By David Scanlon
13 November 2016
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You can learn ninety per cent of the skills required for leadership, man management, being straightforward with your subordinates and so on, but the last ten per cent, which wins the hearts and minds, is an indefinable gift given to but a few.
Pilot Officer Johnie Johnson - 616 Sqaudron

The story of Roy Marples, a man on the Wilmslow RUFC War memorial. Read about "One of the few" who played on the same pitch as you.

Many folks over the years have questioned the value of a rugby club having a presence the the World Wide Web: who after all looks at the Wilmslow Rugby Club Website? The simple story below shows to me value of open and proud communication about our fantastic club.

I have heard, over the years, most of the stories about the great and the good of Wilmslow and so feel well versed in the history of the club. During my tenure as an ‘alacodo’ I spent time putting some of our amazing history on-line. I am proud of the Digitised version of the Wilmslow “Memorial” – “In Memoriam 1939-45” , it is why our ground is called the Memorial Ground. Despite extensive research, requests for local information, and other searches I always felt disappointed with the information gained on the hero’s of Wilmslow: a job not yet completed as the stories of the faces on the world are still untold.

A few weeks ago an e-mail arrived in my in-box, via a number of sources (Rob Milner, Hitchy & Barry). “I feel absolutely sure you are commemorating the wrong Roy Marples on your website” stated Ian Cameron (Bramhall). It sparked my interest again. I remembered the issue two Roy Marples on the Commonwealth War Graves Website (One from Cambridge and one from Derbyshire). I went for Corporal Marples of Derbyshire, as all I had to go on was a young man in a suit.

A number of e-mails and photographs were exchanged. Ian, no family relationship to Roy Marples, had an interest in finding out more about war heroes coming from researching into WW1 memorial at his old school. Unknown to me there has been extensive effort all over the country to record the whereabouts of War memorials and research the men on them: Ian was hooked and looked into those on the Bramhall memorial.

So let me tell you a little bit about Wilmslow Rugby Club’s Roy Marples. By all the accounts I have read he was a true “Wa Wa” – he enjoyed the good life, lived on the edge, and “His keenness and personal example have been outstanding.” He also had a few scrape’s along the way – should he have survived I am sure he and I.C.D Smith (A WILMSLOW GREAT PASSES AWAY: I.C.D. Smith (Captain 1950-52)) would have created some memorable stories and their ashes joined together on the memorial ground.

Wing Commander Roy Marples DFC and Bar was “One of the few”. The citation for the THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS stated "The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy to Acting Flight Lieutenant Roy Marples (70868), No. 41 Squadron. This officer has shown great courage and leadership as a flight commander. He has carried out 52 operational sorties over enemy territory and has destroyed 2, probably destroyed 3 and damaged a further 2 enemy aircraft. His keenness and personal example have been outstanding."  - London Gazette, 14 October 1941.

The citation for the Bar read “The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy to Squadron Leader Roy Marples, D.F.C. (70868), No. 238 Squadron. In November, 1942, this officer participated in intensive attacks on the enemy's transports and supply lines. During the period, his squadron destroyed 50 and disabled 90 more transports and 3 aircraft. By his skilful leadership and courageous example Squadron Leader Marples contributed materially to the successes obtained."  - London Gazette, 1 January 1943.

Roy Marples, of Bramhall, was born in Muswell Hill, London in 22nd January 1920 and educated at Stockport Grammar School and Manchester University. Roy’s father had a jewellery business and Roy worked in it briefly. During his school and university days Roy played Rugby at Wilmslow RUFC, under the leadership of the great J.W. Cheetham. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in January 1938 and was posted to 8 Flight Training School, Montrose on 9th April, going on to 19 Squadron at Duxford on 29th October. On 18 Oct 1941 he married Kathleen Gladys Brooks at Cambridge Registrars Office. Roy’s daughter June was born in 1941.

From Roy’s war record, personal accounts, squadron articles and various books it was clear Marples had is hand in many victories that helped win the war, not least the Battle of Britain and El Alamein in the Western Desert.

Being a child of the 1960’s name Douglas Bader and the Battle of Britain were often told stories of heroism, with the appropriate black and white movies bringing alive their story. Rarely, however, were the other heroes names told. This is the story of one of those other heroes: “The Cavalier of the Sky".

