McMillen Ellen – There is as yet no positive ID for Ellen McMillen but it would seem that she could be 215256 Sister Ellen McMillin (CWGC spelling), Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service, who died for unknown reasons in Egypt on the 26 July 1942 and who is buried in Moascar War Cemetery, Egypt. She may have been born on the 4th February 1912 at Ballylummin, Ahoghill, the daughter of farmer Matthew McMillen (sic) and his wife Ellen Bankhead.
Nelson, 7012314 Serjeant Edward, 2nd Btn, Royal Ulster Rifles, died aged 31 on the 29th May 1940. He was the husband of Elizabeth Ellen Nelson, Gravesend, Kent and son of Mr. Thomas Nelson of 16 James Street, Ballymena.
In 1939-1940, 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles was part of the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, part of the British Expeditionary Force under Major General Bernard Montgomery. 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles, had mobilised on 1st September 1939, and “Monty’s Ironsides” were in Europe with the month, first Cherbourg, then Parennes, Templemars, and on to Lezennes near Lille.
In early 1940, the weather on the Western Front was cold and wet. The Rifles toiled digging in snow and frost to prepare the border defences between France and Belgium. They enjoyed regular leave to the UK as all was “quiet on the Western Front” during this period known as the “Phoney War”.
Suddenly, on 10th May 1940, Germany invaded Holland and Belgium and all hell broke loose. The British Expeditionary Force invoked Plan D. This involved leaving the defences behind and advancing into Belgium; this repeated what the British had done in 1914 and was a mistake as the main German thrust in 1940 would sweep through behind them and cut off retreat to the sea.
3rd Infantry Division took up position on the River Dyle. Under command of newly-promoted Lieutenant Colonel Knox, the Royal Ulster Rifles deployed to the city of Louvain. They covered a wide front of around 2,200 yards, manning approaches to the city. At first, the regiment formed part of the rearguard. Their task was to defend the perimeter, provide cover, and buy time for those trapped on the beaches. At the last minute, their command overturned the order to fight to the last man and the Rifles had a chance to make it to the beach and wait for retrieval.
By then, Germany’s main force had smashed through around the French Maginot Line and attendant defences on France’s eastern border. The Royal Ulster Rifles joined the withdrawal and retreat. Moving east through Brussels, the battalion battled against the enemy and battle fatigue.
The entire British Expeditionary Force was in trouble. The German armies swept through behind those, most of the BEF, trapped in the forward area on the Belgian border. They had reached the sea at Abbeville, and could move at will on the men trapped on the beaches and Channel ports. Fortunately the German panzer units held back, the Luftwaffe took the lead role, and the BEF had a chance to escape. By now, 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles were on the line of the Escaut river.
The battalion made it to Tourcoing near the border between France and Belgium, but the battle for France was all but over. However, the rear-guard had to hold the perimeter to give the escape from Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo, a chance to succeed. It got more difficult when the King of Belgium sought armistice terms and the Belgian army stood down. The northern side of Allied defences had gone and the French too would soon surrender.
Once the order for final withdrawal came, the Rifles marched the eleven miles from La Panne to Dunkirk as a unit and they embarked on destroyers at the Mole. They were among the last soldiers to leave Dunkirk under fire and Luftwaffe bombardment. Exhausted but unbowed, they arrived back in Dover.
Operation Dynamo saved over 340,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk between 28th May and 4th June 1940, but they were no longer an army. Much of their equipment was lost or burning in France and Belgium; only the Royal Airforce could prevent the invasion of the UK. The Battle of Britain was upcoming.
It was during the final stages of the withdrawal from Dunkirk that 7012314 Serjeant Edward Nelson, 2nd Btn, Royal Ulster Rifles died aged 31 on the 29th May 1940. He is buried in Hoogstade Churchyard, a few miles inside the Belgian border, and his tombstone reads: ‘In Loving Memory. Your Dear Wife Elizabeth and Children. Rest in Peace.’
Percy, 1077628 Flight Sergeant (Flight Engineer) Robert, 190 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, died aged 25 aboard Short Stirling Mark IV, serial LJ982, code L9-N, in operations around Arnhem and while supporting Operation Market Garden on Thursday, 21 September 1944. The aircraft had left RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire.
