The Unknown Warriors


"I was sorry to hear of Martins death, such a fine young man, he must have been useful to his regiment to be promoted sergeant major. Yes! My wife met him before leaving England, she thought he was just grand. I hope your other two sons who were wounded in the Med will soon be alright again."

The front cover image is taken from my Grandma's photo album. At the top of the stairs is her brother, my great uncle - Martin Durkin WO II C.S.M. He was killed aged 28, in Sicily shortly after the Allied invasion.


My grandma (on the left) used to say he was killed as a result of a booby trap that had been hanging in a lemon tree. He served in the Green Howards, (now part of the Yorkshire Regiment) after signing up in Newcastle Upon Tyne, in the early 1930's, quite a few years before World War Two began.


The 1st Battalion Green Howards went over to France in 1939 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. They were brought back to England before the evacuation of Dunkirk and sailed to Norway as part of an urgent taskforce, to try and hold back the German invasion.  A famous battle took place at Otta where for 24 hours the Green Howards held back 7 German battalions, Stuka dive bombers and heavy artillery. Lightly armed they waited until the advancing Germans were within 400 metres/yards before they opened fire.


As Norway fell to occupation, the British troops along with the Norwegian King and many of it's remaining armed forces sailed to Britain to fight another day.


After a couple of years on the Home Front, the 1st Battalion set sail to India in 1942 and as part of the 15th Brigade went by land through India, Persia, and Syria before arriving in Egypt just a few days before the fleet set sail for its advance into occupied Europe.


After heavy fighting in Sicily, the Howards continued without Martin, who has  no known grave, right up through Italy and due to heavy losses were sent for some rest and recuperation in Palestine. Shortly after, they sailed from Palestine to Marseilles in France and the remaining 1st Battalion Green Howards  went into Germany in the last few ferocious months of the war and fought at the River Elbe and Buchen.


Martin Durkin name is remembered on the memorial walls of Monte Cassino War Cemetery alongside the names of another 4,000 British & Commonwealth servicemen who took part in the Italian campaign and whose graves are not known.


The other chaps on the photo are real 'Unknown Warriors', I'm hoping to find out who they were, and what happened to them during the war. If I get any news I'll add it here. My grandma died in June 09, just one month before her 98th birthday.


The first part of the book covers the wartime experiences of Martin and the 1st Battalion Green Howards, including some of the men he served alongside, including Captain Hedley Verity, one of England's and Yorkshire's finest cricketers of the era, he also died out in Sicily. The story covers right from when they were in Palestine, in 1938, before the war began, through to the final chaotic days in war torn Germany. Included are two letters, one from Martin to Agnes from Nablus in Palestine, the other from Vancouver to my great grandmother (Martin's mother) sent by her brother to offer condolences after learning of Martin's death.


scan0001 granlowres

Happy Days! Martin with his mates.

Grandma gets ready to take off, or has she just landed? Either way Agnes seem's to be having a great time!

Great Uncle Martin on the right, with a comrade (in fact it could well be his brother Eddie or Johnnie, but I can't be sure) out in the Desert.

leo durkin marine

Leo, was the youngest of the four brothers who served during WWII. He joined the Royal Marines, and is mentioned in the letter from his uncle in Vancouver, who pointed out that 'one brother killed, two injured and now young Leo in the Royal Marines, quite a record!' After the war he emigrated to Canada, and  lived in Vancouver after running a successful business for many years in Toronto. He died in 2013 in his late eighties.