Elspeth Henderson was one of the first three women in Britain to be awarded the Military Medal, winning it for refusing to leave her post in the operations room at Biggin Hill after it took a direct hit during a German bombing raid. Prior to that she had been entombed in the Waaf shelter, returning to work immediately after being released.
Many thanks to Headstream and Yesterday for providing these pictures, which come from their Heroes of Biggin Hill, broadcast for the first time on 12 August 2010.
As lockdown restrictions start to ease, join in the fun at Biggin Hill Memorial Museum this May Half Term with…
Biggin Hill Memorial Museum
Main Road, Kent TN16 3EJ
Telephone: 01959 422414
Registered Charity no.1162645
Scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow
On 21 June 1919 the crews of the German High Seas Fleet, interned at Scapa Flow, Orkney, took advantage of lax security to scuttle the entire fleet before their ships could be handed over to the British under the terms of the Versailles peace treaty.
This action, following the momentous surrender of the German Fleet in the Firth of the Forth in November 1918, was the dramatic and bitter conclusion of the First World War.
The Scottish setting - at the Royal Navy's key naval base - demonstrates the strategic importance of Scotland in the naval rivalry between Great Britain and Germany in two world wars.
This painting is an eyewitness account of the scuttling of the Fleet - there are few photographs recording the scene. The artist, Bernard Gribble, had earlier witnessed the Fleet's dramatic entry into the Forth and was present by chance as the German crews sunk their own ships.
Could this be the Bible present by the family of Sergeant Helen Turner M.M. that can be seen on the lectern in the RAF Chapel at Hawkinge?
The Kent Battle of Britain Museum
Another find for Dave from the Kent Battle of Britain Museum Trust at Hawkinge today, Tuesday 19th January 2021, was this photograph of Chapel of St. Hugh of Lincoln, at RAF station, Hawkinge and was taken around 1955.
What caught Dave's eye is the bible on the lectern on the left hand side of the Chapel and the possibility that it could one the very one that the family of Sergeant Helen Turner M.M. presented the Chapel after her death on 10th October 1953.
What do you think? Could it be the very same bible? The dates appear to tie in nicely too?
Here's some more information about the Bible and the amazingly courageous Sgt. Helen Turner M.M.
The bible was presented to the Museum on Sunday 12th July 2020 by Margaret Wilmot, Secretary of the Friends of St. George’s RAF Chapel, Biggin Hill and Verger of the Chapel. The heavy Bible has an inscription inside that it was ‘present to the Chapel of St. Hugh of Lincoln, on the RAF station, Hawkinge.’ The Chapel, formerly the Parachute Store during the Second World War, was situated in what is now the car park and forecourt of the next-door neighbours and friends, the Hawkinge Vehicle Services. (Post war RAF Hawkinge had become a WAAF Technical Training Unit, which ran courses on drill and administration for other ranks and refresher courses for WAAF officers).
When the Bible was presented to Dave you can only imagine his surprise when he opened the bible and saw the inscription that it had been present to the Chapel at Hawkinge in memory of ‘Sergeant Helen Turner M.M. (later Mrs H. E. Thomson)! One of the first three WAAF’s to be awarded the Military Medal and one of only six to have received such recognition during the Second World War!
On 2nd November 1940 it was announced that Sergeant Joan Eugene Mortimer, Flight Officer Elspeth Candish Henderson and Sergeant Helen Emily Turner had each been awarded the Military Medal for their ‘courage and example of a high order.’
They were stationed at RAF Biggin Hill in Kent which suffered many heavy attacks during the summer of 1940. There was a devastating attack on 30th August 1940 in which 39 people were killed. The next morning, those who had survived reported for duty as usual, at the start of a day that would see further air raids.
