Captain Iain Colquhuon Muir
Unit : No.22 Flight, "D" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Army No. : 172724
Awards : Mentioned in Despatches
Iain Muir, of Muswell Hill in Middlesex, was born on the 15th February 1922. He gained employment as an insurance clerk, and in 1938 joined the Territorial Army as a Gunner with the Royal Artillery. Posted first to the 90th Field Regiment and then to the 263rd Anti-Aircraft Battery, of the 84th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Muir progressed swiftly through the ranks and in 1941 he received an emergency commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. Transferred to the 114th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, and attached to the Workshop Company in the 10th Anti-Aircraft Division, he was severely reprimanded by his commanding officer when, approaching midnight on the 21st August 1942, a military policemen caught him in possession of an army vehicle, which he did not have permission to use and which contained three female civilian passengers. He had attended a dance that evening and had made use of the vehicle so that he could take the young ladies to a nearby bus stop, so as to prevent any entanglements with the various service personnel roaming the road, who were officially noted as being "in varying stages of insobriety". Despite this indiscretion he was frequently held in high regard by the various units in which he served, his military conduct being described as very good, and himself as "Intelligent, competent and capable."
He is believed to have joined the Glider Pilot Regiment in 1943, and was posted to "D" Squadron as a Lieutenant. Before the Invasion of Normandy took place, it is said that Muir was involved in a number of covert operations, including the flying of Lysander aircraft to France to drop off or collect agents of the Special Operations Executive. There is also rumour that he was involved in a glider lift to carry arms to the French Resistance, where the gliders were unloaded, set alight, and the pilots smuggled out to the coast and withdrawn to England in rescue boats. Any information confirming or refuting any of these operations would be most welcome. Please contact email@example.com if you have any information.
In the early hours of D-Day, the 6th June 1944, Lieutenant Muir took part in the first glider lift of the 6th Airborne Division to their landing zone, near Ranville in Normandy. His load was a Jeep, 6-pounder gun and men of the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery. At some stage during the Normandy landings, Muir was involved in an action that led to him being Mentioned in Despatches. The glider pilots who flew the anti-tank guns into battle had been trained to help man the guns with the accompanying half-crew until the remainder of their gun team could arrive, and as the guns flown in by "D" Squadron were involved in the destruction of a number of enemy self-propelled guns in the Ranville area, it is possible that the award is connected to this. The brief report that Muir wrote about the landings hints at this, as shown below:
Report on Operation "TONGA"
Sgt. Stones [2nd Pilot]
Glider No. 108
Good tow - hit by flak before L.Z. [Landing Zone] - released, circled L.Z. and lost starboard u/c [undercarriage] and nosewheel on landing amidst "poles and holes" [anti-glider obstacles which littered the zone].
Proceeded with 6 pounder to site S.E. of RANVILLE. Later encountered 3 Self Propelled Guns (Hun) which were killed by guns on our left. Engaged supporting infantry who went to ground and returned [fire]. Guns moved to 2 new sites - during 2nd glider landing [2100 hrs, 6th June] experienced heavy mortar fire and spasmodic M.G. [Machine Gun].
On relief marched to beachhead independently.
(Signed) I.C. Muir, Lt.
During a lull in the fighting, Muir picked up a pencil and produced a sketch of his glider, which he named Old 108. The 6th Airborne Division remained in Normandy for almost three months, however as they were needed for possible operations elsewhere, the Glider Pilot Regiment was withdrawn from the battlefield as soon as possible, and all had returned to England by the 8th June.
Promoted to Captain and given command of "D" Squadron's No.22 Flight, Muir flew to Arnhem with the Second Lift on Monday 18th September. On the following day, the 156th Parachute Battalion was preparing to attack the Sperrverband Spindler blocking line along the Dreijenseweg, but as the leading "A" Company was without their No.3 Platoon, who were guarding the wounded back on DZ-Y, an ad-hoc platoon of thirty "D" Squadron Glider Pilots, led by Muir, was placed under the command of the Company.
Although extremely capable soldiers, the Glider Pilots were not an adequate replacement for a platoon of paratroopers, and Major Pott, "A" Company's commander, had not been able to find the time to visit them before the advance began. When the Company approached the Dreijenseweg, the leading platoon became pinned down by heavy fire and so the second platoon, with the glider pilots following on behind, were ordered to attack around their left flank. This group was also quickly halted by heavy fire and the Company proceeded to mount a desperate bayonet charge to get in amongst the German positions along the road and into the woodland beyond. Through no fault of their own, the glider pilots were not able to slot into this attack in a manner that would be expected of paratroopers. Very early on, the men of "D" Squadron were badly hit by machine-gun fire in their flank and were brought to an abrupt halt. Staff-Sergeant Bill Higgs recalls: "I was with Capt. Muir during [the] battle until I was shot through the right lung. He [Muir] sent me out and wished me good luck when I was lying on a stretcher, during the battle." Shortly after, Muir was wounded and taken prisoner.
