Paul Walker first sent me his research on his father and Uncle’s service a couple of years ago and before I begin this blog entry I’d just like to say thanks to Paul for his patience! All photos via Paul Walker.
The four Walker brothers were from Carlton, Nottingham. Frank Walker, Frederick George Walker (Paul’s father), Herbert Walker and John William (Bill) Walker.
Frederick, or George as he was known, was born in 1917. A butcher when the war started, he was drafted to the army in January 1940, having initially preferred to volunteer for the RAF. He was posted to C Company 7th Devons. When the regiment converted to 87th Anti-Tank Regiment, 5624693 George Walker became part of 132 Battery and qualified as a driver/mechanic.
George and Herbert joined 7th Devons, while Bill went to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. Frank was employed in a reserved occupation, working as a joiner on aerodromes but later volunteered for service and joined the Royal Army Service Corps, participating in the Sicily landings.
Bill wanted to join his brothers and George exercised his right, as the older serving brother, to request his younger brother join him, which he did in February 1942. George, Herbert and Bill stayed with 87th until its disbandment in late June 1944. They then spent 8 months in Italy with 81st Anti-Tank regiment, almost certainly arriving as replacements in a unit that had “lost half its strength” and was ultimately withdrawn to Palestine, where it too was disbanded. The trio then transferred to 93rd Anti-Tank Regiment “The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders” in February 1945. George was transferred to the reserve and demobbed in May 1946. Bill was also demobbed the same month.
George’s service is remembered through Paul and anecdotes from Freddie Friend and Joe Stainforth, who in 2006 gave Paul some insights into one of the small misdemeanours that feature on George’s exemplary service record. Joe Stainforth, George Walker and Herbert Walker had all joined the regiment at the same time and travelled down to Devon from Nottingham together:
“In 1941 my father’s War Record shows that he was absent without leave, however Joe had also been with George on this occasion. George had borrowed a car from Sergeant Major Vine; he was the Company Sergeant Major of C. Company. George asked Joe if he would like to come back to Nottingham for the day. The set off early on the 20/4/41 and did not return till 21/4/41. On the way back the car broke down, they had to hitchhike back to barracks; they lost one day’s pay.”
George’s brother Bill remembered another incident in Tunisia. He recounted this story to Paul on the day of George’s funeral. Paul remembers Bill turning to him:
“In Africa, George and I sat on the side of a hill, overlooking a company of British Tanks, at that moment we heard the roar of engines in the sky, it was an American Bomber squadron. They flew over and then came around.” I said to George “Quick get in this ditch.” He stopped talking, it seemed forever, then I saw a tear in Bill’s eye, he spoke once more saying. “We looked on as the American Bomber’s destroyed the British Tank’s, we could do nothing.”
“I don’t know why Bill told me this, I suppose it’s one of those war stories people just don’t get to know. Maybe Bill was thinking of the soldiers that died, that too was a sad day.” Said Paul.
George’s service record contains the following demob tribute, presumably from his last commanding officer:
“A cheerful hardworking man who is absolutely trustworthy & reliable. He is a skilled driver with a good knowledge of engines and has a definite flair for manual dexterity”.
I took this photo when we visited Freddie Friend in 2014. In my recording of our meeting Freddie remarked that Lt Gray is the only officer not wearing the peaked hat. The image has been resized and flattened to fit this page.
This photo and others remain with Freddie’s family. Unfortunately I didn’t feel it was appropriate on the day to spend time getting better photos of his collection.
It’s St George’s Day today and a good day to write about Freddie Friend, as it’s his birthday.
I was lucky to meet Freddie in 2014, two years before he passed. In his role as secretary of the Torbay branch of the Devonshire & Dorset Regimental Association and 87th Anti-Tank, he communicated with many people enquiring about relatives and I’ve stumbled across a few of them in setting up this site. All pay tribute to Freddie’s knowledge and kindness. He was very proud of his regiment as he was his rugby, his flowers and his family.
I’m currently working with Peter Marsh, grandson of Harry Marsh, to transcribe some of Freddie’s letters to the Marsh family before Freddie passed.
This is a link to his obituary in the Regimental newsletter:
I’ve been meaning to tackle this for a while. The Imperial War Museum (IWM) photo library contains two images that purport to show 269 Battery, 87th Anti-Tank Regiment in Italy at the Foglia River.
