Lt-Colonel Payton-Reid

Lt-Colonel Payton-Reid

With H.R.H. The Duchess of Gloucester during an inspection of the 1st KOSB, 9th July 1942

With Lt-General Browning and beside Major Cain VC, at the Arnhem Investiture at Buckingham Palace

At the 25th anniversary in 1969

In the middle, laying a wreath at the Cross of Sacrifice, 1969

Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Payton-Reid


Unit : Headquarters, 7th (Galloway) Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers

Army No. : 13802

Awards : Distinguished Service Order


At the age of 18, in December 1915, Robert Payton-Reid was commissioned into the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. After the First World War he joined the 2nd Battalion, who were reforming in Devonport, and spent the next four years serving in East Africa, and on to Egypt in 1926. A spell in Hong Kong followed before joining the 1st KOSB, stationed in Malta and later Palestine. As a Major he was assigned to the 7th KOSB on the 26th January 1942, where he acted as Second-in-Command, but his stay was short lived as he was posted back to the 1st Battalion, on the 30th March, as a Lieutenant-Colonel and their commander. During an inspection, the then General Montgomery noticed Payton-Reid's 1914-1918 medal ribbons and concluded that he was too old to command the battalion, and so on the 25th October 1943, Payton-Reid assumed command of the 7th KOSB. In his book, Variety is the Spice of Life, Major Sanderson of the 1st KOSB describes Payton-Reid thus:


"Lieutenant-Colonel Payton-Reid expected high standards and he was short tempered with those who did not match up to his demands. It was common knowledge that it was unwise to see him before 9am because it was almost certain that before that time someone, often his batman, was bound to have had a tongue-lashing from him: and thereafter he would be in a more amenable mood. He was nicknamed 'Flab' on account of the facts that he was short and tubby; yet it was in no way whatsoever a reflection of his astuteness. He was greatly respected, not at least because he had no favourites. The vast majority of his officers and other ranks were therefore very sorry to see him leave."


At the time he was the oldest field commander in the British Army, and his wealth of experience and leadership skills brought much to the formation of the 7th KOSB into an excellent fighting unit. Lieutenant Charles Doig (OC No.7 Platoon, B Company) said of his commander:


"Our training was very severe and our Colonel was as severe and in many cases more severe on the officers than either the non-commissioned officers or private soldiers. He was a great believer in the saying by Napoleon that 'there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers'."


Major-General Urquhart regarded him as "a tough, ruddy complexioned lieutenant-colonel who had no respect whatsoever for the Germans".


In a report of the Battalion's actions at Arnhem, Lieutenant-Colonel Payton-Reid wrote the following:


Certain amount of must over England. Caused some gliders to release over England. Channel bright and clear. Three gliders down in the sea. First glider in about 1.30 and moved off about 3. A lot of the gliders' undercarriages came up through the bottom because we landed on very soft ground. 8 gliders did not arrive. Just over 700 men and 40 officers.


When we landed in our gliders we had a piper playing at the Battalion R.V. in order to guide the troops towards it. Though, as it happened, we were not under fire at the time... It certainly was a great encouragement to all ranks to hear the strains of the Regimental March the 'Blue Bonnets over the Border', floating through the air when they landed north of the Rhine.


We went off westwards to hold the DZ for the parachutists who were coming in the next day. Extremely surprised to meet no opposition. Parachutists supposed to arrive at 10 am. Monday morning, when we had the situation well in hand. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive until 3 o'clock. During that time the Germans were reinforcing all the time. I had no reserves and the thing was getting extremely tricky and everybody was being strongly menaced. When the parachutists arrived at about 3 pm. battalion headquarters charged up to the edge of the wood in case there was any firing down there. And the parachutes got down.


The bayonet charge into the woods that Payton-Reid mentioned was led by himself.


The next test was to move by 7 o'clock by which time some parachute regiments would be clear and others were to follow. My task was to go down to the railway and move up towards Arnhem, seize the high ground northwest of Arnhem.


We got up there in the middle of the night. There was a good deal of congestion along the railway and one and one company was held up toward the 56.5 and company up the road. I came to the conclusion that it was not an operation of war to take these places by night because we couldn't locate them. It was getting near dawn and I didn't want to be caught out in this open place so I decided to hold a line near Johanna Hoeve. In the morning the Brigadier came up and told me I was now under his command and he wanted me to stay here and make a firm base while the two parachute companies attacked.


