Major Alan Bush
Unit : Headquarters, 3rd Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 160544
Awards : Military Cross
Alan Bush was born in Westmorland on the 18th July 1914; the youngest of nine children of Arthur William Bush and Sarah Elizabeth Woodhouse. He was educated at Heversham Grammar School and Queen's College, Oxford, where he read English and History, and was awarded a Rugby Blue in 1934. After leaving Oxford, he briefly taught at Mill Hill School in north London before the outbreak of war, when he enlisted and was given a commission in the Border Regiment, becoming a Captain by 1941.
Bush volunteered for the Airborne Forces and was posted to the 3rd Parachute Battalion, with whom he served for the remainder of the war. He was selected as Second-in-Command of "C" Company, and in November 1942 took part in the first parachute operation in North Africa, jumping at Bone Airfield with a folding bicycle, which he regarded as one of the worst bits of kit he was ever issued with. He was promoted to Major in February 1943 and took command of "C" Company. He wrote of the North African campaign: "Long days and nights in the field, without protection from the elements affected all ranks. Weeks of communal living in what can only be called primitive conditions taught all, officers and men, that whatever applied to one, also applied to the other." Major Bush took part in the invasion of Sicily in 1943, where he avoided capture after being dropped in the wrong place, and later took part in the Italian campaign before returning to the UK with the 1st Airborne Division at the end of the year.
By the time of Operation Market Garden in September 1944, he had been appointed as Second-in-Command of the 3rd Battalion. His flight to Arnhem was not at all a pleasant one, he later remarked that he was, "the only person to have vomited my way into Europe. I was sick all the way, even though I had flown many times. It wasn't apprehension, because it all went like a practice drop; it was the petrol and oil fumes that did it."
On the advance to Arnhem on the 17th September, Major Bush was with Battalion HQ when the leading elements encountered Krafft's blocking line. An armoured vehicle appeared on the scene: "I was behind a tree, and he put the burst of fire meant for me into the base of the tree; he was in danger of cutting the tree down. A man from our Intelligence Section was near me. I told him to throw a grenade, but he froze, stationary as a startled rabbit. I have to admit that I couldn't throw my grenade; I had forgotten to prime it. I ran back, zigzagging, for fifty yards and hid in the undergrowth. The intelligence man was taken prisoner."
Bush was not happy with the decision, made by Major-General Urquhart and Brigadier Lathbury, to halt the 3rd Battalion overnight. He later wrote, "That was the start of the great cock-up. I felt very sorry for Colonel Fitch. Urquhart needed to get back to Division, and Lathbury wanted to get forward to the bridge. If we had not had those two with us, Fitch would probably have followed "C" Company around that route to the north, but he could hardly move without the approval of both the divisional and brigade commanders - a hopeless situation."
On the following day, Bush was with "B" Company, along with Fitch, Urquhart and Lathbury, as they advanced into Arnhem, however the Company soon outran the remainder of the Battalion who were meeting resistance in the rear, and when "B" Company themselves met opposition they remained in a position of stalemate until darkness fell. During the day, Bush saw a German patrol very close to the house in which he was sheltering, "...only twenty yards away. I could see every bit of their equipment. I remember one had a big fat arse and I thought, "What a target!" They were being very casual. Three of our men were ready to open fire, but I ordered them not to. RSM Lord was there and he nodded approval; you can't start a battle with the divisional commander and the brigadier in the same house."
