Major John Timothy
Unit : "R" Company, 1st Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 164812
Awards : Military Cross and two Bars.
John Timothy was born on the 5th July 1914 and was educated at Skinner's School, where he became a keen sportsman and enjoyed some success as a cricket and rugby player; years later he represented the 1st Parachute Brigade at rugby. After leaving school, he worked as a wholesale shoe sales representative with Lilly and Skinners, and later for Marks and Spencer as a management trainee.
War was declared shortly after and he attempted to join up immediately, but such was the queue outside the recruiting office at Scotland Yard that he was turned away. In the new year he tried again at Maidstone, but due to a rugby injury to his knee he was medically graded B and deemed fit only for service in the Royal Army Service Corps or the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. Timothy did not see "why some other poor bugger should do the fighting on his behalf", and on his third attempt, at a pub in Eltham, he was graded A1. It had been his preference to enter the Royal Navy, but both they and the Royal Air Force had a waiting list of up to six months before the call up could be expected. Not content to wait this long, he turned to the Army instead whose needs were more immediate, and became a Guardsman in the Grenadiers.
During the first months of training, Timothy noticed a request for volunteers for the 11th Special Air Service Battalion, later to become the 1st Parachute Battalion, and put his name forward. Nothing came of this, however, as he had been recommended for officer training and attended Sandhurst in September 1940, and was commissioned into the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment on the 21st December. Yet when the 1st Parachute Brigade was formed in September 1941, Timothy applied for a transfer. He passed the initial interview by a panel of officers, amongst whom was Lieutenant-Colonel Flavell, but was almost rejected during the subsequent the medical examination because of varicose veins. His protests led to the matter being referred to a specialist, who fortunately concluded that this would not pose a problem providing that he underwent a course of treatment. He was duly accepted into the Parachute Regiment, although the treatment never materialised.
Lieutenant Timothy was posted to "C" Company of the 2nd Parachute Battalion, who were selected to carry out the Bruneval Raid on the 28th February 1942, to capture an example of the new German radar technology. His narrative of the raid is as follows:
"We were told that the company had been given the chance to go on a raid. Johnny Frost was adjutant at the time and he took over C Company. Something was on, but I don't think even Frost was aware of the details initially. We began intensive training down at Tilshead, night after night, and we did one practice jump with 51 Squadron, who were flying Whitley bombers. We trained quite hard. Then it came to the time when we got the impression we were about to go on the actual raid rather than just doing a dry run. We were sent up to Scotland, to the Combined Operations base at Inverary for more training, and exercises involving landing craft. Lord Mountbatten came up and blew the gaff, as it were, although we still did not know exactly where we were heading or what we would be doing. There were medics and all kinds of people there for the planning. It turned out to be the Bruneval Raid. We went back to Tilshead and prepared to wait."
"Eventually we were shown models of our target and were briefed extensively on what was required of us and we did a couple of rehearsal exercises. We knew very little about radar, but they brought a chap in who did - Flight Sergeant Cox, a very brave man who had never jumped before. They sent him up to Ringway and he did one or two jumps and joined the Company. Captain Dennis Vernon from the sappers was given a bit of training to act as number two to Cox."
"After we returned from Scotland we did some more practice runs on the Dorset coast. Eventually we transferred to an airfield near Bournemouth. There we were in our various parties - C Company was just about 100 strong, plus two or three sections from the rest of the battalion, plus Para medics and Para sappers. I think we had chances on 4 consecutive nights and each time it was scrubbed but they extended it one more night and we eventually took off. My party was called Rodney which was a reserve force comprising of about 40 men. Our equipment was carried in containers fitted in the bomb bays of the aircraft. We dropped last onto several inches of snow but it was fairly clear conditions."
"It was a very good exit and landing, but when we came down the first thing I noticed was that some sections and containers had gone a bit adrift. It turned out that Junior Charteris and his sections had gone down out of position and had to make a mad dash to get back and link up. We marched down to take up our positions. The main party moved up to attack the radar station, which they achieved virtually without opposition. My group was in the rear for clearing operations, mopping up pockets of German resistance, which entailed some pretty heavy skirmishes."
