The Royal Army Medical Corps on the D-Day Beaches

As the living memory of the terror of the D-Day beaches sadly wanes as each anniversary passes, it is important to remember the role that members of the Royal Army Medical Corps played during that terrible, but ultimately successful invasion. The following extracts are drawn from my recent book Faithful in Adversity: The Royal Army Medical Corps in the Second World War

Faithful in Adversity

The men who sailed from the south coast on the night of 5th June as part of Operation Overlord and those who followed them in the ensuing days had been issued with a small folded card entitled First Aid for Fighting Men, `to help him to go on fighting and to aid his friend in that cold interval between getting hit and getting help.’ Men were reminded, `Wounds can look frightful. Be prepared for this. Remember modern surgeons can do wonders. Nature does her best to heal all wounds. But give Nature a chance. Stop wounds getting worse. That is your job. That is First Aid.’ Advice was given on prioritising treatment and avoiding exacerbating the injury. `There may be two or three wounded at once. Treat the most urgent first. Keep under cover. If mechanised, turn off petrol. Look out for falling walls. Any fool can be brave and get killed. Be brave, don’t get killed and save your friend instead.’ There was advice on how to stop bleeding by putting a fist into the wound, how to apply a tourniquet and how to tie down a broken limb.

First Aid for Fighting Men4
A potentially lifesaving card issued to all those who took part in Operation Overlord.

Behind this initial advice on self-help came a layer of trained medics, with at least one medical orderly in each landing craft. Seventy landing craft were reserved exclusively as water ambulances to evacuate the wounded. Dressing stations would be set up on the very beaches as men fell, staffed by doctors, stretcher-bearers and blood transfusion units.

RAMC Ambulance D-Day
RAMC Ambulances make their way across the Channel to Normandy

Four field ambulances sited across the Channel, three along the south coast and one on the Isle of Wight. Acting as ADSs, casualties would be resuscitated by men in these units. To compliment these dressing stations, hospitals at the Channel ports functioned as surgical centres for wounded troops who required an immediate operation. This arrangement was temporary, pending the establishment of general hospitals on the French mainland. During the early days of the invasion, all casualties were evacuated to Britain, except for a handful cases for whom transportation would have jeopardised their chances of survival.

One member of the RAMC who came under fire on D-Day was Private David Briggs, a conscientious objector who had managed to gain a transfer from the Pay Corps to the RAMC. Interviewed on the wireless on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, he recalled the stillness before the storm as he waited to set sail across the Channel:
The thing that has always stuck in my mind was the sound of nightingales, the most beautiful sound, which drifted across the water into our boat. Every night we’d hear these wonderful songs from the nightingales and it was very, very peaceful. And it was the contrast between that and D-Day that has stuck in my mind.

David Briggs
David Briggs, who survived the D-Day landings and would mark 75 further anniversaries of 6th June 1944.

Briggs had vivid memories of his first approach to the beaches, arriving around midday on 6th June:
There was of course an awful lot of air activity, planes all over the place and we never knew if we were going to be torpedoed or not. Although it was only a few hours after the invasion started, there was a kind of eerie quiet on the beach…The first thing I saw was a dead Canadian lying in the water…The landing craft was relieved of the tanks. The tanks rolled out onto the beach and then all the space that was left… we had brackets coming out of the walls to hold stretchers. Our job as medics was to go onto the beach to rescue the wounded of all nationalities; German as well as English and ferry them back to the UK. And then that job was finished and then we were discharged from the boat. We were told later that the boat was torpedoed and sunk.
The men from No. 223 Field Ambulance who were to land on Sword beach on D-Day were divided between two landing craft, in case one was attacked there would still be enough men to operate as a field ambulance.  Private Jim Wisewell and the man who was sharing a stretcher with him decided to sleep under one of the tanks the craft was carrying for shelter. Like many, he sought strength in his religious faith, I remember I wasn’t particularly anxious. I read my Bible before turning in that night and prayed for all of us and got off to sleep fairly quickly.’

Wisewell landed on Sword Beach at Lion-sur-Mer between 10am and 10.15 on D-Day. The precious tanks were unloaded from the landing craft first, then an officer said “come on chaps” and Wisewell went down the ramp and made for the nearest shell hole, under intensive shelling and mortar fire. As well as the joint responsibility for a stretcher, he carried a large haversack of medical equipment, including hot water bottles to help counteract the shock the wounded would experience.
Although Wisewell could see a wounded man in the next shell hole to his, but he was under strict orders to leave the casualties on the sand to a Beach Dressing Station, and to move inland to form a Field Dressing Station near a rendezvous point at Hermanville. It was on the road between Lion-sur-Mer and Hermanville that Wisewell saw his first D-Day fatalities. A mortar had landed killing three of the division:
One of them had practically dissolved from the waist downwards. The other one was in a kneeling position on one knee and he seemed to be unmarked. And the other one was just a shapeless mess. And I looked down at my foot and there was something which looked like a pound of steak, and this was obviously part of one of them.
As the casualties started to pour in at the dressing station, the doctor had to `play God’ in deciding which men could be treated and which left to die. Wisewell, having qualified as a Nursing Orderly First Class, was splinting fractures, dressing wounds and injecting morphia and anti-gangrene serum.
Captain Geoffrey Haine of the No. 49 Field Surgical Unit left Felixstowe at dawn on 6th June, eventually landing on King Beach at 2am the following morning. The water-proofed ambulance lorries started up and went down the ramp and through three feet of water without any issues. On the beach the drivers expected to find markers to indicate where steel mesh tracks had been laid down, but they were not visible and the heavily-laden lorries soon become bogged down, axle deep, in the sand. Having tried to dig the lorries out, an irate Beach Marshall approached the unit and informed them that, as the tide was coming in, that they should carry off as much equipment as possible and abandon the lorries:

