Lieutenant Michael Donald Keen Dauncey
Unit : "G" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Army No. : 184738
Awards : Distinguished Service Order
At the age of four Mike Dauncey had decided that he wanted to enter the military life after he had glimpsed the revolver, gas mask, medals and tin hat that his friend's father had worn during the First World War. In September 1940, Dauncey joined the British Army, and following five months of officer cadet training at Droitwich he was posted to the 5th Battalion the Cheshire Regiment as a second lieutenant. At this time the 5th Battalion were based in Northern Ireland, but soon returned to England where they were given the task of training new recruits. However, towards the end of 1943, Dauncey was clear in his mind that he didn't wish to spend his military career as a trainer and so, eager for the possibility of some action, he volunteered for the Glider Pilot Regiment and was assigned to G Squadron in January 1944. Although he was available for duty at the time, Dauncey was not used during the Normandy landings, much to his disappointment.
'We were all thrilled at hearing the news that we were about to take part in what was clearly going to be quite a special operation. The whole thing was kept terribly secret and our first briefing was on the Saturday before we set off. This informed us that our mission involved going to Holland, west of a town called Arnhem. A few maps were shown to us and I was given a little photo showing exactly where I was to land. On one side there was a farm with a little triangular copse in the middle of it and to the east of that was the local lunatic asylum.'
As Second Pilot to S/Sgt Alan Murdoch, Dauncey flew a Horsa glider to Arnhem on the first day of Market Garden, carrying a jeep, ammunition trailer, and six gunners of the Light Regiment. After touching down safely, he was in the process of helping to unload his glider when he witnessed one of the heavy Hamilcars coming in to land. The ground was soft and the nose of the glider dug deeper into the earth as it went along until the tail rose up under the pressure and the Hamilcar was flipped onto its back. Both pilots would have certainly been killed.
'We were now infantry soldiers and our job was to act as a kind of screen to the men in the Royal Artillery. It was envisaged that we would later be withdrawn and sent back to England again ready for the next operation. I felt very excited. At last I might see a little bit of action. The odd burst of gunfire could be heard in the distance. No one came close to us that evening, and so we began digging slit trenches around the gunners to give them some sort of protection. We had clearly taken the enemy by surprise. For most of the evening the only people we saw were those from the lunatic asylum, who were extraordinarily friendly. They all came out wearing nightshirts and kept shouting, "Hello Tommy", which I thought was very endearing.'
'Later that evening, when it got dark, we had our first serious casualty. A voice was heard shouting, "Hello Tommy" and we assumed it was our friends from the asylum. In fact it was a German who must have heard these cries earlier that day. Someone shouted back a reply and a German threw a stick grenade straight into his trench. It didn't kill him but he was badly wounded, and it certainly had the effect of sharpening us up a little. In fact, it was a long first night. I couldn't sleep at all.'
'We received a wonderful welcome on arrival at Oosterbeek. It was great as we were the first friendly troops that the Dutch had seen for many years. Everyone wanted to give us apples and things like that. There was little time to savour the moment though, as the gunners soon began digging places for their guns and we began occupying a number of little houses around to give them protection. There were no signs of the enemy, but later that day a report arrived that a German had been spotted in a house some two miles away, and I was sent off to pick the poor chap up. I succeeded. He was absolutely terrified and thought we were going to kill him. Anyway we took him back in great triumph and he apparently provided the local intelligence people with some very useful information.'
'Probably our toughest job comprised trying to stop the telephone exchange from working. Then gradually the first signs of battle began to emerge, and one or two soldiers started appearing from the direction of Arnhem. When this happened, some of the senior officers began forming these soldiers into defensive positions that would later be known as the perimeter. Eventually the perimeter stretched right round the whole division, with the gunners inside it. It was a very strong point and needed to be because as the week wore on the bridge was retaken by the enemy. The Germans soon began turning their attention on us. They were very good at using their 88mm anti-tank gun, which would literally make your position disappear if it hit it. To make matters worse the RAF bombers, not for want of trying, were having trouble dropping supplies for us and many didn't reach us. They couldn't have done more - they flew over us at 500 feet, absolutely straight and level. Unfortunately they came across fierce resistance. On the Thursday afternoon, for example, 190 Squadron in Fairford lost seven of its ten aircraft.'
