither he was discharged.  I am inclined to think that an entry on 13 May 1919 relates to the fitting of some surgical appliance, or perhaps an adjustment to a prosthetic, but there is again no indication of where that took place. The next entry on his service card has him at Richmond Hospital,  with the description “Seriously ill” on 20 June 1920. The following day his condition was noted as “Dangerously ill”.  He died four days later. The cause of death was recorded as Phthisis. If he had worked on the mines, perhaps it was something from which he had been suffering throughout his military service.  While ‘phthisis’ on a WW1 medical certificate was often used to describe Tuberculosis, this seems not to have been the case at the SAMH, where tuberculosis was described as such, or as ‘tubercle lung’.  Sydney was the only patient whose death there was identified as phthisis.

The South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park was chiefly a hospital where service personnel who had received life-changing injuries could get back on their feet and acquire training in skills which would enable them to obtain employment on their return to civilian life.  These injuries might be the loss of a limb, sight or hearing, serious disfigurement or a spinal or brain injury.  Those who had lost their sight, for example, were taught basket weaving or trained as telephonists.  On the medical side, the hospital was renowned for the approach devised there for the treatment of burns, with techniques so successful that the procedure was soon adopted by other hospitals. Most of the deaths there were a result of complications during the second wave of the 1918/1919 influenza pandemic and not related to the injuries they had sustained in action.  

Because of the severity of his injury, I think it likely that Sydney spent most of the period between November 1917 and his death on 25 June 1920 either within the SAMH or based in one of the hostels established for the hospital’s out-patients in the big houses near the top of Queens Road.

By 1915, when Sydney enlisted, he was a bachelor and his parents had died.  The Register of Soldiers’ Effects shows that he had named his sister, Blanche (1886–1954) as his sole legatee.  They had worked side by side in the Cotton Warehouse, were close in age, and she was his only unmarried surviving sister.  Blanche never married but went on to a successful business career as a ‘Departmental Manageress’.

We can be fairly sure that Sydney’s friend in Johannesburg did not forget him.  I’m planning to follow her up, and will update the post if I unearth anything else.

Warm thanks to the helpful forum members at the Military Images website for providing a link to the image of the Dunluce Castle used for Sydney’s story. See sources, below.
All the genealogy research was undertaken by Margaret Frood.

Buchan, J., The History of the South African Forces in France, London, 1920.
Military Images, ‘Dunluce Castle’,, accessed 25/6/2020.
Ordnance Survey Map, Lancashire CIV.SE,, 1894, accessed 25/6/2020.

Frank Boothroyd 
I was able to find Frank’s date of birth (16 February 1884) when I located his baptismal record.  The most recent record I could locate was the 1901 Census, when was working as a Yarn Sampler and living with his parents.  There is no death for him in England and Wales, in the period 1901–1940 and the only Frank Boothroyd born in 1884 to be recorded in the 1939 Register is a Medical Practitioner in the Lancaster County Lunatic Asylum. I have found the same man enumerated as a General Medical Practitioner in the 1911 Census, giving his birthplace as Ashton under Lyne.  In 1901, the same man is living in Ashton under Lyne with his parents, his father having the distinctive first name of Orlando. 

Their brother, Frank, had perhaps endeared himself to his sister, Beatrice, and his brother, Ernest, both of whom named their first-born sons, Frank.   Perhaps Frank emigrated, to one of the colonies, as Sydney had done, and as their nephew, Ernest, was later to do.  

Posted in 9th Scottish Division, First South African Infantry Brigade, First World War, Military Hospitals, South African Military Hospital Richmond | Leave a comment

A reading list for research into No. 2 Wing SAAF 1944

Now that the UK is losing the Data Protection that its citizens and residents have enjoyed while being within a European jurisdiction, Greedy Google has snapped up the opportunity to transfer its users to US jurisdictions. In preparation for exiting Google, as a mark of my dire disapproval of this grab, this morning I revisited the DuckDuckGo search engine, and tested it by repeating some of the searches that I have recently made using Google. I was impressed by the relevance of the search results with the advantage of no promoted results (i.e. adverts) heading the search results. The very first search result took me to a page I had not come across before. For that reason, I recommend that you repeat searches using other search engines.

If you are the relative of one of the aircrew based at Foggia, or a military historian unfamiliar with the South African role in the Relief of Warsaw and the dropping of supplies to Italian partisans, you might find this list a starting point for further information. Remember to check out footnotes, acknowledgements, bibliographies and source lists. Some of those will be useful to you, and cut some corners, though you may well find yourself adding to your research load as you explore them!

Bowman, M[artin] W., Bombers Fly East: WWII RAF Operations in the Middle and Far East, Barnsley, 2016.

Orpen, N., Airlift to Warsaw: The Rising of 1944, Slough, 1984.

South African Air Force Museum, ‘The SAAF] and the Warsaw Flights’,, accessed 21/2/2020.
This web page consists of an article published in 2008 by Anne Lehmkuhl and updated in 2019 by Cameron Kirk Kinnear. It lists all the aircrew involved in the Warsaw flights, listing those who lost their lives and also those who survived.

