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Henry Morgan Siewert

Henry was born about 1906 in Poti, Georgia (GRO Consular Births 1906-10, vol 12, page 2801), the third of five children of Oscar Julius Siewert, a merchant, and Mabel Eleanor Tarsey (born 28 Sep 1870, Reading 2C, 325, one of four children of a dairy farmer). She lived in Egham until after the 1901 Census, and she and Oscar married in Batoum, Georgia about 1902 (GRO Consular marriage Index 1901-1905, vol 11, page 1433). At this date Poti was a growing city on the eastern Black Sea coast, with a railway inland to Tbilisi and a major modern port. It would have made a good trading base for Oscar. (No records have been found for Oscar before or after 1923; he died before 1944 and is commemorated on his wife’s grave. From the family name it is possible that he was German).

In 1920, Mabel Eleanor Siewert (identified as the wife of Oscar Siewert), then living at 76 Southampton Street, Reading, was registered as the leasehold proprietor of land and buildings at 7 Steele’s Road, Hampstead (HM Land Registry title 165481)(source: London Gazette 29 June 1920 page 7021).

Henry became a Naturalised British Citizen on 31 July 1923 (London Gazette 3 August 1923 (page 5328) along with his father and three surviving siblings. (His mother was English, which is probably why the births of Henry and his siblings could be registered at a British Consulate.) The family then lived at 28 Fellows Road, Hampstead.  

His siblings were:

Sybelle Catherine: born about 1903 in Poti, Georgia (GRO Consular Birth Index 1901-1905,  2371/11/34); she died as an infant in Poti (GRO Consular Death Index 1901-1905, 11/1925).

John George: born 18 Nov 1903 (based on his death registration) in Poti (GRO Consular Birth Indices 1910-1905, 2373/11/33); he married (1) Dorothy Agnes Dienst (born 25 Oct 1912) in 1947 in Calcutta, Bengal (Parish register transcripts, Bengal 1713-1948). John joined up, and was promoted to Acting Sergeant on 6 March 1942 (London Gazette 12 June 1942, issue 35594). In the 1939 Register Dorothy lived alone at 189 Maida Vale Paddington in a house divided into four units, and worked as a saleswoman; she died second quarter 1957 in Hove Sussex (Brighton 5H, 398). John married (2) Ann Eyers in second quarter 1981 (Hove 18, 0604), and died on 22 July 1994 in Hove (GRO Deaths 4571/72C/041/0794)(Probate Death Index 1858-2019).

Evelyn Luboff: born about 1907; she married quarter 2, 1930 to Eric E Henley, property surveyor (Hampstead 1A, 1694); and died December 1930 (Marylebone); Eric was born 9 March 1906 (1911 Census), and he died quarter 1, 1984 (Westminster).

Beatrice Eleanor: born 5 Nov 1909 (based on the 1939 Register); she married (1) quarter 3 1933 to George William Axtell (born 1907, Colchester) (Hampstead 1A, 1890); he died quarter 1 1937 (aged 32) (Pancras 1B, 138). In the 1939 Register, Beatrice (b 5 Nov 1909) lived with her mother Mabel (b 28 Sep 1876) in Billie Oaklands Avenue, Saltdean, Brighton. She married (2) George Avgherinos in first quarter 1944 (Kensington 1A, 387). She died quarter 4, 1953 (Hendon 5E, 484).

Henry played rugby for the UCS Old Boys (The Sportsman newspaper, 29 Sep 1923 and 3 Nov 1923; and The Gower (school magazine), 11 Oct 1924 and 6 Dec 1925); whereas John played soccer for The Casuals (The Sportsman, 5 Jan 1924, 15 Oct 1924). (This suggests that they may have attended different schools.)

Henry (aged 30) worked as an assistant for Bosanquet & Skrine, tea planters, of Galle Face Court in Colombo, Ceylon and is included in a List of English Speaking Jurors and Assessors published in the Ceylon Government Gazette (part 2) on 18 Sep 1936 (issue 8244)(National Digital Library of Sri Lanka). He appears not to have married.

He joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve (Service number 101607):

9 Feb 1941 Pilot Officer on probation (London Gazette 15 Aug 1941, page 4733)

1942 Temporary Flying Officer (London Gazette, vol. 2 1942, page 2557)

1943 Flying Officer – War service, Substantive rank

1943 Acting Flight Lieutenant (14 Squadron) See https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk

Henry’s Service record is still closed but the Squadron’s general war experience during the period he served with it in the Sudan, Egypt/ Libya and in Algeria (the Battle of North Africa) is summarised below.

However, on 10 March 1943, the 14 Squadron Operations Book (AIR 27/194/7/2 - Summary of Events) records that two aircraft took off from their base in Telergma, Algeria carrying an advance party for the Squadron’s planned move some 300 miles west to Blida, just outside Algiers at the base of the Atlas Mountains. Only one arrived safely. Although the weather was reported as “very adverse” it was not thought to be the cause of one aircraft crashing into the Bay of Algiers at approximately 11.45am. It was only about 15 minutes out from its destination, and there were no reports of it being in trouble. All six crew members and three passengers were killed and only two bodies recovered. Henry was one of the passengers – described as an Intelligence Officer.

The B26 was a fast medium bomber, with a crew of a bombardier in the nose, a pilot and co-pilot, radio operator/ navigator, and three gunners when on bombing missions and with one less when on reconnaissance.  It required a high standard of training, but the pilot was an experienced officer, a Squadron Leader, and the B-26 apparently gave a high level of operational protection to its crews unmatched by any other similar aircraft.  http://www.b26.com/page/b26_history.htm

Whether this was a flight accident or a combat loss was then, and remains today, unclear.

