Ashtead War Memorials - Wing Commander Kenneth Duke Knocker RAF: 214 Sqn

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The Times, August 22 1942
- During July 1942, killed while on an operational flight, WING COMMANDER KENNETH KNOCKER, only son of Squadron Officer the Baroness de Serclaes MM, husband of Pauline and father of Paul and Christopher.

CWGC: Son of Leslie Duke Knocker, and of The Baroness de Serclaes, MM, of Ashtead, Surrey; husband of Susan Knocker.

Other sources state his mother was named de T'Serclaes and she was called Elizabeth or Elsie

According to Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War - 1942, by WR Chorley (Midland Counties Publications, 1994), page 145:

night of 2-3 July 1942: 214 Sqn Stirling I BF313 BU-T: Op Bremen
T/o Stradishall. Shot down by a night-fighter (Ofw Karl-Heinz Scherfling, II./NJG2) and crashed 0150 onto mudflats at Westernieland (Groningen) 22 km NNW of Groningen, Holland. All are buried in Eenrum (Westernieland) General Cemetery. Sgt Palmer was a gifted musician who studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he gained a Bronze Medal.

W/C Kenneth Duke Knocker RAF (Pilot)
Sgt Tristram Edward Leonard Palmer RAFVR (Second pilot)
P/O Daniel Malofie RCAF (Observer)
Sgt John William Caddick Underwood RAF (Flight Engineer)
Sgt Peter Frederick Inman RAFVR (Wireless Operator)
Sgt Richard Fairhurst RAFVR (Air Gunner)
F/S Robert Hendry Ritchie RAF(AuxAF) (Air Gunner)
F/S Ernest George Wilson RCAF (Air Gunner)

[the names have been given in full by reference to the CWGC database]

No.214 Squadron was at the time in No.3 Group, Royal Air Force Bomber Command.

Always in my heart
source 214 Sqn Assn website

2/3July 1942
325 aircraft including 34 Stirlings took part in this operation: 13 aircraft were lost, 8 Wellingtons, 2 Hampdens, 1 Halifax and 2 Stirlings.
265 aircaft claim to have bombed in good visibility but it is probable that much of the attack fell outside the southern borders of Bremen. A brief Bremen report states that over 1,000 houses and 4 small industrial firms were damaged. In the port 3 cranes and 7 ships were hit. The 1,736 ton steamer Marieborg was sunk and became a danger to navigation. Five people were killed and four injured.
source: The Bomber Command War Diaries, Everitt & Middlebrook (Penguin, 1990), p283

An eyewitness in Ten Boer, NE of the city of Groningen, claims that the Stirling was attacked over his hometown. He states: "It was a very busy night were planes are concerned. All of a sudden we heard two bursts of machinegun fire, shortly after each other. Just after that bombs fell just east of St Annen."

A police report states that 29 bombs (27 incendiary) were dropped, of which only three ignited. The fire that was caused could be extinguished quickly. One person was lightly wounded.

The eyewitness continues: "Up in the sky a fire became visible that moved in a northerly direction. A few days later we heard a plane crashed near the dyke at Westernieland."

People in several north Groningen towns heard the loud roar of engines overhead. Those who went outside to look saw a bomber flying North with what appeared to be a light inside. Once over the mudflats the plane caught fire, exploded and crashed.

One eyewitness remembers: "The pieces of the plane were strewn out over a large area, several kilometres across. This was about 1 to 2 kilometeres out into the mudflats from Westernieland."

Three days later, about eight Dutchmen, under command of a German NCO went out to recover the bodies. All they found was pieces of wreckage, no large parts of the plane were found. Most of the crew were found between and under the pieces. They were brought to the dike where they were put into coffins after which they spent two days in a stable of a farmer in Pieterburen. Then they were buried in Westernieland.

[A different account of the recovery of the bodies]: Mr van Hoorn was one of the Dutch men that were tasked by the Germans to recover the bodies the next day. He says that the tail was shot off and that they found the crew in their positions in the wreckage. Apparently the pilot had tried to crash-land the plane at high tide. The next day Mr van Hoorn checked the wreck and the day after that they recovered the bodies and put them in coffins which they brought to the farm of Mr Boerma. The coffins were put in a corner of the farm, with black curtains around them. The local population came to the farm to bring flowers.

