The Gascoignes :: A Special on World War Two & Douglas Gascoigne

World War Two (WW2)

The header picture is compiled from a web site detailing the specifications of various pieces of military equipment: WW2 Drawings

Reflections of Parlington from WW2

During the second World War Parlington was taken over by the army and to my knowledge only one man remains in the village who was associated with the activities; indeed he was posted to the base in 1944 and remained on site until his demob in 1947. Reg, now in his eighties and not in the best of health, recently recounted to me some of his memories about the place at that time. Firstly let me say that after his time in the army he married a local girl from Aberford and has remained in the village since that time, he is now alone, his wife having died some years ago. Talking to Reg is an enlightening experience, you sense immediately his sincerity and his fondness for a time long gone. Although not a native of the village, he is most certainly an Aberfordian, and I am grateful to have been able to gather some information that he holds about the Parlington Estate during the war. [Sadly since I first added this article, Reg has died. So another human memory stick as I like to coin them has gone!]

The army in the guise of the RAOC No.3 Vehicle Reserve Depot was based at Parlington, the site was dramatically changed once the army took over and new buildings and associated structures sprung up in rapidly constructed concrete and corrugated iron elephant huts! Along with the MOD pattern accommodation and guardroom buildings in brick and concrete. The depot was a service base for vehicles of all kinds, but it seems the heavier items, halftrack personnel carriers were kept on the Aberford side of the Triumphal Arch and in the woods and beyond towards the remains of Parlington Hall were any number of smaller vehicles, such as the Willys Jeep, perhaps the most remembered war time vehicle.

Repair Bay Ramps

Additional photos of the Army Structures on my Flickr Pages

See the picture below (2 down) which shows this ramp with the corrugated metal "Elephant Shelter", taken in 1952.

Army Camp

The army were encamped in temporary huts on the land adjacent to Cattle Lane, above road level behind the former estate stone boundary wall. Today the location of a small modern housing estate, but in earlier times, utilising the former army barracks, Aberford Secondary School. The officers took advantage of the accommodation afforded to them in Church House. (A former Gascoigne property, originally a home of Sir Charles Turner, who married a Mary Shuttleworth, and after the death of Sir Charles, Mary married Sir Thomas Gascoigne. Sir Thomas's step daughter also called Mary [from the marriage of Sir Charles Turner and Mary Shuttleworth], went on to marry a Richard Oliver who took the tenure of Parlington after the death of the Baronet.) at the rear of St Ricarius Parish Church, just nearby the main camp.

Nowadays as you enter the Parlington Estate up Parlington Drive, it is impossible to perceive how the area would have looked just sixty years ago. On leaving Cattle Lane the former estate office at the rear; Pike Lodge, was the only property aside from the "Railway Style" lodge house on the right of the drive. No other buildings were present, excepting off to the left the newly constructed prefabricated army camp accommodation. Today you are hemmed in by buildings, and therefore the ambience of that era is lost.

So as we enter the estate up the driveway of fine old beech trees, from time to time our progress is interrupted by lumps of concrete, brick and block. Firstly on passing into the estate on the left, languishing behind a modern wooden fence is a paved area, that once rang out to the bark of a motorised battalion. Further on over the first cattle grid, on the right, is what seems to be the remnants of a guardhouse, only the floor and stub walls remaining; but the utility flooring quarry tiles are still extant.

Progressing up the driveway some hundred yards or so on is a flat base with the remnants of the corrugated walling in place, yes, an "Elephant Shelter". Further up by just a matter of a few yards is the first ramp, a platform area with an upstanding ramp, with access from each end and a central pit area for inspection of engines, gearboxes and transmissions. Away from this structure, some hundred yards or so towards Parlington Lane, overlooking the valley is another base structure, probably at the perimeter of the army activity. Today it is an unnoticed lump in the field, frequented from time to time by cows and sheep.

Sketch of a Similar Facility at Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire

Towards the end of the drive, that is near the Triumphal Arch, off to the right is another collection of flat structures and a ramp construction. The first is probably a building for administration, although little remains, the toilet facilities in the form of the drainage is still to be found, and then we have a second ramp arrangement similar to the earlier structure down the drive. This is described as follows, a flat concrete surfaced area, bounded by low block walls and access ramps from the main driveway. In the centre of the flat platform, rising by a matter of three feet or so is a central runway accessed from a ramp at each end; on elevation it would be described as a parallelogram , with a walkway through the middle to access the vehicles parked above on the concrete ramps.

