The fascinating and most unusual group of matching awards to the two Shrubsole brothers, who both fought with the same unit, seeing active service together in Palestine during the Arab Rebellion, during the Second World War right through the siege...

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The fascinating and most unusual group of matching awards to the two Shrubsole brothers, who both fought with the same unit, seeing active service together in Palestine during the Arab Rebellion, during the Second World War right through the siege of Malta, and were both taken prisoner of war together at the fall of Leros in November 1943, to be then housed in the same POW camp Stalag II at Altengrabow. The first, Private A.L. Shrubsole, 2nd Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment, the second, Private R.W. Shrubsole, 2nd Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment, who mirrored each others service, and was both taken prisoner of war in the Aegean at the fall of Leros on 16th November 1943. They were both then held in captivity for the rest of the war at Stalag II, located just to the east of the village of Altengrabow, some 90 km’s southwest of Berlin.

General Service Medal 1918-62, Geo VI 1st type bust, one clasp: Palestine; (6343624 PTE. A. SHRUBSOLE. R.W.KENT.R.); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Defence Medal; War Medal.

Second Group: General Service Medal 1918-62, GVI 1st type bust, one clasp: Palestine; (6343734 PTE. A. SHRUBSOLE. R.W.KENT.R.); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Defence Medal; War Medal. initial incorrectly stamped ‘A’ on the first medal.

Awarded to two brothers, the first Private (No.6343624) A.L. Shrubsole, 2nd Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment, the second, Private (No.6343734) R.W. Shrubsole, 2nd Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment, both of whom saw service in Palestine during the Arab Rebellion in 1938 with the 2nd Battalion. With the outbreak of the Second World War, both brothers would have formed part of the Garrison at Malta throughout the siege. With the Italian Armistice on 8th September 1943, the Italian Garrison at Leros was then strengthened by the British forces, as Churchill saw it as strategically vital, it being the first of the Greek Islands to become available after the fall of Crete back in 1941. The United States was skeptical about the operation, which it saw as an unnecessary diversion from the main front in Italy. This was confirmed at the Quebec Conference, where it was decided to divert all available shipping from the Eastern Mediterranean. Nonetheless, the British went ahead, albeit with a severely scaled-down force. In addition to that, air cover was minimal, with the U.S. and British aircraft based in Cyprus and the Middle East, a situation which was to be exacerbated by the withdrawal of the American units in late October in order to support operations in Italy. After the Italian government had signed an armistice, the Italian garrisons on most of the Dodecanese either wanted to change sides and fight alongside the Allies or just return to their homes. The Allies attempted to take advantage of the situation, but the Germans were ready. As the Italian surrender became apparent, German forces, based largely in mainland Greece, were rushed to many of the major islands to gain control.

The most important such force, the Sturm-Division Rhodos swiftly neutralised the garrison of Rhodes, denying the island's three airfields to the Allies. By mid-September, however, the British 234th Infantry Division under Major General F. G. R. Brittorous, coming from Malta, and SBS and LRDG detachments had secured the islands of Kos, Kalymnos, Samos, Leros, Symi, and Astypalaia, supported by ships of the British and Greek navies and two RAF Spitfire squadrons on Kos. The Germans quickly mobilised in response. Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller, the commander of the 22nd Infantry Division at Crete, was ordered to take Kos and Leros on 23rd September. The British forces on Kos, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel L.R.F. Kenyon, numbered about 1,500 men, 680 of whom were from the 1st Bn Durham Light Infantry, 120 men from 11th Parachute Battalion, a number of men from the SBS and the rest being mainly RAF personnel, and ca. 3,500 Italians. On 3rd October, the Germans effected amphibious and airborne landings, “Operation Polar Bear , reaching the outskirts of the island's capital later that day. The British withdrew under cover of night, and surrendered the next day. The fall of Kos was a major blow to the Allies, since it deprived them of vital air cover. The Germans captured 1388 British and 3145 Italian prisoners. On 3rd October, German troops executed the captured Italian commander of the island, Col. Felice Leggio, and 101 of his officers, according to Hitler’s 11th September order to execute captured Italian officers. By October, the British forces on the island of Leros numbered ca. 3,000 men of the 2nd Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers, under Lt Col Maurice French, the 4th Bn The Buffs under Lt Col Douglas Iggulden, the 1st Bn Royal Lancaster Regiment, and a company of the 2nd Bn Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment the whole force under Brigadier Robert Tilney, who assumed command on 5 November. There were also 7,602 regular Italian (mostly Navy) troops, plus 697 naval reservists and 20 air force reservists, including an infantry battalion and two heavy MG companies, under the island's military commander, Rear Admiral Luigi Mascherpa. The island's pre-war fortifications also included 26 artillery batteries with 115 guns, 52 of which were AA guns. Most of these, however, were badly protected from air assaults and, accordingly, suffered badly from Luftwaffe attacks. Initially, the British had planned to secure the high ground of the island's interior, but Brig Tilney insisted on a forward defence on the coastline, which had the effect of spreading his forces too thinly. Also present were a scattering a naval units, both British and Italian and also Royal Air Force units consisting of a total of 260 aircraft, of which 115 were to be lost in the coming battle. The German forces assembling for Unternehmen Leopard ( Operation Leopard ) under the command of Generalleutnant Müller, comprised III./Infanterie-Regiment 440, II./IR 16 and II./IR 65 of the 22nd Infantry Division, the parachutists of I./FJR 2, and an amphibious commando company of the Brandenburg Division (1./Küstenjägerabteilung).

The invasion force assembled in harbours in Kos and Kalymnos, with reserves and heavy equipment waiting to be airlifted around Athens. Two groups with Ju87 D3 dive-bombers were available for close air support. I. Group of Schlachtgeschwader 3 flew from their base in Megara and II. Group from Argos and later Rhodos. II. Group of Kampfgeschwader 51 with Ju88 were available for air strikes. The Luftwaffe unleashed continuous attacks on Leros, enjoying complete air superiority, and caused many casualties among the ground forces and sank the British destroyer H.M.S Intrepid, the Greek destroyer Vasilissa Olga on 26th September, and the Italian destroyer Euro on 1st October. On 12th November 1943 at 4.30 am, after almost fifty days of air strikes, an invasion fleet landed troops at Palma Bay and Pasta di Sopra on the north-east coast. The Italian coastal gunners were not able to prevent these landings. There were other landings at Pandeli Bay, near Leros town, that were heavily contested by the Royal Irish Fusiliers. The Fusiliers stopped the capture of some key defensive positions but were unable to stop the landings. The positions of the British units were spread around the island with poor communication between them. The attacking German forces had the twin advantages of numerical superiority and air control. In the early afternoon Luftwaffe fighter-bombers machine-gunned and bombed the area between the Gurna and Alinda Bays, followed by Junckers 52s which dropped some 500 parachutists from the Brandenburg Division, most of whom landed safely despite British efforts. The position of these landings effectively divided the island in two, separating the Buffs and a company of the King's Own on the south side of the island from the rest of the garrison. Counterattacks during the rest of that day failed. During the night of 12/13 November more German reinforcements arrived. Counterattacks by the King's Own and the Fusiliers failed during the 13th with heavy casualties, but the Buffs on the south side of the island managed to capture 130 prisoners and reclaim some control of their area. On the night of 14 November two more companies of the Royal West Kent Regiment and their commanding officer, Lt Col Ben Tarleton, from Samos landed at Portolago Bay. The fighting on the 14th and 15th was mostly inconclusive with more casualties on both sides, although a counter-attack by two companies of the King's Own succeeded in recapturing part of Apetiki. Lt Col French was killed in this attack. On the night of the 15th the fourth company from the West Kents was landed and 170 German prisoners were taken to Samos. The Germans, on the other hand, landed an estimated 1,000 troops and artillery during that night.

