Thursday, 29 March 2012

Roald Dahl - What you don't know!

Many years ago, Nigel Williams, the founder of SepiaQuill.org, was reading Roald Dahl's autobiography 'Going Solo' - the account of Roald Dahl's life as a fighter pilot during the Second World War (many people only know Roald Dahl as a children's author and not as an 'ace war pilot'!)

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At the same time, Nigel was aware that a long lost relative, he only knew as 'Uncle Gerald' (Gerald Davies was the son of Elizabeth Davies, Nigel Williams' grandmother) had gone missing as a pilot over Greece in 1941. No-one in the family knew what had really happened to Gerald. Whilst reading the war exploits of Roald Dahl, Nigel saw that Dahl was on service in Greece with 80 Squadron of the RAF from February 1941 - this was about the same time that his uncle had gone missing.  This encouraged Nigel to want to find out more about what had happened to his uncle during the war.  Little did he know that he would find a connection between the two.

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It took some time but Nigel established that Gerald was, Pilot Officer 44072 Gerald Davies. Further investigations revealed that Gerald was shot down by a Messerschmitt 109 on Easter Sunday, 13th April 1941 in Greece. Gerald was 24 years old - it is 71 years ago coming up when he was killed in action.  Had he survived the war it is possible he would still be alive and in his nineties.

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Greece 1941 - Gerald Davies is pictured stood up to the left.

The interesting part about this tragic story is that Gerald Davies piloted a Bristol Blenheim Fighter Bomber used by both Fighter and Bomber Command during World War II.  At the time of the death of Gerald Davies, Roald Dahl was the pilot of a Hawker Hurricane and was in Greece protecting the 'slow' aircraft flown by Gerald Davies. On 20 April 1941, Dahl took part in the Battle of Athens.  Of 12 Hurricanes involved, five were shot down and four of their pilots killed, including Pat Pattle a World War II ace.  Dahl described it as "an endless blur of enemy fighters whizzing towards me from every side".

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Dahl and the other Hurricane crews on service in Greece 1941

Roald Dahl piloted one of the last two British aircraft in Greece at that time in 1941 before the Germans overran the country in May.  Luckily, Dahl escaped and was one of only two pilots to make it out of Greece that Easter 1941.

You can read more about Gerald Davies on the 211 Squadron Site put together by Don Clarke who's father was part of the squadron - go to the site and click on G Davies down the left column. There's an interesting newspaper clip from 1940 on the site, which this Archive holds the original of.

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    Para under reads: “This is Susan Hall, the girl who received a proposal of marriage via the newspapers. The young man is now Pilot Officer Gerald Davies, on service in Greece, the sender of the proposal. He was explaining to a reporter that the reason he got lost on a bombing trip was that he had left his mascot – a picture of Miss Hall – behind. No, it wasn’t his wife, but ... “you can tell her I am going to marry her after this job is over. She doesn’t know it yet, but this goes as a proposal.”
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    Gerald Davies with Officers of 211 Squadron

T.H. Wisdom, a celebrated war correspondent, recorded the activities of 211 Squadron in Greece in the 1942 book 'Wings Over Olympus' but sadly none of this information was known until well after the death of Gerald's mother in 1970.

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In a previous career, Nigel Williams was a school teacher and would read Roald Dahl stories, which the children loved.  As a reminder of the people killed in war, he would take Roald Dahl as the subject of a school assembly for Remembrance Day. The message Nigel Williams wanted the children to hear and it is a thought for you today…. "had it been Roald Dahl who lost his life on 13th April 1941, we would not have Dahl's wonderful stories to treasure but Nigel Williams would have had an uncle; perhaps right up to this day."  A sobering thought.

The value of Gerald Davies' contribution to the outcome of World War II cannot be understated yet he received no medals and no accolades for this. We must never forget the part these brave heroes (and heroines in many cases) played during this period of world turmoil.

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Donate A Handful of Poppies...

A new memorial to the 55,573 men of Bomber Command who gave their lives during World War II is to be completed this summer in London's Green Park.  Carol Vorderman spoke yesterday on television about the handful of poppies appeal and we urge that you visit the site, click on the link and donate to help sustain this much need memorial to our heros of World War II. Robin Gibb, president of the heritage foundation promoting the Bomber Command Memorial states: "This is the last truly great memorial of the two World Wars that needs to be built – and it needs to be built before it’s too late. We owe the courageous men a debt of gratitude, for without them we wouldn’t be enjoying the freedom that we have today."

We totally agree Robin.

 

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