"The only trouble was that some of our radio communications were in the containers which had gone adrift and the others that we did have were playing up. This meant that we were using runners to maintain communications with Major Frost while we were engaged with the Germans. One of the men in my party was killed as a result of the fighting and we also had a few wounded. Unfortunately some men got left behind and were captured. Because of the radio communications problems, when we were ready to leave we had no contact with the Navy. John Ross fired Very lights to attract the Navy's attention. By now we had been waiting over an hour. Sergeant Major Strachan who had been wounded in the raid was beginning to feel the cold and I leant him a cricket sweater I had with me. I had brought it to keep warm in the Whitley on the flight over. Although we had dealt with the local troops there was the possibility of reinforcements arriving and a real risk of us getting onto a hiding for nothing. Fortunately, a couple of sub-lieutenants came ashore to have a look and we were taken off by assault landing craft (ALC) and transferred to gunboats. The lift off from the beach went fairly smoothly although we did come under fire from the Germans as we were trying to get off. The radar material, wounded and prisoners were taken back by fast gunboat to Portsmouth while the rest of us remaining in gunboats which accompanied the ALC's back to port. This took a pretty long time and we were all a little sea sick by the time we eventually arrived back at Portsmouth. I am glad to say that Sergeant Major Strachan recovered but I never did get that cricket sweater back!"
Shortly after his return, Timothy was posted to "A" Company and, during the early summer of 1942, he and a portion of his platoon were sent to Ringway for experimental jump training to evolve a drill for exiting from a Wellington bomber. Later that summer, US troops began to arrive in Britain and the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) was attached to the 1st Parachute Brigade. Timothy was sent to them as a liaison officer, and having been required to complete the American style parachuting course, he probably became the first British paratrooper to receive American jump wings. In November 1942, he accompanied the Regiment to North Africa as part of the landings of the 1st Allied Army in Morocco and Algeria.
The 1st Parachute Brigade also arrived in North Africa at this time, and although Timothy missed the 2nd Parachute Battalion's disastrous expedition to Oudna, he rejoined "A" Company on the 14th January 1943 and participated in the heavy fighting in Tunisia during the subsequent months. For his actions here, he was awarded the Military Cross:
On the night of the 26th/27th February 1943, this officer led a small patrol into the enemy positions in the Bou Arada Sector and brought back seven prisoners including one officer thus producing valuable information as to the enemy's intentions. During this action he displayed great qualities of leadership and initiative.
On the 8th March 1943, his platoon was surrounded by the enemy on the Sidi Mohammed Belkassem. They held their position and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Later in the day Lieutenant Timothy went forward alone under intense fire and captured an enemy machine gun post single handed.
Throughout the operations from the 7th March 1943 until the 18th March 1943 he displayed great qualities of leadership, courage and endurance and by his gallantry under heavy enemy fire was an inspiration to all ranks.
The 2nd Battalion suffered many casualties as a result of the intense fighting, and eventually the decision was made to reform it into two companies; Timothy was promoted to acting Captain and given temporary command of "B" Company. He wrote:
"The fighting was very heavy. One major problem we faced was diminishing numbers and accepting reinforcements. We couldn't take men from Infantry Replacement Training Depots because our chaps would not have accepted them since they weren't Para's. It was a very strong feeling amongst the men that they were part of an elite regiment. It was hard enough integrating Paras without any battlefield experience. I had 3 Bren positions on a fairly wide front. I remember visiting them one night and being approached by a young lad who said "my corporal won't speak to me". The lad had been told by his corporal to "get some hours in under shellfire before you speak to me" which wasn't particularly helpful as they were living together twenty four hours a day. So I remember taking this youngster out on patrol and he was then accepted by his corporal. The sad part of the story is that they were both dead within a month. And so it went on, the reinforcements we did receive couldn't stand up to our losses as the fighting was so intense and we were up against it pretty much all the time."
The fighting ceased at the end of March and the 2nd Battalion was pulled out of the line in mid-April to prepare themselves for the invasion of Sicily. C-47 aircraft would be used on this operation, and due to Timothy's experience alongside American paratroopers he ran a brief course for stick commanders to help train the many new arrivals in the Battalion who were unfamiliar with the aircraft. Timothy also became responsible for the 2nd Battalion's athletics programme, to help keep the men occupied and fit. He did not, however, accompany them to Sicily in July 1943, as he had developed severe problems with in-growing toe nails and was compelled to have an operation.
