Page 260 - The Rifles Bugle Autumn 2019
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BIRCH John Henry Birch (Johnny) died on 25th March 2019 at 20 Beacon Road, one of the regimental cottage homes in Bodmin that he had occupied for the past thirty-five years. During this time he had become a very well known and much loved veteran of that sadly dimishing band of brothers who had fought with the DCLI during the war.
Born in Birmingham on 12th February 1925, he was called up in 1943, initially reporting to Copthorn Barracks, Shrewsbury. After recruit training, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion DCLI in North Africa.
On 21st February 1944 the Battalion crossed to Naples, disem- barking over the bottom of a capsized Italian cruiser lying alongside the quay. Moveing up in to the mountains they encountered, not only strong opposition from a determined and skilful enemy, but bitterly cold weather. It seemed to rain interminably, and when it was not raining it was snowing. One of the many rivers that the Battalion crossed against opposition was the Ronco. It proved a battle in which everything that could go worng did go wrong. In torrential rain, two companies managed to get across the swollen river by means of a partially destroyed bridge. They immediately came under intense fire from a considerable enemy force of infantry and armour, (it was later established from German records the DCLI crossing and that by the 60th Rifles further down the river wee opposed by the entire 278th Divisiion!) The DCLI held on doggedly against these impossible odds, waiting for dawn when the tanks of the North Irish Horse were due to cross by the only ford. Alas, as the first tank entered the water it was knocked out by an 88 mm gun, blocking all subsequent movement. The river had by this time become a raging torrent making escape impossible; at about 10.00 am the survivors, most of whom were wounded, surrendered. For Johnny, badly wounded, the war was over. After a period in a German hospital, he was incarcerated in Stalag 7A, near Müchen where he was employed in a brickworks until liberated by the US Army in 1945.
After a short period back in England, Johnny was posted to the 5th Battalion DCLI then stationed at Brunswick. As this Battalion was run down to its territorial peace establishment, he was trans- ferred to the Royal West Kents, from whence he was demobilized in 1946. However after returning home to Birmingham, he found he missed the comradeship of the army, so re-enlisted in to the DCLI in the Spring of 1947. Posted to the 1st Battalion in Cyprus, he was involved in guarding Jews who had attempted to enter Palestine illegally and were held in two camps. Little love existed between detainees and the soldiers; it was bitter work that required a high standard of discipline and restraint. Nobody was therefore sorry to say farewell to Cyprus and move, first to Somaliland and then to Mogadishu. On the Battalion’s return to England in 1950, Johnny by this time a corporal, was posted to the Light Infantry Brigade Training Centre at Bordon.
After final demobilization, he settled down in Bodmin, finding accommodation in what had once been the the soldiers’ married quarters in the old depôt barracks which had been turned into social housing. By that time, it was pretty squalid. The building was demolished in 1984 and Johnny was allotted one of the much more salubrious regimental cottage homes in which he continued to live until his death. He worked at the Ranco Valve Company in Bodmin until his final retirement.
While at Bodmin he met his future wife, Mary Chapman. It was a happy marriage, sadly cut sort by her death in 2006.
For many years Mary worked at the Keep as our cleaner, keeping the large building immaculate, always cheerful and becoming a most loyal supporter of the DCLI.
Johnny was never physically large, but in his army days had been extremely fit and a good all round games player, repre- senting his various battalions in football, hockey and boxing. Until
finally overtaken by old age he could be found taking his daily walk regardless of the weather. Always cheerful, he would buttonhole you in Bodmin and tell one of his inexhaustible repetiore of appallingly bad jokes. The death of this irrepressible, loyal old soldier leave the world a poorer place. Our sincere condolences are extended to his large family: Michael, Tony, Peter, Paul, Terry, Susan and Wendy.
HANCOCK Dennis Hancock died on 13th May 2011 at the age of eighty-six. In June 1944 he joined the 2nd Battalion DCLI as it slowly advanced up the Tiber valley. He took part in the capture of Incontro Monastery the following month – an operation described by Field Marshal Lord Alexander as, “A model of what a daylight attack by a battalion group on a strong position should be.” Hancock’s death now leaves very few survivors who served under Lieutenant Colonel Musson during this outstanding period of the 2nd Battalion’s history.
HAWKEN Serjeant Major Jack Hawken died on 6th June 2017
at the age of ninety seven. Jack had served in the REME during the war as a fitter attached to the Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa. On demob he re-enlisted with the DCLI (TA) serving with the Bodmin company for many years, reaching the rank of Company Serjeant Major.
JONES Joseph Jones died at New Milton Nursing Home on 12th April 2012 at the age of ninety-two. Born in Stoke on Trent, he was educated at Sneyd Green Primary School and then Hanley High School, after which he worked in the advertising department of the local paper, The Sentinel. He enlisted only a few days after Britain’s declaration of war and was posted to the 5th Battalion DCLI, a territorial unit shaking itself out for war at Scrasden Fort on the south east coast of Cornwall. The first two years were spent in the tedious but vital role of coastal defence, being stationed at various times in Newhaven, Seaford, Walton-on-the-Naze and Harwich. However in August 1942 news was received that 5 DCLI had been selected as part of British force to fight in North West Europe. From that moment, training was hard and remorseless.
The Battalion (less the vehicles and heavy equipment) landed in Normandy near Coiurseulles on 22nd June 1944 (D+16). They had not long to wait before being thrown into some of the most vicious fighting of the war. The battle of Hill 112 was fought on 10th – 11th July, the Battalion demonstrating a stoic determination to hang onto their objective against prohibitive odds. Of the fighting strength of 380 who crossed the start line on the evening of 10th July only sixty remained when the withdrawal was ordered mineteen hours later. Jones was wounded in the leg by a mortar splinter. Evacuated back to England, he was initially treated in a hospital in Southampton. Sadly his leg could not be saved, and, after amputation spent many months recuperating at hospitals in Edinburgh (where he was given his artificial leg) and then at Nuneaton and Wrexham.
On his discharge from the army he returned to work for The Sentinel, meeting his future wife Lillian whom he married on Christmas Eve 1949, The couple moved to Endon, buying a garage in Longton with two friends where they serviced cars. In 1965, he accepted a position with Michelin as a technical officer, travelling widely across the UK and France and making himself fluent in French. He established a warm friendship with M Louis Martin, an ex Marquis fighter, with whom he spent many happy holidays at Moustiers St. Marie in Provence. He retired in 1979 enjoying golf and snooker with his many friends.
Jones became involved with The British Limbless Ex-Service- man’s Association (BLESMA) visiting old soldiers in the Stoke-on- Trent area until he was eighty-six, and was presented to the Duke of Edinburgh at a BLESMA gathering in Blackpool. He used to attend 5 DCLI reunion dinners in Cornwall organised by the indefatigable Frank Grigg.
Sadly Lillian died in 2006, but he leaves his son Peter and daughter Kerris, his grandchildren Darrel, Samantha, Jae and Aden and great grandchildren Sophie and Charlotte.

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