The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

Borton, Ronald Herbert (1920 – 1943)

Grave Number 939

Ronald was born in St Pancras in the second quarter of 1920.  His parents were Cyril Herbert and Amy Florence nee Wisdom. They had married in Paddington on 31st August while Cyril was home on 14 days’ leave, having served in the London Regiment for four years.  During the Great War he served in France, Salonika and Egypt. Ronald was their eldest child. His father worked as an agent for a manufacturer of ladies fashion goods.  The family lived in Willesden, North West London.

Ronald joined the Royal Artillery in 1938 as private 1485758. In June 1942 he transferred to the Army Air Corp and became a sergeant in the 1st Glider Pilot Regiment. The regiment was formed in 1942 from volunteers. Only those who achieved the highest standards were selected for training. The initial training was on powered aircraft before they moved on to unpowered aircrafts. These gliders were capable of carrying troops, jeeps, artillery pieces and even tanks. The Americans and the Germans had glider pilots but only the British pilots were trained to fight. After landing, assuming the pilot was not injured, they would pick up a rifle and equipment, put on their red beret and join the airborne troops they have delivered into battle. They adopted whatever role was required acting as pilots, infantry and even sometimes as medics. As a result, they became known as “Total Soldiers” (1).

Near the end of 1942 Ronald married Jessie May Truss in Berkhamsted.

On 16 May 1943, 296 Squadron at Hurn (the Glider Exercise Squadron) were preparing for Operation Beggar, an exercise to ferry Horsa gliders to North Africa for use in the invasion of Sicily. Following a practice session Ronald, along with some fellow glider pilots, was in a Handley-Page Halifax MK V DG390. The plane was ferrying them back to Holmsley South, a low-level ten minute flight, when the engine failed and the plane crashed killed the crew and the glider pilots. Sid Burt, a fighter pilot on leave described what happened. “I heard the increase in revs of a passing ‘Halli’. On looking out, it was at about five hundred feet in a very steep turn with the nose down”.

A glider pilot at Holmsley South, Staff Sgt Gordon Jenks, also witnessed the accident. He watched the Halifax leave. The Horsa crew were on board the Halifax. After departure the Halifax suddenly had fumes coming from one of the port engines followed by an explosion in the engine. The Halifax disappeared in pall of smoke (2).

Ronald was 23 years old and had only been married a few months. He is not mentioned on the town war memorial. His parents continued to live in North West, London. It is not clear what happened to his wife.

1 accessed Jan 2019.

2 accessed Jan 2019

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