South African Military History Society, ‘The Warsaw Airlift: a triumph of South African bravery’, Vol.13, No.1, June 2004,, accessed 11/2/2020.

Suggestions for further research

1. Finding out ‘what happened’
Research is often difficult if you’re not based in South Africa and unable to make use of SADF research facilities. If you’re become stuck in your research into a particular person, search for other members of the aircrew on the fatal flight. You may find that another researcher, interested in someone else on the plane has put information online about the incident. Remember also that the Liberators usually had a crew of eight, mostly from the South African Air Force, but including one or two crew from other Commonwealth Air Forces. When I began researching KH-152 some years ago, I found that, of the five who died, three were SAAF, one was RAF and one RAFVR. There was an Ipswich man on KH-152, and the Ipswich War Memorial website had information about his fate, enabling me to put together an account of the final flight.

Ipswich War Memorial, ‘Geoffrey Frederick Ellis’,, accessed 11/2/2020. The Ipswich researchers credit extra information and photographs on Geoffrey Ellis’s page, by courtesy of Dòminik Koscielny, with additional help from John Allan.

If you don’t know who else was on that particular flight, search the CWGC database by date of death and the country concerned i.e. the country over which the aircraft was shot down or crashed.If there’s something that puzzles you, search the online military forums. There is a, for example, a Luftwaffe and Allied Forces Discussion Forum. The link below consists of a thread about the German pilot, who is thought to have been responsible for the loss of KH-152.
Luftwaffe and Allied Forces Discussion Forum, ‘Ofw. Maisch’,, accessed 30/12/2019.

The website Air Crew Remembered is an example of material that is available online. My new favourite, DuckDuckGo, however, flags the site up as insecure. When I discovered the wreath laid for KH-158, I found the web page set up, and impeccably researched, by Anne Storm, the daughter of F/O Thomas Roberts Millar RAAF.
Storm, A.E., ’31 Squadron SAAF KH158′,, accessed 21/2/2020.

2. Diaries, Letters,
The Diary of Lieutenant Charles Searle Stuart Franklin, SAAF has been uploaded to the Facebook Group 34 and 31 Squadrons SAAF through the generosity of his son, Jonathan Franklin.  I wanted to know when, and how, these pilots had reached Italy, and this diary covered their time in training on the Liberators in the Middle East. I wondered about the effects on morale of these long flights, with relentless regularity, and whether and how they were able to cope with the challenges.  It was quite overwhelming, comprehending in even a small way, at a distance of 75 years, the sheer exhaustion, the stress and the mental state of the surviving airmen as crew after crew failed to return. When I first read the diary, I was thinking of the period up to mid October in terms of the fatigue and stress of the crew of KH-152, whom I was then researching. It was only when my curiosity extended to the crew of the second aircraft (EW250/L) lost on 16/17 October, that I realised that Charles Franklin had been its pilot on that flight. The mission of both aircraft was to drop supplies at Radomosko; neither plane returned to Foggia. Be prepared for pangs.

3. Interviews and Oral History Recordings
Check out also for videos, recordings and tributes:
South African Air Force Heritage Site WW2,, accessed 21/2/2020.

There was a second Liberator (EW250) that was lost on 16 October, with only one survivor: Sgt Ronald Pither, RAFVR. He made some recordings, omitting the names of the Polish people who helped him, in order to protect the identity of those who had helped him. If you listen to the recordings, please read the message from his family, so you will understand what was omitted and that these were private memories, intended for his family.

Memories Pither,, accessed 22/2/2020.

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Keith Brennand MacWilliam (1921–1944)

117609V Lieutenant Keith Brennand MacWilliam,
34 Squadron South African Air Force,
Killed in action, 16 October 1944, Poland.
Buried at Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery.

Lieut. Keith MacWilliam
©Anne Bleyenheuft

Keith’s parents, Keith James MacWilliam and Halla Swart were married in Sunnyside, Pretoria at the Church of St Michael’s and All Angels on 11 February 1920. His father was a mining engineer, living in Booysens at the time of his marriage to Halla. If the calculation made by Keith’s widow, Elizabeth, when giving notice of her husband’s death, is correct, he was born in Johannesburg in May 1921, 15 months after his parents’ marriage. Three years later, on 29 June 1924, Keith’s younger brother, Ian Russell MacWilliam, was baptised in Holy Trinity, Turffontein, nine months after his birth on 30 September 1923. The family was based, at that time, in accommodation on the Robinson Deep mine, in Booysens. Ian’s godfathers were his uncles, Russell Farquharson MacWilliam and Philip Herman Swart. I have not yet been able to locate a baptismal record for Keith.

I thought it possible that Keith might have followed his cousin, Robert Hermann MacWilliam (1912–1984) to St John’s College. And thanks to St John’s WW2 War Memorial, there he was: K. B. MacWilliam. His cousin, Robert, also went into the field of engineering, like his uncle Keith James, obtaining a B.Sc. (Engineering) and becoming, in later life, a mining executive.

