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Friday, 6 June 2014

Kenneth Forbes Morrison, the uncle I never knew.



It's D-Day this week and the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944 are currently being commemorated.
 I would like to dedicate this post to my mother's brother Kenneth Forbes Morrison, 20.07.1923 - 25.06.1943, and his mates in the NZ Air Force. Ken did not get to experience or hear about D-Day. He was a pilot of a Halifax bomber who died together with all his crew when their plane was shot down over Wuppertal, while they were taking part in a raid on the night of 24/25 June 1943. He had just been promoted to the rank of flight sergeant. Ken was initially interred in the Military Cemetery in South Cologne, but his remains were subsequently re-buried in the Rheinberg War Cemetery in the Rheinland. I've posted childhood photographs of Ken in previous blogs, for example here,  here and here, and you can see a photograph of Ken and his ill-fated crew here.

When his mother Mona reluctantly agreed to allow him to enlist because he was under age, Ken left his parents' home in Christchurch New Zealand and in early 1942 he embarked for Canada to continue his training under the Empire Air Training Scheme. The training took place in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, and no doubt Ken saw the whole trip as a great adventure. He must have taken a camera with him to record his travels, because we have an album of snaps from his time in the air force, 1942-1943. Quite a few photographs look to have been taken while doing his flying training or are of groups of men at the base, and there is a good one of a plane's instrument panel, but it wasn't all serious training, and there are also quite a few photos of Canadian mountain scenery, or  of Ken sightseeing or relaxing with friends. I've selected the following two shots because they show that he must have been able to get leave to visit New York City. He went up the Empire State Building, went out to a cabaret and spent time relaxing on a beach somewhere with a couple of girls, probably locals impressed by these young men in uniform. The beach photo of Ken and friends isn't labelled, but the dinner photograph has identifying information on the reverse, as shown below. It's signed by everyone at the table and gives the venue as Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, W. 46 ST. New York City, on 3 September 1942.
According to the web site of the Hotel Paramount, "from 1938 to 1951, Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe operated in the basement of the Paramount. Known for its vaudeville-style revues, the club featured the day's top entertainers and even inspired a 1940s movie musical  of the same name", which starred Betty Grable.  The night club re-opened last year and is now a 'prime midtown nightlife destination'. In 1942 it must have been quite an eye-opener for a young man from the sedate city of Christchurch New Zealand.


Ken and friends on the beach  

A carefree night out with friends in the Big Apple, at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, Hotel Paramount.
 Ken is fourth from left.

Some of the signatures are a bit hard to decipher, but I think their names could be Sylvia Mettler, Max G Bentley, Caroline Jarrett, Raymond A Lindsay, Johnny R Mayo and Bibi Arundel.
 If any of the signatories are still with us, they would have to be in their 90s. Three of the four young men are clearly wearing the insignia of the New Zealand Air Force, and the fourth probably was as well.

 According to  the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site, the name of Ken's good mate John Russell Mayo  appears on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey, England, which "commemorates by name over 20,000 airmen who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves. They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force."





I think Johnny is on the left in the night club photograph. I'm not sure about the fates of other two men there, but if I have their names correct, they don't seem to be on the CWGC site, which is a good sign. I'd like to hope they survived the war. I haven't tried to find their female companions, who I expect were American.


Here are another few photos from Ken's album. The first shows Ken and Johnny horseriding at a farm while on leave in Canada


Johnny Mayo

A bunch of likely lads

Ken and some of his NZ Air Force mates adopt a casual pose for this snap taken in Halifax Canada by Johnny Mayo. Ken is on the right, and the others are Hugh (Beau) Beavis, Mort Langdale-Hunt and Ronald (Snowy) Brown. On the reverse side, my mother has written the dates when they were all killed. Hugh Walter Beavis, son of Arthur and Ethel Beavis of Wellington NZ, died on 25 July 1943 and is buried in Hamburg Cemetery. Maurice Richard Langdale Hunt, son of Albert and Emma Langdale-Hunt of West Melton, Canterbury NZ, died on 30 March 1943 and is buried in Marham Cemetery in Norfolk. I'm not sure of Snowy's precise details, but according to the note, he died in March 1944.



