Or how one thing can lead to another…
I was recently at Normandy Barracks in Leconfield, East Yorkshire. The reason for my visit was to see the chapel where there was a plaque commemorating the 6 servicemen killed at 8:45am on 13th October 1956. They were:
– Sergeant B Jones
– Corporal J Bryant
– Corporal W E Lewis
– Corporal A E J Smith
– Lance Corporal V C Bowers
– Sapper J E Coates
Uncle Jimmy (after whom I get my middle name) was the corporal named above. He was only in his early twenties, and of course we never knew each other. After Pa died last year I realised that I needed to do more investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death (it was not something Pa spoke of very much).
The accident occurred on a single track railway when an unauthorised train was allowed onto the track and a head on collision occurred. The 6 men were in a wooden box van on the train which was reduced to matchwood. Although there was an enquiry and there were questions in the House of Commons afterwards about safety, I got the impression that the failure to use a token to control access to the line was a normal occurrence, but the fog that day led to the crash and deaths.
I had tracked the crash to Longmoor railway line, and by the benefit of the Internet tracked down the editor or the Royal Engineer veterans magazine where many years ago a photo of the crash had been published. He, amazingly, put me in touch with a friend of Uncle Jimmy\’s who was on the train at the time, and had run back to the signal box to summon assistance.
As a result of these investigations I discovered that a memorial to the 6 was in the chapel at Longmoor but would have been moved in the 70\’s when the Transport Corp moved. There were family recollections of it being near Kingston Upon Hull so I contact the RE Association there, and discovered that the chapel contents had been transferred to Normandy Barracks. Jimmy\’s memorial was there! To boot, Pa had been made an honorary member of the RE Association there, and attended the annual ceremony in the chapel and knew of the plaque\’s existence. A poor quality photograph was around, but nothing else. I resolved to visit someday and get a photo, and understand more.
What was really quite weird was that 1981 whilst a student at Hull Uni, I had paid a visit to the Barracks to visit an old schoolmate of Pa\’s. Pa did not know of – and so did not mention – that his brother\’s memorial was there. The visit was off the cuff, and (being 1981) a scruffy student cycling up to the guardhouse asking if there was an officer by the name of W E (surname redacted) on site caused a little excitement – but I was let in and spent a pleasant afternoon with Pa\’s chum, his wife and young daughter (crawling then, but now must be in her 30\’s).
Anyway, on our recent visit to the area we made an appointment to visit the chapel and amongst some beautiful stained glass, Jimmy and his 5 colleagues plaque was found. Mission accomplished.
On leaving the chapel we were chatting to the verger and she pointed out the telephone box just around the corner. It was red. \”So\” you might say, but this is 01482 territory and telephone boxes are white in the independent Hull telephone area.
So, to the point of the tale. This phone box was from the WWII era, when Halifax bombers were stationed here – the phone box was the only contact point the aircrew had with the outside world. The reason the box was still in place was that it still had the hasp end of the padlock used to lock the phone box shut. The reason for the padlock? Once aircrew were assigned to a mission they were permitted a phone call to someone (a veteran reportedly called his priest); but as the briefing for the mission was being given the phone box was padlocked shut to prevent word of the targets being leaked either deliberately or accidentally.
Imagine that. No go on, imagine that, really – imagine that. Complete communication lockdown with a simple padlock.