Monday 30 October 2017

Hugh Wright

Past memories fade too easily unless kept bright in the retelling ...

Today 30th October 2017, marks what would have been the 100th birthday of my first cousin once removed Hugh Wright. Unfortunately, like so many from his generation, he was killed during World War II in Northern Belgium on 21st October 1944, just 9 days before his 27th birthday and is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in Leopoldsburg, Limburg, Belgium. Hugh was a Royal Engineer attached to the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, "The Polar Bears” a name given to them for their contribution to the occupation of Iceland during 1941/42.

The shoulder combination is the 49th Infantry Divisional, the Polar Bear indicating service in Iceland, the White Metal Rose for Yorkshire County and the 40 for the Divisional Royal Engineers Headquarters

During April 2000 with my parents, I made a very special and memorable visit to Hugh's grave. What follows is a narrative of that journey to Belgium which incredibly started in the early 1990's and includes many of my thoughts, observations together with an insight into Hugh and his military service. Also, an account of the remarkable discovery and eventual return to the family of his Military Housewife 67 years after his death.

As a young boy growing up in East Kilbride, Scotland, I would occasionally hear in related conversations my dad mention his cousin Hugh, about whom he always spoke very fondly. While carefully and inquisitively listening at those times, I learned that he had been killed during World War II and was buried in Belgium near to the Dutch border.
I remember during those times when my dad would talk about his “cousin”, it always sounded very strange to me. I had cousins, my friends had cousins, but parents having cousins ~ that just did not seem right to me. I suppose the immaturity of childhood creates the limited vision that only kids and not grownups have cousins or uncles and aunts or even grandparents. Also, during that same emotionally undeveloped period, the conversations I heard about Hugh never really made too much impact upon me or aroused any strong feelings. “The War” as it was always referred to, was a very long time ago many years before my birth and in a child’s perspective it was way back in the olden days. It was an event so distant that it had no relatable significance upon me. Indeed, I watched war movies which were dramatic and exciting. With my friends we played war games out on the fields and local terrain near to my home, where we always without too much effort or material loss easily beat the Jerries. I remember as child sitting in the back seat of the family car journeying over to my grandparents in Cardonald, Glasgow and having the strangely shaped corrugated steel Anderson Air Raid Shelters pointed out to me, which by then were mostly neglected or being used as backyard garden sheds. I also recall being very impressed to learn of my mother's ability when she was aged about 11 years old, to identify the difference between the engine drone of British and German aircraft which were often flying above. If the aircraft was German then they would likely be its way to bomb the nearby Rolls-Royce factory in Hillington, where both my grandfathers worked. If Hillington was not the target, then it would be the shipyards of the River Clyde and their adjacent towns.
Even my dad’s own personal wartime experiences did not make the war any more real to me. His family home in Knightswood, Glasgow was completely bombed during an attack on the Clyde shipyards, with the regrettable loss of his pet budgie. Completely homeless, the family were evacuated to the safety of a farmhouse in Fenwick, Ayrshire.

Starting from a very early age, every November my dad would take me to the annual Remembrance Sunday Service in my home town. Always on that day of commemoration he would never fail to remind me of his cousin Hugh and speak of the war. As I grew older it became more apparent, the memories of the war and in particular those of Hugh went very deep and meant a lot to him.
During an early 1990's visit by my parents to my home in Canada, an occurrence took take place which had such an impact it was to change me for forever. It was while sitting outside with my dad on a bright summer afternoon, I asked him to tell me more of his memories of Hugh. I knew from my own family tree research that he was born at the family home at 599 Duke Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow, on the 30 October 1917, making him 11 years older than my dad. But what unfolded during our conversation as we sat side by side on that sunny afternoon overwhelmed me then as it still does today.
As he spoke it quickly became apparent that Hugh had been an extremely important figure in my dad's young life. Someone he held in the highest regard, a kind of hero figure, a mentor, an older cousin who went off to war, then with much regret and many years of continuing sadness never returned home. As I sat there carefully listening to each word being said to me, he told me this story ~
During May 1944 in readiness for D-Day the invasion of Normandy, Hugh and many tens of thousands more allied troops were under strict quarantine and security all along England’s south coast. Through the many levels of authority which were required at the time, Hugh was given special permission to go home to Glasgow on compassionate leave to attend the funeral of his father David Wright. David had died as a result of lingering and painful injuries on May 18th, from a non-war related explosion in Glasgow on 24th October 1940.
After the funeral just prior to his return south to rejoin his unit, Hugh took my dad aside and gave him his ice skates and said "You have them Gordon, I may not need them again". My dad who was 16 at the time initially refused to take them, he did not want to encourage or even consider the thought that Hugh would no longer require the skates. But with further urging from Hugh, eventually and reluctantly my dad accepted them, but added that he would look after the skates until his return. This exchange between the cousins turned out to be their last.
At this point in our backyard conversation, I turned round to look at my dad, I was stunned and shocked to see that he had tears streaming down his face. This was something I had never seen before; it was a hugely significant moment, to suddenly realize after what was at the time almost 50 years, the memory of the last meeting between my dad and Hugh, followed by his death soon after in Belgium, could stir up such deep rooted and genuine emotion. In an instant, I became aware “The War” and its lasting impact was not such a long time ago, it was in fact much closer than I had ever realized or wanted to believe before.
My dad then went on to say that it had always been his wish and deep desire to make a visit to Hugh’s grave in Belgium. As I looked at him, I knew and fully appreciated that it was not something he would be able to do on his own without my help. So, it was at that point I quietly decided I would take him over to Belgium and complete this wish for him. From that moment the journey commenced, but it was not until April 2000 that I fulfilled my dad's desire to visit Hugh's grave in Leopoldsburg, Belgium.

From information I had read prior to our visit to Belgium, I learned the predominant casualty dates within the CWGC's Leopoldsburg War Cemetery are but not limited to May 1940 and September/October 1944. The action relating to May 1940 period is attributed to the German invasion of the low countries of Europe, and the failed defensive effort by the British Expeditionary Force prior to their eventual retreat at Dunkirk in June 1940. The Commonwealth and allied forces did not return again to this part of Europe until September 1944, at the time of the hard-fought liberation of Belgium and The Netherlands. During the intervening years as reflected by many gravestones within the cemetery, the casualties were airmen who had either been shot down or crashed during raids on the occupied countries, or while returning from bombing missions over Germany. Within the cemetery, it was not unusual to come across a row of seven or more graves, this being the crew of most probably a Lancaster Bomber consisting of the Pilot, Engineer, Navigator, Wireless Operator, Bombardier and Gunners. Those guys mostly in their early to mid-twenties typically came from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. They would likely have been the best of buddies, having lived together, trained together, sang at the piano together and now in perpetuity they share a gravesite in Belgium together.

There are 767 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War in the cemetery at Leopoldsburg together with a number of Polish and Dutch war graves. Of the Commonwealth burials 16 of are unidentified and therefore the gravestone is marked simply ~ “Known Unto God”.
In my life I have walked around more than a few gravesites, many of those times when I was much younger with my dad. We would wander in churchyards always curious to find the oldest gravestone and randomly with much interest read inscriptions. Later I would do the same on my own, but this time it was the task of finding relatives during my family tree research. Those graveyards, whether they were community or church, could most of the time be best described as random with no sign of thought, lacking order or deliberate plan. They seemed loud, mostly disturbed, never at peace, always affected by the bustle and flurry of the surrounding daily activities.
Until that day in April 2000, I had never before experienced a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery. I had seen photographs showing the typical impressive display of neat rows of regimented uniformity, the gravestones assembled like soldiers on the parade ground. But what I was not prepared for was the instant and overwhelming emotion, the complete tranquility, the awesome sense of stillness and the enormous feeling of being someplace extremely special. I will never be able to fully or accurately describe to anyone who has not had the privilege and honour to visit such a site, how profoundly moving the experience was. I remember clearly the moment I walked through the entrance gate, sensing that I had entered an environment of total peace, disturbed only by the sounds of spring, birds chirping and leaves gently moving in the soft warm wind. I had never before experienced such a feeling of complete serenity. Then for reasons which remain unclear, as if by hand I was led to Grave 12, in Row A of Plot V, to the resting place of my first cousin once removed Hugh Wright. 
To see the name “Wright” engraved on that white stone was a unique and strange combination of sheer pride that was quickly tempered by enormous sadness.

