Stanley Coates and Henry Ward grew up together on Prospect Avenue having both been born in 1920. They were joined in 1933 by Ronald and Irene Muir who moved from Scotland after the ultimately death of their mother.
Stanley and Henry are known to have been members of the St.James Methodists congregation. Henry was a chorister at the church along with his father George Ward. As the boys grew into adulthood, Stanley and Ronnie became close friends and Stanley started dating Irene, Ronnie’s younger sister.
Stanley was an accomplished mechanical engineer and a genius at constructing complex working models in Meccano. Aged 14 he built a scale model of a working power loom, based on a machine in his Uncle’s textile mill. The shuttles for the loom were specially built for Stanley by the company that made the full sized versions. When run it could weave a tie that had “God save the King” emblazoned down the edges. Not surprisingly the loom was a first prize winner at the Manchester Meccano Exhibition. By the outbreak of the War, Stanley was working as a mechanical engineer and was given a reserved occupation meaning that he could not be called up. However he had a deep longing to fly. His friend Ronnie had already joined the RAF and would have been coming home on leave in his very smart Flight Sergeant’s uniform.
A senior Commander in the RAF, happened to see Stanley’s Meccano marvel, and deeply impressed asked Stanley if there was anything he could help him with. Stanley requested an operational position within the RAF and the request was duly granted. Stanley was offered a position in Fighter Command and began the process of learning to fly. Its reputed that Stanley overflew Pudsey on a training flight and gave a victory roll over Brunswick Road!
Ronnie by now was a wireless operator/air gunner aboard an experimental high altitude B-17 bomber with 90 Squadron based out of RAF Polebrook. His aircraft AN534 “E for Easy” suffered a catastrophic mid air explosion on July 28th 1941, all 7 men onboard died in the accident. Ronnie’s body was returned to Pudsey and buried in our Cemetery on August 5th.
Standing by his friend’s grave and looking out over the Aire valley, Stanley fatefully remarked that if anything similar should happen to him, then this too is where he wanted to be buried.
Henry joined the Royal Navy at the outbreak of the War and eventually was given service aboard the Leander Class Light Cruiser HMS Neptune, as an Engine room Artificer. During late 1939 she was involved in the South Atlantic chase to destroy the Graf Spee. Neptune was the first British ship to spot the Italian Fleet in the battle of Calabria, on 9 July 1940, marking also the first time since the Napoleonic Wars that the Mediterranean Fleet received the signal "enemy battle fleet in sight". During the subsequent engagement, she was hit by the Italian light cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi. Minutes later her main guns struck the heavy cruiser Bolzano three times. During 1941, she led Force K, a raiding squadron of cruisers. Their task was to intercept and destroy German and Italian convoys en route to Libya. Sadly Neptune was involved in one of our worst ever Naval disasters when on the night of 19–20 December, cruisers Neptune, Aurora and Penelope strayed into an Italian minefield. Neptune hit 4 mines and quickly capsized, killing 737 crew members. There was only one survivor, Norman Walton, spent 15 months in an Italian prisoner of war camp. Henry is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
Stanley was completing his flight training during the summer of 1942 and had progressed onto Spitfire’s. During one of his training flights his aircraft came down over Holywell in North Wales on the 15th of August. His plane crashed upside down into a tree near to a farm. Hearing the crash and seeing the plane, the farmers daughter dashed to Stanley’s aid, carrying a bottle of brandy with her. Sadly it was too late for Stanley, and he is now buried, as he wished next to Ronnie.
Ronnie’s sister Irene went on to marry Malcom Spurr from Batley.
With sincerest thanks to the members of all 3 families who have been assisting with this article.
© Damon Sugden @PudseyCenotaph 2018
Cine footage of Stanley’s Meccano loom: