John Cumming - My School Teacher and his Wartime Secret.
My Primary 7 Teacher was known to me as simply Mr Cumming.
I knew nothing else about him until years after I had left school when I learned that he had served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
He never talked about his wartime experiences however now I have the amazing story.
John Cumming was 18 years old when he joined the Royal Navy in 1940, signing up for seven years and five on Reserve.
John was involved in Convoy Escort duties across the Atlantic from Liverpool to and from Canada and the United States as well as the Arctic Convoys to Northern Russia.
His first Arctic Convoy, codename “Dervish” was to arrive in Archangel on 31st August 1941
His duty was to use the ASDIC system to identify, follow and hopefully Depth Charge U-Boats.
On D-Day John was aboard a Dutch Naval Cruiser HNLMS Sumatra which was subsequently scuttled off Ouistreham to become part of a “Gooseberry” Pier - With the men still aboard!!
John said that they simply climbed as high as they could on the upper deck.
He then joined H.M.S. Volunteer in Chatham
In 1945 John was in the Far East minesweeping for Japanese Mines. He was in Singapore when Allied Prisoners of War were being released and has never forgotten evidence of the cruelty of the Japanese which he witnessed.
(Photographs above from Belfast Newsletter. Information from Nearness of Ice. Photograph below shows HNLMS Sumatra having been scuttled. Public domain picture)
Sergeant John Herbert O'Farrell, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Killed in Action 31st July 1943
Sergeant John Herbert O’Farrell was from Dundrum, County Down.
He was serving with 75 (New Zealand) Squadron, Royal Air Force and on the night of 30th / 31st July 1943 he was aboard Short Stirling Mk III BF458, JN-A.
The target was Remscheid which is Northeast of Cologne in Germany and it was intended that thirteen aircraft would drop Incendiary Bombs however the number was reduced to 12 when one aircraft returned to base with an unserviceable rear turret.
The Raid was a success with a large concentrated fires and some explosions being seen in the Target Area.
Anti-Aircraft Fire and Searchlight belts were encountered as well as an attack by an Enemy Aircraft however with good weather it was hoped that all aircraft would return to base safely however unfortunately this was not to be the case.
Two Stirling Aircraft were reported missing - One of these being BF458 which was subsequently found to have been shot down Southwest of Duisburg to the North of Krefeld.
The Navigator,Sergeant Hector Alisdair ‘Paddy’ Stewart and Wireless Operator Sergeant R.H. Boxell both survived the crash and became Prisoners of War.
Pilot Sergeant Alfred John Thomas,
Flight Engineer, Sergeant John William Gale and Mid-Upper Gunner John Hubert O’Farrell were buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.
Pilot, Sergeant Alfred John Thomas, Air Bomber Flight Sergeant Frederick William Raukawa Cumpsty and Rear Gunner Sergeant Ernest Frank Henry are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
(My Sincere thanks to Lyn Vaughan Nee Stewart for contacting me regarding this)
Two Royal Marines Killed on H.M.S. Barnham
Shown above are Royal Marines Joe Berry from Laurencetown and Joe Smylie from Magheragall who served together on H.M.S. Barnham.
They were both killed on H.M.S. Barham - The details of the attack are given below:-
On the afternoon of 24 November 1941 H.M.S. Barnham left Alexandria along with a Convoy and on the following morning the German submarine U-331, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen, detected the faint engine noises of Barnham along with other British ships and moved to intercept.
An ASDIC operator aboard H.M.S. Jervis, which was with Barnham, detected a submarine at 16:18 at an estimated range of 900–1,100 yards however tragically the contact was disregarded permitting U-331 to pass through the Convoy screen and was only in a position to fire her torpedoes after the leading ship, Queen Elizabeth, had passed her by and the second ship, Barham, was closing rapidly.
Von Tiesenhausen ordered all four bow torpedo tubes fired at a range of 410 yds at 16:25. Possibly due to her closeness to Valiant's bow wave and discharging the torpedoes, the U-boat's conning tower broached the surface and was engaged by one of the battleship's "pom-pom"s at a range of about 30 yards.
The U-boat dived out of control reaching an indicated depth of 869 ft, well below her design depth of 490 ft, before stabilising without any damage.
There was no time for evasive action, and three of the four torpedoes struck amidships so closely together as to throw up a single massive water column. Barham quickly capsized to port and was lying on her side when a massive magazine explosion occurred aft about four minutes after she was torpedoed and sank her with the loss of 862 men. - The Photograph below is a still from a film taken from a nearby ship of the destruction.