During the early stages of the war, over Dunkirk defending the Allied retreat, Marples established his capabilities with a number confirmed air victories over German fighter pilots (see below for full list of confirmed victories). Then came the bombers, fighters, and doodlebugs; Germany focused all the military might on Great Britain.

In the heart of the Battle of Britain position yourself within the cockpit of a Spitfire, alongside fellow members of 616 squadron. Douglas Bader (Dogsbody), Flying officer Roy Marples (RM), Flight Lieutenant “Buck” Casson (Roy’s big mate), Squadron Leader Ken Holden DFC, and your self are on a sortie. Flying Officer Roy Marples sees the enemy first. Beetle is the Tangmere control center.

RM: Three bandits coming down astern of us. I’m keeping an eye on them, now there are six.
B: Douglas, another twelve-plus ahead and slightly higher
RM: Eleven of them now.
DB: Ok, Roy, let me know exactly where they are.
RM: About one mile astern and slightly higher.
B: Douglas, there is another forty-plus 15 miles to the north-east of you.
DB: OK Beetle. Are our friends where they ought to be, I haven’t much idea where I am.
B: Yes, you are exactly right. And so are your friends.
RM: Dogsbody from Roy. Keep turning left and you will see 109’s at nine o’clock
DB: Ken, can you see them?
KH: Douglas, 109’s below. Climbing up.

The sortie was out-numbered 3:1 by German Messerschmitt Bf 109’s. Douglas Bader found himself alone, confronted by six German fighters. After a short valiant fight, Bader parachuted and landed in France: his 18 months of operational air war was over. “Buck” Casson war was over as he headed to a German prison camp, a victim of Hauptmann Gerhard Schopfel, Gruppenkommandeur of III/JG 26.

As in all life these great leaders of men left indelible impression on the young pilots : “You can learn ninety per cent of the skills required for leadership, man management,, being straightforward with your subordinates and so on, but the last ten per cent, which wins the hearts and minds, is an indefinable gift given to but a few, such as a gift of a great artist or writer. Bader had that gift, make no mistake” Pilot Officer Johnie Johnson (Dogsbody 4) (Sarkar – 2011). Roy Marples went on to demonstrate what he had learned, in the darkest heat of battle, in North Africa and the Western Desert. How did you get on?

2016 marks a special anniversary for 238 squadron, 75 years ago they were deployed to the western desert with a new Squadron Leader. “The Squadron got through a number of KC-Fs during the desert campaign, but Hurricane Mk II c - HL609, was the personal aircraft of OC 238 Squadron during the autumn and winter of 1942. In this aircraft, Squadron Leader Roy Marples DFC lead the Squadron on one of the most audacious and yet frustratingly under reported operations of all time - Operation Chocolate.” (Royal Air ford Facebook). The present 238 squadron hold clear esteem for Marples they applied this year his historic roundel to “Pinkey” and “In addition, Squadron Leader Marples' name has been applied beneath the cockpit.” Below are two personal accounts of the Operation Chocolate, found on the BBC’s “Peoples War” website. It also tells 238 squadron’s remaining story. One is from his cousin Rodney Marples (Royal Air Force – 238 Squadron (Wordpress))

Quite a lot of the sorties were carried out at low level so that the Squadron could strafe airfields and roads where the enemy was located, destroying many aircraft, lorries, petrol bowsers, tanks and other enemy equipment on the ground. In mid November 1942, with the 2nd Battle of El Alamein in full swing, the Squadron, with 213 Squadron, moved to a landing ground about 180 miles behind the enemy lines. On 14th, 15th, & 16th November 1942, Uncle Roy led the Squadron as it carried out 7 sorties against a column of retreating Axis forces which contained a large amount of wheeled & tracked vehicles of all sorts. Their operations were so successful that the column was totally destroyed. For good measure, whilst they were at it, they also destroyed 2 Junkers 52s (twin engined transport aircraft) & a Messerschmitt Bf109 on the ground.” Rodney Marples ((Royal Air Force – 238 Squadron (Wordpress))

Flying close to ground was clearly a special skill but was not always successful Marples “Once lost his propeller tips through flying too close to the sea” (616 Squadron Website (Roy Marples))

