Author Topic: January 6, 1942 - tragic wartime incident on the Adur  (Read 6856 times)

dave1212

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January 6, 1942 - tragic wartime incident on the Adur
« on: September 13, 2018, 04:52:33 pm »
January 6, 1942 at 1:10 pm during a military training exercise, an assault boat carrying nine soldiers of the West Nova Scotia Regiment capsized in the River Adur. Conditions at the time were described as 'a bitterly cold day, the tide was rising & the current was swift & treacherous'.

The men had just completed a 3 1/2 mile march when they arrived at the east bank side of the river. A recce boat manned by two soldiers successfully crossed to the west bank prior to the assault boat being pushed off from the shore. This was not the first time the men had undertaken this task.

The nine soldiers in the boat at the time of its sinking:
Lieutenant J.W.K. Smeltzer (Lunenberg, NS)
Corporal Walter Marshall (Digby, NS)
L/Cpl William McLean (New Glasgow, NS)
Private Howard Farnsworth (Digby, NS)
Private Joseph Gaudet (Officer Cadet) (Digby, NS)
Private Stuart Jaquest (Bear River, NS)
Private Robert MacDonald (Halifax, NS)
Private Edward Melanson (Weymouth, NS)
Private Alexander Vingar (Glace Bay, NS)
McLean, Farnsworth, Gaudet, Jaquest, Macdonald & Melanson drowned. Smeltzer, Vingar & Marshall were rescued however Marshall died February 15, 1942 from health complications suffered in the accident. They are buried Brookwood Military Cemetery.

I am not related to any of the men however I do belong to the West Nova Scotia Regiment Regimental Association & I'm asking for assistance in the hopes we can pinpoint the actual location where this tragic accident took place.

We have the transcripts of the Court of Inquiry January 8, 1942 which includes a statement from Police Sergeant Albert Edward Jones who was tasked with recovery operations. Sgt Jones wrote:
'I went in company with Sgt. Dean & other officers to the River Adur to a spot opposite Old Erringham, where I saw a number of officers & men of the West Nova Scotia Regiment.'

Does this help? Photographs of the area would be welcome. Let me know if further information is required.

Thank you in advance for any assistance offered.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2018, 09:42:15 am by Spinalman »

Nelson

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2018, 05:13:01 pm »
Many thanks Dave for the names of the men in that tragic incident. I’ve heard mention of it in the past but with no details. Our member John Lyne mentions it briefly in our article ‘Shoreham’s War’ and perhaps he will be able to tell us more but the point on the River Adur opposite Old Erringham will be identifiable on the maps – I’ll have a look through our records.

Spinalman

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2018, 05:22:20 pm »
This is the general area of river opposite Old Erringham:
Map on the left is 1940's, on the right is modern aerial view.
https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/side-by-side/#zoom=17&lat=50.8548&lon=-0.2928&layers=173&right=BingHyb

Just to the north is a pedestrian level crossing at the top of a slight embankment over the railway - so if they were marching it would be a reasonable assumption they had crossed East West over the railway and approached the river at that point.
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@50.8581668,-0.2908366,3a,37.5y,252.79h,89.67t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sQHSJ8GRHd-v9c0LDJR-ikw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
and 3D view of site:
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@50.858208,-0.295095,68a,35y,107h,73.26t/data=!3m1!1e3

« Last Edit: September 13, 2018, 05:32:43 pm by Spinalman »
Spinalman

dave1212

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2018, 05:34:10 pm »
Thank you so much for the responses. It means a great deal. I appreciate it.

Top L-to-R
Howard Farnsworth age 31, Joseph Gaudet age 20, Stuart Jaquest age 33

Middle L-to-R
Robert MacDonald age 27, William McLean age 21, Edward Melanson age 23

Bottom
Walter Marshall age 28 (died Feb 15 '42)
« Last Edit: September 14, 2018, 04:04:55 am by dave1212 »

Spinalman

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2018, 06:14:58 pm »
Hi Dave,

Do the transcripts detail where they were billeted and the route of the march?  3.5 miles could mean they had been based at Shoreham and come over the downs and descend into the river valley to meet the Adur.

If it should be ultimately determined where the location of the river crossing is and you would like some high quality photographs and video of the specific location, I'd be happy to do them for you.  Likewise I am local to Brookwood.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2018, 04:09:25 pm by Spinalman »
Spinalman

Nelson

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2018, 06:28:06 pm »
Thanks Spinalman - this part of the wartime map of the area may be of interest too.

dave1212

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2018, 07:03:19 pm »
The Regiment arrived in England December 1939. In November 1941 they were posted to Worthing where guarding the Shoreham Airdrome was one of their responsibilities. No details regarding billets nor route of the march.

The men involved were members of No. 12 platoon 'B' Company WNSR.

Within Inquiry transcripts - 'Pl arrived at river bank ref point 639269 sheet 133 at about 1300 hrs.' Of course without access to sheet 133, this doesn't really help.

Should we determine the actual site, the offer of photographs from the area is greatly appreciated in addition to everything received so far. Thank you again.

Nelson

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2018, 07:38:53 pm »
In his reminiscences John Lyne mentions Canadian troops billeted at the Grammar School (pupils had been evacuated to Yorkshire)

dave1212

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2018, 07:49:44 pm »
The West Novas were part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division who later shipped out in July 1943 to fight in Sicily, Italy & finishing the war in northwest Europe. Other units in the 3rd were the Royal 22nd Regiment (Van Doos) & the Carlton & York Regiment.

