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Major Dover in 1944

Poor quality photograph of Victor Dover, in 1944

Major Victor Dover

 

Unit : "C" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 113514

Awards : Military Cross

 

Victor Dover was born in 1919, and was educated at the Stationers' Company's School. His father was an international authority on marine insurance, but this career did not agree with the young Victor who wished to join the Army. The opportunity came, as it did for so many others, in 1939, when he was commissioned into the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment. He later applied to join the Parachute Regiment and, posted to the 2nd Battalion as a platoon commander in "B" Company, took part in the fighting in North Africa. A vacancy arose for a Captain during the Battle of Tamera, but Lieutenant-Colonel Frost found it difficult to decide whether to promote Dover or another Lieutenant, Dicky Spender. The two men came to a peculiar agreement between themselves, whereby the promotion would be awarded to whichever of them was wounded first. Dover won the contest, Spender himself was tragically killed soon after.

 

Captain Dover flew to Sicily in a C-47 aircraft carrying a part of the 2nd Battalion's Headquarters, including Major Lane, the Second-in-Command, and half of the attached medical personnel. As they approached the drop zone the aircraft ran into some light flak and took a degree of evasive action, after which the pilot came to the conclusion that he had overshot the zone and so made a second run. When the stick finally jumped, most had very hard landings, Captain Dover later wrote that he was knocked unconscious, and those few men he managed to find were equally shaken. His three companions were his batman, a medical orderly, and Corporal Thomas Wilson, a signaller attached to the Battalion. At dawn their suspicions were confirmed; they had landed on the lava formations of Mount Etna, almost 20 miles north of their intended zone. There was no sign of the remainder of the men in the stick, some may not have survived the landing, and occasional firing in the area made them wonder if they had ran into trouble.

 

Having laid low for a time amongst the excellent concealment that the lava formations provided, the group, nursing numerous injuries, attempted to make their way towards Primosole Bridge. On the second day, Wilson was nearly killed as he inspected a tower spanning a pipeline. A sudden drop of six feet lay inside the door of the tower and a fast-flowing liquid ran beneath it; had he fallen in his comrades would not have been able to get him out. After much caution, fearing the liquid in the pipeline to be sewage, they found to their delight that it was drinking water. They had to spend the remainder of the day sheltering in a cave as Dover's batman was struggling with a painful back wound. Here they came to the conclusion that the battle for Primosole Bridge would now already be over, and to attempt to blindly negotiate the German infested countryside between them and the British lines would certainly result in their capture. Therefore they came the conclusion that they had to remain where they were until the 8th Army reached them.

 

Although Captain Dover was the only officer present, he felt that the situation required each man to decide his own course of action as he saw fit. By the 17th July, with their rations running low, Dover's batman and the medical orderly decided to leave to try to find their way through to the Allied lines. They left on the following morning and what became of them is not known, but they did not rejoin the 2nd Battalion. Dover and Wilson remained on Etna, believing this to be their best chance of survival. Water was readily available, but what fruit trees there were in the nearby area had all been stripped bare and so they had no option but to venture further afield. During the night they set out and were fired on by a German unit as they crossed a road. Having waited for a short time for the drama to pass, they spotted a German sentry and silently dispatched him with a knife, taking his rifle, a packet of cigarettes and a bar of chocolate. Still desperately hungry, they broke into a German camp during the following night and had their fill of whatever they could find in the, surprisingly hygienic, bins at the back of a cookhouse.

 

Wilson was not a trained infantryman although he gradually began to acquire the skills; on one occasion Dover said to him "I would rather take a grand piano around with me than accompany you on patrol". Yet he had his uses, being a thoroughly versed signaller. With a little food in their stomachs they felt able to make a nuisance of themselves to the enemy and decided to cut telephone wires. Wilson made short work of these with the cutters from his kit, but he did not merely sever the cables, rather he bound different ones together to connect them to different sources, so whoever came to repair them would be much delayed as he tried to make sense of the tangle.

