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Homepage is: http://shawweb.myzen.co.uk/stephen/index.htmbefore 1950...
Dad (Cecil Shaw known as George Shaw) was born Feb 14th 1920,
and mum (Ireen Mary Hughes known as Reen) was born
I know little of Mum's early life, except that she had strong memories of persecution at school for being left handed. By 1950 the Hughes family was in an old house on High Street,Northop (Flintshire, North Wales) made by combining 3 one up/one down houses. This was an OLD dwelling, with an outside toilet, no bath, no telephone, rudimentary electricity, and a Rayburn cooking range in the kitchen. The three downstairs rooms were the kitchen, the sitting room, and the parlour, which was hardly ever used.
Mum had a brother Tommy and a sister Marian. Northop was a small village, with a parish church,
several chapels, a post office, a corner shop, a chip shop and a butchers. Two pubs and an "Institute".
Brook Street was crossed by a brook (The Brook), a modern road with a shallow ford. The local village
squire (Sir John) was looked up to, and there was free admission for villagers to The Park - I have photographs of my mother there aged around ten, and myself in the same spot at the same age. By the time my son was ten the area was an international golf club, retaining its footpaths, but very much at your very real risk of death.
Gran's house on High Street had (still has) no road number, and was known locally, informally, as Corner House, but when Gran lived there, it did not have its name on a plaque.
The long side of the three cottages had a small window to the walk in larder, which was also the stairs up. The main room windows and a door were on the inside of a courtyard where the toilet was. The High Street side had the window of the parlour, a bedroom window, and the entrance to The Entry. In those days the door to and in the courtyard was not locked.
Crosville buses plied their way between Chester and Mold.
Dad's mum was Anne Carty Hughes and his Dad was Stephen Shaw. Dad was to be
called Stephen but another member of that generation of Shaw's got there
first. That Stephen was killed in WW2 and his memorial is at Southsea.
For reasons which are unknown, for almost all his life Dad always referred to himself as GEORGE SHAW. This was the name on his nameplate at work. Officially he was Cecil but everyone knew him as George, right up until his move to the nursing home when he chose to be called Cecil. Mum always called him Cec (sess).
Dad's dad was a stonemason, working around North Wales and Cheshire. He
suffered from stone dust on the lungs and after a period of ill health died
whilst Dad was quite young. Dad had a younger sister, Cas, who was sent
to spend an unhappy time with an aunt.
Dad and his mum were left to fend for themselves, living in a council house, in the small Flintshire market town of Mold, at a time of great economic upheaval (the 1930s) where food was what you caught or from the community kitchen. Coal was scavenged.
At this time Mold had a railway station with a somewhat slow train to Chester.
Dad earned some funds by delivering coal in a barrow, and later joined the Post Office as a delivery boy.
Then along came the second great war, September 1939. In October 1939 men between 20 and 23 were required to register to serve in the armed forces. Dad reached 20 in February 1940 and was signed on as a Coder on 27th June 1940. To place this in context, the Dunkirk evacuation was early June 1940.
First duty was a short period of training at a holiday camp near Skegness (Butlins, Ingoldmells) from the 27th June to 1st August. Then to Blyth, Northumberland until 21st August.
Continued below the pictures.
On Bryony he sailed for the first part of the ill fated PQ17 Russian convoy, and then went all the way with convoy PQ18. They sailed early September 1942 for Archangel, and started the return voyage as QP15 around November 1942. I have some film of this convoy from the Imperial War Museum.
A separate page has more notes of Dad's ships Arabis and Bryony, and their travels.
In Russia he had a strong memory of meeting a beautiful Russian woman
visiting her mother. The country was covered in deep snow and it was
not obvious where any roads went. As the lady knew her mother lived nearby
to where the Navy ships were, she followed Dad as he made his way back to
the ship after sending telegrams back home for the men.
(We still had his telegram to his mother in 1995).
Dad found his way back to the ship by following bits of coloured paper he had placed along the route as he went into town.
Also in Russia he had tea with British reporter Godfrey Wynn.
After that fairly awful trip, arriving back home early December 1942, following a friendly collision repairs were needed, and with more armaments fitted, and a unique second yard arm, in April 1943 they left home base for some light Atlantic work.
Then it was off to the Mediterranean where Bryony took part in the Sicily landings (July 1943) before taking up escort duties between Gibraltar and Alexandria. Dad received a hot-pipe burn wound to the foot. He may have been offloaded to another ship to be taken to Egypt. He reports that this ship was sunk under him and he spent time in the water (on a buoyant stretcher) before being picked up by another ship and being taken to Egypt. His war records give no indication of being wounded (it would appear to have been more of an accident), but show him as leaving Bryony (based Algiers) for Nile Cannopus (Alexandria land base) on 1st October 1943.
His foot did not heal well and some silk was inserted for new skin to grow over. Still bandaged he was transferred to "S S Leros" "lent" for a movement to Leros on 18th October 1943 (he may have volunteered for this project due to boredom on the land base). Wireless communications in Leros in 1943 were very poor and insufficient. The records are silent around this date but I note that "Raiding Forces Aegean" was established on the 15th October 1943.
It is notable that the island of Kos fell on 4th October 1943 and the fall of Leros was virtually a certainty, yet Dad was sent out on 18th October.
