Mixed fortunes for brothers in war

Albert Drake, second left, with three of his ill-fated air crew
Albert Drake, second left, with three of his ill-fated air crew
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Tash Tales with Alf Ridyard...

At this very emotional time of year regarding our armed forces, I will tell the tale of two brothers who fought in World War II, both of whom were my uncles.

Very brave men indeed, along with, may I add, everyone else that served whatever creed or colour.

First we tell Walter Drake’s story.

Walter Drake 1913478, a 30-year-old sapper with the Royal Engineers, enlisted in 1940 and only three weeks later was on his way to France to help build an airfield at Nune, but just as the work was finished the German frontline advanced and the enemy were less than a mile away.

Walter and his mates had to retreat rather sharpish, after hiding in a field they crept down to the beach.

Walter discarded most of his clothing and he and the others with him waded out and became some of the last in the massive evacuation from Dunkirk.

The party were all being strafed by German ME 109 fighters during this none-to-friendly dip in the Channel.

As Walter clambered aboard a rescue boat, a replacement identity disc he had made from a French coin slipped from his wrist.

But he arrived safely in Hull and was reunited with the remnants of his unit.

Walter continued to serve throughout the war, in Egypt, Africa, and Palestine and survived to tell the tale.

After demob, Walter returned to his bricklaying job at Ward & Goldstones.

And Walter’s tale doesn’t end there, as 24 later in 1964 he had a letter from the war office who had traced him and ascertained he had survived the conflict.

Walter was amazed when he was told a French coin had been found on La Panne beach adjoining Dunkirk beach, by a beach comber hunting for war relics and it Bore the inscription DRAKE. W. CE 1913478, Walter’s long-lost homemade two Franc coin ID. The war office duly arrived at Walter’s Butts Bridge address and presented him with the disc.

Walter’s younger brother 1049379 Sergeant Albert Drake, 21, a wireless operator/air gunner joined the RAF in 1941 after leaving his employment at Pennington Mills and was in the 76 Squadron based at, firstly Linton on Ouse, Lincolnshire, 1942-43 and then Holm on Spalding.

Albert completed a number of successful missions over Germany and the famous raids on the Turpitz battleship in Trondeim fjord in Norway also the V1 and V2 sites at Peenemunde, until a fateful night raid in his Halifax bomber on 1/3/44, to attack Stuttgart in Southern Germany.

The raid featured 129 Halifax bombers, 415 Lancaster’s and 13 Mosquitos.

The night was cloudy and overcast which thankfully kept the German fighters to a minimum.

After the bomb run on the way back to England and safety Albert’s Halifax was hit either by antiaircraft fire or possibly one of the few fighters to get off the ground.

Records do not indicate which but the plane came down and crashed on the village of Celles sur Plainne, sadly killing all six crew.

They now lie at rest in the Chaloy military cemetery in France.

The raid was considered a great success.

Now, as Albert’s brother Walter was lucky, Albert’s luck ran out that night as Albert was the only Halifax shot down on the raid.

The only other casualties were three Lancasters, four losses from 557 planes was considered acceptable by the powers that be in the fortunes of war.

I doubt the families felt the same, as the RAF lost 55,573 personnel during World War II which more than constitutes the whole of the RAF of today.

It will be said many times in the weeks to come that we owe so much to these brave soldiers and airmen and not forgetting the navy, this is all very true indeed.

We all should also remember those at home who waited for the knock on the door or the letter dropping through it.

Or the relief on faces when these brave men walked down the street back home on leave.

There were some happy endings, but not enough.