Portsmouth WW2 Dead – the Army (part 1)

674 men from Portsmouth were serving in the British Army when they were killed between 1939 and 1947.

British military policy in 1939 placed the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in the van of defence. The British Army’s role was seen as providing home defence, and a small expeditionary force to serve in France. The slaughter on the Western Front led to a groundswell in public and official opinion to avoid the Army having to fight costly and bloody battles at all costs. However, the Army was relatively small pre-war, and needed to expand greatly in order to recruit enough men.

Areas of Portsmouth

British Army fatalities from Portsmouth came from the following areas of the city:

56 – Southsea (8.31%)
55 – Cosham (8.16%)
51 – North End (7.57%)
51 – Copnor (7.57%)
37 – Fratton (5.49%)
28 – Stamshaw (4.15%)
28 – Milton (4.15%)
26 – Buckland (3.86%)
19 – Eastney (2.82%)
13 – Hilsea (1.93%)
13 – Landport (1.93%)
10 – Mile End (1.48%)
9 – Paulsgrove (1.34%)
8 – Drayton (1.18%)
8 – Wymering (1.18%)
5 – Portsea (0.74%)
5 – Farlington (0.74%)
4 – East Cosham (0.59%)
1 – Kingston (0.15%)
1 – Old Portsmouth (0.15%)

72 men – 10.68%- are listed as from ‘Portsmouth’. The remainder either appear to come from outside Portsmouth, or their place of origin cannot or has not yet been identified.

Its striking that, compared to the same statistics for the Royal Navy, Army recruitment seems to have been relatively well spread around the city. In particular the large number of men coming from suburban areas such as Cosham is interesting. Whereas sailors seem to have lived overwhelmingly in specific areas of Portsmouth, such as Southsea and the inner city areas, soldiers seem to have been recruited evenly from around the city.

Many of Portsmouth’s sailors may have come from elsewhere, and settled in Portsmouth during their service. By comparison, although Portsmouth was home to a sizeable Army Garrison, the Army did not have such a magnetic effect on Portsmouth’s demographic as the Royal Navy.


2 – aged 16 (0.3%)
2 – aged 17 (0.3%)
28 – aged 18 to 19 (4.15%)
288 – in their 20’s (42.73%)
158 – in their 30’s (23.44%)
45 – in their 40’s (6.68%)
7 – in their 50’s (1.04%)
3 – in their 60’s (0.45%)

42 men’s ages are unknown.

The youngest Portsmouth soldier killed in the Second World War was Private Robert Johns, aged 16, of the Parachute Regiment, who was killed in Normandy in 1944. The oldest Portmouth soldier to die between 1939 and 1947 was Major Ernest Norris of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, who was 69 when he died in 1947.

Several observations can be made. Despite the large number of underage soldiers who fought and died in the Great War, it seems that far fewer 16 and 17 year olds were casualties between 1939 and 1947. Recruitment was much tighter on picking underage soldiers, and identification was stricter.

But overall, the majority of soldiers were under 30. There are several reasons for this. Active soldiering on campaign required youth and stamina. Also, most soldiers seem to have been young men called up during the war, and there were much fewer older, long-serving soldiers compared to their counterparts in the Navy. Never the less, it seems that a few older men were recalled to serve in supporting roles.

Date of Death

The years in which soldiers were killed reflect the wider developments of the Second World War:

1939 – 2 (0.29%)
1940 – 50 (7.42%)
1941 – 75 (11.13%)
1942 – 89 (13.2%)
1943 – 136 (20.18%)
1944 – 227 (33.68%)
1945 – 69 (10.24%)
1946 – 21 (3.16%)
1947 – 15 (2.23%)

The two men who died in 1939 seem to have died of illness of accident during the ‘Phoney War’. Heavy casualties began in 1940, particularly with the Battle for France. In 1941 fighting mainly occured in North Africa, and then towards the end of the year in the Far East, particularly at Singapore and Hong Kong. In 1942 fighting continued in North Africa, and also in the Far East. 1943 saw the fighting progress on to Italy. 1944 saw continued heavy fighting in Italy, and of course D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. As 1944 wore on Belgium and Holland also saw casualties, and the war in the Far East continued, especially in Burma. 1945 saw the war reach Germany.

Its noticeable also that 36 men died in 1946 and 1947, when the war had been over for 6 months in Europe and 4 months in the Pacific. These men were no doubt seeing out their service until demobilisation and died of illness or accidents. This shows just how may men were still in uniform for several years after the war.

Next – Regiments, where they died, and Medals



Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, Uncategorized, World War Two

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