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.
Sunday, 18 January 2015
Another Perspective on the Battle For Noyers - Colonel William Dewhurst Douglas 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers
Such was the scale of the Overlord operation and so numerous were the daily acts of individual heroism in the Normandy campaign that the deeds of some formations are not widely documented. Sadly, this is the case for the 59th (Staffordshire) Division. Aside from the 'It's War Story' and the 'Your Men In Battle' books, both now long out of print, references to the 59th are few and far between in the public domain.
However, the excellent archive held by the Imperial War Museum contains an interview of approximately two hours duration with one Colonel Douglas, an officer who served with the 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers in North West Europe between 1944 and 1945.
A formation within the 49 (West Riding) Division, the 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers fought alongside the 5th Battalion South Staffordshires during Operation Pomegranate. Indeed after the fighting in Normandy concluded the remnants of the 59th Division units were transferred to other Divisions. In this way my Grandfather was incorporated in the 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers for the remainder of the war. Reference is made to this transfer of the Staffords in Colonel Douglas' account below.
In this extract, Colonel Douglas describes his observations as the men of the 59th Division assaulted the station area of Noyers.
'It was around this time that I began patrolling. I think that by the and of the campaign I'd probably done more patrols than any other Lieutenant in the entire British Army. Anyway, I did my first recce patrol down a slope towards Noyers station where the enemy was supposed to be preparing a new position down at the far end of the slope to hold up our next advance and we had to find out what they were doing'.
'Noyer, N-O-Y-E-R station, it may have an 'S' on it on some maps. Well we went down this slope, a very long one, about a mile, a mile and a half long this slope. Not a blade of grass on it, not a bush, nothing. It was a wide open, ex-cultivated field actually. We saw the enemy, they were wiring and they were digging trenches and you could hear them muttering and you could see the odd flash of a cigarette behind someones hand so we crawled back before daylight and reported all this and a great, tremendous bombardment was put on them that morning which apparently did them no good at all.
About this time, 'cos not a great deal was happening where we were, all we had to do was hold this ridge in readiness for the 59th Staffordshire Division, who were to come up through us with armour support and go down and capture the Noyers position. And we had time to wander about on top of this position and what impressed me at the time was how marvellous the German dug-outs were, I mean some of them were twenty or thirty feet into the ground. They were lined with sheets, they had tables, chairs, lamps, mind you they'd had four years to get them ready I suppose. It was just a great shame that they were all facing the wrong way because otherwise it would have been marvellous for us to go into.
Eventually, the poor old 59th Division set off in a daylight attack down the slope. And I wasn't a regular soldier at the time and as a mere platoon commander I had no great military knowledge I suppose, but even to me it seemed madness to send an entire Division down a slope that was a mile and a half long in broad daylight, in spite of all the shells and mortars and things going down hill. And it was hardly surprising the next day when we discovered that it had had so many casualties that the 59th Division was disbanded, they just couldn't replace all their losses.
We got one or two of their chaps, they were either North Staffs or South Staffs, they had quite incomprehensible accents but they were the most marvellous diggers that I'd ever come across. They were coal miners of course and they were brilliant at digging slit trenches. They could dig three trenches when you were half way down into your own, so in that respect they were a very great asset.'