Like a big chunk of Britain, I am fascinated by the two world wars. They echo at us down through time. They make us wonder what it was like to live through it, how people managed and how we would have managed. Time washes knowledge away. Here's my effort at holding back that tide a little bit. I offer these men for your thoughts.
My Dad – aka Squadron Leader Adrian Maynard. Dad was so in love with planes that he turned down a place at university to work on the factory floor building de Havillands. His father was furious and cut off all contact. Dad enlisted with the RAF in May 1939, four months before war broke out. He desperately wanted to be pilot but it turned out he was colour blind so there were no pilot’s wings for him. He was first stationed with 201 squadron in the Shetlands at RAF Sullom Voe on anti-submarine and marine patrol duty flying out over the North Sea and then in Northern Ireland at RAF Castle Archdale flying west over the Atlantic providing cover for convoys against submarines and seeking out German warships, including the Bismarck. In 1942 he was transferred to 240 squadron and India where he led anti-shipping and anti-submarine actions, as well as supplying troops in Burma.
Uncle Alex – Major Alex Saunt MBE. Very sadly, Alex died this August at Douai, France, aged 85, as a result of a heart attack at a railway station while headed for a WWI battlefield tour. The photo below is of Alex at Sandhurst, aged 17. He served with the Light Infantry and with the SAS. Libya, Borneo, Northern Ireland, Germany and Denmark were just some of the places he served. He was awarded an MBE for his courage.
Uncle Clarence – Commander Clarence King, DSO, DSC and Bar, Legion of Merit (USA). Clarence went to sea aged 13. He was decorated in both world wars for destroying U-boats and possibly the only commander to ram and board a U-Boat. He captained a ‘Q-ship’ in World War 1, was credited with one kill and two probables, and was awarded the DSC. He volunteered again when war broke out in 1939, aged 52. He commanded various ships and either sunk or played a role in sinking a further four U-boats, one of which, U-94, had sunk 28 ships. I’m proud that he fought hard, but I’m as proud that he took some major risks to rescue German survivors. https://legionmagazine.com/over-the-side-the-courageous-boarding-of-u-94/, https://www.canada.ca/en/navy/corporate/history-heritage/canadian-naval-heroes/clarence-king.html, https://www.okanaganmilitarymuseum.ca/commander-c-a-king-is-the-okanagans-ace-sub-hunter/
Clarence didn't get through the war unscarred. His son Ronald was killed in Sicily fighting for the Seaforth Highlanders. I currently know almost nothing about Ronald, more research required.
Grandpa – Commander Gerald Saunt, DSO, DSC. Grandpa grew up on Lundy island and joined the Royal Navy aged 18. In 1940, he served with 826 squadron under RAF Coastal Command, defending the British Expeditionary Force as it retreated to Dunkirk, flying both Fairey Albacores and Fairey Swordfish. The Swordfish were better known as stringbags, for their wood and cloth design and for being unfeasibly slow, almost 100mph slower than the Messerschmitts they faced. He was posted to HMS Formidable, one of the early aircraft carriers, flying the marginally faster Albacores. He led the first and last strikes against the Italian fleet at the Battle of Cape Matapan on 28 March 1941. The last strike crippled the Pola, an Italian crusier, which indirectly led to it, another cruiser and two destroyers being sunk. Grandpa had two crash landings during the war. The second one left him with only 15% of his hearing and he was invalided out. He trained pilots at RAF Crail in Fife for the rest of the war. He hardly ever spoke about the war and his lack of hearing had a major impact on the rest of his life.
Uncle Rowley – my granny’s uncle, Lieutenant Commander Rowland Bourke, VC, DSO. The Canadian army, navy and air force each rejected Rowley on account of his terrible eyesight. Undeterred, he headed back to Britain and finally managed to persuade the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to let him serve on motor launches in the Channel. In April 1918, Rowley participated in the efforts to blockade the Belgian harbour of Zeebrugge-Ostend, during the First Ostend Raid. He commanded a launch which picked up 38 sailors from the blockship HMS Brilliant and towed another crippled launch out of the harbour. For showing "the greatest coolness and skill in handling his motor launch", Rowley was awarded the DSO. A few weeks later, on 9 and 10 May when the Allies were again trying to block the harbour, Rowley took his launch back into the harbour to check that everybody had got away. After searching and finding no one, he withdrew, but hearing cries from the water he turned back, found three men clinging to an up-turned boat, and rescued them. During that time, his motor launch was under very heavy fire at very close range. It was hit 55 times, once by a 6-inch shell, which killed two of his crew. His launch was seriously damaged but managed to make it out into the open sea and was taken in tow. In recognition of his gallantry, Rowley was awarded the Victoria Cross. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rowland_Bourke