Maj David Jamieson VC CVO
passed away on 5 May 2001, aged 80
This page would not have been possible without the express permission of
'Major John L
Raybould TD' who is the Editor of the Norfolk Section, of "The
Britannia and Castle" which is the 6-monthly Regimental Journal of the
Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Royal Norfolk, East Anglian and Royal Anglian Regimental Associations.
by clicking on the Britannia below you will be taken to the
site of the said journal. Please pay it a visit, its a very interesting and informative site
Maj David Jamieson was
Norfolk's last member of that select band of men who won the Victoria Cross,
Britain's highest award 'for valour'.
At the time of his death this leaves 21 living holders of the Victoria Cross.
A statesmanlike figure widely respected for his many accomplishments in war and peace, David Auldjo Jamieson was born in Westminster, on 1 Oct 1920, elder son of Sir Archibald Jamieson KBE MC, chairman of Vickers Armstrong.
He attended Ladycross School in Seaford, East Sussex, 1929 to 1934 and was later educated at Eton.
(In the Seaford museum, housed in a Napoleonic Martello Tower, there is a David Jamieson VC display, collated by Kevin Gordon.
A keen birdwatcher and naturalist as a boy, (though his height, unfortunately, meant that he was not an easy figure to conceal either from shy birds or enthusiastic German snipers) he fell in love with the north Norfolk coast during regular visits to The Drove House, in the peaceful west Norfolk village of Thornham.
A former rectory, it was a family holiday retreat and from 1940 onwards, his home. The gardens were from time to time open to the public for charitable purposes. 'All of my happy memories of school holidays are here,' he once said. 'We had such a happy and carefree childhood and, then, snap, along came the war.
Warned by his father of
the imminence of war he relinquished a place at Cambridge University and spent
that last summer of peace in Norfolk, sailing, socialising and soldiering as an
18-year-old volunteer in 5 Royal Norfolk Regiment's TA unit based at Dersingham,
which he joined in May 1939. He subsequently transferred to the
7th Bn when the Secretary
of State for War, Leslie Hore-Belisha (who had previously, as Minister of
Transport, introduced the Belisha Beacon), doubled the TA that summer. Despite
having had no military experience beyond his school cadet corps, he was
considered officer material and commissioned 2 Lt. Considered too young to
command a platoon overseas, he was left behind when 7 Royal Norfolk went to
France with the BEF in 1940. Although a source of some grievance at the time, it
proved a lucky escape. The bulk of the Bn was forced to surrender with 51
(Highland) Division and taken prisoner near St Valéry en Caux on 6 Jun 1940
while Jamieson, who had ventured no nearer the fighting than a reinforcement
camp at Rouen, escaped via Cherbourg to fight another day. In England he helped
to reform the 7th Bn, was granted a regular commission in 1941 and promoted
company commander. Returning to Normandy a few weeks after the D-Day landings,
when the Allies had been able to break out through the German armour around
Caen, Jamieson ran into his brother-in-law, Maj John Tollemache, who was serving
with the Coldstream Guards, and invited him to join them for dinner. Jamieson,
who had been living in a trench, was astounded to find regimental silver laid
out on crisp white tablecloths. 'I knew the Brigade of Guards fought like
tigers,' he recalled, 'but that they should eat like lords so shortly after a
decisive and hard-fought battle in the middle of Normandy amazed me.'
Unfortunately for Jamieson, he received orders to move on as he was inspecting
this spread, and so missed his dinner.
His first major test was the struggle to secure a bridgehead over the River Orne near the small village of Grimbosq. The image of him directing operations from atop the tank, exposed to enemy fire, became the enduring symbol of the Norfolks' epic stand. But it was, as Jamieson later admitted, a misleading one. 'The only thing I was directing was the tank to get the hell out of it, because it was right in a German tank's line of fire. I only climbed on to it because the telephone at the back didn't work.'
