by Hugh Halliday
Attempts to link an award of a “Mentions in Despatches” to a specific despatch will not likely yield any significant results. Historically (19th Century and some of the interwar “colonial frontier” wars) Despatches filed by Field Commanders did single out individual personnel for mention (though rarely with any details as to why they were being mentioned). However, First and Second World War Despatches such as those published in the London Gazette dealt with the broadest outlines of campaigns. As has been pointed out, a “despatch” that covered the hundreds of names appearing in even one London Gazette list would be a very cumbersome document indeed !
The “Mention in Despatches” being sought is an award WITHOUT A DESPATCH. It was (and is) an honour granted with a symbol (usually an oak leaf appended to a campaign ribbon) without a specific medal of its own. The range of reasons for awarding a “Mention in Despatches” was immense. Many a failed VC recommendation wound up as a Mention in Despatches. It could be awarded for great gallantry or mundane service. Moreover, the vast majority of “Mentions in Despatches” were initiated far below the level of a Field Commander. It is doubtful if Air Officers Commanding at the level of Sir Arthur Harris had ever heard of the men and women in their commands who had been “Mentioned in Despatches”.
Numerous awards began with a call from Command or Group Headquarters for submissions of all manner of honours – OBEs, MBEs, BEMs, and Mentions in Despatches – which lower units were to draft and submit upwards. They would ultimately be approved on a quota basis.
I doubt that RCAF experience in Bomber Command differed significantly from that of other nationalities or formations in that command, so allow me to cite an RCAF example. On June 18th, 1944, the various units of No.6 Group were advised that they should begin preparing their MiD submissions for the New Year’s Honour List. These were to cover, as far as possible, personnel of all branches and trades; even NAAFI staff were to be considered. Recommendations were to be split on the basis of 35 percent for officers and 65 percent for other ranks. The breakdown for No.62 Base was typical of how MiDs were to be distributed:
No.62 Base Headquarters – 9
Linton Station Headquarters – 12
No.408 Squadron – 13
No.426 Squadron – 13
No.9408 Servicing Echelon – 3
No.9426 Servicing Echelon – 3
Tholthorpe Station Headquarters – 10
No.420 Squadron – 13
No.425 Squadron – 13
No.9420 Servicing Echelon – 3
No.9425 Servicing Echelon – 3
Eastmoor Station Headquarters – 9
No.432 Squadron – 13
No.9432 Servicing Echelon – 3
TOTAL – 120
Numerous No.6 Group files dealing with Mentions in Despatches were shipped to Canada in 1945 and thus were preserved. I fear that the equivalent files of other Groups were destroyed, either by the Air Ministry or the Public Record Office. Where citations can be found for Mentions in Despatches, it is usually through unusual circumstances. For example, AIR 2 files at Kew dealing with escapes and evasions contain many award recommendations. Files respecting “Birthday” and “New Year” Honour awards include submissions for OBEs, MBEs, etc that were not approved as such but were downgraded to Mentions in Despatches (or sometimes Commendations). But these are exceptions.
Some examples of MiD citations – where found and why they were awarded:
NEW YEAR HONOUR RECOMMENDATION, DOWNGRADED FROM AFC TO MID:
ABECASSIS, George Edgar, A/F/L (115865, RAFVR*) – No.10 Operational Training Unit – Mention in Despatches – awarded as per London Gazette dated 11 January 1944. Public Record Officer Air 2/8959, courtesy of Steve Brew, has recommendation for an AFC intended for the 1944 New Year Honours List and downgraded to this. He had flown 500 instructional hours.
“This officer has been employed as a Flying Instructor and latterly as Deputy Flight Commander. His keenness and enthusiasm, combined with conscientious and consistent instruction, have always been an inspiration to trainee pilots and his pupils have in every case displayed the hallmark of his careful attention. He has carried out a long spell on the arduous and exacting duties of a Flying Instructor at an Operational Training Unit.”
MID RECOMMENDATION FROM AN ESCAPE AND EVASION FILE:
ELLIS, D., F/O (69471, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) – No.104 Squadron – Mention in Despatches – awarded as per London Gazette dated 14 June 1945. Public Record Office Air 2/9230 has recommendation, referring to Interrogation Report P/W/REP/Italy/310.
“This officer was a member of the crew of an aircraft which was shot down near El Alamein. Flying Officer Ellis evaded capture for two days but was then taken prisoner by some Germans and sent to Camp 19 at Bologna. On the 8th September 1943, the Italians released the prisoners at this camp but only a few succeeded in escaping owing to a guard placed around the camp by the Germans. Whilst the Germans were removing prisoners to another camp, Flying Officer Ellis and three companions concealed themselves and gained their freedom. After journeying together for three weeks the party separated and Flying Officer Ellis journeyed on to Rapino. Then, with the assistance of the British-born wife of an Italian, he reached British lines on 9th December 1943.”
FAUTLEY, Vera Maude Rose, Flight Sergeant (889714, Womens Auxiliary Air Force) – Station Leighton Buzzard – Mention in Despatches – awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 January 1945. Citation found in Public Record Office Air 2/8872.
