Remembering a Brownhills D-Day hero

Another great piece of research comes in from reader and local military historian Isaac Marklew-Brown, whose article on his relative Thomas Marklew, a victorian ere soldier was so well received here a few months ago.

This time Isaac again writes beautifully and in great detail  about a relative lost in the wake of the D Day invasion of Northern France, Lawrence Marklew, one of the many local lads to pay the highest price in that most decisive battle in an atrociously bloody conflict.

A memorial to the Normandy Landings is currently being built near the then ‘Gold Beach’, near the town of Ver-sur-Mer. Image from the Normandy Memorial Trust.

I’m always more than happy to feature reader articles here and I’m very keen to cover the stories of local service – wherever it was. We have featured many such stories here over the years from Cecil Arthur Burton MM to the fascinating story of an Anzac from Norton Canes, to the more personal recollections of the toll of war. If you would like to add to the body of such work here pleaser do get in touch.

My huge thanks to Isaac for yet another outstanding piece of local history – and it’s worth noting that his fund-raising skydive for charity is still open for donations – click here. A truly brave thing to do!

Anything to add? Please feel free: Comment here, mail me BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tap my shoulder on social media.

Isaac wrote:

Lawrence Marklew by Isaac Marklew-Brown 

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Due to the great success of the last post on a Marklew soldier from Brownhills I thought I would do another one but this time one who paid the ultimate sacrifice in one of the greatest battles the world has ever seen known as D-Day. 

I try to cover every Marklew who has ever fought in military action as I’m motivated by the quote “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” From Brownhills I am aware of three Brave Individuals who gave their all and sadly passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty. These are William Marklew who died in the First World War and Lawrence Marklew as well as Thomas H Marklew who died in the Second World War. These names can be seen on the Memorial in Brownhills. As an aspiring Army Officer I see it as essential to remember those who came before me and fought for our freedom.

Lawrence Marklew as pictured below which was found in the Newspaper archives was part of the 2nd battalion King’s Shropshire light infantry. 

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

The 2nd Battalion began the war in Jamaica, with a company detached to the Bermuda Garrison. The battalion would eventually join the 185th Infantry Brigade, which included the 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the 1st Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment. The brigade was originally assigned to the 79th Armoured Division, but was then transferred to the 3rd British Infantry Division in April 1943, when the division was preparing to invade Sicily, until it was replaced by the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. The battalion took part in the D-Day landings of Operation Overlord, where they failed to capture the D-Day objective of Caen due to the presence of the 21st Panzer Division. The 2nd Battalion fought in the Normandy CampaignOperation Market Garden and the rest of the North West Europe Campaign with the British Second Army

2nd Battalion landed on Sword Beach on D-Day (6 June 1944), before fighting its way through France, Holland and Germany until May 1945. Lawrence Marklew was part of the soldiers who stormed the Beaches that day.

The following extract was written by a soldier present at the day of invasion known as Bob Littlar, he best can describe the actions in that period that both him and Lawrence were part of. This is Bob Littlar’s account of his D-Day experiences as a corporal in the 2nd Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry:

To the Continent

“At about 9pm that night the four LCAs carrying our battalion quietly slipped out of the harbour and into the English Channel. We spent the entire Monday at sea, and we could see ships from horizon to horizon, all along the Channel. We’d all been issued with French francs, and to pass the time at sea the lads were playing cards and gambling with the foreign currency.

We’d also been issued with a terrible kind of soap, it was just about impossible to wash with the stuff. At 4am on 6 June, I was trying to shave using this stuff, and it was just impossible, so I decided I would just have to invade France wearing a moustache!

It was barely light at that time of the morning, but we could see that we were among war ships of all sorts. As we got closer to the coast of Normandy we could see smoke on the shoreline, from the long range battleship assault. We were all looking at this incredible sight when we were ordered to go below decks.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

By now it was about 9am and the first brigade was already ashore and fighting. I went onto the deck to have a look at what was going on, and we were about 400 metres off shore. We could hear the sandbanks on the bottom of the boat, and we were very nervous about mines.

About 100 metres off shore we were ordered back on deck. On the front of the LCA there was a gangplank on each side of the bow, up on deck. When you get inshore they shoot these forward on pulleys, and you walk down. As the gangplanks went forward the chaps were nearly on them – it was no good hanging around because there was already shellfire coming at us. The boat on our right took a direct hit, making us very anxious.

The right hand ramp turned over with a whole lot of chaps on it, so everyone had to go down the left ramp. I think I was in the fifth section to go down. One of the naval chaps had tied a rope to the end of the gang plank, and had run onto the beach with it, so that we could all hold onto the rope to guide us onto the beach. Chaps were disappearing under the waves, you could just see their hands holding on to the rope. It was very comforting to finally get onto the sand, much better than being at sea.

