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Ordinary Heroes


Ordinary Heroes – an extraordinary true story of wartime adventure by Chas Jones of WritersServices

Working with WritersPrintshop, I have just self-published the result of a remarkable historical detective story. Ordinary Heroes tells the story of the modest rail workers and miners who formed a Territorial Army unit which was sent to France right at the beginning of the war.

This is not a traditional war story but uses the men’s own diaries and recollections to describe the war through their eyes. It consists of the words they used to record their thoughts at the time and when I interviewed them many years later. As ordinary soldiers in conditions of wartime secrecy, they had little idea of the great events in which they were participating. I soon found that the simple task of editing the diaries and making them into a book to provide a proper context for their war became a fascinating detective quest. (What started out as an attempt to trace my own father’s war became something much larger, as I discovered the remarkable true story of the whole unit.)

Because of their special skills, these engineers were the first unit to be sent over to France in 1939 and then had to make their own way home in the weeks after Dunkirk. A scrap of paper I found at the Public Records Office was packed with poignancy, warning that these soldiers were scattered through North-east France and were vulnerable when the final evacuation was ordered. Many were captured and spent years as POWs.

Like many of their contemporaries, the writers of the diaries did not always know about the wider drama in which they were players.

The historical issues opened up by these diaries were substantial:

  • Could these railway engineers really have been the first unit to go to France in 1939?
  • Were some of them really still in France after the French Armistice in June 1940 trying to find a way back to England?
  • Could this small unit have played a significant role in the battle of El Alamein even though they had been captured at Tobruk and were struggling to survive as POWs by the time the battle took place?
  • Were they present at the birth of the legend that has become the Special Air Service?

After six years’ research and letter-writing, the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’.

  • Did British soldiers, former POWs, take over and run a death camp when the war ended as they waited for liberation?

Certainly, as the veterans have photos to prove it.

The railway engineers and miners who constituted this unit made none of these claims. They left for France a week after war was declared and some did not return until a month after the end of the war. They just did the jobs asked of them. After the war, they went back to their families and their work.

When one of the diarists, Bill Harvey, returned to Doncaster in June 1945 he offered his fare to the conductress on the tram taking him home. She refused it. ‘You have already paid enough.’ The debt remains unpaid and will soon be cancelled as these ordinary heroes finally pass away. My hope is that Ordinary Heroes will tell their remarkable story and become a permanent record for the generations who have come after them

Chas Jonesauthor; formerly nerd responsible for keeping the site running; spent over 25 years in computer business; started out dusting bugs off valves, but in time graduated to writing software and managing projects; as published author with stack of waiting-to-be-published manuscripts tucked away, WritersServices is answer to his silent prayer; his book 'Ordinary Heroes' An extraordinary true story of wartime adventure; recently published book about Battle of Fulford-'Fulford the forgotten battle of 1066', published by Tempus ISBN 0752438107


Ordinary Heroes: The Extraordinary Tale of 106 Army Troops Company Royal Engineers by Charles Jones

ISBN 1904623085
Hardback £14.99

Available on order through bookshops everywhere or through WritersServices.

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