Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Samuel Lewis

Samuel Lewis : Photograph of Sam by kind permission of Mrs Barbara Beevor

Photograph of Sam by kind permission of Mrs Barbara Beevor

Samuel Lewis : (L to R) 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; Efficiency Medal; Non-Military 1935 Silver Jubilee Medal

(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; Efficiency Medal; Non-Military 1935 Silver Jubilee Medal

Samuel, or Sam as he was always known, was born on the 15th June 1920 at 137 Wellington Street in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. His father was called Robert John and his mother was Hannah. He had 5 older siblings; Herbert Stanley, Elizabeth Hannah (Lizzie), John, Sarah J. and Ernest, and 2 younger: Richard and Edward.

Robert worked as a hewer in a coal mine. In 1911 he, Hannah, Herbert and Elizabeth had lived at 25 Poland Street in Audenshaw, near Ashton. We don't know when they moved to Ashton. Sarah was born between July and September 1914, and soon afterwards Robert joined the Army to fight in the First World War. We believe he served in the Welsh Guards. Ernest was born between April and June 1918, after Robert had returned home.

Sam went to Charlestown School in Ashton until he was 14. By this time both his parents had died. Robert died in mid 1927; we don't know when Hannah passed away. After Sam left school in 1934 or 1935 he followed in his father's footsteps and became a coal miner at Snipe Pit in Audenshaw. He lived in Ashton with Lizzie.

As well as mining, Sam joined the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 2nd February 1938. This was a unit of the Territorial Army based in Ashton. This meant he trained as a soldier during evenings and weekends, as well as an annual camp lasting around 2 weeks, and lived as a civilian for the rest of the time. His service number was 3529788.

The 9th Battalion was a mechanised machine gun battalion. This job involved supporting infantry battalions by providing extra firepower with their Vickers Machine Guns. It required specialist training. The battalion also had access to more vehicles than a normal battalion, which meant that soldiers needed to be trained as drivers and mechanics.

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 the 9th Battalion was called into service. They were stationed in Northumberland and Berkshire before crossing to France in April 1940 to join the British and French armies already there.

The Germans invaded France and Belgium on the 10th May. Despite the best efforts of British and French forces they were quickly overwhelmed and forced back to the Channel coast. Sam and his comrades used their machine guns to try and hold the Germans back as the British retreated. Between the 27th May and the 4th June most of the British forces were evacuated from the town of Dunkirk.

During the retreat Sam's kit was caught in a fire. Despite his efforts he was only able to save 2 photographs of Lizzie and her children, and one of Sarah and her daughter Barbara. Sam carried these with him for the rest of the war.

After Dunkirk the British Army quickly reorganised itself. The 9th Battalion reformed in Lancaster and then took part in the defence of the UK against an expected invasion. It was based in Llandudno in North Wales and then in southern Devon during the rest of 1940 and early 1941. We believe Sam stayed with them during this time.

On the 24th April the 9th Battalion sailed to Iceland. At the time this country was in a union with Denmark. After the Germans occupied Denmark the British were worried that the Germans might base submarines and aircraft in Iceland. This would make it impossible for convoys to sail from the United States to the UK, and could mean Britain starved and lost the war. To prevent this they had occupied Iceland in May 1940.

The Battalion was split between locations hundreds of miles apart and separated by very poor roads. We don't know where Sam was based. In November he returned to the UK and was stationed around Stirling in Scotland. The Battalion moved again during the early part of 1942, and eventually found itself helping to guard the naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.

Sam left the Manchester Regiment on the 3rd May 1942. He was transferred to the Cheshire Regiment and sent to Egypt soon after. The battalions of the Cheshire Regiment also used the Vickers Machine Gun.

Unfortunately we don't know which battalion of the Cheshire Regiment Sam served with. The fact that he served in Egypt and Italy suggests it was most likely the 6th Battalion. This fought at El Alamein in October and November 1942 before joining the 56th (London) Infantry Division. In September 1943 it took part in the landings at Salerno in Italy, and then took part in the capture of Naples and fighting around Monte Camino.

In February and March 1944 the battalion fought at Anzio, before being sent to Egypt to refit. They returned to Italy during July and fought there for the rest of the war, eventually advancing north east to Argenta. Venice was liberated in late April 1945, and Sam was able to visit it at some point afterwards.

In Egypt Sam met a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service called Dorothy Joan Munday. They became very close and eventually she proposed to him on the banks of the River Nile. Unfortunately there was 'a war on', so their wedding had to wait until it was over.

Dorothy was from Cannock in Staffordshire, and they got married there between April and June 1946. Sarah's husband John was Sam's best man, and her daughter Barbara was a bridesmaid. Sam was wearing Army uniform in his wedding photographs, which tells us he wasn't demobilised until later. The Efficiency Medal was normally awarded to recognise 12 years in the TA, but Sam could count his service during the war twice.

Sam and Dorothy made their home together in a bungalow in the village of Hednesford in Staffordshire. It belonged to one of Dorothy's sisters, she let them rent it. They had 2 children, Winifred Jean on the 20th August 1947 and Robert John between October and December 1948.

Sam returned to mining, and found work in a pit in nearby Rugeley. During the 1950s he injured his back whilst he was working at the coal face. This gave him problems for the rest of his life, and he had to wear a back brace.

At some point Dorothy's sister decided to move back into the bungalow, so Sam and his family moved to a house owned by the mine he worked at. This was 30 Queensway, on the Pear Tree Estate in Rugeley. They would visit Sarah and her family in the Ashton area every August for their summer holiday.

Life for the family was happy, but difficult. When she was 11 Winifred was diagnosed with kidney failure. She needed dialysis for several years. At around this time Dorothy became ill with heart trouble, so Sam did most of the household chores as well as working and seeing to Winifred's dialysis. As his niece Barbara remembered: 'He always worked hard for his family'.

Dorothy died on the 15th February 1987 from a heart attack. She was 65. Winifred had 3 kidney transplants, the third was successful. She died aged 50 in November 1997.

After Winifred died Sam lived with Robert and his family, but after a while he returned to 30 Queensway. Sarah, Barbara and her husband visited him every 2 weeks for the rest of his life. As time passed Sam's health deteriorated and he had to move into Abbey Court Nursing Home in Cannock. He died there on the 12th February 2004. He was 83 years old. Sam's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment the next month.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council