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Congratulations to the following Former Pupils who have reached milestone birthdays this month:-
75 Peter McCloskey;
70 Andrew Symonds; James McDowall; Andrew McGuigan; Peter Flanagan; Michael Crean; Michael Llwellyn; Brian Wilson; Michael Devlin;
65 Roman Miedzybrodzki; Laurence Maran; Graham Laidlaw;
60 Richard Tansey; Simon Doyle; Kevin Dorrian; Anthony Morrell; Colin Coyne; Stuart Montgomery;
50 Richard Finlayson;
It is with deep sorrow that we announce the death of Ricardo Macari’s son, Martin. He was a Procurator Fiscal in Edinburgh, and had played rugby for Watsonians. He competed for Scotland at over age touch rugby, and was Scotland captain many times. Condolences has been offered to the family.
Congratulations are in order for Michael Davis, who has become engaged to ne married, and to John (Riki) Bartholomew, who, according to one of his brothers, has, at long last, got married, and to Bruce Laidlaw, who has married his long term partner.
Frank Dougan is to be congratulated on his re-election to the Hibs board as a Fan's Rep' Non-Exec Director.
Mike Casey has sent the following letter. It is enthralling, and makes a good read:-
As I sit here at my laptop planning my forthcoming trip to Germany, I recall how 5 years ago, I sat at the same table thinking about how I might research my father’s operational experiences with Bomber Command, but was not sure how to get started. With the availability of the internet, it looked like I had at least a great source of data to search.
My father died in 1952, some 5 months after my birth. He was reported to have drowned in the St Lawrence River in Canada whilst on his way to set up a new life for his family. He had sailed on an assisted passage from Southampton via Europe to Canada along with 1500 other immigrants.
In early 1952, my mother was at home in Edinburgh, along with my 2 brothers and myself. A number of my extended family had already taken advantage of the generous terms offered by the commonwealth government of Canada to allow the resettlement of British Families after the second war and we were scheduled to follow as soon as dad found accommodation for us. Our relatives had settled down very well in the country and had asked us to join them. So, we all waited in Edinburgh, in our small flat, waiting for dad’s Instructions to follow him to our new life in Canada. The first my mother heard of his death was a phone call from a reporter from the Scottish Daily Express, asking for her comments.
Dad had been very keen to start a new life for his family in Canada. In 1938 he had joined the RAF just prior to the commencement of WW2 and was already a volunteer for aircrew duties when war was declared. In the coming months he would become operational and fly in Bolton Paul Defiants, Whitleys, Wellingtons, Stirlings and finally Lancasters, flying out of Witchford with 115 Squadron. As a rear gunner his prospects were not great! Amazingly, he would survive 51 missions before being shot down over Stuttgart in 1944 and finally be interred in Stalag Luft 6.
I had some very basic information regarding my father, but absolutely nothing to identify myself with him. Sadly, because of the difficult emotional circumstances of flying daily wartime ops and his subsequent imprisonment in Germany, my father was either unwilling (or unable) to discuss it. I suspect he was still suffering from what we now understand to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think, given a suitable time, dad would have related the full story of his missions, shooting down and imprisonment to us all. When he died so prematurely, not only did my mother hardly mention him, she had little or no knowledge of his wartime exploits to share with us children.
On our own
My mother was left in mid-1952 with 3 children under 5 years of age and no income to support us!
Fortunately, Mom was well educated and had good employment prospects. Also, my father had the foresight to buy really good double indemnity life insurance before his trip. So, there would be a lump sum from the insurance company to invest for the future security of the family. My mother’s intention was to invest the money to ensure our future education. Our family solicitor recommended that she used the money to purchase some flats in our street (which were then for sale). Had my mother done so, we would probably have been multi -millionaire property owners now! Sadly she did not buy the flats, but “wasted” the money on our future private education (Scotus Academy)!
At first having enjoyed a private education gave me a feeling of superiority, (but that was quickly knocked out of me when I joined the Royal Air Force)!
My RAF Career
For me, my RAF career was not a particular enjoyable time. In 1967 I became a member of the illustrious 310th apprentice entry and during my career I played the best rugby of my life. I gained a PPL (Private Pilots License) and regularly frightened myself to death flying out of the RAF GSA centre at RAF Bicester. I became a parachutist. I experienced life under fire on active Service at Salalah during the Dhofar rebellion in Oman.
