Black Country Bugle

WWII record of grammar school old boys

- Bugle reader KENNETH WRIGHT shares some of his research into the former pupils of his old school

THE article in Bugle 1390 about W.R. Elliott’s record of the old boys of King Edward VI Grammar School who fought during the Second World War stimulated some recollecti­ons.

W.R. Elliott was an English master at the school and at one time was my formmaster.

There are three names on whom I can throw some light.

Bernard James Oakley was my wife’s uncle. Her father, Ken, two years younger than Bernard, also attended the school, leaving in 1939 at the age of 16.

They were the two sons of James Oakley, iron founder of Cradley. During the early 1930s, James bought the Tudor Grange that once stood in Colman Hill, with the intention of restoring it. However, finding that the dilapidati­on of the house was too far advanced (there was then no public interest or funding for saving historic buildings as today) he demolished the ruins and built a new house known as The Grange. The property today has been extended and is now the West Midlands Hospital.

Bernard was killed on 16th October, 1944, by a mortar bomb in Holland, near to the German border, and is buried at Overloon CWGC cemetery. He was serving as a private in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. He acted as chauffeur to the padre.

Gardens

Following Bernard’s death, his father, James, gave a large part of the gardens of The Grange situated on the corner of Colman Hill and Drews Holloway as a public park for the benefit of the local community. The park, known as “The Bernard Oakley Memorial Gardens” is approached by decorative iron gates forming the entrance from Colman Hill.

John Sherren Boyt TD was the youngest of three sons of the school’s former headmaster J.E. Boyt. All three brothers served and all rose to the rank of Major.

John was killed near Mandalay in Burma on 20th March, 1945, aged 38, and is buried at Taukkyan War Cemetery, Myanmar (formerly Burma).

He joined the school in 1914, and, after leaving the school, where he excelled both academical­ly and on the sports field, in 1925 he enlisted in the Territoria­l Army, 7th Battalion, Worcesters­hire Regiment; I have in my possession his commission as an officer.

He left a widow, Dorothy Elinor, and a son, Robin, born on 20th August, 1942, whom he never saw.

J.A. (Jack) Ainsworth MM, known at school by his colleagues as “Mad Ainy”, although a little older, was friendly with my father-in-law, Ken Oakley, through their shared interest in motor-bikes, a passion Ken held all his life, riding in local trials as well as road events.

Jack Ainsworth was probably worthy of his school nick-name as, during the war, he took on the relatively dangerous occupation as a glider pilot, joining the Glider Pilot Regiment. All pilots were given the rank of Staff Sergeant and required all the ability of an aircraft pilot as it was effectivel­y flying a plane without an engine.

Clearly, his skills were such that he was selected to be co-pilot of No. 91. Glider carrying Major John Howard, commander of 180 2nd Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and Royal Engineers tasked with capturing Pegasus Bridge just after midnight on D-day, 6th June, 1944. Gliders were manned by two pilots, Jack’s colleague being Jim Wallwork.

Released from their towing plane as they approached the French coast, silently and in absolute darkness, the six gliders that took part in the operation had to be landed under the noses of the enemy as near as possible to the bridge. It was a masterly piece of flying with three of the gliders landing exactly on target.

Ainsworth and Wallwork’s Horsa glider was first to land, hitting the ground on its metal skid at about 90 mph. Glider No. 91 landed up against the German wire perimeter to the bridge, unseen and unheard. The force of hitting the wire perimeter ejected the two pilots from their wooden glider through the perspex screen, still strapped to their seats. Arguably, they were the first to land on French soil on D-day.

Success

The coup de main mission was a total success and the crossing of the Caen Canal and River Orne was secured. This was a vital part of the entire D-day plan as it allowed the main landing force along the beaches to break out to the east.

Visitors to Pegasus Bridge today will find marker-stones of the three gliders that landed on target between the bank of the Caen Canal and marshy ground beyond, and marvel at the precision and bravery of the pilots.

By way of a foot-note, glider pilots were strictly forbidden from taking part in any of the ensuing fighting as they were too valuable to be lost. After helping to unload their glider, they were ordered to make their way back to the coast (about 5 miles) and board the next available ship retuning to England, and to be ready to fly another mission.

Recently, I have carried out research on the 59 Old Boys of King Edward VI Grammar School, Stourbridg­e, who died in the Great War, and hope to publish their stories as a book in the near future.

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