Geoffrey Haine
Captain Geoffrey Haine RAMC

That did not sound like a very successful ending to our training and so seeing a Royal Engineer working with a Bulldozer, I persuaded him – or may be used my rank for I was then a Captain and ordered him to pull us out. Thanks to him he soon got us back on the track and we got into the little holiday resort of Ver sur Mer as dawn was breaking.
Haine then saw first battle casualty, a young man who had been shot and killed instantly. Rigor mortis had set in quickly and he was still in sniper firing position. Although he was to see many gruesome sights during the advance through Europe that young soldier remained in his mind.
Having proceeded to Jersualem on the road between Bayeux and Tilly, Haine was involved in a macabre episode. One of the first casualties was a man with abdominal injuries, suffering from severe shock. As he became more shocked during the operation, Major Tuckett placed an abdominal clamp over a bad injury in the bowel and returned him to the ward with the hope that after further resuscitation he would be fit for further surgery. After completing further operations on other casualties, it was discovered that the patient had died, and had been buried with the clamp still in situ. As the clamp was essential for medical operations, after consultation with the padre, it was agreed that the grave could be opened up and the clamp retrieved.

A fuller account of the actions of Royal Army Medical Corps personnel, both those serving with airborne and seaborne units during Operation Overlord, can be found in my recently published book. Faithful in Adveristy: The Royal Army Medical Corps in the Second World War

Faithful in Adversity


This post is dedicated to the memory of David Briggs, who died on 16th March 2020. I had the privilege of meeting David in Bedford in 2014.

Recruiting the Orderlies: The RAMC in the Second World War (2)

The previous post in this series examined the Army medical training infrastructure that had to be expanded during the early stages of the war. This piece will give an idea of the range of men who either volunteered or were conscripted to serve as orderlies in a variety of general and specialist technical roles. Some had already been members of the territorial army before the war,  whilst others had a general interest in medicine and first aid. Others were merely assigned randomly to the corps. A further group, the conscientious objectors, were posted to the RAMC on the basis that they would not have to bear arms against a fellow human.
David Jones, a cost clerk with a gas company, was already a member of a Territorial RAMC unit and therefore on the Monday following Chamberlain’s announcement on the wireless that Britain was at war he reported to Finsbury Barracks in north London. After a morning of some confusion as to how to organise the influx of what was now a regular army, Jones soon became one of many men who took a dislike to army drills and the way in which they were conducted:

When I arrived at the barracks there was chaos and we just sat around in groups waiting for something to happen. At midday they told us to “fall in” on the parade ground and then they marched us through the streets to the local ABC restaurant. We all sat down and had steak and kidney pie with vegetables and some sort of fruit pie with custard.
The next day was a little different and they were more organised. We were taken out onto the parade ground and a little squint-eyed Sergeant called Stanton put us through two hours of marching up and down. He soon got to know me and every so often shouted out “Jones, take that smile off your face”. Then he would have a go at someone else and it was not long before we all hated him.

Ronald Ritson had left school aged fourteen to begin work as a coal miner at Walkmill Colliery in Cumberland. The colliery maintained a branch of the St. John’s Ambulance which Ritson joined, competing with other local mines to win a shield for the most efficient unit. Ritson also availed himself of the option to join the unit’s Military Hospital Reserve, which afforded him additional opportunities for medical training, but also meant that in the event of war breaking out, he would be liable to an immediate call-up.
On Monday 4th September, on completion of his shift in the darkness of the pit, Ritson arrived home at 3p.m. to be greeted with the equally dark news that his call-up papers had arrived, and he was to catch a train at Bransty Station, Whitehaven at 7p.m. Ritson did not have the opportunity to formally give his notice at work, and had to say a hurried farewell to his parents and siblings.

Paul Watts, a resident assistant golf professional, had joined the local ARP and became a Gas instructor for his home village of Mundesley. He was also the local Scout Master and when interviewed for call up was told that unfortunately he would not qualify for the infantry as he had flat feet. As someone who earned his living from sport, this amazed him. However, he was not too sorry to miss out on the infantry and pointed out that he had been trained in first aid for his scout work, suggesting his skills could be used in the RAMC.

