Ivor Brett-James

Ivor Brett-James

Ivor Brett-James, the brother of Antony Brett-James, was born in 1922. He was educated at Mill Hill where his father taught history.

On the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the British Army. As a member of the 9th Durham Light Infantry he served in North Africa before taking part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.

Ivor Brett-James was killed in action at Riposto on 9th August 1943.

Primary Sources

(1) Ivor Brett-James, letter to Antony Brett-James (8th August 1943)

Still no mail from anybody, but I have just been re-reading your last letters I got in England. In them you complain that you have seen no action as yet. When I left England you had already been abroad 18 months, but already out here in Sicily I have seen more than enough. You have missed nothing worthwhile and even if your present life is dull (it may be very different now) stick to it and try to come out of this bloody war alive and unmaimed. That is all that really matters. Not medals, Africa stars and all that cock. It is your brains that we want after the war, not your decorations.

You also lament the lack of anything better than a hurricane lamp to light your mess with. Well, we have no mess and no lamps, nor are we likely to have either for a long time. We have been eating by night and living in holes dug in the ground full of ants, fleas, lice, flies, mosquitoes, wasps, and a lot more, and as a result my body is one mass of festering sores and bites and I am swathed in bandages. My face is daubed with some purple muck and I cannot shave. For weeks at a time we have not even taken our boots off, let alone undressed, and two hours is a good night's sleep. We have been sweating in a climate as hot as Africa and when dead a man and a cow smell alike. The foulest smell on earth.

(2) Gladys Brett-James, letter to Antony Brett-James (29th August 1943)

My darling Roly, How I wish I could spare you our sad news, but we share everything together. Ivor was killed in action on Monday Aug. 9th. He wrote to you last of all. His last to us was on the 4th. I hope it was all instantaneous. The news came this morning from the War Office, and although we had been very anxious this last week, it came as a stunning blow. Ever since the broadcast by Lewis Hastings a week or more ago, when he told us of the heavy casualties in the D.L.I. C Coy and the tremendous stand they had made and gave them such praise, our fears have been growing, but we have gone on hoping for good news. He was so thoughtful and wrote whenever he had the chance, and cabled once. It seems like a dream somehow. We can't do anything but face as bravely as we can this sorrow. Perhaps Ivor is saved further horror of war, for after Sicily who knows? We must not grieve for him, only that his happy and promising life is cut short. I feel so stunned and dare not think of details. I just give thanks for the beautiful 21 years we have had him. Ivor's love for you has been very great and it's been such a happiness to us that you were both such friends. I know how sad and lonely you will feel. It's a very great shock, and I feel more for you than I can tell you. Ivor would not have us grieve, so let us only give thanks for happy memories, and then carry on. I am so distressed that Ivor never had any letters after he left England. They might have helped him. If we have any particulars we will tell you. We decided not to cable; it serves no purpose, and letters are about as quick.

(3) Lieutenant Colonel Humphrey Wood, letter to the parents of Ivor Brett-James (August 1943)

I am writing to send you all my sympathy and that of the Battalion for the tragic loss you have sustained in the death of your son. He was killed leading his platoon - the forward platoon of the leading company in the Battalion just outside the village of Riposto. On rounding a bend in the road they were surprised by an enemy machine gun at fifty yards range. With no cover available nearby he was caught in the enemy fire, and I am glad to say can have known nothing of it. His C.S.M. was killed alongside him, and his Company Commander badly wounded just behind. It was a very cleverly concealed ambush and no fault of the platoon or their leaders. He was buried where he fell.