The inscription on Hugh’s gravestone ~

2003820    L. CPL.
21ST OCTOBER 1944      AGE 26

Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, Limburg, Belgium (8th April 2000)

Below are the notification letters of Hugh's death dated 28 October 1944 from the Royal Engineers Record Office, addressed to Hugh's father David who had died five months earlier ~

A letter from Reverend Ian M. German (attached to 289 Field Park Company ~ Royal Engineers, British Liberation Army) written to Hugh's sister Jean, dated 22 October 1944, the day after Hugh was killed.

The first two paragraphs read ~ 

Dear Miss Wright,

It is with profound regret & deep sympathy that I am writing this letter to you, in the hope that it will reach you before the special notification reaches your mother from the War Office.

Your brother (2003820) L/C Wright was killed in action yesterday. I buried him in Brigade Cemetery in the presence of some of his pals this afternoon. May he rest in peace, may Gods perpetual light shine upon him. 

Today the location of the "Brigade Cemetery" is occupied by Rijmenants Horticultural Nursery in Wuustwezel

Letter from the War Office dated 4 June 1946,
informing Hugh's late father of his temporary grave
"at De Meir 5 3/4miles east southeast of Brecht, Belgium."

Letter from the War Office dated 3 July 1946 informing Hugh's late father
 of his permanent grave "in Lepoldsburg (Bourg Leopold) British Cemetery, 20 miles southwest of Turnhout, Belgium. Polt V, Row A, Grave No.12" 

Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, Limburg, Belgium
Photo of temporary grave marker received in a letter
to Hugh’s mother from the War Office dated 21 May 1948.

The letter to Hugh’s mother from the War Office dated 21 May 1948.

As we stood there in quiet reflective thought at Hugh's grave, my dad with his outreached hand touched the top of Hugh’s gravestone. It was as if he was trying to make a physical connection to his cousin, to bridge the years. We never spoke or shared our thoughts at that moment, but now years after dad's death, I curiously ponder as to what was on his mind. Perhaps it was the memory of the last time he saw Hugh as a 16-year-old some 56 years earlier, when he dismissed any notion or thought that Hugh would never come back home. Then from his pocket he took out three poppies, he placed one to left and another on the right side of the gravestone, he handed me the third and asked if I would place it in the centre. A poppy from my dad, my mother and myself. I felt very honoured and extremely proud to have travelled from Canada to Belgium just to be able to do that.

On that day, the 8th April 2000, I did not leave the warm comforting stillness of the cemetery until I paid my own personal gratitude to all of the 767 souls who lie in perpetuity within its grounds. It took me over four hours to spend a moment at every one of those gravestones. I read all the personal inscriptions and paused a little longer at those who are only ~ “Known Unto God”. I did this because I had too; I owed each and every one a moment of thanks and reflection.
I remember one poignant message engraved onto the gravestone of Private David Sprott of The Kings Own Scottish Borderers who died on the 25th December 1944 aged 28 ~ “A LITTLE CORNER OF A FOREIGN LAND THAT IS FOREVER SCOTLAND”, quite possibly the chosen words of his proud parents David and Christina Hynd Sprott of Crosshouse, Ayrshire.

The grave of Private David Sprott of The Kings Own Scottish Borderers at Leopoldsburg War Cemetery
Inscription ~

I was struck by the ages of those in the cemetery, every one of them much younger than I was. I thought of myself at their tender age, I was moved and impressed by the depth of responsibility, the call to duty and the sacrifice they each had made, I then questioned if I could have done the same. No longer were those guys merely images in a grainy black and white newsreel film from a long time ago, they were here and this was real. As I looked across this wondrous place, I reflected upon the backyard chat I had with my dad years prior. I thought about the tears he shed that afternoon for his cousin Hugh, who had died many decades before and now within the surrounding quietness the very same was happening to me. My tears were not only for Hugh, but for all those who lay before me in Leopoldsburg, many of whom were vast oceans away from home. As I looked around at the tremendous loss, I felt incredible emotion, the impact was enormous. I will never allow myself to forget what each of those souls had given up, the missed years, the daily life experiences that we take for granted, the loved ones left behind and the biggest tragedy of all, the many young children who never got to know their father.

