Monday, June 19, 2017

Research for a new acquaintance

Not much to report yet on the painting front as I’ve gone back to painting Celts and I want to get to the point where they are all done before I post pics here.  However, I had an interesting encounter this weekend at a (most excellent) folk gig.  One of the performers (Gavin Davenport) told a story of, and sang a song inspired by, his grandfather’s service during the Second World War. 

As Gavin tells it, his grandfather was a member of a patrol in a Bren Gun Carrier near the Scheldt towards the end of the war.  On the occasion in question, the carrier rounded a bend and the crew found themselves nose to nose with a Tiger tank!  They feared that were all goners but the officer in charge of the team (a Canadian Forward Observer) got out of the carrier, ran along a roadside ditch and destroyed the Tiger with a point blank PIAT shot into its side armour. The officer was killed by the resulting explosion.  Sadly Gavin’s subsequent research hadn’t identified the man in question.

I spoke to Gavin after the show and he filled in a few blanks.  His grandfather was a Forward Artillery Spotter in 191st (Hertfordshire and Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

He always said that the finest soldiers he fought alongside were the Canadian “Timberwolves”.  But Gavin hadn’t been able to tie this name to a Canadian unit.

I decided to do a bit of digging and a combination of Google and the HMSO official history (L F Ellis, Victory in the West, Vol. II) allowed me to tie things down somewhat more precisely.

Timberwolf, it emerges, is the designation of the 104th Infantry Division; an American rather than Canadian formation. 

So why would Gavin’s grandfather have thought they were Canadians?  Well it turns out that for a period of about three weeks in late October and early November 1944 the Timberwolves were attached to 1st Canadian Army. In fact the particular unit within 1st Canadian Army they were attached to was I (British) Corps, of which 191st Field Regiment was a component unit!   

During the time it was attached to the Canadian formation, 104th Division was capturing the Dutch town of Zundert and then advancing to the line of the Mark River.  

We have, then, a date range (15th October to 5th November, when the 104th was handed back to US command with First Army) and a location where the fateful encounter with the Tiger likely took place.  The additional complication, of course, is that Gavin's Canadian officer might turn out to have been an American!

I’ve told Gavin that I’ll go on digging. It’ll be interesting to see if I can make any more progress.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

That is fascinating - let us know what you find out!

Counterpane said...

Will do, Steve!