Two or three days later the Germans buried the crew with military honours at Westernieland. In attendance were the Mayor and the German commander. That same day an unknown soldier was buried that had washed on the shore.


Baroness de Serclaes MM in the First World War

Not long afterwards there was another plane incident. I saw the machine spiral down near the German trenches, telephoned 52 Squadron, and told them that I was going out to collect the pilot. When I got to him he had somehow got out and crawled into a clump of reeds near by. While the stretcher-bearers went on I was confronted with the German commanding officers. Since I speak German well, I was able to explain matters satisfactorily; a new lot of troops had taken over, and though the form had been explained to them, they must have been a bit startled to see our party so near their lines.

When we arrived back at Pervyse I noticed that our trenches were simply stiff with top people. The Earl of Athlone was there, and General Rawlinson, and several others. I was quite out of breath, very muddy, and rather bewildered. But the first thing was to get the pilot back to our quarters and give him a rest and a hot drink. I lent him a pair of my breeches, since his own were so torn and covered in oil.

This exploit earned me and Mairi the immediate award of the Military Medal, and with it the Order of St John of Jerusalem, though, in fact, it was not nearly as difficult and dangerous as some of the other sorties we had made.

Elsie Knocker [Baroness de Serclaes] in Flanders and Other Fields

This [The Two ? Editor] was the first of the books recounting the adventures of the Baroness de Serclaes [Mrs. Elsie Knocker] and eighteen year old Scot, Mairi Chisholm. It was published by A&C Black in 1916 from diaries and memoirs sent by Elsie Knocker, and was followed many years later by Flanders and Other Fields which contained much of the original content, and onward to WW2. Mrs. Knocker was 'a trained nurse, an excellent mechanic and chauffeur; she spoke French and German and with all that it hardly needs adding she was a capable woman. ..'and the two women joined an 'amateur' medical group formed by Dr. Hector Munro, and found themselves on the western front very early in the war working as nurses. Their adventures are so outrageous and 'Boys' Own Paper' that they could be dismissed as over exaggerated, but somehow you always believe that evertyhing they relate actually happened. It covers the period up to March 1916, and has quite a few photos which don't seem to appear elsewhere.

A good read, especially for those who never believe that women got anywhere near the front.

In a History of Ashtead by J Stuttard (Leatherhead and District Local History Society, 1995) p204-5 she is described as follows:

Baroness Elizabeth de T'Serclaes
Elizabeth de T'Serclaes, who lived in Ashtead from about 1926 until her death in 1974 [actually 26 April 1978], was born in 1890. After a brief marriage in 1906, leaving her with a son, she married again in 1916, this time to a Belgian pilot, Baron Harold de T'Serclaes. They separated three years later. She was a nurse during the war and was awarded the Military Medal, a most unusual event in those days, for rescuing a pilot from near the German lines. She joined up again in 1939 and became a senior Women's Auxilliary Air Force (WAAF) officer.

After the Second World War the Baroness engaged in fund raising for the RAF Association and the Benevolent Fund. She lived in the Earl Haig Homes in Park Lane, Ashtead, a striking figure, tall with a deep voice, flamboyantly dressed with large ear-rings and a voluminous dark cloak. Because of her appearance, she was known as 'Gypsy' but only her special friends were allowed to call her this.

She bred Chihuahua dogs and was always accompanied by three or four. She was greatly concerned about the welfare of animals and conservation on Ashtead Common. She is remembered as a great character which is well brought out in her autobiography Flanders and Other Fields published in 1964.
Flanders and Other Fields Harrap, London, 1964. Foreword by Air Marshal Sir John Witley (illustrator)

An account of Elsie's life and that of Mairi Chisholm can be found in Elsie & Mairi Go To War by Diane Atkinson (Arrow Books, 2010)

page created 7 Feb 2009, last updated 17 Jan 2013
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