Sergeant Joan Mortimer, Flight Officer Elspeth Henderson and Sergeant Helen Turner were all WAAF teleprinter operators who stayed at their posts during the heavy Luftwaffe attacks on 1st September. Elspeth Henderson continued her work keeping in contact with Fighter Command Headquarters, Uxbridge, while the raid was on. She carried on even after she was knocked to the ground as the operations room where she was working took a direct hit. Helen Turner was the switchboard operator and also kept working as the building was hit and bombs fell and exploded nearby. It was only when a fire broke out and they were ordered to leave that the two women finally abandoned their posts escaping through a blown-out window.
Sergeant Joan Mortimer was in the armoury when the air raid started. Although surrounded by several tons of high explosive, she remained at her telephone switchboard relaying messages to the defence posts around the airfield. Mortimer then picked up a bundle of red flags and hurried out to mark the numerous unexploded bombs scattered around the area. Even when one went off close by, she carried on.
The Commanding Officer of RAF Biggin Hill said: ‘These three girls have shown amazing pluck.’
Three roads were named after these incredible ladies in Biggin Hill post war:
Joan Elizabeth Mortimer 1912 - 1997
Elspeth Candlish Henderson 1913 - 2006
Helen Emily Turner 1892 – 1953
Helen Emily Turner was born on 27th January 1892 at Holborn, the daughter of Charles John and Alice Jane Turner. Sadly, her father died in 1898. In 1900 her mother remarried Alfred Lloyd Lack. In 1915 Alfred enlisted in the Royal Engineers and sadly passed in 1919. In 1939 it is recorded that Helen E. Turner was a WAAF telephonist Air Ministry and lived at 93 St. John’s Road, Harrogate. After the war she married Ernest Thomson in 1946 but sadly died on 10th October 1953 in the St. Anthony’s Hospital, Cheam, Surrey. At the time of her death she was living at 74 Broxholm Road, West Norwood, Surrey.
(Thanks to Museum Volunteer, David Hertz’s for researching and uncovering the family story of Helen E. Turner)
Please 'like' and 'share' the incredible story of these three amazing WAAF's.
Download the 2021-2022 schedule.. Read More
The city of Henderson Nevada is one of the great untold stories of western expansion. A city built from the imagination of founders who saw potential in the natural resources and uncommon beauty of the landscape and sky, Henderson has a proud and dynamic history. From the founding of Basic Magnesium, Incorporated (BMI) in 1941, a plant that supplied much-needed magnesium ingots to the WWII effort, to its emergence today as the second largest city in Nevada, Henderson has always been ‘a place to call home.’
The Henderson Historical Society (HHS) is a gathering of like-minded individuals who share a deep respect for the city’s history and are actively engaged in protecting the stories, photos, and folklore from Henderson’s past. A virtual, online association, the HHS provides a place for supporters to explore the character, charm, and events that built this great city.
Supported by our Membership, an enthusiastic cadre of volunteers known as the Friends of the HHS, and a variety of Projects & Events, and educational outreach, the HSS provides a unique opportunity to discover the remarkable history of Henderson and the city’s contribution to the growth and development of Nevada.
Our Mission: To foster public awareness and pride and to preserve the history of Henderson, Nevada for future generations.
10 Inspiring Stories Of Bravery During The Battle Of Britain
The Battle of Britain called for incredible feats of bravery. The persistent, destructive and targeted German aerial attacks during the summer of 1940 placed those involved in Britain's defence in huge danger.
People who showed incredible bravery in withstanding the threat to Britain were often recognised with gallantry awards. Military Medals (MMs), Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFCs), Distinguished Service Orders (DSOs), George Medals (GMs) and even Victoria Crosses (VCs) were awarded to those who had displayed unflinching courage and determination during the Battle of Britain.
The types of bravery displayed varied. Strong leadership, a determination to defeat the enemy, self-sacrifice, and the risking of one's life for others were all rewarded. Those who went above and beyond the call of duty during this intense period of almost constant attack played a vital role in keeping the Royal Air Force (RAF) – and Britain – in the war. Here are ten examples of outstanding bravery from men and women during the Battle of Britain.
