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Lewis Arthur Spencer

Trooper Lewis Arthur Spencer, 532570, Royal Armoured Corps, Staffordshire Yeomanry

Lewis Arthur Spencer was born at Hebburn, County Durham in early 1905, the second of three sons of army pensioner, turned mill hand Joseph Spencer (born Liverpool 1869) and his wife Ellen Elizabeth Birch (born in Kent 1879). The couple had married in the Folkestone area of Kent in early 1899.

By the time of the 1911 Census, the couple were living at 36, Rose Street, Hebburn-on-Tyne. Another son, aged 13 years, is in the Spencer household from Joseph Spencer's first marriage, on the 1st January 1894 in Bina, India, to Mary Euphemia Cooper (nee Sharpe). She was born on the 24th April 1870 in Jamalpore, India, and had married her first husband William David Cooper in India in 1888. She had married Joseph Spencer in 1894 and subsequently died in Kent on the 18th May 1898. The couple also had another son, born in Saugor, India in November 1894, who was not recorded in the 1911 Spencer household.

Lewis Arthur Spencer was just 14 years and 241 days old when he enlisted for twelve years army service at Canterbury on the 26th September 1919, joining the 8th Hussars, Royal Tank Corps and was allotted service number 532570. Transferred to the 4th Hussars on the 30th October 1919, he was, by the 4th May 1920 serving in India with the 8th Hussars. He was re-engaged for four years on the 26th September 1931 and for another four years on the 26th September 1935. He was transferred to Cavalry of the Line on the 9th December 1939.

At the time of his enlistment in September 1920, his next of kin was given as his mother, “Mrs J. Spencer, c/o St. Gabriel’s Lennards, Folkestone”. This address was St. Gabriel’s Home of Rest, Lennards Road, Folkestone.

Lewis Arthur Spencer married Lena Brook of Ossett at Brentford in late 1933. It is not certain if the couple had children but a son, Peter Brook Spencer was born in late 1935 to a woman with the maiden name Brook. The birth was registered in Brentford.

Trooper Lewis Arthur Spencer, aged 37 years, husband of Lena Spencer, of Ossett, Yorkshire, died between the 3rd and 4th November 1942 following the Battle of El Alamein. The Staffordshire Yeomanry moved to the port of Mersa Matrah, Egypt in early November 1942 around the time Trooper Spencer died. He had served his country for more than 23 years and is remembered on Column 30 of the Alamein Memorial. Alamein is a village, bypassed by the main coast road, approximately 130 kilometres west of Alexandria, Egypt on the road to Mersa Matruh.

The U.K Army Roll of Honour 1939-1945 records his regiment at enlistment as the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, Royal Army Corps. His regiment at the time of his death was Staffordshire Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps.

The Stafford Yeomanry left for Egypt on February 19th, 1942. It arrived at El Khataba on the 20th where it remained until June. On arrival in Egypt, Stuarts and Grants were taken on through June 1942, but the regiment did not receive a full complement. The brigade was ordered to the Western Desert on June 14th at the edge of the escarpment twenty miles southwest of Mersa Matruh. The forward party left on June 16th and was complete on the 19th. On June 23rd, all tanks were taken away from the regiment and given to the 3rd and 4th County of London Yeomanry. It was ordered back to the Delta the same day and the regiment moved into Mareopolis Camp near Alexandria. A week later it moved to Tahag near Cairo with the brigade. ‘Coxcol’ was created with HQ, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons in 15-CWTs, one squadron of the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry, and one company of the Buffs. The column moved to defensive positions southwest of Demanour near Hash Isa but returned the next day to Tahag. Starting in July 1942 Grant tanks arrived in fair numbers followed by Crusaders on August 7th. By the end of August 1942 sufficient Grants and Crusaders had arrived to organise the regiment with ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons in Grants and ‘C’ Squadron in Crusaders. At the end of August the brigade moved to El Huweijja near the Alamein Line.

The Germans attacked on August 31st, 1942 and ‘C’ Squadron was sent forward to observation points. The regiment moved to a ridge north of Wadi El Sakran on September 1st and lost three tanks to enemy action. Rommel withdrew on September 3rd and the brigade was withdrawn on September 14th to forty-five miles west of Wadi Natrun to train. It moved up to the staging area at Quaret Sumara on October 18th in preparation for the Alamein battle. After moving to the staging area, a few Shermans arrived and were placed under ‘A’ Squadron. At the start of the battle the regiment had 15 Crusaders and 28 heavies, Grants and Shermans.

The unit fought at El Alamein through October 25th then reorganised the next day. By the end of October 25th it was reduced to two Crusaders and 14 heavies. The regiment re-organised and re-equipped on the 26th. On the 28th it moved up to relieve the Queen’s Bays and then went into reserve on October 30th. The regiment received four new Shermans and three Crusaders on October 31st 1942 to bring it up to strength of 13 Crusaders and 16 heavies.

The campaign in the Western Desert was fought between the Commonwealth forces (with, later, the addition of two brigades of Free French and one each of Polish and Greek troops) all based in Egypt, and the Axis forces (German and Italian) based in Libya. The battlefield, across which the fighting surged back and forth between 1940 and 1942, was the 1,000 kilometres of desert between Alexandria in Egypt and Benghazi in Libya. It was a campaign of manoeuvre and movement, the objectives being the control of the Mediterranean, the link with the east through the Suez Canal, the Middle East oil supplies and the supply route to Russia through Persia.

Grant Tank crew of the Staffordshire Yeomanry

Above: Grant tank crew of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, 8th Armoured Brigade in North Africa, 24th October 1942 taking a meal break.

The Alamein Memorial forms the entrance to Alamein War Cemetery. The Land Forces panels commemorate more than 8,500 soldiers of the Commonwealth who died in the campaigns in Egypt and Libya, and in the operations of the Eighth Army in Tunisia up to the 19th February 1943, who have no known grave. It also commemorates those who served and died in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Persia.

Following Trooper Spencer's death in Egypt on the 3rd November 1942, his probate records his address as 3, Blue Butts, West Wells Road, Ossett. The record adds that he died on or since 3rd November 1942 on war service and that the Administration of his estate (with Will) was granted to his widow, Lena Spencer, at Wakefield on 13th May 1943. Effects £100.

In 1939, 3, Blue Butts was occupied by colliery fireman, Frank Robinson and his wife Minnie. It has not been possible to trace the whereabouts of Lena or Lewis Arthur in 1939, most probably because he was still serving in the army at that time.The 1939 register was taken on 29th Septmeber 1939 and only records civilian personnel. It is possible therefore that Lena (nee Brook) returned home to Ossett after her husband’s death in service in November 1942. The widowed Lena Brook married Ossett born widower Walter Harrop in late 1949. The marriage was registered at Lower Agbrigg which was then the registration district for Ossett.

Lena Brook was born in Ossett on the 15th January 1908, the seventh child of twelve born to Harry and Amy Brook (nee France) of Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett. Lena’s father, Harry Brook, a carrier for a woollen manufacturer, was the grandson of Bene’t Brook, who was the Chairman of the Ossett Local Board in 1890, the year in which Ossett achieved Borough status.

Harry Brook and Amy France (born Hopton), married in summer 1892. Amy died in 1923 and Harry Brook’s death was registered in December quarter 1942, the same quarter in which his son in law, Lewis Arthur Spencer, died serving his country.

References:

1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site

2. Additonal Brook and Spencer family information courtesy of Caroline Brook-Jackson, Southampton, U.K.