back to article Four Boys' Own style World War Two heroes to fire your imagination

This week marked the 97th birthday of one of the world's greatest ever airmen, Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown RN, who flew nearly 500 different types of aircraft. Here's a quick look at some notable daredevils from World War Two. Eric “Winkle” Brown Captain Brown began his aviation career after being taken for a flight in a …

  1. ElectricFox

    Jack Churchill

    Scored the only British Longbow kill of WW2

    Who needs nukes with officers like Jack?

    1. Matthew Smith

      Re: Jack Churchill

      I'm sure a longbow is preferable to an SA80.

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: Jack Churchill

        Its a matter of blood loss and shock. A bow with an appropriate arrowhead is quite devastating.

  2. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown

    His episode of Desert Island Discs is here. It's well worth a listen for his sense humour, as well as his amazing life. He's still as sharp as a tack.

    I loved the story of him illegally looping around the Forth Bridge in a Navy Spitfire... the police didn't know the Navy had a Spitfire so fruitlessly chased up the RAF, thus he escaped a severe reprimanding.

    And whilst I'm at it, here's Louis Armstrong's episode. Just because.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown

      There's also been a BBC TV documentary on him. Not available at moment on iplayer

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown

        Read his autobiography: "Wings on my Sleeve" to get the full story - DID and the TV docu were good but were very far from telling the whole story.

        If you're a pilot or a total aviation fan you'll also want his "Wings of the Luftwaffe", which gives his impressions and handling notes for the various German aircraft he flew.

        1. SkippyBing

          Re: Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown

          He's also done 'Wings of the Navy' featuring RN and USN aircraft and 'Wings of the Weird and Wonderful' which feature some of the more notable examples of his test flying career. I think he's done one on the Miles M.52 as well.

          I've heard him talk twice and if you get the chance I'd highly recommend taking it.

        2. Vic

          Re: Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown

          If you're a pilot or a total aviation fan you'll also want his "Wings of the Luftwaffe"

          And if you're a total plane geek, you'll have "the colour encyclopedia of incredible aeroplanes", for which he wrote the foreword.

          Not that I have it, you understand.

          ::whistles nonchalantly::


          1. SkippyBing

            Re: Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown

            Vic, I suspect we have near identical book shelves...

        3. Peter Simpson 1
          Thumb Up

          Re: Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown

          OK, El Reg, you sold another book for Captain Brown. Riveting reading. He seems to have more lives than a cat.

  3. Vinyl-Junkie

    Jack Nissenthall

    For the full story of Nissenthall's participation in the Bruneval Raid, I thoroughly recommend James Leasor's book Green Beach

    1. Holleritho

      Re: Jack Nissenthall

      'Green Beach' is excellent.

  4. Wupspups

    You already mentioned Popski's Private Army, but the chap who created the unit Major Vladimir Peniakoff, MC is worth mentioning. Initially a concentious objecter in WWI but eventual served in the French Artillery in WWI as a private because he didnt want to waste his time training as an officer in the british army.

    Next Herbert "Blondie" Hasler leader of the Cockleshell Heroes in the Operation Frankton raid against German ships harboured in Bordeaux. Haslers theories and practice where later to be used by the SBS. He was put forward for a VC but it wasnt granted. Hasler after the war went on to invent the Hasler Self Steering Gear for yachts that allowed single handed sail across large expanses of see. He also instituted the Observer Single Handed Transatlantic Race which he aslo raced in. He came 2nd to Sir Francis Chichester.

    Third and sort of communications related on Thomas "Darkie" Waters a corporal in the Royal Crops of Signals. Waters was a wireless and line operator (though the old linemen(aka "lineys") of theSignals used to clain he was one of theirs) Waters was attached to 5 Para Brigade for the raid on Peagus Bridge in Caen. During the attack on the bridge Cpl Waters rescued a wounded comrade. Repaired a communications line multiple time under fire. He was awarded a MM. Water was later wounded trying to protect other soldier during a training excerise when a pin was pulled from a grenade. He Lost an eye and had a metal plate fitted to his head. Almost every Sergents mess in the Royal Corps of Signals has a copy of the painting by Peter Archer of Corporal Waters legging it across Pegasus bridge with reel of D8 line to repair another cut line. His example is used by the Signals to emphasise "comms must get through no matter what

    1. tfewster Silver badge

      Re: Cpl Waters


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cpl Waters

        That made me laugh with the not so subtle reference to Die Hard. Appropriate for this week.

