Wednesday, June 6, 2018


June 6, 2018 – Today was D-Day in 1944. 

This blog today just passed 80,000 page views.

Thank you for reading.

Here are the most-viewed posts on this blog site since it was begun. The first one has 54 comments.

Dec 10, 2014, 54 comments
WW2 | 8. Hiding Jews in Holland–Bob Boissevain (Up...
Dec 2, 2014, 6 comments
VET STORY 2 | Franklin D'Olier, Founded American L...
Sep 17, 2013
R.I.P. | Edward B. McMenamin (1912-1994), Economis...
Jan 2, 2016
WW2 | Willem van Stockum Bench at Trinity College,...
Jul 14, 2015
WW2 | Mark II Halifax Bomber
Nov 25, 2015
US NAVY | Oct. 10, Naval Academy Founded, 1845–170...
Oct 10, 2015, 1 comment
UN OPENS | My Dad Joins ICAO (Comment)
Oct 24, 2015
WW2 | Spies–Choices
May 29, 2015
CIVIL WAR | June 12–Jeb Stuart's Cavalry Circles t...
Jun 12, 2015

Sunday, June 3, 2018

HERALDRY | June 10 – Heraldry Day, for Geoffrey of Anjou

Arms of Geoffrey Plantagenet
On June 10, 1128, Geoffrey Plantagenet was presented by his father-in-law, King Henry I of England in Rouen, France with a blue shield bearing six gold lions.
The occasion was of international significance. Geoffrey was French. He was knighted by King Henry I, the English father of his bride Matilda, who was daughter of Edith of Scotland and the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V.

Thus three royal lines were united with England – Scotland, France and the Holy Roman Empire.
This is the oldest record of an initiation of international royal arms, although coats of arms are recorded in the Bayeux tapestry after the invasion of William I of England, and royal arms are attributed posthumously to Edward the Confessor and even King Alfred.

Geoffrey of Anjou is therefore considered the first armigerous royal family. For this reason, June 10 is registered on the International Day Calendar ( by Kathy McClurg as International Heraldry Day. She is a member of the IAAH, the International Association of Amateur Heralds.  More here:

BOOKEXPO | Pen & Sword

Charles Hewitt, Pen & Sword
June 3, 2018 – On Friday I visited the Pen & Sword booth at BookExpo2018 and met Charles Hewitt, the Managing Director. The symbol of the publishing house is a pen crossed with a sword. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the sword is a good thing to read and write about...

The company is based in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, midway between Leeds and Sheffield. I spent three years about 20 miles northeast of Barnsley, at Ampleforth College. I've also visited Selby and the RAF Melbourne base that was used by 10 Squadron in World War II. My uncle piloted a Halifax bomber the week of D-Day and was shot down over Laval, where he and his crew are buried.

Pen & Sword is a distinguished military history publishing company with a big and actively used backlist. It is part of Westholme Publishing.

What caught my eye was a book by Jos Scharrer that has just been released called The Dutch Resistance Revealed. She is the daughter-in-law of a member of the Resistance. The note on the book correctly reports that the Dutch Underground movement has been largely overlooked by historians in the English language. The official Dutch historian, Loe de Jong, wrote 24 volumes about World War II in Holland and much of his writing is about Resistance efforts. While de Jong says he like his history like his sherry, dry, he has nothing but admiration for the work of Walraven van Hall, about whom a movie in Dutch has just been released.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

VE DAY | May 8, End of WWII in Europe (Updated May 10)

Canadian Troops Liberate Amsterdam, 1945.
May 8, 2018 – I returned from the Netherlands yesterday to New York City.

Today the world celebrates VE- Day, that day in 1945 when World War II hostilities ceased in Europe.

In the former Soviet Union the celebration is delayed by one day, to May 9, because fighting there continued for another day.

The Soviet Union lost a higher percentage of its population (15%) than any other Allies – led by Belarus (25%) and Poland and the Ukraine (18% each).

Overveen, The Netherlands, May 4

On Friday, May 4, I was in Holland remembering the war dead with a visit to the Honorary Cemetery (Eerebegraafplaats Bloemendaal), which is identified as being in Bloemendaal but is accessed from the town of Overveen. It was Remembrance Day (Dodenherdenking) in Holland. On that day, the Netherlands remembers those who died in combat during WWII and in subsequent combat or peace-keeping operations.

The following day, the country celebrates Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag), a day of festivities at the ending of World War II for the Dutch in 1945, after the long Hunger Winter of 1944-45. 

The hard-working Dutch people do not annually close their banks on either May 4 or May 5. But government workers have a holiday on May 5 and some Dutch people start their vacations on Kings' Day, since 2014 on April 27 (King Willem Alexander's birthday) and continue through May 5. 

