Captain Ernest Shackleton’s gift to the Imperial War Museum


SEARCHING THROUGH A PILE of Second World War ex-prisoner of war questionnaires at the National Archives in Kew, England, I saw one by a ‘Captain Ernest Shackleton’.

Clearly not the polar explorer (he died in 1922) this Ernest Shackleton had joined the British Army with a Territorial Army commission in 1926.

An engineer by profession, he was  serving  in the Royal Corps of Signals when he was captured on 12 June 1940 at Saint Valorie-en-Caux, around 60 kilometres from Le Havre in France.

After spending three months in hospital – he says on the questionnaire he wasn’t ‘seriously’ injured but he was unwell enough to occupy a hospital bed – he was transferred to the first of four PoW camps, the last being Oflag (Officer’s Camp) IX A/Z at Rotenburg en Fulda in the German state of Hesse.

During this time he wasn’t in a work camp (officers were generally exempt from having to work). He didn’t have any serious illness and any medical attention he did receive (presumably related to his original injuries) was judged to be adequate.

I turned the page.

No escape and evasion lectures before capture, no ‘unusual’ interrogation techniques used.

He knew of no collaboration by his fellow prisoners or of any war crimes.

In fact there were only two comments.

The first, his response to the question about whether he made any escape attempts gets a ‘No’.

Almost as an afterthought is written immediately underneath ‘Was employed from August 1941 (with minor breaks) on radio operations, design and construction of radio apparatus’.

And then on the final page above his signature is the last question;

‘8. Have you any other matter of any kind you wish to bring to notice?’

His response is shown below and reads:

‘I especially request permission to return to OFLAG IX A/Z ROTENBURG to remove radio apparatus locally constructed and other incriminating gear, documents etc & to destroy or remove for Imperial War Museum hides [word unclear] and gear. The Senior British Officer endeavoured to obtain this permission but was unable owing to urgency of evacuation. This OFLAG was identified as intact whilst flying over during the evacuation’.

Scribbled in soft black pencil beside his request at a later date beside is ‘Already redeemed by Shackleton’ with a further note scribbled out.

The final question on Captain Shackleton’s POW questionnaire and his request for permission to return to a former POW camp and retrieve radio apparatus for IWM. Image © R Maddox 2017.

And that is a small part of the story of why an unlikely looking  radio receiver –  a collection of toilet roll tubes dipped in wax, thermometer cases, toothbrush handles, a cotton reel, bits of tin can, a Bakelite ashtray, wire ‘liberated’ from the camp’s occupational department with values and capacitors from a German cine projector – all cobbled together with its own power chassis, hidden under floor boards and operated by knitting needles pushed through the cracks from above – came to be IWM Catalogue Number COM 504, described as ‘Wireless Equipment, Receiver (POW constructed), British’ in the possession of the Imperial War Museums.

Wireless Equipment, Receiver (POW-constructed), British (COM 504). A wireless radio receiver manufactured by Captain Ernest Shackleton at Oflag IXA/Z, Rotenburg during the Second World War, using materials salvaged from the camp. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial – A tribute to the ‘Ship of the Desert’ beside the Thames


VILLIERS STREET GARDEN (one of four public gardens making up London’s Embankment Gardens) is not far from Charing Cross railway station, Trafalgar Square, various Government offices in Whitehall and numerous other sites of employment in the western part of the capital.

It is a lunchtime oasis for nearby office workers, a pleasant commuter ‘rat run’ for those walking to and from work or a green gem for London visitors or tourists to get their bearings.

History and fame are never far away.

The York Water Gate shows where the waters of the Thames used to extend to, the Gardens being reclaimed land with the much deeper modern Thames being 150 metres or so further south. The Savoy Hotel has its rear entrance very near the Gardens, statues of Robert Burns and composer Arthur Sullivan gaze unseeingly before them.

It’s also the site of the Imperial Camel Corps Memorial, a small Portland stone plinth topped with a beautifully modelled statue of a camel and its uniformed rider, sculpted by Major Cecil Brown who served in the Corps.