“This airwoman is a teleprinter operator who has served at Leighton Buzzard since May 1940. She has graduated from ACW.2 to her present rank since that date and has competed with all Leighton Buzzard teleprinter activities at various times. She is of a mature age and sound judgement, and has brought to her work cheerfulness, patience and ability of a high order. Her influence upon her WAAF subordinates is most marked and he has ably supported her superiors.”
ANOTHER FROM AN ESCAPE AND EVASION FILE
FORDE, D.N., F/O (41526, Royal Air Force) – No.145 Squadron – Mention in Despatches – awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 January 1943. Public Record Office Air 2/5684 has recommendation.
“This officer, flying a Spitfire, was compelled to bale out in Northern France on 23rd July 1941. He hid in a field all next day to avoid enemy soldiers who were searching for him and next day made his way south, eventually crossing the Line of Demarcation on 9th August. Shortly afterwards his companion was arrested but he went on and eventually crossed the Pyrenees on 23rd September. Here he was arrested and after a short period of internment was released and repatriated from Gibraltar on 12th October.”
FROM FILES SHIPPED TO CANADA
BATE, Aircraftman First Class Frederick Stephen (RAF 1668591) – Mention in Despatches – Station Croft – awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 January 1945. DHist file 181.009 D.4364 (National Library and Archives, RG.24 Vol. 20648) has recommendation drafted mid-July 1944.
“This airman enlisted 8th October 1942 and is employed as an instrument repairer. As such, it is his responsibility that all aircraft leaving the station are, at all times, completely charged with oxygen. He has been unswerving in his loyalty and devotion to duty, working long and arduous hours well above those required by normal duties. Through his untiring efforts, it has been possible to ensure that all aircraft have been properly equipped before taking off. His initiative, persistence and unceasing cooperation are highly commendable.”
BOWERS, Corporal Winnifred Stella (RAF WAAF 2055795) – Mention in Despatches – Station Eastmoor – awarded as per London Gazette dated 14 June 1945. Enlisted 26 February 1942. DHist file 181.009 D.1719 (National Library and Archives, RG.24 Volume 20606) has recommendation, apparently drafted in late summer of 1944 (date cannot be assigned) when she was a Clerk (General Duties). This does not appear to have gone through, but was resubmitted again in February 1945 (again, exact date not clear from file).
“This WAAF Non-Commissioned Officer is employed as a Clerk in Station Headquarters Orderly Room and has many times demonstrated her capabilities. Her work has always been of the highest standard and complicated as it has been with the combination of RAF and RCAF procedure, Corporal Bowers has maintained an extremely high standard of efficiency in the Orderly Room. In addition this Non-Commissioned Officer has contributed of her off-duty hours much in excess of requirements. By her untiring efforts at her duties and her cheerful manner. Corporal Bowers has acted as an inspiration and help to her section.”
GLEW, Corporal Robert (RAF 35090) – Mention in Despatches – Station Leeming – awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 January 1945. DHist file 181.009 D.2619 (National Library and Archives RG.24 Volume 20628) has recommendation forwarded 31 July 1944.
“Corporal Glew has been Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of the High Frequency Direction Finding Station, Leeming, since November 1942. During this time he has been responsible for the signal communications to thousands of aircraft. His efficient and confident ability has been without question responsible for many aircraft returning safely to Base, even when in extreme difficulties. Under his guidance this Direction Finding Station has built up a reputation for accuracy which for accuracy which is now well known. Corporal Glew has maintained the morale of his subordinates at a very high level in spite of the fact that they are living under adverse conditions and operate under considerable strain.”
HANNAFORD, S/L Harold William Crimp (43612) – Mention in Despatches – Station Leeming – awarded as per London Gazette dated 2 June 1943. DHist file 181.009 D.2617 (RG.24 Volume 20627) has recommendation for an MBE dated 22 February 1943 and submitted by G/C C.R. Dunlap.
“As Senior Accountant Officer and Entertainment Officer, Squadron Leader Hannaford rendered outstanding service. His efforts on behalf of the personnel of this station have been unceasing, and he has been successful in building up and maintaining orchestras, bands and concert parties which are second to none. His work in connection with the improvement of the cinema, the stage and general entertainments have been of the highest order. His efforts have been greatly appreciated by all ranks, and have been a great uplift to morale and happiness generally.”
WEST, Sergeant Violet Dorothy Annie (RAF 426203) – Mention in Despatches – Station Leeming – awarded as per London Gazette dated 14 June 1945. Cook. DHist file 181.009 D.2619 (RG.24 Vol.20628) had recommendation.
“An Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of a shift in the Sergeant’s Mess, Sergeant West maintains an efficient section at all times during her tour of duty. On occasion, this Non-Commissioned Officer has worked as long as 20 hours a day without complaint and with a tireless ability. A competent disciplinarian and Non-Commissioned Officer, Sergeant West combines a good personality with an excellent trade ability resulting in a well run shift that produces extremely satisfactory results. In view of this Non-Commissioned Officer’s merit, she is recommended for an award of Mention in Despatches.”
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