The intentions to document this information are long standing in that they go back some two decades to the early/mid 1990’s, just a few years before the subject of this site, James Kitchener Heath passed away.

As is the case in so many families in which a generation experienced war and all its traumas, certain aspects of service are known, but all too often the details are sketchy and disjointed. Add into this mix the passage of time and the result is invariably a collection of stories and fragments of memories accompanied by a handful of fragile and faded documents (if you are lucky) that represent the sum of information relating to the most extraordinary period in a soldier’s life. This was certainly the case in our family..... and it’s not much to go on.

In February 1995, my Father and I struggled to put together a potted service history to be read by the cleric presiding over my Grandfather’s funeral. At this point I decided to take steps to fill in some of the gaps as best I could.... sadly now without the benefit of first hand testimony.

A well known turn of phrase, ‘written on the back of a fag packet’ is defined by the Collins on-Line dictionary as something ‘composed or formed quickly and without detailed analysis or research’. As far as first hand source material for this history is concerned, no better a description could be made. The details gleaned from my Grandfather in brief (and often emotional) discussions in the 1990’s are summarised as a list of place names written in an old man’s shaky handwriting on the back of a standard envelope! (this will feature later). On the upside, a standard envelope is approximately twice the size of a cigarette packet, which immediately doubles the amount of information to work with!

By my own admission, this site is a little self-indulgent, being of primary interest to myself, my mother, my children and a handful of relatives still living in Staffordshire. In addition, it may be that the information presented here will be read by others outside of the family who have a passing interest in military or family history.

I would welcome any comments/suggestions or dare I say it relevant information to contact me.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Four Bishops Stortford Graves 100 Years after The Great War

I have been for as long as I can remember drawn to old cemeteries. This fascination with ‘cities of the dead’ does not stem from any ghoulishness on my part, rather I am intrigued to know a little bit about the lives of those people remembered in worn and lichen encrusted name engravings. War graves in particular have long interested me. Thus it was that this weekend, on the first proper sunny day of the year, I went with my son Rudi into Bishops Stortford Old Cemetery (my favourite location within the town) to track down a particular quartet of headstones.

To mark the beginning of the commemorations of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War an excellent book was published by David Clare, Carolyn Downing and Sarah Turner. This book included information about four soldiers that either came from the town or found themselves billeted here with their units.

These were the graves that Rudi and I set out to find and photograph.

Private George Harrison (North Midland Army Cyclist Corps).

Arriving in Bishops Stortford in late February 1915, Private George W. Harrison was finally billeted at Ivy Lodge in Warwick Road on 12th March, the day prior to his untimely death. On the evening of the 12th he attended a dinner at The Railway Hotel in Station Road, hosted by his commanding officer, Second Lieutenant Albert Ball. Later witnesses told the Haymeads inquest that was held on the 17th March that the soldier had been at the pub at between 7.30 and 8.00 pm when he was observed to be somewhat intoxicated. He continued to drink after the meal and eventually left The Railway between 8.30 and 9.00 pm when he returned to Ivy Lodge a short distance away. Once back in his room he was helped to bed and left to sleep off the effects of the night’s alcoholic consumption.

Another witness at the inquest stated that, upon looking in on the prone soldier shortly before midnight, he appeared to be asleep but had evidently vomited. On the following morning, Sunday 14th March, an early morning check found George to be dead in his bed. The verdict of a Dr Huxtable, who arrived at the house at 7.30 that morning, concluded that George’s larynx was obstructed and that he had therefore asphyxiated on his own vomit. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.

Headstone of Private George Harrison
(Photograph: Rudi Andrews).

Private Harrison was buried in the Old Cemetery, where among the mourners were his wife, mother-in-law and his commanding officer. Also in attendance was Mr. William Blyth Gerish, a prominent Stortfodian and owner of Ivy Lodge where George died. As can be seen in the photograph below, George’s funeral was well attended by soldiers of the Bedfordshire, Nottingham and Derbyshire Regiments who were also passing through Bishops Stortford in the Spring of 1915.

Soldiers stationed in Bishops Stortford attending Private Harrison's funeral.

Private Richard Lohmann (15th Bn London Rifles (Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles)) No. 534630.

The son of a naturalised German from Schleswig-Holstein, Private Richard Cornell Lohmann is buried in the family plot in the Old Cemetery. Born in Tottenham, North London on 10th February 1879, Richard served with the Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles, which in 1908 was incorporated into the newly formed London Regiment and designated as the 15th Battalion London Rifles.

15th Battalion, London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles), 47th Division, marching past the Lord Mayor of London, Colonel Sir Charles Wakefield, 11th June 1916. (IWM Q633).

