Tuesday, 8 September 2015

John James William Armitage (1906-41): Killed in Action during WW2

John James William Armitage was born on June 29th 1906 in Middleburg, South Africa, the third child of Robert Melton Armitage and his first wife Anne (nee Hutchinson). Robert (like his father William) was a career soldier in the Royal Artillery. He had been sent to South Africa in 1900 during the second Boer War (1899 - 1902) and remained there until he returned to the UK in 1907. By then he was a Battery Quarter Master Sergeant.

John’s mother died in 1910 at Colchester aged 34, when he was aged 4. The 1911 census shows John as a patient at a children’s hospital in Kensington. His siblings Henry (aged 11) and Ellena (6) were living at North Lodge, Kensington Palace Gardens with their grandfather William (71) and their aunt Ellen (32). John’s father Robert was listed as aged 37, a Battery Quarter Master Sergeant at Wellington Lines, Aldershot. He married Sarah Chandler in 1912, was discharged from the army later that year and went to live in Liverpool. Robert and Sarah had two children, Edward (in 1913) and Mary (1915 - 17).
Back row: Sarah Armitage (nee Chandler,  Robert's 2nd wife), John Armitage (9), Ellena Armitage (11), Front row: Edward Armitage (2) and baby Mary Armitage in 1915

The 1921 census shows John (aged 14) living at 1 Wolseley View, Burley, Leeds with his stepmother Sarah (44), sister Ellena (17) and stepbrother Edward (8). John was a "painter's improver" working for J Brodrick & Son, motor body builder, Kirkstall Road, Leeds. His father Robert was a boarder in Liverpool, presumably to allow him to continue his work as a ship superviser.  

Attestation records show that John joined the army in 1926, aged 20 in Liverpool. His trade is given as “sculptor” and he enlisted for 4 years. In 1934, John (aged 28) married Lillie Aspinall (aged 21) in Liverpool. They had a son in 1936. The family lived in Bootle, an area of North Liverpool, near the docks.
Lillie and John Armitage c 1940

John served as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, 106 (The Lancashire Hussars) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment in World War 2. He fought in the Battle of Greece, which began on 6 April 1941 when Germany invaded that country, which was already fighting the Italian army. The Greeks were supported by 63,000 British Empire troops (from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus and Palestine), but the combined Allied force was soon overwhelmed by the Axis armies, who had more men, tanks and aircraft. On 21 April it was decided to evacuate the remaining British Empire forces. The Dutch troop ship Slamat was part of a convoy evacuating about 3,000 British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers from Nafplio in the Peloponnese. As the convoy headed south on the morning of 27 April, it was attacked by nine Junkers Ju 87s, damaging Slamat and setting her on fire. The destroyer HMS Diamond rescued about 600 survivors and HMS Wryneck came to her aid, but as the two destroyers headed for Souda Bay in Crete another Ju 87 attack sank them both. The total number of deaths from the three sinkings was almost 1,000. Only 27 crew from Wryneck, 20 crew from Diamond, 11 crew and eight evacuated soldiers from Slamat survived.

Army casualty records say that John, aged 35, was presumed killed in action at sea near Greece, sometime between 26 and 27 April 1941. No further details are given, but it seems very likely that John was one of those on board Slamat. His name is recorded on the Athens Memorial, which commemorates nearly 3,000 members of the British Empire land forces who lost their lives during the campaigns in Greece and Crete in 1941 and 1944-1945, in the Dodecanese Islands in 1943-1945 and in Yugoslavia in 1943-1945, and who have no known grave.

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