4387951 Private George McCUTCHEON

Family Details

George Wetheral McCutcheon was born 4 December 1914[1], the son of George Wetheral and Mary J. McCutcheon.  In 1911, George [senior], Mary and their 4 months old son Thomas lived with George’s parents Samuel and Elizabeth at 11 Diamond Terrace, West Auckland.  24 years old George worked as a coal miner [hewer].  Others in the household were 20 years old Edward, 18 years old Annie and a 14 years old grandson Samuel James.[2]  In 1939, Mary J. McCutcheon [born 6 May 1889] was a widower living at 3 Diamond Terrace, West Auckland with her daughter Mary [born 8 February 1925] and possibly 1 other child [record officially closed].[3]

4387951 Private GEORGE McCUTCHEON

1st [Regular]Battalion, The Green Howards,

Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment

1947:  George McCutcheon may have married Edith E. Jose.[4]

1987 November:  George W. McCutcheon’s death was registered.[5]

George was the cousin of 1070621 LAC Thomas McCutcheon, RAFVR [1910-1974] who lived at 2 Manor Street, Evenwood and postcards from George to Thomas’ wife Norah are in the family possession.

Military Details

George McCutcheon’s service record has not been researched.  He served with 1st [Regular] Battalion, The Green Howards, Alexandra Princess of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment [6] [1/GH]  and his regimental number was 4387951.[7]  He was a pre-war regular soldier.  The date he enlisted is unknown. He served in Palestine before the outbreak of war.  Private G. McCutcheon would have served in France prior to being recalled for the Norway campaign.  He is believed to have been captured 28 April 1940 by German forces at Otta, Norway.  He was held as a prisoner of war at Stalag XXB Marienburg, POW No.5002 and set to work at Camp 248 [Arbeitkommando].  The date he was released is unknown.

THE GREEN HOWARDS IN PALESTINE [8]

The 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine was a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs against the British administration in the Palestine Mandate.  Palestinians demanded Arab independence and an end of the policy of open ended Jewish immigration with the stated goal of establishing a “Jewish National Home”.  Between April and October 1936, there was a general strike and other forms of political protest.  In late 1937, a second phase led to violence which increasingly targeted British forces.  The British Army and the Palestine Police Force supressed the revolt.  British figures record that over 2,000 Arabs were killed, 108 were hanged and 961 died as a result of “gang and terrorist related activities”.  Other estimates quote 19,000 casualties including 5,000 dead, about 4,000 killed by the British and another 1,000 as a result of terrorism and 14,000 wounded.  262 Britons were killed.  Despite the intervention of 50,000 British troops, a peace conference in February/March which ended without agreement, the uprising continued until September 1939 when the inevitable Second World War commenced.

The part played by the 1/GH has not been researched.  4387951 Private G. McCutcheon served in Palestine.  He was entitled to the General Service Medal with the Palestine clasp.[9] 

THE OUTBREAK OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR [10]

In the summer of 1939, 1/GH returned from Palestine and was stationed at Catterick Camp. North Yorkshire.  It was commanded by Lt.-Col. A.E. Robinson and formed part of the 15th Brigade of the 5th Division.  The Division was commanded by Major-General H.E. Franklin DSO MC.[11] 

5 October 1939: 1/GH crossed over to France, 21 officers and 655 other ranks embarked at Southampton on the SS Manxman to Cherbourg.  The battalion was at Le Boujon near Douai until after Christmas – training, reconnaissance and digging in a reserve defence line.[12]  From there to Armentieres then the Metz area then back to Armentieres by 15 February 1940.  Ten days intensive training was followed by a return journey to the UK via Boulogne and Dover, 17 April then onto Dunfermline.[13]

THE NORWEGIAN CAMPAIGN [14]

3 September 1939: at the outbreak of war Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark remained neutral.  The strategic importance of Norway was not lost on the UK or Germany:

  • Its long coastline posed a threat to the Royal Navy’s control of the North Sea thus the UK needed to control Norwegian waters in order to deprive them to Germany.  Germany saw the opportunity of using Norwegian ports for their surface fleet and submarines.
  • Germany viewed the import of Swedish iron ore through the Norwegian port of Narvik as essential to its war economy.