The two photographs above show the Letter from R.M. Barracks, Portsmouth reporting Marine Berry Missing Presumed Killed and then a heart-breaking Letter from the Smylie Family to the Berry Family regarding the loss of their Sons. (Sincere Thank-you to Clive Higginson)
Sergeant Pilot Stanley Allen Fenemore from Whitewell, County Antrim
Sergeant Stanley Allen Fenemore was from Whitewell, Co Antrim.
Stationed at RAF Kenley he was flying Hurricane Mark I SD-V and was shot down during combat with enemy fighters over Redhill, Surrey (Immediately South of London) on the morning of 15th October 1940.
This was only 8 Days after his first Operational Sortie with 501 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
He was laid to rest at Allerton Cemetery, Liverpool. (Information from Chris Grove and Aircraft Photograph from Flypast)
William McBride - The Shankill Road Sailor
William was from the Shankill Road in Belfast and was 16 years old when he joined the Merchant Navy during the Second World War.
William sailed in a number of Convoys and on occasions he helplessly watched as ships were sunk.
He started his career as a Deck Boy and worked his way up through Able Seaman to Captain.
On one occasion his ship was being escorted by 2 Icebreakers into the White Sea on the way to Archangel when they were bombed by German aircraft. With these two ships damaged William found himself stuck until the ice thawed!
One of the ships that William served on was the Kenbane Head which he was fortunate to escape from when it was sunk on 5th November 1940 by the German Battleship Admiral Scheer.
He served in various theatres supporting the Armed Forces in North Africa, during the Anzio Landings and in the Far East.
During “Action Stations” he was an Anti-Aircraft Gunner on one of the guns to either side of the ships Bridge.
William was awarded the following medals :-
1949 - 1945 Star
Africa Star and Bar
1939 - 1945 War Medal
The Russian Ushakov Medal.
(Information from "Nearness of Ice" Public Domain photograph)
Air Mechanic Fred Mitchell from Lurgan
Air Mechanic Fred Mitchell is shown cleaning out the Gun Barrels of a Hellcat Fighter on board H.M.S. Indomitable.
This photograph was taken during a Raid on Padang by the Fleet Air Arm on 23rd / 24th August 1944. (IWM Photograph)
Fusilier John Matthews
John Matthews was serving with 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers when he was Killed in Action on 8th August 1943
John had been born in Portaferry however he spent much of his time in Dromara where he attended Primary School before going to Lisburn Technical College and working on the family farm.
He joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in July 1940 when he was 20 years old, doing his Basic Training at the Inniskillings Depot at St Lucia Barracks in Omagh.
The pictures above show John in uniform in Portaferry and on the farm when on Leave in August / September 1941 (Thanks very much to his family for these photographs)
During his service John became a Tank Driver and it is worthy of note that when the Royal Ulster Rifles were advancing on the Djebel Guernat in North Africa they were supported by tanks of the North Irish Horse.
One of their Churchill Tanks was called “Lily from Portaferry” which it is believed refers to John’s sister Mary Elizabeth (Lily) who was born on 9th August 1921.
He served in Madagascar, India, Iraq, Persia and Egypt before being Killed in Action during The Battle for The Monte Hills in Sicily.
An assault on Tremonte, which was a Strong Point held by Enemy Forces near Pedara on the slope of the Mount Etna volcano, had been carried out with some success however more was required for the advance to proceed.
General, later Field Marshall Montgomery visited the Battalion and having praised their success to date he told them that if another Battalion attack was unsuccessful then a Brigade would be called into action.
At 03.30 on that day the Officer Commanding D Company received Orders from Command of 2 Skins.
Intelligence had been obtained during the previous night by Reconnaissance Patrols and an advance was to take place with Bren Gun Carriers moving forward to battle along with Infantry and Tanks.
The attack began at 06.00 however within 10 minutes the Soldiers came under Enemy machine-fire from 3 hills along with mortars.
With 18 Platoon pinned down and 17 Platoon advancing slowly orders were given to 16 Platoon to move forward in support of both before taking over the 17 Platoon position.
Having wiped-out a machine-gun post 18 Platoon continued to advance up hill under enemy fire finally reaching the top with 18 Soldiers at 08.15 however they were then Counter-attacked with machine-guns and grenades.
It is believed that it was at this time when John Matthews was killed.
Number 1 Section had moved to clear an area of trees to the left with Number 2 Section as Fire Support and Number 3 Section moving forward and slightly right where they over-ran an Enemy Post and captured 2 Prisoners.
