The following is my attempt at arranging the plethora of dates, times, designations, assignments and deployments associated with my paternal grandfather’s War Record during WWII, into a logical and coherent narrative. Military records are precise and concise and convey very little about the reality of war. As a family we do not subscribe to the notion of imperialist war, but we are proud that our grandfather volunteered to join the British Army to fight fascism in the 1940’s. I acquired the War Record of – Private Alfred Gregory Wyles (of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry) during August 2011 (from the Imperial War Museum, London, after a considerable wait). I have referenced the following (received) military documents:
- a) Territorial Army – Record of Service Paper (Army Form B 200d)
- b) Two Discharge Papers (i.e. Amendment Slips) and Two Memoranda
- c) Service and Casualty Form (Army Form B 103-I)
My grandfather enlisted in the British Army on the 16th of May 1940 (just sic days after the Battle for France had begun). His join-up papers state he was initially in the ‘Royal Warwickshire Regiment’ – which I assume is a designation referring to the 301st Infantry Training Centre (ITC). He was transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (serving as part of an Anti-Tank Platoon) on the 13th of August 1940, around three months after enlisting. Only one document mentions the Royal Warwickshire Regiment – and it is never mentioned again. My grandfather is generally listed as being in the 1st Ox & Bucks, and then seconded (or transferred) to the Gordon Highlanders and finally the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He officially enlisted on the 16th of May 1940 – for the ‘Duration of Emergency’ – and was sent to France with the 1st Ox & Bucks to reinforce the Gordon Highlanders (according to a ‘Discharge’ Memorandum). His record states that he was in North West Europe from the 2nd of June 1944 to the 20th of January 1945 – and that he served 233 days in theatre. He was granted a period of rest after intense combat and frontline duties and Posted to No 1 Rest Camp Gordon Highlanders – on the 10th of October 1944. He returned to the UK on the 24th of January 1945 and began the process of demobilisation. He was assigned to D Company, 1st Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and was eventually posted to Colchester (16/ITC/HQ/17) at the ‘Goojerat Barracks’. A Memorandum dated the 1st of March 1946 is entitled ‘Release Character’ – written by a Captain J Flemming – and describes my grandfather as being sober, honest and smart in his appearance, as well as being of ‘good character’. By that time, he had been at that barracks for 2 months. He was awarded the Defence Medal and War Medal 1939-1945. An added note states ‘Stars & Clasps B/20 – 23rd of November 1948’. This War Record omits any direct mention of war activities, presumably for security reasons. However, my grandfather saw action and once recalled the death of his friend (who was shot in the head) whilst his body continued to ‘run’ for a short distance. I am assuming that my grandfather was sent with the 1st Ox & Bucks to reinforce the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders after the latter landed on D-Day. Although historical records state that the 1st Ox and Bucks landed in Normandy on the 24th June 1944, my grandfather’s record states that he was apparently serving in North West Europe from the 2nd of June 1944. There is something of a mystery here, as he appears to have been in Europe four days before D-Day took place (6th of June 1944). I assume that this probably includes ‘preparation’ and ‘embarkation’ deployment for D-Day in the UK, and that he may have participated in the D-Day Landings. My grandfather was released from Regular Army Service on the 1st of June 1946 (after 6 years and 17 days of service), where he was placed in the Royal Army Reserve. He was Discharged from Reserve Duty on the 30th of June 1959.
His wife – Gladys Kilmurray – always said that my grandfather was sometimes engaged in ‘hazardous duties’, which she referred to as ‘Commando’ activities (this was supported by my grandfather’s war stories told to his family). He told his son (Peter Wyles – my father) he was assigned to the Glider (Air Landed) Troops for a time (certainly my grandfather and his wife were stationed in the military barracks at Bovey Tracey in South Devon for a time, whilst he ‘trained’ in Exeter), and that his platoon was always sent first into enemy territory. My grandfather’s friend known as ‘Chalky Wright’ was shot in the head whilst both men were running for cover (indeed, his friend carried-on running for a few seconds afterwards). Casualty rates were apparently high in my grandfather’s platoon, and at one time only two men survived a battle unscathed, being incorporated (as stragglers) into the Gordon Highlanders. At this time, his wife in England was informed that Alfred Wyles was ‘missing presumed dead’. My grandmother told me that ‘Fred’ turned-up a few months later riding on the back of a milk-cart early in the morning (on leave)! Interestingly, my grandmother and father told me a story about Alfred Wyles being involved in blowing-up a Nazi German tank, even though no one was then aware that he was in an anti-tank unit. My grandmother also said that Alfred Wyles may have been in Italy in 1943 – but none of this is mentioned in the documents that I have received. I have it on good authority that most War Records are incomplete and omit combat details and even details about medals awarded for bravery during various campaigns. This is partly to do with how military records are compiled, the type of information recorded, the time-period in question, and the sensitive nature of the situation concerned, as well as issues of national security. Whatever the case, his record suggests that he ended-up in Germany by the end of the war.