Memorials and festivals, such as a music festival in Amsterdam (the Bevrijdingsfestival), are widespread and many schools are on vacation at that time. Liberation Day is officially a holiday for everyone only when the last two digits of the year are divisible by five. So 2020 will be the next big celebration.

Here's how Hilda van Stockum described the joy that flooded Holland on May 5, 1945, in her 1962 book, The Winged Watchman:
On the fifth of May, Holland was liberated. Canadian troops marched into the villages and cities. Women and girls threw flowers and jumped on cars and tanks. Everywhere the Dutch flag waved. Children held bunched of flowers. People danced in the streets. Bells rang.
Father and the boys set the Watchman in joy. Mother fetched flags out of her trunk, which they strung from one wing to the other, plaiting the sails through the gates in decorative patterns.
They were free!
Laval, France, May 8

Laying of wreaths and flowers. The gravestone at
lower right is different form the others because it was
sent from the Dutch Government, not the British.
At the Valfleury Cemetery in Laval, representatives of local military and historical groups remembered VE-Day on May 8. The first photo shows the laying of wreaths and flowers before the graves of the 14 airmen in two airplanes.

The photos shown here are sent by Jean-Louis Cholet, who was one of the two people mist responsible for getting monuments erected to the crews of the two Halifax III bombers.

One plane was piloted by a Dutchman (my uncle Willem van Stockum) flying with the RAF after being trained with the RCAF.

The Laval student shown in first
photo laying flowers on the graves.
The other was piloted by an Australian (Thomas Henderson), whose son I met at the visit by the families of the airmen in 2014, during the 70th-anniversray year of D-Day. The two bombers that were downed had been on missions before and after D-Day, to remove gun emplacements and disrupt airfields and railway lines.

Every year, local students in the Laval area visit the gravesites and lay flowers on the graves of the flyers out of gratitude for the Liberation of France by the Allies.

With the placement of two monuments at the site of the crashes of the two Halifaxes, the annual memorials extend to these sites.

In 2014 I posted a memory of the coming-together of the relatives of the crews of the bombers. This was my third visit to the gravesite, but the first with my wife Alice, and with the largest number of relatives.

2018 – A wreath for the
Halifax piloted by
Tom Henderson.
It was a special pleasure also in 2014 for us to meet Dr. Rex Henderson, son of the Australian pilot of the second Halifax, and Rex's wife Deborah. Alice and I traveled with them  for several days to see the landing areas of the Normandy invasion.

Melbourne, Yorkshire, England

This year for the first time I went with my wife Alice to RAF Melbourne, the base in Yorkshire from which the planes from 10 Squadron took off.

I have written about this visit separately. In the post, I cite the statistic that 46 percent of all the crew members of the RAF Bomber Command were killed on missions. Perhaps some of the crew members believed that the statistics didn't apply to them, but the statistics don't know that.
2018 – Remembering the crew of one Halifax, piloted
by Willem van Stockum.

2018 – Honoring the crew.
Worldwide War Dead

Statistics hide the face of the human costs of war. But they are the only way to convey the magnitude of the death and destruction that Hitler generated.

Estimates of losses from WW2 sometimes differ for gruesomely competitive reasons – "We lost more people than you did." Wikipedia averages several estimates, which is not necessarily the best approach.

Below is how one source summarizes the deaths world-wide by country from World War II, ranked in order of the estimated loss.

Millions Dead
1. Soviet Union (USSR)
2. China
3. Germany
4. Poland
5. Dutch East Indies
6. Japan
7. British India
8. French Indochina
9. Yugoslavia
10. Philippines
11. Romania
12. France
13. Greece
14. Hungary
15. Italy
16. United Kingdom
17. United States
18. Korea
19. Lithuania
20. Czechoslovakia
21. Netherlands
Total of These Countries

That's more than 71 million dead in these 21 countries. The losses weigh harder on countries that have a smaller population, and on population groups such as Jews who were targets of the Holocaust.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

RAF100 | Visit to RAF Melbourne, Yorkshire, April 20

At Betty's. L to R: Alice, Susanne Pescott and I in York,
England. During WW2, Betty's Shop had a bar favored by
airmen from many countries.
Edinburgh, Scotland, April 21, 2018 – As noted a few weeks ago, I have been eagerly anticipating my first visit to the base from which my uncle Willem van Stockum flew six missions for RAF 10 Squadron during the ten days surrounding D-Day, 1944.

The sixth mission, on June 9/10, 1944 took his life and that of the other six crew members on their Halifax Mark III bomber. (Willem trained on the Mark II bomber.)

They had completed their mission when they were shot down. An eye witness (who was then a small child) said that the plane was in flames but steered away from the French farmer's home and into the pear orchard.

