BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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Second World War Names - Panel 6

Panel 6
McKernan, D/305531 Chief Stoker William Hugh Johnston, Royal Navy, was a career sailor in the Royal Navy from 1903-1924 and he had extensively served in the Great War, notably at the battle of Jutland in 1916. He had been on the crew of HMS Valiant at one point but does not appear on her crew list for the period of the battle. HMS Valiant, a Queen Elizabeth class battleship in the Fifth Battle Squadron under Rear Admiral Evan-Thomas, fired 288x15-inch shells during the Jutland encounter but was the only ship of the squadron to suffer no damage. He was also part of the naval force that sailed into the Dardanelles and Bosporus, a adventure during which he experienced being shelled by the Turks. Moreover, he was apparently twice on ships sunk during that war.
He left the ‘Senior Service’ in 1924 and worked as caretaker Ballymena YMCA until 1939. He was recalled to active service on the outbreak of war and was posted to Devonport for six months before being sent for duty to Belfast Lough. He there held the rank of Chief Petty Officer Stoker.
He was stationed at the training ship HMS Caroline, the home of the Royal Naval Reserve in Belfast and, later, the HQ ship for the Flag Officer in Command, in Belfast when he caught a chill and died on the 17th December 1940 in what is Stranmillis Training College; during the war it was used as a servicemen’s hospital.  He was then aged 53.
He was the son of James and Elisabeth McKernan, and the husband of Sarah Annie McKernan, of Ballymena.  He is buried in Gracehill Moravian Burial Ground.

McMaster, 6985494 Fusilier Alexander, 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers, died age 22 on the 22nd October 1945. He is buried in Munster Heath War Cemetery, Germany, and remembered in Harryville Presbyterian Church, Ballymena.

McMeekin, 1487270 Gunner John, 26 Battery, 9 A.A. Regiment, Royal Artillery was aged 30 when he died on the 26th August 1940 while serving with the local Anti-Aircraft Battery in the Middle East. He was the son of Patrick and Ann Jane McMeekin, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.  He is buried in Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery.
Londonderry’s largest contribution of manpower to the Allied war effort was 9th (Londonderry) Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) Regiment of the Royal Artillery. This regiment was part of the Supplementary Reserve and therefore was assigned to the field army rather than to home defence. This meant that the regiment would serve overseas, and it was believed that it would join the British Expeditionary Force in France in late 1939.
At first the regiment had four batteries. Three of these were heavy batteries and were numbered 24, 25 and 26, while the fourth was a light battery; this was 6 LAA Battery. Of the heavy batteries, two were based in Londonderry while the third was based in Ballymena.            
In November 1939 the Regiment was posted to Egypt to protect HMS Nile, the Royal Navy base at Alexandria. During the following summer, 25 Battery was sent to the Western Desert, serving with 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) and then Port Sudan which it defended against numerous air raids by the Italian air force.
Meanwhile 24 and 26 HAA Batteries remained in Alexandria where they provided the backbone of the anti-aircraft defence for the harbour and would do so until mid-1942. During that time not a single Italian or German bomb hit a ship in Alexandria harbour. It was in this area that Gunner John McMeekin died.


Grave Registration


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.

McNabney, 164928 Pilot Officer (Air Bomber) Samuel, 7th Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, died aged 20 on the 8th August 1944 while serving with the RAFVR.
Samuel McNabney (Snr) and his brother John had served throughout the Great War, and it was Samuel and his wife Agnes, still of Ballymena, who lost this son in the Second World War.  Twenty-year-old 164928 Pilot Officer (Air Bomber) Samuel McNabney of 7th Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was killed on the 8 August 1944.
His Lancaster III aircraft took off from RAF Oakington, Cambridgeshire at 10.05 pm on the evening of the 7th August, part of a group of 1019 planes that was to bomb five targets ahead of ground forces. 660 were able to do so.
Lancaster III, serial number ND460, Code MG-W, was shot down by night fighters between 11:39 pm and 12:06 am of the 7th/8th. In 1946 investigators questioned available eyewitnesses including a Mr. M. Revault. He said the 4-engined bomber crossed low over Bolbec and was on fire. It partly disintegrated in the air, the wreckage covering an area of about 1000 square metres. One falling engine hit a house and killed a young French woman and her child. The largest part of the burning fuselage crashed onto a hilltop on the edge of the town. There were no survivors. Mr. Revault indicated that six charred bodies were recovered but they were not able to identify individuals apart from Samuel McNabney. His body still had his ID discs. The aircraft service number was painted on a piece of the wreckage and this further identified the aircraft and crew.
The men were 414698 Flying Officer (Pilot) Leslie Kidd, RAAF; 569429 Warrant Officer (Flight Engineer) Dennis McGrevy, DFM, RAF; 55287 Flying Officer (Navigator) Philip Alan Ingrey, MiD, RAF; 164928 Pilot Officer (Air Bomber) Samuel McNabney, RAFVR; 1348902 Warrant Officer James Francis Forbes, RAFVR; 1246248 Flight Sergeant (Wireless Operator, Air Gunner) Robert George Law, RAFVR;  155866 Flying Officer George Horsburgh, DFM, RAFVR; and 1437583 Warrant Officer (Air Gunner) William Aspey, DFM, RAFVR.
Samuel McNabney and his colleagues are buried in Bolbec Communal Cemetery, France, and he is remembered in Harryville Presbyterian Church.