 

Wilson eased the food problem somewhat on the following day when he discovered an apple tree, and the pair gleefully loaded their pockets. Meanwhile they watched a German signaller wasting an entire day trying to fix the lines they had cut during the night, and were greatly amused at the thought that during the next night they would do the same thing a little further down the line. They were emboldened sufficiently to become much more aggressive and resolved to throw a 36 grenade into the first open enemy vehicle that came along the road. Eventually a German convoy approached in the darkness and they made ready to attack the half-track leading it. The grenade landed in the driver's cabin and caused the vehicle to crash into a wall bordering the road. The Germans began to search the area where the grenade had come from, but by this time Dover and Wilson were well away and perfectly concealed amongst the lava. Their action had an effect out of all proportion to the detonation of a single grenade; the crashed half-track blocked the road and the convoy was still held up when the dawn came. Three passing Spitfires caught sight of the column and badly shot it up; it took the remainder of the day to unblock the road. Having kept a low profile for several days, their next action came during the night of the 23rd/24th July, when they stretched a wire, borrowed from Wilson's kit, across the road and killed a motorcycle despatch rider.

 

By now the Germans were well aware of the presence of lost paratroopers around Etna and many patrols were sent out to look for them, so Dover and Wilson were forced to spend a lot of the time in hiding. One such patrol set up camp near their water tower and blocked access to it for several days, but fortunately they moved away and allowed them to quench their thirst. During one night they almost ran into a patrol whilst on their way to the apple tree, and in their efforts to move away from them they lost their way and were left a little exhausted. They decided to return to their hiding place via the direct route, simply walking along the road and bluffing their way through a German checkpoint. As they drew near a sentry called out to them "Gut nacht", and they replied "Buona notte". Incredibly, in their ragged state, the result of 10 days living rough amongst the sharp rocks around the mountain, this was the limit of the challenge, and in the darkness they had presumably made quite passable Sicilian peasants.

 

To conserve their dwindling strength, which was not helped by the all-apple diet, they undertook evening patrols alone. On the first of these, Dover lost his way and was lucky to escape serious injury and capture when he strayed back into the area of the checkpoint and trod on a trip wire, shrapnel from the resulting explosion hitting his arm. He fell to ground and the sentry, no more alert than on the previous night, saw nothing with the aid of his torch and passed it off as a wild animal. On the following night, Wilson set out and was missing all day. Dover feared that he may have handed himself in, but he later showed up, explaining that he had fallen into a hole and that it had taken him all this time to pull himself out.

 

On the 31st July, desperately hungry, they chanced a visit to a local farmhouse and, to their surprise and with little in the way of debate, they left with two eggs and a loaf of bread. On the following day they ventured a little further and were welcomed into the house and given a generous meal, which they quickly devoured. By now he sounds of British artillery could be heard to the south, as well as the sound of the Germans seemingly making ready to withdraw, demolishing infrastructure as they went. On the 5th August they saw a battle taking place a few miles to the west and decided that the time had come to make their way towards it and return to the Allied lines. They found the vanguard of the Durham Light Infantry and shouted to get their attention, and for their pains they were immediately answered by machine-gun fire, but fortunately neither man was hit as they fell for cover. Wilson shouted "You bloody fools - we're on your side!", and Dover threw his red beret in the air to identify them. A voice called out "Are you paras?", to which Wilson replied, "No, you stupid bastards - we're the babes in the wood!". Satisfied with this explanation, they were told to come forward with their hands on their hands.

 

Having satisfied them of their identity, which was not as easy as it might have been given their bedraggled state, and given the commanding officer of the Durham's some information as to the terrain ahead, the position of the Germans and mined roads, etc, they were taken to the Regimental Aid Post where they were deloused and their injuries properly treated. They spent a night in a hospital in Florida before being taken on to Syracuse. Here the British authorities briefly suspected them of being deserters, but a passing Royal Navy padre intervened to brush this nonsense aside and helped them on their way. On the 7th August, Dover and Wilson sailed out of Syracuse Harbour on a Tank Landing Craft bound for North Africa, and two days later they were back amongst their comrades in Sousse, who were very delighted to see them, having pretty much written them off at this late stage.

