A Family History of Service to Crown and Country by Jane Risdon

Last year I had the opportunity to contribute a short story for an anthology which would go on sale in celebration of the 75th anniversary of VE-Day. I jumped at the chance. I’ve contributed towards various anthologies in the past but this one was and is special.

The Anthology is called, VICTORY 75 in celebration of the 75th anniversary of VE-Day: 8th May 2020. It is available on Amazon (Toad Publishing/Electric Eclectic).

My contribution is called, ‘We’ll Meet Again.’  My story is obviously set in WW2.

I was asked to contribute a blog post about the service my family has given to Crown and Country over many decades, and centuries, so forgive me if my post does not just touch upon WW2 and VE-Day. The consequences of going to war reverberates down through the generations. Even today.

Photo© Jane Risdon 2021. My Paternal Great Grandfather served in several campaigns including WW1.

My family has served in the British armed forces for generations, mostly in the Army but not exclusively, and we have long connections with various regiments, and with the Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Sandhurst.

My maternal Grandfather served at the RMA, my father was an Instructor there, so was an uncle, and a cousin and his two sons have passed out as Officers, during the latter part of the 20th century, and their cousin has also passed out during the mid-21st century. They all went on to serve in the various conflicts we all know about and many of which are still on-going, sadly.

Indeed, one of my cousin’s sons who served in Afghanistan in recent years was awarded the MBE for bravery, leading his men out of an ambush through enemy territory under fire. He has progressed in the army and became Commander of the Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistics Regiment in Aldershot, later becoming Colonel of the Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistics Regiment.

Sovereign’s Parade, RMA Sandhurst Photo courtesy of the RMA.

My maternal Grandfather served in WW1 and was in France. He was gassed more than once and discharged eventually with ‘influenza,’ which I soon realised when researching family history, is a euphemism for being gassed. He suffered all his life from what was called, ‘spongy lung,’ and he eventually died from being gassed, in 1955.

He didn’t get any help, either mentally, physically, or financially, and therefore when he was laid off work at the RMA every winter for three months, he and his family struggled to survive on money they put aside every month in a small insurance policy which paid a pittance per week when he was unable to work, fighting for every breath.

My Grandmother’s first husband served in WW1 and various other conflicts including in Afghanistan, South Africa, and India. He was wounded at the Somme and discharged with shrapnel injuries which eventually led to his death in 1923. Again, he did not receive any financial or psychological help. He served with the 2nd Sherwood Foresters.

Photo Durham Light Infantry & 2nd Sherwood Foresters 6th May 1960 in Fermoy Ireland. Proclamation of King George V.

He and my Grandmother served in the RFC (Royal Flying Corps/RAF) after his discharge from the British Army, even though wounded.


Photo © Jane Risdon 2021. Maternal Grandmother in her RFC (later RAF) uniform.

In 1916 one of my Grandmother’s brothers was giving his life at The Somme whilst another brother was arrested and incarcerated in HM Prison Wakefield, for his part in the Easter Uprising.

My great uncle is buried in France. He was with the 1st Battalion Irish Guards.


Photo © Jane Risdon 2021. Grove Town Cemetery, Meulte, France.

I often think of this and wonder what conversation around the dinner table must have been like for the others left behind in a small village in Tipperary.

My great uncle who was imprisoned in Wakefield later went on to become a Sergeant in the Garda Siochána in Dublin, despite his prison sentence for being part of the Easter Uprisings.

Photo © Jane Risdon 2021. Great uncle in the Garda Siochána

Of course, every household in the British Isles and beyond experienced their loved ones being sent off to war and they had to deal with the consequences if/when these men and women returned possibly (probably) injured, both mentally and physically.

The photo above is of my Great Uncle George in his Duke of York School uniform before he went into WW1 aged 14 Photos (c) Jane Risdon 2021.

My paternal Grandfather and his brothers went off to WW1, having lied about their ages so they could join up. All three had been through the Duke of York School in Kent which was a boarding school for children of soldiers who were orphaned or whose family couldn’t afford to keep them.  The three brothers who went off to war together in WW1 posed for a photo before leaving. Happily, they all survived the war.

