Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Field. RIP.

Discussion in 'Memorials & Cemeteries' started by CXX, Oct 20, 2009.

  1. CXX

    CXX New Member

    Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Field - Telegraph

    Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Field, who has died aged 92, played a notable part in training and leading Auxiliary Units (sometimes termed "Churchill's Secret Army") in the first phase of the Second World War.

    By mid-1940, the defences of Poland, Norway and the Low Countries had been overwhelmed, and German forces had occupied north-east France and appeared to be poised to invade England. Pill boxes and tank traps began to appear in the countryside and entanglements of barbed wire on the beaches.

    The War Cabinet approved an inter-services assessment of the need to supplement the regular defences with guerrilla-type troops, and this led to the formation of Auxiliary Units under Colonel (later Major-General Sir) Colin Gubbins.

    A small number of carefully selected officers was given the task of recruiting the most promising local inhabitants in their allotted areas and forming them into patrols. In the event of an invasion, these men were to leave their homes and move to pre-prepared Operational Bases (OBs) underground.

    Some of the OBs were in existing mines and tunnels; others were constructed of corrugated iron sections sunk into the ground with concrete pipe access and escape tunnels. Many were in remote, dense woodland, with access by way of a grassed-over trap door which only close inspection would reveal.

    The Auxiliers, as they were known, were to remain hidden during the invasion, come up behind the enemy lines and hinder the German advance by laying mines and booby traps, blowing up petrol and ammunition dumps, railway lines and occupied airfields.

    The men chosen for this task were volunteers, for what could have been a suicide mission. All were tough, resilient and resourceful, and many were used to handling guns. One Aux Unit had a poacher and gamekeeper on the same patrol.

    They were issued with gelignite, oil bombs, magnesium incendiary bombs, pistols, revolvers and hunting knives. The Auxiliers became adept at stealth by day or night, and their training included close combat and silent killing.

    Field himself had been wounded during the evacuation from Dunkirk, and had become frustrated by his inactivity while on sick leave. Seeking undercover work, he obtained an introduction to Colonel Gubbins of SOE. He was hurriedly passed fit, promoted to captain, and posted to The Garth at Bilting, Kent.

    There, he and a fellow intelligence officer, Captain (later Brigadier) Mike Calvert (subsequently well known for his part in Chindit and SAS operations) took over command of Auxiliary Units in Kent and Sussex from Peter Fleming, the brother of Ian. At Field's briefing, Fleming advised him to deal only with generals if he wanted anything.

    On one occasion, General (later Field Marshal Viscount) Montgomery came to inspect Field's underground OBs. Driving to the rendezvous, Field saw the small figure of Monty pacing up and down in front of a large staff car. When he apologised for being late, the general barked: "You're not late. I'm always two minutes early. Get in the car!"

    Field took him to a little spinney, where one of his patrols was hidden. Field pointed to what looked like a mousehole and dropped a marble down it. The marble ran down a length of concealed gas pipe and fell into a biscuit tin.

    This was the signal for the patrol leader to open the camouflaged entrance. Monty went in and was so impressed by what he saw that he promised to bring Churchill to look at the hideout and meet the patrol.

    Norman John Lascelles Field was born at Croydon on March 29 1917. His father, a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps, was serving on the Western Front at Ypres when news of his son's birth reached him. A shell was fired off in celebration and the shell case was inscribed and returned with him in time for the christening. This was the only time that they met; shortly afterwards his father was killed.

    Norman was educated at Shrewsbury, where he was head of his house and rowed at Henley. In 1935 he went to Sandhurst, where he won a Blue for rowing. Commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion and went to France in October 1939. At La Panne, near Dunkirk, during the evacuation, he was sheltering from heavy fire by a cellar window when he was wounded.

    "I was crouched in a cavity maybe six inches deep," he recalled, "and I felt my left hand move. I lifted it up and my fingers wouldn't work. I realised I'd been clobbered, but I didn't feel a thing, not then. Only my thumb and forefinger were fully functional. When I realised that I had lost the back of my hand and it wouldn't work, I thought I'd better see who I could find on the beach."

    Everyone there was lying flat on their faces to avoid the constant shellfire. It was night time, and a small plane was circling overhead throwing out flares that directed the artillery fire.

    At daybreak, some ships turned up and the British soldiers ran down to the water, desperate to get on board. There was chaos as everyone converged on the boats at once. The brigadier summoned two military policemen armed with Bren guns, and anybody who was considering getting into the sea was threatened with being shot.

    Having had his wounds dressed, Field climbed into a small canvas rowing boat and was taken out to a minesweeper. On board, they were dive-bombed by five Stukas which came screaming down to about 200ft before releasing their bombs; several splashed down within 30ft of the ship.

    Eventually Field reached Sheerness, from where he telephoned his young wife with the news that he was safe. Shortly afterwards, she received a telegram to say that he was missing, presumed dead.

    After his service with the Aux Units, Field joined Montgomery's staff – at Monty's insistence – before attending Staff College, Camberley, in 1942. He was then posted to HQ First Airborne Division in Tunisia as GSO2.

    In 1943 he was recalled from Italy and was involved in the planning of the Allied airborne landings on D-Day. His specialised knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of airborne troops led to a secondment to HQ First Allied Airborne Army in September 1944. He was awarded the American Bronze Star for his contribution to the planning for the invasion of Holland.

    Appointed OBE (Military) and promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1945, he was attached to the staff of Lt-Gen Ridgway for the Rhine crossing before becoming the senior staff officer to General Richard Gale. He was present at the liberation of Copenhagen and was on the point of flying to Burma when he suffered a serious stroke. He retired from the Army in 1948.

    After settling in Kent, over a period of 14 years Field built up a mushroom farm which supplied Covent Garden and many of the best restaurants. Repairing machinery with oxyacetylene welding equipment started him on the path of sculpting in steel, and he exhibited successfully at the City of London Guildhall Art Exhibition and on the Continent. In 1970 he had a one-man show in Cork Street. Subsequently he took up painting in watercolour.

    Norman Field, who died on September 10, married, in 1939, Geraldine Gridley, the third daughter of Sir Arnold Gridley, MP (later Lord Gridley). She predeceased him, and he is survived by their son and daughter.

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