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Freddie Gough

Freddie Gough

Major Charles Frederick Howard Gough

 

Unit : 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron

Army No. : 31420

Awards : Military Cross, Territorial Efficiency Decoration

 

Freddie Gough was one of the 1st Airborne's elder officers, having celebrated his 43rd birthday on the 16th September, and he was a well known character throughout the Division. Born in 1901 into a highly distinguished military family, the youngest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hugh Henry Gough of the Indian Army, he received an education and earned an 'Honourable Mention' at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, later moving to the College at Dartmouth, before being granted a commission in 1917 as a Midshipman. Having served aboard the Battleship, HMS Ramillies, and the Destroyer, HMS Witherington, he was bought out of his commission in 1920 by his parents, whereupon he relocated to India to take up farming and horse breeding, but two years later returned to England where he was employed at Lloyds Insurance Brokers in London. In 1924 he joined the Territorial Army and the London Rifle Brigade at the rank of Lieutenant, and in 1928 was amongst the Guard of Honour to the future King George VI at the opening of the new Lloyds Building. In 1929 Gough married Barbara May Pegler, with whom he had a son and daughter, and in the same year he resigned his commission with the LRB. He later became the first person to qualify as a parachutist with the Royal Aero Club.

 

When the Second World War began, Gough was recalled from the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers and as a Captain rejoined the London Rifle Brigade, posted to H Company of the 2nd Battalion. However two months after the Russian invasion of Finland in December 1939, the British government expressed a desire of lending clandestine support to the Finns, and so Gough left the London Rifle Brigade in favour of the 5th (Ski) Battalion of the Scots Guards. This was an experimental unit, a factor which no doubt attracted the adventurous Gough who was not in the least deterred by obligatory loss of rank, and it consisted entirely of volunteers who were experienced in skiing and mountaineering. Needless to say this unit attracted a wide range of characters who went on to achieve distinction with such pioneering units as the Chindits and the SAS; among them was David Stirling, the founder of the Special Air Service. After a period of intense training and a brief spell in the French Alps, it was planned that the force would be posted to Norway in March, from where they would make their way to Finland to help fight the Soviet invasion. However on the eve of setting sail there came the news that the situation in Finland was fast becoming hopeless, and so the operation was cancelled. Gough returned to the London Rifle Brigade, who shortly after departed for France to become a part of the British Expeditionary Force. Gough was given command of a Provost Section, and he played a conspicuous role in organizing the perimeter around Dunkirk and facilitating the evacuation from the beaches. For these actions he was Mentioned in Despatches.

 

Gough joined the 1st Airborne Division in 1941, around the time of its formation, and was promoted to Major and given command of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron. They departed for North Africa with the Division in 1943 and were due to have played a part in the Sicily invasion, however due to a lack of tugs and gliders they were omitted from the operation. In September they sailed with the Division to Italy, where Gough won the Military Cross.

 

Though commander of a group of men whose rationale was speed, Gough was notorious for being highly unpunctual when it came to attending conferences, and the first briefing for Market Garden on Tuesday 12th September was no exception. Major-General Urquhart wrote "After the briefing had started, Freddie Gough, a cheerful, red-faced, silver-haired major, turned up with the air of a truant playing schoolboy and I laid into him afterwards for his unpunctuality. It was not the first time he had been very late for a conference."

 

Since the air planners refused to allow a coup-de-main assault upon the bridge by means of an Airborne drop, the Reconnaissance Squadron was charged with the task of racing to the bridge in their Jeeps the moment they were unloaded from their gliders and holding it until the 2nd Battalion arrived on foot. It was a role for which the Squadron was not suited, for they had been trained to act as scouts, and Gough was known to find this part of the plan somewhat distasteful.

