STEPHENSON Thomas Flounders

Private Thomas Flounders STEPHENSON 1912 – 1944

4394935 Private T.F. Stephenson, 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 9 October 1944 and is buried at Jonkerboss War Cemetery, Netherlands[1] and is commemorated on Evenwood War Memorial.  He was 32 years old, husband of Rhoda and father to Norma.

Family Details

 Thomas was born 2 May 1912[2], possibly the 3rd child of Joseph and Rachel Stephenson.  There were at least 7 children – Elizabeth, Ada, Thomas, Harry, Joseph, John and Violet.[3]  The family lived at the Centre, Evenwood.  In 1935, Thomas married Rhoda Morley from Lands and they had 1 child, Norma born 1939.

Private T.F. Stephenson

Thomas stood 5’6¼” tall, weighed 132½ lbs. had dark hair and blue eyes.  He was a Methodist and worked as a general labourer.[4]

 Service Details

20 June 1940: Thomas Stephenson enlisted into the Green Howards [formerly known as the Yorkshire Regiment].  He was given the regimental number 4394935, being posted to the infantry training corps then 4 October 1940 he joined the 10th Battalion, Green Howards.

16 July 1943: Private T.F. Stephenson was transferred to the 11th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry [11/DLI].[5]   11/DLI at this time came under the orders of the 70th Brigade, 49th Division [6] and from July 1942 to May 1944 was under training in Wales as one of the assault divisions for the proposed Normandy Landings.  It then moved to Norfolk to concentrate on the invasion. [7]

29 May 1944: Private T.F. Stephenson was transferred to 6th Bn., DLI.  6/DLI came under the orders of 151st Infantry Brigade, 50th [Northumbrian] Division.  The Order of Battle, 50th Northumbrian Division was as follows:[8]

56th Infantry Brigade:

  • 2nd Battalion, the Essex Regiment
  • 2nd Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment
  • 2nd Battalion, the South Wales Borderers

69th Infantry Brigade:

  • 5th Battalion, the East Yorkshire Regiment
  • 6th Battalion, the Green Howards
  • 7th Battalion, the Green Howards

151st Infantry Brigade:

  • 6/DLI
  • 8/DLI
  • 9/DLI

231st Infantry Brigade

  • 1st Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment
  • 1st Battalion, the Dorsetshire Regiment
  • 2nd Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment

61st Reconnaissance Regiment

  • 2nd Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment

Royal Artillery

  • 74th Field Regiment
  • 86th Field Regiment
  • 90th Field Regiment
  • 124th Field Regiment
  • 147th Field Regiment
  • 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment
  • 25th Light Anti-Tank Regiment

Royal Engineers

  • 233, 295, 505, Field Companies
  • 15th Bridging Platoon

Royal Corps of Signals

Royal Army Service Corps

  • CRASC, 346, 508, 522, 524 Companies

Royal Army Medical Corps

  • 149, 186, 200, Field Ambulance
  • 22 Field Hygene Section
  • 47th Field Dressing Station

50th Northumbrian Division or Tyne-Tees Division was recruited from County Durham, north and east Yorkshire and later from the Scottish Borders, Lancashire and Shropshire.  It fought with the British Expeditionary Force [BEF] in 1940 in the Arras counter-attack.  In North Africa, the division went from Gazala, El Alamein and Mareth to Tunis and won an astonishing 3 VCs.  Montgomery took the division to Sicily and then gave the 50th Division the dangerous honour of attacking on D Day, in the first wave ashore on Gold Beach.  The only D Day VC was awarded to CSM Hollis, 50th Division, 6th Battalion, the Green Howards.  Next came the deadly bocage fighting and later “Market Garden”.

Private T.F. Stephenson did not see action in 1940, France or 1941/42 Middle East and Egypt but would have been in involved in the invasion of Normandy.

6 June 1944: 50th Division landed at Gold Beach in the area between Le Hamel and La Riviere.  A full account of D Day action involving 6/DLI is given by Harry Moses.[9]

18 June 1944: Private T.F. Stephenson was wounded.  The Brigade was involved in a push on the road SW from Tilly to Hottot.  Fighting took place between 2.30pm and 5.00pm when the objective was reached.  An artillery creeping barrage was laid down, tanks, infantry, machine guns on carriers were involved. Casualties were light. [10]

21 June – 15 August: He spent 56 days at home, presumably receiving treatment for his wound including from 11 August a spell with 41 Training Centre.

16 August:  He was back in Europe.

9 September: He re-joined 6/DLI.  By this time 6/DLI was at Ramsel, south of the Albert Canal, Belgium.  The action and following involvement of 6/DLI is described by Harry Moses.[11]

Nijmegen – the Island [12]

 The Netherlands fell to the Germans in May 1940 and was not re-entered by Allied forces until September 1944.  Nijmegen was a front line town from 17 September 1944 until February 1945.

