FENWICK Thomas Company Serjeant Major

THOMAS FENWICK 1910 – 1950

Thomas Fenwick lived at Witton Park and aged 16, joined the army in 1927, seeing service in Palestine prior to the Second World War.  4385714 Company Serjeant Major T. Fenwick saw action in North Africa, was captured and held as a POW in Italy and Austria.  He returned to “civvy street”, living at Evenwood Gate with his wife Alice and daughter Ann.  He worked at Randolph as a storeman.  Thomas died in 1950, aged 39.

Family Details

Thomas Fenwick was born 2 October 1910[1], the son of Timothy and Harriet Fenwick, at Trealaw, Glamorgan, Wales.  There were at least 5 children born to their marriage:

  • Thomas born 2 October 1910 at Trealaw, Wales[2]
  • Robert born 4 October 1915 at Auckland [3]
  • Mary Jane born 25 July 1917 died 12 December 1918, at Witton Park, Co. Durham[4]
  • Evelyn born 1921,[5] at Witton Park
  • John William born 11 February 1923 [6] at Witton Park 

There was another child, Isabella born 26 July 1907 at Chester le Street.[7] Harriet probably was not her mother.  Thomas’ father Timothy Fenwick (1887-1939) was born at Great Lumley, County Durham and worked as a coal miner.  Thomas’ mother Harriet Austin (1890-1929) was born at Tunstall near Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire 26 November 1890.[8] In March 1910, Timothy and Harriet married at Hindsford, Lancashire. Timothy was recorded as a collier on their marriage certificate.[9] Atherton Collieries worked this part of the Lancashire coalfield, located near Wigan.[10]  By 1911, 21 years old Harriet and her 6 months old son Thomas, lived with her widowed father 52 years old Thomas Austin at Trealaw, south Wales together with her 4 siblings.  Thomas Austin was a Staffordshire man who was then working as a coal miner.  He had previously lived in Staffordshire and Lancashire.[11]

At this time, 22 years old Timothy Fenwick was a boarder living at West Farm, Edmondsley, County Durham together with his father William and Isabel Fenwick Allison (aged 4). Both William and Timothy worked as coal miners.  It is recorded that Isabel was the great granddaughter of the head of the household, 69 years old widow Jane Allison. [12] 

Harriet gave birth to a second child Robert, 4 October 1915 and a third Mary Jane, was born 25 July 1917 but sadly she died 10 December 1918.[13]  During the 1914-18 war, Timothy Fenwick served as 2631 (later 250927) Private T. Fenwick, 6th Bn., Durham Light Infantry for a total of 4 years 186 days, 2 years 41 days in abroad.  He was captured in May 1918 and held a POW in Germany.  The family home was 53 Low Thompson Street, Witton Park.[14]

A fourth child, Evelyn was born in 1921 and a fifth, John William Fenwick was born 11 February 1923.[15]  Harriet died in 1929[16] and Timothy in 1939.[17]

In 1939, Thomas Fenwick married Alice White, registered in south west Durham,[18] most likely at Evenwood, near Bishop Auckland.  Alice (born 13 July 1912) was the daughter of John and Edith White and sister of Stanley, Jonathon W.N. and John W.  John and his sons were all coal miners.  The family lived at 35 Evenwood Gate.[19]  In 1942, Alice still lived at 35 Evenwood Gate.  Thomas’ sister was a Mrs. Hunt, of 43 Katherine Street, North Road, Darlington, County Durham.[20]

Thomas’ brother serving as 4342341 Lance Serjeant Robert Fenwick, 2nd Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment died 6 June 1944, aged 28.  He is buried at grave reference 1.D.7, Hermanville War Cemetery, France.[21] By the end of the day, D Day, the battalion had lost 5 officers and 60 men killed and 4 officers and 137 men wounded.[22] He left a widow, Doris Fenwick of Darlington, Co. Durham.[23] To date, I have not found a local memorial.

After the war, Thomas and Alice continued to live at Evenwood Gate and Alice gave birth to a daughter Barbara Ann in 1947.[24] Thomas worked at Randolph as a storeman.

Thomas Fenwick

8 September 1950, Thomas Fenwick died aged 39, leaving his estate to his wife Alice, who resided at 35 Evenwood Gate.  He is buried in Evenwood cemetery.[25]  Alice lived until she was 89, and died in 2002.[26]

Military Record [27]

The service record of Thomas Fenwick has not been obtained.  He served with both the 1st and 4th Battalions, the Green Howards but, at this point, the date he transferred, remains unknown.  Because of this, this account will not concentrate on the early action of 1st and 4th Bn., Green Howards in the Second World War. 

