“A Stylish Batsman”

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.

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The King’s School, Worcester, Second World War Memorial.

Photo courtesy of Mark Rogers.

Gunner Marsh’s Headstone

Researching granddad’s regiment had two positive outcomes. One was correcting an error on Harry Marsh’s grave in Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery 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.

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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 be given a new headstone. 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 under 19th Field Regiment.

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 have the right regiment on his headstone.

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More Photos

Lin Sharland has kindly sent me more photos of Alfred and Les Jones along with post-war news paper cuttings which I will add soon.

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Hyderabad Barracks, Colchester, Essex, December 1941. Les Jones is second from left.

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Original caption: “7th Haytor, Devon Regiment, Bianino near Naples, Italy, 1945.

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Isle of Thorns, Sussex, May 1940. Les Jones is in the middle of the back row.

Alfred Jones is front left.

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Unknown Drum Major of 7th Devons/87th Anti-Tank with Devonshire Regiment battle honours on his sash/dress belt.

My Grandfather

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.

RIP Granddad.

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John Green

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.

Alfred & Leslie Jones

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.

 

The Wilcox Citation

There are few surviving accounts of 87th’s war in Tunisia. The Devons by Jeremy Taylor offers little beyond the content of the War Diary. What I can find, I will share.

The Wilcox citation came from the National Archives. It’s not a great copy, so I will transcribe what I think it says.

The Gazette entry for Wilcox’s medal award states his name was Ernest Wilcox.

5618762 Gunner Charles Wilcox

“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.

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87th Anti-Tank Casualties

This post has been edited as it does not reflect the casualties of 7th Devons prior to the unit change to the anti-tank role. The number of wounded is currently unknown.

Casualties

The unit history (contained in The Devons by Jeremy Taylor) lists the following personnel as having died in service with 87th Anti-Tank Regiment.

1137989 Gunner H.Farrington, 9th July 1942. Interred in United Kingdom. Cause of death currently unknown.

149244 Lieutenant J.A.C Kent, 8th April 1943. Interred in Tunisia.

4126455 Gunner H.Marsh, 24th April 1943. Interred in Tunisia.

149243 Lieutenant T.N Gray, 4th May 1943. Interred in Tunisia.

4127623 Gunner A.J Richardson, 4th May 1943. Interred in Tunisia.

4130883 Gunner A.T Jefferiss, 25th September 1943. Interred in United Kingdom. Cause of death currently unknown.

10 Platoon, C Coy, 7th Battalion, Devons, 1941

10 Platoon, C Coy, 7th Battalion, Royal Devonshire Regiment. Bulford Camp, 1941. (Photo from the collection of the late Mr Freddie Friend)

Back Row Left to Right.

W.Clark,J.Mumby,H.Bower,C.Busby,L.Maxwell,C.Jordan.

4Th Row Left to Right.

R.Webber,W.Locke,R.Tyler,J.Bulley,R.Smerdon,B. Lorraine,D.Gunter,T. Elton.

3rd Row Left to Right.

J.Anderson,E.Pickford,T.Elders,C.Haddrel,L.Locke,E.Uerson(?),D.Jessop,L.Edwards.

2nd Row Left to Right.

Cpl. Elison,G.Walker,J.Mollholand, Henry ‘Harry’ Marsh,T.Merrifield,C. Merrifield,L.Febe(?),T.Tweedle.

Front Row Left to Right.

Cpl.Macmillan,Cpl.Newman,Sgt Friend,Lt.Gordon-Edmunds,Sergt.Ford,Cpl.Stainforth,Cpl.Leigh.