The advance out of Belgium into the Netherlands was to pave the way for the march into Germany.  An airborne operation was planned to seize the 4 major waterways:

  1. The Wilhelmina Canal at Eindhoven
  2. The River Meuse at Grave
  3. The River Waal at Nijmegen
  4. The Lower Rhine at Arnham

The Allied Airborne Corps would provide the troops for the enterprise:

  1. 1st British
  2. 82nd and 101st American Airborne Division
  3. The Polish Parachute Brigade

The XXX Corps would advance along the corridor from the Escaut Canal through Eindhoven, Veghel, Grave, Nijmegen to Arnham.  The right flank of this Corps would be protected and widened by VIII Corps to the east and the XII Corps to the west.  Once this was achieved the Ruhr and the industrial heart of Germany would be open to the Allies.  The Guards’ Armoured Division would lead the XXX Corps up the corridor followed by the 43rd Division with the 50th Division in reserve.  As the armour advanced, the infantry would hold the flanks.  The 50th Division would be led by 231 Brigade with 151 Brigade in reserve.

23 September 1944: The Brigade now under the VII Corps moved into Holland.  News was received that the airborne troops were fighting fiercely to hold crossings at Veghel, Grave and Nijmegen.  Arnham was more critical.

26 September: The Battalion moved to Volkel near Veghal.

2 October:  relieved 6/Green Howards north of River Waal, crossed the road bridge over the river at Nijmegen under enemy artillery fire.  Battalion HQA and “B” Company area was shelled.  There were 3 Divisions in the line – 101 US and the British 50 and 53 Divisions.  The 50th was on the right with 6/DLI on the extreme right where the line swung back to the River Waal.

4 October: 231 and 151 Brigades ordered to assault near Haalderen and the attacks were successful. At night 6/DLI sent out a reconnaissance patrol – no enemy were seen.  “A” Company reported a small craft moving along the river, Bofors guns defending the bridge opened fire and another enemy attempt to blow the bridge was thwarted.

7 October: marched into Nijmegen into billets and the battalion was ordered to defend the vital bridges across the river:

  • “A” Company was responsible for the main road bridge
  • “B” Company was responsible for class 40 bridge
  • “C” Company for the railway bridge
  • “D” Company had 1 platoon patrolling the river in DUKW’s with 2 platoons in reserve.

The area received attention from German artillery.

9 October: at 9.45am, Harry Moses comments as follows:

“…some objects were seen floating in the water 6 miles west of the bridges.  They were thought to be one man submarines and the defences were put on alert.  No attack on the bridges materialised.  The enemy shelled the area of the bridges throughout the day.  One man was killed in “B” Echelon and a store truck was damaged.  “C” Company had one man killed and one wounded.  One despatch rider was wounded while crossing the bridge.”

Private T.F. Stephenson was killed in action 9 October 1944.

10 October: enemy shelling continued, the bridges were hit several times and 3 men from “A” Company were wounded.

12 October: the battalion relieved 1/Dorsets west of Elst.

Two servicemen from 6/DLI were killed in action 9 October 1944, the other was Private A. Molyneux.  Both are buried at Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Netherlands.  Private T.F. Stephenson’s second spell in Europe lasted 55 days.

Casualties for the month were:

  • 2 officers wounded
  • 3 OR killed
  • 23 wounded
  • 1 man missing believed to be a POW

6/DLI was involved in action at Nijmegen and the Island throughout November and there were further casualties:

  • 2 OR killed
  • 6 wounded
  • 6 missing believed to be POW

News of his Death

A press article read as follows:

“LANDS
News has been received by Mrs. Rhoda Stephenson (nee Morley) of the death in action of her husband.  Private Thomas F. Stephenson D.L.I. (aged 32) wounded in June and after several weeks in hospital and a period of sick leave he rejoined his unit for service in N.W. Europe.  He had been in the army over 4 years.  There is one child.  Of an unassuming nature yet always cheery and with a word and smile for everyone, Tom was very popular in the village.  Before his marriage he lived with his mother (the late Mrs. R. Stephenson) at the Centre Evenwood.  This family has been hard hit, Tom’s brother John being killed in action at Tobruk.  His brother Harry is at Randolph Colliery.  Joe his only remaining brother returned from the forces to work in the pits.  There are 3 sisters.”

 Burial: Jonkerbos War Cemetery

Private T.F. Stephenson is buried at grave reference 11. A.5.Jonkerbos War Cemetery. [13] The cemetery was created by No.3 Casualty Clearing Station and is in a wooded area known as Jonkers Bosch from which it took its name.  It contains 1,629 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 99 of them unidentified.

Private T.F. Stephenson was one of 3 Evenwood men to lose their lives serving with the 6/DLI.  The others being his younger brother 4456682 Private J. Stephenson killed in action 28 June 1942 and 4456396 Corporal T. Snowdon killed in action 15 June 1942.

REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] Service Record

[3] 1939 England & Wales Register

[4] Service Record

[5] Service Record

[6] “Faithfull” Ward 1962 p.464

[7] Ward p.528/9

[8] “Monty’s Northern Legions” Patrick Delaforce 2004 p.102

[9] “The Faithful Sixth” Moses 1995 p.275

[10] Moses p.294

[11] Moses p.305-315

[12] “The Faithfull Sixth” Harry Moses

[13] http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=2646949

Thanks to Norma and Kevin Garthwaite for the use of family material.