Detail of the rider and camel sculpted by Cecil Brown. Image © R Maddox 2017

The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial with the Australian casualties and the engagements of the Corps. Image © R Maddox 2017

The Memorial commemorates by name 346 members of the Corps who died of all causes between when the 1916 (when the Corps was founded just after Gallipoli action) and 1918 while serving in Egypt, Palestine and Sinai together with the actions they took part in.

The vast majority of casualties were Australian troops – 191 commemorated on the eastern plaque – with soldier from the United Kingdom (106), New Zealand (41) and the Indian sub-continent (9) being named on the western plaque.

The north and south sides have additional bronzes depicting dismounted soldiers running and officers with a camel (1).

At its height the Corps had 4,150 men and 4,800 camels. Three of its four battalions were disbanded in mid-1918, the final (2nd) battalion survived until May 1919 (2).

Unveiled on 22 July 1921, the ceremony was attended by (amongst others) the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand and General Sir Philip Chetwode, the Corps first commander – and later the father-in-law of poet Sir John Betjeman(3) with the memorial being dedicated by the Bishop of London(4).

It stands on the site of… (ironically, given the fact that the Corps operated in the desert and the camel’s ability to store water)… a late 19th century drinking fountain(5).


(1) retrieved 11 July 2017

(2) retrieved 11 July 2017

(3) retrieved 11 July 2017

(4) retrieved 11 July 2017

(5) retrieved 11 July 2017




THE TRAGEDY THAT BEFELL HMS TRINIDAD is perhaps made even more poignant by the fact that had the events of 1942 happened a year later it is not inconceivable that HMS Belfast could have shared a similar fate.

Belfast was known to be a happy and lucky ship (notwithstanding November 1939 when she was mined).

Trinidad did not share in that good fortune.

HMS Trinidad from

In March 1942 HMS Trinidad, a Royal Navy Colony Class Cruiser was on escort duty with an Arctic Convoy en route to Russia. Progress was slow and dangerous;  100ft waves, constant darkness, incessant and effective attacks from the German Air Force and U-boats posed a constant and deadly threat to the 800 men on board; and all the time the ship was fighting the most incessant enemy of all – the bitter arctic seas.

Trinidad came under attack from three German destroyers. She fired three torpedoes, but two of them froze in the launching tubes; the third misfired, the bitter cold had affected the gyro of the torpedo and it came full circle to strike Trinidad in her port side.

The force of the explosion ripped a 60ft hole in her side.

32 men perished, 9 of whom were members of the Royal Marines working in the Gunnery Transmitting Station, deep in the bowels of the ship.

Trinidad underwent temporary repairs in Murmansk and attempted to return home under her own steam, but following another devastating Luftwaffe attack on 13th May 1942, the crew were taken off under the most horrendous conditions and the order was given for HMS Matchless to sink her with torpedoes.

As Trinidad slipped beneath the waves, she flew the signal ‘I Am Sailing to the Westward’.


SURVIVORS OF HMS TRINIDAD ARRIVE HOME AT THE SCOTTISH PORT OF GREENOCK. 19 MAY 1942. (A 10321) Survivors from HMS TRINIDAD on arrival at Greenock. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


One of only three survivors from the Royal Marines detachment was a young Royal Marines musician by the name of George Lloyd.

Royal Marine Bandsman George Lloyd. Image from

Following the sinking, George Lloyd suffered terrible mental illness (what we would now call PTSD) but found solace and hope in music. He spent many years in the country growing carnations and mushrooms. Eventually his health improved.

He went on to compose no less than 12 symphonies, 4 piano concertos, 21 violin concertos, 3 operas and a cantata. In 1977 his first eight symphonies were broadcast by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Sir Edward Downes.

His march ‘HMS Trinidad’ which he composed for the ship soon after the outbreak of war was performed at the Last Night of the Proms in September 2013, in the presence of the last remaining survivor of the tragedy; one of the very few military marches ever to be honoured in this way.


“I’m Sailing to Westward now,
Waves wash away my darkest fears,
No-one can hurt me,
Duty has called me,
To celebrate my days.”

