Family of Second World War soldier killed in Netherlands tracked down in Cannock

Before the war, and still a boy, he was a milkman.

Private Tom Marsh, bottom right, serving as a teenager in the Home Guard
Private Tom Marsh, bottom right, serving as a teenager in the Home Guard

He became a teenage member of the Home Guard. And after joining the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, he was still only 20 when he was cut down by a burst of machine gun fire.

The story of Private Tom Marsh can now be told after the triumphant success of an appeal through the Star by a Dutch family who have "adopted" his grave in the Netherlands and wanted to find out more about the young Cannock soldier buried in a war cemetery near their home in The Netherlands.

As a result of our story, Tom's nephew Pete Clarke, from Penkridge, has got in touch with Thomas Martens in The Netherlands with information and a picture. And it turns out that tragic Tom has a living sister, Joan, in Cannock.

"It's incredible," said Thomas. "I am going to call them and hope I can travel to Cannock soon and complete the story.

"I could not imagine that this would be the result of the article in your newspaper. I am very thankful and believe the family feels the same."

The grave of Private Thomas Enoch Marsh of the 2nd Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry.

Private Thomas Enoch Marsh, from Chadsmoor, was killed in action in November 1944 while serving with the 2nd Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry. He is buried at Venray War Cemetery and his name is also recorded on Cannock's war memorial.

The family of 50-year-old Thomas Martens, who lives near the cemetery, has adopted the grave – chosen because Thomas shares the same first name as the Cannock soldier – as part of a scheme by local Dutch people to try to give a face to the hundreds buried there and to honour their sacrifice.

Pete Clarke has emailed Thomas to say: "Firstly we can't thank you enough for looking after Tom's grave. It means a lot to know he is being thought of and cared for so far away from home.

"My mother, Florence Maud, was his sister, now deceased, but he has a sister, Joan, still living in Cannock who is in her eighties, and a brother John who had a butcher's shop close to the family home until he died about 30 years ago.

"Tom was the eldest, born to Florence and Thomas Marsh on August 3, 1924. His father was a miner, as were most of the men in this area, and looked after the ponies which used to pull the coal out of the mines.

"Tom enlisted in the Shropshire Light Infantry in July 1943 and completed his training in October 1943. He was a very quiet and mild mannered young man. After completing school he worked at a local saw mill.

"Unfortunately Tom was killed on my grandmother's birthday, which obviously stayed in her memory for life. My mother and her siblings always thought of him with love and regret. My mother and my Aunt Joan have visited the grave."

Although Private Marsh's death is recorded as being on November 25, 1944, Thomas made inquiries with a historian who believed he actually died the previous day – according to the battalion's war diary nobody was killed on the 25th – when a patrol encountered resistance at a house on the outskirts of the village of Meerlo, where Dutch civilians had tipped off the British that about a dozen Germans were lying in wait in ambush.

The letter home giving the terrible news.

A letter to the soldier's father from his commanding officer, Major T H Read, seems to correspond with details of that incident: "It is with the deepest regret that I write to express the heartfelt feelings of myself, my officers, NCOs and men at 2 Company, in the loss of your boy (Pte. Marsh T. E.).

"He was a good boy – a very good lad. He had been with the Company six months and had settled down well and was popular with us all. Quiet and unassuming, but steadfast and always ready to pull his weight.

"He was killed today in action. He was on patrol with his platoon just by a canal bank in Holland near the German border, when he was shot by a burst of enemy machine gun fire. Our stretcher bearers were with the platoon and he was immediately and without delay carried to the medical post but before he got there he had passed away.

"There is nothing that could have been done for him that was not done. He suffered no pain and his wounds were clean and he became unconscious as soon as he was hit..."

The family also received a letter of condolence in their loss from the King and Queen.

The appeal for information about the background of Private Marsh was also read by Mike Grainger, a hobby genealogist from Newport, who did some digging into the family tree, and among other snippets found that in 1939, when he would only have been 14 or 15, his occupation was given as "milkman, bottler, deliverer." The family's address was 227 Cannock Road, Chadsmoor.

Sister Florence became the married Mrs Clarke in 1951, and Joan became Mrs Shelley in 1958.

Most Read

Most Read

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News