No 12 “Joan”

No 12 “Joan” is an engine on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. No 12 “Joan” is also named for my maternal grandmother, Joan Mildred Simmons (nee Henzell) and was one of a number of steam engines which were used to haul sugar cane to the factory on Antigua. I visited the WLLR on their recent steam gala and was lucky enough to ride on the footplate on a scheduled service.

To find out more about this rather wonderful heritage railway, visit www.wllr.org.uk. To enjoy the trains, visit the railway!

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Monmouth in London, Scotland and a Polish Army Brown Bear

I was down in London on Wednesday evening so decided, for the first time since I left school thirty-cough years ago, to drop in on an old school reunion in town. The school I attended was Monmouth School in Wales, part of the Haberdasher’s group of schools. It was a boys-only day and boarding school with its sister Monmouth School for Girls at the top of the hill on the Hereford road. For the last couple of years, the schools have held an informal weekly drinks reception in a pub near Covent Garden on the first Wednesday of the month.

There were no direct contemporaries of mine, and no-one I knew directly from either school, but some of the ladies I spoke to did recall some of my friends from the girls’ school. However, they were boarders and the day-girls tended not to socialise with the boarders, who had a fairly rough reputation, as I recall. Whatever their reputation from their rivals as children, they were interesting and pleasant company as adults.

The odd think about this sort of occasion is that, although you don’t know anyone and would otherwise have no reason to go up to them and enter into conversation, this is not only possible but a reasonable thing to do. I had conversations with one young man who had become an accountant although his passion was and remained classics. With another seemingly scarcely out of the egg who was a management consultant and seemed very competent at what he did. With a charming lady in her eighties who was still turning out for the sociality.

Some of the conversations were about what was on my mind, the whole public school privilege thing and whether, as future parents, some of these young men would send their children to public school or even board them. The answers I got were thoughtful and demonstrated the genuine conflict that parents have about “the best thing to do”. One man send that he found Monmouth a caring environment that enabled people to grow without too much pressure and, as a boarder, he’d had a good experience.

St Thomas's Square by Moonlight - Otto Maciag Monmouthshire Museums Service via BBC

St Thomas’s Square by Moonlight – Otto Maciag
Monmouthshire Museums Service via BBC

I also came into conversation with a man somewhat older than me, who was an artist. His inspiration at school had been the same teacher who taught me art, or rather presided over the art lessons at which I was present. This teacher was Otto Maciag, a Hungarian-born Pole who after service with the Free Polish Army in the Second World War, became a refugee and settled in Monmouth where he joined the school as art teacher. As boys, we always knew that he had seen service and was disrupted from his homeland, but he always seemed settled and happy in his new life. My correspondent, who as a gifted pupil spent much time in one-to-one classes with Otto, told me that there were a number of occasions when he would find Otto quietly weeping. He was a kind and gentle man and one of several Poles settled in the Ross and Monmouth areas after the war.

The 11th November is Polish Independence Day, celebrating the liberation of the country from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. In 2011 the BBC published an article about Otto’s family which I commend you should read here.

image: A Brown Bear standing on its hind legs holding a large artillery shell.

Wojtek – ceramic plaque by Otto Maciag
Imperial War Museum

Now to the bear. One tale that Otto did tell us was of Wojtek, the bear that served in the Polish artillery during the Second World War. Otto was also a ceramicist and he made a plaque of Wojtek which is now in the Imperial War Museum. The following information is taken from the Imperial War Museum’s website:

Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear, was the mascot of the 22nd Polish Artillery Support Company (22 Kompania Zaopartrywania Artylerii) of the Second Polish Corps. Found in Persian mountains in 1942, he travelled with the unit throughout the Middle East and Italy. He is reported to have helped move artillery ammunition at Monte Cassino, as depicted in the plaque. After the war he was kept at Edinburgh Zoo and was made a life member of the Scottish Polish Society. Wojtek died in 1963.

The Wojtek Memorial Trust have a complete history of the bear, which starts here. And today, in Edinburgh, a new sculpture of Vojtek by Alan Heriot will be unveiled in Princes Street Gardens. The BBC article is here.

Wojtek was one of the stories I learned as child. Another was of the endurance and kindness of the Polish people. And another less obvious one, which resonates all the more right now, is the genuine human potential of people forced to flee their homelands by war and their desperate need to find shelter, a welcome and a future.

HMS Mendip (L60)

On which Lawrence Mackie served from September 1944.

HMSMendip

This photograph of HMS Mendip moored is by a Royal Navy official photographer – This is photograph FL 15174 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

From Wikipedia:

HMS Mendip (L60) was a Hunt-class destroyer of the Royal Navy. She was a member of the first subgroup of the class. The ship is notable for seeing service in the navies of three other nations after her use by the Royal Navy. She saw service in the Second World War and later as an Egyptian Navy ship in the Suez Crisis. She was captured in battle on 31 October 1956 by the Israeli Navy and re-commissioned as INS Haifa (K-38).

