RBGE’s World War Two Memorial

Situated beneath the Memorial to the members of staff at RBGE who gave their lives during the First World War is a smaller, but no less poignant memorial to those who did the same thing in the Second World War. Over the course of the centenary years of the First World War I have done what I can to reveal more about the men whose names are on the memorial, posting each story on the centenary of the death of each man. There are 20 names on the first memorial, and eight on the second. It is a more difficult process to find information on the men named on the second memorial, but I thought it would be worthwhile to post a story on what we do know about each of these men, and what little I have been able to find out so far, so that we have it in one place and in writing, and also in the hope that anyone researching these men will be able to find it and potentially pass any further information to us at RBGE. We don’t have much information here, and it would be good to be able to add to what we have.

The two memorials in RBGE’s Science Building reception.
My starting point – the information about the men on the memorial published in the Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, v.21 – as we’ll see below, some of this information is incorrect.
Harvey Oswald Fairbairn, pictured at RBGE in around 1939.

Harvey Oswald Fairbairn (c.1917-1944)
Service Number:143285
(Sgt?) RAF Volunteer Reserve ORTU Pilot, Flying Officer
d. 10/7/1944 age 27, buried Longside Cemetery, Aberdeenshire, Grave 88
parents: James and Elizabeth Fairbairn, Davidson’s Mains, Edinburgh
“He beareth thee On Eagle’s wings, and taketh thee, Unto himself”
Started RBGE 1939

With Fairbairn, we have an incident of the small amount of information that RBGE does possess, being wrong. Our staff list in the RBGE Guild journal shows Harvey starting work at RBGE in 1939, prior to this he had worked in Muirfield Gardens, Davidson’s Mains – a private estate in the north of Edinburgh. The rest of our information came from our publication, the Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which states that Fairbairn was killed in North Africa with no date given. As I didn’t have a date of death I looked Harvey up on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and discovered that he was killed on the 10th July 1944, aged 27 and that he was buried in Longside Cemetery, Aberdeenshire – a long way from North Africa. I could see from records on the War Graves site that a number of men in the cemetery were killed on the same day – what had happened?

An online search of some of the many excellent databases and forums available (www.forces-war-records.co.uk and http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/ ) revealed that Fairbairn was a Flying Officer, piloting Albemarle P1593, flying two glider pilots from Hampstead Norris to Kinloss on a glider retrieval flight when bad weather struck. Fairbairn flew low, presumably to avoid the worst of the weather, but was seen to spin and burst into flames at Newton-of-Bruxie near Peterhead with the loss of all nine men on board.

The possible answer to why our publication had Fairbairn located in Africa rather than the U.K. could be that he did indeed serve there – according to his nephews Rex Fowler and John Fairbairn he enlisted with the Royal Scots and served with them in the British Expeditionary Force in France as a dispatch rider, soon transferring to the RAF and sent to Africa to learn to fly there due to the dry weather conditions. Presumably the last we heard of him at RBGE was when he was there.

The RAF needed many aircrew and an Empire Training Scheme was established.  Harvey was sent to “The Rhodesia Air Training Group” (1940 – 1945) and learned to fly ‘Harvards’ in Bulawayo [Zimbabwe].  I was only 10 in 1940 so Harvey, my uncle, was a hero to me, [but] that is the limit of my information to that time.

Rex Fowler

With many thanks to Rex Fowler, John Fairbairn, Julia Fulton and Lynn McCormack for getting in touch and telling me so much about their uncle / great-uncle Harvey Fairbairn, and in particular, for identifying him in a staff group photograph.