Photo © Jane Risdon 2021. Three brothers in WW1 – my paternal great uncles and grandfather.

I know my Grandfather was 14 when he was in the trenches in France I have seen his army records. He served in France and was later posted to India (early 1920s) where he was part of the British Indian Army. He was sent to Africa in WW2 with his men – mostly Indian Sikhs – to fight Rommel. Later he returned to see India gain independence in 1947 when he and his family returned to England, except my own Father, who had joined the British Army in India (IEME – Indian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) and was posted to Africa, and various other conflicts before being sent to the RMA (Royal Military Academy) Sandhurst as an Instructor to the Officer Cadets.

The photo above is of my paternal grandfather later in his career when he was an acting Lt. Colonel. He retired as a Major having left India after Partition in 1947. Photos © Jane Risdon 2020.


Photo RMA Sandhurst. My father is in this photo June 1949 – Instructors at the RMA.

In 1952 my father was sent to Korea and took part in the Korean war – I was just a baby and apart from his seeing me aged 3 months, we never set eyes on each other again until he was posted to Singapore and Malaya (Malaysia) to rout bandits raiding rubber plantations in Johore Bahru – where my Mother and I joined him in 1954.

We lived in many countries whilst he was still serving, including Germany and England.

Photo Crest of the British Indian Army Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Photo Badge of the British Army Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

One of my brothers became a ‘boy’ soldier and eventually joined the same regiment as my father (REME) and served in Bosnia, Ireland, and elsewhere. His son joined the RAF and was Awarded a Commendation in the Queen’s Birthday Honours a couple of years ago. He has served in The Falkland Islands, and in Afghanistan.

A paternal Great Uncle served on submarines in WW2: one he was on sunk. He returned home a shadow of his former self following his experiences trapped inside for a long time. He was a talented artist and had hoped before the war to study in Paris. Sadly, he suffered the rest of his life with mental illness, and he didn’t get the help our Forces hope to get today. He used to book himself voluntarily into a local psychiatric hospital whenever he felt himself losing control and he’d stay there until he felt well enough to leave. He was not violent, just someone who’d become agitated and withdrawn, tormented by what he’d seen and experienced.

I could go on listing relatives who served over many years, going back to the very first Army/Navy we had as a country, but I am sure every family can do this.

Our family detests war, but many have heeded the call to arms when necessary and have fought proudly and bravely for Crown and country. Including one of my stories in Victory 75 has been an honour.

Jane Risdon © 2021

All photos © Jane Risdon 2021 All Rights Reserved.

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The Story Behind The Dome of St Paul’s by Karen J Mossman

I was seven when Grandpa died, too young to really remember him. I was told it was partly due to the problems in his back through being in the water for so long during the war. I didn’t know what that meant and later learned it was on the beaches of Salerno and the length of time he and his comrades were standing in the sea whilst waiting to join the fight.

I looked it up and according to Wikipedia the Salerno landings took place on 3 September 1943 during the early stages of the Italian Campaign of World War II.

The operation was undertaken by General Sir Harold Alexander’s 15th Army Group (comprising of General Mark W. Clark’s Fifth Army and General Bernard Montgomery’s British Eighth Army).The main invasion landed around Salerno on the western coast at the ‘toe’ of Italy.

I admit to not knowing anything about the regiments but as soon as I read the above, Montgomery’s Eighth Army, stood out. My Dad often talked about the eighth as it was Grandpa’s regiment. He also talked about the toe of Italy and again at the time I didn’t know what that was. Now seeing it in black and white, reminds me of Dad who was fascinated with the history of war. Over the years he told me lots if stories about his father and what he endured. Being dropped off in the water at Salerno was one of them.

There was also The Battle for Monte Casino, and how Grandpa earned the honour of wearing the Canadian emblem his uniform. He and his comrades came to the rescue of Canadians being blocked in by German soldiers. He also talked about the miles and miles the armies walked during the war years.

