Thursday 2 August 2012

Reach For The Sky

While the fun has being going on others are active in the absence of so many of their local police.  At the Redoubt Fortress And Military Museum in Eastbourne in Sussex, a thief stole, with other items, the medals of General Sir John Hackett.  The Museum serves both the Royal Sussex Regiment and Hackett’s regiment, the 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars.

The Royal Sussex Regiment provided a parachute battalion in WW2, the 10th, so the location for his medals was appropriate.  Sir John Hackett is pictured above in September 1944, with the cane under the arm, the Brigadier of the 4th Parachute Brigade about to be sent to Arnhem in Operation Market Garden.  He is with King George VI inspecting a battalion of the The Parachute Regiment.

Last Friday when the much commented parachute drop was done for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games it was blithely assumed that this would be a novelty for the Royals.  But King George knew all about them.  More to the point HRH The Prince of Wales is Colonel in Chief of The Parachute Regiment.

He, probably along with his two brothers, The Duke of York and the Earl of Essex will have done some jumping as will have William, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.  It is unlikely that Her Majesty has and maybe not The Princess Royal, they prefer riskier high fences.

One of the more ill informed suggestions when critics deal with the role of the Royal Family in WW2 is to suggest that when they were at Sandringham, just north of Kings Lynn and close to the Norfolk coast they were is some remote spot far from any hint of war and action.  It was quite the reverse, it may have been rural but it was in the middle of it.

When the Luftwaffe came to visit England from high in the sky they would be guided not simply by radio but by sight of the ground, especially the great estuaries and waterways along the East Coast.  One was certainly The Wash, across the fields from Sandringham.  How many nights must have the local air road sirens blared out to send you down into the shelters?

The East Coast was thoroughly policed by various small naval craft being regarded as vulnerable to opportunist attacks or even attempts at landings for raids or gathering intelligence.  The troops there to guard the House were not for show they were for real.

On top of this was that East Anglia and Lincolnshire to the north as well as the counties adjacent was more or less one long air strip packed with fields for the RAF and US Air Force.  If I can recall the sky being full of bombers on their way East where I was then certainly anyone in Norfolk could as well.

Then there was the Army, a good deal of terrain being used for troops returned or on their way to action.  In late 1943 the 7th Armoured Division (Desert Rats) were pulled out of Italy and located just to the south of Kings Lynn being prepared for the Normandy Landings.

So why were the King and the other Royals at Sandringham?  Because then it was not “remote”, it was remarkably well connected if you know the road systems of that period and especially the more used railway systems and connections.  You could go by rail from Kings Lynn to almost anywhere in mainland UK by a variety of routes with multiple choices.

If the King or Queen was needed or wanted a short unmarked special could be on its way within the hour.  London could be reached by lines and options that could take the train into any of the main line stations north of the River Thames and by more circuitous routes into those to the South.  An early start could have the King well into Scotland by lunch time by any one of several routes.

Many of these journeys would not have been “official” or recorded as such, turning up unannounced here and there and sometimes unreported.  Quite how many units or other military establishments the King or Queen visited is unknown, never mind the hospitals or other places. 

So one day there would be an inspection announced and the grumbling troops yet again clambering into their full kit for a going over.  But this time it wasn’t a fussy Brigadier checking on the detail, it was the King, who had seen active service himself, seeing off his troops and wishing he was going with them.

Among the items in the museum is the remaining uniform of a soldier of the Desert Rats from the 1942 Battle of El Alamein, Hackett later commanded the Division.  I wonder if that was stolen as well. 

The Sussex police are pessimistic about making an arrest because of their manpower problems at present.

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