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Thumb Up

    Facsinating read

    Must look up more about these men

  6. Kurt Meyer

    I recall seeing a movie about Jack Nissenthall, but I cannot remember any of the film's details. A pretty good story.

  7. 0laf Silver badge

    Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart's memoirs are also on Amazon. I need some new books.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't fuck with the Finns ....

    Simo Häyhä - 'nuff said.

    So unspeakably badass that not even a Russian artillery strike could take him out.

  9. magickmark

    Family History

    My war hero would have to be my Great Uncle, William O'Callaghan who was involved in the Dunkirk evacuations and his story started at a small village called Le Paradis.

    "The Le Paradis massacre was a war crime committed on May 27th 1940 by members of the 14th Company, SS Division Totenkopf, under the command of Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein.

    It took place during the Battle of France, at a time when the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was attempting to retreat through the Pas-de-Calais region during the Battle of Dunkirk."

    The story can be found here.

    and here

    Simply put the Royal Norfolk Battalion was part of the rear guard defense for the Dunkirk evacuations and my Great Uncles company were captured by an SS company, marched in to field and then machined gunned down.

    My Great Uncle survived along with one other person, Albert Pooley, who was badly wounded and saved by my Great Uncle. You can read the full story above.

    My Great Uncle ended up in a POW camp in Poland and at the end of the war they were abandoned and had to find their own way back to allied territory by marching across Europe.

    There is/was a book written called "The Vengeance of Private Pooley" and published by an author called Cyril Jolly, now out of print.

  10. Mark Honman

    Some more good reads

    Robert Crisp:

    His books "Blazing Chariots" and "The Gods were Neutral" are brilliant reads.

    And there's Deneys Reitz, who wrote "Commando" about fighting the Brits during the Boer War, and "Trekking On" about serving with them in WW1.

    1. Mark Honman

      Re: Some more good reads

      Sorry, "Brazen Chariots"

  11. Robert Ramsay

    Despite helping found the KKK...

    Nathan Bedford Forrest. Sorry to copy from Wikipedia, but...

    " In the battle of Fallen Timbers, he drove through the Union skirmish line. Not realizing that the rest of his men had halted their charge when reaching the full Union brigade, Forrest charged the brigade single-handedly, and soon found himself surrounded. He emptied his Colt Army revolvers into the swirling mass of Union soldiers and pulled out his saber, hacking and slashing. A Union infantryman fired a musket ball into Forrest's spine with a point-blank musket shot, nearly knocking him out of the saddle. Forrest galloped back to his incredulous troopers. A surgeon removed the musket ball a week later, without anesthesia, which was unavailable."

    " In December 1862, Forrest's veteran troopers were reassigned by Gen. Braxton Bragg to another officer, against his protest. Forrest had to recruit a new brigade, composed of about 2,000 inexperienced recruits, most of whom lacked weapons. Again, Bragg ordered a raid, this one into west Tennessee to disrupt the communications of the Union forces under Grant, which were threatening the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Forrest protested that to send such untrained men behind enemy lines was suicidal, but Bragg insisted, and Forrest obeyed his orders. On the ensuing raid, he showed his brilliance, leading thousands of Union soldiers in west Tennessee on a "wild goose chase" to try to locate his fast-moving forces. Never staying in one place long enough to be attacked, Forrest led his troops in raids as far north as the banks of the Ohio River in southwest Kentucky. He returned to his base in Mississippi with more men than he had started with. By then, all were fully armed with captured Union weapons."

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: Despite helping found the KKK...