In November 2019, author Audrina Lane invited me to a Christmas Craft and Book fair which she had organised in Hereford. That evening as we sat on her settee reflecting on the day, she spoke about her Gramps and what he did during the war and how VE Day was on the 8th May. I said how nice it would be to capture some of those stories in a book. We talked some more both liking the idea and the beginning of Victory75 was born. We then took the idea to Paul White, the founder of Electric Eclectic books, and he rounded up some authors to write stories to capture what it must have been like when the war finally ended. Several of us incorporated real war stories into our fiction and wrote dedications to those people who gave up so much so that we could live the life we do.

Before I came up with a premise for my story, I was privileged enough to see the book cover first. The Dome of St Paul’s, which played an iconic part in London’s War history by simply remaining there, and not being bombed. It gave me the inspiration for my story. Because I’d heard the tales s through my Dad, this became the starting point. Thinking I was being clever, I based it on the celebrations planned for the 8th May in London, where people originally flocked to when the announcement about the war ending came. The anthology was to be launched on that date and we would have our own celebration with the book.

My main character Jack was bang in the middle of what was to take place on the 8th May 2020. So people who read the story, would probably have seen the Queen meeting old soldiers and the parades and wreath laying. It would make it all the more real as the nation came together to remember the momentous time.

However, there was no way to predict the events that would unfold during 2020, and along with so many things, the celebrations to mark the occasion were cancelled.

The world was reeling from Corona Virus, specifically COVID-19. Over half a million people died, just like they did in the war, except this time from an invisible enemy.

You can still enjoy the stories of this special book including mine called The Dome of St Paul’s dedicated to my Grandpa, Cyril Parry from Chester. The other stories, all with a common theme will keep you entertained until the very last page.

Look out, too for Audrina’s Lane’s poignant story, where she holds her Gramps’ hand in his last hours, his war stories coming to life through a photograph album.

My Grandpa loved music and was a dedicated follower of The Salvation Army. I don’t have any photos of him in his war uniform but do have this one in his Salvation Army one along with his beloved trumpet.

Excerpt

Gran got to her feet and opened the sideboard drawer and handed me a dark blue table cloth. “This is the sea,” Grandad said. “Get your boats out too, you’ll need them for this story.” I ran into the front room and brought back several vessels, eager to know what he would tell me and what we were going to do. The table cloth was now on the table, and Grandad was setting up the soldiers.

“I was in the British 8th Army, and we were taken by boat and dropped off at Salerno. Have you heard of it?”

“No,” I replied, looking at him earnestly.

“It’s in a place called Scilly. The Canadians and American were already there and fighting the Germans on the beaches. So they dropped our regiment off in the sea under the cover of darkness. But the Germans, the canny buggers, knew we were there and took pot shots at us. We were defenceless, standing waist deep trying to get ashore and dodging the bullets at the same time.”

“Couldn’t you get back onto the boats?” I asked.

”They’d gone, lad, soon as they dropped us off, they headed back. We were abandoned us to our fate, and many men died. I thought I was going to die too, but somehow made it onto the beach which we got control of it. We helped the Americans to fight the Germans, and the battle raged for hours. We won that one, but it was at a high cost. Too many young men lost their lives.” He looked over at my Gran who was watching and listening. “We should never have been left like that.”

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VJ Day/Singapore surrender. A family witness.

“Lord Louis Mountbatten delivering a speech from steps of Municipal Building at the conclusion of Japanese surrender ceremonies. L to R, front row: Admiral Sir Arthur J. Power, General Sir William Slim, Mountbatten, Lt. General Raymond A.Wheeler, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park. Singapore.” Sep. 12, 1945

This year, 2020, marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War 2. Probably the most momentous historical occasion in living memory.

Many military and veterans’ associations and charities planned special events, shows, exhibitions and displays in remembrance of VE-day, D-Day and VJ-Day, which, due to the Coronavirus pandemic necessitated cancellation.

