THE Colchester Royal Grammar School has a wealth of famous former pupils.

And some are better known than others.

Colchester historian, and a former teacher at the Norman Way School, Neil Brinded has been looking at the impact they made in conflicts, inspired by a book he wrote with his wife about pupils killed in the First World War.

He explains the recent death of politician Paddy Ashdown prompted him to look at the story of Ken Lamonby.

Lord Ashdown was a member of the Special Boat Service, before going into politics, serving as a reminder of the role they and the SAS have played in modern-day conflict situations.

And Neil explains Ken Lamonby played a part in one of their many daring missions.


  • Pride - Ken with his trademark pipe

He was born in October 1919 in Surrey but the family moved to Colchester where Ken’s father, Harold, a PE teacher was appointed organiser of physical education for Colchester Education Committee.

By the 1930s they were living in Victoria Road and Ken was proving to be an outstanding sportsman at CRGS, playing first eleven cricket and rugby.

When war broke out, Ken joined the Royal Artillery, completing his officer cadet training in December 1940 and going on to serve with the 8th Army in north Africa until the end of 1942.

But the following year, due to him being an expert sailor, he was recruited into the Special Boat Squadron (SBS), then a newly-formed unit of the SAS.

Neil explains Ken was put in charge of S detachment, there were three, where he became close friends with a Dane called Anders Lassen.

Known to many as Andy he would become the only non-Commonwealth serviceman to win a VC in the Second World War.

In June 1943 their detachment was chosen to take part in Operation Albumen, a raid on three German airfields in occupied Crete.


  • Team - Ken Lamonby, bottom right, with the CRGS 1937 Rugby first XI

Neil explains : “The aim was simply to destroy as many enemy aircraft as possible, in order to prevent them being used against the Allies during the invasion of Sicily.”

What happened during the raid has featured in a number of books about the Second World War.

The group split into three patrols, B, C and D with Ken leading patrol B and Andy Lassen Patrol C.

There was an HQ party holed up in caves for almost three weeks, maintaining wireless contact Patrols B and C set off together then split up.

Patrol B were planning to attack Heraklion airfield but when their local guide Janni said it wasn’t being used they changed target to a fuel depot at Peza where a large amount of fuel was being held and there was a bomb dump nearby.

It was decided Lance-Corporal Dick Holmes, assisted by Janni, should deal with the petrol dump while the others tackled the bomb dump.

Holmes fixed three two-hour fuses underneath the barrels but Ken decided not to approach the bomb dump when two sentries arrived.


  • Headstone - Ken was the only casualty during the raid

An hour after they left, the bombs in the petrol dump detonated.

The group spent the night in a bat-filled cave and news reached them the next day its flames had also engulfed the bomb dump.

Neil explains : “They then left the area for the 100-mile roundabout trek over mountainous terrain across the island to the re-embarkation point, with numerous German patrols scouring the area.”

Lassen’s patrol had been successful in destroying a number of planes at Kastelli while the third had not found any planes but has remained undetected.

But the Germans has shot 50 local men in reprisal for the raid and while they were waiting for a boat to come and retrieve them, a pair of patrolling German soldiers spoted them and a fire fight broke out.

“It was now less than three hours before midnight, and Sutherland began the task of taking men and equipment to wait beneath the cliffs on the beach.

“Once this had been completed and there was still no sight of Ken, he sent Andy Lassen and Patrol C to look for him.

“They spent an hour and a half searching without success before returning to the beach at 11.45pm.”

Just after midnight the motor-launch appeared.

They waited in vain for about 30 minutes before setting off for Egypt and safety, arriving there on 12th July 1943, says Neil.


  • Memorial - stained glass window bearing Ken Lamonby's name

Andy Lassen believed Ken had been wounded and taken away for interrogation but after the war it was discovered he had been shot and later died of his wounds. He was the only casualty.

According to the Colcestrian Magazine, produced by CRGS in July 1945, the Germans buried Ken Lamonby’s body with military honours on the beach.

“It goes on to say that, after their withdrawal from Crete in October 1944, the leader of the Greek partisans on the island took steps to ensure a permanent grave for Ken.

“Accordingly, his body was exhumed and re-interred in a monastery, before eventually being transferred to the Suda Bay War Cemetery,” adds Neil.

Lassen was killed in April 1945 while leading another SBS operation in northern Italy,