13 November 2010


Dad with Uncle Jack (seated) circa 1924
My father's father ran a small dairy in Norton which is on the south bank of the River Derwent, opposite the market town of Malton in the heart of rural Yorkshire. There was a small stable on the property for milk deliveries were still made by horse and cart. Dad and his four siblings were all born in the little house adjacent to the dairy. The first-born was Tom whose exact parentage is uncertain. Next came Dad then Frank and Evelyn and finally, the youngest - Alec John who was always known as "Jack". My Uncle Jack born in 1917.

Dad showed some academic ability at primary school, gaining a scholarship to Malton Grammar at the age of eleven. Three years later Jack followed his example. At eighteen, Dad became the very first member of my known family to progress into tertiary education, enrolling at St John's College, York on a teacher training course. In 1935, Jack followed him to St John's, specialising in Art education. Both Dad and Jack represented St John's in rowing but whereas Dad was a decent rugby player and cricketer, Jack's other sporting forte was gymnastics.

When the second world war broke out, my father was quick to leave his teaching post to join the RAF and was soon posted to India where he specialised in meteorology and like thousands of other service personnel enjoyed a bullet-less war on the wondrous Indian sub-continent waiting for a Japanese invasion that never materialised. Uncle Jack also joined the RAF and was trained up to be a radio operator aboard a Bristol Blenheim Nightfighter.

On November 16th, 1940, after a long training flight in wintry weather the Blenheim fell from the sky - probably due to icing on the wings. It crashed on farmland at Ramsey Tyrells, near the village of Stock in Essex. The three young men on board - Messrs Winter and Romanis and my Uncle Jack were killed outright. Uncle Jack was just twenty three. His burnt body was retrieved and taken back to Malton for burial. The site of the tragic crash remained undisturbed until an amateur archaeological group unearthed it in the summer of 1975 (see below):-
I'm posting this on the eve of Remembrance Sunday for two reasons. Firstly, it's in acknowledgement of a young man I never met whose life lay before him - a career, a lover or a wife, children, dreams fulfilled and others shelved, laughter and tears, the natural progress of a full lifetime. Secondly, I'm thinking of all those thousands of military personnel who have died away from the fighting but as a direct result of warfare - training exercises like Uncle Jack's, fatal road accidents perhaps simply getting to or leaving military bases, suicides, snagged parachutes, faulty weapons and so on. Deaths that may at one level seem pointless, almost ridiculous but are a rarely acknowledged feature of all wars. They also served and their deaths caused the same amount of hurt back home as that which greeted the deaths of battlefield heroes and medal winners.


  1. Well said. I always think of my Uncle Ronnie at this time. He was in the paras and was badly wounded a few days after being dropped in Caen in June 1944.

    He survived and I was fortunate to have known him and to hear what his experience had taught him. That war is a conceit of kings and politicians and the only victims are ordinary people.

    As someone said, a bayonet is a weapon with a worker at each end.

  2. Elizabeth11:32 pm

    One of my grandfather's farms was at West Knapton and a plane similarly came down in one of his fields. The pilot was German.My grandparents took the attitude that whether he was 'enemy' or not, he was someone's child, lover or parent and they paid for him to be buried. There was nothing to identify him and they were never able to find out anything about him. Somewhere in Germany, the map of a family has been changed because of that man's death.
    So many random, pointless deaths; so much heartache. x

  3. John Gray:- Thank you sir. I try.
    SHOOTING P's It's good that Uncle Ronnie didn't attempt to beautify war but saw it as it really was. I wish I could have talked with my Uncle Jack. Just for an hour.
    ELIZABETH Good on your grandparents for their decency and humanity. It seems that such commodities are usually in short supply where the enemies of warfare are concerned. I always remember Grace Slick singing - "We should be together...All you people standing round!"

  4. Have you visited the memorial at Lissett? Haunting.

  5. Elizabeth12:16 am

    There is a meaningful analysis of 'We should be together' here...

    I'm almost certain that your grandfather must have known my grandfather...

    Time you got into that little underhouse retreat of yours and invented a machine to whizz, temporarily, back through the decades, so that we can all take a peek... x

  6. I love reading family history like this, thank you. It always has a greater resonance for many other families, too.

  7. A lovely,thought-provoking post, YP, which resonates very much with my thoughts and feelings at this time of year.

  8. Just posting the link in the hope that it helps.♥


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