Lest We Forget
Men of Highworth and District in the Second World War
Written by Brian Archer.
On Sunday 3rd September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. The formal declaration of war was at 11am when Britain's ultimatum to Germany expired. On the 9th September 1939 the first troop transport convoys carrying the British Expeditionary Force sailed from Southampton and the Bristol Channel, arriving at Cherbourg the next day and Nantes and St Nazaire two days later. After a month of anxiety, false alarms and uncertainty, Britain settled down to a wartime winter.
By the middle of October 158,000 men of the B.E.F., together with 25,000 vehicles had been taken across the Channel to bolster the French defence. At the same time a general call-up of men over 20 years old was set in motion. At that time there were no plans to conscript younger men. Of course this altered as the war went on. By the end of April, British and French troops were hitting back in the battle for Norway. At the beginning of May 1940 Britain started to withdraw her forces from Norway and by the 6th June the evacuation from Narvic was completed. The German "Blitzkrieg" in Western Europe carried on with the British troops fighting a desperate rearguard action on the French coast around Dunkirk as the German troops finally moved in and surrounded them. Towards the end of May, the port of Dunkirk, through which the British were receiving stores and ammunitions, was being bombed regularly by German aircraft. It was on the 27th May that the Belgian king, King Leopold, capitulated, allowing German forces through Belgian lines to attack the B.E.F. and the French as they retreated towards Dunkirk.
During the retreat to Dunkirk the 2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment was fighting a rearguard action when regular soldier Private Fredrick John HUNT, (2nd Wilts) was killed in action on the 23rd May 1940, aged 37 years. He is buried in Rouex Communal Cemetery which is ten kilometres east of Arras, France. He was the uncle of Mrs Ann RUDMAN of Folly Close, Highworth. The 2nd Wilts had landed in France on the 14th September 1939, and had been under warning to go to Norway, but this had been cancelled by the German invasion of the Low Countries on May 10th. During the retreat to Dunkirk the 2nd Wilts were involved in some severe fighting losing over sixty men at this time, some of whom are buried alongside men of the Wiltshire Regt who lost their lives in the 1914-18 war. Then came the miracle of Dunkirk on the 26th May to the 4th June 1940. Trapped on the beaches, strafed by bombs and shells, it seemed they were doomed. But the Navy, using 230 warships of all kinds and supported by over 700 private motor boats and small and large fishing trawlers, sailed in under intense fire and carried 335,000 men off the beaches and back to the coast of Britain. The evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, "Operation Dynamo" ended officially on the 4th June 1940.
When war broke out in September 1939 Sergeant Jack HILL, (who was born and bred in Highworth), was already a serving soldier with the Royal Army Service Corps.
In the years before the war several Highworth lads including Jack were out of work with not much prospect of finding a permanent job. Several of the lads used to meet in "The Elms" recreation ground for a game of football to help pass the time away. On one particular day they all decided to join the Army Service Corps. On the outbreak of war he was one of the first to go to France with the B.E.F.
After a few months of war Jack along with other British servicemen found himself in Dunkirk waiting to be evacuated off the beach. Being one of the lucky ones he finally arrived back home in Britain. After being reorganised he was sent to the Middle East to help fight against Rommel's Afrika Corps. While carrying supplies through the desert Jack and his mates were completely surrounded by a strong force of German tanks. They were all captured and handed over to the Italian Army and that was the beginning of Jack's long imprisonment as a prisoner of war. Eventually he was sent to Germany for imprisonment under the Germans and stayed there until the end of the war. After being released and repatriated he had to report to Stratton St Margaret's hospital each week for a check-up by a doctor. Like so many POWs he was undernourished and had lost a lot of weight. He was given special food and vitamins to help build up his health again. When he was captured in the desert he suffered wounds to his back and in his later life this caused some discomfort.
At the time of Dunkirk, Peter BARON of Newburgh Place, Highworth was serving in France with the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was wounded on the beach and arrived home wrapped in a woman's fur coat. Sadly both these war veterans have now passed on.
Before the war there were several local men already serving in the armed forces.
5722881 Quarter Master Sergeant Sydney George DIPPER enlisted into the army at Devizes, Wiltshire on the 23rd April 1927. He served in the Dorset Regiment for twenty four years. Before the war he was with his Regiment in Palestine during the Arab-Jewish troubles. He later served through the Second World War. Afterwards he was a Physical Training and Parachute Training Instructor. He excelled in most sports in which he took part. His home leave, and later his retirement from the army, was in Highworth with his sister Mrs Violet CHESTER of Fairview, Highworth.
317791 Trooper E.E. (Ted) STAPLES, 11th Royal Hussars, (Prince Albert's Own) was born at Warrens Cross, Lechlade, Gloucestershire, and joined the army in 1934 at the age of nineteen years. He had signed on for twelve years, (six years in, six years out). He was first stationed at Tidworth in the 12th Royal Lancers. He was transferred to Egypt in 1935 to the 11th Royal Hussars. He saw service in Palestine 1936-37 during the Arab-Jewish troubles, for which he gained the Palestine medal. He was due back in England in 1939 but had to stay owing to the outbreak of the Second World War. He was one of the original "Wavells"; 30,000 troops being chased by the enemy backwards and forwards across the Western Desert. At one stage he was missing when the Italians captured an outpost. He saw action in all the battles including Mera, Matruh, Sidi Barrani, El Alamein and Tripoli. He was a member of the Long Range Desert Group who pioneered the art of long-range patrolling in the desert - most of the time behind enemy lines. He was finally posted back home to England in 1943 and was stationed at Barnard Castle, County Durham after eight and a half year's service abroad. Returning to civilian life after the war was never going to be easy, with no jobs or houses available to settle down. After a couple of temporary jobs, he was employed by the Thames Conservancy. The irony came when he was put in charge of six German prisoners of war. This was to build a ford across the River Coln, (before it joins the Thames), at the Round House, Lechlade, to enable the farmer to drive his tractors across from one field to the other. The ford is still there and in working order to this day. His medals for service were: The Palestine Medal, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Defence Medal, (Kings Commendation for Bravery), War Medal 1939-45.
At the end of August 1939 the Army and Royal Air Force reserves were called up and the Royal Navy was mobilised. Having been in the Territorial Army before the war, 915518 Gunner Reginald Frank BROCK was immediately assigned to the 77th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery and was posted to Southampton on Anti-Aircraft duty.
When the allied forces were evacuated from Dunkirk in June 1940, the invasion of Great Britain seemed more likely. In August of that year the Luftwaffe switched its targets to Southern England and the Battle of Britain began in earnest. More than 1,000 planes were being sent over daily. Southampton, like so many other cities, was feeling the full force of the German Luftwaffe. One of the most serious raids of the whole battle was that on the Vickers Supermarine Woolstone works, Southampton on September 26th. Woolstone was the main centre of Spitfire production. 70 tons of bombs were dropped on the factory during this raid. The Heavy Anti-Aircraft gunners were firing flat out. When the all-clear was finally sounded the gunners' hands were raw-red, very painful and in need of attention.
After this episode in the war Reg and his mates arrived at Greenock, Scotland in December 1941, and set sail on the Empress of Australia bound for the Middle East. They arrived in Capetown in January 1942 and then diverted to Singapore but on the way, heard that it had fallen to the Japanese, and so landed in Java in February 1942.
While travelling on a train which was sabotaged and blown up, Reg was thrown out and badly injured. He was taken to hospital by the Red Cross and a Dutch doctor saved his life. While recuperating in hospital he was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the end of March 1942. He was transferred to a prisoner of war camp in Singapore for about six weeks. Reg then arrived in Sumatra at the end of 1942 and worked helping to build a railway through the jungle. Living conditions were very bad; poor food and hardly any clothes, just a loin cloth and no shoes. Reg suffered leg and feet ulcers, malaria, dysentery, berri-berri and diphtheria in common with most other prisoners of war. There were hardly any medicines - dreadful conditions. Only one Red Cross parcel received between twenty men.
Finally in September 1945, Reg and his fellow prisoners of war saw a landing craft sailing up the river with Sikh soldiers and Royal Navy sailors on board. They realised the war was over. They were taken to Singapore for rehabilitation for three weeks. At the end of September they sailed from Singapore on the SS Antenor, (a passenger freight ship) bound for Liverpool, England. They sailed through the Suez Canal and stopped at Port Said on the way, arriving in Liverpool early October 1945; finally back home.
Reg was demobbed end of November 1945 and was married to Margaret, (who had waited for him to come home) in January 1946. They had met when Reg was stationed at Southampton in 1940.
For many years Reg played cricket for Highworth Cricket Club, and both he and Margaret were very keen gardeners .
Active Service Record 1939-46.
890693 G. T. BAILEY (Ex Sergeant - Guns)
945776 H. A. COX ( Ex L/ Bdr. Driver - 336th Battery / 140th / 178 Field Regiments, Royal Artillery.
Joined 3651 92nd Field Regiment Royal Artillery (TA) in January l939. New Regiment formed as the TA was being doubled in May 1939. Now 366th / Field Regiment R.A. (TA) at Kennington, London. Then Clapham Common, London.
After being inspected by the King and Queen the 140th was ready for active service with the B.E.F. in France. The Regiment landed in March 1940 and was drafted into the 1st Division to give support to the 1st Guards Brigade with our 18-pounders. What illustrious company for a T.A. Regiment. Just prior to Dunkirk evacuation, sister Battery 367 was sent to Cassel and met overwhelming enemy forces. Many killed and wounded, remainder made P.O.W. On arrival back in England via Dunkirk the Regiment took up anti-invasion duties. Then given French 75 mm Field Gun for training. For a while 366 Bty was an independent unit and sent to Iceland attached to 143 Regiment Royal Artillery. Returned December 1941. Regimented in new 178th Field Regt. (3 Btys. 2 Troops each Btys). 336th/ 122nd/ 516th. January 1943, 178th Field Regiment sailed from Liverpool to Bombay via Cape Town. Training at combined operations. Attached to 72nd Brigade 36th British Division. Now with 3.7 Howitzers, saw action in two Arakan campaigns and finally Northern Burma campaign under American command.
Transferred to 23rd Indian Division for liberation of Malay but while on the water the Japanese surrendered, but still landed as invasion force. Next sent to Java to help hound down rebels. Demobbed March 1946.
Sergeant Bill Bailey and L/Bdr Harry Cox on retreat to Dunkirk 1940.
In May 1940 while on the retreat to Dunkirk, Bill and Harry's Battery was on the outskirts of Tournai near the Belgian - French border fighting a rearguard action. Being under constant attack from the enemy one of the gun-crew, (a close friend of theirs), L/Bdr Tom Bennett was killed by enemy action. All three had joined the T.A. in London and had been together from the beginning of the war. At that time the Germans were nearly upon them so they had to retreat quickly, leaving their friend behind in the dug-out. Bill and Harry finally made it to Dunkirk and arrived home safe.
"On learning that myself and a friend (Barry Newman) were making a visit to Belgium we were asked if we could find and visit their friend's grave. This we agreed to do. On our arrival in Ypres, Belgium we made a visit to the Commonwealth War Graves office to find the exact location of Tom's grave. As always, they were most helpful in giving us the information we needed. L/ Bdr Tom Bennett is buried in Bruyelle War Cemetery which is situated a few kilometres outside Tournai on the road to Valenciennes ( N71), France. Our journey from Ypres to Tournai was roughly about eighty kilometres and virtually trouble free.
On our arrival we immediately found L/Bdr. Tom Bennett's grave, placed a poppy cross and signed the cemetery register on behalf of Bill and Harry. The following year with the Swindon Branch of the Dunkirk Veterans' Association, Bill and Harry made a visit to their friend's grave in Bruyelle War Cemetery."
The following is a brief description of Brian Archer's and Barry Newman's visit to Bruyelle War Cemetery (1939-45) Belgium.
The date of our visit was 23rd August 1987. Time of arrival, 11.30am. European time. The cemetery is situated a few kilometres outside Tournai on the road to Valenciennes, France. Weather - warm hazy sunshine, very peaceful, birds singing in the trees. Along the back of the cemetery is a row of large weeping-willow trees with green fields behind and more broad-leafed trees beyond that. Cemetery very well kept, headstones very clear. Mostly Army casualties, but also some Aircrew and Royal Navy servicemen. Some graves of unknown soldiers. The majority of graves are young men in their teens. 900841 Lance Bombadier Tom H. BENNETT, B Troop, 366 Battery, 140 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, was killed in action on the 22nd May 1940, Age 19 years. He is buried in Plot 1, Row C, Grave 2, in Bruyelle War Cemetery, (1939-45). Belgium.
On the 9th November 1940, in the Dover Strait, the cargo ship SS Baltrader of 1,699 tons, (United Baltic Corp), was on its way from Seville to London when it was sunk by a mine. Able-bodied Seaman George Arthur Smith, of Westrop, Highworth, was a serving crewman on board the SS Baltrader (London) when she sank. He was 28 years old and was the son of Ernest and Bessie Smith and husband of Doris Amelia Smith. Having no known grave but the sea, he is commemorated by name on Panel 13 of the Tower Hill Memorial, London.
During 1940 several local men were called up to serve in the forces.
4620939 Trooper E.R. ORAM of the Royal Tank Regiment was one of those. The following is a short survey of Ted Oram's experiences in his own words.
"I had just got married and was settled in my first home at Hatherop in Gloucestershire working at the castle, when war was declared. I joined the army at Seaton Barracks, Plymouth, on the 16th May 1940. During my initial training I did many guards at Devonport Dockyard, some during air-raids. After four months initial training, I joined the Duke of Wellington's Regiment in Scotland, doing a lot of patrols. After a few months, I took an educational examination and was selected to do a nine-month course at Barnard Castle, County Durham, on tank driving and maintenance. At the end of the course I passed out with 96%, a really high percentage, and I was posted to the 9th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment, stationed at Ashford in Kent. We did a lot of patrols expecting the Germans to attack us over the Channel. Well, eventually we sealed our Churchill Tanks for the invasion of Europe. We went over on D-Day 6th June 1944 with the Canadians on Juno Beach. My claim to fame is that I drove a tank under the sea. We had very long extensions on our exhaust pipes, otherwise of course it would have been an impossibility. I remember the Tank Commander saying as we came off the L.C.T. (Landing Craft Tank) "Our lives are in your hands Oram"
As you know, we captured Bayeux on D-Day. We suffered heavy casualties to obtain it and eventually we fought at "Hill 112" before breaking out of the bridgehead. At length we captured Caen, (we played the leading part) and went on to close the Falaise Gap to trap the Germans. We captured thousands of prisoners. We went on into Belgium and we played our part in the liberation of Brussels. A very memorable occasion. We went on into Holland, and I got wounded during an early morning attack on Roosendaal, near Eindhoven.
I was in hospital in Antwerp where the Germans were dropping a hundred V-Rockets every day. I was in a Canadian hospital. When I was well enough I returned to my Regiment. The Airborne Division landed at Nymegan and were in danger of annihilation. We were rushed to release them, succeeding after some bitter fighting. Eventually we attacked Germany itself; we were the first British troops on German soil when we captured Goch and Aitken. Eventually we crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge (my most nerve-wracking experience of the war I believe). Of course there was no return. We went on to capture Belsen Concentration Camp. I drove the first tank in and the scenes were horrific. Typhus was rampant there; you have undoutably read about it. After that we went on to capture Hanover and eventually we linked up with the Russians, another memorable occasion. They were all drinking vodka like water. Eventually at the end of February 1946, I was released from the army after going to Taunton from Hanover to get my demob suit, having completed six years in the Army. When I joined I told my wife I would be back in six months, instead it was six years."
On 14th May 1940 Anthony Eden broadcast on the BBC an appeal for men of all ages for a new Force which would be called the Local Defence Volunteers. The name describes its duties in three words. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniform and you will be armed. Immediately after Mr Eden's broadcast, men from all walks of life came forward to volunteer and to give their names to the local police. Volunteers were enrolled between the ages of seventeen and seventy-five. In July 1940, the Local Defence Volunteers became the Home Guard. The 9th Battalion Wiltshire Home Guard was soon 1,000 men strong and made up of Six Companies, with Battalion Headquarters at Salthrop House, Wroughton. The six Companies consisted of one of each of the following:- Cricklade, Highworth, Wanborough, Wroughton, Wootton Bassett and Purton. Highworth, which was "D" Company, was commanded by Major Van de Weyer, with platoons at Highworth, South Marston, Stratton, Hannington and Castle Eaton.
On the 16th February 1942 the Battalion Headquarters was moved to the King and Queen Hotel, Highworth. Battalion Headquarters was now in a position to direct, organise and help companies with training in the use of the more complicated and heavier arms and equipment that had now been issued.
On the 31st March 1942, Major B. Van de Weyer handed Highworth Company over to Captain F.W. Jennings. Eventually it was laid down that the role of the 9th Battalion was to deny the enemy free passage through the Battalion area. For this purpose Highworth, Cricklade and Wooton Bassett, being centres of communication, were designated centres of resistance, through which no enemy was to be allowed to pass. The rural companies were to get information and report; destroy if possible, but at any cost, delay and harass them.
When it was thought that Germany would invade the British Isles, several forms of defence were set up around the town. These included machine gun posts to defend each approach. One was situated in the corner of the wall opposite Westrop House looking towards Hampton Hill. Another was in the south wall of the Fox Inn commanding views of the Swindon and Shrivenham roads. Another was in the wall next to the Plough Inn looking towards Lechlade Hill. It was proposed to place one on the roof of the Jesmond House (Hotel), but that did not proceed. It was thought that if the Germans actually advanced as far as Highworth there would be heavy street fighting in the centre of the town. Some of the attics in the houses in the High Street had only thin partition walls so, early in the war Jack Archer, who had a good knowledge of the buildings, and several Royal Engineer officers surveyed the position and drew up plans for knocking holes from one house to another to facilitate movement.
In the early days most companies of the 9th Battalion had exercises with the 1st Motor Training Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps who were stationed at Chiseldon Camp. The KRRC were the first to admit that the real strength of the Home Guard was the way in which men knew every inch of their home ground. D Company of the 9th Battalion HG, was the Highworth Company. Their motto was "They shall not pass" and this was an incentive for all ranks to fight tooth and nail to keep it up. A Crusader tank attempted to once during an exercise, but was landed high and dry on the rails of a road-block on an approach to the town.
Early in March 1942 Captain E.J. Hawxwell, of the KRRC, was appointed Adjutant and Training Officer for the Battalion. As far back as July 1941, a Permanent Staff Instructor had been added to Battalion Establishment and Sgt. E.E. Simms, of the Wiltshire Regt., was seconded to the 9th Battalion. Another PSI was added in September 1942, and Sgt. E. Dye, of the KRRC, joined the Battalion and both were given the temporary rank of CSM.
In 1942 weekend courses were held at Highworth, the subjects taught being:- Spigot mortar and Northover, LMG, section leading and Sten Gun. The courses were well attended as were most courses run for the Home Guard, especially the weekend courses held at Bulford. The basis of all the training in the Battalion was to make every man proficient with the weapons he was to use and in fieldcraft. During 1942 a Battalion Camp was held at Hannington Bridge. This was pitched in May, commencing with a weekend camp at Whitsuntide. At this time attendances were not very large, as all preliminary arrangements for D-Day caused all ranks to put in extra time on guards and pickets. Many had to work longer hours, but about 300 spent a weekend or longer under canvas. The week's camp was held from August 5th to12th. About 40 attended. Whilst in camp, one company had the good fortune to enjoy a first rate lecture on airborne troops and also a trip in a glider.
In July 1944, Major F.W. Jennings and Captain S.A. Bonner, OBE left the district whereupon Sir Noel Arkell took over the Highworth Company. Major Jennings had been nominated Second in Command of the Battalion, his place being taken by Major N.L. Whatley, Officer Commanding Chisledon Company.
The highest strength of the Battalion was 2,340 and upon "Stand Down" the Battalion strength was 96 Officers and 2,028 other ranks. At the time of stand down D Company Highworth was :-
Company Headquarters: Highworth.
Company Commander: Major T. Noel Arkell.
Second in Command: Captain Louis Cotton.
Company Sergeant Major Walter Avery.
Company Quarter Master Sergeant Fred T. Chick.
Platoon Commanders, Lt. Hugh D. Roberts. Sergeant Harry Jefferies. Lt. L. Colin Hicks. Sergeant T. Slack.
Lt. Con C. Morse. Sergeant J.J. Cook. 2/Lt. Ernest F. Fry. Sergeant G.H. Hemmings. Lt. G. Miles M.M. Sergeant Alec Fry.
Due to the scattered area of the Battalion, which covered more than 150 square miles, a central stand-down parade was impossible. Five of the thirteen Companies had their final parades on Sunday 26th November 1944, four more were addressed during the week prior to Sunday 3rd December and the last four on the appointed day. In December 1945 came the last order for final disbandment, which was to take place on 31st December at midnight. Many of those from Highworth who had volunteered back in 1940 had seen action in the First World War and, of course, many of the youngsters of the town had also served in the Home Guard until they were called up to join the armed forces. There is no doubt that Highworth was prepared to do her bit in helping to defend her country.
It was during 1940 that the Auxiliary Units were formed around the coast of Britain. These small units of highly-trained men were to carry out a form of guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion by the German forces. It was believed at the time that, if the German forces had managed to get a footing in the Home Counties, one of their many headquarters would have been Coleshill House in (then) Berkshire. The German High Command planned to drop parachutists and Airborne Glider soldiers in the Thames Valley area in the vicinity of Fairford airfield and the surrounding countryside in a similar fashion to that which the British 6th Airborne Division did in Normandy in June 1944. In the event of this there would have been prime targets in this area which would have been ripe for sabotage. For example, supply columns, ammunition dumps, airfields, factories and main-line railway lines being just a few. There would also have been many high-ranking German officers in the area which could have either been captured or killed, helping to lower the moral of the German troops. Although this type of assassination was not a primary objective owing to the fact that it would have exposed them to determined pursuit and condemned the local population to vicious reprisals. This is where the Highworth Cell of the Auxiliary Units would have come into its own. They were formed with this target in mind; to disrupt the enemy in as many ways as possible. In the event of capture the men of the Auxiliary Units would have been given no quarter and would have been immediately tortured, then executed. Many of those who were stationed at Coleshill House, which was the Headquarters of the Auxiliary Units, had no knowledge of such a unit at that time. It was thought that the fewer people who knew about it the better was the chance of survival. It was almost certain that the Gestapo would have interrogated any British prisoners who were captured in the vicinity of Coleshill House, which could have led to disastarous results. All this was a well-kept secret in Highworth at the time, in fact some details have only come to light since the Auxiliary Units Reunion at Coleshill during October 1994. The Auxiliary Units were made up of tough well-trained men and it is certain they would have caused the Germans endless trouble in the event of occupation.
Even the local police force was unaware of their existence. When joining the Unit it was necessary for each member to know every local hedge, ditch, culvert, drainage system, every inch of the local countryside, railway routes, bridges and all of this to cover a five-mile radius of one's place of residence.
So much reliance was placed on the Auxiliary Units that supplies of the newest and most up-to-date weapons and types of materials, including the very latest explosives, were distributed to each unit before the Regular Army even received them.
Besides Coleshill House, the men from the Highworth cell were also trained at Bulford Camp, Ogbourne St George and Chiseldon. This consisted of extensive training in explosives, different forms of sabotage, map reading, unarmed combat, silent killing and also on the firing range with different types of weapons. The Highworth Unit were kept to a high level of fitness by regular intervals of extensive training, making them a highly efficient unit. Ammunition, explosives and other forms of equipment was hidden in many secluded places in and around Highworth, which included many remote buildings. One of the buildings in question was the stone building situated by the side of the road on Jack Archer's Market Garden in the old Station Road. After the war these were cleared up by the Royal Engineers and members of the Highworth Auxiliary Unit. Members of the Highworth Cell were Hugh Roberts, Jack Archer, and Harry Jefferies from Highworth and Les Williams from Coleshill. Two other members were given a pardon from one of His Majesties prisons, because they were both explosive experts, and it was thought at the time they would be more useful with the Auxiliary Units than serving a term in prison. Auxiliary Units were disbanded in November 1944. Most of this information has kindly been given by Jack Archer, ex Auxiliary Units, (Highworth Unit).
Lance Corporal Arthur GABBITAS who lives at Rayleigh in Essex, was called up in 1940 into the Royal Signals and trained at Catterick as a wireless operator. In May 1941 he was sent to the Auxiliary Units at Coleshill House and spent some time there while the radio stations were being constructed. He and another member of the Royal Signals had to install an efficient telephone system and offices and afterwards maintain a 24-hour service. Besides Arthur, two of his friends, Frank Hewitt and Jack Furmston, also operated the exchange to Highworth. Among the memories Arthur has of his stay in Coleshill is swimming in the river in the house grounds (Seven Steps) where the villagers had blocked the river to form a pool. They also had a football team that played on the Highworth side of the river. At one time they held a concert party in the Village Hall, in which he dressed as Hitler in a corny double act with Frank Hewitt. After Arthur Gabbitas did his initial training at Catterick he formed up with the rest of the squad at the embarkation parade when names were called out for men to be dispatched to various areas of the war. Five men were designated for Auxiliary Units and given travel warrants to Highworth, not knowing where it was, why they were going, who they were going to or what was in store for them. At Paddington they were told that there were only two trains to Highworth and that they should report to Swindon. On arriving there they telephoned Highworth Post Office for transport and they were picked up by a truck bearing the unit number 490. The driver said that he had to stop at Highworth to pick up the R.S.M. and stopped in the square. Apparently the R.S.M. had been in the pub and was quite tipsy. He had a pet whippet and whacked it with a cane as they clambered on the back of the truck. They wondered what sort of unit they were joining. After a long day of travelling from 6am they arrived at about 10 pm in the dusk and were pleased to lie down on the bunks above the stable block. Arthur remembers "Slim" Guyatt saying he was glad to have a smoke. When they awoke in the morning there were grenades on racks in the room and a "No Smoking" sign.
