As featured in a previous blog post, WCSSN member and author Andrew Hemmings has been researching war casualties buried near to his home in Newport, Wales. A retired history advisor and volunteer for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), Andrew shares details of some of the stories that he has pieced together, in this abridged version of an article written by Cardiff University student Ziyan Wang.
A grave in the chapel yard of Tirzah Baptist in Michaelston-Y-Fedw, is dedicated to “HUBERT JAMES LEWIS HARRIS, Sergeant Pilot, Royal Air Force died 30th March 1940, aged 24”.
The original Baptist Chapel no longer exists, leaving only the graveyard, which cannot be located even on Google Maps. Driving along the narrow country roads of Michaelston-y-Fedw, Andrew went from house to house asking for the exact location of the churchyard. Finally he found the cottage belonging to Mr and Mrs James.The James couple are not related to Hubert Harris in any way. They are the current owners of the land. In fact, it could be said that Harris no longer has a single family member left in the world, according to Andrew’s knowledge.
Andrew’s clues came from the CWGC records and from documentation on the flight safety website www.flightsafety.org. The CWGC records reveal the parents of Hubert Harris and that his grave is marked by a private memorial with the inscription ‘Lost his Life on Active Service’.
“I was curious to know more about this pilot, a quest that uncovered a story even more tragic than most casualties of war and conflict,” said Andrew.
He consulted the flight safety website. The details of the loss of an Avro Anson aircraft (the one Harris used for his mission) show that Harris was ferrying a plane from St Athan in south Wales to Sealand in north Wales. “He was flying over his parents’ house, and he crashed into the mountain. His father was one of the first people on the scene.”
The pilot flew low over his parent’s home and then hit high ground near Machen. The pilot was killed.
“That’s a very sad story,” said Andrew, “it was unknown if it was working, or it was an official flight.”
Andrew then traced the Air Ministry File into Sergeant H J L Harris killed: aircraft accident Lower Machen, Anson N9545, 1 Ferry Pool,30 March 1940. But the file was closed until April 2024.
He made a request to The National Archives and is now waiting for a copy to be sent in the post. “Given the existing restrictions due to COVID 19, I have yet to see the contents. Later in the year I will update this account,” Andrew added.
Another casualty that Andrew has researched is William Henry Jenkins, who served as a Stoker in the Royal Navy and died in August 1946.
Andrew’s research revealed that although Jenkins died a year after the end of the war, the causes of his death included heart failure and coronary thrombosis, both of which were caused by the war. However, his service record, the ships on which he served and the battles he witnessed, are all mysteries. Andrew has tried to find out if there were any surviving descendants of the brothers and sisters of William Jenkins, publishing pieces on websites and in newspapers, but with no results to date.
For Andrew, his research is not just a matter of interest.
"It turns the stones into people. If you just go to a graveyard and see the headstones, they are just headstones with a name on. But when I look at the date of the death, I want to know what happened to them on that day. And if I want to know, others may also want to know.”