Spinalman

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2018, 08:45:03 pm »
The grid reference is important and it doesn't seem to relate to imperial Ordnance Survey sheets I have access to.
Spinalman

Spinalman

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2018, 09:52:32 pm »
I have found a conversion for the grid reference:  wQ639269 is equivalent to the modern:
50° 51' 22'' N     0° 17' 23'' W  and that is here:

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/50%C2%B051'22.0%22N+0%C2%B017'23.0%22W/@50.8559068,-0.2906393,600m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d50.8561111!4d-0.2897222

Which to me is probably a predetermined RV point rather than a retrospective plot of where they were.  Secondly 6 digit grid references are not super accurate (I'm a Scout Leader so do this all the time) so the fact that this comes out on the steep track down to the old Steyning Road (pre-1970) probably reinforces the RV point theory.  If they were within one digit of this point (to account for map reading inaccuracy) it still isn't at anything significant.  This is a track from the farm down to the valley and reinforces the notion that they were travelling East-West from the Downs to the Valley.  Here's the view looking S at the bottom of the track/RV point.
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@50.857726,-0.2905902,3a,37.5y,151.81h,92.18t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sVmcqj8B5qftToSRSWfEkag!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

This shows the RV point and the path across the field, over railway (track removed 1980s) and to a point on the river. Shoreham Airport is in far distance (blue tents).
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Adur+District/@50.8614624,-0.2915356,116a,35y,180.5h,72t/data=!3m1!1e3!4m16!1m10!4m9!1m3!2m2!1d-0.2897222!2d50.8561111!1m3!2m2!1d-0.2928385!2d50.8585019!3e0!3m4!1s0x4875975f56594fc9:0x40eae2da2ed4d90!8m2!3d50.8348175!4d-0.3101263
« Last Edit: September 17, 2018, 06:02:05 pm by Spinalman »
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dave1212

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2018, 03:33:49 am »
This is great. If nothing else, I've had the opportunity to take a virtual tour of this beautiful part of the country you call home. Very informative. Thank you.

The Regiment's war diaries are available to view online:
https://www.wnsr.ca/war_diary
« Last Edit: September 14, 2018, 04:04:42 am by dave1212 »

Nelson

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2018, 07:09:04 am »
Wow - impressive work Spinalman.

johnjohn

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #13 on: September 14, 2018, 08:33:27 am »
Hello Dave,
I can remember being told of this incident to warn us of the dangers of the river,we were often taken to the sandbanks at low tide for a paddle by one of my friends Father as the local beaches were mined at this time.

I would concur with Spinalmans scenario as the distanc from the camp and the most likely route would be as he said.
Their base would have been the  Grammar School Playing Fields (now a housing estate ) that had been commandeered with  a searchlight,AA gun and heavy machine gun emplacements installed together with a large encampment of French Canadian troops.

The river has a sharp bend at the point oppositeOld Erringham Farm and on the East side a sandbank has formed whereas on the opposite bank the erosion has formed a steep bank,anyone bringing small boats up the river would have chosen this site as ideal for mooring and later launching.
I would speculate that at low water the boats were brought up river and moored at this point awaiting the troops,then later when they arrived and embarked the tiday flow would have been very strong and then, trying to disembark up a steep bank, the boat capsized and it would have been very difficult to clamber up the bank especially wet and heavily loaded with equipment.
The only ideal time to cross the river would have been high water slack.
Johnjohn

dave1212

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Re: January 6, 1942
« Reply #14 on: September 14, 2018, 03:25:29 pm »
As part of the battle drill training, another platoon was setup in ambush on the west bank. Testimony offered the distance between east & west banks to be about 100-120 feet. When the recce boat reached the west bank, the nine men in the goatley boat headed out (two men were paddling).

About a 1/3 of the way across an officer on the east bank threw a thunderflash which landed to the left of the boat. Due to the speed of the current, it rapidly drew closer & when it exploded, the men on the left side reacted instinctively by moving their bodies to the right which tilted the boat & then movement back to the left allowed some water to get in. A couple of men on the left near the stern then stood up & the boat quickly sank up to the gunwales then capsized throwing the men into the water - it happened in seconds.

When the boat was recovered, a tear in the canvas, below the waterline was discovered about 3/5's back towards the stern on the left side. As the thunderflash exploded near the front left bow, it was determined the tear was a result of a boot or rifle butt.

The court of inquiry as well as the coroner placed no blame on those in the boat nor on the shore. I have attached the coroner's report. New safety measures were recommended so perhaps the loss of these seven men inadvertently saved countless others due to new procedures being put in place.

Two soldiers were decorated for their actions that day. Privates Oran Foster (recce boat) & Frank Smith (dove in from west bank) received the BEM & their Distinguished Conduct citation reads:
' The accidental capsizing of an assault boat in the course of training exercise 6 Jan 42 precipitated all of the occupants into the extremely cold and swift current of a river which, at that point some 120 feet wide. Pte Foster, although unable to swim, immediately launched a small reconnaissance boat, and in constant danger of overturned he was successful in aiding four of the drowning men to reach the shore. Pte Smith despite the dangerous undertow dived from the riverbank and succeeded in supporting one man who had become exhausted in attempts at rescue.
The initiative of Pte Foster and his gallant conduct in thus disregarding his own personal safety are worthy of much praise, while Pte Smith, who has been awarded a Testimonial on Vellum by the Royal Humane Society, displayed a high degree of initiative, courage and fortitude in the rescue which he effected.'