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.

Sunday 27 October 2019

At the Grave of Lt. Colonel Montgomery Cuninghame Commanding Officer of 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers (1941-1944)

Lieutenant Colonel A.W. H. J. Montgomery Cuninghame
Manvieu Military Cemetery
September 2019

On a recent return trip to Normandy, we had reason to visit the Manvieu Military Cemetery for here lay the remains of a mate’s Grandfather and we had promised him that we would lay an RBL cross and photograph the headstone for him. With this promise honoured I took off on a customary amble amongst the headstones looking at the distribution of Regimental insignia that distinguish the otherwise uniform Portland stone headstones from each other. Given my Grandfather’s military service I have become rather adept at spotting from some distance those headstones that bear the Staffordshire knot or the somewhat compressed grenade of the Royal Scots Fusiliers (RSF).

Within the confines of the Manvieu Cemetery there are to be found several seems of RSF headstones and this really came as no surprise as the cemetery is located in the village of Cheux which lies approximately five kilometers from Fontenay-le-Pesnil. It was here in the last week of June that the 11th Battalion RSF, as part of the 49th (West Riding) Division (otherwise known as the ‘Polar Bears’, participated in ‘Operation Martlet’ which was intended to capture Rauray and Noyers Bocage to the South East of Caen, thereby protecting the right flank of VIII Corps who were about to launch the better known ‘Operation Epsom’. ‘Marlet’  pitched the Polar Bears against the armour of the Panzer Lehr Division and 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, not to mention the fanaticism of their Panzergrenadiers! The fighting was bitter and was reflected in the casualty tallies on both sides.

The name on one grave jumped out at me, that of Lieutenant Colonel A.W. H. J. Montgomery Cuninghame, Commanding Officer of the 11th Battalion.

The Battalion’s War Diary for July 1944 records the circumstances of his death.

In the first days of July, the Battalion was engaged in regular artillery exchanges with the Germans, so called ‘stonks’ in army parlance. Late on 2nd July orders were received to establish a strong defensive position in the Fontenay area whilst enemy positions continued to be shelled. At 6.30 pm on 3rd July, the Division’s medium artillery registered on enemy occupied targets forward of the ‘C’ Company positions and as such they were to withdraw. However, in the planning, insufficient time had been allowed for digging in at the new position. Without slit trenches for cover, the men were left lying out in the open when the German artillery replied to the British bombardment. Resulting casualties were high in number. At 7.15 pm Lieutenant Colonel A.W. H. J. Montgomery Cuninghame was talking to the Officer in Command of ‘C’ Company when he was hit in the left shoulder and chest by a mortar splinter. The War Diary reported that ‘He died within half an hour at the RAP, apparently not in great pain but unable to breathe. His death came as a great shock to the whole Battalion, whom he had led with such force, determination and lion-hearted in the attack on Fontenay on 25th June, when his conduct was an inspiration to all.

At 3 pm on 4th July ‘Lt. Col Cuninghame was buried at the Calvary’. This was the site of the initial interment of all men of the Battalion who fell in the area of Juvigny and Fontenil-le-Pesnil’. The fallen soldiers were later reburied in the permanent CWGC Cemeteries in the surrounding areas.

'The Calvary'

‘Pioneer platoon made a coffin on which were placed his flag, belt and headdress’  (I think that this is transcribed correctly!). ‘As the Battalion was still engaged with the enemy, few were able to attend. Approximately 7 Officers and 40 OR’s of the Battalion attended and six officers attended as bearers’.
In his book ‘An’ It’s Called A Tam O’Shanter’ Fusilier Ken West described the forceful character of Lt. Col Montgomery Cuninghame, otherwise known as ‘Big Monty’.

‘As the name ‘Big Monty’ might imply, Lt.-Col. Montgomery-Cunningham was an awesome figure. Well over six feet tall and built like a giant, he was a forceful and thrusting leader of the Battalion.
He had been in command from the day that the 11th Battalion RSF had been formed in the small county of Rutland back in 1941, and had been the inspiration behind the training of this new unit which was now, three years later, a fighting battalion of the Polar Bear Division.

Of course, some of the methods he had formulated to attain the present discipline and dedication to the job in hand, had not always met with the instant approval of the rank and file.

