Eric Hayes was 21 years old when war broke out. He was the son of Joshua and Annie Hayes of 84 Chester Road. He attended Hawarden County School matriculating there in 1935 when he left to work in the County Medical Office, Mold. Before the war he enlisted in the Territorial Army 279 Battery 70th Anti Tank Regiment, and was promoted to lance bombardier. The battery was in camp in Trawsfynydd in August 1939 when Hayes was recalled to Buckley to mobilise for war. On 2 September he was posted to Aldershot for training and embarked for France on 28 November. At the end of April 1940 he was manning a Bren gun near Rouen. In the confusion of the rapid German advance he was taken prisoner on 20 May.
It was then that he began a journey of 850 miles across Germany to Stalag XXA, at Thorn, in Poland. The prisoners were marched for a fortnight and then loaded onto railway trucks for a 60-hour journey ‘with no food or sanitary arrangements and very little water to drink’. Hayes was imprisoned in Poland until he was moved to Germany on the approach of the Russian Army in January 1945. From 1942 until January 1945 he worked on a farm at Gross Lunau, in the Polish corridor, inhabited by Germans. The prisoners returned to camp every night. The farmer fed them most of the food being home produced, and the work was healthy. Eric Hayes was on friendly terms with the farmer and his young family with whom he corresponded after the war. Some of his letters home survive and are full of gratitude for the food parcels and cigarettes received from the Red Cross.
At the approach of the Red Army the prisoners were removed in the depths of winter and forced to walk back to Germany. Many didn’t survive the awful trek. Eric Hayes suffered from severe frostbite and lost parts of seven fingers amputated in a POW hospital. The day after the operation the hospital as evacuated and the prisoners bundled onto railway trucks and transported to Stalag Xb between Bremen and Hamburg. Here he remained for nine weeks before being liberated by the Grenadier Guards on 29 April 1945.
Eric Hayes arrived in Buckley on 19 May 1945, 'five years all but one day after I was captured’. This was a daunting experience:
Even coming home was a funny feeling. Everyone has altered. Everything seemed different. So much had been happening that I knew nothing about like the blitz, the blackouts, rationing, doodlebugs, and the concentration camps. My actual homecoming was overpowering. There seemed to be hundreds of people gathered round 84 Chester Road. Some of them I don’t recognise, but I think the whole family had come to welcome me home. It was a relief when people began to drift away and leave me with my family. Even with them I felt awkward. After six years of all-male company and barrack-room language, I was afraid of slipping up in presence of ladies and it was sometime before I conquered that fear. During the early days of getting back home we really ’lived it up’ meeting almost every night in the Black Lion and very often staying in the back room until well after hours or going to the dance at the Albert Hall.
Eric Hayes returned to work in Mold and was employed by the Buckley UDC, Alyn and Deeside Council, and was Clerk of Buckley Town Council in 1980. His is one experience amongst many of the Buckley prisoners of war. We salute them.
Joseph Gordon Taylor
J G Taylor lived in Bryn-y-Baal and went to the Mold Alun school,he was accepted to work for Pan American Airlines just before the outbreak of war. He was an excellent jazz pianist and also a sunday school teacher. When war was declared he worked in the food office in Buckley until he was called up. He then travelled to Canada for R.A.F training before moving to Miami to finish his training. While serving on his third tour, just before some much needed leave was due his plane was shot down by anti aircraft fire on the outskirts of Milan in the first daylight raid carried out over italy in 1942.
Aircraft Type: Lancaster Serial number: W 4251 Radio call sign: DX - Unit: ATTD 57 SQN RAF
Summary: Lancaster W4251 took off from RAF Scampton at hours 1233 hours on 24th October 1942 detailed to bomb Milan, Italy. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it failed to return to base.
RAF FO Miles, J T N Captain (Pilot) RAAF 14065 Sgt G G Fraser, (Flight Engineer) RCAF FO Hamilton, W C (Observer) RAF Sgt J G Taylor, (Air Bomber) RAF Sgt H B Smith, (Wireless Air Gunner) RAF Sgt A F Heffernan, (Mid Upper Gunner) RAF Sgt W J Wakelin, (Rear Gunner)
The crew at Lossiemouth. Scotland.
