Northern Forties Chairman Wayne Stokes has, in his possession, his
late father Tom's wartime medals which he sometimes brings to events.
Wayne is immensely proud of his father, who served in "C" Company, 3rd
Brigade, 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters between 1939 and 1946.
The Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment), the county regiment
of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, has a long and proud history. Formed by joining the 45th
and 95th Regiments in 1882, but with traditions and honours going
back an additional 140 years, the Sherwood Foresters served with
great distinction around the world, particularly during WWI where many of its soldiers were
lost at Gallipoli, Ypres, and the Somme.
One of the greatest trials for the Foresters came with the outbreak
of World War II in 1939. Foresters fought in nearly every theatre of
operations during the war. The 2nd Battalion landed in France with
the British Expeditionary Force in September 1939 to take part in
the early stages of the 'phoney War' and the advance into Belgium,
this being the first major conflict which Wayne knows his father
sometimes talked about. When the BEF's attempt to halt the
German invasion of France failed, the 2nd Battalion helped to defend the
Dunkirk perimeter before the successful evacuation.
4th November 1942, Tom and his battalion were in Tobruk, then
Benghazi, but by 23rd November they were back at Elagheila where
they stayed over the christmas period. By early 1943, the 2nd
Battalion found themselves in Tunisia helping the 1st British Army.
The combined forces took part in severe and difficult fighting, in
particular at Sedjenane and the Medjez Plain, and suffered many
casualties before the remnants of the German Armies capitulated at
Cap Bon. The 2nd Battalion entered Tunis on 12th May 1943 as
the surviving 250 German and Italian troops defending the town
surrendered. Tom was awarded the Africa Star for his efforts during
May 1943; the ribbon of this medal has a silver no 1 on it
indicating his service with the 1st British Army.
22nd January 1944 saw Tom with the 2nd Battalion supporting the 3rd
British Infantry Brigade, 1st British Division in Italy taking part
in Operation Shingle, the landings at Anzio. The 1st Division
was given the task of attacking Campoleone - an important railway
junction to the north of Anzio, whilst the Sherwood Foresters were
to take the railway station. The third brigade, in which Tom
Stokes served, was to lead the attack on the morning of 31st
The 3rd Brigade made their way down a steep ridge to the
railway track.....but then became trapped under heavy enemy fire and
started taking casualties. The 1st Division sent tanks to
help them break out, retreat and regroup for a second assault after
the Germans had received a pounding from Allied artillery.... but
the second attempt to reach the station also faltered under heavy,
sustained German gunfire during which the Foresters suffered
losses. Every officer of Company Commander level or above was
killed or wounded, and every officer in the leading company became a
When the battle for the station at Campoleone was finally won, General Harmon arrived in a tank to assess the situation,
but all he found were dead bodies everywhere. He later said:
"I have never seen so many dead men in one place."
Out of the 800 or so men of the Battalion, only 260 men answered the
roll call after the battle. This effectively
finished them as a fighting force.
After the fall of Rome, 2nd Battalion survivors from the Anzio
campaign joined with the 5th and 14th Battalions of the Sherwood
Foresters to continue the difficult fight up the length of Italy,
adding a further eleven battle honours to the seven earned in North
Africa the previous year.
the end of the War the 2nd Battalion (their numbers boosted by
mergers with other battalions) served in Palestine, where they
remained until 1946.
Following demob, Tom trained as a bricklayer - although he
eventually ended up working for many years as a gardener for the
local council. He died in 1991 aged 82.
Tom Stokes during WWII
Tom Stokes and his wife, Elsie Maria when they were married
(date not known)
Anzio following the German defeat
Wreckage in Campoleone after the fierce fighting in January
Left: Wartime cap badge. The emblem in the centre is a deer
(associated with Sherwood Forest)