The intentions to document this information are long standing in that they go back some two decades to the early/mid 1990’s, just a few years before the subject of this site, James Kitchener Heath passed away.

As is the case in so many families in which a generation experienced war and all its traumas, certain aspects of service are known, but all too often the details are sketchy and disjointed. Add into this mix the passage of time and the result is invariably a collection of stories and fragments of memories accompanied by a handful of fragile and faded documents (if you are lucky) that represent the sum of information relating to the most extraordinary period in a soldier’s life. This was certainly the case in our family..... and it’s not much to go on.

In February 1995, my Father and I struggled to put together a potted service history to be read by the cleric presiding over my Grandfather’s funeral. At this point I decided to take steps to fill in some of the gaps as best I could.... sadly now without the benefit of first hand testimony.

A well known turn of phrase, ‘written on the back of a fag packet’ is defined by the Collins on-Line dictionary as something ‘composed or formed quickly and without detailed analysis or research’. As far as first hand source material for this history is concerned, no better a description could be made. The details gleaned from my Grandfather in brief (and often emotional) discussions in the 1990’s are summarised as a list of place names written in an old man’s shaky handwriting on the back of a standard envelope! (this will feature later). On the upside, a standard envelope is approximately twice the size of a cigarette packet, which immediately doubles the amount of information to work with!

By my own admission, this site is a little self-indulgent, being of primary interest to myself, my mother, my children and a handful of relatives still living in Staffordshire. In addition, it may be that the information presented here will be read by others outside of the family who have a passing interest in military or family history.

I would welcome any comments/suggestions or dare I say it relevant information to contact me.

adrianandrews1@sky.com

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Lieutenant Colonel Willian Dewhurst Douglas Writes



Now presentations to royalty are all well and good and some achievement, even if I say so myself, but last week I received some feedback that was much more important for me.

When I re-started this project in early 2014, in researching the activities of the 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers in North West Europe, I stumbled upon an Imperial War Museum audio interview with one of their officers. This detailed two hour interview served as a first hand road map of the progress and achievements of the Battalion. The interviewee was William Dewhurst Douglas.

The interview can be found here:

http://www.iwm.org.uk_www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011010

Lieutenant Douglas, as he was at the time, was at some stage in Holland my Grandfathers Commanding Officer. He was on the highly audacious, not to mention highly decorated, raid over the River Waal that took 'D' Company of the 11th RSF behind enemy lines in order to 'create mayhem and bring back prisoners'. Indeed William Douglas was awarded the Military Cross for this action.

Later and quite by chance, an enquiry relating to the 11th RSF brought a response from an ex-pupil of William Douglas, with whom I enjoyed a very fruitful email exchange which included clarifications on my then understanding from said officer.

Upon publication of the book I sent copies to both men, with letters of thanks. Needless to say, I was thrilled for receive a very complementary, hand written letter from Lieutenant Colonel Douglas himself.

To get this close to my Grandfather's personal military history, 22 years after he died and 72 years after the events in Holland is for me amazing and completely unexpected.

From Lt Col W.D. Douglas MC

5th July 2017.

Dear Adrian,

Many thanks for your letter of 10th June and your book about your Grandfather. Both only reached me yesterday as I had been away from home.

I have speed read your book today and congratulate you on your tribute to your Grandfather. He must be proud of you and grateful for your insight into his time in the Army.

I was only too pleased to be able to help you – particularly through Charlie Arrand (one of my star History pupils).

Your Chapter 1 (your Grandfather’s funeral) I rate brought tears to your eyes. It certainly caused a brief few tears to me as the memories came back.

Your account of the battle for NOYERS brought back a memory. Some days before I had done a recce patrol from south of Fontenay-le-Pesnel (page 146) to check German positions on the long slope leading down to Noyers station. I recall reporting that the area was full of German positions!

I think that you are correct in placing your Grandfather in 16 Pl ’D’ Coy because of his knowledge and concern for Sgt. Little.

What a good idea to send profits from the book to the Associations for the newly created museum and the 49th Newsletter.

I never had the opportunity to be much associated with the 49th Div. after the war. In July ’45, I was on a troop-ship bound for the Far-East when Japan surrendered. I spent four years in Rhodesia with the African Rifles, then Staff College, the Far-east (Malaya-Korea). In fact very rarely in the UK, with my loyalties to the 2nd Div., 3rd Div., and 1st Guards Brigade.

Once again, my congratulations on your book and many thanks for my copy.

All Good Wishes.


William Douglas.

William Douglas, is a hale and hearty 96 year old, who is in late stage preparations to remarry. Such men were cut from a different cloth entirely !!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Presentation at Hill 112 Normandy 9th July 2017

Last weekend marked the 73rd anniversary of the battle to take Hill 112 to the South East of Caen. This modest area of high ground was viciously fought over as to command it meant control of the strategically vital surrounding area. Indeed Rommel described Hill 112 as the most important hill in Normandy. The task to take it was given to the men of the 43rd Wessex Division in an action code named 'Operation Jupiter' that was launched on the 9th/10th July 1944.