Dad's task was to transmit a coded signal to Egypt. It was heard in London. There is a record of a radio transmission being made by Brigadier Tinley at 07.30 on 16th November to Cairo (the date of the surrender and the date on Dad's war papers when he was transferred to POW status). Was this signal the one sent by Dad? Who knows. Other comments include "men of Special Services rejected the surrender order and took to the hills" which ties in with what little Dad said, regarding how he was isolated in the hills with no water supply (eg an isolated surrender after a delay rather than an immediate mass surrender).
Dad reported that the Germans surrounded the small British group, on top of a hill,
with no water supply, and capture was inevitable.
The theory of the British taking Leros was that once the Allies had control of the Aegean they could send supplies to Russia through the Dardanelles and thus avoid the dangerous Arctic and Persian Gulf routes. Unfortunately the Americans thought differently (Roosevelt seems to have opined that Britain was being imperialistic; also the Americans preferred an all out assault whereas the British preferred a weakening and confusing side attack. The British were also concerned about Russian imperialism.) and the US would not support the plan. Churchill still went ahead with the scheme, but used only a Brigade of troops instead of the required Division. The plan was doomed to fail without American assistance. Air cover was very thin due to the long range from British bases. Arguably the British plan would have resulted in a very different Mid-Europe and Middle-East after the War. The area became dominated by Russia and learned to distrust the British who failed to help them (lacking the resources on their own).
With control of the air firmly in the hands of the Luftwaffe, the Germans recaptured the islands, the formal surrender being 16th November 1943. On 24th November Dad's war records show him as Missing in Action. Some months later, a repatriated (injured) sailor told Dad's mother that Dad was a POW, and she told the Navy! He was not repatriated until 10 May 1945.
The Battle of Leros is covered in a book "Churchill's Folly" and formed a basis for the book and film The Guns of Navarone (which had a happier ending- very few British actually got off Leros (3,200 POWs).
Dad experienced a long train ride through Yugoslavia (this would be from Greece) to a prisoner of war camp. Dad remembered Yugoslavia as a very poor place. As a Naval Coder captured on a hill with soldiers, inevitably Dad received more than casual treatment once captured.
Dad's memories of the PoW camp were largely good, although in a first camp he was the subject of an attempt to convert him to the German cause (perhaps by the then fairly recent British Free Corps), and that having failed, more extreme interrogation.
In March 1944 the Royal Navy wrote to Dad's mother, thanking her for telling them that Dad was a prisoner at Marlag und Milag Nord (Marlag M) and advising that the Navy sent on uniforms, underclothing and boots, but that Dad's mum could send a parcel containing woolies, socks, shirts and pyjamas.
His final camp was the Naval camp at Marlag u Milag, prisoner 1223 in the M camp (Camp Milag O was for RN officers, Camp M for other ranks). Prisoners were well treated. However the Germans were not doing well, and POWs from other camps were marched in- plus the food distribution was going badly. From the end of 1944 the POWs were finding the going tougher.
We have a post card message from Dad, sent from Marlag in March 1944 to Mum's mother.
The Merchant Navy men were first taken from Milag to another camp, trashing Milag before they went, which was unfortunate as the next inhabitants of Milag were RAF prisoners.
The RAF and Navy prisoners were marched from Marlag und Milag on April 10th 1945, leaving from 0900, split into squadrons.
The POWs, malnourished as they were, were marched away from the camp, with the possible intent of moving them to Sweden or Denmark. They arrived at Zeven at 1800 and at Heeslingen at 2000, sleeping in an open field. Two prisoners were shot in the leg for taking bedding straw. The prisoners left markings to let the RAF know where they were, but on 11th April the column was straffed by RAF spitfires. A column of prisoners was strafed killing 3 Marlag Naval Officers and wounding 4 others.
Dad was within inches of the line of fire and saw death and bloody destruction at very close hand.
Dad did many years later have nightmares involving the RAF killing British prisoners being moved, thinking they were German troops, and the death and blood which resulted.
By April 15th the prisoners were by Cranz, on April 23rd they were by Hamberge, finaly on April 28th moving to a large estate at Trenthorst. A British armoured car arrived at 1pm on 2nd May 1945 and took the surrender of the few German guards remaining.
On return to the UK he may have spent some time in a hospital, possibly for mental health reasons.
Marlag and Milag North can be seen in the film "The Captive Heart", shot there by Ealing Studios just six weeks after liberation. The film did not portray the camp as a navy camp, but it did show the rabbit hutches which Dad had told me about. A famous prisoner there was Albert RN, who also had a film made about his exploits - called Albert RN.
Dad had special leave to get married, in Mold in September 1945, but remembered little of it. Indeed he said he remembered little of the birth of his children, June and myself. Following repatriation on 10th May 1945, he was listed under Naval station Mercury (Royal Naval Signals School, near Petersfield, Hampshire, until Shore Release Class A on 11th January 1946.
Early married life was with Dad's mother, living in a council house in Mold.
By 1952 he had moved into a new Council House of his own, on Springfield Lane, in Mickle Trafford, near Chester, was working for the Civil Service in Chester and had a part time job as an usher at the Royalty Theatre in Chester....
but now we are into the 1950's...