I remember in late 1999 while the planning the trip to Belgium I often thought in complete ignorance, it was a great shame that Hugh had never been brought home to Glasgow. I felt that it would have been correct and right for him to have been buried close to his father, a place where his mother and sister could have visited and cared for. Those thoughts all changed in an instant with my unforgettable visit to Leopoldsburg. Being thoroughly struck by the beauty and tranquility of the cemetery, reading the inscriptions on each gravestone, which evoked images of mothers and fathers lamenting lost sons, wives mourning their husbands combined with the thoughts of young children growing up without fathers, I left Leopoldsburg with the comforting fact that out of the bitterness of war, Hugh had found perfect peace buried among his comrades, who all endured an equally tragic loss. I felt secure in the knowledge that their graves would always be respected and cared for, therefore this is the rightful place he should be.
As we drove away from the cemetery on that afternoon, my dad turned to me and asked, “Will you come back ..?” Knowing that he would never return, I felt that he wanted my assurance that one day I would go back to visit Hugh ~ I hope that I will.
From Belgium we travelled to The Somme in France to visit the grave of my grand-uncle John Kerr of the Royal Naval Division who was killed during WWI on 4th February 1917.

For more on that visit see "Remembered 100 years on" ~
During our journey through Belgium and France we stopped at many CWGC cemeteries and memorial sites. Each is an extraordinarily special place, always like walking into a beautiful church where you have to be silent, but unlike a church there is no music except bird songs. Each site offers a time for reflection about the state of mankind, where we are, and what those people died for ~ leading to the question ~ "What was the point of it all ..?" When in their presence, whether walking between the rows of graves, or reading the names on a memorial you cannot talk, you are reduced to silence. Although you do not know any of them, from a grave you can pick up clues, you see their name, their regiment and their age. You then turn to walk away, but strangely you do not want to leave; you want to stay. Finally, as you do depart you are struck by the lessons which can be learned from the experience, they are our silent witnesses that's what those graves and memorials are ~ silent witnesses.
After my return to Canada, my interest in Hugh increased, I wanted to know more about his experiences, his movements, in fact anything and if possible, everything about him. It became a very important, unwavering project for me. Initially I asked surviving relatives what they could remember. I searched the internet, read books and posted messages on various web sites including the Royal British Legion and other veteran sites. I was very determined; the task became relentless.

After a process of applications via the British Ministry of Defense, I fortunate to receive Hugh's military records. From those I learned the following in summary form ~
He was an apprentice with Corbets (Civil Engineers) of Bluevale Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow and later became a draughtsman.
After call-up he served initially with the 51st Highland Division. He was posted to headquarters Royal Engineers Operations Iceland on 25 July 1941 until 11 April 1942 while attached to the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division.
Upon their return from Iceland, the Polar Bears (as the 49th were then known) where quartered to Ross on Wye in England and later did training throughout various locations in Britain in preparation for the invasion of Europe.

In August 2006 during some related internet research, I discovered by chance a book written by Patrick Delaforce ~ “The Polar Bears Monty’s Left Flank”, a book that is completely dedicated to the World War II actions of the 49th Infantry Division. Without delay from an online book store, I ordered a copy. Upon its arrival, I discovered in the acknowledgements section the name Harry Conn of the 49th Infantry Division Polar Bear Association in England. After a further online search, I was soon led to their web-site. For me this was a major breakthrough, a possible direct source of information and a possible realistic chance of finding a veteran of the 49th, who may have personally known Hugh or could provide me with other relevant sources or directions.
I wrote off to Harry Conn expressing my interest in the 49th Infantry Division and asked if there was a way he could help or guide me to another member of the association, who could offer assistance in my task to find out more about Hugh and his general movements during the war. A week or so later I received an email from Dennis Dimond secretary to The Polar Bear Association and editor to their bi-annual Polar Bear News. Dennis, who in addition to inviting me to join the association said that he would post a message in the December issue of their publication. He further mentioned that in the meantime he would contact other members, in particular those who had been in the Royal Engineers attached to the 49th Infantry Division. Over the next three months prior to the publishing of the December issue of the Polar Bear News, I waited with great anticipation for some positive results to the enquiries made by Dennis, but none arrived. I therefore resigned myself to the fact, my last hope of any success was the message to be placed in the next issue of the Polar Bear News.
By late December 2006, I took up Denis’s offer to use my family connection to Hugh and became a very proud member of the association. With this membership, I also received my first copy of the Polar Bears News within which was the article about Hugh, complete with the photograph I had sent over for the publication.
On January 3rd 2007 an email from Dennis arrived in my inbox ~

