Brigadier Edwin Flavell

Brigadier Flavell with Field Marshal Montgomery during the Battle of the Bulge

Brigadier Flavell with Field Marshal Montgomery and senior officers of the 6th Airborne Division in the Ardennes

Brigadier Edwin William Conquest Flavell


Unit : Headquarters, 6th Airlanding Brigade

Army No. : 48661

Awards : Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and two Bars.


Brigadier Flavell was a highly experienced officer, having fought in the Great War in a variety of units and commanded the 126th Machine Gun Company, amongst whose ranks was a certain Lieutenant Richard Gale. After the war ended, the latter officer remained in the military whilst Flavell reverted to civilian life, and so during the Second World War, in late 1941, having been recalled to the British Army, Lieutenant-Colonel Flavell found himself being offered a chance to command the 2nd Parachute Battalion by the then commander of the 1st Parachute Brigade, Richard Gale. Flavell raised the 2nd Battalion to a high state of efficiency and was later promoted to Brigadier and given command of the Brigade, which he led throughout the North African campaign from late 1942 to June 1943. The men under his command performed brilliantly in what was their first real test in battle, and as a result Flavell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order:


During the last four months the Parachute Brigade under command of Brigadier Flavell have fought magnificently. It has set a standard to the rest of the First Army, and a difficult one to emulate. The inspiration has come from the Brigade Commander, who has set the highest example of real courage and devotion to duty.


He was not a member of the 6th Airborne Division at the time of the Normandy landings, however when Brigadier Hugh Kindersley was severely wounded on the 12th June, he was summoned to France to take command of the 6th Airlanding Brigade. He led them throughout the remainder of the campaign and during the Ardennes offensive.


The following is taken from Brigadier Flavell's obituary, as printed in the Daily Telegraph on the 22nd December 1993.


Brigadier Edwin Flavell, who has died aged 95, won the MC and two Bars when serving with the Machine Gun Corps during the First World War, and the DSO when commanding the 1st Parachute Brigade in North Africa during the Second.


Edwin William Conquest Flavell was born at Cookham, Berks, on Feb 22 1898 and educated at King's College School, London. In 1914, at the age of 17, he managed to enlist in the East Surrey Regiment and was commissioned five months later. He transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in 1916, and the next year (when he was 20) was reputed to be the youngest major in Flanders.


Flavell was awarded his first MC after taking command of a company of infantry in which all the officers had become casualties - he enabled the company to regroup and continue in the battle. His second MC was awarded for reconnaissances which he carried out with great skill and complete disregard for his own safety, and the third was for "conspicuous gallantry and initiative" near Ribecourt on Sept 28 1918. The citation described how he "led forward a section of his company in the face of heavy machine gun fire, reaching positions from which his guns were able to engage two enemy Field Guns which he put out of action and captured, after killing the teams".


As he had been in action constantly in France, with his unit frequently called upon to break up advancing enemy attacks, and he had also been wounded at Cambrai, Flavell's survival was almost miraculous. Officers in the MGC needed to be highly proficient at training their men to operate at speed, stripping the guns, replacing broken parts and using initiative in deployment.


After the First World War Flavell entered the shipping industry in partnership with an American, but remained on the active lists of the East Surrey Regiment. He was recalled on the outbreak of the Second World War. He was then appointed second-in-command of the 2nd/7th Middlesex Regiment and served in France in 1940. He was promoted to Lt-Col with the task of raising and commanding the 70th Middlesex (Young Soldiers) Battalion.


When the 1st Parachute Brigade was formed in 1941 Flavell was selected by his old colleague Richard Gale, whom he had commanded in 1917, to raise and command the 2nd Parachute Battalion. Flavell's adjutant was Capt J D Frost, later of Sicily and Arnhem fame. They both qualified as parachutists in October 1941. The next January Flavell appointed Frost to command the raid on the Bruneval radar station in Normandy. The station contained the secrets of the guidance system for German bombers, which had been too complicated for Allied experts to unravel. The raid brought home vital equipment.


In April 1942 Flavell took over command of 1st Parachute Brigade from Gale and subsequently led it throughout the North African Campaign. The American 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, French parachutists and commandos also came under his control. The terrain, the weather, and the fierce German resistance combined to make this an especially arduous campaign. The Paras, however, acquitted themselves so well that the Germans nicknamed them the Roten Teufeln ("Red Devils"). Altogether they had sustained 1,700 casualties but earned eight DSOs, 15 MCs, 9 DCMs and 22 MMs, a number of decorations never surpassed by any formation of the British Army going into action for the first time.


The citation for Flavell's DSO recorded: "During the last four months the Brigade under command of Brig Flavell have fought magnificently. It has set a standard to the rest of the First Army, and a difficult one to emulate. The inspiration has come from the Brigade Commander, who has set the Brigade an example of real courage and devotion to duty."


In June 1943 Flavell returned to England to become Commander, Airborne Establishments, which involved close co-operation with the RAF over the training of soldiers to become parachutists, reinforcing 1st Airborne Division in the Middle East and Italy, preparing six airborne divisions for the Normandy invasion and assisting in the formation of the Polish Parachute Brigade.


In June 1944, six days after the Normandy landing, he replaced Brig Hugh Kindersley, who had been mortally wounded {nb. Kindersley was seriously wounded, yet recovered}, as commander of 6th Air Landing Brigade. Flavell then commanded 6th ALB up to and including the Ardennes fighting in 1944; subsequently he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff HQ 1st Allied Airborne Army, and an Officer of the American Legion of Merit.


In the 1945 general election Flavell stood as a Conservative candidate for North-West Hendon, and was beaten by only a small number of votes. He then embarked on a career in property development, holding numerous directorships as well as running his own company. He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Middlesex in 1948 and later became chairman of the County of Middlesex Territorial Army Association. "Flav" was a man of outstanding leadership and personality, with a wide range of interests. He became involved in local politics and charities, actively supported the Territorial Army, and was an enthusiastic mason, becoming a Provincial Grand Master. He was a founder member and subsequent president of the Ickenham Cricket Club. He was also an enthusiastic philatelist. He was sociable, cheerful, and enjoyed life to the full. He married, in 1920, Nora Cooper; they had two sons and a daughter. He married secondly Kathleen Fenton.


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