Keith’s widow, Elizabeth Rissik, gave Keith’s occupation as ‘Student’ when providing formal notice of her husband’s death. As Keith followed the course his cousin had embarked on, he might well have been a “Witsie” when he enlisted in the South African Air Force.

Keith and Elizabeth were married on 6 May 1944, the day after her 21st birthday. The timing could suggest that her parents might have been reluctant to give permission for the marriage, possibly concerned about her marrying an airman about to set off for the war in Europe.

Keith MacWilliam, was one of the many South African Air Force Airmen killed during the extremely risky exercise of dropping supplies during the Relief of Warsaw. It was to be almost a year before Keith was presumed dead by the Officer in Charge of SADF War Records on 11 August 1945, and for an official death certificate to be issued on 17 September 1945.

Keith’s younger brother, Ian Russell MacWilliam, was also in the SAAF, and in Italy at the same time as Keith. There is an entry in Ian’s logbook which records the last time he saw his brother when both were up in the air: “saw Keith today & buzzed him”.

An account of the last flight of KH-152 has been put together by Ipswich War Memorial Researchers whose research into this Liberator began with their interest in an Ipswich member of the crew, Sergeant Ellis. They credit researchers Dòminik Kościelny and John Allen with help in locating information about the fate of members of the crew. The events on the night of 16 October 1944 are recounted on the page for Geoffrey Frederick Ellis—do follow the link to the page, and read the full account.

In his log book, Lieut. Samuel Fourie recorded the circumstances leading up to the loss of the plane as follows: ‘flak and searchlights encountered first, controls shot away; then attacked by 2 fighters, hit and set on fire on port wing, then hit in loft and set on fire‘.

The Ipswich account specifically relates to Keith’s fate, as follows:

Keith MacWilliam managed to jump out of the Burning Liberator. However, due to the low altitude, his parachute failed to open, and he fell on the property of Szymon Dekan of Brzezówka. His body was found the next day, and his documents removed by the Germans. Keith was buried by Wladyslaw Knutelski and Bronislaw Dxiekan at the place of his death.

©Anne Bleyenheuft

A few years after the war, the airmen were reburied side by side in the Rakowicki Military Cemetery in Krakow. Keith is buried between Sgt Ellis RAF and Sgt Myers RAAF. South African visitors to the graves have said how well the Polish have cared for them. At least three times a year, there are commemorations at the graves that honour the men who took unimaginable risks in their desire to help the Polish people in 1944. All Souls’ Day on 2 November—the third day of Allhallowtide—is the commemoration closest to our Remembrance Sunday.

A wee piece on the MacWilliam family history
Keith’s cousin had been named, in the Scottish tradition after their grandfather, Robert MacWilliam (1851–1903). Born in the parish of Keith in Banffshire. Robert described himself as a teacher at the time of his marriage, in 1878, to a fellow teacher, Elizabeth Wattie (1855–1903). He was, in fact, already an English lecturer at the Aberdeen Church of Scotland Training College, where he remained until, in 1880, he took up a post as Principal of Gill College, a College of Higher Education, in the Eastern Province of the Cape Colony. Founded in 1859, it was named after the Scottish District Surgeon, William Gill who left his estate to the establishment of a such a college. Its architecture was inspired by that of the University of Glasgow.

The changes in the way that education was regulated in the Cape Colony resulted, in 1903, in Gill College, a high school rather than a college of higher education. This may have been a great disappointment to Robert, who had spent 23 years, the greater part of his teaching career, as the college’s principal. Robert died on 10 May 1903, in the Wimbledon area, and is buried at the Gap Road Cemetery. It is not clear whether he and Elizabeth had decided to move back to Scotland, or whether he was on a visit to London to make a case to the Colonial Office for the retention of the College as a provider of higher education. Robert’s wife outlived him by only six years, dying in the parish of Crawfordjohn in Lanarkshire on 25 May 1909.

Scottish educators were the backbone of the Cape Colony’s education system during the 19th and early 20th century and its system followed the Scottish model, even in the Cape’s Afrikaner Gymnasiums, than in any other of the colonies and republics that formed the Union of South Africa. Robert and Elizabeth’s sons, Russell Farquharson (1882–1935) and Keith James (1886–1957) were both born in the Cape Colony, probably at Somerset East.

Keith James (1886–1957) and his elder brother Russel Farquharson (1882–1935) grew up in Somerset East, where their father, Robert MacWilliam, was Principal of Gill College of Higher Education. Where the brothers were educated is not clear— they may have been educated in Somerset East, or sent to a boarding schools in the Eastern Cape, perhaps to Grahamstown. Both brothers served in the Somerset East Town Guard during the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), Russell as a Corporal, and Keith as a Private and both are listed on the Medal Roll.

Their eldest son, Russell Farquharson, seems to have been named after his grandmothers, Margaret Russell and Margaret Farquharson. To anyone familiar with the Scottish naming patterns, the incorporation of the maternal lines in the name of the eldest son is a little unusual—he ought, by rights, to have been named after his paternal grandfather, Robert. Russell Farquharson MacWilliam became a barrister, eventually being appointed a King’s Counsel—he had a son called Robert, perhaps called after his paternal grandfather. Russell’s grandson shares his name and his career as he is also a barrister (an ‘advocate’ in South Africa).