The crew were 37012 Wing Commander (Pilot) Graeme Elliott Harrison, DFC (See above photograph), US Silver Star, RAF; 417009 Warrant Officer Thomas Barry Brierley, 2nd Pilot, RNZAF; 1077628 Flight Sergeant (Flight Engineer) Robert Percy, RAFVR; 147128 Flying Officer (Navigator) Neil MacKay, RAFVR; 421331 Warrant Officer Donald Meldrum Mathewson, RNZAF; 118084 Flight Lieutenant (Wireless Operator & Air Gunner) Norman Edward Skinner, DFC, RAFVR; J/92200 Pilot Officer (Air Gunner) Comte Jacques Fernand Gabriel de Cordoue, RCAF; T/80730 Lance Corporal (Dispatcher) Leslie H. Caldecott, 253 (Airborne) Composite Company, RASC; and T/152672 Driver (Dispatcher) Harold Gregory, 253 (Airborne) Composite Company, RASC. All were killed.
190 Squadron was always in the thick of the air war, and on Sunday 17th September 1944, 190 Squadron and 620 Squadron played an important role in the first action of Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated attempt to capture the bridges on the Rhine in Holland, with each of them providing six Stirlings to carry the pathfinders of the 21st Independent Parachute Company, whose job it was to mark all three drop and landing zones for the First Lift, which began to arrive half an hour later.
A further nineteen of 190 Squadron's aircraft were involved in the First Lift, each towing a Horsa glider, two of which were forced to cast-off prematurely. On the following day, twenty-one Stirlings were used in a similar capacity for the Second Lift, but again two of their gliders failed to reach the landing zone.
On Tuesday 19th September, the Squadron used sixteen of its Stirlings in the first major resupply effort, while a further two aircraft brought in the gliders that had cast-off on the previous day. Between them, 190 and 620 Squadron managed to drop seven hundred and forty-two supply containers and one hundred and twenty panniers. Two of the Squadron's aircraft were shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Aboard the first, all four aircrew and four RASC dispatchers were killed, and on the second two aircrew and two dispatchers perished, but five men survived.
Similar losses were sustained amongst the seventeen aircraft involved on Wednesday's resupply mission. Three aircraft were shot down, aboard one of which, eight aircrew and two dispatchers died, but it was next day that 190 Squadron lost their Commanding Officer.
On Thursday 21 September 190 Squadron had only ten Stirlings fit enough to take part in the resupply of 1st Airborne Division. They were carrying 240 containers and 40 paniers. First away from RAF Fairford at 12.01 was Stirling LJ982 L9-N captained by the commanding officer of 190 Squadron, Wing Commander Graeme Harrison, DFC, SS (USA). By 12.16 eight of the ten Stirlings were airborne, the remaining two taking off one and a half hours later.
There was no element of surprise now and the Germans were well prepared. The aircraft encountered heavy flak and fighter opposition resulting in seven of the ten being brought down. Sergeant Jock Walker, Army Film and Photographic Unit at Arnhem marvelled that ‘The R.A.F. supply planes … came over with supplies (which unfortunately usually fell to the enemy) … [though faced with] all the fury of the enemy … they flew straight and level through the most fearful ‘flak’ - the dispatchers at the doors, chucking out the containers, even when repeatedly hit and set on fire, flying on, blazing torches in the sky, until they eventually crashed in flames. What devotion to duty and so sorrowful to watch.’
The supply attempt by RAF Stirlings of 38 Group was disrupted by the only Luftwaffe fighter interception during the whole operation. Fw190s intercepted the Stirlings at low altitude and shot down 15 whilst anti-aircraft fire accounted for another 8. The Fw190s managed to penetrate the screen of Allied fighters sent to cover the drop when the U.S. 56th Fighter Group was late in arriving in its patrol sector between Lochem and Deventer.
It seems that Wing Commander Graeme Harrison, after dropping his supplies in the Hartenstein Hotel area, was hit by flak and crashed at about 1545 hrs in the area some 15 km southwest of Arnhem.
The Squadron had also suffered the heaviest losses of any of the sixteen squadrons in 38 and 46 Groups. Facing withering anti-aircraft fire and fierce German fighter attacks twelve Stirlings had been lost, thirty-nine aircrew and twelve RASC dispatchers killed, and fifteen aircrew taken prisoner. A further twenty-five personnel who had been shot down over Arnhem, however, had been able to return to the Allied lines when the 1st Airborne Division withdrew.
He was the son of William and Elizabeth Percy, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim.
