Pembrokeshire village remembers 15 aircrew from 6 countries who perished in World War II
When villagers in the small Welsh village of Carew Cheriton, Pembrokeshire come together on Remembrance Sunday to remember relations and friends who gave their lives in two World Wars they will also be honouring 15 aircrew from six different countries whose only connection with Carew Cheriton was that they died nearby.
Reminiscent of the British and Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemeteries on the Western Front in France the neatly tended military section of the Carew Cheriton cemetery provides the final resting place of the remains of Polish, Dutch, American, New Zealand and Canadian aircrew along with 3 British aircrew.
While the men may have come from across the world to fight for the Allied cause during the war their graves reflect the opening lines of Rupert Brooks’ poem “The Soldier” as members of the local community have made sure that a corner of a small Welsh field will forever be remembered.
Years of painstaking research have allowed local villager, Deric Brock, to trace the relations of the men so that the graves can mean more than just names on the CWGC headstones.
He said, “We should never forget that over one hundred airmen died while serving at Carew Cheriton. Across Europe communities care for and tend the graves and memorials of British war dead and it is the least we can do in return to honour those who died in this part of Wales.”
Deric, who is Chairman of the Carew Cheriton Control Tower Group that is renovating the unique RAF Watch Office on the old airfield site, said, “The men may have been born as nationals of other countries but now they are all Welsh and part of our community”.
The bodies of many of the men who died while serving at Carew Cheriton were never recovered. Most of those whose bodies were recovered were returned for burial in the victim’s home town, especially if they were British, which explains why there are just fifteen war graves in the cemetery and why only three of the airmen were from the UK.
Flight Sergeant Morris Ezra Shaw, an American from Ogden, Utah is typical of the men now buried at Carew Cheriton. His mother was British and he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in Montreal so that he could defend the country of her birth. He was killed when his Spitfire collided with another Spitfire off the coast at nearby Tenby. His headstone bears the inscription “Who died for his mother’s country”.
Dutchman, Sergeant Jan Michels, worked as a bookkeeper in the timber trade and before the war trained as a pilot. He escaped the invading German army via Belgium and France finally leaving the continent through Boulogne. Jan died when his Hudson aircraft crashed on take-off on 25th February 1941. His parents only learnt of his death a year later through the Red Cross.
As a boy New Zealander, Sergeant Francis Mervyn McCaffry worked as a caddy at the local golf course in Palmerston North to save up money for flying lessons. He died after his Blenheim aircraft crashed after it struck a hedge on the Ridgeway overlooking RAF Carew Cheriton as it was making its final approach. His funeral on 28th October 1941 was photographed by the Commanding Officer of his Squadron especially for Sgt McCaffry’s family back in New Zealand.
Each of the military funerals was well attended by local parishioners including John Brock M.B.E., Deric’s father, who as a young teenager of 13 years was greatly moved by each death. Now as President of Carew Cheriton Control Tower Group he is the motivational leader of the small group of local volunteers trying to renovate the Watch Office as a memorial to the 100 men who died while serving at Carew Cheriton.
Many were victims of air-crashes but others died in raids on the airfield – most notably the twelve men killed when a German bomb hit the airfield’s hospital in April 1941.
John Brock said “The arrival of more than 1300 airmen, ground crew and WAAFs in the months leading up to the outbreak of World War 2 had a major impact on the small rural communities close by. Some of the servicemen and women were merely passing through while others were stationed here at Carew Cheriton for months even years and they very much became part of the community. Several married into local families.” He said, “Some of the pilots would come home to tea and others would fly low over the houses and waggle the wings of their airplane to impress the local girls. When one of them was killed it had a profound impact on the local community.”
John himself knows only too well what it is like to lose a loved one in war. His elder brother, Eric Brock, a Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers, landed with 284 Assault Squadron on the Normandy Beaches in June 1944, and took part in the break out of Normandy, and the drive north towards Belgium. On 20 October 1944, at a farm near the town of Ijzendijke, Eric was killed in an explosion, which caused the death of 41 British and Canadian soldiers and injured another 51. Eric, aged 25, is buried at Adegem Canadian War Cemetery, Belgium.
At the end of November a local group together with members from the Cresselly branch of the Royal British Legion will be visiting Belgium and will take time out one afternoon to visit Eric’s grave to pay their respects in much the same way as Polish, American, Canadian, Dutch and New Zealand families journey to Carew Cheriton to visit the graves of their relations.
Maintenance of the cemetery at Carew Cheriton is currently carried by Deric Brock and members of the local Royal British Legion branch with the support of the St Mary’s Parish Church Parochial Council. Deric, who has been looking after the graves since 1984 said “We are all volunteers and many of us have full-time jobs but the men who lay buried here deserve the effort it takes. We try hard to maintain contact with the relations of the 15 airmen buried here. I have managed to get information from the Polish military authorities, from records offices in Holland, from local newspapers in Canada and from families in New Zealand and wherever possible try to help facilitate visits to the final resting of their loved ones”.
“In many ways I have come to know the airmen buried at Carew Cheriton quite well.” Said Deric, “I suppose I regard them as friends.”
In 1995 Deric helped organise a visit by Dutch Servicemen from the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service to pay their respects to the memory of Sergeant Jan Michels and his three fellow countrymen from 320 Squadron who died when their Lockheed Hudson crashed into a hangar while taking off to undertake convoy escort duty.
320 Squadron was one of two RAF squadrons made up of Dutch Naval airmen who had escaped advancing German armies and came to Pembrokeshire to continue the fight.
On 2nd August 1945 the squadron returned to the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service but kept the same numbering. It was dis-banded on 14th January 2005 when Deric Brock was invited to join the ceremony in Valkenberg in recognition of the work he had done for their fallen comrades buried at Carew Cheriton.
At the large German War Cemetery of La Cambe in Normandy visitors are greeted by the words of Nobel Peace Lauriat, Albert Schweitzer, “Soldiers’ graves are the greatest preachers of peace”.
The cemetery at Carew Cheriton may be small by comparison but the graves there poignantly re-enforce the sentiments Schweitzer expressed.