I was recommended for a commission and apparently came within a gnat’s whisker of being awarded a BEM, but didn’t stay long enough to get either! Towards the end of my 12 year engagement, at the ripe old age of 30, I decided that I no longer wanted to be dragged out of bed at ridiculous hours and have to do the bidding of some seriously strange people! In 1980 I left the RAF and immediately went to Aberdeen to seek my fortune in the oil business. Strangely enough civvy life had its own share of seriously strange people, but getting out of bed early to go to work was highly rewarded and at least I was earning a lot more money than my previous Commanding Officer!
One of the interests I had gained in the RAF was that of forces Radio. I absolutely loved working on forces radio and in the forthcoming 30 or so years would enjoy a second career broadcasting and eventually ended up running a local radio station. My RAF experience included time working on HBS Hereford, Radio 65, Radio 219, Radio Gan and Radio Coningsby.
Anyway, with my RAF career firmly behind me I joined the great British work force under the newly elected Margaret Thatcher government!
Over the years, I again grew more and more curious about my father.
So, with a little experience of the newly available internet I decided to find out about my brave father’s wartime exploits.
I knew from what I had seen in family documents that dad had been a member of 115 squadron flying out of somewhere near Cambridge. I also had seen brief glimpses of a YMCA diary which my eldest brother had possession of. This log had confirmed that he crashed in March 1944.
I posted a message on the Warbirds website asking for information. I listed my father’s aircraft serial number (incorrectly), but thankfully a reply came through giving me all the correct details. My dad was the tail gunner of Lancaster LL693 A4-K which had been shot down just before midnight on the 15th March 1944 over Stuttgart. It was based at RAF Witchford near Ely.
From these basic facts, I managed to obtain all the crew details and other minor data from the National records office in Kew, London. I also got copies of letters and other communications from the RAF records office. My Fathers wireless operator‘s name was Sgt Reg Favager. He was the only other survivor of the crash. I had no other details other than an entry in the YMCA diary to “Reg Favager the Wirral,” Luckily his name is quite rare and I found that his family had a webpage. This briefly mentioned his wartime service in Bomber Command. It also mentioned Reg’s younger brother Victor (of 100 squadron who died on the same raid that Reg and my father were shot down on). I was astonished to find that Reg (who died in 1980) had written a diary in which he recorded all the events relating to the final flight of Lancaster ll693 and his capture and imprisonment with my father. At last I might be able to find out what happened to Dad and his crew on that last dreadful flight in 1944.
Reg’s daughter had transcribed all the details of the first and final operational flight of LL693. I wrote to her and she sent a copy of the diary to me. I would at last find out the final circumstances surrounding the destruction of the aircraft and the fact that my father was ready to drop through the escape hatch without his parachute being correctly connected. Reg had finally sorted my Dad’s parachute out before they both jumped. (I Thank God or I wouldn’t here sharing this story with you)
Sadly, apart from Reg and Dad, the other 5 members of the Lancaster did not survive the shooting down. They are now buried at the Allied commonwealth graveyard at Durnbach.
From these basic facts I have been able to trace my father’s wartime story bit by bit. He survived the hard times in prison and the famous POW march westward in 1945 with Sgt Dixie Deans to meet the allies advancing from the west of Germany. I have even traced the identity of the young German pilot who shot them down. Sadly, for his family, he did not survive the war.
Dad eventually arrived back in the U.K and was shipped to RAF Hospital Wroughton, where he received medical treatment before being discharged as a Warrant Officer (Master Aircrew) back into civilian life.
It is a very sad fact that he may have been the final victim of WW2 Bomber Command. When he travelled to Canada, the steamer stopped at Hamburg to pick up many hundreds of German and European wartime victims, also immigrating to the new world. So here was my dad, proudly wearing his wartime RAF badge on his blazer and Bomber Command tie. Was he just too tempting a target for the German refugees on the voyage? Did they exact revenge upon him for all the misery they had suffered at the hands of Bomber Command? He was found floating in th river, having been very badly beaten. Canadian authorities were unable to find enough evidence to make a prosecution possible. But the suspects were German and Lithuanian Nationals.
2013 …… and beyond.
So here we are. Almost up to date.
In 2008 I designed and published a webpage. http://lancastera4k.byethost4.com/ I sat back and waited for the responses to roll in.
In 2013, I received an email from Herr Joerg Metzer. Joerg is an estate agent by profession, he is German and lives in the Stuttgart Area. Joerg had studied my website and spent a lot of time researching the validity of my data. He promised me that he would spend the summer of 2013 looking for the crash site of my father’s aircraft. As with any website many emails are received promising all sorts of things! Rarely do they come to anything.
