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Rory Bremner

Rory Bremner - How we did it

Second World War

Father: Donald Bremner

Donald Bremner during the war
Donald Bremner during the war

Rory's father, Major Donald Bremner, died of cancer when Rory was 18. Donald had been proud of his earlier career as a soldier, but Rory didn't know anything about his activities during the Second World War. To understand his father better, Rory wanted to find out about Donald's wartime experiences.

Step 1

Rory visited his brother Nigel, who had inherited the family archive. Among many photographs, letters and memorabilia, Rory found letters written by Donald whilst he was serving with the British Liberation Army in the 1940s. They suggested Donald had seen significant front line action.

One letter mentioned that Donald and the company he commanded were the first to enter a small city called 's-Hertogenbosch, but had not received credit for their achievement.

Step 2

To find out more about this particular battle and the rest of his army service, we ordered Donald's military service record. We discovered that as part of the East Lancashire Regiment, Major Bremner landed in Normandy 23 days after D-Day. He and his company were part of the hard-won campaign in France and by autumn 1944 had made their way into Holland.

Step 3

We contacted the museums of Donald's former regiments. The regimental museums put us in touch with historians who explained that when the Allies reached Holland, they had to break through German front line defences.

As a priority, Donald's division needed to secure the supply hub of 's-Hertogenbosch: an occupied Dutch city with vital transport links. Donald's letter had insisted that his company was the first into 's-Hertogenbosch. Rory wanted to clarify whether this was the case.

Step 4

Our historian contacts put us in touch with a local expert, Luc van Gent, who had spent many years documenting the battle of 's-Hertogenbosch.

Luc revealed that under cover of darkness and heavy British artillery fire, Donald Bremner led his company unseen and unheard into the city along the railway track. Luc also confirmed that Donald’s company had indeed been the first to reach the city.

Step 5

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Jos describes a significant moment in the battle

The next task for Donald was to take the city centre from the retreating Germans. To help Rory understand what had happened at a key point in the battle, Luc arranged a surprise. He had tracked down another Dutch civilian, Jos, who had been present alongside Donald Bremner during the fighting at 's-Hertogenbosch. Jos gave Rory an invaluable, personal eyewitness account of what Donald had been like as a man in the prime of his life, and as a soldier in the heat of battle.

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