Thursday 21 February 2013

Cranborne/Nettleton Memories

By Mitch Stirling

   When I view some old black and white photographs of 'trains and boats and planes' by the likes of Tony Hawes and the British Air Ministry I'm transported back in time to the year 1956 when two wee boys, with their ma and pa, got off the boat-train at Salisbury station... with their eyes like saucers! Dusting off the soot from that old Garrett steam engine, they assembled their few possessions and made their way (I can't remember how) to their new abode - the Cranborne hostel. It had been a long journey from Glasgow to Southampton and then by Union Castle liner 'Stirling' to Cape Town, followed by train to Southern Rhodesia. THIS is where it all began - our love for the land of Rhodesia and of its people - and for the wee boys' love of flying machines.

Cranborne in the 1950's

The hostel where we stayed had been used as barracks by the many airmen from all over the world who trained there during the Second World War. Thousands of aviation personnel had learned their trade and honed their skills in sunny Southern Rhodesia in what was known as the Empire (later Commonwealth) Air Training Scheme. At our new home in these old Cranborne barracks - the old 20 SFTS (Service Flight Training School) and 31 ARU (Aircraft Repair Unit) - I began to learn about the wonderful history of the men who had passed through this place. In a young school boy's imagination I could sense their presence in the bits and pieces of discarded aviation, left over from times gone by. RAF Cranborne (1940-45) was one of a number of Rhodesian Air Training Group bases where North American Harvards were used for training pilots... and not without the occasional mishaps!

Harvard Airborne

Crashed Harvard

Salisbury October 24, 1940

   The nearby primary school I attended was named after Squadron Leader John Dering Nettleton VC, with school 'houses' named after four more RAF recipients of the Victoria Cross - Aaron, Gray, Hornell and Malcolm - awarded posthumously in various theatres of war. Although not a Rhodesian himself (South African born) Nettleton led the fateful low-level bombing attack on the U-Boat diesel engine factory at Augsburg in 1942 with Rhodesians P/O Partick Dorehill DFC from Fort Victoria, Sgt Donald Huntly DFM from Salisbury and W/O Laurence Dando DFM as members of the raid. P/O Haworth Peall, Sgts Brian Moss and Peter Venter were killed. Dando and Sgt Albert Dedman were taken prisoner by the Germans after being shot down. As school children we began to comprehend a little about the bravery of these men, but it was not until I reached adulthood that the enormity of these acts of valour and the complete dedication to duty began to sink in. The story is well-known, but the mental picture still sends tingles down my spine. It's a picture of bomber crews receiving their target brief on the morning of 17 April '42 and six Lancaster bombers of 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron RAF getting fueled-up to max 2154 gallons and bombed-up with 4/ thousand pounders... and departing Waddington in a double Vic formation for a daylight crossing of the English Channel... on the wave tops.

Seven members of a Lancaster crew on a training flight 

Lancaster with Lincoln Cathedral in view

Lancaster over Waddington in 1942

   Code-named 'Operation Margin', it was the first major operation of Avro Lancasters and one of the most daring raids of the war, penetrating hundreds of miles into enemy territory. Joined by 6 more Lancasters of 97 Squadron from RAF Woodhall Spa they roared across France and Germany like a huge flight of 12 migratory birds. Up ahead swarms of RAF fighters and bombers were laying down diversionary attacks on ground targets in an attempt to lure the enemy fighters away and clear the flight path for the Lancs. It almost worked.... until they were spotted by packs of Messerschmitt Bf 109's and Focke Wulf Fw 190's that jumped them from above. Four Lancasters of Nettleton's wing were immediately shot down and only two finally arrived over target. And, once there, another aircraft was hit by flak and went down. The second wave of six bombers had evaded the attack by the German fighters, but when they arrived over target one was hit by ack-ack and exploded in flames and two others were hit and caught fire. The survivors limped back home to England under cover of darkness. Nettleton's machine, in tatters, landed at Squires Gate near Blackpool. It was almost one-o-clock in the morning and they had been airborne for nearly 10 hours over hostile territory. Seven of the twelve Lancasters had been lost - 37 crew members had died and 12 were taken prisoner.

 Air Marshal Arthur (Bomber) Harris, who had farmed outside Salisbury before the war said, "The officers and men who took part, those who returned and those who fell, have indeed served their country well." John Dering Nettleton's Victoria Cross was gazetted on April 1942, but he was to die soon after (on 13 July 1943) during a raid on Turin, Italy. Night fighters shot him down off the French coast. His body and those of his crew were never found.

Nettleton's crew after the raid on Augsburg

Children from Nettleton School examine the Vulcan

Avro Vulcan XA 901 of 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron.

In 1959/60 an RAF Avro Vulcan visited Salisbury, proudly carrying the 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron badge after all those years. The squadron had been named by King George V in 1917 and only a king could remove its designation. So the glorious elephant badge of 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron remained until 1982 when the last Vulcan was withdrawn from service. It was much admired by a new generation of children from Nettleton school.     
Memorial Service at Nettleton School

Nettleton School Memorial    

Honourable memory

    In 1978 a Memorial service was held at the school attended by various dignitaries from government and civic life as well as representatives of the Rhodesian Air Force.


Dunholme Lodge Memorial

Dunholme Lodge Memorial

The Bell Near RAF Spilsby

Dunholme Lodge Church

Photo credits with thanks to:
Phil Evans, Stan Rogers, John Reid-Rowland, Tony Ward, ex-pupils of Nettleton School... Marianna Bayerian-Kondourajian, Hayley Houghton Thomas, Cherry Bessant and Jennifer Momsen

Thanks to Mitch for sharing his article with ORAFs, thanks also to all those that made photographs available.

Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at

Recommended reading.
Lest We Forget April 17, 1942 (Raid on Augsburg)

THe Spirit of Augsburg Lives On

(Please visit our previous posts and archives)

Ref. Rhodesian Air Force, ORAFs, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron

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At 22 February 2013 at 09:13 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Bill Wardhaugh Writes:-
and ex Nettleton pupils,
Thanks so much for your very interesting ORAF’s articles.

This one of Nettleton School took me back to 1950 with many memories flowing from my 68 year old mind...

Nettleton was my first school as we then living with my Aunt in Longford Ave Queensdale. My Grandparents lived in 67 Longford Ave, next door to the Reid family who had about four children, of which I only remember Willy who was born bald, and his sister Marianne. On the other side was the Thompson family. Behind and down the sanitary lane (the toilet buckets were taken away early each morning by workers using a mule drawn wagon) lived the Den Haan family – the one girl was named Elizabeth.

Queensdale, was sandy soil, mahobahoba and blue gum trees...

There were many rows of those asbestos ‘prefab’ houses with red polished floors, where my other Aunt lived in.

Those names in your article, I only recognised one name,,, Houghton. I’m sure there was a boy named Houghton, perhaps Barry?? with fair/blonde hair.

Our classrooms were old horse stables I’m sure, because they were very small and had very high ceilings and stable doors which looked like the horses had chewed away at the bottom section. The walls were whitewashed.
My first day, I was dropped off and to be honest I wasn’t happy about being at school (explanation later) so when the bell was rung, I simply walked out the gate and all the way down to Longford Ave.... much to my Aunt’s surprise, but was returned to school immediately. My stay at Nettleton wasn’t very long as my Dad was transferred to Bindura in about 1951.

The reason I wasn’t happy about school was because my Dad worked for the Government Water Development, putting down boreholes all over Rhodesia, including Buhera, Birchenhough, Chipinga, Melsetter, Umtali – Valentine, Franklin, and Norris family boreholes. And in that time we lived in the bush in camps and among the many wild animals, which I remember well.

I’d like to ask if anyone has stories or photos of Mt Hampdon air force at the time around 1950 as my wife’s late Dad (George Crossland) was there on transfer for some years from the British RAF.

Thanks again, for ORAF’s, we all enjoy reading the stories.

At 22 February 2013 at 09:15 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Tom Krummell (USA)
Sent this story on to his news listing with the annotation:-
From Eddy in South Africa, and a very interesting article (especially for flyers).

At 22 February 2013 at 09:18 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Bob Hattle (RhAF) Writes:-

I read with interest Mitch Stirling’s memories or those Cranborne days. I went to Nettleton school up to 1955. All of my mates were those immigrants from the UK who stayed in Cranborne Hostel. I lived on Gibson road. Other road names in the suburb were Ward, Oates, Bevan and other RAF personnel. In another part of the suburb the names were of places that were significant in WW2. Alamein, Arnhem, Benghazi Tobruk and Nymegan are some that come to mind. The latter name always stuck in my mind because it was so unusual. I only found out the significance of it recently. I met a Dutch girl here in Moshi who was from Nymegan in Holland. When I mentioned the name was a road name where I lived many years ago she told me the story. Nymegan was bombed by allied bombers who were supposed to bomb German positions to the North but got it wrong. So very sad. I see on Google maps the road it is still called Nymegan. I hope it always stays that way.

At 23 February 2013 at 20:57 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Barry Roberts (RhAF) Writes:-

Just to let you know that ek (I) was also a pupil at Nettleton School, whilst languishing as Station Adj I attended the annual memorial service at the school with Chris Dams the station master.

At 8 January 2019 at 17:42 , Blogger martin mahon said...

Brought back memories there Mitch.
My Mother took our family of 4 from dublin to salisbury in 1956 , the eldest my brother was 7 years old . she was a brave woman.
We stayed in Cranborne for a period and went to Selbourne school.
We then moved to Leyroyd road then Senoya street when we then went to nettleton.
We came back to Ireland in 1961.
Names I remember from Nettleton are my best school friend Glen Thompson and my first girlfriend Jennifer Prentice.
Martin Mahon

At 3 March 2021 at 07:08 , Blogger Unknown said...

My sister & I went to Nettleton School in Cranborne, then Salisbury. Carol & Lorraine Crouch.
Carol started there in 1956 & I in 1957.We stayed in 44 Learoyd Rad,Braeside.we were very proud to ho t Nettleton School.In 1962 Carol won the Victrix Ladorum & I won it in 1963 & got my colors for, Netball,Tennis & Athletics.Does anyone in our classes have any class photos of us in? I would be most grateful if anyone could take a copy & send it on this site.Thank you, kind regards,lorraine Hamlyn nee.Crouch.


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