Month: July 2017

SOMME REMEMBERED

Gez Wheeler visited the war graves of the Somme and laid a wreath on behalf of the Windso Branch of the Coldstream Guards Association, July 2016.

We will remember them.

Dig at Hougoumont Farm Waterloo 18th July-1st August 2015

From 18th July-1st August 2015, I took part in an archaeological dig at Hougoumont Farm on the Waterloo Battlefield. This is part of a 5-year project called Waterloo Uncovered, which aims to cover the whole battlefield. I went as part of a group from The Defence Archaeological Group (D.A.G.). This group is an M.O.D. Group set up to help the recovery of wounded Servicemen & women & also, if they wish to, set them on a career path to become an Archaeologist. At least one man has already done this. However it is also open to veterans (such as myself) or those serving with an interest in history or archaeology. It does a superb job & the cost of the trip was only £20 and you get a T-Shirt as well! The numbers varied, but we had about 30 people on the dig, a mix of D.A.G., professional Archaeologists, some students from Holland, and some serving Soldiers. It was run by Mark Evans, a former Coldstream Officer, with help from a serving one. There were about 10 serving or Old Coldstreamers on it. One, Ben Hilton, lost both his legs in Afghanistan and is in a wheelchair and 2 others had also been wounded there. It was a mixed group of people, but we all rubbed along pretty well. Some of the veterans had P.T.S.D. unlike someone in a wheelchair, it is not a visable wound.

waterloo 008

It as very much like Time Team and we were split into groups, with each group under an archaeologist. Some people got moved around, but I remained in the same group all the time. Preliminary work had already been done on a recce in April, so once the mechanical diggers had removed the topsoil and the metal detectors had done a sweep, we commenced digging or troweling, which was quite physical work, but when you see men with no legs, or who are in constant pain from their wounds, you shut up. I am not obviously an archaeologist, but what they do is often misunderstood. It is not about treasure-hunting or being Indiana Jones, but trying to work out, by the objects that you find or changes in the soil, what actually happened. For example a musket ball on its own tells you nothing, what matters is the context in which it is found. Although it is illegal to do so, in 200 years, the battlefield has been very heavily looted, though less so at Hougoumont, because some of it is enclosed & it was also a working farm. I dug in 2 areas, one inside the formal garden and, for much longer in an area called ” The Killing Zone ” This is an area about 30-40 yards wide from what was a wood and a hedge to the loop-holed walls. It is completely open and The French attackers suffered heavy casualties in it, hence it’s title. It would have taken great courage to cross it. Here we did find British musket balls which clearly had impacted on something, as they were mis-shapen. We also found some French ones (they are smaller), which had probably not been fired, just dropped. My team didn’t but some French ones were also found inside the walls of the formal garden. This is why context is so important. All the eye-witness accounts state that The French never got inside the garden, how then to account for the French musket balls? Some no doubt would have come over the walls when they were aiming at the defenders, but if British ones, in numbers, were found inside as well (other than unfired ones) then it could imply that the French did get over the wall and that a fire-fight took place. If that could be proved, it would change our view of what happened.

Celebrating a find

I dug every day bar one, when I was put on cleaning finds. It was whilst doing this that I noticed that the woman next to me was cleaning what appeared to be a badge of some sort. Having a good look at it, it looked like a Coldstream Star. It had been found in The Hollow Way, which was used to send in supplies and in which some of The Coldstream has rested. It most certainly wasn’t a Grenadier or Scots Guards badge, so the prospect is very exciting. It was believed to be made of iron, so may not be off a uniform, but maybe off a box, or a piece of regimental property. Along with most of the finds it has been sent back to England for analysis, but they have promised to fast track it, so we may get an answer fairly soon. In total about 1,100 items were found, but only about 25% date from the time of the battle, which still doesn’t mean they are actually from it! All the items have been labeled and items like musket balls (over 200 were found) plotted by GPS. All this data will be analysed and in the end the results and conclusions announced. coldstreamtattooAll the items have been labeled and items like musket balls (over 200 were found) plotted by GPS. All this data will be analysed and in the end the results and conclusions announced. In our area I believe that we found one of the mass graves.  At the end of the battle there were about 1,350 dead, from both sides, in and around the farm. There is a painting, done at the time, which shows the bodies being tipped in to a mass grave, in the area by the South Gate, which is now a small car park, but no mass graves from the battle have ever been found. It may just be a pile of stones put there by the farmer, but if so, why are they roughly in the shape of a cross? Also this is an entrance to the killing zone, where there was a gap in the hedge line that the French could get through, so they would have taken a lot of casualties in this spot. Surely it would make sense to bury the bodies there, rather than drag them somewhere else. I do have an ally in this a local battlefield guide and an expert not only on the battle, but particularly on Hougoumont. The area has been covered in plastic (the only place where they have done this) and the soil put back on. Hopefully it will get dug next year. If I am right (and I am probably not), then this would be a very important find. We shall see. Overall it was fantastic 2 weeks with some great people some of whom were truly inspiring. It was a huge honour to be able to dig at such an iconic place in The regiment`s history. Hougoumont is much as it was and it doesn’t take much imagination to picture the desperate fighting which took place there, with very brave men on both sides. I would urge you to go there.