      What's minor stuff like the Fort Pillow massacre, after all? Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein would have seen nothing wrong in it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Despite helping found the KKK...

        To quote that which is quoted in wikipedia not far from the material already given

        "The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor, deluded, negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased"

    2. Holleritho

      Re: Despite helping found the KKK...

      Forrest was an amazing tactical commander and an absolute shit.

  12. JimS

    Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter

    Anyone who carries an umbrella into battle, fights until his ammo runs out, radios "ammo out, God Save The King", gets captured, makes a compass out of buttons, escapes and then helps lead 150 men out of occupied territory, all with a girls name, gets my vote.

    1. graeme leggett

      I sometimes wonder if soldiers like him started out eccentric, or it was an artifice that they adopted and became second nature.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        IT angle:

        From Wikipedia:

        He also took an umbrella with his kit as a means of identification because he had trouble remembering passwords and felt that anyone who saw him with it would think that "only a bloody fool of an Englishman" would carry an umbrella into battle.

        Hahaha! I believe there was a Reg article about the password problem yesterday. Love this gent's solution, so much better than 'send a password reset link to your stored email address'.

  13. Huntsman

    Anders Lassen

    This is worth a read, what a life he had!

  14. Youngdog

    Some great ones in the recent le Carré biog

    My favourite so far is Lance Pope - walked out of Colditz wearing a German officer's uniform he'd made himself. Even had the cheek to b*ll*ck one of the guards in flawless German on the way out!

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Some great ones in the recent le Carré biog

      In order to get imprisoned in Colditz you had to be something of a badass already, it was the camp for high value prisons, and those who kept escaping from other PoW camps.

      For example, there's Douglas Bader, who joined the RAF in the 30's, but crashed doing aerobatics and had to have both legs amputated. Now for most people, losing both legs would slow them down, but not Bader. As soon as he had tin legs attached he tried to get straight back in a cockpit, the RAF were having none of it, but when WWII started they allowed him back.

      He flew a Spitfire in the Battle of France, and then the Battle of Britain, becoming a Squadron Leader, and later to Wing Commander in the process.

      He was eventually shot down over France in 1941, however, one of his prosthetic legs got stuck as he tried to bail out, so he had to leave it behind. However, he was so well known, that the Germans actually arranged with the RAF to have a replacement leg parachuted in.

      So, in a hospital in France, and now with both of his fake legs back, Bader manages to climb down a rope made of sheets (with no legs remember) and escape, but was recaptured quite quickly (due to an informant, not his legs). He was sent to Stalag Luft III and escaped from there, so he was moved to Stalag Luft VIIIB where he made another escape attempt, and eventually the Germans moved him to Colditz with the other "bad boys".

      (In effect what they did was create a 'dream team' of all the most escape focused officers in Germany, which explains why there was so many escape attempts from what was supposed to be the most secure PoW camp in Germany).

      In Colditz he made a habit of winding up and disrupting the guards, he even convinced the camp authorities that he needed regular walks in the countryside (this wasn't considered necessary for the inmates with legs), which he used to bribe the locals with Red Cross chocolate swapped for other foods, which he would smuggle back into the camp inside his fake legs.

  15. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    Fitzroy Maclean

    Fitzroy Maclean's life reads like one of the more outrageous adventure novels.

    He was a British diplomat in the 30s, requested a Moscow posting from where he got into parts of the USSR that no westerner had visited for 30 years, succeeding in this by sheer cheek. At the start of WW2 he tried to enlist but was prevented because the diplomatic service was a reserved occupation: you could only resign if elected to Parliament. So he stood in a by-election on a platform of immediately joining the army, won, enlisted and became one of the first members of the SAS. After serving in the desert (he he drove into Tobruk and out again while the Germans were still in residence) he was dropped into Yugoslavia to find out who or what Tito was and fought with the Partisans for the rest of the war, taking up his seat in Parliament after being demobbed.

    His book, "Eastern Approaches" is a most entertaining read.