However, Joerg responded very quickly to advise that he had located the crash site at the first attempt! (The site was previously unknown to UK/German authorities). He produced many recovered items including a navigator’s ruler and bits of instrumentation and airframe. The area where the aircraft crashed is very heavily wooded and is not an area where the general public frequents. He thinks he may be the first person to go to the area since the main aircraft debris was removed in 1944. We understand that the aircraft was removed immediately after the crash , but there are a large number of loose items spread around the general area I have images of the many items he has recovered and these have been published on the Website.
Joerg invited me to spend a couple of days with him in Stuttgart to visit the crash site and collect some bits for myself. I decided to take some items with me to commemorate the brave crew members who died there. I hoped to leave a squadron plaque to mark the spot. I also invested in a hand held metal detector so hopefully I would find some interesting bits and pieces.
So, we are, almost up to date. This month I will Meet Joerg and he has arranged for me to meet the local Mayor and visit the town hall where, I understand, there are records of the crashed Lancaster and I will be able to see where Dad and Reg were imprisoned in the cellar of the town hall.
As you can imagine creating the website and sharing (and collecting) information about Lancaster A4-K LL693 has been a very rewarding experience. I have had emails from all around the world from just about every country you could imagine. A lot of people hold the Allied Wartime aircrew in the highest regard and with huge respect. I suspect there are similar sentiments held here for all the brave young German fliers who were also just “doing their bit”.
I will report my adventures in Germany upon my return. I hope it will all make interesting reading!
The website url is http://lancastera4k.byethost4.com/
Part 2 - A Journey to Germany
For those of you who read the first instalment of my story, I had hoped to convey in that article an impression of efficient, methodical and detailed research into my father’s wartime exploits as a tail gunner with 115 Squadron, written by a well organised person. A really professional job! Little did I know that my reputation as a smooth operator was about to tumble.
My wife and I sat down to work out the most economical and efficient way to get me to Stuttgart to meet the German archaeologist who located the Lancaster crash site. (Bear in mind cost is very important to me as both a pensioner and a Scotsman)!
We eventually ended up completing the arrangements. Start out from Hull, travelling to Kings Cross by the East Coast franchise, then picking up the Paris train from the International station at St Pancras, finally catching the express train to Stuttgart. I would arrive at my destination by late afternoon, leaving me plenty of time to casually walk the final 600 yards to my hotel. Total return ticket cost £235:00. Hotel (clean and functional £25 a night). Thank god for the internet.
As with all important forthcoming events, my wife wrote all the details on the calendar in the kitchen. We consult this every morning, mainly because, as we all know it is so easy to forget things at our age! Lorraine and I would be totally lost without our calendar.
So, for the 7 days leading up to my planned departure, she kept reminding me not to forget to put “all my bits together” so I would be ready to travel next Tuesday at 7am. By the following Monday morning I had packed and was eagerly looking forward to going to Germany next day. On Monday morning, we decided to go for a walk to a local shopping centre, had a bistro coffee and arrived home just after midday.
I was busy taking off my jacket and finding my slippers when I heard a scream coming from the kitchen. I rushed in to find my wife in considerable distress. She was looking at the calendar holding my tickets in her hand. Actually, she was doing what most wives do…..she had been double checking the details. She had suddenly realised that her constant reference to “next Tuesday” was wrong and that I should have left Hull that Monday morning on the train at 7am. It was now 12:45 and I had to be in Stuttgart by 9am next morning to meet my German friend. I also had to be at the hotel by 12 midnight when they locked the doors.
I’ll be honest, I now considered the trip to be completely out of the question. When you buy cheap tickets online (Trainline), they are apex tickets and as such, are valid only for the specified trip. So basically, my entire outward journey was now a complete write off!
My wife was actually more in control of herself at this time than I was. I was furious that I had not bothered to check the tickets myself and felt really bad for her because I knew she felt even worse than me for getting the days wrong. She suggested that I fly to Schiphol from Humberside, then catch a connection to Stuttgart, but then we found out the cost was £950 return! Totally out of the question. Lorraine then found out that if I could get to Manchester airport, I could buy a single air ticket to Stuttgart via Zurich for £590. That would arrive at 11pm leaving me an hour to get a taxi for the final 40km into the town centre hotel. Still too expensive, out of the question. We then discovered that if I bought a return ticket on the same journey it would cost only £320. What sort of strange economic system can allow a single journey to be twice the cost of a return journey! We decided this was ‘do-able’ and although it would add considerably to the cost of the trip, it was a one time only visit, which I did not want to miss.