The Poles didn't come down, again because of the weather, until 4. After they had finished landing I was summoned to brigade headquarters. When I got there I was given orders by Brigadier Hackett who was told the Germans were being reinforced. Wolfheze was in German hands, and the Bosch was coming along the railway in our rear. In the circumstances it was decided to withdraw the brigade south of the railway into a closer divisional perimeter. I said I could do it in half an hour. When I got back to brigade headquarters I found a hell of a battle going on. The Germans were attacking southwest. I got the orders to brigade headquarters about the withdrawal and to the other companies. Before we could move we had to beat off a counter-attack which we did successfully. Major Cockran, who was killed, killed 20. The Drum Major Tate the same number and Sgt. Maj. Grant (Graham) killed a large number with a Vickers gun. In front of battalion headquarters there was a German company, of well over 200. The result of this was that all the Bosch who weren't killed turned and went back into the woods. So I took the opportunity of going south to the river. That was on the evening of D + 2.


We got to Wolfheze: D Company who had only two platoons left and most of C Company and brigade headquarters got there, but the whole of A Company didn't arrive at all. A considerable number of B Company didn't arrive at the river bank. They were reported further down the railway. I tried to contact them but couldn't. We then went down to a hotel in the Wolfheze region, to find the brigade but there wasn't anybody there. We went down the road and found brigade headquarters. I then got orders to hold the northern flank of the divisional perimeter. When I got there the battalion strength was under 300.


The Battalion was ordered to hold the area around the Dreyeroord Hotel, known as the White House to the defenders, at the northern most point of the defence. On Tuesday 19th, Payton-Reid, a little surprised at how tranquil the area was at the time, knocked on the door of the hotel and was joyfully received by the guests. He later wrote:


I do not think that any who were there will forget the 'White House' and its surroundings. When I knocked at its door about 9pm on 19 September all was peace and quiet. Had I dropped from Mars I could scarcely have aroused more interest and I was immediately greeted as a liberator by the numerous occupants, it was, I found, a small hotel. Never have I felt such a hypocrite. I had come to announce my intention of placing soldiers in the grounds and vicinity and the delight with which this news was received was most touching - but at the same time most pathetic, as I knew I was bringing them only danger and destruction. By the next night the building was reduced to a shell and its inmates were crouching uncomfortably in the cellar. It was then garrisoned by a section of men who were living in the eerie atmosphere of a haunted house. The moon shone through shot-holes in the walls, casting weird shadows, prowling footsteps could be heard on the enemy side and one felt that faces were peering through every window.


On Wednesday night I was walking around the position with a company commander, Major Gordon Sheriff and we were inside our own perimeter when somebody walked up to us. He spoke German. Before I had recovered from my surprise Sheriff jumped at his throat. After a struggle while I tried to shoot him but was frightened of hitting Sheriff, he, Sheriff, strangled him. Sheriff was wounded. In the midst of this a friend of the German threw a stick grenade. Then we heard a frightful wailing and found it was a goat that had been hit.


Thursday 21st saw a number of probing attacks by German infantry and tanks, occasionally backed up with mortars. To counter this, Lt-Colonel Payton-Reid ordered that a number of patrols be carried out in the area. At about 16:30 that afternoon, the Germans mounted a major assault on the area and drove many of the Borderers out of their positions. The situation was saved by Payton-Reid and Lieutenant Jim Taylor, who both independently ordered a savage bayonet charge that resulted in the battalion regaining all the ground that had been lost. It is believed that near to 100 German soldiers were killed during the fight for the White House, however half of the remaining 7th KOSB became casualties in the process and their numbers were too few to defend the area.


Thursday afternoon I had tentative orders to come to a closer position further south. I had no company commanders, no colour Sgt. Majs. and very few senior N.C.O.'s. I decided now was the moment to move away while we had the Germans where we wanted them. So I got everything cleared out and all the casualties evacuated. We moved along to the left about 400 yards to connect with the 21st Independent Parachute Company. I got orders to move back into Hartenstein about 9.30, connecting up with the glider pilots on the left, the Recce being on my right. We passed the night there peacefully and the Brigadier saw us in the morning.


Two people who, though not Borderers in fact, had, whilst attached to us became so in spirit, came very much to the fore. These were Captain Walker, our Forward Observation Officer from the Gunners, and Sergeant Tilley, the glider pilot. The former, who was attached to the Bn... did some very outstanding Infantry work when, owing to the break-down of communications, he could not get in touch with his guns. He acted as 2nd in Command of one of my Companies and took an extremely active part in its operations. Later when he did establish communications with his guns, and was looking for a forward observation post, he was shot in the head by a sniper, but was saved from being killed by his steel-helmet. He was taken to the Regimental Aid Post, but after two days there decided that he must get back into action. By this time I was very short of Officers and he acted as my Adjutant, being of the greatest assistance, particularly during the final evacuation.


