The purpose of this blog site is to provide updates on the publication of the book that I have been involved in writing since January 2014. The book now entitled 'A Pithead Polar Bear From Brighton to Belsen 1940 to 1946' is an attempt to understand what my late Grandfather, L/Cpl James Kitchener Heath did during the Second World War.

'A Pithead Polar Bear' is the culmination of another internet blog project that I started, entitled 'A Fragmented Military History', the name being an acknowledgement of the limited information that I had to go on and just how much there was to learn. The original site can be accessed from this site and in many ways can be thought of as being complementary to the published book.

James, or Jim, Heath was an ordinary citizen soldier signed up for the duration of the war. His experiences over the six years of the conflict are similar to those of many thousands of infantry men whilst at the same time unique to him.

My sincere hope for this book is that it may in some part inspire like minded people to take up the challenge to explore a similar history for one of their own relatives. My message is that it can be done even seventy plus years after the events described. It is also hugely rewarding.

Somewhere down the line I wrote words to the following effect, 'in my dealings with our veterans it has become clear that it is not our thanks they seek for what they did but our understanding'. That for me is justification enough for such an undertaking as this.



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

With The Back Tuesday Club Monknash 19th December 2017

The Plough & Harrow
Monknash, Vale of Glamorgan

As I posted sometime ago, back in October I travelled down to Southsea in Hampshire to attend the UK gathering of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division Association a.k.a. The Friends of Thury Harcourt. There it was my great pleasure to meet (for the first time with the exception of Michele Guillerm) other people with a shared interest in and/or history with the 59th Division.

One such chap was John James from Bridgend in South Wales. At a quiet moment in the evening’s proceedings, he took me to one side and asked what my diary looked like in December and would I be interested in travelling to Wales to be a guest speaker at the annual Christmas gathering of a group of friends that collectively go under the name of the ‘Back Tuesday Club’.

‘The Back Tuesday Club’ is I learned a collection of likeminded individuals who meet weekly in a local pub for general chat and discussion around issues military. Each year, their ranks are increased for a planned trip to a theatre of war or some other site of military significance. Their club shirts feature a roll call of manoeuvres completed to date (The Western Front, Normandy, Arnhem, Waterloo and the Tower of London).... with the exception of Waterloo these are all places where I too have spent time. The ‘Back Tuesday’ term relates to the duration of these annual long weekend excursions.

It was with not a little trepidation that I accepted the invitation. The trepidation stemmed from the subject matter. Whilst I am very familiar now with my Grandfather’s service history as related in ‘A Pithead Polar Bear’ I have never presented on the subject (to date Powerpoint presentations have been confined to dry topics such as pharmaceutical drug registration etc etc!). This was something entirely different.

Nevertheless, I think that I pulled it off and the group of 30 or so somewhat inebriated Welshmen (mostly from the Vale of Glamorgan farming community), with whom I shared the evening in one of the bars of the rather lovely Plough & Harrow pub in a place called Monknash, were very appreciative.

What was especially pleasing for me was to be able to speak at length about the 59th Division with John in the audience since his father was in killed in action fighting with the Division (2/6th South Staffordshire Regiment) on 8th July 1944 (two days before the birth of John). He lies in Cambes-en-Plaine CWGC Cemetery, Normandy.



It is making such connections and sharing such personal histories that I have found to be the most rewarding aspect of this project.

Yesterday I received a very nice email from the club:

 Dear Adrian,

I apologise for the delay in emailing, but I thought you would be pleased to learn of the universal appreciation given to your talk by the club members and the other attendees at the gathering in the Plough & Harrow pub on the 19th December 2017.

Everyone who attended felt the uniqueness and importance of what you were able to tell us. Most of those assembled were born after 1945, and have no direct experience of conditions during WW II. However, I think it is true to say that everyone present has a keen understanding of its huge significance, and its relevance to the well-being of those alive today.

As a group we make an annual excursion to some location that has some relevance in terms of military history, usually relating to one or other of the two world wars.

However, the relating of the experiences of a single individual who has endured the horrors of war always adds a different perspective.

Finally, may we wish you well, and long may you give others the benefit of your unique insights.

    Yours Very Sincerely

        Malcolm Lloyd
   
            Back Tuesday Club

I would like to thank all of the members of The Back Tuesday Club for the warm reception and kind words and to John for the initial invitation.

Cheers!


Adrian.