It was some weeks before they were told about the resistance. The radio network was still being set up and Arthur was kept at Coleshill until the middle of 1942 before going to Hunton for six weeks training on wireless sets. Then he was sent to Winchester in September 1942, moving to Buckland St. Mary in 1943 and later to Lincoln where he remained until stand down in 1944. He then went back to Catterick for training as an instructor and was retained until demobilised in July 1946.
When he went to Coleshill in June 1941 there was a stone surround in the stable yard near the pump in which they stored ammunition and he had to camouflage it. Later it was filled with water in case of fire.
There were two huts in the stable yard, one for meals and one for staff sleeping. The stables on the long side were used for sleeping by the Home Guard units on training at weekends and the NAAFI was behind the double doors in the corner, with offices and telephone room above. Later, when the signals closed their HQ at Hundon in Suffolk, they moved to Coleshill. Nissen huts were erected in the woods to the left of the entrance, for sleeping and also maintenance of wireless sets. The guardhouse was the cottage at the end of the stable block next to the gateway on the road, facing the side of the main house.
One day when Arthur and his mates were having dinner they heard a fighter plane (Spitfire) in trouble and then "crash"! They discovered it across the road in a field near the ammo dump. It was still intact with the instruments still whirring. The pilot was dead nearby. He had either jumped or been thrown out as there was a clear indentation in the ground next to him. Arthur remembers his bright ginger hair more than fifty years later.
When Coleshill House was taken over by the government, to be used as the main base for training the secret resistance organisations, the quiet life of the villager changed dramatically. Army vehicles could be seen about the village, with the approaches to the big house being guarded day and night.
Geoff and Joyce Wright who lived in the top lodge of Coleshill House at that time said until the guards got to know them they often had difficulty getting into their own home. Just outside their front door was a large guard post, reinforced with sand bags which was a constant reminder to them that there was a war on. The drive leading to Coleshill house was strictly out of bounds, this led to the top park where several army huts were situated amongst the trees. From time to time there were also tents erected.
Once or twice the quiet of the village was shattered by German H.E. bombs which were dropped near Raglands wood opposite the turning to Fresden Lane and also near the old stone quarry on the Faringdon side of Coleshill.
During one Monday lunch time, when Joyce Wright was hanging out washing on the clothes line near the asparagus beds in the kitchen garden, a German aircraft appeared from nowhere and started firing. She could hear the bullets thudding into the ground and then the glass of the peach houses started to shatter. Within seconds it was all over. Her father-in-law, Mr George Wright, who had worked in the gardens for many years, had been working in the peach houses for most of the morning and had just left for his dinner break. It was thought at the time that he had been within minutes of serious injury, or even death. It is believed that the German plane then carried on following Fresden Lane where he fired at Olly Ely of Highworth who was exercising a valuable horse which belonged to Mr Cockran of Fresden Manor House.
Olly Ely knew what being under fire was all about, having served with the Royal Artillery during the First World War. Luckily no one was hurt during this incident .
In July 1941 Geoff WRIGHT, who was born and brought up in Coleshill village, volunteered for the Royal Navy at the age of seventeen.
D/JX 568446 Able Seaman Torpedoeman Geoffrey John Wright served on HMS Fernie? (L11) which was a Hunt Class Type1 Escort Destroyer with a compliment of 146 crew. She had been built at Clydebank in January 1940, and was scrapped at Port Glasgow on 7th November 1956.
During action stations Geoff was in the forward magazine pushing up 4-inch shells to keep the guns firing. At cruising stations he was on depth charges. Most of the time HMS Fernie was engaged in patrolling the Atlantic and in taking cargo ships to Greenock for the Russian convoys.
With the approach of D-Day, HMS Fernie was assigned to part of the task force for the invasion of Europe. Early on the morning of 6th June 1944 she sailed from Sheerness and linked up with the large invasion fleet at a pre-arranged point nicknamed "Piccadilly Circus", south of the Isle of Wight, then crossed the Channel along routes cleared by minesweepers.
On 11th June HMS Fernie was in action off the Normandy coast and was involved in the rescue of the crew of HMS Halsted, an American built liberty ship being used as a troop carrier. She had been blown in half by enemy action, one half had sunk, and the other half was still afloat. After rescuing the crew of the Halsted, HMS Fernie had to sink the half of the liberty ship which had become a hazard in the shipping lane. The crew of HMS Halsted later presented a plaque to HMS Fernie in appreciation of services rendered to them after enemy action on 11th June 1944.
After the initial landings, HMS Fernie was involved in helping to escort the Mulberry Harbour across the channel to Normandy. Also during June 1944 she picked up an RAF Fighter pilot, Flight Lt Fox, who had ditched in the English Channel. Sadly he died shortly afterwards and was buried at sea with full honours.
During July the aircrew of a German aircraft were picked up from the sea.
Like many ships in the Royal Navy, HMS Fernie had a small dog as a mascot, and on one occasion the crew got him drunk and he fell overboard, but was quickly rescued.
On the 3rd November 1944, Geoff started a course to become a Leading Torpedo Operator. This was at 'Defiance', a shore-base at Plymouth, which consisted of three large wooden ships with coal burners moored together at the quayside. Most of the training was on board a submarine which set sail each morning, returning to dock each evening. After firing dummy torpedoes the ratings were then instructed to go out by rowing boat to fetch them back for re-use. Before the course ended Geoff was discharged from the navy as he had only signed on for the duration of the war.
After leaving the Navy he returned to Coleshill, and worked as a master bricklayer and later as a building site foreman until his retirement.
Memories of the Second World War, By Jean MOORE (nee Routledge).
"At the outbreak of war in 1939 I was employed by an Insurance Company in Swindon. This was classified as a reserved occupation and hence I was unable to volunteer for the Forces or change my employment. In early 1939 volunteers had been invited to take First Aid Courses organised by the St John Ambulance Association. I decided to do so together with others from Highworth including Joyce Woodbridge (nee Avery), John Roberts and Fred Wood.
At the outbreak of war a First Aid post was established in the Old Infants School. I can remember learning to drive the canvas covered ambulance. Whenever the sirens sounded, we had to report to the First Aid Centre as quickly as possible complete with our tin hats and gas masks.
Dr Robertson and Sir Noel Arkell were two of the people in charge. We had camp beds to use if possible. I can remember being roused by Sir Noel and asked to make tea for everyone before we dispersed to our homes to get breakfast and take up our daytime jobs.
As war progressed more and more men and women were called up and I received my papers in April 1942. The choice given me was the A.T.S. or Land Army- recruitment for the WRNS and WAAF having been closed. I chose the Land Army and was accepted as a member on 20th April 1942.
I went to work for Mrs Hollas at Parsonage Farm. When I arrived she already had four Land Girls, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bolton, and Joan Humby who were living at the farm, and Mrs Wilson and Miss Kane who were both in lodgings in Highworth.
Later we were joined by Kathleen Howse (nee Silk), Joan Bryant and Joan Slack, all from Highworth.
When I met Mrs Hollas she told me to report the next morning at 7 am and that I would be in charge of a milk round using a horse and float in part of Swindon. A van would take me as far as Stratton St Margaret where the horse and float were kept. I was also informed that Derek Ferris, at that time quite a young lad, would help me. The next morning I approached the farm with some trepidation. Miss Kane was driving the milk van and once all the crates were loaded, we set off. Our crates were off-loaded at Stratton and the van proceeded to Swindon to do another round. Derek showed me how to feed, water and groom the horse and finally how to clean the stable. Then began the intricacies of harnessing the horse to the float. How ever we squeezed beside that enormous carthorse to get to the front of the stable and its manger still astounds me. Duly harnessed and the milk loaded, we proceeded round Kingsdown, Rodbourne and Stratton St Margaret. Thankfully both Derek and the horse were well versed in the procedures. When "zoning" was introduced for milk deliveries, we relinquished the horse and cart round and in lieu were given comparable extra customers in the Walcot Road area of Swindon where the van delivered. The idea behind this arrangement was to avoid duplication of delivery vans in any area and so to conserve the short supply of fuel.
My duties changed and, with three other Land girls, we took charge of the milk round with the van, looked after the pigs (large whites and Wessex saddlebacks) and washed the cows prior to milking. Looking after the pigs involved feeding, cleaning out, and general care and when the U.S. Forces were in the area, collecting their swill and boiling it for the pigs".
"One of our biggest problems with the vans was the many punctures we experienced due to the well-worn tyres: it was extremely difficult to obtain new tyres, rubber being very scarce. At hay-time and harvest, we worked in the fields often till dusk. I particularly loved shocking the corn. I was extremely fortunate on one occasion when delivering milk with the van in Swindon. Instead of going up Drove Road I turned off to go to my sister's cake shop in Groundwell Road, (a thing not allowed). Just then the sirens sounded – my sister pulled me and the other Land Girl under the stairs. Then we heard Thud! Thud!
On trying to return to deliver our milk once the "All Clear" sounded, we found our way barred by police and wardens. The bombs had fallen in Drove Road where we should have been delivering. The bungalow of one of our customers had been demolished. When we eventually returned to the farm very late that afternoon, we were greeted with cries of "Here they are." Apparently Mrs Hollas had been phoning the police and anyone she could, for news of us. She was so relieved to see us safe and well that it didn't matter to her that we had been caught playing truant. Mrs Hollas had other Highworth people working for her. To mention a few; Hazel Bassett, Joan Breakspear and Vera Cooper, together with Eva Richardson in the garden.
Mrs Hollas was an amazing lady; besides running her farm in the difficult war days, she allowed Australian, New Zealand and Canadian Airmen to spend their leave at Parsonage Farm, something to this day I know many of them remember with great gratitude and very fond memories.
There were other Land Girls in the area and, together with the Home Guard, we put on a pantomime and a concert to raise money for parcels for the Forces. I remember practising bell ringing. The bells were of course silenced during the war, but the Rev. Durston, together with Joan Woodward who later became his wife, decided it would be a good idea to have a team ready so that when victory came, a peal of bells could be rung. Mr Harris, who was church organist at the time, sent out an S.O.S. for help with blowing the organ. Services had to be held on Sunday afternoons because of the blackout and I took a turn together with other Land Girls in pumping the organ. The bellows were hand operated in those days.
I met my husband during the war. Joan Bryant and myself would sometimes cycle to Cricklade after finishing a day's work, to go horse riding as a form of relaxation. On one occasion two Staff Sergeants from the Glider Pilot Regiment stationed at nearby Blakehill Farm, arrived also to go horse riding. One of these pilots was later killed in the Airborne Landing at Arnhem; the other became my husband. He had seen service in North Africa and Sicily for which he was awarded the M.M. He too took part in the Arnhem campaign. He was one of the few fortunate men to return; of the 10,000 who landed by parachute or in gliders (North of the Rhine) only 1,200 got back across the river. It was a spectacular sight that Sunday morning, 17th September, as bombers towing gliders appeared from all directions, circled over Parsonage Farm before heading off in an Easterly direction. We all wondered what was happening; Mrs Hollas turned to me and said, "Jean is this the real thing". All I knew was that my friend had not met me the night before as arranged so no doubt had been confined to barracks. Later in the day we learnt that the 1st Airborne Division had landed at Arnhem in Holland.
Life in the Land Army was quite strenuous - seven days a week out in all weathers.
Nevertheless I liked the life and was very glad I had the opportunity to be a member of the Land Army and always remember Mrs Hollas with great affection".
When war broke out in September 1939 and it seemed imminent that the Germans would be carrying out bombing raids on mainland England, the scouts from the Highworth scout troop were used for war casualties by the Rescue Services which, among others, included the Ambulance Service and the Highworth branch of the Wiltshire Auxiliary Fire Service. Most of this training was carried out at the Old Infants school (opposite Southfield School) which was established as a first aid post. One of the Highworth scouts involved in this training was Scout Ted Jefferies, of Kings Avenue, who, along with others, helped teach the AFS and Rescue Service the correct way to tie knots, which was essential as part of the rescue procedure. Before being used as a guinea-pig Ted wanted to be sure they could tie their knots so that he wouldn't fall. As it was, one of his first jobs with the Rescue service was to be taken up by ladder to the roof timbers inside the school and told to straddle the beams and wait to be rescued. This was done without mishap but worse was to come. In the school playground, Ted along with another scout, was placed in a large wooden box with stones piled on top and around the sides. Eventually the rescue services came along and rescued them. All this was an essential part of the training for recovering people from bombed buildings. He said, for two young lads this was a terrifying experience. Thankfully this never happened for real, but the RS were very highly trained just in case anything happened. The intense training went on for about two years.
5730952 Private George Kenneth COOPER, serving with the Dorset Regiment, DEMS Personnel, died at sea on 21st March 1941, age 25 years.
Having no known grave he is commemorated by name on Panel 62, of the Plymouth Naval Memorial, Devon.
Just prior to the war a government section was formed to plan and organise the defensive arming of the whole British Merchant Navy in co-operation with Ministers and ship owners. Anti U-boat and anti-aircraft guns were collected and distributed. The dockyards prepared the ships for their fitting and naval reservists and Merchant Navy crews were trained in their use. The guns, for the most part, were naval weapons which had been removed from scrapped warships.
At the outbreak of the Second World War another major break with tradition was brought about when the British Army was called upon to assist with the manning of merchant ships. The DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships) organisation, which provided merchant ships with guns and gunners as well as training merchant seamen in basic gunnery, was swamped by the massive demands of war and in February 1940 the Admiralty was driven to ask the Army for help. Five hundred infantrymen were formed into two-man Lewis and Bren gun teams and embarked in coasters to give them anti-aircraft defence. In September 1940, the scheme was expanded to place 2,000 men on coasters at sea and a further 2,000 on ships in port.
Private George Kenneth COOPER, serving with the Dorset Regiment, was assigned as a gunner to the merchant ship SS London 11 - a 1,260 ton (Ex-Danish flag) cargo ship - Official No 167517, with its place of Registry London.
The SS London 11 sailed from Eastham on the 20th March 1941 and was bound for Cardiff. The following day the cargo ship was attacked and sunk in the Bristol Channel through bombing by German aircraft at the following co-ordinates Lat 23.30. N 4O30 W.
Also on that day in the Bristol Channel the cargo ship SS Millisle of 617 tons (James Kelly Ltd) was sailing from Cardiff to Cork with coal when she was also sunk by enemy aircraft.
Mr and Mrs Cooper of Park Avenue had two other sons serving in the war. Percy, serving with the Royal Artillery in the Middle East and Italy and Bill serving with the RAF during the Battle of Britain and later in Africa.
During his time with the Royal Artillery, Percy spent much of his time as a forward observer. Together with an Officer he had to make frequent trips into no-man's-land and relay the range of targets back to allow the gunners to do their job in destroying the enemy target. On one occasion he was fired on by the regiment to which they were attached. On his arrival back at the British front line he was told that they were trying to alert him because he had been heading for a German patrol. Percy seemed to have a charmed life because on another occasion he was running back with a message when he heard an enemy aircraft approaching. Just as the aircraft's guns started firing he fell over and could hear the bullets thudding into the ground just in front of him. He is convinced that if he hadn't fallen the bullets would have caught him in the middle of the back. He feigned death, lying still on the ground while the plane did another circuit and then went away. Towards the end of the war Percy went back to Egypt to help bury some of the many allied servicemen who lost their lives during the conflict in the Middle East.
Percy's younger brother Bill was serving with the RAF and during August 1940 was stationed on the south coast with the famous 56 Hurricane Squadron. By mid August the Luftwaffe had switched its attacks to Southern England and the Battle of Britain had begun in earnest. At the time Germany was sending more than a thousand planes a day over Britain. During that time the airfields came under constant attack from the Luftwaffe. At the end of September Hitler's long awaited Blitz had started. The RAF came under tremendous pressure from the enemy, but those who were called "The Few" came through with flying colours, although at a cost. Bill said that the ground crews worked round the clock to repair and get the fighter planes back in the air ready for the next wave of enemy aircraft. After working on Hurricanes, Bill went on to work on Typhoons.
Another soldier who was to serve in the DEMS was Highworth born and bred Ron GORTON who, like George Cooper, had volunteered to be a gunner aboard ship.
Ron had started his army service doing ten weeks training with the Wiltshire Regiment at Devizes. During that time they asked for volunteers for gunners on coastal ships and Ron, being just twenty years old at the time, volunteered. He was then sent to Cardiff along with naval ratings and on his arrival was issued with tropical kit. He was then transferred to Scotland where he joined the SS Largs Bay and so his journey to Sierra Leone, West Africa began.
On his arrival he spent ten days in a transit camp and then joined the SS Thurland Castle for a trip back to Scotland, where all the ships had anti-aircraft guns fitted. This was the beginning of the DEMS. After shore leave Ron said they would join another boat for Milford Haven where the boats would collect for the North Atlantic convoy - 35 to 60 boats. Ron Gorton was a gunner on board ship for four and a half years. He describes his war service as a very exciting time.
It was during the early part of March 1941 that another Highworth serviceman was to lose his life as a result of the war. Sergeant Wireless Operator-Air Gunner Garnet COUZENS was twenty-five years old when he was killed in a flying accident while on active service in Malaya. He had been educated at Highworth and Swindon schools and was popular with his school friends. His parents Mr and Mrs A.E. Couzens were in business as a baker and confectioner at Westrop, Highworth, before moving to Spaxton, near Bridgwater.
798243 Gunner Eric Edward EDDOLLS, 16 Battery, 2 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery. Died 26th/27th April 1941.
On the 26th April 1941 the Germans marched into Athens and were later followed by heavy mechanised detachments which had overcome the British rearguard on the road from Thebes. Most of the British soldiers garrisoned around Athens had left amid moving scenes. Many of the Allied forces were fighting a slow retreat to the southernmost embarkation point. Greek infantry, with no chance of escaping, had covered the British flank. The German ground forces were backed up by the Ju 87 Stuka, the screaming dive-bomber that was so effective on ground targets.
It was during the fierce fighting at the end of April 1941 that Gunner Eric Eddolls was badly wounded. Along with other wounded soldiers he was quickly taken to a British hospital ship which was sunk by enemy action just after leaving the quayside. This was on the 26th/27th April, which possibly indicates that they were trying to get away under cover of darkness. Like so many others his grave is the sea.
Gunner Eric Edward Eddolls, Royal Artillery, was thirty-three years old, and was the son of Edward and Edith Eddolls of Inglesham, Highworth, Wiltshire. He is commemorated by name on Face 2 of the Athens Memorial, Greece.
The memorial is situated in Phaleron War cemetery, Athens, and is situated a few kilometres to the south-east of Athens on the coast road from Athens to Vouliaghmeni. The memorial is to nearly 3,000 members of the Commonwealth land forces who have no known grave. His brother Doug served with the Commandos during the war. Eric and Doug were cousins of Jack Archer of Highworth. Although Eric Eddolls and his parents were Inglesham residents, for some unknown reason Gunner Eric Eddolls is not commemorated by name on the Highworth Town war memorial.
Leading Aircraft Fitter, Arthur WRIGHT.
Arthur Wright was born in Croydon in 1919. After leaving school he served his time as an Aircraft Engineer with Handley Page Ltd. He joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1940, and served until he was demobbed in 1946. After joining the Fleet Air Arm he was sent to HMS Pembroke, (Chatham) to take a trade test. From there he was sent to RAF Hednesford on a further aircraft course. From then on he served on various ships and land bases.
The following is a list of ships and shore stations where LAF Arthur Wright served. HMS Pembroke (Chatham) - HMS Hawke - HMS Medina - HMS Hednesford - HMS Raven - HMS Merlin - RAF Abbotsinch (Paisley) - HMS Waxwing - SS Mooltan - HMS Hannibul - SS Marigot (All Algiers) - RAF Ta Kali, (Malta) - HMS Sheffield - HMS Cormorant - (Both Gibraltar) - HMS Pincher - HMS Goldfinch - HMS Daedalus - HMS Perigrine - (Demobbed 1946).
During his service in the Mediterranean at Algiers he witnessed the loss of HMS Arrow, which was blown up by an explosion from an ammunition ship, moored nearby in the harbour. This incident killed a number of men on both ships and rendered the Arrow beyond repair.
He was also in Malta during part of the siege of the island when food was in short supply. At the end of September 1943 he was transferred to Gibraltar, then went back to Malta in January 1945. He arrived back in England on the 15th August 1945. After the war he came to Swindon with his wife Violet and family in 1955, moving to Highworth in 1963. He was chairman of the Highworth Branch of the Royal British Legion from 1978 until 1991. He was also President of the Highworth Branch RBL for many years. He was area Poppy Organiser for over twelve years, and helped to organise the annual Remembrance Day Parade and service held at St Michael's church, Highworth.
On the 24th May 1941, P/JX181870 Able Seaman Colin Abbott BONNER, who was twenty one years of age, lost his life while serving on the battle-cruiser HMS Hood.
He was the eldest son of Stanley Abbott Bonner and Marie Maxwell Bonner of Westrop House, Highworth.
The German battleship Bismark and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen sailed from the Baltic on 18th May 1941. Their task was to slip through the British naval blockage on German home waters and break into the North Atlantic. The news that two German warships had left the Baltic soon reached London.
The battle-cruiser HMS Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales were ordered to sail from Scapa Flow to Hvalfjord on the west coast of Iceland in the hope of preventing the Germans reaching the Atlantic. At 0535 hours the British squadron sighted the Bismark and Prinz Eugen off the starboard bow. HMS Hood, for all her 42,100 tons displacement and 860ft length, was beginning to show her age. She had been commissioned in 1920 and reflected World War One ideas of naval warfare. HMS Hood's lack of armoured protection was to prove fatal. Battle commenced at 0552 hours and within minutes a salvo of 15 inch shells from the German ships guns landed on the Hood with disastrous results. Hood sank immediately and so rapid was her destruction that there were only three survivors. Colin Bonner had been educated at Lancing College, Sussex, and was studying architecture before joining the Royal Navy. He was offered a commission but refused because he wanted to serve with the ordinary ranks. On board HMS Hood he served as an anti-aircraft gunner. His brother Lt. Commander Malcolm Bonner was commander of HM Submarine Aldeny which was involved in the evacuation of Crete in 1941.
Another local man to lose his life while serving on HMS Hood was Lieutenant Commander John G.P. Brownrigg of Lechlade, Glos. He was the son of Rev. Robert Graham Plunket Brownrigg who was vicar of Lechlade from 1902-1932.
Able Seaman Colin Abbott Bonner, and Lt-Cdr John G.P. Brownrigg are both commemorated by name on the Portsmouth Naval memorial, Hampshire. The memorial commemorates 14,921 of those from the 1939-45 war who have no known grave but the sea. Colin Bonner's cousin Eric Denning also served in the Royal Navy as a Sub/Lt. He had joined the Royal Navy in 1942 and was serving on a Landing Craft (Tank) on D-Day, 6th June 1944, where he was involved with the American Forces on Utah and Omaha beaches. The Landing Craft did something like twenty trips back and forth to the beaches carrying over one hundred and fifty tanks for the invasion forces. Several of the trips were made under very heavy fire from the German forces. During the storm of 18th - 22nd June, which did enormous damage to the Allies, their LCT was marooned on the beach in shallow water for about four days. It was eventually re-floated when the spring tide came, having to be pushed back into the sea with the help of a caterpillar tractor. They were then towed back to Portland into Weymouth shipyard for repairs, having sustained a damaged rudder during their shipwreck on the Normandy beaches. The crew then spent three months in Weymouth. Finally, they were involved in taking food to Rotterdam in Holland for humanitarian purposes, owing to the country being virtually starved due to the German occupation.
D/MX 75078 Submariner Engine Room Artificer, 5th Class, Clarence William DURNELL, British Empire Medal, Royal Navy. Killed in action 25th February 1942, Age 20. Clarence Durnell, who was born on the 30th December 1921, joined the Royal Navy on the 29th April 1941. He volunteered for submarines on the 23rd July, and was sent for training to HMS Elfin. After a month's training and having passed all his exams he was sent to Dolphin as spare crew. This was from 20th October 1941 to 1st January 1942. It was during this time as a spare crew member that he was assigned to a submarine to take part in operations round Norway. During November 1941 he was awarded the British Empire Medal for bravery in action off the coast of Norway. Early in December he came home for a short stay of leave. Having returned for duty he then joined the depot ship Maidstone for passage to Submarine P38 in Gibraltar which he joined on the 15th January 1942.
As the Germans and Italians continued to pour men and materials into the North African campaign, so their need for supplies assumed new dimensions. Targets for Allied submarines became more prolific. On the evening of the 20th February 1942 an enemy convoy put to sea from Taranto, comprising four merchantmen escorted by six warships. Along with two other British submarines P38 was waiting to attack the convoy as soon as it came into range.
