Sheriff Thompson

Sheriff Thompson (second left) helping to unload a damaged Horsa glider on LZ-Z

Lieutenant-Colonel William Francis Kynaston Thompson


Unit : Headquarters, 1st Airlanding Light Regiment

Army No. : 44179

Awards : Member of the British Empire, Bronzen Leeuw.


"Sheriff" Thompson commanded the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment. The fire of the Regiment's guns was directed by Forward Observation Officers, and Thompson himself was with the 1st Battalion to provide such support to their advance into Arnhem on Monday 18th September.


During the following day, Thompson was with the Regiment in Oosterbeek when he received news that the attack of the 1st Parachute Brigade had failed and that fragmented groups of the 1st, 3rd, 11th Parachute Battalions and 2nd South Staffords were falling back in his direction. Their retreat was being followed up by German infantry and armour, and this led to isolated incidents of small groups of men, all believed to be of the Staffords, panicking and fleeing westward in disorder. Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson attempted to halt two jeeps that came racing towards him along the river road, but they ignored him and pressed on. Thereafter he ordered his men to barricade the road and stop everyone coming from the east.


Thompson went forward in his Jeep to visit the main element of the remnants of the 1st Parachute Brigade. When he met them his path was effectively blocked by sheer numbers of men, so he got out and called for the most senior officer present, who happened to be Major Cain of the 2nd South Staffords. Thompson ordered Cain to halt the men, organise them into a fighting force and prepare positions for a defence; at this point the column of men were only half a mile from the Light Regiment's positions and if they had continued to fall back then there would be have been no barrier between his guns and the Germans. Despite having taken a battering and fighting for several days without rest, the Brigade's discipline was intact and there was no hesitation at reacting to these instructions.


Thompson himself returned to the Light Regiment's positions, where he arranged for food and ammunition to be sent forward to them, and Major Dickie Lonsdale was also sent forward by Brigadier Hicks with instructions to command the force. On the following morning, however, Thompson was placed in command of the entire sector with all infantry in it being designated as Thompson Force. This arrangement saw several changes during the next two days. On Wednesday 20th September, Lonsdale's men were so hard pressed that Thompson gave them permission to withdraw to Oosterbeek, directly in front of his gun positions, and in so doing all of the Parachute Regiment units in the area became the Lonsdale Force while the South Staffords and flanking glider pilots were still a part of Thompson Force. Command of all the infantry in the area, however, passed to Major Lonsdale on Thursday following a heavy mortar bombardment of the Light Regiment's positions which had left many men wounded, including Sheriff Thompson who was hit in the stomach.


Thompson became a prisoner of war after the battle came to an end, and having recovered from his wounds he was interned in Oflag IXA/H at Spangenburg, near Kassel. Here he met Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost, and with the War rapidly approaching its conclusion, it occurred to the two men and their accomplices that Hitler might delay this end for a considerable time by retreating to the mountains with a hardcore of followers who would use prisoners of war could be used as slave labour. In the event of this happening, they proposed a plan of escape that involved doping their guards and, under the cover of smoke bombs, assaulting the guard room with prisoners wielding hockey sticks; thereafter the prisoners would separate into small groups and head towards the Allied lines. Frost proposed this to the Senior British Officer in the camp but he was decidedly against it. Hitler had ordered that all escaping POW's should be shot, and General Eisenhower had appealed to the prisoners to be obedient until they were liberated by friendly troops. The plan was abandoned, although Frost protested against these orders as they sounded very similar to those issued in 1943, urging prisoners in Italian camps not to escape after the capitulation but to wait for their liberation by the ground forces, but in the event the Germans arrived first and many of these men endured a further 18 months as prisoners of war.


For his conduct during the battle, Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson was awarded the Dutch Bronze Lion:


On 20th September 1944, West of Arnhem when elements of three Battalions were forced to withdraw from Arnhem under heavy enemy pressure, Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson was commanding the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, he immediately assumed command of the area, collected every available man and organised the defence of the area. This position, during this period was being heavily shelled and mortared. Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson showed great initiative and determination and the highest degree of personal courage. By his most excellent example and complete lack of self interest, he was entirely responsible for restoring confidence among the troops, and for the ultimate defeat of the enemy attack by tanks and infantry.


Less determination and disregard to danger on his part would certainly have altered the sequence of events in this area and the whole course of the battle on the 20th and 21st September.


After the war, Sheriff Thompson became the military correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.


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