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, 13 January 2014

The Briefest of Biographies

My Grandfather was born on 14th September 1914 (although throughout his life some confusion existed as to the accuracy of this date, the 19th being another contender). His given name of James Kitchener Heath reflected the patriotic fervour that was prevalent across the country in the early months of what was to become known as The Great War (then entering its sixth week) - see the footnote below.

He was born in the Knutton area of Newcastle-Under Lyme, Staffordshire.

At the time of his own enlistment he was employed as a baker's assistant.

Jim Heath aged approximately 16
(which would date the photograph to around 1930)

In 1936, along with his wife to be, June Griffiths (also of Stoke-on-Trent/Newcastle-Under-Lyme), he effectively eloped to Burgess Hill in West Sussex (then a small town to which his older brother George Heath has moved some time before). Jim Heath was to reside in Burgess Hill for the rest of his life.

June Heath (née Griffiths) in the 1930s

Then came the war......

After the war, he returned home to West Sussex and took up work at a local brick and tile manufacturer (it's difficult to keep a Staffordshire man away from a kiln!) where he remained until poor health, directly attributable to wounds received during his active service, forced him to take early retirement in 1977.

Of his wartime experiences, he spoke relatively little. He would though accommodate my near obsessive childhood thirst for stories related to war and the army generally. It is with great regret that I cannot recall with any clarity the majority of the tales that he retold to me on numerous occasions. It is equally with regret that by the time I truly developed a serious interest in establishing just what it was that he did in the war years, his memory was failing and what he did say was related in a very emotional way, which made broaching the subject rather difficult.

My Grandfather (who will hereafter be referred to as Jim) died in February 1995 in the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex. He was cremated at Surrey and Sussex Crematorium with representatives of The Royal British Legion in attendance.

He lies (with his wife June who died three years earlier) in the graveyard of St Andrews Church in Burgess Hill.

* Lord Kitchener (1st Earl Kitchener) was Secretary of State at the oubreak of the hostilities of the First World War. He was responsible for mustering volunteers to join new formations in 1914. His imposing image adorned recruitment posters, exhorting young men to join up with the words 'Your Country Needs You!. Drowning on a voyage to Russia on 5th June 1916, he did not live to see the soldier's in the so called 'Kitchener;s Army' go into action for the first time on 1st July 1916, the first day of The Battle of The Somme.

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