Sapper John W Walsh

18 Jan 1943

Sapper John Wilfred Walsh was the son of John and Mary Walsh, of Stretford, Lancashire. He served with 9th Field Company (Airborne) Royal Engineers and took part in the ill-fated Op Freshman mission to sabotage the German development of an atomic bomb at the Vermock Heavy Water plant in Norway.

Piloted by Sgt Doig and S/Sgt Strathdee in Airspeed Horsa Glider Serial number DP-349 and towed by Halifax tugs from 38 Group RAF, the mission flew from RAF Skitten, a Coastal Command Airfield four miles North-west of Wick, Scotland. Onboard were men from 9th Field Coy (Airborne) RE and 261 Field Park Coy (Airborne) RE, under command of Lt Methven, who had volunteered for the operation.

Taking off at 1745hrs on 19 November 1942, the mission soon became hampered by severe weather conditions. As the aircraft neared their intended targets the glider and tug encountered dense fog northwest of Rjukan which they were unable to emerge from. Fuel was getting low and as both tug plane and glider started to collect ice, they rapidly lost altitude. The glider released but crash-landed at Fylgjesdalen, north of Stavanger, killing the two pilots and six of the Airborne Engineers onboard (later buried at Eiganes Churchyard, Stavanger).

Nine members of those onboard Glider DP-349 survived the crash, although all were wounded, four of them with serious injuries. After initially receiving medical help from Norwegian locals in a farmhouse, all survivors were soon imprisoned as POWs by the Gestapo and taken to the Lagårdsveien jail on 23 November. Those less severely wounded were sent on to Grini concentration camp. Those who remained in Gestapo hands at Lagårdsveien were killed on 24-25 November and dumped at sea. Their bodies were never recovered.

Once at Grini concentration camp the five survivors were kept in solitary confinement until 18 January 1943 when they were collected by the German security police and conducted to Trandum, where they were shot in accordance with a decree from Hitler ordering the executions of Special Forces prisoners.

Sapper Walsh was amongst those killed whilst a Prisoner of War on 18 January 1943, aged 21 years old. Their bodies were finally recovered in August 1945 and Sapper Walsh was buried with full military honours at Vestre Gravlund, Western Civil Cemetery in Oslo.

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John W Walsh

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Andrew Walsh said:
Sapper John Wilfred Walsh is my Great Uncle. Born in Salford to John and Mary Walsh he was the second child of four alongside older brother Frank and younger sisters Winifred and Mary. On telling his brother Frank (my Grandad) he had volunteered for Airborne Forces, or this mission in particular (not certain which as the story has been passed down), Frank replied 'what the bloody hell have you gone and done that for?'

Heartbroken by the death of his brother, he named my Dad John in his memory. Rememberance Sunday naturally became a very emotional day in the house, with Frank not ever really knowing properly what happened to his brother, something that is probably for the best with the truth being so horrific. Unfortunately I know very little more about my Great Uncle, just glad websites like this are keeping the memory and sacrifice of him and so many others alive.
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