As declared on his headstone, Richard ‘Died of wounds received fighting for his country’ at the age of 29. From the sources that I have been able to locate it is not possible to state with certainty where he was wounded, but it is known that the 15th Battalion London Rifles were in action at Passchendaele (The infamous Third Battle of Ypres) which lasted from 31st July to 10th November 1917, dates that would tie in with the known fact that he succumbed to his injuries in early October of that year. The epitaph ‘.... of wounds received fighting for his country’ is especially poignant as the family retained their German surname throughout the war, a decision that was not without repercussions in the pervading atmosphere of intense anti-German sentiment that existed at the time.

Headstone of Private Richard Lohmann
(Photograph: Rudi Andrews).

The following two soldiers have a special meaning for me as they both lived in the Newtown area of Bishops Stortford, as do I as a resident of Apton Road. Nearly every day I pass through Castle Street and Bartholomew Road where the two men once lived.

Private Herbert Solomon Kitchener (1/5th Bn Bedfordshire Regiment) No. 45687.

Herbert attempted to enlist earlier in the war but was turned away having failed to satisfy the minimum required chest measurements, an early indication of pulmonary insufficiency  that would ultimately lead to his premature death at the age of 33. However, as the war raged into its fourth year, the Recruiting Sergeants of the British Army were forced to reduce the physical minimums for enlistment in order to reinforce the battered Regiments in the line. This shift in the requirements meant that on the 19th March 1917, Herbert Solomon Kitchener got his wish and became a Private of the Bedfordshire Regiment. After basic training he was posted to Egypt where the 1/5th Battalion were fighting with the Ottoman forces in Palestine. 

Clearly, the arid and dusty conditions in the area were disastrous for Herbert who was admitted to hospital on numerous occasions to the extent that he was sent home in August 1918 (a decision that the Army never took lightly due to the cost associated with removing a soldier from the front line). Shortly thereafter he was discharged from  the Army on the grounds of being ‘physically unfit’ having ‘Tubercule of Lung, 80%’. Sadly, Herbert died at home at 35 Castle Street, directly opposite my local pub, The Castle’, on the 3rd May 1920. He left a wife Margaret and a son of 3 years, also named Herbert Solomon.

Herbert's home at 35 Castle Street, Bishops Stortford.

Headstone of Private Herbert Solomon
(Photograph: Rudi Andrews).

Corporal Harry Kitchener (3rd Bn Bedfordshire Regiment) No. 31598.

Harry was another very local lad who, according to the 1911 census, was living with his parents Henry and Sarah at 29 Bartholomew Road (approximately a one minute walk from my front door). Harry was killed many miles from the theatres of war in which the Bedfords saw their fighting, but it was enemy action that ended his short life nonetheless. 

A Gotha bomber of the type responsible for the 13th June 1917 London air raid.

Since the birth of the ‘miracle of flight’ the military powers of Europe had recognised the possibility of aerial bombardment and the First World War first saw this new dimension to warfare realised. On 13th June 1917, twenty long range heavy bombers known as Gothas launched the first daylight raid on London. 162 people were killed and 432 injured in the raid which was to be the deadliest single raid on London of the entire war. It was on 13th June 1917 that Harry was in London visiting relatives when he was killed, becoming one of the 162 fatality statistic. He was 19 years old.

The inscription on his headstone reads:

‘Links which reach from Heaven above unite us still in perfect love’.

Harry's home at 29 Bartholomew Road, Bishops Stortford.

Headstone of Corporal Harry Kitchener
(Photograph: Rudi Andrews).

Of these four soldiers with links to Bishops Stortford, two, Herbert and Richard do not appear on the town's war memorials for reasons unknown. However, all of their details are recorded in the Old Cemetery register of graves.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

49th (West Riding) Division Facebook page and web site

Memorial to the men of the 49th (West Riding) Division - The Polar Bears in Doorn near Utrecht. The 49th Recce Regiment entered the town on 7th May 1945.

I would like to draw your attention to two 49th Division related sites maintained by Eelco Warmerdam. Please take a look.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

From Roosendaal to Nijmegen November 1944

In contrast to the living conditions experienced by the battalion in Normandy, accommodation in the Lowlands represented a significant upgrade with buildings replacing slit trenches. The men of the 11th RSF were spoiled for a time in Roosendaal when they were billeted within the houses of grateful Dutch families, in homes that were largely undamaged. Nevertheless, the enduring memory of the Roosendaal area is of an unpleasant place to be in late October/early November, as Colonel Douglas recalled ‘a nasty area because to move you had to stay on top of the dyke , if you got off the dyke you were in flooded fields, if you stayed on top you got shot, if you went down in the fields you got drowned or hit by the shells and mortars. Not very funny’. The Germans may have been in retreat at this point, heading with all speed for their own national border, but the terrain and the appalling weather conditions made for a demoralising and dangerous place to be.