Sgt. Tilley, who had found himself attached to the Bn., became one of its most active members and was to be found everywhere, where there was a useful and dangerous job to be done. When the M.O., and most of the Medical Staff were captured, he attached himself to the R.A.P. where he did magnificent work in bringing in the wounded, and tending to their comfort. Later, when the R.S.M. had been wounded, and N.C.Os. were very short he acted as R.S.M. and organised ammunition supplies. When rations were short he organised a central kitchen in which he cooked a hot meal everyday, consisting of vegetables dug from the gardens, and stores found in the evacuated houses. These are only indications of some of his activities, but he was a great stand-by, and maintained extreme optimism even in the most adverse circumstances as a result of which he helped to keep the morale at a very high standard. I understand that he had been awarded the D.C.M.


{Tilley} had, from no known reason, decided to remain with us instead of rejoining his own unit and had appointed himself my 'bodyguard'. On one occasion I was going round the front with him and when we arrived near where I expected to find a platoon he shot ahead round some houses to locate it. He shot back even faster, however, seizing me by the arm, dragged me along with him, whispering: 'there's a trench round there cram full of Bosche'. As he thought they could not have failed to see him we deemed it wise to get out of sight, so leapt through a window of a damaged house nearby. Our leap took us further than anticipated, because the floor had been demolished with the result that we dropped right down into the cellar. And there we were, caught in a trap, expecting at any moment to see Hun faces peering down at us. Only Tilley's strength and agility saved the situation. By standing on my hands he could just reach ground level. With what help I could give him he managed to pull himself out, and then, by a stupendous effort, he hauled me up after him. A few minutes later we reached the proper platoon position {No 12 Platoon "C" Company} where, now it was safely over, our adventure took the appearance of a huge joke.


During this escape, Payton-Reid had moved across a vegetable patch stretching across several gardens, crawling amongst the beans and peas he eventually found a lone tank sitting in a vulnerable position on the road. He went back to find the Battalion's only remaining PIAT, but by the time he had returned the tank had wisely moved on.


It was a great moment when we realized that we could now call on the support of the Corps Artillery of the ground forces, since this made us feel that reinforcement was at hand. The fire itself was most effective and broke up several attempted enemy attacks. It would probably have been considerable more so had not our Forward Observation Officer, Captain Walker, chosen this precise time to get himself hit on the head by a bullet. Having been born under a lucky star and having, according to himself, a thick skull, his life was undoubtedly saved by his steel helmet. Nevertheless the Medical Officer insisted on his being admitted to the Regimental Aid Post so we had perforce endeavour, in our own amateurish way, to perform his duties. For Corps artillery this must have been the 'Gunners Nightmare' because our methods were unorthodox in the extreme. As our only wireless set was established in a cellar the officer observing the shoot had to relay his alterations over a human chain extending from roof to basement, a system hardly to be recommended for either speed or accuracy. The astonishing thing is that it seemed to work, even if the Gun Position Officer must have been somewhat startled to receive in lieu of the prosaic 'On Target', some such ejaculation as: 'Marvellous, you're right among them. We can hear the b.......s screaming.'


On the 23rd the Germans knew exactly where we were and were starting to be extremely offensive. They had a technique. First of all, they used 20 mm. cannon across the roofs of the houses. Then they shelled the houses again, the top storeys, which got everybody below. Then, under cover of this, they had got an odd tank which came and blew the house down. While all this was going on they had infiltrated machine guns into position.


For the first 48 hours we had no sleep, and an average of 2 or 3 hours every 24. We had been on one third rations ever since the White House. At this stage we had no rations at all so we dug vegetables and got stores out of the Dutch houses. We gave everyone a hot meal every day. There wasn't much water and we hadn't any tea. Very few cigarettes.


Exhaustion took its toll on many of the defenders, to the point where some people almost wished that they would be wounded so that they could rest. Payton-Reid observed that "Lack of sleep is the most difficult of all hardships to combat. Men reached the stage when the only important thing in life seemed to be sleep". He fell victim to this himself whilst calling a Battalion conference of three men besides himself, one of which was his new Second-in-Command, Captain Walker, and also his ever present bodyguard Sergeant Tilley. As the meeting progressed the men became increasingly weary and as Payton-Reid talked he could hear his own voice growing more distant, then one man collapsed on the table asleep, followed by another, and soon all of them lost consciousness. Payton-Reid was the first to awaken, and on so doing he roused the others.