In September 1943, he rejoined the 2nd Battalion in Italy. As a consequence of the Italian surrender, many Allied prisoners of war had taken the decision to leave their camps and were presently roaming the hills. To assist their return to the Allied lines, it was planned to drop five sticks of ten parachutists behind the enemy lines to round up as many as possible. One of the sticks was American, another of the 2nd SAS, and one came from each of the battalions of the 1st Parachute Brigade. Captain Timothy was selected to lead the 2nd Battalion's contingent, No.2 Detachment, on what became known as Operation Simcol. He was given an Italian-speaking American soldier as an interpreter, and selected the remaining eight men of his stick from those who had volunteered from throughout the Battalion. The following is his report of events:
Albemarle took off Bari aerodrome 16:00 hours. We jumped at 17:26 hrs. I landed in a tree on the edge of a copse. I was unhurt but had trouble in getting the chute from the tree. Was joined after 3-4 minutes by 2 boys who helped with the chute. Moved off with one of the boys to contact the rest of the stick. After about quarter of an hour found where they had formed up, but they had already moved off. Pushed off then with a guide in the direction they were said to have taken. Made enquiries on the way, but no one had seen them, so I decided after about quarter of an hour to push straight on to a prearranged RV about 2 miles from the DZ area. Checked up with the locals, and found that instead of being dropped on the correct DZ, on the line of the River Tenna, we had been dropped about three miles from the coast along the River Potenza. This meant we were about 20 miles out and that the RV was no use. Went back then to where we had dropped and made further enquiries for the stick. However it had been dark some time now, the locals were jumpy, and I had no luck. Decided then to move south towards Porto Civitanova and from there to start searching my area for POWs. Kept going until about 02.00 hours and then slept.
08:10 hours moved on again until 10:30 hours. Decided then to lie up until evening. Made enquiries for POWs but no luck. 17:00 hours pushed on again until 01:15 hours when I reached the River Chianti. Slept.
06:30 hours on again. After about 3 hours I contacted 2 Sergeant POWs near San Elpidio. Explained things to them and sent them out to try and contact more POWs while I stayed at their farm to meet the chaps as they came along. The 2 Sergeants returned in the afternoon, but had been unable to find any others; apparently we were too near the coast road for POWs to congregate. At 17:20 hours I moved off along the River Chianti towards Corridonia, my idea being that in addition to contacting POWs I would learn something about the route they would have to take to reach 'A' beach RV. Slept at 20:30 hours.
On again at 07:20 hours. Made enquiries as I went but had no luck until about 12:00 hours when I contacted 7 POWs in a house. I passed on the news to them and sent some of them out to try to contact more. These chaps returned at about 14:00 hours but had no luck. At 16:00 hours I pushed these 7 POWs off to contact the first boat at 'A' beach RV, and stayed the night at their house.
08:00 on once more but without luck until I found 2 POWs with an Italian rebel band. Explained things to our chaps and they were keen to go but the rebels were a bit peeved when they found they were losing their star men. Moved on again and shortly afterwards contacted 4 more POWs and through these a further 10. I spent the rest of the day at a farm with 4 POWs but towards evening a band of about 50 rebels appeared - apparently with the intention of shooting me. They mounted a double guard over me during the night, but next morning I made free use of General Montgomery's name and moved on about 06:45 hours. [Regarding this incident, Timothy later wrote, "When I went for a meeting with the local Italian resistance there were also some British POWs present. I left my 45 automatic with the remainder of the resistance weapons and went up some stairs to sit at a meeting around a big table. The Italian officer said he knew that the British had no paratroopers and therefore I must be a German spy... and it seemed to me there was no one really on my side. I thought Christ Timothy you have got to do something boy. I said I had been personally sent by General Montgomery who had instructed me to see what was happening and to assess whether the resistance was worth helping or whether they were traitors. I know it sounds daft but it worked. So while the officer dithered I went back down the stairs to collect my 45 and cleared off."]
Had no luck until was near Moliano where I found 4 POWs working in a field. Through these four, by the end of the day I had contacted a further 30-40 POWs. Spent the night with the chaps.
Moved on at 07:20 hours. I made my HQ at a farm and eventually contacted about 60 men including an officer - a Lieutenant. This officer told me he had met 8 of my stick in the mountains. Private Power had been injured on the jump and had been left at a farm. Sgt. Wright had told the Lieutenant that he considered it almost impossible to try to get POWs from the mountains to the beach RVs and had decided to work south along the mountains picking up POWs as they (the stick) went along and to try to get them out that way. The Lieutenant was apparently the first POW they had contacted, and he told me that all of the stick were fit and in good form. I gave a note to a companion of the Lieutenant who was vouched for by him to take back to Sgt. Wright senior NCO of the stick fixing an RV at San Ginesio on the 13th. Slept at the farm.
