Alan Coyne born in 1956, joined up as a boy soldier in 1971 age 15, from 1974 -1982 served with the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment serving in Cyprus, Germany and Northern Ireland. Alan completed 3 tours of Northern Ireland being one of the youngest aged 17 during the height of the troubles. Alan was involved in a roadside bomb being blown off his feet into a doorway and slightly wounded, recounting this Alan said if our patrol had been 60 seconds later I wouldn’t be here now.
Alan left the Battalion in Germany in 1982 but returned to army life in 1986 as an instructor for the ACF (Army cadet force) From 1990 -1998 Alan joined the T.A returning to active service in the Royal Logistic Corps in Bosnia witnessing the horrors of war.
Alan is a staunch member of the RBL and rarely misses a parade or service in Ipswich.
John was born in Ipswich on the 11th September 1931. The first child for Harry Claude Juby, a bricklayer, and Grace Ethel Juby (nee Hambling). In 1937, his sister, Anne was born in Ipswich. For most of his childhood the Juby family lived at Lyndhurst Avenue, a stone’s throw from Rushmere Heath. As a lad, John was to spend many a day exploring the heath picking up golf balls and visiting the Anti-aircraft station and the barrage balloon on the Heath. One day during the War John, his dog and a friend were walking back from the heath when a German aircraft spotted them and went into a dive strafing them with machine gun. John survived but sadly the family pet was killed.
During the War John could remember many damp and cold nights in the next door neighbour’s Anderson shelter. His father spent most of the war away as a bricklayer in London rebuilding bomb damage from the Blitz working for L.D. Bloom.
John first attended Rose Hill Primary School, followed by Britannia Primary School, before moving up to Copleston High School. John left school to take on an apprenticeship as a carpenter and cabinet maker. He was later employed by Cubitt Theobald Ltd. Before setting up on his own as a carpenter and cabinet maker.
Aged 20 in 1951, his call up papers for his National Service arrived. John was first signed up to the Suffolk Regiment, then moved to the Middlesex Regiment for training, then later transferred to the Royal Norfolk Regiment – where the word going around was that the 1st Battalion were bound for the new United Nations Force for the Conflict in Korea.
A civil War had broken out in Korea, the Communist north with the support from Russia and China had pushed south. South Korea had appealed for help from the west. Under the flag of the United Nations. The Conflict as part of the “Cold War” to this day has still not officially ended 70+ years on. Which for John is still a disappointment, calling Donald Trump “….a very dangerous man.” The country is still split, North and South with continuing tension on the boarders.
The United Nations Force comprised of France, Cuba, South Africa, Ethiopia, Belgium Thailand, Australia, Turkey, Canada and Bolivia, all contributing men and materials. The United States provided the bulk of the United Nations Forces.
John will admit he had never heard of Korea. He and his fellow recruits searched for maps to find where they were heading. Despite living through World War Two it all seemed a great adventure, with the view they were doing their bit for the country. Some of John’s officers and NCO’s would have already seen action, but for most it would change their lives. John said they quickly went from boys to men in a short period of time.
John was to spend his 21st birthday on board H.M. Troopship “Empire Orwell” a former captured German cargo liner converted into a British troopship, sailed from England through Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, passing through Egypt and the Suez Canal. The ship was fast, only taking 4 weeks to arrive.
John as a carpenter, was placed in a detachment of pioneers for the Royal Norfolk Regiment and sent on ahead of the battalion to set up the camp’s infrastructure, water, cookhouses, and water purification. The advance party were to relieve and take over the Royal Irish Rifles trenches on the 38th parallel, the line drawn on the map to hold the Communist North. John was shocked to see the War had created a line of trenches from coast to coast on par with the Western Front from World War One. Barbed wire and trenches stretched as far as the eye could see with a stretch of “no man’s land” in-between, shelled and potted moonscape. The Americans had napalmed the land to their front, burning away foliage creating a frightening and barren scene.
The conditions were harsh, for most national service men were expected to serve a minimum of one winter. With temperatures at the extreme – minus 40 degrees, one of the worst winters in history. Vehicles would have to be run every hour so not to freeze up. Boots and clothing were eventually replaced with Parker coats and fur lined winter trousers for the men to survive the sub-zero conditions. The summer brought extreme heat along with monsoon weather conditions which flooded trenches. For John the trenches were just part of the job, “….we just got on with it. I found a snake in my bed one day, I skinned it and kept it as a souvenir. Fleas, flies, lice and the worse. The smell of dead and decaying corpses. We came across a Turkish position where they just scattered earth over the dead bodies rather than digging a hole. We had some time away from the line, 1 night on and two nights off. We had our good times, I traded my fag rations for beer and spent the whole period with cases of beer under my bed.”