HMS Mendip was named after the fox-hunt on the Mendip Hills in Somerset, which form the northern skyline seen from the family’s post-war home in the village of Mark.

www.naval-history.net provides the following photograph of, and chronology for HMS Mendip during the period that Lawrence served on her:

Mendip-HuntClassDestroyerL60

1944

July to September  Under refit.

October       Post refit trials.

29th    On completion of sea trials took passage to Clyde are for calibration of D/F equipment and prepare for work-up.

November    Passage to Scapa Flow to work-up with ships of Home Fleet.

15th    Over ran mooring buoy at Scapa Flow during work-up with damage to both screws and underwater detection equipment Dome.

16th    Docking delayed by weather conditions.

18th    Repair in Floating Dock commenced.

24th    On completion of replacement of both screws undocked and took passage to Sheerness to resume Flotilla duties.

26th    Rejoined 21st Destroyer Flotilla at Sheerness. Nominated for escort of military convoys to Antwerp as part of Nore Local Escort Force. (Note: Port was not opened until 28th after the Scheldt Estuary had been cleared of mines (Operation CALENDAR)

28th    Deployed with HMS GARTH for escort of military convoys and patrol in Nore area.

December    Nore Local Escort Force deployment in continuation.Escorted military convoys to and from Antwerp and carried out patrols in Thames Estuary and southern North Sea.

1945

January

Military convoys to and from Antwerp and commercial North Sea convoy escort in continuation. (Note: Patrols for interception of SCHNORKEL fitted submarines enemy minelaying craft were increased, In addition Atlantic convoys to London were being routed through English Channel after the allied advance in NW Europe.)

21st    Sustained underwater damage when ship ran aground

23rd    Under repair to underwater fittings by HM Dockyard Chatham

February

13th    Resumed duties in Nore Local Flotilla on completion of repair work.

21st    In action with HMS GARTH and Motor Gunboats of Coastal Forces against E-Boats attacking North Sera convoy near Hearty Knoll LV. (Note: Free French Destroyer LA COMBATTANTE (Ex HM Destroyer HALDON, a Type II HUNT Class) was lost in an adjacent area on 23rd, either by mine or E-Boat attack.)

March

Nore Local Flotilla duties for escort and patrol in continuation.

April

Military and commercial convoy escort in continuation.

12th    New Commanding Officer, Lieutenant L E Blackmore joined ship.

May

Escort deployment continued after VE Day for military convoys and Nore Command to June requirements with Local Flotilla.

July

Nominated for duty in Clyde for destruction of surrendered U-Boats (Operation DEADLIGHT) Took passage to Greenock for DEADLIGHT duties.

August

Deployed in Clyde area.*

Post-war Notes

HMS MENDIP was deployed for tow of U-Boats during DEADLIGHT until January 1946 when the ship returned to Sheerness to prepare for Paying off.

* This does not correspond with Lawrence’s letters from the ship at the time, which make reference to lying-up in Harwich on the 4th August and passages to Germany and Rotterdam in the latter part of the month of August and to Antwerp in September 1945.

HMS ML 246

On which Lawrence Mackie served from March to September 1944. He was in action on D Day off Juno Beach in support of British invasion forces.

Fairmail_B_ML303

The photograph is of a sister motor launch, HMS ML 303 during the invasion of Normandy on D Day. Hampton, J A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer- Imperial War Museum Collections Search A 23877.

From Wikipedia:

The Fairmile B motor launch was a type of motor launch built by British boatbuilder Fairmile Marine during the Second World War for the Royal Navy for coastal operations.

HMS ML 246 was built at Sheerness Dockyard and commissioned in July 1941, when she entered service with the Free French Navy. She returned to the Royal Navy in August 1942. The Coastal Forces Veterans Forum provides the following service history for ML 246:

Wartime Activities

7/41 Free French = St Ives
1/7/41 20th ML Flotilla assembling at Portland
ML 123, ML 192, ML 245, ML 246, ML 247, ML 262, ML 267 and ML 268
2nd Division 20th ML Flotilla (Based on Portsmouth)
Convoy escort in English Channel
4/42 20th ML Flotilla (Based on Weymouth)
Convoy escort, patrols and Air Sea Rescue
8/42 Returned to Royal Navy Crew transferred to 23rd MTB Flotilla (Free French)
19/8/42 Operation Jubilee – Raid on Dieppe
SGB 5 (Grey Owl) ,SGB 9
MGB 50, MGB 51, MGB 312, MGB 315, MGB 316, MGB 317,MGB 320, MGB 321, MGB 323, MGB 326
ML 120, ML 123, ML 189, ML 190, ML 193,ML 194, ML 230, ML 246, ML 292, ML 309, ML 343, ML 344, ML 346, RML 513
6/44 Operation Neptune Invasion of Normandy
20th ML Flotilla Based on Portsmouth
Operation Neptune – Invasion of Normandy
ML 123, ML 146, ML 147, ML 151, ML 198, ML 205, ML 246, ML 247, ML 269, ML 297, ML 902 and ML 903
Navigation Leaders at Juno Beach
14th ML Flotilla
Arakan

