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.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Meeting with Fusilier West - October 2015

Taken from a post on another site:

I have now spent a couple of years researching the military history of Jim Heath, my late maternal Grandfather with special emphasis on his time spent in North West Europe in 1944 to 1945.

The evolving history is documented here:

However, in brief, he landed with the 59th (Staffordshire) Division (5th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment) as a follow-up Division after D-Day on 25th June. Fierce fighting for the pivotal city of Caen and engagements in the area to the south east of Caen decimated the 59th to such an extent that the Division was disbanded and he was transferred to the 49th (West Riding) Division with whom he became a Royal Scots Fusilier of the 11th Battalion. With the 11th R.S.F. he fought across France, Belgium and Holland where wounds received in a notorious place known as The Island (a flooded landscape situated between the Upper and Lower Rhine that separates Nijmegen and Arnhem) ended his active service. Nevertheless, his medical reclassification from A1 to B6 meant that he was still fit for a non-front line posting overseas and he rejoined the RSF in Germany as part of the British Army of Liberation. As part of 12 D.P.A.C.S. (Displaced Persons Assembly Centre) he ended his Army service as an administrator at Bergen-Belsen camp.

My research through the Polar Bear Association  (49th (West Riding) Division) lead me to one Ken West, a hale and hearty 93 year old veteran from Leicester. Last weekend, I had the honour of spending a few hours in conversation with this gentleman to discuss various Polar Bear related topics.

Fusilier West served in D Company but returned to A Company after recovering from wounds received in Normandy. Not fancying the lot of a Rifleman again he pushed his specialism and rejoined the Battalion as a signaller. So it was that their time in the same D Company did not overlap. Nevertheless, another coincidence came to light in the course of the conversation. My Grandfather enlisted with the North Staffordshire Regiment as did Ken’s brother Ernest. For the visit I happened to have with me his order to proceed to Litchfield Infantry Training Centre. He was required to be there on 15th January 1940, the very same day that Ernest was to report too. So, it just may have been the case that Jim and Ernest were acquainted, albeit briefly.

This meeting with Ken West was highly significant for me, as some twenty years after my Grandfather’s death I had the opportunity to talk with a man who shared the same day to day experiences, the terrifying as well as the mundane, in exactly the same places at the same time. I can honestly say that when I started out on this project I never had this in my mind as a possibility.

This was certainly a photo opportunity and Ken was happy to oblige. For the occasion, his blazer and Polar Bear Association tie were retrieved from the wardrobe so that he was with 'his bling'.

Me and Fusilier Ken West 14638023
(note the red 'bling', none other than the Ordre national de la L├ęgion d'honneur!)

We shook hands as we parted company and Ken gave Gunta a kiss with the words 'Now you can say you've not only kissed an old soldier, but a French Knight!'

I would like to thank Ken for his time (as well as his son Steve) and also to Gunta who ferried me to Leicester and back.

A Veteran Responds - August 2015

Upon returning from a family holiday in August, I was thrilled to find a hand addressed letter bearing a Midland postmark.

Ken had replied with a very informative and encouraging letter:

24 Aug 2015

Dear Adrian,

Thank you for your most welcome letter regarding your Grandfather Jim Heath. Unfortunately I didn’t know him but I can answer a lot of your queries. 

Interesting that he joined the N. Staffs, my brother Ernest was a “Belisha Boy” of the January 1940 intake and was posted to Litchfield with the N. Staffs, after a spell in hospital he transferred to the Royal Sigs (DR).

Jim, with the “Pit Head Div” (59 Div) certainly took a battering around Caen, we had two lads come to the Signals Ptn and men from the rifle Coys were absorbed. Joining us on Aug 26 he would have been in the area of Ponte de la Rogue on the Seine, before the detour south of Rouen at Elbouf, before taking position at Montevilliers for the attack on Le Harve (12 Sept). After 5 days rest at Luneray nr Dieppe, they went, unopposed to Turnhout-Antwerp Canal (Sept 25).