National Monuments Record Photo 1952

Elephant shelter over the ramps near the Triumphal Arch, taken by H. Felton for the National Monuments Record 1952©, looking through the main centre arch. Red outlines showing the line of the roof and beneath the end of the ramps.

The Acount Continues...

Reg explained that towards the end of 1944, the length of parkland from the Triumphal Arch back down to the main entrance area was dominated by a continuous row of halftracks parked side by, possibly over 750, all waiting to go to the war on the western front. From my investigations I suspect these were M3E2/M5 an International Harvester powered version of the M3, for Lend/Lease purposes. Funny really as the British army were the first to develop the halftrack in WW1, yet we had given up the technology, only to be supplied by our allies the Americans. Where have I heard this before! (The header picture is of a similar vehicle to that which Reg described.)

Amongst the duties Reg was required to undertake was occasional guard duty and he recounted to me how he slept in the base ambulance, whilst another colleague kept watch, rather than both staying up all night; presumably a role which was reversed on a rota basis, by the "squadies". However his main role was as a driver, taking halftracks and trucks down the A1 to Biggleswade. He also recalled how "crown" drivers got much better terms than he and the other members of the repair depot group, being paid and housed at the Biggleswade end, whereas he slept on the floor, after a fine meal comprising a cup of tea and a sandwich.

Beyond the arch we enter a more random woodland location, roadways and command posts abounding at junctions across the estate. In this area were parked large numbers of light military vehicles, usually the Willys Jeep. Probably hundreds or even thousands of them! There may have been a dozen or so command/guard posts dotted about the estate; a small reminder of the control that was imposed over the area is a steel tube with an attached concrete filled drum used as a gravity assisted lift up sentry post near the western entrance to the Dark Arch. It's still there, but lying on the ground, unnoticed by passers by, lost just like the railway! One command post was sited near the Light Arch on the estate roadway to Hook Moor, it was demolished in the late 1990's I believe, I don't know why. It had the usual MOD characteristics, hard 9" red brick walls, metal framed windows and a flat concrete roof, not forgetting the quarry tiles on the floor, still to be found in places! Surviving a matter of a few yards from the now demolished command post is a magnificent redwood "Wellingtonia", known in its natural habitat of Sierra Nevada, California as the "Giant Sequoia". Probably planted by the Gascoigne sisters, or at their behest, it is likely to be about 150 years old and stands head and shoulders above every other tree in the vicinity.

That's all I know at this time about Parlington and its connection with the second world war, but as this estate was running its day to day activities as a support mechanism to the battle at the front; the son of Sir Alvary Gascoigne himself a veteran of the First World War, a young Douglas Gascoigne was engaged in the battle of Normandy. A Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, he was involved in the push by the allies to re-capture Western Europe from the Nazi stranglehold. His war effort is told in a touching and dramatic manner by historians of his old college at Oxford.

Douglas Wilder Trench-Gascoigne (1917-1944)

"The Undone Years" Magdelan College Roll of Honour, 39-47 and Vietnam by Richard Sheppard & Roger Hutchins ISBN 0953643506

BEGIN TRANSCRIPT

GASCOIGNE, Douglas Wilder; b. Nov.14, 1917. s. of A.D.F. (later Sir Alvary, 48) and s. Gascoigne of Maidenhead. Eton. C. 35-38, 2nd Hist., 38, B.A., 38. 2nd Torpid, 37. His grandfather Colonel F.R.T.T. Gasoigne (1851-1937) had fought with the Imperial Yeomanry during the Boer War and became Colonel of that Regiment in 1903. From his aunt he inherited and enlarged Lotherton Hall, Aberford, Yorkshire, and restored the older chapel which contains memorials to the family. Gascoigne's father served with the 6th Dragoons from August 1914, and the Coldstream Guards from December 1915 to September 1917 as Captain and Adjutant and was mentioned in despatches. After service with the West Africa Frontier Force from January to June 1918, he became a career diplomat, serving latterly in Hungary before taking posts as Consul-General in Tangier 1939-44, the British Political Representative in Hungary 1945-46, British Political Representative with the rank of Ambassador in Japan during the period of American military administration, 1946-51, and then the Ambassador to Moscow 1951-53. His first wife Silvia Wilder was the daughter of a General in the U.S. Army. The family chauffeur (Bill Burlingham) remembers Douglas as a very cheerful, fun loving person, a "nice lad" and easy to get on with, just like his father who was much liked in the neighbourhood for his friendly manner to everyone and for not putting on superior airs.