Tales of Big Monty were being retold to those of us who had recently become members of the battalion as we huddled under any sort of cover from the incessant rain on this Saturday morning, the first day of July.

Back in the British Isles, Big Monty’s constant companions were his huge thumb-stick and his ever faithful dog Bruce. Both had played a part in his disciplinary application.

We heard how the large black dog would lay at the feet of his master as he conducted the daily CO’s orders. Many an unfortunate miscreant vowed that he had been sentenced by the dog and not by the CO, for on some occasions the CO would look at the dog and say “What shall we do with this laddie, eh Bruce?” then depending on how many times the dog wagged his tail, the fusilier would be given one day’s confined to barracks per wag.

Bruce himself was not spared his master’s wrath, for on the occasions when he cocked his leg against a signboard or happened to foul the pathway, he would be wheeled in on CO’s orders and given terms of CB, and would be tethered to the leg of the table in the guardroom for the requisite number of days. Revenge was thereby meted out by sly prods and flicks of the toe-end of an army boot belonging to some fusilier who had at some time patted the Colonel’s dog.

However, since the arrival of the Battalion on the twelfth of June on the invasion beaches, Big Monty had led them with courage and with complete disregard for his own safety. He had died as he set out to visit us at the wood. He was later awarded a posthumous DSO (Distinguished Service Order)’.

Here in the tranquil surroundings of the Manvieu Military Cemetery, the Commanding Offiecer lies flanked by two ordinary Fusiliers as here like in all of the other CWGC sites no consideration is given to rank and position within these extraordinary spaces.

Fallen Soldiers of 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers
Manvieu Military Cemetery
September 2019

Sunday 11 August 2019

A Tribute to a Soldier of the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment 75 Years On

John and Jan Clews at his Father's grave in the Bayeux Militery Cemery
29th June 2019.

Last month it was my privilege to participate with members of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division Association in their annual pilgrimage to the town of Thury Harcourt and its environs. The 59th Division landed on Normandy in late June 1944 as a follow up Division. Highly trained in the UK, their time as an active fighting unit in France was short. Such was the intensity of the fighting in which they were engaged in Operation Charnwood (a frontal assault on the Northern perimeter of Caen) and Operation Pomegranate (engagements to the south west of the city intended to force a crossing over the River Orne) that the Division was formally disbanded on towards the end of August 1944 and its soldiers were transferred to other reinforcement hungry English, Scottish and Welsh Regiments.

The relationship between the 59th (Staffordshire) Division and the townsfolk is very strong by virtue of the fact that on 13th August 1944 the actions of the 59th finally resulted in the liberation of Thury Harcourt.

My Grandfather served with ‘A’ Company of the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment, a unit within 177 Brigade of the 59th Division. My Grandfather came home from the war, injured but otherwise intact, the same cannot be said for many of his Divisional comrades. One such fellow soldier of ‘C’ Company of the 5th Staffs was 4923121 Private Percy Clews who was killed in action on 10th August 1944, 75 years ago yesterday. One of our travelling party that visited the grave within the Bayeux Military Cemetery was John Clews, son of Percy, who was just two years of age when his father fell. With John was his wife Jan. The couple reside in Lichfield which then as now is the home of the Staffordshire Regiment.

At the time of his death, the 5th South Staffs were engaged with the enemy on a series of ridges that approached the River Orne and overlooked the town of Thury Harcourt. In that second week of August the 5th from their high ground vantage point were able to direct vital artillery fire into the dense forest of Grimbosq, that faced the fragile bridgehead that had formed across the Orne, in which Panzer Battle Groups were forming up for counter attacks intended to smash the bridgehead.

At his Father’s plot, John delivered a speech about the fate of his Dad that was largely based upon a letter sent to his mother by ‘C’ Company Commander, Major Pearson which is reproduced below.

‘Copy of a letter sent to Mrs Percy Clews from Major B. Pearson, The South Staffordshire Regiment

Major B. Pearson
The South Staffordshire Regt
Maindiff Court
Mon. Wales.
August 29th. 1944

My Dear Mrs Clews,

You have no doubt been wondering why I have taken so long to write, and offer not only my sympathy, but those of the whole Company at the loss of your Husband, my Batman.

I was hit by the same mine, and I have only just heard officially that Percy was killed, as I had feared. 

It isn’t an easy story to tell , Mrs Clews, and I am sure you don’t want to know all the full details.