Polar Bears in the vicinity of Roosendaal Station at the point of liberation
30th October 1944
(The Polar Bear insignia can be seen on the rear of the jeep in the foreground).

The fighting continued. German units fought rear-guard actions in the northern suburbs of Roosendaal as the main body of troops were evacuated north of the River Maas. At this time it was the responsibility of the battalion to harry the retreat. On 4th November, the battalion concentrated at Oud Gastel, little over four miles north of Roosendaal and was placed on one hour’s notice to move. That morning the German units were hastened in their retreat by harassing fire from medium machine gun fire and salvos of 4.2 inch mortars. At 1030 hours, the battalion moved off in pursuit with ‘B’ Company advancing on the right and ‘D’ Company on the left. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies remained in reserve. Initially, the advance was untroubled, however, in time ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies, now joined by ‘C’ Company contacted the enemy and came under fire.

The ability of the engaged companies to fight was severely hampered by the necessity to restrict all movement to the top of the dykes. Such restrictions ruled out any tactical manoeuvres that may have been to the advantage of the advance. These movement constraints were understood by the enemy, who despite being in retreat, were in well dug in positions. With no tank support possible, the Germans allowed the forward British units to advance close to their positions with the knowledge that such close proximity would prevent the use of artillery. With ‘B’ Company pinned down in open ground and with the light failing prearranged positions were consolidated and here the Companies would stay for the night. The enemy withdrew from their positions overnight. Patrols were able to cover some distance the next morning (5th November) to the extent that a ‘D’ Company patrol contacted the Canadians as they advanced from the north and a patrol of ‘B’ Company reached as far as Dinteloord (approximately 11 miles to the north west of Roosendaal) where they too encountered the Canadians. By mid-morning the battalion received the order to return to their billets in Roosendaal, all except ‘A’ Company who were to hold the position until nightfall before returning to Roosendaal.

In the actions described above a total of 12 German fatalities and 37 prisoners were accounted for, for 4 killed, 19 wounded and 1 missing of the battalion.

The atrocious conditions have been mentioned earlier and one specific mention of the hardship endured by the men on account of the poor weather is recorded in the Summary of Operations:

‘One platoon was immersed to the waist in water for about 5 hours and it reflects on the good training and stamina that only one man had to be evacuated the following day as a result of this long enforced immersion’. 

This paragraph struck a chord with me since one of my Grandfather’s stories told of how he spent a very unpleasant night perched on a seat of bricks, immersed to the waist in water in charge of a yardstick to monitor the rate at which the water was rising. However, when this anecdote was related to William Douglas, he stated that it was his belief that this would have been a memory of the time spent in Haalderen rather than Roosendaal.

The remainder of the month of November was very mobile for the battalion, but the days were spent in rest rather than in battle. Early in the month, the battalion was transferred from Roosendaal, eastwards and at the same time they parted from the 1st Canadian Army to come under the command of XII Corps of the British Second Army. The battalion concentrated in the town of Soerendonk. Here they engaged in training exercises mixed with entertainment activities until 23rd November when they moved eastwards once more to Blerick on the west bank of the River Maas. From here the intention was to launch an attack on the town of Venlo, approximately one mile away on the other side of the river. Preparations were in hand with recces and patrols carried out in order to establish the nature of the terrain, the strength of the German units to the Brigade front, anything that would confer an advantage upon the attackers. In the event, the responsibility for assaulting Venlo was passed over to 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division. However, Venlo, with its large airfield which served as a base for Luftwaffe nightfighters, was not finally liberated until 1st March 1945.

The battalion received orders to move to an area to the north of Nijmegen where they were to relieve the men of 231st Brigade of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. Reaching a staging post in the village of Mill (approximately 20 miles distant to the south of Nijmegen) the relief of the 1st Dorsets of the 231st Brigade was effected by 1930 hours on the evening of 29th November.

The 11th Battalion RSF had taken up positions in a notorious area known simply as ‘The Island’, an area of marshy polder that lay between the River Waal to the north of Nijmegen and the Neder Rijn (Lower Rhine) to the south of Arnhem. This tract of land was unpleasant in the extreme by the time the Polar Bears arrived in late November, low lying and flooded. The bodies of British and German fighters remained where they had fallen in the vicious fighting of late September/early October, when the Allies desperately tried to come to the aid of the 1st British Airborne Division, then confined to the Oosterbeek Perimeter to the western suburbs of Arnhem.

