COLLECTING MILITARIA - WHY DO IT?

By
Alastair Cameron
Morecambe Militaria Society September 2002.

I cannot answer the question why an individual collects Militaria but I can speak for myself. I collect medals, militaria and documentation because through these items I feel that I am drawn closer to the person or action to which they are connected.

I have been interested in collecting militaria since I was a child; my imagination was stirred by the items that my father brought back from his time in the RAF in the last war. My father, Flight Lieutenant R G Cameron was an instructor in Canada and the UK and flew with 84 Squadron in India and South East Asia up to 1946. So from his badges, books and maps I become interested in RAF items as my main collecting area.

My interest waned a little in my twenties but it returned in my mid thirties with the purchase of a computer. With the Internet I have been able to look into the background of the men's medals and items I have collected through the years. The first in-depth research was on a Canadian Airman who was killed in December 1944. He was the son of the family who looked after my father in Winnipeg Canada. Flying Officer Vincent Andrew Sorrenti of 419 Squadron was shot down over Germany and his family knew very little of the circumstances of his death. His sister Margaret Wright gave me his medals when I was on Holiday in Canada in 1974. I started to investigate him in 1998 this research took me a great deal of time but I found out a large amount of information about him and the circumstances of his death. I managed to visit his grave in Germany when I was on holiday in Holland in 2001 and took photographs to be sent my aunt in Canada to show her the care and respect that is being shown to her bothers resting place.

Since then I have looked into the careers of many servicemen and women including my father, most of my projects have had a connection with the Royal Air Force. Of the local Lancaster people I have researched is LAC Jack Topless RAFVR, a man of note. He is the one with the bristling moustache on the left in the photograph. He was an Airman who served as a Radar Operator in World War Two. After returning to civilian life he dedicated his spare time to the youth of Lancaster through the Air Training Corps. His service during the conflict of 1939 -45, as a Radar Operator, started with the RAF in 1939; by 1941 he was stationed at a radar station on the south coast of England serving through the blitz. He served at radar units all over the UK until he was posted to serve on the continent after D-Day.

LAC Topless was posted to 15054 Forward Director Post (FDP); this unit was the Air Defence Radar of the forward units of the allied forces. He arrived at the unit only to be sent to Grave in Holland with 30 Corps, they were to provide radar cover for the Bridge over the Waal River. This important bridge was critical to the supply of material to the troops trying to link up with the airborne army at Arnhem. He along with others directed allied fighters onto the German aircraft that were trying to destroy this vital link.

He later became known as "The man they could not kill" after he was electrocuted when he was moving from the radar control room to another vehicle. He had become earthed because he had placed a foot on both vehicles and the total current of the transformers flowed through his body. The result was a few days in bed to recover but he had no serious after effects and returned to fully duty a few days afterwards.

15054 FDP next task was to track the V1 flying bombs targeted on Antwerp trying to destroy this important port. He was in the liberating forces of the secret testing base of the Luftwaffe at Travemunde in northern Germany. Here it is rumoured that the unit captured a High-ranking war criminal from one of the concentration camps this has never been confirmed. This base manufactured Focke Wulf 190 fighter aircraft and this was continued by the 15054 FDP. They swapped these aircraft with many other units throughout Germany and it became a very lucrative business. Travemunde also had a large fleet of small boats to service the flying boats based there; these became 15054's sailing club after the cessation of hostilities. The photograph shows Jack, again identified by his moustache second from the left; on one of these vessels out on the bay at Travemunde.

He returned to normal life in 1946 and felt he could offer his services to the ATC. He joined 345 Squadron in Lancaster in 1961 when he moved here with on promotion with Burton's the Tailors with whom he was employed. He eventually became the Commanding officer with the rank of Acting Flying Officer. He served there until 1978 and he became Chairman of the friends of the Squadron after his retirement.

At one of the meetings he was talking to another committee member, the subject of the RAF and the war came up. The other gentleman was Flight Lieutenant (rtd.) Ron Meadows who flew Spitfires during the war. One of Ron's missions turned out to be guarding the bridge at Grave. It turned out these two men possibly spoke to each other some 40 years before and knew each other for some time but didn't realise that they served together some 15000 feet apart. F/O Topless was awarded the Cadet Forces Medal and Bar for his services to the RAFVR (T), this medal along with those from his service in 1939-45 are now in my procession and lead to my investigations on his service career.

Jack Topless died in November 1998 after along fight with illness but is fondly remembered to this day by all whom knew him.

My research on Acting F/O J E S Topliss RAFVR (T) was greatly assisted by very kind people who remembered even small details on the people he served with many years before. To this end I thank the following: -

F/Lt Peasgood and other committee members of 345 Squadron ATC
Mr M Fletcher (ex LAC 15054 FDP
Mr I Brown
RAF Innsworth
RAF Commands Internet Website and its contributors.
Mr R Meadows (F/Lt rtd).

The research of "The Man behind the medals" is a difficult matter, if the individual lost his life it is possible to find out a reasonable amount of information about "The Man". Also if the individual survived the conflict and is agreeable, his records are available from the services but the records for Airmen and NCO's are very sparse indeed. The person usually tells you all he can about his service but that can bring back sad memories and they may be reluctant to talk about those in that case. So important details could be missed out of his history but remember the history belongs to them ensure that you don't upset them if possible.

Their friends and service colleagues can give you information but you have to find them, this is a long difficult task and then you hope they too are not hurt by your questions about the "Man". If there is no longer anyone left who is related to the subject of your search, you tend to hit a brick wall of official silence. The Data Protection Act prevents the services releasing information to anyone not related to the person being researched. So even though the details are there you cannot get to see them, a service number can only give you approximately when and where he joined up. It does not tell you anything about his service career or with whom or where he served. My advice is always be polite and courteous and most people will help you in your search. They too can turn out to be interesting in their own right and will even let you research their service life too.

This to me is the appeal of collecting militaria; you meet interesting people and discover such a varied amount of information on your subject that you feel you are part of their history too.

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