HEAVISIDE Thomas William

Thomas William HEAVISIDE 1921- 1943

 4456678 Private Thomas William Heaviside, 7th Battalion the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) was killed in action 6 April 1943 aged 22 and he is buried at Sfax War Cemetery, south of Tunis, Tunisia.[1]

Family details

Thomas (Tommy) was born c.1921, the youngest son of John and Margaret Heaviside and brother to Richard, Wilf and Frank.

Service Details

The service details of Private Thomas W. Heaviside have not been researched.  The following details are derived from a number of sources.

The 7/Black Watch was part of the 154th Brigade which came under the orders of the 51st [Highland] Division.  In January 1940, the 51st [Highland] Division was mobilised for deployment to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force [BEF].  After the initial operations, the BEF retired to Dunkirk and the Division formed a defensive perimeter around St. Valéry. Here, in what would be its darkest chapter, the Division was isolated, abandoned and forced to surrender. Fortunately, one of its brigades, 154 Brigade – which had been detached, was able to escape through le Havre.

The Division was reborn from its twin, the Territorial 9th Scottish Division, along with many of those that had escaped St Valéry. Changing its name to the 51st Highland Division, it was deployed to North Africa, spearheading Montgomery’s attack at El Alamein and pursuing the Axis forces through Tripoli, Medenine, Mareth and Wadi Akarit to final victory in North Africa.

The North Africa Campaign [2]

June 1942:  The 51st [Highland] Division sailed for Egypt via the Cape of Good Hope, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal and arrived 2 months two months later.  The desert offensive of the previous year had failed to remove the Germans from North Africa, and now Rommel was again advancing against Egypt.

23 October at 9.40pm:  The Battle of Alamein opened with a huge artillery barrage along a front of some 50 miles (80km). All three Black Watch battalions were in the van of the opening attack (7th Battalion in 154 Brigade with the 1st Battalion), advancing close behind the barrage through wire and minefields and in the face of machine gun and rifle fire. By dawn next day all their first objectives had been secured, albeit with heavy casualties. The brigade was withdrawn from the front on 3 November and for the next five weeks was part of the force pursuing the retreating Germans beyond Benghazi and Tobruk but not in direct contact with them until 8 December at the village of Mersa Brega on the coastal road. The 1st and 7th Battalions were put in to try to circle round this village and cut the road beyond. They succeeded, only to find that the enemy had already left; but they suffered many more casualties from mines which the Germans had laid to cover their retreat.

January – April 1943: North Africa

The battalion’s next close contact with the enemy was on 19 January 1943 in the advance along the coastal road towards Tripoli at a strongly defended feature on high ground which was promptly named ‘Edinburgh Castle’. After a first failed attempt next morning by a fighting patrol supported by tanks to open up a route round this, it was decided that the 1st Battalion would try to capture it next night while the 7th Battalion and other units would try, under cover of darkness, to get round by the coast and cut the main road behind the Germans. The enemy decided not to stand and fight, and the 1st Battalion was able to enter the ‘Castle’ without opposition. However, in retreating the Germans managed to cause may casualties among the 7th Battalion. Tripoli was successfully occupied two days later. The Germans had now withdrawn to a strong defensive position centred on Mareth, just inside Tunisia, where the Matmata Hills left only a narrow passage, blocked by the Wadi Zigzaou, between them and the sea through which to advance north towards Tunis. Contact was made with the enemy in mid-February near Medenine.  On 6 March the Germans attacked without success and then withdrew. The next contact was at Wadi Zigzaou on 23 March, but before the battalion had to mount an attack across this the enemy again withdrew. The next obstacle 15 miles (24km) ahead on the advance towards Tunis was Wadi Akarit between the coast and Roumana Ridge.

6 April: 152 Brigade was allotted the task of attacking the southern end of this ridge, while the 7th Battalion followed the successful crossing of the wadi by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to attack the northern end of Roumana Ridge. It suffered considerable casualties before it could reach the base of the ridge still in possession of the Germans. In the afternoon it came under heavy attack from enemy tanks and the 1st Battalion was ordered up to help it. During the night both battalions were pulled back about a mile, but next morning it was found that once again the Germans had slipped away north. By this time, however, the battalion had captured a large amount of weaponry and taken a thousand prisoners, and it was not further engaged with the enemy.

4456678 Private Thomas William Heaviside, 7th Battalion the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) was killed in action 6 April 1943.

In May 1943, the war in North Africa came to an end in Tunisia with the defeat of the Axis powers by a combined Allied force.

Burial: Sfax War Cemetery

Private Thomas Heaviside is buried at grave reference III. A. 22., Sfax War Cemetery, Tunisia.  The town of Sfax is approximately 270 kilometres south of Tunis.  Most of those buried in Sfax War Cemetery died in attacks on successive Axis positions at Medenine, the Marith Line and Wadi Akarit, in March and April 1943. The cemetery contains 1,253 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 52 of them unidentified. [3]

REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] WW2 People’s War: The Black Watch [Royal Highland Regiment] June 2004 Article ID 8677182 https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/82/a8677182.shtml

[3] CWGC

Thanks to Iris Hutchinson for family photographs