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Memories of the War - James Hague

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posted on 2024-06-05, 17:17 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

A personal recollection from when he joined the Grenadier Guards in 1938 up until his evacuation from Dunkirk at the beginning of June 1940. I do recall that as a young child, probably about 9 years of age, whilst rummaging around in the attic I came across two red notebooks about A5 size. Written inside, handwritten by my father, were his recollections of the BEF and Dunkirk. Obviously, the books were quite small and didn't cover a great deal of detail and he'd written them just after landing back in England in June 1940. It was quite a number of years later, into the 2000s that he actually decided to use those notebooks and to write a better explanation, a better recollection of all the events that led up to Dunkirk. Sadly, he never really made a record or ever told me or other members of the family his experiences after Dunkirk.

D-Day, of course, was 6th June 1944 and at that time and by that time my father was in what was called the Guards Armoured Brigade, which was the Grenadiers Goldstream Irish/ Welsh Guards who were combined under Montgomery into an armoured battalion "¦tanks and infantry. He was actually sent to France after D-Day by Montgomery in order to clear the Germans from the city of Cahan. One of the few things I do recollect my father telling me was that he and his colleagues were stationed on a hilltop overlooking Cahan when it was subjected to the enormous bombing which completely flattened the city because the Germans wouldn't retreat. That is one of the few things I learned from my father about the post-Day battles and struggles.

An article my father wrote for his regimental magazine - I can't remember the timescale, but it was probably in the 80s or 90s. The article is called "Why Pont-a-Marq." Pont-a-Marq is a village in Northern France fairly near to Lille. My father and some of his colleagues were diverted from the advance to Belgium. They were diverted to this village to clear some Germans who were following their policy of destroying everything as they retreated. A small battle ensued, and I do recall that my father lost some 20 of his colleagues and there were several of the local resistance who also died but the village was saved.

In subsequent years the village has had an annual memorial service over the weekend closest to 3rd September. That was 3rd September 1944 when this little battle took place. In the 1980s my father and some of his colleagues started returning to the village and started joining in with their celebrations regarding the liberation of the village. Subsequently, he did receive the honour of having a street named after him in the village of Pon-a-Marq, which obviously in family terms is quite an honour. The street is called the Rue Jim Hague.

Subsequent to that little battle they continued to advance towards Nijmegen, one of the infamous bridges across into Germany. He continued on the advance North and here is where there is a family mystery. In my father's own words, he got shell shock. Nowadays of course described as having post-traumatic stress disorder and he was immediately removed from the front line. In my father's own words, the next he remembers is lying on the floor of a Dakota aeroplane flying across the English Channel back to England where he was hospitalised in a psychiatric hospital in Birmingham. Those events have never ever been talked about. I know that it affected him for the rest of his life, but he coped exceptionally well with it. It did cause the demise of his marriage to my mother. They'd met during the war, probably at an army camp down in Wiltshire or Hampshire, somewhere down South. But I think the stresses and strains became too much and I would have been about 9, no, 11, I think.

In 1958/1959 they divorced. And to some extent, I lost the opportunity to discuss/ talk through any of the events with my father. We were never estranged as such but he set up a new life and a new family so I missed the opportunity to be able to talk to him in a father-son sort of way, which is obviously a great regret. Hence the reason I've brought these things in. To help current and future generations grasp the enormity of what war and conflict bring about.

History

Person the story/items relate to

James Hague

Person who shared the story/items

Graham Hague

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Father

Type of submission

Shared at Halifax Central Library and Archives, West Yorkshire on 4 December 2023.

Record ID

110720 | HAL005