Freddie Gough

Officers of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, July 1944

Colonel Freddie Gough with the 16 Independent Parachute Company, 1971

Freddie Gough

Major Charles Frederick Howard Gough


Unit : 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron

Army No. : 31420

Awards : Military Cross, Territorial Efficiency Decoration, Mentioned in Despatches


Freddie Gough was one of the most well known and oldest officers of the 1st Airborne Division; he would celebrate his 43rd birthday on the eve of Operation Market Garden. Born into a highly distinguished military family on the 16th September 1901, he was the youngest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hugh Henry Gough of the Indian Army. He was educated and earned an Honourable Mention at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, and later moved to the College at Dartmouth before being granted a commission in 1917 as a Midshipman, serving aboard the Battleship, HMS Ramillies, and the Destroyer, HMS Witherington. In 1920, Gough was bought out of his commission by his parents and he relocated to India to become a farmer and horse breeder, but returned to England two years later to take up a position in London with Lloyds Insurance Brokers. In November 1924, he joined the Territorial Army and became a Lieutenant in the 5th City of London Regiment (The London Rifle Brigade), and in 1928 was amongst the Guard of Honour to the future King George VI at the opening of the new Lloyds Building. In 1929, Gough married Barbara May Pegler, with whom he had a son and daughter, and in the same year resigned his commission with the London Rifle Brigade. He later became the first person to qualify as a parachutist with the Royal Aero Club.


When the Second World War began, Gough was recalled from the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers and as a Captain was posted to "H" Company, 2nd Battalion The London Rifle Brigade. Two months after the Russian invasion of Finland in December 1939, the British government decided to lend the Finns their clandestine support, and so Gough became a member of the 5th (Ski) Battalion The Scots Guards; an experimental unit, which no doubt appealed to the adventurous Gough despite the obligatory loss of rank, and consisted entirely of volunteers with experience in skiing and mountaineering. Needless to say it was a unit which attracted a broad range of characters who went on to achieve distinction with such pioneering units as the Chindits and SAS; David Stirling, the founder of the latter, was amongst them. Following a period of intense training with a brief spell at Chamoix in the French Alps, by which time Gough had become a platoon commander in "W" Company, it was planned that the force would be posted to Norway from where they would make their way to Finland. On the eve of their departure, however, it was clear that the situation had turned decisively against the Finns and so the operation was cancelled.


Gough returned to the London Rifle Brigade, yet managed to get himself assigned to British Expeditionary Force in France as the commander of No.101 Provost Company. He played a conspicuous role in organising the perimeter around Dunkirk and facilitating the evacuation from the beaches, for which he was Mentioned in Despatches. Following his return to the UK on the 31st May / 1st June, Gough knew that he was considered too old for service in the field, but with the help of his friends managed to get himself posted to Scotland where, in January 1941, he became Second-in-Command of the 52nd (Lowland) Reconnaissance Battalion. By the end of the year he had managed to pull a few more strings to become commander of the 31st Independent Company, which during December 1941 was converted to the Airborne role and would eventually become the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron. They accompanied the rest of the Division to North Africa in 1943, and were due to have played a role in the invasion of Sicily but were omitted due to a shortage of aircraft and gliders. In September they sailed with the Division to Italy, where Gough was awarded the Military Cross.


Despite being the commander of a unit whose rationale was speed, Gough was notorious for being highly unpunctual when it came to attending conferences, and the first briefing for Market Garden on Tuesday 12th September 1944 was no exception. Major-General Urquhart wrote "After the briefing had started, Freddie Gough, a cheerful, red-faced, silver-haired major, turned up with the air of a truant playing schoolboy and I laid into him afterwards for his unpunctuality. It was not the first time he had been very late for a conference."


As the air planners would not contemplate a coup-de-main assault on Arnhem bridge by means of a parachute or glider landing, it was instead decided to improvise one with the Reconnaissance Squadron racing to the Bridge in their Jeeps as soon as they could be unloaded, and holding it until the 2nd Parachute Battalion arrived on foot. It was a role for which the Squadron was not at all suited, and Gough was known to find this part of the plan somewhat distasteful. His pessimism was well founded, as the leading elements of the Squadron were wiped out when they ran into Krafft's blocking line, while the remainder fought a running skirmish and took several prisoners, but were ultimately compelled to withdraw behind the 1st Battalion when they arrived in the area.