The photos are below. 87th Anti-Tank did not deploy to Italy as a combat unit. The band stayed together on disbandment and did go to Italy but these photos, showing 17-Pdr guns under tow, are not of 87th Anti-Tank Regiment.
87th Anti-Tank disbanded in Constantine, Algeria in July 1944. The disbandment date is supported by the service records of at least three personnel and the book “The Devons” by Jeremy Taylor. Freddie Friend stated the disbandment occurred in June 1944.
Other sources state the regiment disbanded in July 43 but this is incorrect. This site records Christmas cards sent by members of the unit in December 1943 from North Africa.
Update: WW2Talk forum member Michel Sabarly has identified the unit as 268 Battery, 67th Anti-Tank Regiment of 56 Division. There appear to be errors in the IWM caption (269 Battery from 268 Battery on the record card) and an error made when the record card was created (87th ATR written instead of 67th ATR). I have inserted Michel’s annotated ID graphic below. The cat is the 56 Division formation sign.
WW2Talk is an excellent forum with lots of helpful members.
(IWM Caption) A 17-pdr anti-tank gun of 269 Battery, 87th Anti-Tank Regiment is towed across the River Foglia during the assault on the Gothic Line, 1 September 1944.
(IWM Caption) A 17pdr anti-tank gun and half-track of 269/87th Anti-Tank Regiment approaches the River Foglia, 1 September 1944.
This post is long overdue as I’ve been sat on a treasure trove of information sent by Paul Walker. His father, Frederick George Walker and Fred’s two brothers, Herbert Walker and John William (Billy) Walker all served with 87th Anti-Tank. All survived the war.
This post will be updated but firstly here’s another excellent photo sent by Paul. This is part of the Chagford series but this time it’s a whole battery! The Walker Brothers are circled. Freddie Friend and Harry Marsh (holding the dog) are also visible.
Lin Sharland kindly sent me these cuttings from her Dad’s collection describing the unit’s time in Chagford.
There’s some great little insight, not least the reference to 87th using French 75mm guns in North Africa. I’m not sure this is correct as my understanding is they were using 6-pdr guns only. They trained on 2-pdrs after conversion from their MG role.
This is the first time I’ve posted from my phone so anything could happen…
When Freddie Friend first recounted the story of Harry Marsh’s death I was slow to react. It was only after meeting him at his home that I decided I could do something to help him and in that sense I was lucky everything came together, with a lot of help from the excellent folk on WW2Talk and the Liverpool Echo.
I think it’s important to note that the Echo appears to have written a simplified story of the air attack that led to Harry’s death. Freddie was always quite clear to me that Harry was wounded by fire from a Bofors gun that had been hurriedly brought into action during maintenance, thus preventing it being elevated correctly. The war diary similarly records the cause as “AA Shell” which I wrongly assumed meant an enemy 88mm, until Freddie declared otherwise.
Freddie Friend passed away in May 2016. You got the feeling he thought of Harry every day.
It’s been a bit quiet on the site for a while as I try and work out how to be a father to two children and manage to do anything else.
Recently I’ve been contacted by Paul Walker who has kindly sent me a DVD of his research into “The Walker Brothers” which I will add to the blog as soon as possible. Paul’s tribute to his father and his brothers (who all served with 87th) will be a great addition to these pages. Thank you Paul!
I’ve also been contacted via the site by Tom in Australia who is researching a Gunner Foster who served with the regiment. More to come on that one I hope.
Occasionally I google 87th/7th Devons to see what else may have appeared online and I was surprised to learn I hadn’t captured all of the regiment’s casualties. The regimental history fails to clearly list the men from 7th Devons lost in the period before they became 87th Anti-Tank. The Arandora Star incident on 2nd July 1940, which appears to have killed eleven members of 7th Battalion, isn’t mentioned.
If anyone else is reading these pages and has a family member or any material relating to 7th Battalion or 87th ATR please get in touch via the contact page. I will endeavour to make use of it all!
I’ve now paid a subscription to WordPress in the hope of improving the look of the site and taking a first step to securing its future.
The regiment had a series of photos taken during it’s time in Devon. It’s clear a number of men held copies of these and I’ve featured the ones sent to me on this site.
It wasn’t until I received the band photo (below) from Lin Sharland that I had could place the images.