I've been three times to Laval, France where the 14 crew members of the two RAF planes hit that night are buried. But this was my first visit to the site from which the planes left.

Scratched on the Mirror. V/C Poulin, at
bottom right, scrawls "Canada"...
Two More Names. Sgt. Alex Trench from 
Glen Cove, N.Y, USA and Sgt. Redlin
from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Another. J. N. Fletcher, Royal Canadian Air
Force, from Vancouver.
Alice and I took the train from Oxford (we should have taken a faster and cheaper train from London) to York, and there met Susanne Pescott, a dedicated volunteer from the 10 Squadron Association, for lunch at Betty's.

The Mirrors at Betty's Bar

Susanne showed us the mirrors in Betty's Betty's, where during World War II was a popular bar for airmen from all over the world – Canada especially, but also the United States and New Zealand.

The crew members scratched their names in the mirror – 600 of them according to a notice at the location. Unfortunately, no one so far has written down the names and indexed them alphabetically. It would be helpful if someone did that, so that the place could become even more of a destination for families of the airmen. I couldn't find my uncle's name anywhere; the lighting is difficult.

What these young men may not have known, or had time enough to even think about, is that the killed-in-action rate of the Bomber Command was 46 percent. For every 400 men who showed up to fly, 46 died.

For every ten airmen scratching their names in the mirror, five would never come home...

...And many of those who  counted as survivors came back wounded or were taken as prisoners of war by the Germans and were delayed returning...

My uncle Willem was a mathematician and he knew about probability. This was also clear from his letters to his mother. He was at peace with his decision to fight for his occupied native country (Holland), but he warned his mother that it was unlikely he would ever see his mother again. The knock on the door at 3728 Northampton Street in Washington, D.C. came for her and my mother in June 1944, when U.S. military officials came to report that Willem and the rest of the crew were missing.

In front of the door that Uncle Willem went through
 in 1943 or 1944 when he reported for duty at RAF
Checking In

Here at the right is the doorway where the flight crews, who would have had their basic pilot, navigation or gunnery training elsewhere, would show up for their assignments.

My uncle Willem wrote to his mother about the satisfaction he had about being chosen by crew members as their pilot. The Time Bomber book by Robert Wack devotes a lot of attention to Willem's time as a pilot trainee, and the paces he had to go through (at 32 years of age, which was old for a pilot).

The door knocker has the badge of the 10 Squadron on it.

The motto at the bottom of the badge is "Rem Acu Tangere," which has nothing to do with Tangerines. It means "To touch the thing with a needle,"  "Hit the target precisely" or "Hit the nail on the head".

Prime Minister Margaret ("Iron Lady") Thatcher had her own version in her presentation of a new standard to 10 Squadron at Brize Norton:
Over nearly ten years as Prime Minister I have come to know many of the Squadron's members and their aircraft. We have flown together to the most far-flung lands and continents. You have brought me safely to my destinations through ice and fog and sand-storms, with unfailing punctuality. Indeed I am living proof of your Squadron motto, Rem acu tangere, which might be loosely translated as “we land even when the Prime Minister can't see the runway”.
Why Were So Many Bases in Yorkshire?

To reach Germany and Occupied Europe, the RAF bases needed to be on the Eastern half of the country. Yorkshire is a likely place just because it takes up so much space on the East Coast. It has some hills that are called "peaks" such as "Three Peaks" in northern Yorkshire, but these "peaks" are more like foothills, averaging 700 meters in height. Roseberry Topping is called "Yorkshire's Matterhorn" because it looks a bit like the original, but it is only one-thirteenth of the height of the real Matterhorn (4,500 meters) on the Swiss-Italian border.

By the standards of England's 48 counties, Yorkshire is enormous. Its 11,900 sq km area constitutes 9.1 percent of England's total 130,000 sq km. Even after Yorkshire was split into four separate counties in 1974, the North Yorkshire component was still England's largest county. The wide-open spaces in Yorkshire offered the RAF a chance to spread out its personnel and keep the equipment away from civilian residences. The county is relatively underpopulated, with only 7.5 percent of the English population in 9 percent of the area, and the countryside was under no building pressure.

When the RAF was requisitioning farmland to create runways for military aircraft, Yorkshire had other advantages over, say, Norfolk, which was the site of RAF Hethel. The Vale of York offered not only ample flat agricultural fields and plateaus, but easy access from the central railway hub of York. So that is where the RAF concentrated its intensive training programs for flight crews.

Here are 38 sites of former air bases in Yorkshire. They include the one from which my uncle set off six times and returned to five times, Melbourne. His sixth flight took him and his crew to Laval, France where they still rest.

What Was at the Melbourne Air Base?

RAF Melbourne, view from the air. To support the heavily
loaded Halifax bombers, the runways were made of concrete.
They remain, to be used occasionally for drag races.
The main feature of the air bases was a runway for take-off and landing, a "tower" (usually a two-story building) and living quarters for the flight crews and other staff.

