With Tony's permission,May 17 2007 at 9:10 PM
SeaBat (Login SeaBat)
given in a post further down the page, I have attached his story below this text. These are Tony's words, feelings and thoughts. Although I am certain there are many stories similar to Tony's, his story is an amazing one. Jo.. get out the kleenex.
And Tony.. thank you. For all of the veterans you have reunited over the years, the histories you've recorded, the documentation you've done and the questions you've answered for so many.
(From Bradford, England…to the D-Day beaches of Normandy)
by Tony Chapman
Official Archivist/Historian for the veteran LST and Landing Craft Association. (Royal Navy)
I was born on July 16th 1946, in Belle Vue, Bradford, Yorkshire, England. My mother, who was to give me up for adoption some six weeks later, was a native of Cookstown, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. The establishment in which I was born was a home for unmarried mothers.
During late 1945 my mother discovered that she was pregnant with me. For her, it was a disaster. Earlier that same year, on March 1st, she had given birth to a daughter, conceived while she was serving with the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). Her parents were outraged, they were already taking care of her daughter and now, she was pregnant yet again.
Plans were made for her to marry my father, on the due day she arrived at the altar, sadly, my father failed to put in an appearance, she was left….at the altar..!!!.
At this point, with her elder sister with her for support, my mother moved here to Leicester leaving her daughter with her parents. My half-sister was to grow up believing her grandparents to be her mother and father; many years would pass before she discovered the truth.
On arrival here she put in motion, much against her will, the arrangements for my adoption. None of this of course would become known to me until 30 years later in 1976.
After my christening in Bradford during August 1946 my mother returned to Leicester, the following month I was given over to the custody of my adopted parents, that being finalised in February 1947. On that same day my mother gave my adopted parents my original birth certificate.
My adopted parents (mum and dad) were a great couple, my dad being a veteran of the 78th Battleaxe Division of the British 1st Army which went ashore in Algiers in November 1942 as part of Operation Torch. He went on to serve throughout the campaign in North Africa, Sicily, Italy at Monte Cassino and finally Belgium.
I grew up and was schooled here in Wigston Magna, my school life coming to an end in 1961.
In January 1970 I married and the following year my wife gave birth to our daughter who was beset with medical problems from the moment of birth. Many times over the next few years I was asked by doctors and specialists if there was a history of my daughter's disorder within the family. This question of course I personally could not answer being adopted.
My adoption had never been kept secret from me, I believe I was some seven or eight years of age when my parents sat me down and told me. The news did not bother me unduly as I recall. There was nothing I could do, but even then, as is inevitable, I began to wonder about my mother. Where was she, what did she look like and of course, why did she give me away..? My parents, to my amazement, had a copy of my original birth certificate on which was recorded the name my ‘mother’ had given me, that, being Kenneth Glendinning. My fathers name was missing from the birth certificate.
Although down the years I had often thought about my ‘mother’ attempting to find her had never been a driving force, my daughters disorder changed my views on that matter. In the spring of 1976 I decided that I would attempt to find her, half believing, given the years between, that I would never be successful… I was to be proved wrong…!!!
For some five or six weeks I searched and asked questions even managing to locate the society that handled my adoption all those years before, the records of my adoption still held within their archives.
In truth, the society gave me no assistance whatsoever, not that I expected any, my trace was carried out before the laws in this country concerning adopted children were relaxed; what I was doing was considered taboo!!!
They confirmed my ‘mother's’ name, which I knew, they told me her age at that time and also that she was a native of Northern Ireland. They also gave me, to my amazement, the name of my father. He never accepted paternity, hence the reason for his name missing from my birth certificate. The officers of the society were more than a little disconcerted when I told them I had my original birth certificate……that being in total breach of the rules and regulations.
Over the next few weeks I was in contact with many people and authorities both here and in Ireland. Suffice to say, my ‘mother's’ then whereabouts became known to me, she was not where I expected her to be, which, for some reason, I had always thought would be in Ireland. She was still here in Leicester, in truth some three miles away from where I lived, she had never gone home.
I had arrived at the point of no return, I set about composing a letter the details of which would strike a chord with her but not necessarily others of her family (if any) who might find themselves reading it. I had no wish or intention to cause her grief or upset.
