Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Another hero leaves us

Major-General Anthony Deane-Drummond died yesterday after a long, fulfilling and genuinely heroic life (including escaping from enemy prisoner-of-war camps no less than three times during World War II, twice making it all the way back to his own forces).  I read his famous book 'Return Ticket' in my youth, and learned of his long and illustrious career with the British Special Air Service through my contacts with Special Forces in Rhodesia and South Africa, where those who'd known him spoke of him with awe.  He was, by all accounts, a truly remarkable person.

Here's an excerpt from his obituary in the Telegraph.

One of his MCs [equivalent to the US Silver Star] was awarded for his courage during Operation “Market Garden”, launched in 1944 with the aim of seizing a 60-mile corridor spanning eight major water obstacles to secure the Allied advance on to the German plain. The 1st Airborne Division was dropped on September 17 with the main objective of capturing the bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem.

Deane-Drummond was second-in-command of Divisional Signals, but took temporary command of a company of 1st Parachute Battalion after the company commander was killed. The German opposition was far stronger than had been anticipated, and within a short period the company was reduced to 20 men.

Deane-Drummond distributed them between three houses. By nightfall nearly all their ammunition had gone and the main body of the battalion was 400 yards behind them. He and a small group moved to a house near the river.

When a party of Germans broke in and went upstairs to site a machine gun, Deane-Drummond and his team dived into a lavatory on the ground floor. For three days and nights, they took it in turns to rest on the lavatory seat and subsisted on a few apples that they found in the cellar. The Germans often tried the door, but finding it engaged went away again.

On the fourth night the group broke out and swam 400 yards across the Rhine. The opposite bank was manned by Germans, and in the darkness Deane-Drummond fell into a slit trench on top of a German soldier. He and his comrades were taken prisoner and moved to a house on the outskirts of Arnhem, a temporary PoW “cage” holding about 500 all ranks and guarded by an under-strength company. Deane-Drummond found a wall cupboard about four feet wide and 12 inches deep with a flush-fitting concealed door. He unscrewed the lock, turned it back to front, pasted over the outside keyhole and locked himself in. For the next 13 days and nights, he remained there.

The room beyond his door was used by the Germans as an interrogation centre. He had only a one-pound tin of lard, half a small loaf of bread and his water bottle to keep him going. A gap in a corner of the floor surrounded by pipes served as a makeshift urinal.

On the 14th night, the Germans left the room empty and held a party upstairs. Deane-Drummond slipped out of his cupboard, climbed out of a window, dropped into the shrubbery, dodged the guards outside and got away.

A Dutch family concealed him in a shed next to their house. When the Germans searched it, Deane-Drummond, hidden under a pile of sacks, remained undiscovered.

He was passed from one “safe house” to another. On one occasion Baroness Ella van Heemstra, the mother of Audrey Hepburn, arrived with a bottle of champagne.

He was eventually taken in a Red Cross lorry to an area of forest outside Arnhem where he joined up with 30 British soldiers. That night, a party about 120-strong climbed into three old lorries and, guided by the Dutch Resistance, travelled through the German checkpoints masquerading as a rations convoy. They boarded assault boats paddled by sappers from 43rd Infantry Division and got back across the Rhine.

There's more at the link.  A good account of his military career during and after World War II may be found here.

May General Deane-Drummond rest in peace, and be reunited with his former comrades.



Old NFO said...

Simply amazing... RIP sir, RIP!

Stretch said...

Reading obits from The Telegraph makes me feel so inadequate.