It has been some time since I have written a blog but with the book on its way to the printer I can give more time to expanding on some of the stories revealed by my research. I thought I would begin by explaining the book’s cover, designed by Jag Lal. There are seven images on the cover and one that makes up the textured background.
Left Top: A Royal Signals despatch rider in Waziristan, 1935. He is riding the military version of the 350cc Douglas Motors L3 which in India replaced the well-regarded Triumphs in the early 1930s. In 1932 Kohat District Signals reported in The Wire: ‘Since receiving our new pattern Fords, we have also had a new outfit of Douglas motor-cycles. The old Triumphs have passed out, much to our regret, and the steady purr of the Doug has come to stay.’ They were not as popular as the Triumphs and apparently not as reliable. 1st Indian Divisional Signals on exercise south-east of Rawalpindi in late 1932 recorded: ‘There was plenty of hard work for everyone, but the Douglas motor cycles could not stand up to the type of country over which they had to work and were all out of action before the ‘war’ proper commenced, leaving the three Triumphs to carry out the motor cycle D.R. work.’ By the Second World War they had been largely replaced by the Norton WD16H.
Left Centre: Signalman A. O. Topliff BEM, Hong Kong Signal Company. Having survived the sinking of the prisoner of war transport, the SS Lisbon Maru, and having swum for several miles to an island, Signalman Arnie Topliff saw that another survivor was unable to reach shore and was being swept out to sea by a change in the current. Although exhausted, and at considerable risk, he went back into the water and rescued an officer of the Middlesex Regiment, for which he was awarded the British Empire Medal. In other blogs here you can read more about the Hong Kong Signal Company, the Lisbon Maru, and Arnie Topliff.
Left Bottom: Linemen of 56th (London) Divisional Signals in the Italian Campaign during the attack on Monte Camino on 3/4 December 1943. During the action Lance Sergeant R. Lowe of ‘J’ Section (167th (London) Infantry Brigade Signal Section) was awarded the Military Medal for his conduct at the height of the attack between 2 and 4 December: ‘In spite of considerable and persistent enemy fire [he] carried out a difficult and hazardous climb carrying a spare wireless set. He visited each of the four battalions in turn, repairing sets where possible or if not carrying back damaged sets to brigade headquarters and later taking replacements up himself. Ronald Lowe was also mentioned in despatches for his earlier conduct during the Battle of Anzio. He was born on 21 June 1921 and lived in Barnard Castle in County Durham where he worked as an engineer for the General Post Office, as had his father who served with the Royal Engineers Signal Service during the First World War with ‘L’ Signal Battalion. Ronald Lowe returned to work for the General Post Office after the war. He died at Sandbach in Cheshire on 24 January 1998, aged 76.
Centre: The Military Medal awarded to Territorial Army Signalman Alfred Coxon of 70th Infantry Brigade Signal Section, 23rd (Northumbrian) Division, for his bravery as a despatch rider during the Battle of France on 20 May 1940 when he carried out a difficult run ‘although subjected to enemy bombing and machine-gunning with armoured fighting vehicles operating in the area’. The only element of 23rd (Northumbrian) Divisional Signals to deploy to France was a small despatch rider section commanded by Lieutenant D. C. J. Bell. Highly praised for its work, the men of the section earned a Military Cross (Bell) and two Military Medals (Coxon and Signalman T. Thompson). Prior to the war Alfred Coxon had worked on the staff of the Clerk of Durham County Council. He later served throughout the Western Desert and Italian Campaigns. The medal image was provided by the auction house Dix Noonan Webb.
Right Top: Lance Corporal D. A. Bowstead MM. During the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, Lance Corporal Danny Bowstead came ashore on Gold Beach at D+15 minutes with the signal section supporting 90th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Throughout the day he operated his set under the most gruelling conditions. His medal recommendation, written by the commanding officer of 90th Field Regiment, recorded that his efforts contributed ‘in no small measure to the success of 1 DORSET’, the leading battalion. You can read more about Danny Bowstead on this account of the awards earned by Royal Signals personnel on D-Day.
Right Centre: Signalman J. Petrie, Waziristan District Signals (far left) and his W/T detachment in Waziristan in 1937. A typical detachment comprised one or two Royal Signals operators, an Indian Signal Corps mule driver, and a mule mounted with the No. 1 set and its batteries and ancillaries. The Royal Signals operators were armed with revolvers and the mule driver with a rifle (Short Magazine Lee–Enfield No. 1 Mk. III). Signalman Petrie was mentioned in despatches for his conduct during the campaign. He had served in England for a year after completing his training before being posted to India in 1933. He transferred to the Army Reserve in 1939 but was recalled when war broke out. He was mentioned in despatches for a second time as a sergeant for his conduct during the Burma Campaign.
Right Bottom: A line detachment under shell-fire in the Salerno beachhead in the early days of the assault on mainland Italy, 14 September 1943. The landings saw the only award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal to a Royal Signals soldier during the Italian Campaign for ‘conventional’ operations. Signalman W. A. F. Kirkhope landed with 2nd Special Service Brigade Signal Troop at Vietri sul Mare and was decorated for performing line repairs ‘under conditions of extreme danger’ and, after relieving an exhausted operator at a relay station, remaining at his post without sleep for a further day and under very heavy mortar fire to maintain the only link forward. Forbes Kirkhope was born in Dunfermline, Fife in 1919. He was the grandson of the Labour politician William Adamson MP, a former Secretary of State for Scotland. He attended Dunfermline High School before joining a firm of chartered accountants in Edinburgh but enlisted in November 1939 before taking his final examination. Kirkhope was commissioned into the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders on 16 August 1945 (he was married the following day) and relinquished his commission after the war. Having qualified as an accountant, he established a successful business in the royal burgh of Brechin in Angus. Forbes Kirkhope DCM died on 23 February 2008 at Hay Lodge Hospital in Peebles, aged 88.
Finally, the underlying image is the Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to Sergeant A. H.Tracy of 1st Armoured Divisional Signals, earned for his bravery in the actions against the Abbeville/St. Valery bridgehead west of the River Somme prior to 5 June 1940, when he was captured. His award—the only gallantry medal to 1st Armoured Divisional Signals for the Battle of France—was published in November 1945 after his release. Arthur Herbert ‘Bob’ Tracy was born on 7 February 1914 in Lancashire and was a pre-war regular soldier. Having served for several year in India, he joined Mobile Divisional Signals (later re-designated 1st Armoured Divisional Signals) at Bulford in 1939 and was promoted to sergeant after the outbreak of war as Royal Signals expanded in size. After his capture, he was held at Stalag XX-A/Stalag 357 in Thorn (Toruń) in Poland until September 1944 when he was moved to a camp at Oerbke, on Lüneburg Heath in Lower Saxony. In April 1945 during the move of prisoners of war eastwards he escaped and lived rough until he met up with the advancing Allies. Due to his treatment as a prisoner of war Tracy suffered later from poor health; he died at Chelmsford and Essex Hospital on 20 June 1963, aged 49, after suffering a heart attack.
1. (Back)The Wire, June 1932, p. 241.
2. (Back)The Wire, March 1933, p. 112.
3. (Back) 211164 Sapper. ‘L’ Signal Battalion was responsible for the Line of Communication and by the end of the war comprised over 4,100 all ranks.