Happy New Year to you and yours!
I have proof of the value of advertising. The article in News and Views has prompted a really positive reply regarding Hugh Wright.
Member Mrs. Millicent Booth, widow of Eddie Booth, RE, phoned me this morning. It seems that Eddie knew Hugh very well and Millicent would love to contact you and pass on everything she knows.
As if that wasn't pretty good news, it suddenly got even better. My editor's cap glowed and my pen shook when she told me she is in possession of a leather "Military Housewife" embossed with Hugh's name and details! I can already see the article in June’s PBN.
I hope my excitement hasn't spoiled the moment, so I will exchange contact details and wait developments!
Kind regards,


Receiving this message from Dennis was one of life’s rare moments of complete elation. Finally, after years of effort a genuine connection to Hugh’s military service was found. I had bridged the passage of time and felt extremely good about it.
Almost immediately I called Hugh’s sister Jean who still lived at 599 Duke Street, the original home of her grandparents, the location of her parents’ marriage in January 1917 and where both she in 1920 and Hugh in 1917 were born. Jean’s reaction to this update was similar to my own; she was absolutely thrilled and excited. She also clearly remembered the existence of Hugh’s Military Housewife and was delighted about its rediscovery after so many years.

A couple of days later, I had the first of many pleasurable calls with Millicent who lives near Hull in England. Speaking with her on that initial call, I quickly realized she too was equally excited about finding me, a relative of Hugh. She told me her late husband Eddie and Hugh were part of a trio of friends who were all Royal Engineers attached to the 49th Infantry Division, the other being George Sidney Rumph who came from Ilford in Essex.
Eddie who was known as “Yorkie” came originally from Selby in Yorkshire, had crossed the English Channel on D-Day+1, the 7th June 1944, but was never actually sure onto which beach he landed. Millicent was unable to confirm if Hugh and George went over to France on the same day. From other sources of information, I have read it seems the bulk of the 49th Infantry Division went over to Normandy starting on D-Day+6 and landed on Gold Beach one of the two designated British beaches. It is probable the Royal Engineers were required to go over in advance after the initial landings to clear obstacles, disarm and remove land mines, create access routes and infrastructure for the reinforcements which were to follow later.
Of the three friends only Eddie, Serial No. 2067466 was fortunate to survive the war. George, Serial No.1916609 was killed on 20 August 1944 aged 28 and is buried at Banneville-La-Campagne War Cemetery, France. From the CWGC web-site, I found that he was the son of Samuel and Helene Rumph and husband to Beatrice.
I am privileged to have been given a copy of Eddie Booth's handwritten record from most of his military service. This unfinished but impressively written account of his wartime activities provides a valuable narrative into his memories and personal war experiences. The following extract gives the circumstances relating to George Rumph’s death ~
“On the 20th of August we had our first casualty. George Rumph took the Col. in his Jeep to a bridging site. They had been at the site for a while when the Col. decided that they would leave. They were just getting into the Jeep when a mortar bomb landed by the driver's side of the Jeep. George was killed instantly. The Col. brought his body back to the unit and we had the unpleasant task of preparing him for burial. We were given the address of a burial site nearby to which we took him, all the lads who could be spared went with him. The burial site was a large grave that had been dug by a bulldozer. There were already about ten blanket wrapped bodies in it. We put George in with the other lads, the Col. said a few words. We gave him a last salute and marched away. The bodies must have been moved to a large cemetery. George now lies in Banneville-La-Campagne Cemetery in Normandy.”

The grave of George Sidney Rumph at Banneville-La-Campagne Cemetery in Normandy, France

Inscription ~


Having already taken a significant role in the fierce battle for Caen, Northern France from June to August 1944, the 49th Infantry Division who were at the time under the command of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Corps, advanced through Belgium and onto the eventual liberation of Arnhem in The Netherlands near to the war's end in April 1945. With regret, Hugh never made to The Netherlands he was killed close to the Dutch border in the town of Wuustwezel within the Province of Antwerp, Northern Belgium. At the time of his death in October 1944, the Royal Engineers were involved in numerous bridge building and repairs operations over the various canal systems in this part of the country. From Eddie’s war story he gives the following account of Hugh’s death, which incredibly happens to be the last paragraph of his unfinished script. Unsurprisingly and typical for the time, Hugh’s Scottish heritage and culture is recognized by the reference to him as “Jock”. 

