Walbottle Village history group

Walbottle's Fallen Heros

On this page of the website we pay tribute to some of the fallen heros of Walbottle village.

Case Studies and research into some of the brave soldiers thought fought and gave their lives for their country who lived in Walbottle are descibed below. If you have any interesting stories and wouldlike to share them on the website please contact us using the details on the contact page.

Lieutenant Edward Leslie Graham Rowell M.C.

Lieutenant Edward Leslie Graham Rowell was born in Walbottle House on the 8th of June 1892 to Robert and Helena Rowell. Although Robert had emigrated to Australia where he married Helena in March 1891 they returned to Walbottle for the birth of Edward. After Edward was born the family returned to Australia and lived on Victoria Street, Warwick, Queensland.

Edward was a bank clerk before he enlisted in the army in March 1915. He left for Europe as a member of the 25th Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces and was initially posted to Gallipoli where he spent four months in the winter campaign before moving to the Western Front. Serving with the first Australian Divisions fighting in France he won his commission in the field.

He was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when on the 20th of September 1917 at Westhoek Ridge he single handedly charged an enemy pillbox. Although his pistol was shot out of his hand he engaged the pillbox with bombs killing four and taking 20 prisoners.

Later when his Company Commander was wounded he took charge of the Company and brought his men to safety under heavy shell fire. His courage and coolness were a fine example to all ranks.

Sadly, just two weeks later Edward was shot and wounded in the head and shoulder an injury from which he did not recover, passing away at 07:20 on the 15th of November 1917 in No 7 General Hospital, St Omer. His father Robert and brother Athol were with him when he died and both attended the funeral. Edward is buried at Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, France, plot iv.F.3.

The plaque opposite recording Edwards name (E. L. G. Rowell) was unveiled by his uncle, Major Thomas Rowell on 21 November, 1920 and was mounted in the Methodist church, Walbottle. The Plaque is now at Beamish museum.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

Image of Lieutenant Edward Leslie Graham Rowell M.C.Lieutenant Edward Leslie Graham Rowell M.C. of the 25th Battalion Australian Infantry, Australian Imperial Force. Image of the plaque recording Edwards name that was mounted at Walbottle Methodist church.the plaque recording Edwards name that was mounted at Walbottle Methodist church.

Operation Source - Tom Nelson, The Walbottle Connection

Photo of the ship The TirpitzThe Tirpitz Photo of Tom John NelsonTom John Nelson Photo of an X-5 midget submarineThe X-5 midget submarine

Did you know, that on the 22nd of September 1943 the German Battleship Tirpitz, sister ship to Bismark, was attacked and damaged by midget submarines called X-craft. Six X-craft were towed across the North Sea by ‘mother’ submarines to attack Tirpitz, Lutzow and Scharnhorst in an operation code named Operation Source.

Only two X craft actually managed to plant charges under Tirpitz, the other four having sunk, broken down or the target ship had already sailed. One of the X craft – X5, unofficially named Platypus, was commanded by Lt Henty-Creer and second in command was Sub Lt Tom John Nelson who came from Walbottle. Tom, who was 22 at the time of the attack, was the son of Ralph and Frances Nelson who lived next door to the Village Institute. Sadly, Tom did not come home X5 having been destroyed by either a mine or shelling from Tirpitz, the exact cause of her loss will probably never be known.

Out of the 24 men who took part in Operation Source, two Victoria crosses, three Distinguishes Service Orders, one Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and one Member of the order of the British Empire (MBE) were awarded. Tirpitz was disabled for 6 months by the attack and was eventually sunk by RAF bombing. The film ‘Above us the Waves’ pays tribute to those brave men.

Since writing this article we have received an email from Tom’s nephew Dr Ralph Simpson who provided the following information:

Tom Nelson was my uncle. Tom only had one sibling – a sister – Ruby , my mother. Ruby died in 2018 age 92y ( 4 days after my father – Robert Simpson). We held a joint funeral at Westgate Road crematorium, where Tom was also remembered as he never had a funeral.

Both my parents ashes were taken to Kafjord in Norway and scattered in the fiord waters at the last place X-5 was sighted, about 100M from where Tirpitz had been moored, along with flowers from the local townspeople.

The uniform that Tom is seen wearing was given to the Tirpitz Museum at Kafjord. It is worth going to the website www.tirpitz-museum.no.

There are numerous theories about the fate of X-5, and whether or not she actually managed to deploy her side cargoes under Tirpitz. A few years ago an x-craft side cargo was discovered in Kafjord, it was moved and then destroyed by the Norwegian navy ( after some brave diver removed the two detonators) . The detonators are now in the Tirpitz museum , Kafjord., they have unique serial numbers.

As you can imagine we have amassed a huge amount of information about Operation Source, and the various attempts to find X-5. I think it is generally accepted that the craft was sunk by a combination of small arms fire and a 100mm shell strike. My mother Ruby Nelson always hoped that the crew had escaped and might just turn up one day.

At Kafjord the local diving club are convinced that they know where the wreck is, in very deep water. The team provided the boat to allow my parent ashes to be cast into the waters at that site. They also organised a service of remembrance at the local church.

The commander Henty Henty- Creer is an interesting character, a New Zealander who had been a film cameraman (he worked on the 49th Parallel (1941) -ironically about an escaped German U-boat crew). In one account it is said he was planning to set X-5 at safe distance from Tirpitz (after having laid the charges), to observe the effects of the of the new weapon(s), and send the information back the Admiralty. Aged 22 he had already commenced his autobiography.

Walbottle Dene
A brick from Walbottle brickworks