Cap Badge
Thomas Fenwick in his younger days

Brief details are:

1st Battalion, The Green Howards

20 April 1927: Thomas Fenwick attested at Bishop Auckland, enlisting into the Regular Army, the Yorkshire Regiment, also known as the Green Howards.  His regimental number was 4385714.  His recorded age was 18 years 200 days.  He stood 5’6¼” tall, weighed 119 pounds, had grey eyes and light brown hair.  His employment was recorded as a labourer.  He lived at Witton Park, County Durham.  His faith was Church of England.  15 September 1927, he was posted to the Service Company.[28]  With regard to his age when he enlisted, he was born 2 October 1910, therefore he was 16½ years old not about 18½ as recorded.[29]

4 April 1940: 4385714 Platoon Sergeant Major (previously Corporal) served with 1st Battalion, the Green Howards and was awarded the Palestine clasp under Army Order 247 of 1939.[30]  This award related to his pre-war service.  It is noted that between October 1939 and 17 April 1940, 1/Green Howards was posted to France and between 25 April and 3 May, it took part in the Norway campaign.[31] 

4th Battalion, The Green Howards

4/Green Howards was a Territorial battalion mobilised at Middlesbrough in September 1940.  It came under the orders of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, being part of the 150th Infantry Brigade together with 4th Bn., the East Yorkshire Regiment and the 5th Bn., Green Howards.[32]  The Division went to France in January 1940 and was posted to Longny, Vaux and Wavrin before retreating to Dunkirk with the BEF and French forces.  It was back in the UK in June 1940.[33]  Thereafter, it served in the UK until required for service in North Africa, commencing the journey in April 1941.

The North African Campaigns 1940 – 1943

11 June 1940: With the entry of Italy into the war in support of Germany, a new theatre of hostilities opened up on the African shore of the Mediterranean.  The fighting can be summarised into 7 phases:

  1. September 1940 – The original Italian thrust across the Libyan border.
  2. December 1940 – The defeat of the Italian Army at Sidi Barrani and its pursuit through Bardia, Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi as far as Agheila.
  3. April 1941 – The German-Italian counter offensive which left Tobruk isolated and besieged.  The British Army was driven back to the border, followed by 2 unsuccessful attempts to reverse the situation 15 May and 15 June. 
  4. November 1941 – The British offensive which relieved Tobruk and pressed the Axis back to Agheila again.
  5. January 1942 – The German-Italian counter thrust which forced the British Army back to the Gazala Line, outside Tobruk.
  6. May & June 1942 – The great German offensive in which Tobruk was captured and the British Army thrown back to the Alamein Line.
  7. October 1942 to May 1943 – The great British offensive starting with the Battle of El Alamein which drove the German Army back to Tripolitania and then Tunisia, forcing it to surrender near Tunis.

The 50th Division arrived in January 1942.[34]  Details of 4/Green Howards movements are: [35]

  • 23 April 1941: Embarked at Liverpool
  • May: at sea Freetown, Capetown and Durban
  • June: Port Tewfik and Qassassin
  • July: Fuka
  • 13 August: Embarked at Port Said for Cyprus, Ailasyka
  • October: Cyprus, Larnaca
  • 7 November: Sailed for Palestine, Mt. Carmel
  • 20 November:  Moved to Egypt
  • December: Sidi Haneish and Bir Thalata
  • 27 January 1942: Crossed the Libyan Frontier Bir Tenegedir
  • February: Bir Hacheim and Alem Hamza
  • March: Alem Hamza
  • 20 April: Got El Usleb
  • May: Got El Usleb
  • 1 June: Battalion captured.

February 1942: The 50th Division occupied a position west of Tobruk, known as the Gazala Line where it awaited the renewed German offensive which began in May.  The 151st Brigade occupied a position about 20 miles from the coast, to the south of the 1st South African Division.  It lay in a “box” protected by mine-fields.  The 69th and 150th Brigade each occupied their box to the south of 151st.[36] The 150th was located near the position known as Knightsbridge, hence “Knightsbridge Box”.

26/27 May: German troops led by Rommel swept round the left flank of the Gazala Line, 50 miles in the interior and by midday on the 27th engaged the rear of the 150th Brigade with his armour.  During the next few days, the enemy cleared the mine-fields on either side of 150th’s box and on the 31st finally broke into it from the north east.  A desperate struggle ensued with the Germans pouring an increasing number of troops until the brigade was overrun, 1 June.[37] 

The Green Howard’s regimental history provides further details:

28 May 1942:[38] Throughout the next 2 days, the area was under almost continuous attack.  Ammunition was running short therefore a convoy of 3-ton lorries was sent off to Tobruk to draw ammunition for medium and field artillery and for the machine guns.  The convoy did not return to the Brigade.  The enemy infiltrated the gap between 4/Green Howards and 151st Brigade to the north.  The Brigade HQ was moved into 4/Green Howards area.