I found it necessary to lead a patrol with stretcher bearers to recover one of my boys who had been wounded sometime before, and who was in need of treatment. Percy would not think of leaving me behind. We found the man but the Germans had surrounded him with shrapnel mines, I presume they realised that they would try to recover him. A stretcher bearer, after giving aid, trod on a mine which exploded, causing the death of your husband and wounding two of us. 

I had the lives of the others to consider so I ordered them back whilst I tried to give Percy some help, but poor lad, he had gone – without pain and without knowing what had happened. He looked very peaceful, his job well done. I had him recovered the same day and he was given a Military funeral, although I regret that I was not present, being on my way to hospital.

Between and Officer and his Batman there develops a spirit of comradeship far above expression by words – we thought such a lot of each other, and I have grieved for him very much indeed. He was killed giving help to his comrades and myself, and all of the Company have missed him so much.

His determination to make sure that I was not left unprotected at any time caused him to be killed.

He volunteered to join me that morning and was somewhat grieved, his words were “You are not going anywhere without me, are you Sir?” He always said, that to remain behind and wonder what was happening to me, was worse than accompanying me on the various excursions.

Above all my personal feelings, he was so very popular with his comrades. I am told that the whole Company were unbelievably depressed after the news had spread around, and each letter that I have had so far mentions how much they all miss Percy. They cannot miss him anymore than I do. His courage, devotion to duty, his cheerfulness, and his great personality endeared him to all our hearts, a sad loss.

Please forgive me for not writing before – I did hope that in the excitement of the battle that my diagnosis of his death might have been false and in fact he might be alive, I hoped so hard but to no avail.

I do hope that your loss has not proved to be unbearable. My wounds are confined to my left leg and I am managing to get around on crutches.

When I come to Lichfield I will endeavour to call and see you, if I may.

With best wishes for the future, and rest assured that your Husband will not be forgotten by

Yours sincerely,

B. Pearson. Major.'

To read these touching words from a man that I had previously written about in a book about my Grandfather’s service was something else and it was an absolute honour to be with John and Jan Clews as he paid tribute to the Father he never had the opportunity to know.

After the speech John laid the Association wreath at the Cross of sacrifice.

Wreath laying at the Bayeux Military Cemetery Cross of Sacrifice.

59th (Staffordshire) Division Association memorial wreath.

Later we paid a visit to the small but highly poignant Museum to the men of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division in Thury. Here there can be found a photograph of Percy Clews.

Private Percy Clews (Killed in action 10th August 1944)
'C' Company 5th South Staffordshire Regiment.

The incription on his headstone reads:


Memorial to Percy Clews in the 59th (Staffordshire) Division Museum
Thury Harcourt.

Friday 19 July 2019

A Small Act of Remembrance - Normandy 2019

Two weeks ago it was my good fortune to be able to travel to Normandy with members of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division Association on a pilgrimage of Remembrance that formed part of the 75th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings.

My Grandfather, Jim Heath, was born in Silverdale, Newcastle-under-Lyme in September 1914. Although he left The Potteries in 1936 to join his older brothers who had found labouring work in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, soon after war came he travelled to Brighton to enlist. In January 1940 he joined the North Staffordshire Territorials and received instruction to report to Lichfield Infantry Training Centre where upon completion of his basic training he was transferred to ‘A’ Company of the 5th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment. It was with the South Staffords, as part of 59th Division, that he sailed to Normandy as a follow-up Division in the third week of June 1944.

In our small travelling party were close family members (sons and nieces) laying wreaths at the graves of their relatives. But, my Grandfather came back. Nevertheless, I wanted an act of Remembrance of my own. With hundreds or even thousands of graves in each of the three British War Cemeteries that we visited I did some homework to find someone in each with whom I could say that there was a connection with my Grandfather (be it home town or fighting unit or as in this case). Some basic research on the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website threw up some worthy candidates. I picked one Private William Edwin Robinson, like my Grandfather a soldier of the 5th Battalion and of a similar age, separated by 12 months or so (in relative terms at 30 and 31 they were old within their ranks).