Pryde, 7903481 Lance Corporal James Howard Moore, "B" Sqn. North Irish Horse, Royal Armoured Corps, died age 26 on the 23 May 1944.
On the 23 May 1944 Pryde’s unit, under command 1st Canadian Infantry Division and with the North Irish Horse in support of 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, participated in full frontal attack on the Adolf Hitler Line. This was a German defensive line in central Italy, the anchor points being at Aquino and Piedimonte. In May 1944, the line was renamed the Senger Line at Hitler's insistence (General von Senger und Etterlin, one of the generals commanding Axis forces in the area) to minimise any propaganda significance should the line be penetrated, which it was on the 24th May. The line was actually a "switch line", joining the Gustav Line at Monte Cairo and providing a fall-back position behind the Gustav Line should it be penetrated.
The battle began when tanks crossed the start line at 0601hrs. However, ‘A’ Squadron came out of woods at 0740 hrs and found themselves held up by a comprehensive minefield. The Royal Engineers cleared a path, but the tanks were then held up by German anti-tank fire.
Pryde’s ‘B’ Squadron, together with ‘C’ Squadron, had advanced to their first objective, the Pontecorvo-Acquino Road in support infantry, but there they were met by concentrated enemy armour and self-propelled artillery. They suffered heavily, though eventually eleven tanks did reach the objective. Major G P Russell was wounded, and Captain C M Thomas took command of the composite force of 11 tanks which now remained active in B and C Squadrons. Meanwhile, A Squadron organised a defensive position around the woods. begin to organise defensive positions in and around the wood.
The composite force moved at 12.00 hrs to their second objective, the junction of the Pontecorvo road and Route 6, but had to withdraw after three quarters of an hour owing to very heavy mortar and shell fire; they had been unable to rendezvous with the infantry. On the way back they run into a tank trap and lost 7 tanks. The four tanks remaining were ordered to join A Squadron as a counter-attack was anticipated.
‘A’ Squadron pulled back to defensive positions at 14.25 hrs but counter-attack didn’t happen. In fact the Germans were seen withdrawing and so the few tanks remaining were recalled.
The Regiment’s total casualties during the action were 4 Officers and 29 Other Ranks killed and 9 Officers and 33 Other Ranks wounded. Pryde was one of the killed.
The Adolph Hitler Line was breached on 24 May 1944 on the British Eighth Army's front by the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and 5th Canadian Armoured Division. They attacked with II Polish Corps on their right. The Polish Corps captured Piedimonte on 25 May and the line collapsed.
7903481 Lance Corporal James Howard Moore was the son of Arthur R. M. and Lucie S. Pryde, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim. He is buried in Cassino War Cemetery.
Reynolds, 5570858 Corporal James, 4th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, died as a result of an accident and aged 22 on the 5th April 1941. He had enlisted in July 1939 before the outbreak of the war. He was given a funeral with full military honours at St. Patrick’s Church, Ballymena, and a large crowd of locals lined the streets as the cortege moved through the town’s streets. Reverend B C Boulger, Senior Chaplain to the Forces, Reverend F J Mitchell, and Reverend W J Whittaker conducted ceremonies at the family home and by the graveside before the sounding of ‘The Last Post’.
He was the son of Maggie Stewart, formerly Reynolds, of Pound Cottages, Ballymena. He is buried in Ballymena New Cemetery, Cushendall Road, Ballymena.
James’ brother was Leading Aircraftman Walter Reynolds, RAF.
Robinson, C/JX 204400 Leading Seaman Samuel John, H.M.M.T.B. (His Majesty’s Motor Torpedo Boat) 798, Royal Navy, died aged 23 on the 14 February 1945.
Robinson was caught up in a catastrophic accident, the greatest single loss of men and boats of Coastal Forces, which took place at Ostend in Belgium. Sixty-two sailors were killed, and others injured, when twelve boats were destroyed in a fire and explosion.
By early 1945 the Allied advance had pushed into the southern part of the Netherlands. Coastal Forces which had spearheaded the D-Day invasion and thereafter helped guard the flanks of that invasion fleet, had steadily moved northwards into liberated ports in France and Belgium as their bases. Ostend had in 1945 become home to 55th MTB Flotilla and the Canadian 29th MTB Flotilla, along with a mobile base unit for servicing the boats.
