Jack Sumner was born in Leyland on 20 March 1917. His father was John Sumner (b. 1885 in Preston), a printing machine fitter. His mother was Annie Turner (b. 1889 in Preston). John and Annie were married in 1909 and they had five children: Peggy (b. 1910), Arthur (b. 1912, died the same year), Mona (b. 1915), then Jack and finally Walter (b. 1919).
In the spring of 1939, Jack married Hilda Whittingham (b. 1917, possibly in Preston). It looks like Jack and Hilda were living in Preston at the time of the census in September 1939, though later Hilda was recorded as living in Farington, but I don’t know the circumstances. Before the War, Jack was a joiner.
He enlisted with the Royal Armoured Corps and served with the 17th/21st Lancers. On 12 October 1940, they joined the 26th Armoured Brigade, and on 9 November 1940, the brigade became part of the newly raised 6th Armoured Division, with which it served for the rest of the war. In November 1942, the division was deployed to Tunisia for Operation Torch. The campaign began on 8 November 1942, when Commonwealth and American troops made a series of landings in Algeria and Morocco. The Germans responded immediately by sending a force from Sicily to northern Tunisia, which checked the Allied advance east in early December. In the south, the Axis forces after their defeat at El Alamein withdrew into Tunisia along the coast through Libya, pursued by the Allied Eighth Army. By mid April 1943, the combined Axis force was hemmed into a small corner of north-eastern Tunisia and the Allies were grouped for their final offensive.
Medjez-el-Bab was at the limit of the Allied advance in December 1942 and remained on the front line until the decisive Allied advances of April and May 1943. Jack Sumner died during this campaign, on 18 January 1943. He was 25 years old.
Service Number: 7953412
Unit/Regiment: Royal Armoured Corps, 17th/21st Lancers, H.Q.Sqd.
Date of death: 18/01/1943
Commemorated at: MEDJEZ-EL-BAB WAR CEMETERY, Tunisia
Memorial Reference: 5. C. 6.
Additional Information: Son of John and Annie Sumner; husband of Hilda Sumner, of Farington, Lancashire.
Jack’s brother Walter also served in the Army. He joined the 88th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. In the summer of 1941, Walter (then 21) married Vera Brown (b. 1921 in Leyland) and immediately afterwards left for the Far East. The Regiment arrived in Singapore in November 1941 and entrained up country to Mantin. The unit became part of the 9th Indian Division and the three batteries were sent to Ipoh, Alor Star and Kuantan. Eventually the Battery was moved back over Fraser’s Gap to the West Coast, north of Kuala Lumpur and took part in the fights, skirmishes and battles down the Peninsula to Singapore. After capitulation, having disabled and destroyed their guns, they were all marched to Changi.
Selarang Square, Changi, 1942
Soon afterwards, working parties left Changi for camps in Towner Road and Sarangoon Road, where they were forced to work at clearing up the damage in Singapore and the Dock area. After the Selarang Square incident (30 August 1942, a protest after 5 POWs were executed following a failed escape attempt) forced labour parties began leaving Changi to work on the Burma Railway. After returning to Changi they were put to work clearing a corner of the Changi area and creating a fighter strip. This still exists, but has grown into Changi International Airport. Walter survived the Japanese POW camp and returned to Britain. Walter and Vera had a son, Anthony, in 1947, and in 1954 they emigrated to Australia, eventually settling at Nambour in Queensland. In 1955, they had a daughter, Judith. Walter died in Queensland in 2002.