1 March 1940: The German High Command plans for invading Denmark and Norway were completed. An innovative plan involved 6 echelons of troops to be landed at 6 different locations from Oslo in the south to Narvik in the north.  Airborne troops would secure a military airfield near Olso into which additional troops would land.  A considerable air force asset was deployed in order to secure air superiority.

5 April 1940: The British War Council approved a plan to mine Norwegian waters and to deploy British troops to Norway.  Royal Navy warships were to convey troops to Narvik and Trondheim.   The Trondheim operation involved the landing of 2 forces – “Maurice Force” at Namsos to the north and “Sickle Force” at Aandalsnes to the south.  The 2 would meet Norwegian forces and converge on Trondheim.  Narvik was a third operation involving the Royal Navy and ground forces.

9 April 1940: German landings commenced and the main towns were quickly seized. In the south of the country, Norwegian forces defending Kristiansand surrendered 16 April, Bergen 25 April, the Oslo area 30 April and 1 May.

10 April 1940: The British responded with offensive naval actions but this work will not review the wider implications of the campaign but will concentrate only on the operations which involved 1/GH.  The main objective was to protect Trondheim.  The 15th Infantry Brigade and 1/GH was part of Major-General Paget’s “Sickle Force”.   

17 April 1940: British troops landed at Aandalsnes, the first men ashore being Royal Marines drawn from battleships in the Home Fleet, 45 officers and 680 men. 

18 April 1940: Aandalsnes: The first element, the 148th Infantry Brigade of “Sickle Force” successfully landed and moved inland to Kvam, secured Dombaas and was in position to move north to Trondheim.

20 April: Revised orders were received for 148th Infantry Brigade to reinforce the Norwegian 2nd Division near Lillehammer, further down the Gudbrandsdal Valley, in the opposite direction to Trondheim.  However, the Norwegians soon evacuated Lillehammer under pressure from German forces. [see Map 1]

23 April 1940: Fighting recommenced near Tretten.  The 148 Infantry Brigade was reduced to 9 officers and 300 men.  Reinforcements were urgently required.  Elements of the 15th Infantry Brigade arrived at Aandalsnes on the 23rd.  The structure of the 15th Infantry Brigade was as follows:

  • HQ 15th Infantry Brigade & Signals Section
  • 1st Battalion, the Green Howards [1/GH]
  • 1st Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry [1/KOYLI]
  • 1st Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment [1/Y&LR]
  • 15th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company [15/ATC]
  • 55th Field Company Royal Engineers [55/RE]
  • 146th [West Riding] Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps [146/FA]

24 April 1940: 1/GH left Rosyth for Aandalsnes aboard HMS Birmingham, HMS Acheron, HMS Arrow and HMS Griffin.[15]

26 April 1940: 1/GH disembarked in the early hours and by 3am, left by train for Kvam, a distance of about 100 miles.  The operation was confined to the Ramsdal and Gudbrandsdal valleys between Aandalsnes and Kvam with the intention of cooperating with Norwegian forces and prevent the advance of the Germans based in southern Norway.  The major objective was abandoned – cooperation with Maurice Force from Namsos to encircle Trondheim.

7.30am: 1/GH arrived at Dombaas which was in a state of chaos – burning wagons, shattered buildings and scattered equipment.  Men immediately took cover from attacking aircraft.  A Company under the command of Major C.W.D. Chads was sent off, about 1 mile up the road leading to Hjerkinn to guard the left flank of the Dombaas defences.  At 3.00pm, B Company [Capt. Bulfin] plus 2 sections of Composite Platoon [Capt. G.R. Lidwill] moved off in lorries to support 1/Y&L at Kvam, some 50 miles east, arriving at 7pm. B Company moved up to support 2 companies of the Y& L in heavily wooded country but in a position with a clear field of fire of about 200 yards in front.  Captain Fanshawe appeared with a large jar of rum!