At the beginning of the war, grass runways were common, but heavily loaded bombers required concrete and asphalt strips.

To allow for variation in wind direction, airports typically have a triangular configuration. They are therefore easy to spot from above.

Besides the control tower and barracks, an airbase would  include a briefing room for crews heading, and hangars for repairs.

The lengths of the runways at RAF Melbourne were (see numbers on photo):
01-19 1,350 yards
06-24 1,900 yards
15-33 1,400 yards

Camp sites for base personnel were dispersed to the north. The base accommodated 1,901 men and 382 women. Women were deployed on communications and reporting functions as well as food and housing tasks.

The Halifax III Crews and Their Motivation
Willem van Stockum, Captain, front center, with six other 
members of the crew of the Halifax III. They are all buried 
in Laval, France.

While awaiting duty, the Halifax III crews would practice their takeoffs and landings.

They were anticipating action at the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944. Willem writes to his mother that they crews are eager to go into action.

He reacts with disbelief when Dorothy Thompson, a popular news columnist, wrote that American soldiers needed postwar goal to fight for, a vision of a new society after the war.

He wrote a response to his mother that was eventually published as "A Soldier's Creed". It was written in June 1944 and was published in The Horn Book in its Christmas issue and reprinted at the end of Time Bomber, by Robert Wack.
I didn't join the war to improve the Universe; in fact, I am sick and tired of the eternal sermons on the better world we are going to build when this war is over. I hate the disloyalty to the past twenty years. Apparently people think that life in those twenty years, which cover most of my conscious existence, was so terrible that no-one can be expected to fight for it. We must attempt to dazzle people with some brilliant schemes leading, probably, to some horrible Utopia, before we can ask them to fight. 
I detest that point of view. I hate the idea of people throwing their lives away for slum-clearance projects or forty-hour weeks or security and exchange commissions. It is a grotesque and horrible thought. There are so many better ways of achieving this than diving into enemy guns. Lives are precious things and are of a different order and entail a different scale of values than social systems, political theories, or art. 
"Why are we not given a cause?" some people ask. I do not understand this question. It seems so plain to me. There are millions and millions of people who are shot, persecuted and tortured daily in Europe. The assault on so many of our fellow human beings makes some of us tingle with anger and gives us an urge to do something about it. That, and that alone, makes some of us feel strongly about the war. All the rest is vapid rationalization. All this talk about philosophy, the degeneration of art and literature, the poisoning of Nazi youth, which the Nazi system entails, and which we all rightly condemn, is still not the reason why we fight and why we are willing to risk our lives. 
Here, let us say, is a soldier. He asks himself, "Why should I die?" You would tell him: "To preserve our civilization." When the soldier replies: "To Hell with your civilization; I never thought it so hot," you take him up wrongly when you sit down and say to yourself: "Well, after all, maybe it wasn't so hot," and then brightly tap him on the shoulder and say: "Well, I've thought of a better idea. I know this civilization wasn't so hot, but you go and die anyway and we'll fix up a really good one after the war." I say you take him up wrong because his remark: "To Hell with your civilization" doesn't really mean that he is not seriously concerned about our civilization. He is simply revolted by the idea of dying for ANY civilization. 
Civilization simply isn't the kind of thing you ever want to die for. It is something to enjoy and something to help build up because it's fun, and that is that, and that is all. 
When a man jumps into the fire to save his wife he doesn't justify himself by saying that his wife was so civilized that it was worth the risk! There is only one reason why a man will throw himself into mortal combat and that is because there is nothing else to do and doing nothing is more intolerable than the fear of death. I could stand idly by and see every painting by Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo thrown into a bonfire and feel no more than a deep regret, but throw one small, insignificant Polish urchin on the same bonfire and, by God, I'd pull him out or else. I fight quite simply for that and I cannot see what other reasons there are. At least, I can see there are reasons, but they are not the reasons that motivate me. 
During the first two years of the war when I was an instructor at an American University in close contact with American youth and in close contact with the vital isolationist question in the States, I often felt that there was much insincerity, conscious or unconscious, on our, the Interventionist, side of the argument. We had strong views on the danger of isolationism for the United States. We thought, rightly, that for the sake of self-interest and self-preservation the United States should take every step to ensure the defeat of the Nazi criminals. But however sound our arguments, our own motives and intensity of feeling did not spring from those arguments but from an intense passion for common righteousness and decency. 
