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This article is about Harpenden War Memorial.

Harpenden is a town in the county of Hertfordshire, England. Harpenden is a commuter town, with a direct rail connection through London. Geographically it is located between two much larger neighbours: Luton town (to the north) and the city of St Albans (to the south). It is flanked by the villages of Redbourn (to the west) and Wheathampstead (to the east).

There are Roman remains in land around Harpenden, for instance the site of a mausoleum in the park at Rothamsted. A tumulus near the river Lea was opened in the 1820s and it contained a stone sarcophagus of Romano-Celtic origin. Five objects dating from around 150 AD, were inside including a glass jug with a Mediterranean stamp and samian ware dishes used for libations.

Up to the 13th century the area of the parish consisted of woodland with small hamlets and single farmsteads around cleared areas called "End" or "Green" and there are 19 Ends and 18 Greens in area of Harpenden and Wheathampstead parishes.

Harpenden village grew out of Westminster Abbey's gradual clearing of woodland for farming and settlement within its Wheathampstead manor, granted by Edward the Confessor in 1060. A first reference to a parish church is in 1221 (where it is referred to as Harpendene) so it is inferred that the village grew up around then. The church of St Nicholas is the oldest church in the town, originally built as a Chapel of ease in 1217.

Harpenden War Memorial

Unveiling of Harpenden War Memorial by The Earl of Cavan (The Sphere 30 October 1920).


Harpenden War Memorial (Stephen Stratford 2017).

People commemorated on Harpenden War Memorial

Click here to view a list of the First World War names.

Click here to view a list of the Second World War names.

Buried in Harpenden but not listed on the war memorial

Flight Lieutenant (Pilot) Charles Brian Ordish, DFC, is buried in Harpenden (Westfields) Cemetery: Section 52, Grave R.52. The son of Charles Edward and Ida Marh Ordish.

Flight Lieutenant C.B. Ordish, DFC (Stephen Stratford 2017).

A pilot with 15 Squadron, RAF, Flight Lieutenant Ordish was a pilot of Short Stirling I W7585 LS-U. On 29 December 1942, the pilot was conducting a test flight, when the Halifax crashed near Bassingbourn Airfield, following an engine fire. Flight Lieutenant Ordish was admitted to RAF Hospital Ely, where he died from his injuries two days later, aged 23 years. The other passengers in the Halifax died in the crash: Sergeant F.C. Jackson, DFM, Squadron Leader D.E.G Ashill and Leading Aircraftsman J.D. Hunt. Squadron Leader Ashill, who accompanied the crew for experience of flying, was the Squadron's Padre.

Father and Son

Listed on the World War Two panels are the Father and Son Wilfred George and John Peile Tolson.

John Peile Tolson was a member of 108 RAF Squadron, which during the winter of 1941-2 was based in North Africa, flying Vickers Weillington aircraft in support of the North Africa campaign. It had been decided that the squadron would convert from the Vickers Wellington to the American Consolidated B-24 Liberator. To prepare the squadron for the conversion, it was decided to fly a Liberator from 108 Squadron's airfield to England containing a group of experienced 108 Squadron members. On board the aircraft were a crew of six people, with Pilot Officer Tolson as co-pilot, with thirteen more members of 108 Squadron as passengers.

After taking off from Egypt on 15 March 1942, the flight proceeded along the North African coast. However, the flight flew into trouble crossing the French coast, heading towards England. The visibilty reduced to zero. The Wireless Operator was unable to contact any station in England. The pilot reduced height to 2000 feet in an attempt to ascertain their position, but the weather and visibility were just as bad.

By this time, the Liberator had been airborne for over fifteen hours and they had been carrying fuel for just over fifteen and half hours. Just as the crew were preparing to bale out, someone spotted lights on the ground. The pilot dived down over the lights which were indentified as Dublin. At time time, two of the Liberator's four engines stopped. The Pilot then decided to head straight for the Eire coast, following north and then attempt a landing at a Northern Ireland airfield. About thirty minutes after starting his course alteration, and with the Liberator continuing to lose height, the plance crashed in to the mountain Slieve na Glogh, Jenkinstown, Co. Louth, Eire.

Out of the six crew and nineteen passengers, fifeen were killed and four injured.

The remains of the crew killed were returned to their relatives, except the remains of the Australian and Canadain casualties, which were buried in Belfast, Northen Ireland.

The remains of Pilot Officer John Pelie Tolson were buried in Harpended (Westfield) Cemetery.

The Graves of Squadron Leader W.G. and Pilot Officer J.P. Tolson (Stephen Stratford 2017).