Henry’s death is recorded on 10 March 1943 in Egypt, aged 37 (GRO War Deaths RAF All Ranks 1939-1948 (1943, page 176), and he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial (column 267)(CWGC).

He is also commemorated on a memorial plaque to UCS Old Boys in the Rugby Football section who died in the Second World War, originally placed in the pavilion at Osterley Park (The Gower magazine, Dec 1946, vol 23, number 1, page 40).

And he is commemorated in the Hampstead Parish Church additional burial ground on grave LO65 – which is the grave of his sister Evelyn and of his sister Beatrice’s widowed mother-in-law Harriet Axtell (she was born 23 Oct 1872, married Henry Axtell in first quarter 1894 (Pancras 1B, 29); he died third quarter 1939 (Barnet 3A, 638). Harriet lived at 25 Fairfax Road Swiss Cottage in the 1939 Register and at 21 Arkwright Road at the time of her death, and died Feb 1947 Marylebone 5D, 463 (see 1911 Census to support the family relationship – 28 Clabon Mews, Cadogan Square, Chelsea).

Probate for Henry’s estate was granted on 16 July 1953 in London; the record shows Henry Morgan Siewert of Colombo, Ceylon died in the Bay of Algiers. Theodore Magnus Wechsler (1906-87), a London solicitor and local politician, of Gouldens, 16 Byward Street, EC3, was appointed Executor on behalf of William Walter Berry. Henry’s estate was valued at £496/2/2 (Probate Death Index 1858-2019) (London Gazette, 5 June 1953, issue 39881).

[The delay between date of death and probate was because Henry’s body was never recovered and there was a statutory bar on proceeding sooner. But who was Walter William Berry?]

Henry’s mother Mabel (then a widow) died on 29 July 1944, age 72. Although she lived at Flat 5, 1 Linden Gardens, Bayswater W2 (Probate Death Index 1858-2019) she died at the Portland Nursing Home in Buxton Derbyshire (Chapel-en-le-Frith 7B, 754; High Peak BD/G1-3/084). She was buried in Hampstead Parish Church’s additional burial ground (grave K051) in August 1944. Although Oscar is named on the marble kerb of her grave, there is no evidence that he is buried there.

Probate on Mabel’s estate was granted at Llandudno on 9 Nov 1944 to Beatrice Eleanor Avgherinos (her daughter). The estate was valued at £3,314/16/1.

 

Peter Ginnings
17 Nov 2020

Extract from The History of 14 Squadron, Royal Air Force in the Second World War

[https://www.14sqn-association.org.uk/14_Squadron_Association/History.html]

During the period that Henry Morgan Siewert was with it, the Squadron was engaged in operations in the Mediterranean, Egypt and Libya, and in the invasion of Sicily.

It was equipped with Vickers Wellesley aircraft in 1938: a monoplane with retractable undercarriage and a variable-pitch propeller, which was a quantum leap in performance and capability over the previous biplanes.  Before the war it was involved in counter-insurgency operations during the Palestine rebellion of 1938-39.  On the declaration of the Second World War, the Squadron was deployed briefly to Ismailia in north-east Egypt before returning to Amman, Jordan.  It was then sent to Port Sudan in eastern Sudan in readiness for operations against Italian forces in Abyssinia and the Red Sea.  On 11 June 1940, the day after war was declared by Italy, the Squadron carried out a raid on the Italian air base at Massawa, Eritrea.  Over the next 10 months (during which Henry joined them) the Squadron was engaged in convoy protection duties over the Red Sea, interdiction against Italian installations at Massawa and Asmara, and close support of 4th Indian Division’s advances against Kassala and Keren (on the Sudan/ Eritrea border).  During these operations the Squadron also converted from the Wellesley to the twin-engined Bristol Blenheim MkIV.  After the successful conclusion of the Abyssinian campaign, 14 Squadron was sent to the Western Desert of Egypt, the site of the Squadron’s first operations in 1915.

During the months of May and June 1941, 14 Squadron was heavily involved in direct support firstly of Operation Brevity and then Operation Battleaxe, two unsuccessful attempts by the army to break through the Axis front line near Sollum (on the Egyptian/ Libyan border).  These operations were interspersed by long-range missions over Crete following the German invasion, and two months of hard operational flying took its toll: of the sixteen crews and twenty aircraft with which the Squadron had deployed to Egypt, by June 1941 only four crews and three serviceable aircraft remained.  The Squadron was withdrawn from the desert and dispatched to Iraq, where it was involved in demonstrations of force, including long-range leaflet-dropping raids, over Persia.

14 Squadron returned to operations in the Western Desert in October 1941, arriving in time to participate in the Operation Crusader advance into Libya towards Benghazi.   Unfortunately the success of the British ground offensive was short-lived and the Squadron found itself caught up in the mass retreat eastwards into Egypt towards El Alamein.  In May 1942 the Squadron was once again withdrawn from operations, this time to convert to the Martin B26 Marauder.  Although the original intention was to resume tactical bombing operations in the new aircraft, the Squadron instead found itself carrying out armed torpedo reconnaissance and naval mine-laying sorties over the Mediterranean.  On 21st February 1943 nine Marauders led by Maj Eric Lewis SAAF attacked shipping in the harbour of the Greek island of Melos but, despite the success of this action, this operation was the last time that the Squadron used torpedoes.  The Squadron’s role was now low-level coastal reconnaissance in an area of responsibility which covered the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Adriatic Seas.  (It was during this period that the B26 aircraft in which Henry was a passenger came down in the Bay of Algiers.) In April 1943, 14 Squadron was amongst the thirty RAF squadrons to be awarded a Standard by King George VI, although the standard itself would not be presented for another twelve years.