Infections were rife, John worked with barbed wire, building defences. He was hospitalised with a septic cut. Later a skin infection where he was sent to Hong Kong to recover.
The front could be very active at times shelling and raids from the enemy made life very tense. Patrols were sent out into “no man’s land.” On one occasion two Royal Norfolk’s got captured. “Our side started shelling the position, the enemy scattered leaving the two Norfolk’s in the open, and both ran for our line. They were so lucky to get away.” Many POW’s never made it back home.
The North Koreans used bugles, trumpeting to signal to each other which could be quite unnerving, during a major offensives John watched wave upon wave of the enemy mowed down by machine gun fire. “There was a lot of them, sometimes totally out numbering us. Some areas where taken. We were very lucky.”
“We had seen many raids, it was difficult to tell who was North and South Koreans, but the Chinese, Russian and Mongolians where easy to recognise. Some drifted into our line by mistake as it was hard to map “no man’s land” for both sides. Sometimes wild animals would set the trip wires off.”
Many sad things happened. John remembers a shell landing on two Royal Norfolk recruits, it was their first day in the trench. They were both buried in the collapsed trench and killed.
John recalls as part of his job, he was asked to retrieve bodies and take them to the cemetery. They all had difficult jobs to do, and all took turns, whether to go out on patrol, or dig a trench. They all just got on with it.
John remembers his close school friend, Roy McDonald, he was in the same Battalion, but not in my company. Since leaving school they had often bumped into each other and even attended the same night school before National Service. Our parents played ‘Whist’ together. So they were pleased two Ipswich lads were in the same Regiment.
The word went out that Roy’s patrol had been hit. Spotted by the enemy they had mortared and bombed them heavily. Roy had been hit, shrapnel had hit him in the back killing him. It was hard to wrap my friend in a sheet and blanket, then carry him away to the cemetery. It was harder still to meet his mother Doris when I returned home, she repeatedly asked how he died.
It was a worrying time for all at home. John’s mother had a no letter from John for a number of weeks, while leaving the house she bumped into the postman and told him how worried about him she was, he seemed puzzled at this as he remembered delivering several letters to her that week. Since losing the family pet during WW2 John had bought a pet dog for himself. “Prince” a Welsh Border collie which had been inseparable from him, going to work with him never really being apart for any time. Prince would be left alone at home and seem to have been picking out his letters and eating them, which had been a great relief to the family. Prince was then banned from the front hall.
After returning to England at the end of his National Service, John, living in more peaceful times, continued his carpentry career. Working on churches, schools, council houses and renovating his current home of 40+ years.
The Korean War was named the “Forgotten War” with ex-servicemen long campaigning for more recognition.
John became a member, and then later the Chairman of the Ipswich & District British Korean War Veteran Association. He campaigned to have the Ipswich men who lost their lives in the Korean War commemorated on the war memorial at Christchurch Park. Roy McDonald’s mother, Doris also campaigned for her son to be recognised. She received letters of support and recognition from the South Korean Government. The Koreans offered to fly Doris to Korea, but sadly she was in too poor health. Doris never got to visit her son’s final place of rest.
Classed as a “conflict” not a “war,” those who lost their lives were not allowed to be commemorated on the war memorial. In August, 2007, 19 year old, Aaron McClure, an Ipswich soldier was killed in Afghanistan. Through public demand a “Post 1945” plaque was added to the Christchurch Park war memorial. The plaque commemorates lives lost during the Korean War, Cyprus, the Northern Ireland conflict, and the war in Afghanistan.
John has visited Korea four times and paid his respects to his friend Roy McDonald, and other British and Royal Norfolk Regiment comrades.
More than 90,000 Britons served in the Korean War.
With the loss of 1,078 men (4,502 casualties) the United States lost 37,000 men. China’s and North Korea’s military fatalities are numbered over 1.5 million. Civilian and military losses in South Korea also exceeded one million.
Stanley Chambers a born-and-bred Ipswich veteran who flew Spitfires during the Second World War.
