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Armistice Day

While Allied armies were fighting their way across Europe in the Autumn of 1944 a small force of Royal Marines and Army commandos was preparing to land in the Albanian city of Saranda. Their task was to help the Albanian partisans, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, harass German forces as they retreated from Greece. They landed in September 1944 and spent the next month fighting with the partisans, who eventually liberated Tirana in November of that year.

They were not the first British soldiers to fight in Tirana. Following the occupation of Albania by the Italians, the Special Operations Executive helped finance, train and arm Albanian resistance movements. Eventually most of this support went to the partisans under Hoxha simply because theirs was the most effective force. However, Hoxha often chose to use his forces to fight against the nationalist resistance movement rather than to fight the Italians or Germans.

During the course of the Second World War 52 British and Commonwealth servicemen were killed in Albania. They are commemorated in the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery. This is the story of the Cemetery taken from the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Following the end of the war in Europe, an Army Graves Registration Unit entered Albania with the task of concentrating the remains of Commonwealth Servicemen, lost in the struggle to secure Albania freedom, into a site chosen in the capital, Tirana. However, due to the political situation in the country, this task could not be completed, though 52 sets of remains were recovered in the short time available. Eventually, in 1955, after repeated requests to enter the country were refused, the Commission took the decision to commemorate the 38 identified casualties on special memorials erected in Phaleron War Cemetery in Greece. This situation remained thus until 1994, when a change in the political situation in Albania allowed a Commission representative access for the first time. He discovered that the original individual burials had been moved by the Communist authorities to an unmarked collective grave located under a path near the university buildings in Tirana. At the beginning of 1995, the 38 special memorials were removed from Phaleron and re-erected as close as possible to the site of the mass grave, in an area designated the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery. In 1998, following a study of the Graves Registration unit files, it was possible for the Commission's records staff to confirm the identities of a further seven casualties previously buried in Tirana War Cemetery as unknowns.

The 45 known casualities are:

Lance Serjeant HERBERT AVEYARD, Age 29 Highland Light Infantry Killed 29/07/1944

Sergeant Major JAMES SIDNEY BAIN, 32 Royal Marines 09/10/1944

The Rev. GARETH BERNARD BANTING, 32 Royal Army Chaplains' Department 10/10/1944

Private ALEXANDER BARR, 29 Highland Light Infantry 29/07/1944

Sergeant GEORGE NEWCOMBE BROOKS, 24 RAF Volunteer Reserve 07/11/1940

Sergeant FRANCIS CECIL RUDOLPH BURLEFINGER, 26 RAF Volunteer Reserve 01/02/1944

Serjeant HAROLD VICTOR BUTTON, 21 Royal Tank Regiment 12/10/1944

Captain ALFRED CARELESS, 31 Royal Armoured Corps 20/10/1943

Private JOHN CASEY, 22 Highland Light Infantry 29/07/1944

Sergeant ERIC BORLASE CHILDS, 22 RAF 15/11/1940

Gunner ALFRED JOHN DOUGLAS CLARKE, 23 Royal Artillery 09/10/1944

Lieutenant JAMES ALBERT COYLE, Unknown Royal Artillery 09/10/1944

Flight Lieutenant RICHARD NIGEL CULLEN, 23 RAF 04/03/1941

Sergeant JAMES LEO DEVINE, 22 RAF Volunteer Reserve 01/02/1944

Flight Lieutenant JOHN GEORGE DOUGLAS, 26 RAF Volunteer Reserve 22/10/1944

Sergeant WILFRED ELLAM, 23 RAF 07/11/1940

Sergeant GEORGE GARDNER, 19 RAF Volunteer Reserve 01/02/1944

Corporal HAROLD GEE, 24 The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) 10/10/1944

