Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Fallen in War - Francis Fasson, The Man Who Unknowingly Helped Break Enigma

This memorial plaque can be found in the church in the tiny village of Bedrule. It perhaps, doesn't tell the full story of what Francis Fasson achieved, and what his actions eventually led to.

Francis Antony Blair Fasson was born on 17 July 1913 in the village of Lanton, Roxburghshire.  After attending Jedburgh Grammar School, on 6 September 1930, he enlisted in the Royal Navy, rising through the ranks, as well as being attached to the Royal Air Force in order to train as a pilot.  On returning to the Navy in 1936 he was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.

Fasson had already seen action onboard HMS Hostile, in 1939, at the first Battle of Narvik, which was part of the Norwegian Campaign. But it was whilst onboard HMS Petard that his actions, along with two other colleagues, helped in breaking into possibly the most guarded secret of the Second World War - the Enigma Machine, and in particular Shark, the codename given to the German U-Boat Enigmas.

The Enigma Story

Kriegsmarine Enigma

The actual Enigma story began in the 1920’s, when the German Military started using the Enigma machine to send coded message.  Thanks to links with German engineering industries, the Polish, in 1932, were one of the first to crack the Enigma codes, and their Cipher Bureau was subsequently able to reconstruct the Enigma machines.  This meant that between 1933 and 1938, the Polish were able to read all messages sent by the German Wehrmacht.

Government Code & Cypher School, Bletchley Park

With war looming, the Poles took the decision to share their Enigma secret with the French and the British Military Intelligence.  As a result, the first ever Government Code and Cypher School was established, at Bletchley Park, in Buckinghamshire, with the first codes broken during the 1940 Norwegian Campaign.

The Enigma machine worked by allowing an operator to type in a message, then by using the 3 rotors, scramble the message to produce different letters.  These would then by sent via morse code to a recipient.  All that the recipient had to do to read the message,  was to set their Enigma machine to the same rotor settings, type is the letters and produce the original text.

During the War, the Atlantic convoys, brought over large amounts of food and provisions, however these convoys were in great peril from the German U-boats that would pursue them.  In March 1941, Enigma machines, and more importantly the Codebooks, were captured from a German Trawler, the Krebs.  This lead to Bletchley Park being able to read all U-Boat messages.

Unfortunately this success did not last, with the German Navy becoming more and more suspicious that the Enigma code had been broken.  Therefore, they introduced, to their U-Boats, a fourth rotor, thus blacking out Bletchley Park, and rendering the Allied Convoys in extreme danger again.

Act of Courage

HMS Petard

On 30 October 1942, HMS Petard, and other British destroyers, were in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, when they pursued U-559, 70 miles north of the Nile Delta.

After spending nearly 16 hours being pursued and depth charged, U-559’s Commander took the decision to scuttle the submarine.  As the remainder of his crew disembarked from the submarine, Lieutenant Fasson, Able Seaman Colin Grazier and Canteen Assistant Tommy Brown dived into the sea and swam to board U-559.  With Tommy Brown remaining on top, both Fasson and Grazier went into the stricken submarine and were able to retrieve an Enigma Machine, the Short Signal Weather Codes and the Short Signal Codebook.  They passed these to Tommy Brown.  Whilst going back down again, the submarine finally started to sink, taking with it Francis Fasson and Colin Grazier.

The items that they manage to save from U-559, were sent to Bletchley Park, who were able to use them to get back into Shark, the German U-Boat Enigma.

Unfortunately Francis Fasson would never know that his actions helped save so many lives.  Indeed Sir Winston Churchill is quoted as saying to King George VI that “It was thanks to ULTRA that we won the war”; ULTRA being the code name for all intelligence gleamed from the Enigma.

As a direct result of their actions, both Francis Fasson and Colin Grazier were both awarded the George Cross, the Citation of which reads:

“The King has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous aware of the George Cross to:- Lieutenant Anthony Blair Fasson, Royal Navy.  Able Seaman Colin Grazier, P/SSX.25550 – for outstanding bravery and steadfast devotion to duty in the face of danger." 

Tommy Brown was awarded the George Medal. 

Francis Fasson’s George Cross medal now resides within the National War Museum, at Edinburgh Castle.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

"For Our Tomorrow They Gave Their Today"

I can only imagine that it is down to the Centenary of the beginning of the First World War, but lately whilst driving around the Borders, I have noticed many churches having a green Commonwealth War Graves sign at their entrance. After seeing these quite a few times, I made a point of stopping and going into one which then lead onto others.

Having had a keen interest in, mainly, the Second World War, and having been to War Graves in Europe, I was still amazed that there are so many Commonwealth War Graves in this country, and indeed within the Scottish Borders.

What has always struck me, even when I have visited Commonwealth War Graves in Belgium and France, is how the headstones are so simple, yet powerful at the same time, and always beautifully kept.

Andrew John Hogarth, born in 1886 was a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, 20th Reserve Battery.  Their responsibility was for howitzers and medium calibre guns, and were normally deployed close to the front line.  Unfortunately I have yet to find out what injuries he sucumbed to.

John Fraser Young, was only 20 when he died.  He was a Private in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers.  He was badly injuried, I believe at Gallipoli, Egypt in 1917 and was discharged from the Army as a result, but sucummed to his injuries on 20 June 1918.

Having found that there were numerous Commonwealth War Graves in the small hamlet of Fogo, near to Duns, I went and was amazed to find that there were 16 of them, but the majority were not British.  There were graves from Canada, Australia and also New Zealand.  A quick search on-line also turned up that until the 1967, there had also been graves for 3 German airmen from World War 2, but were exhumed and re-buried at the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase, in Staffordshire.

Fogo Church Cemetry

Pilot John Morris, was with the Canadian Royal Airforce, when his plane crashed
near to Greenwood Farm, Reston on 24 October 1942.  