Robert and Elizabeth’s second son, Keith James MacWilliam was (perhaps!) named first, after his father’s birthplace, and secondly after one, or both, of his paternal grandfathers, James MacWilliam and James Wattie.

As for the Brennand in Keith’s name, it turns up in his mother, Halla Swart’s, English maternal line. Halla’s father was Daniel Hermanus Swart and her mother was Ellen Frances Hall, daughter of Edwin Brennand Hall (1843–1913), who hailed from Lancashire. Brennand was used several times as a given name by others in the Hall family .

Sources and Further Reading
The photo of Lieutenant Keith MacWilliam was provided by his niece, Anne Bleyenheuft, one of the daughters of Ian Russell MacWilliam, and is used with the family’s permission . My thanks to her and her brother, Keith, for their interest in my research into their uncle, and for their support with this project.

All at Sea, ‘Roll of Honour, St John’s College’,, accessed 14/12/2020. The person behind the website may be D R Walker, but the author of the post on the college War Memorial is ‘JA’ whose provision of the accompanying images of the War Memorial, confirmed to me that my guesswork, on Keith’s schooling, was correct.

Ipswich War Memorial, ‘Geoffrey Frederick Ellis’,, accessed 11/2/2020. The Ipswich researchers credit extra information and photographs on Geoffrey Ellis’s page, by courtesy of Dòminik Koscielny, with additional help from John Allan.

Luftwaffe and Allied Forces Discussion Forum, ‘Ofw. Maisch’,, accessed 30/12/2019.

Orpen, N., Airlift to Warsaw: The Rising of 1944, Slough, 1984.

South African Military History Society, ‘The Warsaw Airlift: a triumph of South African bravery’, Vol.13, No.1, June 2004,, accessed 11/2/2020.

South Africa Remembers, ‘Keith Brennand MacWilliam and the last flight of KH152’,, accessed 11/2/2020.

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The German Military Cemetery at Futa Pass

When we left the CWGC Cemetery at Castiglione dei Pepoli en route for Caldesi, I felt strongly that we should try to find a German War Cemetery. And barely a hill or two away, we found ourselves passing the Futa Pass Cemetery, where over 30 000 German soldiers are buried. We turned back, to “pay our respects”.

The Germans view their military cemeteries as powerful messages of peace, as educational opportunities, and as warnings against the ultimate outcome of belligerence between nations. That’s not quite how the British seem to regard theirs but I’ll refrain from saying anything further on that.

Deutscher SoldatenFriedhof at Futa Pass © Margaret Frood

We spent some time in this vast cemetery, looking with interest at photos and messages left in a reception room near the parking area. This one particularly touched me. I’m sorry about the reflection marring the photos. Its focus is a father, grandfather and great grandfather whose family will never forget him. Those children will be grandfathers themselves now as they must have been just a few years older than my generation. We have had the luxury of growing up during the longest peaceful stretch in European history, as have our children. I see in that the success of the European Union in cementing peace, and I fear for our grandchildren, growing up in the rancour of a country which is now so bitterly divided. I admit that I’m not too pleased about being stripped of my EU citizenship against my wishes.

“Ein Vater, Großvater und Urgroßvater” nimmer vergessen. © Margaret Frood

And the walk through the different tiers of our second hillside cemetery of the day was moving. Note there are four burials below this stone.

“Someone” has left a peaceful message of reconciliation at the grave of two unknown German Soldiers. (Because “Alle Menschen werden Brüder”.) © Margaret Frood
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Castiglione dei Pepoli

In October 2018, on our way to the hamlet of Caldesi with my sister and her partner, we stayed overnight in Castiglione dei Pepoli, where there is a large CWGC cemetery. I had long wished to visit Robin’s grave on behalf of our family. 

The South African Cemetery at Castiglione dei Pepoli.

The epitaph on the grave of 225969V Sergeant F S van Niekerk (S.A.C.S.) caught my eye.


He was killed on 5 July 1945 aged 44. The war in Europe was over. How cruel the misfortune that had taken him from his parents, his wife, and, if he had them, from his children?

There were so many familiar surnames on the South Africans’ headstones, many triggering memories of families I had known, but the photos I took of headstones were mostly ones which evoked memories of people, aroused my curiosity, or where the family’s message made a deep impression.

Guardsmen from the 24th Guards Brigade account for about 100 burials there, because the Brigade was under the command of the 6th South African Armoured Division.  I chose also to research some of them. 

For example, I researched the life of Walter Henry Geddes because the first headmaster under whom I taught was John Geddes, an inspirational leader.

My Scottish father-in-law was named after his grandfather, Andrew McKie (as were many of his cousins) so I made a note of the details on the grave of Guardsman A A S McKie of the Scots Guards, out of curiosity, and perhaps for future research.