A cousin understood that Gascoigne aspired to a career in the Diplomatic Service, and after his Finals travelled abroad for some months. But with war appearing inevitable, and having served with the O.T.e. while at Magdalen, on his return he entered Guards Brigade training, was commissioned Second Lieutenant and in October 1940, the month that the 4th Battalion, the Coldstream Guards was raised, he was posted to join it. In the same draft was Ralph E.L. Tennyson d'Eyncourt (C.23-26, below) who was thirteen years his senior although they were both to serve as Captains. The 4th Battalion was an infantry battalion, but converted to a Motorized Battalion (i.e. lorried infantry) to join the Guards Armoured Division when it was formed in 1941. The 4th Battalion then converted to tanks, at first with Covenantors, and with the 4th Tank Battalion, Grenadier Guards and the 3rd Tank Battalion, Scots Guards (see Mathieson) formed the 6th Guards Tank Brigade. This Brigade became one of the eight Independent Tank Brigades at the disposal of 21st Army Group for use as a flexible reserve when it was re-assigned to 15th Scottish Division in the autumn of 1942, after it had been decided that armoured divisions had become too large and unwieldy. For three-and-threequarter years, the Battalion trained in England during which time Gascoigne became third-incommand of 3 Squadron (June 1, 1943). The Battalion was re-equipped in early 1943 with Churchill Mk.IV tanks. These heavy, well-armoured, slow but "go anywhere" infantry support tanks had proved their value in Tunisia, and were to do so in the very difficult terrain of Italy and Normandy. By mid-1944 the Battalion was also equipped with at least one "Firefly" per squadron; these were Sherman tanks mounting the very effective long-barrelled 17-pounder infantry anti-tank gun.

British Sherman MK Vc 'Firefly'in the 'bocage' of Normandy

Further details about the Sherman Fireflay Tank on www.strijdbewijs.nl

In January 1944 the 740-strong Battalion moved to Rufford Abbey, near allerton in Nottinghamshire. In March "The gloom which prevailed normally over the whole house was completely dispelled for a few hours by a dance". In April censorship was introduced for all ranks and the War Diary noted that: "Everyone now felt that the prospects of being in action were much brighter". On April 21, Gascoigne was promoted Lieutenant and made second-incommand of his Squadron. On April 28 the Battalion moved to Charing in Kent, where exercises and training continued. On June 6: "Everyone was remarkably unmoved by the tremendous news and in fact some even thought that the announcement [of the invasion] was a hoax". On June 15 the Diary recorded: "The first night on which the VI [flying bomb] appeared over south-east England in large numbers. They were regarded at fIrst as being rather ajoke". But on June 24, the Brigade workshops were hit, causing a large number of casualties. In early July one tank per troop was converted to carry the heavier 6-pounder gun; on July 14 all ranks were paid 200 Francs each; and on July 19 the Battalion sailed from Portsmouth.