On 12 April 1943, after a short illness, Squadron Leader Wilfred George Tolson (Accountant Branch) died and is buring alongside his son in Harpenden (Westfield) Cemetery. During the First World War, Wilfred George Tolson served as Lieutenant (later promoted Captain) in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Entered the France & Flanders theatre on 14 August 1914. Awarded the Military Cross (London Gazette 23 June 1915). Also entitled to the 1914 Star with clasp, British War and Victory medals.

Brothers and Sisters

There are two pairs of brother and sister commemorated on the war memorial: the Donaldson and Stocken families.

Walter Murray Hourston Donaldson was born on 28 December 1918 in Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland to Walter and Eleanor Donaldson. The family later moved to Harpenden. Ordinary Seaman Donaldson was aboard HMS Hood during its battle with the German pocket-battleship Bismarck. On 24 May 1941, HMS Hood was hit by a shell from the Bismarck which caused the Hood to suffer a large explosion and sink. Only three of HMS Hood's crew survived the sinking: Midshipman William Dundas, Able Seaman Bob Tilburn and Ordinary Telegraphist Ted Briggs. Ordinary Seaman Donaldson, aged 22, is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Leading Wren Marian Sutherland Scott Donaldson (Stephen Stratford 2017).

Leading-Wren Marian Sutherland Scott Donaldson died on 15 October 1947, aged 26, and is buried in Harpenden (Westfield) Cemetery. The inscription on her gravestone, choosen by her family, reads: "Her Brother Murray was lost in HMS Hood 24.5.1941 Age 22"

Sergeant Geoffrey Mayal and Wren Margery Amy Stocken (Stephen Stratford 2017).

Sergeant (Pilot) Geoffrey Mayall Stocken was a member of 1 Squadron, RAF. He died on 22 April 1941, age 21, as the result of a flying accident. Buried in Harpenden (Westfield) Cemetery, Section 2, Grave R18. The inscription on his gravestone is "In loving memory of the beloved only son of Herbert and Muriel Stocken".

Wren Margery Amy Stocken (initials on the war memorial are "MT") was a member of HMS Helicon (a Royal Navy shore base). She died on 9 April 1945, aged 19, from acute Leukaemia in the Middlesex Hospital. She is buried in Harpenden (Westfield) Cemetery next to her brother in Section 2, Grave R19. The inscription on her gravestone is "In loving memory of the beloved only daughter of Herbert and Muriel Stocken".

Operation Chastise

Harpenden War Memorial also contains the name of one of the RAF personnel who took part in Operation Chastise, better known as the Dambusters Raid.

Pilot Officer (Wireless Op/Air Gunner) Leonard George Weller was part of the crew of Avro Lancaster III ED865-S. This aircraft was one of the aircraft that made up the third of three waves of aircraft that took part in Operation Chastise. This third wave was to remain at RAF Scampton until after midnight. This would have allowed for its recall if all of the objectives has been destroyed by the first two waves.

The crew of Avro Lancaster ED865-S were

  • Pilot: Pilot Officer L.J. Burpee DFM RCAF
  • Flight Engineer: Sergeant G. Pegler
  • Navigator: Sergeant T. Jaye
  • Wireless Operator: Pilot Officer L.G. Weller
  • Bomb-aimer: Flight-Sergeant J.L. Arthur RCAF
  • Front Gunner: Sergeant W.C.A Long
  • Rear Gunner: Warrant Officer J.G. Brady RCAF

Avro Lancaster ED865-S took off from RAF Scampton at 00.11 hours and set course for the Sorpe Dam. After crossing the Dutch coast at a very low altitude, the plane's course took it near the aerodrome at Gilze-Rijen. The plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire before crashing at 02:00. Initally the crew were all buried in Breda, since when their remains have been reburied in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery in the following graves:

  • Pilot Officer L.J. Burpee DFM RCAF: Plot 23, Row B, Grave 3
  • Sergeant G. Pegler: Collective Grave Plot 24, Row B, Graves 5 - 7.
  • Sergeant T. Jaye: Collective Grave Plot 24, Row B, Graves 5 - 7.
  • Pilot Officer L.G. Weller: Plot 27, Row A, Grave 6.
  • Flight-Sergeant J.L. Arthur RCAF: Collective Grave Plot 24, Row B, Graves 5 - 7.
  • Sergeant W.C.A Long: Collective Grave Plot 24, Row B, Graves 5 - 7.
  • Warrant Officer J.G. Brady RCAF: Plot 23, Row A, Grave 1.

For an excellent account of Operation Chastise and subsequent 617 Squadron operations, I can recommend the book "Dambusters The Definitive history of 617 Squadron at war 1943-1945" by Chris Ward, Andy Lee and Andreas Wachtel (published by Red Kit 2008 ISBN 978-0-9554735-3-1).

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