Category Archives: Second World War

Major Robert Norman Dodds MBE, MC, DCM, MM

Robert Dodds served during the First World War in France and Flanders with the Royal Engineers Signal Service, earning a Distinguished Conduct medal and Military Medal. Commissioned in 1918, he then added an Military Cross to his list of decorations in North Russia in 1919. He served with Royal Signals during the Second World War, earning an MBE for his conduct during the withdrawal from Tobruk to El Alamein.

Read his story on the website of my Royal Signals gallantry awards project:

Major R N Dodds MBE, MC, DCM, MM

The Sinking of the SS Lisbon Maru

On 1 October 1942, the SS Lisbon Maru, a Japanese freighter transporting prisoners of war from Hong Kong to Japan, was sunk by the submarine USS Grouper.

Fifty Royal Signals soldiers died. This is their story and that of the most gallant Signalman Arnold Topliff.

SS Lisbon Maru

We Shall Suffer There by Tony Banham


I must acknowledge the help given by Tony Banham in the preparation of this story. His three books on the Battle for Hong Kong, the sinking of the SS Lisbon Maru, and  the fate of the prisoners of war are masterly and highly recommended.

See Hong Kong War Diary.

For Gallantry, Volume 1 – The Burma Gallantry Medal

The Burma Gallantry Medal, 1939-1945 Star, Burma Star and War Medal 1939-1945 awarded to Sepoy Nand Singh, 1st Battalion, The Burma Regiment. His award was for his gallantry during the attack on Aradura Spur on 29 May 1944 during the Battle of Kohima when he brought into action an abandoned machine gun and held off a heavy enemy counter-attack, during which he was wounded. (Photo © Dix Noonan Webb.)

Following the partition of British Burma from British India in 1937, two new awards were introduced on 10 May 1940 the Order of Burma and the Burma Gallantry Medal.

The Burma Gallantry Medal was to be awarded to Governor’s Commissioned Officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Burma Army, Burma Frontier Force, Burma Military Police, Burma Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Force and Burma Volunteer Air Force for ‘…an act of conspicuous gallantry’. This remained the case until 1945, when the Royal Warrant was revised to elevate to the award to the status of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Continue reading

Gallantry During The Blitz – 29 December 1940

Seventy-six years ago, on the evening of 29 December 1940, a German bombing raid caused what become known as the ‘Second Great Fire of London’. Taken in the aftermath of this raid, the iconic photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral in the blitz came to symbolise London’s defiance. The attack on 29 December targeted the City of London where the high explosive and incendiary bombs started a firestorm that swept all before it. The area destroyed was more than that devastated by the Great Fire of 1666. It cost the lives of over 160 civilians and 14 firemen.

St Paul's Cathedral, 29 December 1940

St Paul’s Cathedral, 29 December 1940

The attack and the response to it by the emergency services and the people of London is explored in detail by Margaret Gaskin in her excellent book Blitz: The Story of 29th December 1940—a most thorough description of the night’s events told largely through the memories of those who were there.[1] Although Gaskin describes in some detail the bravery of those responding to the fires, she only alludes to the gallantry awards that were made in consequence of those acts. In all, the fierce bombing raid and firestorm of 29 December resulted in 44 gallantry awards—one MBE, eight George Medals, 22 British Empire Medals and 13 Commendations for Brave Conduct—more than for any other single event during the blitz.[2] Continue reading

Remembrance Day 2016

In memory of:

Naval Airman 1st Class Kenneth Admiral Brown, Royal Navy
Died, 22 April 1940

Acting Sub-Lieutenant (Air Branch) Arthur Stephen Griffith, Royal Navy
Killed in action, 18 January 1941

Leading Airman Alfred Samuel Rush, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Sub-Lieutenant (Air Branch) Philip Donald Julian Sparke DSC**, Royal Navy
Killed in action, 11 May 1941

Twice a year I specifically write a story about Remembrance—for Memorial Day here in the United States and for Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. A few days ago, I saw seemingly unconnected lines of research come together that led me to a story of wartime gallantry and sacrifice 75 years ago. I was researching a group of Royal Signals soldiers awarded a King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct when I noticed an award to a Maltese Sapper, who had rescued an airman from the sea. Curious (I grew up in Malta), I searched for his story and, in doing so, identified the man that he rescued, his link with three other airmen who died in 1940 and 1941, and discovered a related painting by the renowned Maltese artist Edwin Galea, the father of one of my childhood friends. The story that pulls together these threads is worth telling on this Remembrance Day.

