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, 24 January 2017

A Pithead Polar Bear - Coming Soon!

The culmination of three years research (not full time I may add) will be the publication of a physical book to be entitled 'A Pithead Polar Bear From Brighton to Belsen 1940 - 1946'.

I have set up a separate website in order to provide further information on the book, where and how to get it and any feedback I get on it as and when I get it out there (weeks rather than months now for certain).

However, that is not the end of the road, this site will continue to be an means of passing on new information and discoveries as I intend to keep digging into this history (and the story on here is not yet complete anyway!).

Please feel free to share....

Best wishes,


53rd (Welsh) Division - Contact From A Military Historian

I recently received an email from someone with more than a passing interest in the 53rd (Welsh) Division. He was looking for some assistance regarding some Normandy photographs. Unfortunately in this I was unable to help him, but I did promise to give him a plug on this humble site.

Since the 53rd fought side by side with the 49th and 59th Divisions in the Battle of Caen, there is a good chance that some of the visitors to this site will also have an interest in what he is up to with respect to the 53rd (Welsh) Division.

Jonathan is currently working on a book, 'Jocks, Dragons and Sospans', a history of the Division.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Arnhem 16th May 2015

For those people partial to a bit of military history, no visit to this part of the Netherlands would be complete without a trip to Arnhem. Last here at the age of four, there was so much for me to see on this occasion.

There is so much written about the struggle of the men of the 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem that it is simply beyond the scope of this book to cover it here, so I will limit this chapter to a few impressions and photographs. An good starting point for a visit to the town is the museum that is dedicated to the battle. Housed in the Hotel Hartenstein, the building that served as the Divisional HQ in September 1944 it offers a real sense of the bitter fighting that took place in its immediate environs.

There is so much to see within the museum that described the battle so very well. However, one artefact caught my eye. If listening to punk rock for 35 years has instilled anything in me it is the almost childlike appreciation of a rude word. On the wall is mounted a piece of wallpaper that was preserved after the battle. On this aged piece of wallpaper beneath the proclamation of ‘Never Surrender, Fuck The Gerry’s, 1st Airborne Division’ is a tally of Germans killed or wounded by the writer. With all joking about expletives aside, this foot square piece of graffiti speaks volumes to me about the desperate struggle in which this young soldier was engaged in as he fought for his life and the lives of his comrades.

Now I am not often in the habit of quoting journalists from the ‘Daily Express’ but again these words caught my eye:

“If in the years to come any man says to you ‘I fought at Arnhem’ take off your hat and buy him a drink, for this is the stuff of which England’s greatness is made”

War correspondent Alan Wood in the Daily Express
24th September 1944.

Not far up the road from Hotel Hartenstein is the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery where many of the men who lost their lives in the September fighting lie.

A short walk from the cemetery, up a very attractive tree lined road (Van Limburg Stirumweg) will bring you to another memorial dedicated the memory of the Air Despatchers of the Royal Army Service Corps who lost their lives in their endeavours to ensure the continuity of supplies to the troops on the ground. This impressive monument is set in front of the fields in which essential supplies were dropped. However, the drop zone lay in German occupied territory, so a high proportion of the supplies never reached the allies.

Air Despatcher’s Memorial

The following inscription appears on the momument:

Dedicated to the memory of the Air Despatchers of the Royal Army Service Corps, who together with the aircrew of the Royal Airforce and the Royal Canadian Airforce gave their lives in valiant attempts to resupply the airborne forces during the battle of Arnhem (Operation Market Garden), 18th - 25th September 1944

Erected by their comrades and air despatchers past and present, with the generous assistance of the burgomaster and aldermen of Renkum, and other kind Dutch friends, 18th September 1994.

Leaving Oosterbeek, we headed back into the centre of Arnhem and the bridge itself. On the north side of the bridge lies the  Jacob Groenewoud Park. Captain Groenewoud was the only Dutch officer to fight in the battle for the bridge. He was killed on 18th September 1944 in an attempt to contact the body of troops in Oosterbeek.

Within the Jacob Groenewoud Park are numerous memorials to the units involved in the battle for the Rhine bridge at Arnhem. At this point in my research I have become rather eagle-eyed when it comes to spotting Polar Bears and indeed I found one set on a twisted propeller, a gift to the Division from the Arnhem Museum.