In November 1940, three women of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) were awarded 50% of all the Military Medals (MM) received by members of that service during the Second World War. They were stationed at RAF Biggin Hill in Kent, which suffered some of the worst air raids during the Battle of Britain. In a devastating attack on 30 August, 39 people were killed. The next morning, those who had survived reported for duty as usual, at the start of a day that would see further air raids.
Sergeant Joan Mortimer, Flight Officer Elspeth Henderson and Sergeant Helen Turner (pictured here) were all WAAF teleprinter operators who stayed at their posts during the heavy Luftwaffe (German Air Force) attacks on 1 September. Elspeth Henderson continued her work keeping in contact with Fighter Command Headquarters, Uxbridge while the raid was on. She carried on even after she was knocked to the ground as the operations room where she was working took a direct hit. Helen Turner was the switchboard operator and also kept working as the building was hit and bombs fell nearby. It was only when a fire broke out and they were ordered to leave that the two women finally abandoned their posts.
Sergeant Joan Mortimer was in the armoury when the air raid started. Although surrounded by several tons of high explosive, she remained at her telephone switchboard relaying messages to the defence posts around the airfield. Mortimer then picked up a bundle of red flags and hurried out to mark the numerous unexploded bombs scattered around the area. Even when one went off close by, she carried on. For the bravery all three WAAFs displayed in their determination to carry out their duties during such danger, each was awarded a Military Medal in November 1940.
On 15 September 1940, Flight Sergeant John Hannah was the wireless operator and air gunner in a Hampden bomber that was carrying out a raid on German invasion barges at Antwerp, Belgium. After releasing its bombs, the Hampden quickly came under attack from anti-aircraft guns. It took a direct hit, which started a fierce fire that soon engulfed the whole fuselage.
Gunner George James bailed out after the floor melted beneath him in the intense heat. Surrounded by flames, Hannah would have been justified in following him. But instead he began trying to put out the fire with the aircraft’s two fire extinguishers. When those were empty, he used his log book and then his own hands to stop the spread of the blaze. He worked for ten minutes in the blistering heat, as ammunition exploded around him and another member of the crew bailed out of the stricken aircraft.
Hannah managed to stop the fire, but suffered burns to his eyes and face in the process. He then crawled through to the pilot, Connor, to tell him the inferno was out. On discovering they were the only two left on board, Hannah took over the navigation while Connor flew the badly-damaged bomber (pictured here) back to their base.
Hannah was taken to hospital for emergency treatment where he learned on 1 October that he had been awarded a Victoria Cross (VC), the highest decoration for gallantry, for his incredible bravery. He was just 18 years old at the time. Hannah recovered and remained in the RAF, but contracted tuberculosis and was discharged in 1942. He died just five years later and is buried in Leicester.
Jonathan Riley-Smith obituary
From the start of the new century, the Crusades have gained more intense contemporary resonance than for many centuries past. Jonathan Riley-Smith, who has died aged 78, was the subject’s pre-eminent scholar, his research focusing on the beliefs that suddenly, at the end of the 11th century, prompted armies of westerners to attempt to conquer the Holy Land, and to pull off against apparently insurmountable odds what was seen as a miracle: a divine intervention in the affairs of the world comparable to the incarnation of Christ.
What motivated thousands of well-heeled French, English, German and Italian laymen to walk away from their daily existences and risk everything, including life itself, at the other end of the known world? How did the papacy justify such a radical – indeed, subversive – innovation in terms of Christian theology? How was this extraordinary concatenation of ideas and events moulded into an institutional structure to sustain the territorial consequences of this transformation in geopolitics? How was it then deployed to legitimise Christian violence elsewhere?
