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, 9 April 2016

A Period Of Rest And Recuperation In Bolbec

Pre-war postcard of the Viaduct in Bolbec

In the immediate aftermath of 'Operation Astonia', the men of the 49th Division, including the 11th R.S.F. withdrew from the shattered town of Le Havre to reoganise.

As well as allowing these exhausted soldiers a period of rest, recuperation and reorganisation, this interval was strategically necessary in order to enable the engineers to clear debris and burnt out armour off the roads around Le Havre thereby allowing the formations of the 49th to further progress towards Antwerp. 

Each of the Battalions involved in Astonia enjoyed a period out of the line that combined elements of retraining, refitting and reinforcement, not to mention a liberal degree of relaxation helped along by French citizens who plied their liberators with an abundance of wine and fruit, which was no doubt a welcome departure from the standard army fayre of hardtack biscuits and the like!

On the 13th September, the 11th R.S.F. passed through their original location prior to the battle of Le Mesnil and settled in Bolbec some 24 kilometers to the north east of Le Havre. During the following four days the Battalion were reorganised. The men had the chance now to pay some attention to their own personal hygiene! 

The 'Summary Of Operations' states that in Bolbec 'the pipe band were an entire success in the market square, the kilt drawing a good deal of comment and no little envy from the female population*, who nevertheless presented the Pipe Major with a bouquet of flowers. My Grandfather also recalled that additional troop entertainment was provided by ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association).

On leaving Bolbec on 17th September they concentrated in an area just to the east of Dieppe where they were reinforced with 4 officers 77 other ranks, many of whom were returning to the Battalion after a period of recovery from wounds received in Normandy, notably Fontenay-le-Pesnil.

* As a brief aside, my mother recalls wearing my Grandfather's kilt, in a much altered form, at the end of the war. Whilst I would be proud to wear such a kilt on a special occasion, it is perhaps best for all that these remnants have been lost to history!

No comments:

Post a Comment