Saturday 2 September 2017

The Lonely grave of Alfred Tizzard

           The Lonely grave of Alfred Tizzard.

Grave of Fl Sergent Alfred Tizzard from Littlehampton, Sussex with the great cliff fort, Dún Aengus, in the background.

In a lonely corner of the Cill Muirbhigh graveyard of Cnocán na mBan lies a well maintained grave with the distinctive headstone of a British commonwealth soldier.

Here is the final resting place of a young  English airman, Alfred Tizzard, whose body was discovered in
Galway Bay by two Aran Island fishermen in 1941.

His was just one of two bodies found after a R.A.F. seaplane, with a crew of nine, disappeared on April 21st, 1941. The other body came ashore in Donegal.

A Catalina Flying boat, similar to Alfred's, landing on Lough Erne, County Fermanagh.

Flight Sgt. Alfred Tizzard 1915-1941 (Photo thanks to his Gr. nephew Martin Tizzard)

Their Catalina Flying boat had been based in Scotland but had taken off from the flying boat base on Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. They were providing air cover for one of the great Atlantic convoys from North America which were keeping the Allied war effort going.
Much feared FW Condor which may have had a part in the loss of the Catalina

 Although their comrades had searched as best they could, no sign of them or their plane was found in the vastness of the North Atlantic.
 As they returned from their fruitless search, which extended as far south as Slyne Head, the Sunderland rescue plane came under attack from a German Focke-Wulf Condor but managed to fight it off.
Flying  Boat station on Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh. From where Alfred Tizzard and his comrades left on their last mission.

The commander of the Catalina was Flight Lieutenant Henry Demster Breese who was just 22 years of age. Lt.Breese had attended the burial at sea of his father just a few weeks previously. His father, Vice Air Marshall Charles Breese, was a very senior R.A.F. officer and had been killed in an air accident in Scotland. Charles had started out as a navy man and hence the burial at sea. His eldest son John was at the time a P.O.W. in Germany but would survive the war. His youngest son Henry and most of the Catalina crew would soon join him forever, beneath the waves.

The only other body recovered was that of the young  20 year old wireless operator, Flight Sergeant Horace Tann from Essex. He was recovered in early August by fishermen and is buried on the island of Cruit near Kincasla in Donegal.

Fl Sgt Horace Tann.
The Catalina would probably have flown out through the shortcut air corridor over Sligo and
Lough Erne Flying Boats during World War Two.
Donegal, which the technically neutral Irish government had secretly opened in January 1941 for Allied aircraft. The Catalina had a range of over 2,500 miles and was an important part of the protection of the great convoys from Canada and the United states, that were so vital to the war effort.

 By April 1941, what became known as the Battle of Britain was over although British cities were still being regularly bombed by the Luftwaffe. These were difficult days as the Soviets had yet to turn back the June 1941 German invasion and the United States would be outside the conflict until the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour, later that year.

  Alfred Tizzard came from a family of railway people and had qualified as a plumber before joining the Royal Air Force in 1937. He had qualified as an Air Gunner, just a few weeks after war broke out in September 1939. At twenty six, Alfred would have been a senior airman as many others who answered the call, were little more than boys.

We are reminded that a great favorite of the elderly Islanders was the late Captain Bill Wallace who, with Capt Hayden Lawford got the island air service, Aer Arann, off the ground in 1970. Bill had served in the R.A.F. during the war, as a bomber pilot and had twice survived being shot down. Bill had often stayed and visited at Billy Bogg's house in Cill Muirbhigh and would have been well aware of his fellow airman buried nearby. Bill had a great way of making nervous passengers feel safe and his own survival during the war was looked on by many as a sign from God.

Bill Wallace from Dublin, was one of the many non British personnel who joined the R.A.F. in the fight against fascism and Hitler. About 20% of the wartime Royal Air Force was made up of non nationals. During the Battle of Britain a large number of pilots were from Poland, New Zealand, Canada and Czechoslovakia with smaller numbers coming from other parts of the commonwealth and empire as well as parts of occupied Europe. 

Why the Catalina came down will never be known but the most likely explanation is that it had some form of mechanical failure or mishap. Enemy action could have been the cause but at this stage nobody will ever know. The Catalina, being American built, was not regarded by many in Britain as being as reliable as the other great W.W 2 seaplane, the Sunderland. The Sunderland was much more heavily fortified which of course made it a more dangerous aircraft to attack.

The incredibly long 24 hour patrols, with little sleep, along with the biting cold, might also have been a contributing factor. It's possible the crew made it into their life-rafts but nobody will ever know for sure. This was one of the initial flights in the recently purchased Catalinas and the crew had only just completed their training as they were more at home with the Belfast built Sunderlands.