Jonathan Riley-Smith was a founder member, and later president, of the Society for the History of the Crusades and the Latin East
Some German and French historians had addressed some of these questions, but Riley-Smith answered them with an unprecedented clarity and directness, founded on a far wider and more systematic reading of theology and canon law as well as of narrative sources and documents. His primary interest was always what people thought, whether the inchoate spiritual fervour of illiterate lay Crusaders, or the elaborate theological and legal contortions of popes and their advisers, or popularised versions of the latter, devised by Crusade preachers, which so successfully aroused the former. His devout Catholic faith gave him a clear insight into the mentality, but did not in any sense make him an apologist.
For the first time in the middle ages, fighting – that quintessential lay aristocratic activity – ceased to be a sinful necessity in a fallen world, and became instead an expression of devoted and meritorious service to Christ as lord. It was an entrance ticket to heaven, issued by the pope on Christ’s behalf.
Crusading became a manifestation of lay piety, of Christian love, as the territory sanctified by Christ’s terrestrial presence – Christ’s very patrimony – was retaken from the infidel and defended in his name. The traditional metaphor of the monk as soldier fighting in Christ’s cause through prayer was actualised.
In my favourite Riley-Smith book – The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (1986) – he showed how the diffuse elements in the original proclamation of an armed pilgrimage by Pope Urban II in 1095 were fused and transformed in the aftermath of the taking of Jerusalem in 1099 by the historians who wrote accounts of the triumph of a lay monastery on the march. It was this interpretation that was adopted by subsequent popes. The First Crusaders, 1095-1131 (1997) meticulously tracked down every identifiable participant, and sought to reconstruct his likely motives.
Riley-Smith’s arguments had already been sketched out over a much longer timescale in his trenchant What Were the Crusades? (1977 4th edition 2009), and in a seminal essay with the characteristically provocative title Crusading As an Act of Love (1980). The Knights of St John in Jerusalem and Cyprus, c.1050-1310 (1967 2nd edition 2012) dealt with the subject of his doctoral research, the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, one of the orders of soldier monks that crusading engendered. The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174-1277 (1973 2nd edition 2002) showed how the system of western feudal law was imported into the newly established kingdom of Jerusalem by the settler nobility.
There were many more books on the same and similar themes, which tapped into the wider public interest that Riley-Smith had been a leading light in promoting. This August he launched a massive internet calendar of the charters and other legal documents of the Latin East.
A founder member, and later president, of the Society for the History of the Crusades and the Latin East, he became familiar on television and radio. As director of studies in history at Queens’ College, Cambridge (1972-78), he inspired some of us to become medievalists. From being professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London (1978-94) he returned to Cambridge as professor of ecclesiastical history, at Emmanuel College (1994-2005).
Born in Harrogate, he was the son of William Riley-Smith and his wife, Elspeth (nee Craik Henderson). The Riley-Smith family had prospered from its involvement in the Yorkshire firm of John Smith’s Brewery. From Eton College, Jonathan went to Trinity College, Cambridge. As an undergraduate, he spent a lot of time at the racecourse at Newmarket, but less conventionally acquired for himself a copy of the massive 19th-century French edition of the crusading chroniclers. He had found his vocation.
After graduating in 1960, he embarked on research. At the time, Sir Steven Runciman’s three-volume history of the Crusades, 1951-54, was the latest word, at least in Anglophone scholarship. Riley-Smith developed an approach that surpassed its mellifluous narrative, by focusing on what legitimated Crusades and motivated Crusaders. His first lecturing post was at the University of St Andrews (1964-72).
As a companion, he was enthusiastic, forceful, funny, direct, sympathetic, perceptive, old-fashioned (he was forever enveloped in a miasma of pipe smoke, and latterly snuff) and courageous. He evinced a boundless generosity of spirit.
In 1968 he married Louise Field, a portrait painter. She survives him, as do their children, Toby, Tammy and Polly.
Jonathan Simon Christopher Riley-Smith, historian, born 27 June 1938 died 13 September 2016
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Bentley Priory Museum is an Independent Museum and registered charity (1115243). Read about our Royal opening in 2013
Local History Collection
Search digitized materials related to the history of Henderson. All items can be viewed online and most can be downloaded.