It landed in Normandy on July 20-22, on the beaches near Courseulles and Arromanches, and was concentrated in fields two miles east of Bayeux: "a plentiful supply of Camembert was immediately obtained". But there was other food for thought since the Shermans vulnerable because of their thinner armour, and all British tanks since they were powered by petrol engines, were notoriously prone to explode when hit. So, as a result of other tank units' experience in action near Caen, it was decided, on July 26 and 27, to remove the tracks from the many wrecked tanks that already littered the battlefield and weld them to the front, sides, and turrets of the Battalion's tanks "as spaced armour" for extra protection. On July 28 a difficult night move was made to a position north of Caumont, and for the first time the Battalion was within range of enemy guns. The next day was spent on reconnaissance and liaison with units of 15th (Scottish) Division in preparation for Operation Bluecoat, the battle for the bocage country around Caen (see Bodley, and Pollok-Morris). The 4th Coldstream Guards were initially to support the advance of the infantry of the Grenadier Guards, then to put the 10th Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry onto the high ground south ofHervieux, and then to put the 2nd Glasgow Highlanders onto Hill 309 which commanded a key road. The first attack in the morning on July 30 was soon delayed by the difficult terrain, snipers and mortar fire. When the infantry were held up by enemy in buildings and orchards, the tanks were ordered forward, reached Hervieux, and then waited until 14.00 hours for the infantry to arrive: "there was considerable confusion regarding orders". The tanks were then ordered to take the next objective without infantry, but when individual tanks became detached or bogged down in the difficult country, they were immediately attacked by enemy hiding while the Battalion passed. Hill 309 was reached at 19.00 hours, but there was "no recce or infantry to exploit" the advantage. Next day, July 31, the Guards defended the hill despite severe artillery and mortar fire. A German counter-attack was broken by supporting artillery; constant German attempts to infiltrate were beaten off, and by evening the hill was secure. By August 2 the battle had moved on, and on August 4 the Battalion moved to a new harbour area south-east of St. Pierre Tarentaine. By this time, Gascoigne had been promoted Temporary Captain and given command of 3 Squadron. On August 6, the 4th Battalion, the Coldstream Guards and the 6th Guards Tank Brigade joined 46th (Scottish) Infantry Brigade in an attack to southwards to Lassy in order to protect the left flank of the Corps's armoured advance. Once again, during the morning, it was very difficult to get the tanks forward along the sunken lanes; the infantry were heavily mortared and machine-gunned; and smoke-cover was not co-ordinated so that the 7th Seaforths and 2nd Glasgow Highlanders took heavy casualties. When a second attack was mounted in the afternoon, the same thing happened. When the infantry withdrew, Gascoigne's 3 Squadron came under fire from three wellcamouflaged 88mm. guns and his own and two other tanks were knocked out, but without casualties. After the Brigade's supporting artillery had failed to locate and destroy the 88s, Gascoigne, with Lieutenant Coates, set off to attempt to deal with them by stalking them using a "Firefly" tank that was more manoeuverable than their own Churchills, and mounted a powerful 17-pounder anti-tank gun. Unfortunately, the 88s were further towards the south than was thought and another German gun on their flank hit the ammunition bin of Gascoigne's tank, so that he, Coates, and the other three members of the crew were killed instantly. Gascoigne was aged 26. Buried: initially St Charles de Percy War Cemetery, Calvados, but now at the British and Canadian War Cemetery, Ranville, France. At nightfall the Squadron withdrew to near Hamel: "The day's fighting was not successful, and the strength and determination of the enemy had not been appreciated".

As a result of Douglas Gascoigne's death, the family effectively disappeared from Yorkshire because it was this loss which caused his father and stepmother, Sir Alvary and Lady Gascoigne, to give Lotherton, the last of the family's Yorkshire properties, to the City of Leeds who maintain the Hall as a museum and art gallery which includes the family's art collection. Douglas Gascoigne is handsomely commemorated by a wall tablet in the chapel at Lotherton Hall. His family and cousins visitied his grave in 1994 (the fiftieth anniversary of "D"-Day) and laid a wreath. Gascoigne shared a remote ancestor with the author and broadcaster Bamber Gascoigne (b. 1935-), whose mother, M. O'Neill, was related to Lieutenant Coates.

END TRANSCRIPT

We see from the foregoing article that the Gascoigne family did as much as any family to prevent the country from becoming a satellite of a greater German Reich, and they paid heavily for their efforts, the last paragraph of the transcript making use of the phrase "effectively disappeared from Yorkshire", shows how it affected the family. However on a technical point the last sentence about the remote ancestor shows some misunderstanding of the Gascoigne family line; as after 1810 the true bloodline was no more, with the death without heir of Sir Thomas Gascoigne, the estate passing with a lifetime interest to Richard Oliver (Gascoigne) and on to his heirs, in fact, daughters, Isabella and Elizabeth. They may have been called Gascoigne, but that is all they were Gascoigne in name only! Their true lineage springs from the daughter of Sir Charles Turner.

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