The views of the hills around Castiglione make this an uplifting setting for the cemetery, which is beautifully cared for by the CWGC gardeners. At the time of our visit, one section of the cemetery was being replanted, so if you notice exposed soil in the background, that’s the reason. We visited on a Saturday, and so, unlike on the occasion my daughter visited there about ten years ago, there were no gardeners about. The cemetery is about halfway between Florence and Bologna, but close to the Autostrada connecting the two cities.

The Gardeners’ Shed in Autumn © Margaret Frood

Looking down on the cemetery from the road into Castiglione dei Pepoli. © Margaret Frood

Afterwards, I proposed that we keep an eye out for a German War Cemetery, and a hilltop or two away, we found ourselves passing the Futa Pass Cemetery, a cemetery with 61 times as many burials as Castiglione dei Pepoli. The Germans view their military cemeteries as places of reconciliation, of peace-building, and of education.

I will be posting some photos of the Futa Pass Cemetery in a later blog post.

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Airmen of KH158 remembered in Richmond upon Thames

As I approached the South African War Memorial in Richmond Cemetery, ahead of the Two Minutes’ Silence in November 2019, I saw some distinctive and unusual wreaths—two from the Polish Airmen’s Association and a third, on which the written message, because of heavy rainfall earlier in the week, was only partially legible. I could, however, make out the words LIBERATOR KH158 ITALY which turned to be a Liberator VI from 31 Squadron (SAAF), based at Foggia in Italy.

Tribute in memory of the crew of KH158 ©Margaret Frood

List of the Crew lost on the last flight of KH158

Pilot: Major Selwyn S Urry, SAAF, aged 29
2nd Pilot: Flying Officer George Edward Hudspith, RAF, aged 29
Navigator: Lieut. Geoffrey A Collard, SAAF, aged 19
Observer and Bomb Aimer: Flying Officer Thomas Roberts Millar, RAAF, aged 28
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: 2/Lieut. Peter J Lordan, SAAF, age not recorded
Air Gunner: Warrant Officer Leonard B Bloch, SAAF, aged 21
Air Gunner: Lieut. Norman W Armstrong, SAAF, age not recorded
Air Gunner: Sergeant Reginald Charles Fitzgerald, RAFVR, aged 19.

Initially, I thought the wreath had also been left in memory of the crew of one of the Liberators that had taken part in the Relief of Warsaw, between 4 August and 28 September 1944. However, when I approached the Polish Airmen’s Association, they were not aware of anyone who might have placed that particular wreath. Other words I could make out on the card attached were IN MEMOR[Y], CREW OF, SAAF and ITALY.

I can however confirm that the crew of the Liberator KH158 had indeed played an important role in the Relief of Warsaw, an exercise involving low flights which was regarded as so dangerous in terms of the potential loss of planes and pilots, that it was a risk the RAF and USAAF were not keen to accept, for either their superior planes or their pilots, though 178 Squadron RAF was involved in the Warsaw Relief alongside 31 and 34 Squadrons SAAF. The South African ground forces were working their way northwards in Italy, with squadrons operating out of Italian airfields. It seems that the crews flying sorties out of Foggia almost always had at least one RAF Sergeant on board. Similarly SAAF and airmen from other Allied Air Forces, would fly with RAF crews.

I have learnt from Polish airmen that during the eight or so weeks of the Relief, for every ton of supplies dropped, there was the associated cost of the loss of one plane, and often of the lives of an entire crew. This was, I believe, first asserted by Air Marshal Sir John Slessor. From his daughter’s account of her father’s military activities, we know that Thomas Roberts Millar had taken part in the Relief of Warsaw. In addition, Sortie Reports for August and September 1944 show that Urry, Collard, Millar, Lordan, Bloch and Armstrong had regularly flown together on these sorties to Poland.

KH158 was lost on the night of 12/13 October 1944, two weeks after the last flights in the Relief of Warsaw. The Liberator and its crew had been on a mission to drop supplies to a group of Italian partisans when it simply disappeared. Five of the crew were from the South African Air Force, one from the Royal Air Force, one from the Royal Australian Air Force and one from the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve. The October weather in Northern Italy can be changeable, and on that night it was, in parts, simply atrocious. It is possibly as a consequence of the weather, that KH158 was one of six flights lost that night, with the loss of 48 airmen. In spite of many attempts to locate the wreckage of the plane, to this day the families of the crew of KH158 have been unable to discover what happened to it or even whether it was lost over land or sea. Wreckage from the other five flights has been found, much of it high in the mountains.

In recent years, with the first such event in 2000, the crew of five of the six lost flights have in turn been commemorated near their respective crash sites in Northern Italy. In the case of the sixth, KH158, a memorial was unveiled by Anne Storm, the daughter of Thomas Roberts Millar and by Martin Urry, nephew of Selwyn Urry, the pilot, in the grounds of the wartime headquarters of the local partisans, in the Ligurian mountains above Neirone.

Rootsweb hosts an account of the commemoration written by Anne Storm, the daughter of Bob Millar (Flying Officer Thomas Roberts Millar, RAAF) here. It includes photos taken at the ceremony and images of the memorial as well as of the setting in which these crew members are commemorated.