The War in the desert was very fluid which meant that the Squadron was constantly on the move. By September, the Hurricanes were flying patrols from the Sidi Haneish and Marten Bagulsh Landing Grounds. Advancing with the 8th Army, 238 Squadron was at L.G. 123 (Fort Maddelena on the Libyan border, well south in the desert), by November 1941, MSUS (where there was heavy fighting) by December and Antelat by early January 1942. It was then a case of trotting up and down the desert a couple of times as the Axis troops advanced and then the 8th Army pushed them back. Then there was a final retreat from the Torruck area all the way to El Alamein. The Squadron was re-equipped with the Older Hurricanes owing to lack of spares for the Hurricane IIs. It was very disappointing to have to retreat after all the fighting and gain of ground. Unfortunately, as ground was captured the supply line got longer and transporting all supplies over rough desert roads, including fuel and water, was difficult.

By the eve of the El Alamein Push, the squadron moved to a desert-landing ground right behind the front line. The ground crew and all its equipment and supplies were all in place with all the vehicles heavily draped with camouflage netting and well dispersed but the Hurricanes were kept back until first light as it depended on the progress of the battle, whether we would be retreating or staying to become operational at first light.

At 9.40 p.m. on October 23rd, the opening of the battle was marked by the flash and thunder of a barrage fired simultaneously by 456 guns on the main front. This was a most terrific noise and the flashes of the guns lit the sky. We were ordered to bed to sleep as we had to be up before dawn to a long day’s work; somehow we slept in spite of the noise, as we knew from experience, we would soon be told if there was a retreat.

For the Desert Air Force, the battle had begun four days earlier, with a heavy bombing programme against enemy airfields. By this time we had gained air superiority almost before the battle begun. The Bomber Squadron of Bostons, Baltimores and Mitchells operated effectively in daylight with cover from the fighter squadrons against the Axis forces which presented attractive targets as they concentrated to meet the 8th Army’s attacks. The light bombers flew in tight formations of eighteen aircraft. We took pleasure in watching the “Eighteen Impenturnabables” go over and see our fighter squadron joining to escort them. On one occasion (October 28th) they went over seven times in the space of two and a half hours. It was therefore an admirable two-way operation with the Desert Air Force and the Eighth Army in complete partnership. The Western Desert Air Force consisted of almost the whole Allied Air Force in the Middle East.

As the Axis retreated, we advanced from landing ground to landing ground keeping up with the rapid movement of the tanks. These landing grounds were familiar to us as we had used them many times before in our pushes and retreats. They were just cleared airstrips in the desert wastes. Flat areas that had just been cleared of camel thorn and bumps in the ground.

By the time we reached Mersah Matruh, the front of the retreating vehicles had almost reached Antelat and Agedabia — too far for the Fighters’ fuel

to take them there and back. Our Wing Commander Darwen had a brilliant plan. He decided that two hurricane squadrons (No. 213 and 238) would operate from far behind the Retreating Axis Army at a landing ground behind the German line. This was about 180 miles east of Agedabia deep in the desert. So on a significant date — Friday, 13th November — essential ground staff and masses of supplies were airlifted by Aircraft Hudsons and Bombays to Landing Ground 125 on the morning of November 13th and thirty six Hurricanes followed. By two o’clock in the afternoon, twenty four hurricanes took off immediately and began operations against the long lines of retreating vehicles of the unsuspecting Axis transport destroying or damaging three hundred vehicles. During the three days 156 sorties had been flown by the two squadrons. On the 16th November a German Reconnaissance Aircraft came over and spotted us so we had to make a retreat. However, on the final day our Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Marples, led eleven aircraft of 238 Squadron to chafe the coast road by Agheila, during which 42 vehicles were hit. In the whole exercise only three of our aircraft were lost whilst a large number of Axis vehicles and 14 Axis aircraft were destroyed. Four Hurricanes were too badly damaged to return at the end so were destroyed so they could not be taken by enemy hands. By mid-day on the 16th November, the Hudsons had arrived to fly back the ground crews although some did travel back overland. For defense and support, a section of the Long Distance Desert Troops had joined us in the operation.

The Squadron Leaders of 238 and 213 Squadron, Roy Marples, D.F.C. and Peter Oliver, D.F.C., both earned an immediate Bar to their Distinguished Flying Crosses for these operations.