The letter was written and posted, all I could do was wait. Two days later, while I was at work, the phone rang, my wife answered it, with, it must be said, some trepidation.
The caller, a man, asked to speak to me, when told I was out he asked when I would be available, on being told when I would be at home he said he would call back at which point he hung up, my wife was left somewhat unnerved by the conversation, she realised that the call was connected to the letter.
At six, that evening, the phone rang, this time, I answered it, the caller once again asked for me by name to which I replied that I was the person he wished to speak to.
I have your letter here he told me addressed to my wife, can you tell me why you are looking for her.? I gave the reason I had put in my letter, that being that she had known my parents during the war and that they wondered what had become of her since losing contact in 1947.
“She is fine” said the voice at the end of the phone “Your mother is fine and she is dying to speak to you and to meet you; I am her husband, don’t worry son, this is not causing any problems, she has spent her life hoping that you would “come looking for her”
It was arranged that my ‘mother’, who was still at work when the second call was made, would phone me at eight that evening. Those two hours, spent waiting, were likely the longest two hours of my life.
At eight, the phone went, again, it was her husband, “Your mother’s here to speak to you son, she’s waited thirty years for this” At that point he handed the phone to my ‘mother’..there was a silence……then ‘Hello….?”
It all proved too much for her, she burst into tears and spent some fifteen minutes crying down the phone totally unable to speak, we could say very little because of her tears and memories of events long past flooding back.
We met a week later, my mother, a white haired tiny little lady who was then aged 52. Me, something of a giant, weighing some 250 pounds. She told me that she knew me as soon as she saw me, I was so similar to my father in looks, build and the way I carried myself. My ‘mother’ once again, spent the better part of the evening in tears, gripping my hands and hugging me.
She gave me our history (my history) and told me that she had little choice but to give me up, there was no possible way she could have looked after me.
Thus, we were reunited. Her marriage had produced a daughter who was then away at teachers training college, it would be many years before I would get to meet my ‘little sister’.
For some 17 years my ‘mother’ and her husband became regular visitors to our house, my children of course were her grandchildren, they never arrived without presents for them, be it toys, sweets, comics or whatever.
In 1976 my mother (adopted) passed away after many years of illness, my father passed away in 1981. In 1993 my ‘birth mother’ was diagnosed with cancer, we saw little of her that year. We had never been allowed to visit them for the simple reason my ‘mother’ had never told her daughters about me, much, it must be said, to her husbands annoyance.
During the final days of January 1994 I received a phone call at the studio where I spend my working days, it was my ‘mothers’ husband. He told me that my mothers time was fast drawing to a close and that he wanted me to see her before she passed away.
Then, to my great surprise, he told me that someone was with him who was eager to speak to me, memories of 1976 came flooding back. Once again came ‘Hello’ followed by uncontrollable tears, when the tears abated I found myself speaking to yet another of my ‘mothers’ children, this, a daughter born in 1945, a lady who is now my ‘big sister’. Not once in all those seventeen years had she been mentioned to me. My ‘mothers’ husband knowing her end was near had taken the bull by the horns and told the girls about me. His one wish being that she should have the opportunity of seeing all her children together before she died. My ‘big sister’ and I met for the very first time that same evening, it was a strange and remarkable evening.
The following day I met both my sisters together (half sisters of course given that we are all of different fathers). It was an amazing get together, tears, hugs and chatter and so many questions., the three of us talking of ‘all the wasted years’ because our mother chose to keep silent.
On Monday, February 1st 1994, I visited my ‘mother’ again, it was not my intention to stay too long because she was far from well, my sisters were present and for the first time in her life all her children were with her. For our mother, it would also be the last time; that same evening she slipped away. During all the years that had passed since I found her, I had not once called her mother or mum, neither would she have expected me to. Sadly, I called her mum for the first and last time when I kissed her goodbye…but then, she could no longer hear me.
Throughout her near seventy years of life she had all her children together with her for only some four hours, I have little doubt that as she closed her eyes for the last time that she was happy, her lifelong wish had been realised.
A few weeks after her funeral my big sister called to see me, during the course of the evening she told me the story that she had been told about her father.