PIC S Paul Watts
Paul Watts

Jim Whitaker had worked in a shoe factory in Lancashire before the war. His employer wanted a qualified first-aider on the staff of the factory and had offered to pay the course fees of anyone who applied. Whitaker leapt at the opportunity and was able to gain experience of ambulance driving and treating patients in this additional role. However, as he was thus considered a key worker for Civil Defence, he was not permitted to volunteer from the RAMC, as was his wish, and had to wait for his age group to be called up before being assigned to the corps.

PIC9 Corporal Jim Whitaker Taken after the Relief of Brussels 1944. SWWEC
Jim Whitaker

Walter Hart, a printer and bookbinder from the Jewish East End of London was another territorial, like David Jones, who found his initiation into army food provisions a pleasant experience. Hart was part of the 1st Militia, the first batch of troops to be conscripted, and had been a member of the St John’s Ambulance before the war as well as serving as a sergeant in the Jewish Lads’ Brigade. Having signed on at a Labour Exchange in May 1939, he was passed as A1 at a medical and posted to the training depot at Crookham:

On arrival we were told to form a queue, so that we could be checked in. Just then a red tabbed colonel came by and said a few words of welcome. After being booked in we were led by a sergeant to a big mess hall, there meeting our view, were tables placed in pairs end to end. Each table was covered by a white sheet, serving as a tablecloth, and on each was a small vase with flowers. The kindly sergeant told us to sit down and we were served with tea and sandwiches by corporals who were present. The sergeant declared, “This is only a snack, you will get a proper lunch later.” 

However, this kindness was merely for the benefit of the attendant members of the press, out in full force to cover the story of the first batch of conscripts. After they had left, the tablecloths and flowers were removed and a sergeant barked, “Right twelve to a table”. The final two men to sit down were appointed mess orderlies for the week, assigned the task of dishing out the food and removing and wash the empty pots afterwards. During the meal an officer came round and asked if there were any complaints. Having been previously warned that if anyone complained, they would be `in for it, no-one raised any objection despite the awfulness of the food.’

Charles Quant had lost the use of an eye in a boyhood accident, and when he went for an initial medical examination to join the army, he was told by the doctor that he was unfit for military service due to only having one working eye:

I said I was a very good shot with rifle or shotgun, but he said that King’s Regulation said that nobody with only one eye could shoot. I was cheeky and asked him if he could shoot, he said he did. I asked him which eye he closed and he said the left. I said that my left eye was permanently closed, but he stuck to the point about King’s Regulations and sent me home.

Nevertheless, Quant was called for interview a few months later and told that there was an opening in the RAMC to train as a radiographer. Keenly, he accepted this offer and was sent to the training depot at Church Crookham, and thence to the training college at Millbank, coinciding with the during start of the blitz.

PIC H Charles Quant with Hypo the dog
Charles Quant with Hypo, the dog that would accompany his unit through much of the Middle Eastern Campaign

John Broom was a twenty-three year old furniture salesman from Colchester at the time of his call-up and appeared before the medical board on 24th February 1940, being classed as Grade `A1’. He was deemed to have enlisted on 15th March 1940, on which date his devoutly Christian parents gave him a pocket bible with the following inscription:

To my darling John
With fondest love
From Mum and Dad
March 15th 1940

And when He putteth forth
His own sheep
He goeth before them…
Kept by the Power of God
Peter 1.5.
In all thy ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct thy paths
Proverbs 3.6

This bible was to remain with him throughout the war, and indeed throughout the rest of his life. His mother Florence, like many women of her generation, had to send her son off to war just twenty-five years after seeing her husband depart for the horrors of the First World War trenches. On his arrival in Leeds, John wrote `Regarding my departure, you were very brave and the circumstances were the best possible. I realise how very much you must have been dreading it. Truly you all bore yourselves with conspicuous courage. I am glad you didn’t break down, though I should have understood it if you had’.
The stories of dozens of individuals who served across all theatres of the Second World War are told in my critically acclaimed book Faithful in Adversity: The Royal Army Medical Corps in the Second World War  published by Pen & Sword.

Faithful in Adversity

The Retreat to Dunkirk: Stanley Cross, George Mussared and 150 Field Ambulance

Men from the Yorkshire city of Kingston-Upon-Hull formed the backbone of 150 Field Ambulance, a territorial unit which had been formed in 1939. Based in Wenlock Barracks in the west of the city, this RAMC unit formed part of 50th (Northumbrian) Division. Nineteen of its cohort would lose their lives in the war, predominantly during the retreat from France in 1940 and the Battle of Gazala in 1942.

