Foreword by Major I. R. English. MC abnd Three Bars. TD.
Some regiments win fame by virtue of their achievements which become known to a wider circle than purely the Army. More rarely Divisions can do the same; for example the 7 Armoured Division - the 'Desert Rats' and the 2nd New Zealand Division.
50 (Northumbian) Division can be included in this small select group. This springs from the distinguished part it played in many battles. These included the counter attack at Arras May 1940, Gazala June 1942, El Alamein and Mareth. Also, of course the two campaigns so ably described in this book - Sicily and North West Europe. General Horrocks the Commander of 30 Corps had good reason to describe the 50th Division as the "most experienced battle-fighting division in the British Army".
The previous history of the division in the second world war - "The Path Of The 50th" by Ewart Clay published in 1950 has long been out of print, and is now virtually unobtainable. So it is very timely that Barrie Barnes has written this book.
Barrie describes the general situations, the divisional plan to carry out the given task, and gives a vivid picture of the detailed actions of brigades, battalion and regiments in the various battles. These are augmented by a large number of personal accounts told by other ranks equally with officers. They are immensely valuable and give a sharper focu on what life is like for the front line soldier than any general history can do. Some of the accounts are poignant and moving.
Before the war the 50th Division was recruited from Durham and north and east Yorkshire. Later units received drafts from other parts of the country - the Scottish borders, Lancashire and Shropshire. As the war went on and after so much hard fighting, it was inevitable that reinforcements were collected from wherever they could be found. For example, my company received a draft of about 35 Welshmen who did not want to join the DLI, but after a few weeks the newcomers and the veterans got to know each other, and the Welsh lads were soon proud to call themselves Durhams. In this way the division always kept its north country character. Tough, hardy and resolute men, whether they were Durham miners or Yorkshire country stock. Most did not want to be soldiers, but they realised their country needed them and they has a job to do. They just wanted to do it to the best of their ability and get home again. Sadly many never came home.
For one who served in '50 Div' from the beginning of the war, apart from nine months as a prisoner of war in 1943, to the very end - so fittingly marked by the magnificent Service Of Thanksgiving and Remebrance in York Minster on the 16th May 1945 - I warmly welcome this book and commend it equally to young and old soldiers, and indeed to the general public. Let us never forget the part played by the men of '50 Div' with many others, in the defeat of the armies of one of the greatest tyrannies known to man.
The 50th Northumberland Division - July 1943 to December 1944
First Edition 1999
Dedicated to my children Nicholas, David and Rachel - May the pleasant lands of France and sicily mean for them only holidays and fun
"As I was interviewing veterans for my first book I came across many men who had served in the East Yorkshire Regiment in WW2 and once my first book was published I began to interview them with the purpose of writing a history of the men of that regiment. I advertised far and wide and was contacted by many individuals, it turned out they had all served with 50th Northumbrian Division. This meant very little to me so I began to look into its history, I soon discovered that the 50th was a very famous front line fighting division and was highly regarded by Montgomery. Other famous regiments served within its ranks and I began to interview men who had served in the Durhams, Green Howards, Dorsets, Hampshires, Devonshires. artillerymen, drivers, medics, armoured corps and engineers. This kept me busy for the next eight years. The history I wrote was far wider ranging than the original idea. It followed the 50th to the Sicily landings in 1943 and the hard fought and bloody route up the coast to Catania, at Primosole Bridge they fought a brutal battle with German parachute troops and lost hundreds of men in that gruesome struggle. After this they went back to England to prepare for the D-Day landings, new blood was brought in to replace the terrible losses and the division was re-kitted. On 6th June 1944 the Division were the storm troops that landed on Gold Beach, the fighting was hard and bloody but eventually they pressed foreward into the Boccage. Their troubles had just begun as the German troops fought doggedly from hedge row to hedge row, with each one that fell the price was paid in blood. From here they moved to Villers Boccage, this killing ground took a terrible toll of all troops who fought there until its final capitulation. Old familiar battle fields were fought across as the Battle for Caen raged and the Germans were cornered in the Fallaise Gap, to be pounded by bombers, artillery and tanks on a massive scale. The 50th were pulled out of the line and once more their numbers were made up by new recruits, now it was their turn again to be at the front as Operation Market Garden got underway. Again the fighting was hard as the Allies pressed forward to relieve the airborn troops at Arnhem, again the 50th Division lost many more men as it fought German rear-guard action and were finaly stopped at Nijmegan Bridge. Here they held off German counter-attacks and their numbers were once again depleted, new recruits being hard to obtain. The writing was on the wall for the 50th, many of its men had fought in France and Belgium in 1940, in the Western Desert in 1941/42, in Sicily 1943 and in North West Europe in 1944, these men were the elite veterans of the British Army and had won many gallantry medals plus two VCs, many of them lay in the ground they once fought over. Their record is outstanding by any comparison and their fame will live on so long as we have written records. It was my privelege to meet them and record their experience and to preserve it for future generations."
A highly acclaimed account of the 50th Northumbrian Division in World War Two. The battle descriptions in this book are quite fantastic. Extensive interviews conducted by the author between 1984 and 1995 are used thoroughout, giving a vivid account of what life was like at the 'Sharp End' of battle: Superb.
Battle Front Books.
The author recreates scenes and captures the atmosphere of the moment with an impeccable prose style which permits vision of every military action and a shudder of every crash of shot. This is a powerful and compelling piece of writing which deserves to be read.
As a memorable account of the true 'Sharp End' of battle, the product of much original research and using invaluable first-hand accounts, this book can be thoroughly recommended.
Orders and Medals Research Society.
© 2015 Barrie Barnes