On Tuesday 19th September, the remnants of the 3rd Battalion moved forward alongside the 1st Battalion and 2nd South Staffordshires in an attempt to break through to the bridge, however they were caught in a lethal cross-fire and many were killed or captured while the survivors were compelled to withdraw. "The Colonel called an O-Group with myself, the Adjutant - Charles Seccombe - and the IO. We were about 250 yards from the pavilion. The Colonel was sitting with his back to the German mortar fire, which was coming down steadily, foot by foot, along the bushes. I could see it coming and said we must get out of there. He told me to get the men back; most of them were behind us; the Colonel was as far forward as anybody. I moved back and found about thirty of our men and told them to run straight back to the pavilion. One or two were badly injured in the arms or shoulders, and I told these to go straight up the slope so St Elizabeth Hospital. I don't know whether they made it; with any luck they should have done. I expected to see the Colonel and the other officers in the pavilion soon after, but they didn't arrive." Lieutenant-Colonel Fitch was killed by a mortar explosion, which also left Lieutenant Vedeniapine, the Intelligence Officer, badly wounded.
During an interview with I.S.9 in January 1945, Major Bush reported the following: "On the morning of 19 Sep my Battalion was involved in severe fighting and badly mauled. My Commanding Officer was missing, and on going to look for him I became detached from the remnants of the Battalion. The next thing I remember was that I was in the Divisional Artillery Regimental Aid Post at Oosterbeek. I was not wounded, but was sick every time I tried to stand up. On the morning of 20 Sep at about 0800 hrs I found I could walk about, and tried to rejoin the remnants of my Battalion, heading towards Arnhem. I was advised by the personnel of the Regimental Aid Post to take a road N.E. of Oosterbeek. I did not get very far, because of infiltrating German infantry, and at about 1500 hrs I walked straight into six German soldiers. They removed my equipment, examined my pockets without removing anything, and made me sit down to one side. I formed the impression that they were waiting to be relieved by another section, into whose charge they would place me. After about half an hour, aircraft bringing in our re-supply arrived over the area. There was a great deal of flak and noise, and the Germans stood looking into the sky at the parachutes which were dropping and at one or two planes which were on fire. I saw my opportunity, calmly picked up my equipment, and ran to a very thick bush about 20 yards away and lay underneath it. When the Germans saw I was missing they rushed about in all directions, but did not find me. They were then relieved by another section of men, who did not bother any further. I waited until dark and decided to make my way back towards Oosterbeek. At dawn I was about half a mile from the church and about 30 yards from two enemy self-propelled guns, which were firing at the church buildings. The guns were accompanied by about 50 infantry, so I had to lie low. During the morning I saw one of our own patrols coming towards the guns, and managed to tack myself on to the patrol and get back to the church. The patrol did not even notice that I had joined it. The remnants of my Battalion arrived at the church about two hours later."
Major Bush was given command of the remnants of the 1st Parachute Brigade, and for his conduct throughout the battle he was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:
This officer has served with his Battalion since its formation in September 1941, and he previously fought gallantly in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy.
During the airborne operation at Arnhem, September 17th-25th, 1944, he was wounded on the first day and became separated from his unit. The following day he attempted to rejoin his unit but was taken prisoner. Through his resourcefulness and eagerness to fight he escaped and rejoined the remainder of the Division which was still in action.
He was given command of the 1st Parachute Brigade sector on September 22nd, and so successfully did he reorganise it that its front was never broken. On September 25th, while gallantly leading a counter-attack he was again wounded, but continued to lead his men until the end of the operation. Throughout at great risk to himself he constantly visited his men in every forward position, and his personal example was at all times enheartening and inspiring.
Major Bush withdrew across the Rhine with the rest of the 1st Airborne Division on the night of the 25/26th September. His journey across was made somewhat more precarious when the boat's engine failed half-way across; "I thought I had heard every oath in the English language but I heard a few new ones from those Canadians until they got it going again."
Alan Bush left the Army after the war, and in 1946 returned to Mill Hill School. In 1958 he became Headmaster of Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, and his final position before retirement was at Campbell College in Belfast. Aside from military experiences, he is perhaps best remembered in the Airborne community for his ability to remember and play on the piano any tune he heard once.
Alan Bush died on 3rd March 1998, aged 83.
Thanks to Bob Hilton for his assistance with this account.
See also: Maj Waddy.
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