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Jack Banks

This story and photos are shared by the Trust with kind permission from Meghan Swarbrick, Jack's great niece, and all the Jack Banks family

Jack was born on the 26th July 1927.

Jack as a baby

He was only 14 and working at Shaw’s Brickworks in Darwen when he decided to enrol in the Home Guard. At the time, he lived at 47 Radford Street, Darwen. He lived with his Grandad, Mum and Dad (Jack and Fanny Banks) and younger siblings Alan, George and Jean (my Grandma).

Jack enrolled with the Home Guard on October 27th 1941 using a fake date of birth (27th July 1924) and was accepted to start on the 1st of November 1941.

Jack was ready for more when he decided to enlist in the Territorial Army on April 16th 1943. Again, he used another fake DOB (10th October 1925). Jack was set to have a medical exam April 12th 1943 and then start his service from June 3rd 1943.

Jack’s mother was against him joining the army. She was terrified, but eventually allowed him to join, as long as he stayed in Britain and promised to never go abroad. Fanny Banks threatened that she would tell the army his real age if it ever came to an overseas mission, so he would be safely sent back home before it came to that. Jack’s dad agreed to this arrangement.

On June 3rd 1943 Jack was sent to Carlisle Primary Training Wing. Whilst training, Jack was seen to have real skill handling a rifle. He was called a ‘crack shot’ by his supervisors.

Jack ended up heading to France and became part of the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, without telling his family. By the time they found out he’d been transferred abroad, Jack had already arrived. It was too late for his Mother to do anything.

On the 21st of July 1944, Jack had volunteered to accompany his Platoon Commander, S.C. Rood (Lt) and Jack’s section leader, Sgt. Warman, to advance upon a nearby farmhouse, over a small mound South of Hottot. Jack hurled a 36 grenade and over the mound they went, to find not one house, but a gravel pit and 200 yards away, two houses.

At that time, there was no sign of German troops. The three men advanced upon the two farmhouses to inspect for any enemy. Once satisfied the houses were empty they turned to leave. Only then did Sgt. Warman notice a small party of the enemy escaping across a path concealed by a hedge. They had mortar with them. Just before the three men could give chase, a hail of shells came down.

Jack, Lt. Rood and Sgt. Warman were in an orchard at that time, while most of the platoon were taking cover under a granary. It was then that Jack was hit by mortar. He lay on the ground with a hit to his upper right thigh. He did not appear to be in pain according to Lt. Rood. Therefore, it surprised him when Jack said, ‘I’ve had it, Sir. I’m finished.’

Lt. Rood told him not to be silly and helped Sgt. Warman to bandage Jack up. The stretcher bearers came to collect Jack and just before he was taken away, Lt. Rood asked how he was, ‘Alright, Sir.’ Jack had replied.

Jack Banks died on the way back to the field ambulance. It seems his injuries were far more serious than realised. The MO (Medical Officer - Doctor) told Lt. Rood the next day that Jack had been smiling and conscious all the while in his last moments. His wounds from that fateful day, were unfortunately mortal.

Back home in Darwen, Jack and Fanny Banks received a notification of Jack’s death through the post. As expected, they were heartbroken. It has been said from my Grandma (Jack’s sister) that her Father’s hair turned white overnight after that news.

The tragedy continued for the Banks family when only days after receiving word about Jack’s death, they received another notice through the post, explaining Jack was only wounded. This gave the family a false hope and his Mother was convinced he was still alive. Fanny Banks struggled very much during this time. There had been a mix-up with the letters and they had been sent in the incorrect order. This caused such grief for the family, that only after receiving personal letters from the Padre, Rev Markham, and Lt. Rood, did it become clear that Jack really was gone.

Letter sent by the Rev G W Markham

Rev Markham wrote: "I have just received your second letter, and am very sorry to hear that you and Mrs Banks are being troubled in mind with doubts about your son Jack's death.

I am afraid that what I wrote in my first letter is perfectly true. He died either on the way to the Field Ambulance, or soon after he arrived there, and was buried next day. I was not actually present at the funeral, as it was carried out by the Field Ambulance, but his grave was being dug as I finished burying two of his comrades, and I have seen the crosses put up for all three of them together…..I expect later on you will be proud that you had a son with so much courage & determination : his name will be a legend in the family, for though he was a boy in years, he proved himself a man in action. I wish there were many more like him in England”

Letter sent by Lt Rood, Jack's platoon commander

Lt. Rood had this to say about Jack – ‘I have never been sorrier to lose anybody. He was with me for some time, and I never had occasion to check him for anything. He was a good and smart soldier and more than that, a brave one. He behaved like a veteran – for a mere boy of 16 almost incredibly so. He was cheerful, always smiling and I can assure you that all his friends in 9 Platoon and “A” Company join me in sending our deepest sympathy.’

Not long after Jack’s death, his parents were notified of where he had been buried. They wanted him brought back home to Darwen, but were told he couldn’t be moved from the small cemetery in France.

Jack’s parents never recovered from the loss of their son. Fanny Banks was known for being social, always chatting with the neighbours, welcoming everyone and anyone into her home. However, once she lost Jack, I’m told she lost that spark. She used to walk the back streets to avoid people, not taking part in any street party celebrations etc. Although she still managed to be an incredible Mother to her other children and a wonderful Grandmother, she lost a part of herself the day she lost her eldest boy, Jack.

Jack's mother set up her sideboard everyday in remembrance of Jack. It was always filled with fresh flowers. The plaque on it reads: In memory of our son Pte. J. Banks, D.L.I. killed in action July 21st 1944, Aged 16 years. We Will Remember.

The sideboard display included a photo of the original grave marker in Jack's grave before it was replaced by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone you can see today.

The Banks' hadn’t been able to afford to visit Jack’s grave until 1954 when they were given the opportunity to have an all-expenses paid trip to France, paid for by 'The News Chronicle'. Prior to this the family had never travelled further than Blackpool. It meant they were finally able to visit their boy and put flowers on his grave.

Jack's mum at his grave in 1954

Since that trip, the Banks family made sure to save up and go over to France every two years to pay their respects.

  

Left photo: Great Uncle George, Jack's brother, and his wife Ella.
Right photo: Jack's parents and sister, Jean, my grandma

This tradition has carried on throughout the generations.

 

Left photo: Jack's great grandparents, grandparents and Meghan's mum
Right photo: Meghan, her mum and gran

We make sure to get to Jack’s beautifully kept grave in the small Jerusalem Cemetery as often as we can manage. Jack is also remembered on the family headstone in the Darwen Eastern Cemetery.

We have always grown up hearing stories about Jack and how important he was to the family.

Jack's medals and a replica of his grave

We will never forget him nor the other incredibly brave soldiers who fought for our freedom and peace during WW2. We will always make sure to remind people where we can, the importance of remembering the sacrifice that all veterans made for us.

FALLEN HEROES

  • JACK BANKS

    Army • PRIVATE

    Durham Light Infantry
    8th Battalion

    DIED 21 July 1944

    AGE 16

    SERVICE NO. 14429036

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