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Saturday, 31 March 2012

War Memorials - Beyond the Internet

Cassmob at Family History Across the Seas, has introduced a series "Beyond the Internet" to highlight some of the sources for family stories beyond our computer screens.  The latest theme focuses on War Memrials.

Few families in the land could have escaped the impact of two World Wars, and my own was no exception.

War Memorials give no more than a stark name, yet they are one of the most powerful, poignant  and emotive of family history resources, recording the loss of young lives under harrowing circumstances. 

George Danson

John Danson with his fiancee
Dorothy Chisholm
My two great uncles died in the First World War, and are remembered on the  War Memorial at Poulton-le-Fylde,  Lancashire (photograph above).   George, the youngest of eight sons of James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe.  was only 22 - a stretcher bearer in the Royal Army Medical Corps, killed at the Battle of the Somme 16th September 1916.   Eight months later. his brother,  John, a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, died.

So many local historians are now taking on board projects to research and publish accounts of the men behind the war memorial names.   

A prime earlier example from 1921  in my own town in the Scottish Borders  is "Hawick and the Great War:  A Pictorial Record" published by the local newspaper and featuring, with an index,  photographs of those who served,  together with wartime scenes of men marching away, and life on the  home front.  My archive centre also holds a large collection of postcards c.1920 featuring the unveiling of war memorials in towns and small villages across the region.  So it is always worth contacting your relevant  centre to see what has been done at a local level to record and remember those who gave their lives in war. 

War Memorials range from the simple to the ornate, yet all are in the own way moving.  

This is the imposing war memorial in  Hawick,   The setting is Wilton Lodge Park, a former 107 acre estate of the Pringle family, whose  home is now the town museum displaying illuminated rolls of honour of the war dead.   

Below is the war memorial (left)  at Oban on the west coast of Scotland. It is in a most beautiful peaceful setting, with a background of sea and hills over the Isle of Mull - far removed from the horrors of war.  Right - the memorial in the small village of Taynuilt, near Oban.

Copyright © 2012  Susan Donaldson - All Rights Reserved

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Dad's Advance into Germany - Spring 1945: Military Monday

The following is taken from notes that my father John Weston (1912-2003) made on his war experiences.  He often talked about them and I am afraid it often did provoke the reaction “Not the war again, Dad”.  It was only later that we came to realise what a life-defining period it was and I persuaded him to write down an account.  This is his story of his advance into Germany.   

“I served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch and was indoctrinated into the mysteries of Enigma and the One-Time Pad code.  I was seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ and landed in Normandy in 1944 for the advance on Paris and then onto Verdun and Luxembourg.

The Germans were now using their radios and we broke an incepted signal which spoke of a Col. Otto Skorzeny along with 50 or 60 English speaking Germans, dressed in GI uniforms from GI prisoners of war or dead GIs, had broken through the US lines, near the city.   Their plan was to kill Eisenhower or any other US general.  Anyone moving around that night not giving the correct password (which was Betty Grable), was shot on the spot.    Col Skorzeny got away but many of the others were killed or taken prisoner. 

We cracked a signal from von Runstedt to Hitler, which read, “Our troops are exhausted, we have little fuel, we are retreating”.  After this we moved north of Luxembourg to Malmedy on the west bank of the Rhine. 

On March 7th 1945, there was great excitement in our operations vehicle.  We learned that a railway bridge across the Rhine at Remagen was still intact – the charges had failed to explode. A US infantry battalion rushed across the bridge to the east bank.

General Hodges of the US 1st Army and General Pete Quesdata of the US 9th Tactical Air Force came to our operations truck, asking us to send an immediate signal to General Montgomery, as they wanted to push tanks and more men across the still standing bridge.  I was on duty that night -  it was around 7pm.  Within the hour we had a signal back form Monty refusing permission.  He said it would interfere with his plans to cross the Rhine.  The American Generals’ language was salty – they were mad!  They then asked us to contact Eisenhower back in Versailles.  His reply was “go ahead”.  About 9000 GIs went across to hold a bridgehead.  Six days later the Germans shelled the bridge and put paid to any further movements. 

I crossed into Germany at Trier.  I recall that vividly.  Patton’s tanks were ahead of us and were nearing the Rhine.  His engineers threw a pontoon bridge across and we followed.  I was driving our operations vehicle – there were GIs on the bridge with machine guns, urging me to push on quickly in case of air attack.  We made it and an hour later drove into Wiesbaden to what had been the Luftwaffe’s former HQ. 

One day when I was off duty, I went to the railway station, which had been badly bombed.  Outside I found 12 German cars.  I looked at what I thought was the best, tried to start it – no joy.  So I got word back to the US motor pool and someone came out with a battery, fitted it and I drove away to the HQ.

It was my birthday (April 15th) when I handled one of the last signals Hitler radioed to his generals.  It read, “Germany will never be Russian.  Austria will be German again and Germany will become a great nation”.  This was sent from his bunked where he later committed suicide. 

V-Day arrived.  The GIs went wild, but we took it all quietly, with coffee and doughnuts from the Red Cross post – very very nice!”

See Also:
My Normandy Story & Paris Welcome  

A Meal of 5 Boiled Sweets:  Dec 1944  

Copyright © 2012, Susan Donaldson.  All rights Reserved

Monday, 19 March 2012

We're On the Move - Blogging's on the Back Seat

Regular readers of my blog will know that blogging means a lot to me, but it is going to be on the  back seat for a few months, as we are on the move. 

Countryside around Earlston (Summer 2011)

Life at the moment is taken up with cleaning, chucking, boxing, bagging, packing, and trying to declutter 40 years of married life.

Everything has happened very quickly but in late April we are moving 25 miles north to Earlston, a large village  in Berwickshire,  to be near our daughter and family. 

We currently live in Hawick where it is very unusual  if you do not have a hill to contend with.  We are at the top of a long steep  hill, with  steps up to the house and with a large terraced garden - a great place at one time, but not now when we both are coping with arthritic knees! 

Old Bridge at Earlston, built 1737 (Jan 2012)
 So a small bungalow with a  small garden in Earlston is very appealing, and we are looking forward to this new stage in our life and seeing more of our little granddaughter.  It ticks all our boxes - except the fact we will need to get broadband installed, which we hope won't take too long  - and then I will be back blogging.  So keep an eye on this space!

Leader Water at Earlston (Summer 2011)


   Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved