Lancaster war hero on roll of honour

Local historian Shaun Corkerry looks at the life and death of Second World War hero George Chisholme from Lancaster

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 3:45 pm
George Chisholme.
George Chisholme.

Recently the Lancaster Guardian received a request for further information from a Mr Tim Edwards about a war grave in Overloon War cemetery in the Netherlands.

The information the cemetery had indicated that Lance Corporal Chisholme was from Lancaster.

Here then is George’s story, much of it from the pages of the Guardian at the time.

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Dakotas of 575 squadron being loaded.

George Chisholme was the son of James (1870-1933) and Margaret Chisholme, of Primrose Hill, Lancaster. James was himself an old soldier from Greaves, having enlisted in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers in 1890. He then served in Indian at the relief of Chitral and later in the Boer War, being

awarded two campaign medals.

Following his regular service he joined the Territorial Force in 1911 serving in the 5th Kings Own, and then went to France with them in 1915, later being invalided out.

George was born on April 12, 1918, the youngest son of a large family. The family moved to 1 Hope Street around 1918.

Air Despatchers at work- wicker panniers in use.

George was educated at Greaves Central School and followed his father in the 5th Kings Own when he was just 14.

In civilian life he worked at Williamsons.

Called up in 1939, George went overseas with the Kings Own serving in France and Belgium.

He was evacuated from Dunkirk, and then transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps. Around October 1943, George transferred to the RASC (Airborne).

Dakota’s of 271 Squadron.

This branch of the RASC had not long been formed and was responsible for the dropping of supplies to ground troops from aircraft in flight.

This was normally done by packing stores in special containers and pushing them out of aircraft on parachutes. In the main RAF transport aircraft, Dakota III’, a four man RASC crew was needed.

The Dakota itself was flown and operated by a four - occasionally three - man RAF crew.

The work was demanding and dangerous (accidents like ‘self-despatching’ by being entangled with the load happened often) and George would have been well trained in loading and lashing the stores as well as being a fully trained driver. A good despatch crew could drop, for example, 16 stores containers in 12 seconds.

The Overloon Cemetery where George Chisholme is buried.

Promoted to lance corporal, George successfully

completed Air Despatcher training and was posted to 223 Air Despatch Company, Royal Army Service Corps.

In September 1944 George and his crew were assigned to work with 271 Squadron, 46 Group RAF, based at Down Ampney, in Gloucestershire.

On September 17 operation Market Garden began, and 271 Squadron was flying glider towing and resupply missions intensively all through the operation.

On September 21 George was assigned to work on Dakota KG444 captained by Flt Lt James Keith O’Neill Edwards.

Edwards is Tim Edwards’ uncle and later became found fame as the comedy writer, comedian and radio and television actor Jimmy Edwards.

KG444 was one of 12 Dakotas assigned to a daylight resupply mission dropping panniers to units of the 1st Airborne division- by now trapped in an ever shrinking perimeter outside Arnhem.

Jimmy recalled of the morning later, “the panniers loaded with grenades and ammunition… and on the grass beside her (the Dakota) the four soldiers who were to fly with me waiting to don their parachute harnesses and get into the aircraft.”

Taking off at 13.10, the Dakotas were plagued by light and heavy flak over the target, but worse than that, due to a series of mistakes, there was no RAF fighter escort once the panniers were dropped. The slow Dakotas (cruising speed of 185 miles per hour) found themselves easy meat for the German fighters which then attacked in a deliberate and leisurely way.

KG444 was hit six times with cannon and machine gun fire by an FW190 and Jimmy finally ordered the crew to bail out.

Some of the RAF crew did so, but in Jimmy’s words, “I was under the impression that the rest of the crew and despatchers had also gone, but I found this was not the case.

“After barely a minute I looked round and saw three despatchers sitting by the cabin door and asked why they hadn’t jumped and one said ‘we can’t’ so I concluded they must have been wounded (it was later found they were wounded in the first attack of the FW190) I decided to stay in the aircraft and crash land.”

Unknown to Jimmy the aircraft was on fire behind him, and he only discovered this when the cockpit caught alight-this led to him trying to land standing up with his head out of the pilot’s escape hatch and with his other hand controlling the plane.

On impact, the Dakota burst into flames, Jimmy, his wireless operator and one despatcher Albert Deridisi managing to get clear.

The FW190 fighter followed and proceed to strafe the Dakota crash site until it ran out of ammunition.

No-one else escaped the flames.

The Dakota had crashed near the house of Mr J Van Berlo at Oploo, on the road to Gemert.

Three of the four Air Despatchers, including George were killed, and Mr Van Berlo and others buried them in front of his house.

The other two despatchers were driver Lionel Abbott, of Slough ,and Roy Abbott, of Smalley, Derbyshire. George who was only 26-year-old at the time, was initially listed as missing, but following the return of Jimmy he was listed as killed in action a few weeks later.

Jimmy and the others were helped by Dutch civilians back to Brussels and he was back at Down Ampney by September 27.

He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in remaining with the Dakota and trying to save the remaining crew.

From a total of 900 men in the air despatch crews, 264 were shot down and 116 were killed or missing over the course of 600 sorties during the Arnhem operations. Despite all their courage and resolution, only 7.4 per cent of the tonnage dropped was collected by the 1st Airborne Division, most falling into German hands as the defensive perimeters shrank.

All the despatchers were subsequently re-interred in the Overloon War Cemetery, in Holland, on May 28, 1947.

George is commemorated on several memorials including the Lancaster War Memorial and the Air Despatch Roll of Honour.

Fittingly his grave bears the crest of the Kings Own.

*With grateful thanks to Tim Edwards for his kind assistance and the provision of some of the photographs and for the personal accounts by Flt Lt Edwards.