Major Winchester

Major John Chisholm Wincheser


Unit : Headquarters, 9th Field Company

Army No. : 50841

Awards : Commander of the British Empire, Military Cross.


Jack Winchester joined the Royal Engineer at the age of 20, in 1932. Transferred to India, he joined the Bengal Sappers and Miners and served with the 5th Field Company during the Mohmand Campaign and, with the 3rd Field Company in 1937, the Waziristan Campaign. In May 1940, he became Adjutant of the 5th Indian Division, RE, and thereafter he left for Sudan to serve as a staff officer before being given command of the 20th Field Company, with whom he fought at the Battle of Keren, in Eritrea. Subsequent appointments took him to Abyssinia and Cyprus. He also took part in the fighting in North Africa and was involved in several hard-fought rearguard actions. After a posting to Iraq, he returned to Britain to command the 241st Field Company, who were training in the Scottish mountains. In the summer of 1944 he attended the Staff College, Camberley, before being given command of the 9th Field Company in the 1st Airborne Division.


The landing of his glider at Arnhem, on Sunday 17th September, was not a smooth affair as the undercarriage failed and was forced up through the floor, seriously injuring Sapper Holdstock in the process. Two days later, he and six other men travelled to Heveadorp to examine the ferry and the prospects of making use of it. They were well satisfied with it and even used it to bring across 7 paratroopers who had landed on the wrong side of the river. Thereafter, Winchester and the 9th Field Company fought in the north of the Oosterbeek Perimeter, and for his actions here he was recommended for the Distinguished Service Order, but this was lowered to the Military Cross:


On 19th September 1944, Major Winchester, Officer Commanding 9th Field Company, RE, sited and organised a defensive position for his Company and detachments of 1st and 4th Parachute Squadrons under command, in the North West corner of the bridgehead area held by 1st Airborne Division. This position was so well sited and organised that it instantly became the pivot of all counter-attacks upon the enemy in that sector. As a result of the enforced contraction of the defensive perimeter, this position inevitably became a front line zone. Not once during the critical period 19th to 25th September was an inch of ground given. In spite of heavy casualties the position was held against all attacks by the enemy, largely due to the untiring energy of and disregard of personal danger by Major Winchester. His inspiring leadership, cheerfulness and continuous personal bravery largely contributed towards the excellent and successful fight put up by the Royal Engineers in his sector right up to the end. He is recommended for an immediate reward of the DSO.


Major Winchester and three other men of the Company were ordered to mark with tape the route down to the riverbank, along which the Division was to evacuate. In his absence, command of the Company was handed to Captain George. As soon as their work on the riverbank was finished, the first men began to filter through and, as Winchester had been the first officer on the scene, he assumed the responsibilities of beach master and organised the men into groups to be ferried across.


Winchester took the 9th Field Company to Norway in May 1945, he was promoted and became the Division's Commander Royal Engineers. Following a staff appointment in Haifa, Winchester left for Kenya where he was Deputy Commander Royal Engineers. In 1951, he joined the War Office as a GSO1. From 1953 to 1955 he was a Commander at Sandhurst, following which he was made an exchange instructor at the US Command and General Staff College. 1958 saw a return to Britain and command of the 27 Engineer Group (TA). For two years he was Secretary to the Army Council, and in 1962 became Brigadier i/c Administration in Cyprus, and was also honoured with the appointment of Commander of the British Empire. The following year he returned to the War Office with responsibility for planning and training for counter-revolutionary warfare. In 1964, despite the fact that his prospects for further promotion within the military were very high, Winchester retired to live in Kenya. He died aged 80 on the 8th April 1992.


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