Sutton War Memorial

Remembrance Sunday
November 8 AD2009


Lance Bombardier Douglas Shearsmith 11051876
Our first biography is of L/Bdr Douglas Shearsmith, who served in 242 Battery, 48 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery, an ack-ack unit, and this photo of him was taken along with his brother when on embarkation leave in 1941, aged 19.

L/Bdr Douglas Shearsmith

Thousands of serving men hurried along to photographic studios when just about to embark for foreign parts, to have their photo taken with their families. For those who didn't return, this was often the last memory or momento they had of their boy, or husband, father, etc.

And so it sadly proved to be for Douglas and his family. His regiment originally sailed for the Middle East, to reinforce the troops engaged in desert warfare. Unfortunately, in the meantime, Japan entered the conflict after Pearl Harbor, and his convoy was diverted a further several thousand miles to Singapore. He and his unit arrived just in time for the fall of Singapore, and were surrendered without they themselves being able to fire a shot.

Douglas then entered a period of 3 years of unbelievable cruelty and torment. He was imprisoned along with his friends in a Japanese camp in Sandakan, in Borneo. Towards the end of the war, 2000 of the camp's inmates were force-marched hundreds of miles as the Japanese tried to flee the advancing allies, taking the evidence of their inhumanity with them. Of that 2000, only 6 survived, and Douglas was not one of them. He died in June, 1945, aged 23, when the war was nearly won and just two months before hostilities against Japan came to an end.

Douglas' body was amongst those of thousands that were never recovered, nor any knowledge of where his grave lies. So his name appears on a panel on the Memorial that stands in Kranji War Cemetery, 22 kilometres north of Singapore.

For anyone interested in more about POW's of the Japanese, I can recommend a book that is still to be seen on bookstalls, in charity shops, etc. "The Naked Island" by Russell Braddon is one of many accounts of life as a POW at the hands of the Japanese.

Sapper Bernard Catterick, no 2015554, Royal Engineers,
and his wife, Doris

This following story departs from our theme, as neither appear on the Sutton War Memorial, but there is a strong Sutton connection.
Bernard & Doris Catterick
The above wedding photo illustrates both the tragedy and sadness of modern war. It was sent in by former Sutton resident, Terry King. The groom is his Uncle Bernard, with his bride Doris, standing on the steps of St James' in the spring of 1941. Three months later, both were killed in one of the most notorious bombing raids on Hull. The night of 18th July, 1941 was when Mulgrave Street shelter received a direct hit, and most people sheltering within were killed, most almost instantly. It can only presumed that Bernard and Doris died together, as did many other complete families. It seems they were on their way home, and caught by the sirens, dashed down the shelter. Tragically, Mulgrave Street was not the only street shelter to receive a direct hit in this way, there were others in various raids between 1940 and 1944.

Their tragic story helps to illustrate some of points to remember in tracing recent family history, especially the records of those killed in World War Two. Bernard does not appear on the Sutton memorial because, though he came from a Sutton family, he was not a Sutton resident at the time of his death, but resident in Marfleet. The details for his wife can be found in the Civilian War Dead Index for Yorkshire, Northumberland & Durham. All civilians killed in the bombing in Hull are listed there, stating their full name, age, date of death, the place where they died, and the grave reference number in city records. Thus it shows:
Catterick, Doris - 21 yrs - 18 Jul 1941 -
Mulgrave St Shelter, Hull, ERY - 2218

Bernard is not listed, because he was not a civilian, and presumably appears on another memorial elsewhere, perhaps a street memorial at some time, as well as the Rolls of Honour compiled and held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the Forces. These Rolls, along with the Civilian Rolls, are lodged in Westminster Abbey, along with the names of the tens of thousands of others, military and civilian, killed in the six years of that conflict.

Bernard was a Sapper, Royal Engineers, so he will also be remembered in his Regimental Rolls. On checking the War Graves site, we do indeed see that both husband and wife are buried together in St James' churchyard, and the Honour Record details for Bernard show thus :

Son of John and Gertrude Catterick, of Sutton-in-Holderness; husband of Doris Catterick, of Hull, who was killed in the same incident. New Yard. Cemetery: SUTTON (OR SUTTON-IN-HOLDERNESS) (ST. JAMES') CHURCHYARD Yorkshire, United Kingdom ; Grave or Reference Panel Number: Row 7 Grave 2.

It is sobering that the record merely describes the tragedy as an "incident". But we have to remember that the Rolls only record the bare details, a man's regiment, and the memorial or grave on which he appears. There were so many killed, the action of war often so fast, that years later when the millions of records came to be compiled, it was often not known how, or indeed exactly where, a person had died. All that was known that someone didn't come back .. "Missing".