09:10 hours went to a convent near Massa Fermata. At the convent I found 6 POWs and through these eventually something over a hundred more. Unfortunately most of these were living in the village and the locals became very upset. They also decided to shoot me, but after a certain amount of arguing I was allowed to leave the village under escort. Went on until about 3 miles from the village and slept.
07:00 hours on again. Moved on to near Servigliano but was unable to find any POW until about 15:00 hours when near Falerone I found 9 POWs. I stayed the night with them and the following day. During this time I met 60-70 POWs including about 20 Americans.
08:15 hours moved on again. This time I searched the areas around San Giovanni and San Angelo but without luck.
On to San Ginesio. In a farm near Ginesio I found 3 POWs. One of these was sick with malaria but the other two I sent out to contact more POWs and to find out if there was any news of Sgt. Wright and the rest of my chaps being in the area. I enquired around myself but nothing was known of British parachutists apart from myself being in the vicinity. I was told however that POWs were coming back from the mountains because of shortage of food and the cold. I spent the day around San Ginesio but in the evening after leaving with the POW directions where Sgt. Wright could contact me if they turned up later, I left with an Italian guide for San Lorenzo where I was told there were quite a few POWs. We reached there at 02:30 hours.
I spent the day at San Lorenzo and in all I met 70-80 POWs. However, I was met in the evening by a POW who had been to the 'A' beach rendezvous and was told by him that the men I had sent there were all returning to their farms because they had been unable to contact either the ships or the SAS. However, a POW had returned to Massa from Petritioli with news of a new beach RV. I stopped the POW from San Lorenzo moving off.
Went with the POW and the 2 senior NCOs at San Lorenzo to a farm near Massa. Here we were given more details of the new beach RV and I was able to speak to more people who had been to the 'A' beach RV. Some of these had met Private Power of my party at the RV. This was fortunate because it proved to them the scheme was genuine. Private Power was still a little shaken but was being well looked after. Certain of the details concerning the new RV rang true but it was essential that I checked up at the RV before I passed on the details.
16.10.43 & 17.10.43
08:00 hours moved off to the RV with a few POWs and reached the RV on 17.10.43. I found there two SAS men who explained that the original plan had been cancelled after we jumped and that this plan had been substituted. POWs were to be sent down to the area and would be picked up on the night of the 24/25th. In the evening I went up the river bed to the coastal road and railway bridges and found they were unguarded. I watched a convoy of horse drawn carts pass over the bridge going North.
Moved back towards Massa with the glad tidings that all was well. We met a few POWs on the way and spent the night at Moreliano.
At Moreliano we found a lot of POWs including a South African Captain. These already knew of the plan because the Captain of the SAS party - Captain Power with an American interpreter and a man - had stayed there a few days before. We were able to assure them that the plan was genuine. I sent two POWs who came from Lora Picona area back to their farms to pass on the news and left with another POW for the Massa area.
We reached Massa at 16:30 hours on the 20th. On the way we had met quite a few POWs who were making their way to the new RV. We also contacted some POWs who had no prior knowledge of the plan. My POW companion was able to convince almost all the POWs still remaining in Massa Fermata - some 40-50.
08:10 hours back to Moreliano. About 2 kms from Moreliano I found Sgt. Smith a POW from my battalion and spent the night at his farm. My POW companion carried on to Moreliano.
Sgt. Smith and I rejoined the other people at Moreliano. Here we found the majority had already moved to the RV and the remainder were preparing to move. On the move back from Massa I had found quite a few Italians who knew the details of the scheme. I tried to cover this by 'poo-pooing' the scheme to these people and inventing other schemes. I left Moreliano at 10:00 hours with Sgt. Smith for the RV. POWs were not to reach the RV before the 23rd and were told to take sufficient food to last them 2-3 days. Unfortunately in most cases neither of these things were done.
Sgt. Smith and I reached the control point for the RV at 10:00 hours 23rd. The control point overlooked the river bed and was manned by CSM Marshall of the SAS. He told me that two days previously a German patrol had picked up 2 of his men and 6 POWs near the river. He (CSM Marshall) had killed two Germans and one of his men had been able to escape, but had apparently been picked up again later the same day. Because of this shooting the locals were extremely jumpy and Captain Power had decided that his people should keep as quiet as possible until the time came to move up to the RV. In the evening I went with CSM Marshall to an RV to meet Captain Power. Unfortunately Captain Power was unable to get there.
