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.
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.
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.
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 epitaph on the grave of 225969V Sergeant F S van Niekerk (S.A.C.S.) caught my eye.
TO A GOOD MAN NO EVIL THING CAN HAPPEN.
He was killed on 5 July 1945 aged 44. The war in Europe was over. What ‘evil’ misfortune 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.
Afterwards, I proposed that we should keep an out for a German 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 Futa Pass on another blog post.
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.
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. As a result of that reluctance, a high number of flights in the Relief were taken by the Allied Air Forces. Since the South African ground forces were working their way northwards in Italy, several South African Squadrons were already 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. 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 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 help1: 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 may have been 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.
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 will update if I discover anything further.
How you may be able to help 2: Who laid the wreath?
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?
Sourcesand Recommended Reading
Aircrew Remembered, ’31 Squadron (SAAF) Liberator VI KH158, Mjr Selwyn Urry’, http://www.aircrewremembered.com/urry-selwyn.html , 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, HW.
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.
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.