I’m always sad on Remembrance Sunday, when hearing the many stories of families who lost people during the two World Wars, and in the many conflicts since. I count our family as lucky, as despite hailing from the East End, and hearing stories from both sets of grandparents of the sky being black with planes during the blitz, and the fact that my Dad’s house was hit by one of the first V2s to arrive in London, we didn’t lose many close relatives.
So today is the day to remember the one person who was killed – my great uncle Charles, and also (as is the focus of this blog usually) to continue my amazement at the power of the web to help my family piece together the parts of his life that we knew nothing about.
The first piece of research is an obvious place to start – the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Their website has evolved and now contains much more than dry facts about who is buried or commemorated where. From that I find confirmation of his full name: Charles John Solly, the fact he was a pilot officer in the RAF and he died on the 22 June 1944. That much we knew, but the record provides the additional information that he is buried in Leopoldsburg war cemetery and gives a grave reference. A nice additional touch is the information in the form of a certificate, which includes a photograph of the cemetery.
Using the web to dig further – (this, I must add was done by other members of my family, who scoured bulletin boards and tracked down the associations which exist to keep the records in order and make sure people and events are remembered) – we found out that he was known as Mike. This was curious – but helped us understand the records we round of the plane crash where all dates and details matched apart from the first name of the pilot!
The most fascinating information was found on the website of 207 Squadron, where we found not only photos of his grave:
and Charles “Mike” with his crew (he is sitting in the middle of the front row):
but also lots of details about my great uncle, and his final mission. He was the pilot of Lancaster EM-M LL973, which was shot down during the attack on Wesseling, near Cologne. One of the comments on a photo gallery that a cousin has put together mentions something to follow up – Chapter 6: ‘Shot down’ is a gripping account of 22 June. Apparently Charles’ final words over the radio were “Hello crew. Bale out. Bale out. Good luck”. Many of his crew did survive, and the site records their visits to his grave. Probably the most poignant page records a visit to the crash site.
The crew is commemorated by a tree at the Aviation Heritage centre, East Kirkby – where they have a ‘taxiing Lancaster’ – it would be amazing to visit the memorial and see that in the background!
Just one of many people who displayed amazing courage during that time, I’m really pleased that the web can keep their story alive.