All of the photos are taken on the green outside the entrance to St Michael’s (The Church of St Michael the Archangel), Chagford. The surrounding trees have grown considerably since and one tree has clearly been felled, however the buildings are the same.
Via Stephen Corcoran
B Troop Photo from the collection of the late Freddie Friend
This week I was contacted by Mark Rogers, who is researching men on Worcester’s King’s School war memorial.
Lieutenant Thomas Norman Gray is listed on this memorial. Gray was killed with his batman, Gunner Richardson, by enemy shelling at Testour, as they were having breakfast on 4th May 1943.
Mark kindly provided the following information:
“Thomas was the son of John and Ada Gray of Purley, Surrey. He came first in the scholarship exam to Kings in 1929. A member of the cricket team, he is described as “showing great promise, both with the ball and bat.” And later “A stylish batsman, but lacks enterprise”.
There is a photo of Lt Gray (the only one wearing a brevet cap) in amongst the officers of 87th at Chagford. This photo exists in the collection of the late Freddie Friend. I do have a copy on a memory card which I will post when relocated. If anyone else has this photo and could expedite this process, please get in touch.
The King’s School, Worcester, Second World War Memorial.
Researching granddad’s regiment had two positive outcomes. One was correcting an error in Harry Marsh’s burial records and the second, via the help of the members of ww2talk.com, was putting Freddie Friend in touch with Harry Marsh’s family. I will cover that story in another blog post.
Gunner Henry “Harry” Marsh, 4126455, was killed on the 24th April 1943 during a German air attack on the Bou Arada road. The war diary states that Gunner Marsh was killed by an AA shell. The fragmentation of the shell(s) amongst the rocks injured Gunner Moncton and mortally wounded Gunner Marsh.
When I first compared the list of unit casualties in Jeremy White’s “The Devons” to the war diary and the Commonwealth War Grave Commission (CWGC) entries, I could see something was amiss, because Henry Marsh’s unit was described as “19 Field Regiment”. Not discounting some quirk of military administration and the possibility he had been posted I visited Freddie Friend in March 2014 and asked him about Harry Marsh. The air attack was seared in Freddie Friend’s memory, because Harry Marsh died in his arms.
Freddie Friend (Left) and Harry Marsh (Right)
I wrote to the CWGC with my evidence. CWGC confirmed there had been an error and Gunner Henry Marsh, 4126455 of 87th Anti-Tank Regiment would have his record corrected. When CWGC later published the original wartime grave registration forms the administration error, although unexplained, is clear to see (a copy of the CWGC held record, dated 9th September 1944, is pictured below). When disinterred from the Bou Arada road cemetery, someone changed 87th Anti-Tank on one of his burial records to 19 Field Regiment. Based on what information we will never know. When he was reburied at Medjez El Bab, he was buried as a member of 19th Field Regiment (the grave itself simply says Royal Artillery but the error didn’t become clear until the paper records were published online).
Being an original member of 7th Devons, I can only assume Harry Marsh would’ve had the same pride in the regiment that Freddie Friend had. Freddie had fond memories of Harry. It’s good to know he’ll now be listed under the right regiment.
Photo taken during the First Army Thanksgiving Service (likely June 1943) at Carthage Ampitheatre. Photo from the 87th Anti-Tank Regiment War Diaries, July-Dec 1943. National Archives WO 169/9631 Photo numbered BNA 3081.
My grandfather, Bill Turner, died in 1988. I grew up thinking he was in the Gurkhas. The truth of that little bit of family folklore is that he was more than likely firing guns in support of Gurkhas at some point, likely in Italy. Apparently he had a kukri in the loft, but only my step-uncle knows the truth of that. My step-uncle also inherited his medal group, so I hope he’s looking after them.
The story of Bill Turner’s war is largely lost. My Dad and Uncle, his sons from his first marriage, have some anecdotes. I can put together other pieces from his service record but as anyone that has obtained them knows, these are very much a baseline. A pre-war soldier in the early 30s, Bill was recalled for service and went to war with the BEF in France. He survived the sinking of the S.S Lancastria in June 1940 and from there, after a few movements around different units, he ended up with 87th Anti-Tank. I can imagine he would’ve been a bit of an outsider given the strong Devon roots of the regiment. He is present in the photo of B Troop at Chagford.
