Families urged to fill in soldier gaps on Bishop Auckland historian's 70th Brigade website

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland historian John Dixon Bishop Auckland historian John Dixon

THE details of more than 5,600 Second World War soldiers have been uploaded to a new website, with families being urged to fill in the gaps.

Historian John Dixon has spent several years compiling information for the memorial website dedicated to those who fought in the 70th Brigade.

The site is now live and Mr Dixon is urging families of those listed to provide further information and photographs about the military men.

The historian from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has also uploaded the official war diaries from 1939 to 1944 covering the 1st Tyneside Scottish and 10th and 11th Battalions of The Durham Light Infantry, as well as the diary covering the evacuation of Dunkirk by the 23rd division, which included the 70th Brigade.

Mr Dixon, who has received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and website hosts The Effective Group of Leeds, said: “The formal documents, such as the war diaries, can only go so far – we are very keen to learn about these soldiers from their families, who they were and what they looked like.

“In 1939 they were all from the local area and their relatives may be surprised by what they find.

“I am also conscious that I have not traced everyone who served, so if someone knows of a soldier who is missing from the list I would very much like to hear from them.”

Mr Dixon’s research, which began after hearing his father’s own recollections of being a personal driver to the brigade commander, has unearthed some interesting stories about what happened to the men of the 70th Brigade.

His investigations helped another North-East historian, Tom Hutchinson, track down the final resting place of his uncle, Lance Corporal John Thomas Saunders, who was killed while a Prisoner of War and buried in an unmarked grave in the church yard in the small Polish village of Popielow.

Mr Hutchinson has now convinced the War Graves Commission to erect a headstone at the grave.

As well as combat in France and Flanders, and later in Normandy, the 70th Brigade was stationed for some time in the Iceland garrison where they went through the rigours of Mountain Warfare Training.

For more information, visit newmp.org.uk/70brigade.

SOLDIER HELP SOUGHT

ONE of those whom Mr Dixon is keen to found out more about is Lance-Corporal Henry Waller Lowes from Bishop Auckland, who was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 1941.

According to records, Lance Corporal Lowes joined the army when he was 19 in 1927 and was part of the 70th Brigade group posted to the fishing village of Skagastrond in northern Iceland over the winter of 1940/41.

The limited roads and severe winter conditions meant he and his men were effectively cut off for six months, yet when commanders did manage to visit they found the men in fine form thanks to the upbeat nature of Lc Cpl Lowes.

He ultimately received the award for his ability to man arguably the most isolated outpost during the war and maintain a high level of morale, gaining the unofficial title of mayor of Skagastrond.

He married Dorothy Howe in 1937 and they had three children, Janet (born 1938), Henry (1939) and Keith (1942).

Lc Cpl Jones died in 1978 having left the Army in 1944 on undisclosed fitness grounds.

Mr Dixon is keen to speak to any relatives of Lc Cpl Lowes and can be contacted on 70brigade@newmp.org.uk

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