About 10:00 hours a South African POW officer came to us from Captain Power, confirming the times for the evening. At 18:45 hours Sgt. Smith and I moved off with CSM Marshall and the rest of his party (5) who had since closed on the control point. Men had been posted at different points to stop the POWs getting to the beach too soon and also to keep them on the right track. We reached a point near the coast road at 23:20 hours and were told that about 200-300 POWs had been collected nearby. Quite a few more were lying up on their own. We moved on and reached the RV point on the beach at 23:40 hours. There had been no sign of anything on the coast road and everything was quiet. CSM Marshall sited his men as a beach protection party. At 00:05 hours we heard a single shot fired from the direction of the coast road bridge. Nothing further happened for about ten minutes when two or three more shots were fired. A report came in that the first shot had been fired by an Italian farmer. The later shots were fired down the road towards the bridge by a German motorised patrol. A few POWs started coming in. At 00:30 hours there were two or three bursts of Schmeisser fire and a little rifle fire. Our men were not firing. This was because:
(1) The German fire was slight.
(2) To return fire would only increase the jumpiness of the POWs.
(3) It would tell the Germans that there was an organised party with automatic weapons, and since there was no hope of the boats appearing before 02:00 hours, would cause a stronger German force to appear.
(4) Would tell the Germans that there was activity on the beach, whereas up to now he had merely contacted a few more British POW - a not uncommon circumstance.
(5) If firing was going on the boats would be unable to come in at all. The men were therefore merely a beach protection force.
At 00:40 hours since Captain Power had not appeared CSM Marshall and I commenced signalling. These signals were repeated every ten minutes. At 01:00 hours the firing ceased altogether but the POWs had apparently long since gone back. A few, however, were brought in. These had apparently crossed the road earlier and had been lying up. 02:05 hours we could see black shapes out to sea, and within half an hour rubber dinghies began to appear. We had a final round up but without luck. The final result was 5 officer POWs and 17 Other Rank POWs. We were all taken off by 02:50 hours.
The following night a boat returned and picked up the South African Captain and two other POWs. They reported that they had been unable to contact any other POWs during the day. Captain Power, and two of his men who were with him, are still missing. [Power appears to have been withdrawn successfully, as he was Mentioned in Despatches for actions in Italy, presumably for Operation Simcol, and was awarded the Military Cross for later operations in Normandy]
1. The morale of the POWs is low and they want to get back to England.
2. They have been extremely well looked after by the Italian people since they escaped. Almost all of them are wearing civilian clothes provided by the Italians.
3. There are numerous instances of Italians buying medicine for those of our men who are sick. The POWs are generally being treated as honoured guests.
4. In the country at the moment the people have a sufficiency of food. It is, however, of poor quality.
5. The Italians are very scared of the Germans and the Fascists, with the result that the mere presence of a stranger in the vicinity is sufficient to cause a flap. This reacts on the POWs. The Italians have a 'Bush Telegraph' system of passing on information regarding the presence of Germans, Fascists, Carabinieri or just strangers. This consists of shouting from farm to farm and the information, true or otherwise, is passed on to the POWs who immediately go into hiding somewhere.
6. The country is littered with rebel bands. These bands generally are armed with a few rifles and revolvers and some grenades. The personnel of these bands are mainly men who are dodging a German manifesto ordering them to report to various centres and from there to be sent to Germany as labourers.
7. In the country there seems to be little likelihood, at least all the time there are only a few Germans around, of POWs being turned over for the reward (1800 lire). The trouble will come when the Germans start withdrawing and therefore become more numerous in the present rear areas.
8. The only motor transport on the roads is German or Fascist, but there is very little even of this.
1 November 1943
Signed J Timothy, Capt.,
2nd Bn The Parachute Regt.
As a result of Operation Simcol, some five hundred prisoners of war were returned to the Allied lines, and for his part in it, Timothy was awarded a Bar to the Military Cross. Having rejoined the 2nd Battalion, he accompanied them back to the UK in November with the remainder of the 1st Airborne Division.
In July 1944, Timothy was transferred to the 1st Battalion, promoted to Major and given command of "R" Company. On the 17th September 1944, he flew to Arnhem with the First Lift, having "a good flight and a good drop although the man alongside me on the DZ had hit the tail plane on exit and got his face knocked up."