For those interested in the background of the crew, there is an excellent piece on a website Aircrew Remembered. Much of the research into the fate of this plane has been undertaken by Anne E. Storm, who was only 20 months old when her father was killed. This web page lists the names of the crew of KH158, and has photos of all but one of the men.

How you may be able to help 1: Tracking down a photo of George Hudspith

Flying Officer George Edward Hudspith, RAF, who was 29 at the time of his death, is the crew member for whom those researching this aircraft, and its crew, do not have a photo. I have established that a birth was registered for a George Edward Hudspith, in the 4th Quarter of 1914 in Bournemouth (then part of the Christchurch Registration District) in Hampshire. This registration matches George’s age on 13/10/1944 and there is no other competitor in the Births Index with a matching name in the two years on either side of 1914. George’s parents were George Edward Hudspith (1885–1934) and Margaret Louise Osment (1885–1945).

I believe there was a second son of that marriage, Sidney Hudspith, whose birth, in Bournemouth, Hampshire, was registered in 1927. I have not yet been able to find Sidney in the 1939 Register nor a matching death for him in the Death Indices for England & Wales. I should add that his birth registration in 1927 is not flagged up as a late entry, so it is not a late correction or registration.

I note this here, as I have discovered that George and Margaret had a son, Sidney Osment, born in 1911, three years before their marriage. I have also found no death registration for that earlier Sidney. Newspaper reports from 1912 suggest that Margaret was struggling to support her baby. Could he have been adopted—in which case would he even have known of the existence of two younger brothers?

I think that those most likely to know something about George will be descendants of his Osment or Hudspith cousins. In particular, any descendants of one of two daughters of his paternal aunt, Gertrude Nellie (or Helena) Louisa Hudspith. Marjorie and Margaret Hinton who married Charles Moore and John Tucker, in 1930 and 1940 respectively. Their children would have been born in the 1930s and 1940s and are likely to have been told about the death of their mothers’ cousin in 1944, or subsequently. That means we are probably looking for people whose grandmothers came from the Bournemouth area. If your grandmother’s maiden name was Hinton, I hope you will get in touch, even if you know nothing about George Edward Hudspith.

As for George’s maternal line, I am working my way across from Hudspith cousins to cousins on the Osment side of the family. I have sent messages to five relatives and had one reply, from someone who is not able to confirm a connection. I will update if I discover anything further.

How you may be able to help 2: Who laid the wreath?

Enlargement of the accompanying message © Margaret Frood

If you are familiar with military abbreviations, are there any further clues on the bottom left of the card or elsewhere? What is the word above F/O, for example? I think this may mention a specific Flying Officer. There were two on the final flight, George Edward Hudspith (RAF) and Thomas Roberts Millar (RAAF). Could the letter after the T, which looks like Z or 2, possibly be an R, in which case, could it read Flying Officer T R Millar?

Sources and Recommended Reading

Aircrew Remembered, ’31 Squadron (SAAF) Liberator VI KH158, Mjr Selwyn Urry’, , accessed 25/12/2019. This web page produced by Martin Urry, the nephew of the senior pilot, gives you the background to their last flight and to the commemoration of the crew of the missing plane

Orpen, Neil., Airlift to Warsaw: the Rising of 1944, Marlow, 1984. Copies of this book are available second-hand. It’s illuminating for anyone who has relatives involved in the relief of Warsaw.

The Millar Story, ‘Final Sortie Report’,, accessed 26/12/2019.

Rootsweb, ‘The Millar Story: The Commemoration of the Last Mission’, , accessed 25/12/2019. Here Flying Officer Millar’s daughter, Anne E. Storm, describes the commemoration above the village of Neirone in the Ligurian mountains in 2011.


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Remembrance Sunday in Richmond, 2019

Remembrance Sunday 2019
John, Steve and Mark: A New Visitor between two Old Faithfuls.

We are ever hopeful that this year South Africans will turn up, and perhaps become Old Faithfuls in years to come…but alas not. No South Africans turned up this year, other than the one behind the camera. There is a BUT…

BUT Steve wandered up and decided to stick around for The Silence. He’d come to Richmond Cemetery, with the specific intention of looking for CWGC graves there. All four of us helped to place the rosemary sprigs at the individual graves, and we had a few over, which we deployed nearby, first at the London Scottish grave, and at other graves in adjacent sections, such as the grave of George Henry Rosser, who was born in the parish of Richmond upon Thames. George served in the 2nd Regiment of the First South African Infantry Brigade, suffering severe wounds in the first weeks of the Battle of the Somme. Repatriated to England for nursing, he died soon after, at the Fulham Military Hospital, on 23 July 1916.

It also turns out that it’s possible the two South Africans (father and son) at last year’s Two Minutes’ Silence, were there because one of The Cyclists had spread the word at a local Parkrun. Mark knew a Parkrun is a good place to find South Africans in significant numbers.