On 7th July 1944, the newly arrived troops of the 5th South Staffs looked on from their forming up positions directly north of Caen as Bomber Command sent in wave upon wave of Halifax and Lancaster bombers (467 aircraft all told) over the northern perimeter of the Norman capital. They dropped a combined payload of 2,560 tons of high explosive, incendiary and delayed action bombs. This action was controversial and still triggers passionate debate despite the passage of 75 years. The issue was that Bomber Command insisted upon a 6,000 yard distant safety margin forward of the British line. However, such was the close proximity of the two opposing forces that the raid only served to damage areas behind the German defences and the result was that the bombing gained very little strategic advantage. At best it provided a morale boost to the newly arrived Staffords about to experience combat for the first time.

The 5th South Staffs (of 177 Brigade) were to be held in reserve in front of the fortified village of Cambes-en-Plaine with a view to exploit any gains of 197 Brigade opposite Galmanche and 176 Brigade facing La Bijude, La Londe and Epron.

The 5th first went into action on the afternoon of the 8th July with an attack on the Chateau of Galmanche. In a baptism of blood and fire the 5th Battalion and the 2/6th Battalion suffered heavy losses. Private Robinson’s ‘D’ Company launched a further attack on the Chateau in the half light of evening but were forced to withdraw. A regrouped ‘D’ Company would renew the assault on the 9th.

The fighting on the 9th and 10th July* in which ‘D’ Company of the 5th Battalion were engaged is described within the Battalions War Diary. Where military abbreviations have been used I have added the meaning in brackets for ease of reading.

‘At 1915 hrs 9 July, orders were received for the Coy (Company) attack to be put in on GALMANCHE, an enemy stronghold which the 2/6 S. STAFFORDS had not been able to capture. A recce (reconnaissance) was carried out and a plan was made. A troop of tanks was given to the Coy to support this attack.

The Coy was brought up from the assembly positions and the attack was timed to go in at 2045 hrs. At 2040 hrs the tanks were withdrawn from the Coy, as they had to go and rejoin their Regt. As arranged the attack went in, 16 Pl (Platoon) right, followed by 17 Pl who were detailed to carry out the thorough clearing of the buildings. The final objective was a row of trees some 400 yards from the start line.

The Coy advanced about 200 yards before it was opened up on by 6 or 8 M.G.s (machine guns) firing from either flank – the fire from these M.G.s was held until such time as the nearest M.G.s were firing almost into the rear of the Coy, thereby hemming them in. The enemy M.G.s fire was so fierce, that it was impossible for the Coy to advance further., although some men from 16 Pl actually reached the objective – they were however so few in numbers that they were unable to hold it.

17 and 18 Pls made desperate efforts to enter and clear the buildings, and under the leadership of Lieut L.A Stilling and Lieut T.H. Dando they succeeded in killing several Germans. Fierce fighting continued in the area of the buildings and adjoining orchard, until the enemy fire made it necessary for both the Pls to be withdrawn to the line of the hedgerow some 50 yards from the main buildings. Meantime the remainder of 16 Pl and Coy HQ were pinned to the ground by strong enemy fire from the left and from M.G.s sited in the upper rooms of the house. As it was by this time impossible to advance further, the only alternative was to remain under cover till dark, when it would be possible to withdraw the Coy. At approx. 2315 hrs the Coy was withdrawn, after having been more or less under continual heavy fire for almost 2 ½ hours.

During the clearing of the house excellent leadership was shown by 3770737 Pte (Private) Robinson, who after destroying an enemy M.G. continued to organise parties of men to try and clear the house. The Coy having been withdrawn, it was found that 5 men had been killed and 16 wounded, Lieut L.E. Hall, Comdr (Commander) 16 Pl had also been wounded.

During the night the Coy was reorganised and preparations were made for a further attack the following morning, this time two troops of tanks and on troop of AVREs (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) were in support.

The attack was starting at 1015 hrs and right away the tanks almost completely destroyed the buildings – the Coy advanced with 17 Pl left, 18 Pl right and 16 Pl following 18 Pl to carry out the clearing of the buildings. On this occasion the attack was successful, the objective taken and held until orders were received to rejoin the Battalion. One man was wounded’.

*As one would expect the account included the above quoted Appendix tallies with the information in the body of the War Diary itself in all but one detail. The Annex states that the fighting took place over the 9th to 10th when in fact the battle was fought over the 8th and 9th July, with the 10th occupied by weapons and equipment salvage and burial of the dead.

An aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Chateau and its grounds exists. It is clear even to the non-expert eye the extensive efforts that the SS had made in an attempt to make this stronghold impregnable.

The fortified village of Galmanche ahead of the 59th Division attack.

Today, Galmanche is a remote hamlet. The Chateau has been rebuilt, albeit on a more modest scale. The uninformed visitor would hardly know that anything had happened during the war in this place. Even to those in the know the clues are subtle. If approaching the new building along its extensive drive two of the outer walls of the original Chateau can be seen. Close examination reveals a great many pock marks left by bullets and scars gouged into the masonry by shells. At the top of the driveway almost hidden from view is a memorial to the men of the 59th who gave their lives in the struggle to capture Galmanche.

The battle scarred outer wall of the original Chateau that was destroyed on 9th July 1944.

The memorial to the 59th at Galmanche
(one of the hardest momuments to find in the whole of Normandy).

Our Private Robinson survived the battle and for his leadership of men on 8th July he received the Military Medal.

The citation reads as follows:

‘Pte Robinson took part in “D” Coy attack on the strong enemy posn (position) of GALMANCHE on the evening of 8th Jul 44. His Pl was detailed to clear buildings in which were several enemy machine guns. Several of his section were either killed or wounded, but in the face of heavy enemy fire, Pte Robinson went forward alone with a Bren gun and destroyed one enemy post. He then re-organised his section and continued the attack. Throughout the attack his gallant actions and powers of leadership were an inspiration to his comrades.’

The citation is signed by B.L. Montgomery Commander-in-Chief, 21 Army Group.

The recommendation for the award was initiated on 12th July; just four days after the events took place. However, the passage of the recommendation up the established chain of command was slow such that by the time that Monty added his signature, then Corporal Robinson’s war was over. The Military Medal was awarded posthumously on 19th October 1944.

Corporal William Edwin Robinson was killed on 9th August 1944. He was 31 years old. At that time 176 Brigade had forced a crossing over the River Orne to form a bridgehead opposite the ForĂȘt de Grimbosq. At the same time the 5th battalion with 177 brigade were further to the south fighting for the successive ridges of high ground that approached the river and overlooked the town of Thury Harcourt. It is likely that he fell in this fighting that aimed to hold up German troops and armour and prevent them from turning their attention on the fragile bridgehead at Grimbosq.

In the oppressive heat (37°C in Bayeux) that scorched France on the weekend of our visit, I located the plot and placed a Royal British Legion cross at the grave.

William was son of Emily Duncalf and husband of Annie Robinson, both of Liverpool. His grave bears the inscription ‘A Foreign Grave is a Painful Thing Where Loving Hands No Flowers Can Bring ’.

‘When you go Home, tell them of us and say, For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today’.

Monday 9 April 2018

Four Bishops Stortford Graves 100 Years after The Great War

I have been for as long as I can remember drawn to old cemeteries. This fascination with ‘cities of the dead’ does not stem from any ghoulishness on my part, rather I am intrigued to know a little bit about the lives of those people remembered in worn and lichen encrusted name engravings. War graves in particular have long interested me. Thus it was that this weekend, on the first proper sunny day of the year, I went with my son Rudi into Bishops Stortford Old Cemetery (my favourite location within the town) to track down a particular quartet of headstones.

To mark the beginning of the commemorations of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War an excellent book was published by David Clare, Carolyn Downing and Sarah Turner. This book included information about four soldiers that either came from the town or found themselves billeted here with their units.

These were the graves that Rudi and I set out to find and photograph.

Private George Harrison (North Midland Army Cyclist Corps).

Arriving in Bishops Stortford in late February 1915, Private George W. Harrison was finally billeted at Ivy Lodge in Warwick Road on 12th March, the day prior to his untimely death. On the evening of the 12th he attended a dinner at The Railway Hotel in Station Road, hosted by his commanding officer, Second Lieutenant Albert Ball. Later witnesses told the Haymeads inquest that was held on the 17th March that the soldier had been at the pub at between 7.30 and 8.00 pm when he was observed to be somewhat intoxicated. He continued to drink after the meal and eventually left The Railway between 8.30 and 9.00 pm when he returned to Ivy Lodge a short distance away. Once back in his room he was helped to bed and left to sleep off the effects of the night’s alcoholic consumption.

