Pte Tom Rnglish of Thornley & 16 DLI

Pictured at first left standing, Pte Tom English (4461730) of Nelson St, Thornley, Co Durham, was part of the initial reinforcement draft to 16 DLI in early March 1943, Major Arthur Vizard’s ‘E Company.’ This photo seems to date from 1943-44. Further details on the date and location (‘Cleopatra’s Bar in the background hints at 1944 Egypt!) of the photo and of any of the other men featured requested. Tom English was taken POW in Greece in December 1944, in the same incident for which Pte J Peckett was awarded the MM. Photograph courtesy of Kevin English, via Fred Bromilow. To see Pte English’s official War Office POW notification letter from December 1944, click here.

In 1998, Tom English’s wartime CO, Major Arthur Vizard, wrote to me with this informal reminiscence of Tom English, who was his company runner in March 1943:

'Tom English I knew well, he was company runner when I had A Company in North Africa. The term "runner" is of course a hang-over from peacetime days when even field telephones were still distant. I particularly remember English because in late Match 1943 the Colonel of the 5th Foresters got trapped with his Battalion HQ and wounded in a big white house near Tamera and my CO told me to go and get him out. I took a single platoon and we set off in the fading light. There was a lot of activity with Jerries up on a hill overlooking us and we had to move with circumspection. As we approached the target house, the platoon commander (a well-liked and respected sergeant who shall be nameless, though he later won an MM and was killed in action) came up to me and said it was suicidal to push any further as the enemy were holding the ground in front of us. I disagreed and the atmosphere was fraught with the lads' ears hanging out! The outcome was that he refused an order and I put him in open arrest and detailed a Canadian sergeant who was attached to me to take him back to B Echelon.

'The platoon decided he was probably right and decided to stay put where they were. So I, the CSM, my batman and the company runner went forward and without a lot of trouble found the entrance and met up with the Colonel of the 5th Foresters. The long and short of it was that we led them out by the way we had come in and the HQ staff of seven Officers, 30 Other Ranks and 42 walking wounded performed a crocodile to safety through a rather abashed platoon who followed on sheepishly. I never had any trouble afterwards, though I was sorry I had to put the sergeant on a charge and he was court martialled and lost his stripes. He was KOYLI and so was my CO and he was none too pleased! But Tom English I put in for a Mention as he carried one of the Foresters’ wounded on his back. We were fortunate on the way back as it was now dark and we could see the reflection of the moon on the Jerries' entrenching tools as they dug in.'

Major Vizard’s official report on this 17/3/43 incident is included in the 1946 Battalion History, where Tom English’s name is misprinted as ‘Pte England.’ The Canadian Sergeant was most probably Earl Stoll, who was killed in action in France in 1944. I’m fairly sure about who the ex-KOYLI MM Sgt is: interested readers should be able to work his identity out for themselves from the Honours and Awards section of the site.

For more on Major A E C Vizard, click here.

Pte Tom English of Thornley Colliery and 16 DLI

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