Stanley celebrated his 100th birthday in December and seen here holding his French Legion of Honour medal.
Stanley spent some time at RAF Martlesham. Fighting over the coast of England protecting England from German bombers, then later in the war shot down two doodle bugs. Stanley also took part in the D-Day landings and the liberation of France, protecting the sky’s from enemy fighters as the landings took place.
Stanley despite being one hundred years of age is very active, living independently ,loves good company as well as a wee dram. I have met a number of 100 year olds and will say he is one of a kind.!
After the War he joined the navy. Stanley has lived in Ipswich all his life going to school at Northgate high. His earliest memory was seeing horses ,artillery and soldiers filling the streets of Ipswich during the First World War.
Stanley is very proud of his military career and will never forget the bravery of so many of his friends who made the ultimate sacrifice.
His parting words were “as a 100 year old I can say what ever I like! but take this with you.. So many men gave up their lives for our freedom.. please don’t give your freedom away!”
Ken Norman has been presented the Légion d’honneur medal for his service to France during WW2, at a dinner for the Ipswich branch of the Ipswich Royal Naval Association by Commodore Robert Bellfield RN (formally Captain of HMS Grafton) who read out the citation and officially presented the Medal.
Ken Norman was born in Ipswich on December 6th 1925 joining the Navy in 1943 being stationed and trained at HMS Ganges near Ipswich.
Ken joined HMS Dido and spent time in Malta a…nd Taranto before taking part in a diversionary action off Civitavecchia in support of the landing at Anzio. August 1944 saw HMS Dido supporting the Allied landings in France. In September 1944, HMS Dido returned to the UK.
In October 1944, HMS Dido escorted a convoy to Russia before supporting carrier strikes off Norway. In April 1945, Dido escorted Apollo, Orwell, and Obedient to the North Kola Inlet to lay mines.
HMS Dido’s last mission in the war was to go to Copenhagen, firing the last naval shot in the war in Europe on the way, for the surrender of the German Kriegsmarine which was signed aboard HMS Dido. After the signing, HMS Dido escorted the German cruisers Prinz Eugen and Nürnberg to Wilhelmshaven.
Ken has also received honours from Russia for his part in Convoy work and has now received the Légion d’honneur medal for his service to France during operation Dragoon Allied invasion and liberation of Southern France on 15 August 1944.
Ken has lived in Ipswich all his life, working for Fisons on Cliff quay. Ken despite his age is a staunch supporter of the RNA and the RBL and will never forget his Shipmates.
For his part in the war Kenneth Oatley has be awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French Government being presented the medal today by the Lord Lt. of Suffolk Lady Euston in Ipswich.
Born in 1922 Kenneth Oatley Joined 627 Squadron in the summer of 1944 and took part in the large raid on 18th August 1944 at L’isle Adam France destroying V1 rocket site and storage depot.
His Squadron supported ground troops after D-Day, carrying out low level visual marking of precision targets with the aim…, avoiding civilian casualties whilst destroying strategic and tactical targets. Prime targets being Railway, goods, storage and ammunition depots at Caen, Rennes, Beauvoir, Potiers, Creil, Villeneuve and many other including targets at Brest and Boulogne. Kenneth took part in 20 operations over France, Germany and Norway.
Kenneth first flew in 1941 in a Tiger Moth biplane and admits while training in Lancashire he got lost and was forced to land and ask for directions. From there he travelled to Canada training in Airspeed Oxford planes then to South Africa training as a navigator.
By 1944 Kenneth had flown in Wellingtons, Sterling’s and Lancaster bombers becoming a flight Sergeant. Then chosen to become a Navigator in a Pathfinder group flying the Mosquito.
The main role of his group was to locate targets dropping 4 x 500lb magnesium bombs lighting up the target for the heavy bombers to aim on. The Mosquito plane was one of the fastest planes of its class being capable of speeds of 400mph flying under the radar over roof tops and trees at high speeds taking part in many dangerous and daring raids a complete thrill for Kenneth when he was appointed but he admitted having butterflies as orders came in for bombing raids.
18th October 2017 Kenneth was joined with friends and family to celebrate his honour with special thanks to the Ipswich branch of the RBL.
The French government has been awarding the Légion d’honneur to D-Day veterans from many different countries for several years, as a way of honouring and thanking those who fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War.
