September Last Post

Today we welcomed members of the Israeli Embassy and members of AJEX, The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women. We were extremely grateful to see members of Private 5109 Thomas Barnes Holdway’s family, one of the subjects of our Individual Remembrance.

Paul McCue delivered a brief history of Operation Boatswain, a terrible incident when 23 Palmach Jewish Volunteers and their British Liaison Officer of the Special Operations Executive were lost at sea on the 18th May 1941.

The first subject of our Individual Remembrance was Captain Isidore ‘Izzy’ Newman. Capt. Newman was a British secret agent and radio operator who served with F (French) Section of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. He was born in Leeds and was the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. He was executed on 6th September at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. A full biography is included below with detailed notes on his service.

Private Thomas Holdway was born in 1884 on a farm in Chapmanslade, Wiltshire, the youngest son of Thomas and Sarah Holdway, he was a cabinet maker and wood carver by trade. He emigrated to Australia in 1912 and in September 1915 answered his country’s call, enlisting in the 9th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade, Australian Infantry. His unit embarked on HMAT Star of Victoria in May, arriving eventually in the Port of Marseille and moving up to the area of Pozieres to the Battle of The Somme. On 13th August he was taken on strength 49th Battalion Australian Infantry, whose Motto was “Always Faithful”. Here his unit received orders to take a farm on high ground which they did after seven attempts under one of the heaviest artillery barrages of the war. The village Pozieres was obliterated and is now open moorland. Private Thomas Holdway was killed in action on the 3rd September 1916 aged 31 in the Battle of the Somme near Pozieres and is buried in Serre Road Cemetery No 2 Beaumont Hamel. Thomas’s memory is kept alive in a children’s chair which he carved for his niece Dorothy and so far, has been used by four generations across 100 years, three of these generations were in the audience today.

Our poem today is from Achziv Poems by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, 1924 – 2000. It brings an echo of the loss at sea of Operation Boatswain.

Broken by the sea,
my head a broken tin,
Sea water fills it
and drains out.

Broken by the sea.
A dirge my lament,
froth on the lips of the cliffs.
The sea has rabies,
has sea sickness,
more dog than dog,
more sea than all seas.

Broken by the sea
my lament.

Wreaths were laid by The Israeli Embassy, the family of Private Holdway, AJEX and the Secret WW2 Learning network.

Our Standard Bearer was Alan Lopez and Ruth Moore sounded the Last Post. We had Standards from AJEX, The Artists Rifles, The Royal British Legion, Knaphill, Bisley and West End Branch and the Woking Royal Naval Association. The Union Flag was paraded by John Pain of Woking District Scouts.

Thank you to Paul McCue and David Lasseter for text, and Alan Meeks for the photographs and audio.

Post edit: We did not realise it at the time, but the September Last Post would be the final time we sang God Save the Queen, probably for several decades if not much longer. An audio recording is included below, although we collectively were not on top form and it is included here for historical purposes.

August Last Post

Today we welcomed the family of Sergeant Stanley Davis, the subject of our August Individual Remembrance. Members of the Davis family travelled from Lincoln to join us. The ceremony was particularly poignant for our Chairman as Sergeant Davis was his cousin, once removed. Former members of the Artists Rifles regiment were also with us with their Standard on parade.

Sqn Ldr Stanley Davis MBE (Retired) was named after our individual remembrance subject today and read out a comprehensive biography. Sergeant Davis from 76 Sqn was a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner in the Second World War flying on Halifax bombers. As part of a mixed Commonwealth crew, piloted by New Zealander Sqn Ldr A P Burdett, their bomber was part of an audacious raid to sink the German battleship Tirpitz which was moored in Faettenfjord, a small fjord off of Trondheimsfjord.

Over a period of many months during 1942 various raids were made to sink the Tirpitz with limited success but with the total loss of 17 aircraft and 64 crew. It was during the night of 30/31 March 1942 that bomber R9453 MP-K was lost on the way back from an unsuccessful bombing raid after thick low cloud prevented accurate targeting. R9453 MP-K was last heard of with a radio report passing over Sumburgh Head at 0210hrs and is believed to have ditched in the sea very soon after. It is not known whether this was due to battle damage, engine failure or running out of fuel. An extensive search was mounted by two Royal Navy destroyers and some twenty aircraft but no trace was found. Sqn Ldr Burdett’s body was washed up on Shetland and buried in Lerwick, New Cemetery in September 1942. The remainder of the crew are remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Sergeant Davis was 21 years old.

Gill Elliot sounded The Last Post. Our Standard Bearer today was Alan Lopez and Tom Milne carried the Union Flag. Standards from several Royal British Legion branches, the Woking Royal Naval Association and the Artists Rifles were on parade.

Afterwards, we retired to The Trench Experience for refreshments.

Special thanks to Nigel Longley for arranging the sound, Alan Meeks for the photographs and Sqn Ldr Stanley Davis MBE (Retired) and for the Individual Remembrance text.

July Last Post

The Belgian Defence Attaché, Capt Renaud Flamant joined us for what would be one of his final engagements before a new Defence Attaché takes up the post in August. Capt. Flamant attended the 80th Anniversary ceremony in 2021 and we are honoured by his support.

We remembered Belgian SOE agent Lieutenant Henri Hubert Gaillot. Born 20 April 1896 in Liège, Belgium. He served in the Belgian Army during the First World war and was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre, Médaille Militaire and the Ordre de Léopold. With his friend François Vallée, he first came into contact with Britain’s SOE during subversive work in Tunisa during 1941. Later he made it to Britain and still with Vallée, he joined the F (French) Section SOE in February 1943. To protect his wife still living in France, he was trained as Lieutenant Henri Guillaume.

Gaillot, spent six months in France between June and December 1943 on sabotage missions before being recalled to Britain. As Gaillot, along with Vallée and his brother were leaving for Britain, they were arrested and believed to have been deported to Rawitsch prison in April 1944. Sometime in the summer, they were executed by firing squad and cremated. Gaillot is commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial, panel 22, column 1.

Our poem was ‘The Belgian Flag’, written by the Belgian author and First World Was poet Émile Cammaerts.

Capt. Flamant laid a wreath on behalf of the Belgian Embassy.

Alan Lopez was a Standard Bearer with Tom Milne carrying the Union Flag. Standards from the Royal British Legion, Woking Royal Naval Association and the Artists Rifles were on parade. Ruth Moore sounded the Last Post and Rob Bennett officiated.

After spending time at the Belgian Plot, we retired to the Trench Experience for refreshments.

Thank you to Paul McCue for the text for the Individual Remembrance and Tony McCallum for the photographs.