Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm MacEwan


Unit : Headquarters Royal Army Medical Corps, 6th Airborne Division

Army No. : 22266

Awards : Distinguished Service Order and Bar


Lieutenant-Colonel MacEwan commanded the 16th Parachute Field Ambulance, of the 1st Airborne Division, from 1942 to 1943. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions during the campaign in North Africa. His citation reads:


For most conspicuous gallantry in action and devotion to duty. On March 17th, 1943 the Advanced Dressing Station was at Tamera (G.S. Map 4225 - Nefza - Sheet 10 - 1/50000 - 099737). The surrounding area was being not only shelled constantly but was also dive-bombed eight times during the day. At the end of the day, during which 100 cases were treated, there was not a square yard of the Advanced Dressing Station site left untouched by splinters of bomb or shell. Lieutenant-Colonel MacEwan was on duty throughout the whole of this period and although all personnel were ordered to take cover Lieutenant-Colonel MacEwan remained at his post attending to the seriously wounded cases in spite of the fact that one bomb exploded a few yards away and shells were bursting all round the vicinity. This Officer's devotion to duty and complete disregard of personal safety was an example to all ranks. Again on the 31st March 1943 when the Advanced Dressing Station was re-established at the same position this Officer by his courage, cheerfulness and conspicuous devotion to duty set a very high standard under the most trying conditions and in spite of very heavy enemy shell fire and dive-bombing. His behaviour under fire in previous sectors at Argoub (G.S. Map 4225 - Bou Arada - Sheet 34 - 1/50000 - 715995), The Pimple (G.S. Map 4225 - Nefza - Sheet 10 - 1/50000 - 099737) and during the battle of Djebel Mansour has been the subject of previous commendation and has been an inspiration to his Medical Officers and Orderlies and a most steadying influence on the wounded under his care. No praise could be too high for the magnificent work and courage displayed by this Officer throughout the North African campaign. It has only recently come to my knowledge that my previous recommendation has apparently gone astray and even at this late date I feel I would by lacking in my duty if attention were not directed to the amazing and courageous work performed by this officer.


Lieutenant-Colonel MacEwan was subsequently appointed the Assistant Director Medical Services to the 6th Airborne Division, and therefore commanded all elements of the Royal Army Medical Corps within the Division. He was amongst the select officers of Major-General Gale's staff who, in late February 1944, travelled to I Corps Headquarters to receive the Division's orders for the Normandy landings. It was here that they devised a plan for the Invasion, which was scarcely altered in the months thereafter.


During the morning of the 6th June, MacEwan was at Divisional HQ when a wounded Brigadier Hill arrived to report to Major-General Gale. Noticing his wound, MacEwan took the Brigadier to one side. Hill wrote: "I was seized by the ADMS {Colonel MacEwan} who was the Head Doctor, and he was an old boy of the Division, who'd been in the First World War and was covered in decorations. He said to me, "I'm going to take you off to the Main Dressing Station." I said, "You certainly aren't," and he said, "Well, you've got to have an op." So I said, "I'll have an op on one condition. As soon as it's over, you'll promise to take me back yourself to my Brigade Headquarters." So we struck a deal...". MacEwan honoured the arrangement and, with his driver, accompanied Hill to his Headquarters at Le Mesnil when he had recovered. On the way they surprised a small group of Germans on the road, who immediately ran for the cover of the surrounding woodland. MacEwan and his driver set out after them in the hope of taking some prisoners, but their efforts went unrewarded.


Promoted to full Colonel, MacEwan continued to serve as ADMS with the 6th Airborne Division until the end of the war, and was awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order in recognition of his achievements with the Airborne Forces. His citation reads:


Colonel MacEwan has been with the Airborne Forces for 3 years and after commanding 16 Parachute Field Ambulance in Tunisia, has been ADMS of this division since 1943. Under his strong and inspiring leadership, the divisional medical services have won the complete confidence of every man in the division. Colonel MacEwan himself has shown constant and outstanding gallantry.


Landing by glider in Normandy on the 6th June 1944, he was within 24 hours left with one other rank as the sole survivor of Medical Headquarters. In spite of this tremendous handicap he retained control of his field ambulances. Although working under continuous fire and being frequently isolated in the early stages the medical services continued to work perfectly. During the whole of the division's three months in Normandy, this high standard was maintained although casualties in the medical units exceeded 50%.


On return to England, it was entirely due to Colonel MacEwan's drive and determination, that all medical units were brought up to strength and again raised to the highest pitch of efficiency and spirit.


This officer's planning for the crossing of the Rhine was faultless. Prevented by my [Major-General Eric Bols] order from travelling by air on this operation, he was the first member of the division across the Rhine bridgehead, and first to make physical contact with the troops who had landed by air. After reaching divisional HQ he rapidly gained control of a difficult medical situation, and to do so he travelled freely over areas still full of enemy. From them on till the end of the campaign the medical units were handled admirably by Colonel MacEwan and with the greatest dash and energy.


It would be impossible to overpraise this officer's leadership and organising powers and good moral effect which his efforts have had throughout the division. His gallantry and invincible determination have been quite outstanding.


Colonel MacEwan continued to serve with the 6th Airborne Division after the war in Palestine.


See also: Brigadier Hill.


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