 

For their supreme conduct throughout the trying three weeks that he had spent behind enemy lines, Corporal Wilson was granted an immediate award of the Military Medal, and Dover the Military Cross. The citation reads:

 

For devotion to duty and outstanding determination. On the night of July 13th/14th 1943, this officer took part in a parachute operation in Sicily and was dropped 25 miles away from the proper dropping zone and on the lava slopes of Mount Etna behind the enemy lines. On dropping he was badly shaken and concussed.

 

On coming to, he managed to collect three other members of his section and searched for the remainder, but was unsuccessful. Despite the acute shortage of food and by the greatest determination, this officer then existed for 23 days in close proximity to German positions and an enemy camp.

 

During this time he attacked and harried enemy transport causing casualties and interfered with communications and water supply. On several occasions he had to evade enemy search patrols. By his action he has set an example which can never be excelled and seldom equalled.

 

Captain Dover had lost a lot of weight as a consequence of his recent poor diet, and so was allowed a few days leave in Algiers to recover. Rejoining the 2nd Battalion in far superior health, Dover was allowed to resume his duties as Adjutant, a post for which he had displayed considerable flair. Lieutenant-Colonel Frost described him as "a great enthusiast and a very fine member of a team. Perhaps rather noisy and rombustious, one always knew when he was about, and then missed him, more than a little, when he was not there". Before the 2nd Battalion was deployed in Italy towards the end of 1943, Victor Dover was promoted to Major and given command of "C" Company.

 

At Arnhem on Sunday 17th September 1944, "C" Company was charged with the task of capturing the Railway Bridge a few miles to the west of Arnhem. Once it had been taken, they were to proceed over it and continue towards Arnhem Bridge along the southern bank, securing the southern approaches of the pontoon bridge and then the main road bridge itself. Dover's assault on the Railway Bridge was undertaken with smooth efficiency, with No.9 Platoon advancing upon it whilst No.8 Platoon provided covering fire and laid down a smokescreen with mortars. Sadly the Bridge was destroyed by enemy action just as No.9 Platoon were about to cross over it. With a crossing denied to his men, Dover was ordered to remain on the northern side of the Rhine and follow in the 2nd Battalion's wake to Arnhem, where they were to capture a German Headquarters building. By this time enemy resistance was increasing and negotiating the narrow streets, quite empty of cover, proved a difficult task. Having successfully battled their way through several skirmishes, "C" Company were eventually caught in an exposed position and Dover was forced to shelter his men in a small hotel overnight, 600 yards short of the Headquarters building.

 

Early on Monday morning, Dover was preparing to move out and continue towards the German Headquarters when he received a message from Arnhem Bridge, ordering him to come to their aid. Although the Bridge was not so very far away, "C" Company was faced with the difficult task of advancing through the exposed streets of Arnhem in broad daylight. Very soon they found themselves trapped by a large German force, and so, following a brief exchange of fire, Major Dover was left with no sensible alternative but to order the one hundred men of his Company to lay down their arms. For the Germans, this was the first of many large-scale seizures of Airborne troops. Only a small group from "C" Company managed to slip away and they later joined up with the 3rd Battalion. He spent the remainder of the war in Oflag 79.

 

Major Dover stayed in the Army after the war, serving in Egypt, Palestine and Malaya. His final years in the Army were not happy ones as his age effectively relegated him to a series of tedious staff postings, for which he felt himself far from suited. Having tried several times to resign his commission, he finally secured retirement from the forces in 1959. He joined Rotary International thereafter, spending 17 years travelling the world, first as Assistant, then as General Secretary. A talented artist, in 1979 Dover also published an account of his military, The Silken Canopy, and in 1981, he wrote The Sky Generals.

 

See also: Pte McKernon.

 

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