27 April: 7am, the enemy started to deploy against the left flank of the 1/Y&L.  British prisoners could be seen being marched along the road.  B Company could not tell what was happening to 1/Y&L.  Orders for a withdrawal were received and 2 companies of 1/Y&L withdrew through B Company who eventually withdrew at 11pm to take up the rear-guard position on the north side of the river at Sjoa.  The terrain was difficult and unfamiliar.  1/GH were ordered to prepare a second position at Otta and their orders from General Paget were:[16]

“to hang on at Otta if we possibly could, pending the arrival of the reinforcements I had asked for.”

28 April: between 2-5am, exhausted men of B Company arrived. Transport had been arranged to ferry the company back to Otta to re-join the battalion.  The carrier platoon armed with anti-tank rifles and No.10 Platoon were detailed to act as rear-guard and leap frog back through each other.  Captain Lidwill led the carrier platoon but it was late, nothing was seen or heard.  What exactly happened is unknown.  It is assumed that the platoon was surprised by one or more German armoured car.  Capt. Lidwill was killed, men were machine gunned and only Corporal C.L. Horner escaped to join the battalion at Otta.  Whilst fighting this spirited rear-guard action, orders were received for the 1/KOYLI to withdraw to Dombaas some 5 miles behind the current position held by 1/Y&L.  B Company less the carrier platoon arrived at Otta at 7am and moved straight into defensive positions which had been previously prepared for them.[17] The position required 2 battalions but 1/Y&L had suffered heavy losses during the night getting out from Sjoa.  Force Commander Paget stated:

“The Otta position would thus have to be held solely by the Green Howards.  The Green Howards are in good heart but all too few to cover this extensive position.”

The position of the Green Howards is briefly commented below:[18]

“It was now the turn of the 1st Battalion, Green Howards.  They were short of 1 company, which was with Brigadier Morgan’s troops protecting Dombaas; a second company which had served on the right flank of the Y&L the previous day, sustained serious losses while forming the rear-guard in the small hours and did not reach Otta until 7am… Otta…stands about 10 miles up the valley from Kjorem…The main road follows the left bank of the Laagen, with a steep turning across a bridge into the town, while the railway and a subsidiary road follow the right bank.  Two steeply rising spurs on the hillside, one on the left bank about 1½ miles in front of the town, the other on the right much nearer in, with sheltered access from the side valley, gave scope for effective cross-fire and would be very hard to storm.  Each spur was held by one company; the rest of our troops were posted in and behind the town, where the 5 surviving anti-tank guns were also carefully sited.”

More detail is provided by Synge – The German troops, Group Pellenghar advancing up the Gubramnsdal Valley consisted of 7 infantry battalions including one of mountain troops, a motorised machine-gun battalion, a troop of tanks, some artillery and smaller units, in all about 9,000 men.   1/GH with the Brigade Anti-Tank Company had no air support or artillery.  A Company was left behind at Dombaas and the Carrier Company had been destroyed.  To use the words of the Force Commander:

“During the afternoon and evening the Green Howards fought splendidly.  There is no doubt that the enemy suffered many casualties in this battle and in his subsequent actions showed little desire or ability to press home an attack.”

The Otta position was naturally strong [see Map 2].  The battalion was disposed as follows:

  • D Company [Major C.E.W. Holdsworth] and C Company [Capt. E.R.P. Armitage attached from the Royal Scots] were in front, south and flanking the village of Otta.
  • D Company on the right
  • C Company on the left
  • B and Y [Capt. G.P.F. Worthington MC] Companies in the village
  • Battalion HQ with mortars in the northern outskirts of Otta.

7am: the first air attack, bombing and machine gunning positions, which continued throughout the day, followed by enemy artillery – there was little retaliation. 

10.30am: 150 enemy infantry together with tanks and armoured cars advanced up the track in front of D Company.  Fire was held until the enemy came within a distance of 400 yards.  Every weapon at its disposal was opened up on this body of troops which was driven off suffering heavy casualties.  D Company was in action all day.  Platoon no.16 on the right flank was bombarded early on and withdrew to a higher position. 

11.30am: No. 17 in the centre was attacked by artillery, tanks and armoured cars.  Fire was withheld until the enemy came within 100 yards.  It withdrew with many casualties.

3pm: D Company were attacked again.  