James McMillan Fernie (1921-1942)
Service Number: 1344239
RAF Volunteer Reserve Aircraftmen 1st Class
b.1921, Brodick
d. 18/8/1942 age 20, buried Gauhati War Cemetery, India, died of malaria
parents: Alexander and Margaret Fernie, Brodick, Arran [Alexander was a forester from Fife who trained at RBGE with his brother Robert]
“Sacred to the memory of our youngest son”

Thomas Steel Greenshields Grieve (c.1913-1942)
Service Number: 1066320
RAF Volunteer Reserve Flight Sergeant 151 Squadron
b.1913? Arrochar or Uphall?
d. 10/08/1942 age 29, Runnymede Memorial – no grave, Air Forces Memorial, Cooper’s Hill
started at RBGE in 1938, left 1942

It was my understanding that as Grieve has no grave, his flight would have been lost at sea with no bodies found, but I recently found the following information online:

August 9 [1942] P/O Wain with Sgt Grieve were on standing patrol and were vectored onto an enemy aircraft which was returning to its base. R/T contact was lost when P/0 Wain and Sgt Grieve were about 50 miles out to sea. This was the last that was heard of them. In a search which followed, the wreckage of the aircraft was found roughly in the same position where R/T contact was lost. On August 10 the body of Sgt Grieve was found, but there was no trace of P/O Wain.

A note on a photo of RBGE’s Hort staff taken in 1939 states this could be Bill McInnes.

William Thomas Henderson McInnes (c.1916-1942) Service Number: 2987765
(L/Sgt?) Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 7/10th Battalion, Serjeant
d. 24/10/1942 age 26 1st day of the 2nd Battle of El Alamein, El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt
Parents: William and Mary McInnes, Cumbernauld Dunbartonshire
“When change and tears Are past, All safe and blessed, We shall meet at last”
Started RBGE 1938

William Thomas Henderson McInnes was born in Glasgow in around 1916 to William and Mary McInnes of Cumbernauld, Dunbartonshire. He began work at RBGE in 1938 as a Probationer Gardener after having worked at Montgreenan Gardens, Kilwinning in Ayrshire. During World War II McInnes enlisted with the 7th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders with whom he may have served a five month stint in northern France in 1940 before they were evacuated in June, but he certainly would have been part of the convoy despatched from Scotland in June 1942 for a nine week voyage at sea round Africa via Cape Town to avoid the Mediterranean and landing in Egypt in August 1942 after as part of the 51st Highland Division to take on Rommel’s Afrika Korps. It was expected that Rommel could attack at any time, his intention being to capture the area of the Nile delta. It was the Allied Troops job to meet them and chase then westwards and out of Africa.
This ‘meeting’ was to take place at El Alamein in October 1942. At this point it looks as if McInnes is now a Lance Sergeant with the 9th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders engaged with building and camouflaging trenches destined to become assembly trenches in the El Alamein area. [Source: ‘History of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 7th Battalion: from El Alamein to Germany’ by Capt Ian C. Cameron, Thomas and Nelson, London, 1946]

The move westwards began at dusk on the 23rd October 1942 with the troops aiming to cross anti-tank minefields before taking a number of ‘lines’ one at a time. The 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders faced fierce opposition on the 24th and it seems that McInnes lost his life on that day. There is a good account of the Battle from the point of view of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders here.

This is an Indian gentleman pictured amongst his fellow gardeners during alterations to the Rock Garden in 1939 – could it be Bejoy Mitra?

Bejoy Krishna Mitra (c.1916-1944)
Service Number: 1560689
(Sgt (Pathfinder)) RAF Volunteer Reserve, Sergeant / Air Gunner
Enlisted 03/03/1941
d. 25/01/1944 age 28 Cambridge Crematorium, Dry Drayton; cremated in accordance to Hindu tradition.
Parents: Haridas and Sudhanshu Bala Mitra, Calcutta, Bengal
Referred to as a Graduate of RBGE, started at RBGE in 1938

Searching the internet using Mitra’s name revealed that he was on board a Halifax II bomber leaving from RAF Upwood airfield in Cambridgeshire on the 25th January 1944. He and the crew were conducting target indicator exercise under the auspices of the Pathfinder Force Navigator Training Unit. On take off at 21:15, however, the plane failed to attain enough height, hitting trees and crashing in Upwood village, with all ten on board killed, one the next day from burns.

This is Bill, Will or Harry Moseley photographed in the Palm House in the late 1930s by his friend Stuart Hayes.

Henry William Moseley (c.1912-1944)
Service Number: 2699776
(Private?) 1st Battalion Scots Guards, Foot Guards, Guardsman
d. 01/10/1944 age 32, South African Cemetery, Castiglione, Italy.
Son of Henry Richard and Emily Moseley, and husband of Katharine Ann Lockhart Moseley, Downfield, Dundee
“Cherished memories of a devoted husband, son and brother, loved by all”
Started RBGE 1936

Anecdotal evidence from the family of Moseley’s friend and RBGE colleague Stuart Hayes states that Harry Moseley and his battalion were stationed in an Italian villa, and in his spare time he enjoyed doing some gardening in the grounds. Unfortunately, on the 1st October 1944 he was spotted doing this by an enemy sniper and was shot. He died from his wounds. I’m very grateful to Stuart Hayes’s son for this information.

However, we had a lovely visit recently by members of Bill’s family; Kay and Mike Sprenger who had heard that Bill died in a bunker that had been hit by a shell, and one wonders if the villa and sniper story was a way of cushioning the blow of Bill’s death for his colleagues left behind at RBGE?

picture of Will Moseley, a young man in army uniform
Kay sent us this image from the family archives of Bill Moseley in uniform during his last period of home leave before his death in Italy in October 1944.

James Roberts (c.1899-1943)
Service Number: 2214772?
(Sgt?) Warrant Officer Class II C.S.M. Royal Engineers 585 Corps Field Park Company?
d. 07/01/1943 age 44, Brookwood Memorial, drowned off Tunisia. [I have yet to find out more about this, but it could well be that Roberts was on his way to take part in the Tunisia campaign when his ship was sunk in the Mediterranean]
Parents Robert Roberts and Elizabeth Roberts nee Donahue, husband of Jane T.D. Roberts nee Wilson, Edinburgh
Started RBGE 1927

Kenneth Herbert Aynge Vaughan (?-1941)
Service Number: 970952
(A/C2?) Sergeant RAF, Volunteer Reserve
d. 15/03/1941 Runnymede Memorial, Cooper’s Hill, reported missing, presumed killed, Mediterranean.
started RBGE 1938

The World War Two memorial at RBGE.

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    1. Kay Sprenger

      I have just stumbled on these posts. William Henry Moseley was my husband’s great uncle. Up till now, although we had known that he died in Castiglione we never knew how. We found the account of his death so sad…but lovely that he was doing something he loved before he was shot down. We also loved the photo you put up. Up till now we only had a couple of photos of him in uniform. Well done for finding out this information and putting it online. If you have any more stories about him, could you pass it on? I am trying to build up a picture of my husband’s relatives. Thanks!

      • Amy Sturt

        Hello Kay,

        Henry William Mosely was my Grandfather’s Uncle and we went to visit his war grave in Castiglione in September 2014.

        I had heard he was killed by a shell hitting his bunker so this was very enlightening to read!

        If you have any photos of him, please do pass them on as my grandad was very fond of his uncle Will as he knew him and hasn’t any photographs of him.

        Thank you.

        • Leonie Paterson

          Hello Amy, thank you so much for this. Kay and her family said exactly the same as you about Will’s tragic death, and now we’re wondering if the story circulated at RBGE about Will tending the garden at the time of his death was perhaps designed to cushion the blow or provide some comfort? If we’re able to find out more, we’ll certainly post it here. Best wishes, Leonie

    2. Arindam Basu

      Dear Leonie,

      Thanks a million for hosting this website. I am nephew of Bejoy Krishna Mitra (he was my uncle from my mother’s side), ID Number: 1560689, whose picture is posted above. This is the correct picture.