I managed to catch the Trans Pennine express to Manchester and then on to the airport. Another £37 spent!
The flights to Zurich and Stuttgart were uneventful and I duly arrived in Stuttgart at 11pm.
I caught an expensive taxi (£50) to the hotel and arrived just 2 minutes before the midnight deadline.
So I thought to myself “easy” … made it! All I had to do now was get up nice and early, have breakfast then get to the meeting point by 9am. With this in mind, I relaxed in my room with all the fans running at 30 degrees C and tried to get some sleep.
I awoke not overly bright or breezy at 6:30am and enjoyed a typical continental breakfast of ham and boiled eggs and coffee which tasted like it was made from acorns!
I walked down to the railway station and arrived at 7.15am. I stood in a queue which I was assured was the train enquiry queue. I was advised that the desk would open at 7.30. As I had a number of options (train / bus combinations) to get to my destination, I thought I would get expert advice and not attempt to read the timetables myself. Don’t forget, I was half of the team that completely screwed up organising the original first leg of the journey, so my confidence was already at a low ebb! After waiting at the enquiry desk for 25 minutes, I discovered that I was in the queue for senior citizens railcards!
When I eventually got the train details sorted out, it was 7.45am and I was advised that the first train out was at 8.30, with a connection to travel the last 20km by bus, which would take 35 minutes. So it seemed there was no chance of making it to my meeting point at 9am.
It was at this time that I found out that the EE mobile telephone network means anything but everything, everywhere! NN would be a more apt name! So I was unable to ring my friend Joerg to tell him of my delay. Nor could I text my wife for her to ring him.
It was at this time I reflected on how well I had thought I planned this visit. So far I had spent over £700 and was still not yet at my destination!
I managed to find the platform and as I arrived at 7.55, a train for my destination pulled in. God knows where it came from, as it didn’t appear to be scheduled, but it was a sight for sore eyes. As it worked out, I arrived at the final railway station, just 20km short of my final destination. Another expensive taxi (£35) got me there with 1 minute to spare. The taxi driver was a lovely lady who was keen to hear my tale and was totally fascinated with the story that put me in her taxi. She drove like a madwoman and saved the day. It was just as well that I did manage to get there in time as when I arrived, there was Joerg, the local Mayor and the press waiting for me!
I have to admit, the stress of the journey from the UK had left me quite exhausted and I was certainly not in any mood to smile and greet a bevy of Germans! However, all the people I met were absolutely wonderful. I received nothing but courtesy from them all.
Although I had been corresponding with Joerg for over a year, until now I had not met him face to face. So I was not sure how we might approach the touchy subject of the war. Clearly certain aspects should really be avoided so as not to cause offence. We agreed on what we would try to avoid discussing, but as it turned out he was very happy to discuss most things. After all he said “we started it”. How do you mean I said. “WE invaded Poland”! Clearly this man was a Faulty Towers fan and I knew we would get on very well. Later on after I was more confident in his company I was able to confide in him that I had disappointed some members of my family by breaking an old tradition coming to Germany. I explained to him that I was the first member of my family to fly to Stuttgart and not bomb it on the way over! He thought this very funny!
Joerg took me to the crash site and along with the local mayor and a few press guys, we said a few prayers for the crew and placed a memorial to them. I have recorded all the details of my trip on my website. We did agree there was little difference between our young men and their young men. Most were brave and honourable people and richly deserve our respect.
I spent a thoroughly enjoyable time with my hosts, including a very pleasant lunch courtesy of the Mayor and we discussed aeroplanes and wartime engineering advances. I found them to be very knowledgeable, particularly with reference to the Lancaster. We spent so much time that we lost track of time and I had to really rush to catch the train home. (I still had my original return tickets and I did want to go through the channel tunnel). I made the train with seconds to spare and eventually reached my seat absolutely dripping with sweat. If I had stood under a shower I couldn’t have been wetter. As I took my seat the lady in the adjoining seat did rather look me up and down and observed me mostly straight down her nose. As soon as the train got underway, I decided to clean myself up in the toilet. I smothered my face with liquid soap as I was very salty from the sweating. Then guess what……. No water! So there I was sweating like a pig, face all sticky from the soap and no water to wash it off. Also there were no paper towels as there was an automatic drier above the sink. The only answer was to dry my face with some toilet paper. Now, you know what it is like when you haven’t shaved for 2 days and you blow your nose with a tissue? Yes, it leaves half of the tissue stuck to the stubble on your face. So I returned to my seat, still sweating but also with a fresh deposit of tissue all over my face. God knows what went through the mind of the lady in the next seat. Clearly I confirmed all her worst fears!
