Grave re­spect

U.K. fam­ily pays their re­spects to New­found­land gun­ner who died pro­tect­ing them dur­ing Sec­ond World War

The Western Star - - LIFE - BY GLEN WHIFFEN glen.whiffen@thetele­gram.com

Among the war graves of British Sec­ond World War sol­diers at By­brook ceme­tery in Ash­ford, Kent, United King­dom, lies the grave of New­found­land sol­dier Wal­ter Kitch­ener Pike.

Pike was a gun­ner in the Royal Ar­tillery, 59 (New­found­land) Heavy Reg­i­ment.

Pike’s grave marker stood out to Ju­dith Hol­loway, who lives just out­side of Ash­ford, Kent, on one of her vis­its to her fa­ther’s gravesite in that same ceme­tery.

“When I first no­ticed Gnr. Pike’s grave I was cu­ri­ous to know how a New­found­land gun­ner came to be buried in Ash­ford, Kent,” Hol­loway said. “I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t re­ally much knowl­edge of New­found­land, but I’m putting that right. I’ve been in­trigued by all that I’ve learned from this young man’s grave­stone.

“He seemed so far from home that my fam­ily now pay our re­spects to him, too, when we visit the ceme­tery.”

Hol­loway did some re­search and dis­cov­ered from the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion that Pike was 26 years old when he died, he was from St. John’s, and had a wife named Gla­dys. His fa­ther’s name was Ge­orge Pike.

“My hus­band served in the British Royal Ar­tillery and be­cause of this I have al­ways no­ticed the RA em­blem on (grave mark­ers),” Hol­loway said. “I found that (Pike) served in an air de­fence bat­tery on the coast at Folke­stone where he fell. That bat­tery was re­mem­bered re­cently with a me­mo­rial seat in Ald­ing­ton, Kent, to hon­our those whose brav­ery and ser­vice pro­tected us here, and be­cause they had at­tended the lo­cal church. I also spoke to the lo­cal British Le­gion and I’m told that they were bil­leted all around this area and in Shorn­cliffe Bar­racks in Folke­stone.

“From the grave­stone I looked into the 59th (New­found­land) Heavy Reg­i­ment and from those de­tails I found that his reg­i­ment formed in 1940 in Canada to pro­vide U.K. coastal de­fence and live fire for train­ing, and then fought on the U.K. coast. It was de­ployed in June 1941 in an oper­a­tional role guard­ing the U.K.’s south coast in­va­sion from Ger­many. I think that (Pike) may have served on the heavy guns — nick­named Win­nie and Pooh — at St. Mar­garet at Cliffe, near Dover in Kent, and op­po­site the Ger­man guns in Calais. The reg­i­ments along that part of the coast would also have pro­vided de­fence from in­com­ing Luft­waffe on the way through Kent to Lon­don, the Dover lo­ca­tion be­ing about 15 miles from Ash­ford.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Her­itage New­found­land and Labrador web­site, when war broke out in Septem­ber 1939, New­found­land and Labrador lacked any form of ground force to send over­seas. Although it had raised, equipped and main­tained the costly Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment dur­ing the First World War, the unit had dis­banded in 1919.

The coun­try’s econ­omy had de­te­ri­o­rated to the point that it could not af­ford a sim­i­lar un­der­tak­ing dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

“In­stead, Bri­tain’s Royal Ar­tillery (RA) re­cruited and trained some 2,343 vol­un­teers from New­found­land and Labrador at its own ex­pense,” the web­site states. “Th­ese men formed two bat­tal­ions — the 57th and 59th (New­found­land) Heavy Reg­i­ments. The for­mer fought in North Africa and Italy, while the lat­ter de­fended Bri­tain’s coasts for three years be­fore fight­ing in France, Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and Ger­many.”

While on coastal de­fence in July 1941 at Kent, B Bat­tery was com­manded by British of­fi­cer Maj. Dou­glas Frank Stone. The bat­tery had two heavy 12 in how­itzers at Can­ter­bury, as well as four French 75 mm guns.

“The idea,” Stone once said, “was that when the Ger­mans ap­peared in the neigh­bour­hood of Dover, we were ex­pected to rush out to meet them with four French 75s, and if we got a past­ing, we were then sup­posed to hare back to Can­ter­bury and fire off the two 12 in how­itzers.”

Af­ter the 59th em­barked for France, they were soon in­volved in fierce fight­ing in the vil­lages on the perime­ter of Caen. As they pro­gressed, they took part in ma­jor of­fen­sive cam­paigns even­tu­ally fir­ing their guns on Ger­man soil.

Shortly af­ter V-E Day on May 8, 1945, the Royal Ar­tillery sent re­cruits from New­found­land and Labrador back home rather than de­ploy them to the Far East, where the war against Ja­pan was on­go­ing.

On Aug. 7, the Lady Rod­ney de­parted Liver­pool for St. John’s car­ry­ing the first group of 301 ar­tillery­men back home. By mid-Oc­to­ber, the vast ma­jor­ity of re­cruits had re­turned home.

Through­out the war, ar­tillery­men from New­found­land and Labrador dis­tin­guished them­selves as hard-work­ing and brave sol­diers who earned high praise from their com­mand­ing of­fi­cers. Mem­bers of both reg­i­ments re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards, in­clud­ing the Mil­i­tary Cross, British Em­pire Medal, Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Or­der, and Croix-de-Guerre.

The years of com­bat, how­ever, took their toll, and many men re­turned home in­jured, while 87 died in ser­vice. The 59th (New­found­land) Heavy Reg­i­ment of­fi­cially dis­banded in Au­gust 1945.

Hol­loway’s fa­ther served with the Royal Army Ser­vice Corps (now Lo­gis­tics Corps) and was sent to Ger­many to help set up of the British Head­quar­ters once the Rhine was crossed. The 59th (New­found­land) Heavy Reg­i­ment ad­vanced with 1 (BR) Corps across the Rhine in the bat­tle of Nor­mandy in 1944, she noted.

Con­nec­tions to New­found­land and Labrador keep com­ing she said. Her daugh­ter Alice was born on July 1, for in­stance, that now re­minds her of the Bat­tle of Beau­mont Hamel the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment was in­volved in dur­ing the First World War.

With the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War this week­end, Hol­loway says there is a height­ened im­por­tance to Re­mem­brance cer­e­monies in the UK.

“On a per­sonal note, I was in Can­ter­bury Cathe­dral (re­cently) with fam­ily to mark a First World War rel­a­tive who died at the Somme, and we went into the crypt and lit a can­dle for Gnr. Pike, too,” Hol­loway said. “Af­ter­wards we went up to the St Michael’s chapel (the War­riors chapel). They have on dis­play there one of the Silent Sol­diers mod­elled on the WW1 British ‘Tommy’ which are on dis­play all over the U.K. in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the cen­te­nary of the Armistice in 1918. They are also on the cliff tops fac­ing the sea, where Gnr. Pike served.

“It makes it all the more im­por­tant that we stand at (Pike’s) grave and re­flect on his ser­vice and sac­ri­fice, so far from home. And we will put a poppy ded­i­cated to him at Armistice.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

The grave marker of New­found­land Sec­ond World War sol­dier Wal­ter Kitch­ener Pike lies among Com­mon­wealth war graves at By­brook ceme­tery in Ash­ford, Kent, United King­dom. Ju­dith Hol­loway and her fam­ily pay trib­ute to Pike’s grave — the only New­found­lan­der they be­lieve is at the ceme­tery — each time they visit her fa­ther’s gravesite there.

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