Edmund Frederick Astley Birtwistle (1924-1986)

Unlike our uncles Michael and David, our uncle Edmund (aka Frog) never received an obituary we can find (even in the Ampleforth Journal):

As a child I had heard stories about his war exploits from my mother and grandmother, which included how he may have been picked up in the North Sea having had to ditch from a plane or possible accident while crossing the channel in patrol boat. That apparently included getting lung damage through the inhaling of diesel fumes, which may have contributed to lung problems later in life. My cousin Hamish had also been told a similar story by his mother, although in the version he’d heard our uncle had ended up in the channel when boat he was in sunk on its way to France.

There was another about having to avoid being captured by hiding in a farmhouse while his companions were tortured to death by the Gestapo nearby. And that’s one Hamish had also heard from his mother.

And also one about being at the liberation of Belsen concentration camp, and that having a profound effect on him.

We have no idea about the veracity of any of these stories, but we know he returned home during the war having been injured as shown in the photograph below with his mother (Mue) and sister Annette (Hamish’s mother):

My mother has also shown me a copy of a letter from from SAS co-founder Major Roy Alexander Farran to one of my cousins confirming uncle Edmunds involvement in Operation Hardy-Wallace. We understand there is an account of his involvement in that operation. Sadly, it is not in the public domain yet. If and when it does become available publicly, then we’ll add a summary to an obit we are trying to compile about him that we hope will be of interest to his family including more recent and future generations of descendants. Until such time, we only have a few pieces of the jigsaw of what would make up that obituary based on oral family history.

In the meantime, I have included a poem dedicated to him by my mother below:


Back from France by small boats
and night trains,
the last one stopping
to let him down in the wet fields,
he’d pick his way
through the warm breath of cows,
tensing at every vixen’s bark,
owl call, twig-snap and leaf-rustle,
at something half-seen
behind the bramble-mound,
then over the stone stile,
like a final obstacle in an old game,
up the pot-holed drive,
past the duck pond,
and in at last to the kitchen,
where some mornings
we’d find him there asleep.
spark out on the dog-haired sofa.

In the creased photograph
beside his mother’s bed
he leans against her,
nineteen, thin inside his uniform,
the bloodstained bandage
tight against his hair
and for years after there were times
when the dreams came back
till we grew used to it, waking
to the shouts and screams,
to the glimpses of him
struggling naked
in his damp and foxy bed

Foxholes by Angela Kirby

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