HMS Illustrious at Malta 1941 by Edwin Galea

HMS Illustrious at Malta 1941 by Edwin Galea

The tiny island of Malta in the central Mediterranean had a strategic importance out of all proportion to its size during the early years of the Second World War. Bombing of the island began immediately after Mussolini’s declaration of war on 10 June 1940 and, besieged by Axis forces in Sicily, the island suffered a gruelling fight for survival that lasted until November 1942. Continue reading

My Family at War

My great-grandfather William Neill was the influence behind my exploration of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers that led to Blacker’s Boys. Since writing the book I have discovered other relatives who served during the First World War, and some who served during the Boer War and the Second World War. Each has a very different story (those without a link are yet to be written): Continue reading

Photo Gallery: Iraq – Historical & Religious Sites

This is part of the the Antoni Paszkiewicz project.

The Lion of Babylon in the ancient city of Babylon, November 1942

The Lion of Babylon in the ancient city of Babylon, November 1942

Notwithstanding the looting that took place following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the recent destruction of ancient artifacts and religious sites by the grotesque extremists of the so-called Islamic State, Iraq has always been rich in historical antiquities.

Toni collected postcards and took photographs of a number of sites that he visited in November and December 1942. This gallery shows his photographs and more modern images, which show the sites as they are today and provide a short description of them. Continue reading

Photo Gallery: Iraq – Date Palms

This is part of the the Antoni Paszkiewicz project.

'Irak, daktyle, 1942r' - Iraq, dates, 1942

‘Irak, daktyle, 1942r’ – Iraq, dates, 1942

The date palm has always been an important part of the agricultural bedrock of Iraq and the precursor nations and empires in this region. Cultivated for over 5,000 years, the date palm has been used for food, medicine and building materials from the time of the Sumerians. The trees were grown in huge numbers along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates and in the south around Basra. Iraq became the largest producer of dates in the world and had the largest date forest in the world. Sadly, this important staple crop was largely destroyed in the south of the country during the Iraq-Iran war and subsequent conflicts have prevented its resurgence.

Toni grew up in eastern Poland, was imprisoned in Soviet Russia and was now in the ‘Garden of Eden’. Travelling in Iraq must have been an extraordinary experience. Not surprisingly, he took a number of photos of date palms, which characterise this exotic land. Continue reading

Photo Gallery: Iraq – Baghdad

This is part of the the Antoni Paszkiewicz project.

'Bagdad, XI 1942r' - Baghdad, November 1942

‘Bagdad, XI 1942r’ – Baghdad, November 1942. The Zawraa cinema; the film being shown is ‘Rendezvous’, a 1935 film starring William Powell and Rosalind Russell.

The majority of Polish forces were concentrated at Khanaqin, a little over 250 miles north-east of Baghdad. From the captions on the back of his photographs, it appears that Toni visited Baghdad in November 1942 and February 1943. Continue reading

Photo Gallery: Iraq – The Land of the Two Rivers

This is part of the the Antoni Paszkiewicz project.

Iraq, December 1942

Iraq, December 1942

Through Iraq flow the two great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. They rise in the mountains of eastern Anatolia and course south-east through the gorges of modern Syria and northern Iraq, across the alluvial plain of central Iraq to Al-Qurnah in the south, where they join to form the Shatt al-Arab, the ‘Stream of the Arabs’ (in Persian, the Arvand Rud, the ‘Swift River’). The Shatt al-Arab then flows past Basra and into the Persian Gulf at Al Faw.

Many of Toni’s photographs are of the rivers or the people that worked on them. The Polish captions are Toni’s, written on the back of the photographs; English translations and English captions are mine. Continue reading