Five years ago I decided to do a little research on more recent times of my Cornish family history - an interesting topic!
My Canadian cousin, W.O. DONALD MERVIN CORNISH , son of my mother's brother ARTHUR EDWARD CORNISH (Ted), was born in Saskatchewan, May 1923. He enlisted in the R.C. Air Force at Regina, 23rd May 1941 aged 18 years. He received his wings at Dauphin, Man. in January 1942 and went overseas the following March to fly as pilot with the R.A.F.
Don and his crew, of Wellington Hotel Foxtrot 132, sank two U-boats in three nights. (I was told by a crew member there were three actually but the third sinking was not verified because it was a busy time in the war.) For sinking these subs, Don was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. When the second U-boat sank, the complete crew of 49 were picked up by a Spanish boat and landed in North Portugal.
Long after the war, in 1970, the German U-boat Commander, Kapitan Lieutenant Hans Hornkohl U566, asked the German Submarine Association to try to contact the Wellington bomber's crew for a reunion. This took some organising after so many years because the crew members of both the Wellington and the U-boat were scattered world-wide. The last R.A.F. member was traced in Australia a week before the reunion. The one time enemies got together on the banks of the Rhine at St Goarshausen and embraced in a boisterous atmosphere. Then in an emotional speech the U-boat commander said they had all seen the horrors of war, which must never be repeated. The Germans really laid down the red carpet for their former enemies.
Five years have passed since I first tried to locate Don's crew members, whose names I found in a newspaper report of the 1970 reunion. Sadly, Don died aged 56 in 1979. I tried the P.R.O. Kew, Charlie Chester's Sunday programme, telephone directories, the newspaper reporting the reunion and various others to no avail.
Two years ago we moved from Yorkshire to Lincolnshire and I continued with my search. In mid July 1993 I wrote to the M.O.D. asking for help and sent the news_cuttings. Three days later I had a letter, but not from the M.O.D. As the letter said, "... by a remarkable coincidence" a friend of his had seen my letter and news cuttings regarding Don Cornish and it so happened that he, the writer, of Toad Hall medals, Plymouth had my cousin Don's D.F.M. and could he possibly have a copy of the newspaper report. That was a surprise indeed!
Roger Cornish, our chairman (etc.!!), of the Society of Cornishes who lives in Plymouth did some detective work for me and established that the D.F.M. was sold by Don's son Finlay. Contact had been broken many years before between Finlay and his aunts and uncles in Canada. Don's medal collection was for sale but the price was too great for me.
Yet another surprise followed in the beginning of October 1993. Quite by chance my husband Jeff got into conversation with a former plane spotter and mentioned my quest. One crew member had been charlie Ford of Louth, who signed himself Charlie Ford (Primrose). The man said he knew a Charlie Ford who was formerly in the R.A.F. and he lived in a village 2 miles away from ours.
Armed with news-cuttings and photographs we went in search of this Charlie Ford, never expecting any rewards. As we drove up the long drive, a man saw us approaching and came to the door to meet us. Jeff asked if he knew Charlie Ford. He replied that he was Charlie Ford. "Primrose?" asked Jeff. "Yes!" came the surprised reply. (Primrose was actually a family name.)
Well what a surprise! Five years searching diligently, then a chance encounter produced the result! We showed Charlie Ford the cuttings and he identified all the crew. We were invited inside and how we talked!!
Charlie said that at the reunion in Germany the celebration was held up because a very important person was expected. This turned out to be Admiral Donitz, wartime chief of the German Navy. Charlie said that the Wellington crew got the impression that Admiral Donitz was still highly respected. It is also interesting that Jeff, as a wartime soldier in the Royal Signals, was on duty in the courtroom of the Nuremberg trials where Donitz was on trial and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Donitz had been a submarine expert in both world wars. In 1945, on Hitler's presumed death, he became Head of State for three weeks and signed Germany's surrender.
To think about all this is incredible. Charlie originally came from Edinburgh and we came from Yorkshire. Charlie and his wife have lived here for twenty years, we for two years. Yet he was found.
I always say, "Try, try, try again." Who said, "Truth is stranger than fiction." ?
Betty Marsden Member No
P.S. Another coincidence:- When we first came to live in Lincolnshire, Nov 1991, we were befriended by Peter and Audrey Hunt in the next village. That first Christmas 1991, they invited us to a pre-Christmas gathering in their home, so that we could meet other friends and family.
A week after we located Charlie Ford, Jeff was relating to Peter the story of our success. Imagine Jeff's surprise when Peter said we had met Charlie at their Christmas party two years earlier!
To think that we were in Charlie's company two years ago without knowing any connection or even his name! We did remember hearing him exchanging war stories with a former soldier. I could have saved myself two years work had I known! However, all is well that ends well!
Editor's comment: It is the detective work and the search which is often more exciting than the actual information gained in the end. So we can all take heart!