The 1st Battalion was to have advanced along the railway line behind the Reconnaissance Squadron, but when he heard that several of their Jeeps had run into strong resistance in this direction and the Squadron had been brought to an abrupt halt, the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie, decided to outflank this area by heading north onto the Amsterdamseweg. "R" Company were in the lead and met minor opposition in the intervening woodland, but as they arrived on the Amsterdamseweg they became thoroughly embroiled in a prolonged action with Kampfgruppe Weber.
"We were doing advance guard for the 1st Battalion and we were hit straight away. I had lost two officers within about ten minutes. Out came German troops armoured cars and then we were faced with tanks. You could hear them milling around. We settled down and put our anti-tank equipment out and waited for a bit of light. There was no signal communications at all. The wireless sets weren't working. We had no communication with the battalion. The only contact we had was during the night when the second in command of the 1st Battalion came across from their camp from the other side of the woods in pitch-black. We were to join up with the main body as soon as possible."
The remainder of the 1st Battalion pushed on without them, but left behind guides for Timothy to follow as soon as he was able to extricate his men. "R" Company had suffered 50% casualties by the end of the day and, as they remained in contact with the enemy, were unable to withdraw until the following day. When Timothy was finally able to move on, he led his men, now numbering less than 40, into Oosterbeek on Monday evening, where he met the leading elements of the 2nd South Staffords who had been ordered forward to assist the 1st Parachute Brigade. "R" Company fell in with them and rejoined the 1st Battalion in the western outskirts of Arnhem at around 20:00 that night.
During the early hours of the following morning, Tuesday 19th September, the 1st, 3rd, 11th Parachute Battalions and the 2nd South Staffords attempted to breakthrough to the Bridge. The 1st Battalion led the way on the right flank, but ran into a strong blocking line along the Onderlangs.
"[Major] Chris Perrin-Brown [Commander, "T" Company] moved off through a valley with enemy troops facing us and tanks and half tracks positioned on high ground to the left. His party was badly hit and was soon down to about eight men. Colonel Dobie asked us to do a bayonet charge with the rest following on to break out but by now we were down to pretty dodgy numbers. We cleared enemy infantry positions with bayonet and grenades; I picked off a German machine gun post and took some Germans prisoner but all I could see in front of me were German troops. By now progress was really difficult."
Major Timothy subsequently led assaults on two infantry guns and armoured cars, disabling one of the cars with a Gammon bomb and overrunning and disabling both guns. By this time, however, the 1st Battalion was coming under heavy fire from three sides, including from across the Rhine, and their numbers were perilously low. Dobie ordered the remnants to assemble in the houses on the left flank.
"Eventually we made it to within 1000 yards of the bridge. I was down to six men in my company, Chris Perrin Brown had eight, Ronnie Stark [Commander, "S" Company] had about a dozen and there were about ten in battalion HQ - and that was the 1st Battalion. That didn't mean to say the rest were all killed or wounded; many were dispersed during the actions. I went with David Dobie and our men and headed for some houses for cover but the Germans had Tigers out there and were knocking these places down. They also had Tigers with flame throwers; having knocked a hole in the house the flame thrower operated from there to clear the building. Unknown to me, civilians were hiding in our house and the Germans put troops into the house to flush them out. And that, basically, was the end of the 1st Battalion. Those of us who weren't killed went into the bag."
For his actions at Arnhem, Major Timothy was awarded a Second Bar to the Military Cross. His citation reads:
At Wolfhese on the 17th September Major Timothy commanding R Company was ordered to attack infantry positions covered by four tanks. Despite the heavy fire he put in a most skilful attack, covered by 2" mortar smoke, and drove a superior force of enemy back, thus securing an important cross-roads. There, although attacked by tanks and infantry of a battalion strength, he held his ground until ordered to withdraw. He did this bringing out his casualties which amounted to 50% of his company. Later in Arnhem on Tuesday the 19th September he led the Battalion attack against a German strong point - he personally led his men against two infantry guns and two armoured cars, one of which was disabled by gammon bombs. The guns were captured and rendered useless under his personal supervision, despite withering fire. Later he commanded an assault against entrenched positions, his personal dash was largely responsible for the over-running of these positions, this despite the fact his company was reduced to six men. His leadership constantly inspired his men to the tremendous task set them, and it was largely due to this that so much was accomplished.
