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.

Friday, 10 July 2015

.... At which point I go on.... and on....

Dear Dennis,

Many thanks for your very prompt response to my email and I hope that you enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon in the Essex sunshine.

By all means, I would be honoured if you would feature my correspondence in the newsletter. My historical endeavours involving many hours deep in books, diaries and internet accounts, as well as being a labour of love, have been thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable. When I started, I had no idea that I would progress this far and with luck the journey may not yet be over. In addition, this search has taken me across Normandy, Belgium and much of Holland. As such I would urge anyone with half a mind to explore the history of a veteran in the family to do so and if publication in the newsletter achieves that then great.

My Grandfather died when I was 26, but at that time his wartime history was not at the forefront of my mind and he rarely spoke of his wartime experiences in his later years, to do so would reduce him to tears, so more often than not the subject was no longer raised. Therefore, the only brief personal anecdotes that I have were passed onto me when I was very young and then they were described in a way that would not traumatise an 8 year old. He spoke of the smell of the dead cattle (Normandy), of standing in freezing water at chest height keeping a watch with a yardstick in hand to determine whether levels were rising (Roosendaal?) and describing how to advance down an occupied street (Haalderen?). This absence of personal testimony is such a pity and this is why descriptions of the experiences of individual soldiers (such as those described in Ken West’s book for example) are so important as they flesh out the broader accounts typical of the war diaries.

My original website title of ‘A Fragmented Military History’ is happily becoming something of a misnomer as many of the original gaps have been successfully filled in and with the assistance of members of the PBA I may learn yet more.

In fewer than 18 months in North West Europe he travelled from Arromanches to Bergen-Belsen. In this time he was never decorated (over and above his campaign medals) or singled out for special mention, he was an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary events and this I think makes his story representative of many thousands just like him that made up the British Army at that time.

I very much look forward to further interaction with the Association.

Kind Regards,


No comments:

Post a Comment