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Belated salute to war dead
As a retired bell-ringer, Oxford University physicist Ray Rook is well used to focusing minds on the village church in North Hinksey.
But in recent weeks he has been engaged in trying to secure recognition for local servicemen who perished in the Second World War, 67 years after the 1939-45 conflict.
Mr Rook was surprised to discover that the plaque in St Lawrence Church only commemorated the 12 local men who died in the First World War.
On being told that no one from Botley and North Hinksey had been killed in the Second World War, he embarked on a mission to discover whether names were missing from the church war memorial, with men who laid down their lives for their country unwittingly forgotten.
Now following an article in The Oxford Times less than a month ago about his search, Mr Rook says that he has already compiled a growing list of local servicemen killed in the Second World War.
He has been able to learn the stories of some like Douglas Williams, a pilot who perished in a crash on the very last day of the Second World War in Europe.
Others, like William James Barson and William John Barson, two men with the same name but not apparently brothers, remain tantalising mysteries.
When two names were mentioned to him by members of the church congregation after he set out his plan, he followed up the details of Gunner John Llewellyn Coles, a Royal Artillery gunner, and Lance Corporal Harold Stephen Bury, of the Royal Engineers.
Both men came from Botley, famous for its local cemetery where a large section is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Lance Corporal Bury is buried at Schoonselhof Cemetery in Antwerp, where 1,455 Second World War servicemen are buried.
Mr Rook has located both men’s children, who still live in the Botley area.
Harold Bury’s daughter, Ann Thorne, 71, of Eynsham Road, Botley, told him that her father was killed in action in Belgium on November 23, 1945, the victim of a rocket-propelled missile that scored a direct hit. He had lived in Seacourt Road, in a house where grandson John now lives. His widow, Margaret, had lived in the same house until her death in 1992.
Before going to war, Harold Bury had worked at the grocery business Harold Hicks’s in North Hinksey Lane.
Mrs Thorne said: “I once read in the parish magazine an article that stated that no one from North Hinksey and Botley had been killed in the Second World War. My husband wrote a letter to tell them that was not correct. A memorial in the church is something I always wanted to see.”
Gunner Coles’s son, Peter, lives in Botley close to the War Graves Commission plot, where his father is buried.
Mr Coles, 76, who had worked in construction, said his father had worked as a hairdresser behind a tobacconist shop in High Street.
He was able to explain that his father actually died the year after the war ended. He had returned home from India but the trauma of his wartime experiences led to his death in 1946.
Searches on the Internet led Mr Rook to the story of Flight Sergeant Douglas Williams, a pilot with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 169 Squadron, Bomber Command.
Mr Williams, of Seacourt Road, is commemorated on an Oxford Crematorium Memorial, while a plaque to him is made from the perspex from the cockpit of the aircraft he died in.
His nephew, Clive Weeks, a photographer, said: “I understand that his plane crashed when he was flying back home at the end of the war.”
Flight Sergeant Williams’s widow Peggy Torjussen, 89, lives in the Isle of Wight, while his daughter Joy Parrish, a retired care assistant, lives in Witney.
Ms Parrish said: “When he died people were celebrating the end of the war. My mother remembers people were hanging out flags.
“When the telegraph came she thought it was to say when he was coming home. But it was to say he had been killed in a crash.”
The aircraft hit a cliff near Hove. It was unclear whether the aircraft had been damaged. Ms Parrish’s mother was three months’ pregnant with her at the time.
Mr Rook is anxious to receive details of any other servicemen and women from Botley and North Hinksey to have died in the Second World War, or in subsequent conflicts, so they can also be honoured in the parish church.
He said fundraising will soon begin for a new memorial. It would not be possible to extend the existing plaque for the war dead, which sits in an alcove of the church.
The new plaque will carry the name of another airman from Botley who perished, Philip Russell, of the 2nd (Airborne Battalion) Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who died in France in July 1944, aged 30, and is buried in France at the Ranville War Cemetery in Calvados.
Details have also been confirmed about Arthur Capel, a cook in the Royal Naval Patrol Service, who died in 1943, aged 32, a former resident of Hazel Road, Botley, who is buried in the local cemetery.
The decision has been taken to delay erecting the new memorial to try to ensure no names are missed.
It will be positioned on the same wall as the existing memorial under a memorial stained glass window, which is made from fragments brought from a destroyed church in Ypres.
Mr Rook said: “I’m currently trying to verify details about a number of men including Albert Taylor, a leading aircraftman, who I believe died in 1940, aged 36.”
Then there is the mystery of the two men with the same name.
“I have established that they were not brothers. But the astonishing thing is that the war memorial in St Lawrence commemorating the fallen of the Great War also contains the names of two men called Barson as well.”
Another mystery. But at least Mr Rook has forever laid to rest the myth that no one from Botley and North Hinksey had paid the ultimate price in war since 1918.
Anyone with any information about war casualties from Botley and North Hinksey should contact 01865 241451.