She had been told many years before that she was the daughter of a British serviceman who had been killed in Normandy on or after D-Day the 6th of June 1944. Given the task that I had set myself to trace my ‘mother’ she asked me if I would attempt to confirm or deny the story of her father, she had been told that his surname was Groombridge. I could not refuse her request even though my knowledge concerning military matters was at a minimum.
My first call was to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission seeking details of anyone bearing the name Groombridge who had been lost in Normandy. To my immense surprise I was told there was only one man bearing that somewhat unique surname and he had been serving with the Royal Navy. That young man, was 20 year old Wireman (Electrician) Russell Alexander Groombridge D/MX 103071, on June 6th 1944 he had been present with the American built British manned tank landing craft the Mk5 LCT(A) 2121. Russell met his death some three weeks later on June 28th and had been laid to rest in the Normandy war cemetery at Bayeux. Could Russell be my sisters father……it seemed almost too easy….!!
Within days of accepting my sister’s challenge I was in contact with the LST and Landing Craft Association for which, almost ten years later, I am the archivist and historian. Little did I realise at the time just how involved I would become.
The veterans of the association soon came to my assistance and began telling me about life aboard tank landing craft, the vast majority of the membership had been present on the morning of D-Day, many had also been present in North Africa, Sicily, Anzio, Salerno and Walcheren.
My initial focus on Russell Groombridge and his craft soon began to produce results, I discovered that on the morning of June 6th 1944, the American built, British manned tank landing craft the Mk5 LCT(A) 2121 of the 109th LCT(A)(HE) Flotilla touched down on ‘King Red’ sector, the easternmost flank of Gold beach at La Riviere, the tanks she carried were Centaurs and Shermans of the 1st Royal Marine Armoured Support Group.
The LCT(A) 2121 was one of some 48 craft that had been adapted for their part in the assault. To the fore of the tank deck(s) a purpose built ramp had been constructed, this facility allowing the tanks carried, mounted on the ramp, to fire over the bows of the LCT’s as they approached the beach, thus, hopefully, subduing enemy resistance, at the same time providing support for the incoming assault infantry.
The manner of Russell’s loss is unknown, likely it will remain so. He is the only recorded loss against LCT(A) 2121 and despite ten years of searching I have failed to locate any others of the craft's crew. I have come to believe that his death was likely accidental, he is unlikely to have been killed in action at that time in Normandy. I can only conjecture, there are numerous possibilities, one or none of which may be correct.
Following a year of research into Russell, information came to hand that showed that he could not have been my sister’s father but, for me, it was too late. I had come to regard Russell as a brother that I had never known, added to which, I had become totally absorbed by the events of D-Day and with the veterans who took part in that epic landing.
Thus, I come to be the archivist and historian for the LST and Landing Craft Association, to hand here are the gathered recollections of some 900 men of the Royal Navy who were present serving with landing craft on June 6th 1944, it is my hope one day to see them published under the title ‘At Dawning’.
Throughout my now ten years of involvement I have not forgotten about Russell, I hope, one day, to complete his story and record it in my hoped for book.
As to the identity of my sister's father, that too, may well remain a mystery. It now appears likely that he was a British soldier who survived the war. Shortly after my sister's birth in March 1945 our mother was recovering in hospital when a relative called in to visit her and the new born baby. While there, a British soldier suddenly appeared, acknowledged the relative, kissed and spoke a few words to our mother, kissed the baby and quickly departed.
Perhaps that man was Groombridge, my sister's father, if it was, then the story told to my sister was a fabrication, but then, given that my mother chose to keep me a secret, perhaps I should not be surprised.
For me, it has been a long journey from Bradford, England, in 1946 to Leicester in 1976 when I traced my mother. Then, back to the D-Day beaches of Normandy in an attempt to establish the identity of my sister's father. My involvement with the veterans continues, I count myself privileged to have contact with men world-wide who were present serving on the morning of June 6th 1944, for them all, I have the utmost respect and admiration.
As for Russell Groombridge who was lost off the LCT(A) 2121, he rests in Normandy, around him are many who made the supreme sacrifice during those now distant summer days, he is in good company, we owe them much…………..may they rest in peace.
LST and Landing Craft Association (Royal Navy)
Wigston Magna, Leicester, England. May 31st 2003
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