‘The Island’ framed by the Waal and Neder Rijn.

The battalion would be associated with this dreadful place for a period of over five months.

The Nijmegen Bridge viewed in the direction of Arnhem. The area known as 'The Island' can be seen across the River Waal. The church in Lent can be seen in the centre of the photograph.

The area of operation for the 49th Division was at the eastern end of the Island. The following chapter describes the actions of the 7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and the 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers to repulse a determined German effort to reach the Nijmegen Bridge once again.

This was not the first time that the village of Haalderen had found itself on the frontline. During the ‘Garden’ operation of ‘Market Garden’ the necessity of holding Nijmegen Bridge and the bridgehead was well understood. The defence of the bridgehead took the fight into the villages of Bemmel, Baal and Haalderen. In late September, the 6th and 7th Battalion of the Green Howards (50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division) attempted to take Haalderen which was then fiercely defended by the soldiers of the 10th SS Panzer Division. Consequently, the village was badly damaged as the Germans withdrew in the first week of October.

'Where's The Bear?' Roosendaal, Holland 16th May 2015

Fresh off the Beveland Peninsula and a little wind burned we next headed to Roosendaal as we continued our Polar Bear trail. With not much time to spend in this city our visit was intended to be something of a ‘hit and run’ to the Polar Bear memorial before heading out of town. This would have been the case had the navigator (i.e. me) had the foresight of planning and noted down the location of this memorial in advance. As it was after completing several circuits of the central streets of the town we were on the verge of admitting defeat when we came across its location quite by accident.

Compared to the quiet dignity of the memorial at Wuustwezel, the monument in Roosendaal is rather disappointing. Sited in a small square at the intersection of Tufberg and Kade, the inscriptions on the plinth have suffered at the hands of the elements and the poor old Polar Bear that looks out across Roosendaal would benefit from the brief attention of a sand blaster. The burger van parked up against the base did nothing to enhance the moment. Nevertheless, none of these cosmetic flaws in any way detract from the significance of the memorial to the people of the city.

The inscription on the monument, translated from Dutch reads:

ON 26 - 30 OCTOBER 1944

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Lieutenant Colonel Willian Dewhurst Douglas Writes

Now presentations to royalty are all well and good and some achievement, even if I say so myself, but last week I received some feedback that was much more important for me.

When I re-started this project in early 2014, in researching the activities of the 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers in North West Europe, I stumbled upon an Imperial War Museum audio interview with one of their officers. This detailed two hour interview served as a first hand road map of the progress and achievements of the Battalion. The interviewee was William Dewhurst Douglas.

The interview can be found here:

Lieutenant Douglas, as he was at the time, was at some stage in Holland my Grandfathers Commanding Officer. He was on the highly audacious, not to mention highly decorated, raid over the River Waal that took 'D' Company of the 11th RSF behind enemy lines in order to 'create mayhem and bring back prisoners'. Indeed William Douglas was awarded the Military Cross for this action.

Later and quite by chance, an enquiry relating to the 11th RSF brought a response from an ex-pupil of William Douglas, with whom I enjoyed a very fruitful email exchange which included clarifications on my then understanding from said officer.

Upon publication of the book I sent copies to both men, with letters of thanks. Needless to say, I was thrilled for receive a very complementary, hand written letter from Lieutenant Colonel Douglas himself.

To get this close to my Grandfather's personal military history, 22 years after he died and 72 years after the events in Holland is for me amazing and completely unexpected.

From Lt Col W.D. Douglas MC

5th July 2017.

Dear Adrian,

Many thanks for your letter of 10th June and your book about your Grandfather. Both only reached me yesterday as I had been away from home.

I have speed read your book today and congratulate you on your tribute to your Grandfather. He must be proud of you and grateful for your insight into his time in the Army.

I was only too pleased to be able to help you – particularly through Charlie Arrand (one of my star History pupils).

Your Chapter 1 (your Grandfather’s funeral) I rate brought tears to your eyes. It certainly caused a brief few tears to me as the memories came back.

Your account of the battle for NOYERS brought back a memory. Some days before I had done a recce patrol from south of Fontenay-le-Pesnel (page 146) to check German positions on the long slope leading down to Noyers station. I recall reporting that the area was full of German positions!

I think that you are correct in placing your Grandfather in 16 Pl ’D’ Coy because of his knowledge and concern for Sgt. Little.

