Lancashire At War.co.uk

Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire

A National War Memorial to Coastal Forces, in Bury

Robert Whitehead (1823-1905), invented the self jet-propelled guided missile - the torpedo - see Wikipedia HERE for more information. The memorial has a torpedo model set on a stone base in memory of its inventor.

 

According to an article by Lynsey Southall in 'World War II - An account of local stories' (Newsquest Media Group): "The silver torpedo monument commemorates the 1,172 men who died defending the coast of Britain throughout the Second World War. Bury was chosen to receive the memorial because of the town's association with Robert Whitehead, who invented the self-propelled torpedo in the 19th Century. The weapon helped the Coastal Forces sink 800 enemy vessels - including 48 E Boats - between Dunkirk in 1940 to VE Day. The torpedo memorial was sited in Whitehead Gardens to remind people about the important role the Coastal Forces played".

 

"They were affectionately known as the Navy's 'little ships' and operated from Norway to the Aegeon. Motor torpedo boats, motor gunboats and motor launches of the Coastal Forces all served with distinction throughout the Second World War. Of 81 enemy midget submarines destroyed, 32 were claimed by the Coastal Forces. Having fired 11,069 of the torpedoes invented by Robert Whitehead, their percentage hits outstripped that of the submarine service. Also, 32 enemy aircraft were shot down and twice as many mine-laying operations were carried out."

 

"As a result, more than 3,000 decorations went to Coastal Forces, including two VCs. But such heroism had a price and by the war's end, 1,024 ratings had been killed along with 148 officers."

 

The memorial also carries the plaque of East Lancashire Coastal Forces.

 

But there is more....according to Robert Whitehead's memorial plaque: "His daughter Agatha Von Trapp was the Grandmother of the children whose escapades were featured in the film 'The Sound Of Music' ." According to Malcolm Howe: "He bequeathed wealth to his favourite granddaughter, Agathe Whitehead whose children were the von Trapp singers" ('From Torpedoes to the Sound of Music' Bolton School publication).

 

So we have a link between Bury, Coastal Forces, torpedoes and The Sound Of Music - fancy that.

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To see more about the Boer War Memorial in Whitehead Park - CLICK HERE

 

The information on this page cam from three main sources:

Wikipedia,

 

The pamphlet entitled 'From Torpedoes to the Sound Of Music' by Malcolm Howe (copyright Bolton School 2015) - which we purchased from Smithills Hall, or view online HERE

 

and an article by Lynsey Southall in 'World War II - An account of local stories' (Newsquest Media Group).

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The Whitehead Memorial Garden and Clock Tower (a Portland stone clock tower designed by noted architects Maxwell and Tuke) are in a prominent position in Bury, Lancashire, next to its Town Hall. The Whiteheads were a very powerful family in Bury and Bolton and this lasting memorial is proof. However, there is another memorial in the garden - a national memorial to the torpedo and those who used it to defend our shores - despite Bury being a long way from the coast.....and the Von Trapps are mentioned too!

LEFT: A plaque in memory of Robert Whitehead, inventor of the torpedo.

 

TOP RIGHT: The Whitehead Tower, Whitehead Gardens. It is dedicated to Walter Whitehead "An eminent surgeon and a native of Bury" by his brother Henry Whitehead - according to the plaques on the clock tower BELOW LEFT

 

RIGHT: A memorial to those Lancashire Fusiliers whio were killed in the Boar War, South Africa (1900 - 1902)

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Robert Whitehead never received any British honour for his invention, although he would receive honours from "France with the Legion d'Honneur, Prussia with the Order of the Prussian Crown, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Greece and the Ottoman Empire" (Malcolm Howe).

 

However, as well as the memorial in Whitehead Park, Bury there is a more lasting legacy in the Royal Navy: Naming the room for submarine training The Whitehead Room at their main training base at Devonport, Plymouth.

 

RIGHT: Courtesy of The Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum description of this photo is: The Whitehead Room on HMS Defiance.

 

"HMS DEFIANCE, TRAINING ESTABLISHMENT. SEPTEMBER 1940, HMS DEFIANCE, DEVONPORT, PLYMOUTH. THE ESTABLISHMENT IS MADE UP OF THREE OLD SHIPS, INCONSTANT, VULCAN, AND ANDROMEDA, THE LATTER RENAMED HMS DEFIANCE. THE SHIPS ARE MOORED TOGETHER AND CONSTITUTE THE TORPEDO AND MINE HANDLING TRAINING ESTABLISHMENT AND LIVING QUARTERS. MODERN METHODS OF WARFARE ARE TAUGHT AMIDST THESE ANCIENT SURROUNDINGS" (IWM)

Whitehead room on HMS Defiance