Gough attempted to contact Brigadier Lathbury to inform him of the delay to the coup-de-main action, but as was being discovered across the Division at this time, radio communications were quite impossible in the thick woodland. Upon hearing of the Squadron's troubles, Major-General Urquhart sent a message to Gough asking him to report to him at Divisional Headquarters to work out a fresh route. Due to his own communication problems, however, Urquhart set out after the advancing parachute battalions to warn them that the Reconnaissance Squadron were not at the bridge. So it was that Gough arrived at Divisional Headquarters to learn that Urquhart had set out in pursuit of Brigadier Lathbury, and with the two Jeeps and 7 men of his Headquarters he set out in his wake. German activity along the Brigade's route was increasing, and with several detours being necessary it was not until 18:30 that Gough arrived at Brigade Headquarters, where Major Tony Hibbert, the Brigade Major, informed him that both Urquhart and Lathbury were last seen heading for the area of the 3rd Battalion. Gough decided that it would be prudent to give up his quest to find the general and instead fall in line with the Brigade and follow them to the bridge, where he was supposed to be anyway.


Upon reaching the bridge, Gough familiarised himself with the defensive layout before installing himself inside the large three storey building that was to become Brigade Headquarters. He made another attempt to contact Urquhart on his radio without success. Shortly after, the 2nd Battalion's No.2 Platoon attempted to take the southern end of the bridge, and after being driven back by heavy fire from a pillbox, engineers brought a flame thrower forward to deal with it, and inadvertently destroyed their target after missing it and setting fire to a neighbouring ammunition dump. The explosions rocked the bridge and set it ablaze, which prompted a fear that the bridge may collapse. Gough could not be sure that it wouldn't, but nevertheless assured his men "It's only the paintwork".


During the disastrous attempt to move the 9th S.S. Panzer Division's Reconnaissance Battalion across the Bridge on Monday 18th September, Gough joined in the gunfight by firing the twin Vickers machine guns mounted on his jeep; Lieutenant-Colonel Frost noted that he was "grinning like a wicked uncle".


As the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade Group were expected to land on the southern bank during Tuesday morning, Frost planned to race a force in Jeeps across the bridge to link up with them and inform them of the situation, hoping that the Germans thereabouts would be sufficiently distracted by the parachute landings to enable them to break through. It was to be carried out by Gough's two Jeeps and one of the 2nd Battalion's Bren carriers, and perhaps in view of the slim chance of success Frost told Gough that it would be a chance to win his family's fifth Victoria Cross. Gough said after the war that he was "thoroughly miserable and quite unenthusiastic about the idea", but fortunately for him the Polish lift never materialised. Undeterred, Frost considered sending Gough and his Jeeps across the bridge at dusk to attempt a link-up with the vanguard of XXX Corps, but he eventually abandoned the idea.


At 08:00 on the morning of Wednesday 20th September, radio contact was at last made with the remainder of the 1st Airborne Division at Oosterbeek when the signallers at the bridge got through to the powerful Type 19 sets of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment. Gough was on the line when Major-General Urquhart was brought to it, though as there were reports that the Germans were monitoring their transmissions and sometimes even posing as British soldiers, both men spoke with caution until the identity of the other could be verified. Gough began by saying "Hello Sunray", which was the General's call sign, and on being asked by Urquhart to indicate who he was speaking to, he paused for a moment before saying "It's the man who goes in for funny weapons", but as this did not ring any particular bells for the General he added "The man who is always late for your 'O' groups". Urquhart immediately recognized the reference to Gough's prior unpunctuality and said "My goodness, I thought you were dead". Gough described the situation at the bridge, reporting that although morale was high they were desperately short of supplies of every kind, and the positions on the eastern side of the bridge were beginning to surrender, he said "It's pretty grim, we'll do what we can". When Gough asked if they had any chance of relief he was told that it could only come from XXX Corps as the remainder of the Division was "in poor shape". Urquhart wished Gough the best of luck and asked him "to pass on my personal congratulations on a fine effort to everyone concerned".


Later in the day Lieutenant-Colonel Frost was badly wounded and so command of the entire bridge force fell to Gough, though Frost was still to be consulted on all important decisions. As resistance began to fail the defenders were concentrated around Brigade Headquarters, which had been badly damaged and was in danger of collapse. Gough was informed by two of the medical officers, Captains Wright and Logan, that he had to arrange a truce for the great numbers of wounded in the cellars to be evacuated as they were in danger of being burned alive. With Frost's consent, Gough arranged a ceasefire, but before doing so he ordered those men not of the 2nd Battalion to scatter into Arnhem and attempt to make their way back to Oosterbeek. Gough remained behind with the paratroopers. The truce enabled some 280 wounded to be evacuated to safety, though the strict definition of a truce was not always fully observed by the Germans, who used it to infiltrate their men closer to and even inside the small British perimeter. When some German soldiers approached their Jeeps, which had somehow escaped the battle largely unscathed, Gough ordered them to back away but was unable to prevent them from commandeering them when they explained, whether it was true or not, that they needed them to transport the wounded.


