John Williams was born on the 15th March 1920 according to the 1939 National Register which was taken on the 29th September 1939. He was the son on Thomas Arden Wilbraham & Florence Elizabeth Williams (nee Nicholls) who had married in North Shropshire in the June quarter of 1905 (Shrewsbury C-NS31/4/341).
The 1939 National Register tells us they were living at 1 Fair View,Abermorddu, Caergwrle, Hawarden, Flintshire and is the source of birthdates and also occupations. According to this source, Thomas Arden Wilbraham had been born on the 11th August 1888, this year was altered to 1880, but I found a baptism of Thomas on the Hope Parish Registers and he was baptised on the 17th April 1881 -Thomas Arden Wilbraham s/o Edwin & Emma WILLIAMS, Alyn Banks, Mason. So I believe the 1880 date. Thomas was a Miner.
Florence Elizabeth, on the National Register, was born on the 11th September 1883 and like most married women who did not have a job, was described as doing “Household Duties,” or on some registers, as doing “Unpaid Domestic Duties.” Their son John Williams had, as I said above, been born on the 15th March 1920 and was single and a Bricklayer. There is a closed* or redacted entry, but I do not know who that might have been, any help would be appreciated, so John’s story can be told and he is remembered.
* For individual people, records remain closed for a century after their birth (the 100-year rule), unless it can be proven that they passed away before this milestone.
So we know that he was not in the army at that time, but I believe that he entered the Army, either enlisted or was conscripted, on the 4th December 1941, according to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Enlistment Book, he was then transferred to the A.A.C. (Army Air Corps) on the 8th August 1942.
The websites below give a picture of what John went through to get to be in the Parachute Regiment, not everyone got through the training.
6TH (ROYAL WELCH) PARACHUTE BATTALION
The 6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion was formed from the 10th Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers in August 1942 and became part of the 2nd Parachute Brigade.
It embarked for North Africa in April 1943 and later took part in the amphibious landings into Italy in September 1943.
Although the landing was unopposed the transport ship HMS Abdiel* carrying the 6th Parachute Battalion struck a landmine in Taranto Harbour on 10 September killing over 50 members of the Battalion. (57 officers and men are commemorated on the memorial in the Free Church at Taranto.)
The Battalion remained behind in Italy with the re-designated 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade.
The 6th Parachute Battalion formed the nucleus of a small task force 60-strong under command of Captain LA Fitzroy-Smith, which parachuted behind German lines during Operation HASTY in June 1944 near Torricella (Italy), to harass lines of communication. The Battalion subsequently jumped into Southern France in August 1944 and was part of the Athens occupation force in the winter of 1944-5.
The 2nd Parachute Brigade, including the 6th Battalion, came under the command of 6th Airborne Division in Palestine from 3 September 1945 where it served until 24 January 1947. The Battalion sailed from Haifa, as part of the 2nd Parachute Brigade Group, for the United Kingdom where it amalgamated with the 4th Parachute Battalion in December 1947.
HMS Abdiel (Capt. David Orr-Ewing, DSO, RN) was mined and sunk in Taranto harbour, Italy on 10 September 1943. The mines were laid just a few hours earlier by the German motor torpedo boats S-54 and S-61 while they escaped from the harbour. Abdiel, carrying troops of 1st airborne division (6th Royal Welsh battalion), took the berth which had been declined earlier by the Captain of USS Boise. Shortly after midnight, two ground mines detonated beneath her and the minelayer sank in three minutes with great loss of life among both sailors and soldiers. The airborne division suffered 58 dead and around 150 injured, while 48 crewmen were lost. We have received info that the ships degaussing equipment was turned off to allow troops below decks to sleep better with less noise.
Would John have been part of that terrible tragedy?
6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion
Main article: 10th (Merionethshire and Montgomeryshire) Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers
Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hilary Vaughan Pritchard, the 10th (Merionethshire and Montgomeryshire) Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers was converted to the 6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion in August 1942*. It was then assigned to the newly raised 2nd Parachute Brigade, alongside the 4th and 5th Parachute Battalions. On formation, the battalion had an establishment of 556 men in three rifle companies. The companies were divided into a small headquarters and three platoons. The platoons had three Bren machine guns and three 2-inch mortars, one of each per section. The only heavy weapons in the battalion were a 3 inch mortar platoon and a Vickers machine gun platoon. By 1944 a headquarters or support company, was added to the battalion. This consisted of five platoons: motor transport, signals, mortar (with eight 3 inch mortars), machine-gun (with four Vickers machine guns) and anti-tank (with ten PIAT anti-tank projectors).
*This was the month that John was transferred.
All members of the battalion had to undergo a twelve-day parachute training course carried out at No. 1 Parachute Training School, RAF Ringway. The course began with parachute jumps from a converted barrage balloon and finished with five parachute jumps from an aircraft.[nb 1] Anyone failing to complete a descent was returned to his old unit. Those men who successfully completed the parachute course were presented with their maroon beret and parachute wings.
Airborne soldiers were expected to fight against superior numbers of the enemy armed with heavy weapons including artillery and tanks, so training was designed to encourage a spirit of self-discipline, self-reliance and aggressiveness. Emphasis was given to physical fitness, marksmanship and fieldcraft. A large part of the training regime consisted of assault courses and route marching. Military exercises included capturing and holding airborne bridgeheads, road or rail bridges and coastal fortifications. At the end of most exercises, the battalion would march back to their barracks. An ability to cover long distances at speed was expected: airborne platoons were required to cover a distance of 50 miles (80 km) in 24 hours, and battalions to cover 32 miles (51 km).[nb 2]
On Casualty List 1261 (Page 13), John is listed as “Wounded” on the 9th September 1943, but on Casualty List 1543 (Page 9) as being “Killed in Action” with no date give, just “D.N.R,” possibly “Date not Recorded.”
According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Graves Concentration Report Form, John was first buried at Draguignan France American Cemetery (Co-ordinates Sh5 1/100.000 339458 20045) probably around the time he was Killed in Action on the 15th August 1944, and then reburied in the cemetery he now rests in on the 7th February 1947.
John’s father Thomas Arden Wilbraham died in 1953, here is his Probate:-
WILLIAMS, Thomas Arden Wilbraham of 1, Fair View, Hawarden Road, Abermorddu, Caergwrle, Flintshire died 17th November 1953. Administration, Chester 2 June 1959 to Florence Elizabeth WILLIAMS, Widow.
So we know that both his parents were still alive to bear their terrible grief and John was well loved and missed by his family, they made sure he would be remembered in perpetuity by adding his name to the Hope WW2 War Memorial.
SLEEP, BELOVED SON, TAKE THY REST, DUTY DONE. FAREWELL TILL WE CROSS THE RIVER
Addendum:- Norman Johnson from Queensferry was also in the same Regiment as John, and sadly he died in Italy, he is remembered on the Hawarden WW2 War Memorial. Please click on the link to read his story.