On the morning of 16th November it became apparent to the British commander, Brigadier Tilney, that his situation was untenable and he surrendered; 3,200 British and 5,350 Italian soldiers went with him into captivity. The 4th Bn, The Buffs, in their isolated position, were unaware of the surrender so did not attempt to escape; consequently nearly the whole unit was captured. As with the Buffs, only ninety men from the West Kents managed to escape from the island. The withdrawal of the American fighters had sealed the fate of Leros. With no air support and heavily attacked by enemy aircraft, the three battalions had fought for five days until they were exhausted and could fight no more. The Commander-in-Chief, Ninth Army, General Wilson, reported to the Prime Minister: Leros has fallen, after a very gallant struggle against overwhelming air attack. It was a near thing between success and failure. Very little was needed to turn the scale in our favour and to bring off a triumph. Everything was done to evacuate the garrisons of the other Aegean islands and to rescue survivors from Leros, and eventually an officer and fifty-seven other ranks of the King’s Own rejoined the details in Palestine. After the fall of Leros, which was received with shock by the British public, Samos and the other smaller islands were evacuated. The Germans bombed Samos with Stukas, prompting the 2,500-strong Italian garrison to surrender on 22 November. Along with the occupation of the smaller islands of Patmos, Fournoi and Ikaria on 18th November, the Germans thus completed their reconquest of the Dodecanese, which they were to continue to hold until the end of the war. The Battle of Leros was considered by some to be the last great defeat of the British Army in the Second World War and one of the last German victories. The German victory was predominantly due to their possession of complete air superiority, which caused great losses to the Allies, especially in ships, and enabled the Germans to supply and support their own forces effectively. Brigadier Tilney's scrapping of the original defensive plan, the work of Lt Col Maurice French, aided the Germans whose tactics, including scramble landings and an audacious air assault, further confused Tilney. The whole operation was criticised by many at the time as another useless “Gallipoli -like disaster, and the blame was laid at Churchill's door. As mentioned the men of the ‘4th Bn, The Buffs, in their isolated position, were unaware of the surrender so did not attempt to escape; consequently nearly the whole unit was captured. As with the Buffs, only ninety men from the West Kents managed to escape from the island.’ Neither of the two Shrubsole brother’’s were amongst those 90 men who escaped, and both are shown as having been reported missing in action on 16th November 1943, and subsequently confirmed as taken prisoners of war .

Transported to Germany, both brothers are known to have been interned as Stalag 11a, located just to the east of the village of Altengrabow and in the south of Dörnitz in Saxony-Anhalt, about 90 km south-west of Berlin. The brothers were held here for the rest of the war. The camp housed Australian, French, British, Belgian, Serb, Russian, Italian, American, Dutch, Slovak and Polish POW, all in separate compounds, and served as the centre from which most of the POW were assigned to Arbeitskommando ("Work camps"). On 1st January 1945 more than 60,000 POW were registered there. On 25th April 1945, one of the last airborne operations of the ETO, code named Operation Violet, took place. Six teams composed of officers and men of Commonwealth, French and United States armed services and under the command of Major Worrall were to be dropped near the camp to assure the protection of the PoWs, to assess the humanitarian need of the PoWs and to ensure a peaceful handover of the camp into Allied authority. However the teams were scattered during the drop and all members were soon captured and transferred to the Altengrabow camp. There, the new PoWs urged the Camp Commandant, Col. Ochernal to cooperate and a radio link between the camp and SHAEF, then SAARF Headquarters was established. "On 2 May Worrall received word from SAARF Headquarters that Col. Ochernal had struck an agreement with the Commander of the American 83rd Infantry Division, MG Robert Macon, then headquartered at Zerbst: Macon would provide the trucks necessary to begin the evacuation of POWs to Zerbst, and Ochernal would provide safe conduct for travel. On 3 May seventy trucks loaded with rations and thirty ambulances complete with medical teams arrived at Altengrabow to a tumultuous greeting from the POW's. Also in attendance were some forty war correspondents attached to the American Ninth Army who were shepherded by an enthusiastic Public Relations Officer eager to see the liberation of the camp portrayed as an all-American show. The evacuation proceeded with the American, British, French, and Belgian POWs being evacuated first. The Americans had promised to provide a twice daily shuttle service until all of the Western POWs were evacuated. On the afternoon of 4 May the Russian Army arrived at the camp, and the atmosphere changed considerably. The balance of the Western POWs, all Frenchmen, were allowed to leave, but the Russians angrily blocked an effort to evacuate a group of Poles who had asked to be repatriated to the West, as well as a group of Italian POWs. The following morning, Worrall, over his protests, was told by the Russians that he and the other SAARF personnel had two hours to get their gear together; then they would be evacuated to the American lines. The Russians would handle all camp-related matters from that point on.” The two Shrubsole brothers are assumed to have been amongst those British evacuated just prior to the arrival of the Russians at Stalag IIa, and they were repatriated shortly afterwards.