Bill Anderson - the incredible story
Having found him commemorated on the CWGC memorial at Alamein and his death certificate confirming him dying a POW in North Africa, it looked pretty well cut and dried.
While in Scotland we visited Edinburgh Castle and went into The Scottish National War Memorial – inside is the Hall of Honour, originally called the Hall of the Regiments. Here the contribution of Scotland’s 12 regiments and other corps and services are recorded. Around the side of the hall are dozens of books listing the war dead. We found the book for the Royal Army Service Corps, luckily not one of the larger regiments, and, being inquisitive, not expecting to find anything earth shattering, I found an entry …….
151306 WILLIAM ANDERSON Sgt Perth Italy 28th January 1944
.... he died in Italy ! Really ? I thought it was meant to be North Africa. Wow.
As we knew he had been a POW, I then sent an email to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva who keep lists of all known POWs of all nationalities from the Second World War. They told me he was captured on 20th June 1942 at Tobruk and was prisoner of war in Italian hands, place unstated - according to a telegram dated 18th November 1942 and to a list (nominative roll issued by the Italian authorities) dated 30th October 1942. Their reply also contained some unexpected news :
Concerning Mr Anderson’s death, our files do not contain any official information. However, an enquiry about him has apparently taken place on 7th June 1944. The following quote could be of interest to you : " .... unofficial information recaptured by Germans 16/01/44 last seen 28/1/44 travelling from Italy to Germany train bombed no news since."
So he didn't die in North Africa, he must have been captured and taken to Italy.
In order to find out a bit more, I decided to apply for his WW2 service records, which I did.
WORLD WAR 2 SERVICE RECORD
William enlisted into the RASC at Perth on 12th January 1940 as a Private. His trade was “Baker”. Grade 3 passed 17th February 1940; grade 2 passed 5th June 1940. Presbyterian. His address was Craiglea, Drummond Street, Comrie; Born Coupar Angus, Perthshire, 12th July 1896.
Scottish parents; Baker; Fresh complexion, brown eyes, grey hair, Presbyterian, Height 5 foot 6.25 inches; 161 pounds.
Next of kin Annie Anderson (nee Spence) living at 37 Glebe Cottage, Comrie, Perthshire. An alternative next of kin is given as Olive Clark (he describes her as a sister but she was in fact the girl he was fostered with. FYI, in 1921 Olive Constance Ramsay married James Mason Clark) living at 22 Bellfield Street, Dundee, Angus. Another address for Annie later on in the papers was given as Windyridge, Comrie, Perthshire. The record says they married in Crieff on 1st December 1925 (wrong – should be 31st)
His children are listed, including my father,
William John Spence Anderson 23/9/27 Comrie
William remained in the UK until 2nd April 1940 when he was posted to the 21st Field Bakery with The British Expeditionary Force and he was then overseas until 20th June 1940.
He then returned to the UK until 6th January 1941 when he left the UK for what would be the last time. He embarked with the Meditarranean Expeditionary Force and on 10th March 1941 he disembarked at Port Suez with his unit.
27th May 1941 confirmed rank of Sergeant while in Egypt.
On 5th August 1941 his casualty card shows him as being admitted to hospital “Thumb”. Discharged 8th November 1941. Convalescing home 19th November 1941.
20th June 1942 listed as MISSING – captured Tobruk. Confirmed POW. Record states “letter from man via N.O.K” dated 22nd July 1942. POW camp number 75 in Italy. 24th November 1942 in Italian hands “camp unknown”.
123958 / Cas part of 29/11/45) 28th January 1944 POW reverts to “MISSING” (so no longer known to be in a POW camp).
An entry says : “Cause of becoming non-effective” (seems harsh description !) - “Presumed KIA while a POW. Cat C.” N.O.K. informed 4th January 1946.
Medals : War Medal 1939/45; 1939-42 Star; Africa Star
My grandfather, William Anderson, was a baker with the RASC, presumably supplying bread and food to the troops. For a long time I believed he had died in North Africa (as stated on his death certificate). However, I subsequently obtained information from the CICR (Red Cross) in Zurich that he had been taken POW by the Italians at Tobruk on 20th June 1942, transported to an Italian POW camp, and had died on 28th January 1944.
Well, that’s that then, I thought. We are not going to find out anything more about William. Job done.
Job very much NOT done, as it turned out !
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