From then on the Squadron moved up with the advance of the Army, passing at all the familiar landing grounds such as Gambut, El Adarn, Gazala, Benina, finishing at Martuba on 28th November 1942.

13th January 1943 saw the Squadron moving back to the Canal Zone, to El Gamil Port Said during which time they were re-equipped with Spitfires, getting the IX Version. Their flying life consisted of convoy patrols and Delta defense scrambles, although in July they did some low level sorties over Crete.

In March 1944 the Squadron left for Corsica and operated over Monte Casino Viterbo, Genoa, Elba, Bolognia, Florence and Sienna. They also did bomber escorts to Leghorn, Pisa, Prato, Savonna and Spezia. The Squadron left Corsica for Southern France on 30th August 1944.” (BBC People War Project (Internet site))

Marples had been leading his unit in a fighter sweep to Mons. On the return flight to Merston the Wing Commander's Spitfire, MK360, collided in cloud with another aircraft of 329 Squadron, Spitfire Mk IX MK346, piloted by Sgt-Chef C.A. Alligier. The NCO's Spitfire suffered damage, but its pilot was able to make a forced landing at Wappington Farm, Horsham. The Spitfire was repairable and Sgt-Chef Alligier escaped with injuries. The Wing Commander's plane however crashed and was destroyed. The pilot did not survive. Marples died on April 26th , he was 24 years of age.

What has been clear from researching Roy was how fondly remembered around the Country he is. The memorials and tributs include: St. John's Church War Memorial (Hills Road, Cambridge, Bramhall civic war memorial (Which started Ian’s search and lead to us), Stockport Grammar Memorial, Manchester University memorial, St. George’s Church memorial (Heaviley), Battle of Britain Memorial, 616 Squadron Memorial, 238 Squadron Memorial, RAF Cosford, plus various books and articles. Now the right Marples is honoured too in Wilmslow, where he spent a joyful time playing the sport we love, with an amazing group of men.

Roy is buried at Chichester Cemetery. “Wing Commander, 70868, Pilot, 329 (French) Sqdn, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve who died on Wednesday, 26th April 1944. Aged 24. Son of Percy Salisbury Marples and Elizabeth Marie Louise Marples; husband of Kathleen Gladys Victoria Marples, of Cambridge. Buried in CHICHESTER CEMETERY, Sussex. Square 159. C. of E. Plot. Grave 10.” Kathleen remarried in 1947 to Arthur E. Mears.

"One of the few" now rightly remembered at the Memorial Ground too.

In the past I have found that Internet sources can disappear and so have added all relevant information to the Wilmslow Wolves site. I have been clear to reference all materials and below is the source information. If any Copy-writes have been infringed I apologise and will remove if asked. The aim was to put together a comprehensive history of our heroes.

Roy’s War History

• January 17th 1938: Reserve of Airforce Officer (RAFO); Joined as pupil pilot at Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School (E&RFTS)
• March 26th 1938: Commissioned to RAFO
• April 9th, 1938: No. 8 Flying Training School;
• October 29th, 1938: No. 19 Squadron, Duxford (For a Parachute course);
• September 19th 1939: No. 610 Squadron, Hooton Park;
• December 20th 1939: No. 616 Squadron, Leconsfield;
• May 1940: No. 616 Squadron, Rochford;
• August 26th, 1940 - November 7th, 1940: Kent and Canterbury Hospital (Canon shell splinters in the leg); was shot down and made a forced landing at Adisham.
• November 7th 1940 – Returned to service.
• July 1941: Flight Commander No. 41 Squadron, Merston;
• 1941: Awarded Distinguished Flying Cross
• September 3rd 1941: Promoted to Flight Lieutenant
• June 9th, 1942: Flight Commander No. 127 Squadron, Wastern Desert;
• July 20th, 1942: Commanding Officer No. 238 Squadron;
• November 25th, 1942 - January 26th, 1943: Commanding Officer No. 145 Squadron;
• January 12th, 1943: After heroic action ditched at sea, where two soldiers swam out to save him.
• 1943 : Awarded Bar
• January 1st 1944: Promoted to Squadron Leader
• April 1944: Commanding Officer No. 145 Wing, Merston.
• April 26th 1944 – Collided with pilot from 329 Squadron over Washington, Sussex. Spitfire crashed at Lower Chanceton Farm
• Buried at Chichester Cemetery.