'That day someone took a pot shot at me. The bullet went through my beret and cut my skin a bit. I was elated that I had survived and my luck continued until the next Saturday when I was looking for a sniper near the village school. I returned there with a parachutist, after an initial first search had borne no fruit, and thought I saw something move. Suddenly I was shot at. Unfortunately he had spotted me first. His bullet hit a pipe beside me and a sharp splinter from the pipe went into my eye, which slowly became enveloped by a sort of red film. My partner saw the splinter and did his best to get it out using a couple of matches from his pocket, but to no avail.'
Temporarily blinded, Dauncey was placed in Kate ter Horst's house that evening along with many other badly wounded men. Such was the strain on the medical staff at this time that he received no treatment, but having slept overnight he discharged himself in morning and returned to his position. A further incident not mentioned in his account was that a few days prior to his wounding he went on a patrol with two paratroopers and succeeded in returning with eight prisoners, a machinegun and several Luger pistols. The capturing of German soldiers, given the nature of the fighting around Oosterbeek, was a rare event. Those who witnessed the Lieutenant returning with these prizes took great heart from it.
'The wound didn't really stop me and, as the enemy were clearly going to make a major thrust, we busied ourselves on our defences. As the morning wore on the ominous squeak of enemy tanks began to get louder and louder. One of the parachutists gave me a gammon bomb and armed with this I went up the road accompanied by another airborne soldier to await the tanks' arrival. Eventually a tank came into sight and I ran forward and threw the bomb. Nothing happened for a long time and I began to wonder if it was ever going to explode. Then suddenly there was an enormous blast. Dust was everywhere. The tank didn't move. I just hoped and prayed it had done enough damage. Certainly it stayed stationary. When I looked around, though, my comrade had gone. As I didn't feel I could do very much more with only a German Luger pistol in my hand, I made my way back to a group of soldiers a little behind me and we formed a place to stop the enemy infantry.'
'More tanks soon began to roll into the vicinity. We threw a few grenades in their direction and they threw one or two at us. Slowly but surely the enemy crept towards us and I was hit in the thigh by a bullet that fortunately just went straight in and out. It certainly made me fall but it didn't break my leg. The time had now come to seek refuge in a slit trench. Wandering around the battlefield had become a very bad idea. On taking shelter, I suddenly heard a noise to my left and looked down to see a German stick grenade beside me. It went off and broke my jaw in two places. Amazingly I could still think all right, but I couldn't very easily speak and my face was a mess.'
Due to his many wounds, Dauncey decided that he was in no fit state for active duty and so found himself back at the home of Kate ter Horst.
'The house was full of people. There were hundreds of wounded men strewn around inside it, and some fifty-seven dead in the garden. It was so full that my two comrades laid me on the lawn and went back to the battle. I instantly fell asleep. During the afternoon it started to rain and I woke up soaking and finding myself beside a dead soldier. I felt rather ashamed but, anyway I pulled the blanket off the poor dead chap next to me and put it over me to keep myself a bit dry. Later in the evening the battle had died down. We still held the perimeter. Someone opened the door of the house and I made enough noise to let the person know I was there. To my relief, he pulled me into the hall. It was somewhat perilous just lying on the lawn in the middle of the battle with mortar and artillery fire all around you.'
The Division began to withdraw across the Rhine after nightfall, and Dauncey learned that the wounded would have to be left behind and trusted to German care. The following morning he and the other wounded in the home of Mrs ter Horst were captured.
'The first thing they did was take my watch, much to my annoyance, but I couldn't do much about it. Things from now on were going to be different. After a few hours I was taken to a nearby house manned by nuns. Nothing happened in the way of treatment, and the following day we were taken further afield to a little known town called Apeldoorn, about ten miles away. I was with about thirty other British officers in a room there when a German intelligence officer came in and told us he was very worried about the fact that there were wounded British soldiers who had yet to be found, and he wanted to know where they were. It is hard to forget the silence that greeted him. Not a word was said by anyone.'
'By this stage I still hadn't had any treatment for my wounds, and my condition was fast deteriorating. There was a hole in the lower part of my face and every time I drank anything the liquid just came out. It was an extraordinary sensation. Fortunately, our regimental padre happened to come in and saw me. To my delight I was sent to a local Dutch hospital, which gave me marvellous treatment.'
Following an operation, Dauncey and five other British soldiers were sent to an eye hospital in Utrecht, 40 miles away.
