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regiment, almost certainly arriving as replacements in a unit that had “lost half its strength” and was ultimately withdrawn to Palestine, where it too was disbanded.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.