Flight Sergeant Alfred Tizzard would have spent over four months lost at sea before, on the 9th of September 1941, two Cill Muirbhigh fishermen, Brian Peter Stephen Hernon  and Bartley Bhabba Hernon, found his badly decomposed body in their nets. There are many stories from around the coast  of bodies being left to the ocean but the men who found Alfred felt it was their God given duty to afford him a decent burial.

Led by Brian Peter Stephen Hernon, his crew-mate Bartley Bhabba Hernon, and with the help of the two Feeney Hernon brothers Tom, Bartley and others, they proceeded to bury the dead airman.
Tom Feeney Hernon (right), who helped bury Alfred. Seen here with the late Mikey McDonagh who would be himself lost at sea and never found.(Photo Áine Hernon)
Most of those involved in the burial were of the Hernon clan who were descended from two brothers who came to Aran at the end of the 18th century. At the time, it was often the practice to bury bodies like this in unconsecrated ground when the religion of the body was unknown. Although it is hard to understand this today, this was also the practice for suicide victims and unbaptised infants.

Brian Peter Stephen Hernon on the right. Taken around 1970 (Photo thanks to Áine Hernon)

This presented a problem for Brian as he knew full well that the Parish priest in Cill Rónáin, An tAthair Ó Cillín, would never allow Alfred to be buried inside the consecrated Catholic graveyard. Those of us who knew Brian will remember him as a free thinking man with a mind of his own. In truth, this is just another way of saying that he had a fierce stubborn streak.

As is often the case with men like Brian, there were two ways to get him to do something. The first was to ask him nicely which usually worked. The second way, which always worked, was to forbid him to do it.

Brian overcame the problem of the Parish priest raising an objection by simply not asking him and he and his Cill Muirbhigh neighbours laid Alfred to rest in a corner of the graveyard in the shadow of the great fort, Dún Aengus.

(We have recently been informed that Robert Gill of Cill Rónáin, played a part in having Alfred buried inside the graveyard walls. Robert was an ex Royal navy man and had bravely intervened to calm down the situation during the Black and Tan raid on the islands in 1920. He had donned his old uniform and possibly saved a man's life)

Shortly afterwards a fine wooden cross was made by Cill Rónáin shipwright, Robert's son, the late Coley Gill, which remained until the War Graves commission sent a headstone. The new headstone was transported back to Cill Muirbhigh in the 60s by one of the best men in Aran for old tales and island history, Dara Mullen.
Ships carpenter, the late Coley Gill, who made the first marker for Alfred's grave.

By all accounts the priest was very annoyed but he had no choice but to let Alfred rest in peace.

Well, not quite in peace.

A few years later an old man was to die in unusual circumstances which are really not relevant to the story but we will mention them anyway. (It never stopped us before). It is said he accepted a bet that he could eat a very large amount of fresh goat meat.
While he won the bet, it was to cost him his life.

As he had no close relatives, his neighbours gave him a great wake as is the custom on the islands, where the death of an old person is not regarded as a time for undue mourning.

Everything was going fine until the funeral arrived at the graveyard. When they got to the proposed grave, recently dug by the neighbours, the Parish priest declared that he would not allow his parishioner be buried beside Alfred. 

Perhaps the priest may have objected to his parishioner being buried beside a non Catholic or perhaps he might have objected to him being buried beside a British serviceman. Neither reason seems rational in the times we now live in but perhaps the real reason was that he now had a chance to reverse the defeat that Brian Peter Stephen  had inflicted on him a few years earlier.

The priest had a great reputation for piety but not so much for pity.
Indeed one old man described him to us as being "sinfully proud of his humility".
He had a great fear of dancing, music, communists, courting and dirty books.

The famous writer Liam
Fr. Killeen
O'Flaherty was the main target with regard to "dirty books"and "communism" and he was very hard on Liam's sister Delia, who was a local school teacher.

He appears to have believed that Delia should be her brother's keeper and had tried to force her  and her husband, schoolmaster Padraig Ó hEithir, from the island. 

If the men of Aran could be stubborn, it seems the women were just as determined and Delia and he were like the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.
 Delia had used a uniquely Catholic way of dealing with a clerical adversary by continuing to go to confessions to her tormentor. One can only imagine what she might have confessed about having occasional unchristian feelings.
Perhaps Delia and the priest played out an honorable draw.

The priest had instigated a lot of new processions and services which he enacted with great ceremony. Some say he was very hard on both his flock and his curates. In fairness to the man, all say that he was not  a man who hungered after money.

He had led a campaign against women wearing trousers and had preached about the biblical practice of stoning loose women. It backfired on him spectacularly when some children in Gort na gCapall, took him at his word and threw stones at two female tourists wearing trousers. 