Suppose it could have been proved to us at that time that the participation of the United States in the stamping out of organized murder, rape and torture in Europe could only take place at great cost to the United States, while not doing so would in no way impair her security. Would we not still have prayed that our country might do something? And would we not have been proud to see her do something? 
There is an appalling timidity and false shame among intellectuals. The common man in the last war went to fight quite simply as a crusader. I am not talking about politics now, I am not either asserting or denying that England declared war from purely generous and noble considerations, but I am asserting that the common man went and fought with the rape of Belgium foremost in his mind and saw himself as an avenger of wrong. 
After the war the common man went quietly back to his home. The intellectuals, however, upon coming back, ashamed of their one lapse of finding themselves in agreement with every Tom, Dick and Harry, must turn around and deride the things they were ready to give their lives for. As they were the only vocal group, the opinion became firmly established that the last war was a grave mistake and that anyone who got killed in it was a sucker. 
And now, in this war, these intellectuals are hoist with their own petard. They lack the nerve and honesty to represent the American doughboy to himself for what he is. They do not give him the one picture in his mind which would stimulate his imagination and which would make him see beyond the fatigues, the mud, the boredom and the fear. The picture is there for anyone to paint who has a gift for words. It is a simple picture and a true picture and no one who has ever sat as a small child and listened with awe to a fairy story can fail to understand. The intellectuals, however, have made fun of the picture and so they won't use It.
But some day an American doughboy in an American tank will come lurching into some small Polish, Czech or French village and it may fall to his lot to shoot the torturers and open the gates of the village jail. And then he will understand. 
There is a lot of talk among our intellectuals about our youth. Our youth is supposed to want a change, a new order, a revolution or what not. But it is my conviction that that is emphatically NOT what our youth wants. Have you ever been in a picture house on a Saturday afternoon, when it is filled with children and some old Western movie is ending in a race of time between the hero and the villain? Have you seen the rapt attention, the glowing faces, the clenched fists? What our young men really want is to be able to give that same concentrated attention and emotional participation, this time to reality, and this time as heroes and not as spectators, that they were able to give to unsubstantial shadows, before long words and cliches had killed their imaginations. Killed them so dead that they can no longer see even reality itself imaginatively. 
It is up to the intellectuals to rekindle the thing they have tried to destroy. It is as simple as St. George and the Dragon. Why not have the courage to point out that St. George fought the dragon because he wanted to liberate a captive and not because he wanted to lead a better life afterwards? Some day, sometime, my picture of an American doughboy in a Polish village will become true. Wouldn't it be better for him then to have the cross of St. George on his banner than a long rigmarole about a better world? 
As long as our intellectuals and leaders do not have the courage to risk being thought sentimental and out-of-date and are not willing to stress that nations as well as individuals are entitled to their acts of heroism and chivalry, they will never be able to give our youth what it needs. 
It is true that every fairy story ends with the words: "and they lived happily ever after." How irritating a child would be, though, if it interrupted its mother at every sentence to ask: "But, Mummy, will they live happily ever afterwards?" It simply isn't the point of the fairy story and it isn't the point of this war. 
Presumably we won't live happily ever after this war. But just as a fairy story helps to increase a child's awareness and wonder at the world, so this war may make us more aware of one another. Perhaps we shall learn, and perhaps some things will be better organized. I hope so. I believe so. But only if we engage in this war with our hearts as well as our minds. 
The windmill was a landmark for flyers returning to the
RAF Melbourne base. Source: Excerpt from unidentified
RAF reference book on air bases in WW2, 208-209.
For goodness' sake let us stop this empty political theorizing according to which a man would have to have a University degree in social science before he could see what he was fighting for. It is all so simple, really, that a child can understand it.