'We were a motley bunch and only had four good eyes out of six people. Our reception at the Dutch eye hospital was absolutely incredible. The Dutch, instead of blaming us for spoiling their lovely towns and villages with our bombs and artillery, were remarkably grateful for our efforts. They said it gave them heart because they had had such a bitter time over the years. The care and concern of the nurses and the skill of the doctors was almost unbearable. I had two operations on my eye and they told me that it could remain but that it would be what he called a 'reserve' eye. In fact it survived remarkably well and it was only in 1998 that they had to remove it.'
'I raised the question of whether I should slip off with the head doctor who ran the place. "You must do what you think is right but you must realize that the hospital could possibly at worst be closed, or they might send the doctors to prison. The worst scenario would be that someone might be shot," he replied. From that point on I didn't contemplate escape. It would have been a very poor response to the kindness and help that we had received from this Dutch eye hospital. I had to take my chance later. That moment would come when it was time for me to leave and go to a German prison hospital in Utrecht, where we were properly guarded.'
'Conditions were totally different to those at the eye hospital. We were all in one long corridor with beds running all along it. Only Major Gordon Cunningham of the 5th Black Watch, as the senior prisoner, was given a room to himself. Equipment was simple and supplies were limited. The only bandages I saw were paper ones, and amputations were more widespread as often it was the only thing that could be done under such conditions.'
'I asked if I could go for a little walk as I was feeling a little better and this gave me an opportunity to survey the wire fence surrounding the hospital. A number of us watched when the Germans went off for their supper each evening and began to develop a decent understanding of their guard rota. I had to act fast and so I decided to inform Gordon Cunningham about my plan to leave. I thought as senior officer he should know. He had been shot through both legs, but the bullets had missed his bones and gone straight out. Despite these wounds, he insisted that he should come as well. I agreed and that night we agreed that we would make our break the next evening at about half past six, when the German guards were having their supper. As we were one floor up, we couldn't jump out of the window and so we decided to use the traditional method of knotting together various sheets.'
'The concertina wire was very prickly, but such was the urgency neither one of us even noticed. We managed it with Gordon getting on my back as his legs were still very weak. A few moments later we were over the wire and in an absolutely deserted street. There was a curfew every night and absolutely no one was around.'
There was an English church in Utrecht, and whilst in hospital Dauncey had been visited by the friendly Breuning family who lived in the Parsonage next door to it, and believing that they would aid them he decided to call upon them, but first had to find out where the church was.
'We took a risk early and tapped on a door to ask where the church was. It was opened by a man who was absolutely terrified at the sight of us and rushed out into the night. His wife, however, was a very different calibre and agreed to take us to our intended destination as long as we promised to walk at least fifty yards behind her. Once we approached the church she left and we made our way to the Parsonage, where we were warmly greeted by my friends Paul and Constance Breuning and their three younger children. Dr Breuning brought out a half bottle of champagne that he had been keeping until the Allied victory, which I thought was a great compliment. The relief at reaching a safe haven was unbelievable. Little did we know then that we would spend the next two months there.'
'Their hospitality knew no bounds. At Christmas time we had a great feast which I secretly learned afterwards was their pet white rabbit. They didn't tell the children about it, although they may have guessed as its disappearance coincided suspiciously with Christmas. In fact the Breunings were generally very short of food. I can even remember going up into the attic and spending quite a while brushing up dried peas which had fallen out of a bag.'
'Most of the time was spent in our room and we played an enormous amount of bridge, which Gordon was incredibly good at. He could remember each hand for a long time afterwards and the morning after would tell me what I should have done. Apart from that, we just used to talk. Somehow the Breunings had acquired a copy of a menu from a well-known restaurant called Simpsons-in-the-Strand, and we spent day after day discussing what we would choose. A doctor used to come regularly to check on Gordon's progress. A rather clever ruse on the part of the Breunings was that they made out the children had measles which explained the doctor's regular visits and also had the effect of stopping people from coming around. They were incredibly brave because, if the Germans had come round to the place, there is no doubt that Paul Breuning would have been shot, and his wife would probably have been put in prison. The only thing they expected us to do was to get out through an upper window and into the garden if the enemy did come around.'
During their stay with the Breunings, Dauncey and Cunningham learned that the Germans had been greatly angered by their escape and had severely punished at least one of the orderlies and three sentries at the hospital. A massive search for the two men ensued until one day the Germans publicly announced that Dauncey and Cunningham had been recaptured and shot.