Another witness at the inquest stated that, upon looking in on the prone soldier shortly before midnight, he appeared to be asleep but had evidently vomited. On the following morning, Sunday 14th March, an early morning check found George to be dead in his bed. The verdict of a Dr Huxtable, who arrived at the house at 7.30 that morning, concluded that George’s larynx was obstructed and that he had therefore asphyxiated on his own vomit. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.

Headstone of Private George Harrison
(Photograph: Rudi Andrews).

Private Harrison was buried in the Old Cemetery, where among the mourners were his wife, mother-in-law and his commanding officer. Also in attendance was Mr. William Blyth Gerish, a prominent Stortfodian and owner of Ivy Lodge where George died. As can be seen in the photograph below, George’s funeral was well attended by soldiers of the Bedfordshire, Nottingham and Derbyshire Regiments who were also passing through Bishops Stortford in the Spring of 1915.

Soldiers stationed in Bishops Stortford attending Private Harrison's funeral.

Private Richard Lohmann (15th Bn London Rifles (Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles)) No. 534630.

The son of a naturalised German from Schleswig-Holstein, Private Richard Cornell Lohmann is buried in the family plot in the Old Cemetery. Born in Tottenham, North London on 10th February 1879, Richard served with the Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles, which in 1908 was incorporated into the newly formed London Regiment and designated as the 15th Battalion London Rifles.

15th Battalion, London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles), 47th Division, marching past the Lord Mayor of London, Colonel Sir Charles Wakefield, 11th June 1916. (IWM Q633).

As declared on his headstone, Richard ‘Died of wounds received fighting for his country’ at the age of 29. From the sources that I have been able to locate it is not possible to state with certainty where he was wounded, but it is known that the 15th Battalion London Rifles were in action at Passchendaele (The infamous Third Battle of Ypres) which lasted from 31st July to 10th November 1917, dates that would tie in with the known fact that he succumbed to his injuries in early October of that year. The epitaph ‘.... of wounds received fighting for his country’ is especially poignant as the family retained their German surname throughout the war, a decision that was not without repercussions in the pervading atmosphere of intense anti-German sentiment that existed at the time.

Headstone of Private Richard Lohmann
(Photograph: Rudi Andrews).

The following two soldiers have a special meaning for me as they both lived in the Newtown area of Bishops Stortford, as do I as a resident of Apton Road. Nearly every day I pass through Castle Street and Bartholomew Road where the two men once lived.

Private Herbert Solomon Kitchener (1/5th Bn Bedfordshire Regiment) No. 45687.

Herbert attempted to enlist earlier in the war but was turned away having failed to satisfy the minimum required chest measurements, an early indication of pulmonary insufficiency  that would ultimately lead to his premature death at the age of 33. However, as the war raged into its fourth year, the Recruiting Sergeants of the British Army were forced to reduce the physical minimums for enlistment in order to reinforce the battered Regiments in the line. This shift in the requirements meant that on the 19th March 1917, Herbert Solomon Kitchener got his wish and became a Private of the Bedfordshire Regiment. After basic training he was posted to Egypt where the 1/5th Battalion were fighting with the Ottoman forces in Palestine. 

Clearly, the arid and dusty conditions in the area were disastrous for Herbert who was admitted to hospital on numerous occasions to the extent that he was sent home in August 1918 (a decision that the Army never took lightly due to the cost associated with removing a soldier from the front line). Shortly thereafter he was discharged from  the Army on the grounds of being ‘physically unfit’ having ‘Tubercule of Lung, 80%’. Sadly, Herbert died at home at 35 Castle Street, directly opposite my local pub, The Castle’, on the 3rd May 1920. He left a wife Margaret and a son of 3 years, also named Herbert Solomon.

Herbert's home at 35 Castle Street, Bishops Stortford.

Headstone of Private Herbert Solomon
(Photograph: Rudi Andrews).

Corporal Harry Kitchener (3rd Bn Bedfordshire Regiment) No. 31598.

Harry was another very local lad who, according to the 1911 census, was living with his parents Henry and Sarah at 29 Bartholomew Road (approximately a one minute walk from my front door). Harry was killed many miles from the theatres of war in which the Bedfords saw their fighting, but it was enemy action that ended his short life nonetheless. 

A Gotha bomber of the type responsible for the 13th June 1917 London air raid.