Captain WILLIAM JENKIN HILES, Unknown Royal Marines 09/10/1944

Major GORDON EDWARD LAYZELL, 31 South Lancashire Regiment 02/02/1944

Captain MICHAEL STUART MACPHERSON, Unknown Royal Marines 09/10/1944

Serjeant JACK ERNEST MOORES, 37 Royal Norfolk Regiment 29/07/1944

Sergeant VICTOR JOHN MORGAN, 24 RAF Volunteer Reserve 07/11/1940

Sergeant DENNIS CHARLES MURRELL, Unknown RAF Volunteer Reserve 16/03/1941

Sergeant STANLEY NEWMAN, Unknown RAF (Auxiliary Air Force) 16/03/1941

Brigadier ARTHUR FREDERICK CRANE NICHOLLS, 33 Coldstream Guards 11/02/1944

Captain GEORGE ALEXANDER PARSONS, 23 Somerset Light Infantry 09/10/1944

Marine RONALD PINCHER, 19 Royal Marines 10/10/1944

Flight Sergeant DENNIS HILTON POTTER, 21 Royal Australian Air Force 01/02/1944

Marine GEORGE STEPHEN PRATT, 22 Royal Marines 09/10/1944

Corporal SIDNEY GEORGE ROBERTS, 29 Durham Light Infantry 22/12/1943

Signalman DAVID WILLIAM ROCKINGHAM, 21 Royal Corps of Signals 20/10/1943

Marine JAMES VALENTINE SALT, 20 Royal Marines 09/10/1944

Lieutenant ALAN MACDONALD SENNETT, 23 Highland Light Infantry 29/07/1944

Marine WILLIAM JAMES ST. ANGE, 24 Royal Marines 09/10/1944

Flying Officer RONALD EDWIN STANLEY, 21 RAF Volunteer Reserve 01/02/1944

Sergeant JOHN GEORGE STEWART, 24 RAF 15/11/1940

Corporal DONALD STOTT, 23 RAF 15/11/1940

Private NORMAN SWANNEY, 24 Highland Light Infantry 29/07/1944

Flight Sergeant EDWARD DRAKE STEELE TENNANT, 31 Royal Australian Air Force 01/02/1944

Sergeant WILLIAM TUBBERDY, 21 RAF 18/12/1940

Flight Sergeant DESMOND MAURICE TURNER, Unknown RAF Volunteer Reserve 19/03/1944

Warrant Officer PETER VICTOR WADDELL, 25 Royal Australian Air Force 30/03/1944

Captain PETER BECKWITH WHITEHOUSE, 26 Royal Engineers 09/10/1944

Flight Sergeant HAROLD WILLIAMS, 18 RAF Volunteer Reserve 20/10/1943


Anonymous said…
Alwyn, I was touched to find your blog. My father-in-law was named after Revd. Gareth Banting, who was a close friend of his father's at Selwyn College Cambridge. I last met the older gentleman in 2003 and Gareth was still much in his mind.
Thank you especially for your photographs of the Tirana cemetery.
I have now a favour to ask. Would it be possible to indicate which of the headstones belongs to Revd. Banting? ('Left side, row n, column x' etc.)
If you could, then I know that the family would be grateful. I could let you have my email address if you prefer.
Many thanks.
olli said…
Paul, thanks for getting in touch. I would be very happy to send you the information. Also, if you want to send me an email address I do have other, better quality, images of the cemetery, the surrounding area, and some of the idividual headstones. I don't have one of Rev Banting's headstone, but since I live only ten minutes from the site I can go back on a brighter day and take a picture of it.

I know you may not want to broadcast your email on a public forum like this, but you could take out a new free one and publish that. Oncw you get the photographs you could then cancel it.

In the unlikely event that you ever make it to Tirana I would be happy to show you around.
Anonymous said…
Many thanks. I have followed your suggestion and taken out I haven't been able to access it yet, but if it's possible then I would like to try that.
I was looking originally for any information concerning the story told in my wife's family concerning Revd. Banting's death. The story is that he was attempting to protect German prisoners who were about to be driven across a minefield by a British Sergeant. This was believed to have happened in North Africa, though my wife's grandfather (Revd Banting's friend) later told her that Italy was where he died. Unable to stop the atrocity, Revd. Banting is said to have insisted on accompanying the prisoners into the minefield, and to have been killed there.
I have always found the story hard to believe, partly because it's not something one would like to think about British troops, but also because an incident like that would be unheard of in North Africa where the war was fought with some chivalry and little hate, or even in Italy. I believe there is one similar alleged incident which is said to have taken place in Norway.
In Albania though: the partisan war in the Balkans was merciless and full of murder and atrocity. The Geneva Convention was not thought of by either side, it seems. Could Revd Banting have been trying to prevent an atrocity by Hoxha's partisans against the hated Germans, or by British Commandos unable to take prisoners somewhere up in the mountains? Some such incident seems much more possible.
The question also must be, what was the chaplain doing in action with Commandos in Albania?
At least now Gareth Banting's resting place is established. My wife's grandfather sadly died in 2004, but his widow would I know be happy to hear your news.
Sadly I think you're right, I'm unlikey to visit Albania, and though old Dr. Young travelled extensively in Eatern Europe (he was a musician and acedemic) I have never heard that he visited Albania.
Thank you again for all your help.
Joni said…
hello! I am an Albanian that stumbled upon your blog and i find it very interesting up to now. Anyway this summer i had the chance to go through the albanian riviera. If you are interested i have photos of the place called "The bay of the English" (Gjiri i Anglezit), a very small hidden place where it is thought that the British crew debarcated. if you are interested...
Anonymous said…
I wonder whether anyone has details about the war service and circumstances of death of Alan Macdonald Sennett, Lt. HLI, att. Commandos, who is commemorated on the Tirana memorial. He was my mother's second cousin.
He was born 16-9-1921 and educated at Harrow. His grandfather was Sir Richard Christopher Sennett, who was Sheriff of London 1923-24.
Miguel de AvendaƱo

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