The Second World War
The Road To War
The 1920s and 1930s had seen Europe and much of the rest of the world survive through the long deep shadow of the First World War. That war had signalled the end to the old regimes, empires (Germany, Russia, Austro-Hungary & Ottoman) had fallen, nationalism, political extremism, communism and fascism had grown and were seen as a threat by many. The War had left millions dead and wounded in body and mind and millions of families were still suffering. Extreme economic depression had exacerbated all of these providing an environment allowing some to grow and making the effect of others even worse.
The 30s had seen the growth of fascism in Spain, Italy and Germany, and the communism in Russia; movements existed in the UK supporting these.
The remilitarisation of Germany, the civil war in Spain (won by gen Franco) (supported by Germany) and the Italy expansionism (under Mussolini) in North Africa (in 1935 Italy had invaded Abyssinia) all caused considerable unease in Britain. The actions the League of Nations took had no effect, and many clung to the hope that the horrors of the First World War meant another global war was impossible, but this approach possibly just encouraged both Hitler and Mussolini in their ambitions.
In Germany Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 and established a totalitarian one party state. He commenced remilitarisation and an aggressive foreign policy. German troops marched into Austria in March 1938 and Czechoslovakia in September. It now seemed inevitable that war was coming and despite the British Prime Minister’s (Neville Chamberlain) peace mission to Munich and the apparent ‘peace in or time’ agreement Germany continued her aggressive policies.
Britain realised that the economic situation had left the Forces poorly prepared and a policy to recruit and re-equip was put in place. As part of this plan the Territorial Army was doubled in size in 1938. There was a fear of mass air attach, possibly involving gas and Air Raid precaution (ARP) procedures were put in place, family and collective air raid shelters were built and everyone issued with a gas mask.
There still remained a considerable anti war movement in the UK preferring a policy of appeasement, but many recognised the threat and the abhorrent nature of Hitler’s Nazi Party and supported re-armament; many volunteered for service with the expanded TA.
If Germany was to wage war in the West (against France) the it was clear that this only be effective if they were not engaged on the Eastern Front and accordingly Germany signed a Non-Aggression pact with Soviet Russia.
Germany continued her aggressive moves on her Eastern Borders and Poland was under threat. Despite political moves to defuse the situation German troops marched into Poland at the end of August.
Patience and political efforts had been exhausted and following that invasion Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September.
This second conflict in less than 30 years would eventually spread and touch almost every corner of the globe.
Called to duty
The Territorial Army was mobilised - called up for fulltime service - on 1 September 1939.
The 1st Battalion had completed their annual camp at Locking near Weston Super Mare the previous week and all individuals were required to report to their local Drill Halls by 11.15 am on the 3rd, they then moved to Hereford before moving to a duty station at Tenby.
The 2nd Battalion were at camp at Locking, having taken over the camp from the 1st Battalion. They remained at camp until 10 September and then returned to their homes before immediately concentrating in Hereford to commence their war training.
On the expansion of the TA in 1939 the 1st Battalion’s disposition was: HQ Hereford, A Coy Hereford, B Coy Kington (wirh a platoon at Eardisley), C Coy Leominster (with a platoon at Weobley) and D Coy Leominster (with a platoon at Leintwardine). The Commanding Officer was Lt Col LF Sloane-Stanley.
When war was declared the Battalion had just returned from Annual camp. The Battalion concentrated in Hereford as part of 159 (Welsh Border) Brigade as part of 53 (Welsh) Division and commenced a long and varied period of training, which was to continue until the Battalion was committed to action in Normandy on 13 June 1944. The Battalion started with a strong nucleus of territorials and was quickly brought up to war establishment by drafts of militiamen and recruits.
The Battalion was stationed on Home Defence duties at Tenby from 8 Nov 1939 until 10 Apr 1940.
The German invasion of Norway and Denmark in April 1940 made raids against Northern Ireland, if not a full-scale invasion, possible, and it became essential that the troops in Northern Ireland should be reinforced. The threat of invasion became more real after the Dunkirk evacuation. There was also the possibility of Irish Republican action which in some areas was sympathetic to Germany.
Elements of 53 Div had been sent to Northern Ireland in Autumn 1939 and were reinforced with the remainder of the Division. In Mar 1940 Lt Col AD Bryant took command of the Battalion, which on 10 Apr 1940 left Tenby for Northern Ireland. The Battalion remained in Portrush until 7 Jun, when it moved to Larne, remaining there until 19 Jun. It was stationed at Castlewellan from 19 Jun 1940 until 9 May 1941, where it spent a most uncomfortable time under canvas, and then moved to Newcastle, where it remained until 16 Nov 1941, when it returned to England, arriving at Crewe on 18th, much to the joy of all ranks of the Battalion.