 

After leading elements of the Squadron ran into by Krafft's blocking line and were wiped out, Gough's main force assembled and fought a running skirmish with the defiant German opposition, taking several prisoners in the process, but were finally compelled to withdraw under the cover of the 1st Battalion when they arrived on the scene. Gough attempted to contact Brigadier Lathbury using his radio to inform him of the delay to the coup-de-main action, but as was being discovered across the Division at this time such communication was largely impossible in the thick woodland. Major-General Urquhart was similarly hampered, and upon hearing of the Squadron's troubles he dispatched a message asking Gough to report to him at Divisional HQ, where he intended to work out a fresh route for the Squadron to take. However Urquhart, thanks to these radio problems, soon found himself heading off towards the advancing parachute battalions to warn them that the Recce Squadron was not at the bridge. Gough meanwhile had received the message and arrived at Divisional HQ, only to be informed by the General's Chief of Staff, Lt-Colonel Mackenzie, that Urquhart had left to seek out Lathbury, but that he still wanted to see Gough urgently. With two Jeeps and the 7 men of his HQ, Gough retraced his commander's tracks, but German activity along the 1st Para Brigade's route was increasing, making several detours necessary, and it was not until 18:30 that he reached Brigade HQ. Here he was informed by the Brigade Major, Major Tony Hibbert, that both Lathbury and Urquhart had left them and were last known to be heading for the 3rd Battalion. Gough decided that it would be prudent to fall in line with the 2nd Battalion and follow them to the bridge, where he was supposed to be anyway. He would be separated from the main part of the Reconnaissance Squadron for the remainder of the Battle, and consequently the rest of the War.

 

Upon reaching the bridge, where Frost's HQ and the 2nd Battalion's A Company had already taken up positions, Gough familiarized himself with the defensive layout before installing himself inside the large three storey building that was to become Brigade HQ. He made another attempt to contact Urquhart using his radio, but again had no success at all. Shortly after A Company's No.2 Platoon attempted to take the southern end of the bridge, and after being driven back by heavy fire from a pillbox, engineers came forward to wipe out this threat with a flame thrower and inadvertently destroyed their target after missing it and setting fire to a neighbouring ammunition dump. The explosions rocked the bridge and set it ablaze, which prompted a fear that the bridge may collapse. Gough wasn't convinced it would not, but he assured his men "It's only the paintwork".

 

During Graebner's failed assault on the Bridge positions on Monday 18th, Gough, along with most of the defenders, joined in the gunfight by firing the twin Vickers machine guns mounted on his jeep. Lt-Colonel Frost noted that the Major was "grinning like a wicked uncle".

 

The Polish Brigade was expected to land south of the bridge on Tuesday morning, and so a suicide squad was arranged by Frost to race across the bridge in Jeeps and inform them of the situation. He hoped that the Germans would be sufficiently distracted by the parachute landings for them to break safely through and establish contact. The men of the Reconnaissance Squadron, together with one of the 2nd Battalion's Bren carriers, were to carry out this task, and Frost told Gough that it would be his chance to win his family's fifth Victoria Cross. After the war Gough revealed that he was "thoroughly miserable and quite unenthusiastic about the idea". Luckily for him and his men, the Polish lift never materialized, though later in the day Frost and Gough again discussed the possibility of using the two Jeeps of the Reconnaissance Squadron to race across the bridge at dusk, this time to effect a link up with the vanguard of XXX Corps, but Frost eventually abandoned the idea.

 

At 8:00 on Wednesday morning, a radio link was at last established between the bridge and the Light Regiment at Oosterbeek, who used the powerful Type 19 sets. Gough was on the line when Major-General Urquhart was brought to it, unaware of who was on the other end, and reports that Germans were monitoring radio messages and sometimes even posing as British soldiers led to both men acting with caution until each others identity could be verified. The Major began; "Hello Sunray", which was the General's call sign, and he was asked by Urquhart to offer an indication as to whom he was speaking to. Gough paused for a moment before declaring "It's the man who goes in for funny weapons", which did not immediately ring any bells and so he offered the unmistakable prompt of "The man who is always late for your 'O' groups". Urquhart immediately recognized the reference to Gough's prior unpunctuality and said "My goodness, I thought you were dead". Gough described the situation at the bridge, saying that although morale was high they were desperately short of supplies of every kind. He also reported that positions on the eastern side of the bridge were beginning to surrender, he said "It's pretty grim, we'll do what we can". When he asked Urquhart if they had any chance of relief he was told that it could only come from XXX Corps as the remainder of the Division was "in poor shape". The General wished Gough the best of luck and asked him "to pass on my personal congratulations on a fine effort to everyone concerned".