We had been issued with waterproof waders that can keep you dry up to the chest, a bit like the ones fishermen wear. In theory this was great, but in practice it only worked if the water came up to your waist. Chaps were going under water and trying to wade out with these waterproofs absolutely filled to bursting.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

I got out a knife and started slicing the waterproofs of the chaps that were struggling to walk on shore wearing these things. I did this for about seven or eight blokes, the men in my group. Then I looked around and saw a sea wall, about two or three foot high, and I sheltered behind it on my own. My sergeant came up to me and said, ‘You’re not going to win this war on your own, get your men.’

I could see smoke, and smouldering tanks that had been blown up earlier. The seafront area had already been taken, but there was still some resistance and we were still being fired on.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Trying to meet objectives

We were supposed to assemble in an orchard, and I was concentrating on that. Eventually we moved off inland, on the road to Caen. We walked past what must have been lovely seafront houses in peaceful days. We were moving south towards our assembly area, and suddenly I could see a German plane coming from my left. He was dropping what I could only describe as oil bombs. I could see them bursting, and the flames going up and spreading.

We were carrying Bangalore torpedoes, and I turned to the lads and said, ‘Dump those in the ditch, quickly, and lie on the road – it’s our only hope if they explode.’ Fortunately the bomber missed the road. We decided to leave the Bangalore torpedoes behind.

We eventually got to the orchard where our battalion was gathering, and were organised into company groups. We were getting shelled, I have no idea where from. A piece of shrapnel hit my lance corporal, it cut his boot open and you could see flesh and blood sticking out through the hole. ‘That’s it,’ he said to me. ‘Cheerio, I’m off with the stretcher-bearers.’ That left me without a lance corporal.

We were meant to ride forward onto Periers Ridge with some tanks, but the tanks never showed up so the decision was taken that the battalion would move forward without the support of the tanks.

My company was to be the first one going up the left hand side of the road, and W company was to go up the right hand side. The concentration of fire on this ridge was incredible, and to this day I have no idea whether it was our boys or the enemy firing. Whoever it was, it wasn’t nice.

We left a space of at least five yards between each man as we moved up the hill, as we had been trained to do. This is to avoid a cluster of men being hit at once. The first bit was all right, but then we got closer and closer to this massive concentration of fire. I was so scared I got down on my hands and knees, and then onto my stomach. It was a baptism of fire, I had never seen anything like it. I think some of the fire was German, but some of it was our ships firing onto the ridge.

We eventually made it over the ridge and onto the southern slope, where the fire eased off a bit.

What I didn’t know at this time was that there was a German battery of six guns on the right-hand side of the road at Periers-sur-le-Dan. The brigadier had ordered our colonel to send a company to deal with that, and that reduced us to just three companies.

Heading for Beuville

We carried on towards Beuville, and in the distance I could see what I would call a wadi, with a small stream running through it. It was now coming up to midday and we had been going since 4am. I was feeling tired and decided that I would cross the stream at a bridge.

We could see the village on the other side of the river, but as we rounded a corner near the bridge, BAM! A chap from W company was hit by an incendiary, and killed instantly as the bandoliers of ammunition around his waist exploded.

I thought the fire had come from a farm on my left so I turned around and started shooting at the farmhouse. Took all the windows out. But of course, they fire from ground level. I wasn’t to know that – these things you learn on the job. I saw another company commander taking a hit in his shoulder, then tossing a grenade over a wall because he thought the fire had come from there, but in truth none of us had any idea where it had come from.

By this time three tanks had caught up with us, and one of the captains was leaning out, telling our lieutenant that he’d seen about 40 Germans going to a farm some 3,500 metres away.

My platoon commander ordered me to go across the road and around the right-hand flank of the village, to the meadows at the back of the buildings. We scrambled up the banks, heading for the back of the village. All the while we were being fired on by snipers.”

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Image generously supplied by Isaac Marklew-Brown. Click for a larger version.

Unfortunately after successfully getting in land and taking part in the early stage battles of the invasion of Normandy Lawrence Marklew would lose his life. On the 14th of June 1944 at a mere 21 years old Lawrence was dead. This would have been a big shock in Brownhills back home and a great loss to the area. Many other heroes from Brownhills would lose their lives as well throughout the ghastly and brutal war and may they all rest in peace. Their duty is done.

Thank you for reading this. If you want any research done then please let me know I’m always more than happy to help. 

Isaac Marklew-Brown 

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