The last few Remembrance Sundays there have been some heated debates on line about the changing nature of Remembrance Day, and what it means. We seem spend more time talking about how to remember, not who we remember.
I thought that this year rather than join the debate I would instead list those people who I would be thinking of today, all of whom have connections to my friends and family
Lest We Forget
Sergeant Fred Wheatley, Royal Engineers
Fred Wheatley worked on the Lampton Colliery Railway before WW2. He was in a reserved occupation and wasn’t called up until 1942. He rose through the ranks to Sergeant, and drove a Ruston Bucyrus 19 RB drag shovel, the ancestor of a modern JCB. In June 1944 he was ordered with his unit to the East India Docks, where they adapted their equipment to operate in shallow water.
On the 6th June he landed with the RB19 on the Normandy Beaches, using special motorised pontoons to bring heavy equipment ashore. Their job was to make sure that equipment such as lorries and jeeps could be brought ashore without getting bogged down in the sand, using the earth movers to clear a path. After D-day he spent the rest of the war fixing railways that the Germans had blown up as they retreated. He was demobbed in 1946 and went back to work on the Railways. When he retired he built a 15″ miniature Railway as a tourist attraction in Barnard Castle. Fred died in 2011 aged 95.
Francis William “Snowy” Snowden, Royal Army Service Corps
Born in Plymouth to a naval family, he enlisted in July 1939 on his 21st birthday, with the Royal Army Service Corps. He was part of the British Expeditionary Force, and was still stationed in Amiens when the German Army arrived outside his office window . He narrowly escaped capture during the chaotic retreat – catching the last vessel out of Boulogne. Like many ordinary soldiers caught in the retreat at Dunkirk, he was less than impressed by this experience, and his forthright views about the conduct of the officer class earned him a posting to Iceland – recently invaded by British forces.
There he met and married one of circa 300 Icelandic women who married British soldiers, and faced considerable suspicion in Icelandic society. He returned to the UK late in 1942 on an Atlantic convoy that suffered major losses. Working as a clerk, he had prior knowledge of D-Day and his duties included being a motorcycle courier – to and from Bletchley Park. In 1944 he was bombed back onto the beaches of Normandy. He was present at the liberation of Paris.
He was attached to the units who liberated Bergen/Belsen in April 1945. He spent the last 3 years of his service attached to General Montgomery’s high command.. His wartime experiences turned his hair white, and he didn’t speak about his experiences until late in life, especially what he saw at Belsen.
He despised the triumphalism of post-war narratives about WW2 – but not as much as he despised Germans. While he never spoke about exactly what he saw at Belsen, we do know from the official war records what the RASC did, and we can make a fair estimation of his service. The British High Command were concerned that what they found at Belsen was so horrific that people wouldn’t believe them. They kept meticulous records of the atrocities they witnessed, and as a clerk this is likely to have Francis’s job, serving under Lord Mancroft’s legal group. He left the army in mid 1946 – wanting no part in the ongoing Nuremberg trials. He returned to Cardiff, and gave his medals to the bin man. He never wore a poppy.
Pilot Sergeant Gabriel “Gaby” Wolloshin 341 (Alsace) Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
On the 1st April 1945 Sgt Wolloshin was flying Spitfire Mk XVI TB343 on an armed reconnaissance mission north of Arnhem, the Netherlands. His plane was hit by railway-mounted AA-fire and made a forced landing at 14:00 in Wijnbergen, Olsterweg road, Diepenveen, Overijssel . He landed successfully but hit a tree and was killed.
Buried Grave 18 – Olst (Duur) General Cemetery.
The grave inscription reads:
ETERNAL REST GRANT TO HIM, O LORD; AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON HIM. R.I.P.
Albert Hall, Durham Light Infantry
Albert was one of 3 brothers who enlisted together in 1914. Unlike his brothers Albert was a pacifist who served as a stretcher bearer and medical orderly. It’s not easy to track the war record of pacifists, as they army didn’t regard them particularly highly.
Despite never carrying a gun he saw more action than his brothers added together, serving at Ypres/Passchendaele and in Salonica. He never recovered physically or mentally from his experiences, and had a tremor for the rest of his life.
Corporal Konstanty Staszkiewicz, 3rd Parachute Btn, 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade
Konstanty Staszkiewicz was born in Degiesie in eastern Poland in 1924. On 17 September 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, sixteen days after The Germans had invaded from the West. Germany and Russia were allies under the Molotov Ribbentrop pact. Aged only 15 he was deported on a cattle truck to a Soviet labour camp in Siberia, the journey lasting three weeks. Diseases such as dysentery was rife; food was rationed; the people were nearly starving; death was commonplace. Conditions in the camp were equally inhumane.
In 1941 following the German invasion of Russia the Polish Government in exile reached an agreement with Stalin to release 75,000 Polish prisoners, including Konstanty, to form a fighting force; The Anders Army. They travelled through Tashkent and Samarkand to Iran where they were formed into The 2nd Polish Army Corp, making Poland the 4th largest Allied Army in Europe.
