How Lieutenant Colonel David Silvertop is the North East's 'unknown warrior'

World War Two tank hero's name is spread across Belgian city of Antwerp, on buildings, statues and tram stops

The memorial tank in Antwerp
The memorial tank in Antwerp

Across the Belgian city of Antwerp, North tank hero David Silvertop is remembered.

But in his family’s home North East region Lieut. Col Silvertop is “almost the unknown warrior”, according to Tynesider Bill Lawrence.

In the course of his work as a specialist in asbestos for the European Federation of Building Workers, Bill is a frequent visitor to Antwerp and Brussels.

He noticed that the tram stop that he used was called Halte Kolonel Silvertop.

Then there was the thoroughfare named Kolonel Silvertopstraat. Three 22-storey blocks of flats are known as De Torens Silvertop, and there is even a Silvertop supermarket.

Beside a memorial tank mounted on a plinth are steel panels in the languages of the Allied armies – one of which names David Silvertop.

David Silvertop
David Silvertop
 

Bill, who lives in Whitley Bay, has uncovered the exploits of the dashing Second World War tank commander who won the DSO and Military Cross,.

At the age of 32, he was killed in action 70 years ago on Thursday.

The prominence of his name in Antwerp is because he and his tanks played a key role in its liberation in 1944 – something the city has never forgotten.

The Silvertop family home was at Ministeracres, near Consett in County Durham, which is now a Passionist Christian retreat centre.

The only memorial to David Silvertop in the North East is the plaque put up by his mother in 1947 in the church at Ministeracres.

“Brave isn’t the word to describe David Silvertop, he moved fast and he didn’t hang about,” says Bill.

“From what I have learned, he was a cracking leader and a fantastic commander.

“He had a distinguished war record, so I can’t understand why there is nothing about him in the North East, in contrast to the situation in Europe.”

David Silvertop came from a family with a military heritage.

The Silvertop supermarket
The Silvertop supermarket
 

Charles Silvertop fought with the Duke of Wellington against the French in the Peninsular War and became a brigadier in the Spanish army, winning the country’s highest honour.

David was born in 1912, four years before his father, Naval Commander Arthur Silvertop, was lost in the sinking of HMS Defence in the Battle of Jutland. David Silvertop served as commander of the 3rd tank regiment in the 14/20th King’s Hussars.

He fought with Montgomery’s Desert Rats and was awarded the Military Cross, being injured at the crucial battle of Medenine in Tunisia in March 1943.

After the D-Day landings he took part in the July 1944 operation near Caen and then the breakout and overnight advance to Amiens, catching the Germans by surprise at dawn and liberating the French city, which is now twinned with Darlington.

Another rapid advance into Belgium took David Silvertop to Antwerp – more than 600 kilometres in eight days. When the parachute landings failed at Arnhem he was ordered to cross into the Netherlands and help relieve the trapped troops.

After the capture of the village of Sint Anthonis, he was standing beside his tanks talking to other officers when, it appears, one of a column of SS prisoners being walked through the streets threw a grenade, killing David Silvertop and two of his colleagues.

A village memorial commemorates them and the central square is called Kolonel Silvertopplaan.

David Silvertop is buried in the nearby Ooplo church cemetery.

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