On the morning of the 25th February the Italian warship Circe picked up a good contact on her ECG 1,630 yards off the starboard bow. This was submarine P38, within seconds Lt. Rowland Hemingway DSC. Commander of P38 gave orders for the submarine to dive deeper. He had obviously seen Circe making speed towards him. By that time other Italian destroyers were closing in for the kill. Assisted by ECG signals and the air-bubble from the submarine, depth-charges were signalled away with precision. P38 was forced to the surface with her bow facing towards the convoy and well out of the sea. Circe moved to starboard in preparation for another attack but whilst executing this manoeuvre the destroyer Antoniotto Usodimare opened fire on P38. The escorting aircraft opened fire with its machine-gun and dropped a bomb when P38 began to submerge. More depth charges were then dropped by the two Italian destroyers who then broke off the attack. With calm restored the ECG search for the submarine was continued. Suddenly, about 30 degrees off Circe's port quarter, P38's bows appeared high out of the water with hydroplanes clearly at rise. Her bows remained suspended a few moments before crashing back into the sea to send her stern out of the water at a steep angle and with propellers turning wildly. P38 then dived sharply from view and was not seen again.
What took place in P38 on that Monday morning will of course never be known. Damage reports might have told Lt. Hemingway DSC that P38 was done for and that his best course would be to surface and save the crew. It might be that P38 was in the process of surfacing when she became uncontrollable. Breaking surface wildly she then plunged a thousand feet to the bottom and broke up. All thirty two crew members lost their lives on the 25th February 1942.
The crew of HM Submarine P38 are commemorated by name on Panel 68, Column 3 of the Plymouth Memorial, Devon. The memorial is situated centrally on the Hoe which overlooks directly towards Plymouth Sound. It is accessible at all times and there is car parking nearby.
Before joining the Royal Navy, Clarence Durnell lived with his parents, Albert and Louisa Maud Durnell, at Church Walk, Swindon Road, Lower Stratton, Swindon. He was educated at Sandford Street School, Swindon, and was apprenticed to boiler making in the GWR works, Swindon. He was also a member of Stratton Green Baptist Church, and was in the local Home Guard before joining the Royal Navy. His mother Louisa Maud Durnell, (nee Archer) was the cousin of Jack Archer of Highworth.
D/JX364468 Able Seaman Frank HIGGS volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1942, at the age of eighteen years old. He served on the destroyer HMS Scorpion as a gun-layer on 4.7 guns. The ship's home base was at Scapa Flow. Frank served on one Malta and eight Russian convoys. Many Arctic convoys to Murmansk in Russia were in total darkness, mountainous seas, ice and snow blizzards with poor visibility.
During a visit to the Faroe Islands, Frank met Bill Farmer of Highworth, who served on HMS Belfast. A week before the Belfast was involved in the sinking of the Scharnhorst Bill was transferred to the Aircraft carrier HMS Formidable where he fought in the Far East against the Japanese. As the year 1943 drew to a close Frank Higgs' ship, the Scorpion, was involved in the sinking of the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst. While the Scharnhorst remained in the Alten Fiord, North Norway, she imposed a constant threat to the Allied convoys operating between Iceland and the North Russian port of Murmansk. Towards the end of December 1943, intelligence reports reaching the Admiralty confirmed that Scharnhorst had sailed north to intercept the east-bound convoy JW55B. To counter the threat and hopefully trap the German raider, units of the Home Fleet raced through the wild Arctic seas to intercept. The British battleship Duke of York, with the cruiser Jamaica and the destroyers Savage, Scorpion, Saumerez, and Stord with a Norwegian crew, sailed north-eastward trying to shadow the convoy. On the morning of the 26th December, HMS Belfast, who had been helping to escort a returning convoy RA55A, which had sailed from Murmansk on the 23rd, picked up the Scharnhorst on her radar at a distance of seventeen miles. Steadily closing in for the kill at 16.50 hours the heavy guns of the Duke of York and Jamaica thundered out to inflict much damage on the enemy ship. It was now the turn of the British destroyers and Saage, Saumarez, Scorpion and Stord came racing in to within 2000 yards of Scharnhorst, braving the guns of the enemy to fire torpedoes. In this head-on attack at least four torpedoes smashed into the hull of the German vessel.
At this time Able Seaman Frank Higgs, (HMS Scorpion) was firing star-shells to light up the enemy ship. Closing in, Jamaica and Belfast each fired three torpedoes, followed by further attacks by the destroyers. At 19.45 hours Scharnhorst, after an enormous explosion, moved forward, her bows deepening and rolled over and disappeared. Of her complement of almost 2,000, only thirty-six were saved. HMS Scorpion picked up survivors which were transferred to the Duke of York on arrival at the Russian port of Kola. Among the survivors was an American whose parents were German and who had lived in America before the war. When war broke out they returned to Germany and, although their son was American by birth, he was called up to serve in the German Navy. Frank said he was well liked by the British crew-members, having told them which prisoner was a member of the German Gestapo, of which all German ships had one on board. The battle of North Cape, as it was called, constituted the last time that battleships were engaged in a running fight in the style of the First World War Battle of Jutland in 1916. By a strange coincidence Frank Higgs' father, also Frank, fought in the Battle of Jutland as a signal-man on HMS Warrior. Frank senior served for twelve years in the Royal Navy finishing up in submarines. "Like father, like son".
Able Seaman Frank Higgs spent his twenty-first birthday at a place called Polyarnoe, in Russia and needless to say, like all good sailors, he was slightly intoxicated at the time. Polyarnoe was a place which had a large communal hall where all the Russian soldiers, sailors and civilians had their meals together.
On another occasion HMS Scorpion, skippered by a Canadian, Lieutenant Commander W.F. Clouston (who was well liked by his crew), escorted the Queen Mary (which had Winston Churchill on board on his way to meet President Roosevelt of America) to Canada. On D-Day June 1944 HMS Scorpion was at Portsmouth preparing for the invasion of France. At this time Frank Higgs met Jim Farmer of Highworth while on a few hours shore-leave. Jim was on his way back to his ship, a British Minesweeper. During the war Jim was blown up and badly injured in the Mediterranean.
HMS Scorpion at 6pm on 5th June was escorting British Minesweepers over to clear the sea ready for the invasion. Off Sword Beach on D-Day + 1, sister ship Svenner, with a Norwegian crew, was torpedoed not far in front of Scorpion and went down fast. Frank said the Scorpion stopped to pick up survivors and he can remember a Norwegian sailor going back to rescue a small black dog which they had on board for several months after.
After helping in the bombardment off the coast of France, they were detailed to pick-up an American Admiral and bring him back to Pompey. During a return trip from Portsmouth to Normandy near the French coast they saw a mast sticking out of the sea and later learnt that it was another sister-ship, HMS Swift, which had been sunk by a mine.
Frank Higgs came home from the Royal Navy to 7 Vicarage Lane, Highworth, during May 1946. He caught the 6am workman's train from Swindon to Highworth. The first Highworth person he saw on his arrival was Arthur Blake who was on his way to the station to catch the 'Highworth Bunk' to work.
On his discharge from the Royal Navy, Frank was paid £76 gratuity payment. After the war he played football for Westrop Rovers FC for twenty seasons. He won several trophies in league football and six-a-side tournaments. After retiring from football he was a Football Association Referee. He has also been Hon. Secretary for Highworth Junior Football Club for well over twenty-five years.
P/MX95047 Leading Wireman Francis Charles (Bill) GORTON, Royal Navy.
After leaving school Bill Gorton started work as a clerk at Highworth Mat Factory in Brewery Street. On the 14th May 1940, Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War broadcast an appeal for Local Defence Volunteers to defend Britain against possible parachute invasion. Bill Gorton, who was seventeen years old at the time, answered the call and went along to volunteer. Another volunteer was Bill's father Francis (Tich) Gorton who, during the First World War, had served with distinction in France and Flanders with the 6th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment. He had won the Military Medal for bravery in the field of battle when, single-handed, he rushed a German machine-gun nest shooting two German soldiers and killing two others with the bayonet to put it out of action.
One morning after arriving for work Bill was told by Mr Percy Clack, who also worked at the Mat factory, to report to the Local Defence Volunteer headquarters, which at that time was at the Saracens Head Hotel in the High Street. His orders were to accompany Captain Louis Cotton to Parsonage Farm fields to keep a look out for German paratroops. He was there from 9am until 3pm before the all clear was sounded. Afterwards he was instructed by Major Jennings to guard the petrol pumps outside W.L. Bartrops, (Ironmongers) shop in the High Street.
Bill Gorton was also in the local ATC and it was from there that he went for a medical to join the Fleet Air Arm. He failed, due to his eyesight, but his second choice being the Royal Navy he was called up for service on 12th January. His first ship was a Hunt Class Type 1 Destroyer (F.69) HMS Tanatside which had a complement of 168 crew and was based at Portsmouth. The next fifteen months was taken up patrolling Home Waters and the Atlantic. He then applied to do a Leading Wireman's course, which he passed. He then served in Royal Naval barracks at Portsmouth (HMS Victory) working on torpedoes which were unloaded from an old French ship and made ready for distribution to destroyers which had torpedo tubes.
When Bill Gorton reported for work on the 5th June 1944, Portsmouth Harbour and Southampton Water was filled with ships and boats as far as the eye could see. The next day they were all gone.
At this time there was still no mention of the "Chindits". Jack's draft number was RGYOG and on arrival at Bombay on D-Day +1 Bill Gorton was drafted to K578 HMS Narborough, which was an ex American Captain Class Frigate with a complement of 200 crew and was part of the 15th Belfast Flotilla. From that time HMS Narborough was on escort duty helping to escort convoys of troops and supply ships from Portsmouth to the Normandy beaches doing twenty-nine trips in thirty-six days.
On the 24th October 1944, Bill Gorton was onboard HMS Narborough on escort duty with Convoy JW6 l to Murmansk, Russia. The convoy consisted of thirty merchant ships with the same amount of escort ships. Ranged against this formidable force was an equally large wolfpack of nineteen boats. The weather turned bad, which made for many sleepless nights, and of course the days grew very brief as the latitude increased. The Northern Lights were brilliant on some nights. For two days the commanders of five German U-Boats repeatedly attempted to destroy the frigates with T-5s, but the foxers and step-aside procedures foiled them. Eventually the convoy was safely delivered to the rendezvous where waiting Russian destroyers took the White Sea contingent further east. HMS Narborough was then assigned to a returning convoy on Thursday, 2nd November 1944, when the merchant ships forming Convoy RA61 steamed to sea, preceded by the escorts and followed by the carriers. The weather conditions on most of these convoys was atrocious which made life on board ship uncomfortable. Finally, the convoy entered the Clyde on 10th November 1944. Bill Gorton had survived another Russian convoy. After twelve months on HMS Narborough Leading Wireman Bill Gorton applied for promotion to Petty Officer. At that time the war came to an end. He was then transferred to an R Class Destroyer H09 HMS Rotherham with a complement of 225 crew, finding the ship in dry-dock in Portsmouth. He was eventually demobilised from the Royal Navy in May 1946, with gratuity pay of £69.19s. He was awarded the 1939/45 Star, Atlantic Star, Defence Medal and Victory Medal with the France and German Bar. Also a commemorative Russian Medal which was awarded to Royal Navy personnel who took part on Russian Convoys. It was awarded for helping to protect the convoys to Murmansk and Archangel which maintained a lifeline to the Russians.
4927711 Sapper Jack COTTON, 42nd Column, 54th Field Company, Commando Platoon, Royal Engineers, attached to 2nd Battalion Black Watch, (Royal Highlanders). Formerly 78th Company, Royal Engineers. Formerly 70th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.
Jack was a member of Brigadier Ord Wingate's Chindit Brigade of jungle fighters which operated behind Japanese lines (beyond the Chindwin River, hence their name). Jack Cotton joined the Army in October 1941. He was posted to the South Staffordshire Regiment and was at Norton Barracks, Worcester for twelve weeks for basic infantry training. This largely consisted of small arms drill and assault training.
During January 1942 he travelled by train to Saltburn-on Sea, North Yorkshire and was then sent to Scorton airfield near Catterick Bridge which was an operational airfield for Bristol Beaufighters and Spitfires. Jack was there for about six months, guarding the airfield. During the winter of 1942 there was considerable snowfall with six-foot drifts on several occasions. Every day was spent helping to clear snow from the runway, as throughout this time the aircraft were on operational flights. Before leaving Scorton the men of the South Staffordshire Regiment trained RAF personnel in guard procedure, and hence assisted in the formation of the RAF Regiment. During June 1942 the men of 70th Battalion went on a route march through Darlington to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Going over the iron bridge to Chester-le-Street the men were told to rest on some kerb stones outside a pub. The door suddenly opened and men came out with pints of beer, saying, "Have these on us lads". Going on to Gosforth the men slept in the grandstand of the racecourse there. Then they went on to Wooler and Milfield, which took about a week. On the way they slept in the hedgerows or in empty schools. At that time Milfield airfield was just being built.
After about a month there, the battalion marched back to Scruton near Northallerton. The 70th Battalion was a young soldiers battalion and at that time they were told that they could either stay with the South Staffs or they could volunteer for any other regiments. Jack volunteered for the Royal Engineers and was accepted after passing his initial tests. During September 1942 he travelled to Salisbury by train and then on to barracks at Winterbourne Dauntsey where for several months he trained with 78th Chemical Warfare Company. Eventually it was decided not to proceed with the development of chemical weapons and his unit became 78th Field Company, Royal Engineers. They were trained in demolition and in building pontoon and Bailey Bridges, mine laying and mine detecting. Some of this was done at Chesil Beach, Weymouth and on the Thames at Pangbourne.
During the winter of 1942/43 Jack and a platoon of thirty men were posted to the Red Lion Inn at Lechlade for about a month. They were to guard the Halfpenny Bridge over the Thames and the telephone box opposite the Red Lion which was strictly for military use only. The men were billeted in the roof space of the public house which was cold with only hay to sleep on, and were glad to return to Eigsbury Barracks on Salisbury Plain. They were then moved to Blandford in Dorset to a field of Nissen Huts called Down House camp. It was there that Jack decided to apply for a transfer to a more exciting unit. After a while as a regimental policeman at Down House camp a list of transfers appeared on the notice board with his name on it. At that time he was still in 78th Field Company. He moved to the Royal Marine Barracks in Chatham for about a month of extensive training with the Royal Marines. Much of this was carried out with live ammunition and involved long marches with full kit. Before starting this course you had to be A1 plus. Jack passed with flying colours and felt that at last he was going to get some excitement. Some of the training was about German teller mines, which gave Jack the impression that he was about to go to North Africa to fight against the Germans. Little did he know that all of this training was to prepare him to fight behind the Japanese lines as one of the "Chindits".
After finishing the course in September 1943 he was sent home for seven days embarkation leave, taking with him full kit of pack and rifle. After leave he was transferred to Halifax in West Yorkshire for about a fortnight and given tropical kit and a new rifle. He still thought that he was going to North Africa when in October he travelled by train to Liverpool where he boarded the troopship Strathmore. While on board he volunteered to serve in the galley. The convoy was one of the first to go through the Mediterranean. During the early evening of the 5th November 1943 near Gibraltar the air raid sirens sounded. All portholes and water-tight doors were locked. The raid went on for about an hour with torpedoes and bombs doing much damage. The naval gunners were firing flat out. When the all clear was sounded Jack went out on deck and could see boats sinking and on fire, luckily the Strathmore survived without damage. While in the Med news came over the ship's tannoy that they were going to lndia. They were known as OG Draft. They were then moved to Dulalee and on to transit camp, mainly doing guard duties. After about three weeks there, Jack was transferred to 54th Field Company, Commando Platoon, attached to 2nd Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders).
While at Dulalee Camp Jack celebrated his 21st birthday and first heard of the Chindits, although no one knew very much about them. The Commando Platoon of thirty Royal Engineers was then sent for jungle training north of Delhi where they met the Black Watch. These men had left home in 1938 and had gone through North Africa to India. None of them had any real knowledge of what was going on at home. 54th Field Company Commando Platoon and the 2nd Battalion Black Watch were in 42nd Column and this was the start of intensive jungle warfare training. With the Black Watch reveille was sounded by bagpipes and breakfast was always porridge with salt. After this, Jack had three days leave at Agra where he saw the Taj Mahal. He then travelled by train from Delhi to Assam, a journey which took about nine days to complete because of changes of train. He eventually arrived in Assam and then went on to an airfield which had Dakota transport aircraft with American pilots.
From this airfield the 42nd Column was taken about 200 miles behind Japanese lines. The transport aircraft had no seats and men had to sit on the floor. There were no toilets and a bucket was placed at the rear of the aircraft. After a while the pilot said they had just flown over the River Chindwin and not long afterwards they landed in a rough field in a valley in Burma. Several aircraft crashed on landing. After jumping out the men made straight for the bush because the aircraft were taking off and landing all the time. This airstrip was named Aberden after Brigadier Wingate's house in England. The 42nd (Chindit) Column consisted of about 300 men of the Black Watch, Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery, Royal Corps of Signals and Army Medical Corps. There were also RAF personnel for radio communications for air drops which were the only means of getting supplies in. Mules and Bullocks also travelled in the Dakotas.
At first supplies were dropped at night by American pilots, but later the RAF took over. Landing signals were made by lighting fires in the shape of a capital L. Two men tended each fire. Some were killed by falling supplies and at other times the drops were made under enemy fire. The RAF switched to daytime drops, which were more successful. Jack went on jungle raids with the Black Watch. To combat the risk of Malaria the men were taking Mepacrine tablets. At first the dose was two per day, but this was later increased to nine, a level which produced side effects from which some men never recovered. Each man had a water carrier called a "chuggle" which held water if it was kept wet. Chlorine tablets were put in to purify the water. These were supposed to be left for at least half an hour. However the men were often so thirsty that they did not wait. Each man carried 50 rounds of ammunition, four primed hand grenades, a machete and a rifle and bayonet. Personal kit consisted of a blanket, a groundsheet, two mess tins, "small kit" (washing and shaving gear - the Black Watch were one of the few regiments that shaved when in the jungle) and a "housewife" (sewing and mending kit). They were also issued with American "K" rations, and kept a five day supply of the tinned and packet rations. Each day's ration was in three waxed boxes about nine inches by six inches, designed to be used as fire lighters when empty. The total weight of the pack when fully loaded was about 80 pounds.
Typical "K" rations consisted of:
Breakfast: 4 Biscuits, Instant Coffee, Tinned Ham and Egg, Dried Fruit.
Lunch: 4 biscuits, instant coffee, tinned soft cheese.
Dinner: Tinned meat, Bullion powder, Chocolate.
Each pack also contained Dextrose Tablets, Toilet Paper and Four Cigarettes.
During March 1944 Jack was in the Upper Chindwin area, which was dense jungle. It was very hot and many rivers were dried up and dusty. Much of the time was taken in patrols with the Black Watch. They placed booby traps in the jungle on known Japanese routes and fox holes, and there were occasional skirmishes with the Japanese. The mules carried 4.2 inch mortars and additional supplies were dropped from the air. On one occasion too many supplies were dropped so they were stockpiled and Jack and a section were left behind to guard them. The column was unable to return as planned and arrangements were made for the Leicesters' column to pick them up. Jack's section was attached to the Leicesters' engineers who were also 54th Field Company men. One of the first things that Jack did with the Leicesters was a long march to Indauggi Lake where a Sunderland flying boat was moored to take out wounded men. This march took about two weeks to complete. They then ferried the wounded out to the flying boat. They returned to a place called "White City" which was manned by the South Staffordshire regiment. During the first night each man had a fox-hole to sleep in as the perimeter was under constant shell and small arms fire. Each man slept on his ground sheet and had a cord tied to his wrist so that any attack could be silently communicated by tugging the cord. There were several false alarms which meant that the men had very little sleep. One Japanese aircraft in particular returned repeatedly to strafe the camp during daylight. On one occasion, Jack was having a wash in the river when the aircraft swept in and dropped a bomb. Luckily he managed to jump into a dugout and avoided being hurt. The dugouts were linked together with slit trenches and each provided shelter for four or five men.
Each Column had Burmese scouts in native dress. Early one evening the Engineers were led out of camp by scouts who instructed them to smoke cigarettes at particular points so that the pickets would know who they were. After about three miles in the dark through the jungle they found that they were being reunited with the Black Watch column. They were told to report to the commanding officer, Major Rose, who welcomed them back, apologised for leaving them behind and told them that they had missed a severe ambush by the Japanese.
For the next few weeks it was very hot and dry, but then the Monsoon came and the men were constantly wet and very tired through moving and lack of sleep. All of the dry tracks, which served as paths through the jungle, became rivers. Leeches were a constant menace, working their way under the puttees and sucking blood until they burst, leaving their fangs in the skin. Every hour the column halted and leeches were removed by touching them with a cigarette. In the constant wet, boots rotted away. Many men walked in rubber daps until the next supply drop and hoped that it would include boots of their size. Two elephants were attached to the column to assist in bridge building. They usually walked at the head of the column and those following behind had to watch out for the two feet deep water filled foot holes. At night the men were plagued with small black flies. The only way to find relief was to build a fire, bank it up with green grass and sleep in the smoke. Rifles were always becoming rusty and every evening a few rounds were fired to try to keep the barrels clean. Ground sheets were sewn together with parachute cord to make tents to keep the rain off. Blankets were always wet. To help mules and men climb the mountains, the engineers made steps from layers of bamboo canes. Sometimes the column was diverted to clearings to prepare airstrips for small aircraft to evacuate the wounded. This was hard work and done by hand with the machete. The Mepacrine tablets were gradually turning the men's skin yellow and the rough conditions in the monsoon caused considerable illness and discomfort. Many of the villages were occupied by head hunters with war canoes, but as the men of the column were armed there was no trouble.
The news that Brigadier Ord Wingate had died was a great blow and the men did not know from that time who was really in command of them. Jack lost his best friend through illness at this time and all of the men were losing weight through illness and suffering from malaria. Only about half of the original 360 men of the column survived. At one time they met up with "Merrall's Marauders", which was the American unit equivalent to the "Chindits."
On operations they always tried to conceal themselves from the enemy, always standing to at first light in positions around the tracks and never sleeping in the villages for fear of mortar attacks.
The 42nd Column was still using Burmese scouts, still being troubled by leeches and still receiving air supply drops. Occasionally there were rum rations in the normal rations. This was very welcome as it usually meant a good night's sleep. If anyone was caught pilfering the rations it was a very serious offence. Men were getting very ill with beri-beri and dysentry and the column was losing men every day. Although some of the Black Watch were killed by the Japanese, most of the deaths were from illness. Most of the men suffered with hookworm and all had jungle sores which were a type of ulcer which contained maggots.
Sometimes they came upon a deserted village which had mango and banana trees full of fruit which made a very welcome treat for the men. This routine went on for weeks. Airstrips were frequently made to get men out and some wondered if they would ever get out themselves. Eventually, all that stood between the column and the British line was a small group of Japanese soldiers who were constantly and accurately firing mortar bombs at them. On one of the supply drops the Black Watch asked for bagpipes and regimental kilts to be dropped. The men of the Black Watch put on their kilts, fixed bayonets and, with the piper playing, they rushed the enemy who in spite of being well dug in, scattered. The column moved on, after which it took about two days to get out of the dense jungle. When they emerged their three month tour had lasted for nearly six months. Eventually the men arrived at the railway which consisted of a rail track with the gauge of a jeep. The locomotive was a jeep with flanged wheels which pulled small open trucks. Finally, they arrived at Mogaung, stopping there for one night before continuing to Myikyina where they were flown out by American Dakotas piloted by USAF personnel to Tinsuki in Assam. This was where Jack met up with men of the 54th Field Company again. Tinsuki was a tea plantation area where the men were invited into the bungalows of owners and top men. Afterwards the men continued by train to Bangalore where they were given more nutritious food and reduced Mepocrine tablets.
Up to now Jack had not contracted malaria and was beginning to think that he had escaped the dreadful illness. While on leave for the next month the men stayed at the YMCA. Jack took the opportunity of sending several parcels of best Indian tea to his parents. While being transported back to the camp at Bangalore he went down with a bad attack of malaria. On arrival he was taken to the tented hospital and given pure quinine, which after three days made him deaf. While in India he was a stickman, which in general terms was someone who took messages and sometimes filled in on guard duties. He then moved to Madras where training began again. This consisted of jeep landing on the beaches, which was in preparation for the landings at Rangoon. In between training he went up to Calcutta to guard stores at the railhead. They set sail in an old Dutch ship and, while at sea, received the news that Japan had capitulated. Each man was given a bottle of Australian beer for a welcome celebration. On arrival at Rangoon they found the town full of Japanese prisoners of war. After only one day 54th Field Company were moved about thirty miles to help convert a museum building into a hospital. Whilst there a Japanese distillery was discovered and volunteers were called for to help smash it up. There was no shortage of volunteers and men were getting drunk. Suddenly an order was issued forbidding drinking as the alcohol would cause blindness. Drinking ceased immediately.
The men were then moved back to Rangoon by the converted liner Dunera which continued to Madras where they spent a few weeks ashore before it was decided to send them to Singapore. A day after arriving they were sent to the causeway which had been very badly bombed by the Japanese. Once over the causeway they were billeted in a large school at Johor Bahru where they stayed for several months while they rebuilt a very large bailey bridge with the help of Japanese prisoners of war.
On their night out they went back to Singapore where they found most things too expensive even for their 12% supplemented army pay. It was then decided to send them to Port Dickenson in Malay where they were billeted in rubber plantation bungalows which had previously been occupied by the Japanese. These were luxury bungalows to which the men, being engineers, soon restored electricity. They were situated on the beach and most had boats. After three years of war the men prepared for demobilisation in some luxury and, whilst in Malaya, Jack visited Kuala Lumpur and Malacca. Eventually they were moved back to Johor Bahru by train and then by truck to Singapore where they where they billeted in the police barracks. Eventually they were taken back to the docks and boarded the Britannic which had been converted to a troopship. Now that the war was over the ship was lit and smoking was allowed on deck. It was now September 1946 and no escort ships were needed for the voyage home. For the first few days the islands had lovely sand beaches with palm trees, although the voyage was rather boring. To keep himself occupied Jack volunteered to sweep the decks. During this voyage flying fish landed on the deck. Whilst in the Canal the Britannic pulled over to allow a ship to pass on her way to the Far East. Jack saw it was the Strathmore which had carried him to India in 1943.
Jack's first sight of England was the Liver Bird in Liverpool. After docking he travelled to York for demobilisation. The date was 9th October 1946. After a meal and a night's rest he was issued with a demob suit, a set of underwear, a yellow tie, brown shoes and a trilby hat. His first English beer for several years was at York railway station with his mate Charlie Moore. They then boarded a train and said goodbye at Pontefract. Eventually Jack arrived at Birmingham to find the last bus to Solihull had left. However, Jack was put on board a special bus that took crew home after their shift. The driver insisted on taking Jack to his door, which caused some interest to the neighbours as no bus had ever been in their street before and it was nearly one o'clock in the morning. His father and mother got up to meet him; Jack was home from the war at last.
After many years working for Deloro Stellite in Swindon, Jack Cotton is now retired and enjoys freshwater fishing. He is a member of the Chindit Old Comrades Association and was proud to attend the unveiling of the Chindit memorial in London in October 1990.
7962666 Trooper George DURLING joined the army in February 1943. After six months training at RAC Unit at Farnborough he was transferred to the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry at Ogbourne St George. After six months he moved to North Dalton, just outside Beverly, Yorkshire. After a short while he was moved to Berwick where he had six weeks intensive training at Infantry. After this he boarded a ship at Greenock Scotland which set sail for Bombay, India.
At this time he was transferred to the 5th Battalion West Yorks Regiment. After arriving in Bombay the Battalion did some extensive training to get used to the heat. They were then moved up to the Imphal plains in Burma where George was told he was joining Wingate's force operating behind Japanese lines. After about four months fighting in this field they were pulled back to rest. Because of his experience with tanks he did some short training with flame throwers mounted on carriers.
George was then promoted to Corporal. From then on he took part in the main offensive against the Japanese, taking Meiktila and containing until they reached Rangoon. At that time the war ended. While George was stationed at Ogbourne St George he met his wife Dorothy and they were married in July 1946. They lived for many years in Quarry Crescent, Highworth. After retiring from his work as an agricultural engineer with W.L. Bartrop and Co. George and Dorothy moved to live on the Dorset coast.
1254805 Flight Sergeant Ronald John CROSSLEY, Royal Air Force. (VR) Died of Wounds lst May 1943. Age 25 years.
Flight Sergeant Ron J. Crossley was in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. When war broke out he was posted to 254 Squadron which consisted of Bristol Beaufighters. These were home defence night-fighters, also used for long-range escort fighter and ground attack roles, as well as anti-shipping strike duties. Other roles were bomber, torpedo-carrier and rocket fighter. It had a crew of two. Flight Sergeant Crossley was a navigator/wireless operator. The first strike wing was brought together at North Coates in November 1942, comprising of No's 236 Squadron, and 254 Squadron with a third squadron 143 joining the Wing who had already been based at North Coates since August 1942. A successful strike was launched on the 18th April 1943 and was repeated again on the 29th April against some enemy shipping off Terschelling, Norway and the Beaus sank three ships. Two days later however 31 Beaus set out to find the German cruiser Nurnberg off south-east Norway but, without their usual fighter escorts, were swamped by a force of German fighters and lost five Beaufighters in the ensuing maul. Forced to jettison all bombs and torpedoes, the Beaus were still no match for the Focke Wulf FW 190's and Messerschmitt BF109F's when it came to pure dogfighting combat and manoeuvrability. It was during this raid that Ron Crossley lost his life. This was his 30th combat flight straight off and so he was due for a rest from action. Flight Sergeant Ronald Crossley is buried in Haugesund (Rossebo) Churchyard in Norway. Haugesund is a seaport on the south-west coast between Stavanger and Bergen. On the north-eastern side of the Church of Our Saviour is the Commonwealth War Graves plot. It contains forty four graves in which are buried eight men of the Royal Navy, of whom six belonged to the Fleet Air Arm and two are unidentified, and thirty-six airmen.
Ron Crossley was the son of Joe and Louise Georgina Elsie Crossley of the Fishes Inn, Swindon Street, Highworth. When war broke out he was playing cricket for Essex County Cricket Club First Eleven. He was an excellent batsman and a good spin bowler. Before the war he had played club cricket for Highworth CC before going on to play for Essex.
6028768 Private Henry (Harry) Charles MILES, 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment, The Suffolk Regiment. Died 31st July 1943. Age 30.
Just before war broke out in September 1939, Harry Miles was on the verge of becoming a professional footballer when he received his call-up papers to report for active service. He was in France at the time of the German advance to Dunkirk and was eventually evacuated back to Britain from the Dunkirk beach-head.
After being reorganised the battalion, during September 1941, marched to Whittington Barracks, Lichfield to the anticipated winter quarters. However, sudden orders were received to prepare to move overseas. On the 27th October the Battalion entrained at Lichfield for Liverpool. The ship the Battalion embarked on formed part of a large convoy which sailed on the 30th with a small escort. On the 29th December they reached Bombay via Cape Town. They sailed from Bombay on the 17th January 1942, arriving at Singapore on the 29th and finding the battle for the island about to begin.
The Battalion moved into the Ketong area for two days and took up positions covering the flanks and rear of the RAF station at Seletar, later moving on to the aerodrome itself for 48 hours. The afternoon of 11th February found them, after a further move, dug in near the junction of Thompson and Braddell Roads, but the following morning they took up positions, less two companies, along Adam Road. The two detached companies went to hold the pipeline between the Peirce and MacRitchie Reservoirs for 24 hours. In both these areas the Battalion was in action and, after the two companies rejoined in positions round Adam Park on the morning of the 13th February, the Japanese attacked them continually. They failed to make any impression and, when the ceasefire sounded on the afternoon of the 15th, the Battalion, with both flanks in the air and communication with the rear cut off, was still holding its ground. From that time the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Cambridgeshire Regiment ceased to exist until after the war.
An honour was awarded for the campaign which had lasted just ten weeks, a most prestigious honour. Malaya 1941-42 was gained by ten British regiments, including both battalions of the Cambridgeshire Regiment.
For over a year Harry Miles endured the hardships of the Japanese prison camps which were unspeakably filthy; just primitive bamboo huts surrounded by jungle. After the surrender of Singapore many of them had been incarcerated in the infamous Singapore POW camp, Changi. Like so many other prisoners of war Harry worked building a railway through the jungle. Private Harry Miles was thirty years old when he died on the 31st July 1943.
Mr and Mrs Miles received the following letter from the Shire Hall (Courts) Cambridge.
"The Committee of the Cambridgeshire Troops' Comforts Fund wish to express to you their deep sympathy in your great loss. The wonderful courage shown by the men during long months of captivity in Japanese hands is an inspiration to all who knew them, and it is hoped that the admiration, which they have so justly earned, will help to comfort you in this time of sorrow".
Private Henry Charles Miles is buried in Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, Thailand. Kanchanaburi is a little town on the Me Khlong river about 120 kilometres west north-west of Bangkok, which is the capital of Thailand. The cemetery is only a short distance from the site of the former Kanburi "Prisoner of War base camp'', through which passed most of the prisoners on their way to other camps, and is the largest of the three war cemeteries (two in Thailand and one in Burma) on the notorious Burma - Siam railway. Most of the base camps and hospitals were in this area and the total number of burials in the cemetery is 6,982.
Harry's younger brother, Driver Frank MILES enlisted into the Army in l941 at the age of eighteen and was assigned to the Royal Army Service Corps as a driver. After his initial training he was posted to Amphibious Company, RASC. He was then a driver of a DUKW, an amphibious three ton lorry shaped like a boat.
In January 1943 a decision to invade Sicily was implemented once the campaign in North Africa was successfully completed. Frank's Amphibious Company was assigned to be involved in the invasion which would be of a new concept - sea-borne landings against strong defences. Although two previous sea-borne landings, in Madagascar and at the Western end of North Africa had been successful neither had been strongly contested. The largest force of its kind so far was assembled for the operation including over 150,000 men and 3,000 ships of all kinds. The assault on the island was made on the 10th July 1943. Frank described it as very hazardous due to the adverse weather conditions and heavy fighting from coastal defences. After the capture of Sicily it was decided to invade the mainland as soon as possible. The assault was made on the 3rd September and Frank's company was again involved. After the initial landing Frank was involved in unloading and bringing supplies from ships by DUKW for about a year. He was then posted back to Peterborough. The 2nd Army was then being formed for the assault on France. Frank was moved to Portsmouth and landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 6th June 1944. Severe weather conditions and fierce resistance made the landing a very frightening experience for all concerned. After about three months Frank transferred from DUKWs to lorries and he was attached to the Royal Artillery bringing up shells for boffers and 25 pounder batteries.
After being involved in fierce fighting in France he found himself in Arnhem bringing up supplies to the front-line batteries. At Arnhem he was cut off for 48 hours until a gap was opened. At Nijmagen the men were hoping to spend Christmas with Dutch families who had befriended them, but just five days before Christmas they were moved to Luxembourg in the American sector. The American forces were moving up quickly and needed assistance to keep up their supplies. After a time he was moved into Germany and at Hanover was lucky enough to meet up with two other Highworth men. Stan People who was serving with the RAMC and Reg Midwinter who was with the RAF. Frank spent six weeks at Belsen concentration camp, where earlier British troops had found 40,000 prisoners, many already beyond help. After this experience Frank was given three weeks leave in Lubeck before a final six week spell at Belsen, during which time the last of the huts were burned. He was then moved to Ghent in Belgium. The British 3rd Infantry Division was reformed and Frank was then attached to Field Dressing Station. They were told that they would be sent to Kentucky in the USA to prepare for the invasion of Japan, but the atomic bomb led to their being diverted to the Middle East, and after a spell in Egypt and Palestine, Frank Miles was finally demobbed on 27th March 1947 and returned home to live in Highworth.
Desmond G. JEEVES joined the Royal Air Force on the 8th March 1943. He then reported to Padgate for Aircrew medical and to come before the selection board. About ten days later he travelled with other Aircrew personnel to Aircrew receiving centre at Lord's Cricket Ground. Afterwards he stayed for about a month in Regents Park for "Bull and Square-Bashing". He was sent to number 4 or 6 Initial Training Wing at Torquay in May and June 1943 and whilst there Desmond witnessed low level straffing and bombing by Fock Wulf 190's.
About twenty Sunday school children with their teacher were killed at Babbington Church, also a cadet killed sitting next to his wife against the Promenade. His wife was unhurt. Several bombs were dropped in the town centre. He was then posted to RAF St Athan in South Wales for Flight-Engineer training until mid-February 1944. Posted to 16663 Heavy Conversion Unit, RAF Rufforth, Yorkshire, No 4 Group. Received training on Halifax Mk 2's and 4's with rank of Sergeant. In Mid-March 1944 posted to No 466 Squadron RAAF. as "Spare-body" Light Engineer. Training carried out on Halifax 111's which was a much better aircraft with Bristol Hercules 1600 horse power radial engines.
Two Operations done 11-13th May, then posted to 1652 Heavy Conversion Unit, Marston Moor to pick up crew. Trained with new crew; the pilot was Wing Commander J.L. Young. Crew were then posted to No 76 Squadron at Holme-on-Spalding Moor for one month training as Squadron Commander of No 78 Squadron at Breighton, near Selby, 4 Group. Completed tour of 38 operations (19 day and 19 night raids) on 25 th March 1946. After leave and Re-allocation Centre at Catterick, posted to No 3 AFU South Cerney as Assistant Adjutant to the Flying Training Wing. Did the odd passenger trip.
In mid May 1946, Unit posted to Fetwell, Norfolk and became No 3 Elementary Training School, Class B. Released in October 1946 with the rank of Flying Officer. Desmond Jeeves is now retired after over fifty years of farming on the family farm at Stanton Fitzwarren. He is a keen photographer, an artist and a lover of MG sports cars.
Peter HICKS of Westrop, Highworth had joined the RAF and, after a period of training, had become a Flight Engineer in Lancaster bombers. It was during a bombing raid from Lincoln, England, on Stettin in North Germany that the Lancaster bomber Peter was in was shot down with the loss of six aircrew, leaving Peter the only survivor. After managing to bail out he came down in several feet of snow, which broke his fall, otherwise his chance of survival would have been greatly reduced owing to the frost-hard ground. It had been on the 5/6th January 1944 when 344 Lancaster and 10 Halifax bombers had made a raid on Stettin in North Germany. This was the first large raid on this target since September 1941.
During the raid the central districts of Stettin suffered heavily from fire, many houses and industrial buildings were destroyed and eight ships were sunk in the harbour. Fourteen Lancasters and two Halifax bombers were lost during the raid. Eventually Peter was picked up by the Germans and taken to the small town of Oberursel near Frankfurt where the authorities had established, in a small barbed wire enclosure, a central Air Force Interrogation Centre, commonly known as Dulag Luft.
It was here that Peter's luck was in again. The German officer who was in charge of interrogating him knew Highworth well. Apparently, before the war, on several occasions, he had stayed at the Saracen's Head Hotel in the High Street and knew the landlord John Roberts and his mother very well. He enquired after their health and mentioned other things about Highworth. As a result Peter's interrogation was remarkably light compared to some of the other prisoners of war.
In the German prisoner of war camps Allied prisoners were caught up in Germany's growing internal dislocation. Rations sank to a new low, supplies of precious Red Cross parcels were badly disrupted, guards were nervous and unsure, and men were forced out in terrible marches in the bitterest of winters. The Germans major difficulties began with Allied successes in Eastern Europe. As the Russian armour rolled onwards the Germans began to withdraw camps westward into the Reich.
In July 1944 prisoners in Stalag Luft V1 at Heydekrug , the most far flung prison camp in East Prussia, were hurriedly transferred by train and boat to two other camps; Stalag Luft 1V at Gross Tychow in Pomerania or Stalag 357 at Thorn in Eastern Poland. About 3,000 RAF prisoners were taken to Stalag 357 at Oerbke, near Fallingbostel. During the early months of 1945 the movement of prisoners was to be a very different matter. Men were forced out in appalling weather conditions. From mid-December 1944 until the end of January 1945 temperatures regularly dropped to minus fourteen degrees centigrade, with daytime temperatures rarely rising above freezing. The prisoners who left their camps were totally unfit for any kind of travel. Above them the Allies ruled supreme and anything that moved by day was liable to sudden and devastating attack.
Peter Hicks, along with about 600 other RAF prisoners of war, left camp and struggled through deep snow and icy winds to Gorlitze arriving on 3rd February. Having moved on again on their long trek into Germany, on the 16th April 1945 the POWs received some Red Cross parcels which were immediately opened. It was during this time, while they were stopped eagerly eating the contents, they heard the sound of aircraft. It turned out to be a group of seven RAF Hawker Typhoons wheeling overhead. The seven fighters started pouring rockets and anti-personnel bombs into the POWs. An eighth, its pilot realizing the mistake they had made, climbed away on full throttle. Over thirty prisoners had died with many more seriously wounded. Many of those who had been shot up were RAF and Naval prisoners. Peter Hicks who had been on the forced march was lucky enough to survive this bombing.
By March 1945 there were roughly 240,000 British, American and Commonwealth POWs on the move. About 60,000 of them were drifting westwards through central Germany, around Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. Eventually, along with many more POWs, Flight Engineer Peter Hicks was released on the 8th May 1945 by soldiers of the Wiltshire Regiment.
The following are Stalags that Peter was sent to during his time as a prisoner of war: Heyderrug, Thorn, Falling Bostel, Leipzig and Frankfurt.
10632175 Private Sydney Charles ROUT.
Army Catering Corps. Died of wounds 19th October 1943.
Private Sydney Rout was serving with the Army Catering Corps in North Africa, and was attached to 5 Medium Regiment Royal Artillery.
While in North Africa during October 1943 he suffered severe burns when a primus stove exploded showering him with burning fuel. He was flown to Naples in Italy for treatment but, due to his severe burns, he died in hospital on the 19th October 1943. Naples, being one of the most important seaports in the Mediterranean, was taken by the Allies on the 1st October, twenty-two days after the landings at Salerno. Within days several British General Hospitals were set up to treat the many wounded from the recent battles.
Sydney Rout is buried in Naples War Cemetery, Italy, which is about two miles from the centre of the city. Besides those who died in the British hospitals the cemetery also contains the bodies of servicemen which were brought in from scattered burial places in the neighbourhood.
Before the war Sydney Charles Rout lived with his wife Ann and their two children in Glasgow, Scotland. He was the son of Sydney and Mabel Rout of Rivers Road, Highworth, Wiltshire.
1233801 Aircraftman Second Class Albert Lionel TAME, Royal Air Force (VR) 84 Squadron. Died 16th November 1943, Age 21.
Albert Lionel Tame was educated at Highworth School. After leaving school he worked as a Dispatch Clerk at the Highworth Matting Factory in Brewery Street. Like many other Highworth young men he volunteered for the RAF in 1941. After training he passed out as an Aircraftman Second Class and was posted to 84 Squadron in the Far East.
He was reported missing and, after two years of waiting, his parents Mr and Mrs C.H. Tame of 8 The Elms, Highworth, received a postcard from him saying that he was a prisoner of war in Java. Sadly, he was to lose his life while a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He died on the 16th November 1943 age 21 years, and is buried in Ambon War Cemetery, Amboina Island, Indonesia.
About 1,000 prisoners of war, 600 RAF and 400 Army, were shipped there from Java in May 1943 to build an airfield at Liang in the north-east of the island. They were forced-marched the 64 kilometres from Ambon to Liang and were there for up to 18 months. Only a quarter of them survived, which accounts for many of the war graves on the island. The War Cemetery lies on rising ground 5 kilometres north-east of Ambon on the main road to Galala overlooking Ambon Bay. It was constructed on the site of a former camp for Australian, British and Dutch prisoners of war, some of whom had been transferred from Java in 1943, and many of those buried in it died in captivity.
All the graves are marked with bronze plaques mounted on concrete pedestals and set in level turf. Tropical trees and shrubs are planted throughout the cemetery and around its boundaries.
5502933 Corporal Victor George SIMMONS, 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, (London Regiment)
Killed in Action 12th May 1944.
All-in-all the first few months of 1944 in Italy at Anzio and Cassino provided some of the hardest fighting of the whole war, if not the hardest of all and certainly some of the most gallant. The Germans were now committed to the defence of Cassino and Anzio at all costs, as only success there could save Rome and they had already suffered heavy casualties. The second great assault on Cassino and the Liri valley began on the night of 10/11th May 1944, with the support of 700 guns. The plan called for the two Polish divisions on the right to assault the mountain which would give them a base from which to attack the monastery, while on the left, 4th British and 8th Indian Divisions crossed the Rapido, scene of the earlier American disaster and failure of the New Zealanders. 4th Division, on the right, crossed the Rapido just below Cassino town in boats, combating a strong current and, in spite of heavy mortar and machine gun fire and minefields, established a precarious bridgehead.
It was during this action that Corporal Victor Simmons lost his life due to a land mine explosion on the 12th May 1944, age 24 years. He was the husband of Mrs E. Simmons of Inglesham, Highworth, Wiltshire.
Corporal Victor Simmons is buried in Cassino War Cemetery, Italy. The town of Cassino is midway between Rome and Naples. The war cemetery is two kilometres south of the town .
Lieutenant Herbert John SMITH, 2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment. Killed in action 3rd June 1944, age 26 years. Italy 1944.
Lt H.J. Smith, Digger Cotton and Ron Kilminster came to the 2nd Wilts with a new intake of men at the Garigliano River, which had to be crossed so that an outflanking movement could be made on the Liri valley. A bridgehead was established after some very heavy fighting in which the Wiltshire's played their part. The 2nd Battalion eventually found themselves in the beleaguered Anzio Bridgehead with their Division fighting a close-locked battle there until the breakout two months later.
The Advance to Rome.
On the 23rd May 1944 the Allies started their drive from Anzio beach head towards the Tiber, with attacks on L'Americano and Carroceto and then to the North-east.
On the 29th May the German positions across the Moletta were found to be empty and the Wiltshires participated in a pre-planned advance towards Ardea. Two days later, after attack and counter attack, the Battalion had passed through Ardea and was held up on the spurs to the North-west of the town after negotiating extensive minefields. Their flanking Battalions had been driven back, but had worked gradually forward again when, on 3rd June, further advance was held up by powerful opposition from a high ridge about 3,000 yards North-west of Ardea.
The Attack North-West of Ardea.
The Wiltshire's who had only three depleted rifle companies attacked in the early afternoon. Lt. Herbert Smith, and Ron Kilminster were in "C" Company which was the first company to put in an attack on the heavily fortified spur by Ardea. The enemy were dug in with machine-gun and mortar fire points. In front of these were barbed wire and mines. Most of the Platoons were killed or wounded on the 3rd June. Many more tried and were cut to cut to pieces by cross-fire.
Lt. Herbert Smith was killed in action on this day and Ron Kilminster was badly wounded in the arm. Digger Cotton, who was in Carrier Platoon, was also wounded at this time. Sgt. M. Rogers, VC. MM. was in charge of Carrier Platoon in this action on the attack to Ardea Spur on the outskirts of Rome. It was during this severe action that Sgt. Rogers won his Victoria Cross for extreme bravery in the field of battle. A more detailed account of how Sgt. Rogers won his VC can be found in a booklet "Sgt. Rogers' Day", and in John Hillier's, "The Long Long Road To Victory - War Diary of an Infantry Dispatch Rider 1940-46." Available from the RGBW Rgt. Museum, 58 The Close, Salisbury, Wilts, SP1 2EX.
Much of this information has kindly been given by John Hillier, Ex 2nd Bn. Wiltshire Rgt. who was Dispatch Rider to the Carrier Platoon during this time of action. He goes on to say: "These brave men were among the carnage: Lt. Smith and Sgt. Rogers being killed and Digger and Ron Kilminster being wounded. Not too many men would have really known Lt. Smith, Digger and Ron, because they had not long been in the Battalion and, as we had been in action from the first Battle of Cassino up to Anzio and Rome, we mostly thought of self-preservation and only the people by your side ever mattered; you were the team. I can remember the last intake at the Garigliano River, in which I assume the three came to us, and thinking how long will these poor chaps last like myself in the hell of battle. You did not want to know names as it was bad enough to know one mate had been hit and if you did not know the name it did not hurt as much." Eighteen 2nd Wilts men lost their lives in this action on the 3rd June 1944 and many more wounded, some severely. Lt. H.J. Smith is buried near Sgt. Rogers, along with sixty-two other 2nd Wilts men in Anzio Beach Head War Cemetery, Italy.
Lt. Herbert John Smith was twenty-six years old when he was killed in action and was the son of Herbert Edward and Jane Beatrice Smith of Highworth, Wiltshire. He came from a highly-respected Highworth family who were founders of the Oriental Fibre Mat and Matting Company in Brewery Street, Highworth. He was educated at Radley College and worked in the family business in Highworth. He also played cricket for Highworth Cricket Club.
Ron KILMINSTER, who was born and bred in Highworth, lived with his parents Frank and Florrie Kilminster in Park Avenue, Highworth. Ron's mother Florrie Kilminster, (nee Archer), was the cousin of Jack Archer of Highworth. Ron was also the cousin of Submariner Clarence Durnell, BEM, Royal Navy. Ron Kilminster joined the Army in December 1939, and was stationed at Plymouth. Afterwards he went with the 2nd Wilts to Italy. When Ron was badly wounded in the arm on 3rd June 1944, during the advance to Rome, he was taken to a Casualty Clearing Station and then brought back to a Hospital in Bradford, England. He was then transferred to another hospital nearer home at Boars Hill in Oxford, where he stayed for twelve months. Finally, when the war ended, he was discharged and came back home to Highworth, where he worked for many years for Wiltshire County Council.
Digger COTTON, who had also been wounded during the advance to Rome, was still with the battalion when they reached the Tiber. The 2nd Wilts were then taken out of the line to rest and one month later the battalion after sustaining six-hundred battle and sickness casualties in three months was transported to the restful setting of Palestine and Syria.
After the war Digger Cotton was demobbed and came back home to Highworth where he worked for Messrs Percy Chick & Sons, Building Contractors of Highworth, until his retirement.
