12 lis 2016

Death and farewell of F/O Peter Anthony Lovegrove at Oflag XXI-B


On Thursday, April 21st 2016 I’ve visited the Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery to take photographs of gravestones of British POWs who died in Oflag XXI-B. When I came back home I’ve found in my mailbox email from Bill Robertson, the great grandson of Lance Corporal John Conway, 7th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. His great grandfather was prisoner at Oflag XXI-B Szubin in 1942 and Bill have shared his YMCA logbook. The logbook contains many photos of his time in captivity. Among them there were photographs showing the funeral of Pilot Officer Peter Lovegrove at the Szubin cemetery. Peter’s full military honours burial was attended by many of his colleagues and also German soldiers. After the war his body was moved to his current rest place in the Old Garrison Cemetery, Poznan, Poland. There is a sad story behind this man, who luckily survived the airplane crash, but miserably lost his life in captivity.

Few days later I’ve learned that Peter’s family coincidentally has visited the cemetery at Poznan on Saturday, April 23rd and they have also been at Szubin on Sunday, April 24th. Unfortunately, we we were unable to meet. My lecture about the escapes from Oflag XXI-B and Oflag 64 POW camps at  Szubin (“Under, Over and Through the Wire”) held on April 26th at the Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej have included Peter’s story and it was illustrated with the previously unseen photographs of his funeral at the Szubin cemetery shared by Bill Robertson, but unfortunately the timing did not work out for the Lovegrove Family. Recently, I’ve contacted Peter Lovegrove, the named after his uncle, nephew of late POW. Owing his kindness I could learn more about the fate of a young flying officer, who – as Bertram James has written in his “Moonless Night” book – “was member of the mapping intelligence department, and a desire to get a good view for his survey had toppled him to his death”.

***

Peter Anthony Lovegrove, born on 3rd March 1920, was a Flying Officer with 83 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve pilot. He was the only survivor of his airplane crash northeast of Cloppenburg, Germany on mission to Hamburg, on a night 8th/9th April 1942. He has survived to be taken as prisoner of war and since, 9th April 1942 he was held in Dulag Luft (Lazarett Hohe Mark), then on 28th May 1942 was transferred to Stalag Luft III (Sagan) and finally on 17th September 1942 was transferred to Oflag XXI-B (Schubin).
 
 Peter Anthony Lovegrove in dress uniform (from Lovegrove Family private archive).

Among many Peter’s letters sent to his mother from captivity, only one sent from Szubin, dated 15th October 1942, appeared to be the last one. He wrote: “Have not yet received my first clothing or medical food parcel, but expect it will be delayed with changing camps, (…) we are well off for food at this new camp. Very soon his mother has received telegram, dated 23th November 1942, from the Geneva Red Cross with sad information that according to German official information, Peter died after “an accidental fall” from a window on 12th November 1942.

Telegram from the International Red Cross (dated 23 November 1942) notifying Peter’s death (from Lovegrove Family private archive).

More explanation about what has happen was given in the letter with words of sympathy and consolation (dated 16th November 1942) sent from Chaplain McConchie to Peter’s mother. “I only knew your boy slightly and I have only been here as Chaplain a few weeks but his comrades all speak very well of him. His body laid to rest in the cemetery at Szubin in Poland and I officiated a burial service. He was buried with full military honours. A number of his comrades attended the graveside and firing party of German soldiers. He rests beside another comrade who died in this camp”. In his second letter (dated 18th March 1943) the Chaplain wrote: “You boy fell from hospital window and was killed instantly. It is believed that he was surveying the surrounding country with a view of escaping and in some way lost his balance to this conclusion. There are certain reasons why our SBO in his enquiry came to this conclusions. For obvious reason I cannot just tell you what they were, but later on when I come to England I will be able to come to see you and will be able to tell you about it. I have a set of photos taken at the funeral which I will also bring to you”.

The original hospital building which, on the fateful day, Peter fell of the roof (photograph taken by Peter’s nephew during visit in Szubin in April 2016).

The letter from SBO Commander Harry Day (dated 20th November 1942) describes in detail all the tragic circumstances of Peter’s death: “I am a Senior British Officer at this camp and I am writing to tell you how very distressed we all are over the terrible and unexpected accident which overtook your good looking and brave son. I have known him since his first arrival at Stalag Luft 3 and since hence I have a very high opinion of him. I have called a strict investigation  to be undertaken by S/L Tench, who knew your son in England and it appears that your son climbed out of the top of 3rd storey window in the hospital building at 2:45 in the afternoon he either became giddy of slipped and fell onto the pavement at the entrance of the hospital. The two British Medical Officers were actually on the scene and attended to your son, but your son must have been killed instantly as he fell on his head. The reason your son climbed out onto the window ledge is not absolutely clear but as there was no one with him, but it can be put down to his keenness to escape. The window being good vantage point to see the countryside. As you probably know your son made one unsuccessful attempt to escape with a man of his spirit I am certain he was planning another”.

Peter’s mother has also received letter from one of Peter’s comrades. The last photograph taken just 24 hours before his death was attached: “The morning before he died I was unwell and he gave me my breakfast in bed. That morning he seemed perfectly all right – his normal, pleasant self. I hope to visit you after the war. I shall bring (…) the two photographs taken exactly 24 hours before he died. Attached is one of them”.

The last photograph of Peter, taken in the camp just 24 hours before his tragic death.
Group portrait of prisoners of war (POWs) at Oflag XXIb in Poland, a German POW internment camp for officers.
Left to right: back row: Bromiley, Leetham, John Dicker, unidentified serviceman and Organ.
Front row: Lovegrove, Svenson and an unidentified serviceman
(P02028.049, Original print housed in the AWM Archive Store).

The funeral service and burial at the Szubin cemetery was described in the Red Cross letter to Peter’s mother (dated 23rd March 1943): “The funeral took place with full honours at 10:30 on the 14 November at the local cemetery. The Rev McConchie, a chaplain of the Forces conducted the service. Thirty officers, including myself attended at the “Last post” and “Reveille” was sounded by one of the British soldiers. A German firing party fired 3 volleys. Six wreaths were sent, four from his comrades here, one from the R.A.F. POW at Stalag Luft 3 and one from the German Kommandatur. They were composed of arum lilies and evergreens. F/O Lovegrove was laid to F/Lt Edwards, who had unfortunately was killed a few weeks before previously whilst trying to escape. The other graves of British, French and Polish  soldiers look well kept. There are trees planted and, being on the outskirts of the town, it is peaceful. F/O Lovegrove is in a good company there and should  not be thought of as being alone”.





 
The pictures sent to the family from Oflag XXI-B after Peter’s funeral.

  Peter's current rest place is the Old Garrison Cemetery, Poznan, Poland.

Acknowledgements:

My special thanks to Peter Lovegrove, nephew of late POW F/O Peter Anthony Lovegrove for sharing information about his uncle, as well as for providing letters and photographs from Lovegrove's family private archive for this article. I also thank to Bill Robertson, the great grandson of Lance Corporal John Conway for sharing the photos Peter's funeral at Szubin cemetary from his great grandfather logbook.

Sources:
  • Lovegrove Family private archive.
  • YMCA logbook of Lance Corporal John Conway.
  • James Jimmy BA, Moonless Night: The World War Two Escape Epic, Pen & Sword Books Limited, 2006.    
© Mariusz Winiecki

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