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The Fallen of Kirkby

Joseph Milburn Cartmell

Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany. (Pictures: Richard and Jel Todd)
Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany. (Pictures: Richard and Jel Todd)
Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany. (Pictures: Richard and Jel Todd)
Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany. (Pictures: Richard and Jel Todd)
  • Son of James and Isabella Cartmell of ‘Cumbria’, Sandside.
  • Sergeant / Air Gunner, 2226063, 12 Squadron, RAF Volunteer Reserve.
  • Killed 2nd March 1945 in a raid over Cologne, aged 21.
  • Buried in Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany, Block 3, Row J, Grave 18.

Joseph Cartmell’s father, James, known as ‘Jimmy’ and ‘Jugger’, was a chargehand in the Mechanics Department at the shipyard in Barrow. Joseph, and his friend Mr D. Davies, from whom most of the information that follows comes, were 19 year old apprentices in the yard, working on 6-pound anti-tank guns. This was a reserved occupation: not only were you safe from call-up, but the only service you could choose to leave the yard for was Air Crew. In those days there was a recruiting office in Duke Street, and Joseph and Mr Davies called in one lunch hour towards the end of 1943 and asked to join the RAF.

According to Mr Davies, they went first to Padgate near Warrington for a couple of days to sit an exam, followed by a selection board. During the Second World War Padgate had a small RAF station on Station Road North, where recruits were processed, given haircuts and uniforms, and sent home to await posting. There is not much to see now, as the airfield has largely been built over by the University of Chester.

The two friends qualified as Flight Engineers but, knowing there was a shortage of Air Gunners and they would be called up more quickly, they applied for that role and were accepted. Back at the shipyard they must have been frustrated, but eventually they were summoned to Lord’s Cricket ground in London, and billeted at 6 Hall Road in St John’s Wood for two months. Mr Davies recalled that it was when the first V1 Flying Bombs were coming over at night.

(Note: Fraser Farish was also called up to train at Lord’s at about the same time, but it is not known whether the three young Kirkby men met.)

The bombs couldn’t part the two from the shipyard, but illness did: Mr Davies got bronchial pneumonia and went back to Barrow, while Joseph Cartmell went forward to active service with 12 Squadron.

The RAFVR (RAF Volunteer Reserve) was a successor to the AAF (Auxilliary Air Force) which could be considered a similar organisation to the Territorial Army i.e. a civilian force recruited and trained by local units. Volunteers had to be men aged between 18 and 25, and they could train to be pilots, observers or wireless operators. Once war commenced most crew joining the RAF entered through the RAFVR. In practice most men who joined then returned to their regular jobs until they were called up for aircrew training.

12 Squadron was a bomber squadron flying various aircraft in the First World War; it became part of the RFC (Royal Flying Corps), under which title it flew missions over the Western Front. The Squadron landed in France on the first day of the Second World War, returning to RAF Finningley in June 1940, and moving after a month to RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire.

During World War 2, 12 Squadron suffered the second highest percentage losses in Bomber Command.

12 Squadron officers at RAF Binbrook Officers’ Mess in 1942
12 Squadron officers at RAF Binbrook Officers’ Mess in 1942

Joseph Cartmell became one of those casualties.

The ‘Aircraft Accident/Loss Entry’ in the station log book tells the facts very economically:

Sergeant Michael Augustine Callaghan, 222686, Air Gunner
Sergeant Joseph Milburn Cartmell, 2226063, Air Gunner.
Took off 0700 2 March from Wickenby. Cause of loss and crash-site not established.

The remainder of Joseph’s story is equally tragic.

It is said that Mrs Cartmell never recovered from the loss of her only child, and so many of her contemporaries in the village ascribe to her these reactions, that they may actually be true. It is reported that Isabella Cartmell never accepted that Joseph was dead, and would not lock the door again after he was reported missing, in case he came home and couldn’t get in.

Less convincing is the story that Mrs Cartmell would watch for trains arriving at Kirkby station, and would put the kettle on to have a cup of tea ready by the time he had walked the length of Sandside. Also according to legend, Mrs Cartmell continued to set a place at table for Joseph, long after his death.

Whatever the truth about Mrs Cartmell’s response to the loss of her son, presumably the Lancaster NN800 in which Joseph Cartmell was on a bombing raid over Cologne on the night of 2nd March 1945, was shot down, either by anti-aircraft fire or enemy fighters. He was just 21, and this was only his 5th sortie.

After the war, some remains must have been discovered, for Joseph Milburn Cartmell has a war grave in Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany, rather than being just a name among thousands on a communal memorial. It is also confidently repeated that Mrs Cartmell would not allow Joseph’s name to be included on the village war memorial in St Cuthbert’s churchyard, again in the hope that he was not dead. This was a position she may have maintained until near the end of her life – certainly his name is included now.

Finally, it is said that the Cartmells visited the grave every year.

The Avro Lancaster Bomber
The Avro Lancaster Bomber
The Avro Lancaster Bomber And crew
The Avro Lancaster Bomber And crew
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