This photo shows the 1938-39 Old Emanuel First Fifteen at Blagdons, the Old Emanuel Rugby grounds. But the men in the photo were anything but ‘old’. Most of them had only left Emanuel a few years previously and when this photo was taken they were all in their early twenties. They couldn’t have possibly known what the future held as they gathered that winter afternoon in Raynes Park. Within nine months Europe was at war for the second time in less than a quarter of a century. Within two years the European war had become a world war and these young men signed up to serve in the forces. They served in Britain, Burma, France, Italy and North Africa. They saw action in some of the fiercest theatres including at Dunkirk, the Italian Campaign battles, Kohima, D-Day and the North African War. Three were made POWs and four were killed in action.
Below are six short portraits of six of the fifteen. The photos show each of them in the winter of 1938-39 and then a photo of them during the war.
Douglas ‘Sammy’ Hoare, F/O 74 Squadron RAF, later Group Captain, POW 25 June 1940 – September 1944. He was captured during the evening of 25th May on the beach between Calais and Dunkirk, together with French civilians and some British Army officers who had evacuated from Calais.
Ken Horseman, Rifleman, 6915329, Rifle Brigade. Captured 29/12/41. POW 1941-1945
On being captured in the Desert on 29th December 1941 Ken remembered: “I got up, and immediately about three Jerries came towards us, one with a revolver, and the other with Tommy-guns. They shouted ‘hands up, hands up’, and we had to explain that the Major was wounded and couldn’t put his hands up. We got to the truck and the Jerries were already looting the back. I saw Bert for the first time, and he wasn’t a pretty sight, so we put some of the truck sheets over his head as he was lying on the ground near the tailboard. The Jerries looked after the Major pretty well, and bandaged up his arm right away, while we asked the jerry sargent if we could bury Bert. He seemed quite pleased that we had suggested it, so Shirley, one of the other signallers and I dug a shallow hole (all we had time for), wrapped Bert in a couple of blankets, and covered him up.”
Ken Millist, P/O, DFC, 615 AND 73 Squadrons RAF. Killed in action 7th April 1941, North Africa.
Eddie Page, Captain, 1st Gurkha Rifles. Eddie saw action throughout the campaign in Burma, including in the Battle of Kohima.
Alan Skillern, Major, 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Killed in action 17th January 1944, Garigliano River.
Alan wrote about his experiences shortly after the Allied Armies launched their campaign to liberate Italy from German forces in September 1943. Writing a few days after the Salerno Landings in September 1943, Alan described how he felt the night before: “After dinner most of us went to our own cabins where, in the privacy of them, we studied our maps and mosaics for the hundredth time. As a Company Commander – I did. I remember asking myself, ‘what haven’t I done?’ – ‘Did I explain that?’ – ‘God, that road looks different’ – If “————“ goes, can I have Sergeant “————“ to take over the Platoon? – and so on unceasingly . Finally and almost in desperation, I tried to sleep but, like the others, I only turned restlessly; waiting for the loud-speakers to announce TROOPS PREPARE TROOPS PREPARE. It came and the reaction was in the pit of my stomach which momentarily experienced a sudden sensation of – nausea was it? I don’t know!”
David Warren, Major, later Brigadier, Hampshire Regiment, MC, DSO
From David’s obituary we learn that: “On September 8 1943, Warren, who had already taken part in the invasion of Sicily, was commanding C Company, 1st Battalion the Royal Hampshire Regiment, part of 231 Infantry Brigade, in an assault landing at Pizzo in Calabria. Racing up difficult, hilly country, Warren and his men reached the main coast road and surprised a column of German armoured fighting vehicles.
Taking command at once of the leading sections, Warren personally led an attack which killed a number of Germans and destroyed several vehicles. In the words of his MC citation: “By his promptness and eagerness for a fight he set a fine example, and in his personal leadership showed complete disregard of his own safety.
By June 1944 the Hampshires had been withdrawn from Italy to take part in the invasion of France, and on D-Day they were in the first wave of the landings at Gold Beach, Le Hamel. Warren, still commanding C Company, led his men across the beach under heavy fire and attacked the houses and pillboxes which were his immediate objectives. Later, when the CO was wounded disembarking from a landing craft and the second-in-command was killed, Warren took command of the battalion and, despite it having suffered very heavy casualties, led it on to capture a series of very stubbornly defended gun positions and infantry strongpoints.
In the words of his DSO citation: “Major Warren showed the greatest courage and leadership and captured ground essential to the success of the operation.” Warren remained in command of the battalion until the arrival of a more senior and experienced officer and then continued as second-in-command until, a few days later, he was wounded during the fighting to extend the Normandy bridgehead and evacuated to England.”