The HQ of 159 Bde were at Comberbach, and, after training in the Mountains of Mourne, it was a welcome relief to exercise in the Potteries, and later on the Downs of Kent. The Battalion left Crewe on 7 Apr 1942 and arrived at Linton, Kent, on the 9th, remaining there until 11 May, when it moved to the Militia camp at Maresfield, Sussex. In Kent the Bde HQ had been at Bearsted, and while there, in May 1942, 53 Division was selected to be reorganized as one of the 'new model divisions'. These were designed to meet the anti-invasion role in which the main requirement was quick offensive action by a powerful force in order to dislodge any invasion troops while they were off balance, and before they could become firmly established. This was achieved by replacing one infantry brigade by a tank brigade, and in consequence 159 Infantry Brigade was transferred to 11 Armoured Division, then reorganizing in the East Grinstead/Crowborough area of Sussex.
The Battalion converted to Lorryborne Infantry and this new role was adopted with great enthusiasm and the idea of training as part of an armoured division captured the imagination and gave a fillip to all. On leaving 53 Div the divisional sign of the red W was replaced by the black bull on a yellow rectangle, which was to become famous as the sign of 11 Armoured Division.
11 Armd Div was commanded by Maj Gen PCS Hobart (later Sir Percy Hobart). Training in close cooperation with infantry and tanks was the order of the day. This relationship soon became firmly cemented, and out of it grew the divisional esprit de corps.
The Battalion left Maresfield camp, Sussex, on 15 Aug 1942, having been there since 11 May, and moved to Weeting Hall camp, Brandon, in Suffolk. On 16 Aug 1942 the division was ordered to mobilize for North Africa to join the 1st Army. Everyone was highly elated by this prospect of active service after months of training, and there was much activity in preparing and re-equipping for the campaign.
In September 1942 Lt Col JB (Jack) Churcher took over Command of the Battalion. On 7 Jan 1943, in pouring rain while awaiting embarkation orders, the Battalion was inspected by HRH the Duke of Gloucester. On 20 Jan the Battalion left Weeting Hall camp and moved to West Tofts camp, Brandon, and here on 26 January 1943 the Brigade was inspected by HM King George VI.
Battalion transport was en-route for loading to ships when on 30 Jan 1943 they were recalled and the embarkation cancelled. This was a severe test of morale: there was great disappointment and the prospect of more training was not viewed with enthusiasm. However, leave was granted, and the Battalion resigned itself to the situation.
Training resumed with a series of exercises on Stanford Battle Training area in Norfolk. Special hardening exercises were carried out in the form of six-day route marches by companies. On 16 Mar 1943 the Battalion left West Tofts camp for Newmarket, where it was stationed in stables until 10 Jun 1943. The Battalion then moved to the East Riding of Yorkshire and were located at Hornsea and then Leven. It returned to Hornsea and spent Christmas 1943 there.
It was clear at this time that training was in preparation for ‘the invasion’. Maj Gen GPB (Pip) Roberts took command of the Division, and it was in his experienced and capable hands that it served with such distinction in the North West European Campaign.
In Yorkshire the infantry and armour were finally welded together into a team that worked with perfect understanding and trust. The combined camps at Butterwick and Burrow House were the forging grounds of 11Armd Div, and members of the Battalion will long remember the strenuous battle exercises which stood them in such good stead in the days which followed. Notable were exercises Eagle and Rum in Feb 1944.
The Battalion spent eight days training at the Combined Operations School at Inverary including embarkation and disembarkation drill in infantry landing ships and tank landing craft, assault landings across beaches, the use of scrambling nets and boat drill; MT drivers were instructed in waterproofing their vehicles, and practicing driving down ramps and through water obstacles. The Battalion also attended the street-fighting school at West Ham.
The Battalion also excelled on the sports field - the Battalion football team and in Jan won the East Riding District Services Cup, having won the Divisional League and Knock-out Competition earlier in the same season.
On 2 Apr 1944 the battalion left Hornsea and arrived in Aldershot on the following Tuesday, and there the Division concentrated as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force awaiting D-Day.
In Aldershot the Battalion had a series of photographs taken covering each company.
The history of the 1st Battalion after landing over the beaches in Normandy on D+6 (13 Jun) is related through the War Diaries.