Two Companies of the Royal Army Service Corps were stationed in Highworth during the Second World War. 729 were at Eastrop Camp and 408 were in The Park. Driver Gerald BISS, 929 Company, Royal Army Service Corps, Air Transport, was stationed at Eastrop Farm Camp for about a year in 1944/45. One of his major jobs during that time was taking troops by three-ton Bedford Truck to nearby airfields, including Down Ampney, for transport by plane and gliders for the invasion of Europe. At one time he was stationed near Colchester at a war office Transport Camp situated on a section of the Colchester bypass. This was closed off for a detachment of RASC who were involved in packing containers for various resistance groups which were dropped by parachute behind enemy lines. After the war ended, he was transporting containers of blood from somewhere near Portsmouth to Down Ampney airfield where they were airlifted to various parts of the world to help the many war casualties. Eventually he moved to Nottingham and was then posted to Fahad, Egypt, then to 63 Company RASC Airborne Division in Palestine and afterwards to 6th Airborne Divisional Headquarters. At this time Palestine was a very uncertain place to be. He was then in 13 Company RASC when he was demobilised. During his stay in Highworth he met his wife Nancy who lived with her parents in King's Avenue. After the war they married and settled in Highworth where they have lived in the same house in Turnpike Road for over fifty years.
Dave BEASLEY was another serviceman stationed at Eastrop Farm Camp who married a local girl (Betty) after the war. At the time Dave joined the Army he was living in Cardiff. His initial training was done with the South Wales Borderers before being transferred to the RASC. He was sent to Army Driving school where he was taught to drive various sizes of vehicles. Some of the training was done on a skid pan similar to those used today by the Police and Fire Service.
It was after the invasion of Europe that Dave eventually set sail from Liverpool to Bombay India, thence to Madras and then on to Chittagong. He then made the return journey by road back to Bombay. They were then sent to Malaya where they landed on an open beach. They stayed at Johor Bahru for a week and then moved on to Singapore for three months before moving to Jakarta in Indonesia where they were regularly shot at by terrorists. As they were poor shots, not much damage was done. During this time he was still attached to air dispatch, but was then transferred to a general transport company and sent back to Singapore. He was then sent to a Shell Mex oil refinery on an island eight miles off Singapore. It was called the Pula Sambo Oil Refinery. Among others on the island were men of the Green Howards. Towards the end of the war in the Far East he was transferred back to mainland Singapore and then back home. Like many others who served in the Far East, he said that if the Atom Bomb had not been dropped on Japan he doubts if he would have survived.
Eastrop Army camp was situated on the north side of the Highworth to Coleshill road between Eastrop Farm and Wickstead Farm. It was a small camp consisting of Army huts which later became a German Prisoner of War camp. During their stay there the three-ton lorries were parked on the roadside between Eastrop Farm and Fresden Lane. The lorries were used for carrying supplies of ammunition, petrol and parachute containers as well as Army personnel. Many of the supplies were brought by road from The Transfer near Swindon railway station and dispersed on the side of country roads, where they were covered by camouflage sheets and tarpaulins. One road in question was "Dicky Bailey's Lane" near Hannington Wick, which had supply dumps either side of the road. These were situated just right for supplying Fairford Airfield. Supplies including petrol jerry cans were also taken to Kemble Airfield. All of these stores were part of the build up for the invasion of Europe in 1944. At this time Eastrop Farmhouse was used as the Officers' Mess. In addition to Eastrop Camp there were other RASC units living under canvas in the Park at the end of Park Avenue and King's Avenue. During the build up for the invasion of Europe, the Market Square and many of the side roads were full of army vehicles parked bumper to bumper. The army lorries in Station Road overflowed into the Home Farm field, now the Fair View bungalows. Army lorries with trailers were also situated on the grass verge from Wrag Barn cottages to Sevenhampton factory. These were covered with camouflage netting. As the time of the invasion drew near more activity became evident in the town and surrounding countryside. With the influx of military vehicles Highworth was becoming congested with constant convoys of tanks and Army lorries.
Childhood wartime memories. By the Author.
When I became of school age I attended the infants school at Highworth Primary School. During the early part of the war we always had to take our gasmasks to school because of air raids. The air raid siren was on a telegraph pole by the mat factory in Brewery Street. When there was an air raid warning we had to either get under our desks or stand by our clothes peg in the cloakroom with our coats over our heads. Perhaps this was to help stop flying glass hitting us? We were always glad when the all-clear was sounded. Miss Bessie Smith our teacher always stayed with us on these occasions telling us not to worry. Looking back now I think we were very fortunate to have had her as our teacher; luckily no enemy bombs fell on the school during that time.
As the war progressed things became very exciting for the youngsters of Highworth; convoys of army lorries and tanks could be seen passing through the town and of course aircraft could always be seen flying around.
During that time the Rescue services and the Aux. Fire Service held exercises in case of the real thing. They had set up a casualty station for the injured in the old infants school in Shrivenham Road. On one occasion my brother and I were just going indoors in Sheep Street when the canvas covered ambulance, driven by John Roberts, pulled up outside our house. This frightened us both because we thought they were going to take us to the casualty station. We ran indoors and looked out of the window; thankfully they went to Miss Huckson's house just opposite, brought her out on a stretcher, put her in the ambulance and took her away. My brother Roy said, "That was a near squeak", because as youngsters we all dreaded having to go in an ambulance. My brother's joy was very short-lived because a couple of weeks later he was walking up the High Street when the ambulance pulled up, (yes, and with John Roberts), someone jumped out, put his arm in a sling, bundled him into the ambulance and took him off to the casualty station. Roy reckons John Roberts knew we were frightened and that's why he did it.
When the German bombers of the Luftwaffe were going over to bomb the Midlands, mother used to put the gaslight out in the living room and allow my brother and me to stand by the door to watch the searchlights pick up the outline of the aircraft, but of course they were very high up in the sky. Some evenings we would listen to Lord Haw-Haw with his propaganda broadcasts.
On one occasion, near the end of a school day, an aircraft hit the top of some trees in the Park not far from Eastrop Grange and crashed, killing all the aircrew. It happened just before we came out of school; when the bell went we all rushed to see the wrecked plane. I remember we were told off by a man at the scene of the crash who told us in no uncertain terms that it was no place for young children to be. I remember seeing that the man had covered the bodies of the aircrew with their parachutes, but at that early age we didn't really understand too much about it. I later learnt that the pilot was a Canadian.
One day my friends and I saw a Horsa glider hit a telegraph pole at the side of the railway line just past the railway station at the bottom of the Butts. The glider carried on and crash-landed in the hedgerow of one of Mr Painter's fields, on the north side of the railway line. No-one seemed to be hurt at the time. Later an American army lorry arrived with some American soldiers. One of them asked if we could help them find the tow-rope. After searching for a while we found the rope by the side of the line near Pennie Lane. We ran back to tell them and were rewarded with some packets of chewing-gum each. In later years I found out it was an American glider practising for the Normandy landings. We found that the American soldiers were always generous with chewing-gum and plasticine from when we used to wait for their convoys of lorries passing through Highworth. The best place to wait was at a crossroads because their lorries always seemed to slow down there. Most of the local lads' lives revolved round something to do with the forces; lots of aircraft, soldiers, convoys of tanks and army lorries pulling Ack-Ack and field guns.
As the war progressed more and more military personnel seemed to be in and around Highworth. The Market Square and surrounding streets were filled with army lorries. Some of the children who lived in Sheep Street were allowed to play in the back of one of the army lorries parked at the top end of the market square. This was great fun for the local kids because none of the soldiers told us off and, of course, when it was raining we could play in the dry.
Along Swindon Street there was a long convoy of Canadian tanks parked, which I have since found out were on their way to the docks for the Normandy Landings. Like all small children we stopped to look at the tanks and saw a soldier pumping up a primus stove when it suddenly exploded and one of his trouser legs caught fire. Another soldier quickly wrapped a blanket round him and put the fire out. We had to go on to school then and so we had no idea if he had been badly burnt.
One Saturday tea-time we were queuing at Mr Haggit's sweet shop in the High Street when someone shouted, "Parachutes falling over Coleshill". We all rushed out, some getting jammed in the doorway in the mad rush. The sky was full of parachutes dropping from American Dakota aircraft. We all ran round to Cherry Orchard to see them coming down in the fields, woods and in the river at Coleshill. I later found out that this was during April 1944 and was a practice jump for the Normandy Landings.
The next morning in the Market Square there was a burnt-out tank and army lorry and soldiers walking about with their arms in slings and bandages on their heads.
During the school summer holidays in 1944 I spent a fortnight with my aunt and uncle at Kingsdown, Upper Stratton. This was just after the Normandy landings because I can remember convoys of army ambulances going through from RAF Down Ampney, where some of the badly-wounded from the Normandy battlefields were flown to. I used to wave to the wounded soldiers, some of whom were in the cab next to the driver. At that time I was much too young to really understand what terrible injuries some of them had.
On Christmas day, which must have been near the end of the war, my grandfather saw two German POWs standing by the gas lamp post near the chemist's shop in Sheep Street. He sent my Aunt Lily down to see if they would like a Christmas dinner and some bottles of beer. The next thing we knew they were drinking beer with Gramp and then we all sat down to a good Christmas dinner. During the afternoon the two POWs played with my brother and I with the toys we had received for Christmas. A few days later they brought my grandfather a present of some weather vanes, which they had made out of old jerry cans and cocoa tins. With the end of the war in Europe came the Victory celebrations in the Market Square, with dancing and singing and a large bonfire. My brother and I were allowed out to join in the fun and I remember the Market Square was packed solid with people having a good time. Mrs Baker, who lived at the end of Sheep Street, made dummies of Hitler and Mussolini and hung them on a lamp post in the square and charged people to see if they could pull their heads off; I can't remember anyone achieving this. Afterwards she threw them on the bonfire along with some bags of chicken feathers, which smelt terrible.
At the end of the war there was a Victory party on the front lawn of Herbie and Middie Haines' house in Cherry Orchard, with jelly, blancmange and fancy cakes, and a large bonfire in the Welcome Home field during the evening. In the back garden of the house was an air raid shelter, which has recently been filled in by the present owners Nigel and Lisa Berry.
All the children of the town queued at Mr Hick's butchers shop, where the Jesmond House Hotel is now, to receive a bar of Fry's chocolate cream each. Mr Hick's kept telling everyone not to get back on the end of the queue because there was only enough for one bar to each child. I remember getting on the end of the queue just past the Home Farm gateway, wondering whether there would be any left by the time I got to the front. As far as I know everyone received one each.
At the end of the war Mrs Hollas, at Parsonage Farm, started to make ice-cream and sold them from the dairy and from a shed in the tythe barn field opposite the farm entrance. These were much sought after, because there had been no ice-cream during the war years. Frank and Mrs Turner in the High Street also sold Wall's ice-cream in small blocks, one to each person, sometimes the queue would stretch back to Mr Willis's grocery shop. One very significant incident that happened during the early part of my childhood, was the tragic crash of a Spitfire fighter plane at Stratton St Margaret, with part of the wreckage finishing up in my Grandmother's back garden in Church Street. It was on the 7th December 1941, when a Spitfire fighter plane developed engine problems while circling over Stratton St Margaret. It is believed that the plane had taken off from the nearby Vickers Armstrong airfield on a test flight, and was flying in the direction of Ermin Street from the Highworth Road area, when the plane suddenly crashed to the ground at the junction of Church Street and Ermin Street. The pilot, twenty year old Sergeant Norman William Barbeau, of the Royal Canadian Air Force must have had only split seconds to make a decision where to come down, because at that time there was open fields to his left hand side where perhaps a forced landing could have been considered. Also the airfield was not very far away. It will probably never be known the exact circumstances why the Spitfire crashed. At the time my grandmother was convinced that the pilot sacrificed his own life to avoid hitting the nearby houses, one of which was hers. The following is a description of the plane crash given by an unknown witness in l986.
"There was another more tragic crash almost in the same area. This time it was a Sunday morning. Again I was over the fields, this time with my dog Chum. I heard a Spitfire above the clouds, the engine seemed to miss a couple of times. I looked up and saw it coming through the clouds, just at that moment there was a loud crack and to my horror, one of the wings broke away. At that very instant both wing and aircraft spiralled crazily to earth. There was a loud explosion from the south end of Ermin Street and the black smoke mingled with orange flame which leapt into the air above the roofs of the houses. By some miracle the Spitfire had crashed in the centre of a triangle of houses. He had crashed on the island where the willow (lime) tree stands. The tree was split in two and burned fiercely. The hole where the trunk was separated is still in evidence this day. (1986). To see this tree in summer you would never believe the assault it had survived. Sadly the pilot was killed but the tree still awakens every summer; there could be a meaning there somewhere".
Sgt Pilot Norman Barbeau was one of six brothers four of whom joined up and served in the war. He was nineteen years old when he married his wife Florence and one month later he left Canada for overseas service.
R/88806 Sergeant Norman William BARBEAU, Royal Canadian Air Force, died on 7th December 1941. He is buried in Minchinhampton (Holy Trinity) churchyard, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, North-West of church. He was age 20, and was the husband of Florence Marguerite Louise Barbeau of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada.
1873873 Lance Sergeant Cecil Robert ASHTON. 26 Assault Squadron, Royal Engineers. Killed in Action 6th June (D Day) 1944, Age 26.
L/Sgt. Cecil Ashton was one of many highly trained soldiers who were selected to land on Juno Beach ahead of the 3rd Canadian Division on the morning of D Day 6th June 1944. Their job was to knock out concrete pill boxes and gun emplacements so that the following Canadians could land with as little opposition as possible. Juno beach was wide enough to land two brigades side by side, Canadian 7th Brigade at Courseulles and 8th Brigade at Berniers. The tide, the rough weather, and the high wind delayed the approach of the landing craft. Both brigades touched down ten minutes later than planned, the troops at Courseulles at 07.45, and those at Berniers at 07.55, the last of the first wave to land.
As at Gold beach, the sea was far too rough to risk launching the DD Tanks ahead of the infantry. Most came in by Landing craft, but a few were launched from close to the shore, and reached the beach ahead of the infantry at Courseulles as planned.
As on the other beaches, on Juno the Canadians found that the extra fire power from the DD Tanks, or Funnies often made all the difference between overcoming a German strongpoint or being held up.
L/Sgt. Cecil Ashton was the tank commander of a modified Churchill tank called AVRE's (Assault Vehicles Royal Engineer) armed with a Spigot Mortar or Petard, (instead of a gun) for knocking out concrete pillboxes and gun emplacements. The Petard spigot mortar (or Flying Dustbin) fired a 401b (18kg) charge up to 80yards (72m). The mortar was reloaded through the hatch in the top of the hull. The Churchill Engineer Tank (AVRE) was designed as an armoured carrier for assault Engineers. The AVRE carried a crew of six including a demolition engineer.
L/Sgt Ashton was in 26 Assault Squadron which was part of 5 Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers which landed ahead of 3 Canadian Division on either side of the River Seulles at Courselles sur Mer on what is commonly called Juno Beach. It was during this action that L/Sgt. Ashton lost his life. The tank he was in was blown up by a German mine while still on the beach.
He is buried in Bayeux War Cemetery, (Plot 15, Row A, Grave 5,) alongside Sapper R. Manley, and Sapper A.C. Battson, both Royal Engineers who also lost their lives On D Day 6th June. It is believed they were fellow crew members of L/Sgt. Ashton.
Bayeux War Cemetery lies on the south-west side of the ring road around the city of Bayeux, 100 metres to the east of the junction with Route D5 (the road to Littry.) There was little fighting in Bayeux, and the cemetery, the largest of the Second World War in France, contains 4,648 burials brought in from the surrounding districts and from hospitals that were located nearby. The Bayeux Memorial to the missing stands opposite the war cemetery. Cecil Ashton was twenty-six years old when he was killed in action, and was married to Mrs Joyce Ashton of Park Avenue, Highworth. He was an accomplished musician, especially while playing the piano accordian. He was also a very talented artist.
8311885 Staff Sergeant Herbert Victor OCKWELL.
1st Wing Glider Pilot Regiment, Army Air Corps. Killed in Action 6th June 1944, Age 27.
During April 1944, a plan was devised for the assault and elimination of a German coastal gun battery near Merville, some one and a half miles from the Normandy coast of France. The gun battery was believed to consist of four 150mm calibre guns capable of firing on Sword Beach, the planned landing area of the British 3rd Division on D Day. The neutralisation of the battery was vital to the success of the sea-borne troops. The assault plan was for the main body, 600 paratroops of 9th Parachute Battalion, to drop on DZV early in the morning of D-Day and, equipped with anti-tank guns, mine detectors, flame throwers, explosives and bridging ladders, carried in two Horsa gliders which would also land on DZV, move to and assault the battery. At the same time (0430 hours) as the main body attacked, three Horsa gliders piloted by volunteers from the Glider Pilot Regiment and carrying a coup de main party of fifty paratroops of "A" Company, 9 th Parachute Battalion and eight Royal Engineers from 591 Parachute Squadron would crash land on the battery complex. Just before the ground assault the RAF would bomb the battery with 99 Lancaster bombers for ten minutes. It was hoped that the bombing of the Merville battery would stun the defenders and blow gaps through the minefields and barbed wire defences. In fact this was to have disastrous results for the glider pilots on their approach to the landing zone. The smoke from the bombing raid made it difficult to distinguish anything clearly on the ground.
Airlife Publishing Limited of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England have very kindly given permission to use the following material on Lance/Sergeant Herbert Victor Ockwell from the book – "One Night in June" by Kevin Shannon and Stephen Wright which was published in 1994 in the UK.
One of the gliders involved in "Operation Tonga", and the assault on the Merville Battery was Horsa glider Chalk number 66 of "A'' Squadron piloted by Staff Sergeant Vic Ockwell, and his second pilot Staff Sergeant Ron Hellyer of the Glider Pilot Regiment. Their glider carried a very mixed load: Five sappers from 591 Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers accompanied a jeep and trailer full of explosives, also on board were the bridging sections for crossing the anti tank ditch of the Merville Battery, a motor cycle and a war correspondent. Before take off Ron Hellyer remembers vividly, drawing in chalk on the nose of Horsa HS 129 the insignia "Wombat Mkl" and Vic (Ockwell) writing his wife's name "Sybil" on the other side.
They took off in wave two from RAF Harwell in Berkshire at 2315 hours on 5th June 1944, towed by an Albemarle (V1620) of 570 Squadron RAF piloted by Squadron Leader Grice. S/Sgt. Ron Hellyer remembers the problems caused by the bombing raid on the battery by the Lancasters. "We were completely engulfed in thick black smoke and were being battered by gale force winds. Our tug had vanished from view and I know that our pitching and rolling and yawing must have made his Albemarles flying attitude impossible. Whether we were released or our tow- rope broke, I will never know, but suddenly we were in free flight. Vic (Ockwell) grabbed the controls and released our tow-rope. As we were still over the sea, I left my seat and told our troops to stand by for ditching. I picked up our fire axe and as Vic nodded in agreement, I hacked away at the cockpit screen in front of me.
Regaining my seat and strapping myself in I noticed that we were just crossing from sea to land at about 900 ft and ASI of 80-85 mph. Beneath us were concrete fortifications, fields and hedges and thin lines of green and red tracer glancing up at us. Vic was calm as usual and flying straight and level whilst we were both searching for recognisable objects or even a lighted landing zone. Being over land I shouted back to the troops to cancel ditching and prepare for a crash landing. We were now at about 400 feet and Vic suddenly applied flap and I saw we were headed for what looked like a ploughed field. Vic, superb, unflappable Vic, was in complete control. Nothing was said - we had a gale blowing in through the shattered perspex which deafened us. Then it seemed as if hell had broken loose. Our port wing must have fouled an anti-landing post, or some other immovable object. The aircraft slewed violently to port and bashed its nose into the ground. The noise of splintering and crashing was horrendous and then I knew nothing more. In the remains of his Horsa Ron Hellyer was drifting in and out of consciousness. Next time I opened my eyes there was no one about. I could still not move my body, but found that my arms and legs would move".
After a while he realised what had happened, he had been thrown through the windscreen still strapped in his seat with part of the cockpit floor still attached. After releasing himself he found he was unarmed. He hid in a dense thicket overnight, the next day he saw German soldiers carrying some bodies from the wrecked glider.
He goes on to say:
"I don't know for sure how many or who they were, but I think I was the only survivor.'' Ron Hellyer was captured before he reached Allied lines and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. This probably explains the reason why Staff Sergeant Vic Ockwell is buried in St Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, which is some distance away from the actual dropping zone. Le Havre is an important French town and port on the north side of the estuary of the River Seine. It is the terminus of the Paris-Le Havre railway line. St Marie cemetery is one of the town cemeteries, but is actually situated in the commune of Granville-St Honorine.
Herbert Victor Ockwell was the son of William G. and Rose Ockwell, and husband of Dyfi Sybil E. Ockwell of Newtown, Montgomeryshire. During the war S/Sgt. Vic Ockwell lived with his brother, Bill Ockwell, and sister in law Gladys, at Inglesham, Highworth.
The following information has kindly been given by Doctor Tony LEAKE, ex 8th Parachute Battalion, who lives in Rottingdean, Brighton. He also very kindly put me in touch with Denis Edwards, and Bill Elvin, (both ex Normandy veterans,} regarding Jesse Cheesley and Peter Ely.
On the evening of 5th June 1944, Tony Leake, who was a young Rifleman in 8th Para Bn. was at Blakehill Farm, airfield near Cricklade with the rest of the battalion ready for take off for the invasion of France. It was at about 2300 hours on 5th June when they enplaned in Dakotas of 233, 271 and 575 Squadrons RAF and dropped in Normandy about 0500 hours British Double Summer Time (6th June).
He was with his battalion during some severe fighting until the 17th August when he was shot up by a German machine-gun. Three bullets went through his smock but luckily he only had superficial wounds. After treatment he rejoined his battalion, and later jumped again over the Rhine on 24th March 1945.
After the war he went to medical school and qualified as a doctor in 1954. He was a GP for thirty-four years and retired in 1988. Since his retirement he has been doing research about the 6th Airborne Division in Normandy. Some of his articles have been published in Pegasus Journal and in the Eagle. In a letter from Dr Tony Leake he writes:
You may be interested to know that a soldier of 8th Parachute Battalion was killed on 6th June 1944, and is buried in Watchfield Cemetery. He is 3600656 Private NW. RICHARDSON, and was killed by flak whilst waiting to jump. The rest of the stick jumped and his body was brought back to England, presumably to RAF Watchfield. (Most likely to RAF Blakehill Farm). As far as is known Private Richardson was the only parachutist in 8th Para Bn. who was killed by flak when over Normandy. He was 25 years old when killed in action, and is buried in Grave 278 in Watchfield Military Cemetery, Berkshire. (Now Oxon).
Private Albert BREAKSPEAR, 5th Battalion Dorset Regiment.
When Albert Breakspear of Highworth was seventeen and a half years old he joined the local Home Guard and was in Phineas Archer's platoon along with several other young lads of that age. During that time it was thought that the German forces would invade Britain. Part of the job of the Home Guard was look out duties which included a platoon of men on St Michaels church tower which was a good vantage point for looking over the Thames Valley. This area was a prime target for airborne landings.
Some evenings when it was quiet, 70 year old Platoon Commander Phineas Archer, would say to the lads keep a good look out I am just going down to see Mrs Baydon at the King & Queen Inn on some business. Of course they all knew it was for a pint of beer or a whisky to warm himself up. After a few months in the Home Guard Albert Breakspear was sent to Gloucester for war work at Rotal Airscrews which was situated on the outskirts of Gloucester. He was found lodgings but was only there for a few weeks. He then had a phone call from his parents informing him that his call up papers had arrived and he was to report for active service. He was then 18 years old, and had to report to Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire, travelling by rail with all expenses paid.
On arrival at Swindon railway station he found there was about one hundred others waiting to make the same journey. On arrival at Woodhall Park they were picked up by army lorries and taken to camp which was mostly Nissen Huts and very cold. This was in January 1940 with snowdrifts up to four feet or more. At that time they were issued with one blanket each and were still wearing their civies. Thankfully this was only a temporary stop and they were eventually sent out to different Regiments. Albert had applied for the Royal Navy, but was drafted to the Somerset Light Infantry. He was then sent to Grimsby for basic training and was billeted in a long row of houses by the railway lines. This was just after Dunkirk and there was only one rifle to 25 men, the others were issued with broomsticks but had to take it in turns to use the rifle. They were then issued with a pair of boots, and after about another six weeks each man was issued with a uniform. (all different sizes). After training with route marches etc. each man was then issued with a rifle.
Albert Breakspear was then sent to an army camp under canvas about two miles outside of Hastings in Kent. He was then transferred to the 5th Battalion Dorset Regiment and moved to a camp consisting of Bell tents near Dover. During this time the Germans were shelling the British mainland at regular intervals. Explosions sent shrapnel through tents cutting the canvas and making it very hazardous for the men. His first experience of someone being killed was when a group of about thirty ATS women who were waiting at a bus stop was killed instantly by a German shell. Albert was then stationed in the Queens Hotel at Margate.
