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, 7 March 2015

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 '

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