Friday, 11 April 2014

52 Ancestors: Never was so much owed by so many to so few

James Clarence Doughty 1923 - 1944 

My great uncle Jimmy was only 20 when he died in WW2.  He was a private in the Leicester Tigers Regiment, and fought in the Battle of the Schedlt in Belgium.  Often billed as one of the forgotten battles of WW2, it was led by the Canadians and is considered one of the most important and bloody campaigns the Canadians ever fought - although of course there were other Allied forces fighting there too.

By September 1944, it had become urgent for the Allies to access the port of Antwerp.  The Allies needed to keep their troops adequately supplied, especially as winter approached, and Antwerp was seen as being an ideal landing ground for those supplies.

The problem was that although the city of Antwerp had fallen to the British, the docks had not been cleared, and the River Schedlt, which led to the port, was strongly held by the German Army.  

Great Uncle Jimmy fought in combat on the Breda Road, about 25km from Antwerp, over four days in October 1944   His comrade and best friend Raymond Pell wrote a book on the subject, entitled Tigers Never Sleep.  Raymond and a wounded comrade became cut off from their lines, and were trapped in the cellar of a house belonging to a Belgian family.  German soldiers searched the house, but did not find the two soldiers hidden beneath a pile of mattresses, which apprently had a plump farmer's wife perched on top of it.

Later that night, Raymond and his comrade managed to make it back to the lines under cover of darkness. 

He says in his book:  "Later our sergeant returned with a job for us to do, unfortunately not a pleasant one.  It had been reported that there were a couple of lads in a ditch about 300 yards back down the road we had come along .... he wanted us to pull them out and lay them on the side of the road for the first aid truck to pick them up."

Using a hedge and some low buildings as cover, they eventually found their comrades.  "We could not tell who they were as they were both face down in the water.  We dragged them to the side and after about fifteen minutes we managed to get the first lad up the bank and onto the road.  To my utter horror when we turned him over I recognised him as being my best friend Jimmy, in fact he had been my best man at my wedding the February before.  The shock was tremendous and stunned me for a few seconds."

James Doughty was buried on the road just outside Wuustwezel on the Antwerp Road, together with many of the other fallen Leicester Tigers.  They were later moved to Geel Military Cemetary, where Jimmy now rests in grave reference III.D.24.  My aunt - Jimmy's niece - visited the grave several years ago.

The photo of Jimmy is taken from a photo from my Grandmother and Grandfather's wedding in Wakefield in 1942 - it seems he was best man at this wedding too.

*With thanks to Marilyn Lawrence, who carried out the original research on Jimmy.


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