On the expansion of the TA in 1939 the 2nd Battalion’s disposition was: HQ Hereford, W Coy Hereford, X Coy Ross On Wye, Y Coy Ledbury (with a platoon at Colwall) and Z Coy Bromyard. The Commanding Officer was Lt Col NG Blake MBE.
When war was declared the Battalion was still at Annual camp at Locking near Weston upper Mare. The battalion was mobilised as part of 114 Infantry Brigade part of 38 (Welsh) Division and wore the yellow cross of St David on a black shield as a shoulder flash. After concentrating in Hereford on return from Camp they Battalion moved to Glen Usk Park, Crickhowell until May 1940 when they moved to Rugeley Park, Cannock and then Oulton Park, Cheshire. At Oulton Park they received about 1000 men evacuated from Dunkirk.
In 1940 the Battalion was warned for overseas service, embarkation leave was authorised but the move cancelled and the Battalion remained on Home Defence duties and moved to Aintree, Liverpool. In Nov 1940 they moved to Camberley and were again warned for overseas service. In Jan 1941 Lt Col WA Grey took over command of the Battalion. The overseas deployment did not materialise and in Feb 1941 they moved to Aldershot and were then allocated to coastal defence and moved to Bognor Regis, Sussex and later to the Kent coast in the Hythe area.
In May 1942 the battalion was ordered to draft special platoons for combined ops training, individuals were also drafted to form new Battalions, many men went to overseas units including the West African Frontier Force. With this reduction of manpower the possibility of the Battalion deployment overseas reduced.
The Battalion then moved to Alnwick, Northumberland and an overseas deployment again seemed likely, but yet again did not happen and the Battalion remained on coastal defence duties. In Spring 1944 they moved to the Isle of Wight and were involved in the protection of the PLUTO sites.
In March 1944 Lt Col CD Barlow took command of the Battalion and shortly after D Day all available officers and men were drafted as reinforcements to the British Liberation Army in Normandy, with thew rump - 17 men - being transferred to 5KSLI.
The Battalion lapsed into ‘abeyance’ on 15 Jul 1944.
World War 2
Herefordshire and The Herefordshire Regiment contributed fully to the war effort. Although the county was not in the front line and was not subject to the Luftwaffe blitz, it did suffer some minor bombing.
On the Home Front the Royal Ordnance factory at Rotherwas produce munitions and became a key employer in the county. Troops were stationed in the county, in the early years British troops but late overseas troops especially the Americans which set up camps prior to D Day which after D Day became military hospitals. The RAF set up 3 training airfields in the county.
This ingress of the military, rationing and the absence of many men with the forces impacted on every family.
Men, and later women were all called upon to do ‘their bit’, in addition to their daily jobs many men joined the Home Guard, women were employed in industry and on ‘the land’ as part of the Women’s Land Army at a scale which had not been seen before. Every village and town had its Home Guard, 6 Battalions existed in the county and when the Home Guard was stood down in December 1944 there were over 6000 Home Guardsmen.
Many men and women joined the forces, many voluntary but later by conscription. They served at sea, in the air and on land in all parts of the world.
The County’s own Regiment, The Herefordshire Regiment was only a Territorial Regiment and had its 2 Battalions had been mobilised in 1939, it had received volunteers and conscripts throughout the war. The First Battalion had served in Northern Ireland and then become part oof 11 Armoured Division training for ‘the invasion’. After landing over the beaches of Normandy they had fought in the breakout from Normandy, the rapid armoured advance across Northern France, the liberation of Antwerp and then the bitter fighting through Germany to end the war on the Danish Border, before taking part in OP BLACKOUT the final operation of the war.
The Second Battalion had been allocated to UK Home Defence, and as a unit never saw overseas service although many of the individuals did transfer to operational units. The Battalion was eventually stood down shortly after D Day when the men were transferred to units in France needing reinforcement and replacement for casualties.
The Regiment suffered at least 271 fatalities, this includes some who were serving with other units but does not include that that had transferred to other units. Not all fatalities were battle casualties some died as a result of accident or illness.
The Regiment was awarded 4 Distinguished Service Orders, 2 MBEs, 11 Military Crosses, 3 Distinguished Conduct Medals, 25 Military medals plus Mention in Despatches and Foreign Awards.
The Home Guard also suffered at least and fatality whilst on duty and received at least 2 MBEs and one British Empire Medal.
The Regiment was awarded the 10 Battle Honours to be borne on The Regimental Colours: Odon, Bourguebus Ridge, Souleuvre, Falaise, Antwerp, Hechtel, Venraij, Hochwald, Aller and North West Europe 1944-45.