Flying Officer Kenneth Oatley Interviewed on October 17, 2014 by Svetlana Palmer for Chronicles of Courage.
An Ipswich Veteran honoured.
Charles Wright age 96 has been honoured by the Norwegian government for his military service during 1940. Charles (Sony) enlisted 2 years under age as a medic in the RAMC and was posted to Northumberland for training, where he volunteered for a secret mission to occupied Norway. Attached to a new Special Forces group set up by Churchill they were set the task of cutting communications and transport links hampering the Germans. Setting off from Greenock Scotland and Landing at Bedo Norway (not yet in German hands) in artic conditions they moved across the country hampering the German occupation. Following a German ambush one member was killed and 6 wounded. The mission was over, escaping back to the coast, boarding a British frigate which was evacuating troops and civilians from Norway (On board the same ship were the Norwegian Royal family.)
Charles served in Gibraltar/ Greece/ Malta and North Africa, being captured in 1943-1945.
The Norwegian Government are acknowledging all who risked their lives and who served during the war in Norway. On Monday a Defence Attaché presented Sony with an award in recognition of his service, where friends and family joined him in this celebratory afternoon tea.
Norman Kent aged 94, served during ww2 with the Royal Engineers and was awarded the Légion d’honneur Medal in 2017 by the French government for his service in France. Norman was on the first wave of landing craft on Sword beach Normandy during D-Day 1944
“I was quite scared as the ramp went down on the landing craft as we hit the beach, my C.O was one of the first to be hit, falling at my feet on the ramp with a bullet straight between the eyes. We ran up the beach and jumped into the nearest shell hole under heavy machine gun fire, snipers picked us off very easily. At that point I realised I was the highest rank left and was to take charge of my unit. After some time we took the high ground and a captured German remarked that they could see our every move!.”
“I met my wife in 1945 in Berlin, She was an ATS girl (WAAC) from Ipswich so when we married I moved to Ipswich just after the war”
2016 Tony Booth served during ww2 in the Tank Regiment and was awarded the Légion d’honneur Medal in 2016 by the French government for his service in France. was on the first wave of landing craft on Gold beach Normandy during D-Day 1944. Toney landed in France driving straight onto the newly constructed Mulberry harbour on Gold beach in the third wave of troops being part of a special unit of tanks “Hobart’s funny’s” Tanks which had been modified for amphibious assaults, mine clearing, bridge making and specialized armaments such as flamethrowers or the high explosive Petard spigot mortar for clearing pill boxes and obstacles. Toney’s tank had a large search light attached to the turret designed to pinpoint and dazzle targets. This proved to be unsuccessful and he was pleased to move to a ‘Kangaroo’ Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) was used for the rapid transport of infantry, helping them keep pace with armour during offensive operations. During the Battle of Normandy, they helped to solve a critical tactical problem by providing vulnerable infantry some means of increased mobility and protection. The ‘Kangaroo’ was an improvisation first used by Canadian troops in Normandy before being adopted by the 79th Armoured Division. Many were adapted from the obsolete Canadian Ram tank, which could carry approximately eight men once the turret was removed.
Toney realized that the Germans did not like the 79th Armoured division as they used flame thrower tanks and reports came in that the Germans would shoot any captured 79th tank crews.
Toney was proud of his service and admitted we didn’t have time to be scared, in difficult situations the training kicked in. We looked out for each over and by luck we returned home.
2016 (RIP 2017) Lest we forget..
Cyril Nixon aged 92,an Ipswich WW2 veteran who served with the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, played a key role on June 6, 1944 D-DAY, by riding in a support lorry used to refuel tanks heading into France.
Driving around a half mile behind, the fuel lorries were often targeted by the Germans as the tanks would be left stranded without them.
But Mr Nixon, who travelled with the convoy all the way to the River Seine, said he was ‘just playing his part’.…
“We all had our little contribution,” he said.
“I was only 18 and back then I was 6ft 4ins and was judged too big to go into the tanks so my job was to go along with a big lorry full of fuel.
“The majority of people in my regiment were transferred from cavalry to tanks so were much smaller men. I was one of the fresh ones so was much bigger.
“On D-Day night they were trying to blast away at us, the bullets were coming down like rain.”
“It had taken a lot of training but on the day everything went berserk because of the weather.
