SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: The records at Croydon Minster, the register of births, marriages and deaths, have given DAVID MORGAN more leads into local history, this time to the story of war-time bravery in 1944
On Monday, as a detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – the “Mounties” – led the Queen’s funeral procession up The Mall, they served as a reminder of the strong links between our countries.
The Doldorph family and Croydon have a connection to Canada, too.
People living and shopping in Old Town in the first part of the 20th Century, as well as attending what was then still known as the Parish Church, now Croydon Minster, will have been familiar with the Doldorph family name.
The Daldorphs lived at 51 Church Street. There they had a watchmakers and jewellery business, and the family lived above the shop. John Adolphus Christian Daldorph was the son of a Danish immigrant who set up the first Daldorph watchmakers in Upper Charles Street, Clerkenwell. Evidence of this family business in Clerkenwell can be found in the 1891 Kelly’s directory.
John, the Croydon-based Daldorph, was married in the Parish Church on August 1, 1906.
His bride was Helen Deacock, who had lived at 75 Waddon Park Avenue. At 22, she was 10 years younger than her husband. Her father, Edward, who signed the register, was described as a stationer.
The couple went on to have four children: Una born in 1907, Ida in 1911, Joan 1913 and Edward in 1922. John was to be a pillar of the local community, serving as churchwarden in the Parish Church during the Second World War. Two of his children served in the forces during the war. Una, a nurse, used her medical skills in a military setting. Edward, a mechanic, served in the Royal Air Force as an engineer.
It was John Daldorph’s nephew, another called John, who would live through a wartime episode of tragic sacrifice that was typical of so much of the conflict.
Nephew John joined the RAF, as had his father Roy in the 1920s. John was a flight sergeant and was transferred to 437 Squadron, the Royal Canadian Air Force, operating out of Blakehill in Wiltshire. The squadron’s main focus at the beginning of June 1944 was to support the D-Day landings.
In a DC-3 Dakota, John Daldorph had already flown missions on the first day of the landings as part of Operation Tonga, to tow troop-carrying gliders into the area around the Normandy city of Caen in the first hours of the allied invasion.
He took off again late in the evening of June 6 to drop further troops and supplies to the area. No sooner had the Dakota taken off, however, than they lost contact with their formation leader.
Daldorph’s co-pilot, Flight Officer Jones, decided to fly on independently.
This was always going to be risky. Shortly after reaching the French coast, their aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft shells and the Dakota caught fire. Arriving over the drop zone, the containers and paratroops were released.
With the fire spreading, the order was given by the pilot for the rest of the crew to abandon the aircraft. Unfortunately, the intercom wasn’t working properly and there was some confusion. In the end, only Daldorph and Flight Officer Williams, the navigation officer, escaped.
This tells only half the story though. Daldorph reported later that the pilot had every opportunity to escape the burning aircraft. Jones could have escaped through the pilot’s escape hatch at the same time as the crew jumped. He chose to stay at the controls ensuring that the Dakota flew on at a consistent height so that the crew who parachuted out stood a chance of survival.
Shortly after the two crew escaped the plane, it crashed into a field near the village of Bassenville and close to the town of Troarn in Calvados. The pilot’s body was found in the wreckage by villagers who ran to the crash site, along with the unconscious Warrant Officer Engelberg, the rear gunner. He had been wounded in the initial strike of anti-aircraft flak and was unable to escape the plane. He died soon after the crash.
In a subsequent inquiry, it was found that the containers to be dropped by the plane were still in the wreckage, too. The explosions from the flak had broken the release mechanism.
It was down to the selfless act of Flight Officer Jones in refusing to bail out that Daldorph and Williams survived.
In September 1944, an officer discovered Jones’ grave near a house owned by Mme Dohamel. He reported that the grave was in excellent condition, decorated with two pots of flowers and marked with a cross inscribed “Mort pour La France” and “Vive L’Angleterre.” In May 1946, Jones’ body was removed and interred in the British Military Cemetery in Ranville.
Uncle John left Croydon to spend his retirement years in Claro, Yorkshire, where he died in 1958.
Nephew John Daldorph would live into his nineties, dying in Enfield in 2014.
Edward Daldorph died in December 2021, aged 99.
Flight Officer Jones’ heroic sacrifice has been forgotten over the years but a campaign has been launched in Canada to retell the story of his selfless sacrifice so that modern generations can be made aware of it. Generations of Daldorphs will forever be grateful and the story should be passed down to their children, too.
Previous articles by David Morgan:
- Grimy Croydon collier who put the wind up an Archbishop
- The Victorian tax master who made Haling Cottage his home
- Mustard keen to unravel the mystery behind Minster memorial
- The church fire that consumed a thousand years of history
David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups.
If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page
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