Numbers 2 and 3 Sections beat off the Attack with 3 moving forward again however a single survivor from Number 1 Section reported that the Section had been Wiped Out.
18 Platoon now consisted of only about 9 men and were counter-attacked yet again before being ordered to withdraw with this being covered by grenades.
At 08.40 all 3 Platoons had gathered in a lane and were under intense fire making any movement impossible.
With harassing fire from Artillery, Mortars and Tanks the Skins began to take control and at 15.30 the Commanding Officer ordered that the troops were to withdraw under a smoke and artillery barrage at 17.00 - this was completed by 17.35
(Thanks very much to Brian Smyth and the Smyth family as well as Barry Niblock )
Dunkirk Veterans Association Ulster Branch Pilgrimage 1979
The Gentleman on the right is my Grandad - He served from the First Day until the last Day!
Bobby Taylor, Royal Navy
Bobby Taylor was from County Armagh and served in the Royal Navy during which he took part in the perilous Arctic Convoys on board H.M.S. Kent. (Thanks very much to the Brownlow Museum for this information and photographs)
Reverend James McMurray-Taylor, Padre to 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles on D-Day
James McMurray-Taylor was born on 17th May 1916 in Ballymena.
He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and joined the Church of Ireland in 1939.
When war was declared he enlisted and became Padre of 1st Battalion the Royal Ulster Rifles. – He was 23 years old.
On the morning of 6th June 1944, D-Day, McMurray-Taylor conducted a Service which was attended by every man of the Battalion before thoughts moved to the matter in hand.
McMurray-Taylor was to go into battle in a glider.
8th June 1944
A temporary burial ground had been established on the lawn behind a house which had become the Battalion Headquarters.
Shallow graves were dug by men from the Pioneer Corps and, although vulnerable to mortar attack, McMurray-Taylor carried out a brief service for the dead from both sides.
13th June 1944
In the centre of Breville village was once a village green however it was now covered in German dead.
A small bulldozer was used to dig a long trench and after some hours of work the German bodies, which had been wrapped in blankets, were laid to rest with a brief burial service and Cross positioned to mark the location.
It is important to note that in each case McMurray-Taylor went through the pockets of every one to recover personal belongings as well as the soldiers Identity Disc and all of these were individually bagged and labelled for them to be returned to relatives.
Years later whilst on Holiday with his family in Normandy McMurray-Taylor learned of the death of Arlette Gondree, (of Café Gondree at Pegasus Bridge) and he attended the Funeral and read the Lord’s Prayer in French.
(Thanks very much to Mr Roger Edmondson for this information)
General Sir Richard Worsley
Richard Edward Worsley was born at Ballywalter, County Down on 29th May 1923.
He enlisted in 1940 and, in 1942, was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade and posted to 2nd Rifle Brigade in the Western Desert.
After North Africa, he fought as adjutant during the battles up Italy.
In the fierce battle for the hilltop town of Tossignano, near Bologna, his battalion took such heavy casualties that it had to be amalgamated with 10th Rifle Brigade and at that time he was mentioned in dispatches.
The end of the war found him in Austria and then, for a period of six weeks, his company managed a jail in Hamburg. It was full of war criminals and, on one occasion, having learned that a breakout was being planned, he ordered the Bren Gun platoon to fire four magazines down the length of a corridor. There was no more trouble.
Worsley continued to serve in the British Army long after WW2 and retired as a General.
General Sir Richard Worsley, born May 29 1923, died February 23 2013
United States Army Soldiers in Enniskillen
Shown here are a selection of photographs of U.S. Army Soldiers who were in Enniskillen during WW2.
On the left is Art Vreeland who was from Michigan. He was at Technician Fourth Grade with Technician Fifth Grade Fred Harriger is on the right.
It is pleasing to say survived the War and became a minister on leaving the army.
Harry Gibson who was from Enniskillen served in the United States Army and is top right in this group picture.
A young Fergus McCabe is shown sitting on the knee of an American Soldier.
(Thanks very much to Clara McCabe and all those at Old Enniskillen)
Act of Remembrance on Portrush Beach.
The Act of Remembrance shown here took place on Portrush Beach on 6th September 2015.
The Standard Bearers were joined by members of the Irish Guards and as part of the Ceremony a Huey Helicopter dropped Poppies.
"We Will Remember Them"
Able Seaman Henry Murphy
Shown here is Able Seaman Henry Murphy C / JX 363276 photographed in Belfast City Hall on the 70th Anniversary of V.E. Day 8th May 2014.
Henry is showing a letter which was sent to his Mother to tell her that he had been Killed In Action on 26th December 1944!
