WW 2 Women and Social Progress


I could not find many naval women, a few in number yet of high standing positions, and no ordinary women as sailors to date.

I feel they almost acted as a morale boost for the predominantly masculine institution of the Navy, both in the Communist East and Imperialist West, representing Nations that were united and socially most diverse of the world, therefore seen to be the most powerful united opposition to Nazi ideology. The United States was also regarded as the “New World”, women’s role had to be seen as a large part of this progress, of course this is where Nazi Germany was sorely failing in its futuristic ideals.

Molly Kool – Wanting to make her career on the sea, applied to the Merchant Marine school in St. John, New Brunswick. She was turned down, but persevered and in 1937 earned a mate’s certificate. Two years later in 1939, she earned a Coastal Master’s Certificate at the Merchant Marine Institute in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, making her the first woman in North America to become a certified Captain. (They had to amend the Canadian Shipping Act to include the word “she.”) Molly was also only the second woman in the world to achieve this standing, the first being Anna Shchetinina of the Soviet Union just a few years earlier.

Molly Kool is the only female captain in World War Two in the whole of the West, but perhaps there would have been more if the war continued for longer. Patriotic women like Molly and Anna were somehow an exception to the general rule for women of their time.

To be continued – about Anna Shchetinina.



DV375 – a story of a Lancaster bomber and her crew


AT THE AIR FORCES MONUMENT at Runnymede (dedicated to the 20,285 men and women who served with British and Empire air forces and have no known grave), two simple Remembrance Crosses and a few days of research threw up some links to IWM artefacts.


Jack Greenwell’s Memorial Cross at Runnymede (C) R Maddox 2017

Sergeant Jack Greenwell was one of seven crew on Avro Lancaster DV 375. He was 23 years old and married to Violet Greenwell. They lived 10 miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Other crew members came from Warwick, London and Sheffield.

The aircraft was built at Trafford Park in Manchester – very near the site of IWM North – and allocated to No. 50 Squadron RAF.

The average production rate was eight aircraft a week and so she was a very close ‘sister’ to  Lancaster DV 372  in IWM London; they were probably made within days of each other.

Just after 16:30 on Wednesday 29 December 1943 her pilot, 29 year-old Flight Lieutenant Donald George McAlpine lifted off from RAF Skellingthorpe near Lincoln and set course for Berlin.

The Lancaster (radio callsign ‘VN-E’) was one of 712 aircraft that would fly the long route to ‘The Big City’ arriving around three and half hours later.

In the twenty minutes over the target the attacking aircraft dropped 2,222 tons of bombs in almost equal measures of high explosive and incendiaries – examples of which hang near the IWM London Lancaster.

Bombing was inaccurate and while RAF records show 385 high explosive bombs – each weighing 4,000lb – were dropped, German records account for only 90 bombs in the city area.

Bad weather over the target helped to protect the attackers. RAF losses were 20 aircraft; less than 3% of the attacking force.

But these losses amounted to 140 men. Of these 81 were killed, 53 became prisoners of war and one evaded capture.

The crew of DV375 account for the other five and this is their story.

On the return leg DV 375 – her bomb doors stuck open after being damaged by flak or a German night fighter – ran low on fuel and it was clear she was would not reach England.

Mc Alpine ordered the crew to bale out before he ditched the aircraft into the North Sea.

For whatever reason – the aircraft being too low for the parachutes to open or the crew deciding to take their chances together – they stayed with the aircraft.

The Lancaster was almost 70 feet (21. 18m) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31m) and when empty weighed around 16.5 tons. Even in a calm sea with a controlled landing a damaged plane wouldn’t stay afloat long.


A Memorial Cross for the whole crew of DV 375 next to Jack Greenwell’s peronal one.(C) R Maddox 2017

Only the rear gunner Sergeant H E Groves (wounded in the both arms from German shell splinters) managed to escape. Suffering from exposure he was rescued by a Royal Naval destroyer.

The body of the Wireless Operator, Flight Sergeant Charles Noel Hale eventually drifted ashore (probably on the Frisian Islands) and is now buried in the Sage War Cemetery, Germany.

The remaining five crew members – Flight Lieutenant McAlpine, Flying Officer Henry Mordue, Sergeant Jack Biggs, Sergeant Walter Hope, and Sergeant Jack Greenwell were never recovered.

According to Kevin Wilson’s book ‘Bomber Boys’ the men flying DV 375 were the last of 15, 832 operational Bomber Command airmen to die in 1943.

By the war’s end the Command’s aircrew deaths would be 55,573. Another 8,403 were wounded in action with 9,838 becoming prisoners of war.

Brothers in Arms


WAR IS full of strange coincidences.

Patrick and Tony Woods-Scawen were not the only brothers to serve and die in RAF Fighter Command. But they were the only ones to do so during the Battle of Britain.