After the war, the arms of the windmill were removed.
The Record of 10 Squadron at RAF Melbourne

The only bomber squadron based at Melbourne was 10 Squadron.

While in residence, 10 Squadron lost 128 Halifaxes in 300 raids.

This is what I saw. The base of the windmill is still there.
Photo by JT Marlin.
That would be 896 crew members. It began its work in early 1944 and its last sorties were on April 25, 1945.

What Happened to the RAF Bases after WWII?

Some of the RAF air bases were retained for postwar military needs. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was still on, and the US Air Force needed some bases to implement its participation in NATO and U.S.-British agreements. Many air bases were converted to industrial or other civilian uses. Some just fell into disuse.

Most of the air bases that had been agricultural land were returned to this use. That was the case with RAF Melbourne. Some buildings were converted to farm use. Others were left as they were at the end of the war, and have been opened up once a year on Remembrance Day, November 11 with the cooperation of the 10 Squadron Association, which is membership-based.

Besides farming and occasional drag racing on the runways, part of the base is used for private flying. There is interest in establishing a museum at the base. A memorial to 10 Squadron has been placed near the wartime entrance to the Melbourne air base.

Remembrances in France

The two crews that were downed on June 10, 1944 are remembered in France. A French website on the RAF effort includes details on the crew of the Halifax plane that Willem van Stockum piloted:

Flying Officer (Pilot). VAN STOCKUM, WILLEM JACOB, 33 ans. 10 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. E. Sub-Sec. D. Row 1. Joint grave 42944. LAVAL (VALFLEURY) COMMUNAL CEMETERY.

Flying Officer (Bomb Aimer).MARSHALL, ROBERT KEITH, 30 ans. 10 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. E. Sub-Sec. D. Row 1. Joint grave 42949. LAVAL (VALFLEURY) COMMUNAL CEMETERY.

Sergeant (Wireless Operator). PERKINS, ALFRED CHARLES, 22 ans. 10 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. E. Sub-Sec. D. Row 1. Joint grave 42945-42946. LAVAL (VALFLEURY) COMMUNAL CEMETERY.

Flying Officer (Flight Engineer). ELLYATT, JOHN, 27 ans. 10 Sqdn. Royal Air Force. E. Sub-Sec. D. Row 1. Joint grave 42943. LAVAL (VALFLEURY) COMMUNAL CEMETERY.

Flying Officer (Navigator). DANIEL, GILBERT, 22 ans. 10 Sqdn. Royal Air Force. E. Sub-Sec. D. Row 1. Joint grave 42947. LAVAL (VALFLEURY) COMMUNAL CEMETERY.

Pilot Officer (Air Gunner). BEALES, FRED, 20 ans. 10 (R.A.F.) Sqdn Royal Canadian Air Force. E. Sub-Sec. D. Row 1. Joint grave 42945-42946. LAVAL (VALFLEURY) COMMUNAL CEMETERY.

Sergeant (Air Gunner). MASON, ALBERT. 10 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. E. Sub-Sec. D. Row 1. Joint grave 42948. LAVAL (VALFLEURY) COMMUNAL CEMETERY.

The Dutch Ministry of Defense knew who van Stockum was. They identify the pilot as Prof. Dr. Willem Jacob van Stockum.

Postscript – Poem

A 10 Squadron veteran returned to Melbourne and wrote the poem at right.

See Related Posts: RAF Centenary and 10 Squadron

Saturday, March 31, 2018

RAF100 | The RAF Centenary, 10 Squadron (Updated April 4, 2018)

This Handley Page Halifax B III was flown in 1944-45,
high-performing plane, as good as the Lancaster.
April 1, 2018 (Updated April 4, 2018 with Postscript below) – The Royal Air Force (RAF) celebrates its 100th Anniversary starting this month.

A public event will be held at Buckingham Palace on July 10.

The RAF was formed on April 1, 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), so that it stood as a coequal branch of the armed forces.

The Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) was created at the same time to provide female mechanics to free up men for service in World War I. An unexpectedly large number of women volunteered. WRAF ended in 1920 and was recreated in 1949 as the new name of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, founded in 1939. As more women joined the RAF staff, WRAF formally merged into the RAF in 1994.

Successes of the RAF's Predecessors in WWI

In April 1911, an air battalion of the British army’s Royal Engineers was formed at Larkhill in Wiltshire, including aircraft, airship, balloon, and man-carrying kite companies. It was less than a decade after Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first flight of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft, at Kitty Hawk, on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The predecessor Halifax B II Bomber was deployed until 1944
by RAF's 10 Squadron, from Melbourne, Yorkshire. This
shows the inside of the plane. A model is on display at the
Yorkshire Air Museum. Note rounder tail fins than on the III.
In December 1911, the British navy formed its Flying School at Eastchurch, Kent.

The following May, the army's air battalion and the navy's flying school were absorbed into the newly created RFC, which established a new flying school at Upavon, Wiltshire, and formed new airplane squadrons.

In July 1914, navy needs led to the creation of RNAS. A month later, on August 4, Britain declared war on Germany and entered World War I. At the time, the RFC had 84 aircraft, and the RNAS had 71 aircraft and seven airships. Four RFC squadrons were deployed to France to support the British Expeditionary Force.

Germany dominated the air at first, with superior weapons like the manually directable machine gun. Britain suffered from bombing on the ground and defeat in the skies against German flying aces such as Manfred von Richthofen, “The Red Baron.” The British military responded with a separate air ministry, committed to retaliate against Germany with strategic bombing.

By war’s end, November 1918, the newly created RAF had gained air superiority on the western front, with nearly 300,000 officers and airmen, and more than 22,000 aircraft.


In September 1939, RAF strength had fallen to about 2,000 aircraft, when Hitler shocked the world by invading Poland. World War II was on.

On May 10, 1940, Hitler invaded Holland, despite having promised to allow it to remain neutral. After he carpet-bombed Rotterdam, the Netherlands surrendered and was occupied by the Wehrmacht and (much worse) the SS police, as the Nazis continued their advance through Belgium to France.

