So, I have been watching lots of documentaries over the last week about Armistice Day and World War One. And seeing so many War Cemeteries got me to thinking that neither I, nor anyone in my family, has ever visited the graves of my grandfather or great uncle, both of whom lost their lives in World War Two.
Sadly, our family knowledge beyond that time period is lost, so we have no idea if we have any veteran relatives before that war.
But although we know a fair bit about both of these family members, I discovered something that stopped me in my tracks. More after the jump.
We know that my great uncle, Vivian Michael Halleron, a Lieutenant in the Gordon Highlanders, 1st Battalion, serial number 330386 – my dad’s fathers’ brother – was killed by a sniper on the advance to or over the Rhine in March 1945. I have a vague memory of this being featured in a book written by a veteran of that day. I think it may have been ” A Bridge Too Far”, but I’m not too sure. I have a copy here at home somewhere. But that’s about all we know.
Sadly, Vivian got less attention from us than did my grandfather on my mother’s side, Flight Sergeant (Nav.) 1521794 Patrick Joseph John Bryne of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 101st Sqdn. I suspect it’s because that, when we were kids, his story was just way cooler. We were always told he was the bomb-aimer on a Lancaster bomber, but later research revealed that in fact he flew covert missions within bombing runs in a specially adapted Lancaster known as an “Airborne Cigar” or “ABC” that was rigged with what was at the time cutting-edge black technology – equipment designed to wipe out enemy ground-to-air communications. Not only that, they also carried German-speakers (usually Germans) on board to replace the jammed transmissions with fake outgoing comms to enemy aircraft to send them away from the bombers. They also eavesdropped the German transmissions that they were jamming to see what the enemy was up to. These missions were highly classified, and so hi-tech for the time that some of the navigational and beacon equipment they used is actually still in use today in civilian waypoint marker systems for air-traffic. Sadly, the downside to all this wonderful technology was that these covert disruption planes lit up like a christmas tree on enemy radar and radio receivers, and were easy targets – and he was shot down over Germany, somewhat inevitably, in November 1944.
So this is what we knew.
So I am watching all these programmes and thinking to myself that I wish we could have taken mum and dad to see their relatives, visit the graves. It’s too late for dad now, sadly, but I would still like to take mum. And so I did a little quick googling just now to see where they are, to work out how much I am going to have to spend! And I came across the most jaw-dropping of coincidences on the War Graves Comission website:
BYRNE, PATRICK JOSEPH JOHN Flight Sergeant 1521794 04/11/1944 31 Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve United Kingdom 28. B. 1. REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY
HALLERON, VIVIAN MICHAEL Lieutenant 330386 25/03/1945 Unknown Gordon Highlanders United Kingdom 52. D. 13. REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY
They are in the same place.
They would not have known each other in life, but here they are, almost side by side, sort of, unaware that each of their respective families came together after they had gone.
I can imagine one of them looking down jealously, his grave unvisited for all these years, as a family arrives to lay flowers at the resting place of another, only to then see them walk over and place flowers at his, too.
Such a great debt owed, it makes me feel bad to think that I have never been to them to thank them directly. For the things that they saw, and felt, and suffered. And for the freedoms I now take for granted.
This is something I know I must do.