Text taken from the narration to ‘Am sailing to Westward’ (Comp: Harvey © Chevron recordings) and from the sleeve notes to ‘Harrison’s Dream’ © Chevron recordings

With a little help from our friends – part 1



Image: A still from a Ministry of Information film of a V1 exploding close to Westminster in London. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament can be seen on the right. © IWM ([MOI] FLM 2000)

FOR MANY VISITORS the German V1 and V2 weapons are ‘must see’ items at IWM London.

Launched in 1944 soon after the Allies landed in France, the weapons brought a new kind of warfare not just to Britain but also Belgium and Holland just as D-Day was raising hopes of a quick end to the war.

Many thousands of people were involved in the campaign to defeat the ‘vengeance’ or ‘retaliation’ weapons – fighter, bomber and reconnaissance pilots and crew, together with their controllers like Lilian Buchanan (see a previous post), anti-aircraft gunners, engineers and scientists.

They had come from Occupied Europe, the Commonwealth as well as here in Britain and some had fought against the weapons long before the first V1 fell from the skies over Swanscombe in Kent on 13 June 1944.

This is s little about one of them.

Michel Hollard was a French Résistance worker who would be awarded a British DSO for the information he supplied and the personal risks he took obtaining it.

Hollard, was 43 when France fell in 1940 and headed a Resistance of more than 100 in Northern France passed information to Britain about German military activities in the region between 1941 and 1944.

V1 FLYING BOMB (C 4430) Aerial view of a V1 'ski' launching site in Northern France under attack. The long narrow ski-shaped storage buildings, which gave the sites their name are clearly visible at lower left. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Image: Aerial view of a V1 ‘ski’ launching site in Northern France under attack. The long narrow ski-shaped storage buildings, which gave the sites their name are clearly visible to the left. © IWM (C 4430). Original Source:

His network was able to provide location details of a large number of V1 launch sites enabling the RAF to attack the ski sites (as they were known to British intelligence  because of the shape of some of the buildings as seen from the air) to London via the British Embassy in Berne and Hollard made the journey across into Switzerland on at least 50 times – his network didn’t use radio communications, the post or telephones as a security measure.

According to R V Jones’ book ‘Most Secret War’ on one occasion he mamaged to gain access to a site under construction. Already dressed in workman’s overalls he found a wheelbarrow in a ditch and simply walked onto the site.

He saw that there was a clear runway-like structure being built. Jones notes in his book ‘he was the sort of man who always carried a compass’ and Hollard took a bearing on the mystery structure.

That night he worked out it was pointing at London.

Next he persuaded one of his Résistance contacts to get a job as a draftsman on the site.

Over time André Comps succeeded in copying the plans for every building and structure on the site and these were taken to London via Berne. This was clearly very dangerous – no more so than when on one occasion he removed a set of plans from a German engineer’s coat to copy them.

Hollard was also able to clamber over and measure an operational V1 weapon parked in a railway siding.

Despite the good internal communications security in his group Hollard was betrayed and arrested on 4 February 1944. After torture by the Gestapo he was sent to Neuengamme concentration camp.

By the spring of 1945 he had been transferred to a prison ship in the Baltic and on 3 May the ship was attacked and sunk by the RAF.

Hollard survived.

He was awarded many decorations, including a DSO by the British (Jones contributed to his citation for the award) and the Legion d’Honneur by the French.

He and his group were credited with passing documents that showed the locations of 104 V1 sites.

He died on 16 July 1993, just over a month after his 95 birthday.

In April 2004, Hollard’s son Florian was at a ceremony at the Eurostar terminus in London (then at Waterloo station, near to IWM London) where a Eurostar train was named after his father.


‘Most Secret War’ by R V Jones published 1978.

(in French):

How ‘MONICA’ was tricked into failing to protect RAF bomber crews


ARI 5664 ‘MONICA’ was an active radar device designed to protect the rear of heavy RAF bombers. Mounted below the rear turret it sent out a radio signal in a cone shape for 1,000 yards behind the aircraft. When this signal was interrupted by another aircraft, it also picked up the resulting ‘echo that bounced back.  

This ‘echo’ was translated into a ‘beeping’ tone that was heard in the crew’s earphones, warning them of the approach of an attacking Luftwaffe night fighter. Many of the attackers would approach from the behind and below as that was judged to be the most vulnerable area on the bombers, as it was undefended and a blind spot for all the crew.