As the great Duke Of Wellington said ” The Battle Of Waterloo hinged upon closing the gates of Hougoumont Farm ”
Nulli Secundus.

Keith.

Coldstreamers Remembered

Norman Measey was born on 11th November 1919, where he lived with his Father Thomas, and Mother Minnie Lavinia, in Sparkbrook, Birmingham. He did have a younger brother Michael, who died in infancy. His Father served in the Light Infantry, during the 1st World War, but I have no record of his service. He spent his entire school years at Springfield Road School, in Sparkhill, a school I also attended as primary school scholar. Norman left school at 15 and became a butcher’s boy. He enjoyed the work but always wanted to join the Army. His mother and father in the meantime had made plans to move to Henley in Arden, where they took over the Three Tuns, public house. Norman joined the Coldstream Guards in May 1936 where he went to the Guards Depot at Caterham. On passing out he went to the 3rd Battalion and before the war he went to the Holy Land, Palestine, Egypt and Syria. On their return to England he was stationed at Wellington and Chelsea Barracks performing public duties.

When the war started the Battalion went to North Africa, with the 8th Army (Desert Rats). On the 6th June 1942 he was captured after a hard fought battle at the Battle of the Knightsbridge Box, where he was an Anti-tank Platoon Sergeant. This was part of Rommel’s advance on the Allied Forces. Although he was captured by the Germans, he was soon to be handed over to the Italians. After spending a few months in a camp in Egypt they were shipped to Italy and he spent quite a long time still under the Italians in a place called Bari. Life was hard as they had very little to live on, conditions were very harsh. I remember him telling me that at one stage all they had to eat were tinned sliced cling peaches. The saving grace that Red Cross and personal parcels were getting through from the UK. The Italians left the war in late 1943 and all allied prisoners were taken on by the Germans. Conditions were no different and they remained in very harsh surroundings. Because of the advance of the allied forces they were moved north into Germany and he spent his time in many different POW camps on the journey north. In 1944 he finished up at a POW Camp which was situated very close to Fallingbostel in Northern Germany. It was also very close to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen.

On 21st April 1945 the Allied Troops reached Fallingbostel and Belsen and he was released and repatriated back to England. He went to the Guards Depot in Caterham where he was medically examined, de-briefed and then went on leave to his parents and his wife’s to be home where they were living in Sparkhill, Birmingham. During this leave he married Edna nee Blackwell and went to live in their own house, again in Sparkhill. Norman and Edna had two children, a son Christopher, Michael, David, born 1946 and a daughter, Susan, Christine, born 1948. On his return to the 3rd Battalion, who were then stationed at Wellington Barracks, he was a Full Sergeant and was soon to be promoted to CQMS of No 1 Company. He performed public Duties and took part in the 1946 Kings’ Birthday Parade. In 1947 after attaining the rank of CSM of a Rifle Company, he applied to leave the Regiment and applied to go to OCTU to become an officer. He was accepted and was posted to the 1st Battalion the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a young Lieutenant. In 1948 after spending a short time as Adjutant at Warwick Castle, he was appointed ADC to Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones and was posted to Singapore where Sir Guy was commanding.

In 1949 he left the Army. On leaving the Army he was employed as the Assistant Personnel Manager at Canning’s an engineer company based in central Birmingham. He worked there for over 10 years and thoroughly enjoyed his time in the job.

He was a very adventurous man and tired of the 9 to 5 routine and decided to leave and be become a trade plate driver, delivering new cars, vans and lorries all over the country. One day in the 70’s he was making his way to Paddington Station on the top deck of a London bus and he met one of his old comrades, from his old Platoon, who he had not seen since the Battle at the Knightsbridge Box. His name was Ron (Dodger) Green and although he was a broad Yorkshireman, Ron was now living in West Norwood in South London. They remained very close friends for many years. Dad then had a number of jobs. He was the Gardener/Handyman for Tim Sainsbury, the Member of Parliament for Hove, but had a very big house and grounds in Berkshire very close to Newbury. Because of ill health he left the job. In 1975 after his health had improved a little he went to work, again as a Gardener/Handyman for Lord Kimberley on his estate situated very close to Cirencester. In his spare time he loved fishing, stamp collecting, horse racing and writing. Again because of ill health, he retired and went to live in Dogridge in Purton, Wilts. At this stage Norman had stomach cancer and was also suffering from stomach ulcer. Having said that. In 1979, he was able to make the journey to Fallingbostel, the place where he was repatriated back in 1945 and where his son Chris, as a Sergeant was stationed with the 1st Battalion. A few months after his return to the UK, he passed away on the 11th November 1979.

He was always a very proud Guardsman and the Coldstream Guards, were talked about a lot more that the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was the Secretary of the Birmingham Branch, The Coldstream Guards Association for more than 15 years. As a son, I always looked up my father with great esteem. My ambition from a very early age was to join the Coldstream Guards, something I knew my Dad was very proud of. He was my best friend through childhood and we were very close. He was a hard disciplinarian, but I believe that was because of his upbringing and his Military career. I miss him every day of my life and would do anything to just have one more hour with him. I know many of his friends who have survived him and I have never heard a bad word said against him. Throughout his career Norman wrote very precise and concise diaries. It is a pity that they are not in my possession at present. I have already done a lot of work on them to secure the memories of my Father for future generations.

By Chris MD Measey

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