Museum volunteer, Stuart Hodgson picks our Object of the Month for August…
“The Green Howards Museum holds a vast collection of photographs, ranging from The Crimean War to present day. My main involvement as a volunteer is with the upkeep and updating of these archives.
All photographs provide a historic record and many show the dramatic and often tragic impact of conflict, whereas others simply record locations, colleagues or social activities. We also hold many collections of photographs and documents that help to tell the story of an individual soldier and it is these that I find most interesting.
One such collection relates to Major FH Honeyman MC, of the 6th Battalion Green Howards.
As a parent, I was particularly drawn to one rather unlikely photograph to be found in a military archive.
It shows Major Honeyman as a young child, smartly dressed for school; the start of a life in uniform.
Major Honeyman enlisted on 15th May 1939 and served with the 6th Battalion. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a Captain and, whilst fighting in El Alamein, took over as Company Commander.
He was wounded in action at El Alamein but not seriously and was able to remain at duty.
He also saw action in the Sicily Campaign during 1943, before his involvement in the Normandy campaign on D-Day 6th June 1944.
On D-Day, Major Honeyman was in command of his company landing on a beach near La Riviere and it was his actions on this day for which he was later awarded the Military Cross. The medal citation read as follows:
“On the beaches west of LA RIVIERE on 6th June, 1944, this officer was commanding an assault company ordered to attack a concrete position with 7 pillboxes.
Although landing in bad weather and losing casualties by drowning and accurate mortar fire he led the Company straight into the attack. On reaching the positions the enemy were found to be sheltering behind a 6 foot wall lobbing grenades into the forward sections.
He went forward himself and although hit in the arm and leg with splinters restored the impetus of the attack and took the position, killing or capturing all the enemy.
The leadership, initiative and personal courage of this officer was directly responsible for the capture of a vital and strongly fortified position whose capture was necessary to landing the rest.”
Our collection includes a letter dated 11th June 1944, only five days later, written to his parents to let them know that he was fine. It ended with a PS “Very many happy returns of the day mother dear next year we will have a party.”
It is believed that this letter was written the evening before and post-dated, as, rather poignantly, the letter is dated on the day he was killed in action.
It was reported that on this day, his Battalion carried out an attack on German positions in a wood, and suffered numerous casualties. After being ordered to withdraw, Major Honeyman was told that some of the wounded had been left lying in the woods. He then personally led a small ‘mercy’ party, and for two hours, tried to reach the wounded. They were under constant fire and unfortunately the wounded they did reach were too seriously hurt to be carried.
As a last resort, he decided to go out alone, to contact tanks and get them to lay down a smoke screen. That was the last time he was seen and his body was found later.
A member of the ‘mercy’ party, CSM Calvert, said later, “None of us will ever forget Major Honeyman. He was a fine chap. He gave his life for his comrades.”
Following his death, Private TE Harris, who served with Major Honeyman, wrote a personal letter to his parents, in which he said that their son was exceedingly brave and considered the safety of his men, before his own.
Major Honeyman was originally buried at Le Haut Audrieu but on 7th May 1945, he was re-buried at the Bayeux War Cemetery.
The photograph of a seemingly innocent young child, in uniform, is the opening chapter of a story of dedication, endeavour, determination, courage, duty, leadership. Selflessness and ultimate sacrifice that epitomised his life and death in service.
There are countless stories of such courage and service and also many more that will never be recognised or remembered.
I believe that the story of Major FH Honeyman MC is one that should be remembered and is a fine example of a dedicated life in service, even though it ended so tragically.”