Travelling on the SCNF high speed train from Germany to France is an amazing experience…….. 335 km/h. Wonderful. To make things worse, I now opened my case and took out a selection of pieces of what can only be described as scrap metal. These were the remaining mud encrusted parts of the Lancaster that I had managed to dig up at the crash site. What a sight I must have made. Sat there, dripping with sweat, with a fluffy paper beard pawing over a pile of scrap metal and no doubt with a contented look on my face!
By now the lady in the next chair was visibly moving as far away from me as the confines of her chair would allow her.
Thankfully, at such high speed the journey was mercifully fast. We arrived on schedule at Paris East and all that was left was a quick walk across the city to the Gare Du Norde International Rail station to catch the train to London.
I decided to check my tickets for my connection time. It seemed that I had the best part of 2 hours before I needed to be on the London train. I decided to buy a cheap pay as you go phone and find somewhere nice for a quick snack. If you have ever tried to find a mobile phone shop in Paris you will know that they virtually don’t exist. However if you are really observant you will notice that they can be purchased from your local Tobac shop. (tobacconist). I managed to buy a basic phone and charged it with 10 Euros. After 25 minutes trying to convert it to English from the original French I rang my wife as I hadn’t been able to speak with her since I left Hull. The first thing she said was, “did you make the London train”? No rush, I have nearly 2 hours. No she said, it leaves in 15 minutes. Whatever I had read on the ticket, it certainly wasn’t the departure time and I still had a brisk walk to the station. It is worth noting that when you buy rail tickets online they come in all shapes and sizes. English, French and German tickets are all very different. By the time I got to the international departure area I was again very hot and sweating like a pig.
There was the usual security before boarding the train to London. The contents of my case going through the x-ray machine raised some concern, so I was asked to open up the case and display the contents for the security guards to inspect. They seemed reasonably happy with my explanations. Little did they know that a number of what I thought were spent .303 cartridges still contained their explosive cordite charges.
When I got on the train and settled in, I made my way to the toilet to freshen up. For the second time in as many hours I splashed my face with liquid soap…….. and, yes, you’ve guessed it. NO WATER. Luckily the Eurotunnel service trains do have hand towels. They may not leave a papery deposit on your bristles, but they do feel like sandpaper. I returned to my seat hot, sticky with the soap, but very smug that I had avoided repeating the Father Christmas look this time around!
Despite the utter stress of the journey and the huge additional costs as well as the wasted return air ticket, I considered the trip to be a great success. I had started out 6 years ago trying to find out a few details of my dad’s war and ended up being at the spot of his crashed aircraft and actually put my hands on a large number of pieces of that aircraft 63 years after it had crashed. I have now got many parts to identify and maybe distribute amongst my family. I have even received a photograph of the crashed aeroplane from a German family taken by their father when he was 14 years old. It is the only photograph of the doomed aeroplane known to exist. The German boy’s family said that he often related the story of the crashing Lancaster to them. He said it was one of the most memorable experiences of his life. Another letter came from a man who sneaked out of his air raid shelter to see the final moments of the stricken Lancaster as it hit the trees. How many more untold stories like this must exist. I am just so pleased that I undertook the trip and closed the book on dad’s final operation.
In 2015, Mike was honoured to take the salute for the Oman Veterans at the London Cenotaph on remembrance in the presence of HM the Queen.
We also received a letter from Leo Forsyth who said:-
I was interested in the submission by Canon Alan Findley to the recent Scotus newsletter.
The mention of the 31 bus, Alan's cap and Brother Hastings actually touched a nerve!
The only omission from his report was the phrase which put fear into a schoolboy's heart -
"C'm 'ere to me."
For the full impact, this command has to be heard or imagined in an irish accent. And not just any irish accent. It had to be a Brother Hastings irish accent!
By sheer chance, I overheard the self same 'Hastings accent' on a visit to Ireland a couple of years ago and it had the effect of making my blood run cold. I was transported immediately to the 31 bus stop, Corstorphine Road where I was charged by Bro Hastings of wearing my cap at a rakish angle.
It brought to mind a sentence from a book by Christopher Hitchens: "..no self respecting Brit can write about his early education without at least some reference to sadism and misery .."
Thank you for all correspondence received. Please keep in touch.
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