The following is a brief description of Brian Archer‘s and Barry Newman‘s visit to Bruyelle War Cemetery (1939-45) Belgium.
The date of our visit was 23rd August 1987. Time of arrival, 11.30am. European time. The cemetery is situated a few kilometres outside Tournai on the road to Valenciennes, France. Weather – warm hazy sunshine, very peaceful, birds singing in the trees. Along the back of the cemetery is a row of large weeping-willow trees with green fields behind and more broad-leafed trees beyond that. Cemetery very well kept, headstones very clear. Mostly Army casualties, but also some Aircrew and Royal Navy servicemen. Some graves of unknown soldiers. The majority of graves are young men in their teens. 900841 Lance Bombadier Tom H. BENNETT, B Troop, 366 Battery, 140 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, was killed in action on the 22nd May 1940, Age 19 years. He is buried in Plot 1, Row C, Grave 2, in Bruyelle War Cemetery, (1939-45). Belgium.
On the 9th November 1940, in the Dover Strait, the cargo ship SS Baltrader of 1,699 tons, (United Baltic Corp), was on its way from Seville to London when it was sunk by a mine. Able-bodied Seaman George Arthur Smith, of Westrop, Highworth, was a serving crewman on board the SS Baltrader (London) when she sank. He was 28 years old and was the son of Ernest and Bessie Smith and husband of Doris Amelia Smith. Having no known grave but the sea, he is commemorated by name on Panel 13 of the Tower Hill Memorial, London.
During 1940 several local men were called up to serve in the forces.
4620939 Trooper E.R. ORAM of the Royal Tank Regiment was one of those. The following is a short survey of Ted Oram‘s experiences in his own words.
“I had just got married and was settled in my first home at Hatherop in Gloucestershire working at the castle, when war was declared. I joined the army at Seaton Barracks, Plymouth, on the 16th May 1940. During my initial training I did many guards at Devonport Dockyard, some during air-raids. After four months initial training, I joined the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in Scotland, doing a lot of patrols. After a few months, I took an educational examination and was selected to do a nine-month course at Barnard Castle, County Durham, on tank driving and maintenance. At the end of the course I passed out with 96%, a really high percentage, and I was posted to the 9th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment, stationed at Ashford in Kent. We did a lot of patrols expecting the Germans to attack us over the Channel. Well, eventually we sealed our Churchill Tanks for the invasion of Europe. We went over on D-Day 6th June 1944 with the Canadians on Juno Beach. My claim to fame is that I drove a tank under the sea. We had very long extensions on our exhaust pipes, otherwise of course it would have been an impossibility. I remember the Tank Commander saying as we came off the L.C.T. (Landing Craft Tank) “Our lives are in your hands Oram”
As you know, we captured Bayeux on D-Day. We suffered heavy casualties to obtain it and eventually we fought at “Hill 112″ before breaking out of the bridgehead. At length we captured Caen, (we played the leading part) and went on to close the Falaise Gap to trap the Germans. We captured thousands of prisoners. We went on into Belgium and we played our part in the liberation of Brussels. A very memorable occasion. We went on into Holland, and I got wounded during an early morning attack on Roosendaal, near Eindhoven.
I was in hospital in Antwerp where the Germans were dropping a hundred V-Rockets every day. I was in a Canadian hospital. When I was well enough I returned to my Regiment. The Airborne Division landed at Nymegan and were in danger of annihilation. We were rushed to release them, succeeding after some bitter fighting. Eventually we attacked Germany itself; we were the first British troops on German soil when we captured Goch and Aitken. Eventually we crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge (my most nerve-wracking experience of the war I believe). Of course there was no return. We went on to capture Belsen Concentration Camp. I drove the first tank in and the scenes were horrific. Typhus was rampant there; you have undoutably read about it. After that we went on to capture Hanover and eventually we linked up with the Russians, another memorable occasion. They were all drinking vodka like water. Eventually at the end of February 1946, I was released from the army after going to Taunton from Hanover to get my demob suit, having completed six years in the Army. When I joined I told my wife I would be back in six months, instead it was six years.”
On 14th May 1940 Anthony Eden broadcast on the BBC an appeal for men of all ages for a new Force which would be called the Local Defence Volunteers. The name describes its duties in three words. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniform and you will be armed. Immediately after Mr Eden‘s broadcast, men from all walks of life came forward to volunteer and to give their names to the local police. Volunteers were enrolled between the ages of seventeen and seventy-five. In July 1940, the Local Defence Volunteers became the Home Guard. The 9th Battalion Wiltshire Home Guard was soon 1,000 men strong and made up of Six Companies, with Battalion Headquarters at Salthrop House, Wroughton. The six Companies consisted of one of each of the following:- Cricklade, Highworth, Wanborough, Wroughton, Wootton Bassett and Purton. Highworth, which was “D” Company, was commanded by Major Van de Weyer, with platoons at Highworth, South Marston, Stratton, Hannington and Castle Eaton.
On the 16th February 1942 the Battalion Headquarters was moved to the King and Queen Hotel, Highworth. Battalion Headquarters was now in a position to direct, organise and help companies with training in the use of the more complicated and heavier arms and equipment that had now been issued.
On the 31st March 1942, Major B. Van de Weyer handed Highworth Company over to Captain F.W. Jennings. Eventually it was laid down that the role of the 9th Battalion was to deny the enemy free passage through the Battalion area. For this purpose Highworth, Cricklade and Wooton Bassett, being centres of communication, were designated centres of resistance, through which no enemy was to be allowed to pass. The rural companies were to get information and report; destroy if possible, but at any cost, delay and harass them.