Patrick was born in June 1916 with his younger brother arriving in February 1918. Their mother’s ill health forced the family to come to settle in Farnborough in 1924.

In 1937 Patrick joined the RAF with his younger brother following in 1938. Serving in different squadrons both brothers were soon engaged against the Luftwaffe.

Both brothers would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Patrick being awarded his on 25 June 1940.

But by the time Tony’s DFC was officially published on 6 September 1940 both brothers were dead.

Patrick was killed near RAF Kenley on 1 September 1940 when, after baling out of his crippled Hawker Hurricane fighter his parachute failed to open. The empty aircraft crashed heavily on Kenley recreation ground and was discovered the next day.

His body was found five days later in thick undergrowth in the grounds of a house in Kenley. He is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Caterham.

img_9581a img_9573a

The grave of Patrick Woods-Scawen in St Mary’s Churchyard, Caterham, Surrey.
(C) R Maddox 2017.

The next day Tony – also flying a Hurricane – was shot down near Folkestone. He too bailed out low and was killed. He had not been told that his brother was missing and this was the seventh time he had been shot down. He was buried at Folkestone’s Hawkinge Cemetery the day before his brother’s body was found.

On 12 June 1941 the King presented both the brothers’ medals to their father Philip.

Accompanying him to Buckingham Palace was Sergeant Gerald Woods-Scawen, Philip’s nephew and at nineteen, already a Spitfire pilot. He would die over the English Channel on 3 October 1941, his body washing ashore in Holland.

But there is a final coincidence in the story.

Both brothers were apparently romantically attached to the same woman, Una Lawrence, who also accompanied Philip and Gerald to Buckingham Palace in June 1941.

Undecided between them she jokingly said she would marry Patrick after he was promoted to Squadron Leader and said similar things to Tony. Shortly before his death, she accepted Tony’s proposal of marriage.

In the end Una married neither brother.

She would however later marry and have six children.

A WAAF’s Story – Lilian Buchanan at RAF Kenley


BORN INTO an artistic family in 1914 and having attended classes at Hornsey Art College with her two brothers David and Norman, Lilian Ruth Antrobus Buchanan was already an accomplished artist and successful book illustrator when the Second World War started.

She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and was posted to a number of RAF stations including RAF Kenley, near London.

There in the Operations Room she worked to ensure that RAF fighters could destroy enemy aircraft attacking the south east of England and was presented to Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) when the Queen paid a visit.


Image: ‘Our Wing Engaged, Ops Room, RAF Kenley’ by Lilian R A Buchanan, 1943

Off duty she used her artist talents to good effect by painting portraits of pilots from Canada and elsewhere serving in Britain – many of which were sent to the families of the men portrayed – and her WAAF friends. Some of these were exhibited at the Royal Academy in London after the war ended.

Following D Day in June 1944, she and her colleagues were responsible for helping RAF pilots destroy a new weapon –  the V1 flying bomb (also called ‘Doodlebugs) – that were launched at London.

On one occasion she and her colleagues guided a Royal Air Force pilot onto a V1 which he destroyed. After he attacked it, they were a little alarmed to find that the wreckage of the destroyed German weapon was raining down on their Operations Room at RAF Biggin Hill!

After the war she became a mature student at Camberwell School of Art, continued as a painter and also produced illustrations for a number of book publishers – including covers for several of the Enid Blyton ‘Mystery of…’ books as well as ‘The Malory Towers’, ‘The Cherrys’ and ‘The Marlows’ series.

Later she and her brother established a studio at Eynsham in Oxfordshire where they held regular exhibitions of their work.

In 1970 she started the Eynsham Arts Group in her home village and for several years was a leading figure there developing the skills of others.

Her paintings of a variety of subjects – from flowers to people to country scenes – can be found in many collections including those at Oxford University and the Royal Academy of the West of England Permanent Collection.

The greatest maritime disaster ever – Operation HANNIBAL and the sinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff



Image: An impression of the MV ‘Wilhelm Gustloff’ and her escort loading in Gydnia. From http://zdf-enterprises.de/en/catalogue/unternational/zdfedrama/tv-movies/family/ship-of-no-return-the-final-voyage=of-the-gustoff

THE OUTSIDE air temperature is -18°Celsius on January 30, 1945 and a former German cruise liner slips her moorings from Gotenhafen (now Gdynia) with around 11,000 people aboard.

Ice floes knock against the hull as she makes her way out of port

Some sources say as many as 9,000 are refugees – women, children and old men – fleeing the advancing Red Army, with the rest made up of wounded servicemen, female navy personel.

Others claim that there were also  a number of personnel working on the V2 rocket programme and similar projects as well as senior NSDAP officials and their families.