One of those killed was 19-year-old George Mussared. A former pupil of Kingston
School on Hull’s Boulevard, George had a posthumous school prize named in
his honour. During the Battle of Arras in May 1940, George was badly injured and was carried by his RAMC comrades, including Private Stanley Cross, as the unit dispiritedly made its way towards Dunkirk. However a German strafing attack pierced the side of the ambulance lorry in which young George was being carried, and he was killed on 22 May 1940.

George Mussared

Private George Mussared RAMC

Stanley Cross always remembered young George, as did many people in the tightly-knit community of West Hull.

PicZ Stanley Cross

Private Stanley Cross RAMC

For decades after his death, on the anniversary of his birth, 1 January, family members and friends would insert memorials in the Hull Daily Mail. Devout Christians, who attended the Boulevard Methodist Church The family also sought to understand their loss through their faith. For George’s gravestone, situated near Outtersteene on the Franco-Belgian border, they chose the epitaph


An RAMC comrade named ‘Cyril’ inserted a tribute in the Hull Daily Mail reinforcing George’s faith: ‘He died as Christ would have him die.’ ‘Charlie’ of the RASC wrote, ‘So we part sadly to meet in sweet Jerusalem’, and George’s sweetheart, ‘Emmie’, recorded that she felt he was ‘Safe in God’s haven of peace’.

A decade later, his cousin Tom would recall ‘The wonderful memory of his smiling face and loving disposition’ which ‘will ever be an inspiration to those who loved him’.

George’s parents, who like so many hundreds of thousands, had to carry the memory of their son’s life cut cruelly short, beseeched God to ‘Hold him, O Father, in Thine arms and let him for ever be a messenger of love between our aching hearts and Thee’.

Stanley Cross managed to make it to Dunkirk, from where he was able to board a converted coal carrier. The combination of the water he had swallowed during his embarkation and the sooty conditions on the vessel meant that his medical category was downgraded upon his return, and Stanley saw out the remainder of the war as a nursing orderly at Edinburgh Castle, which had been converted into a PoW camp for
injured enemy servicemen.

Although Stanley was able to continue with a relatively normal post-war life, the young comrade who had been killed beside him in May 1940, Private George Mussared, left an enormous hole in the life of his devoutly Methodist family and friends.

One of George’s boyhood friends, John Hunter, forever felt deep anguish over the loss of his chum. Even 56 years later, on his birthday, he bemoaned the fact that he had had over half a century of life, an experience denied to George. One memory John would relive was a day spent on the River Humber in 1938, when a lifetime of promise awaited them. One of them would live to old age, whilst the other would never fulfil his ambitions, leaving decades of grief for the many who loved him.

John Hunter and George Mussared 1938 Humber (1)

John Hunter and George Mussared enjoying life on the River Humber, 1938
(Courtesy of John’s family)

George Mussared and Stanley Cross are just two of the many members of the Royal Army Medical Corps who feature in my book Faithful in Adversity: The Royal Army Medical Corps in the Second World War

Faithful in Adversity



Major Lanoe George Hawker VC, DSO, RFC


Nearing the end of a long day’s driving, we came across the village of Longparish, Hampshire. Remarking that we had not seen a war memorial window for quite some time, we eventually found the picturesque church of St Nicholas. On entering, I noticed a striking window at the far end of the north wall, and our patience was more than rewarded.


Depicting St Michael looking down in triumph from the heavens, with representations of two airmen gazing at their hangars, it is dedicated to Major Lanoe George Hawker VC, DSO, RFC. It sits amongst a series of memorials to members of the Hawker family, many with military connections stretching back to the eighteenth century. The airfield shown is that at Bertangles, from which Hawker flew.

Hawker 1Detail from the Hawker window

Hawker 2

Lanoe Hawker was one of the early flying `aces’ of the First World War. Serving in France from 1914 onwards, he was instrumental in the development of many mechanical improvements in the operation of aircraft in warfare. He also introduced the idea of thigh-length sheepskin boots to protect pilots from frostbite whilst in the air.

Lanoe Hawker

Major Lanoe Hawker, VC, DSO

In April 1915, Hawker was awarded the DSO for an engagement with a German Zeppelin. His citation, reported in the London Gazette of 8th May 1915, read:

For conspicuous gallantry on 19 April 1915, when he succeeded in dropping bombs on the German airship shed at Gontrode from a height of only 200 feet under circumstances of the greatest risk. Lieutenant Hawker displayed remarkable ingenuity in utilizing an unoccupied German captive balloon to shield him from fire while maneuvering to drop the bombs.

On 25th July 1915, he became the first fighter pilot to be awarded the Victoria Cross. The London Gazette of 24th August 1915 reported:

For most conspicuous bravery and very great ability on 25 July 1915. When flying alone he attacked three enemy aeroplanes in succession. The first managed eventually to escape, the second was driven to the ground damaged, and the third, which he attacked at the height of about 10,000 feet, was driven to earth in our lines, the pilot and observer being killed. The personal bravery shown by this officer was of the very highest order, as the enemy’s aircraft were armed with machine guns, and all carried a passenger as well as a pilot.