As the battle wore on and approached its conclusion, he wrote on Sunday 24th that he was glad to see "the 24th grow to its melancholy close. The high hopes of early support by ground forces was a subject, now, by mutual consent, taboo. By Sunday 24th I had 6 officers, myself and under 100 men. We came back 4 officers and 72 men." Robert Payton-Reid was the only battalion commander in the 1st Airborne Division to be evacuated from the battle. As he was at the 1st Airlanding Brigade HQ, helping to prepare for the withdrawal of the units on the western side of the Perimeter, he heard Brigadier Hicks mutter a remark about "another Dunkirk".


My own most trying task was breaking the news to our Regimental Aid Post personnel because I had to ask them to remain behind with the wounded, who could not, of course, possibly move. The Medical Officer, the Padre and the others took it very well and readily agreed to give up their chance of freedom for the sake of their charges. It was arranged that some of the walking wounded should accompany us but this arrangement somehow fell through, which was probably fortunate since our journey turned out to be a most testing one, even for fit men.


The main portion continued on its way across the open space around the Hartenstein Hotel, where Divisional Headquarters had been housed but which now loomed ghostly and lifeless through the darkness. The noise of the shelling was terrific, mostly caused by 30 Corps artillery covering our withdrawal, though this we did not fully realize at the time. When we reached the woods we ran into the tail of a party of parachutists, who had a 'guide'. Unadvisedly we tacked on behind this party until the 'guide', having led us into the darkest and most impenetrable part of the wood, announced that he was 'lost'. There followed the usual recriminations and parleys, after which the parachutists decided to go back and start again. Being thus on our own once more and now thoroughly lost, we had recourse to that somewhat maligned instrument, the marching compass. Fortunately there was no difficulty regarding 'bearing', since all we had to do was to march due south and we were bound to strike the river somewhere near the right spot. The hazards were provided by the wood, which seemed to develop into a vast impenetrable jungle as we proceeded. Consequently progress was desperately slow and I began to feel worried that we should arrive too late or fail to reach the right place at all. So far as the others were concerned I think they had resigned themselves to any fate, except for Captain Walker who, with a Gunner's faith in instruments, put complete reliance on the compass. Anyhow, we did eventually emerge into the open and found that somehow we had actually arrived at our correct Rendez-Vous. As we passed it I glanced at my watch and saw, to my utter amazement, that we were dead on time.


Once on the other side it seemed one had reached a haven, despite mud and fatigue. At about 0600 hrs we arrived near Driel where we came to a Reception Station run, most excellently, by personnel of 30 Corps and here we were shepherded into vast blacked-out buildings where rum and 'strong sweet tea' were administered with electrifying results. So congenial was the atmosphere here and so secure did we feel, that we had to be reminded by our benefactors that we were in fact at the very tip of a long and extremely narrow spearhead thrust into enemy-occupied territory. I had one more small escapade before returning to normality. At this reception station I found myself diverted into the building allocated to the wounded, because I was with Captain Walker, who had a large and gory bandage on his head, and had myself some shrapnel in my shoulder. This course seemed to have some advantages to start with, but having been conveyed some way by lorry, we next found ourselves at a main dressing station. It was only then that we realized we had got ourselves into the 'medical' evacuation stream, which did not suit either of us as we wanted to be with our units. So, waiting until the Sergeant in the reception room was busy with documentation, we slipped quietly out, hid behind some buildings, and then 'jumped' a lorry into Nijmegen, thus achieving a successful, if somewhat undignified escape.