Roy’s Probable Victories

• June 1st, 1940: Heinkel He 111 (damaged)
• June 26th, 1940: Heinkel He 111;
• August 15th, 1940: Junkers Ju 88 (probably);
• May 5th, 1941: Junker Ju 88 (damaged);
• June 22nd, 1941: Messerschmitt Me 109;
• June 26th, 1941: Messerschmitt Me 109 (damaged);
• August 9th, 1941: Messerschmitt Me 109 (probably);
• August 12th, 1941: Messerschmitt Me 109 (shared);
• August 21st, 1941: Messerschmitt Me 109 (probably);
• September 18th, 1941: Junkers W34 (shared);
• July 8th, 1942: Messerschmitt Me 109 (shared);
• October 30th, 1942: Junker Ju 87 (probably);
• January 12th, 1943: Macchi Mc202.

Book’s which Reference Roy's Story

Foreman. J. (2003) Fighter Command Air Combat Claims, 1939-45: 1939-1940

Sarkar. D (2011) Spitfire Ace of Aces: The story of Johnnie Johnson

Shores. C. & Williams. C. (1994) Aces High: A Tribute to the Most Notable Fighter Pilots of the British and Commonwealth Forces in WWII

Wynn. K.G (1989) Men of the Battle of Britain: A Biographical Dictionary of the Few

Internet References / Sources for Roy's War History

Aviation Safety Network - Record of Crash Details

Battle of Britain London Monument: The Airmen's Stories - F/O R Marples

BBC People War Project (Internet site) - 238 Squadron Desert Campaign

Commonwealth War Graves Commission - Roy Marples

MARPLES FAMILY HISTORY: (Rodney Marples – Roy’s Cousin) - The Cavalier of the Skies - Wing Commander ROY MARPLES, DFC & Bar (1920 - 1944)


Royal Air Force - Cosford (Facebook) - 2016 Celebration 238 Squadron

Royal Air Force – 238 Squadron (Wordpress) - Roy Marples record

WW2 Awards.com - Roy Marples

World Naval Ships .com - Roy Marples

616 Squadron Website - Roy Marples

Photographs included and sources

Wimslow RUFC Album - Wing Commander ROY MARPLES, DFC & Bar (1920 - 1944) (All Photographs used)

Wing Commander ROY MARPLES, DFC & Bar (1920 - 1944) – Google Image Search

238 Squadron Badge - MARPLES FAMILY HISTORY: (Rodney Marples – Roy’s Cousin)

616 Squadron Badge - MARPLES FAMILY HISTORY: (Rodney Marples – Roy’s Cousin)

616 Squadron – from Sarkar. D (2011) Spitfire Ace of Aces: The Wartime Story of Johnnie Johnson

616 Squadron – Foreman. J. (2003) Fighter Command Air Combat Claims, 1939-45: 1939-1940

News Article - 23-Year-Old “Sky Cavalier” Killed – Image from Ian Cameron (Bramhall)

Roy Marples sortie records from Western Desert - Royal Air Force - Cosford (Facebook)

Roy Marples flying low in Western Desert - Royal Air Force – 238 Squadron (Wordpress)

Roy Marples and his Hurricane - Royal Air Force - Cosford (Facebook)

Roy Marples Hurricane - Royal Air Force – 238 Squadron (Wordpress)

Roy Marples War Record (Summary) - Shores. C. & Williams. C. (1994) Aces High: A Tribute to the Most Notable Fighter Pilots of the British and Commonwealth Forces in WWII

Roy Marples and “Buck” Casson - WW2 Images Archive

War Diary – Roy Marples fateful crash

Wilmslow RUFC pre-war – team playing table tennis – Image provided by Sue Keenan (Grand daughter of James William Cheetham)

Winter 1941 – “Nip” Hepple, Roy Marples, and Johnnie Johnson – from Sarkar. D (2011) Spitfire Ace of Aces: The Wartime Story of Johnnie Johnson


MARPLES, ROY Wing Commander DFS - Wilmslow War Hero


The London Gazette - Roy MarplesBar to DFC citation

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