  16. rzzzwilson

  17. rzzzwilson

    Not sure if being British is a requirement, but ...

    1. BebopWeBop

      Re: Not sure if being British is a requirement, but ...

      Quite apart from his actions in WW2 (was a little of a grenade aficionado - although I don't believe he ever bowled for NZ)

      After the war Upham returned to New Zealand, and the community raised £10,000 to buy him a farm. However, he declined and the money went into the C. H. Upham Scholarship for children of ex-servicemen to study at Lincoln College or the University of Canterbury.

    2. Lapun Mankimasta

      Re: Not sure if being British is a requirement, but ...

      For what very little it is worth, you must remember that the Statute of Westminster 1931

      had not yet been adopted in New Zealand and thus New Zealand was not formally independent from the United Kingdom at the time.

      Charles Upham would've seen himself as first a British subject and then a New Zealander.

      So while he was neither Britain-born nor Britain-domiciled, he was technically British. And thus he can be accurately included in this little bit of history.

      (Passing this little bit of legislation was a bit of a requirement to join in the United Nations on a proper basis - otherwise, with the UK being able to prevent the Dominions' legislatures from passing legislation, they would not have been recognized as fully-independent members of the UN - rather like the Soviet Union's Belorus and Ukraine memberships. :)

    3. Tim Wolfe-Barry

      Re: Not sure if being British is a requirement, but ...

      VC AND BAR

      Nuff Said...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > He made a total of 2,407 carrier landings during his distinguished career

    From the BBC: 'The US Navy were said to have given one man the specific job of breaking Brown's record. "To his everlasting credit he got up to 1,600 and then had a nervous breakdown," says Brown.'

    It's also interesting to note that the official figure for the number of different types of plane he flew doesn't include any of the variants of a given plane. So the Spitfire will only count once even if he flew 8 different versions.

    If we are into WWII lunatics then mention must be made of Charles Upham. A man who makes mad Jack Churchill look only slightly vexed. He's the only combat soldier to win the VC twice.

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Strong nerves the man had.

      In the critic Frank Kermode's memoirs, I find "Later we had Seafires, the naval adaptation of the Spitfire, which despite the adaptation had a very high landing speed, and the sight of Seafires toppling into the sea was almost commonplace." I wonder whether Brown ever had to be fished out. To be sure, Kermode served on an escort carrier.

      1. graeme leggett

        Re: Strong nerves the man had.

        I think Brown was on one of the early escort carriers - a merchant ship with a simple flat surface on top - that was sunk by a u boat.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Strong nerves the man had.

          > I think Brown was on one of the early escort carriers

          The Audacity. He was one of the few survivors picked up after a night in the north Atlantic.

          The documentary has the utterly ludicrous footage of him gently landing a Mosquito on a carrier. It all looks easy and simple (for a deck landing) until he points out that that the maximum safe landing speed is at least 30knots below the Mosquito's stall speed...

          1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

            Re: Strong nerves the man had.

            Landing a Mosquito on a carrier? OK, I think he wins the afternoon's competition for crazy-brave (or brave, crazy) aviators. Of course, with a carrier you can manufacture your own wind, and so air speed can be a good deal larger than deck speed. The USS Hornet sent off a bunch of B-25s that didn't even use the whole deck, for it was steaming full speed into a gale.

    2. Vic

      > He made a total of 2,407 carrier landings during his distinguished career

      I've always found his Mosquito landing amazing - according to Wikipedia,

      The fastest speed for deck landing was 86 kts, while the stall speed was 110 kts

      AIUI, not only did he achieve this impossible feat, he did it several times, just to prove it was no fluke...


      1. Flatpackhamster

        Mosquito on carrier

        There was a Sea Mosquito (post war IIRC), but I wouldn't fancy landing something that big on a fleet carrier, let alone an escort carrier.

        1. graeme leggett

          Re: Mosquito on carrier

          Sea Hornet- single seat fighter version from Mosquito adapted for naval use.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        He also landed a Meteor with no undercarriage on a carrier. Not an accident though. The range of early jets was so pathetic it was a genuine, insane, experiment. Take off on a sled, via catapult. Land, well stall and deliberately crash, on a giant rubber trampoline thingy. He did it of course.

