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.

Saturday 5 July 2014

Jim Heath’s Personal Record from 1940 to June 1944

The previous posts have shed some light on the movements of 59 (Staffordshire) Division, 177 Infantry Brigade and 5th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment and the training that they undertook, firstly with the role of home defence and later in preparation for the invasion of Continental Europe that had to happen at some point in the future.

With the exception of the enlistment documents and his transfer to Lichfield I.T.C. at the point of embodiment in January 1940, all of this information has been gleaned from Peter Knight’s ‘The 59th Division Its War Story’. Other records that provide detail from this period are few and far between as there was no requirement for battalions to maintain war diaries until they commenced active service.
So here I will attempt to scrape together what little I have and this comes in the form of the information recorded in his ‘Soldiers  Service and Pay Book’ (Army Book 64), in which much of the day to day, often rather mundane, information was recorded including inoculations received, training completed, leave and uniform size requirements.

The inside page of Army Book 64 records his name, rank and number. There are four entries in his own hand, none dates and for each, the entry for Regiment (if infantry) has been carefully excised from the record with a blade, clearly as a security/intelligence measure in the event of a soldier being taken prisoner.

In the absence of dates, I cannot be sure of what these entries relate to with certainty, but I would assume that his time with the North Staffords, the South Staffords and the Royal Scots Fusiliers is represented. That would account for three of the four entries, one being a mystery since I do not assume that it would relate to his time in an administrator within No.12 Unit Displaced Persons Assembly Centre (D.P.A.C.S.) within the British Army of Liberation (B.L.A.) at the end of the war.

Then follows some basic personal/physical information. Note that again on the stamp, possible information of enemy intelligence value has been obscured.

Page 4 details ‘Particulars of Training’. Under ‘Courses and Schools Specialist Qualifications'. Showing result’. Here is recorded the following:

Courses and Schools Specialist Qualifications. Showing result
Initials of Officer
D.M. Chamber *
Feb 1940
2” Mortar Qualified **
11.5.40 to 18.5.40
D.M. Test
Feb 1942
Asst Armourer’s Course
Qualified as Asst Armourer

*The use of the gas chamber to test if Service personnel could fit their respirators properly dates back to 1918. Servicemen fitted their respirators, entered the chamber and walked round for 5 minutes in an atmosphere of tear gas. After leaving the chamber, respirators were worn for a few more minutes to allow gas to dissipate from clothing. Special capsules of CAP, an early tear gas, were issued for this training. This routine was augmented in 1935. After going through the procedure to check respirators had been fitted properly, each man briefly re-entered the chamber without protection as a demonstration of the protection afforded by the respirator.

By 1941 all Service personnel went through this respirator test and unprotected exposure every three months. Personnel were also required to experience a nose gas, DM, so that they might be able to recognise the gas and appreciate its delayed action effects.

Personnel were exposed to DM for two minutes: no-one was required to experience DM more than once. These arrangements continued after World War II.

The requirement to experience DM ceased in 1963. CAP, or CN as it was also called, remained in use as a riot control agent until the late 1950s, when it was replaced by CS. By 1964 CS was being used instead of CAP in what became known as the "CS chamber" test. Every member of the Armed Services was required to undergo the test. The test continued through the 1980s, by which time most permanent military stations and training camps had a CS chamber.

**The 2" mortar was for use within infantry platoons. It was a short barreled (21 inch) weapon, effective over a 500 yard range, operated by teams of two (one guiding the direction of fire and one loading the shells. 

British 2" Mortar

Men of the Royal Scots Fusiliers firing a 2-inch mortar, Scotland, 27 August 1942 (© IWM (H 23477))

Later in the book under ‘Record of Specialist Employment Whilst Serving’, ‘Mortar Pl. 3”’ is detailed from March 1940. Under ‘Remarks and Initials of Officer’ are what could be initials, but equally could read ‘Fail’. Other employment is barely legible but one entry ‘25t’ could correspond to the responsibility for driving a 2.5 ton lorry. This I know he did as he mentioned this acquired skill frequently as one of his wartime achievements and the fact that it was the Army who taught him to drive.