'I was rather upset about this but the Underground thought it was absolutely terrific because it was an acknowledgement that they hadn't been able to find us, and that they intended to waste no more time looking. In fact the Breunings had to work very hard to make contact the Underground because security was terribly tight. In the meantime Dr Breuning had managed to get us two identity cards complete with passport photos. I was called Peter Bos and was meant to be a doctor who was deaf and dumb, and some eight years older than I really was. I found it an unlikely combination but I suppose it was better than nothing at all. He also arranged, or perhaps I should say stole, two bicycles which at the time were very prized bits of apparatus because petrol was virtually non-existent.'
'It was decided that we weren't going to do a big hook through other parts of the country. Our escape route was a straight line into the Allied sector. The whole thing sounded very simple as long as we evaded the Germans at awkward places. As the weeks turned into months, we got more and more buoyed up and the second month seemed to be endless.'
After bidding farewell to their generous hosts, Dauncey and Cunningham at last were able to proceed with their escape plan, led by two young Dutch women on bicycles.
'As we hadn't been out for some two months our cycling was somewhat shaky at the beginning, and Gordon found using his leg muscles quite an effort. The girls were very pretty and tended to attract the eye the German soldiers so we just sailed on in their wake. I was wearing rather funny clothes - an old hat, a pink scarf which stood out a mile and black winklepicker shoes. I rather wondered if my garb didn't have the effect of drawing attention to myself rather than merging with the crowd. I decided I would wear my identity discs around my neck as it would be less easy for the Germans to prove I was a spy if I did get caught. By the end of the first day, we got to a little river called the Lek, left our bicycles there and got across on a small boat, where we were greeted by some other Dutchmen.'
'The Underground meticulously organized our escape. It wasn't long before we were manoeuvring within six to eight miles of the front line, and of course the quantity of enemy troops in the region intensified. The key was to keep moving and we often just stopped at different little farms, houses and flats for a night before being moved on. This of course required a great deal of effort from the Underground who not only had to organize it but also had to ensure we were fed and so on. We stayed at one large farm in a village called Culemborg for some time. It employed a number of farm workers so we were able to merge in, although most days were spent hiding inside. Every evening, though, we all sat around this enormous kitchen and had the most wonderful food. German soldiers would occasionally pop in to ask for eggs, but we were told not to take any notice and just to laugh when the other labourers did. It worked marvelously and we got on very well with the labourers, not least because they loved cards and we introduced Pontoon to them which they couldn't get enough of. Indeed, some time after the war, my wife Marjorie and I came back to Culemborg to try and find the farm, which we did, and we were met by one of these labourers who roared with laughter and shouted, "Twist, Bust!"'
Ten days later, they were moved nearer to the Allied lines, to a small town called Buren.
'Here we were joined by two United States pilots and two other chaps, and together we set out that night with the aim of crossing the Waal which would have got us to the other side. As we reached our crossing point, the Underground rushed us back with the news that the Germans had a troop movement in the area where they had planned. The crossing was therefore cancelled and we were taken to another farm, where we were all put up in a loft. There was further trouble the following morning when one of the US pilots came over and informed us that he believed that one of his fellow pilots was a fraud. He smelt a rat after hearing the chap talk about England, where he had said he'd been based, because he couldn't answer some fairly elementary questions about the place. This was serious because the Underground were afraid that he may have infiltrated some of their escape routes. In fact it was later discovered that he was a Dutchman who just wanted to get out of occupied Holland, but it was a rather eerie moment.'
On the following day, Dauncey was taken into Buren where he used an Underground radio transmitter, brought forth by a woman on a bicycle.
'I spoke to one of the British OP aeroplanes who wanted to know a bit more about us, and about what we were proposing to do. I think the British wished to know that the people the Dutch wanted to get over were in fact Allies and not infiltrators. In order to talk on this thing you had to wind it up, which seemed to make an enormous noise, and I felt conscious that every German could hear it all around. Anyway, as soon as we'd finished, this girl packed up the radio and disappeared. I thought it was incredibly brave of her.'
Before making another attempt to cross into the Allied lines, Dauncey and Cunningham were moved again to a church in Asch.
'It wasn't long before the boredom and the constant midges got to us as we crouched in this small dusty hideout. One day, instead of staying up in the church, we went down to the main body of it when there was a sudden noise. We leapt into a broom cupboard and just hoped whoever had entered would go away. To our dismay the door opened and there in front of us stood a local priest. Unable to think about what to do, we just bowed to him and made our way back to the hideout at the top of the building. To our embarrassment, the Underground informed us the next day that he was furious and had told them that it was quite wrong for a church to be used for that purpose and that we must leave immediately.'
