22 NAVY NEWS, JUNE 2010
GRIFF: THINKER, PAINTER, FORGER, SPY RUNS UNTIL OCTOBER AT THE ROYAL MARINES MUSEUM AT EASTNEY, PORTSMOUTH
● (Top) The crew of a Wellington bomber prepare for a mission – complete with motorcycle and golf clubs (above) he’s behind you... An RAF rescue boat searches in vain for downed aircrew.
● (Main image) A Whitley bomber comes under ferocious attack
● The serious side of Griff... A painting of his Skua attacking U30
All images (C) Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum
g ( ) y
’toons of glory
SOME people are destined to lead a quiet life, others accumulate more experiences during their years than several ordinary
Griffi ths, the Royal Marine pilot, gifted cartoonist, master-forger and accomplished spy who is the subject of the fi rst one-man exhibition at the Royal Marines Museum in Portsmouth. Guy Griffi ths was no ordinary individual. “He was a swashbuckling, polymathic man,” said Maj Gen
Buster Howes, Commandant General Royal Marines, opening the exhibition.
mortals put together.
One such was Guy ‘Griff’
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For once in his life Guy had time on his hands and the result is a wealth of drawings, letters, cartoons, and sketches. Over the years he was a frequent visitor to the museum and in the 1970s he began to leave it all the documents, drawings and uniforms which his widow, Valerie, 90, agreed should form the basis of
the exhibition Griff: Thinker, Painter, Forger, Spy.
Guy Griffi ths was born in Pembroke Dock in 1915 and commissioned into the Royal Marines in 1934. In 1938 he volunteered for pilot training and was sent to RAF Leuchars in Fife, one of 34 Royal Marine offi cers to fl y with the Fleet Air Arm in World War 2. After fi ghter training he was assigned to 803 NAS, fl ying Blackburn Skua dive-bombers aboard Ark Royal. By the time war was declared on September 3 1939, Guy had chalked up nearly 283 fl ying hours. On September 14, just 11 days into the war, he strapped himself in for the last two hours of fl ying he would see for nearly six years. The Ark had picked up an SOS from the merchant ship SS Fanad Head reporting that she was under attack from the German U-boat U30 and that the passengers and crew were abandoning ship.
of three to intercept the submarine. On the return leg of the patrol, his air gunner spotted the steamer with the U-boat diving alongside. With no time to make height Guy aimed at the conning tower in a shallow dive and released all his bombs.
The anti-submarine bomb dropped correctly, but the smaller anti- personnel bombs detonated on hitting the sea, sending shrapnel through his aircraft. Guy crashed into the sea and had to swim to the Fanad Head. On the deck he found Richard Thurstan, whose Skua had suffered a similar fate. They were captured by the German boarding party and ordered to swim to the resurfacing U-boat, where they endured the subsequent ordeal of follow-up attacks from the Ark’s Swordfi sh. U30 arrived in Wilhelmshaven at
the end of September and Guy and Thurstan were initially moved to a camp for political prisoners; the Gestapo feared – correctly – that the men had found out about the ‘Athenia incident,’ the attack by U30 on the liner carrying passengers from the neutral United States.
They were isolated from Red Cross support and unable to contact their families.
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For several weeks Guy’s parents, who had already lost their son John in 1938 on active service, assumed the worst. (Guy’s third brother, Patrick, was to die while boarding the French submarine Surcouf in Plymouth Harbour in 1940.)
At the time of their capture, Guy scrambled his Skua – the last
Richard Thurstan were the fi rst RN offi cers to be taken prisoners of war, and the nucleus of the exhibition is the six years he spent in German POW camps.
Guy and his fellow pilot Lt Cdr
– which was for him, as he later wrote “the start of proper escape and intelligence work.”
Guy was able to spend a lot of time drawing and sketching. Knowing that his detailed aircraft paintings were scrutinised by the Germans, Guy occasionally
hoping they would waste time investigating it. One of the pictures in the exhibition, posted to his father in May 1942, had no title and after the war he wrote on the back: “Imaginary aircraft painted then to make our captors ponder.”
● Maj Guy’ Griff’ Griffi ths at his
desk in the Globe and Laurel
offi ces and (below) at work at his easel in Stalag Luft III – as sketched by Canadian airman Robert Buckham
the POW camps were only just developing and the inmates found conditions relatively relaxed and almost gentlemanly.
When they were moved to Spangenburg Castle at the end of September, Guy wrote to the
RM magazine Globe and Laurel
describing his captivity:
This place is high up in the hills, and is a very old castle surrounded by a moat and some ‘obstacles’; in the centre is a courtyard where we take our exercise, or walk around the walls of the moat on the inside. The moat is inhabited by three wild boars, and is a most unsafe place indeed.
… I expect that I shan’t leave this place until the war ends, whenever that may be.
In December Guy was moved to Dulag Luft – Durchgangslager Luft, a Luftwaffe interrogation centre near Frankfurt. One of the highlights of the exhibition is the fi lm recorded in the camp – just over fi ve minutes of grainy footage showing pipe- smoking prisoners playing with the camp’s cat, Ersatz, or indulging in 1930s public school horseplay. It’s easy to forget, watching this rather
jolly Ripping Yarns
footage, how frustrating life was for the men incarcerated, and why they risked their lives to escape. (Later, in 1944 two room-mates of Guy’s were among the 50 executed by the Germans after an escape attempt, and he acknowledged their death in a photograph in his album.)
a year building their escape tunnel, only to be captured within 30 miles of the camp. The escapers were put into solitary confi nement and then moved to Stalag Luft I – a general camp prison for fl iers of all ranks
The prisoners in Dulag Luft spent
Guy and many of the offi cers he’d been with in Dulag Luft and Stalag Luft I were transferred to the very large camp Stalag Luft III, in Silesia – the camp which was to achieve worldwide fame thanks to the 1963 fi lm The Great Escape; it housed many of the most experienced and determined Allied escapers. A letter to Guy’s father from one of his fellow inmates gives a vivid description of his personality:
…in the four years that I have been in prison with him I cannot remember one single instance of him being depressed, with the exception of the sad news of the death of his brother.
Among other things, he is known as the best-dressed offi cer, attends church every Sunday… Your son knows the art of being a prisoner, keeping himself busy at work for other prisoners, with the result that he is the happiest man on the camp.
Guy never did manage to escape, Stalag Luft III was evacuated in 1945 and he joined the Long March of prisoners retreating from the Russians. In the resulting chaos he escaped to a town called Berching where he was mistaken for a Hungarian offi cer. He managed to blag himself out with papers signed by the chief of the police and Bürgermeister giving him responsibility for the allied POWs in the area, whom he then offi cially ‘released’.
invented an aircraft, During his time in Stalag Luft I,
On May 8 1945 Guy hitched a ride in a Canadian Air Force Lancaster back to Guildford and made his way to Eastney Barracks – only to fi nd the place nearly deserted, as it was VE night.
Sussex Hospital, and subsequently the whole Chichester district. He died of a heart attack in 1999, aged 84. “Guy Griffi ths was probably the
fi rst Royal Marine helicopter pilot, and a charismatic, colourful, gallant offi cer,” said Maj Gen Howes. “It was a source of some regret to him that he had no son – but in fact he had 7,800 sons, who march around in lovat.”
superintendent for the Royal West
to fl y the latest aircraft. In later years he became editor
of Globe and Laurel,
and also ran a coffee shop in Chichester. Between 1969 and 1980, he was domestic
After the war he retrained
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