John Edward HUNTINGTON 1920-1940

2658528 Guardsman John Edward Huntington, 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards died 16 May 1940 aged 20.  He is buried at Wilsele Churchyard [1] and commemorated on the West Auckland War Memorial.

Family Details

John Edward Huntington was born 1920 [2] the son of John and Mary Hannah Huntington.  There were at least 9 children – Beatrice, Ada, Ethel, Alice, Margaret, Minnie, Sarah, John Oliver who presumably died in infancy and John Edward.[3] In 1911, the family lived at Middlestone Moor, near Spennymoor where 38 years old John [senior] worked as a coal  miner [hewer].[4]  John’s father was the adopted son of George Caile, born at Gaugers Arms which is between Toft Hill and Spring Gardens.[5]  John’s mother died in 1948 aged 69 [6] and his father in 1952 aged 78 [7] but I have not traced them on the 1939 England & Wales Register – this would have recorded where they lived and who lived with them.  At this time, it is assumed that John Edward Huntington would have been serving in the Army and posted to barracks since the 1st Battalion, the Coldstream Guards was a Regular Army unit.

Service Details

The service details of 2658528 Guardsman J.E. Huntington have not been researched.  The following notes are derived from a number of sources.

The 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards was part of the 7th Guards Brigade together with the 1st & 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards and came under the orders of the 3rd Division under the command of Major-General B.L. Montgomery.

On the outbreak of war, 3 September 1939, the 1 & 2 Battalions, Coldstream Guards were deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force [BEF].  The period until May 1940 was known as “the Phoney War” where the BEF spent most of the time patrolling, digging defences and waiting for the expected German assault.  The defence plan relied on the “impregnable” Maginot Line to the south along the French border with Germany.

10 May 1940: German forces invaded the Low Countries and the BEF left its prepared defences and moved into Belgium.  The Germans then attacked through the Ardennes with tanks and headed towards the Channel Coast threatening to cut off the BEF.  Fighting took place until 22 May when orders were given for the BEF to withdraw to Dunkirk.  The 1st Bn., Coldstream Guards was evacuated 1 June.

Guardsman J.E. Huntington did not make it.  He was killed in action 16 May 1940.  The following will provide some detail of events surrounding his death.

13 May: At 7pm, the Germans made a series of attempts to capture the city of Louvain, Belgium.  The 3rd Division held the front.

14 May: The German XI Corps was in action against the 3rd Division at Louvain.

A renewed attempt to take Louvain from the 3rd Division had started earlier, prefaced by a two-hour bombardment of the area north of the city held by the 9th Brigade and the 7th Guards Brigade. Here a tangle of railway lines and sidings, goods yards, sheds and warehouses made it a difficult area to preserve inviolate. Units of two German divisions succeeded for a time in pressing back some posts of the 2nd Royal Ulster Rifles, but a counter-attack by the 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers restored the position and drove the enemy out of the railway yards. North of Louvain the 1st Coldstream Guard were heavily attacked and their right company was for a time forced back. But here too a counter-attack in which light tanks of the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards took part drove the enemy out and completely re-established the front. All other assaults were successfully driven off. The German Sixth Army reported to Army Group B that they had not succeeded in penetrating the Dyle defences at any point.” [8]

16 May: Fighting continued:

“Only at Louvain, which the enemy made further and equally unsuccessful attempts to capture, was the British front seriously tested on the 16th. Again the 3rd Division’s Louvain sector was heavily and continuously shelled. Again it was on the 2nd Royal Ulster Rifles and the 1st Coldstream Guards that the main attack fell, though this time the Belgian troops on our left were also involved and were forced back. But again the British position was held intact till withdrawal to the Senne line began that night.”[9]

Guardsman J.E. Huntington was killed in action 16 May 1940.

Burial, Wilsele Churchyard

2658528 Guardsman John Edward Huntington is buried at grave reference Row A Grave 21, Wilsele Churchyard.[10]  The cemetery contains a number of Guardsmen serving with 1/Coldstream Guards – 2654747 Simpson date of death 13 May; 2654403 Farmery 15 May; 2658528 Huntington, 2655779 Maycock, 2658998 Saunders, 2654246 Tenney & 2658794 Woodward 16 May; 2654717 Baine 17 May and 2658629 Burlinson & 2654180 Williams 21 May.  There are another 16 Coldstream Guardsmen buried here who died between 22 and 25 May 1940.[11]  The BEF suffered many casualties in covering the withdrawal to Dunkirk. Commonwealth forces did not return until September 1944 but in the intervening years, many airmen were shot down or crashed in raids on strategic objectives in Belgium, or while returning from missions over Germany. Wilsele Churchyard contains a group of 45 burials of the Second World War, three of them unidentified.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a P.482 1920 Q3 Auckland

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1911 census

[5] 1881 census.  It seems no coincidence that a member of the Caile family served with the Coldstream Guards and was killed in the First World War.  5899 Lance Corporal John Allison Caile, 3rd Battalion, Coldstream Guards was killed in action 21 October 1914.  He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Etherley War Memorial, the Roll of Honour in St. Cuthbert’s Church, Etherley and the Roll of Honour, Newgate Street Methodist Church, Bishop Auckland.

[6] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.1a p.607 1948Q2 Durham South western

[7] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.1a p.790 1952Q1 Durham Western

[8] The War in France and Flanders 1939-1940 Major L.F. Ellis p.46 – 49

[9] The War in France and Flanders 1939-1940 Major L.F. Ellis p.61-67 Both from

[10] CWGC