'Whilst working at another farm, I and a member of the Underground went for a swim in a river. I think he must have thought I needed freshening up. At that moment a German sentry with his rifle slung over his shoulder came by and the Dutch Underground man shouted something at him, which was obviously quite witty because the German roared with laughter. I started laughing too and off he went. It once again showed me that, if you just keep calm, you could get away with the most extraordinary things.'
On the 9th April 1945, the two men with four other escapees were met by a guide called Jan who led them to the river.
'Jan was a young man and I was amazed that he was prepared to take us. We reached the riverbank in darkness and there was a boat lying in the bank. This was too good to be true but Jan said no one bothered to take it because there was an enormous hole in one side of it, which would make anyone think it was useless. We all jumped in and began to row. Sure enough, water started coming in fairly quickly and before we had reached the other bank it was virtually waterlogged and well above the seats. Once we had got there, I asked Jan if there was anything we could do for him. "The only thing I would like is if you could please turn the boat over and empty all the water out," was his reply, which I thought was a rather modest request. I asked him if he wanted to come with us but he declined, saying that he wanted to go back to Holland again. It was a very moving moment. In fact there is now a memorial on the bank of the Waal to Jan and to the other men who helped ferry British and Allied soldiers and airmen across the river.'
'We were now in no man's land, in a little neck of land that neither side used. Jan pointed us in the right direction, but told us to lie low and wait until it was light, when we should go forward one at a time with our hands up in order that we could be inspected by the Allies. The Allies on this stretch of line were Belgians and I confess that I did hope that someone had told them we were coming. As it turned out, I think they must have witnessed other prisoners coming back because they weren't wildly excited. For us, though, it was a great moment of triumph and nothing could deflate us.'
'We were taken in for questioning at a reception place but my main memory is the sight of white bread again. Soon after, we were flown to Croydon. The euphoria of being home was tremendous. I was back with my fiancée Marjorie and my family, and nothing could take that away from me. On a slightly sadder note, I went back to Fairford in the summer of that year to see what was happening there and visited the Nissen hut that I had lived in with six subaltern friends for a year before I became a prisoner. I was the only one still alive. I had been very lucky.'
Dauncey was recommended for the Victoria Cross, but this was reduced to Distinguished Service Order by Field Marshal Montgomery. No member of the Glider Pilot Regiment ever won the VC, but Dauncey must have surely ranked as one of those who came the closest. His citation reads:
During the action at Arnhem from 20th to 25th September 1944, Lt Dauncey was in command of a party of men defending the guns of the Airlanding Light Regiment RA at Oosterbeek. The position was continually attacked by superior forces of enemy tanks and infantry. On three occasions the enemy overran the sector necessitating a counter attack. Lt Dauncey, on his own initiative, organised and led each sortie with such determination that the positions were regained with heavy loss to the enemy. In the face of heavy small arms and mortar fire he personally attacked machine-gun posts, showing remarkable coolness and complete disregard for his own personal safety. During these attacks he was wounded on three occasions but refused to be evacuated from the area.
On 24th September a more determined attack was made by the enemy using tanks and S.P. guns. Lt Dauncey, whilst leading his men in a further counter attack, was wounded again - losing the sight of one eye. In spite of pain, and handicap of defective vision, he continued to lead his men in a fearless manner thus recapturing the lost ground and inflicting heavy loss to the enemy.
On 25th September the position was subjected to intense fire from an enemy S.P. gun. The houses were set on fire and the order was received to withdraw. By now no anti-tank weapons were available and there was imminent danger of the enemy S.P. gun penetrating the gun positions. Realising this fact, Lt Dauncey, who had remained alone, assaulted the enemy vehicle single-handed with gammon bombs. By his action the critical situation was averted but Lt Dauncey received further injuries which resulted in his capture by the enemy.
The high morale of the men, who had been drawn from many units, was undoubtedly due to the fine example of this officer. Had the enemy broken through this sector, the gun positions would have become untenable and thus unable to support the Airborne Division.
Lt Dauncey's indomitable courage, initiative, coolness and selfless devotion to duty, in spite of his wounds, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.
After the war, Mike Dauncey continued to serve in the armed forces until retiring in 1976, when he had aspired to the rank of Brigadier. From 1978 to 1985 he was Colonel of the Cheshire Regiment. He wrote the foreword to Peter Wilkinson's book, The Gunners at Arnhem.
Back to The Glider Pilot Regiment
Back to Biographies Menu