Eventually Hawker’s luck ran out, and he was shot down and killed by the `Red Baron’, Manfred von Richtofen on 23rd November 1916. Von Richtofen gave an account of this engagement in his autobiography, Red Air Fighter (1917)

In view of the character of our fight it was clear to me that I had been tackling a flying champion. One day I was blithely flying to give chase when I noticed three Englishmen who also had apparently gone a-hunting. I noticed that they were watching me and as I felt much inclination to have a fight I did not want to disappoint them.

I was flying at a lower altitude. Consequently I had to wait until one of my English friends tried to drop on me. After a short while one of the three came sailing along and attempted to tackle me in the rear. After firing five shots he had to stop for I had swerved in a sharp curve.

The Englishman tried to catch me up in the rear while I tried to get behind him. So we circled round and round like madmen after one another at an altitude of about 10,000 feet.

First we circled twenty times to the left, and then thirty times to the right. Each tried to get behind and above the other. Soon I discovered that I was not meeting a beginner. He had not the slightest intention of breaking off the fight. He was traveling in a machine which turned beautifully. However, my own was better at rising than his, and I succeeded at last in getting above and beyond my English waltzing partner.

When we had got down to about 6,000 feet without having achieved anything in particular, my opponent ought to have discovered that it was time for him to take his leave. The wind was favorable to me for it drove us more and more towards the German position. At last we were above Bapaume, about half a mile behind the German front. The impertinent fellow was full of cheek and when we had got down to about 3,000 feet he merrily waved to me as if he would say, “Well, how do you do?”

The circles which we made around one another were so narrow that their diameter was probably no more than 250 or 300 feet. I had time to take a good look at my opponent. I looked down into his carriage and could see every movement of his head. If he had not had his cap on I would have noticed what kind of a face he was making.

My Englishmen was a good sportsman, but by and by the thing became a little too hot for him. He had to decide whether he would land on German ground or whether he would fly back to the English lines. Of course he tried the latter, after having endeavored in vain to escape me by loopings and such like tricks. At that time his first bullets were flying around me, for hitherto neither of us had been able to do any shooting.

When he had come down to about three hundred feet he tried to escape by flying in a zig-zag course during which, as is well known, it is difficult for an observer to shoot. That was my most favorable moment. I followed him at an altitude of from two hundred and fifty feet to one hundred and fifty feet, firing all the time. The Englishman could not help falling. But the jamming of my gun nearly robbed me of my success.

My opponent fell, shot through the head, one hundred and fifty feet behind our line

Hawker’s machine gun was removed from the wreckage of his aircraft and von Richthofen kept it as a trophy at his family’s castle. The body was buried by German infantry soldiers and precisely recorded as 250 yards (230 metres) east of Luisenhof Farm along the roadside. However as the land was fought over many times in the subsequent two years, the exact location was lost, and Lanoe Hawker is officially commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial.

Therefore the memorial window, designed by Francis Skeete and installed in 1968, is a striking and fitting memorial to an individual who played an important role in the development of aerial combat. In addition, his is one of many memorials which places the nature of his sacrifice within the wider context of that of his family and community, an aspect of war which can be found in many parish churches across the country.

John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War and Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War

Fight the Good FightFight the Good Fight2


Restoring the memory of Private George Wallace Jackson, Sherwood Foresters

Whilst touring north Nottinghamshire in February 2016 I was shocked and saddened to come across this memorial headstone in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Carlton-in-Lindrick.

George Jackson

 One of the most poignant sights I have seen in years of research. The memorial to Private George Jackson, Sherwood Foresters.

Of the many hundreds of memorials I have come across, this was the first example of a statue on the grave of an individual, rather than for a community monument.

The inscription read:

“To the glorious memory of Pte George Wallace Jackson, 2/5 Sherwood Foresters, who fell in action in France, March 21st 1918, aged 22 years.

‘Greater Love Hath No Man Than This: That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends.’

This memorial was erected by his sorrowing mother.”

A further inscription marked the death of that mother, Charlotte Padley (formerly Jackson) in 1926.

I wondered if how the monument came to be that, hoping it was nature rather than vandalism. George Jackson’s mother had sought to come to terms with her loss through the use of the quotation from John 15:13, seen on so many memorials.

I decided that I could not leave this situation as it was and that further research was in order.

A search of the newspaper archives revealed this moving report from the Worksop Guardian of 1st August 1919:

After many months of suspense, the news has reached Mrs Charlotte W. Padley, Carlton that her son, Pte George Wallace Jackson, 2nd / 5th Bn. Sherwood Foresters, reported missing since March 21st 1918, was killed on that date. Pte Jackson, who was 22 years of age, was a well-conducted youth and respected by all who knew him.

Before enlisting, he was employed by the Worksop Co-operative society, where he went as soon a he left school, his brother and sister also being employed by the same society.

Pte Jackson was a son any mother might be proud of, and he leaves behind a memory which will long be cherished.

