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.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

What Did You Do In The War Grandad?

How's this for an inauspicious start to understanding and further researching a family member's military career. I mentioned in the introduction to this blog that in terms of first hand source information this is pretty much presented here in its entirety.... written on the reverse of a tea stained envelope.

And here it is......

A check of the addressed side shows that the letter was delivered to my Grandfather's house in Burgess Hill, West Sussex and it is postmarked with the date 27.11.92. This means that my Grandfather was 78 years old when he recalled these locations and committed them to paper.

The list reads as follows (spelling uncorrected):

  • D Day
  • Aromanches
  • Rouen
  • Caen
  • Bolbek (ENSA)
  • Le Harve
  • Falaise Gap
  • Clark's Forces
  • Corridor
  • Ardennes
  • Corridor
  • Nymegan
  • Arnhem
  • Bruxels
  • Belgium Engine
  • Home
  • Schwarine
  • Baltic Coast
  • Belsen
  • Home way of 1st Canadian Hospital
  • 108
  • (obscured) British

Now I know that this was put together in roughly chronological order and looking at it, it follows a logical route from the Normandy beaches, through France, into Belgium and Holland with the Allied Forces throughout 1944. Jim ended his period of service in an administrative role within the infamous Belsen (Bergen-Belsen) concentration camp within Germany itself.

Many of the names on this list speak for themselves, known from a combination my own interest in the history of the Second World War, a reasonable knowledge of the Geography of Europe and too many dreary Sunday afternoons spent watching war films under duress (Dad dominated the TV in the late '70's!). Other names are more challenging, but where possible I want to investigate the significance of each name on this list.

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