Major Timothy spent much of the remainder of the war in Oflag VIIB at Eichstatt.
"After a fortnight we were taken for interrogation by a Luftwaffe pilot with a couple of Iron Crosses. I said "what are you doing in this job?" He said "well once you lose your aircraft, with the state we are in you have got to find yourself another job. I speak English so this is what I am doing." The interrogation lasted about an hour and it was friendly enough. He asked me two strange questions - what Boy Browning looked like and what 'Recce' meant on the shoulder flash. Well, I thought the answer to the last question was a bit obvious really. But on both occasions I just repeated my name, rank and number. Then interestingly enough, he went to a file index and threw down a card with my name on it - 1st Lieutenant Timothy - which obviously dealt with the Bruneval Raid. He said "what about this?" I repeated name, rank and number, and he just crossed out '1st Lieutenant' and wrote 'Major' and that was that."
"For the most part as prisoners of war food was very short and we were always hungry; the German food was pretty meagre and consisted mainly of beet and potatoes. I think we got a meat ration once a week. This was understandable given the way the war was going for the Germans and the fact that we were low down in the pecking order. At first we were moved around quite a bit, mostly Arnhem people. We never seemed to get the Red Cross parcels because we were in a mobile set up. After about 3 months by January, I think, we arrived at a permanent Oflag - Eichstatt VIIB."
"We stayed in the bag until March. We tried the odd escape from the huts but had never got away. We knew the Russians were closing in and the camp was put on notice to march. By now we were getting Red Cross parcels and there was a stack of tobacco available. I made a rucksack out of a Red Cross kit bag and some braces I had. Then a train came in with some more Red Cross parcels. Quite remarkable really, given the state of the war, that parcels arrived at all. There was enough for two parcels a man. So I put tins of food in my rucksack and ate up as much as I could. On the march we split into sticks of six there were 2 cooks, 2 to sort out the drinks and 2 washers up. I was one of the washers up!"
"On the march we discussed making an escape. We didn't consider it daring to escape since we were being guarded by Dad's Army types. Prior to the escape we paired off and I joined up with Ronnie Stark - another company commander from the 1st Battalion. On the third day of the march we reached Rottenegg and at about 19.00 hours we made our way past the German guards to a nearby wood. We hid there until about 22.00 hours and then moved across country to our own lines. We moved most of the first night and then hid for three days in a wood a few miles south of the Danube hoping that our own troops would soon breakthrough. We had very little food so decided after the three days to move nearer the Danube. Whilst on the move we contacted a French worker who gave us food and later took us to the home of the German who employed him. He was most helpful and took a considerable risk because SS troops were in the vicinity of the house. Here we were given shelter and the next day the German took us to his lodge in a wood on the outskirts of the village. We stayed in the lodge for two days and then moved because German and Hungarian troops were taking up positions in the wood. After this we joined up with a French commando in Au, where we stayed for three days. Whilst there we were able to gain a certain amount of information as the farm we were using was occupied by German and Hungarian troops. This information we passed onto the American commander of the relieving spearhead. We went on one patrol with them. They were new troops and there was a bit of shooting but nothing serious. After being relieved we made our way back to Nürnberg."
From here, Major Timothy returned to the UK via Brussels. After a long period of leave, he returned to the Parachute Regiment but declined the offer of resuming command of "R" Company as he wished to return to civilian life. One of his final acts before demob was to act as technical adviser for the film "School for Secrets", written and directed by Peter Ustinov, who offered Timothy a cameo role but this was sadly prevented by the unions. In civilian life he returned to Marks and Spencer and was Store Manager at their Wakefield branch for seven years. He took early retirement at 59 and moved to South Devon. John Timothy died on the 24th October 2011, aged 97. The following obituary was printed in the Daily Telegraph.
In February 1943, 2 Para was deployed south of Bou Arada, Tunisia, under the command of the 1st Parachute Brigade. One night, Timothy led a patrol and brought back seven prisoners, including an officer. This yielded valuable information about the enemy’s intentions.
Fighting as infantry, his battalion subsequently took over a hill feature in the Tamera Valley. Rain filled their trenches; mud and slush hampered attempts to move up and down the steep slopes; and dense cork trees enabled the enemy to get within yards of the front line without detection.
On March 8 a large force attacked the Paras’ defensive positions. Timothy’s platoon was completely surrounded, but it stood fast and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Later that day, in the words of the citation for the award of Timothy’s first MC, “he went forward alone under intense fire and captured an enemy machine-gun post single-handed.” He killed six gunners and brought back two machine guns.
Timothy missed the Sicily campaign because of ill health, but by October 1943 he had recovered and was dropped into Italy in Operation Simcol, a search-and-rescue mission for escaped Allied PoWs in the Pescara/Ancona area following the Italian Armistice. It was a hazardous undertaking: British paratroopers on similar missions had been executed by the Germans and there was the added risk of being shot as a spy by the Italians.
In one operation, Timothy found two escaped PoWs with a band of partisans. The Italians, armed with rifles and revolvers, were upset that he was trying to remove their best recruits. Later that day they were joined by about 50 more partisans who arrived, Timothy said later, with the apparent intention of shooting him. They mounted guard over him during the night, but he employed the time making free use of General Montgomery’s name, and the next morning he was released.
After three weeks behind enemy lines, he and a large group of rescued Allied servicemen were taken off by the Royal Navy. He was awarded a Bar to his MC.
In September 1944 Timothy, in command of “R” Company 1 Para, took part in Operation Market Garden. On September 17 he was ordered to attack infantry positions at Wolfheze. The Germans were supported by four tanks but, under cover of smoke from his mortars, he launched a skilful attack that drove back a greatly superior force and secured an important crossroads. He then beat off a determined counter-attack by infantry and armour and held his ground until ordered to withdraw. His casualties amounted to half his company.
Two days later, at Arnhem, he led a bayonet charge with the six remaining men of his company. His dash resulted in the capture of entrenched positions, and his tiny force got within 1,000 yards of the road bridge before having to seek shelter in a house. Eventually they were overrun by the Germans and taken prisoner. Timothy was awarded his third Military Cross.
John Timothy was born in Tunbridge Wells on July 5 1914 and educated at the Skinners’ School. He was an assistant store manager at Marks & Spencer when he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in 1940. After being commissioned into the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, he joined the newly-formed Paras the following year.
On February 27 1942 he took part in a night attack by a company of the 2nd Battalion (2 Para) on Bruneval, the site of a German radar station 12 miles north of Le Havre, with the objective of dismantling the unit so that the technology could be examined. Timothy was in Rodney section, a force of about 40 men.
After landing in several inches of snow, the main party attacked the radar station with complete success, and Timothy’s section was involved in several heavy skirmishes as it mopped up pockets of German resistance. Problems with their radio communications meant that they had to employ runners and were out of contact with the Navy. After waiting for an hour in the biting cold, firing Very lights to attract attention, they were taken off by assault landing craft and transferred to fast gunboats. They came under fire from the Germans but got back safely to Portsmouth.
That summer he was posted to Ringway aerodrome, Manchester, to practice experimental jumping. This involved dropping not in single numbers but in “sticks” of eight from a Wellington. Timothy was the last of the stick to jump and was caught around the ankle by the static line of the man before him. By the time he managed to grab the line he was hanging suspended alongside the tail of the aircraft.
He was able to take the pressure off his ankle and to let go - but because of the momentary delay, he found himself heading for a lake. The parachute caught the top of a tree on the edge of the water; the air from the canopy was spilt, and he came down hard on his back - very relieved to have suffered nothing worse than an injured hand.
A PoW from September 1944, Timothy was moved to various camps before arriving at Oflag VIIB at Eichstätt, Bavaria, in January 1945. As the Russians closed in, they were marched westwards. On the way Timothy made his escape with a fellow Parachute officer, Major Ronnie Stark. With help from foreign farm workers, they lived off the land and eventually joined up with the American forces.
At the end of the war Timothy returned to civilian life. He acted as military adviser for a film called School for Secrets, produced and directed by Peter Ustinov. He then went back to Marks & Spencer, with which he remained for the rest of his working career.
As a younger man John Timothy was a keen cricketer and rugby player. Settled in south Devon, he enjoyed touring and hiking in the British Isles. He published privately, for the regimental archives, Tim’s Tale, an account of his wartime experiences.
He was unmarried.
Major John Timothy, born July 5 1914, died October 24 2011.
The majority of this biography has been based upon the unpublished Tim's Tale: A Wartime Biography of Major John Timothy Winner of 3 Military Crosses, compiled for the Parachute Regimental archive by Harvey Grenville.
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