TRAGEDY AT THE GHEEL BRIDGEHEAD

Killed in Action ;-

  • ADAMS Alfred 4040317 18th Sept1944 Age 24

  • ADAMS Edgar John Cecil 17th Sept 1944 Age 40

  • Evans Thomas James 17th Sept 1944 Age 35

One of the few glimpses I had of my Dad's war experiences from his own lips was the tragedy that befell Charlie Troop at the Gheel Bridgehead.

As children we had a close neighbour who too had fought in the war. His name was Vernon Thomas, when my interest in military Research developed in later life I interviewed him at length on his war service. He served in the Guards Armoured Division, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. He was a sniper and his war was "very personal" as he told me. Amazingly, he and dad fought in the same arena on many occasions.

Unlike Dad he regaled us with tales of the war, and as kids we were enthralled. These stories would usually be told at Christmas after the men had imbibed a little. My Father his tongue loosened on two occasions told us the story of three of his comrades whose lives were wasted. He felt strongly, (and he showed his anger in the tone of his voice) that these three were selected because they were signallers and not gunners ( and therefore expendable). Personally I think he was wrong, Signallers were vital and much more difficult to train, it being a more technical job. He said that together with a party organised by an 'old sweat' ( which turned out to be Sgt Fletcher) He helped to recover the bodies.This incident must have affected my father greatly, for his story tailed off in an embarrassing show of emotion on both occasions, on reflection I think that like Charlie Ashton he had many ghosts and preferred to forget about the war.

The fighting around the Gheel Bridgehead was horrendous. After being driven out of Normandy, the Germans beat a hasty retreat and regrouped to make a stand in the among the waterways of theBelgium/Dutch border. The Scottish Infantry were magnificent here, repulsing attack after attack - something like thirteen in all, and losing over 700 Officers and men.

After eight days the division abandoned the Bridgehead and continued through a position held by the 53rd Welsh Division. Sgt Fletcher wrote in his diary "Moved to a new position, thank god, glad to get away from that place…"

The team in the Forward Observation Post - which included Bdr/ack George Aspley, Signaller Bill Smith, Dvr Percy Lewis, and Captain John Meredith - were in the front line with the leading infantry battalion, and had their radio smashed up, spare parts/radio were needed. The Three signallers went forward; they were all killed. Bill Smith said there bodies appeared untouched, and they were probably killed by blast, "It was a total waste, the jerries pulled back the next day". Alf Adams was probably not killed outright. He died the day after the other two, and was likely to have been shipped back to the Regimental aid post where he died. I assume this is the reason he was buried in Brussells town Cemetery while John Adams and 'Yanto' Evans are buried in Gheel War Cemetry.

Judging by his numberAlf Adams was probably a regular and had been with 6th KSLI from its formation. He was only recently married to a girl he met while the Battalion was posted in Lincolnshire. Being single ("and mad"), Bill Smith volunteered to do Alf's duty in the FOP, a courageous offer as the FOP's were picked out and under constant attack. Poor Mr and Mrs Fenton had already lost one son in battle, and a third son was also fighting, I have been unable to find out whether he survived the war or not.

The loss hit the troop hard, not since the first day in battle had they lost so many men in a single incident.

Four days later the Division had fought its way into Holland.