Post War Fate

11/45 Burma RNVR
1/46 For disposal

HMS ML 305

On which Lawrence Mackie served from July 1941 to March 1944

Fairmail_B_ML303

The photograph is of a sister motor launch, HMS ML 303, during the invasion of Normandy on D Day. Hampton, J A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer- Imperial War Museum Collections Search A 23877

From Wikipedia:

The Fairmile B motor launch was a type of motor launch built by British boatbuilder Fairmile Marine during the Second World War for the Royal Navy for coastal operations.

HMS ML 305 was built by Johnson & Jago at Leigh on Sea and commissioned in September 1941

ML 305 spent a lot of time on anti-submarine and convoy escort duties off the west coast of Africa and is mentioned in the Admiralty War Diaries of Word War 2. The following transcription of the West Africa Command, Freetown from January to April 1943 is at http://www.naval-history.net/xDKWD-WAfrica1943a.htm. There is good correspondence between Lawrence’s letters and one particular incident he records in a letter dated 16th March 1943 in which he writes “This morning we returned from a rather uncomfortable three days trip”. The Admiralty diary casts a small additional light with the entry for the same date, “H.M.M.L.s 256 and 305 returned to Takoradi from A/S search”.

HMS Eclipse (H08)

On which Lawrence Mackie served from January to April 1941

HMS_Eclipse_WWII_IWM_FL_11548

The photograph of HMS Eclipse at anchor is FL 11548 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 8308-29) and in the public domain.

From Wikipedia:

HMS Eclipse was an E-class destroyer of the Royal Navy that saw service in the Atlantic, Arctic, and Mediterranean theatres during World War II, until sunk by a mine in the Aegean Sea on 24 October 1943

From http://www.naval-history.net/:

1941

January Flotilla duties with Home Fleet in continuation.

February

15th          Deployed as screen for HM Battleship RODNEY with HM Destroyer ELECTRA during Ocean Escort for military Convoy WS6A during passage from Clyde to Freetown

17th          Detached from WS6A with HMS RODNEY and HMS ELECTRA.

March

25th          Joined military Convoy WS7 with HM Destroyer FOXHOUND for anti-submarine protection during passage in NW Approaches.

28th          Detached from WS& with HMS FOXHOUND on arrival of Ocean Escort.

April          Nominated for refit

12th          Under refit by HM Dockyard, Devonport.

My Uncle Lawrence’s letters home during WW2

I have received permission from my cousin Peter H Mackie to re-publish his father’s naval letters and they are attached here (pdf, 1283kb).

Lawrence Mackie’s Naval Letters

The best introduction to them is from Peter himself:

The letters in this collection were written by Lawrence Mackie, George’s brother, during the Second World War. Lawrence enlisted with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and after basic training and gaining his Commission he saw active service on a Motor Launch and Destroyer and took part in the D Day operations in Normandy.

The letters were passed from Lawrence’s parents to my mother Elizabeth, and I have tried to sort and transcribe them in chronological order. This has not always been easy because some of the letters are undated and the writing has become illegible in places. Nevertheless they give a detailed account of naval life during those years, with full and sometimes very frank descriptions of their activities.

After the war Lawrence returned to his medical training at St John’s College, Oxford, and then entered general practice in Warwickshire.

Peter H Mackie
July 2015

From reading these letters, it is clear that they provide more information on the activities of some of the vessels involved than is otherwise readily-obtainable on the web. However, there is additional information about the various ships and their careers which complements the narratives from Lawrence. I have extracted a brief list of the ships he served on from the letters and approximate dates he joined them as follows:

I’ll add some separate posts about each of these ships and their recorded careers during the time that Lawrence served on them.

I remember my Uncle Lawrence as a tall, generous man living in a pleasant house in the village of Wellesbourne in Warwickshire where we would occasionally visit him. He was always interested in the natural world around him and, if my memory serves me correctly, kept bees. His interest in and love of campanology is continued by his daughter. When I read these letters, I get a insight into a young man, with all a young man’s ambitions, desires and uncertainties in a time of extraordinary existential crisis. They also provide insights into the grandfather I never knew and the grandmother I only knew when I was a young boy. I am very grateful to Peter for sharing these letters and adding to the family archives.