So far so good. Except MONICA had fatal flaws.

It registered ALL aircraft with the same sound – it could not distinguish between enemy attackers and fellow bombers – and the constant beeping of surrounding friendly aircraft in a bomber stream of many hundreds often drove the crews to distraction,

Some turned the radar off, relying on their wits and eyes as they did before MONICA was introduced.

This meant that it was possible for the night fighter to ‘hide’ amongst the traffic of the bomber stream. And no approaching aircraft warning increased the chances of a collision between bombers in the often moonless and blacked-out skies of Europe.

Image: The shattered rear turret and amaged tail of Lancaster LM535, No. 207 Squadron RAF. The aircraft was in a collison over the target on 19/20 May 1944. Flying Officer Trevor Smart managed to bring the aircraft and his crew safely back to Britain and was awarded an immediate Distingiushed Flying Cross for doing so. He and his crew were lost on a raid to Wesseling near Cologne just over a month later on 20/21 June 1944. Image and more information at The MONICA antenna (looking like a bent coat hangar) can be seen hanging down near the bottom of the frame.

And worse was to come.

As always happens, examples of MONICA fell into German hands as RAF aircraft were shot down and the wreckage scrutinised. German scientists worked out what the equipment was for and then developed Flensburg, a passive radar detector – one that simply received pulses and does not emit signals.

Then the pendulum swung the other way.

Seventy-three years ago, at 04:25 on 13 July 1944 a Junkers Ju 88 G-1 night fighter made a navigational error and landed at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk.

This was a complete surprise for all concerned.

The German crew (who were very low on fuel) thought they had landed in Germany and the airfield believed an RAF Mosquito had landed – the truth only becoming apparent to all when transport for the ‘Mosquito’ crew arrived at the aircraft and the quick thinking RAF driver drew a flare pistol and arrested the Germans!

According to an RAF Air Intelligence report (1), the Junkers carried a variety of radars and detectors not seen by the British before and they quickly set about analysing the equipment’s capabilities.

What they found was unpleasant answers to a number of questions.

The Lichtenstein SN-2 radar was an improvement of the original Lichtenstein radar encountered by the RAF. SN-2 was immune to jamming by standard WINDOW foil. It could be jammed by the improved SPECIAL WINDOW foil strips that reflected a different part of the signal spectrum.

However SN-2 used part of the frequency spectrum where Freya ground-based early warning radars also operated, so even if the airborne radar’s pulses where picked up by RAF aircrew they would appear to be Freya signals.


Image: The Woodbridge Junkers Ju 88 G-1 (werk nummer: 712273) now in RAF markings on a test flight over Britain. The  different sets of Flensburg aerials can be seen on the leading edge of the port wing and above and below the starboard wing. Image

Also on the aircraft was Flensburg and another passive device called Naxos. And these provided perhaps the greatest shock of all.

Wing Commander Derek Jackson (a former scientific colleague of the Director of Scientific Intelligence at the Air Ministry, R V Jones) tested the captured aircraft against a Lancaster bomber using MONICA over the UK.

Using Flensburg, he tracked it for a distance of 130 miles. Next he flew against a loose formation of five MONICA equipped Lancasters and was able to identify each as an individual aircraft.

His final test was against a group of seventy-one Lancasters, each with MONICA working and orbiting between Gloucester and Cambridge. Again Flensburg was able to pick out individual bombers.

Naxos was first used operationally in September 1943 and was designed to home in on the signals of H2S – an air-to-ground radar that was being used to identify targets through cloud and on moonless nights.

Naxos could find H2S from about 35 miles. Because of this relatively close range – giving about 5 minutes warning in the approaching German aircraft – and the fact that it could not identify an individual aircraft (only a general signal), the crew described it of little practical use.

Initially fitted to ‘Pathfinder’ aircraft, H2S was first used operationally in early 1943 and an example of this device was recovered from a Short Stirling bomber shot down over Holland on the night 2/3 February 1943 – the second raid it was used on.

Codenamed Rotterdam Gerät – ‘Rotterdam Device’ or ‘Rotterdam Apparatus’ it provided a model to develop Naxos from.