        He also pioneered take off from carriers in Mosquitoes. This was very dangerous, as we saved resources by not giving them contra rotating propellers. So the torque-steer was huge, not sure of the aviation terminology here... They worked out with slide-rules that he'd get lift before falling off the side, so long as he applied full rudder. But he was the guy who had to do it first. Then second, third and fourth.

  19. Andrew Newstead

    Not quite right about Bruneville

    A few points.

    The raiding party (about 150 men) was dropped into St Bruneville and taken off by sea. The raid was a spectacular success with the Paras holding off any kind of counter attack while the techies stripped the Radar set of most of it important black boxes and the antenna, all of which was brought back to Blightie for analysis.

    What they found from this led to jamming techniques being developed for the bombers and helped to set up a decoy for the D Day landings

    Andrew (something of a military history buff)

  20. phil 27

    I came here to post mad Jack Churchil for the last RECORDED longbow kill in a military conflict, but he's already up there ^

    Also Wingate was a interesting chap, and his chindit unit's activities went on to form the basis of the para's. Not to be confused with the modern repurposement of the title for the geeks...

    1. Dom 3

      Use of bow and arrow in conflict still going strong:

  21. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Rod Smith, RAF cannon pioneer.

    For an example of brilliantly understated courage and judgement, Roddick Lee Smith. A Flight Lieutenant with the RAF, he was posted from an instructing role to be B Flight commander for 151 Squadron at North Weald, 11 Group, in June 1940, roughly when the Battle of Britain was really starting to get intense. 151 was a Hurricane squadron and had returned from an eventful period fighting over France. Demonstrating his calm appreciation of the situation and lack of ego, Smith made two unusual choices.

    Firstly, unlike a lot of officers joining squadrons back from France, Smith decided the men of his flight had a lot more experience of actual air fighting than him and actually listened to what they had to say. This unusual ability to put judgement before ego undoubtedly helped him later as a Squadron Leader, Wing Commander and test pilot (he was a colleague of Eric Brown's).

    Secondly, he chose a slower aircraft to make it easier for his pilots to keep formation on him. Usually, flight commanders chose the best aircraft available as a matter of self-preservation. Smith chose to fly the only cannon-armed Hurricane MkI (L1759) then around, which had been tested by 151Sq but had since sat unused in a hangar because the pilots said the two cannon (in big pods slung under the wings) made the aircraft less maneuverable and slower. Smith's chose to fly it anyway as it meant sprog pilots joining his flight had an easier time staying with him in combat (sprog pilots that got separated from their comrades in the Battle of Britain rarely lasted long). Smith did this despite knowing that it made him an easier target for the German fighters and that the unreliable cannons meant he could be left without the means to defend himself. Later in the BoB he flew a second Hurricane MkI with four cannon, also the first of its kind, and provided copious reports back to HQ of the cannon's performance. Whilst much is made of the experiments with cannon-armed Spitfires in the safer 12 Group during the BoB, Smith's calm example has drawn little recognition.

  22. Holleritho

    When I am soured on humanity...

    ...I read Victoria Cross citation, for Canadians, then any Commomweath country. And then the Medal of Honour citations (USA). To remember that courage, self-sacrifice and gallantry exist. But these are only those acknowledged -- so many more have to take our thanks to the Unknown Hero.

  23. Mike Banahan
    Thumb Up

    For the technically minded

    I can't recommend 'Between Silk and Cyanide' by Leo Marks more highly. Funny, insightful, and deeply sad in places, the author was responsible for codes and cyphers in the Special Operations Executive and closely involved in briefing many of the agents.

    A great personal memoir. Top read and beautifully written.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: For the technically minded

      Seconded, and upvoted. For complicated reasons, my copy is in Rio...

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: For the technically minded

        Enjoying itself?

