Sunday, December 4, 2011

British to repatriate WWII SAS Remains


Family of SAS pioneer to travel to Libya to find soldier's grave
The family of an SAS pioneer who died in North Africa are to travel to Libya to find the soldier’s grave, which has remained unmarked for 70 years.

With the fall of Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, the family of Lieut Jock Lewes has finally got the chance to give the officer a proper burial. His nephew has been offered help from military sources and experts in lost burials, who believe they have found the location of the shallow grave in the desert outside Benghazi, Libya’s second city.

Lewes was killed, aged 28, in December 1941 after leading an attack on a German airfield. The loss of the soldier, a founding member of the elite unit, was deeply lamented by David Stirling, the regiment’s first commanding officer. “Jock could call himself more the founder of the Special Air Service than I,” he wrote in a letter to Lewes’s father.

A statue of Lewes, an Oxford graduate and rowing blue, was unveiled by the Duke of Cambridge at the SAS headquarters near Hereford in 2008.

Lewes’s idea of small teams of specialist troops disrupting forces behind enemy lines was instrumental in securing an Allied victory in the war.

His invention of the Lewes sticky bomb, an explosive device shaped like a tennis ball, destroyed hundreds of Luftwaffe aircraft, accounting for more German planes than those shot down by the RAF in North Africa.

He was fatally hit by a 20mm cannon round fired by a Messerschmitt fighter while traveling in a truck shortly after the SAS had raided an airfield deep behind enemy lines. Lewes’s comrades buried him where he fell, but because of the pace of SAS life and the temporary disbandment of the regiment after the war, his body was never recovered.

“Jock Lewes was never laid to rest as there was no time to properly bury him after the attack, so we want to put him in his proper place,” said his nephew, John Lewes, 50.

With the assistance of a former paratrooper and detective, Gil Boyd, who runs an organisation called Gravewatch that looks after and searches for unmarked war graves, Mr Lewes believes there is a strong chance of find the site.

They have used satellite imagery, war maps and a German war diary to locate what they believe is the precise site where Lewes and his men were attacked. They have also been given reconnaissance help by the military, and interviewed the SAS veteran, Jimmie Storrie, who buried Lewes.

Aerial photographs have also been found which are thought to show the remains of the vehicle destroyed near Nofilia to the west of Benghazi. Mr Lewes, a teacher from Bedford and author of Jock Lewes: Co-Founder of the SAS is seeking permission from the Libyan authorities to dig in the desert for his uncle’s body.

“In a more moderate Libya we want to do something that symbolises liberty and the promotion of democracy which Jock gave his life for,” he said.

“It is also more poignant as today’s SAS helped the Libyans out of a corner, and the fall of Gaddafi has definitely opened up possibilities. We could never have done this under the former regime.”

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has agreed to give Lewes a burial with full military honours in El Alamein cemetery in Egypt.

GRAVEWATCH was a name which started on the 2 PARA REUNION site on the 27th of August 2007 following a request to look at the state of the grave of L/Cpl 24319796 Chris Ireland, ironically, who was killed on the same day in 1979 at Warrenpoint Northern Ireland, along with 16 other men from 2 PARA. His grave was located at Forest Hill Cemetery in Bedford in amongst some 30,000 other graves, and was recorded as being at a specific location. On attendance and accompanied by the ground staff, it was found that the stone had fallen over and been completely covered by grass over the years, and disappeared from view. The task was to restore the grave stone to its original state by cleaning, lifting and re-sitting the stone with sand and cement.

The title GRAVEWATCH was a simple term to be associated to the graves to be inspected, and to report its condition to a central register, that register is held by Gil Boyd ex 2 PARA a member of this site. He felt it was also a good time to log and record EVERY KNOWN grave of former Parachute Regiment or Airborne soldiers since 1946, where ever they fell in the world, on active service, at home or abroad and duly record them forever, so that we that are left grow old, and protect those grave sites for our former comrades. GRAVEWATCH would only record those who died in service.

Chris Ireland's grave has shown us all the way. Without that call for locating his grave and seeing its true condition, and many more that have come to light in the last few years, spread around this country and the World, now need our collective attention.
Members of the PRA and also the FOC2006 club have been very supportive of the scheme, and many graves have now been tended by their members. Also a photographic record is being compiled of the grave sites as well Please never let us forsake these men again.

Anyone requiring information regarding the whereabouts, or condition of a certain grave, or indeed wanting to submit new information can contact me by clicking on the contact link situated below. I will then re-direct that request to Gil Boyd who has compiled and holds this register. The register to date has 375 names of airborne soldiers who have lost their lives on active service since the end of WW11 throughout the world.
This is a huge achievement and is now recognised as the only true up to date record of such data. It is now being used by the Parachute Regiment Headquarters, and the Memorial Gardens, as a cross reference to any in

1 comment:

Paul Wilson Bonner said...

It's about time that Jock Lewes finally got the recognition that he desreves as THEE founder of the SAS rather than being smudged out by history as merely being the first training officer.
What people fail to mention is that when david Stirling broke his legs in his first parachute drop is that it was with Jock, who had been planning behind the lines operations using parachutists for a couple of months - i.e. long BEFORE Stirling came along!
Therefore I salute your efforts.