The Late Mr Bob Wright.
Bob was from Belfast and enlisted in the Welch Regiment in 1938.
In 1941 he volunteered for service in the newly formed Commandos and served with the Special Boat Service in Norway before going to 5 Commando in Burma, where he was in action behind enemy lines.
The Warrenpoint Air Crash
On 15th July 1944 two aircraft from 290 Squadron Royal Air Force, based at Newtownards, were entertaining a crowd of spectators at Warrenpoint during a Civil Defence Demonstration when disaster struck.
The aircraft involved were a Miles Martinet TT1 (Number MS626), which was used by the Royal Air Force specifically for the role of towing targets and an Airspeed Oxford (Number LX 598) which was a twin engined trainer aircraft.
There were misty conditions while the display was taking place and then, while one aircraft was climbing over the town the second aircraft approached from the direction of Carlingford Lough.
It appears that the pilots saw each other at the last minute and both attempted to take evasive action with one climbing and the other diving however this was not to be as the tail sections struck each other and as an explosion occurred in the sky pieces of both aircraft rained down.
Some sections of wreckage from the Martinet landed in the Church Street and Queen Street area of the town however most crashed at Duke Street and Church Street, where the cockpit was found with the dead crew inside.
The Airspeed Oxford fell into Carlingford Lough near to the swimming baths and the bodies of the 3 Pilots who were killed were recovered and taken initially to the Charlotte Street Morgue then on to the Mortuary at Daisyhill Hospital in Newry.
Those that died were as follows:-
LUCIEN ARTHUR WILLIAM JOSEPH ECCLES. Service Number 1931095.
Warrant Officer (Pilot), 290 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
DENNIS MYERS. Service Number 1217452.
Flight Sergeant (Pilot), 290 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
21 years old. From Broughbridge and buried at Broubridge Cemetery.
PETER STURDY. Service Number 1382750
Sergeant (Pilot), 290 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Buried at Willesden New Cemetery.
ALBERT GORDON GIBB. Service Number 1118383
Warrant Officer (Pilot), 290 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
28 years old. From Huyton and buried at Prescot Cemetery.
GEORGE WILLIAM MOSEY. Service Number 1041594
Sergeant (Air Gnr.), 290 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
26 years old. From Hamsterley Colliery and buried at Consett (Westwood) Cemetery.
Flight Sergeant Thomas William Thompson
Member of R.A.F.V.R. who was with Number 3 Tactical Air Force Communications Squadron when he was lost in Anson 1 LT893 between Lanka and Imphal.
He has never been recovered and is named on the War Memorial in Lurgan.
Able Seaman Francis Cassells
Was on Motor Torpedo Boat HMMTB 710 and whilst on route to an Offensive Patrol of Arsa Channel in the Adriatic the Boat struck a mine on 10th April 1945 killing 2 Officers and 15 Men including Able Seaman Cassells who is names on the Lurgan War Memorial.
American Red Cross Workers in Northern Ireland
This photograph shows an American Red Cross Mobile Canteen in Northern Ireland on 27th May 1942.
The Uniformed Red Cross Worker is Miss Louisa Farrand from New York City and whilst most of the Servicemen are Americans it is a British Soldier holding the door.
Unfortunately I do not have a precise location as to where this picture was taken.
(Picture from http://flashbak.com/mobile-canteens-of-world-war-2)
Brigadier General Edmund W. Hill
Here is Brigadier General Edmund W. Hill, Commanding Officer of the United States 8th Air Force, is presenting a Medal to Technical Sergeant Dennis Kelemen from Cumberland, Kentucky.
The Ceremony is taking place in Northern Ireland on 23rd June 1943 although the precise location is unknown.
(Photograph from https://www.fold3.com/)
Mr. Peter Gaylor
(Thanks to Seamus Breslin and the Derry of the Past Facebook Page)
As you can see the first one shown here was sent to the "Portadown News" Office in Thomas Street, Portadown "From the Lads of Portadown" who were serving in India Command and thinking on all the folks back home.
On the right is a more personal message from Aircraftsman Billy Martin who was stationed in India and sending his Easter Message to a loved one in Ardoyne, Belfast.
The final message is sent from Barry to Sister Irene Restalltans at the Military Hospital at Campbell College, Belfast.
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Italy
Shown below are soldiers of 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on St Patricks Day, 17th March 1944.
They are at the Beachhead at Anzio, Italy and are reading the Belfast Telegraph "Ireland's Saturday Night" newspaper! (Picture from Histomil)
(The above picture is from "Fold 3")