So these records don't tell the story of the action, or incident, or sinking, that was the cause of a death. That was for historians to find out . . if they can. In all too many instances, the story of a man's death, often in the pursuit of saving a comrade, was later lost when the only witnesses to an incident were themselves killed. In many cases, a whole unit, a tank crew, a submarine, or a bomber, even a battleship, were lost all in one go. All that can be said is, however much we THINK we know about war, or a battle . . it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

More information on the Hull Blitz, including some maps of Hull
plotting the fall of bombs, is available on my other website at Hull Blitz Maps
Guardsman David Blyth, 2657980, 1st Bn., Coldstream Guards
died Friday, 4 August 1944, Aged 25
Son of John and Clara Blyth, of Sutton on Hull
Husband of Mary Blyth.

Guardsman David Blyth is an example of a Sutton-born man who moved away upon his marriage, and so doesn't appear as a Sutton man on the CWGC list of dead of World War 2. At the time of his death, this soldier had married and set up his first home in Cleethorpes, with his wife Mary. The CWGC site erroneously gives his address then as Greenford in Middlesex, but that was because of a misunderstanding when the records were being compiled long after the war. Such errors do happen, and these days it is far easier to get errors ammended than formerly simply by filling a form downloaded online from their website and then posting it to the Commission HQ in Maidenhead. David's photo here was taken before the war, so by the time of his death, he was a fully trained professional soldier that had been in the army for some 7 years.

Gdsman David BlythDavid, as with Douglas above, is one of tens of thousands who have no known grave. Therefore, he is primarily remembered on a panel on the Bayeaux Memorial at Calvados, in Northern France, as well as on the Guards' Regimental Roll of Honour. The Bayeaux Memorial bears the names of more than 1,800 men of the Commonwealth land forces who died in the early stages of the campaign whose bodies were never recovered and so have no known grave. They died during the landings in Normandy, during the intense fighting in deeper Normandy itself, and during the advance to Caen and the River Seine to the east and south towards Vire in early August.

David had originally wanted to be a policeman, and as the requirement at that time was for recruits to have experienced some military service, he joined the army. Being well over 6ft in height, he was able to join the Coldstream Guards in 1937, a good while before the war started. He was still in the Guards in 1939 when the Guards Divisions were sent to France with the B.E.F. to help the French to oppose the feared German attack. His infantry unit fought mainly losing battles all the way back to Dunkirk, and David was one of those many thousands fortunate enough to be evacuated to be re-quipped, and train to fight another day.

But his days as an infantryman were largely over, for the Guards Armoured Division was formed using elements of all the Guards battalions. David retrained as a tank driver, and after some four years of further service and much training, his tank unit went back into France with the massive build up in the weeks just after D-Day. They were part of the huge offensive that pushed south deep into Normandy and those tank killing grounds of deep lanes and high hedges of Calvados. A month after landing in France, and two months after D-Day itself, David lost his life near the village of Marvindiere some 25 miles SW of Caen when his Sherman tank was destroyed in an ambush by a couple of lone German tanks. His was one of those many 'smaller' actions that were so necessary in constantly pushing the enemy back and ultimately driving them out of France and back to Germany itself. It would seem his body was never found or officially identified, and so could well be one of several from his unit buried in the war cemetery back at Bayeaux, his stone marked "Known unto God." His family have never found out exactly what happened, such is the fog of war.

It's also a sobering thought to remember that, though the Allied landings had taken place in Normandy on the 6th of June, nearly two months before David was killed, and despite desperate fighting and untold suffering, our forces had only reached Caen and the River Seine to the east and those hidden villages in deeper Calvados to the south. Although a strong bridgehead had been established well inland from the beaches, which is what David's Guards unit were doing down to the south at the time of his death, what we know as the breakout, that led to other famous actions such as at Falaise, was still yet to take place. In just that two months, many of those men saw more action, more heroics, and more suffering than most of us born since will ever see in an entire lifetime. Two months of such hard and heavy fighting, to gain such a small amount of territory and costing so many lives, is a good indication that just because our forces had landed in France, the outcome was still far from certain. D-Day made the defeat of Hitler's Germany possible, but it didn't make it inevitable in the way some films would seem to suggest. It would be nearly another year, another hard winter and many more lives would be lost before that came about in the following May.

A Maritime Story

Captain William John Decent
b. Myton 1861 .. d. North Sea 1918

As befits a maritime port city such as Hull, here we have a couple of photos of a Hull and Sutton sea captain lost during World War 1. The photos are provided curtesy of Jean & Dick Guest, married at St James' in 1943, and Captain William John Decent was Jean's grandfather. His ship, the SS Gitano, was lost with all hands in the North Sea, as far as we can tell, off the coast of Denmark. Captain Decent is also named on the Memorial to the Mercantile Services, who proportionately suffered the most horrendous losses at sea during the First War too. Captain William John Decent This story is typical of the thousands of merchant ship crews who met their fate this way, struggling to bring essential food supplies, as well as fuel and rubber and all manner of other items needed for an island nation to survive a major war. The GITANO was probably taking our export goods to Sweden, to return with a load of much-needed timber. But she never got there.