Frequently Asked Questions
The digital archives can be accessed by clicking here. They're free to access, and you do not need to be a patron of the Henderson Libraries to browse our content online. All you need is Internet access. There are over 12,000 items to view including photographs, newspapers, scrapbooks, directories, and more!
Yes! Henderson Libraries accepts donations of local historical significance. We are particularly interested in yearbooks, photographs, maps, programs, and documents from local families and businesses.
Before bringing in your donation, check out our Community Resources page for more information about donations or contact the Digital Projects Librarian at (702) 207-4287 or email [email protected]
You are allowed to download any photograph or document that is in the public domain. If you click on an item in the Digital Archives, and the following tab is displayed then it can be downloaded
The staff-mediated scanning services are different than the multifunction machines that are available near the public use computers in all of our branches. As a library cardholder, you can make an appointment to have a librarian scan your photographs and documents for free using the Epson FastFoto FF-640 photo and document scanner or Epson Expression 12000XL scanner to a personal USB-drive.
Appointments are for 30 minutes with the librarian, but can be extended as necessary. Email the librarian [email protected] or call (702) 207-4287 to make an appointment. Appointments vary based on the availability of the librarian and the library branch's hours.
The scanning service is free to use. There is no charge to have physical items scanned to a USB drive, but you must have access to a USB drive before you use the scanning services.
You must make an appointment with the Digital Projects Librarian to use the scanning services. You can email [email protected] or call (702) 207-4287 to make an appointment. Appointments are based on the availability of the librarian and the open hours of the library.
Web archiving is the process of collecting websites and the information they contain from the World Wide Web, and preserving them as they appeared at a given moment in an archive. One of the most famous web archives belongs to the Wayback Machine launched by the Internet Archive in 2001. Since then, it has archived over 338 billion web pages!
The lives and activities of communities are increasingly documented online local news, events, disasters, celebrations — the experiences of citizens are now largely shared via social media and web platforms. In most instances, the Internet is the only place that information is available. But did you know the average lifespan of a webpage is only 90 days? That's not a long time for information to be around, especially if that information is only found on a single webpage!
But don't worry! Organizations like universities and public libraries, including Henderson Libraries, are working to create web archives of websites important to their communities. These web archives ensure their communities' ability to access the information as a trusted source in the future. This also means we can capture aspects of our community that are otherwise overlooked.
Through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Internet Archive, Henderson Libraries now has the ability to archive websites that are important to the Henderson Community! While we are actively preserving other formats of our community to add to our Local History Collection, such as photographs and documents, this grant provides the capability to add websites to that collection.
Some aspects of the Henderson community that we believe are important to capture include local government, education, spontaneous events, local businesses and organizations, community blogs, and events in the community.
Yes! We have the entire run of the Henderson Home News, from 1949 to 2009. These can be viewed online any time by visiting our Henderson Digital Archives.
No, Henderson Libraries does not house marriage, birth, or death records. Marriage licenses and records for Clark County can be found by searching with the Clark County Clerk’s Office here.
Birth and death records are not public records, but you can access them through the Southern Nevada Health District for a fee.
The women of the Battle of Britain
July is the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Britain, one of the great turning points of World War Two. While we rightly honour the many men of the RAF who beat off the threat of the German Luftwaffe, putting a halt to Hitler’s invasion plans, the contribution of women is less well known today.
The truth is, the Battle of Britain would not have been a victory without the determined graft of countless women – both on the ground and in the air. Many people who now use Ancestry to trace their family trees may be surprised to find that their own mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers may have been among the trailblazers who made such a difference during those dark days.
