ROLL, John Castledine. Captain (155657)
2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment
Killed in action 8 July 1944, aged 28
Captain J C Roll
Image courtesy of his nephew, John Roll-Pickering © 2017
John Castledine Roll was born on 14 June 1916, the first child of Henry John Roll and Elizabeth (née Castledine - hence John's middle name). Before the birth of Nora (the couple's only other child) in 1920, they moved to their long-term home, Harmston (now numbered 12) in Christ Church Road, Epsom. (The house name honoured Elizabeth's home town in Lincolnshire, where the couple - normally known as Harry and Bessie - had married in 1914.)
Harry was the oldest son of Henry Roll who with, his partner Henry Taylor, ran an Epsom-based building firm
. Harry (with his younger brother, Frank Ernest) continued in the building trade and, as H H & F Roll, became significant local developers - among other projects, overseeing the 1930s development of Hookfield
The 1939 Register (taken on 29 September, three weeks after the British declaration of war) lists Harry as a "Building Contractor" - and the 23 year-old John as a "Builder's Assistant". Before long, however, John had enlisted. Having successfully completed his officer training on 9 November 1940, he was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment, in which he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion. (The Regiment did not become the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment until after the war.)
The 2nd Battalion had seen action as part of the British Expeditionary Force in Northern France where it suffered losses, through both death and capture, before the remainder were evacuated from Dunkirk. So, by the time John joined it, the Battalion was back in the UK. At first, it was engaged in home defence in anticipation of the threatened German invasion. After the tide of war turned, the Battalion - in which John had been promoted to Captain - was then involved in preparations for the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944.
The Battalion was part of the British forces assigned to land on Sword Beach, the easternmost of the D-Day beaches. After aerial bombardment, the first ashore were tanks to provide covering fire for the infantry landings that began at 0730. The 2nd Battalion was in the wave that began landing at 1130. Casualties during the actual landings were relatively light, but there was fierce fighting not far behind the beach. The rapid advance and quick capture of objectives (including Caen itself, some 6 miles inland) did not materialise as planned.
It took several weeks' hard fighting to get sufficient men and materiel in place to mount "Operation Charnwood" - a three-pronged attack aiming to take Caen. In this, the 2nd Lincolnshire Battalion was assigned to the easternmost "prong" aiming to take the bordering village of Herouville-Saint-Clair. This was their first major action of the invasion, and was directed from Battalion HQ in the Chateau de Beuregard.
Following the Allies' air bombardment of Caen the previous evening (the first use of heavy bombers for tactical bombing), the early hours of Saturday 8 July saw a tremendous artillery barrage, coupled with shells from the 16-inch guns of HMS Rodney stationed off-shore. While that led to the relatively straightforward liberation of Caen itself, the three-day "Battle of Herouville" was a much tougher fight as the attack was over ground exposed to enemy fire from across the Orne canal.
On the first day of the battle, Captain John Roll was overseeing the mortar support for the attack from various positions just in front of the Chateau. Late in the morning, he was between two of the mortar positions when the German forces launched a Nebelwerfer rocket, known by the troops as a "Moaning Minnie" because of its distinctive whine in the air. It landed just a few feet from the mortar pit that John had just visited. While the pit provided sufficient cover for the men of the mortar platoon to survive, the blast killed John instantly.
The capture of Herouville cost the 2nd Lincolns around 200 casualties (including 50 deaths, one of which was John's) between 8-12 July 1944. The dead were first buried in the grounds of the Chateau de Beuregard but, with about 2,500 others from the general area, were subsequently re-interred in the new War Cemetery at Ranville, the first village to be liberated in France when the bridge over the Caen Canal was captured intact in the early hours of 6 June by troops of the 6th Airborne Division.
The Roll family were very active members of Christ Church, Epsom Common: among other things, Harry was a Churchwarden from 1941 to 1946. In addition to John's entry on the parish WW2 memorial, he is also remembered on one of Christ Church's new peal of bells
installed in 1992. Kindly sponsored by Harry and Bessie's other child, Nora (who married Thomas Pickering in 1943), the bell carries the following dedication: "In loving memory of Harry and Bessie Roll and their son John who worshipped and worked in this church".
Roger Morgan © 2017
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