My father remembers Bill coming home on leave (once?) but then he was gone for the duration of the war. Dad says Bill was at Cassino. He certainly went to Italy as there’s a photo of him in Rome. Bill also spent time in Greece as the country disintegrated into civil war, which fits the movements of one of his other regiments, 149th Anti-Tank.
Freddie Friend had a vague recollection of two men from Peterborough joining the regiment. It’s almost certain one of these was my granddad.
Born in Horwich, granddad lived in Barrow-in-Furness pre-war and my dad was born there. Dad thinks he met my grandmother whilst on exercise during his short army service in the early 30s. By 1938 the family were in Peterborough, where my grandmother originated from. At some point, granddad met Nana Kitt, my step-nan (my Dad thinks he was billeted with her family).
Post-war, he never came home to Peterborough and returned to the north-west, settling again on Walney Island.
I never got to talk to my grandfather about his experiences but have been fortunate to speak to many veterans over the years. They were old boys in pubs, Dad’s colleagues, friend’s grandparents, I spoke to many people whilst storygathering for the BBC People’s War website. I was very lucky to get to correspond with Freddie Friend before he passed away.
So here I am with this blog, which ultimately stems from knowing I’ve missed the biggest story of all.
Some time ago I found a web entry by Stephen Corcoran about his grandfather, John Green, who served in 7th Devons/87th Anti-Tank. Before joining 7th Battalion, he served in 1/9 Manchester Machine Gun Regiment, then after 87th, 60th Anti-tank Regiment.
Stephen sent me the below images. Unfortunately the Troop and Company information is unknown, but the photos are clearly from the same series as those held by other members of 87th.
Stephen believes the Bulford image (with the Vickers Machine Guns) was taken prior to 14th April 1941, as his grandfather was a Lance Corporal from that date.
During the fighting in Tunisia John Green had an interesting experience with the enemy. Having taken a brand new Jeep for a spin one evening with one of his mates, they drove over a ridge right into a small encampment of Italian vehicles and were captured. The Italians were moving out, saying they were to be relived by Germans the next morning. They decided to let their British prisoners go but not without John losing some excellent desert boots he’d won from a South African in a game of darts! This little incident is likely one of many not to feature in the war diary, however John was one of those soldiers who went on the fruitless visit to the depot to obtain the 17-pdr guns!
John Green is circled in both photos. His WW2 service resembles that of my own grandfather, being a member of the BEF evacuated from France in 1940 and serving all the way through the conflict. He passed away in 2000.
This little blog is already having some success. I’ve been contacted by two people in the last couple of weeks who had family in 7th Devons/87th Anti-Tank. The first is Lin Sharland.
Lin’s father, Alfred James Jones (1919-2002, from Teignmouth) and his brother Leslie Frank Jones (1921-2002), were in the regimental band. Both played drums. Lin has kindly sent the scanned photos which can be seen below. The main band photo appears to be from the same series of images taken in Chagford, Devon, prior to the regiment deploying to North Africa.
Alfred Jones is middle of the middle row of the football team picture. Les is seated front left. This photo was presumably taken in Italy.
“Near Pichon at about 1500hrs on April 8th, 1943, Gunner Wilcox volunteered to assist in mopping up an enemy M.G (Machine Gun) post and a small pocket of enemy resistance, which were in the area where the anti-tank guns of his troop were to be sited. Under enemy small arms fire, Gunner Wilcox advanced, firing his L.M.G (Ed: Light Machine Gun – likely Bren) from the hip, showing great courage and lack of regard for his personal danger. As a result of the part Gunner Wilcox played, the M.G post was captured and several prisoners taken. Since 8th April, Gunner Wilcox has continually displayed the greatest keenness and willingness to undertake any task to be accomplished, regardless of his personal safety.”
“Awarded M.M (Ed: Military Medal).”
It appears to say “Previous Awards” but the text isn’t clear.
The war diary doesn’t record Wilcox’s Military Medal. The diary notes that at 1400 that day (8th April) Lt Meredith on recce “surprised an enemy MG post, capturing two prisoners and the machine gun, not to be outdone at 1430 Major Edmunds & DR(Driver?) killed 2 enemy, took one prisoner and another MG.”
8th April was the day of 87th’s first combat. Lt Kent was killed. According to Freddie Friend this was not a result of enemy action.