 

Later in the day when Frost was badly wounded, Major Gough was placed in command of the entire force at the bridge, though Frost was still consulted on all key decisions. Like many other officers at the bridge, Gough inspired those around him with his confidence and humour. As resistance began to fail on Wednesday 20th and the defence concentrated their last gasp at Brigade HQ, the building had a great many wounded men crammed into the cellar, and the structure was so badly damaged that it was in danger of collapsing. Gough was advised by two Medical Officers, Captains Wright and Logan, that he had to call a truce and arrange for the wounded to be evacuated into German care or else they would be burned alive. With Frost's consent Gough arranged a ceasefire, but before doing so, he ordered the non-2nd Battalion members of the bridge defence to scatter north into Arnhem and try to make their way back to the rest of the Division at Oosterbeek. Gough stayed behind with the paratroopers who would carry on the fight until the bitter end. When German infantry entered the remains of Brigade HQ to carry off the wounded, the British stood aside, however some German elements did not fully appreciate the definition of a truce and proceeded to use it to locate their men in positions closer to and even cutting into the much shrunk perimeter. Some German soldiers approached the British Jeeps, which had somehow escape the battle largely unscathed, and though Gough ordered them to back away he was powerless to argue with their assertion, truthful or not, that the vehicles were needed to take the wounded to the St. Elizabeth Hospital. When the fighting resumed and the defence was finally broken during the night, the defenders tried to scatter into Arnhem, though with very little success. Gough made for the local waterworks, and upon hearing German voices in the vicinity he burrowed his way beneath a woodpile, however his left boot remained visible and he was dragged out by it and captured. Completely exhausted, he surveyed the faces of the men who had captured him and found that they were little more than boys, which prompted him to burst out laughing. Shortly after, a German Major asked to see Gough, understanding him to be the commander at the bridge. The officer said "I wish to congratulate you and your men. You are gallant soldiers. I fought at Stalingrad and it is obvious that you British have a great deal of experience in street fighting." To which Gough simply replied, "No. This was our first effort. We'll be much better next time."

 

Freddie Gough remained in captivity until his escape in 1945. By 1947 he had been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and, moreover, had joined the Parachute Regiment, where he commanded the 11th (8th Middlesex (DCO)) Parachute Battalion of the Territorial Army, and held the post until the following year, earning the Territorial Efficiency Decoration in 1948. Eventually becoming a full Colonel, he was Honorary Colonel of the Sussex Yeomanry from 1959-63, and Honorary Colonel of the 16th (Volunteer) Independent Company The Parachute Regiment from 1952-74, with whom he was awarded a Bar to his Territorial Decoration. Whilst maintaining a prominent position within Lloyds up until 1970, he was also the Trustee of Airborne Forces Security Fund, Vice President of the Lloyds Branch of the British Legion, Chairman of the Royal Aero Club from 1958-68, and President of the Federation of Sussex Industries from 1964-70. He took an interest in politics and was President of the South Lewisham Conservative Association, and, from 1951-71, was Chairman of the Horsham Division Conservative Association, before becoming the Member of Parliament for Horsham in 1971. Having briefly occupied the posts of Governor of the Cutty Sark Society, Prime Warden of the Fishmongers Company, and becoming a Trustee of the Maritime Trust, Gough retired from Parliament in 1974. Living in West Sussex, the same area as John Frost, the two men renewed their friendship and it was Gough who was chiefly responsible for encouraging Frost's move into local politics. In 1977, when Frost was asked if he would like to Arnhem bridge being named after him, he was unsure whether he should accept, but made up his mind when Gough told him "Unless you have your name put on the plaque, it will not mean anything to anybody and will be ignored and forgotten in no time. It is the same with all memorials". Freddie Gough died on the 19th September 1977, aged 76.

 

Thanks to Leslie Nicoll for helping me with this biography.

 

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