However, significant parts of the Netherlands were still occupied, allowing naval bases in the north at Ijmuiden and Den Helder to remain in operation, and the E-boats based there, to continue mounting attacks on allied shipping in the southern North Sea and English Channel. The two flotillas were therefore mounting patrols northwards to the Scheldt estuary.
On the 14th February 1945, some thirty-one MTBs along with other assorted craft, were moored alongside one another in the harbour at Ostend. Some of the boat crews had been granted shore leave, but others were preparing for patrols going out that evening. Eyewitness testimony given to the Board of Inquiry into the incident explained what led to the catastrophe.
Four of the 29th’s MTBs were preparing for that night’s operations, and MTB 464 engines cut out because of water in the fuel system; apparently a fuel delivery had been contaminated with water. Base maintenance staff claimed it was too busy to handle the problem and instructed motor mechanics to pump the water out of their fuel tanks into buckets and then throw the contents overboard. A strong smell of petrol had begun to pervade the harbour, something that several naval personnel had noted but saw fit to ignore, including some senior officers.
Ken Forrester, off duty but part of the crew of MTB 771, was the first to spot the fire. He had seen flames and smoke rising from the middle of a group of British MTBs. He warned the men on his boat and then grabbed a fire hose, just as the burning boat exploded into a fireball. There was a rush of searing hot air that burned some of the men round about, and soon ammunition, including torpedoes.
The explosive power of fuel and ammunition on boats held in such close proximity was devastating. Twenty-six sailors of the Royal Canadian Navy killed and five of their boats destroyed. Thirty-six British sailors were killed, and the Royal Navy lost seven boats. In all twelve boats blew up and sixty-two sailors died. Robinson’s HMMTB 798 was one of those lost.
The Royal Canadian Naval Association have recently created a permanent memorial close to the scene of the disaster and sited on the waterfront at Ostend.
C/JX 204400 Leading Seaman Samuel John Robinson, previously Mentioned in Despatches, was the son of George and Sarah Robinson, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim. He is remembered on Chatham Naval Memorial.
Rock, 649532 Flight Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) William George, 138 Squadron, Royal Air Force, died aged 23 on the 26th July 1942. He was the son of George and Elizabeth Mary Rock, of Broughshane, Co. Antrim.
The original 138 Squadron, disbanded in 1919, was re-formed at Newmarket in 1941 as a special duties squadron, its role to assist the Special Operations Executive (SOE). It ranged over Europe from Norway to Yugoslavia and into Poland, using at various times Whitleys, Lysanders, Halifaxes and Stirlings. It also moved airfields, from RAF Newmarket to RAF Stradishall and then to RAF Tempsford. It carried agents, arms, explosives, radio sets and other sabotage equipment, dropping them at rendezvous points for local underground members. Less frequently it collected people.
During 1942 the squadron operated with the bomber force when not required for special duties. In March 1945 the squadron was switched from special duties to the main force of 3 Group. It re-equipped with Lancasters and flew 105 sorties on 9 bombing missions, dropping approximately 440 tons of bombs. 138 Squadron also carried out food-dropping operations over Holland and POW repatriation flights during which it brought home nearly 2,500 men before VE Day.
The story of Rock’s death is told in the Squadron records. These state that ‘4 Whitleys of 138 Squadron and 5 Whitleys of 161 Squadron were detailed to attack the Electric Transformer Station at Cholet’, and that, bombing from 1800 feet between 0115 hrs and 0215 hrs, four aircraft did so with ‘14 x 500 llb, 21 x 250 llb and 90 x 4 llb incendiary bombs’. Three other Whitleys dropped 8 x 500 llb and 15 x 250 llb bombs on 2 Railway Bridges and 1 Railway Line. The record further chronicles that ‘One Whitley landed at Tangmere on the outward journey with engine trouble’ and that ‘One Whitley is missing from this operation’. Flight Sergeant Owen, Sergeant Thornton, Sergeant Rock, Sergeant Whalley, and Sergeant Avery were the recorded crew of the missing aircraft.
It was Warrant Officer Lord of 161 Squadron who bombed a railway bridge across the Loire, 17km south-west of Angers, and it was Sergeant Walls, also of 161 Squadron, who bombed a railway line. The latter’s starboard engine caught fire and flew home on his port engine and landed at Tangmere. Flight Sergeant Owen’s Whitley V, serial Z9282, code NF-M crashed at Vire about 50km west of Caen. Only one of the crew, Sergeant P H Avery, survived to become a POW.