After the evacuation, Payton-Reid was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the battle, and it was presented to him by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the day of the Arnhem Investiture, 6th December 1944. His citation reads:


"Colonel Payton-Reid commanded the 7th K.O.S.B. during the Battle of Arnhem. On Saturday, 23rd September the unit, by this time reduced to 6 officers and 110 ORs, was heavily attacked by German infantry supported by tanks and S.P. guns. A penetration was made on the right flank. Col Payton-Reid immediately organized a scratch force from his Battalion HQ and Support Company and led it against the enemy. His counter attack was successful and a dangerous situation was restored. It was entirely due to the energy, initiative and determination of the CO that the breach was sealed. During the nine days of the operation, Col Payton-Reid's Battalion was constantly attacked by tanks, S.P. guns and infantry. Between attacks the unit was subjected to intense mortar and artillery fire. It was due to the personality, courage and wonderful example shown by Col Payton-Reid that his unit was able to withstand the terrible strain of that week. At critical periods during the enemy attacks and bombardments this officer continually showed himself and inspired all ranks by his personal courage and disregard for his own safety. During the last two days the unit manned a small but highly important sector of the perimeter and all ranks were in the front line. Exceptional physical courage and endurance, powers of leadership and sound military knowledge were displayed by this officer during the action and it was due to these qualities that his unit never broke but stayed on the ground it was ordered to defend in spite of suffering heavy casualties daily. Colonel Payton-Reid was wounded in the shoulder on 23rd September but remained at duty until arrival in the U.K."


Lt-Colonel Payton-Reid worked to rebuild his battalion in the following months until he was promoted to the East Scotland District on the 31st March 1945; handing the reins to Major Sellon, he issued a special order of the day to all ranks, thanking them for their loyal support throughout his time as their commander. After the war had ended, the 2nd KOSB were withdrawn from Burma and Payton-Reid joined them in Peshawer, India, as commander, a post in which he passed two pleasant years until the battalion was disbanded. Having spent 33 years serving with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, he retired in 1948 and moved to Essex. Always able to spare time for his old comrades, he frequently led the KOSB's on their annual pilgrimage to Holland. On the 1st November 1971, Robert Payton-Reid died at Witham, Essex, aged 74.


Eight months after the battle, the surviving officers of the 7th KOSB gathered in the North British Hotel, Edinburgh, on the 18th May 1945 for their first reunion. Robert Payton-Reid asked for them to spare a thought for those who had not returned:


On our first guest night in the Battalion after the Arnhem operation, a night devoted to entertaining those officers of the Brigade who had returned unscathed the Pipe-Major's toast was to 'Absent Friends'. Happily many of those whom we then named in our hearts are here tonight, after many vicissitudes and hair-raising experiences. Unhappily, others are gone from our midst and will not return. It is to these latter that I would ask you now to turn your thoughts. Many warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men are included in this number and each of us will think at this moment of those best known to him. For this reason and because of their number, I shall not attempt to name them all and to name some might be invidious, since, although a number were most outstanding, all gave of their best. But, on this family occasion, I feel that you would like me to recall the names of those who are missing from our Mess circle. The first to fall was (Major Henry) 'Glaxo' Hill, who, in the brief period before he was shot, set an example of cool courage which inspired us all. Young (Lieutenant Albert) Kipping, too, who had shown such keenness to be in the Battle, fell on the second day, shot whilst leading his Platoon. At Johannahoeve (Lieutenant) Donald Murray disappeared whilst leading his Platoon against the enemy in the darkness and no more has been heard of him. The popular Canadian (Lieutenant) Bunny Wayte, was, I believe, badly hit during the withdrawal from this locality and died later in hospital. Also about this time (Lieutenant) Jimmy Strang went missing and since then no news of him has been heard. (Lieutenant) Adam Hunter, known to have been hit, has also been missing since that time. The White House position as many of you know produced a heavy toll in dead and wounded. The debonair and gallant (Lieutenant) Jimmy Hunter was shot by a sniper here, as was (Lieutenant) Alec Crighton whilst establishing a forward observation post. (Lieutenant) Arthur Sharples received a severe wound and died later in hospital. In what we call the Battle of the White House (Major) Bill Cochran fell during the counter attack. In the final evacuation (Captain) Jimmy Dundas, having stuck it with great determination throughout, was hit and concussed by a shell and must be presumed killed. Finally, a serious loss not only to the Battalion but to the Regiment, there is (Major) John Coke - 'Corgi' - who, it now seems established, was shot and killed whilst attempting to escape from enemy hands. I need not say how much we miss them all, especially tonight, but I know there is not one of them who would wish this to cast any gloom over our celebrations. Rather, let us think of them in the words of R.L. Stevenson:


'Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter is home from the hill'.


Gentlemen, I ask you to rise and drink in silence, to the fallen. May their memory never fade and the example remain our inspiration.


The majority of this account has been based on Off At Last - An Illustrated History of the 7th (Galloway) Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers, by Robert Sigmond. Thanks also to Henriėtte Kuil-Snaterse.


See also: Sgt Barton.


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