29 May 1942:[39] The enemy strengthened its position on the north, west and southern fronts of the 150th Brigade’s Box.  Captain Mitchell’s force on the “Disputed Ridge” was subjected to shelling, mortar and small arms fire and sustained some casualties.  Captain Mitchell was ordered to withdraw from the ridge. Two full scale attacks were repulsed, 4/Green Howards held its positions but the situation to the north, with continued infiltration, was causing concern.

30 May 1942:[40] 4/Green Howards suffered heavy attacks on the northern and western fronts.  Major B.H.W. Jackson[41] was mortally wounded.  Major Mander took over.  4/Green Howards held on all day.

31 May 1942:[42]  4/Green Howards were shelled all day and an attack was launched at about 4pm from the north.  Shortage of ammunition prevented artillery support.  When night fell, the position of the 150th Brigade was serious in the extreme, stocks of ammunition was very low and a shortage of water was being experienced by some units.  Defensive positions were formed.

1 June 1942:[43] At first light, the enemy attacked on all fronts, its fire was intense and of heavy calibre.  No.12 platoon fought until its ammunition was completely exhausted and was forced to surrender.  By 9am, B and C Companies were over-run.  The men of the Brigade, with their last rounds of ammunition expended, passed into captivity. Very few men succeeded in escaping.

“This was the final fight of the 150th Brigade and, with the exception of a handful of men who managed to escape later, the whole Brigade, with its attached troops became prisoners of war.” [44]

Map 1: The Gazala Line showing the direction of Rommel’s attacks of May/June 1942 [45]

The collapse of this position, cleared the German-Italian line of communication along the Trigh Capuzzo and within a few days Rommel exploited this success.  He is quoted as saying:[46]

“The attacking formation advanced against the British 150th Brigade on the morning of May 31.  Yard by yard the German-Italian units fought their way forward against the toughest British resistance imaginable.  The British defence was conducted to the last round of ammunition.”

A report dated 13 June 1942, confirmed that 4385714 Company Sergeant Major (CSM) T. Fenwick was wounded, date of action 29 May 1942.[47] 

The majority of British wounded, presumably including CSM T. Fenwick, were:

“bundled into lorries and hustled off over hundreds of miles of desert into captivity.” [48]

Prisoner of War

There are several sources of information relating to 4385714 CSM T. Fenwick:

  • 19 October 1942, he was reported as being a “Prisoner of War (previously reported as Missing) Casualty List No.958 Previously shown on Casualty List No.870 as wounded and missing”, date of action 4 June 1942.[49]
  • No date, 4385714 CSM T. Fenwick, was reported as, “Prisoner of War in Italy, POW Camp number 66, Capua Transit Camp, Capua.[50]
  • No date, 4385714 CSM T. Fenwick was recorded as a POW at Camp No. 73, Italy and later he was transferred to Stalag XVIII A. A note records that parcels were sent on 14 occasions between 30 October 1942 and January 1945.[51] 
  • No date, 4385714 CSM T. Fenwick, was reported at, “POW Stalag 18a, Wolfsberg (Karnten) Austria POW No.39888.[52]
  • No date, 4385714 CSM T. Fenwick, was reported at, “POW Stalag XVIII C Markt Pongau POW No.39888.[53]
  • 1 August 1945, CSM T. Fenwick it was reported that he was, “now NOT Prisoner of War”.[54]

The above references infer that CSM T. Fenwick was held as a POW from 4 June 1942 to 1 August 1945.  The actual dates may be significantly different.

In Italy

CSM T. Fenwick was initially held at a Camp No. 66, Capua, a transit camp then at Camp No. 73, Fossoli, near Modena.  POW Camp No.73 operated between July 1942 to 8 September 1943.  Allied servicemen, British, New Zealand, Australian and South African, captured in North Africa were interned here.  Initially, they were housed in tents because the bricks huts were still under construction.  There were about 5,000 POWs. The Italian armistice was announced 8 September 1943 and German troops took over the camp by force, disarming the Italian garrison.  POWs and Italian guards were moved to camps in German occupied Europe.  Subsequently, the camp was used as an internment camp for the deportation of Jews and those suffering the Nazi-Fascist persecution.  They were sent to concentration and extermination camps elsewhere. [55]

Camp No. 73 Fossoli: the tented camp

Camp No. 73 Fossoli: the brick huts under construction

In Austria

POW 39888 CSM T. Fenwick was transferred to Stalag XVIII A, Wolfsberg, Austria.  It appears that he was originally held at Karnten then later at Markt Pongau.  Possibly this transfer took place in June 1944 when 200 NCOs and men are known to have been relocated.  At this time, there were 38,831 prisoners at Stalag XVIII, 10,667 being British and Commonwealth troops.  A Red Cross report (August 1944) stated that there were 313 work camps associated with the main camp, split evenly between agriculture/forestry and trade/industry.  On 18 December 1944, the camp was bombed by US aircraft and 46 POWs and several guards were killed.  Officially, the camp was liberated by units of the British 8th Army on 11 May 1945 but it appears that POWs took control of the camp on 8 May, the day of the German surrender.[56]  The exact date when CSM T. Fenwick was liberated, by whom and where is unknown.

