Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

1147930 Sgt Horace Wigley


For this weeks update I've chosen an older post from our archives, one which was told me in full by my 2rd cousin once removed, a man I had never met yet I had lived very close to his family home.  
   I make no apologise in reshowing this post from David Hamilton and what he told me solved a bit of my own family history jigsaw. Not just that but the story that unfolded was very moving, but as carried on being so as I got to know David and hear all about his family              I will now hand the post over to David to tell the story of 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


I was contacted on the 27th July by a Sheila McKellar, from Winnipeg, Canada.  who wrote the following.

   "I just read your blog from 2011 in which you posted the story of Sgt. Wigley, provided by his nephew, David Hamilton.  My mother was engaged to marry one of the other 15 Squadron members, Sgt. Jarvis.  My mom passed away a few months ago, and I have a photo that belonged to her of the crew.  I thought David might like a copy of it.  Would it be possible for you to put me in touch with him, or forward my email address to him so he can contact me?"

Alas I had to inform Sheila that David had passed away suddenly, David would have been so pleased to have had contact with others touched by the events told above.
The next email from Shelia contained her condolences, and indeed the said picture and another, and explained on checking the names on the pictures alas Horace was not amongst them.

Sheila wrote " When I looked at the photos again, I was disappointed to see that Sgt. Wigley is not among those pictured.  However, I hope you can still use one or both of the photos on your blog.  "These are the brave men who perished with Sgt. Wigley and are buried alongside him in France."  

 Left to right, Joe Brookes, James Burgess, Wilf Hannah, Alf Jarvis, Mickey Drew.

 Left to right, Joe Brookes, James Burgess, Wilf Hannah, Alf Jarvis, Mickey Drew.

They are, in order (coincidentally, in both images!) 

Thank you Tom for giving me the opportunity to share this with the world, and preserve their memory.  I'm hoping relatives or descendants will find them on your blog someday.

Best regards from Canada,

Thank you for your reply, Tom. I am so pleased you are honouring these brave men in this way, and have given me the opportunity to be a part of it! You are also continuing your second cousin's legacy and I am sure he would be very proud. I will look forward to your new post later this year and shall appreciate you letting me know when it is ready.

It is a honour for me to to show this again, and with the update of information and picture that Sheila as so kindly shared. I know how thrilled David would have been knowing the story was seen by someone else who was touched by the sad events of 6th November 1942.

So today  "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" I will be thinking of all these brave lads and many many more.

Dedicated to the memory of

David Hamilton



John Carr said...

A moving story. David must have have been proud of his successful research.
It amazes me how quickly young men were trained, promoted & deployed.
ps nice photo of werneth low cenotaph .

Kirsty Hamilton said...

David was my dad, and I know firsthand just how much Horace's story meant to him. He would have been so delighted to hear from Sheila and see those photos, I wish he had had the opportunity. He always hoped he would eventually get into contact with other people connected to the other crew members.

I'd also like to thank you, Tom, for the touching dedication of the post to my dad. That really means a lot.

Kirsty Hamilton
(David's daughter)

Tom said...

Kirsty, I am so glad you manage to see this and can tell others. I met your dad just a few times and we hit it off right away. Thank you for commenting and letting me know you had seen this post.

Tom Wigley