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'Let us Therefore Brace Ourselves to our Duties': Servicemen from the Trafford Area
Trooper Derek Ronald Kent
Derek Ronald Kent was born in Hale on 8 February 1921. In 1939 he was working as junior clerk for the Halifax Building Society and living with his widowed mother, Annie E. Kent, and his maternal grandmother, Harriet Needham, at 6 Alexandra Road, Sale.
Trafford’s archive holds an extensive collection of documents relating to his service during the Second World War.
He enlisted with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in June 1940. This branch of the Navy operated aircraft as part of naval warfare. We can see from the documentation that Derek passed his swimming qualification in September 1940 and that he first served at HMS Vincent: the Navy’s training centre for officer cadets or the air branch, based at Gosport, near Portsmouth. The ‘ships’ on which he served were all shore establishments but were still referred to as ‘ships’ in service records, as was the Navy’s custom. He evidently did not progress to warfare at sea, as he was discharged at the end of 1942 as he was ‘unsuitable for the rating of naval airman 2/cl [second class]’.
After being discharged from the Navy in November 1941, Derek enlisted with the Army at Manchester in January 1942. He served as a trooper with the 50th Royal Tank Regiment (50 RTR) of the Royal Armoured Corps from then until May 1946, when he was transferred to the 7th Queens Own Hussars.
The 23rd Armoured Brigade served in the 8th Armoured Division who were transferred to Egypt in July 1942 as part of the North Africa campaign. During the Second Battle of El Alemein, the 23rd Armoured Brigade had 194 tanks in four regiments, including the 50th Royal Tank Regiment. The 50 RTR lost nine tanks during the afternoon of 24 October 1942 but their diversionary tactics allowed the capture of an Axis strongpoint.
The 23rd Armoured Brigade took part in the Allied Invasion of Sicily from September 1943, as well as further operations in Italy. They were then withdrawn to Egypt and Palestine in 1944. Two passes allowing Derek to be absent from his quarters indicate that he visited both Cairo and Jerusalem in August of that year.
He has only been with this regiment a short time but his previous unit state that he performed the duties of driver operator and pay clerk efficiently. He is said to be trustworthy and intelligent.
- Testimonial from a release leave certificate for Derek Ronald Kent during his time with the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars
In November 1946 he was transferred to the Army Reserve.
Ralph Malbon was born in Stockport in 1919. His parents were Frederick, a ‘flour miller’s representative’ and Millicent. Ralph began work at Altrincham Library in 1937 and is listed on the 1939 register as the ‘chief assistant, public library’.
At the outbreak of war, Ralph registered as a conscientious objector. In 1940 he received a letter from Altrincham Council requesting that he resign because of this. Unlike two other Council employees in similar predicaments, he was able to retain his position, explaining that he had a conscientious objection to killing but had no wish to evade national service.
The case was reported in the Manchester Guardian, although he is erroneously referred to as ‘Ralph Malvon.’
Ralph Malvon (20), a library assistant had, however, written stating that while he was a conscientious objector he was anxious to service in the R.A.M.C and was at present waiting his calling up papers’.
- Manchester Guardian, 6 March 1940
He was evidently a valued member of staff as Borough Librarian for Altrincham, W.G Bosworth, requested that the Town Clerk make an application for his release from H.M Forces in January 1946. The reply from the Ministry of Education was that ‘the civil occupation of Lt. R. H. Malbon does not make him eligible for consideration.’
He was demobilised eight months later, in September 1946, and resumed his position at the library. He resigned in March the following year. The documentation suggests that this was in order to take up the position of Deputy Librarian for the City of Wakefield.
Sergeant (Pilot) Leslie Arthur Southam
Leslie Arthur Southam was born in Risalpur in 1914, in what was then India and now Pakistan. His parents were Ellen and Arthur Southam. At the time of Leslie’s birth his father was serving with the British Armed Forces in India.
The electoral registers show that from 1925 Arthur and Ellen were living at the RAF Depot on Sinderland Road, Altrincham. Leslie was educated nearby at Seamon’s Moss School.
By 1939 he was living in the village of Tutbury in Staffordshire and working as a civil servant for the Air Ministry. He married Doris Johnson in April 1941. By July 1941 he is described in the London Gazette as an ‘air service assistant clerk’ for the Air Ministry.
Later he served as a pilot with the 26th Operational Training Unity of the Royal Air Force Reserve. He was trained at the No.1 British Flying Training School in Terrell, Texas. This was the first and largest of six training schools set up in the United States as part of the Lend-Lease Act. He had first arrived into Halifax in Canada on 15 September 1941 on the H.M.S Pasteur, before crossing the border at Detroit. The border crossing documentation listed his nearest relative as ‘Mrs D. Southam, Red Cottage, Altrincham’.
He was killed on 4 June 1943 when his Wellington Bomber (HE 746) crashed near Dumfries. The aircraft was on a flight from RAF Wing, near Leighton Buzzard, when it suffered engine failure. Although the crew contacted RAF Dumfries to request an emergency landing, they did not make it, and crashed a mile and a half from the runway.
Leslie is buried in Hale Cemetery, where his grave is one of 34 Commonwealth War Graves from the Second World War.
Altrincham, Bowdon and Hale Guardian, 8 March 1940
Mark Barber, The British Fleet Air Arm in World War II, (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012)
George Cogswell, ‘Leslie Arthur Southam’, < http://www.traffordwardead.co.uk/index.php?sold_id=s%3A18%3A%22392%2Caltrincham_ww2%22%3B&letter=S&place=&war=&soldier=Southam> [accessed 17 April 2020]
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 'Southam, Leslie Arthur', <https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1525640/southam,-leslie-arthur/> [accessed 17 April 2020]
Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum, ‘Museum History’, <http://www.dumfriesaviationmuseum.com/museum-history/> [accessed 17 April 2020]
Imperial War Museum, ‘BADGE, FORMATION, 23RD ARMOURED BRIGADE & 23RD INDEPENDENT ARMOURED BRIGADE (TA)’, <https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30071871> [accessed 22 April 2020]
Ben Jones, The Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War, (Ashgate Publishing, 2012)
London Gazette, 18 July 1941
Manchester Evening News, 6 March 1940
Manchester Guardian, 14 February 1940
Manchester Guardian, 6 March 1940
Manchester Guardian, 29 March 1940
Manchester Evening News, 8 June 1943
Manchester Guardian, 15 May 1945
National Museum of the Royal Navy, ‘Naval Shore Establishments’, < https://www.nmrn.org.uk/shore-establishments> [accessed 21 April 2020]
No.1 British Flying Training School Musuem website, <https://www.bftsmuseum.org/> [accessed 17 April 2020]
Kaushik Roy, Fighting Rommel: The British Imperial Army in North Africa during the Second World War, 1941–1943, (Taylor and Francis, 2019)
Supplement to the London Gazette, 5 January 1945