“……..After the excitement with the Yanks we returned to the unit, only to find that in our absence some Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) blokes had parked five three-ton lorries nose to tail in the lane. They had not bothered to camouflage them at all. A jerry tank had arrived on the scene, spotted the five lorries, put a shell in the first lorry and one in the rear lorry, then hit the three in the centre. He must have spotted our two vehicles and put a shell in the engine compartment. Unfortunately, Jock had taken cover under the engine and was killed instantly. The powers that be decided that we were in the wrong position and we had to move. This meant that we had to leave Jock behind. His body was collected by burial squads and is now interred in Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, Belgium .....
..... Unfortunately, the five RASC vehicles were parked on an open stretch of lane and there had been no attempt at camouflage at all. Had they not attracted the Jerries attention I doubt if he would have spotted our two vehicles…….”

Throughout all my research into Hugh, I have been fortunate to come in contact with various sources of information, one of those is author and historian Guido Van Wassenhove. Guido has written a book “Wuustwezel and Loenhout in World War Two” (Wuustwezel en Loenhout in de tweede wereldoorlog)” describing the war activities in his home town of Wuustwezel and its liberation by the Polar Bears during October 1944.
The following is an extract from an exchange of emails I had with Guido ….
“…………The name of Lance Corporal Hugh Wright did arouse my interest.
Lce Cpl Wright - 240th Field Coy RE was killed in action the 21st of October 1944 at Wuustwezel during the second German counter attack - between 4 and 6 PM.

A German Panzer (Jagdpanther) had crossed the British lines. The Jagdpanther drove along Baan (coming from the direction of the Polar Bear Monument) facing the crossing with Kalmthoutse Steenweg.

On its way he shot three grenades at the church tower where three men of the Signals observed the area, especially the area of Stone Bridge (the road from Wuustwezel towards Loenhout) to direct the division artillery. The third shot from the tank killed them all.
When the panzer was about to turn back, he spotted vehicles stationed near the old windmill at the crossing of Baan and Kalmthoutse Steenweg, infantry of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and Royal Engineers came under fire. The panzer fired at and hit the truck that was in clear view at the crossing. I do not know if this was the truck that Hugh was on, but the explosion also caused the explosion of a tanker and several other trucks, some men of the Royal Scots Fusiliers were injured.
Two British soldiers were killed: Hugh and Frederick Houghton both 240th Field Coy RE.
Both were buried near the spot where they died.
Exhumed in 1946 to be reburied at the War Cemetery of Leopoldsburg
Approximately an hour later, the German panzer was destroyed by three Churchill tanks about a mile north of the Polar Bear Monument. One of the German crew did escape, but was taken prisoner. When he was being led away, he stabbed one of the guards. The German a few minutes later was crushed by a Churchill tank…..”
This account is similarly described on page 192 of the book “The Polar Bears Monty’s Left Flank” by Patrick Delaforce.

Wuustwezel ~ The Polar Bear monument is at location 1
Hugh was killed at the location marked 2
“Where the car turns into the street is the location where Hugh was killed”

“From this location the German Jagdpanther shot at the trucks at the end of the street”

Frederick Sidney Houghton, Serial No. 2146504 the other Royal Engineer killed at the same time as Hugh was aged 24 and came from Sunderland, County of Durham. He was the son of Frederick Percy and Louie Houghton, husband to Jean and father to Brian Frederick Houghton who at the time was aged just two months. Like Hugh, Frederick was also buried in Leopoldsburg War Cemetery. The cemetery contains many Polar Bears including the Divisions only World War II Victoria Cross recipient, John William Harper.