The Army Council forward a message of sympathy from the King and Queen, and his mother has also the sympathy of all who knew her gallant son in her bereavement.

George’s body was never recovered and he is one of nearly 35,000 names on the Arrass Memorial.

His mother, Charlotte, would have received the £24 12s 6d owing to George in back pay and war gratuity. I wonder if this money, a sum of around £1200 at 2016 values, was used to pay for the memorial?

George Jackson effects

The page from the Army’s Register of Soldiers’ Personal Effects relating to George Jackson (c)

So we have managed to find some further details about George Jackson, but what of the distressing state of his memorial? I emailed the vicar of the church who passed my contact on to Maurice Stokes, a parishioner who is investigating the possibility of restoration. To date (27th February 2016) a request has been made for an authentic copy of the complete uniform of the Sherwood Foresters. In addition an appeal is to be launched to trace any living relatives of George Jackson.

Mr Stokes has also gathered an estimate for the cost of the repair of the memorial, valued at £1000 to £1500.

Therefore, using the reach of social media, I am putting out an appeal to trace any relatives of George Jackson.

George had four surviving siblings plus a half brother.

His siblings were:

Evelyn Georgina Jackson (1888-1945)
Bazell Jackson (1891-1914)
Mildred Jackson (1895-?)
George Jackson (1896-1918)

Evelyn married George Betts in 1909 a they had five surviving children. These people were the nieces and nephews of Private George Jackson.

Joseph Norman Betts (1913-1995)
John Charles Betts (1915-1991)
Irene Betts (1917-1998)
Charlotte Betts (1920-2013)

They all seemed to have retained a connection to North Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

So the appeal at the moment is threefold:-

  1. To find further information on Private George Jackson, and to see if family members can provide a photograph and any knowledge as to where his campaign medals and `death penny’ might be.
  2. To find any further examples of gravestone / memorials like this one to get as an authentic reproduction as possible.
  3. To raise the funds for a proper restoration so that the memory of Private Jackson can be restored and full respect given to the sacrifice he gave, emblematic of that of hundreds of thousands of other young shop assistants, factory workers, clerks, postmen, teachers and people from all walks of life across the land.


Therefore if anyone can help with any of these three objectives, please contact me at

Donations towards the restoration can be made by clicking here

Update March 2016 –





Many thanks

Update May 2016

I have received communication from members of George Jackson’s family who were able to provide the following information:

George Wallace Jackson’s father, George Jackson, had been killed in a mining accident in 1898 whilst working at Wath Main Colliery in South Yorkshire. He was 30 years old and was run over by a wagon on an inclined plane.

It has been possible to find a picture of Charlotte, the widow of George Jackson sr and the mother of Private George Wallace Jackson. It was Charlotte who paid to have the vandalised memorial erected.

Charlotte Jackson Padley.jpg

In addition, a photograph is in existence of a young man in the uniform of the Notts and Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) to which both George Wallace Jackson and his half-brother, Cyril Padley, belonged. At this stage it is not known which of these it is. Cyril died in 1976, aged 77, in Retford, Nottinghamshire. Therefore the next stage is to contact the regional press to see if the photograph can be identified.

In addition I was given details of other family members which I shall be following up to see if they can shed any further light on the mystery.

Charlotte Jackson's son (2).jpg


The search continues…

Update August 2016

Due to enquiries made by family members with whom I have been in contact, a photograph of George Wallace Jackson himself has come to light. It looks as if it was taken in his mid-teens, probably at the time he started work with the Worksop Co-operative Society. My impression on seeing it was of the innocence and hope of youth, and a further example of the promise that was destroyed during the war. I now feel the pieces of the jigsaw are coming together.

George Wallace Jackson


John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, published by Pen and Sword.

Fight the Good Fight


Ken Tout on Religious Dogma

I’m just doing the proofreading for my second book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War, to be published in April 2016 by Pen and Sword. I came across this quote from a Normandy Veteran, Ken Tout, whom it was my privilege to meet back in June. He went to war a committed member of the Salvation Army. He returned, still a Christian as he is to this day, but with a changed view of the dogmatism of many sects. It seems even more pertinent a few months on in the light of the Paris attacks and Britain’s decision to extend airstrikes against ISIS / ISIL / DAESH into Syria.


It is a verbatim account of what he told me during a recorded interview.

“Some people found a clear vision of what God might be, or be able to do, but did not want to come back into a particular ordered religious environment.

Once you print a law, lawyers find a way of avoiding it. Once you have a principle, people bend it. Dogma has been there with different churches and becomes sacred, an intellectual prison. You either accept it, to some extent unthinkingly, or not.

There are so many illogical things about religion, it has to be an acceptance. Dogma linked to authority gives you ISIS and jihads. Just like the Crusades of the tenth and eleventh centuries.

We might say Christianity is a better religion than Islam, but those who took part in the Crusades were not Christians. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ, not those who commit atrocities in the name of Christ.