For those of my generation, these First World War graves are the graves of our grandparents’ fellow soldiers, so there is still, for us, someone we knew who was affected by that conflict. For the next generation, it will be memories of their grandparents that will drive their curiosity about the Second World War.

So many South African service personnel have no known grave, that it may seem odd to focus on these particular graves in the South African Section in Richmond, and the others about whom I have written, whose graves or stories I have often only come across by chance.

One of the men whose story is elsewhere on this blog, Ivan Merle McCusker is in one of the South African graves spotted by the military historian, Charles Fair, (@FamilyAtWar) in early November this year. His tweet about the South African plot there includes photos which can be viewed here.

As early as 1916, Jan Smuts and the South African government had asked John Buchan  to write an account of the role of the South African forces in France.  This work would become his History of the South African Forces in France but by the time the war was over, the decision had been made that the country could not afford it. Buchan wrote it anyway in what his granddaughter, Ursula Buchan described as his ‘labour of love’.  

As we approached the memorial ahead of the Two Minutes’ silence, I noticed two wreaths with the distinctive red and white squares of the Polish Air Force. After a rapid calculation, I felt fairly sure they were there because of the 75th anniversary of the Relief of Warsaw, in which the South African Air Force played a major role, with great loss of life. I felt quite emotional when I realised that, so many years later, the Polish Airmen had not forgotten our airmen.

One of two wreaths from the Polish Airmen’s Association © Margaret Frood

I was intrigued also to see a third, smaller wreath, the writing barely legible, except for what looked like the identification number of a Liberator KH158. I am now researching that aircraft and its fate, and will report back in due course. I did contact the Polish Airmen’s Association (UK) and learnt from its chairman, Artur Bildziuk, that they were responsible for two of the wreaths, but that the third wreath, pictured below, was not laid there by them.

Tribute in memory of the crew of KH158 © Margaret Frood

Recently, as a result of my post on KH152 and Keith Brennand Macwilliam in particular, I have been contacted by Dòminik Kościelny, who has been researching the South African Squadrons 31 and 34 for a considerable time, and am now seeing what I can do to locate a picture of Keith for him.

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Malta Stories

Two weeks ago the CWGC published, on its Malta Stories blog, an excellent account of the eight crew of the B24J Liberator EW207 “K” aircraft, which did not return to base on the night of 2/3 March 1945. Six of the eight were South Africans, their average age being 21 years 2 months.

Doesn’t Harland’s photo suggest a happy and mischievous nature?  The Malta Stories blog post will tell you more about how, as a schoolboy, he demonstrated his determination to join the fray.  Harland wasn’t the only former tearaway on that flight.  Don’t skip the story of Derek Knight Austin, 2nd Pilot on this flight, whose prank in an aircraft over his home town of Mafeking  led to a court martial in 1943.  His knocking down the church steeple was probably the least troubling aspect of the episode.

Besides Harland, the other members of the crew were:
Lt Philip Anthony Klapper—who had interrupted his medical training at Wits
Air Sgt Derek Knight Austin;
Lt Joscelyn Albert Tudor Steele;
Fl/Sgt Alfred Matthews from Dagenham;
Sgt Edward Moody Stoves from County Durham;
W/O II Robert James Faull; at 18, the youngest
W/O II Ronald Esme Wicht—his father was then serving in Italy as an eye surgeon in the South African Medical Corps.

The average age of the six crew members was exactly 21 years 2 months.  The fate of their flight is still unknown, despite the efforts their families made in succeeding years to establish what had brought their Liberator down, and where.

The story is headed Scott Smith, which I assume is the name of the author, and, for want of further info, I’m crediting him with the photo as well.  (And I apologise for using it without formal permission and will be happy to have the attribution corrected.)

I have included the home towns of the two non-South African members of the aircrew to make it easier for their relatives to find their story on this blog.Do read this blog while it is still the ‘home’ story on the blog and if any of the surnames ring a bell, perhaps you’ll be able to help the CWGC track down relatives of the other men, so that their photos can accompany this Malta Story.





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An incomplete tale of three Deutschmann servicemen

On a visit to the Scottish National War Memorial in 2018, on the trail of those Scots I have researched who are commemorated on War Memorials outwith Scotland, I spent some time in its Section M. In this section you will find the Memorial Books, and Plaques recording the losses and some of the battle honours of the London, of the Liverpool, South African, Canadian and Tyneside Scottish Regiments.

The three red books at the foot of the Memorial are Regimental Rolls of Honour.  From the left they are the Roll of Honour of the London Scottish, then the South African Scottish (4/SAIR) for WW1 and finally, that of the South African Scottish for WW2.

As I skimmed the pages, noting the Scottish surnames, while pondering the presence of a number of typically Dutch (Afrikaner) surnames, one entry stood out. I photographed the page, anticipating that my curiosity would take this further. Here is the entry:

DEUTSCHMANN, Herbert William, 10271 P[riva]te Missing; died France, 24/3/1918.

Served as MACONOCHIE?  There followed a ‘what the heck’ moment.  I will look into this as I work on Herbert’s blog post, once I have dug a little deeper and weighed up his adoption of an alias against the timing of his transfer to 4/SAIF  from 2/SAIF.

