Wartime tragedy links two young men


11 November 2016
Remembrance-poppy-59369.jpg Remembrance Day
This Remembrance Day Richard Blackwell remembers two young men – one British, one German – both of whom have a connection to his village of Hawstead

This Remembrance Day Richard Blackwell remembers two young men – one British, one German – both of whom have a connection to his village of Hawstead. These ordinary young men stepped up to fight and paid the ultimate price. Richard hopes that by writing about their wartime experiences not only will this help them to not be forgotten, but also will inspire fellow family historians to research and remember servicemen from times gone by.

On Remembrance Day each November we think of the thousands of young men from distant parts of Britain and the Commonwealth who died in the 1914-1918 war and the 1939-1945 war, but spare a thought for two men who have strong links with our very own village of Hawstead - a village like most of those in Britain which suffered the loss of brave local boys.

Our local boy

Raymond Mason was a Hawstead boy who joined the Suffolk Regiment in 1940 at Gibraltar Barracks, and after 12 weeks’ training he was transferred to the Cambridgeshire Regiment to help bring that regiment up to strength. After more training on the Norfolk coast Raymond’s Army travels took him to Scotland, then Wales. Raymond, whose Army nickname was ‘Slim’, now was given embarkation leave. It meant he would soon be going overseas.

As Slim sailed away he was not told where he was being sent. His regiment changed to a bigger ship at Halifax, Canada, then sailed to South Africa. Brief stays in Capetown and Mombasa followed before Slim’s regiment sailed out into the Indian Ocean. All this no doubt seemed a great adventure to Slim but then the news was told to the troops. After the ship had been two days at sea the troops were told they were going to Singapore to fight a determined enemy in the jungles of Malaya.

Slim saw many brave Suffolk friends die in terrible battles at Bata Pahat before eventually being ordered to retreat. Slim’s comrades watched the slow collapse of resistance at Singapore as they fiercely defended the city, and then had the humiliation of surrendering and becoming prisoners of war. After enduring some months of virtual starvation and cruelty poor Slim contracted cholera. There were no adequate medical facilities and Slim along with scores of other Suffolk men died from the disease.

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And the German lad

German Luftwaffe pilot 29-year-old Kurt Geisler flew from his airbase in Northern France on the evening of 23 September 1943 in a Focke-Wulf 190 that was a top-of-the-range aircraft of the very latest design. The small plane carried one bomb and it is likely that Geisler was coming to drop the bomb on the main runway of an RAF airfield to prevent our own planes from taking off that night. This had been done several times that year.

When flying near Newmarket Geisler’s plane was spotted by a British plane, a Mosquito aircraft from Manston airfield in Kent. This plane was fitted with radar and could locate the enemy plane in the dark. The RAF plane started firing at Geisler’s and eventually both aircraft were flying over Hawstead. Until recently we had villagers who still remembered the German plane circling over the village as it tried to hide in the clouds.

At last, either because of gunfire or technical malfunction, the enemy plane dived into the ground near Bell’s Lane. Geisler had been unable to release the bomb and it exploded when the plane hit the ground, Geisler was killed instantly. The site has been examined many times by historical societies and nothing now remains.

Both Hawstead’s young man ‘Slim’ Raymond Mason and the foreign young man Kurt Geisler died far from home while doing their duty. Let us remember them and the many millions of other young men on all sides who laid down their lives.

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