Before leaving France Cyril decided to try and protect his cab of the truck by adding a sheet of corrugated iron onto the roof. The truck was designed to carry fuel but remain light weight with the cab being very sparse with only canvas doors and roof. To refuel the tanks he would have to drive up along side the tank sometimes under heavy fire which was a very risky task. The Germans would choose the truck as a better target rather than the tank.
“They had to think on their feet whoever was in charge.”
Cyril had a few close shaves while fighting in France.
“I did get a Tiger tank shell right through the lorry front to back once,” he said.
“All the army stuff was canvas on top and the fuel wasn’t as high as the metal sides.
“I was in the lorry and it just went right through the canvas. There were lots of incidents like that.
“We had occasions where we were machine gunned and they were after us because they knew the fuel was important.”
Harrold Farrow (Dick) an Ipswich WW2 hero receiving the Légion d’honneur Medal earlier this year at Rock barracks Woodbridge 2016.
Harold Farrow who was born in 1924 joined the Army aged just 18 in 1942, being transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1943
He served in Britain in preparation for D-Day until getting loaded with his Regiment on a ship ready to sail for France on 3rd June 1944 where he landed on D-Day itself 6th June 1944
Harold was wit his Regiment throughout the campaign in North West Europe surviving many scrapes when under fire by a desperate German Army but was lucky enough to come through unscathed.
He was promoted Lance Corporal and was qualified on Bren Gun Carriers whose job was to push on ahead and make contact with the enemy and give fire support to the infantry. Bren Gun carriers were only lightly armoured and would have been an easy target for enemy Tanks or Guns.
Discharged from the Army shortly after the war he had enjoyed the comradeship so much he returned to the Army and served until 1953.
2016 (RIP 2018 aged 97)
Mr Reginal Snowling a brave Ipswich resident who served during WW2 with the 24th Lancers and received the Legion d’honneur medal this month, Reg landed in France on D-Day day one, serving as a gunner on the third tank on the beach under heavy fire became bogged down in the sand, the first and second tank being knocked out Reg still continued to fire. Under air attack Reg recalls jumping out of the tank taking cover on the opposite side of the tank, moving from one side to the other. Once off the beach his tank was engaged in the attack on the heavily fortified towns and villages of Normandy confronted with the legionary German Tiger tank . Reg was wounded and continued to fight in Belgium and Holland. Reg also holds a record for knocking out two German tanks with one shell. Reg first landed in France with a Sherman tank then moved onto the lightweight Comet tank, this is a real Ipswich hero, aged 95.
Reg’s brother is remembered on the Ipswich War memorial ,killed a few days before the end of WW2 Peter Snowling.
2016 (RIP 2017)
Mr Arthur Scoffield on his 100th birthday party. Born 17/02/1916. He married Winifred Bett in 1938 and was married for 70 years with five children. Arthur first joined the T.A in 1933. As war broke out he was working for Cranes of Ipswich and was first stationed at Languard fort Felixstowe on the searchlights. He then volunteered to join the Bomb disposal team. After joining bomb disposal he was sent to Liverpool during major raids on the port. On this occasion an unexploded bomb near a sugar warehouse required defusing, he worked on the bomb for four hours before being relieved. As he was walking away from the area the bomb exploded, killing ten men and seriously wounding Arthur. The doctors gave him a few months to live, but he made a full recovery. He spent four months in hospital and when recovered he joined a RE training unit. Arthur a D Day veteran of the Royal Engineers 26th assault squadron landed in Normandy before the first wave of troops, clearing Juno beach of obstacles using high explosives while under heavy fire, allowing the 3rd Canadians to take Juno sector and push on into Normandy. Arthur continued to fight his way through France, Holland and into Germany. Two notable experiences were assisting to evacuate the paratroopers from Arnhem and entering Belsen concentration camp on its second day of liberation, to lay on clean water. He was very much affected by the suffering he saw in the camp.
Arthur lived until he was 101, at his brothers funeral he managed to get to his feet and salute his brothers coffin as it past by.
Arthurs uncle FREDERICK HENRY SCOFFIELD died in 1916 on Christmas day and is commemorated on the Ipswich War Memorial. Arthur produced one of his treasured items, a cigarette case from his uncle sent home with his personal effects collected from his body.
