'NORMANDY TO THE ELBE'
THE WARTIME EXPERIENCES OF PRIVATE JOHN WILLIAM CHARLES ROBINSON

Written by his Son - Alan John Robinson

 

INTRODUCTION:

John William Charles Robinson had married Marjorie Hannah England whose family had lived in Belmont Avenue. The marriage took place at Christchurch, West Green in November 1939 and the couple began married life living in Belmont Road, opposite Downhills Park, just around the corner from Marjorie’s parents.

 


They had only been married a few months when in 1940 John went off to war. Just a normal working man who had been working at Butler & Crisp Pharmaceutical Company Clerkenwell since leaving school as a Tottenham lad, he answered his country’s call to arms without fuss as his loved ones were being threatened.  

Having been engaged in researching my family’s history for many years I had purposely left looking into my Father’s WW2 Army service until last as I did not have a clue as to how to go about this? When I finally got started on this my research took me on an incredible journey of discovery. I already had snippets of things Dad had told me as a lad while growing up there in Belmont Avenue but now I was able to build the complete story.

 

  
BADGE - ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS
D-DAY AND THE NORMANDY LANDINGS

BADGE 8th ROYAL SCOTS BATTALION
 

Private John Robinson’s first regiment had been the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and here he was trained as a Signaller for which he must have had an aptitude. He had boarded the ship taking him across to Normandy in 1944 as a 6th Royal Irish Fusilier but disembarked in Normandy now an 8th Battalion Royal Scot (8RS), having been re-assigned during the crossing. He then joined up with his new regiment who were waiting at Le Haut De Bosq.

John was first and foremost an infantryman ready to use his rifle or Bren machine gun, but with his specialist training, equipped to use wireless and telegraphic skills of Morse and speech, would have worked closely with his Company Commander to keep him in contact with the Battalion Commander and to link to support arms like Artillery when he required their help. John had been in Company ‘C’, the other three companies that made up the battalion being ‘A’, ‘B’ & ‘D’. 

The Allies early intention to capture the town of Caen was opposed by about two thirds of the German armour in France. The fighting was heavy, constant with sustained counter attacks as, moving south, the 8RS fought its way up the Odon valley. 


8th ROYAL SCOTS SIGNALLERS IN ACTION

 

 

THE ADVANCE OF THE ROYAL SCOTS THROUGH FRANCE AND BELGIUM

Now fully tested and battle hardened, the 8RS were chosen to lead the assault across the Seine on 28th August. From there with the Germans in full retreat the 8RS followed the Royal Scots Fusiliers through the Falaise Gap and advanced into Belgium. One week later they encountered strong resistance in the area of the Albert-Escaut Canal where the Germans had re-grouped to make a stand. The 8RS, an element of Richey’s 15th Scottish Division, were then chosen to push forward to liberate the town of Geel that had been occupied by the Germans. With the pending arrival of the 8RS early in the morning the Germans had vacated the town during the night and a few miles up the road had taken up defensive positions across the other side of the canal around the rear perimeter of the little village of Ten Aard that sat alongside the canal.

During my research when the next batch of War Diaries had arrived from Edinburgh Castle, I had sat down to read them over a pint at my local pub and could hardly believe what I was reading about this battle. For reasons of my very existence, I am eternally grateful that my Father survived this battle.

THE BATTLE OF THE LOCKS

With the bridge having been blown by the Germans, in the early hours the 8RS crossed the canal by assault boat under fire and set up a bridgehead that they then held for nearly four days, during which time all attempts by the engineers to build a temporary bridge to equip the 8RS with artillery failed due to constant enemy shelling.The German High Command had ordered that wave after wave of 1st class troops be thrown at the bridgehead in an attempt to liquidate it. For nearly four days and nights the fighting was ferocious and the four companies of the 8RS were almost overwhelmed.

At one stage during the battle John Robinson found himself up on the top floor of the Bloemmelons Flour Mills building that bordered the canal. From here he could see every attack the Germans mounted. ‘We were ready for them every time’, my Dad had told me. Along with other observers’ life up top there was tenuous with bullets zipping about as the Germans of course knew they were there. Dad told me that during that third day his communications down to the bridgehead commanders helped to repel three successive counter attacks that day.

  THE BLOEMMELONS FLOUR MILLS AFTER THE BATTLE  

The depleted 8RS hung on grimly until they were finally relieved when reinforcements arrived, by which time they had earned the admiration of the whole division. Losses were high. Having suffered 163 casualties, the battalion returned to Geel to recover, they had hardly eaten anything for four days. When Dad had arrived back in Geel he would have looked up to see the sky full of Allied planes ….  the paratroopers on their way to Arnhem. 

