Name                          Curtis, Harold Frank

Regiment                   3rd Survey Regiment, Royal Artillery

Rank/No.                    Lance Bombardier, 891375


Brigade/Division       XIII Corps, 8th Army

Born                           Bristol

Resident                     Bristol

Where Died               Killed in action in Italy on 24/07/1944 aged 33 and is buried in the Assisi War Cemetery (III. C 2.)


Other Information   Eligible for the Defence Medal, War Service Medal, 1939-1945 Star and Italy Star.



Biographical Details


Known by his second name, Frank was born in Bristol about March 1911 the only son of Harold William and Alice Edith Curtis (nee Atherton), who had married there about June 1909.  In 1901 his father had been living with his mother and sister in the Fishponds area of Bristol and was working as a draftsman’s assistant.  In 1911 the family was living at 156 Ashley Road in the Ashley Down area of Bristol.  His father was a regular soldier serving in the motorized branch of the RASC and on the 7th of November 1914 he went to France with the 8th Division, where he served in the Ammunition Park supplying munitions to the troops in the front line.  After the War Frank attended at the local Bishop Road School and later met and married Annie Winifred Smith in Bristol about September 1937.  They had 3 children – two boys (Roger and Barry) born in September 1938 and 1940 respectively, and one girl (Geraldine) born in about March 1942.


Some time during the Second World War Frank was called up by the Army and after a period of training was posted to the 3rd Survey Regiment of the Royal Artillery.  Artillery survey is concerned with providing fixation (i.e. exact location) and orientation (where grid north is) to the guns and other equipment and places. The goal of this survey is to provide this data accurate to the map grid in use, ‘theatre grid’.  As an intermediate step surveyed points could be put on a common grid, so that batteries are correct in relation to one another but not to the map. The mechanics of survey involve measuring bearings and distances (‘traverses’) using some form of triangulation from survey control points and related trigonometric calculations.  These traverses ‘carried’ fix and orientation from a known point to an ‘unknown’ one.   However, battery surveyors calculating from sun or star observations could provide accurate orientation earlier than accurate fixation could usually be carried (weather permitting).


The topographic surveyors, who produced the data for map making, established their own triangulated survey control points, typically on high ground.  These control points were seldom dense enough on the ground or in the right places for artillery use so artillery surveyors created their own additional ones called ‘Bearing Pickets’ (BP), they provided data for both fix and orientation.  When the front was static surveyors would create a network of BPs in the likely gun areas so units moving in could quickly get onto theatre grid.


Accurate survey was essential for predicted fire and a common grid facilitated multi-battery engagements. Procedures had been developed soon after the First World War as a fast process suitable for mobile operations instead of relying on Royal Engineers (RE) survey units to survey all battery positions.  After the War the RA created its own survey units and gun regiments had their own survey sections.  By WW2 there was a Survey Regiment RA in each corps, although most of their work was target acquisition.  Survey practices evolved throughout the war.  However, it was always a ‘bottom-up’ process, unless deployment planning enabled survey to take place in advance. Each battery started by establishing its own fix, typically by map spot or resection from features marked on the map, and orientation using the magnetic compass in their directors.


The regimental survey section then brought all batteries onto common fixation and orientation by establishing BPs in the battery areas (regimental grid). Subsequently surveyors from the corps survey regiment brought all regiments onto an accurate grid and orientation (theatre grid) by updating one of the regimental surveyors’ BPs. In some poorly mapped theatres division and corps grids were also used as intermediate stages. The corps surveyors used theodolites and had mechanical calculating machines; regimental ones used directors and calculated using logarithms.  At each change of grid the batteries corrected their own fix and orientation, and modified their registered target data.  In the desert from early 1942 air-burst fixation was used.  A designated troop fired a series of high air-burst shells at two different points 30° apart, other batteries observed these with a director, enabling them all to put themselves onto a common grid.


It is not clear when Frank was sent out to join the British 8th Army but he would certainly have been present for Operation Diadem during May and June 1944 when the British XIII Corps overcame German opposition on the River Rapido which, combined with an outflanking move by the Free French Forces, led to the eventual capture of Rome on the 5th of June and forced the Germans to retreat to the Gothic Line on the Po Valley.  As part of a RA Survey Company Frank would have been in constant risk of enemy sniper and shell fire as he tried to set up a BP for the batteries in his area.