McNinch, 6025089 Private Samuel, 1/5th Bn, Essex Regiment, died age 27 on 16 October 1941. He was the son of Samuel and Mary McNinch, Railway Street, Ballymena. Samuel McNinch, son of carpenter Samuel, had married Mary McVeigh in Glenwherry Presbyterian Church on the 5 July 1899. The 1911 census records Samuel (32 and a railway carpenter), Mary (34), Helena McNinch (11), Rachel (8), John (7), William (5) and James (3) living at Moat Road, Ballymena. Samuel, born 11 May 1914, and his sister Maud, the latter born 31 August 1916, appears to complete the family.
Samuel, the son, was the husband of Elsie May Oliver McNinch, of Romford. Samuel is buried in Hornchurch Cemetery.
McShane, 1449211 Private Robert John, ‘D’ Company, 5th Bn. Seaforth Highlanders, died aged 26 on the 26th March 1945. He was from Harryville and was originally a member of the local anti-aircraft battery, presumably 26th Battery, 9th (Londonderry) HAA (Heavy Anti-Aircraft) Regiment, but transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders. Such transfers were done towards the end of the war because the Allies had air superiority, hence less need for anti-aircraft gunners, and the infantry was critically short of men.  
He was the son of Frank and Mary Ann McShane, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim. The couple, Frank McShane and Mary Ann McCallion, both of Ballymena, had married in 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church on the 25th August 1900. Their son Robert was born on the 17 November 1918.
 The 5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders formed part of the reconstructed 152nd Brigade in the rebuilt 51st Highland Division, and were with the troops on the Rhine in early 1943. The Operation to cross the Rhine was to be called Operation Plunder. The Plan for Operation Plunder was to cross on a two corps front with 51st Highland division on the left leading 30 Corps. The Divisional objectives on the other side of the Rhine were Honnepel and Rees. Montgomery's message to their 21st Group, 23 March 1945, the start of Operation Plunder, was simple: 'Over the Rhine then, let's go, and good hunting to you all on the other side.' However, once across the Rhine, 5th Seaforth had to fight a costly vicious action, no more than a skirmish really, but it cost them dear; this was the battle in Groin on 25th March 1943.
Groin was a village of no peacetime significance set in flat countryside, but in 1943 it dominated a main exit from a strategic town, Rees, that no enemy reinforcements could be permitted to reach. Moreover, the Rhine bridgehead had to be expanded. German troops were determined to keep it.
The 5th Battalion, after just seventeen hours on the east bank of the Rhine, moved forward at 0015 hours on March 25. The route was difficult to follow and was blocked in places with debris. The main road was being heavily shelled, and the Seaforths took casualties as they moved to their start line.  By 0100 hours they had passed through frontline troops, and began to advance on the village.
The village complex consisted of a tiny hamlet and scattered around it a few farms and outbuildings, but as the fighting took place in a restricted area, it was intense and deadly. The Germans had the village houses and farm buildings fortified.
"A" Company, heavily shelled, approached Groin from the north, and three hundred yards short of the village they encountered the farm on the outskirts that was their objective. The designated troops fought around the farm amid a hail of MG fire until 0230 hours, with little more than three hours of darkness left.
"C" Company was ordered to advance immediately and take the right-hand group of three houses, Haus Groin, beyond and to the right of the first target. One hundred and fifty yards from the first house of the group three MGs opened fire. The first house was cleared, but advancing on the second they walked into a maelstrom of bullets and grenades. They retreated to the first house but with only eight men. It was decided to go back and send in 15 Platoon on a right hook. However, 15 Platoon fared no better.
Things only improved when "A" Company reached its objectives in the five houses on the left.  No.14 Platoon then headed into the village; some Germans blundered into them and paid dearly for their mistake. The village looked like a scene from Hell: all the buildings were on fire and the stench of farm animals being burned alive was overpowering. 14 Platoon were able to make no real progress and the survivors of the other two platoons were sent to reinforce them at the point on the outskirts they had reached.
The original plan had been for "D" Company, McShane’s Company, to take the brickworks and Holland’s Hof behind the village, but now this was impossible without preparation. It was decided to use the buildings held in the village as a start line, but "D" Company had first to do something about the houses on the right that still hadn’t been taken. It was not a straightforward task – they would have to be taken together so as not to expose the attacking troops to crossfire.
As "D" was forming up at the village, heavy machine-gun fire began to pour from these buildings, and the Platoon was struck almost immediately when they did move off. The centre house at the brickworks was a fort: there were trenches behind it and to the sides, and there were MGs all over the place. Six casualties were instantly sustained, and it was absolutely certain that an approach from either flank was impossible.
17 Platoon had to be ordered to work round the rear and get at the trench behind. 16 Platoon put down mortar smoke and high explosive in front, and the men reached a ditch. They were able to work along it until it was intersected by a drain. The drain cut the ditch and the road at right angles, and a bridge carried the road over it. The troops would have to leave the ditch, cross the road bridge, re-join the ditch on the other side. Two men made it over, assaulted the Germans alone, and the distraction let the rest of the men over the road; one of the first pair was killed, the other, bullet-riddled, was to survive. The enraged soldiers from the ditch, successfully around the German defensive obstacle, called on the Germans to surrender, and they did, forty-six of them!
Daylight came and the houses on the left still held out until 18 Platoon hit them hard and cleared them in half an hour. Thereafter the whole village area was cleared by 0730.
There was a short interlude but Hollands Hof, which in the original plan had allotted to "D" Company, had now to fall. Three Duplex Drive tanks, equipped with canvas floats, had traversed the river, and reached Groin. "D" Company was, now supported by the tanks, to attack Holland Hof that afternoon.
The Rees-Haldern road ran through Groin, but there was little cover where it emerged from the village, only orchards and a few sparse patches of trees farther ahead where Hollands Hof commanded it and stood guard over an anti-tank ditch. One of the tanks covered 16 Platoon as they attacked the first houses. They were empty. 17 Platoon went past them and continued alongside the road to Hollands Hof.
"D" Company was very close to Holland’s Hof when the Germans opened fire at point blank range. Simultaneously the German artillery and mortars opened up. Within seconds, 17 Platoon’s two leading sections were wiped out. Others tried to make a dash for the house but were instantly machine gunned.
18 Platoon tried to work through an orchard on the right, but was pinned by fire from a big hospital two hundred yards to the right. There were casualties; and 16 Platoon, which was in the rear, was badly mauled by mortars. However, the tanks advanced to help and for five minutes pounded Hollands Hof everything available. 17 Platoon H.Q. and bits and pieces of the other two platoons stormed the house, and when the last German had been killed only one officer, two NCOs and thirteen men of the Company were left on their feet. Nevertheless they pressed on towards the last big barn and its MGs at the end of the farmyard. It was impenetrable until a tank fired, and the barn’s wall collapsed.
It was over, but Fusilier Robert John McShane was somewhere among the fallen. He had fallen at some point on the 26th March and is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.
The above uses information from various sources, notably from "Battalion" by Alastair Borthwick. The account first appeared in a 1946 book entitled ‘Sans Peur’ (the Battalion's motto), which was republished by Bâton Wicks, London (ISBN 1-898575-00-X).