Dogma is all very well, for example as Roman Catholic if you don’t know a better way of expressing what God is all about. But when you have a dogma, the presence of a priest becomes terrifying. You have to go to Mass once a month or be damned. Will the priest come in time to save my soul? Once you start to challenge all this, you’re at risk as you have to make up your own religion”

This confirms the pattern I have found in many people who went to war from a particularly dogmatic Christian sect. The Christianity did not come back from war the same. Further examples are Eric Lomax (The Railway Man) from a strict Scottish Baptist upbringing and Alec Waldron, a member of the Plymouth Brethren who returned with an incidental faith.


My own father, whose family attended an independent, non-aligned Railway Mission in Colchester, returned with his faith intact and continued to express that faith in his own way, not led by elders, priests or bishops.

Ray Street – We Fought at Kohima

Raymond Street and Robert Street, We Fought at Kohima: A Veteran’s Account (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2015)



The Battle of Imphal and Kohima, lasting for two months between April and June of 1944, has, over the years, received far less attention than that other great turning point of the Second World War, the Battle of El Alamein of 1942. However if the latter battle can be said to have finally stemmed and reversed the tide of German advance in the west, then the former was pivotal in the eventual defeat of the Japanese. It halted their advance towards the proposed invasion of India, and recent re-evaluations have led to it being voted Britain’s Greatest Battle by the National Army Museum in 2013. Perhaps finally the 14th Army of General Slim can relinquish the tag of the `Forgotten Army.’

It is therefore of vital importance that first hand accounts of the battle are recorded and preserved for posterity. Over a number of years Robert Street has listened to and recorded his father Raymond’s reminiscences of his early life and his experience of the war. In this updated edition of his recollections, we find a gripping and pacy detailed account of the severity and intensity of the fighting at Imphal and Kohima. Ray’s work involved delivering messages under heavy fire, running between different trenches. Of central importance to the ultimate victory in the battle was the initial siege during which 1,500 men held out against 13,000 previously undefeated Japanese troops.

Every page contains detailed reminiscences of each stage of the battle. Ray also gives thought to the spiritual aspects of warfare:-

I think everyone prayed at some stage. I did. It was all we had left sometimes. Trapped in my trench, I would read a strip of paper with prayers and the words of St. John, `Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.’ I read it over and over again. This piece  of paper had been given to me in a church canteen in England some eighteen months before, although a the time it seemed more than a hundred years earlier.

Ray recalled with appreciation the work of the 4th Royal West Kents’ battalion padre, Roy Randolph:-

…he was a tremendous spiritual support to those that needed it (there weren’t many that didn’t) when we were at Kohima.

Therefore at the centre of one of the most important battles of the twentieth century, that consistent strain of Christianity can be found.

Of further interest is Ray’s account of his time in the Home Guard in Birmingham during the early part of the war, and his vivid description of the aftermath of a German air raid. The book would have benefitted from an index for the benefit of readers interested in picking out certain aspect of Ray’s experiences, but this does not detract from this very worthwhile and personal account which brings the period to life and offers a unique perspective on Britain’s Greatest Battle.

Lord Reith of the BBC – John Reith of the 5th Scottish Rifles

As the nation remembers its war dead over the coming weeks, central to that commemoration will be the BBC broadcast of the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph, Whitehall.

Her Majesty the Queen steps back to pay her respects after laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, during the Remembrance Sunday service. The Queen led the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in London, as commemorations were held across the UK in honour of those who died in wars and conflicts. Thousands of current and former military personnel joined the Queen, together with the main party leaders, who also laid wreaths. 2010 marked the 90th anniversary of both the Cenotaph and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, who was interred in Westminster Abbey. The Queen was the first to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, followed by other members of the Royal Family, Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and opposition leader Ed Miliband. About 4,500 ex-servicemen and women took part in a march past the Cenotaph.

However, many of those watching may not be aware of the role the founder and first Director-General of the BBC, John (later Baron) Reith played in the First World War, and how his Scottish Presbyterian background informed that role.

Born the son of a church minister in 1889, John had trained as an engineer before the war, but on its outbreak, was made transport officer of the 5th Scottish Rifles. He was sent to France in October 1914, and saw it his role to look after the spiritual as well as the physical wellbeing of his men.

John Reith

John Reith, with his trademark scar earned by a sniper’s bullet in 1915

In the run up to Easter 1915, shocked that his batman did not know the words of Psalm 23, he urged his men to read the Bible daily, something he noted they added to their list of routine duties. Twenty-two of them were later admitted to the Presbyterian Church, with his mother sending out Bibles for each of them.

On 7th October 1915, during the Battle of Loos, John was struck in the cheek by a sniper’s bullet and invalided back to England. In February 1916 he was sent to the USA to negotiate the supply of munitions to the UK. He became a popular and striking figure in Christian circles in Philedelphia, urging the Americans to join the war on the side of the allies. In one speech, made in January 1917 to the Presbyterian Social Union, he quoted from the Book of Judges:

Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.