One page of the ‘Record of Specialist Employment Whilst Serving’ section has been adapted to record periods of leave.

Nature of Grant + Period
Whether Free Warrant Issued
Initials of Officer
28/4.4.41    Priv.
Privilege   26/6 – 2/7/41
Privilege   9 – 15.10.41
Privilege   12 – 27.5.42
- “ -            1 – 9.10.42
Compassionate 23/11 - 9/12/42
Priv. Leave 27/2/43 – 3/3/43
Priv. Leave 1 – 10.6.43
1 – 9.5/45
Priv. Leave B.L.A.

A couple of things are worthy of note from this record of leave, one relates to one period, shortly after the birth of his daughter Margaret Anne (my mother) where he had one of two brushes with the long arm of the military law. According to the family story, Margaret became ill at the age of about three months during which time he was absent without leave. Time wise this would tally with the period from 9th to 15th October 1941, but whether this relates to the ‘No’ recorded under the free warrant issue column I cannot say.
The last period of leave is significant as this week spans the period of formal surrender of the German Armies in Rheims and Berlin. This 8th May was to become known as V.E Day (Victory in Europe) and on this day Jim Heath was with the family in New Brighton, then a popular British seaside resort on the Wirral peninsula, Merseyside.

Another significant record in the book is the periodic medical classification. Of note here is the reclassification that was documented on 10th April 1945 from A1 to B6. This was the result of wounds sustained in the Nijmegen area on 7th April 1945. But that is some way of yet in this narrative.

Category or Grade
Medical Examiner of Recruits, or Other Medical Authority
Initials of Medical Officer

Category Confirmed
MED. BOARD 8 xxxxxx

In terms of medical classification, from 1939 the letter designated the following service options:

A – Fit for general service at home and abroad,

B – unfit for general service abroad but fit for base or garrison service at home and abroad,

C – fit for home service only,

D – unfit for any form of military service.

In 1940, the classification system used by the British Army was further refined to relate the grade to the ability to perform service relevant activities such as marching, shooting and driving. I have noted in research reference to the classification through B to 5, but not to 6.

Vaccines and inoculations received follows (see above for the scan):


Date Vaccinated
Initials of Medical Officer

Protective Inoculations

Nature of Vaccine, “T.A.B.”
Cholera, Plague etc.
Initials of Medical Officer
TAB ½ cc TETTOX 1 cc
TAB 1 cc
TAB    xxxxxxx
½ cc TAB. 1 cc TET
½ cc TAB. 1 cc TET
Typhus (3)
TAB .25 cc
Typhus. TAB .25 cc

T.A.B. = typhoid-paratyphoid A and B vaccine
TETTOX = tetanus toxoid vaccine

Next of Kin Now Living

Nearest degree of relationship
Latest known Address in full
June Heath
Leylands Road
Burgess Hill

Western Road
Burgess Hill

40 Albermarle Road
Cross Heath
James Kitchener Heath
Margaret Anne Heath

Next, details of the wardrobe, not very snappy admittedly.... but I would love to have seen him in a pith helmet (described below as a topee)!

And finally,

Soldier’s Name and Description on Attestation

Army Number                                5051929
Surname (in capitals)                       HEATH
Christian Names (in full)                  JAMES KITCHENER
Date of Birth                                   14-9-1914
Place of Birth                                  Parish --------------------
                                                       In or near the town of REDACTED
                                                       In the County of REDACTED
Trade on Enlistment                         Tile maker
Nationality of Father at birth             British
Nationality of Mother at birth            British
Religious Denomination                     Unitarian
Approved Society                             Prudential
Membership No
Enlisted at                                         REDACTED On 6-1-40
For the:-
*Regular Army                  *Supplementary Reserve
*Territorial Army              *Army Reserve Section D
*Strike out those inapplicable

For D of W years with the Colours and ___________ years in the Reserve.

Signature of Soldier ___________________________
Date                                                      29-1-40

(D of W meaning the duration of the war).

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