Friday, 6 June 2014

D-Day for the Chesterfield townsfolk.....


Today on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings I am thinking of all the brave men and women who were involved in the day that was to have a huge impact on our lives today. 

I am sure that everyone of us has pondered on the sheer scale of the day as it played out, the scene that would be witnessed on the beaches of France on 6th June 1944 was a far cry from the picture that appears in our minds today when the word "beach" is mentioned.  The modern media showing photos, video footage and telling the veterans stories all allow us to listen in awe as to how brave these men and women were. 

But how did the day affect the local people of Chesterfield?  What would they know of the day without the TV, computers and the beloved smart phone?  There would have been no quick photos sent to family members as the men set off, no texts saying "arrived safe".......





Derbyshire Times 9th June 1944 page 1




The D-Day landings were reported in the local newspaper the Derbyshire Times.  Our ancestors would read the front page just a few days after the landings and be told "our forces established on French coast"  "losses lighter than expected".  The locals must have been over joyed, a turn in the tide of the second World War. 

Could this be the way to the end of this terrible war?  Would our husbands, son's and daughters soon be home safe and sound?  Would the rationing and air raids be at an end?


All of the local Churches in Chesterfield and around the country were opened for silent prayer of thanks and services were held to pray for the safe return of the brave soldiers.


I was surprised to read that the Royal Hospital in Chesterfield was ordered to reduce it's inpatients in expectation of their being large numbers of wounded who would be transported to this hospital after the invasion.  Chesterfield is one of the most in-land towns in England, this is why I was surprised to hear that wounded soldiers would be sent such a distance from the  coast to this small market town for treatment.

In fact it was reported that over 150 men were being treated at Chesterfield Royal Hospital the following week.  They arrived by road in ambulances and converted buses from the base hospitals in nearby Nottingham, the first 20 men on Sunday evening 11th June, over 80 men on Monday afternoon 12th June and the remainder more than 40 men on Tuesday 13th June.  It didn't take long for the news of the Royal Hospital's heroic patients to spread around the town and the Chesterfield inhabitants were soon assembled as a large crowd to applaud and cheer their brave soldiers.


The men were reported as being a "cheerful crowd of men" although their uniforms were soiled they were in good spirits.  It appeared that the majority of these men had been wounded by sniper fire in the opening hours of the invasion.  The fact that so many had gun shot wounds to the arms was causing great amusement, the men joking about the lack of skill the German marksmen had in the accuracy of their shot.

One young lad of around 20 years old had his bullet removed from the side of his torso, he was said to have been looking forward to returning the bullet to its owners; the Germans.


Two of the men were local men; Lance Corporal Fred Gibbions of Heaton Street and Sergeant Samuel George Evans of Rooths Row, Barker Lane. 


Derbyshire Times 16th June 1944

 




Chesterfield had another hero of the D-Day landings; a warship named Danae which the locals had "adopted" during "warship week".    HMS Danae was a D class cruiser (1), she took part in Operation Neptune.  Her part in the battle can be read here. 

There were countless stories of heroes and sacrifice which appeared in the following weeks and months of the local men who played their parts in Operation Overlord.  Here are some of the stories of our local heroes.............

*Ordinary Seaman Bernard Harvey


Bernard was only 18 years old, he was the son of Mr and Mrs W.E Harvey of 21 St Augustines Avenue, Chesterfield.  He told how he was a gunner on his vessel along with two other Derbyshire boys, one being  "Toby" from Clay Cross. 

The war ship had taken a quiet passage onto the northern coast of France, the silence only being broken by the singing of the "Tommies".  Bernard and his comrades were in the first wave of troops to enter the invasion of the Normandy beaches.

The role of Bernard's vessel was to chaperone the troop ships to Cherbourg, the R.A.F being on watch from the skies.   They were hit by enemy aircraft, but luckily for Bernard and his fellow men the plane was shot down before any further harm could be done.

The day afterwards the war ship returned to the English coast to collect more troops, the following day they were back at Cherbourg dropping them off.  Bernard told how the ship was spotted by an E Boat, but they rammed the smaller vessel and in his words the vessel "was done for".

Bernard had joined the Royal Navy in 1943, prior to that he worked for the L.M.S railway.  He was also a Leading Seaman for the Chesterfield Sea Cadets which he had been a member of since he was 13 years old.

*Paratrooper Dennis Fox


Dennis was the son of Mrs Alice Davison of 79 Park Road, Boythorpe, Chesterfield.  Poor Mrs Davison had no idea that her son was involved in the D-Day landings, it was only after some weeks that she began to become anxious after not communicating with him.

Dennis had been heavily involved in the invasion and his story is one of true courage.  Dennis and his comrades were engaged in holding a bridge when he became estranged from the rest of his unit.  He was alone and saw a German sniper, as he was about to try to take the sniper he was "pounced on by a German squad".  Dennis described then as "hefty blighters".  They took his tunic and told him to remove his trousers also.  Dennis was not to be easily commandeered and so he made a run for it, in his words he "managed to give them the slip". 

The German's did search for Dennis and general gun fire was fired around at random, but alas a shell fell near to Dennis and wounded him in the arm and the leg. 

He was in hiding for 2 days until he came across the Royal Field Artillery unit who provided him with bandages and led him to safety. 

Dennis who was reunited with his mother for leave had previously served with the local regiment of the Sherwood Foresters.  Prior to the war he had worked as an engineers fitter for Sheepbridge Stokes and Holloway Brothers outcast coal company.

*Marine Commando Charles Kelley


Charles was aged 19 years old, the son of Mr and Mrs G Kelley of 42 Compton Street, Chesterfield.

Charles was one of the first wave of the invasion and their landing craft managed to negotiate the underwater obstacles and the mines.  The craft was however struck by a shell and so along with the sniper fire some of the men were wounded.  Charles was hit by a snipers bullet which shattered his right arm and he was being treated at the Royal Hospital in Sheffield.

He described how they had the objectives to reach a radio location unit, passing along pill boxes and slit trenches along the way.  They did well until they reached the radio box which was made of concrete.

Charles told of the female snipers who were almost fanatical for the German honour.  He said that the caused many injuries amongst the allies and that when they were captured they would chant "Heil Hitler" and "Heil the Reich".

Prior to the war Charles was employed by Messrs Pearson's Potteries on Whittington Moor, Chesterfield.

*Lieutentant Alfred Laurence Head



Alfred Head aged 29 years old lived with his wife at his home at Summerfield House, Park Road, Chesterfield.  He was killed in action in Normandy after the invasion on 11th June 1944.

Alfred had a wide range of military experience, having fought in the Middle East and joined up in 1940 with the 6th Battalion Home Guards.

Alfred was the son of Mr and Mrs A J Head of Bedford, he had schooled at Dulwich College and came to Chesterfield in 1938.  He spoke French and German fluently and was passionate about literature and music.

*Frank Cutts

Derbyshire Times 30th June 1944

*Fred Troop

Derbyshire Times 24th November 1944


*R G Hutchinson

Derbyshire Times 1st September 1944




 


Thank you all for your bravery and sacrifice,

we will not forget you

x






Ref -

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Danae_(D44)

Sources -

Derbyshire Times - 9th 16th 23rd June 1944