On the following day, Captain Muir was amongst a party of British POW's being marched away from the area in or around Renkum, when a German corporal emerged from a slit trench and fired a captured Sten gun at the column. It is not certain whether his thoughts dwelt on murder of if he was under the impression that these men were not prisoners and were, in fact, in the process of attacking his position. What is known, however, is that several British soldiers were wounded by his fire, and that Lieutenant W. H. Skinner, the commander of the 261 Field Park Company RE, was killed instantly and Captain Muir fatally wounded. The precise date of his death is uncertain; officially he is recorded as having been killed on Monday 25th September, but Wednesday 20th September appears to be the more likely date. The fate of the German soldier who killed him is also unclear. It is known that a German officer had words with him and led him away. It is said that the same officer took a rifle from one of his men and shot him dead.
Several accounts have been found concerning this incident. Lance-Corporal Alan Aldcroft of the 4th Parachute Squadron RE writes:
"It was about 11 o'clock in the morning and the weather was fine and clear. We were being marched as a group of prisoners, when for no reason a German soldier started firing into us with a machine gun. We all hit the deck as fast as we could but some men were hit. I was within a yard of Lt. Skinner when he was shot. We formed a circle round him, checked he was dead; he had a bullet wound in the centre of his forehead, so we checked he had nothing to identify him. We did, however, find a letter he had received from a nurse at Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow, which we destroyed. Captain Muir, with Lt. Skinner, was at the front of the column, but it all happened so quick, the guards got us back into column and marched us off. I heard later that a German Officer shot on the spot the soldier that fired into us but I didn't see it. We did see a German Officer go to the Machine Gunner and take him away. There was no reason for the shooting, we were in a column with Guards all round us."
Lieutenant George Paull, the commander of "X" Troop, 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA, sent a letter to Captain Muir's mother on the 17th July 1945:
"We were marched down the road, and here we joined another party that had been captured consisting of a Glider Pilot Officer who told me his name was Muir, & an R.E. officer named Skinner. The German officer formed us up into three's, placing us three officers at the head, your son on my left, Skinner on the right & myself in the centre. We marched for about a mile & then we were allowed to fall out by the side of a road for a rest, as we were all pretty tired. I sat and talked with your son, & we talked about our respective hectic adventures. We were then formed up again in the same order & continued marching. We had moved about half a mile & noticed by the side of the road odd German machine gun nests. As we approached a particular one, its gunner opened fire with a burst, your son & Skinner both fell, I [went] to Ian immediately but saw he was beyond all human aid, as was the other officer. I can assure you Mrs Muir Ian did not know a thing about it... In fairness to the German officer in charge of us, he immediately seized a rifle & shot the German machine gunner straight away. Some of the men were also killed & wounded when the... incident was over. I tackled the German officer & asked for an explanation, he could offer no reason except for the fact we were all wearing our red berets which he asked us to remove as these men had lost their head at the very sight of any of us. It [seemed] a bit difficult to believe but there it is. I went back to Ian with a view to removing any of his paper effects, but another German officer arrived in a car & forbade me to go near him & with the aid of a pistol forced me to rejoin the men & continue the march, & paid no heed to my requests."
Paull had presumably softened his recollection of events in the interest of not causing Mrs. Muir any further grief, he later wrote a slightly different account of the shooting which reads:
"...without warning, a German corporal got out of a slit trench and with a captured Sten, opened fire on us. Muir and Skinner, on either side of me, went down and complete surprise made me do the same. The shooting was terminated by the S.S. officer grabbing a guard's rifle and shooting the German corporal responsible. I got up, but saw that Muir and Skinner were riddled with the bullets. Skinner was dead, but Muir was trying to attract my attention to his breast pocket. I tried to open it, but was prevented by a fat German officer who knocked my hand away, punched me in the face, and said, "He is Kaput." There was an awful lot of shouting going on, all in German, so I knelt again by the side of Muir, who was trying to say something. I was again dragged away, and saw that Muir had died. There were a great many casualties as a result of this incident. I recall a C.M.P. [Corps of Military Police] Sergeant shot through the jaw and Bombardier Montieth with a bullet in his shoulder. The blonde S.S. officer tried to convey to me that the German corporal had panicked at the sight of our red berets, and told us to take them off in case it happened again. I almost lost my temper with him and through a sergeant who spoke a little English said, "The least you can do is arrange something about the wounded before marching us off." They were a pretty arrogant lot, to say the least, but I had satisfaction of seeing that the wounded were eventually attended to. To this day, I cannot make my mind up as to the real cause of this regrettable affair; I am inclined to think there was more to it than the red berets."
Corporal Jock Mills was also in amongst the column of prisoners, and although he was too far back to see the incident unfold, he nevertheless witnessed its aftermath:
"We were marched down the road in a long column, all of us who had been captured in the wood. From somewhere up ahead a German opened up on us with a machine gun or something. We all dived into a ditch for cover. When the German Officer ordered us out onto the road again we refused as long as we were being fired at. The Officer said "He will not fire at you any more" with that he walked down the road to the German soldier who fired at us, shouted at him, then shot him dead."
"Junior" Stubbs writes:
"They marched us a couple of hundred yards down the main road where there were German tanks lined up as far as we could see. This German, a Marine I think, started firing at us as we marched towards him. Lieutenant Locke was hit in the arm or shoulder and Len Formoy took a bullet through his cheek. In one cheek and out the other side. He said it was a good job he had his false teeth out at the time. The German was shot dead by one of our guards. "Locky" and Formoy were taken away by a German ambulance and we never saw them again..."
Len Formoy survived the war. He died in 1985.
Thanks to Colin Muir, Iain's nephew, for his help with this story.
See also: Maj Pott, Sgt Bradbury.
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