6pm: Platoons nos. 17 and 18 were attacked by artillery and machine-gun fire as the enemy advanced up the hill towards them and as the enemy came to within hand grenade range at 6.30pm, orders given to withdraw [Pte G. Potts killed]. No.18 platoon took up position with B Company to cover the withdrawal of the remainder of the battalion.

On the east bank of the river light tanks advanced up the road from Kringen in front of Y Company and at about 1.30pm the leading tank was knocked out and an attempt to cross the river in collapsible boats was halted.  A successful withdrawal was effected under supervision of PSM W.H.B. Askew.

On the left flank, the enemy attempted to filter through the woods above C Company.  Platoon No.15 was sent to protect the flank but contact with them was never made again.  At 5pm this situation on the left flank was serious and Capt. Armitage sent Lt. J.H. Rawson with 2 sections to Battalion HQ “to find out the position of affairs”.  The patrol was not heard of again.

5pm: orders were issued for a withdrawal, the forward positions at 9pm and the remainder at 11pm.  The rendezvous was Rudi station from which the battalion was to move back to Dombaas partly by train and partly by road transport.  C Company and No.19 platoon did not receive these orders.

9.45pm: the road and rail bridge were blown up which meant that D Company had to ford the river ½mile above it, to effect its withdrawal.  Mortar fire and rapid fire was laid down by the battalion which enabled most to withdraw with the exception of C Company and No.19 platoon.

9.30pm: C Company, Capt. Armitage went to look for No.15 platoon but was unsuccessful.  He returned to find the company involved in action against double its numbers.  He decided to break off and withdraw to Otta.  His company was divided into 4 groups.  A route was selected taking 7 hours to complete, much of which was over ice and bare rock on hands and knees.  They arrived, numbers and equipment, intact.  By this time, Otta was in the hands of the enemy and the line of retreat was cut off.  Capt. Armitage split his company into small parties and instructed his men to get through to Dombaas, the best they could.  Small parties arrived at Dombaas throughout the next day. 

The German army reported “bitter fighting for Otta” and General Paget recorded that:[19]

“The Green Howards on the Otta position fought splendidly…the enemy suffered many casualties in this battle and his subsequent actions showed little desire or ability to press home an attack.”

It is understood that Private G. McCutcheon was reported “missing” on this date.[20]  We do not know in which company he served.  If we knew this information, then an indication may be given as to where and when.

29 April: 5.45am: a force from A Company [Major A.C.L. Parry] in Dombaas covered the work of 55th Field Company RE near Rosti Gorge to blow up the bridge after the train carrying parties from Otta had passed and they re-joined the remainder of the Battalion at Dombaas at 8am.

 7am:  B Company reached Dombaas.  No.19 platoon arrived later in the day but there is no account of what happened to it.   

8pm: the battalion was ordered to take up positions astride the Hjerkin road about 1 mile east of Dombaas in order to allow the Norwegian troops to withdraw. 

11.30pm: Withdrawal of British troops was ordered, by train to Aandalsnes.

30 April:  3.30am: The Germans attacked 1/KOYLI in a position 1½ miles south of Dombaas.  Y Company of 1/GH was sent to protect its left flank and A and D Companies took rear-guard action south of Dombaas station. 

11am: the enemy were beaten off, the withdrawal was successfully accomplished and the train left.  A and D Companies followed shortly after in lorries.  The train party was to have one more adventure

1 May: 1am, the train crashed near Lesjaskogen, both engines overturned, ammunition in the first truck exploded and there were many casualties. The troops headed along the track to Verma, 17 miles distant towards Aandalsnes reaching it by 8am.  A platoon of D Company was left behind with a detachment of Royal Marines to cover the scene of the train wreck.  At Verma, another train was waiting in a tunnel and despite a few bombs being dropped by aircraft, at about 5.30pm it began to get up steam, fully loaded with troops and ammunition.  Reports came through that the enemy had broken through the RM rear-guard therefore B Company was sent to assist the platoon of D Company.  The train left at 8.30pm.  The Germans were held off and the rear party “embussed in mechanical transport” from Verma and arrived at Aandalsnes without further incident.

