This story and photos are shared by the Trust with kind permission from Harry Shipley and Carole Perfitt, nephew and niece to Private H Shipley.
Private Henry Shipley (known as Harry) served with the 4th Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment. He was the youngest child and second son of a family of 5 children living in Gateshead. My father, Joseph Shipley, being his older brother by 3 years, bequeathed to me and my sister, Carole, a record of Harry’s life and what transpired.
My father enlisted in the Royal Marines early in the war following a bombing raid that he witnessed in Gateshead. He served as a Marine for nearly the entire duration of the War, towards the end carrying with him the loss of his younger brother. The photograph below shows Harry and my father at home in Gateshead aged 6 and 9 respectively.
Harry was born on 31 October 1925 and enlisted on 20 January 1944 aged 18-years and 11 weeks, 18-years being the youngest age of enlistment at that time. Harry wanted to follow his brother, my father whom he admired greatly, into action. Harry’s death caused the family and my father much anguish then, and in later years. Harry completed his military training on 13 May 1944, 81 days before being mortally wounded in Normandy.
Harry’s Service Book records that he was 5ft 7 1/8 inches tall, weighed 8 stone 11 pounds with a 35 inch chest, green eyes and black hair. No giant by modern standards, but a fine young man as is evidenced by the photograph of him shown at the top, taken once he had been through basic training and just before he departed for Normandy.
Harry was wounded on 2 August 1944 at La Bigne, 2 miles south of Jurques in Normandy. The Dorset Regiment Association has provided extracts from a diary kept by Sergeant W. Caines (later Captain) which describes the events of that night and that day.
From these memoirs it is recorded that in the early hours of the 2nd August 1944, the day Harry was wounded, he would have been exhausted as his battalion had had no sleep that night. Sergeant Caines’ memoirs report how the troops were continuously dropping off to sleep and lifted onto tanks because of their exhaustion. Going into that day, the 4th Dorsets met some enemy resistance as they passed through the town of Jurques. That encounter led to the death of their adjutant and other soldiers were also wounded. Again, as reported in Sergeant Caines’ memoirs, it was as they left the town of Jurques advancing towards La Bigne that the 4th Dorsets were faced with:
“…a hell of a resistance” and “…like hell let loose and as if the heavens above were opening upon us...”
Several British tanks were hit by concealed anti-tank guns. They were also attacked with artillery and mortar fire. Harry was one of the soldiers riding on one of the tanks that was hit. The family know he was on a tank when he was wounded as one of Harry’s comrades, whom survived this battle, recounted events directly to the family after the war. This also concurs with Sergeant Caines’ record of events.
After being wounded Harry was transferred to hospital near Caen, Normandy, where he received treatment for his wounds but sadly, on the 22 August 1944, he died. News of his death was passed to his family. His father took it very badly and suffered a heart attack shortly after hearing the news.
My father, Harry’s brother, was stationed in the Indian Ocean, billeted on the Maldives’ Islands helping to build an airstrip on the southern islands. This is now used by tourists visiting the Maldives on their holidays. On hearing of Harry’s death he sought a transfer to a more active unit. Later, having been overseas for nearly 3 years, he returned home for a period of extended leave when he was able to care for his father. His father died never fully recovering from the shock of Harry’s death.
Perhaps the best way to conclude this account of events is to record the words on the Scroll of Honour issued to the Shipley family after the War which hung on the wall of my father’s house for most of his remaining life. He died aged 89 years with Harry’s memory never far from his thoughts.
The Scroll says: "Private H Shipley, Dorsetshire Regiment, held in honour as one who served King and Country in the world war of 1939 – 1945 and gave his life to save mankind from tyranny. May his sacrifice help to bring the peace and freedom for which he died."
A fitting epitaph to a life lost at such a young age.
Army • PRIVATE
DIED 22 August 1944
SERVICE NO. 14705115