Eventually, the men were then taken to the docks and put on board a large boat crammed solid with men and equipment. They then set sail to the Isle of Wight, dropped anchor and waited for about three or four days. They then set sail for the French coast and Normandy. Part way over they transferred to Landing Craft for landing on the Normandy beaches at Courseulles-Sur-Mer. When they went down the ramp they found themselves up to their necks in water, but eventually they got ashore and made progress inland. They moved on through the French village of Mont Fleury where destruction was everywhere. After a week going forward all the time, they arrived about two miles from Caen. Enemy action had been severe with the battalion suffering casualties all the time. Just after the first week of July the 5th Dorsets were involved in the battle of Hill 112 which was around the villages of Evrecy, Esquay and Maltot. The British came up against the resistance of the German 10th Panzer Division, with the men under intense shell and mortar fire, with supporting tanks suffering from 88mm guns. There was particularly heavy fighting around Maltot which was their objective. During this time Pte. Albert Breakspear sustained severe wounds to his right leg with bullets passing right through one side and out the other. He lapsed into a state of semi-consciousness, and is convinced that if it had been the Germans advancing instead of the British he would have been shot dead, because that is what happened to many of the badly wounded men on either side. Eventually he was picked up by British medics and brought back to Carpiquet Aerodrome near Caen where he was put into a Dakota transport aircraft and brought back to Blakehill airfield near Cricklade in Wiltshire. He was then transported by Field Ambulance to Stratton St Margaret Hospital near Swindon. After an operation and recuperation he was then taken by ambulance to Swindon railway station and then by train to Morriston Hospital in Swansea. After getting fit again he was then sent to Stoke-on-Trent, and in September 1944, was sent to Harwich to board a ship for the Hook of Holland where he joined his unit the 5th Dorsets. Along with the 7th Hampshires they were sent to help clear up Nijmegen and to guard the great Nijmegen bridges.
At the end of September l944 the Dorsets were near Driel with the village of Oosterbeek just over the other side of the Neder Rijn. The plan was to get across the river to help reinforce the battered airborne troops around Arnhem. All this time German 88mm guns and mortars were firing at the British troops and were able to repel the attacks, eventually on the 5th October the Dorsets handed over to the Americans. During December 1944 the Germans hurled their 5th & 6th Panzer Armies against the Americans in the Ardennes, and the 5th Dorsets was one of the British battalions sent to help out if needed. The 5th Dorsets did not go into action during the Ardennes offensive. It was during this time that Albert Breakspear had is twenty-first birthday spending most of the time in a slit-trench keeping watch on the enemy. He said they could see the German soldiers playing a piano-accordian and singing songs only about one hundred yards away. But they had orders not to shoot at them because this would have given their positions away. After about three weeks of this they then moved on.
The British Army then moved fast and the Dorsets eventually found themselves in Hamburg in Germany. With the end of the war in May 1945, Albert was stationed in Spandau Barracks in Berlin, mostly doing patrols. After a while he was sent back to England and demobed. He then worked for over twenty years as a blacksmith in the Great Western Railway factory in Swindon, later for Percy Chick & Sons, Building Contractors, Highworth.
5577302 Private Reginald EDWARDS, 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment.
Reg Edwards was called up for Military service in March 1942 and proceeded to Reservoir Camp, "C" Wiltshire Regiment Infantry Training Centre. After three months of training he then did a three month signals course. He was then sent to the Isle of Wight for about six weeks to Golden Hill Fort and was stationed there with Stanley Smith, and Percy Jefferies from Highworth, who were also in the Wilts Regiment at that time. Much of the time was spent in an Observation Post on the Needles while in the 7th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment.
Reg was then transferred to the 5th Battalion, B Company and went to Eythorne in Kent. After a short while they were moved to Dover and Deal along the coast, which at that time was virtually a front line posting.
At Christmas 1942, Reg was home on leave, returning to camp at Deal on Boxing Day. While at Deal he went on a refresher course on signals. Much of the training was on the local golf course which had been turned into the battalions assault course. Eventually the battalion made several moves, firstly to Wootton, and then Maidstone both in Kent, and then for a short time out of the county to Crowbourgh in Sussex.
Reg was then transferred back to a Signal Platoon at Hawkhurst and then to Hassocks, in Sussex, and finally to Newhaven, Sussex for the assault on Normandy.
For some three and a half years the 4th and 5th Battalions had occupied most of the positions along the Channel shores in Kent and Sussex. When D Day came on the 6th June the 43rd Division which the 5th Battalion was part of still had a short time to wait, as they were break-out troops, standing by to exploit the initial landings. Eventually Reg Edwards and the rest of the battalion embarked on "Operation Overlord" on Sunday 18th June, which was hot and sunny. That morning the Infantry Landing ships sailed out of Newhaven Harbour. Not long after setting sail a gale sprang up and after sixteen hours of buffeting they arrived off Arromanches landing on the floating piers of the "Mulberry" harbour at "Gold Beach". After getting ashore and going on to the village of Sommervieu, which was not far in land. Reg remembers a French Cafe being open for business which seemed strange at the time amid all the scenes of battle.
Running south-west from Caen is a long ridge of rolling downlands. Along these flat-topped hills runs the road from Caen through Eterville and Hill 112 to Esquay.
Reg Edwards and the battalion were to see some severe fighting in the capture of Hill 112 including the village of Maltot in the valley beyond. While on Hill 112 Reg was run over by a British Tank while in a slit-trench, and had to be dug out by his mate Private Ken Bowers from Cheltenham and his Commanding Officer, Major E.R.B. Field who was later killed in the war. Luckily Reg was unhurt.
The position was very strongly held by the 10th SS Panzer Division which comprised tough, experienced and battle- hardened troops. On the morning of l0th July at 5am the 4th and 5th Battalions Wilts, and 4th Somersets started to advance up the slope of Hill 112. They reached the road on top of the hill about an hour later without great difficulty. The real battle now started, hehind and around them were Germans concealed in pits in the corn, who now attacked with Spandau automatic machine-guns, rifles and grenades, and down the slope in front lay the main enemy positions. With the 5th on the right who were pinned down by intense fire from Tiger tanks and machine-guns was Company Sergeant- Major (Smudger) Smith from Highworth, who was going forward in a Carrier with fresh ammunition, when up the road from Esquay came an enemy tank shooting all the time. Sgt-Major Smith seized the PIAT, ran forward through the corn and knocked out the tank by firing from the hip, which most deservedly won him a Military Medal.
The Wiltshires casualties on the 10th July were thirteen officers and over two hundred other ranks, which gives some indication of the fierceness of the battle. The Wiltshires held their positions for another week until going in to reserve at Mouen. The 5th Battalion then went back to Verson for about three days for a rest period and then moved and prepared to attack Maltot. The attack started at 18.30 hours on July 22nd, 1944. It was during this action that Reg Edwards had his rifle shot out of his hand, luckily with no ill effects. Next morning Reg said Maltot was a dreadful sight to see, and there was a sickly smell of death everywhere. During the day more Germans came to light, making a total of over four-hundred prisoners. Reg and the rest of D Company helped to clear the houses in the village and then dug-in at the far end. The Tiger tanks then re-opened fire with devastating effect. It was during this time that the slit-trench that Pt. R. Edwards and Capt. S.L. Maskell-Dicker was in received a direct hit killing the Captain instantly and burying Reg who had to be dug out once again. The next day Reg and his mate, (Ken Bowers) went back to see if their packs was still in the trench, which they were, and Reg remembers a tin of emergency chocolate was intact also a hand-grenade was undamaged.
The 5th Battalion were then relieved by troops of the 53rd Welsh Division and returned from the front line for a rest period.
The next action for the battalion was at Mont Pincon during August 1944, where there was some very severe shelling by the enemy. During this action the 5th Bn suffered some heavy casualties. Eventually the 5th Wilts took Mont Pincon with the 4th Bn following.
The next big assault that the 5th Wilts was involved in was the crossing of the River Seine at Vernon on the evening of 25th August. During the crossing of the river, which was over 200 yards wide at this point, several companies of the Wiltshires had difficulty in making it across, being badly shot up. C Company which Reg was in was successfully carried across by one of the remaining DUKWS, (large amphibious three ton lorries shaped like boats) and eventually made it to the top of the bank in the darkness. At daybreak C Company advanced down to the road and into the wood. One platoon advanced through the wood, on approaching the edge the enemy was waiting for them, the men in the front positions were killed. The rest of the platoon went for cover and it was at this point that Reg had another lucky escape when a cannon shell nicked the sleeve of his tunic. The wood was then taken by the Wiltshire men, where they dug in. By 5am they had secured a bridgehead after some fierce fighting with more Germans being taken prisoner of war. The 5th Wilts were given a fortnights rest at Gasny which was their first opportunity for a rest and refit since the fighting had started over two months back. Reg said the troops were entertained by Flanagan and Allen, Florence Desmond and Mr Pastry, (Richard Herne) and several other comedians.
After leaving Gasny the battalion advanced through France into Belgium and then to Holland. At Nijmegen the bridge hadn't been taken so the troops had to wait in the streets. After moving through Nijmegen the 5th Wilts went through the village of Lent going towards Ellst in the dark when the Germans opened up with small arms fire. The Wiltshire men then dug in about fifty yards from the enemy and waited for daylight. It was during this time that Reg had a pain in his back and was sent back to the Regimental aid post at Lent. During the journey back a mortar shell exploded near the Jeep which Reg was in and he received some shrapnel wounds. He was taken to a school not far from the bridge which had been converted into a hospital. The Germans then started bombing the bridge and Reg was moved to a hospital in Nijmegen for about two weeks. One day after seeing a doctor, a card was placed on his bed with "Blighty" written on it. He was then taken by ambulance to Eindhoven, stopping for two nights, and then on to Deippe, which was a tented hospital. Eventually Reg, along with eight other British wounded was put onboard a hospital ship which was full of wounded German POW's, arriving at Southampton and then by ambulance to Wakefield Yorkshire and then to Harrogate General Hospital where he was operated on to remove the shrapnel from his back. While at Harrogate during Christmas 1944 Reg went down with measles. Eventually he was sent to Halifax Convalescence Depot and then on to Felixstow to a Wiltshire Regiment holding unit for one day when he was diagnosed as having yellow jaundice. He was hospitalised at Felixstow which was a large house converted into a hospital. Then transferred to Colchester for one night and on to Braintree American Hospital and was there during VE Day. From there Reg was sent to Cambridge Maternity Hospital where one ward was converted for army yellow jaundice patients. Once again Reg was moved, but this time to Ely for convalescence in the Bishops Palace.
He was then transferred to Bedford Convalescence Depot where he was declared A1 . Eventually he was sent home on leave and then on to Gloucester (Reservoir) Camp in Holding Unit and passed fit for service in Palestine and India with the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment. Private Reg Edwards served with the 1st Battalion in India at Rawalpindi, and the company Reg was in spent a month in a pleasant hillstation at Ranikhet which overlooked the vast white range of the Himalayas in the distance. After a month there Reg served at Agra in a Fort overlooking the Taj Mahal. He was eventually demobbed at Jhansi then on to Dulali for a week and then through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean and back home to Tilbury Docks. Finally by train to Woking and home to Hannington, Wilts on 8th October 1946. After three months home leave he then reported back to work with Percy Chick the Highworth Building Contractors as a bricklayer. Reg was recalled for two weeks training with the 4th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment at Windmill, Ludgershall which most of the time was spent playing football.
Another Normandy veteran, Norman JURY, being a Cornishman had joined his local regiment, The Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry, on the 1st January 1940. The 5th Battalion DCLI went to France as of the D Day Landings, (Operation Overlord). When the men came off the landing craft they were quite a distance from the shore which meant they had to wade ashore in fairly deep water. Norman said everyone was soaked from head to toe, nevertheless they had to carry on with wet uniforms and equipment under very heavy fire from the Germans. It was while going across open fields to capture Hill 112 that the 5th Battalion sustained considerable casualties. The men thought the field was empty, but trees started to move and the ground opened up and tanks came out. Nearly all the men were killed during the battle for Hill 112, which was later called "The Duke of Cornwalls Hill. Out of about 3,400 men who went in, 44 came out. The DCLI was disbanded. It was during this time that Norman Jury transferred to the Glider Pilot Regiment, which he never mentioned too much about. It is believed he didn't like the gliders very much. After the war having married a local girl he settled down to make his home in Fairford, Gloucestershire.
S/5441629 Lance Corporal Albert George BROWN.
Royal Army Service Corps, attached to 77th HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery. Killed in action 20th June 1944, age 27 years.
Like several other Highworth young men Bert Brown was called up at the outbreak of war to serve in the Armed Forces. He was sent to serve with the Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry with his initial training being done at Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.
After completing his training it was found that the rapid pace of marching was not suited to him. He was then transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps.
He was eventually attached to the 77 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery. During December 1941 his unit set sail from Greenock, Scotland, bound for the Middle East, arriving in Cape Town, January 1942, then diverted to Singapore, but on the way heard that it had capitulated to the Japanese forces on 15th February 1942. So instead they landed at Java in February 1942. At this time very little information was being received from the Far East. In a letter dated 14th March 1942 from the War Office Mr and Mrs Brown was informed that their son Albert was missing, probably in Malaya, or he could be a prisoner of war of the Japanese. A further letter was received on the 2nd September 1942 stating that the ship he was travelling on was proceeding to Java. It is now believed that he was taken prisoner around the end of March 1942 and was then taken to a POW camp in Singapore where he met Gunner Reg Brock of the 77 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Reg said he remembers Bert Brown asking him if he came from Highworth because he thought he had seen him in the Fishes Inn before the war.
He only knew him for two days before they were parted. Reg was sent to Sumatra on a Japanese transport ship, and Bert on another to Java. It was during early July 1943 that his parents received another letter from the War Office informing them that their son Bert was a Japanese prisoner of war in Java. During this time they received some letter postcards from Bert which had been sent from a POW camp in Java, which of course had been censored by the Japanese. These postcards were typed and read; "I am in good health. Thinking of you and hope you are alright and so on" They were signed, Bert. But of course, we now know that they were very badly treated, living in dreadful conditions with hardly any food or medical supplies. Another letter from the War Office dated 24th February 1945, said that they (the war office) had received an official list from the Japanese authorities in Tokyo, of men missing following a sinking in Japanese waters of a transport ship on its way from Java to Japan. Finally on the 19th March 1946 Mr and Mrs Brown received a certificate of death from the War Office saying that their son L/Corp. Albert George Brown RASC who was officially reported missing, has now been presumed dead by the War Office, that he was killed in action on the 20th June 1944, at sea while a prisoner of war in Japanese hands.
Lance Corporal Bert Brown is commemorated by name on Column 98 of the Singapore Memorial, Singapore. The memorial stands in Kranji War Cemetery, 22 kilometres north of the city of Singapore on the north side of Singapore Island, overlooking the Straits of Johore.
Bert Brown was educated at Highworth school and after leaving he worked at the Highworth Matting Factory in Brewery Street. He was a keen fresh water fisherman.
During this anxious time Bert's mother Mrs Ada Brown worked tirelessly organising and running a "Comforts Club" for the troops who were stationed in and around Highworth. In a building which was called the "Naffi" near the Recreation Centre, which at that time was the Conservative Party rooms, Mrs Brown along with others, made the servicemen welcome with sandwiches and hot cups of tea. She also managed to obtain some bars of chocolate from the Government which at that time was in short supply. The troops were also able to play billiards and various other games. During the war there were units of the RASC stationed in Highworth, and also several Ack-Ack and searchlight batteries situated around the outskirts of the town. The ''Naffi" was a very welcome relief centre when they were off duty. Ada Brown was one of the many unsung heroes of the Second World War who unstintingly gave up her time to help others. Her husband James worked for many years on the Warneford Estate at Sevenhampton. During the war their youngest son Bill worked on war work at Watchfield airfield. After the war he worked at the REME workshops opposite Watchfield airfield for 35 years.
During mid June not long after the initial D Day landings in Normandy, France, Squadron Leader Paul Elwell from Highworth, who was the pilot of an RAF de Haviland Mosquito, was investigating flares and heavy flak east of the Cherbourg Peninsula when he noticed five German Fock Wulf 190's climbing steeply. He raced in and fought the planes until his ammunition was exhausted. He destroyed one Fock Wulf for certain and probably another before returning home safely. Paul Bingham Elwell was the second son of Edward Charles and Edith Monica Elwell. He was educated at All Hallows School, Dorset, after which he received an engineering training at the GWR works at Swindon. For a time worked for a motor company and when the Second World War broke out he was commissioned in the RAF. He served with 600 Squadron and ended the war with a DFC and the rank of Wing Commander. In 1946 he emigrated to Uganda, where he had the post of Manager Pilot to Caspair Air Charters Ltd of Entebbe. After ten years at his job he moved to Kenya where he joined his younger brother in business at Eldoret, of which in 1960 he was elected Mayor. However, he did not complete his term of office and the same year he returned to Entebbe to resume his former duties with Caspair. One of his first tasks was connected with the evacuation of Belgian refugees from the newly independent Congo and for this he was awarded the MBE.
On the 8th October 1962, when coming in to land at Entebbe Airport, he crashed and was killed. Paul Elwell's brother, Major Gerald Elwell, was a Bomb Disposal expert and during the Second World War he defused a German bomb at Botany, Highworth.
255227 Lieutenant William Henry WOODBRIDGE. 49th Regiment, Reconnaissance Corps. Royal Armoured Corps. Died of wounds, 22nd June 1944, age 28 years.
Lieutenant William (Bill) Woodbridge had joined the Army in 1940 and was in the Royal Armoured Corps and later in the 49th (West Riding) Reconnaissance Corps. He was commissioned in December 1942. The first Regiment of Reconnaissance Corps was established at the Rifle Depot in Winchester on the 1st February 1941. The Corps had been charged with gathering vital tactical information in battle for Infantry divisions. The standard reconnaissance battalion carried twice as much firepower as its infantry counterpart, it was designed to move quickly in armoured recce cars, universal carriers and trucks, and it was to send its information back by wireless. Those who served in the Regiment had to be intelligent, enterprising, brave, enduring and highly skilled. During the build up for the D Day landings in June 1944, Lt. Woodbridge and his crew with their Bren-gun carrier of 49 Recce was to be seen in and around the Highworth area during manoeuvres. During some of these Lt. Woodbridge acted as umpire.
The battle for Normandy started on the 6th June 1944. As the Allied forces consolidated the bridgehead, further formations arrived to strengthen 12(US) and 21(British) Army Groups. Among them was 49th (West Riding) Division, originally an assault division for Overlord until replaced by 50th Division. Nonetheless, 49th Division was an early arrival in France with elements of 49 Recce landing on the 13th June.
'A' Squadron was first ashore, followed four days later by RHQ,'B' Squadron and part of HQ Squadron. 49th (West Riding) Reconnaissance Regiment had been formed in September 1942 from independent reconnaissance squadrons. During the early stages of the invasion 49 Recce played their part in holding stretches of line as infantry with patrolling playing a lesser part. Based initially on Le Hamel, squadrons had to cover and patrol into a long cornfield stretching out some three kilometres from Le Hamel. When the 49th Division opened its attack on Fontenay and Rauray 49th Recce made several sweeps through the cornfield using its carriers and assault troops. The enemy suffered many casualties from the recce men who were subjected to heavy fire from 88mm guns on high ground east of Rauray. On the outskirts of Fontenay they were engaged by four Panther tanks, but these were quickly put out of action by the Recce gunners.
During a recce patrol in the hedgerow country of Northern France, Lt. Bill Woodbridge and his men were behind enemy lines accessing the strength of the Germans, and gathering other vital information which would assist the invasion forces. After stopping in fairly quiet country he jumped from his carrier to take a better look around. Suddenly a grenade exploded showering him in shrapnel, pieces of which struck him in the head wounding him badly. His men managed to get him into the carrier where he was rushed to a field hospital, attended to, and then shipped across the Channel to a hospital in Oxford, where he later died of his wounds on the 22nd June 1944. Bill Woodbridge was twenty-eight years old. He was buried in Oxford (Botley) Cemetery, North Hinksey, Oxfordshire, on Monday 26th June 1944 and on the same day a Memorial service was held in St Michaels church, Highworth.
Lieutenant William Henry Woodbridge was the son of Ernest and Sarah Ann Woodbridge of Highworth and the husband of Phyllis Betty the only daughter of Mr and Mrs Sturgess. They had been married in 1940 in Oxford. Bill Woodbridge had been educated at Highworth and Euclid Street school, Swindon.
Before the war he was on the staff of the Oriental Fibre Matting Company of Highworth. He was a keen sportsman having played football for Highworth Town Football Club, and Swindon Town Reserves. He was a playing member of Highworth Cricket Club and also had a trial for Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, which was interrupted by his war service.
Many people in Highworth and the surrounding area knew Bill Woodbridge as an outstanding sportsman especially at cricket. He was a good all-rounder and a great striker of the ball, scoring many runs including several centuries. Reg Sinfield the well known England and Gloucestershire County cricket all-rounder spoke very highly of his aptitude for the game.
5575659 Private Stanley George SMITH. lst Battalion The Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment. Formerly 2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment. Killed in action 27th July 1944, age 23 years.
In June 1943, the 2nd Wilts embarked at E1 Shatt, on the Suez Canal for the assault on Sicily. They landed at Syracuss on July 10th and drove through feeble Italian defences before coming against hardening German resistance along the coastal road to Canatania. On July 18th the Wiltshires secured and held the vital only bridgehead enabling their brigade to cross the river. On August 12th Sicily was clear and invasion preparations against Italy began. In the New Year (1944) the Wiltshires joined 10 Corps in the 5th US Army.
During the whole of January the battalion was involved in some severe fighting. The objective of the 5th Army was to break through into the Liri valley, the route to Rome, which involved crossing the River Garigliano and circumventing or capturing Monti Cairo, crowned with its centuries-old monastery, Monte Cassino.
During this time Stanley Smith had been in some severe fighting with the Wiltshires. It is believed that during this time Stanley was wounded, and after a period of recuperation he was then transferred to the lst Royal West Kents, and was with them during the Battle for Monte Cassino. The battalion were then involved in the advance to Florence. After reaching the Chianti Hills, a stretch of mountainous country about twelve miles south of Florence, the lst Battalion was ordered forward from Monte San Savino. On July 24th, and the 26th they were shelled as they were dismounting from their lorries in the village of Lucolena. Leaving the lorries at Lucolena, the 1st Battalion advanced on foot through the tiny village of Dudda. Demolitions and snipers made progress very slow. Eventually they climbed the terraces of the hill and occupied the fort, which was nicknamed "Leicester", which was their objective.
The next stage was the capture of Point 706, known as "Conn". Delayed only by mines, the leading troops were carried forward by tanks on July 27th and reached Point 706. From there they were directed on Point 770, with Monte Scalari (Point 778) as the ultimate objective. Almost immediately the leading companies were met by fierce mortar and machine-gun fire from the hills in the area. After some severe action the objective was finally taken after dark. It was a tough battle in which thirty-two members of the battalion were killed and seventy-nine were wounded.
It was during this battle that Private Stanley Smith was killed in action by machine-gun fire. He was twenty-three years of age and is buried in Florence War Cemetery, which is three miles east of the city, which is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. The cemetery lies on a bend of the River Arno on the main road from Florence to Arezzo. A wide avenue through groups of olive trees, cherries, Indian lilac, pear and other trees leads between the plots of graves to the Stone of Remembrance near the river.
Stanley Smith was the son of William John and Elizabeth Maud Smith of 8 Cherry Orchard, Highworth. He was educated at Highworth School.
Before the war Stanley worked for W.J.Bedwin and son, of Devizes Road, Swindon, who were High Class Grocers and Provision Dealers. He cycled to and from work every day from Highworth to Swindon.
When his younger sister Phyllis left school during the war, she followed in her brothers footsteps in the grocery trade. She worked at Mr Philip Silks grocery shop in Westrop, Highworth, were she had taken over the job from Jesse Cheesley who had left to join the Army. The Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment lost 1,677 members of the Regiment in the Second World War, 1939-45. Their names are inscribed in a Book of Remembrance, which rests on a lectern in All Saints Church, Maidstone. A page of this book is turned every week.
14416229 Private Peter Oliver William ELY. 7th Battalion (LI) The Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps. Died on 10tt August 1944, age 19 years.
He is officially classified as, "Missing in action." Private Peter Ely had joined the lst Battalion Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry at Cowley Barracks, in 1942. On the 8th November 1942 the 7th Battalion Light Infantry Parachute Regiment was formed from 450 volunteers from the 10th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, and the balance from other Light Infantry units. Peter Ely was one of those who volunteered for the 7th Para Battalion. The battalion carried out their original parachute training at Ringway, Manchester and were then stationed at Bulford, in Wiltshire.
Bill Elvin, ex 7th Battalion Parachute Regiment who lives in Ipswich, Suffolk, and was dropped by parachute in Normandy during the early hours of D Day, has kindly given the following information concerning Peter Ely, and the subsequent actions of the 7th Paras at that time.
On the 5th June 1944 the 7th Battalion travelled from a concentration area to RAF Fairford, in Gloucestershire, arriving early evening to fit chutes and kit up, blacken faces etc. Their task was to relieve the glider units that had made the coup de main glider assault on the two bridges near Benouville. Herbie Woolford of Highworth who was serving with the RAF at Fairford at that time saw Peter Ely before take off, and shook hands and wished him luck.
The battalion enplaned in Stirling bombers, twenty men to a plane, and took off at dusk landing by parachute round about lam in Normandy. Unfortunately on arrival over Normandy many of the 7th Battalion were scattered over a wide area. One reason for the wide dispersal of the sticks of parachutists had been the effect of flak on inexperienced pilots. Many had to take violent evasion action when the flak neared their aircraft, thus leading to the sticks being scattered, or dropped in the wrong place.
