Thursday, 29 January 2009

Eleanor Teresa Armstrong

One of the aims of this blog was to highlight names on a memorial, and to show some of their story, so that they could live on as more than just that name on a plaque.

The memorial at Canonbie is a particularly attractive memorial, and on the memorial is the name Eleanor Teresa Armstrong. She is rather intriguingly listed as serving with the British Diplomatic Staff.

Searching for her on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission would not provide you with very much information:

Rank: Civilian
Regiment/Service: Civilian War Dead
Age: 30
Date of Death: 12/03/1941
Additional information: Daughter of Margaret Armstrong, of 24 Scotland Road, Carlisle, Cumberland, and of the late John Armstrong. Died at Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul.
Casualty Type: Civilian War Dead
Reporting Authority: TURKEY

Another woman met her death the same day:

Rank: Civilian
Regiment/Service: Civilian War Dead
Age: 45
Date of Death: 12/03/1941
Additional information: of 47 Abbey Road Mansions, Maida Vale, London. Died at Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul.
Casualty Type: Civilian War Dead
Reporting Authority: TURKEY

An article in the New York Times from 1997, however, gives us a little more information on how the two met their deaths:

During World War II, the Pera Palace attracted a variety of diplomats, journalists, spies and others of uncertain reputations. It was favored by those sympathetic to the Allied side, and British agents often used it for clandestine gatherings. Among the guests was Joel Brand, a leader of the Jewish underground in Budapest, who was sent to Istanbul late in the war by Adolf Eichmann with a bizarre offer to free one million Jews if the Allies would supply Nazi Germany with stores of coffee, tea, cocoa, soap and 10,000 military trucks to be used on the Russian front. The Allies refused.

One morning in March 1941, the hotel lived though its most shattering moments when a tremendous explosion shook the hotel lobby, evidently from a bomb planted in a suitcase by pro-Nazi saboteurs.

''People ran from their rooms shouting that the Germans had come,'' one historian later wrote. ''The whole neighborhood shook and windows were broken in all directions. The first floor of the hotel was in shambles, with furniture blown across the lobby. The elevator collapsed, its cable cut. Six people were dead and another 25 had been injured. The Pera Palace never fully recovered from the damage to its lobby or reputation.''

An article in Time Magazine from 1941 gives us even more detail:

On the brink of Europe, facing Asia across the shimmering Bosporus, the Hill of Pera is crowned by one of the swankest old hotels in the world. It is Istanbul's famed Hotel Pera Palace, chuck-full of faded tapestries and the queerest collection of Victorian rocking chairs, settees and oversize bathroom fixtures this side of Bombay. Last week a rattletybang little streetcar jammed with Turks was just careening around a curve in front of the Pera Palace when a great belch of flame and smoke pushed out the whole first floor of the hotel with a crunching, grunting roar. Against the streetcar hurtled jagged slabs of plate-glass windows, splintered tables and chairs, and an avalanche of burst-open trunks and suitcases. Several Turks on the car were badly injured. Inside the now fiercely burning Pera Palace screaming chaos reigned. Cables flashed all over the world that a bomb attack had been made upon His Britannic Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Bulgaria, George William Rendel.

The slight, dry and extremely shy British Minister was not killed, because at the moment of the explosion he was upstairs, probably worrying about something. An English friend has said of him: "Nobody could really be so worried about his work as George always looks." When he entered the Pera Palace with an entourage of some 50 persons, whom he had brought from Sofia because Britain broke off relations with Bulgaria after the Nazi influx (TIME, March 10), it was typical of George William Rendel that he went straight upstairs to his room and began to check over personally his Legation's more important papers. Other members of the British group were signing the hotel register or chatting in the lobby when the blast went off. Said British Vice Consul C. H. Page:

"I was standing near the porters' desk, close to the luggage room, when there was a blinding flash. Long tongues of flame shot out from the luggage room. I was thrown to the ground and got up to find myself in a crater, out of which I was only able to look up. Several others were in the crater with me.

"Flames were consuming the porters' desk and the partition between the luggage room and the hall. Lying in the midst of the flames was a woman screaming terribly. I rushed to carry her away and asked the Reverend Mr. Oakley (Chaplain of the British Embassy in Turkey) to take her by the legs and help me. He shouted something at me which I could not at first understand. He repeated it and I was horrified to understand him to say: 'Her legs are gone.' Somehow we got her out and carried her across the road where the ambulance picked her up. Later I found she was
Miss Armstrong

Terese Armstrong, 23-year-old British Legation stenographer, had also lost an arm, but death did not come to her for more than 30 hours. Instantly killed were four Turks, two of them hotel porters. The toll of wounded was 30. British First Secretary James Lambert was badly burned, slightly cut. When Minister Rendel came bounding down the Pera Palace stairs to see what all the noise and smoke was about he found his private secretary, Miss Gertrude Ellis, bleeding from serious wounds. His daughter and Legation Hostess, Ann Rendel, 21, had been knocked down by the force of the concussion, lay dazed but uninjured on the floor. Her father sent her upstairs to get his personal documents.