The Allies were never able to expand out from the bridgehead and the actions there had ended in stalemate. But Geel, having been liberated, was never again to fall into German hands. The Germans later pulled back leaving the area for good.  Sadly, the little village of Ten Aard was left in ruins.


General Montgomery presents medals in a Geel field after the battle. I believe, where indicated, this to be Dad in the photo

Later an edition of the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch would report that many deeds of individual bravery went unseen in this heroic 8RS action that threatened to see the depleted battalion thrown back into the water. That in the face of all these overwhelming odds,  the 8RS hung on’.


 

Lt. Sydenham of ‘B’ company leading the charge to take Le Beny Bocage, France. He later lost his life to an enemy shell at Ten Aard. Just like my Father he had been drafted in from the 6th Irish Fusiliers. Lt. Sydenham and a corporal were killed in a forward position by a shell shot from a self-propelled 88gun, a Jagdpanther. Several of these beasts were active in Ten Aard causing many casualties.



 
LT SYDENHAM =LEADING THE CHARGE - LE BENY BOCAGE FRANCE

Ever since the good people of Geel each year remember the Allied soldiers who died there during that battle. Gil Geerings, my Belgium associate who lives in nearby Mol, sent me this moving photo of his daughter laying flowers at Lt. Sydenham’s grave at Kasterlee War Cemetery just north of Ten Aard, one of three CWGC grave sites to be found in Geel.

Gil is involved himself and tells me that the Geel authority’s will have a museum dedicated to the battle sited in an old rectory house at Ten Aard known as the ‘White House’. There on the south bank of the canal it had taken a heavy share of the enemy’s attention coming under almost continuous shell fire. It was here that the wounded and dying were brought during the battle. Many men were lost, including stretcher bearers and the Regimental Padre, the Revd. G. Barry.

 

THE ADVANCE THROUGH HOLLAND

From here the 8RS advanced to Best and then on to Eindhoven in Holland meeting strong resistance along the way. They continued in their advance clearing the last of the Germans west of the River Maas, the 8RS crossing the German border early in February 1945. As they attacked into the heartland of the Reich it was during the epic battle to take the town of Goch that John took shrapnel in the leg and his war ended.



THE 8th ROYAL SCOTS BATTALION AT GOCH

PATROL OF THE 8th ROYAL SCOTS AT MOOSTDIYK

The 8RS proceeded on, leading the Division across the Rhine then had the honour of leading the attack over the River Elbe. Their war ended just outside of Hamburg in the little town of Bargteheide when at 0800 hrs on the morning of 5th May the 8 Royal Scots bugler sounded the cease fire. 

The 8th Battalion Royal Scots, had stepped ashore in Normandy as part of the 2nd D-Day Landings in June 1944 and their journey through the ETO ( the European Theatre of Operations) had taken them all the way to Hamburg where their war ended in May of 1945. The 8RS were the only infantry battalion in WW2 to have been at the assault crossings of the three major rivers, the Seine, the Rhine, and the Elbe.

 

RECOVERY AND CONVALESCENCE FOLLOWING INJURIES

Having been wounded Dad said he was flung on the top of a tank and taken to a captured German field hospital where his wounds were initially treated by a German doctor. From here he was transferred back behind the lines to a hospital in Belgium. John Robinson was still recovering from his wounds when he was shipped back to England on 24th July 1945. These two photos were taken during his final recovery here in the UK, with his convalescence having taken place somewhere in Surrey I believe.



DEMOB AND RETURN TO CIVILIAN LIFE

John was released from hospital care on 26th September 1945 and returned home. His daughter Celia, born while he was away fighting, was now four years old. I, his son Alan, being born the following July in 1946. When John had left his wife behind and gone off to war he had been living at no.73, Belmont Road. Thanks to bomb damage while he was away, when Marjorie and baby Celia had thankfully been kept safe in the air raid shelter of her parent’s house around the corner in Belmont Avenue, John returned to his new home there at no.51,Belmont Avenue next door to Marjorie’s parents, to begin life again as a young family. John was de-mobbed on 2nd December 1945 and went back to work at Butler & Crisp. After all he had gone through this could not have been easy. In all he had served his country for a total of 5yrs 165 days. Dad told me that he was forever grateful that he had been one of the lucky ones to have returned home when others had not been so lucky    

 


JOHN AND MARJORIE ROBINSON IN LATER LIFE

 

Article written by Alan Robinson and web page created by Alan Swain - February 2022