  24. MrT

    Major Robert Cain VC

    ... VC won at Arnhem in 1944. Finest VC awarded, according to General Sir Peter de la Billière.

    1. Tony S

      Re: Major Robert Cain VC

      You might like to know that Robert Cain's daughter Frances, is married to Jeremy Clarkson.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Major Robert Cain VC - Clarkson & Thomas Durrant

        Its worth seeing Clarksons documentary on this and the St Nazaire Raid, which are actually rather good and easily findable on youtube.

        With that in mind Sgt Thomas Durrant who took part in the St Nazaire raid and at the age of 23, providing cover for others basically had a gun battle in a small wooden ship against a destroyer, and fought until he died from wounds.

        The German captain of the destroyer actually sought out officers from the raid who had been captured and told them he should get a VC.

  25. Kurt Meyer

    Two more for your reading pleasure

    Major Francis Harvey VC, Royal Marines -

    Boy (1st class) Jack Cornwell VC, Royal Navy -

    A personal note if I may. Jack Cornwell was my boyhood hero. I first read about him when I was younger than he was at the time of his death. I marvelled at his courage, and devotion to duty, as ordinary as they may seem to some people.

    As the years roll by, and the lights begin to fade away, his star burns as brightly as ever.

    1. Robert Masters

      Re: Two more for your reading pleasure

      My old Scout troop's site is Camp Cornwell, named for him.

  26. A. Coatsworth

    The guys who took Heydrich down in Prague

    By sheer chance I stumbled upon the Church of Saint Metodious and Cyril in Prague, the day after the anniversary of Operation Anthropoid. The whole street was littered with flowers and ribbons from military services from all over the world.

    I have never felt so overwhelmed, as when I entered the crypt where the soldiers holed up after attacking Heydrich, and was face to face with their busts. I was moved to tears, I must say.

  27. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Ken Adam and Chuck Yeager

    Ken Adam: piloted Hurricanes for the RAF in WWII for the RAF while still being technically German - he was too young to become a British subject when he joined the RAF. After the war he became one of the most (aguably the most) influencial production designer(s) ever. I've read his biography last year - utterly, utterly fascinating. Larger than life.

    Chuck Yeager: got shot down during one of his first sorties over France. Avoided capture, made contatct with la résistance, walked across the Pyrenees (carrying a fellow airman half the time), from France to Spain, got back to England, fought USAAF policy*, eventually presenting his case to Eisenhower himself, was allowed to get back into active service - and made ace in one day. After WWII he was a test pilot and for 10 years flew every new american plane and survived more than one close shave. Was smart enough to quit while he was ahead of the game and returned to being a fighter pilot. Retired as a general, still spending every possible minute at the stick instead behind a desk. If you watch "The Right Stuff": he has a cameo as "Fred", one of the regulars at Pancho Barnes bar.

    *Escaped pilots were not alowed to fly missions over enemy teritory again, for fear of being shot down again and captured, possibly being forced to compromise those who helped them escape the first time. Yeager got back to Britain some time after D-Day, so he argued that if he would be shot down again it would not be over France, so not compromising anyone there.

  28. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Military Obituaries

    The Military Obituaries in the Telegraph is always an interesting read.

    Obituaries of the greatest heroes and heroines from our Armed Forces, providing an insight into the world shaping battles through the eyes of the men and women who fought and lived to tell the tale

  29. Vic

    Jon Pertwee

    Jon Pertwee was a bit of a star.

    Next time you see Worzel Gummidge, consider the fact that you might be looking at the real James Bond...


    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Jon Pertwee

      On a similar note Tony Hart, who served with the 1st Gurhka Rifles in Burma, when asked in an interview whether it was dangerous, he just grinned and went "Rather".

  30. Tony S

    My heroes

    My grandfather Percy Eastland.

    Lied about his age, signed up in '14, sent to France in early '15. Fought in several major battles, including the Somme, where he got his first wound (bullet in the chest) when attacking and taking a machine gun position. Invalided out of the army in late '17 after his leg was blown off. Refused to talk about his experiences; only after his death did any information about his activities come to light. (He occasionally crawled out into no-mans land, usually without a weapon, to spy on the enemy positions.)