In spite of all this all their tasks were carried out. The bridges over the Orne River and Caen Canal were taken by the coup de main party and later reinforced by the 7th Paras and held until the Airborne element was relieved by the sea-borne forces. Through June and July the 7th Parachute Battalion were engaged in holding the Bridge Head. On the 12th July at 0830 hours, the battalion was relieved by 8th Parachute Battalion and moved to a rest area north of Amfreville.
On 21st July, 1530 hours, 7th Battalion (LI) moved into the old positions in the Bois de Bavent sector, south east of Le Menil. 6th Airborne Division was now protecting the left flank of 8 Corps advancing east of Caen, on Troarn-Bourgebus-Cormelles. Between 21st and 29th July, 7th Battalion (LI) maintained its positions under heavy shelling and mortaring. On 30th July at 1015 hours it was relieved by 13th Parachute Battalion, and moved to rest area north west of Amfreville. During the early part of August the drive against the Falaise- Argentan pocket was in progress. On 1st August 7th Battalion (LI) moved into Divisional reserve at Le Bas de Ranville. On 7th August it took up a new position in the Hauger area. Here, under heavy shell and mortar fire, it was engaged in patrolling.
On the 10th August there were three fatal casualties, Private Peter Ely, Private A.L.Burden, both commemorated on the Bayeux Memorial, and Private J.D.Webster buried at Ranville.
They were probably part of a patrol that was ambushed or blown up by a shell or mine in the Breville area. On the 11th August, at 0330 hours, a patrol was machine gunned at close range. Lieutenant Howard and four other ranks were missing.
The Bayeux War Memorial in France, (on which Peter Ely is commemorated) are engraved the names of 1,808 of the Commonwealth Forces who fell in the Battle of Normandy and the subsequent advance to the Sein, and have no known grave. The memorial stands opposite the Bayeux War cemetery on the side of the ring road around the city of Bayeux 100 metres to the east of the junction with route D5 (the road to Littry). The Battle of Normandy museum lies 200 metres east of the memorial.
Peter Ely was well known and well liked by local people, and had something of a reputation of being a poacher and countryside lover. He also played football and was a good amateur boxer especially while serving in the army. He was educated at Highworth and Kingsdown schools and before joining the army he had served with the local Home Guard.
5511983 Sergeant John ELY.
John Ely, (who was Peters older brother) volunteered for the army in January 1941, and joined the Hampshire Regiment. Like Peter he was also stationed at Cowley Barracks. Afterwards he joined the Wiltshire Regiment at Dover Court near Harwich.
After serving in Ireland he went to India with his Regiment. He was then transferred to the South Wales Borders, (Animal Transport) British 36th Division.
After being involved in some action against the Japanese in Burma, John went back to India and was transferred to the 26th Indian Division. He was in Bangalore when the Atom Bomb was dropped. He then came home on leave for one month, afterwards returning to Sumatra where there was still some discontent among some of the islanders over the amount of independence granted to the island. At that time it was a very insecure place to be. After a while John was discharged from the army but rejoined and served with the Royal Army Service Corps (Animal Transport).
During the early 1950's he served in Egypt during the start of the Suez crisis and also in Kenya when a secret society called the Mau Mau were raging a reign of terror across the country. He finished his army career in 1954,with the rank of sergeant.
John Ely was educated at Highworth school, and played football for Westrop Rovers FC. He is well known among Highworth people for his knowledge of the surrounding countryside, and is a keen follower of the local Fox Hunt. Before retiring in 1988 he worked for Highworth Town Council.
14708390 Private Stanley Ernest HEAD. 7th Battalion Duke of Wellingtons Regiment. (West Riding). Killed in action 29th October 1944.
At the end of September 1944 the task was now to clear the Belgium-Dutch frontier areas northwards to the River Mass. The Airborne landings at Arnhem had taken place, but the weather was bad. It rained continuously on the 19th and 20th October. For ten days the 7th Duke of Wellingtons pushed on with the 34th Tank Brigade.
It was an interesting operation, in which the battalion carried out a variety of offensive and defensive roles, sometimes with and sometimes without tank support. This phase of operations ended with a night advance to the outskirts of Roosendaal. A few days later they moved back to Nieumoer for a few hours rest; but almost immediately moved back to Roosendaal to occupy the line of an anti-tank ditch in the vicinity of the town. This was an unpleasant sector. 'C' Company had to cross a lateral ditch and advance 800 yards over bare, open fen. The Company was sniped during their advance by all weapons, including German self-propelled guns. It was only possible to crawl, and where crawling was possible one crawled in the water.
'A' Company, in a series of attempts to cross the main ditch, killed and captured many Germans, and themselves suffered casualties by sniping, shelling and counter-attack. 'B' Company spent a most uncomfortable day pinned down in ditches by close-range sniping and mortaring. 'D' Company protected the right flank and engaged the enemies attention in that area by several fine patrols and raids.
By the early morning of 30th October the enemy had became exhausted, and under the general pressure and artillery fire he left in a hurry.
It was on the 29th October 1944, during this action that young eighteen year old Stanley Head lost his life. From the 28th to the 31st of October the battalion lost fifteen men.
Stanley Head was the son of Ernest and Mary Head of Highworth, and is buried in Dordrecht (General Cemetery, Netherlands. Dordrecht is a town on the River Maas in the province of South Holland. It is twenty kilometres south-east of Rotterdam and thirty kilometres north-north west of Breda. The cemetery is about half a mile south of the town on the west side of the road to Dubbeldam.
C/JX 557641 Ordinary Seaman Ernest LAY, Royal Navy. HM Motor Launch 916. Died 8th November 1944, Age 19.
The Battle for Arnhem had failed but only just, largely through the weather conditions and the very limited resources available for a most imaginative and strategically brilliant operation. Since the battle for the Rhineland could clearly not now be fought immediately, it was decided, in view of the onset of winter and the likelihood of difficult beach working for the maintenance of supplies, to concentrate on clearing the Scheldt estuary and opening the port of Antwerp. The Germans had left do-or-die garrisons in all the Channel ports and, although the Allies held the perfectly placed port of Antwerp, the Germans still controlled the banks of its forty-mile river approach. The Armies were forced to halt after Arnhem and wait for the clearance of the Channel ports and Antwerp. This operation would include the sealing off and then clearance of South Beveland, and the capture of Walcheren, and was to be carried out mainly by the Canadians. On October lst the Canadians opened their advance over the Antwerp-Turnout Canal, and round the north of Antwerp, and initially made progress.
By the 4th November the first convoy reached Antwerp three weeks later. On the 8 th November 1944, while on the way back from helping to relieve Antwerp, HM Motor Launch 916 hit a mine with disastrous results. Nineteen year old Ordinary Seaman Ernie Lay who was a signal-man on board ML 916 lost his life at this time.
There was only one survivor, a young officer who lost both his arms and legs.
Sometime after the war the young officer made a visit to Mrs Lay at her home in Highworth to pass on his condolences, and to tell her what had happened.
Ernie Lay was the son of Arthur Ernest and Isabela Ann Lay, of Westrop, Highworth, and is commemorated by name on the Chatham Naval memorial in Kent. The site chosen for the Chatham Naval memorial was high up on the open area known as the Great Lines, overlooking the town of Chatham. Cast on bronze panels there are the names of 8,515 sailors who lost their lives in the 1914-18 war. After the Second World War the memorial was extended to include the names of 10,112 sailors who died during the 1939-45 war. The memorial is open daily. The memorial register is kept in the Naval Chapel of Brompton Garrison church and may be consulted there.
Ernie Lay's older brother Arthur, also served in the war with the Royal Air Force. Most of the time he was in Canada, where he was responsible for running the household of the Air Officer in charge of Pilot Training. Towards the end of the war when pilot training ceased in Canada he returned to England.
DIKX 140733 Stoker 1st Class Albert George SMITH. HM Submarine Porpoise. Royal Navy. Killed in Action 16th January 1945.
Having been in service since 1932 HM Submarine Porpoise was well known in the submarine service. Her work during the siege of Malta made her name known to a wider audience. During the Mediterranean patrol Porpoise had earned the anger of an enemy minesweeping flotilla when she sunk a ship off the Lipari Islands carrying £l8,O00 in lire, the flotillas pay. She arrived in the Far East towards the middle of 1944. A mine-lay of 8th July in the Malacca Straight sank a Japanese A/S Craft. Soon after the same minefield accounted for the tanker Taketum Maru of 3,000 tons.
Command of the submarine Porpoise which was a worn-out lumbering minelayer, had passed to Lt-Cdr Hugh Turner in late 1944. When he signalled the completion of a mine-lay off Penang, it was to be the last of his signals. The exact cause of the minelayers loss is not known. Japanese reports have led to speculation that Porpoise had been sighted in the vicinity of Penang by an enemy aircraft. The plane dropped a bomb which is believed to have caused Porpoise to slightly leak oil. A/S Craft from Penang were able to track and perhaps destroy the submarine. It was on the 19th January l945 when HM Submarine Porpoise was sunk with the loss of her full compliment of 59 crew.
One of the crew-members was Stoker 1st Class Albert George Smith from Highworth who was twenty-one years of age, and was the son of Walter and Esther Smith of Highworth, Wiltshire. He is commemorated by name on panel 94, column 3, of the Plymouth Naval Memorial, Plymouth, which is situated in the park on the north side of the Hoe between the Drake Statue and the Armanda Memorial. There are 15,935 names on the 1939-45 war panels. The memorial has been the site of many thousands of individual pilgrimages and each year on Remembrance Sunday a major ceremony is held. The memorial is accessible at all times and there is car parking nearby. The memorial register is kept at the Tourist Information Office in the Civic Centre and also in the Naval Historical section at Plymouth library.
Although Albert George Smith and his parents and family were Highworth residents at the time of the Second World War, (and since,) for some unknown reason Albert 's name is not commemorated on Highworth Town war memorial.
5733919 Lance Corporal David Jesse CHEESLEY. No 24 Platoon D Company, 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, Glider-borne Infantry of 6th Air Landing, 6th Airborne Division. Died of wounds 1St April l945, Age 20. On the 6th June 1945, (D Day) there took place the greatest sea-borne invasion in the history of mankind. The Allies, who had been planning and preparing for that day for over four years launched a massive assault on the northern shore of France. Hours before the sea borne landings began parachutists and gliders were moving to their appointed tasks. One of the most effective and vital of these was that performed by a force of 180 men travelling in six gliders which had taken off from Tarrant-Rushton in Dorset during the evening of 5th June. They comprised of Glider-borne infantry men of the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and 249 Company Royal Engineers. Their task was to prevent the Germans demolishing two bridges near Benouville. Like all vital bridges the two were already wired for demolition as part of the defensive plan and it was essential to seize them before the charges could be blown.
The following information has very kindly been supplied by Denis Edwards of Lancing, West Sussex, who on D Day was a nineteen year old Private in No 25 Platoon D Company, 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was in the first of the three Horsa gliders to crash-land adjacent to the vital Caen canal bridge (now Pegasus Bridge) a few minutes after midnight on 5th/6th June 1944. It had been in mid May 1944 that D & B Companies had spent three days and nights training for the bridges job at the Countess Wear bridges over the River Exe and Exeter canal on the outskirts of Exeter. Because each glider could only hold a maximum of thirty (including two glider pilots) and it was considered necessary to carry five Royal Engineers in each, it meant that from the normal platoon of twenty eight men, five had to be left behind and travel with the remainder of the battalion which had arrived in other gliders on the evening of D Day. The platoon officers had to decide who should be left behind and generally they chose the married men with young children but this was not always the case.
Private Dennis Edwards's platoon officer (Lt Brotheridge) who was hit as they charged across the canal bridge and died soon afterwards from his wounds, had a baby daughter, and several of the others were in fact married men with young children. Another young soldier who had been selected for this special mission was Private David Jesse Cheesley of No 24 Platoon D Company 2nd Battalion, who was from Inglesham near Highworth, and was under the command of Lt David Wood (now Col Wood MBE) He was in glider No 2 which was the third Horsa glider to land at Pegasus Bridge, which had been brought in safely by Staff Sergeant Oliver Boland and his second pilot Sergeant Bruce Hobbs of the Glider Pilot Regiment. After take off from Tarrant Rushton, in Dorset they had been towed across the channel by Halifax bomber number LL335 of 298 squadron piloted by W.O. Berry. It was a few minutes after midnight on the 6th June that the lead glider skidded to a halt, only yards from the canal bridge. A few seconds later, the two other gliders landed within yards of one another. As the bridge was heavily defended and was a small target, and there was a strong cross wind, it was an astonishing feat to crash land the gliders near them, capture the bridge and defend it against counter attack. Complete surprise had been effective. After the initial shock of the landing, Denis Edwards and the OBLI glider soldiers of the Coup de Main force quickly secured the bridge after some fierce fighting.
The following information has kindly been given by Colonel David Wood, MBE, who on D Day 6th June was a young Lieutenant in command of No 24 Platoon and knew Jesse Cheesley very well. Private Cheesley, apart from being a trained rifleman in my platoon, was also one of the two soldiers who were specially trained as medical orderlies. He was chosen for this role because he was a sensible, caring man with an aptitude for helping others by applying the skills he had learnt in first aid.
Lt Wood, his platoon sergeant, Sgt Leather, and his runner, Pt Chatfield were all wounded by a burst of fire from a Schmeisser machine pistol as they were making their way in the dark, to report to Major Howard, after clearing the enemy from the defensive position between the two bridges.
Lt Wood goes on to say; "I was hit in the left leg by three rounds of 9mm ammunition and fell to the ground, literally hors de combat."
My 1944 Diary reads as follows:
"I went down and was in some pain and bleeding. Soon afterwards, Cheesley came up, followed by Radford, (the other medical orderly) and gave me morphia and put a rifle splint on my leg".
"So you can see that I owe a great deal to Cheesley (and Radford) for the immediate help and care which they gave me when I needed it most".
Lt Wood's part in the capture of Pegasus Bridge ceased abruptly at around 00.25 hours on the morning of D Day 1944. Nevertheless his platoon had achieved their objective and the bridge was held until reinforcements arrived. At 0300 hours some officers and men of the 7th Parachute Battalion arrived at the bridge and the coup de main party came under their command.
On the afternoon of D Day the main body of the Ox & Bucks was airlifted in Horsa gliders from England to occupy the southern flank of 6th Airborne Divisions perimeter. The gliders landed successfully and the regiment moved out to its positions east of the Orne River. After taking the bridges D & B Companies, 2nd Battalion OBLI were involved in holding the bridgehead where they were involved in some severe fighting with the Germans. During August the battalion was involved in the breakout and they marched forty-five miles in nine days chasing and fighting the Germans all the way.
During this time there were several casualties due to some fierce encounters with the enemy rearguard actions. Sadly among many of the friends that Denis Edwards and Jesse Cheesley had left behind in France was thirty year old Lance Corporal Jack (Smacker) Drew from Uffington, Berkshire, (now Oxon) who had been in 24 Platoon and in the third Horsa glider to land at Pegasus Bridge on D Day. He had been killed by a German machine-gun on August 17th near Varaville and is buried in Ranville War cemetery, France. Plot 1A, Row C, Grave 4.
Eventually the battalion left Normandy for England on Saturday 2nd September 1944, arriving at Bulford Camp, Wiltshire on Monday 4th September.
At Christmas 1944 the regiment was rushed to France to help stem the German offensive through the Ardennes. On Christmas day they were in position at Givet alongside the US 507th Parachute troops. On the 21st February the regiment was relieved and arrived back at Bulford on 28th February 1945.
Early in March the regiment took part in large scale divisional exercises in Suffolk which were rehersals for the next air landing operation "Varsity", the crossing of the River Rhine. It had been in September 1944 that an attempt was made to cross the Rhine at Arnhem and bring the war to a speedy end, it failed dramatically. Several months were to go by before another attempt was made to cross Germany's last remaining natural barrier.
It was at 0630 hours on the 24th March 1945 that the regiment carried in Horsa gliders was towed off from RAF Birch and Gosfield and headed for Germany. Their mission was to take and hold by coup de main assault the road bridge over the River Issel, a railway bridge two hundred yards north from it, Hamminken railway station and a road junction to the west of it. At 1000 hours they were approaching the battlefield which was shrouded in smoke. Amid heavy German flak the gliders cast off and began to land, many tug and gliders were hit and the regiment lost about half its strength. Despite heavy casualties the regiment secured its objectives by l l00 hours.
The following information has kindly been given by Harry (Nobby) Clark who was a young airborne soldier in No 24 Platoon, 2nd Battalion OBLI, and was in the third glider to land at Pegasus Bridge on D Day and also in the Rhine Crossing in March 1945.
Early on the 31st March the regiment continued the advance towards the River Ems which was uneventful. On arrival at the river they crossed over a hastily improvised sapper bridge, consisting of large diameter galvanised tubes, to take the flow of the river, with earth bulldozed over them. Here they learnt that a German counter-attack was to be launched by two divisions against a bulge in the line caused by the swift advance of the 6th Airborne Division and the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade. The regiment was therefore ordered to move up into a wooded area, some three miles north-east of Greven, to protect the division's north flank. No sooner had the regiment moved off the main Greven to Ladbergen road than it ran into the middle of a German anti-aircraft regiment's gun positions . Companies therefore had to fight their way forward over un-reconnoitred ground to small and in the darkness, indistinguishable objectives, whilst subjected to small-arms, 20mm and 88mm gunfire from unlocated enemy positions. At daylight the ground firing died down and quiet descended on the wood, broken only by the occasional bursts of 20mm fire which the enemy directed haphazardly in the regiments direction.
The following is a copy of a letter sent to the author by Harry Clark who lives in Brentwood, Essex, dated 8th February 1995.
Dear Mr Archer,
In a recent telephone conversation with Colonel David Wood, he told me of the letter you had written to him and sent me a photocopy of same, which I received on the 6th February. I knew Jesse Cheesley fairly well, we served in the same seven man section in two operations, Pegasus Bridge on D Day and in the Ardennes during the winter of 1944/45. I moved to another platoon in D Company for the Rhine Crossing operation. I was perhaps some 60 to 100 yards from his position on the day/night that he died.
We were taking part in a night advance (31-3-45) attack to secure a position in a fortified wooded area some three miles north east of the town of Greven which in turn is close to Munster. Sometime about mid-morning (1-4-45) I was told that he had been found, along with a close friend, Lt Cpl. Ginger Thomas, dead in their slit trench.
We had suffered a fair bit of shelling during the night of 31-3-45 and early hours of 1-3-45. I have enclosed a copy of a letter I received several years ago which indicates that he was perhaps killed by the blast from a shell. On the evening of 5th April my number came up. I received four bullet wounds in an encounter with a machine gun.
Out of the original seven man section only one now remained, three were killed in action, two were POW's, I was a casualty, that left Private "Taffy" Malpas to carry on the war.
Today Jesse and Ginger lie close together in the Reichswald War Graves cemetery which is close to Kleve in the heart of the Reichswald Forest.
I have visited their graves on several nostalgic journeys into the past. These men were closer to me than brothers, I can never forget their comradeship under the most trying conditions a human being had to endure. Jesse was a good soldier, a quiet very polite lad who to my knowledge never fell out with anybody. Together in 24 Platoon, in the same seven- man section we were a close team. Each in turn depended on his comrades, whatever the situation. We shared the same Horsa glider in our journey to capture Pegasus Bridge. We fought together for the next tweny-four hours to hold it.
He landed in the third glider to crash-land, this Horsa landed the farthest from the bridge in third in line. That's why 24 Platoon were given the No 2 task of taking on the German inner defence system, led by David Wood we speedily captured the fortified position within ten minutes at a cost to us of three casualties, Lt Wood received three wounds to his leg, Jesse Cheesley helped to render first aid to the casualties in this his first action. I am enclosing several items and photographs for your retention. If I can be of further help to you please do not hesitate to ask.
The following is an extract from the letter sent to Harry Clark, from Jack Bailey, ex 25 Platoon, D Company, 2nd Bn OBLI. Letter dated 3rd February 1991.
Denis White, a friend of Jesse Cheesley died at the Rhine. Cheesley died during the night before we crossed the broken bridge at Greven on the Dortmand- Ems canal. P----- Brooks and yours truly found Jesse Cheesley's body in a slit trench when taking tea around the area. He probably died from blast. He appeared to be unmarked. At first glance we thought he was asleep.
Lance Corporal Jesse Cheesley died of wounds on Easter Sunday 1st April 1945. He is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Cleves, Germany. The cemetery lies within the Reichswald Forest on the road between Kleve (Cleves) in Germany and Gennep in the Netherlands, on the German side of the border and about five kilometres south-west of Kleve. Jesse Cheesley was twenty years old when he lost his life. He had joined the army in 1941, first being in the Dorset Regiment, and later voluntering for the Airborne Division. He was born at Inglesham near Highworth, and was the third son of Harry and Elizabeth Cheesley. Before the war he lived with his sister Mrs Mary Woolford in Swindon, and was educated at Even Swindon school.
11264660 Private Dennis Harold SMITH. 1st Battalion The Buffs, (Royal East Kent Regiment) Killed in action 13th April 1945. The year opened much as 1944 had finished, in mud and filthy weather. But there had to be some offensive action. The Canadians advanced on the coastal plain, now frost hardened, to the coastal lake of Comacchio. They were joined by 56 Division and continued their advance to the River Senio, capturing the jumping off area for the assault on the river and Granarolo in the face of stiff opposition and of the weather there was, however, no hope of crossing the river until the spring. The final offensive opened on 1st April, Easter Sunday, along the spit of land separating Lake Comacchio from the sea, and was entirely successful. The next attack to cross the Senio and then the River Santerno was supported by massive air and artillery bombardment and flame-throwing tanks. This was carried out with great success. But the 8th Army was still attacking at Argenta with 56th and 78th Divisions. On the morning of the 12th April 1945, along with others, the 1st Battalion of The Buffs (East Kents) were chosen to take the Fossa Marina. The main objectives of the 1st Battalion were a bridge over the Fossa Marina on the shores of the flooded expansion of Lake Comacchio, six miles north-west of Menate, and a second important bridge to the south of it and about a thousand yards inland. Their strength was 34 officers and 785 men. They were to go in at the appointed hour of 4.30am on the 13th April with the help of thirty-eight Buffaloes of the 715th US Tank Battalion. Finally the men, equipment, and vehicles were loaded on to the Buffaloes which was to be a fateful action of a character unique in their story. After five hours progress across the floods the convoy reached its dispersal area about 10.30am. The Germans anticipating the attack had moved the 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of 29 Division to meet it. No opposition was met by 'C' Company until they were within a hundred yards from the shore when all hell was let loose. The company inevitably suffered severely. All the Buffaloes were hit and set ablaze, and in only one case could a ramp be let down. Men leapt over the sides to make their way as best they might through five feet of water under enfilade fire from machineguns on right and left, but an officer and thirty-seven men had been killed before the company could gain the shelter of the bank. 'A' Company, like 'C' on the right, also came in for a hot reception. Eventually the bridge over the Fossa Marina was finally taken and was now firmly held. 'B' and 'D' Companies who had been in reserve were then brought into action, with the result they both suffered casualties. 'C' Company who had been in some severe fighting and suffered many casualties, both dead and wounded were determined to stay where they were, but at about 6pm an enemy party approached their position under cover of a Red Cross flag, offering to dress the wounded and evacuate the more serious cases. There being no stretcher-bearers or medical kit left, this offer was accepted. The Fossa Marina was taken at last, although not without further significant casualties, and Argenta was occupied. The battle of Argenta Gap was from the 13th to the 31st April 1945.
It was during the first day of this battle, which had seen some very severe fighting, that Private Dennis Smith was killed in action at the age of 24 years. He was the son of Henry George and Leah Smith of High Street, Highworth, Wiltshire.
Argenta Gap war cemetery is one of those which mark the last stages of the campaign in Italy in the spring of 1945. The "Gap", a narrow corridor carrying Highway 16 between areas flooded from Lake Comacchio on the east and impassable marshes on the west was the approach to the valley of the Po north-east Italy, and as such was fiercely defended by the Germans. Many who died in the hard fighting here lie in the war cemetery, it was later enlarged to take graves from the surrounding district. It is little more than a mile north of Argenta town. The graves, lying in four plots, are planted with many flowers, including orange Triumph roses, which flourish in the good soil of this part of ltaly.
5184730 Private William Thomas Edward ALEXANDER. 156th Battalion Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps. Died 3rd July 1945, Age 23.
It was in October 1942 that the 151st Battalion Parachute Regiment was renumbered to 156th Battalion for security reasons.
During the invasion of Italy in 1943 the battalion was involved in some severe fighting. After a successful campaign in Italy the battalion returned to the UK in December to be billeted in the counties of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire; 156 Bn. moved initially into the Uppingham area but on return from Christmas leave the battalion, at the CO's request, was concentrated in Melton Mowbray mainly Stavely Lodge and its stables, but with 'A' Company at Craven Lodge and Support Company at Spinneys Thorp End. Training in earnest started again for the larger task ahead; the liberation of Europe, and the battalion once again became a strong team. During that long summer of 1944 the battalion trained, stood to and stood down, for numerous airborne operations. Then finally on the 18 th September the battalion flew out from Saltby airfield across the North Sea to drop into Holland on the second day of operation "Market Garden"
Flying through thickening flak the battalion lost one aircraft shot down with loss of 19 men and a further 12 men from enemy fire on the Dropping Zone. On that night advancing towards Arnhem the leading company met heavy opposition at Oosterbeek station, and during the next morning in a series of fierce company actions to seize the Lichtenbeek feature, the battalion was badly cut up in the Johanna Hoeve Woods against heavy opposition by German panzer troops.