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.’

O’Neill, R92679 Warrant Officer (Class II) David (O’Neil on his records) 540 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, lived at Fernie, British Columbia and gave his address as King Edward Hotel, Victoria Avenue. However, David O’Neill’s birth certificate states that he was born on the 20th January 1918 at Greenvale Street, Ballymena, the son hackle maker David O’Neill and his wife Jeanie Wilson. His parents later lived at 10 York Terrace (the first houses past Casement Street), Larne Road, Ballymena.
On enlistment on the 1st March 1941 he was single (He married Jane Elizabeth Johns in All Saints Parish Church, Poole on the 21st November 1942 and their address was 253 Hoole Lane, Chester; she remarried after his death and became Mrs Gillie), stood 5’ 8” tall, and had blue eyes and brown hair.  He was working as a hotel clerk, though he appears also to have had some association with the Fernie Fire Department.
David O’Neill became a pilot and his last posting was to 540 Squadron (Photographic Reconnaissance Unit). The squadron was formed on 19 October 1942 from 'H' and 'L' flights of No. 1 PRU at RAF Leuchars and used the de Havilland Mosquito for their task. It operated from RAF Leuchars in Scotland to carry out missions over Norway and Germany. A detachment at RAF Benson, Oxfordshire carried out the role over France and Italy. Another detachment based at RAF Gibraltar covered the south of France and Algeria. From 1944 on the unit was wholly based at RAF Benson, though it later went to France. The Squadron was disbanded on 30 September 1946, when it was renumbered to 58 Squadron.
Mosquito W4060, piloted by R92679 W/O David O`Neil, RCAF, Navigator 629806 Sergeant A.D. Lockyer, RAF, was shot down on the 20th February 1943 by AA guns at Leuchtgruppe Knappen while passing over the Grimstadfjord, an anchorage for ‘heavy ships’. It crashed into the ground at Loddefjord, a suburb to Bergen, today the site of a Vestkanten Shopping Centre. Both crew members were both killed in the crash, and they were buried in Bergen (Møllendal) Church Cemetery. A few parts of the Mosquito are exhibited in the "Bunkermuseum" at Laksvaag.

Wing Commander G E Harrison (left), the Commanding Officer of No. 190 Squadron RAF, with his crew, recounts their experiences towing Airspeed Horsa gliders to Landing Zone (LZ) 'N' near Nijmegen, to Group Captain A H Wheeler, the Station Commander of Fairford, Gloucestershire, in front of a Short Stirling. No.190 Squadron flew a total of 98 sorties during Operation MARKET, and suffered heavy losses, particularly on 21 September 1944, when 7 out of 10 Stirlings failed to return from a resupply sortie, including that of Harrison and his crew, who were all killed.

Photograph courtesy of Imperial War Museum  (C) IWM (CL1148)

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.