In June 1940, Britain was alone in Europe in its resistance to Nazi Germany. Hitler planned to invade Britain and prepared maps of British cities and factory centers showing strategic sites. In July 1940 he ordered his air force, the Luftwaffe, to soften up Britain by destroying their ports, as he did in Holland. However, this time the outnumbered RAF fliers put up a fierce resistance in the Battle of Britain.

Luftwaffe commanders then made it their priority to destroy the British air fleet. The Germans intended to wipe out the RAF during the summer, and invade Britain in the autumn. During the next three months, however, the RAF resisted the massive German air attacks, relying on radar technology, more maneuverable aircraft, and sheer, exceptional bravery. For every British plane shot down, two Luftwaffe planes were destroyed.

In October, Hitler postponed the planned invasion. In May 1941 he opted to save his planes for the Eastern Front, and the invasion was off the table. The Battle of Britain ended. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of the RAF pilots: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” I was required had to write out this sentence many, many times when pronounced guilty of an infraction against school rules as a pupil in Gilling Castle and Junior House, the younger classes of Ampleforth College near York.

By war’s end in 1945, the RAF employed a staff of nearly one million. After the war, as in the United States, British military personnel strength was drastically reduced and RAF staff stabilized at about 150,000 men and women.

The RAF's 10 Squadron

My uncle, Willem van Stockum, was a pilot for the 10 Squadron of the RAF in World War II. He piloted a 10 Squadron Halifax bomber on six missions during the ten days surrounding D-Day. Leaving from Melbourne, Yorkshire, his plane was downed over Laval, France.

A Dutchman, born to a Dutch Navy Captain (Abraham van Stockum) who married one of the six daughters of the publisher of the main newspaper (the Algemeen Handelsblad) in Amsterdam, Willem earned a B.A. and M.A. in mathematics from Trinity College, Dublin, winning a large gold medal. He went on to obtain a doctorate in mathematics from Edinburgh University. He won a position at Einstein's Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, NJ and was the first person to write in English about the potential for time travel suggested by the "time-like curves" implicit in Einstein's equations for Special Relativity. (His "van Stockum dust" theory is considered the beginning of scientific time-travel speculation.) He was teaching mathematics at the University of Maryland when Hitler invaded Holland.

Outraged by the invasion of his native country, van Stockum went to Canada to volunteer to fight Hitler. For months he taught navigation and the physical principles of flight to pilot trainees in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Then he asked to be sent to the RAF to fly bombers. He qualified as a flying officer himself, although older than most pilots, and went on six missions during the ten days around D-Day. On June 10, ten RAF Halifax B III planes went out from Melbourne. Eight returned. The missing two were downed by German anti-aircraft fire.

Dutchman Willem van Stockum piloted one of these planes. A book has been written about him by US army major Dr Robert Wack, Time Bomber. Six other crew members killed in the crash of the plane in a pear orchard in Entrammes, near Laval in the Mayenne.

The other was piloted by an Australian and crashed nearby. The son of this pilot, Rex Henderson, visited Laval at the same time as I did and on the 70th anniversary of V-E Day we drove together through Normandy with my wife Alice and his wife Deborah.

Two memorials were erected by a local French group at the ceremony that we attended, organized by Souvenir Fran├žais representative Jean-Louis Cholet. Details on the mission are here:

My wife Alice and I are visiting York on April 20-21, 2018 and intend to visit what is left of the base in Melbourne and speaking with anyone with a shared interest in No. 10 Squadron in WW2. If we have time, we would like to see the Halifax bomber on display, and the War Museum. I have sent a note to the 10 Squadron Association ( Willem's 10 Squadron, part of No 4 Group in December 1941, moved from its original location in Leeming in August 1942 to Melbourne. In 1942-1944 it deployed the Handley Page Halifax B II bomber; starting March 1944 through August 6, 1945 (when disbanded) it used the Handley Page Halifax B III.

A book by Jon Lake, Halifax Squadrons of World War II covers its role as a front line bomber, and other topics.

For more, see and

Postscript, April 4, 2018

I received the following email this morning from the man who started, in 1988, the annual commemoration on V-E Day (May 8) of the sacrifice of the crews of the two planes that were downed in the Laval area, Jean-Louis Cholet. He gives credit for the monuments or steles to Jean-Luc Peslier, a French Air Force veteran.
Dear American friend,  
Thank you for your message and documents attached. You know how much I am attached to the memory of your uncle and his comrades. I am not alone in the realization of the steles recalling the fall of the Halifax bombers. The realization of the steles was possible only thanks to the work of Mr. Jean-Luc Peslier president at the time of the Amicale Mayennaise of the Ancients [Veterans] of the French Air Force. Without him, nothing could have happened. We will think a lot about you and them on May 8th. 
Very cordially,
Jean Louis Cholet

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

CHARLIE MINER, R.I.P. | WW2 Bomber Pilot

Charlie Miner (R) enjoying his great-nephew and
 great-great-niece and her (unrelated) Angry Bird.
(Photo by JT Marlin.) 
March 20, 2018 – Charlie Miner, Jr. interrupted his studies at Princeton (Class of 1943) to join the U.S. Army Air Forces.