Since the birth of the ‘miracle of flight’ the military powers of Europe had recognised the possibility of aerial bombardment and the First World War first saw this new dimension to warfare realised. On 13th June 1917, twenty long range heavy bombers known as Gothas launched the first daylight raid on London. 162 people were killed and 432 injured in the raid which was to be the deadliest single raid on London of the entire war. It was on 13th June 1917 that Harry was in London visiting relatives when he was killed, becoming one of the 162 fatality statistic. He was 19 years old.

The inscription on his headstone reads:

‘Links which reach from Heaven above unite us still in perfect love’.

Harry's home at 29 Bartholomew Road, Bishops Stortford.

Headstone of Corporal Harry Kitchener
(Photograph: Rudi Andrews).

Of these four soldiers with links to Bishops Stortford, two, Herbert and Richard do not appear on the town's war memorials for reasons unknown. However, all of their details are recorded in the Old Cemetery register of graves.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

49th (West Riding) Division Facebook page and web site

Memorial to the men of the 49th (West Riding) Division - The Polar Bears in Doorn near Utrecht. The 49th Recce Regiment entered the town on 7th May 1945.

I would like to draw your attention to two 49th Division related sites maintained by Eelco Warmerdam. Please take a look.


Sunday 3 December 2017

From Roosendaal to Nijmegen November 1944

In contrast to the living conditions experienced by the battalion in Normandy, accommodation in the Lowlands represented a significant upgrade with buildings replacing slit trenches. The men of the 11th RSF were spoiled for a time in Roosendaal when they were billeted within the houses of grateful Dutch families, in homes that were largely undamaged. Nevertheless, the enduring memory of the Roosendaal area is of an unpleasant place to be in late October/early November, as Colonel Douglas recalled ‘a nasty area because to move you had to stay on top of the dyke , if you got off the dyke you were in flooded fields, if you stayed on top you got shot, if you went down in the fields you got drowned or hit by the shells and mortars. Not very funny’. The Germans may have been in retreat at this point, heading with all speed for their own national border, but the terrain and the appalling weather conditions made for a demoralising and dangerous place to be.

Polar Bears in the vicinity of Roosendaal Station at the point of liberation
30th October 1944
(The Polar Bear insignia can be seen on the rear of the jeep in the foreground).

The fighting continued. German units fought rear-guard actions in the northern suburbs of Roosendaal as the main body of troops were evacuated north of the River Maas. At this time it was the responsibility of the battalion to harry the retreat. On 4th November, the battalion concentrated at Oud Gastel, little over four miles north of Roosendaal and was placed on one hour’s notice to move. That morning the German units were hastened in their retreat by harassing fire from medium machine gun fire and salvos of 4.2 inch mortars. At 1030 hours, the battalion moved off in pursuit with ‘B’ Company advancing on the right and ‘D’ Company on the left. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies remained in reserve. Initially, the advance was untroubled, however, in time ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies, now joined by ‘C’ Company contacted the enemy and came under fire.

The ability of the engaged companies to fight was severely hampered by the necessity to restrict all movement to the top of the dykes. Such restrictions ruled out any tactical manoeuvres that may have been to the advantage of the advance. These movement constraints were understood by the enemy, who despite being in retreat, were in well dug in positions. With no tank support possible, the Germans allowed the forward British units to advance close to their positions with the knowledge that such close proximity would prevent the use of artillery. With ‘B’ Company pinned down in open ground and with the light failing prearranged positions were consolidated and here the Companies would stay for the night. The enemy withdrew from their positions overnight. Patrols were able to cover some distance the next morning (5th November) to the extent that a ‘D’ Company patrol contacted the Canadians as they advanced from the north and a patrol of ‘B’ Company reached as far as Dinteloord (approximately 11 miles to the north west of Roosendaal) where they too encountered the Canadians. By mid-morning the battalion received the order to return to their billets in Roosendaal, all except ‘A’ Company who were to hold the position until nightfall before returning to Roosendaal.

In the actions described above a total of 12 German fatalities and 37 prisoners were accounted for, for 4 killed, 19 wounded and 1 missing of the battalion.

The atrocious conditions have been mentioned earlier and one specific mention of the hardship endured by the men on account of the poor weather is recorded in the Summary of Operations:

‘One platoon was immersed to the waist in water for about 5 hours and it reflects on the good training and stamina that only one man had to be evacuated the following day as a result of this long enforced immersion’. 

