Henry John ‘Jack’ Griffen
Jack’s son-in-law, Graham Collins writes...
I have read with great interest your Website regarding the 7th Royal Sussex. My reasons for embarking on such a venture was that my late father-in-law served in the battalion during this time. Most of what I have found very much mirrored the recollections that he passed down to his family, although it must be said, like many others from his generation he was never too willing to reveal what happened during those fateful days in May 1940. Given what I have read thus far, it comes as no surprise.
The reason for me writing to you is that having read through your nominal roll of the battalion I note that his details are missing, for whatever reason. For the record his name is Henry John ‘Jack’ GRIFFEN and his service no. is 6401934, (I have since received a copy of his service record). He is shown in the picture of the Signals Platoon on your Website. He is fifth from the right in the rear row. Following the battle of Amiens, he was one of those who managed to escape and was eventually evacuated from Cherbourg.
Dad remained with the 7th Royal Sussex and then presumably went with the bulk of what was left of the battalion when it converted to the AckAck. This is not completely clear in his records due to some dubious handwriting. What is known and written down is that he transferred to the RMP having been claimed by his older brother Bill, and this took place in the latter part of 1943, unfortunately I have been unable to glean his exact Provost Company? He was however, posted to the 50th Northumbria Division (Tyne Tees) and landed with them at Gold Beach on ‘D’ Day, he landed at ‘D’ Day + 2hrs. He was issued with a bike and a pot of paint with a brief to assist the Royal Engineers with marking the routes off the beach. It didn’t take him long to dump the bike.
The thing that struck Dad so much was seeing so many casualties within the Division which he found extremely sad given that so many had gone through so much in North Africa and Italy as part of the 8th Army. It would appear that his route back through France took him through the same area as he had been in May 1940. He thought it ironic that here was the Germans in the same corn fields sheltering from a ferocious artillery barrage, similar to that what he and his comrades had experienced a little over four years before.
His last act within the war came at the end of the ill-fated ‘Operation Market-Garden’. He assisted in the evacuation of what was left of 1st British Airborne. As you know the operation was carried out at night and during torrential rain. Either he had a cold before the operation or as a direct consequence of it, but he felt quite rough afterwards. He was advised to attend the sickbay but upon seeing the wounded evacuees from Arneham he felt a fraud and left. This turned out to be a mistake as his condition deteriorated and he eventually contracted pleurisy which necessitated him being shipped back to the UK. He was medically discharged from the Army in April 1945, his illness having left a permanent shadow on his lungs. A sad conclusion in some respects.
Like most of his generation he spoke very little of his experiences in the war. And like a lot of others he saw and experienced lot of disturbing events not least those three terrible days in May 1940 and I think from what members of his family said, he was haunted by them for a long time afterwards.
Sadly Dad passed away in 1965, ironically on my birthday and eight years before I came into contact with the Griffen family, so unfortunately I never got the opportunity to meet the man.
Who knows where my research will lead but I am more than grateful for the appearance of your very informative site which has helped a great deal. I hope you find the above useful and are able to include my late Father-in-Law’s details into the annals of this brave battalion.