The battalion numbering no more than 50 men fought on in the houses and gardens in the vital northern sector of the narrow perimeter for a further five days. By the late stages of the battle, Major Powell was in command of the remnants of his battalion. On the night of the 25th September he led the survivors, just fifteen men, across the river to safety.
Just under 500 men went to Arnhem on day two (18th September) and only 68 came back. Other than the fifteen men who crossed the river to safety, sixteen others who had been captured escaped and it is presumed the remainder were liberated after a short period as prisoners of war.
Bill Alexander had seen most of this action with 156 Para Bn. Some of the action at Arnhem had been very severe and at one time he had been captured but had managed to escape amid the confusion of battle. Sometime later he was captured by the Germans again. After awhile in captivity he escaped once again and was within sight of the Swiss border, when he was turned in by some civilians. Eventually, Bill was liberated and came back home to England. It was during a spell of home leave when he was accidentally drowned while canoeing on the River Thames at Oxford. Due to the very strong underwater currents where the River Cherwill enters the Thames his canoe capsized. Only a week before there had been a similar accidental drowning on the same stretch of river. Private William Alexander died on the 3rd July 1945, aged 23, and is buried in Highworth Town cemetery, Highworth, Wiltshire, Grave 1128. He was the son of Edith Alexander of Highworth, and grandson of Mrs E.J. Alexander of Eastrop, Highworth.
lA/1219 Major James William ARKELL, Military Cross and Bar. 3rd Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles. Killed in action 21st August 1946. Age 23.
At the end of June 1946 there was widespread dissatisfaction in Indonesia due to the discontent with the amount of independence so far granted on the main island Java and in Sumatra there was pressure for the island to break away. It was during this unrest when Major J.W.Arkell, was killed in action in the Bekassi area, south-east of Batavia. He was fatally wounded by a grenade while leading a charge of Gurkha against a strong Indonesian position which his patrol located on the night of 21st August, he died on the way back to the field hospital. A Regular soldier, he was commissioned to the Indian Army from Sandhurst in 1939. Major Arkell had been acting second-in-command of the 3/5th Gurkhas since January 1946, when he flew to Java. He had spent the previous nine months on duty and leave in England. Age 26 years old, Major Arkell was educated at Radley, where in 1933 he was one of the rowing eight which won the Ladies Plate at Henley for the school's first victory after 70 years competition for it. It is a sad reflection that today only one of the winning crew of 1938 is still alive. Major Arkell also represented Radley School at rugby, was a keen fly fisherman, and was an omnivorous reader of books. He was unmarried. He was the son of Sir Thomas Noel Arkell, and Lady Olive Arscott Arkell, of Highworth Wiltshire.
Major Arkell is buried in Djakarta War Cemetery, Indonesia. Djakarta (now spelt Jakarta) capital of the Republic of Indonesia lies on the northwest coast of the Island of Java. The War Cemetery is in the suburb of Menteng Poeloe, eleven kilometres from Jakarta.
22281096 Sergeant Douglas W. EDWARDS, Royal Pioneer Corps. Died of wounds 21st November 1951.
After the Second World War, King Farouk of Egypt was overthrown by the nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser, and pressure was exerted for the withdrawal of British troops from Egypt. During October 1951 British troops seized the Suez Canal zone in a swift dawn raid. This led to Anti-British riots flaring up in the canal zone. On Wednesday November 21st Sergeant Doug Edwards of the Royal Pioneer Corps was badly wounded when a British army truck he was travelling in was ambushed on its way back to camp, (Port Said.) He died shortly after being taken to the Casualty Clearing Station at the camp. Sgt. Edwards was in a truck with several other soldiers returning from Port Fuad, where they had been visiting their families who had been evacuated from Port Said a few weeks before to the eastern side of the Suez Canal. The ambushed lorry was being followed by a Staff car and was travelling towards the golf course camp where the bulk of the British garrison were stationed. The staff car turned off the main road near the railway station to enter a dock gate. A few seconds later a burst of automatic gunfire sprayed the lorry. The driver, though wounded in the head, drove on to the camp's casualty clearing station where Sgt Edwards and another British soldier in the Royal Army Service Corps died shortly after. They were both buried the next day at Al Barral, Egypt. Sergeant Douglas Edwards is buried in Moascar War Cemetery, Egypt, which is situated just off the main Ismailia - Cairo road, 10 kilometres by road from Ismailia. The cemetery is contained within an army camp 3 kilometres along Treaty Road. Access is by security pass only and application for such a pass should be made through the Military Attache at the British Embassy in Cairo.
During the Second World War Ron Lane of Highworth, served with the Medical Branch of the Royal Air Force from 1942 until the end of hostilities in 1945. At one time he was stationed at Aberporth, South Wales, and also at an RAF Hospital at Morcombe near Blackpool. He also saw service in the Bahamas, Canada and the USA. It was while Ron was stationed at RAF Hullavington that he met his wife Joyce, who was born and brought up in Highworth. Like many others at that time Joyce was on war work at Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company, Chippenham, where she was an Inspector on the production line making parts for aircraft.
After the war Ron was a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade, (Highworth Branch) where he helped teach young cadets in the art of First Aid. For many years he was also Hon Secretary and Welfare Officer of the Highworth and District Branch of The Royal British Legion.
Their son, PJ060698 Able Seaman Brian Anthony LANE, joined the Royal Navy straight from school as a boy sailor. It had been his ambition to join the navy when he was old enough. After being enrolled he did most of his training on HMS Ganges, a shore-base at Shortley near Ipswich. After passing out he was then posted to Portsmouth. During his time in the navy Brian served on several ships including HMS Striker and HMS Blackpool and served in the Mediterranean and the Far East.
Some of the countries he visited were Hong Kong, Singapore, Malta and Gibraltar. On one occasion after a spell of home leave he was drafted to Scotland to serve on HMS Wasperton, patrolling the coastal waters on Fisheries protection duty. It was while he was at Bahrain in the Persian Gulf that he became ill and was flown home to Princess Alexandra's Hospital at Wroughton. He was then taken to a naval hospital in London and after a short time there he came home on leave to Highworth. He was then admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital, Swindon where he died on 8th December 1965, age 21. Brian enjoyed life to the full and was well liked by his mates in the navy.
Able Seaman Brian Anthony Lane, is buried in Highworth Town Cemetery. He was buried with full Military Honours, having an escort of six Naval ratings, and a Royal Marine bugler sounding the Last Post at his funeral.
Coleshill Second World War casualties who are commemorated by name on the Coleshill village war memorial.
14610175 Gunner Frederick Stanley BALDWIN, 57th Royal Artillery attached to (115th Battalion East Surrey Regiment,) died 21st July 1944, age 19.
Buried Arezzo War Cemetery, Italy, Plot 3. Row D. Grave 25. Son of William Herbert and Lucy Baldwin, of Wroughton, Wiltshire. The war cemetery lies on the main road from Rome to Florence (Route No 69) in the rural locality of Indicatore in the Commune Province of Arezzo. Gunner Baldwin is also commemorated; along with his brother; on a memorial seat which was placed in Coleshill village cemetery by members of his family.
3005766 Flight Engineer Harold William Fleetwood JORDAN. 189 Sqdn. Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Died 4th December 1944, Age 19.
Buried in Choloy War Cemetery, France. Plot 1. Row C. Grave 4. Son of Reginald and Edith Annie Jordan, of Coleshill, Berkshire.
Choloy is a village and commune in the Department of the Meurthe-et-Mosell, 28 kilometres west of Nancy and some 5 kilometres west of Toul, a town on the N4 road from Paris to Nancy.
No 189 Squadron was part of 5 Group, Bomber Command. The squadron became operational in November 1944, and flew Lancasters from Fulbeck airfield in Lincolnshire, some eight miles east of Newark off the A17.
The raid of 4/5th December 1944 was almost certainly on Heilbronn, a town north of Stuttgart. Performed only by 5 Group, 282 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitoes took part and 12 Lancasters were lost.
One Saturday morning in November 1939 while returning from Cowley Works, Oxford, Ted Stranks called at a Recruiting office to enquire about joining the RAF. "Come back on Monday, we are closed for the weekend" they said. During the weekend he talked to Percy Willis and Herbie Woolford, on the Monday all three went to Oxford to join up. Ted had his motor trade Indentures with him, and because of this he was asked to report to Uxbridge on Tuesday. As he had not informed his firm or his family he was given an extra day and reported to Uxbridge on Wednesday and by that evening was fixed up with inoculations and uniform.
After a spell of military training (Square bashing), he was posted to Locking Camp, Weston Super Mare for a course in aero engines.
In 1940 the winter was very severe and lasted several weeks, the overhead cables over the roads had icicles on them about twelve feet long. Ted spent some weeks at home with pleurisy. When the course was completed he was posted to Silloth on the Solway Firth, and then on to Prestwick to be billeted in a church hall. To phone home a call had to be booked and when a line was clear a call back came. Ted had arranged this at a local pub and often by the time the call came back several pints of ale had been supped, his mother was quite concerned on one or two occasions.
Following a course at Innsworth Lane, Gloucestershire he was posted to a night fighter squadron near Stamford, Lincolnshire. This airfield was attacked on several occasions, on one such raid a bomb exploded in the hanger roof and another passed through the wing of an aircraft, and stuck in the concrete without going off, he was working on the next machine at the time. While with this squadron he went on detachment to Acklington on the north east coast, to Colerne, and to Wroughton. In the winter of 1941 the squadron moved to Northern Ireland, and then to Church Fenton near Tadcaster (home of the two famous brewers " John Smith and Sam Smith ") from where he was posted overseas in the summer of 1942.
A draft of RAF personnel from all parts of the country was assembled at a transit camp near Liverpool, and after a weeks leave, embarked on a troopship for destinations unknown. On the first day out the ship developed engine trouble, and returned to the Mersey. This let the whole draft have another two weeks leave, and more fond farewells. Having missed a convoy because of the delay the ship sailed with only a Destroyer escort. Life on board a troopship was a very monotonous existence, but Ted made many friends and seemed to be playing cards for hours and days on end, the only excitement being the occasional dropping of depth charges, and the call to boat drill.
There was great excitement on board, when the ship sailed into Gibraltar, but it was only a brief visit, and off again to sea, next stop was Freetown where fresh vegetables were taken onboard. This was not the time of year to be there as the heat and humidity was quite uncomfortable with heavy electric storms. After a few days they were on their way again, and rumours as to the war zone they were heading for was the main topic.
Ships crew organised some fun and games as they crossed the Equator with a special ceremony. Soon they were in the heavy seas around the Cape of Good Hope and on their way into the Indian Ocean. More discussions as to the next port of call, and to everyone's delight it was Durban where they disembarked.
All troopships arriving and leaving Durban were greeted by the famous Lady in White singing patriotic songs, Land of Hope and Glory, and the like. Ted and a pal were detailed to go with a service policeman to Johannesburg to escort a deserter who had been arrested there.
This made an interesting journey by train through some lovely countryside, and 'The Valley of a Thousand Hills'. On arrival they were met by local police and taken to a large building in the town which had been the club of the German community. This was being used as a hostel, and after ships and tents, was a real luxury with fine food and the service from the lady volunteers was great.
Eventually the time came to embark on another ship, this was a large liner converted to carry hundreds of troops, and many things were set up to pass the time away for them. This was a fast ship, and on the way called in at Diego Suarez on the northern tip of Madagascar, to Zanzibar, Aden, and the Red Sea, finally docking at Suez. From there a convoy of trucks delivered them to a transit camp on the canal side to await posting to their new units. Within a day or so a posting came through, and he joined a squadron being equipped with a new American aircraft. As soon as the Aircrew, and ground crews had got the new planes sorted out, the squadron was posted to a forward airfield in the desert. Ground staff moved off the road through places well known to forces who have served in the desert, Alamein, Daba, Mersa-Matruh, Hellfire Pass and Sollum, Tobruk, Derna, Benghazi and landing strips with no names. This was Ted's first experience of a battlefield, and the waste of life, materials, and resources was everywhere.
On return to the canal zone the squadron was sent to the other side of the war in North Africa, taking some of the ground crew with the aircraft, and some did not make it, but Ted was left behind to service the remaining planes.
After some months of travelling to various airfields in the desert he returned to the canal to a more civilized way of life on a permanent camp with huts, baths, showers and beds. Not for long this luxury, a posting came through to a Beaufighter squadron who were somewhere near Tobruk. Eventually he found the unit and an airstrip outside Benghazi. After a while he was then posted to a more permanent base near the Suez Canal where major overhauls were being carried out on heavy bombers.
One morning working on an engine platform Ted became dizzy and got down to the ground, sat in the shade for a while and came round four days later in the sick bay, having had a severe attack of sand fly fever, during which he had been delirious, and even violent at times but recovered after a few days. Ted stayed with this unit until 1945, but there were many changes both in crews and the type of work.
When the war moved away from Africa to the other side of the Med, transport aircraft had to be serviced. To handle this change the whole unit moved to a camp on the southern end of the Bitter Lake. For recreation Ted shared a sailing boat called ''Moonraker" with an old friend from Minety, which was good fun on time off work.
A raft was moored some way out from the beach, and one day after a spell of night duty Ted swam out to the raft and was sat there dreaming of a pint of Ushers when a head appeared swimming out and came up over the side; Charlie Wheatley from Highworth, some chatter for a while but he had to move on.
Now the unit had settled down to a steady routine, 5.30am to Midday and again in the evening if required. Nothing much happened of interest during these months, plenty of work on all sorts of aircraft but mostly the old DC 3's that were flying from the Middle East to India and Burma. It was sometimes possible to have a weekend in Cairo or Ismailia, but the highlight was a two week leave in Tel Aviv thanks to his Mothers help with the cash. Ted had to take a turn at running the sergeants mess bar, this lasted for a month and was good experience at accounts and looking after bar staff, who were local people, who had been doing the jobs for a long time.
VE day was an excuse for a real party, a huge bonfire was set up and burned all night, but the booze had run out by morning and only the fat heads were left.
In the summer of 1945 moves were made to handle converted bombers to bring troops home from the Far East, this entailed setting up staging posts, the unit was dispersed to all stations in the Med area. Ted had a lucky draw and was sent to Malta via an empty transit camp at Alexandria where the detachment assembled to go by boat to Valletta. The unit then reported to Malt HQ where they were fixed up with a beds and rations at Luqa airfield.
Eventually the troop planes began to arrive and time was fully taken up with servicing the planes for the flights to UK. Flights from Lyneham in Wiltshire were also handled on the way out to India and back. Crews stopped over at Luqa so Ted was able to get some local news, and made friends with some of the crews.
Ted had a call one day to say that some transport had arrived at Kalafrana Dock for his detachment, would he go to check it out. He went off in a station truck to the dock, the chap on the parking lot said to see the flight sergeant. In his office was Peter Miles who had been at the garage in Swindon as an apprentice. There was enough transport to equip a squadron, from motorbikes to articulated Queenmary's, more trucks and vans than drivers.
Ted took over a dispersal site on the far side of the field and found, that it was previously used by the squadron which he had left at Benghazi years before.
Time soon came round when the question of home leave was being talked about, this did not apply to the lads from the detachment and Ted had to do some fast talking to have them included on the lists. Demob groups were being published and his was in the early ones. When the boat date came up a great party was organised and effects were still there when the party embarked.
This was a French cruise ship, which was well crowded. On the way a storm blew up, the decks were awash, kit was floating and many were sick including the ship's captain. The French coast came in sight with some relief even if some miles off course but at last docked at Toulon. Trains were loaded up with all those going home for demob and set off across France. This took several days and finished in Dieppe. After a night here and being sorted out into groups they boarded a ferry to Folkstone with thick fog in the Channel. From Folkstone they were moved and came to Hornchurch to be billeted in a new hospital near the airfield. There was plenty of hot water and huge baths, which were welcome after days of travel. Ted soaked until the water was cold. Food was supplied at the camp opposite and the NCO in charge of the mess turned out to be a pal who was cook at the mess from two years earlier. There was a lot of chat about old times and friends, and by surprise some very fine beef steaks appeared, the best Ted had eaten for years.
He was sent on leave with orders to report to a demob centre near Stafford. His overseas service lasted from July 1942 to February 1946 and after some weeks leave was demobbed on April Fools Day 1946 with ninety days leave which was included in his total service and ended on the 8th July 1946.
Ted has many memories of incidents and people, some good and some not so good and some best forgotten and is very thankful to be a survivor.
Ted's brother Bob Stranks, joined the police when he was eighteen years old, and did duty in Gloucester, Bristol, Tewkesbury and Twyning. When war came he was stationed at Filton, then Staplehill. He was a keen sportsman playing football and cricket, but his main interest was athletics and as a runner and high jumper he represented his force in the national police games.
Despite his efforts he was not allowed to leave to join the forces but when his mother, Mrs Mabel Stranks, was ill during the war he was given extended leave at the request of Auxiliary Units to take care of Highworth Post Office. After the war he took a teachers training course and when qualified taught at schools in areas where he had been a policeman.
Ted's older brother Bill Stranks joined the RAF from school as a trades apprentice at Halton as a Coppersmith and sheet metal worker. He was posted overseas in the early 1930's and was in Aden for a while until he began flying training in Egypt.
When war was declared he was a pilot with a Fairey Battle squadron in Cambridgeshire. They were soon in France where the Battles were no match for enemy fighters and they had a rough time. He came back to England and for the rest of the war was an instructor near Chester. He was unable to continue flying after the war on medical grounds so left to seek employment in civilian life, which was not easy after years of service, but his trade learned at Halton in the early days came to the rescue. He worked with a silversmith repairing church altar ware, then as a heating engineer on major heating systems.
He had played cricket in the service and after with a local team in Norwich. He rarely referred to the war years and was always looking to the future.
The Stranks family war service wouldn't be complete without mention of Mrs Mabel Stranks; mother of Bill, Bob and Ted. The following is an extract from my father's book, 'Highworth and Round About' by P. J. Archer, published in 1973.
It is a matter of profound regret to me (writes Mr Hubert Harrison of 2 Newburgh House, Highworth) that I never met earlier Mrs Mabel Stranks, who was introduced to me one day in 1971 in a local shop, as she was an interesting person with a distinguished record as a local sub-postmistress for more than 50 years, but even more for her secret role in the Resistance organization during the Hitler war. She invited me to visit her in her comfortable flat where she lived alone at the age of 88, having been a widow for many years. She kept the place spotless, managing without spectacles except for reading, had a nice garden largely tended by herself, was fully conversant with current affairs and had a lively intelligence. It was only an insignificant link in the Resistance, she explained, due to her skill as a Morse code telegraphist, acquired during her service in the Post Office since her girlhood, her father having been a sub-postmaster in Dorset. It was unusual for girls to follow any other occupation in those days except domestic service or perhaps a children's nurse or governess for those with some education. The local headquarters of the Resistance was at Coleshill House, though Mrs Stranks did not know this at the time. Her chief role was to pass on suitable agents who were instructed to report themselves at Highworth Post Office in High Street. Then Mrs Stranks telephoned a secret number (not in the directory); she had no idea where the place was situated. In due course a car was sent to collect the person, with blacked-out windows took the passenger by a roundabout route to Coleshill House, a stately mansion surrounded by high walls.
Here instructions in sabotage, the use of explosives and even silent killing were given, the mystery bangs in the night being explained to local people and even the police as being due to the Home Guard practising. Somehow the Germans got to know about Mrs Stranks as time passed and she explained that she was on the list to be shot forthwith when Hitler's army occupied Britain. After this interesting conversation Mrs Stranks invited me to call on her again when she would give me tea. Alas, I never did as, some two weeks afterwards (September 3rd, 1971), 1 learned that she had died in her sleep, having shown no signs of illness.
Mr Hubert Harrison was a retired journalist and a very good friend of my father.
Thirty years after Mrs Stranks death, a plaque in her memory was unveiled by her great-grandson Elliott Stranks above the entrance of the old post office in Highworth High Street. Also to her memory is a small private housing estate called Stranks Close, which is situated just off Shrivenham Road on the south side of the town.
HlGHWORTH'S ROLL OF HONOUR 1939-1945
5184730 Private William Thomas Edward ALEXANDER.
156th Battalion Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps. Died 3rd July 1945, Age 23 years. Buried in Highworth Town Cemetery, Highworth, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK.
1, A/ 1219 Major James William ARKELL,
MC & BAR. 3rd Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles. Killed in action 21st August 1946, Age 26 years. Buried in Djakarta War Cemetery, Indonesia. Plot 5, Row G, Grave 7.
1873873 Lance Sergeant Cecil Robert ASHTON,
26 Assault Squadron, Royal Engineers. Killed in action 6th June 1944, Age 26 years. Buried in Bayeux War Cemetery, France. Plot 15, Row A, Grave 5.
P/JX 181870 Able Seaman Colin Abbott BONNER,
Royal Navy, HMS Hood. Killed in action 24th May 1941, Age 21 years.
Commemorated by name, Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Portsmouth, UK. Panel 47, Column 2.
S/5441629 Lance Corporal Albert G. BROWN,
Royal Army Service Corps, Attached to 77 HAA Regiment Royal Artillery. Killed in action 20th June 1944, Age 27 years. Commemorated by name, Singapore Memorial, Singapore. Column 98.
573319 Lance Corporal David Jesse CHEESLEY,
2nd Battalion (Airborne) Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Lt Inf. Died of wounds lst April 1945, Age 20 years.
Buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany. Plot33, Row A, Grave9.
5730952 Private Kenneth George COOPER,
Serving with the Dorset Regiment. D.E.M.S. Personnel. Died 21st March 1941. Age 25 years.
Commemorated by name Plymouth Memorial, Devon, UK. Panel 62, Column 4.
1254805 Flight Sergeant (Navigator) Ronald John CROSSLEY,
Royal Air Force, (VR) 254 Squadron. Died of wounds 1st May 1943, Age 25 years.
Buried in Haugesund (Rossebo) Churchyard, Norway. British Plot, Row G, Grave 19.
22281096 Sergeant Douglas W. EDWARDS,
Royal pioneer Corps. Died of wounds 21st November 1951.
Buried in Moascar War Cemetery, Egypt. Plot 13, Row C, Grave 19.
14416229 Private Peter Oliver Williarn ELY,
7th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps. Died (Killed in action) 10th August 1944. Age 19 years.
Commemorated by name Bayeux Memorial, France. Panel 18, Column 1.
1408390 Private Stanley Ernest HEAD,
7th Battalion Duke of Wellington Regiment. (West Riding) Killed in action 31st October 1944. Age 18 years.
Buried in Dordrecht General Cemetery, Netherlands. Row A, Grave 5.
C/JX 557641 Ordinary Seaman Ernest LAY,
Royal Navy. HM Motor Launch 916. Died 8th November 1944. Age 19 years.
Commemorated by name Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent, UK. Panel 76, Column 2.
6028768 Private Henry Charles MILES,
The Cambridgeshire Regiment, The Suffolk Regiment. Died 31st July 1943, Age 30 years.
Buried in Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, Thailand. Plot 2, Row G, Grave 10.
8311885 Staff Sergeant Herbert Victor OCKWELL,
(Glider Pilot) lst Wing Glider Pilot Regiment, Army Air Corps. Killed in action 6th June 1944, Age 27 years.
Buried in Ste Marie Cemetery, Le Havre, France. Divn. 67, Row 1, Grave 8.
10632175 Private Sydney Charles ROUT.
Army Catering Corps, Attached 5 Medium Regiment Royal Artillery. Died of wounds 19th October 1943.
Buried in Naples War Cemetery, Italy. Plot 3, Row M, Grave 13.
5502933 Corporal Victor George SIMMONS,
1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment) Killed in action 12th May 1944, Age 24 years.
Buried in Cassino War Cemetery, Italy. Plot 18, Row F, Grave 21.
11264660 Private Dennis Harold SMITH,
1st Battalion The Buffs, (Royal East Kent Regiment) Killed in action 13th April 1945, Age 24 years.
Buried in Argenta Gap War Cemetery, Italy. Plot 3, Row A, Grave 10.
124268 Lieutenant Herbert John SMITH,
2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment. Killed in action 3rd June 1944, Age 26 years.
Buried in Beach Head War Cemetery Anzio, Italy. Plot X, Row D, Grave 2.
5575659 Private Stanley George SMITH,
1st Battalion The Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment. Killed in action 27th July 1944, Age 23 years.
Buried in Florence War Cemetery, Italy. Plot 6, Row D, Grave 11.
1233801 Aircraftman Second Class Albert Lionel TAME,
Royal Air Force (VR) 84 Squadron. Died 16th November 1943, Age 21 years.
Buried in Ambon War Cemetery, Indonesia. Plot 8, Row B, Grave 13.
255227 Lieutenant William Henry WOODBRIDGE,
49th Regiment, Reconnaissance Corps, Royal Armoured Corps. Died of wounds 22nd June 1944, Age 28 years.
Buried in Oxford (Botley) Cemetery, North Hinksey, Oxfordshire, UK. Plot 1/1, Grave 165.