“TO THOSE WHO GAVE SO MUCH, WE THANK YOU”

8th May 2020
Leatherhead Parish Church

As the nation marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day, we particularly remember the eleven servicemen from World War II with graves and memorials at Leatherhead Parish Church.

Four from the air force, two from the navy, five soldiers and one fireman, are mentioned in the order of their deaths.

SERVICE PERSONNEL COMMEMORATED AT LEATHERHEAD PARISH CHURCH

Edward Rolfe died on 10th March 1941, aged 25 years. He was a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Charles Richards was a fireman, who died just one week after being seconded to the Portsmouth Fire Service. On 11th March 1941 he was hit in the head by shrapnel after a bomb exploded. He was 33 years old.

Lance Corporal Thomas Piper of The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) was aged just 18 years old when he died on 1st June 1941. The inscription on his headstone is probably a tribute from his parents: “In the midst of life we are in death”.

Lance Corporal Peter Messenger (Coldstream Guards) was killed on active service on June 3rd 1941. He is buried next to his father, who died during WW1.

Sapper Cyril Peters of the Royal Engineers died on war service at the age of 24 on 26 September 1941 . His parents are also buried in the churchyard of Leatherhead Parish Church.

Sub-Lieutenant (A) Edmund Archer of The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve worked at a land-based airfield near Fife. He died on the night of 12th October 1941, aged 20.

Sgt Arthur Davies, nicknamed ‘Art’ , was a pilot in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Having been billeted in Leatherhead, he got married to a GPO telephonist at the local Telephone Exchange. He died soon after his first wedding anniversary on 21st October 1942. Aged 25, it is believed he was killed when his aircraft collided with another.

Flight Lieutenant David Gillet was killed in action over Germany on 12th January 1943, aged 22. A memorial commemorates him inside the church.

DIED AFTER VE DAY

James Finch, known to friends and family as Jimmy, served in the Royal Air Force as an armourer. He died at the age of 20 in Reigate hospital on June 24th 1945 after contracting TB. The illness acquired shortly after the D-Day landings, was probably as a result of an injury to his back while loading a bomb onto a plane.

Donald Orchard was serving as an air mechanic when he died on 15th July 1945 (two months after VE Day). He died in Llandaff Military Hospital. However, the circumstances of his death are unknown. The inscription on his grave, ‘You have passed on and we remain but the time will come we’ll meet again’, echoes the refrain of Vera Lynne’s well-known wartime song.

KILLED IN THE FAR EAST

The Sturt brothers, John and George, are commemorated on a family gravestone in the churchyard, but neither are buried there.

Captain George Sturt, of the Royal Artillery, was killed on 8th August 1944. He was part of a crew flying in an American bomber that crashed south of Luliang in China. His squadron were delivering fuel and supplies to the Chinese and United States Army Air Forces based in China. He was 32 when he died and is buried in Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong.

John Sturt was one of the 517 men from The Royal Artillery, who were shipped by the Japanese in October 1942 to Ballale Island in the Solomons. These Prisoners of War were used to construct an airfield. Any men who survived were ultimately killed and buried in mass graves. John’s date of death is recorded on the Singapore Memorial as 5th March 1943.

Our thanks go to the researchers and web site editor of the Leatherhead War Memorials Research Project. The Millennium project was initiated by The Friends of Leatherhead Parish Church and undertaken by The Leatherhead & District Local History Society. It provides a comprehensive digital memorial to local people who died in two world wars.

Find out more about civilian deaths or people listed on the Leatherhead Town Memorial, who are not mentioned in this post.

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