Lest We Forget Continued (page 17)
Much of this information has kindly been given by John Hillier, Ex 2nd Bn. Wiltshire Rgt. who was Dispatch Rider to the Carrier Platoon during this time of action. He goes on to say: “These brave men were among the carnage: Lt. Smith and Sgt. Rogers being killed and Digger and Ron Kilminster being wounded. Not too many men would have really known Lt. Smith, Digger and Ron, because they had not long been in the Battalion and, as we had been in action from the first Battle of Cassino up to Anzio and Rome, we mostly thought of self-preservation and only the people by your side ever mattered; you were the team. I can remember the last intake at the Garigliano River, in which I assume the three came to us, and thinking how long will these poor chaps last like myself in the hell of battle. You did not want to know names as it was bad enough to know one mate had been hit and if you did not know the name it did not hurt as much.” Eighteen 2nd Wilts men lost their lives in this action on the 3rd June 1944 and many more wounded, some severely. Lt. H.J. Smith is buried near Sgt. Rogers, along with sixty-two other 2nd Wilts men in Anzio Beach Head War Cemetery, Italy.
Lt. Herbert John Smith was twenty-six years old when he was killed in action and was the son of Herbert Edward and Jane Beatrice Smith of Highworth, Wiltshire. He came from a highly-respected Highworth family who were founders of the Oriental Fibre Mat and Matting Company in Brewery Street, Highworth. He was educated at Radley College and worked in the family business in Highworth. He also played cricket for Highworth Cricket Club.
Ron KILMINSTER, who was born and bred in Highworth, lived with his parents Frank and Florrie Kilminster in Park Avenue, Highworth. Ron‘s mother Florrie Kilminster, (nee Archer), was the cousin of Jack Archer of Highworth. Ron was also the cousin of Submariner Clarence Durnell, BEM, Royal Navy. Ron Kilminster joined the Army in December 1939, and was stationed at Plymouth. Afterwards he went with the 2nd Wilts to Italy. When Ron was badly wounded in the arm on 3rd June 1944, during the advance to Rome, he was taken to a Casualty Clearing Station and then brought back to a Hospital in Bradford, England. He was then transferred to another hospital nearer home at Boars Hill in Oxford, where he stayed for twelve months. Finally, when the war ended, he was discharged and came back home to Highworth, where he worked for many years for Wiltshire County Council.
Digger COTTON, who had also been wounded during the advance to Rome, was still with the battalion when they reached the Tiber. The 2nd Wilts were then taken out of the line to rest and one month later the battalion after sustaining six-hundred battle and sickness casualties in three months was transported to the restful setting of Palestine and Syria. After the war Digger Cotton was demobbed and came back home to Highworth where he worked for Messrs Percy Chick & Sons, Building Contractors of Highworth, until his retirement.
Two Companies of the Royal Army Service Corps were stationed in Highworth during the Second World War. 729 were at Eastrop Camp and 408 were in The Park. Driver Gerald BISS, 929 Company, Royal Army Service Corps, Air Transport, was stationed at Eastrop Farm Camp for about a year in 1944/45. One of his major jobs during that time was taking troops by three-ton Bedford Truck to nearby airfields, including Down Ampney, for transport by plane and gliders for the invasion of Europe. At one time he was stationed near Colchester at a war office Transport Camp situated on a section of the Colchester bypass. This was closed off for a detachment of RASC who were involved in packing containers for various resistance groups which were dropped by parachute behind enemy lines. After the war ended, he was transporting containers of blood from somewhere near Portsmouth to Down Ampney airfield where they were airlifted to various parts of the world to help the many war casualties. Eventually he moved to Nottingham and was then posted to Fahad, Egypt, then to 63 Company RASC Airborne Division in Palestine and afterwards to 6th Airborne Divisional Headquarters. At this time Palestine was a very uncertain place to be. He was then in 13 Company RASC when he was demobilised. During his stay in Highworth he met his wife Nancy who lived with her parents in King’s Avenue. After the war they married and settled in Highworth where they have lived in the same house in Turnpike Road for over fifty years.
Dave BEASLEY was another serviceman stationed at Eastrop Farm Camp who married a local girl (Betty) after the war. At the time Dave joined the Army he was living in Cardiff. His initial training was done with the South Wales Borderers before being transferred to the RASC. He was sent to Army Driving school where he was taught to drive various sizes of vehicles. Some of the training was done on a skid pan similar to those used today by the Police and Fire Service.
It was after the invasion of Europe that Dave eventually set sail from Liverpool to Bombay India, thence to Madras and then on to Chittagong. He then made the return journey by road back to Bombay. They were then sent to Malaya where they landed on an open beach. They stayed at Johor Bahru for a week and then moved on to Singapore for three months before moving to Jakarta in Indonesia where they were regularly shot at by terrorists. As they were poor shots, not much damage was done. During this time he was still attached to air dispatch, but was then transferred to a general transport company and sent back to Singapore. He was then sent to a Shell Mex oil refinery on an island eight miles off Singapore. It was called the Pula Sambo Oil Refinery. Among others on the island were men of the Green Howards. Towards the end of the war in the Far East he was transferred back to mainland Singapore and then back home. Like many others who served in the Far East, he said that if the Atom Bomb had not been dropped on Japan he doubts if he would have survived.
Eastrop Army camp was situated on the north side of the Highworth to Coleshill road between Eastrop Farm and Wickstead Farm. It was a small camp consisting of Army huts which later became a German Prisoner of War camp. During their stay there the three-ton lorries were parked on the roadside between Eastrop Farm and Fresden Lane. The lorries were used for carrying supplies of ammunition, petrol and parachute containers as well as Army personnel. Many of the supplies were brought by road from The Transfer near Swindon railway station and dispersed on the side of country roads, where they were covered by camouflage sheets and tarpaulins. One road in question was “Dicky Bailey’s Lane” near Hannington Wick, which had supply dumps either side of the road. These were situated just right for supplying Fairford Airfield. Supplies including petrol jerry cans were also taken to Kemble Airfield. All of these stores were part of the build up for the invasion of Europe in 1944. At this time Eastrop Farmhouse was used as the Officers’ Mess. In addition to Eastrop Camp there were other RASC units living under canvas in the Park at the end of Park Avenue and King’s Avenue. During the build up for the invasion of Europe, the Market Square and many of the side roads were full of army vehicles parked bumper to bumper. The army lorries in Station Road overflowed into the Home Farm field, now the Fair View bungalows. Army lorries with trailers were also situated on the grass verge from Wrag Barn cottages to Sevenhampton factory. These were covered with camouflage netting. As the time of the invasion drew near more activity became evident in the town and surrounding countryside. With the influx of military vehicles Highworth was becoming congested with constant convoys of tanks and Army lorries.