2 May: 2am: HMS Birmingham, HMS Manchester and HMS Calcutta with the rear parties aboard HMS Auckland sailed from Aandalsnes.

2/3 May:  Maurice Force was evacuated from Namos during the night of 2 and 3 May.  Sadly, HMS Afridi was hit by 2 bombs and over 100 men were lost.

The Allies landed 30,000 men at Namsos and Aandalsnes and over 15,000 at Narvik.  By the time of the Allied evacuation, German strength in Norway had been built up to 80,000.  Sickle Force had suffered 1,402 men killed or taken prisoner.  Maurice Force, suffered about 150 losses. 

3 May: at 5.00am, the Norwegian Army south of Trondheim surrendered and those to the north, surrendered at 2.00pm 4 May.  King Haakon and the Crown Prince of Norway embarked upon HMS Glasgow at Molde some days earlier. 

7 May: 11am, the battalion arrived at Scapa Flow, transferred to HMT Lancastria and sailed for Glasgow.[21]

1/GH Battalion War Diary contains the following detail.[22]

AANDALSNES April 25 Battalion disembarked.

DOMBAAS April 26 Enemy incendiary bombs in afternoon. In the afternoon Battalion was outflanked and No. 15 Platoon sent to stop this movement was never seen again. Lance-Corporal WHITE and Private BELLIS were the only two who returned.

DOMBAAS April 28 During whole day aerial bombardment and machine gunning from the air was almost continuous. Very few casualties.

AANDALSNES May 1 Battalion embarked.

The casualties during these operations were:-
Officers Missing & Wounded –
Captain G.R. LIDWILL
Lieutenant E.C.P. HARRISON
2/Lieutenant A.R.M. TANNER

Officers Missing –
Lieutenant A.E. McKENZIE (ROYAL SCOTS attached 1/GREEN HOWARDS)
Lieutenant J.H. RAWSON

Other Ranks –
Killed – 4
Wounded – 11
Missing – 136

AANDALSNES April 26 B Company ordered up in support of Y & L. REGIMENT

AANDALSNES April 27 3 Other Ranks, Privates WILLIAMS, HAMMOND and CHARLTON were missing.
Captain LIDWILL’s party were retiring along the road when suddenly they were machine gunned by an armoured car: it was difficult to get off the road and only 5 men succeeded in doing so. They were Sergeant DENNISS, Corporal HORNER, Private SMITH and 2 others, names unknown. It was now that Captain LIDWILL was wounded. Sergeant DENNISS was also wounded and nothing further was seen of Private SMITH. Corporal HORNER was the only one to return of this party.

AANDALSNES May 1 Train carrying 15th INFANTRY BRIGADE was derailed and destroyed near VERMA on the way to AANDALSNES, several killed and injured.
Battalion embarked.

Private G. McCutcheon was one of the 136 men recorded as “missing”.  It is believed that he was captured 28 April 1940 as a prisoner of war.  He was transported to Germany, held in Stalag XXB Marienburg, POW No.5002 and it is understood that he was in Arbeitkommando 248.[23]  Of the War Diary number of 136 missing, it is now known that at least 27 men were killed.  Possiby, about 110 men were taken as prisoners.  CWGC information records that the 27 men belonging to 1/GH buried at Nord-Sel Churchyard, Norway are: [24]

Died between 23 April and 2 May: Private J. Taylor Died between 25 April and 11 June: Drummer E.W. Bookman Died 28 April: Private J.J. Kennedy; Private G. Potts; Private J.J. Wilce; Private S. Pentland; Lance Corporal N.V. Richardson; Private J.R. Holliday; Private J.L. Rowe; Private J.W. Austin; Private R. Blake; Private S. Brooks; Private W.C. Charlton; Private A. Coad; Sergeant F. Denniss [Mentioned in Despatches]; Lance Corporal T. Hall; Private T. Hansell; Private S. Hirst; Private A. McLaren; Private N. Hough; Private S.F. Webster and Private F.T.P. Lambert Died 29 April: Captain G.R. Lidwill; Lieutenant J.H. Rawson [Mentioned in Despatches] and Private L. McKeown Died between 28 April – 31 July: Private J. Forsyth Died 19 May: Corporal D. Lowes.