He was studying  engineering, and that's who they wanted.

After serving as a test pilot, he signed up as a  bomber pilot and saw combat in Europe.

He died yesterday, according to his daughter, and Vero Beach resident, Charmaine Caldwell.

memorial service in Vero Beach, Fla. is planned for May 3 and possibly another one later in East Hampton, N.Y. 

The following is a slightly edited version of an article I wrote about Miner for The Vero Portfolio, May-June 2015 issue, p. 24. The ending is, of course, updated.

Charlie Miner, Jr. – also called Chas, but rarely Charles – was one of seven grandchildren of his illustrious grandfather, FDR’s first Treasury Secretary, Will Woodin. His mother was Woodin's eldest daughter, Mary, who married an infantry captain, Robert Charles (Charlie) Miner, Sr.

Miner divided his time at the end of his life between Vero Beach and East Hampton. When his beloved cousin Anne Gerli died in 2016, he gave up spending time in East Hampton. 

At Princeton, Miner studied engineering and joined the war effort as pilot of a B-25 Mitchell twin-engine bomber, which had a crew of three or more. Miner flew many of the 17 bombing missions of his Air Force unit over northern Italy. [More about his contribution to the war effort here.]

He was lucky to have survived. Of 16 million American veterans of World War II, fewer than one in 16 survived as of 2015, only 80,000 in Florida. That year Miner was one of only about 250 World War II vets left in Indian River County, and may be Indian River County's oldest surviving European-theater WWII bomber pilot.

Miner told me how much he loves Vero Beach, Fla. Years ago in the 1950s and 1960s, he spent time with his mother (who divorced Charlie Sr. and did not remarry) in the Riomar social life. It  revolved, he said, around rotating dinners and celebrations among the original 12 houses. The 30 residents took turns throwing parties. The Riomar Inn came later. John's Island—where Miner and his late wife Maisie lived now—opened in 1970 and was at first resented because it drew people away from Riomar (and then it became successful and was imitated by the Moorings). 

Charlie Miner’s grandfather, Will Woodin, was the man who dealt with the Wall Street and banking panic that started in 1929 and was not put to rest until FDR came into office in March 1933. FDR's first Treasury Secretary was given wide latitude in addressing the problem. 

Will Woodin was born in Pennsylvania and settled in New York after a successful career as the CEO of a huge business selling railroad rolling stock. He had four children. The eldest and youngest settled in Vero Beach — Mary Woodin Miner and Libby Woodin Rowe. Libby’s husband, Wally Rowe, and a brother bought homes in Riomar. Mary and Libby eventually lived in Vero Beach most of the year. Charlie’s mother lived in John's Island after Riomar and died in 2007 at 102.

Charlie remembers not just the bridge that connected the two sides of the Indian River, "Beachland Boulevard" where Route 60 crosses, before the concrete-arch Barber Bridge.  He remembers the drawbridge that was built earlier, in 1995. Before that, back in the 1930s, there was a bridge made of wooden railroad ties and swung around horizontally to let boats through the Indian River. 

Back in those early days Beachland Boulevard was the northern edge of Vero Beach, and there wasn’t a Riverside Theater. Charlie says the money was raised in several ways. Rosie and Sterling Adams organized a dance every year. He and his cousin, Bill Rowe, used to sell season tickets and organized an auction of donated prizes to raise money for the theater. The Theater is, of course, now a major institution in Vero.

Charlie (R) and me in 2014. Photo by
Alice Tepper Marlin.
What Charlie Miner liked about Vero is that it is quiet. That was one of the original motivations of the developers, along with the availability of rail transportation and ocean beaches. There is no strip with night clubs, no airport. As Charlie says, “I’m not a teenager anymore.”

Charlie’s Advice for a Long and Happy Life:
  • For a long life: Every morning a meal of two eggs and tomato juice or V-8 (with or without the hair of the dog). 
  • For a happy life: “Enjoy life while you can. If you want to do something, don’t wait. Do it while you can because life goes by quickly. You may never get another chance.” He says his 93 years have “Gone… Boom!”
During these four years that I have been studying and writing about FDR's forgotten first Treasury Secretary, Charlie's grandfather, I and my wife Alice have been amused and impressed by Charlie's joie-de-vivre and his sharp recollections from his long life. Learning of his death at 96 years old was a sad moment.