As with many significant sites across Battlefield Normandy, Hill 112 hosts many memorials, notably one to the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division.

43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division
Hill 112

Also of note is the Churchill tank at the site, a memorial to the many tank men who lost their lives in the actions.


Two weeks ago I met up with Dennis Dimond, Secretary of the 49th (West Riding) Division Association to pass over a number of copies of the book. He informed me that for one copy he had some very specific plans. He intended to travel to the location of Hill 112 to participate in the anniversary commemoration and to take the opportunity to make a donation from the Polar Bear Association funds to his counterpart in the Hill 112 Association for the maintenance of the Churchill tank pictured above.

It so happened that Prince Edward (the Queen's youngest son) would also be in attendance. Edward has close associations through his position as the Earl of Wessex. Dennis's plan was to make a presentation of 'A Pithead Polar Bear' to Prince Edward or at the very least pass a copy on to one of his aides.

In the event he did a very good job and further more was able document the presentation on camera. Many thanks to Dennis and the other Polar Bear representatives who were in attendance last weekend.

Dennis Dimond greets HRH Prince Edward

Now down to business....



And up, up and away, with a aide clutching said the book.

So there you have it. That this book may be currently sitting on a royal bookshelf appeals to my sense of humour. I think that my Grandfather would be amused.

Friday, 30 June 2017

59th (Staffordshire) Division Memorial Galmanche 19th May 2017

In May 2017 I returned to Normandy for the third time with some special tasks in mind that would wrap up my efforts to complete this 'Pithead Polar Bear' project of mine. 

In 2014, with the research in its infancy I made it to St Contest and the 59th Memorial in the square. On that occasion I left believing that the impressive property located next to the Church was the focus of the fighting in which my Grandfather with the 5th South Staffords was engaged over the 8th and 9th July 1944. 

Whilst La Grande Ferme, the aforementioned property, was indeed occupied and fought over,  the objective of the 5th South Staffs was located about a kilometer away. It was only on our most recent visit that Owen and I determined to finally find the elusive Galmanche memorial come what may. 

After the usual circuitous journeying along the narrowest of country lanes we spied two flag poles. Could it be that the side by side Tricolour and Union Flag marked the much sought after spot. Indeed it did and I was finally able to pay my respects at a spot that lay within 100 yards of where my Grandfather had fought 73 years earlier. Unusually I was well prepared and had with me a Royal British Legion with me for the occasion.





Over the past few years it had been my understanding that the only remaining evidence of the Chateau of Galmanche was now fashioned into the cross design memorial to the 59th that stands in St. Contest. However, having finally located this corner of Calvados we decided to venture further down the track, at the end of which the rebuilt property was visible. 

I have to say that I was thrilled to see that on either side of the new building their remained a couple of sections of the outer walls of the original Chateau and what's more, these walls were suitably peppered with bullet holes as well as bearing the scars of artillery attention.

Just to think that one of these pock marks could have originated from my Grandad's rifle...... assuming that he could shoot straight!

The approach to the original Chateau from the memorial site.

The rebuilt property on the site of the original Chateau Galmanche.

It is notable that the new building has retained the spiraled wrought iron work on the gates that can been seen on the photograph of the pre-war Chateau.

The original Chateau de Galmanche.

The photographs below show a section of the outer wall of the original Chateau bearing the scars of the July fighting as the 59th tried to dislodge the SS from the fortified position of Galmanche.

Scarred exterior wall of the original Chateau.

One of Jim Heath's potshots?





Apologies for the Interruption.... Normal Service Will Be Resumed!

Visitors to this site will have noticed a distinct lack of activity on this site. The more astute of you will realise that this has been linked to the publication of the book. Without meaning to be morbid in anyway, my priority was to get the physical copy out there as quickly as possible in order that the handful of veterans that contributed to the book would get to see it.

It is now my intention to pick up the site again with a continuation of the story, plus anything that comes up post publication.

Cheers,

Adrian.

A Pithead Polar Bear is now available for purchase


I'm a bit late with this blog site, but the culmination of the work put in on here has finally been realised in print and I am very happy with the results. I am really pleased with the way that the sales are going. So far, 111 books of the 150 print run are accounted for. It is quite something for me to think that this humble family history is to be found on the bookshelves of friends and colleagues in the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, America, Canada and Australia. Thank you one and all!

Adrian x.

More details can be found at:

Monday, 8 May 2017

'A Pithead Polar Bear' to be Published in May


The waiting is nearly over. I have taken the plunge and sent ‘A Pithead Polar Bear’ off to the publishers so I can say with certainty that it will be available this month.

Details of how and where to get the book will follow in the next few days.

Many thanks,

Adrian.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Pithead Polar Bear - Coming Soon!


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

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


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

Please feel free to share....

Best wishes,

Adrian.


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



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

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

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

Friday, 20 January 2017

Arnhem 16th May 2015



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


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


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





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

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

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

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



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

Air Despatcher’s Memorial
Oosterbeek.

The following inscription appears on the momument:

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

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

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



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