Every day, memories of World War 2, its sights and sounds, its terrors and triumphs, disappear. Yielding to the inalterable process of ageing, the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now in their late 80s and 90s. The oldest reported, 110 and 105 respectively.

It is doubtful how many may still be with us to observe future milestone in our history of remembrance. One of the main reasons 2020 was to be a major worldwide commemorative event.

At the time I write this post, both the VE-Day and D-Day dates have passed which is one reason I write of VJ-Day.

Another reason is, my grandfather, Percy Doswell, a Royal Airforce doctor, witnessed the surrender ceremony at the Municipal Building of Singapore, headed by Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command, who came to Singapore to receive the formal surrender of the Japanese forces in the region from General Seishirō Itagaki on behalf of General Hisaichi Terauchi.

A photograph montage, near the end of this blog post were taken by my grandfather and have never been published or publicly displayed before.

However, let me start with a simple historical explanation for those who may not know too much regarding the ending of World War 2.

D-Day; the popular name given to the Normandy Landings, on 6 June 1944. (D-Day and H-Hour being common military terms of the period.)

This event marked the allied fightback against the Axis Powers, notably Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. It was the beginning of the end.

VE Day marks the end of World War II in Europe, (Victory in Europe, hence ‘VE’.) May 8th, 1945 the date the Allies celebrated the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Reich, formally recognising the end of the Second World War in Europe.

VJ Day signals the end of World War II in its entirety. It is when Japan finally surrendered. (Victory over Japan Day, VJ-Day, also known as Victory in the Pacific Day, or VP-Day.)

In Japan, August 15th is known as the ‘Memorial Day for the end of the war‘. 終戦記念日, Shūsen-kinenbi); the official name for the day, however, is ‘the day for mourning of war dead and praying for peace.’ (戦没者を追悼し平和を祈念する日, Senbotsusha o tsuitōshi heiwa o kinensuru hi. (This official name was adopted in 1982 by an ordinance issued by the Japanese government.)

In the UK and the US, VJ Day is celebrated on different dates.

The initial announcement of Japan’s surrender was made on 15 August 1945, the date the UK marks as VJ-Day each year.

However, the surrender documents were officially signed on the USS Missouri battleship on 2 September 1945, which is why America celebrates on 2 September.

Foreign minister Shigemitsu, signing Japanese surrender instrument on the battleship USS Missouri

This blog, however, concentrates on the 12 September 1945, the date the surrender instrument was signed at the Singapore Municipal Building, (now known as City Hall), simply because, (as stated above), this was the part of the war’s official ending my grandfather witnessed and of which my family have personal records.

On 12 September 1945, Supreme Allied Commander (Southeast Asia), Lord Louis Mountbatten, accompanied by the Deputy Supreme Commander Raymond Wheeler, was driven to the ceremony by a released prisoner-of-war. As the car drove by the streets, sailors and marines from the East Indies Fleet who lined the streets greeted them.

At the Municipal Building, Mountbatten was received by his Commanders-in-Chief and high-ranking Allied Officers based in Singapore. Also gathered in front of the Municipal Building were four Guards-of-Honour, from the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, the Indian army, and Australian paratroopers. Mountbatten led an inspection of the officers before proceeding to the chamber where the ceremony was to be held. During the inspection, a fleet band played “Rule Britannia” accompanied by the firing of a seventeen-gun salute by the Royal Artillery.

The Instrument of Surrender was signed by General Itagaki, who signed on behalf of Hisaichi Terauchi, Field Marshall Count, Supreme Commander of the Imperial Japanese Forces, Southern Region.

Terauchi was not able to attend the surrender ceremony as he fell ill due to a stroke. However, he personally surrendered to Mountbatten on 30 November 1945 in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city).

He also surrendered his two swords: a short sword forged in the 16th century and a long sword forged in the 13th century. Mountbatten later presented the short sword to King George VI.

The Japanese signed a total of 11 copies of the Instrument of Surrender; one each for the British, American, Chinese, French, Dutch, Australian, Indian and the Japanese governments; and one each for King George VI, the Supreme Commander, Mountbatten and the South East Asia Command’ records.