Cyril William Scoffield 4 Dec 1925 – 26 July 2017
Born on 4th December 1925 to Elsie and Arthur in Dilwyn Street, Ipswich. He was the second youngest in a family of six, three brothers and three sisters. They seemed to be a close family growing up with grandparents and aunties nearby. He was a choirboy at St Matthew’s Church and loved singing at weddings as he got 2/6d – quite a princely sum. He left school at age 14 in 1939 and joined Cocksedges as an apprentice fitter. One of his first jobs was cleaning the manager’s shoes.
Arthur (left) and Cyril at their parents’ home in Dillwyn St.
At the age of 15, with the war escalating, he joined the Home Guard. His doting sisters were appalled at the blisters on his feet from a training march to Felixstowe with his unit and wrote to complain to his commanding officer. We said he sounded just like Private Pike! As soon as he was old enough, at age 17 ½, he joined the Royal Marines, despite being in a reserved occupation. At the age of just 18, he took part in the D Day landings as crew of a landing craft taking solders and supplies to the beaches under constant fire.
After the initial invasion had taken place, the craft became what was known as a “trot-boat” running errands and supplies between the fleet anchored in the Mulberry harbour and the beaches. One night, they were ordered to take a sick officer off a ship and take him to the hospital ship. He said that the sea was so rough that one minute they were looking up at the barnacles on the hull and the next they were looking down the funnel. The tumultuous seas broke the back of their landing craft and they made a crash landing on the beach. Their orders were to stay put and wait for relief. It never came, so after 3 days they headed to the nearest town, Bayeux, where they were promptly arrested by MPs for being out of bounds. The resulting punishment saw him digging latrines alongside German prisoners of war. Whilst he was head down digging away, a familiar voice said “What you doing down there, boy?” He looked up to see his older brother, Arthur, standing there. Arthur was in the Army and had also been part of the D Day invasion. He had managed to track down Cyril amongst all that chaos and they were allowed to share a beer together before having to go their separate ways again.
In 1945 as the war was ending, he was part of the Occupying Forces in Germany. During a short leave before being sent to Hong Kong, he married Phyllis by special licence. They were married for 72 years. He sailed to Hong Kong aboard the Aquitania, which had been commandeered as a troop ship. Luckily, the Japanese had surrendered so they took Australian and South African soldiers home, many of whom had been prisoners of war. When they reached Cape Town, the ship was too big to get into the harbour so shore leave was cancelled. The Aussies did not take kindly to this news and jumped ship – they were promised a party in Cape Town and were not going to miss it. The Royal Marines had the unenviable (and not altogether successful) task of rounding them up. An account of this event can be found on line. Eventually they reached Australia – Dad said he would have been all around the world by the time he was 20 if they hadn’t come back the same way as they went!
When he was demobbed in 1946 he returned to Cocksedges, where he had to resume his apprenticeship. Times were hard as the young couple managed on apprentice wages. They shared a house with brother Arthur and his family before being allocated half a council house. There was such a shortage of homes fit for the returning heroes that couples had to share a house with people they didn’t even know. Eventually they were allocated a flat and in 1953 moved to a brand new house 17 Waterford Road. In the 1970s they had their own house built in Barham and have lived there ever since. He worked for Cocksedges for 51 years, working all over the country and abroad, including Iran.
In 2014, we all went to France for the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings. We were overwhelmed with the welcome that the veterans received from the French, young and old. It was an emotional and historic few days. On the 73rd anniversary on 6th June 2017, we travelled to the French residency in London to see Cyril receive the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest award, from the French ambassador in recognition of his service in the liberation of France.
Images and words courtesy of Erica Burrows.
Arthur and Cyril Scoffield
JAMES HENRY JORDAN MM 1888-1932
Jim was christened Henry James Jordan but was known all his life as James Henry, shortened to Jim. He was about the 13th child of Emily and John William Jordan, who were living at that time at 15 Handford Road, Ipswich. John William was, according to family legend, a larger-than-life character who worked on the ‘bumby’ or Night Soil carts.
In 1907 Jim enlisted into the Suffolk Regiment, spent a few weeks at Woolwich Barracks and then, probably to his great delight, found himself on the troopship ‘Dongola’ bound for Malta, arriving in Valetta Harbour on November 27th 1907. There were two barracks on Malta, and from the photographs of ‘B’ Company, we believe he was stationed at Fort Manoel. He can be seen on the photograph of the Armourers, Pioneers and Tailors, third from the left, second row from the front. He was trained by the army to be a tailor and my mother can remember a brown velvet dress he made for her second birthday.
