Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

1147930 Sgt Horace Wigley

I was contacted recently by David Hamilton and what he told me solved a bit of my own personal family history jigsaw. Not just that but the story that unfolded was very moving....  I will now hand the post over to  David to tell the story his Uncle Horace

Your Grandfather, Tom, was the brother of my grandfather, Harry, which makes us 2nd cousins. I noticed that you have a photo of the ICI memorial tablet which bears the names of several employees who lost their lives during WW11, including Horace Wigley, and you say that he may have been related to your father.  Horace and your father,Harold, were in fact cousins, making you and Horace 1st cousins once removed, and Horace my uncle.


I too heard the story about Horace when I was a child, but there wasn't much detail, also looking back it must have still been too painful for the family to talk about. Later on, I gained a keen interest in the RAF generally, and Bomber Command in particular, so it made perfect sense for me to find out more about Horace and his time in the RAF.

1147930 Sgt Horace Wigley Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

Horace was born on 28th May 1921, the third child of Harry and Sarah Wigley. Their other children were Tom, Albert, Ivy, Hilda, and Brian. The family lived in Tanner Street, Hyde, before moving to St Mary’s Road in 1935.

Horace attended Greenfield Street School, and was a bright pupil. Due partly to the limited educational opportunities at the time, and also the need to get a job, Horace left school at the age of 14 to work for Mitchell, the coal merchant, putting coal into sacks and chopping firewood.
After this, he started work at I.C.I. in Newton as a calender feeder in a rubber processing plant.

Horace was an enthusiastic sportsman and, despite the heavy work and his slim 5 foot 6 inch frame, he still found the energy to pursue his passion for cricket, at which he was exceptionally talented. He was a member of the Talbot Road Methodist Church Cricket Club, and was also a keen harmonica player. He and other members of the team called themselves “The Harmonica Rogues” and performed in various church halls in the local area.


Horace aged 17 


Horace aged 18

On 15th March 1941, 19-year-old Horace signed up for the RAF at No.3 Reception Centre in Manchester, and was placed on reserve, to be recalled on 1st May 1941 and posted to No.4 Reception Centre at Bridgenorth for basic training. His next posting was to No. 6 School of Technical Training where he qualified as an engine fitter on 29th December 1941. He was then sent to RAF Ayr, a Fighter Command station, where he was later recommended for training as a Flight Engineer and sent to No. 4 School of Technical Training. He obtained his brevet on 29th July 1942 and was promoted to Sergeant. Flight Training began at No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, where he teamed up with F/Sgt W.J. Hannah and his crew fresh from a Bomber Command Operational Training unit. After they converted onto the Short Stirling four-engined bomber, they were posted to 15 Squadron at Bourn, Cambridgeshire on 23rd September 1942.

Three days later, on 26th September 9 1942, Horace married his childhood sweetheart, Monica Foley, who also lived in St Mary’s Road.


 Horace and Monica at St. Mary’s Road 


Horace and Monica’s wedding day                              

Horace’s first operation with 15 Squadron was around the French coast, “gardening” (dropping sea mines) in the Gironde estuary on the night of 27th October 1942 in Stirling Mk.1 R9201 coded LS-U. The operation was both successful and uneventful.

His second, fateful, gardening operation was on 6th November 1942 with the same crew and aircraft. That evening, LS-U was the last of three Stirlings detailed for operations over French coastal waters to take off from Bourn, lifting its wheels for the last time at 6pm. 
At 9.45pm local time, still on its outward journey over France, the Stirling was hit by flak whilst flying at low level. According to locals, the aircraft appeared to be attempting a crash landing on the marshes near St Andre-des Eaux, making a gradual descent until it hit a row of trees and cartwheeled into the ground, disintegrating but not catching fire. The crew of eight, four English and four New Zealanders, was killed instantly.
Because the aircraft crashed at a shallow angle, most of the wreckage was left on the surface of the soft ground and was easily recovered, but the four Bristol Hercules XI engines carried on across the marsh, the furthest one was found 500 metres from the main impact point.


Stirling R9201 crashed in the centre foreground of this photograph.


A piece of wreckage from Stirling R9201.

The airmen were gathered for burial by local people, and they were laid to rest together at Escoublac-La Baule War Cemetery on 9th November 1942, Father Robin Moyon conducting the funeral.


Horace’s grave taken in 1948


Horace’s grave in 2000

Horace lies in grave 17, Row D, Plot 2.

The inscription on his headstone reads:

“A silent thought
brings many a tear
for one we lost
and loved so dear”

Horace and Monica had been married for just 41 days.

Having served in the RAF for 1 year and 237 days and paying the supreme sacrifice, Horace was awarded the War Medal 1939-45, Aircrew Europe Star, and the 1939-45 Star.


Horace’s Medals: 
(L-R) War Medal 1939-45, Air Crew Europe Star, 1939-45 Star

The crew of Stirling R9201 LS-U.

NZ412683            F/Sgt W.J. Hannah            Pilot                        Age 24
NZ411369            F/Sgt K.D. Chapman          Pilot                        Age 24
1147930               Sgt H. Wigley                   Flight Engineer        Age 21
1177718              Sgt J.C. Brookes                Observer                 Age 27
1255407              F/Sgt R.H. Drew                Air Bomber              Age 31
NZ411761            Sgt A.W. Jarvis        Wireless Op/Air Gunner     Age 22
NZ41140              Sgt J.M. Burgess                Air Gunner              Age 31
1318591              Sgt S.J Butcher                  Air Gunner              Age 20


Crew graves (R-L): Jarvis, Wigley, Chapman, Hannah, Brookes, Butcher, Burges, Drew.


Escoublac-La-Baule War Cemetery

Thank you David


Hydonian said...

What a very poignant story of a brave and talented young man....there must be so many of these stories out there.
Thank you for sharing this with us ,David.

Tom said...

I feel honoured that David as shared this with us, and pleased to have the story of Horace Wigley told here on our blog.

LumpyCam said...

Thank you for posting this account. I am researching my Uncle, Kenneth Dudley Chapman - Flight Sergeant on the fateful flight on November 6, 1942. This helps me clear a number of rather interesting stories passed down the family lines regarding the events on that evening.

Again - many thanks.

Anonymous said...

My Great uncle was one of the air gunners (NZ41140) on that mission.
I've thought for a long time about what happened, now at least I know it was over quickly. Oh the futility of war. I'm named after him, will email you.