As we have been commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the start of demobilisation, the researchers from Unlocking Warwick have been tracing the stories of the fourteen servicemen who died in Britain during the war and are buried in Warwick Cemetery.
Secretary Rick Thompson said, “It was interesting to find that of the 112 names from WW2 on the war memorial in Church Street, no fewer than 14 of them lie in our town cemetery, which means their families were able to conduct full funeral services. Most of the other families who lost sons in the war were unable to do that. It also reminds us that there were dangers serving on the Home Front and on the training grounds and airfields during the 6 years of the war. Here are some of those stories:
On 24th March 1943, Flying Officer Ted Hanson from 51 Stratford Road, Warwick, was part of the crew of a bomber limping home from a mission over Germany. The crippled aircraft was trying to reach RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire, and Emergency Landing Ground ‘K3’. Wittering was a fighter base, but in 1940 the runway had been extended from 1,400 yards to 3 miles, to reduce landing accidents at night and in bad weather, and to offer a place to land for returning bombers in just this kind of incident. Ted’s plane didn’t make it. Also killed in the crash-landing was Ted’s close friend, Flying Officer ‘Mac’ Paton. Their joint funeral was reported at some length in the Warwick Advertiser, with the headline, ‘Two Pilots who were Bosom Companions’. Large crowds watched the cortege pass by with the two coffins draped in Union Jacks, and after the service in a crowded All Saints’ Church, the two airmen, described by the vicar as ‘inseparable pals’, were buried side-by-side in Warwick Cemetery.
Killed in Training
Wartime training was realistic and could be dangerous. Several Warwick men died in ‘accidents’ while preparing to go to war. Oliver Giles, known as ‘Wagger’, lived at 7 Crompton Row, Warwick, and had been working at the Nelson Dale Gelatine Factory before joining the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Four months later he was reported killed in a ‘hand grenade accident somewhere in England’, thought to be at a training base at Louth in Lincolnshire.
Ronald Wilkins who lived at 52 Greville Road was killed near York, almost certainly during anti-aircraft training. Ronald’s father, John, was an engine driver with the great Western Railway, and Ronald was clearly set to follow in his father’s footsteps, having got a job as a GWR fireman. But in February 1939, when the country was preparing for war against Germany, he joined the Warwickshire Yeomanry, then transferred to the 38th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery. In July 1940 he was killed in a training accident aged just 18.
Flying accidents before and during WW2 were relatively common. Recruits were being trained as RAF aircrew as quickly as possible, and thorough aircraft maintenance may have been difficult. Three of the Warwick men commemorated on the war memorial died in flying accidents.
Norman Leadley from 39 Greville Road had been working at the Limmer and Trinidad Lake Asphalt Company, but just before war broke out he volunteered for the RAF. He was only 21 by the time he had become a Flight Sergeant with RAF Bomber Command working as a Wireless Operator and Air Gunner. He died in a flying accident in October 1941, and was buried with full military honours at Warwick Cemetery. The coffin was carried by six RAF Sergeants, three volleys were fired over the open grave, and The Last Post was sounded.
Ron Bailey lived with his parents, sister and brother at 4 Woodville Road. The family were members of the congregation at Northgate Methodist Church. Ron had attended Westgate School and Leamington College before working as a cost accountant in the County Surveyors Office. In 1937 he chose a rather different career when he volunteered to become an RAF pilot. In August 1940 he was killed in a flying accident after taking off from Blenheim’s Airfield in Andover. Two others who were in the plane with him survived. A lectern in Northgate Methodist church presented by Rn’s parents carries a brass plaque, ‘To the Gallant Memory of Sgt. R.D. Bailey (Ron).
Tom Wesson from 7 Emscote Road loved flying. A newspaper profile records that he became interested in flying about ten years before the war when a light aircraft landed at the racecourse on St. Mary’s Common in Warwick, and the pilot asked around if anyone would like to fly to London with him to act as ‘ballast’ to keep the aircraft stable. When young Tom heard about this, he searched around Warwick for the pilot until he found him in a cinema. He took the flight to London and was soon taking flying lessons at Major Bonnisken’s Aerodrome at Bishop’s Tachbrook. For a while he worked as a wing-walker with several aerial circuses before joining the RSF. In 1937 Tom married Joan Simmonds at All Saints Church. The newlyweds drove to Tachbrook Airstrip, changed in to flying gear, and soared off for a flying honeymoon, waved away by the wedding guests. With his long experience of flying, Lieutenant Wesson inevitably became an RAF Instructor. He was killed in June 1941 during a training flight at Booker Airfield in Buckinghamshire.
Died on the Banbury Road
John Randall was the victim of a road accident while working as an ARP warden when he was just eighteen. The Randall family lived at 28 Chapel Street. Shortly after leaving Warwick School, John joined Warwickshire County Council and reportedly ‘served with distinction’ as an ARP warden during the Coventry blitz of November 1940. Six months later he was working for the County Control Motor Cycle Messenger Service when he was killed on the Banbury road at Bishop’s Tachbrook. According to reports of the inquest, a slow moving army lorry was preparing to turn right, when John Randall’s motorbike overtook it at speed. Witnesses said the lorry had its ‘trafficator’ out signalling right. John can’t have seen the signal. As the lorry turned he slammed into the side and was killed immediately.
After a service at St. Nicholas’ Church, John was buried in the family plot at Warwick Cemetery, where in 1951 his mother, Florence Arletta Randall, was also buried. But this branch of the Randall family died out with the loss of the only son, and the family grave became derelict.
Repairing the Randall Grave
Recently, two local men, George Sayell and Alan Reed, who in their spare time like to find, record and repair neglected graves of soldiers from any period, began to work on the Randall family grave. They cleared most of the turf and lifted some of the broken stones looking for written tributes. George Sayell said, “All we found was a centre end stone with the inscription, ‘In God’s Keeping’. After using a cleaner we found that the stone is marble! We hope to make a second visit to clear the rest of the turf and the edges of the plot, and perhaps do some more cleaning.”
Christine Shaw, the leader of Unlocking Warwick’s project to find the stories behind the names on Warwick War Memorial, said, “That is such a lovely act of kindness and remembrance. The research team members are delighted with the efforts of George and Alan. It would be nice if we could find a local stone mason or skilled person who could help reconstruct the grave.”
If you think you can help, or if you have information or photographs of any of the WW2 names on the memorial, contact Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org