This paragraph struck a chord with me since one of my Grandfather’s stories told of how he spent a very unpleasant night perched on a seat of bricks, immersed to the waist in water in charge of a yardstick to monitor the rate at which the water was rising. However, when this anecdote was related to William Douglas, he stated that it was his belief that this would have been a memory of the time spent in Haalderen rather than Roosendaal.

The remainder of the month of November was very mobile for the battalion, but the days were spent in rest rather than in battle. Early in the month, the battalion was transferred from Roosendaal, eastwards and at the same time they parted from the 1st Canadian Army to come under the command of XII Corps of the British Second Army. The battalion concentrated in the town of Soerendonk. Here they engaged in training exercises mixed with entertainment activities until 23rd November when they moved eastwards once more to Blerick on the west bank of the River Maas. From here the intention was to launch an attack on the town of Venlo, approximately one mile away on the other side of the river. Preparations were in hand with recces and patrols carried out in order to establish the nature of the terrain, the strength of the German units to the Brigade front, anything that would confer an advantage upon the attackers. In the event, the responsibility for assaulting Venlo was passed over to 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division. However, Venlo, with its large airfield which served as a base for Luftwaffe nightfighters, was not finally liberated until 1st March 1945.

The battalion received orders to move to an area to the north of Nijmegen where they were to relieve the men of 231st Brigade of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. Reaching a staging post in the village of Mill (approximately 20 miles distant to the south of Nijmegen) the relief of the 1st Dorsets of the 231st Brigade was effected by 1930 hours on the evening of 29th November.

The 11th Battalion RSF had taken up positions in a notorious area known simply as ‘The Island’, an area of marshy polder that lay between the River Waal to the north of Nijmegen and the Neder Rijn (Lower Rhine) to the south of Arnhem. This tract of land was unpleasant in the extreme by the time the Polar Bears arrived in late November, low lying and flooded. The bodies of British and German fighters remained where they had fallen in the vicious fighting of late September/early October, when the Allies desperately tried to come to the aid of the 1st British Airborne Division, then confined to the Oosterbeek Perimeter to the western suburbs of Arnhem.

‘The Island’ framed by the Waal and Neder Rijn.

The battalion would be associated with this dreadful place for a period of over five months.

The Nijmegen Bridge viewed in the direction of Arnhem. The area known as 'The Island' can be seen across the River Waal. The church in Lent can be seen in the centre of the photograph.

The area of operation for the 49th Division was at the eastern end of the Island. The following chapter describes the actions of the 7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and the 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers to repulse a determined German effort to reach the Nijmegen Bridge once again.

This was not the first time that the village of Haalderen had found itself on the frontline. During the ‘Garden’ operation of ‘Market Garden’ the necessity of holding Nijmegen Bridge and the bridgehead was well understood. The defence of the bridgehead took the fight into the villages of Bemmel, Baal and Haalderen. In late September, the 6th and 7th Battalion of the Green Howards (50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division) attempted to take Haalderen which was then fiercely defended by the soldiers of the 10th SS Panzer Division. Consequently, the village was badly damaged as the Germans withdrew in the first week of October.

'Where's The Bear?' Roosendaal, Holland 16th May 2015

Fresh off the Beveland Peninsula and a little wind burned we next headed to Roosendaal as we continued our Polar Bear trail. With not much time to spend in this city our visit was intended to be something of a ‘hit and run’ to the Polar Bear memorial before heading out of town. This would have been the case had the navigator (i.e. me) had the foresight of planning and noted down the location of this memorial in advance. As it was after completing several circuits of the central streets of the town we were on the verge of admitting defeat when we came across its location quite by accident.

Compared to the quiet dignity of the memorial at Wuustwezel, the monument in Roosendaal is rather disappointing. Sited in a small square at the intersection of Tufberg and Kade, the inscriptions on the plinth have suffered at the hands of the elements and the poor old Polar Bear that looks out across Roosendaal would benefit from the brief attention of a sand blaster. The burger van parked up against the base did nothing to enhance the moment. Nevertheless, none of these cosmetic flaws in any way detract from the significance of the memorial to the people of the city.

The inscription on the monument, translated from Dutch reads:

ON 26 - 30 OCTOBER 1944