Obituary: Raphael Shovel

Decorated wartime glider pilot who fought in dawn raids on D Day


He volunteered to become a wartime glider pilot, but having learned to fly Tiger Moths from RAF pilots, Raphael Shovel, who has died aged 95, was given his wings after flying solo for only 20 hours.

The son of Eastern European immigrants Hyman and Rose Shovel, kosher butchers in London’s East End, Sgt 2nd Pilot Raphael Shovel attended grammar school in Bethnal Green, and after briefly working in a millinery factory, he enlisted on March 18, 1943.

He was joined in Normandy and Arnhem by his senior pilot, Staff Sgt Jack Tarbitten, and several days before D Day Raphael was advised by his CO not to take his Jew-inscribed ID disc with him into action.

On June 6 the sky filled with an armada of Allied fighter and bomber aircraft flying over both the English and French coasts. Raphael flew the glider, adjusting wings and rudder as necessary. Jack took over and circled, looking for the landing spot. But to their horror, they found it covered in anti-aircraft landing devices, similar to those used on the Normandy beaches. Jack landed safely and disembarked near the River Orne where the famous Pegasus bridge had been taken earlier that morning.

Suddenly a German mortar shell landed on the glider, killing the jeep driver and destroying the equipment. But the rest of the men got away.

Raphael and Jack left for the embattled coastal resort of Ouistreham and eventually landed on a small naval vessel at Seaford and were briefed for the Arnhem operation. Raphael was in a Horsa with a Dakota tug on the first dawn wave on September 18, 1944 to Arnhem. The huge armada of gliders and tugs again filled the sky as on D Day.

Jack pulled away after release, but another tug jettisoned a rope which hit the wing of their glider. Forced to dive immediately just short of their landing zone which was embroiled in heavy fighting, they landed safely, surrounded by chaos.

Raphael grabbed a parachute to line the slit trench, but the Germans pinned them down firing relentlessly above the trenches. A bomb landed nearby and decapitated a nearby glider pilot. Throughout his life Raphael could never erase that terrible memory.

Next day they approached Oosterbeek through the woods. Raphael received a slight shrapnel wound in the right leg. He lost Jack during the journey, and they never met again.

With five other Airbourne men Raphael found an old house on the outskirts of the town and gave his rations to some Dutch women. As senior NCO, he told the men to mount their Bren gun upstairs but one of them heard noises from the cellar. Raphael opened the door and by dim candlelight, he saw three women with two Scottish terriers! Raphael brought them water from the kitchen and the women shared their scant food with the soldiers.

They heard Germans talking and digging in the nearby woods. Bullets flew through the doors and windows. Yet morale was very high, and he recalled the Airborne men showing no fear as they fought to the bitter end with fantastic spirit.

He approached the river, but the air was full of enemy fire and German flares trying to seek out the British troops. He was hit in the right thigh and then far more seriously in the left leg. Suddenly he was hit again in the groin by shrapnel. A small boat appeared and he was ferried to safety.

At a casualty clearing station a surgeon declared him too far gone. Raphael sat up and said “I am not too far gone!” The surgeon smiled and the next thing he remembered was a hospital near Lichfield, full of wounded.

Further operations and penicillin finally cured him. He received physiotherapy in a camp near Bedford from a Sergeant of the Royal Army Medical. An elderly soldier passed by and the sergeant told Raphael he was a Polish Jew in the Intelligence section, adding: “you would not find Jews like that fighting where you were!” Raphael showed him his recovered ID discs and the Sergeant fulsomely apologised.

Raphael was demobbed on September 11, 1945. He received the 1939-45 France and Germany Stars, and Star and War Medal. In 2004, he was also awarded the 1948 Israeli medal ribbon for pre-State services to Israel.

After the war Raphael opened a business in South Wales. He married Trudi Gulperin in 1960 and they had two children, Katrina and Kenneth. Katrina tragically died in a climbing accident some years ago. Raphael did not claim his medals until 1997, finally persuaded by his son, who survives him with Trudi.


Raphael Shovel: born August 26. 1923. Died May 25, 2019

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