Below are a couple of individual portrait shots of dashing young airman Ken. Richard, one of Ken's younger cousins, recalls a clear memory from age 6, of visiting Ken at home on his last leave before he went overseas. He remembers Ken looking immaculate in his air force uniform, and that he took Richard, his two sisters and Ken's little brother Peter to the dairy to buy them all icecreams.  These photographs were taken in 1942 by professional photographers Debenham and Gould, of Glen View Studio, Bournemouth, England, where Ken was initially stationed upon arrival in England. He then completed further courses of training in Shropshire, Suffolk and Berkshire, before converting from Wellington bomber aircraft to Halifax heavy bombers with a unit based in Riccall, Yorkshire. He took part in his first raid over Wuppertal from there, but was then posted to No. 78 Squadron at  Holme Moor, Yorkshire, and was on his first operational flight with that squadron when the aircraft failed to return to its base.



In 1969/70 I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship which enabled me to go to Germany and spend 3 months living with a host family and attending school there. I lived in the town of Solingen, and visited nearby Wuppertal, not knowing at the time that this was where my uncle Ken had been shot down or that he was buried not very far away. If my mother or grandparents knew, they did not share the information with me, and in any event I don't think I could have asked my hosts to take me to Rheinburg, but I would love to visit there one day.

Grave of K F Morrison at Rheinberg War Cemetery.
Ken with his five siblings before he left for Canada. Only his younger sister Jean, 2nd from left, is still with us, just.

A sad end which left his family heartbroken, but it's good to know from his photo album that at least Ken managed to have some fun in his short life. He was only 19.





Other circumstances, other methods and another war, but the message remains the same.  Lest we forget.


To see more Sepian contributions to this week's Open Theme, just head this way

17 comments:

  1. D-Day stories always make me tear up even though I was not born yet and have no personal connection to those events. Babies - those soldiers were just babies.

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    1. I found a few more photos this morning so have added them in and tweaked my post a little. It is very sad when you know what happened to them all.

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  2. Such a poignant story and so fitting as we mark D Day,. Uncle Ken looks so handsome in his uniform.

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  3. What a sad ending for Ken and so many others.

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  4. War does seem to be such a futile activity and yet those in high places still persist and initiate them. None of the photos show any of the anxiety or worries that any of these young men must have felt.

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  5. You are lucky to have such a great collection of photos of Ken.
    Great post Jo.

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  6. He was such a baby, with his soft, round features. A beautiful young man, So sad,

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  7. A fascinating story - told with great care and love and illustrated wirth such fine photographs.

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  8. I've been looking at graves myself this week, but not of people I am related to. It's much harder when a person's whole life is considered next to the finality of their death. Thank you so much for the moving way you wove Ken's photos and his last days into this story. I was touched.

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  9. yes a very sad ending. With our connections to facebook and twitter we are learning more and more about that day, and so many other stories through history. It's very rewarding to see actual photos of all the history we read about.

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  10. And still we go to war and young men barely beyond boyhood pay the ultimate price. The worst part is that it's a never ending circle that seems unbreakable.

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  11. It's a wonderful memorial post you've written for Ken but how sad. You can see the hope and confidence in his eyes in the second to last portrait and perhaps just a little uncertainty in the last portrait. I would thank him for his service if I could.

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  12. Thanks for the story Jo. I am distant relative of Johnny Mayo and it was great to see the picture. I am reading a book by his father, who had also lost his brother George Mayo also on 7 Aug but at Gallipoli 27 years earlier.

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  13. Trying to keep things lite. I think that beach picture at the top is "just swell".

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  14. So sad. Nice to put a life to a young soldier who died in service.

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  15. I was totally absorbed in Ken’s story. So sad that his life was curtailed, as was that of so many. This is a fitting tribute.

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