Previously H2S was switched on as soon as the aircraft climbed to operational height over the UK.

Later it was discovered that Naxos was coupled with Wurzburg radars dishes to produce Naxburg – a radar that could track the bomber formations over the UK and thus give advance warning of a raid setting off.

On learning of the results of trials Arthur Harris, head of Bomber Command ordered MONICA not to be used and the sets removed from all aircraft carrying it and H2S to be used for short intervals only.

Writing about Harris’ decision regarding MONICA, in his book Night Fighters: A development and Combat History the late aviation historian Bill Gunston wrote:

This supposed guardian of the bombers was probably responsible for more bomber losses than any other device, Allied or enemy, until in August 1944 (nearly two years later) crews were told not to use it’


(1) Air Intelligence 2(g) report No. 242 dated 16th July 1944 retrieved 25 April 2017

The Ride of your life – The London Necropolis Railway


THE LONDON NECROPOLIS RAILWAY was a private company transporting the dead of London to the London Necropolis (Brookwood cemetery in Surrey), one of the ‘new’ cemeteries built to ease the severe overcrowding in the capital’s existing ones after the population doubled in number from the early to mid – 1800s.


A Ticket to Ride: The archway that lead to the station and office complex of the London Necropolis Railway. Photo (C) Stephen Richards via

Although the company was in existence from 1854 to 1941 the building at Westminster Bridge Road dates from 1902.

In April 1941 the station was badly damaged in an air raid. The war ended and the London Necropolis Railway decided not to reopen, selling off the remaining buildings for office space.

The entrance to the site at Westminster Bridge Road was for first class mourners; second and third class parties entered through a separate entrance off Hercules Road.

The existing building – now Grade II listed – and a few iron pillars that supported the railway structures are all that remain of the large station complex. It had ticket offices and separate waiting rooms (multiple First, Second and Third class rooms according to the type of travel and funeral party was to undertake. Waiting rooms could also double as chapels for funeral services if required), mortuaries, workshops and specialist facilities for handling the coffins – including a steam-powered lift to raise them to platform level. There was apparently a stock of coffins on hand in case of deaths in hotels or similar premises where… erm…a certain amount of discretion was needed…

More info:



A sign of the times


SUPRISINGLY FOR SOME, Imperial War Museums’ Churchill War Rooms and Museum (CWR) is not the only reminder of the Westminster’s Second World War history.

Not far from the Palace of Westminster (which had at least one pillbox – long since gone – built into the surrounding wall at the north end of Westminster Bridge Road) is Lord North Street.

It’s a quiet street of Georgian three and four bedroomed terrace houses averaging around £4,000,000 each and a favourite des-res of many politicians – including Sir Harold Wilson (who allegedly believed that certain elements of the Security Services had the place bugged and were ready to instigate a coup d’état with factions of the Armed Services) Antony Eden, and disgraced MP Johnathan Aitken – and others wanting or needing to live quietly in central London.

War-time Home Secretary Lord John Anderson (after whom the Anderson air raid shelter is named) also lived there and coincidentally the street has a number of signs indicating that there were public shelters converted from the cellars of some of houses on the street.

‘Public shelters in vaults under pavement in this street’. An example of an air raid shelter notice on a wall in Lord North Street, Westminster, London. Image: © R Maddox 2017

For many years after the war the white ‘S’ on a black background was a common sight on walls all over the UK. Image: © R Maddox 2017


History doesn’t recall if house holders were ever woken by strangers wanting shelter from the Luftwaffe – or indeed any conversation that unfolded in the late blacked-out gloom.

Also living there was Brendan Bracken, owner of the Financial Times and a friend and confidant of Winston Churchill.

Oh… and in nearby Smith Square lived Sir Oswald Mosley MP with his wife Diana (nee Mitford).

The ex-Conservative Member of Parliament, ex-Labour MP and founder of the British Union of Fascists was interned by Churchill under the Defence Regulation 18B (which allowed for the internment of suspected Nazi sympathisers) shortly after Churchill came to power. Mosely and his family were released to house arrest in 1943 on medical grounds.