If he was with Sgt Little, he would have been in 16 Ptn”D” Coy. Little, along with Sgt Louis Hill 17 Ptn were awarded the MM in Normandy. Therefore he would have been on the “Commando Raid” in March (11th) which took place to our front at Haalderen. The raid started at 6 am and the order to withdraw at 8 am. In that 2 hours they secured prisoners & killed quite a number. Derek Potter (to whom my book was dedicated) as bren gunner and his 2 I/C & Sgt Little were the 3 killed. 7 wounded. The information gathered from this exercise was of great importance for the action of clearing the Island, so Jim would have been wounded during this operation . There was an article in PBN about 12-18 months ago by Maj Leslie Rowell I/C “D” Coy. Leslie was from Bristol – his daughter lives just outside Leicester & I met him a couple of times although he didn’t take over “D” Coy until Turnhout. We had 2 great afternoons talking of old friends. I asked him what his instructions were for the raid and he said Col Eyrkyn had told him to land, create mayhem & bring back prisoners! It must have been the most decorated action of the European Campaign, 1 DSO, 1 DSM, 2 MC, 3 MM (one of the MCs was Lt Douglas, the Colonel you referred to).

I notice on the photo Jim is wearing the insignia of 30 Corps. General Brian Horrocks (A Bridge Too Far) and TV documentaries, was the G.O.C. in which we’d all served in Normandy (pleased to see that Jim got a “back room” job after hospital!!)

I’m sorry that you didn’t include your phone number in the letter, it was so full of interesting queries and I would be pleased to help you in your research.

I was talking to Dennis about Stan Davies life story and he said that it was a great pity that so few veterans recorded their stories. Which set me thinking. After our visit to Holland in May, my son Steve, told friends, every time I go with my Dad with the Polar Bears I find out more about him. I know I wrote “Tam-O-Shanter” but I’m now writing my memoirs from Sept 1939 to my demob in June 1947. 1939-call-up- 1 yr training for D Day, RSF, Army of Occupation 2 yrs Germany, Italy and Austria.

Must stop now to catch the post – could write all night! Please ring!

Yours sincerely

14638023 West K.J. Fus (R’td)

In the wake of this letter were a series of phone calls in which we agreed to meet after Ken's next trip to Holland in September. A date was agreed for 18th October.

Making Contact With A Veteran - July 2015

Having established that Ken West was still very much with us and still very engaged with the activities of the Polar Bear Association I asked for contact details and the Association Secretary passed Mr West's address on to me.

I wrote to him on the off-chance that he and my Grandfather were acquainted when serving with 'D' Company of the Regiment.

Concerning L/Cpl James (Jim) Kitchener Heath 11th R.S.F. No. 5051929

Dear Mr. West,

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Adrian Andrews and I am writing to you in connection with some family research that I have been conducting over the past two years into the wartime experiences of my late Grandfather. 

My Grandfather’s name was James Kitchener Heath, better known to his friends and colleagues as Jim and to close family simply as Kitch. My interest  in piecing together his war story stems from the time of his funeral sadly when, whilst trying to pen some words about this defining period of his life for the presiding cleric to read out, it became clear that the understanding within the family of what he did back then was at best confused and at worst wholly inaccurate! After the funeral I obtained his MOD records but other family issues meant that further exploration was shelved for a number of years.

In short, his military history ran parallel to that of the R.S.F. Enlisting in Brighton in January 1940, he joined the North Staffordshire Regiment as a territorial before embodiment into the regular Army. Born in Stoke-On-Trent, a Staffordshire regiment was his natural choice.

Shortly thereafter he was transferred to the South Staffordshire Regiment with which he completed his training before being posted overseas. On 25th June he landed with the Battalion in Normandy as part of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division as a follow up formation.

After the brutal engagements in the areas of Caen, Fontenay-le-Pesnil and Noyers Bocage
The 59th were disbanded in order to reinforce other hard pressed established regiments. Thus it was that my Grandfather was transferred across to the 11th R.S.F. on 26th August 1944. In his IWM audio archive interview Colonel William Douglas describes the transfer in terms of receiving many men from the Staffords having incomprehensible accents but extraordinary digging skills on account of their long mining heritage.