Deutschmann #1 is the Herbert William Deutschmann who served in the 4th South African Infantry Regiment (aka as “The South African Scottish”) as H W Maconochie.  Herbert’s father, August was baptised as August Friedrich Wilhelm Deutschmann in Gramzow, Brandenburg (Prussia) on 9 July 1858, four weeks after his birth there, on 12 June.  On 15 October 1858, his parents, with their daughter Ottilie (2) and son, August (4 months), sailed from Hamburg to East London, which they reached, after calling at Cape Town, three months later on 13 January 1859.  Two waves of German immigrants arrived in the Eastern Cape at this time. The first to arrive, in 1857, were ‘military settlers’ followed by the ‘farmers’ in 1858.  There’ll be more on this enterprising family and in time Herbert will get his own blog post. His service record offers an intriguing but still baffling clue to the choice of the surname Maconochie. I will get working on that when I have an opportunity.

Deutschmann #2 is the Deutschmann I found when I searched the CWGC website, looking for further information on Herbert William Maconochie.  And that was a bit of surprise, as he turned out to be a man serving in the German Navy, who was buried in a war grave in the United Kingdom.  This man was Werner Deutschmann, who died aged 21 on 13 July 1946.  His grave is in the Darlington West Cemetery.  Was he a POW?  What was the cause of his death?  Was it from natural causes, or of wounds, or something else?

Deutschmann #3 I found while seeking further information on Herbert Deutschmann.  I found the official South African ‘Death Notice’ for Edward William Deutschmann, formerly a Teacher’s Assistant.  It revealed that Edward had been born in Johannesburg, the son of Edward and Emma Deutschmann and died, aged 28 years and 6 months on 12 April 1918 while on active service in France.  There is a service number (13742) and the note than he was in the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment.  The names of his siblings are also recorded: Hugo, Frederick, Robert and Wilhelmina.  His case is also a puzzle because he does not appear on the CWGC list.  He is not listed on the Pozières Memorial though his death was within the given dates for that memorial, nor does he appear on the South African War Graves Project.

This post, no more than a stub, is just for starters.  Perhaps as I put together other South African Deutschmann lines, more will become clear about Deutschmann #1 and Deutschmann #3.

Posted in German Spring Offensive, Kaiserschlacht, Military Hospitals, Roll of Honour, Scottish Regiments | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guardsman Walter Hardy Geddes, The Scots Guards (1924–1944)

On a sunny Saturday in October 2018, we visited the South African Cemetery in Castiglione dei Pepoli.  This cemetery has 502 war graves from the Second World War, the majority being for South African servicemen.  The 24th Guards Brigade was, however, under the command of the 6th South African Armoured Division, so Guardsman from that Brigade make up about 100 of those burials.

2701923 Guardsman Walter Hardy Geddes, The Scots Guards

As the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was part of the 9th Scottish Division during the First World War, it felt fitting that Scots Guards were buried here alongside their long-term South African allies.  Please note that there was extensive horticultural work going on in the summer and autumn of 2018, with some realignment of headstones in three of the ‘plots’, which explains the absence of turf in the background.   I took photos of some of the Guards’ graves, using rather random filters—such as surnames that are in my own family tree.  However, the first headmaster under whom I began my teaching career, was the inspirational John Geddes, first headmaster of Sandringham High School, which ‘explains’ my pausing to consider this young man.  I wondered at the time whether the Latin epitaph was an indication that one or both parents was a Roman Catholic.

Walter Hardy Geddes was born on 20 September 1924 at Tynet, with his birth registered by his father at Port Gordon, Moray.  He died on 1 October 1944  just 11 days after reaching his 20th birthday in ferocious fighting.  Eighteen of the Scots Guards buried at Castiglione were killed on that day, as was one Gunner from the Royal Artillery (Newfoundland) Field Regiment.  Casualties were heavy for the entire month: 212 of the 502 were killed in October 1944, when they were not helped by weather that made armoured manoeuvres difficult, if not impossible.

Walter’s parents were John Geddes, a Crofter, and his wife Ellen (or Helen?) Maria Milne of Clochan, Banffshire.  (Their marriage certificate has her as Ellen, and the CWGC record as Helen—a not uncommon ‘mistake’ in records.)  The marriage was at the Clunie Hotel in Buckie, and was indeed held according to the Rites of the Roman Catholic Church. I find research in Moray and Banff seems to lead quite frequently back to Catholics.

His birth certificate revealed that he had a twin, Olive Maria Landon Geddes, born 15 minutes after her brother, and named, perhaps, after her maternal grandmother, Maria Landon.

For this research, I was using a few minutes at the end of an evening group visit to Register House, so ran out of time to find out more about his sister, or whether Olive married.  It appears that Olive did not marry in Scotland, nor did I find her death because I only had time for a ‘shallow’ search for that.  I’ll look further when I have a full day place at Scotland’s People, and until then, hope that some Geddes relatives may complete the picture for me.

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