When fighting resumed and the defence was finally broken during the night, the defenders attempted to scatter into Arnhem but with little success. Gough made for the local waterworks, and upon hearing German voices in the vicinity he burrowed his way beneath a woodpile, however his left boot remained visible and he was dragged out by it and taken prisoner. Completely exhausted, he surveyed the faces of the men who had captured him and found that they were little more than boys, which prompted him to burst out laughing. Shortly after, a German Major asked to see Gough, understanding him to be the commander at the bridge. The officer said "I wish to congratulate you and your men. You are gallant soldiers. I fought at Stalingrad and it is obvious that you British have a great deal of experience in street fighting." Gough simply replied, "No. This was our first effort. We'll be much better next time."


Freddie Gough remained a prisoner until his escape in 1945. Later in the year, he was one of over a hundred veterans of the battle who returned to Arnhem to participate in the filming of "Theirs is the Glory" By 1947, he had been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and was given command of the 11th (8th Middlesex (DCO)) Parachute Battalion of the Territorial Army, holding the post until the following year when he also earned the Territorial Efficiency Decoration. On the 25th April 1948, he made the following appeal in the Evening Standard:


Colonel seeks Londoners who went to Arnhem Bridge


Lieut.-colonel C.F.H. Gough, who played the part of the brigade major in the film "Theirs is the Glory," is trying to trace some of the Londoners who fought with him at Arnhem Bridge and shared his captivity. The colonel, now director of a firm of Lloyd's insurance brokers and of an export and import business, wants the men to be among those who will serve with him in the 11th Parachute Battalion of the Territorial Army, whose units begin recruiting on May 1.


I saw the colonel to-day at the Hanworth-road Drill Hall, Hounslow, Middlesex, supervising arrangements for the intake of volunteers. He joined the Navy at 15, and at 45 is one of the youngest men in Britain to wear the medal ribbon of the 1914-18 war.


"London provided about 70 per cent of Britain's airborne forces during the war," he said. "I hope to get a good nucleus of 200 men by the end of August. At present I have vacancies for one major and two captain company commanders at Hounslow and one major at Edmonton. I can do with half a dozen subalterns right away, four company sergeant-majors and quite a lot of sergeants. Men enlisting in airborne forces have to be fitter than the average man going into other Territorial units, and they have to remain fit."


The battalion will be issued with a special type of balloon whose carrier basket has a door from which parachute descents will be made. A site in the London area is being selected for this. Another open space will be chosen for "dummy" drops from special swings, and practice in jumping out from "mock-up" Dakotas.


Said the colonel: "We are hoping to replace these mock-up aircraft with real fuselages soon. We are hoping, too, to have our first annual camp this year; and a short paratroop course with descents at Upper Heyford or Brize Norton. We may have a week-end bivouac camp on the Downs. We have established a canteen and there will be an officers' mess where we hope to dine once monthly."


Eventually becoming a full Colonel, Gough served as Honorary Colonel of the Sussex Yeomanry from 1959-63, and Honorary Colonel of the 16th (Volunteer) Independent Company The Parachute Regiment from 1952-74, with whom he was awarded a Bar to his Territorial Decoration. Whilst maintaining a prominent position within Lloyds up until 1970, he was also the Trustee of Airborne Forces Security Fund, Vice President of the Lloyds Branch of the British Legion, Chairman of the Royal Aero Club from 1958-68, and President of the Federation of Sussex Industries from 1964-70.


He took an interest in politics and was President of the South Lewisham Conservative Association, and from 1951-71 was Chairman of the Horsham Division Conservative Association before becoming the Member of Parliament for Horsham in 1971. He was also President of the City of London Young Conservatives from 1964-70, and having briefly occupied the posts of Governor of the Cutty Sark Society, Prime Warden of the Fishmongers Company, and a Trustee of the Maritime Trust, Gough retired from Parliament in 1974.


He settled in West Sussex, the same area as John Frost, and the two men renewed their friendship, indeed it was Gough who was chiefly responsible for encouraging Frost's move into local politics. In 1977, when Frost was asked if he would like Arnhem bridge to be named after him, he was unsure whether he should accept, but made up his mind when Gough told him "Unless you have your name put on the plaque, it will not mean anything to anybody and will be ignored and forgotten in no time. It is the same with all memorials".


Freddie Gough died whilst on holiday in Sorrento, Italy, on the 19th September 1977, aged 76. He is buried in a local cemetery.


My thanks to Leslie Nicoll for this biography.


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