The ceremony was also witnessed by 400 spectators (one being my grandfather, Percy Doswell), made up of commanders and officers from the navy, army and air force, as well as senior officers from the Supreme Headquarters of the South East Asia Command, 14 leaders of the Malayan communities, the Sultan of Johore, Sir Ibrahim, and released prisoners-of-war, who were all seated behind the Allied representatives.

In the chamber, flags of Allied forces were hung and at the bases of its pillars as were one officer representing the different fighting forces; the Gurkhas, Sikhs, Australians, British airmen, Dutch, Americans, French (from the battleship Richelieu) and the 5th Indian Division.

The surrender ceremony ended with the hoisting of the Union Jack and the playing of the national anthems of all the Allied nations. The Union Jack used was the same flag which flew over the Government House before the war and which was hidden by a Malayan civil servant, Mervyn Cecil Frank Sheppard in his pillow during his captivity in the Changi Prison during the Japanese Occupation.

The official ceremony was followed by a celebration at the Padang, which included a victory parade.

A British military administration, using surrendered Japanese troops as security forces, was formed to govern the island until March 1946.

At home, in England, Prime Minister Clement Atlee‘s announcement: “The last of our enemies is laid low”.

King George VI addressed the nation from a balcony at Buckingham Palace and streets across the nation were filled with people singing, cheering, dancing in scenes which echoed the declaration of peace in Europe three months earlier.

Bonfires were lit, fireworks sent soaring into the sky and historic buildings floodlit as the whole country celebrated the news that their remaining troops would soon be returning home.

Immediately operations began to repatriate some of the 130,000 Allied prisoners held by Japanese troops in POW camps across the region. The RAF parachuted in 136 teams to negotiate the release of prisoners in Operation Mastiff.

My Grandfather, Percy Doswell. (While stationed in India.)

Sadly, the end of World War 2 did not bring the everlasting peace so many wished for, war and conflict still rage around the world to this day.

I note two books you may wish to read, the first, an anthology from the authors of Electric Eclectic, written to celebrate the 75th VE-Day anniversary, is simply called ‘Victory 75. This can be obtained in Paperback from Amazon, here, or as an eBook/Kindle, here

The second is ‘Life in the War Zone, n award winning collection of short stories classed as fiction, yet are based on true accounts given by those living in areas of conflict around the world. Paperback only. Here.

Victory 75 from Electric Eclectic

We all know, so far, 2020 has been a wash-out regarding public occasions, such as exhibitions, displays and spectacles, which is more of a shame when you consider this year is the 75th anniversary year of the end of World War II.

2020 was to see celebrations for VE-day (Victory in Europe), The D-Day landings and VJ-Day (Victory over Japan), which marked the end of WW2, and more.

Many military charities, organisations who care for veterans, support families, work with the injured and those requiring rehabilitation needed to cancel their planned commemorations and tributes often losing the investment they made in the organising of those events.

The Royal British Legion, SSAFA, Combat Stress, Veterans Outreach Support, The Invicta Foundation and Navy Wings are just a few who have been hard hit by these cancellations.

The shame is, none of those who served are getting any younger and, for many, this year was possibly their last chance to travel to memorial events and exhibition showcases.

As part of these 75th anniversary commemorations, Electric Eclectic has published an anthology containing several stories, from a number of their authors and friends, all  focusing on and around VE-Day.

The title is simply, ‘Victory 75‘. This book is available in paperback and as an eBook from Amazon and many other online bookstores, with a percentage of the profits destined for SSAFA – the armed forces charity.

The promotion of this book has been as hard hit by the covid19 outbreak as the cancelled events mentioned above, so now we are counting on your support to help us help those in need.

Purchase your copy of Victory75 from Amazon Paperback or eBook

Find Victory75 from Apple iBooks, Nook (B7N), Kobo, 24Symbols, Angus Robertson etc. HERE

Thank You.