Monday, 13 October 2014

From Nags to Queens, There are Signs for Everything

Where would we be without signs?  They help us in everyday life, but they can also be rather fun!

Melrose is famous for its Abbey, so it comes as no surprise that they named
a street after it.
Most Border towns have their town crest on all
street names, as can be seen above on the right hand side.

This is the sign from the butchers in Lauder.

I find this sign fairly stands out.  Its on the main roadway
through Lauder.

I found this whilst out walking at 
Sorrowlessfield near Earlston.
This is a place I regularly walk, but have
never seen this before, or can find it since.
I'm sure there must be a story to this name, but as yet I've been
unable to come across anything.  This is in Jedburgh,
and some believe it may have been the name of an
Inn, of which there were apparently many in
Jedburgh in years gone by.

As can be seen in the picture, this hotel in Kelso, was
established in 1725, making it one of the
Scottish Borders oldest hotels.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Leafer Peeper Season

There is nothing better than on a crisp autumn day to go for a walk & kick up leaves.  Certainly takes me back to my childhood, walking through the park doing just that.  With the leaves starting to change, it gives a new look and vibrancy to the Border countryside.

This is taken in my garden, of a Japanese Maple tree.
Unfortunately the day after this was taken
the leaves all fell off.

There are woods near to where we live called
Speedies Wood.  I love the carpet of leaves here.

Just a week ago this field was still in crop.  Now its all
been harvested.  The hill behind is the Blackhill, near
to Earlston, where the annual Blackhill
Race is run.

Another taken from the garden.  The leaves have just started to change
colour, hence the difference shades you can see.

Whilst in the small village of Kirk Yetholm, I came across these bright
red apples.

Even on a dull day, the colours of the trees brighten the landscape up!

Bright red Rowan Tree in full bloom.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

From Cottages To Castles

The Scottish Borders has some amazing houses.  From small quaint cosy cottages, to big imposing mansions, the Scottish Borders has it all.  Many of these are set in the stunning countryside that the Scottish Borders offers.

Cowdenknowes house near to Earlston, is privately owned.
It sits nestled underneath the Blackhill and is surrounded by
amazing trees, which as the picture shows are just starting
to change colour.

The Clockhouse cottage is on the Cowdenknowes Estate.
It's a self catering property that is set away from the hustle
and bustle of everyday life where you can just relax
 in the beautiful countryside.

This manse can be found in the pretty little village of Linton.
It adjoins the church there.

Whilst wandering through the town of Kelso, I cam across
this cottage.  It was part of a row of cottages all with
cobbles to the front.

There are only a handful of thatched cottages in the
Scottish Borders, and this one can be found in the
village of Town Yetholm.

I have to say I am somewhat biased about this house.  Its the
Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course, but the main hotel is just

Friday, 12 September 2014

Water Water Everywhere, But How To Get Across? Bridges of Course!

Bridges are more than just a way of getting from A to B.  The Scottish Borders have some amazing ones, that do make you wonder how on earth they were built, especially in the days when there was not the technology that we have today.

In the Scottish Borders, there are two main rivers - The Tweed and The Teviot.  Over the years they have been the cause of some amazing photography.

A very iconic bridge - Leaderfoot Bridge.  When the railway was still running in the Scottish Borders, this was one route over the River Tweed.  (Picture courtesy of Susan Donaldson)

These two pictures are of Craigsford Bridge, which crosses the River Leader, near Earlston.  The top one was taken only a couple of days ago & shows how dry the river has become this summer.  The second one was taken in 2012 after torrential rain.  It only took a couple of hours for the river to get this high.

A little gem of a bridge, is near to Cowdenknowes House, near Earlston.  It's on part of the Jubilee Walk.

A nice calm tranquil scene in Wilton Lodge Park in Hawick, with a bridge in the background crossing the River Teviot.

This picture and the one below are of the same bridge, crossing the River Teviot in Hawick but taken in different decades.  This one was in the 1970's and shows the old Turnbull Dyers Chimney, an iconic landmark in Hawick, that is sadly no longer there.

Believe this one was in the 1980's.  

The Chain bridge that crosses the River Tweed near to Gattonside, near Melrose.  It was opened on 26 October 1826, with conditions being that only 8 people were allowed to be on the bridge at any one time.  The hills in the background are two of the three Eildon Hills.

 "Auld Stane Brig" that collapsed in Selkirk following heavy flooding. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Making an Entrance

 There is so much more to the Scottish Borders than you might first imagine.  Its full of rolling hills and amazing landscapes.  But hidden behind all that are some amazing views, treasures and buildings.

You can walk or drive past somewhere and all of a sudden you see something for the first time, even though its been there for decades or longer!

To start off my first blog, I thought I would share some pictures that make an entrance to buildings, churches and houses, just as this is making an entrance to the world of Blogging.

I hope you enjoy.

A rather plain looking church door entrance to Bedrule Church, hides the fact that within is a plaque to Francis Fasson.  He was killed whilst retrieving the Enigma codebooks from an U-boat (U-559) that eventually sunk with him still onboard.  These codes were used to decipher the Enigma Navy machine (Shark) at Bletchley Park during WW2.

The old entrance to the Bridgewell Jail in Jedburgh.

Ornate entrance Gate to Bowden Church

Entrance Gate to Bowhill near Selkirk.  This is owned and lived in by the 
Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch

These two pictures are taken of the main entrance gate to Floors Castle, Kelso.  This is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe.  
The detailing directly above the gates is of the family crest.

Earlston Paths Group, have constructed many walks around Earlston.  This is their last one which runs from Earlston, along side the River Leader to Leaderfoot. 
 It coincided with the Diamond Jubilee, hence the title.