Sergeant Russell Tilley

Sergeant Russell Frederick Tilley


Unit : No.11 Flight, "E" Squadron, No.2 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment

Army No. : 552600

Awards : Distinguished Conduct Medal.


Russell "Fred" Tilley was born on the 14th February 1915. He and his 2nd Pilot, Sergeant D. Griffiths, flew a Horsa glider, Chalk Number 274, to Arnhem with the First Lift, carrying a Jeep, trailer, 3" mortar and six men of No.2 Detachment of No.1 Section, 2nd Mortar Platoon, Support Company, 7th King's Own Scottish Borderers. He remained attached to the Battalion throughout the remainder of the Battle and acted in a number of roles, including Regimental Sergeant Major. The Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Payton-Reid, saw much of him during the Battle and wrote the following of him:


"Sgt. Tilley, who had found himself attached to the Bn., became one of its most active members and was to be found everywhere, where there was a useful and dangerous job to be done. When the M.O., and most of the Medical Staff were captured, he attached himself to the R.A.P. where he did magnificent work in bringing in the wounded, and tending to their comfort. Later, when the R.S.M. had been wounded, and N.C.Os. were very short he acted as R.S.M. and organised ammunition supplies. When rations were short he organised a central kitchen in which he cooked a hot meal everyday, consisting of vegetables dug from the gardens, and stores found in the evacuated houses. These are only indications of some of his activities, but he was a great stand-by, and maintained extreme optimism even in the most adverse circumstances as a result of which he helped to keep the morale at a very high standard."


"{Tilley} had, from no known reason, decided to remain with us instead of rejoining his own unit and had appointed himself my 'bodyguard'. On one occasion I was going round the front with him and when we arrived near where I expected to find a platoon he shot ahead round some houses to locate it. He shot back even faster, however, seizing me by the arm, dragged me along with him, whispering: 'there's a trench round there cram full of Bosche'. As he thought they could not have failed to see him we deemed it wise to get out of sight, so leapt through a window of a damaged house nearby. Our leap took us further than anticipated, because the floor had been demolished with the result that we dropped right down into the cellar. And there we were, caught in a trap, expecting at any moment to see Hun faces peering down at us. Only Tilley's strength and agility saved the situation. By standing on my hands he could just reach ground level. With what help I could give him he managed to pull himself out, and then, by a stupendous effort, he hauled me up after him. A few minutes later we reached the proper platoon position {No 12 Platoon "C" Company} where, now it was safely over, our adventure took the appearance of a huge joke."


The Reverend James Morrison, the 7th KOSB Padre, wrote: "I remember Sergeant Tilley well, he was an unforgettable character. How he came in contact with the CO in the first place I don't know, but he appointed himself as his 'body-guard' during the last few days of the battle. He came round the Regimental Aid Post from time to time and went around cheerfully telling everyone that if they just held on for a few hours more, 30 Corps would arrive. He was certainly a tower of strength and boosted morale wherever he went. His confidence and enthusiasm were infectious."


For services rendered during the Battle, Sergeant Tilley was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal:


During the operations near Arnhem this NCO was attached to the KOSBs and distinguished himself throughout by his personal gallantry, initiative and unflagging cheerfulness under the most trying conditions. On 20th September, when the MO {Medical Officer} and part of his staff were captured, Sgt Tilley attached himself to the RAP {Regimental Aid Post} and did sterling work in attending to the comfort and moral well being of the wounded, many of whom he himself brought in under fire. When the RAP was hit and set on fire he saved several lives by his coolness in organising the evacuation of the wounded. Later when the medical staff were reinforced and when casualties had decimated battalion HQ, he voluntarily assumed the duties of RSM. In this capacity he maintained the supply of ammunition making numerous hazardous journeys to forward positions to do so. When rations ran out he organised a central kitchen from which he produced out of the products of the country, a hot meal for every man daily. In addition to these activities, he volunteered whenever there was dangerous work to be done and was constantly on anti-sniper patrols in and about the battalion area.


On one of these on 23rd September, he discovered an enemy post on which he immediately organised and led an attack as a result of which six enemy were captured and many killed. This NCOs enthusiasm, complete disregard for his personal safety and confident bearing had a most marked effect on all ranks of the battalion and his conduct throughout the battle was in accordance with the highest traditions of the British Army.


Russell Tilley died in 1991, aged 76, leaving behind nine children.


Thanks to Jenny Tilley, Sergeant Tilley's youngest daughter, for his assistance with this story.


See also: Lt-Col Payton-Reid.


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