I said "during" World War One, which isn't strictly true. Captain Decent died on the 23rd of December, 1918, just two days before Christmas. But of course, the war actually 'ended' as we all know, on the 11th of the 11th, just over a month before. On the internet, at The Ships List, they show this Wilson Line vessel, SS GITANO, as "went missing at sea - probably mined". All of which makes the point that many deaths occurred long after the hostilities officially ended. Then, as now, naval mines still exploded and took innocent sailors and passengers to their deaths, in some cases, several years after a conflict. Many a fishing boat and crew have been lost in this way, hauling a deadly mine up hidden amongst the fish catch in their nets, to explode as the catch was released onto the deck. A ship thus caught would sink in seconds, lost with all hands, without trace. There wouldn't even be chance to send a signal, let alone launch a boat.

Many will see memorials to the First World War as having the dates, 1914-1919 .. and this is why. Hundreds more soldiers and combatants from all the services died of their wounds, or exploding mines, or abroad in circumstances 'caused by the war if not during it' for a long time after. And so this captain and his crew are as much a part of our War Dead as any others. So many deaths appear in 1919, and likewise later in the Second World War, history repeats itself yet again with many memorials recording Second War deaths as late as 1947. A frequent example of "later tragedy" is that not all the 'survivors' of the Japanese POW camps, having got home, lasted more than another year or two.
SS GITANO .. lost 20 December 1918
SS GITANO .. Wilson Line .. built 1913 .. lost 1918

So here we have Captain Decent, and his ship, lost just before Christmas, the first Christmas of the Peace after 4 years of devastating and costly war. The sepia photo here looks as if it could have been taken in a North Sea fog. A current Danish website dedicated to deep-sea divers tells us that the GITANO was lost, "on passage from London to Gothenborg", which suggests that she, and her captain and crew, are lying not far from the Danish coast, a marked war grave. The shame of it is, is that in all probability, it was one of our own mines that she struck.
Captain Decent was born in 1861, to parents Samual and Hephzibah, down Cogan Street in Myton parish. He married Jane Nesbitt Mudd and they had two children, Lily, and Stanley. Captain Decent is also commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves site below.

Second Lieutenant Sidney Hannaford Hellyer
4th Bn East Yorkshire Regiment

Sydney, pictured here at Lambwath Hall with his mother, Jane Elizabeth Hellyer (1858 - 1943), was the son of Charles Hellyer of the well-known Hull shipping family. Sydney was in the 4th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment. His battalion took part in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, and Sidney was mortally wounded on the 8th of May, 1915. Sidney Hannaford Hellyer (1889 - 1915) He was repatriated to a hospital at Boulogne, probably with a view to getting just well enough to be able to board ship for England and further hospitalisation. But he died of his wounds before he could leave France, aged just 25.

He was one of tens of thousands to "die of his wounds" in the Great War, almost certainly of some sort of infection, or complications caused by an infection. The most notable was gangrene. This was just over a decade before the discovery of penicillin, the first really effective anti-biotic, and the saviour of so many more lives in the Second War.
memorial window to Sidney Hannaford Hellyer Though born in Sutton, his parents had moved back to their own roots in Brixham, and somehow, that's where his body was finally buried. So this son of Sutton lies in St Mary's churchyard, South Devon, shown in the photos here of both the memorial window his mother gifted to the church, and his headstone in the churchyard. Sydney's memorial window is particularly interesting as it not only shows him as a soldier, but is very recognisably an image of Sydney himself.
Both of these excellent photos here are supplied by Peter Haywood of the Seamens' Christian Friend Society in Brixham, South Devon, with our thanks. Sidney Hannaford Hellyer's headstone

This particular story of Lt Hellyer and his memorials serves very well to illustrate how a man can be remembered in several places for various reasons. His family roots were not Sutton, but he was born and lived here and so is remembered here. And as well as in his father's home town of Brixham, Sydney will also be remembered on on Roll of Honour in the annals of the East Yorkshire Regiment. And of course, as with over 2 million others, his details and memory are also recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves site, on the link further below. There are often more ways than one of finding a person's details after military service, particularly if they were killed in doing that service.

It's also worth noting that, though many actual service records for serving men and women in the First War were lost in the bombing of London in the Second, someone cleverly realised that almost every soldier, sailor and airmen who served 'overseas' was awarded a campaign medal. And those 'Medal Rolls' have survived, and in the past year or so, every record has been processed and placed on the internet, for us to check for free.

As of 2004, the medal records for all letters of the alphabet down to 'Z' have been available, with only a very few ommissions, for over 5.5 million men and women. That is some database.

Click the underlined if you wish to view the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website
to check family names for yourself.
(it opens in a new window)

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