Although they weren’t allowed to become combat pilots, women did take to the skies as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary, flying Spitfires, Hurricanes and other iconic aircraft between factories and military bases. Speaking to Jacky Hyams, author of The Female Few, a veteran of the ATA named Joy Lofthouse recalled how ‘you didn’t know what type of plane you were going to fly that day. You’d get out of a Tiger Moth after delivery and then into a Wellington bomber. After that, you could be flying a Spitfire.’
Perhaps the most famous ATA pilot of all was celebrated aviator Amy Johnson
The infamous Nazi propaganda broadcaster William Joyce, aka Lord Haw-Haw, was disgusted at such wanton defiance of gender expectations, dubbing the female pilots of the ATA ‘unnatural and decadent women’. He would probably have been particularly appalled by society girl Mona Friedlander, who gave up an existence of glittering privilege to undertake the often dangerous ATA delivery flights. Her decision was even reported in a newspaper, which noted that the new pilot was a ‘wealthy London society girl, aged 24, who loves dancing, swimming, travelling and entertaining in her father’s spacious Park Lane apartment.’
Read more about: British History
The Battle of Britain
Another upper-crust figure who signed up was Margaret Fairweather, whose parents were both MPs, and who became the first woman ever to fly a Spitfire. Perhaps the most famous ATA pilot of all was celebrated aviator Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. Johnson would unfortunately die in the line of duty, when bad weather caused her to bail out into the Thames and drown.
Delivering planes to airfields across the nation was crucial during the Battle of Britain. But equally important were the members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) who stayed firmly on the ground. Their roles ranged from radar operators and aircraft mechanics to meteorologists and ‘plotters’, who shifted markers around on large maps to keep track of what was happening in the air.
These plotters, familiar to many of us thanks to countless movies about World War Two, were part of the ‘Dowding system’, the radar interception network which alerted the RAF to imminent Luftwaffe strikes. Training up as a plotter was tough. One Colchester woman, Joyce Anne Deane, later recounted how they were housed in a Dickensian workhouse where ‘lavatory doors didn’t shut and a bath was a rare event’.
It caused a bit of a stir at the time, these women being awarded a man’s medal
Three of her WAAF peers stationed at Biggin Hill became the first women to be given the Military Medal, after staying at their posts when their base was targeted by the Germans during the Battle of Britain. The women – Helen Turner, Elizabeth Mortimer and Elspeth Henderson – were commended by Biggin Hill’s commanding officer for their ‘amazing pluck’. However, the ingrained sexism of the day meant that the awarding of the Military Medal was controversial. As Elspeth Henderson’s daughter Heather later said in an interview, ‘It caused a bit of a stir at the time, these women being awarded a man’s medal.’
Read more about: Hitler
The Night Witches of World War Two
Time and again, women proved that gender distinctions were meaningless. Take the example of Beatrice Shilling, a daredevil racing driver and engineer, who single-handedly solved the problem of Spitfire and Hurricane engines cutting out during dogfights. This was due to a flaw in their engines, which Shilling rectified using a small thimble-shaped piece of perforated metal which became rather dubiously known as ‘Miss Shilling’s Orifice’.
Thousands of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers also worked in Bletchley Park, the top secret home of the geniuses who cracked the German Enigma code. Indeed, it’s estimated around 75% of the Bletchley Park staff were women. Many were high-society debutantes, whose elite status meant they were considered highly trustworthy, while some were handpicked for their talents. Among them was Mavis Lever, a convent-educated Londoner who was recruited by British intelligence while studying German literature at university, and was dispatched to work as a Bletchley Park codebreaker at around the same time the Battle of Britain was beginning.
Read more about: WW2
One of her colleagues was Joan Clarke, who was talent-spotted while studying mathematics at Cambridge. She would later become engaged to the most famous codebreaker of all, Alan Turing, and was portrayed by Keira Knightley in the film The Imitation Game.
The countless other women of World War – from caterers to codebreakers – may not enjoy the same historical limelight. But their stories can still be discovered by searching on Ancestry to discover how your own family members might have made a difference during the Battle of Britain, and in the turbulent years that followed.