What a good idea to send profits from the book to the Associations for the newly created museum and the 49th Newsletter.

I never had the opportunity to be much associated with the 49th Div. after the war. In July ’45, I was on a troop-ship bound for the Far-East when Japan surrendered. I spent four years in Rhodesia with the African Rifles, then Staff College, the Far-east (Malaya-Korea). In fact very rarely in the UK, with my loyalties to the 2nd Div., 3rd Div., and 1st Guards Brigade.

Once again, my congratulations on your book and many thanks for my copy.

All Good Wishes.

William Douglas.

William Douglas, is a hale and hearty 96 year old, who is in late stage preparations to remarry. Such men were cut from a different cloth entirely !!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Presentation at Hill 112 Normandy 9th July 2017

Last weekend marked the 73rd anniversary of the battle to take Hill 112 to the South East of Caen. This modest area of high ground was viciously fought over as to command it meant control of the strategically vital surrounding area. Indeed Rommel described Hill 112 as the most important hill in Normandy. The task to take it was given to the men of the 43rd Wessex Division in an action code named 'Operation Jupiter' that was launched on the 9th/10th July 1944.

As with many significant sites across Battlefield Normandy, Hill 112 hosts many memorials, notably one to the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division.

43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division
Hill 112

Also of note is the Churchill tank at the site, a memorial to the many tank men who lost their lives in the actions.

Two weeks ago I met up with Dennis Dimond, Secretary of the 49th (West Riding) Division Association to pass over a number of copies of the book. He informed me that for one copy he had some very specific plans. He intended to travel to the location of Hill 112 to participate in the anniversary commemoration and to take the opportunity to make a donation from the Polar Bear Association funds to his counterpart in the Hill 112 Association for the maintenance of the Churchill tank pictured above.

It so happened that Prince Edward (the Queen's youngest son) would also be in attendance. Edward has close associations through his position as the Earl of Wessex. Dennis's plan was to make a presentation of 'A Pithead Polar Bear' to Prince Edward or at the very least pass a copy on to one of his aides.

In the event he did a very good job and further more was able document the presentation on camera. Many thanks to Dennis and the other Polar Bear representatives who were in attendance last weekend.

Dennis Dimond greets HRH Prince Edward

Now down to business....

And up, up and away, with a aide clutching said the book.

So there you have it. That this book may be currently sitting on a royal bookshelf appeals to my sense of humour. I think that my Grandfather would be amused.

Friday, 30 June 2017

59th (Staffordshire) Division Memorial Galmanche 19th May 2017

In May 2017 I returned to Normandy for the third time with some special tasks in mind that would wrap up my efforts to complete this 'Pithead Polar Bear' project of mine. 

In 2014, with the research in its infancy I made it to St Contest and the 59th Memorial in the square. On that occasion I left believing that the impressive property located next to the Church was the focus of the fighting in which my Grandfather with the 5th South Staffords was engaged over the 8th and 9th July 1944. 

Whilst La Grande Ferme, the aforementioned property, was indeed occupied and fought over,  the objective of the 5th South Staffs was located about a kilometer away. It was only on our most recent visit that Owen and I determined to finally find the elusive Galmanche memorial come what may. 

After the usual circuitous journeying along the narrowest of country lanes we spied two flag poles. Could it be that the side by side Tricolour and Union Flag marked the much sought after spot. Indeed it did and I was finally able to pay my respects at a spot that lay within 100 yards of where my Grandfather had fought 73 years earlier. Unusually I was well prepared and had with me a Royal British Legion with me for the occasion.

Over the past few years it had been my understanding that the only remaining evidence of the Chateau of Galmanche was now fashioned into the cross design memorial to the 59th that stands in St. Contest. However, having finally located this corner of Calvados we decided to venture further down the track, at the end of which the rebuilt property was visible. 

I have to say that I was thrilled to see that on either side of the new building their remained a couple of sections of the outer walls of the original Chateau and what's more, these walls were suitably peppered with bullet holes as well as bearing the scars of artillery attention.

Just to think that one of these pock marks could have originated from my Grandad's rifle...... assuming that he could shoot straight!

The approach to the original Chateau from the memorial site.

The rebuilt property on the site of the original Chateau Galmanche.

It is notable that the new building has retained the spiraled wrought iron work on the gates that can been seen on the photograph of the pre-war Chateau.

The original Chateau de Galmanche.

The photographs below show a section of the outer wall of the original Chateau bearing the scars of the July fighting as the 59th tried to dislodge the SS from the fortified position of Galmanche.

Scarred exterior wall of the original Chateau.

One of Jim Heath's potshots?