Unit : War Correspondent, attached to 190 Squadron, 38 Group.
The following is an obituary to Edmund Townshend, printed in the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper he worked for, on the 28th November 2008.
Edmund Townshend, who has died aged 96, was a Daily Telegraph war correspondent shot down over the battle of Arnhem on his first flight in an aircraft; he then evaded German patrols for four days before reaching the British lines.
The Stirling bomber, No 190 Squadron's R for Roger, had just dropped its supplies to troops on the ground amid heavy flak, and Teddy Townshend was watching from the co-pilot's seat the coloured parachutes floating down like autumn leaves when he heard over the intercom: "Weave, skipper, weave... Keep weaving."
"Engineer officer," called the pilot, "come forward and take a look at the port outer motor on fire."
"What port outer motor on fire?" asked the engineer officer.
"Bail out," came the order and, after clipping on his parachute, Townshend found himself being bundled to the open hatch in the nose.
"Gripping the parachute release handle to make sure I had it, I leapt into space too eager to escape from the blazing plane to feel fear at the drop," he wrote in his front page story. "For minutes like hours, dreading attack by machine-gunners below, I swayed slowly to earth. Breathlessly I watched the Stirling roar away in flames, losing height. With relief I saw other parachutes opening in its wake."
On landing in a ploughed field south of the Rhine, he was immediately met by members of the Dutch underground who gave him food and drink, and buried his parachute and Mae West. They were disappointed that he carried nothing more dangerous than a pencil and notebook, but escorted him along dykes and behind hedges to meet up with nine fliers, including the crew of R for Roger, whom they made lie down in a beech wood in silence for fear of enemy patrols.
At dawn the underground returned with hot milk and sandwiches. German ack-ack fire whistled through the tops of the trees as another supply flight passed overhead in the afternoon, and the group ended the day crouching in a tunnel as the artillery of both sides exchanged shells. Setting out at dusk with a map, compass and hard rations they found the roads too dangerous and the dykes too wide and deep to cross. They encountered their first Allied patrol the next morning.
A farmer's family invited all of them into their house, where Flying Officer Tom Oliver of R for Roger sat down at the harmonium to play the Dutch national anthem, and a picture of Queen Wilhelmina was pinned on the wall. A dozen more fleeing airmen appeared - one had landed in the river and swum 100 yards to the Dutch side as the Germans fired at the floating body of his co-pilot; others had watched the enemy retreating without shoes, one man furiously pedalling a child's bicycle. Eventually the group, which possessed a total of three pistols between them, started to stroll across an open field; but sniper-fire drove them to take shelter in a ditch before they were taken to a tactical headquarters, from where Townshend hitched a lift to Brussels to phone over his story.
When he submitted his expenses back in London they included "replacement of splinter-proof spectacles swept away by an involuntary parachute exit" and "rewards to Dutch underground workers for protection from enemy search parties". The news editor paid up with a wry grin.
Edmund William Townshend was born on May 28, 1912 at Bournville, Birmingham, whereas a child he often saw George Cadbury, the chocolate magnate, walking home. After matriculating at Kings Norton secondary school he started work with a chartered accountancy firm but soon found a job, at 10 shillings a week, with a local weekly newspaper. He progressed to the Birmingham Mail and then the Daily Mail in London before joining the Telegraph in 1944.
As the invasion was about to begin he was attached to the Merchant Navy and given blue battledress, with a war correspondent's shoulder tabs and a big MN on the chest, "I don't envy you, old man," said the news editor.
On the morning of D-Day Townshend was in a troopship in the Strait of Dover, watching a ship astern take a direct hit which cost 20 lives. When he looked from the bridge at a clock tower on land to check the time for his dispatch, he saw a shell from a British battleship neatly remove it.
Later, in another ship, which was loaded with 800 tons of high explosive ammunition, the chief officer observed: "One enemy shell into this lot and you won't know where to look for your typewriter."
In November Townshend was the sole British correspondent in a Royal Marine landing craft in the assault on Westkapelle, Walcheren Island, near Antwerp.
He helped to haul wounded survivors out of the sea, and veterans told him that the opposition was fiercer than at Dieppe. His night editor, however, toned down his prose: "Too much blood and guts. Might upset the readers at breakfast."
Townshend was next sent to the Far East. He reported from a forward fighter airstrip at Tolungoo in Burma; wrote an account of flying in a Dakota over the "Hump" into China, which a professor of geography complained could only have been a subsidiary mountain range; and described from the island of Diego Garcia flying boats searching for Japanese submarines.
After the war Townshend covered the trial of Field Marshal von Manstein, and filed from Algeria, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Denmark. He saw King Leopold hand over to his son, Baudouin, in Belgium, and British troops withdrawing from the Canal Zone of Egypt in 1953.
He served next on the diplomatic staff in London, ran The Sunday Telegraph's foreign desk on Saturdays and finally returned to the newsroom, where, modest and neatly turned-out, he was ready to cover any story before taking a half pint afterwards.
While on strike in the early 1970s, he was astonished to be introduced over a drink at a pub to a picture desk editor who recalled being asked to contribute money for a wreath when Townshend was posted missing at Arnhem.
When Townshend first arrived at the Telegraph he had settled at Chiswick, because there was a late night bus that would bring him home from Fleet Street. But the service was cancelled soon afterwards and reintroduced only shortly before he reluctantly retired 33 years later, in 1977.
Teddy Townshend, who died on November 16, married, in 1939, Nina Bjarnov, who predeceased him. He is survived by a son and a daughter.
Back to 190 Squadron
Back to Biographies Menu