Frederick Sidney Houghton's grave at Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, Limburg, Belgium

Inscription ~



A memorial to the Polar Bears in Wuustwezel ~

Here the German counter attack was halted 21~22 October 1944 by 

 The 49 West Riding Infantry Division

 Wuustwezel to our liberators 21 October 1984

After Hugh’s death Eddie Booth managed to recover his Military Housewife. Made from fine soft leather the housewife incorporates the Royal Engineer crest embossed in full colour on the front. Penned below the crest is Hugh’s hand written name and service number. The contents of the housewife remain as they were at the time of his death. Those include a number of sewing needles, thread, spare buttons, safety pins and a length of cotton ribbon. Hugh’s sister Jean told me that the housewife was given to him as a present by his girlfriend Jessie Stevenson.


After the war, Eddie made various unsuccessful attempts to locate Hugh’s family and always deeply regretted that he was unable to do that. Over the years Eddie and Millicent made many pilgrimages to war sites in Europe and in 1998 they made a memorable visit to Hugh’s grave in Leopoldsburg.
It was with much fulfillment and gratification for Millicent that she would finally complete Eddie’s decades long desire and wish, to return the unique memento of Hugh, the Military Housewife back to his family. She initially offered to send it directly to me in Canada; but I decided that it first must go home to 599 Duke Street in Dennistoun, Scotland, from where it had originally left in May 1944. It was important gesture for the housewife to be reunited with the Hugh’s home, the sandstone tenement which has now been in the family for over 110 years, a place which has played host and spectator to five generations of my family who had crossed its threshold.

At the time of my April 2000 trip to Scotland and Europe, I went to visit Hugh's sister Jean. In the few times I had been to the home before, I always felt a tremendous connection with the past. It was here in Duke Street that many of my family would gather and meet. They included my great grandfather also named Hugh who was born in June 1859, all his sons including my grandfather Thomas Downie Wright and as a baby my own father Gordon Wright. The furnishings in the home have never altered over the years, they are the very same that had witnessed all the family visits and occasions spanning more than a century, a unique and unparalleled place.
An original feature of the home is the solid and heavy entrance door, which has probably been in place since the tenement was built. Featured on the door are a couple of old locks, one of which had always caught my attention. It was huge and had an equally large key protruding from it. When I asked about this lock, Jean told me, back in May 1944 at the time of Hugh’s last visit home, the key was turned to the unlock position and has since then remained in that same position, she went on to say ~ "We never wanted to lock Hugh out."
The last time Jean saw her brother was in England at Peterborough Railway Station. It was soon after her father’s funeral in May 1944 that she, Hugh and their mother Mary traveled south together from Glasgow. Mary was going to spend time with Jean in Lincoln where she was serving with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Hugh was heading further south to rejoin his division in preparation for D-Day. So, it was on that railway station platform, a mother gave a parting final hug to her only son and a sister said a fond farewell to her brother.

Hugh as an infant

Hugh with his sister Jean in Aberdeen 1940

Hugh with his parents David & Mary (nee Arnold) and sister Jean in Aberdeen 1940

Hugh at Garelochhead, 20 June 1936 at Scouts and Cubs parents outing

Hugh at Aberdeen 1940

Hugh with his mother Mary at Largs 1936

From Eddie Booth's war story, he describes two war time incidents which involved Hugh ~ a.k.a. “Jock” ~
“……..On another occasion whilst resting in our little trenches, we had strict instructions to keep out of sight during daytime hours, as we did not want jerry to see us.
Well, this particular afternoon a jerry reccy plane kept flying over and disturbing our slumbers.
Eventually one of the lads, Jock by name, nipped out of his slit trench and gave jerry a burst from his Sten Gun. Not a good move, he was put on charge for “uncontrolled fire” and given seven days confined to barracks!…..”
“…….One day Jock went off to collect the unit rations; a group of armed Frenchmen waved him down and told him that they had a number of jerry prisoners, would he take them away? Without any more ado, they brought forth about twenty jerry soldiers and loaded them unto Jocks truck. Jock was not very happy and of course did not have his Sten Gun with him. Off he drove with his unwanted passengers.
Every time he came across a British patrol he asked if they would take his prisoners but everybody turned him down. The poor lad was getting desperate but the jerries were quite cheerful and appeared to be enjoying his discomfort! Just when all seemed lost Jock found a Polish camp and they seemed very happy to take over Jocks prisoners, although they, the prisoners were very reluctant to leave the safety of Jocks truck….”

