Monday, February 23, 2009

"Higher Heights to Climb"

(1) Wath Brow Mission Church, Cleator Moor, Cumbria.
The funeral service of F/Sgt E.D. MacDonald took place here, April 1944
(2) Headstone of F/Sgt Edward Dixon MacDonald
[Service No 1685261, a Wireless Operator / Rear Gunner]
Ennerdale (St Mary's) Churchyard, Ennerdale, Cumbria
During WW2, Flight Sergeant Edward Dixon MacDonald, RAFVR, initially served with Cleator Moor Home Guard and lost his life in April 1944 while on active service. The epitaph on his headstone states he had higher heights to climb.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below

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Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) Some Biographical details

Sergeant Edward Dixon MacDonald of Ennerdale Road, Cleator Moor served for about 18 months in the RAFVR during WW2. His RAF Service Number was 1685261. He died at the age of 21 while on active service on 26 April 1944, the son of Edward Dixon McDonald (Senior) and Mary Agnes MacDonald. At the time of writing this article I do not know the mission Sergeant MacDonald was on when he lost his life. According to his headstone he was a Wireless Operator / Rear Gunner - the latter being generally regarded as the 'least survivable' role among aircrew. As Edward MacDonald's funeral took place close to his home his plane must have made it back to the UK from whatever mission it had been on.

According to an article in 'The Whitehaven News' in May 1944 (the local newspaper for his home area), after being educated at Whitehaven County Secondary School (Grammar School) Edward (Junior) worked as a clerical officer at a local factory. In the early part of the Second World War he had served in the Cleator Moor Home Guard before joining the R.A.F.

The newspaper article from 1944 reported that Edward (Junior) was deeply involved in all the activities of the Wath Brow Mission Church, part of the parish of St John's Cleator Moor (Church of England). This church is situated on the eastern outskirts of Cleator Moor at the end of the road on which his family lived. Edward was also a member of Cleator Moor Conservative Club.

Edward MacDonald's funeral took place in Wath Brow Mission Church, a place which had evidently meant so much to him in life. He was interred in the churchyard of St Mary's Ennerdale, a village a little under 3 miles from Wath Brow, within a few paces of the War Memorial. Edward is the only WW2 casualty buried in this churchyard (Grave No 164).

On 14 April 1944 'operational command' of Strategic Air Forces, including Bomber Command, passed from Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander. This was part of the overall preparations for D-Day, the Allied invasion of N.W. Europe. Therefore, although I do not know the exact mission Sergeant Edward MacDonald had been on that led to his death on 26 April 1944, one can deduce it may have been as part of this overall strategy.


(2) Remembering Sergeant E.D. MacDonald

As Edward was not from Ennerdale parish - even though his grave is close to the Ennerdale Church War Memorial - his name is not engraved on the list of WW2 casualties on this memorial. However, the local British Legion does include his name on the wreath laid at the War Memorial each November at Remembrance time.

Edward D. MacDonald's name is also listed on the 1939 - 1945 War Memorial for former pupils of Whitehaven County Secondary School, which is displayed in the Anglican Church of St James, High Street, Whitehaven. He is also remembered on the 'Roll of Honour' of his hometown of Cleator Moor.

The fitting epitaph on the CWGC headstone of Sergeant Edward D. MacDonald reads as follows:

"O true brave heart, somewhere thy soul sees higher heights to climb".

Sergeant Edward D. MacDonald served his country in the skies above. One hopes his soul did indeed find the highest heights. Let his sacrifice be remembered.


(3) Training Bomber Command Wireless Operators / Rear Gunners in WW2

Despite significant losses in aircraft and aircrew of RAF Bomber Command during WW2 many young servicemen were still prepared to volunteer to become aircrew throughout the war. According to the respected WW2 historian Richard Holmes this was one outstanding British advantage of the war largely thanks to the setting up of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and the Empire Training Scheme.

Volunteers would have typically had to pass a series of aptitude tests followed by attendance at a reception centre based at Regent's Park, London. There, they would have attended lectures and training films and posted to an Initial Training Wing. At this stage, those candidates deemed to be suitable as Wireless Operators or Air Gunners would then attend specialist training establishments. (Pilots went to Elementary Flying Training School). Those deemed to have the necessary aptitude would then typically be sent abroad for a time for further training under the Empire Training Scheme. After returning to the U.K. they would be allocated into individual crews at an O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) and eventually into an operation squadron. (Obviously this is just a brief outline of the selection and training involved).

According to Richard Holmes, of the Bomber Command aircrew "... the least survivable position was the rear turret, where 'Tail End Charlie' sat uncomfortably in the front of Harris's war, with the coldest, loneliest and most dangerous job of all". Among the difficulties faced by the Rear Gunner were having the most isolated and coldest position on the aircraft, having their 0.303-inch calibre machine gun being outgunned by canon-equipped German Nightfighters and an almost impossible escape route to bale out in the event the aircraft had been crippled. 'Tail End Charlie' (the Rear Gunner) very often had no time to get out of the aircraft even when the rest of the crew were able to do so. Rear Gunners were made of stern stuff - arguably a special breed - and they must have been among the highest calibre of individuals.

Further reading about Bomber Command:

Holmes, Richard (2001), "Battlefields of the Second World War", 'Bomber: the RAF offensive against Germany' (pp 163 - 204), BBC Worldwide Books, London (ISBN 0 563 48812 3)


(4) Acknowledgements:

'The Whitehaven News'
Cumbria County Archives (Whitehaven Record Office)

Monday, 23 February, 2009  

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