Lt Col William Dewhurst Douglas MC Chevalier Legion D'Honneur

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Lieutenant Colonel William Douglas, who died at the age of 101, was awarded an MC in 1945 for a daring attack in Holland.

In March 1945, Bill Douglas served with the 11th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers (11 RSF), commanding a platoon of D Company. An enemy force had infiltrated the position of 7th Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (7 DWR) near Haalderen, south of Arnhem.

Douglas’ company was ordered to conduct a raid to determine the strength and identity of the German units in this most important part of the front. Widespread flooding, minefields, and extensive barbed wire defenses made the operation very difficult.

In the early morning of 10 March, in the dark, Royal Navy assault ships transported D Company up the River Waal to raid enemy positions. Surprise was lost when a Belgian unit on the south bank opened fire upon seeing a craft moving upstream.

As a result, the landing had to be made just before the intended one, and in the skirmish to secure the area, Douglas’s sergeant was killed. A section detached in the dark and landed on another train.

The other two detachments set about clearing the enemy bank, but after about 300 yards one of them was held back by enemy fire. Douglas’ exhausted force fought from house to house until they, too, were pinned down by machine gun fire from a farmhouse.

Douglas ordered his men to take cover and called in mortar fire dangerously close to his own position. This allowed him to push forward again. After completing his task, he personally directed the covering fire to allow the rest of the company to retreat.

All enemy bases were gone. Fifty-one Germans were killed, wounded or captured at the cost of three Allied troops killed and eight wounded. Douglas received an Immediate MC, his platoon corporal a DSM, and company commander Major Leslie Rowell an Immediate DSO.

William Dewhurst Douglas was born on March 15, 1921 in Bolton, Lancashire. Bill, as he was always known, was educated at Thornleigh Salesian College, Bolton, where he was head boy, captain of the games for two consecutive years and captain of cricket, football, athletics and cross-country. As a runner, he was good enough to appear regularly at the Northern Counties Amateur Athletics Association junior events.

After graduating from high school, war and conscription threatened and he volunteered for the RAF. A small eye defect prevented him from becoming a pilot, so he transferred to the Coldstream Guards. He completed six months of basic training before going to Sandhurst.

In March 1943, Douglas was drafted into the RSF and posted to the 11th Battalion. Based at Chepstow they served in mountain warfare training in the Brecons before moving to Scotland to begin specialized training for a beach landing role. In early 1944 he became second in command of B Company when they moved to Norfolk for further training for the invasion of France.

On June 11, 1944, the battalion, part of the 147th Brigade, landed on Gold Sands at Le Hamel, Normandy. A fortnight later they suffered significant casualties in the battle for Fontenay-le-Pesnel. Douglas gained a reputation as an enterprising patrol leader. He was often near enemy lines at night, listening and noting their dispositions.

In October it was reported in Kruisweg, South Holland, that an enemy tank was heading down a village street towards Douglas’ company. His men were in a large barn. There was no time to use them and they scattered in search of cover.

Douglas grabbed a PIAT, a man-portable anti-tank weapon, and tried to hide behind a low wall in front of a row of houses. He thought not to be seen, but was spotted by the German tank commander from his turret.

The tank’s gun could not be lowered far enough to fire directly at Douglas, so it blew up the houses behind; He had to be pulled out of the rubble by his men. His sergeant cut down the tank by fighting it with an anti-tank gun he had pulled from a burning building. The sergeant was later awarded a military medal.

Douglas was stretchered to a regimental aid post and then transferred to the Canadian Military Hospital in Antwerp. His spinal cord was so badly damaged that paralysis was feared. However, feeling in his legs returned, and within a month he had discharged himself from the hospital, flagged down a supply truck, and rejoined his battalion.

In December 1944 the battalion was in a flat area between Nijmegen and Arnhem. Called “The Island” because it was located between the Waal and the Lower Rhine, it was one of the most unpleasant front sections during a cold, wet winter.

The Douglas company became part of the armed forces defending the road bridge in Nijmegen. One of their duties was to throw hand grenades into the river at night to ward off attempts at sabotage by enemy combat swimmers.

In June 1945, after the action in which he was awarded his MC, he left the battalion, having volunteered for service against Japan. After the Japanese surrender, he was offered a place at Oxford, but chose to join the 1st Battalion in the Northern Rhodesia Regiment (1NRR) in the country's Copper Belt. In 1947, on a royal tour in Rhodesia, the King presented Douglas with his Military Cross in a ceremony in the Victoria Falls Hotel.

He was granted a regular Commission in the RSF and after Staff College, took a staff job at HQ, British Somaliland district. In 1949, he rejoined 1RSF in Dortmund, Germany. Subsequent appointments took him to HQ Scottish Command inEdinburgh, 1RSF in Berlin, and then Malaya during the Emergency.

In 1958, in a ceremony in which the RSF as an individual regiment marched off into history, Douglas was the last man to leave the parade ground. The following year, RSF amalgamated with the Highland Light Infantry to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret's own Glasgow and Airshire Regiment), or RHF. Douglas was the first commander of A company. He saw further service at HQ Far East Land Forces, Singapore, and with 1RHF in Malta before assuming command of 5/6 Highland Light Infantry. A staff posting to NATO HQ, Izmir, Turkey, was his last appointment before taking early retirement from the army in 1969.

He then moved to Saint Martin's Ampleforth, the prep school for Ampleforth College at Gilling Castle in North Yorkshire. In addition to teaching history and geography, he coached the boys in cricket, rugby and rifle shooting. Known as the Colonel, he was greatly respected and his passing will be keenly felt by many of his former pupils.

Douglas was fortified by a strong Catholic face. Faith played golf and exercised his brain with regular games of bridge.

In 2017, he was made of Chevalier Legion D'Honneur in recognition of the part that he had played in the liberation of France.

William Douglas married, in 1953 Olga Chapman, who he had met in Edinburgh, while when she commanded 10 Scottish Battalion WRAC; she predeceased him. They had no children, but he was always a profound source of wisdom and guidance to his wider family.

William Douglas, who was born on the 15th of March, 1921, died on the 6th of October 2022.


•  DOUGLAS Lt Col William Dewhurst MC Chevalier Legion D'Honneur, late RHF  Passed away peacefully in York Hospital on 6th October 2022 aged 101 years. Beloved husband of the late Olga and a dearly loved brother, uncle and great uncle.




• In 2017, it was reported that he was preparing for marriage! 

Research note:
•  Aircraftman First Class Wilfred Stanislaus Douglas, also an old boy of Thornleigh Salesian College died February 15th, 1942.

An Aircraftman First Class in 224 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Service number: 1325396
Thornleigh Salesian College Bolton Roll of Honour
CWGC Memorial: Singapore Memorial, Singapore



Sources for this article include:
  • Manchester News Today

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