Private James Stokes
During the fighting on 1 March 1945, Private James Stokes, 2nd Bn. King's Shropshire Light Infantry, on several occasions single handedly rushed German positions killing or capturing the defenders despite being wounded no less than eight times. In his final attempt Private Stokes was killed. For his magnificent courage and devotion to duty the 30-year-old was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. He was later buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Plot 62. Row E. Grave 14.
Major Ronald Edmond Balfour
With the Reichswald cleared, Commonwealth forces had to battle their way across the flooded plains to the left bank of the Rhine and the medieval town of Kleve. Major Ronald Edmond Balfour, a 41-year-old medieval historian and a fellow of King's College, Cambridge, attached to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (of Monuments Men fame) was killed by shellfire on 10 March while rescuing artefacts of artistic and cultural significance from the town. He was later buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Plot 46. Row F. Grave 7.
Marine Leonard George Rider
An hour after the Highlanders began their assault, the elite 1st Commando Brigade began crossing downstream of the city of Wesel, the centre of the Allied attack. Not long after, RAF bombers arrived, dropping 1,100 tons of explosives and destroying the city to such an extent that the maps issued to the attacking commandos proved of little use in the confused tangle of blasted ruins. The commandos fought their way around the city and attacked the surviving German defenders from the rear. During the battle Marine Leonard George Rider of No. 46 Royal Marine Commando, a docker from Barking, East London, was killed alongside his comrade Marine Sam Durose. They were later laid to rest in the same grave in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Plot 62. Row A. Joint Grave 8-9.
Major-General Tom Rennie
At dawn, the 51st Highlanders (reinforced by the Canadian 9th Brigade) captured the cathedral in Rees following a fierce battle. As morning wore on, along the line the situation was mixed. Some units had advanced swiftly capturing ground and prisoners with relative ease, while others were still held up on their first objectives by fanatical German troops or were being heavily counter attacked. The 51st Division's commander, Major-General Tom Rennie, a veteran of the Battle of France in June 1940, during which he had been captured by the Germans but managed to escape, and of the Western Desert, Sicily and Normandy campaigns, crossed the river to check on his men and assess the situation. As he dismounted from his Jeep a German mortar round landed nearby killing the 45-year-old General. He was later laid to rest in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Plot 61. Row D. Grave 1.
Private John William Riddell
Amongst them was Private John William Riddell, 8th Bn., The Parachute Regiment, A.A.C. from Nuneaton, Warwickshire. A bricklayer in civilian life John initially joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1942, but later volunteered for the Parachute Regiment and saw action in Normandy. He was killed during the fighting near Hamminkein. He was 22 years old and was later laid to rest in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Plot 32. Row B. Grave 8.
Serjeant Egon Vogel
SERVED AS ERNEST ROBERT VILLIERS
Egon Vogel was born into a Jewish family in Hamburg, Germany on 7 September 1918. At some point Egon came to Britain, likely in the late 1930’s following the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party’s anti-Jewish policies. Egon moved to London where he lived at 100 Sutton Court Road, Chiswick with a Mr Leonard Hurrell, a Metropolitan police officer, and his wife Margarita. He worked for a Mr T. G. Jones of Wood Lane, Shepherds Bush as a ‘trainee plater’ presumably of metalwork.
At the beginning of the war only a few ‘enemy aliens’ were interred by the British government, and Egon was initially deemed not to be a threat. However, in the panic which gripped Britain following the fall of France in 1940, Egon was in interred in June. In July he was transported to Australia onboard SS Dunera along with 2,500 other internees, mostly German or Italian ‘enemy aliens’, many of them Jewish. Their treatment onboard ship by their British guards was deplorable, many being abused, beaten and their possessions stolen or cast overboard. After two months at sea they reached Australia. The British government would later pay compensation to the Dunera internees in recognition of their maltreatment. Egon was released and allowed to return to Britain in December 1941.
Despite everything he had endured, Egon joined the British Army and was selected for service with the Commandos. He joined No.3 Troop of No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, sometimes referred to as ‘X Troop’. The men of ‘X troop’ were recruited mainly from ‘enemy aliens’ mostly German, Austrian and eastern European Jews, and were selected for their language skills. In addition to the usual rigorous commando training, the men of ‘X troops’ were given additional training in intelligence work as they were to act as interpreters and interrogators to be attached to other units. The ‘X troop’ recruits assumed English ‘Nommes de Guerre’, literally a ‘name of war’, and listed British friends as their next of kin to disguise their origins in case they were captured by the Nazis. And so, the German Jew Egon Vogel became the British Christian Ernest Robert Villiers and possibly listed Mr & Mrs Hurrell as his next of kin.
Egon was promoted to serjeant and served during Operation Overlord in 1944 where he was wounded on 23 June at Sallenelles. Egon recovered and took part in Operation Plunder, where he was attached to 46 Royal Marine Commando. On the night of 23 April, he crossed the Rhine downstream from Wesel. It is believed that Egon was wounded during an incident which killed two other marines, Marines Leonard Rider and Sam Durose, while trying to outflank Wesel. Egon was evacuated for medical treatment but died the following day. He was 25 years old. He was later buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Plot 62. Row B. Grave 2. close by to Marines Rider and Durose who are buried in, Plot 62. Row A. Joint Grave 8-9.
Egon’s headstone bears the inscription: IN PROUD, LOVING MEMORY OF OUR DEAR SON ERNEST. NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN BY THE HURRELLS - his headstone openly and proudly displaying the symbol of his faith; a star of David.