Friday, 6 June 2014

Reflections on D Day

I have been watching and listening to the various events in Normandy  to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D Day. My father, Cpl Doug Watson, was serving abroad in 1944, but in Africa. My mother's cousin, Gunner Jack Nurse from Eastrington, took part in the landings but came home safely. My father at least rarely talked of his war experiences - he took part in the retreat from Dunkirk but my only knowledge of how frightening it was came from what my mother told me.

I am continuing to research the history of Saltmarshe and by strange coincidence today I was looking at the Saltmarshe family in the twentieth century. The male line of the family died out when the last Philip Saltmarshe died unmarried in 1970.

But there had been a male heir.  I am not sure whether he could have inherited the estate as it was entailed through the male line. But the question was moot. He was killed in Normandy in June 1944.

The last Philip Saltmarshe had three sisters. One, Myrtle, a VAD, had died in the influenza epidemic after the First World War.  Another, Lady Deramore, had no children but the third, Ivy Oswald Saltmarshe, had married a soldier, Col Reginald Woods. They had only one child, a son Humphrey born in 1915.

In 1944 Humphrey was in command of  the 9th battalion of the Durham Light Infantry.  I found an account of how he was killed, written later by a Sgt Charles Eagles:

'So I went back to rejoin the Battle of Lingèvres, fought by the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry against what turned out to be the Panzer Lehr Division, probably the best equipped division in the entire Wehrmacht. And back to Colonel Humphrey Woods, the commanding officer, who we'd been detailed to bodyguard until our carrier had been blown apart by a mortar. It was June 14, 1944; eight days after D-Day, and the Durhams were being mown down all around me.

'What remained of my section had re-grouped in the apex of the cornfield, Col Woods, a popular CO decorated with a Distinguished Service Order and a Military Cross, was in charge. Following his orders, we scrambled through a hedgerow and spotted the turret of a Tiger tank trying to hide in a copse.

'We scattered, throwing ourselves behind anything. Except the colonel. He stood still, taking in the situation and then issuing an order: "Get that tank!"I couldn't believe it. I may even have laughed. It was an impossible task. It would have been sheer suicide. It is one thing to be brave; quite another to be foolish. But then it happened. Some mortar shells landed between us and I threw myself into undergrowth. When I looked again, I saw the colonel was down. He spoke his last words: "Surely they haven't hit me!” They had indeed. And how. He was virtually cut in half. He was 28.'

Lt Col Woods is buried in the Bayeux war cemetery.

Lt Col Humphrey Woods.

A postscript: I was reading the online coverage of the D Day commemoration events and came  across this  in The Independent newspaper

3 comments:

  1. Very interesting indeed, but he wasn't a Saltmarshe sadly as you pointed out that Philip's sister married a Wood.

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  2. PS The Photo on my avatar is Colonel Philip Saltmarshe, the father of the last Philip Saltmarshe. I own his sword.

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  3. The War memorial in Denver, Norfolk record a Lt.Col H.R.Woods DSO MC, who is almost certainly this man although I can't yet establish what the Denver connection is.

    His initial resting place on the battlefield by what looks like a battle damaged Cromwell Tank was photographed, with a copy now residing at the Imperial War Museum.
    http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205206031

    BTW there are two slightly different accounts of his death attributed to Sergeant Eagles, and a very different one in a biography on the Stevenage goes to War site which also has more in common with the details on the Winchester College web-site.

    I've tried to pull it all together on a piece on the Denver War Memorial:-
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/43688219@N00/28160819244/in/dateposted-public/

    I'd be grateful for any corrections, (or any clues on the Denver connection for that matter!)

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