23 February 2023

Three anchors in Tamworth
recall Colin Grazier’s role
in breaking the Enigma code

The Anchor sculpture in Tamworth commemorating Colin Grazier from Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Three anchors seem, at first, an unusual collection of objects for a sculpture in the middle of Tamworth. After all, this is one of the most inland towns in the Midlands, and about as far from the coast and sea as one can get.

This striking sculpture in the middle of Tamworth dominates the public square facing the south side of Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, the town’s parish church.

The sculpture by the Polish sculptor Walenty Pytel commemorates Colin Grazier from Tamworth, whose bravery helped to break the Enigma codes and hasten the end of World War II, and two of his colleagues, Tony Fasson and Tommy Brown.

Able Seaman Colin Grazier (22) from Tamworth and First Lieutenant Tony Fasson (29) from Scotland drowned on 30 October 1942 while they were seizing vital Enigma codebooks from a German U-boat.

The men served on HMS Petard, a Royal Navy destroyer that had attacked the U-559. They swam to the stricken submarine after its crew surrendered. Colin Grazier had married his childhood sweetheart Olive just two days before joining his ship, HMS Petard.

Grazier and Fasson died when the U-boat sank, but not before passing the Enigma documents to NAAFI canteen assistant Tommy Brown (16), who had also boarded the vessel. He survived, but died two years later in a house fire.

The captured material enabled the codebreakers at Bletchley Park to crack the German Naval Enigma cipher, allowing essential supply ships to avoid U-boat attacks.

Colin Grazier and Tony Fasson were later recommended for posthumous awards of the Victoria Cross. However, the Admiralty wasconcerned this might draw unwanted attention from German Intelligence, and instead ordered posthumous awards of the George Cross, the highest civilian award for bravery. Tommy Brown was awarded the George Medal.

Due to the Official Secrets Act, their mission remained a secret for 30 years. Colin Grazier and his two comrades helped save hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping from torpedoing and of course no-one can estimate the countless lives their actions saved. Their deeds that day paved the way for the build-up of forces for the Normandy Invasions.

Bletchley Park was arguably the most successful intelligence operation in history, the secret workplace of the remarkable people who cracked Germany’s Enigma Code. Almost to the end of the war, the Germans had firm faith in the Enigma ciphering machine. But, in fact, the codebreakers were deciphering almost 4,000 German transmissions daily by 1942.

It is now recognised that Grazier, Fasson and Brown heroic actions shortened World War II by at least 12 months.

The anchor memorial created by Walenty Pytel was unveiled in 2002 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The journalist and author Phil Shanahan led an award-winning campaign by the Tamworth Herald to bring attention to Tamworth-born Colin Grazier, his two colleagues and their heroic efforts of 30 October 1942. The campaign won the Campaign of the Year Award in 2000 and funds were raised to provide a permanent memorial.

The anchor memorial created by Walenty Pytel was unveiled in October 2002, on the 60th anniversary of the action against U-559.A Portsmouth shipyard donated the chain which links the anchors representing the three heroes.

The text on the memorial reads:

Colin Grazier

This memorial is dedicated to Able Seaman Colin Grazier of Two Gates Tamworth, who gave his life recovering vital Enigma codes from a sinking German U-boat.

His extraordinary bravery together with that of Lt Tony Fasson and Tommy Brown (all of HMS Petard) changed the course of WWII, saving countless lives worldwide.

While undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest war heroes, Grazier was also one of the least known. Details of his actions remained secret for decades, depriving him of the true recognition he so richly deserved. This tribute was erected in the Year 2007 following a campaign in the Tamworth Herald which attracted worldwide interest. It was made possible with the support of local ex-service and civic organisations.

Erected in memory of all Tamworth people who died for their country.

The Polish-born sculptor Walenty Pytel is a contemporary artist based in the United Kingdom and is recognised as a leading metal sculptor of birds and beasts. He was born in 1941 in German-occupied Poland during World War II. Because of his blond features the Nazis kidnapped him from his mother Jadwiga Pytel and had him adopted by a Gestapo officer and his childless wife. However his mother, who had escaped from a prison camp, snatched him from outside the couple’s home and fled Poland with him to Italy.

Pytel came to England at the age of five and later studied graphic design at Hereford College of Arts. He opened two studios in Hereford in 1963, initially focusing on paper sculptures for window displays but turned to metal two years later.

His creations are often inspired by nature and his work includes the Jubilee Fountain in New Palace Yard, Westminster, ‘Take Off’ at Birmingham Airport, and one of Europe’s largest metalwork sculptures, ‘The Fossor’ (1979), at the headquarters of JCB in Rocester, Staffordshire.

The museum at Bletchley Park has a section dedicated to Colin Grazier and Tamworth has an avenue, an office block and an hotel named after him.

The Colin Grazier Hotel on Church Street is beside the Colin Grazier sculpture and Saint Editha’s Church and is a Grade II listed building dating from the early 18th century, with later additions.

Over time, it has been a house, a police station, an office, and a hotel., it is in brick with stone dressings, a cornice over the ground floor, a top modillioned cornice, and a tile roof with coped gables. It is in early Georgian style, and has two storeys, seven bays, and a rear gabled wing with an attic. There are two doorways with architraves, friezes and cornices. The windows are sashes with keystones, and in the windows in the upper floor have rounded heads.

The rear gabled wing has a single-storey extension that includes a late 19th century cell block.

The Colin Grazier Hotel on Church Street is beside the Colin Grazier sculpture and Saint Editha’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (2)

Good advice from Samuel Johnson in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Samuel Johnson once declared: ‘Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’

I imagine too when one tires of demanding social justice, one is tired of life.

Johnson said: ‘By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.’ His biographer, James Boswell, quotes this pious Anglican of the 18th century as saying:

‘Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London consists.’

Continued Tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection