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.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

La Grande Ferme de Saint Contest - Then and Now

A nineteen century view of the La Grande Ferme de Saint Contest in Calvados, Occupied as a Head Quarters by the SS in 1944 and scene of hard fighting on 8th and 9th July. The top of the church which concealed a troublesome sniper can be seen over the roof tops.

La Grande Ferme de Saint Contest in May 2014

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Platoon Photograph - 5th South Staffordshire Regiment Newcastle-Under-Lyme Christmas 1941

Here is a photo of my Grandfather's platoon of 'A' Company of the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment. A hand written note on the reverse indicates that the photograph was taken in Newcastle-Under-Lyme at Christmas 1941.

My Grandfather is pictured sixth from the right in the middle row. Interestingly, the photograph also identifies the only other name of the 5th Staffords known to the family. My Grandfather was remembered making reference in his lifetime to a friend and fellow soldier in his Company who went by the nickname of  'Fump'. His name was George Blount and he is pictured in the middle row, second from the left. In a note, again on the reverse of the photograph, in my Grandfather's careful hand, is George's location in the shot and 'Whit Marines Wolverhampton'. I believe 'Whit Marines' is a misspelling and mishearing of Whitmore Reans an area of Wolverampton, a city that at the time was in Staffordshire, prior to forming part of the metropolitan county of the West Midlands from 1974. I presume Whitmore Reans was where George Blount resided before enlisting.

Disbandment – The End of 59 (Staffordshire) Division

'To the greater glory of God and in memory of those who died whilst serving with the 59th Staffordshire division. 1939 -1945'.

'This plaque is a duplicate of that erected on the battlefield at Thury Harcourt in Normandy'.

Stafford Park

The Battalions that together made up the 59 (Staffordshire) Division were informed of the decision to disband the formation between 18th and 20th August.

After four years of preparation leading to the execution of all they had learned across the battlefields of Normandy the disbandment came as a bitter blow. The rationale for the decision was however logical. All of the British regiments engaged in the Normandy campaign had been badly mauled in the ten weeks of fighting since D Day. Of the Divisions in the field, the 59th was a junior formation recreated at the outbreak of the war and it was for this reason that it was sacrificed in order to replenish the ranks of longer established regiments within other Divisions. Thus the men of the 59th were dispersed and transferred into reinforcement hungry English, Welsh and Scottish regiments.

It was on the 29th August that my Grandfather was transferred into the 11th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. This was a regiment that had fought cheek by jowl alongside the South Staffords, nost notably at Fontenay le Pesnel and Noyers.

After the war, Major General L. O. Lyne, Divisional Commanding Officer of the 59 (Staffordshire) Division described how he received the news of the decision to disband the formation.

‘Field Marshall Montgomery wrote to me and told me the sad news that, because of the acute shortage of trained reserves, particularly in the infantry, it would be necessary to break up 59 Division. He had selected us for one reason only; that we were the junior division and a war-formed one at that. I could not of course question the decision, but it was with a heavy heart that I faced the problem of how best to achieve this end without lowering morale. I went over as soon as possible to the Commander-in-Chief and gave him conditions, to which he readily agreed, on which I could best carry out his orders’

And his personal feelings on his time as the Divisional C.O. he continued;

‘I realised in this period how very fond I had grown of 59 Division. They had always had a fine esprit-de-corps and pride in themselves, and I had seen them develop into one of the hardest fighting divisions in the Army Group. Everything that they were asked to do was undertaken in the same spirit of dogged determination to succeed. It was always a great pleasure and pride to me to hear, as I so often did, from other Divisional Commanders during the remainder of the campaign, what a high opinion they had of drafts from 59 Division.’

Accolades were also poured upon the men of the South Staffordshire Regiments within the Division. The last comments on the conduct of the South Staffords in the struggle I will leave to two officers of my Grandfather’s 5th Battalion.

Major Pearson wrote, ‘It was a bitter pill to swallow, but with a job well done and in the true Staffordshire spirit of ‘We’ll show ‘em’ those who remained able to fight left the battalion and, with heads high in the air, joined their new battalions with the knowledge that they were respected fighters wherever they might serve.’

He continued, ‘So for the time being ended the history of a great fighting battalion who, against great odds, upheld the highest traditions of the regiment and the county. Whenever the battle of Normandy is mentioned only the highest praise can be spoken of the gallant Staffordshires.’

A former adjutant of the 5th Battalion, Captain A.E. Scrimshaw, wrote to the then Mayor of Walsall concerning the decision to disband the Division.

‘We must feel however, that if our dispersal was necessary, to hasten the success of our arms, the sacrifice, great though it was, has not been in vain. We remember with pride the men of our regiment who have fallen in the fight, who, in their turn, were proud to wear the South Staffordshires’ badge, and we look forward to a rebirth at the earliest possible moment.’

'To the officers men and women
of Staffordshire units and all
other Staffordshire men and
women who gave their lives
for their country in the
War of 1939 -1945 '

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Last Action of the 59th - 5th Battalion in Menil Vin and Rabodanges

The 5th Battalion were involved in the last offensive action of the Staffordhire Regiments in Normandy.

Having secured Fresnay, the Battalion advanced to the river achieving a crossing on 16th August approximately two miles to the south of Thury Harcourt by way of a small ferry. Resistance coming from the town had largely been subdued over the previous few days as a result of an attack on the stronghold on by the 2nd Gloucestershire Regiment. With the crossing effected by the 5th South Staffords to the south and the news that the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers had reached Le Grand Donnay some four miles south east of Thury Harcourt the defenders of the town feared being cut off from the main body of the retreat. Upon crossing the only opposition encountered by the 5th came from a few snipers in the rear guard, who were put to flight by returning fire. Those that did not flee surrendered and were taken prisoner.

The next strongpoint objective had been identified as the small settlements of Menil Hermai and Rabodanges, also on the Orne approximately twenty miles to the south east of Thury Harcourt. 'A' and 'B' Companies under Major Grey and Major Smallwood respectively were to capture Menil Hermei village in an attack supported by tank and artillery. However, upon advancing on the objective, after the artillery ceased firing, the village was found to be clear of the enemy. The Germans were replaced by French villagers who filled the main street to celebrate in such numbers that the tanks were prevented from moving forward.

French girls pour a drink for a British soldier in Vernon, 25 August 1944 © IWM (BU 59).

'A' and 'B' Companies were ordered to hold Menil Hermei against a possible counterattack and to provide a secure base for 'C' and 'D' Companies who were to attack the village of Rabodanges and the nearby objective high ground of Point 206. 'C' Company (under Major Hall) and 'D' Company (under Major McIntyre) advanced along the Menil Hermei-Rabodanges road screened by carriers. When the leading carrier was destroyed after hitting a mine, this signaled the commencement of the German defensive response with heavy fire brought down upon the two Companies from every weapon available. Regardless, the attack Companies forged ahead and achieved contact with the enemy. Fighting raged for several hours before 'C' and 'D' Companies were ordered to consolidate the gains and dig in a short distance from Point 206.

The fighting had left the Companies short of ammunition such that a counterattack would have had grave consequences. It was the courageous actions of one Captain Graham Ellis, who with a pioneer platoon, cleared a path through mines whilst under heavy fire, that allowed desperately needed ammunition to be brought up the line. For this feat Captain Ellis was awarded the Military Cross. He was later killed in action. The anticipated counterattack never came, in part as a result of aggressive patrolling and heavy artillery fire brought down on the known German positions throughout the night.

It was on the 21st August after further artillery 'softening up' of the Point 206 objective that the high ground was taken . The Germans attempted to dislodge the 5th Battalion from Point 206 with heavy fire from their long range guns, but no counterattack was put in by the infantry.

In this way the last battle of the 59 (Staffordshire) Division concluded with the enemy encircled in the Falaise area and focused only on their efforts escape from the jaws of the 'Pocket' that the Allied armies had created.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Opposing Forces At Thury Harcourt 9th to 14th August

Map showing the 59 (Staffordshire) Division on either side of the Orne
9th to 14th August
(with thanks to

The Allies

59 (Staffordshire) Division

177 Brigade

Located at Fresnay, to the north west of Thury Harcourt.

197 Brigade

Located east of the Orne.

A follow-up formation described at length on this site.

53 (Welsh) Division

A follow-up formation described under the 'Operation Pomegranate' section.

56 (Independent) Infantry Brigade

Originally a First World War Brigade the 56 (Independent) Infantry Brigade was a part of Kitchener's Army (formed out of the 1914 recruitment drive). The Brigade was a first wave unit landing in Normandy on 6th June. It was responsible early on in the Normandy campaign for the liberation of Bayeux.

In late August 1944 the Brigade was involved with the 59th in the fighting on the Orne and the subsequent liberation of Thury Harcourt. After the destruction of the the remaining German forces west of the Seine in the Falaise Pocket, the men of 56th Brigade were transferred to the 49 (West Riding) Division where they again fought side by side with the men of the former 59 (Staffordshire) Division in Belgium and Holland as part of the First Canadian Army. The Brigade's active service ended in Germany with the cessation of hostilities.

271 Infantry Division

A Wehrmacht infantry division described in the Orne bridgehead section.