The women turned out to be the wife and daughter of a very senior policeman and the Archbishop had to intervene to smooth things over. It is said that he was finally humiliated when some American female relations of his own, whom he was meeting at the pier, with half the island looking on,  marched down the gangway of the old ferry, S.S. Dún Aengus, wearing trousers.

The priest had also led a kind of a vendetta against an English woman, Elizabeth (Betty) Rivers who came to live , paint and write on the islands. 

Artist Elizabeth (Betty) Rivers 1903-1964 (N.L.I)

 Elizabeth was a writer and artist and at the time it was believed by many that artists, actors and writers spent their lives either committing sin or thinking about committing sin. As thinking about committing sin was regarded as a sin, it could be said that artistic types were in a constant state of sin.

In fairness, there probably wasn't a Parish priest in Ireland who could have slept easy, knowing that he had a popular, Protestant, female, trousered, English artist in his parish who had been publicly praised by one of her peers, Basil Ivan Rákóczi (1908–1979) as one of the finest exponents of the male nude.

The thought that some fine man of Aran might throw off  his woolen geansaí and homespuns and pose in his pelt for a female, English, Protestant, trouser wearing artist, must have been very unsettling.

Betty Rivers had been instrumental in introducing Muriel Gahan of the Irish shop in Dublin to the traditional island knitters and so helped greatly to promote this cottage industry. Most of her wood engravings and carvings were destroyed during the London blitz.

To get back to the story of the burial of the old man, the mourners were shocked at the priest's outburst and refusal to bury the old man beside Alfred.

 Picking up his spade, the main grave digger sprung into action.
Those who didn't know him well, assumed he was about to start digging a new grave. Those who did, knew better.

Walking up to the priest with the words "seo leat a Athair" (here you are Father) he invited him to dig a new grave himself. As he and his companions headed for the gate, the priest relented and called them back. The main gravedigger shortly after emigrated to Canada, which may help explain his courage in defying a priest.

 Needless to say no new grave was dug and although, like the vast, vast majority of the countless thousands buried in Cnocán na nBan, the old man has no marking on his last resting spot, in many ways he is marked by Alfred's fine headstone.

Perhaps we are a little hard on the priest as it is unfair to judge people from a different era and mindset by today's norms. He was perhaps just a man of his time but his brother John, who was also a priest, was said to have, like most Mayo people, a more relaxed "Live and let Live" attitude to life . The traits which some remember him for negatively were also on occasion of great benefit to the islanders as he fought hard to have roads and piers improved and lobbied to have more fuel provided for the local boats during wartime rationing.

We have also been told that he was instrumental in getting some Island children into further education at a time when most children's education ended at age fourteen.

In his youth he had shown great courage when in May 1921, he and another young curate, Fr. Michael Walsh, attended the dying during a battle in Mayo between a local rebel unit and a mixture of R.I.C and Tans. They would have had members of their flocks on both sides of the conflict as the R.I.C. was composed of about 80% Catholic in the lower ranks.
This was at what was known as the  Kilmeena ambush in Co. Mayo. The two priests put themselves in great danger as the battle was still raging as they attended the dying.

After leaving Aran in 1948, the priest would spend over thirty years in his next parish in Mayo where he is remembered fondly for his tireless work on behalf of his people. Like many a young zealot, the years may well have mellowed him.

In an ironic twist, Elizabeth Rivers was to be received into the Catholic church a few years before she died. She is still remembered on Árainn where many can still recall hearing of the great nights of music, singing, story telling and dancing at her Man of Aran cottage, overlooking Cill Muirbhigh bay.

Readers who ever find themselves in Connemara, can view a lovely stained glass window in the church at Cashel, which was designed by Betty Rivers.

 Cnocán na mBan or Relig Chill Mhuirbhigh with Betty River's thatched Man of Aran cottage in the distance.
Billy Bogg's house can be seen on the right. Alfred's grave at corner to the left nearest camera.

Elizabeth was a proud English woman and had returned to London to work as a fire warden during the blitz
Pat Mullen by Betty Rivers
as she felt it was her duty to help in the war effort. Most of her most important work was lost in the blitz. She died in 1964 at the age of sixty one and is buried in St Maelruain's church in Tallagh, Dublin. Her book 'Stranger on Aran' contains possibly the finest account ever written of an Aran currach crew fighting to save themselves and their two passengers as they made their way in huge seas from Cill Muirbhigh to Connemara. It rivals her great friend Pat Mullen's thrilling
currach scene accounts from his book, 'Man of Aran'.

The well known Welsh poet Andrew McNeillie spent a life changing year in Cill Muirbhigh in the late 60s which he later recalled in his beautiful 2001 book 'An Aran Keening'  He has recently written a lovely, haunting piece about Alfred, whose grave he passed on a daily basis, during his youthful days on the island. It is included in his 2014 book of poetry 'Winter Moorings' and is called 'An English Airman's Death Recalled'. 

