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WW2 Stories of three relatives

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:00 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Lt David O. Rees joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1941, becoming a part of the Fleet Air Arm. In this role, Lt Rees became an 'Observer' on the Swordfish aircraft and was a part of 766 Naval Air Squadron and then 825 Naval Air Squadron until the latter was wiped out in the channel in 1942.

Lt Rees joined the new version of 825 Naval Air Squadron after it was wiped out and followed the squadron when it joined HMS Furious in the North Atlantic, protecting convoys from German attacks. Lt Rees had his first 'ditching' on 28th April 1943 and was notably shaken up after being in the water for hours. His pilot was also injured during this and had to retire from the force. After finishing his tour of the Atlantic, Lt Rees returned to the UK to work on Hurricane aircraft.

Lt Rees joined the brand-new HMS Vindex (D15) and attacked German U-boats at night for the first time ever. On 14th January 1944, the aircraft Lt Rees was in was involved in an accident, which meant he was in the ocean again for hours. Lt Rees continued to attack submarines for a month after before his third 'ditching' on 25th February 1944. After this third ditching, Lt Rees became a training instructor in the Fleet Air Arm in March 1944. Due to his water landings and life craft used, Lt Rees became a part of The Goldfish Club, which still exists today. The contributor is an honorary member today due to his father's ditchings.

Sgt. David Binch was a full-time member of the British Army when war broke out in 1939, having served in India with the 7th Royal Tank Regiment before the war.

Sgt. Binch was sent to France in 1939 as part of the British Defensive Line (British Expeditionary Force) [contributor's dates different in their word document] to help keep the Germans out of the Dunkirk area. When Dunkirk was evacuated, Sgt. Binch was one of the last people to return to the UK.

Sgt. Binch was present during the Battle of Arras [before Dunkirk evacuations] where he helped stop the Germans in their tracks. Bombed on the way back. After this, Sgt. Binch retrained with new tanks in Scotland in 1940.

The 7th Royal Tank Regiment shipped to North Africa in early 1941 [contributor's dates different in their word document]. Here, Sgt. Binch alongside the rest of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment took part in several successful battles against the Italians in the desert. However, after Rommel arrived with new tanks, troops and tactics (Suez Canal important) everything changed. The early victories against the Italians were gone. British losses led to the siege of Tobruk - they were surrounded and had to surrender. After being captured in 1941 [contributor's dates different in their word document] Sgt. Binch and other prisoners of war were put on a ship to Italy to a prisoner of war camp. This was a bad journey as the RAF and Royal Navy were targeting Italian ships and so Sgt. Binch was at risk of an attack from his own side. Additionally, the conditions were bad as there was no bread.

Sgt. Binch arrived in the Italian prisoner of war camp 82 in Laterina. These were not professional captors (more keen on having a good time). This gave an opportunity for Sgt. Binch to escape, which he took with two friends in 1942 [contributor's dates different in their word document]. After escaping, he arrived in a mountain area which was close to a village. This particular village was not fascist. Local villagers took a shine to the soldiers and provided them with food and drink. After the Germans took over prisoner of war operations and started rounding up soldiers in the woods, they were advised to go into hiding elsewhere by the locals. Therefore, Sgt. Binch hid under tarpaulin in a railway wagon at night. However, the Germans persuaded locals to inform on them by using gifts (e.g. children given sweets). As a result, Germans discovered them in the railway wagon. It was discovered that a 14-year-old boy had informed on them and was given sweets. After being recaptured, Sgt. Binch, alongside all prisoners of war in Italy, was put on a train to North Germany. This was a three-day rail journey in cattle trucks where Sgt. Binch was subjected to bad treatment.

Sgt. Binch arrived in early 1944 to Fallingbostel and to the prisoner of war camp [contributor's dates different in their word document]. The situation was dire as the Germans did not feed them. Instead, swede peelings were given to prisoners of war that were thrown on the ground in kitchens. Sgt. Binch got seriously ill in late 1944 to early 1945 - so much so that he should have been in hospital. The German camp Sgt. Binch was in (Fallingbostel) was in close distance to a concentration camp. They were so close they could see the smoke and hear shouts. In 1945, the Allies were coming across and liberating Germans. Sgt. Binch was eventually liberated by the 7th Royal Tank Regiment, which was his original regiment, and received medical treatment. Sgt. Binch was then flown back to the UK.

When Sgt. Binch returned, his wife gave him swede for dinner which caused him to lose his temper. After the war, Sgt. Binch returned to the Italian village in 1948 [contributor's dates different in their word document] to thank them for helping him. The 14-year-old Italian boy that had informed on Sgt. Binch was the son of the family who helped him. After discovering what the boy had done, the family reacted badly. The son disappeared in America and was never heard from again.

James Thornton joined the RAF in 1941 and was a part of two front-line squadrons during the war - 75 Squadron and 156 Squadron. 75 Squadron was a New Zealand one and in this squadron Thornton flew Sterling Bombers. In 156 Squadron, he flew Wellington Bombers.

During one mission, Thornton was not feeling well. 'Cry-off' mission. As a result, another took his normal aircraft. The replacement crew were killed when shot down. There is a monument to this crash in Holland, near Schiphol.


Person the story/items relate to

David Rees - father of contributor David Binch - contributor's son-in-law's grandfather James Thornton - contributor's son-in-law's grandfather

Person who shared the story/items

Glyn Tudor Tees

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

David Rees - father of contributor David Binch - contributor's son-in-law's grandfather James Thornton - contributor's son-in-law's grandfather

Type of submission

Shared at York Army Museum, York on 5 June 2023.

Record ID

119575 | YOR003