The history of the Green Howards indicate that a number of honours were awarded.  These include:[25]

DSO – Lt-Col. A.E. Robinson; MC – Capt. Armitage; DCM – PSM W.H.B Askew; MM – Sgt. F.M. Roche; Mentioned in Despatches – Sgt D. Turner, Cpl. W.N. Brown, Cpl. R.C. Angel, L/Cpl. J.J. Smith, L/Cpl W.A. Dale, Pte D. Simmonds; Special mentions – L/Cpl C.E. Hedley, 2/Lt. P.R. Meldon, Lt. Rawson [see CWGC – MiD]; Norwegian MC for bravery – Capt. Bulfiin and Sgt. Peacock.

 PRISONERS OF WAR

The exact details are unknown but an estimated 110 men belonging to 1/GH were taken POW in Norway.  It is thought that Private G. McCutcheon was captured 28 April 1940.  He was held at Stalag XXB Marienburg and his number was POW 5002.  A photograph dated May 1943 shows him with another 45 POWs with a sign Komando248.

Another to be captured sometime later in this campaign was 4391760 Private Reginald Crossley, 1/GH – 12 May 1940.  He was taken prisoner at Polfus, initially held at Stalag XI-A then transferred to Stalag XX-B on the 22nd July 1940.[26]  Private G. McCutcheon may have followed a similar route into captivity.  As the Russians advanced, the Germans evacuated the POW Camps to prevent the liberation of the prisoners by the Russians. During the first four months of 1945, about 80,000 allied prisoners were marched west from Poland and Czechoslovakia into Germany. The winter conditions were extreme.  The prisoners were poorly clothed, had poor rations and many did not survive. Private G. McCutcheon would have been involved in this march. We do not know the date when he secured freedom.

May 1943 Stalag XX B Komando 248

Private G. McCutcheon, 4th row, 6 from left [blue mark]

4387951 Private G. McCutcheon was awarded the General Service Medal with Palestine clasp, the 1939-45 Star and the War Medal 1939-45.

MAPS

  1. Operations in southern and central Norway April – May 1040
  2. 1st Bn. Green Howards The defence of Otta 28 April 1940

REFERENCES

[1] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.540 Auckland 1915 Q1 and England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.1 p.1661 Durham Western Nov.1987

[2] 1911 census

[3] 1939 England & Wales Register Note: Private G. McCutcheon’s capture card held by the GH Museum records his next of kin as “Mrs. McCutcheon, 3 Diamond Terrace” and the 3 crossed out, replaced by 17.

[4] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.1a p.2058 1947 Q3 Durham Western

[5] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.1 p.1661 Durham Western Nov.1987

[6] The name was officially recognised as “The Green Howards” as from 21 April 1920

[7] UK British Prisoners of War 1939-1945

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1936%E2%80%931939_Arab_revolt_in_Palestine

[9] W2475 Roll of Individuals entitled to the General Service Medal 4 April 1940

[10] “The Story of the Green Howards 1939-1945” Capt. W.A.T. Synge 1952

[11] Synge p.3

[12] Synge p.6

[13] Synge p.7

[14] “A Concise History of the Campaign in Norway 1940” R. Palmer & S. Heal 2019

[15] Synge p.8 & 9

[16] “The Campaign in Norway” T.K. Terry p.124 http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-NWE-Norway/

[17] Synge p.15

[18] “The Campaign in Norway” T.K. Terry p.126 http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-NWE-Norway/

[19] “The Campaign in Norway” T.K. Terry p.128 http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-NWE-Norway/

[20] Forces War Records Casualty List 205 reported 15 May 1940

[21] Synge p.14-23

[22] http://ww2talk.com/index.php?threads/missing-personnel-casualties-norway-n-w-e-f-selected-extracts-from-war-diaries.58191/

[23] Family Information – photographs

[24] Commonwealth War Graves Commission Note: There may be other Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries in the area which have not been researched.

[25] Synge, various pages

[26] https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/ww2-medal-group-green-howards-o-539439993