Winter Moorings ISBN: 978 1 847772 40

The late Tom Feeney Hernon (nearest camera) , who helped to bury Alfred, enjoying a drink in 1972 with L to R Padraig McDonagh, Micheál Cheata Faherty and the publican Dara Kenny. (Photo by Hiroji Kubota and copyright to Magnum Photos.) 

Bartley Bhabba Hernon who, along with Brian Peter Stephen Hernon, found the body of Alfred Tizzard. Seen here with his wife Annie. (George Pickow collection, James Hardiman library,  N.U.I.G)
The last resting place in Cnocán na mBan of Brian Peter Stephen Hernon and his wife Kate Mullen.

 While driving some tourists around the island a few years ago, we happened to mention the story of Alfred to an old man who had told us and the other bus passengers of once serving in the Canadian Air Force. He asked us to stop at the grave and gave Alfred as ramrod straight a salute as his old frame could muster.

The custom at island funerals is for many mourners to disperse immediately to their family plots while the funeral moves towards the grave. A prayer is then said for the departed and as Alfred had no relations to pray for him, many islanders included him in their prayers. No matter how fine a headstone one has, everybody in a graveyard is equally dead.

Grave in Newport of Fr. Tomás Ó Cillín (Thomas Killeen). A man of his time with a great sense of duty.
 May he and all the others, Rest in Peace.
The story of the priest and the gravedigger was related to us at a sad island wake some years ago and we agreed to meet again when further details could be collected. This was not to be as just a few weeks later our informant was to join his many relations, Alfred, the Hernons and the old man in Relig Chill Mhuirbhigh.
Cecil and Emily Tizzard, Alfred's parents. Both died in 1964
 Alfred Tizzard's parents, Cecil and Emily,  asked that his name not be inscribed on the Littlehampton town war memorial. They held out that impossible hope that their young son might be alive as he was only identified by some documents. Up until her death in 1964, his mother Emily would regularly set a place at dinner for her beloved Alf. Recently, Alfred's niece, Heather Tizzard Perry, has had this rectified and his name has now been added to the Littlehampton war memorial.
Committee members at the War memorial at Littlehampton, Sussex. Alfred's home town.(Littlehampton Gazette)

It is said locally that some of his family visited Cill Muirbhigh after the war with a view to bringing Alfred home but when they saw his lovely, peaceful spot by the sea,  they decided to let him be.  Along with his family, Alfred also left behind a heartbroken fiancee, Ann Helps and whether she ever visited, is not known. 
Ann, like many young women from those times, would never marry but kept in touch with Alfred's family throughout her life. She had cherished Alfred's war medals and had arranged to have them passed on to his family after she died. The thought of the many years with Alfred she had missed out on and the unborn children they might have raised together, must have been with her all her life.

Sources and inspiration for this story include local lore, newspaper articles, the books An Aran Keening (2001) and Winter Moorings (2014) by Andrew McNeillie, Brendán ÓhEithir (2000) by Liam Mac Con Iomaire, Stones of Aran (1986 & 1995) by Tim Robinson, Stranger in Aran (1946) by Elizabeth Rivers, He was Galway (2016) by Jackie Uí Chionna, Catalinas and Sunderlands on Lough Erne  (2013) by Joe O'Loughlin,Culture of the Atlantic Edge (2017) by Nick Groom, N Allen, J Smith, a thesis by Katherine Kenny called Elizabeth Rivers as a Graphic Artist (2012) and pieces garnered over the years, some whose source identity we can remember and some not. 

Our great friend, the late Jim Street had an interest in both Aran and American history and had posted photos of Alfred's grave many years ago on the internet. Jim was an authority on many aspects of Aran life and in particular the life of Aran American Olympic athlete James Brendan Connolly and a victim of the sinking of the Lusitania, Nellie Woolven, who is buried in Cill Éinne cemetery. Jim died recently but was delighted to finally see a photo of Alfred, after all the years of wondering.

 We are grateful to Alfred's grandnephew Martin Tizzard, for kindly supplying  us with a number of photos. We are also grateful to Alfred's niece, Heather Perry and her brother Gerry Tizzard for helping keep Alfred's memory alive. We wish to thank Alfred's nephew Ron Johnstone for supplying some great background on Alfred and his life. Ron's mother Edith was Alfred's sister and his Dad Robert was one of Alfred's closest friends.

A name that was familiar to generations of Islanders can now be matched with a photo of a handsome young airman.
Fl. Sgt Alfred Tizzard, seen here in Littlehampton, with his young nephew, Ron Johnstone.
Ron has supplied invaluable information in the composing of this article. Many thanks.

(Michael Muldoon. September 2017)