In the period from June to August 1944 the Allies advanced beyond Rome taking Florence and closing up on the Gothic Line. This last major defensive line ran from the coast some 30 miles (48 km) north of Pisa, along the jagged Apennine Mountains chain between Florence and Bologna to the Adriatic coast just south of Rimini.  Advancing with the rest of XIII Corps, Frank would have participated in the battle for the Trasimere Line between the 20th and 30th of June and the advance to Arezzo between the 4th and 17th of July.  On the 21st of June they arrived at Montivarchi and Frank’s unit spent the next 2-3 days flash locating and sound ranging fire from the enemy gun positions in the hills opposite and visiting batteries to take readings, fix locations and monitor firing.  The guns were very active in this sector with frequent counter battery fire and it is likely that Frank was involved in one such exchange of fire when he was killed on the 24th of July, leaving some £974 to his widow. He was later buried in the Assisi War Cemetery.  Many of the burials date from the period between June and July 1944, when the Germans were trying to prevent the Allied advance north of Rome in this region. The site for the cemetery was selected in September 1944 and burials were brought in from the surrounding battlefields.  It now contains 945 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War.


[Note – although there are 20 people with the name F Curtis in the CWGC’s records none of them came from Bristol.  However, there are 3 men from Bristol named Curtis who have a letter F as their second initial.  The Bristol Evening Post did publish a memorial notice for a Fred Curtis, although like Frank this was his second name.  He lived in Bishopston and was killed in a road accident while serving as a signaler in India in July 1945 – see above.  Both fall within the school’s catchment area and it is difficult to say with certainty which one is referred to on the war memorial, although on balance I have decided that Fred was probably the one intended but have appended the other one here for information in case I am wrong.]


Name                          White, Herbert Raymond

Regiment                   Royal Navy

Rank/No.                    Ordinary Seaman, C/JX 580877


Brigade/Division       H.M.S. Aldenham

Born                           Staffordshire

Resident                     Camberwell, London

Where Died               Killed in action in the Adriatic on 14/12/1944 aged 18 and is listed on the Chatham Naval Memorial (76, 3) to the missing.


Other Information   He would have been eligible for the 1939-1945 Star, the Defence Medal and the 1939-45 War Medal.


Biographical Details

Herbert was born in Camberwell London about July 1926 to Herbert and Annie White (nee Hollens), who had married there in about December 1915.  His older brother William was also born in Camberwell about June 1922 and was followed by his sister Annie in June 1924 and his younger brother John in about September 1931.  Shortly after John was born it is assumed that the family moved to the Bishopston area of Bristol, from where the children would have attended at the local Bishop Road School, although I have no evidence to confirm this.

After he left school in about 1942 Herbert joined the Royal Navy and after a period of training was posted to HMS Aldenham, a Type III Hunt-Class Escort Destroyer ordered from Cammell-Laird on the 4th of July 1940 under the 1940 War Emergency Program. The ship was launched on the 27th of August 1941 and completed on the 5th of February 1942. After a successful Warship Week National Savings campaign, she was adopted by the civil community of Witney in Oxfordshire.  F A Mason gives an account of her service during the war in “The Last Destroyer”.

HMS Melbreak, Type III sister ship

She first saw service with the Home Fleet in March 1942, assisting in the sinking of a German U-boat.  She then served in the Mediterranean supporting convoys to Tobruk and Malta, fighting off attacks from the air and by E-boats in the process.  In 1943 she was present at the Invasion of Sicily and Italy and supported the various actions taking place in the Aegean at that time.  In 1944 she was deployed in the Adriatic, operating against the German E-boats attacking allied shipping at that time.  She also supported the landings in Southern France in August 1944 (Operation Dragoon)

After a brief pause for a refit in Malta, she resumed her duties in the Adriatic under the command of Commander James Gerald Farrant and supported the Partisans in Yugoslavia by bombarding shore positions there.  Sadly on the 14th of December she hit a mine and sank in the northeastern Adriatic Sea about 30 nautical miles north west of Zara – the last British destroyer to be sunk during World War 2.  Of the189 crew, five officers (including the CO) and 62 ratings survived and were picked up by HMS Atherstone.  The remaining 5 officers and 117 ratings were either killed or drowned.

A survivor’s account of the sinking is provided at [##link broken or changed##]

Unfortunately Herbert was not among the survivors and his name was later placed on the Chatham Naval Memorial commemorating those members of the Royal Navy who have no known grave.  An Admiralty committee recommended that the three manning ports in Great Britain – Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth – should each have an identical memorial of unmistakable naval form, an obelisk, which would serve as a leading mark for shipping. Sir Robert Lorimer designed the memorials, with sculpture by Henry Poole. Edward Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) unveiled the Chatham Naval Memorial on the 26th of April 1924.

After the Second World War it was decided that the naval memorials should be extended to provide space for commemorating the naval dead without graves of that war. The architect for the Second World War extension at Chatham was Sir Edward Maufe and the additional sculpture was by Charles Wheeler and William McMillan. The Duke of Edinburgh unveiled the Extension on the 15th of October 1952.  Chatham Naval Memorial commemorates 8,517 sailors of the First World War and 10,098 of the Second World War.

[Although there is no clear link to Bristol this is the only H R White in the CWGC’s records.  There was a Howard James White who died in a POW Camp in Poland in 1941 who was living in the Fishponds area of Bristol but I can find nothing that would help to confirm he attended at Bishop Road School.]