In any crisis the motto of the Turkish police is "arrest everybody," and in nabbing every living soul in the Pera Palace they did not omit to place under arrest the British Minister, whom they promptly released. In the confusion, however, instructions to take wounded Miss Ellis to the famed American Hospital of Istanbul were misunderstood and the dying British girl was taken to the German Hospital.

Out of the flaming Pera Palace, which burned for an hour before Istanbul firemen doused the blaze, darted Legation Clerk John Embury. He had suddenly remembered an extremely heavy and mysterious suitcase left with part of the Legation luggage at another hotel. This was one of two suitcases noticed on the tram from Sofia to Istanbul, opened and found to contain soiled clothing, some old Turkish newspapers and what looked like a big radio battery. The clerks could not find any Briton on the train to whom all these belonged, but they did not like to throw them away. Now Clerk Embury, with a hunch that the mysterious suitcase in his room contained an infernal machine, heaved it out the window onto an adjoining vacant lot. Turkish detectives cautiously opened the suitcase, found the "radio battery" to be a bomb.

The bombs had been carried into the British Legation train in Sofia—the private train of Bulgaria's Tsar Boris, loaned especially for the occasion—under the noses of Bulgarian detectives and Gestapo operatives who had been on duty for the previous twelve hours.

The British Legation staffers and Minister Rendel, moving on to the British Embassy and thence to Ankara, aired no theory about the explosion. Asked if they thought Nazi agents were to blame, they said, off the record, that this seemed to them "too fantastic to be probable."

"There is no doubt that the bombs were brought in the baggage of the British Legation from Sofia," said an official German spokesman in Berlin. "Most probably these were bombs which already had been set with time fuses to blow up bridges or cause other sabotage in Bulgaria. In the haste of packing, the British Legation officials forgot to remove the time fuses when they packed the bombs with their other baggage. . . . That just goes to show what happens when legations play around with explosives."

Finally, an excerpt from The Scotsman newspaper of 14 March 1941:

The death-roll resulting from the bomb explosion is now four. Miss Teresa Armstrong (23), of Carlisle, a stenographer at the British Legation in Sofia, who was injured in the explosion, died early yesterday morning, Both her legs had been amputated.

Miss Armstrong was a native of Canonbie, Dumfries-shire, and resided at Scotland Road, Stanwix, Carlisle.

She lived for some time at that address with her family after crossing the Border. She was trained at the Greig School and was afterwards engaged for some time in the City Treasurer's Department.

She later held an appointment at the International Labour Office of the League of Nations at Geneva.

Following the outbreak of war she was engaged as one of the secretaries of the British Minister at Sofia.- Her family have so far had no official information concerning her. She will probably be buried in the British cemetery at Istanbul.

A fascinating story, and a horrific way for a young woman to meet her death.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Cairncross Twins

Newburgh memorial in Fife has two names on the 1939-45 panel which stand out: J Cairncross and T Cairncross, both of the London Scottish.

Something of an interesting story. They were twins, and joined up with army numbers only one digit apart. They were both to die on the exact same day. Sadly while they are buried in the same cemetery they are not side by side.

The Daily Record and the Sun recently published articles on the Cairncross twins.

Article from the Daily Record.

Article from The Scottish Sun.

The paper version of The Sun had several additional photographs of the twins.

There is also some interesting information on the page for Newburgh on the Scottish War Memorials Project.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Plans for 2009

The Scottish Military Research Group have got some plans for this year, as we aim to make ourselves known a little better.

The first plan is to attend a number of Family History conferences and fairs.

The first of these is the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Family History Societies, which this year takes place in Aberdeen. The following link has more details on date and location:

2009 SAFHS Conference

The second fair is taking place in June, in Dumfries, hosted by Dumfries and Galloway Family History Society. Their website has a page about the fair, but there is not much information online just yet. For more details contact the Society.

We have some other plans for this year, which we'll tell you more about at a later date. Watch this space!

And then there were three

One of the four remaining surviving British veterans of the First World War died on Saturday.

William Stone, who served in the Royal Navy in the First World War died in a care home in Sindlesham, Berkshire.

BBC News report

RIP Bill.