    During the second world war, he worked as a mechanic in the naval dockyards during the day and a fire warden at night. During the Blitz, he dived into the harbour to rescue someone that had fallen in the water. Despite only having one leg, he was a powerful swimmer; he rescued the man and lifted him out of the harbour on his own. He didn't tell the family; they found out a couple of months later when he received another medal to go with those he received in '19.

    My great uncle Ernest Mitchell.

    He was a PO in the navy; and assigned to a new submarine, HMS Thetis. Unfortunately, there was a manufacturing flaw on the torpedo tubes, which they didn't know about. He had been designated to a different position during the maiden voyage, so his experience was not available to prevent a tragedy. However, he realised what had gone wrong, made his way to the flooding compartment and somehow managed to lock the water tight door to save the lives of everyone on board. Sadly to no avail; they were stuck on the bottom of the sea and succumbed to carbon dioxide poisoning.

    As an aside, 70 years later, I was talking to a member of my then IT team. It turned out that he had a great uncle that served on board the same boat after it had been put back in service as HMS Thunderbolt; and had gone down with her in action in the Med during '43.

    1. Pedigree-Pete

      HMS Thetis

      I had relatives in Moelfre, Anglesey N.Wales and spent many summers re-reading the accounts of HMS Thetis posted there.


  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ended up with a rock, when he ran out of space for his kukri....

  32. MrCreasy

    Sir Douglas 'Dogsbody' Robert Steuart Bader

    ..Merits a definite mention, lost both his legs, went to war with the RAF anyway. Got captured and spent the rest of the war trying to escape multiple times, eventually ending up in Colditz. He never let his lack of mobility stop him!

    A true testament to the British wartime spirit.

    1. Kurt Meyer
      Thumb Up

      Re: Sir Douglas 'Dogsbody' Robert Steuart Bader

      Have an upvote for mentioning Douglas Bader.

      His radio call sign was "Dogsbody" if I remember correctly. A wonderful story of grit and determination.

  33. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Arctic Convoys

    When I read "HMS Ulysses" by Alistair MacLean, I'd not seen any photographs or had any knowledge of the conditions encountered on the Arctic Convoys.

    With the 70th anniversary of the convoys, there appeared articles like these detailing the harrowing conditions endured by the sailors. The accompanying photographs and descriptions are exactly as MacLean described - he himself having first hand experience in 2 Arctic Convoys

    Churchill called it ‘the worst journey in the world’; 3,000 British sailors had died by May 1945.

    1. Kurt Meyer

      Re: Arctic Convoys

      A wonderful book to read, thank you for mentioning it. Although fictional, it does give a glimpse into the war fought by both the regular and the merchant navies.

      Their courageous and skillful fighting has been overlooked with all the coverage of Stalingrad, El Alamein, and Midway.

      I must say however, that I've read here on the pages of El Reg that the Germans had only "clunky, barely functional submersibles", so maybe the dangers were overblown. ;-)

  34. Roj Blake

    Buster Crabb

    Lionel "Buster" Crabb - not to be confused with Buster Crabbe the actor.

  35. Mayhem

    Jan Baalsrud

    A Norwegian who got an MBE, he has one of the greatest survival stories I've ever read in the book We Die Alone. Amongst other things he amputated nine of his own toes, and survived 27 days alone in a stretcher in an alpine environment, including being buried under several metres of snow. And on learning to walk again, he went back into Norway on active duty.

  36. EngineerAl

    Long before WWI - but noteworthy,_10th_Earl_of_Dundonald

    One of the models for Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey, but possibly more unlikely than them.

  37. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Arnold Ridley (Private Godfrey)

    "...Ridley was a rare kind of war hero in real life, having served in both the first and second world wars – horribly wounded in hand-to-hand trench fighting at the Somme in 1916, he was back in action again in 1939 as a major with the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk."

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