South Staffordshire Regiment headstone
Cambes-en-Plaine CWGC Cemetery.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

49th (West Riding) Division Facebook page and web site

Memorial to the men of the 49th (West Riding) Division - The Polar Bears in Doorn near Utrecht. The 49th Recce Regiment entered the town on 7th May 1945.

I would like to draw your attention to two 49th Division related sites maintained by Eelco Warmerdam. Please take a look.

https://www.facebook.com/49thWestRidingInfantryDivision/

https://49thwestriding.weebly.com/

Adrian.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fusilier Kenneth J. West - Sad News



Gunta and I were very saddened to receive a call from Steve West last night to say that his Dad, Ken West died last Saturday. Ken served in the same Regiment as my Grandfather (11th Royal Scots Fusiliers across North West Europe in 1944-1945). When I wrote my book Ken was so generous with his time and excellent memories of those dark times. In the book I described him as my source of information and inspiration. The two of us feel truly honored to have spent some hours in this man's company listening to his stories that were always so well told.
We met on three occasions, but the most memorable was the first when, sporting his 'bling' blazer with the Legion D'Honneur topping his other campaign medals, as we parted he kissed Gunta and said 'You thought you were coming here to meet an old soldier but now you have kissed a French Knight!'.
Ken fought with the RSF in Normandy, receiving wounds in Fontenay from a phosphorus shell. He was an active member of the Normandy Veterans Association until is dissolution. With this in mind, when Owen and I were last in Normandy I bought a couple of bottles of Calvados, one of which I gave to Ken with a copy of my book. This evening we raised a glass of the Normandy spirit from our own bottle to Ken West..... Fusilier and friend!
Our thoughts are with Ken's family and many friends.
The photograph shows Ken on leave in Brussels in February 1945.

Sunday, July 16, 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, July 15, 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.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Veteran of the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment Responds

Bert Bamford
5th South Staffordshire Regiment.

Today I was the very happy recipient of a personal letter from one of the veterans who kindly took the time to share his wartime experiences with me during the preparation of 'A Pithead Polar Bear'. Herbert (or Bert) Bamford was, like my Grandfather, a soldier of the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment within the 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division. Prior to sailing to France in mid June 1944 he trained on the North East Coast, in Northern Ireland and Kent. Once in France he shared the experience of battle to the north of Caen, in Noyers Bocage and on the high ground overlooking the River Orne before the Division was disbanded in August 1944 to supply other regiments with much needed reinforcements.

6th July 2017

Dear Adrian,

Many thanks for the book, I have read a few pages and look forward to reading the rest. I am glad you were able to find the monument at the Chateau Galmanche. Also you were able to still see the signs of the battle. 

It must have taken a lot of work and research to complete your book. I also enjoyed being able to talk and reminisce about those times as my memory is getting a little hazy these days, a sign of age I suppose. 

Again, many thanks for the book.

Yours,

Bert.

Bert (on the left) with a fellow veteran at the St Contest Memorial to the actions of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division on the area on the 8th and 9th July 1944.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Feedback for 'A Pithead Polar Bear'

'Please accept my heartfelt congratulations on writing the book. I am very pleased for you and I was delighted to read it. It is a great achievement and I'm sure that your grandfather would be very proud of you and that the rest of your family are incredibly proud of you. I think it is a great and very personal book, a real act of affection, and a proper memorial to your grandfather, and also those who served alongside him in both battalions, just ordinary men wrenched from ordinary lives doing their best, no doubt despite being rightly terrified, in extraordinary circumstances.

I am still lost in awe of the sheer magnitude of the task which faced this extraordinary citizen army, all that it took to plan and the sustain the effort through all the years of the war, and the commitment which ultimately saw them victorious.

I have really enjoyed the book, and found a number of things in it relating to 11 RSF which I had not come across before, which was a real delight. Having devoured it first time round, I’ll probably read it again over the Summer and take a little more time to absorb it'.

Charlie Arrand (ex-pupil of Colonel William Douglas 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers).

'The book has a arrived and I was quite taken aback. I was expecting a slim xeroxed pamphlet wonkily stapled. Instead this is massive volume of your not inconsiderable talent in writing great prose. It must have taken you ages? Really really impressed Mr Andrews - I look forward to your next volume which I hope will see a wider audience and produced by a mainstream publishing house. You are a talent for writing - go for it!'

John Day.


'The book is excellent. I am about half way through already!'

Dennis Dimond (Secretary of The 49th (West Riding) Division Association.


'Enjoying the book immensely, I've learnt a lot of things about the 59th (Staffordshire) Division that I never knew'.

Ken West (WWII veteran, 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers).