|11 Nov 2022
In his address to the School as part of the Remembrance Service, the Headmaster gave a short account of OAs who lost their lives on active service in 1942.
Frank Hall, the youngest of 7 brothers, attended St Albans School from 1930-1936. He played cricket and rugby for the School and was a Lance Corporal in Officer Training Corps, the predecessor of today’s CCF. On leaving school he became a clerk for the London North Eastern Railway. In 1939, he enlisted in the 5th Battalion of The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. His active service began protecting British defences on the English South Coast. He was then deployed to Singapore, which was the foremost British military base and economic port in South East Asia. Hall was killed on 13 February 1942, aged 23, during the Battle of Singapore, two days before it fell to the Japanese.
John McKechnie, who attended St Albans School from 1924 to 1927 with his elder brother, was a Canadian national born in India. Both brothers became exceptional students here, highly regarded by their peers and staff. John excelled at sport, engaging in football, cricket and swimming and was captain of the Hockey team in 1926. In 1927 he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt in Montreal, gaining employment as a trainee surveyor in Quebec. In 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force carrying out his training at several centres in Western Canada before graduating with the rank of Pilot Officer. In the Spring of 1942, he was sent to India to train the Indian Air Force and took part in campaigns in Malaya and India. He lost his life on 4 July 1942 whilst defending Indian air space from a Japanese attack.
Richard Williams, who attended the School from 1932 to 1940, was the only son of Harold and Alice Williams of St Albans; his father was a manager at a local steel manufacturer. Richard was a member of the Shooting Team from 1933 to 1940 and a Lance Corporal in the Officer Training Corps. More significantly, his time at St Albans School revealed that he had an exceptional competence for radio communications; thus he was seconded to work with the WG Pye Radio Company, which had affiliations to the School during the War. From 1938 onwards St Albans School became part of the secret military operations linked to Bletchley Park and was known as Station XB (Ten B). Its purpose was to train, refine and develop better radio communications which could be used as part of the war effort. On leaving the School in 1940 Richard Williams joined the Royal Air Force through an apprenticeship link with WG Pye, where he was deployed behind enemy lines in France as part of the Special Operations Executive. He trained several French Resistance members in the use of the new radio communications, as well as engaging alongside them in sabotage and disruption operations. Letters to his mother reveal heroic bombing raids on cafes in Paris and scrambling of enemy radio communications which led to halting a planned reinforcement of military personnel in the port of Cherbourg. In 1941 Williams personally organised the sabotage of the Canal de la Deûle, cutting supplies and military hardware to the Nazi regime in France. In September 1942 he was transferred to the Special Intelligence Unit, known as Troop 34, which was headed by Ian Fleming who would become famous after the war as the writer of the James Bond novels. Troop 34’s mission was to engage in high level sabotage activities and improve allied communications behind enemy lines. Williams’ first, and sadly his last, mission with Troop 34 was to improve radio communications in the Arabian Gulf: deployed with the 46th Royal Tank Regiment, he was to install sensitive radar communication around the port of El Alamein. The regiment was involved in a heavy battle during which Williams lost his life on 28 October 1942.
Arthur Waterfield joined the staff here in 1934 to cover a period of illness in the French Department. He then moved to a school in Devon before being commissioned into the Royal Air Force in 1940. He was then immediately deployed to Malta as part of the effort to protect the allied defences of this area of the Mediterranean. During March 1942, the Luftwaffe flew 4,927 sorties against Malta: the Commanding Officer of the island, Air Vice Marshall Hugh Lloyd, sent a message to London saying ‘…. this island is the most bombed place on earth.’ The Royal Air Force lost 12 fighter pilots in the Siege of Malta including Waterfield who was killed on 21 March 1942.
Harry Middleton joined St Albans School in 1932 and left in 1936. Unfortunately, little is known of his time at the School. After leaving he went to work the printing presses for The Albanian Printing Press Ltd, based in Welwyn Garden City. In 1940 he enlisted with the Royal Air Force and was deployed as a Sergeant in 236 Squadron, which flew sorties over the North Sea and the Bay of Biscay area. He lost his life on 26 November 1942 during an operation to attack a convoy of 12-16 enemy ships heading towards Rotterdam.
David Kent, St Albans School 1933 – 1939, was the only son of Ernest and Gladys Kent who lived in Welwyn Garden City. Whilst at St Albans School he was a Lance Corporal in the RAF Section of the Officer Training Corps, he was in the swimming team, the 1st XI cricket team and the best high jumper in the School. In 1939 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force as a Pilot Officer, receiving training in Norfolk before deploying to 229 Squadron. The Squadron was based at Northolt Airbase with operational duties in the Middle East, and was seconded to Malta to reinforce the Island’s defences. Kent lost his life during the Siege of Malta on 23 July 1942.
The son of a stockbroker in Welwyn Garden City, Richard Fookes came to St Albans School in 1935 and excelled in cricket, hurdles and drama and became a Lance Corporal in the Officer Training Corps. On leaving he joined The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment as a reservist and gained employment at Beiersdorf Ltd, a pharmaceutical company based in Welwyn Garden City, as a trainee laboratory assistant. In 1940 he was transferred full-time to the Royal Air Force Squadron 208 and was stationed in Egypt where he flew sorties to protect the Suez Canal and the Middle Eastern and Persian oil wells. Fookes died in a battle over the Suez Canal on 28 September 1942. This particular battle ended in a stalemate but boosted the morale of the allies as they had only previously seen heavy losses in this region.
Donald Keir joined the School in 1919, displaying strong academic ability alongside a successful sporting career playing cricket for the first teams in hockey and rugby. He was also a middle-distance runner and a member of the Shooting Team. He went to work for the Midland Bank in London as a clerk, before rising to office manager. He enlisted in the 3rd County of London Yeomanry in July 1940. In October 1942 Keir found himself part of the Eastern Task Force which was protecting the Port of Alexandria during the second battle of El Alamein. This battle was significant in that it prevented the Axis forces from advancing further into Egypt. Keir was killed on 27 October 1942.
Following the service the Roll of Honour, which lists OAs who lost their lives in service, was placed in its new dedicated cabinet outside the library. A member of the CCF will turn a page every few days, to allow every name to be shown within the academic year.