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Kew Gardens and gardener John Sutch




The world-famous botanical gardens at Kew boast some intriguing connections to Operation Overlord and Operation Totalise. The story of John Sutch, a gardener at Kew, is one of a young life tragically lost is one of many listed in the Temple of Arethusa, located close to the Victoria Gate at Kew.

Kew Gardens in suburban London has some unexpected links to the events which unfolded during the Allied invasion of France. The link discovered between gardener John Sutch and German tank ace Michael Wittmann demonstrated that at the heart of the conflict lay young men tragically killed in action. 

John Sutch, originally of Plumstead, London, joined Kew as a garden boy in 1939 at the age of 16. He learnt the rudiments of botany and worked in the palm house and arboretum. After proving to be a skilled and promising young gardener, he joined the army in 1942 serving with the Royal Armoured Corps. John arrived on Gold Beach near Arromanches after D-Day, on 12 June, whilst serving with 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry. John was a tank driver during intense fighting with the German Panzergruppe West amidst the Battle for Caen, which proved to be disastrous for the German army, eventually losing the Caen area during Operation Atlantic. 

An interesting parallel can be seen in the story of Michael Wittman, the young German Panzer tank ace who had gained infamy in his skill and reported number of Allied tanks destroyed. Michael had joined the German army in 1934 at the age of 20, and by 1943 he had become a platoon leader, commanding a Tiger I tank. He was killed when John’s Yeomanry ambushed the seven Tiger tanks, including Michael’s, using anti-tank shells. There has been speculation that Michael’s death was caused by Joe Ekins of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and that there could have been a prize on his head, but this has not been conclusively proven.  

John was killed at approximately the same time on 8 August 1944 whilst engaged in the tank battle with the German 101st Heavy Panzer Battalion, aged just 20. He was buried in a war cemetery close to Caen. John is just one of the former Kew employees who are commemorated on the bronze plaque of the Temple of Arethusa, now a Grade II listed Greek temple portico.