Location of Stalag XVIII A Wolfsberg & Stalag XVIII C Markt Pongau

Notes

  1. Two Photographs of Thomas Fenwick
  • Headstone

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/237433652/thomas-fenwick?_gl=1*1dq0xn7*_ga*MzQ4NTA3MTg0LjE2NjQ1MjkyNjY.*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY2NDUyOTI2Ni4xLjEuMTY2NDUyOTgzMi4wLjAuMA..

Evenwood Cemetery Headstone of Thomas Fenwick

REFERENCES


[1] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.11a p.671 Pontypridd, Glamorgan, Wales 1910 Q4 and Army Form E.501 Attestation Form 2631 Private Timothy Fenwick supplementary details.

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.11a p.671 Pontypridd, Glamorgan, Wales 1910 Q4 Trealaw is close to Tonypandy and the registration district was Pontypridd, Glamorgan, Wales – a coal mining area in the Rhondda Valley

[3] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.363 Auckland 1915 Q4

[4] Army Form E.501 Attestation Form 2631 Private Timothy Fenwick supplementary details.

[5] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.498 Auckland 1921 Q1

[6] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.451 Auckland 1923 Q1 and Ancestry Family Tree

[7] England & Wales 1837-1915 Birth Index Vol.10a p.622 Chester le Street 1907 Q3

[8] England, Select Births and Christenings 1538-1975 film no.1526192

[9] Church of England Marriages and Banns 1754-1930 ref.no. L214/1/2/2 and Army Form E.501 Attestation Form 2631 Private Timothy Fenwick supplementary details.

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindsford

[11] 1911 census

[12] 1911 census

[13] Army Form E.501 and details provided

[14] Army Form E.501 and accompanying documents

[15] Ancestry Family Tree

[16] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.251 Auckland 1929 Q2

[17] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.8 Darlington 1939 Q1

[18] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.10a p.634 Durham South Western 1939 Q2

[19] 1939 England & Wales Register

[20] POW Card Note: The 1939 England & Wales Register confirms that Isabella Hunt lived at Katherine Street, Darlington although her date of birth does not match with the DOB provided on her father’s WW1 Army Form details.

[21] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[22] http://eastyorkshireregiment.blogspot.com/p/history.html

[23] CWGC

[24] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.1a p.1271 Durham S.W. 1947 Q1

[25] Evenwood cemetery family headstone – this infers that he was born in 1910; England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.1a p.563 Durham South Western 1950 Q3 – His age was given as 39.

[26] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Durham Western Entry No.242 May 2002

[27] The prime source is “The Story of the Green Howards 1939 – 1945” Capt. W.A.T. Synge, published 1952

[28] Enlistment Record held by the Green Howards Museum

[29] Forces War Records Archive Reference WO416/118/440 gives a date of birth as 2 or 3 October 1908. He appears to have provided an incorrect date of birth. 

[30] Forces War Records Archive Reference WO100/506

[31] Synge Charts at XVIII & XIX and p.6 – 23

[32] Synge p.24

[33] Synge Charts at XV111 & XIX and p.24 – 57

[34] “Faithful The Story of the Durham Light Infantry” 1962 S.P.G. Ward p.481 & 482

[35] Synge Charts p.XX1 & XX11 and p.68 – 99

[36] Ward p.488 & 489

[37] Ward p.489

[38] Synge 97

[39] Synge p.97 & 98

[40] Synge p.100

[41] 39119 Major Brian Holroyd Watts Jackson is buried at grave reference 7.B.11 Benghazi War Cemetery, Libya.  It is recorded that he died 4 June 1942 aged 34 and was husband of Elisabeth Y.H. Jackson of Sowerby, Yorkshire.

[42] Synge p.101 & 102

[43] Synge p.103 & 104

[44] Synge p.105

[45] “The Faithful Sixth: A History of the Sixth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry” 1995 Harry Moses p.171

[46] Synge p.106

[47] Forces War Records Archive Reference WO417/44 Casualty List No.849 dated 13 June 1942

[48] Synge p.106

[49] Forces War Records Archive Reference WO417/52

[50] Forces War Records Archive Reference WO392/21

[51] Green Howards Museum POW Card Index

[52] Forces War Record – no Archive Reference given

[53] Forces War Record Archive reference WO416/118/440

[54] Forces War Record Archive Reference WO417/95-1

[55] “Difficult Heritage: The Experience of the Fossoli Camp Foundation” 2020 Marzia Luppi & Fransesca Schintu Ex Novo Journal of Archaeology Vol 5 December 2020

[56] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_XVIII-A