Throughout the war, John Reith displayed a forcefulness of character and utter belief in his own philosophy and approach to the tasks he was given.

You can read more about his war experiences in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, available to purchase from Pen and Sword Publishing.

Fight the Good Fight

Nurse Edith Cavell

Recognition of the life of Edith Cavell will rightly play a large part in the commemoration of the First World War during the latter part of 2015. In particular the anniversary of her death on 12 October will see a revisiting of the themes of bravery, devotion to her work, patriotism and humanity which illuminated her life.

However it is impossible to fully appreciate the remarkable life of Edith Cavell without an understanding of the central importance of Christianity in her view of the world.

Edith Cavell

Born in Swardeston, into the family of a Norfolk parson,  Rev Frederick Cavell, Edith was brought up in a tradition of Sabbath observance and belief in the Bible as the Word of God. It was my privilege, two years ago, to hold in my hands that very Bible, now kept in the archive of the Norwich City Library, and to read the verses and comments Edith had marked out.

It was not just the Bible which was at the core of Edith’s Christianity. During her imprisonment whilst awaiting trail for assisting in the escape of allied soldiers through her nursing home in Brussels, she also had her prayer book and a copy of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis in her cell.

Remarkably, those books were returned to her family after her execution, and in 1920 the `Edith Cavell’ edition of the Imitation of Christ was published, complete with the annotations and comments she had made during those last few weeks of her life. Preparing for her probable death, she had highlighted:

Into Thy hands I commend my spirit, for Thou has redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of Truth

She tried to make sense of her impending death:

Vanity it is to wish to live long, and to be careless to live well.

After being sentenced to death on 11 October, Edith spent her last night in the company of Rev Horace Gahan, the chaplain of Christ Church in Brussels.

She told him:

I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in front of God and eternity: I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.

Gahan then performed the communion, before the pair sang Abide with Me and said their moving farewells.

The full account of Edith Cavell’s last night on earth is one of the most moving passages I have read from the First World War.  A fuller version of it appears in my forthcoming book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, available to order now from Pen and Sword. To do so, click on this link.

Fight the Good Fight

Bill Frankland MBE – FEPOW and World-famous Immunologist

You must not go on hating people; it does you harm but it does not do them any harm. Also I am a Christian who was taught to love, not hate. That’s how I live my life.

Those are the words of 103-year-old Bill Frankland, who endured three and a half years of hell after being taken prisoner of war by the Japanese in February 1942.

Bill Frankland

Dawn and I had the honour of meeting Bill on two occasions; firstly in 2014 in Liverpool when he was due to attend a conference at Alder Hey Hospital, and secondly in the spring of 2015 in the restaurant of the Royal Society of Medicine, London.


Bill on his wedding day in 1941
Bill on his wedding day in 1941


When Bill was taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore in February 1942, he soon found that the Japanese showed no consideration for the Red Cross on armband of the RAMC.

It made them want to harm you. We were despicable people. We were trying to look after the medical side. They despised us as we’d allowed ourselves to be taken prisoners of war.

Bill had limited access to medicines and his dysentery wing of thirty beds was positioned in the Roberts Barracks, Changi, converted into a hospital with nine hundred beds in all. On one occasion he had to make the awful decision of whether to give the one remaining diphtheria serum to a private who had little chance of survival.

After a year in Changi, Bill was then sent to an internment camp on Blakang Mati Island, then known as Hell Island, now Sentosa. The prisoners were seventy-five percent Australian, with the rest being from the British 18th Division. Conditions worsened and life became a daily struggle to survive. `You could only think of two things, `when will I next see food, and when will the next beating be?’

In the face of this inhumanity, many men still found the strength to continue the observance of their Christian faith.   After eighteen months on Blakang Mati, the prisoners were given half a day a fortnight during which they could hold a church service led by Australian padre.

The reference to `give us this day our daily bread’ was challenging, `When you haven’t seen bread for three and a half years this is difficult.’ During this time communion bread made was fashioned out of rice and the wine from fermented pineapples.


Bill reflects on the many thousands who did not survive the Japanese camps.
Bill reflects on the many thousands who did not survive the Japanese camps.


He finally returned in England in November 1945 and was asked if he wanted to see a psychiatrist to talk through his harrowing experiences. With a typical directness and candour he replied, ‘No, I want to see my wife.’

Bill returned to work and developed an eminent career as an immunologist, continuing to work well past the age of 100.

Bill attends church every Sunday whilst visiting his son in Devon.

Bill Frankland has fought his good fight in many challenging situations. `I’ve been so near death at so many times’, he states. However his uncomplicated Christian faith, his clinical brilliance and his indefatigable mental and physical energy have seen him withstand life’s trials and tribulations.

A fuller account of Bill’s life, based on the two interviews, can be found in my book Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War, which can be ordered directly from me at at a cost of £18 including p+p.

Fight the Good Fight2