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, 14 February 2015

59 (Staffordshire) Division Advance Towards The Orne

Soldiers of 59 (Staffordshire) Division advancing through Calvados

Consequent to Operation Pomegranate the German forces were concentrated across the 21st Army Group front opposite Caen and Villers-Bocage. The overall plan for 59 Infantry Division was, within XII Corps, to defeat the enemy formations in Villers-Bocage before advancing to the south west towards the River Orne to force a crossing if at all possible.

In this advance, 59 Division were in the centre of the line and were flanked by 50 Infantry Division to their right and 53 Infantry Division on their left. As 59 Division moved towards the Orne, XIII Corps maintained the pressure on the enemy with a southward attack towards Caumont and Mont Pincon (the highest point in the Calvados Department) in 'Operation Bluecoat'.

The 59 Division advance started with a 197 Brigade action in the Juvigny area, approximately three miles to the north of Noyers. Tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment were in support. The attack progressed  well and thorough patrols were maintained to ensure that enemy withdrawals did not go unnoticed. A German counter attack in the same area was repelled by the 7th Royal Warwicks.

By 1st August the 197 Bridage sector had quietened down to the extent that the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers were withdrawn, but an increase in enemy activity rapidly brought them back into the line. Fierce local fighting continued and in three days of combat the toll on 197 Brigade was high at 19 officers and 383 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. However, the German armour was held in the area well away from the U.S. advance further to the west.

From 3rd August intelligence reports indicated significant enemy withdrawals were taking place from the XII Corps front and the formations of 59 Division pressed the advance towards the Orne. 197 Brigade were in action once again, advancing to take the high ground to the immediate north east of Villers-Bocage. Resistance was light, but rear guard pockets of Germans along with anti-personnel and anti-tank mines continued to hamper the progress of the British soldiers. By 3pm on 4th August, one company of the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers entered the ruins of Villers-Bocage, where the R.A.F. had completed the destruction started by the artillery. 176 Brigade passed through the village.

Scenes of devastation in Villers-Bogage after the fighting of July 1944

Meanwhile, 177 Brigade finally occupied Noyers which had eluded them over the previous weeks and taken such a heavy toll across its ranks. By night, 176 Brigade controlled the high ground five miles to the south east of Villers-Bocage. 59 Recce Regiment were to be found in Landes, three miles to the east of the village and 177 were positioned on the road between Villers-Bocage and Noyers. 197 were now in reserve.

At this point, the 59th suffered a blow when 31 Tank Brigade were replaced by 34 Tank Brigade under the divisional command. Thus a close tank crew/infantry understanding that had developed in the previous two weeks of fighting was lost. This loss of learnt close cooperation would result in an increase in casualty figures within the Division in the coming days.

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