Sheffield memorial honour for city hero of Dunkirk

Mary Tong from Dronfield woodhouse with wartime letters from her friend Douglas Whitley who will be honoured with a new war memorial in Shiregreen cemetery

Mary Tong from Dronfield woodhouse with wartime letters from her friend Douglas Whitley who will be honoured with a new war memorial in Shiregreen cemetery

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A WORLD War Two hero who played a vital role in helping the Dunkirk evacuation, only to die in a German bombing raid on a British air base, is among those to be commemorated on a new war memorial in Sheffield.

John Douglas Whitley, from Grimesthorpe, known by his middle name, died aged 22 on April 1, 1941, while serving as a Private in the Royal Army Service Corps.

His childhood friend Mary Tong, now aged 89, is attending the unveiling of the war memorial in Shiregreen Cemetery, which will commemorate Douglas and 68 other servicemen killed in World War Two, plus victims of the present-day Afghanistan war, Christopher Bridge and Jamie Fellows.

Mary, who now lives in Dronfield Woodhouse and came forward after an appeal in The Star to track down families and friends of the war heroes buried in the cemetery, told the story of Douglas’ contribution to the war effort, and her memories of him.

She said: “Douglas was one of those who volunteered before the war started so was sent to France early on.

“We had lived in neighbouring streets in Grimesthorpe while growing up - he was on Wensley Street and I lived on Owler Lane - and I was three years younger than him.

“When he was away he used to write to me, as friends did back then. There was nothing romantic between us.

“While he was at Dunkirk, he found a truck with some fuel in it and went backwards and forwards helping men to the beaches so they could be evacuated. He was one of the last to leave.”

When Douglas returned to the UK, Mary said he was asked to transfer from the Army to the RAF, which wanted his skills because he was a trained electrician.

He initially refused because the pay would be lower. However, he was seconded to the RAF, while remaining a soldier.

But although his new duties involved him staying in the UK, tragedy struck just seven months after Dunkirk.

Mary said: “He was posted to RAF Warmwell in Dorset, which was a large base, but it was struck during a sneak bombing raid and Douglas was killed.”

Mary, who remains a member of Grimesthorpe Wesleyan Reform Church - where Douglas is named on a roll of honour - said it was ‘marvellous’ that the new monument is being created in honour of Douglas and the other servicemen.

The memorial is being funded with £35,000 raised by Nicolette Williams, the mother of Christopher Bridge, a Senior Aircraftsman killed in Afghanistan in 2007, who is buried in the cemetery.

A ceremony will be held to unveil the memorial on Friday, September 14. Six families of the World War two heroes buried at Shiregreen have come forward to attend.

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