The story of Thomas Henry Crutchley is mirrored a million times over by those who fell victim to the Second World War. It is above all an ordinary example of the lives and deaths of millions from the period, but it is no less tragic for it. Thomas Henry's story highlights the manner in which the rank and file of the 1940's world became involved in a bloody war, and paid the ultimate price to ensure our freedom.
Thomas Henry Crutchley was born in Bloxwich in 1917, the son of Thomas Henry and Clara Crutchley. His was a large family, but not unusually so for the period. He had four brothers and four sisters.
Thomas Henry's father was a locksmith, apparently of some repute within the local community. He operated his business from a small workshop at the bottom of the garden to the rear of his home at 110 Field Road, Bloxwich. According to the recollections of his grandson, Norman Crutchley, Thomas Henry senior was a man of short stature. Norman also recalls the workshop where Thomas Henry senior worked, as being crammed with tools and having numerous key blanks hanging from its roof.
So far little is known or remembered about Thomas Henry junior's life before the events of the Second World War caught up with him. However surviving employment records show he worked making tiles at the nearby Essington Tilleries.
Thomas Henry married Lillie Annie Herriott from Winson Green in Birmingham on the 9th September 1943. By this time at the height of the war, Thomas Henry was already serving in the army, as the uniform in his wedding photograph testifies. His fate was now inextricably linked with the course of events which were to mark the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
The time to launch the long awaited operation to liberate France was fast approaching, and the Allies were amassing the huge assault force. These men were to push the Germans back northwards towards the River Rhine, and out of France. Across the whole of the South of England massive numbers of troops and equipment were made ready for the offensive which was to follow.
Thousands of ships were placed on standby, their task to carry wave upon wave of Allied troops and their armour across the English Channel to France. Millions of soldiers just like Thomas Henry waited in dire anticipation to learn what their part in the operation would be, not knowing when or where their battle would commence.
Whilst the preparations for D-Day were being made, Thomas Henry Crutchley was serving in the in the South Staffordshire Regiment. At this time, he was attached to the 13th (2/4th Bn. The Lancashire Regt.) Bn., Parachute Regiment, A.A.C.
Finally, on the 6th June 1944 after delays due to bad weather, Operation Overlord, the battle to liberate France and ultimately the whole of occupied Europe began. On the morning of D-Day, after weeks of aerial bombardment and naval shelling of the French coast, the first waves of troops went ashore on the beaches of Normandy.
In the weeks which followed the initial landings, Allied progress in France was slower than anticipated, a result of powerful German opposition. The Allies had to fight for every inch of the ground they liberated.
It is not known exactly when Thomas Henry Crutchley entered the battle, but it is believed to be some time in late June or the early days of July 1944. Records show at the time of his death, he had fought in the battle to liberate France for about a month.
On August 17th Operation Paddle was launched in attempt to quicken the liberation of France. The First British Corps was to move towards the East of the river Seine to liberate the Pays d'Auge. They were also tasked with pursuing a desperately fleeing German Army. The operation which was to be Thomas Henry's last, was to end on August 30th with the liberation of Honfleur.
Thomas Henry Crutchley was killed in action on August 19th, in or near the village of Putot en Auge. It is likely he was killed by enemy machine gun fire, whilst storming German positions on a hill referred to as 'Hill 13', which overlooks the village. For a month he had experienced the horrors of Normandy in 1944, and finally fell victim to them. His fate was shared by several of his comrades from the same regiment who also died on the August 19th in the same action.
Thomas Henry Crutchley was buried with his comrades in the Commonwealth War Graves section of the Churchyard at Putot en Auge.
August 19th 2004 Marked the 60th anniversary of the death of Thomas Henry Crutchley in the battle to liberate Putot en Auge. Thomas's sacrifice was commemorated by us in both Putot en Auge and in Bloxwich. To see how we commemorated Thomas Henry Crutchley, please click here.
The year 2005 marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. On Sunday 13th November 2005 the annual Service of Remembrance was held at the cenotaph in Bloxwich, Thomas Henry Crutchley's home town. His sacrifice was commemorated by the placing of a poppy cross. To see photographs of the service, cenotaph and cross, click here.
Each year at eleven o'clock on Remembrance Sunday the sacrifices made by Thomas Henry Crutchley, and the other citizens of Bloxwich killed in conflict are remembered. To see how Remembrance Sunday was commemorated in 2008, click here.
August 19th 2009 marked the 65th anniversary of the death of Thomas Henry Crutchley. The image to the right shows the cenotaph in his home town of Bloxwich on this important day.
Thanks must be extended to Norman Crutchley, for the information he has provided for this history. Thanks also to Isabelle Vagnarelli of La Bibliotheque Electronic de Lisieux for the invaluable photographs and information that she has provided.
To download the full story of the Battle for Putot en Auge, right click here (191 kb) and choose 'Save target as....' to download an Adobe Acrobat file.
For more information about the 13th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, click here.