The Wilhelm Gustloff is part of a large armada that will eventually evacuate around 2,000,000 German civilians and military personnel from East Prussia.

The evacuation – which Hitler refused to sanction – is called ‘Operation HANNIBAL’ and is under the command of Admiral Dönitz.

Over the past week the former liner has been working through the challenges of taking as many refugees as possible.

Launched in 1937 and designed to carry some 1,400 passengers and almost 500 crew, the ship was used by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront – the German Workers organisation – as part of the ‘Strength through Joy’ programme. She made around 50 voyages before being requisitioned.

Since the declaration of war she has served as a hospital ship and a harbour accommodation barracks for U-boat crews where she was gradually ‘robbed’ of equipment for her sea-going sisters.

Now as she is to join HANNIBAL, missing lifeboats are replaced, anti-aircraft guns fitted for self-protection and the engines run up properly for the first time in four years.

As she and another German transport ship leave Gydnia, a submarine is patrolling off the coast.

Soviet submarine S-13 sees the ship and her escort (a German torpedo boat) and starts to follow her.

On board the Gustloff the anti-aircraft guns are frozen solid as is the sonar equipment on the escort.

The ships are all but blind and defenceless.

S-13 tracks the ships for some two hours and at a position about 30 km off the coast fires four torpedoes at an ‘enormous’ target.

One fails to exit the torpedo tube endangering the submarine but is later made safe.

All the others find their mark. One causes the watertight doors in the bow section (where off-duty crew are sleeping) to seal shut trapping the men there.

A second hits the former swimming pool area that has been turned into accommodation for some 373 women naval auxiliaries. Just three are rescued.

The third torpedo hits the engine room crippling the ship.

Over the next forty minutes the ship lists over and settles on her port side before sinking by the bow. Some 1,250 were rescued by German vessels.

Ten days later S-13 finds another German transport involved with Operation HANNIBAL and attacks with two torpedoes; this time 300 are rescued.

But ten times that number die.

In less than two weeks five torpedoes from S-13 have accounted for around 12,000 lives.

Today the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff remains the great loss of life at sea in known history.

By comparison RMS Titantic was carrying approximately 2,250 people when she struck the iceberg in April 1912 and around 1,600 loss their lives.

This Time Last Century


Hide Under the Ground

“London is like some huge prehistoric animal,
capable of enduring terrible injuries,
mangled and bleeding from many wounds,
and yet preserving its life and movement.” – Winston Churchill
When people think of the Blitz, images of families crammed into their Anderson Shelters, Churchill surveying the attack from the rooftops, air raid wardens patrolling and of course shelters under the city all spring to mind,
On the 11th January 1941 one of the most horrific air attacks of the war was to shake the courage of our capital.  The city of London was a huge target for enemy planes and Bank station lies at its heart. At 19:59 a bomb fell obliterating not only the booking hall but then the blast travelled, down the escalators and stairs to the platforms deep underground, 51 poor souls lost their lives that night. The crater that was left spanned 120ft and meant thatthe army had to build a temporary bridge over the chasm.
The veins of London are its roads and railways which even when presented with the greatest assault the city was ever to face, kept it moving.  The tube system actually ran throughout the war, even though there were countless delays and diversions. Many Londoners were able to travel on the underground thus allowing the commerce and industry of the city to continue.
London first came under air attack from German Zeppelins in World War 1. Many people sought unofficial shelter in the tunnels under London. The government actually discouraged the use of the stations as shelter – fearing Londoners would develop ‘deep shelter mentality’ and refuse to emerge! During World War 2 the government encouraged the use of Anderson shelters and other public refuge spaces. People still sought the safety of the underground and government policy was to change after a number of attacks that perpetrated these – they simply weren’t deep enough. Obviously when the tube lines and stations were built, their suitability as air raid shelters wouldn’t have been a design consideration (the earliest substation was built in the 1860s!)
It only took German fighters 6 minutes to cross the English Chanel to Dover; new protective measures had to be taken. In 1938 (around the time of the Munich Crisis) the government sought measures to prevent flooding on those tunnels which ran under the Thames – some were filled with concrete and couldn’t be used until the end of the war. In September 1939 a more practical system of flood barriers were installed on the most vulnerable points, allowing the trains to still run. In 1940 construction began on deep level shelters adjacent to the existing tube stations– notably Camden Town, Goodge Street and Chancery Lane. These were constructed to avoid a repeat of the devastating effects on Bank station by protecting the tops of the staircases with heavy concrete blocks (most of which survive to this day) These shelters lay directly beneath the existing stations and were furnished with iron bunks, first aid post, ventilation equipment and lavatories, they were divided up into different sections and named after historical figures, so as better to navigate.
Not only were they places people felt safe, it was a place where wartime community was to thrive and it is here we see the true ‘Blitz Spirit’ emerge.