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.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

A Countdown To War - 1939

15th March 1939

Czechoslovakia surrenders after Adolf Hitler annexes the country into the Third Reich. Although the Czechs had warmly welcomed the Germans when they entered the Sudetenland months earlier, they stood silently in despair when the Nazis entered Prague.

Many historians are in agreement that if Britain and the other European powers ceased to appease Hilter and instead had taken military action against Nazi Germany during the Sudeten Crisis, the outbreak of world war could have been prevented. The military power of Germany at this point would have been overwhelmed by the standing armies of Britain and France. However, with German rearmament in full flow this imbalance was overturned by the outbreak of war some six months later.

31st August 1939

Germany's Adolf Hitler signs the order for an assault on Poland. After the Germans stage a phony raid on a Gleiwitz radio station, they blame the Polish for the "unprovoked attack."

1st September 1939

Without declaring war, Germany invades Poland. The coordinated air-and-land attack is conducted with such brutal efficiency that "blitzkrieg" becomes a feared offensive tactic.

Contemporary US Newsreel On The Outbreak of War

3rd September 1939

Honouring their treaty with Poland, France and Great Britain enter the war against Germany.

History has taken quite a dim view of Neville Chamberlain's leadership in the immediate pre-war years.With hindsight it is difficult to fault Churchill's warnings about the implications of Nazi foreign policy since the mid '30's. But, listen to the declaration of war as broadcast by Prime Minister Chamberlain on the 3rd September 1939 and it is impossible not to empathise with the man and understand, as best we can, the impact that these solemn words had on a nation that was just about getting back on its feet after the the horrors of The Great War, then less than a generation distant. It is easy for us, with the benefit of hindsight and with the visions of the camps in our minds, to look upon the efforts of appeasement in order to avoid another European War at any cost as a sign of weakness in the face of an aggressor. Looked at in the context of a country yet to be 'between the wars' the thinking has to change somewhat.

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