The journal detailing life in the First Suffolks during these years in Malta is to be found in the Record Museum in Bury St Edmunds. Life seemed to consist of football, cricket, tug of war, water polo and bayonet fighting. We have a certificate showing that Jim learned to swim in the warm waters of Valetta Harbour – 200 yards in full clothing!
Jim is referred to once in the journal, he was part of a shooting team that won a competition and he won the princely sum of seven shillings and sixpence.
Three years later the Battalion were on the move, this time taking over from the First Welsh at Mustapha Pasha Barracks in Alexandria. Some men went off on camel training but Jim’s life continued much as before; sports, training and parades.
When war broke out in Europe the battalion was stationed in Khartoum; they were quickly ferried back to England, arriving in Liverpool in October 1914. Jim had three days leave which he spent at the family home, now 34 Black Horse Lane where his mother Emily ran a corner shop. Two older brothers who were reservists had already left home; Bill, a brother considerably older than Jim, had been accepted into the Home Guard, but younger brother Ben had not yet joined up. (He was later to join the Navy and served on the Royal Oak during the Battle of Jutland).
It was January 1915 when Jim found himself for the first time on French soil. The weather was cold and wet and it didn’t take long for the mens’ boots to start to disintegrate. From the hot winds of Khartoum to the freezing mud of ‘Wipers‘ – it must have come as a shock.
Jim’s war records were destroyed during the Second World War so we have made educated guesses as to his experiences during the course of the war. We know he was wounded three times and we know that he was not on active service when the Battalion was transferred to Salonika at the end of 1915, he must have been recuperating from an injury at the time. We know that from early 1916 Jim was in the Second Battalion – in April they were assigned trench digging duties in the Ypres Salient and in September that year they were involved in the Battle of Loos. By April 1917 the unit were fighting in the Battle of Arras. We know Jim was in the 7th Battalion when they marched underground into the caves underneath the town at Easter 1917.
Suffolk Regiment records:
10th April1917 the Battle of Arras
“By noon the 7th Battalion had captured the final objective taking 2 days along the Feuchy road.”
“The weather on the 9th was gradually becoming worse, much sleet and snow fell becoming deplorable”
28th April 1917
Suffolk Regiment 7th Battalion
Battle of Arleux (Part of the Battle of Arras)
“They immediately came under a most devastating machine gun fire from Roeux not yet taken and suffered very heavy losses”
(Reduced to 190 men)
Some time during September 1917 Jim was awarded the Military Medal. Perhaps he was a volunteer for the raids on enemy trenches that went on during that period. Unfortunately we will never know. During this autumn period, the Battalion took part in the Battle of Cambrai, in which tanks were used for the first time. On November 29th the men were exhausted. They were relieved and moved back to a sunken road less than half a mile from the front line. That night, Jim and his comrades were captured by the Germans, and forced to march miles behind enemy lines.
In January 1918 Jim is on the official register for Dulmen prisoner of war camp, although it is more likely that he was one of thousands forced to work behind the German front line. He pops up again in April 1918, on the register for Friedrichsfeld camp. The Red Cross record shows that he had injuries to his left shoulder and left thigh.
Family legend has it that Jim suffered from lack of medical attention and hunger during the year he was a POW and that it was this that probably led to an early death.
Back home in Ipswich Jim found work with his brother Bill on a building site. He met and married Maudie Crane in 1922 and after a few months living with his in-laws in Bath Street, moved into a newly built Council home – 9 Kelly Road.
I believe Jim and Maudie were very happy at Kelly Road. They both loved nothing more than a sing-song at the local pub. Jim kept canaries and filled his small garden with daffodils, a flower he loved. Apparently he was a very happy-go-lucky chap, who enjoyed a laugh and a chat. He could stick up for himself though. When a brother-in-law (one who had shirked war duties and couldn’t hold down a job) poked fun at Jim as, after several years, there were still no children, Jim gave him a black eye! Eventually Jean was born, in 1930 and Ronnie in 1932. By then, Jim had had to give up work due to a diseased heart. He spent his time making clothes and thick rag rugs, looking after the children and his beloved canaries.
One sunny day in May 1932 Jim decided to cut the hedge that ran along the back garden. It was here that he suffered a fatal heart attack. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Ipswich Cemetery, only a few steps from the Garden of Remembrance.
Images and details courtesy of Marian Thornley.