I have a great account of his time in Normandy from contemporary sources detailing the actions of the 59th and specifically the 5th South Staffords. Likewise, I have the accounts included in the 11th R.S.F. Summary of Operations from June 1944 to May 1945, the aforementioned audio interview with Colonel Douglas as well as a rather good book by one Fusilier K.J. West!

Two years ago I spent some days touring Normandy when I took in Galamanche/St. Contest and the cemeteries of Cambes-en-Plaine and Fontenay-le-Pesnil  (of course, taking in at the same time the Polar Bear memorial on the main road).

Following on from my trail across Normandy, I was in Belgium (Turnhout) and Holland in May (a mere two weeks after your visit) to visit Wuustwezel, Roosendaal and Haalderen.

It is worth noting here that first hand accounts of his active service were limited. I was fascinated with the war at the age of 7 or 8 at which time he related sanitised accounts of his experiences (dead cows and mosquitoes in Normandy, standing sentry, waste deep in water with a yardstick measuring rising floodwater (Roosendaal or Haalderen?)).

As I became more seriously interested in my early twenties about the details of those events of ‘44/’45 he was very much more emotional and less able to articulate details. He died in February 1995 at the age of 80.

Another location that I visited earlier in the year when in Holland was the military cemetery in Jonkerbos, Nijmegen and it is in this regard that I have a number of questions that you may or may not be in a position to shed some light upon.

The information that I have is rather circumstantial at present, but I hope that it may ultimately lead me to a better understanding of with which unit he served whilst with the 11th R.S.F.

In 1973 my family travelled to Holland in the company of my Grandfather. During this family holiday we took a detour to Nijmegen and specifically to Jonkerbos cemetery. The reason for this visit, as later recounted by my parents (as whilst present I was only four at the time) was so that he could locate the last resting place of the man he described as ‘my sergeant’ whose death he had witnessed. My research has shown that the only Fusilier of the 11th R.S.F. holding the rank of sergeant was William Little MM. 

The only other circumstantial evidence that I have that it was indeed Sgt. Little’s headstone that he was seeking is a photograph taken at the time by my Grandmother that shows my Grandfather in discussion with my Father close to the plot of Sgt. Little.

My Grandfather and Father in conversation close to the plot of Sergeant Willian Little MM
Jonkerbos Cemetery, Nijmegen 1973

Whilst I know my Grandfather’s Company in the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment, I cannot as yet confirm the Company in which he served when with the 11th R.S.F. With something of a leap of faith, based on the ‘evidence’ explained above, I would suggest that he was in 16 Platoon of ‘D’ Company with Sgt. Little.

Having spent time in ‘D’ Company 17 Platoon are you able to confirm this (or suggest a possible means of establishing this fact)?

The death of William Little is well recorded since he was recipient of the Military Medal. I understand that he was killed in a very notable and daring waterbourne raid over the Rhine that was widely reported in ‘Current Reports From Overseas’ as an exemplary assault. I would love to be able to place him at the Company level and even better at Platoon level if possible.

My Grandfather did not make it into Germany as a combatant with the Regiment. He was evacuated with wounds on the 7th April 1944 (in the final clearance of the Island or after). He returned to the Battalion as part of D.P.A.C.S. of the British Army of Liberation and worked in  administrative role role at Bergen-Belsen camp until he was demobbed in March 1946.

Ken, I have no idea of how much you can remember of people with which you served after the passage of 71 years but I have enclosed a scanned photograph of my Grandfather. I understand that it was taken in an office within Belsen camp in July 1945. 

I appreciate that my positioning of my Grandfather within the R.S.F. is based upon circumstantial information and you may not have known him from Adam. Nevertheless, even if you have no recollection of him, I have to say that your book brought me far closer to him that any of the official records. It was, as you described in your preface, an account of an ordinary soldier of the European campaign, the human story of a civilian army.

I look forward to hearing from you.

With kind regards,

Adrian (Andrews)
Grandson of Fusilier Jim Heath 11th R.S.F.