Their Lancaster was shot down by anti-aircraft fire from 1012 Battery DICAT (37 mm) and cannons of the Caproni aircraft factory. It crashed at Segrate, near Cascina dell’Ovo. The crew are buried in the Ravenna War Cemetery.
The official picture below, coming from Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito, shows the Lancaster wreckage.
Courtesy of J. Emberton
Thomas Mark Wilcock
3769703 Corporal T. M. Wilcock of the 2nd Cameron Highlanders, from Meg’s Lane, was captured at Tobruk on 21st June 1942 and was sent via Benevento and Capua to Macerata (camp53). Whilst in transit in North Africa , Wilcock and another P.O.W. escaped from Benghazi, but were recaptured after 5 days owing to the treachery of some natives.
Although after the armistice, escapes were forbidden by the S.B.O of camp 53, Wilcock and another P.O.W. evaded the guards, but after being free for over three weeks they were recaptured and taken via Popoli and Chieti to Aquila, where Wilcock took part in an unsuccessful tunnel scheme. His final escape took place in January 1944, when, dressed in civilian clothes, he got through a hole in the cookhouse, and, posing as a workman, passed the sentries without suspicion. Receiving help from Italians, he reached Sulmona, and joining another party, reached British troops on 28th February 1944. He was awarded the Military Medal for Gallant and distinguished services in the field.
Leading Aircraftman William Messham lived on Baptist Row, Daisy Hill. He served in the R.A.F at Leamington Spa.
William Messham on the left
Kenneth Charles Jones was born on 4th January 1923 in Buckley, the second of three children. His father, Herbert was manager of the local Co-op store while his mother looked after the family.
In 1941 at the tender age of 18, when the Second World War was raging, Kenneth joined the RAF. He was sent to Canada to train as a pilot and then as a bomb aimer. After his training he joined the 31st Squadron South African Air Force based in Italy, which was flying Liberator Bombers.
Four of the Crew that took part in the mission to Warsaw on the night of 13/14 August 1955. They are Ken Jones, Nick Nickerson, Bill Williams and Shorty Rudham. Ken Jones is at the back on the right.
When the Warsaw Uprising started, Winston Churchill was determined to help Poland and the people of Warsaw. He ordered the RAF to fly relief supplies and munitions to the city. So on the evening of 13 August 1944 a force of eleven Liberator bombers took off for Warsaw. That night Ken was the bomb aimer on one of the Liberator Bombers tasked to fly much needed urgent supplies to the Polish Partisans.
The planes were told to run in at 400 feet (135mts above the ground) at an air speed of 120mph (about 160km/hour) to pin-point the drop zones. As plane after plane roared in taking heavy flak, supplies were dropped in the main square.
The planes were sitting ducks. They were fired on by both the Nazis and Russian guns as they followed the winding course of the river, like a silver thread, into Warsaw. As a result of the intense firing from the ground only 4 of the 11 planes returned to base – the rest shot down. Ken’s plane was one of the lucky ones to make it back. Along with other airmen that took part in the mission, the Polish government-in-exile awarded Ken the Polish Cross of Valour, The Peoples Army Cross and the Cross of Warsaw, for their actions on that night.
The Liberator Bomber crew, relaxing before a mission. Ken Jones is in the front row on the right.
Kenneth passed away peacefully at Bicester Community Hospital on Tuesday 10th August 2010.
John Peter McGrath was born on 1 June 1935 in Cheshire, England into an Irish Catholic family. In the early days of World War II, in 1939, after his father had been called up to the RAF, his mother took him and his younger brother, who was only three weeks old, to Buckley, North Wales. McGrath recalled the ex-mining village and his school days at Mold Alun Grammar School, Flintshire: 'I had some fantastic teachers. They whisked me through everything and I did my O-Levels at thirteen'.
The family remained in Buckley until 1951, when they returned to Cheshire where McGrath worked in a steam laundry and on a farm. From 1953 to 1955 he served in the British Army as, progressively, a gunner, bombardier and artillery officer. During his service, he was stationed in Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Malta and Tripoli. He said about his two years of National Service that it was 'the most extraordinary experience', on which he drew later for his plays. After demobilisation, he studied English at St. John’s College, Oxford University, where he graduated in 1958, and took a Diploma in Education in 1959.
John McGrath was the artistic director of 7:84 Theatre Company in the 1970s. He wrote one of their best known plays 'The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil.' This was first performed in 1973.