Photos and story kindly supplied by Antony Dawkins
A few years ago when my father passed away, some items came in to my possession that I had never seen before that my father had kept locked away. It all started back in 1940, 15th Feb to be precise. My father was 7 months old at the time and the family lived in a house on Church Street where the library currently stands and as WW2 was going on, my grandfather (my father’s father) signed up to the army to fight for King & Country.
He was posted to Europe but returned on leave on occasions to visit his family and my father worshipped him. He always looked forward to his dad coming home and times were hard but family life was good. Then the time would come around again for my grandfather to return to the trenches in Europe and life was back to normal till the next time he came home. These visits home meant so much to everyone who knew my grandfather and for weeks beforehand my father would be counting down the days till the next time he could see his dad. My grandfather would send back home letters he had wrote in the trenches. I now have all these letters in my possession in an old battered leather pouch and I can tell you they really bring a tear to your eye when you read them.
They are all written in pencil and quite graphic. One describes how my grandfather was writing the letter as bullets were flying overhead “but these b……s don’t scare me” he wrote. When the letters returned home the whole family would sit around in the parlour and my grandmother would read them out to everyone. The house they lived in was bombed one night in the early forties and the family were rehomed with other relatives but all stayed together. The fact they had lost their home made my grandfather even more determined to carry on fighting.
Then, in July 1944 the letters stopped !!!! We can all see where this is going can’t we? My grandmother wrote him a letter asking why his letters had stopped. (I also have this letter as it was returned to her). Then came the day that everyone was dreading. There was a knock at the door and the family was told that Glyndwr Lloyd Dawkins had been killed in action on 21st July 1944 in Northern France.
The MOD would not give any details as to how it happened as it was deemed classified. So now my grandmother is without a husband and 3 children are without a father and nobody knows why. My father being the eldest at 5 years old was devastated. The man who he worshipped was never coming home and to the day my father died I don’t think he ever got over it.
For many years after the war the family were determined to find out the exact details. They didn’t even know where their loved one was buried as the MOD had no records of his grave.
Coincidence can be a marvellous thing. One night in the mid 1980’s an elderly gentleman walked in to the Pen & Wig pub in Nuneaton that was currently being run by my uncle (my grandfather’s nephew) and this gentleman had a really broad welsh accent. My uncle enquired as to where the gentleman was from. It emerged that he was from Aberbargoed in Wales. “Oh my family moved to Nuneaton from there in 1936” was my uncle’s reply. The gentleman then asked what the family name was. When he heard the name Dawkins his face went white. This is where all the unanswered questions started emerging. It transpired that the gentleman in question was with my grandfather when he died and he was the only survivor from the whole platoon. He had made it his quest to find and inform all the families of every person in his platoon what had happened on that fateful day in 1944. Our family was the very last one to find and he had spent over forty years trying to find the family to tell the tale. The story he told I will never forget.
“The whole platoon was dug in waiting for something to happen and we could hear Gerry getting closer. It came to a point where the enemy was that close that now was the time to attack but when we broke out from the trenches we were not expecting what we saw. A line of Gerry guns blazing and in the middle a solitary German tank. There was no way we could take that on. We managed to kill all the Gerry foot soldiers but as the tank had been shooting the whole time, the whole platoon had been killed apart from me and Glyn. Glyn looked at me and said “They can’t take us both” and he covered himself in mud and lay deadly still on the floor. The tank got closer and eventually went over Glyn (between the tank tracks) and Glyn then pulled the pin on his grenade, put it back in his ammo bag and waited. The result for Glyn was inevitable but he took the tank out as well. You could have heard a pin drop and I was the only survivor”
This was the information that the MOD had said was classified but they were probably trying to save the family from pain.
The gentleman standing in front of my uncle then produced a photograph of the war memorial in France, a picture of my grandfather’s grave and many more other details that allowed the family to travel to France and pay their respects to their hero.
For this we will always be grateful. When the gentleman left he had such a look of relief on his face as he had completed his mission and found the last family. My family. My uncle and the gentleman exchanged contact details and agreed to keep in touch. My uncle rang him a month or so later, only to be told by an elderly lady that sadly he had passed away a couple of weeks ago. What a hero. He had visited 41 families who had all lost their loved ones to fill in the missing blanks for them.
So just before I go, I will tell one last quick tale that is very dear to me.
On January 6th 2006 my father was lying in a hospital bed at Walsgrave hospital dying from cancer. I was sat at his bedside and I knew the end was close. His eyes were closed but he opened his mouth and said “I will be seeing you soon Dad”. He passed away a few hours later.
When I started reading all the letters and looking through all my grandfather’s possessions I came across his soldiers pass book. It stated his year of birth to be 1917 whereas he was really born in 1920. He had lied about his age to enlist as he must have thought that they wouldn’t let him fight at only 19 years of age.
I think all the attached photos are pretty self-explanatory. I hope I have not bored you with my tale or taken too much of your time.