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OUR COLLECTIONS


Medals of Tom Stokes, Sherwood Foresters, 1939-46


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.

On 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 January. 

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 increasingly heavy losses.  Every officer of Company Commander level or above was either killed or wounded, and every officer in the leading company became a casualty.

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.

At 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 1944

 

 

 

 

 

Left: Wartime cap badge.  The emblem in the centre is a deer (associated with Sherwood Forest)

Tom's medals from left to right:

  • 39 - 45 Star  (for ops between 3rd September 1939 to 15th August 1945)

  • Africa Star   (10th June 1940 - 12th May 1943)

  • Italy Star  (11th June  1943 to 8th May 1945)

  • Defence Medal  (3rd September 1939 to 8th May 1945)

  • War Medal (1939-45 issued to all full-time soldiers)