In addition to the Military Housewife, I have in my possession Hugh's posthumously awarded medals the 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defense Medal, and War Medal 1939-45, all sent to his mother by the Under -Secretary of State for War ~

I also have his last letter dated 20 October 1944, written the day before he was killed to his sister Jean, who was serving at the time in Lincoln, England with the ATS.
The letter sent from...HQ RE 49 Division B.L.A., was written on 4 pages of 5" x 7" paper, enclosed in a re-used envelope with "ACTIVE SERVICE" written on the front and was passed by Censor No. 12000.
The last paragraph of the letter says ~
...... "Well Jean, its time I was in bed as I've to get up at 06.30 hrs - not 08.00 hrs like yourself. So I close now hoping this finds you well and having better weather than we are.
Tons of Love,

Below is a postcard, Hugh sent to his mother Mary from Brussels, Belgium, dated 3rd October 1944 ~ 

The delightful return of the Military Housewife together with Eddie Booth’s written insight into Hugh’s war story is tainted with much sadness. One is that Eddie was not able share in this after all the years that he had hoped to make contact with Hugh’s family, he died on 30 September 2004; six months prior to his 90th birthday. Also, my father Gordon who followed with tremendous interest and anticipation my efforts to discover more about his cousin and his war service, sadly died on 14 January 2005, before all was to be discovered and ultimately revealed.
I consider myself extremely fortunate that through some extraordinary circumstances, I was able to find Millicent which led to the return of the Military Housewife. Then to have the privilege of reading her husband Eddie’s war stories which directly involved my first cousin once removed ~ Hugh Wright. It has given me a brief but valuable insight into who he was and what he did, the value of which can never be quantified.
When I think back to my visit of April 2000 to Leopoldsburg in Belgium and consider the 767 who rest there in that beautiful cemetery, I begin to appreciate that each and every one of those who gave their life also have stories, experiences and encounters to tell. Unfortunately, many will never be told, which is an enormous loss to us all. The many who have untold stories are destined to become mostly forgotten ~ a distant relative, who went off to war and died in a foreign land. Over time those unscripted heroes who are fortunate to have their names written onto a gravestone will also be only ~ “Known Unto God” ~ in a similar way to their unidentified companions ~ that is enormously sad.

After my visit to Belgium and France, the following words written by John Maxwell Edmonds meant so much more to me ~ 





Hugh’s White Rose of Yorkshire badges.

The 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division was a pre–WWII Territorial Army Division raised in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Before the later adoption of the Polar Bear formation sign by the Division whilst in Iceland, the sign was the White Rose of Yorkshire.

This was an unusual formation sign in that it was of white metal with a screw back fitting, other variations exist where the rose has been painted or has a coloured background.

Army Form of Will dated 8 July 1941

The War Office ~ Probate Procedure dated 22 February 1945

The War Office ~ Certified Notification of Death dated 22 February 1945 

Officer in Charge of Records, Brighton ~ Personal Effects

Post Office Savings Department ~ Enumeration of Saving Certificates dated 2 April 1945

The War Office ~ Draft of Army Funds due to the Estate dated 14 May 1945

The War Office ~ Notification of Grant of Representation dated 2 May 1945

A memorial dedicated on 6 November 1949 in Whitehill Church, Whitehill Street, Dennistoun, has Hugh's name and other church members killed during World War II
The Order of Service dated 6 November 1949 for the dedication of the War Memorial

A letter dated July 2001 from the British Ministry of Defence with Hugh's Record of Military Service

Commonwealth War Grave Commission Documents ~

The Imperial War Graves Commission letter dated 29 October 1946  

The Imperial War Graves Commission ~ Specimen Drawing of Headstone 

The Imperial War Graves Commission ~
The Care and Marking of War Graves, sent to Hugh's mother Mary

The Imperial War Graves Commission ~
The Care and Marking of War Graves, sent to Hugh's mother Mary

The Imperial War Graves Commission ~
The Care and Marking of War Graves, sent to Hugh's mother Mary

Page from Leopoldsburg War Cemetery Register

Grave Registration Report Form

Grave Concentration Report Form

Grave Concentration Report Form

Gravestone Details

Finally ~

Hugh’s last letter to his sister Jean, dated 20 October 1944 the day before he was killed

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Hugh’s last letter to his sister Jean, dated 20 October 1944 the day before he was killed

Pages 3 and 4