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, 29 December 2015

Setting The Scene For The Liberation of Le Havre

Progress of the First Canadian Army to clear  coastal belt and retake the Channel ports

The Allied advance during the second half of August stretched the supply lines enormously. All of the requirements of the now highly mobile army were being brought in by way of the Mulberry harbour many miles away from the front lines. This rapidly changing military situation, as the Allies pursued the Germans back towards Germany, demanded that the Channel ports of the Pas-de-Calais be delivered into the hands of the Allies at the earliest opportunity in order to shorten and strengthen the crucial supply lines.

On 6th September General Montgomery signalled to General Crerar, Commander of the First Canadian Army, the following request:

‘Would be very grateful for your opinion on the likelihood of early capture of Boulogne. It looks as if port of Antwerp may be unusable for some time as the Germans are holding islands at the mouth of the Scheldt. Immediate opening of some port north of Dieppe essential for rapid development of my plan and I want Boulogne badly. What are the chances of getting it soon?’

Plans for the deployment of the First Canadian Army were discussed and agreed on 9th September at a conference with Montgomery, attended by Generals Crerar, Dempsey and Hodges. General Crerar noted later in his diary ‘Decisions affecting the First Cdn Army were reached i.e. speedy capture of Channel ports within First Cdn Army boundary’.

In order to support the favourable military situation that existed in early September, Crerar issued a directive to his Corps commanders that stated:

‘It follows that a speedy and victorious conclusion to the war now depends, fundamentally, upon the capture by First Cdn Army of the Channel ports which have now become so essential, if the administrative problem is to be solved, i.e. Le Havre, Boulogne, Dunkirk, Calais and generally in that order of importance

  •       1 Brit Corps will attack and capture Le Havre on 10/11 Sep – unless unfavourable weather conditions entail a further delay. On completion of this important operation, 1 Brit Corps will re-organise and re-equip in the vicinity of Le Harve , pending an improvement in the administrative situation which will permit the movement of this formation to the Eastern sector of First Cdn Army area.

  •          2nd Cdn Corps has already been directed to proceed, without delay, to Capture Boulogne, Dunkirk and Calais, preferably in that order, but without prejudice to the earlier and easier capture of any one of them. If no weakness in the defences of these ports is discovered, and decisively exploited, in the course of operational reconnaissance - then a deliberate attack, with full fire support will require to be staged, in each case.

  •          In view of the necessity to give first priority to the capture of the Channel ports, mentioned above, the capture or destruction of the enemy remaining North and East of the Ghent-Bruges Canal becomes secondary in importance. While constant pressure and close contact with the enemy, now withdrawing North of R. Scheldt, will be maintained, important forces will not be committed to offensive action.

The task of capturing Le Havre was allotted to two infantry divisions of the 1 British Corps, namely the 49th (West Riding) Division and the 51st (Highland) Division with the support of 34 Tank Brigade and 33 Armoured Brigade respectively.

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