From Iran Konstanty travelled to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where he volunteered for the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade. Training took place in Scotland, before the whole regiment was moved to England, where it became part of the First Allied Airborne Army under its newly promoted commander Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski. 23rd September 1944 the brigade, attached to the British 1st Airborne Division took part in the assault to capture the Rhine crossings at Arnhem.
Konstanty was dropped at Driel, opposite Arnhem on the south bank of the Lower Rhine where he took part in heavy fighting. He hid for days in a fox hole, attempting to cross the river at night, always under enemy fire.
Konstanty was demobbed and stayed in England after the war, marrying and rising a family in Nottingham. He died 28.10.20- two days before his 96th birthday.
Lieutenant John Chadwick, 17th Lancers
Born Manchester 1817 John Chadwick served with distinction in the Crimean war and saw action at Bulganac, Alma, and the siege of Sebastopol. He was Lieutenant and Adjutant of the 17th Lancers at the Battle of Balaclava. On the 25th October 1854 he was one of 600 men ordered to capture artillery from retreating Russian troops. Due to a misunderstanding they were instead ordered to charge directly at a heavily defended Russian position – the Charge of the Light Brigade. Lt Chadwick was the only officer to ride the whole length of the Valley of Death and reach the Russian position, only 2 men made it with him. He only stopped fighting when his horse died under him and he was captured. He was released by the Russians at the end of the war, and served as a Captain in 15th Hussars, and as Adjutant and Quartermaster of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin. Died Liverpool 1869.
Borislav Ristic, Partisan
Born in Kosovo in 1921 he was mentored by a German speaker as a child and spoke German fluently. During the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia he was employed by the Nazis due to his language skills. Unknown to them his brother was a leading partisan fighting against the German occupation. Bora joined the resistance, and because he was employed by the Germans he was able to move freely between territories to help the partisans; carrying propaganda leaflets and helping take resistance fighters to the front lines.
When his brother was killed he took over leadership of the Partisan unit, working for the Germans by day, passing on information to the Partisans at night. He was discovered by the Nazis in 1943. It was a minor miracle that he wasn’t executed on the spot but he was instead transported to Mauthausen were he remained for 18 months as a political prisoner. He was beaten every day and suffered from chronic back pain all his life as a consequence. He befriended the camp’s chef who shared the leftovers with him, but despite this he was severely malnourished and unable to travel once the camp was liberated.
When he finally came back to Kosovo he was offered a position in the Communist Party as the Chief of Protocol for Yugoslavia. He slept every night with a gun under his pillow in case he encountered any fascists. Despite that he kept in touch with one of the young German soldiers he met during the war who later went to work for UNICEF. He left Kosovo during the Civil War and died in Nis, Serbia, 2008.
Sgt William Pearson, West Yorks. Pvte Hiromasa, Japanese Imperial Army
William Pearson was born in Pateley Bridge, Yorkshire in 1924. He originally tried to enlist In the Nottingham Regiment at the start of the war, lying about his age, but was found out and discharged. He was finally allowed to enlist with the 3rd West Yorks, and was promoted through the ranks to Sergeant. By 1944 he was posted to the far east, and took part in training with the Sherwood Foresters in jungle combat. Late in 1944 he crossed the border into then Burma, and fought there for the rest of the war, reporting to High Command Rangoon August 1945. He was awarded the Burma Star. Today we would call the unit he fought in Long Range Reconnaissance.
We know less about Private Hiromasa, other than he was a schoolboy who was called up to the Japanese Army late in the war. By the time he was conscripted the war was going badly for Japan, supplies were short, and young teenagers were being called up. Before leaving for war he acquired a Japanese battle flag. He visited a Buddhist temple where the monks blessed him and the flag, writing the blessing on the fabric. His school friends also wrote messages on the flag, good luck, and come home safely.
He was also posted to Burma.
At some point in 1945 Sgt Pearson and Hiromasa encountered each other in the jungle. Hiromasa had his lucky flag with him. We don’t know exactly what happened, but Sgt Pearson returned home alive. Hiromasa didn’t.
The Unenchanted man sees (quite correctly) the waste and cruelty and sees nothing else. The Enchanted man is in the Rupert Brook or Philip Sidney state of mind—he’s thinking of glory and battle-poetry and forlorn hopes and last stands and chivalry. Then comes the Disenchanted Age—say Siegfried Sassoon. But there is also a fourth stage, though very few people in modern England dare to talk about it. You know quite well what I mean. One is not in the least deceived: we remember the trenches too well. We know how much of the reality the romantic view left out. But we also know that heroism is a real thing, that all the plumes and flags and trumpets of the tradition were not there for nothing. They were an attempt to honour what is truly honourable: what was first perceived to be honourable precisely because everyone knew how horrible war is.