Corporal Desmond A. Hughes

 

Unit : No.3 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade

Army No. : 5187537

Awards : Military Cross and Bar

 

Corporal Hughes was first awarded the Military Medal during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, where No.3 Commando was tasked with the capture of a bridge to assist the advance of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division to relieve the 1st Parachute Brigade at Primosole Bridge. Despite a brilliant effort, the Commando was forced from their objective by unexpectedly strong opposition. His citation reads:

 

At Agnone in Sicily on 13th July 1943, Corporal Hughes showed great courage and determination in the face of vastly superior enemy opposition.

 

During the Commando withdrawal from the bridgehead, his section was chosen to carry out a rear-guard action to enable the Commando to extricate itself. Casualties had already depleted the section and Corporal Hughes therefore took over the light machine gun firing it repeatedly with such good effect that the enemy were unable to close.

 

At last, the enemy succeeded in working round the section's flanks and the Sergeant commanding the section gave the order to charge the nearest position in an attempt to disorganise the enemy. Corporal Hughes advanced with the section until it was pinned down by fire from three machine gun positions. These he engaged one by one with his Bren Gun and fired so coolly and accurately that he neutralised all three enemy machine gun positions in turn killing or wounding all of the enemy teams who stayed by their guns. Corporal Hughes continued to fire his gun until all ammunition had been expended, then he was taken prisoner with the remaining survivors of the section. This NCO's skill and cool courage in the face of overwhelming odds was an inspiration to all who saw him and his accurate firing held up the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties.

 

It is assumed that Corporal Hughes was not a prisoner for long as he was with No.3 Commando in Normandy, where he was again awarded the Military Medal, and again taken prisoner. His citation reads: 

 

Corporal Hughes was a member of 3 Commando, which took part in the assault on the Normandy beaches on 6th June, 1944. The unit was under command of 6 Airborne Division and was engaged on the East of the River Orne.

 

On 7th June 1944, part of the unit was ordered to destroy a battery of enemy artillery at Merville, which was menacing the flank of the bridge head. During the approach march to the objective, a distance of some three miles, the force came under heavy mortar fire, but Corporal Hughes controlled his men with great coolness and few casualties were caused.

 

The attack on the battery was successful. During the re-organisation enemy patrols began to infiltrate back into the village, and Corporal Hughes was detailed to take a patrol of five men to locate the enemy positions. Enemy mortar fire forced the patrol to take cover in a house where an enemy patrol was also sheltering. During the battle which followed, three of Corporal Hughes' patrol were killed. Nevertheless, he continued to direct machine gun fire at the enemy and, at the same time, crossed ground covered by enemy fire to tend men who had been wounded in the attack on the battery. By this gallant action he drew fire onto himself and forced the enemy to disclose their positions.

 

Meanwhile enemy pressure on other parts of the Divisional front caused the withdrawal of the rest of the force, and Corporal Hughes, together with the wounded men, was taken prisoner.

 

All through this action Corporal Hughes showed great courage in the face of heavy odds, and a complete disregard for his own safety. His bravery enabled the remainder of the force to be successfully withdrawn. This contributed in no small way to the holding of the Divisional front which was so vital to the success of the Army plan.

 

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