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, 25 August 2014

On the Eve Of Battle

Now concentrated, the Division then had two days (that is until 3rd July) to settle in. The exception to this was 177 Brigade (of which the 5th Battalion South Staffords formed a part, Grandfather included). Under the command of 1st Corps from 1st July, the 177 Brigade were to relieve the hard pressed 3rd Division, which had been the first British formation to hit ‘Sword’ beach on 6th June.

On 31st June the men of 177 Infantry Brigade moved up to the front line for the first time.

The 1/6th Battalion took over the line from the Royal Ulster Rifles at Cambes, a large village approximately four miles to the north of the besieged city of Caen.

The 2/6th Battalion moved to an orchard just south of the village of Anisy to the north of Cambes.

The 5th Battalion moved to the area of Galamanche slightly to the east of Cambes.

The movement of thousands of troops and tons of transport over the previous three weeks of a Normandy summer had resulted in the formation of a thick layer of dust across the terrain. This presented a risk as rising dust clouds gave away any troop movements in daylight. Dust allowed German observers to direct their artillery fire down onto the heads of formations on the move. Consequently, 177 Brigade were shelled as they moved into position, but on this occasion casualties were few.

A Humber scout car passes a sign warning of the dangers of raising dust, 12 July 1944 © IWM (B 7018)

The action in which my Grandfather was about to participate was codenamed ‘Operation Charnwood’

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