David Jamieson was a modest man whose only comment to his parents when he was sent home to convalesce from his wounds was that he 'had been in rather a tough spot'. Shortly afterwards, and much to his shock, the London Gazette announced that his 'superb qualities of leadership and great personal bravery' had been recognised by the award of the VC - the 4th of a record 5 won by the Royal Norfolks in WW2 and the only one to a living recipient.
Later he said: 'I'm a very nervous man. I have always considered it enormous luck that I got the Victoria Cross at all.' This reticence disguised Jamieson's remarkable common sense, coolness in moments of crisis, and his ability to cut straight to the heart of any problem. David Jamieson was, in many ways, a peculiarly English kind of hero; a gent of the old school, modest and retiring, who liked to give the impression that he owed his greatest honour to a wonderful, almost unbelievable, stroke of good fortune. To a point, he was right. Luck had played a part, though only in so far as he survived by some miracle to receive the award his courageous leadership during the 1944 battle of the Orne bridgehead so richly merited. After all, there are not many people who have been standing on the side of a tank when it was blown up and lived to tell the tale. He, of course, didn't see it that way. Not then, nor afterwards. Writing to his batman shortly after his Victoria Cross was announced, he pleaded with him 'not to make me out to be a hero'.
Over the years those words, or a variation of them, were repeated until they became a kind of mantra. The role of regimental hero was never one with which he appeared entirely comfortable. 'I really couldn't believe it when I was awarded the VC,' he told Steve Snelling, 'and I still don't believe it. I don't think I deserved it. I think the men in my company did a wonderful job in a very tight corner and deserved very high praise, but, as an individual, there was nothing I did to deserve the VC.'
His eldest nephew, Lord Tollemache, said that all those awarded the VC showed exceptional bravery but it was considered that David's had been the finest. He told the tale of David, aged 19, driving through a wartime blizzard to Norwich in the blackout with pencil headlight beams, fearful of his sister giving birth in a snowdrift. (All was well and Lord Tollemache was delivered indoors.) David said: 'it was the worst night of my life. I deserved a VC for that!'
When Steve Snelling asked David at The Drove House which of his achievements had given him the greatest sense of personal satisfaction, expecting his reply to take in one of his numerous civic or military posts, he answered: 'Keeping this vast, hopeless, useless Victorian house going through 40 years of incredible social change, and still being here.'
Jamieson remained in the Army, with a regular commission and after the war became an instructor at the School of Infantry, Warminster, as a Major, and in 1948 was posted as adviser on the British Military Mission to Egypt.
Retiring that year to pursue a highly successful business career with interests in Australia and Britain, he was a director of the Australian Agricultural Co from 1949-78, and governor from 1952-76, transforming the fortunes of the company, which controlled a chain of Australian sheep and cattle stations.
In 1948 he married, on Norfolk Island, Nancy Elwes, a childhood friend from an old Norfolk family, to whom he had proposed by post when she was in a War Office job in Singapore. They had a son and two daughters. In 1963 she was killed in a car accident.
He was also a director of the UK branch of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, 1963-8 (deputy chairman 1973-89); of National Westminster Bank, 1983-87; of Steetly plc, 1976-86 (deputy chairman, 1983-86) and chairman of Norfolk Fruit Growers. In 1968 he was appointed a member of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, the Queen's Body Guard and in 1979-80 he was High Sheriff of Norfolk. In 1986 he delivered up his Stick of Office as Clerk of the Cheque and Adjutant (1981-6) on his appointment as Lieutenant of the Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, serving in that office until 1990, when he was appointed CVO. During this period, he was also given the informal title of 'My Umbrella Man' by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who was always keen that Jamieson should escort her at garden parties, since his height and prestige as a VC enabled him to cut a swathe through the close-knit crowd with his umbrella.
Throughout, he maintained close ties with his old regiment, spearheading a successful appeal to relocate The Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum in Norwich's Shirehall.
In his later years he bore with fortitude and cheerfulness the successive amputation of both his legs. But though confined to a wheelchair he developed new interests in painting and tapestry-making, achieving a high standard in both these arts. His eldest nephew, Lord Tollemache, said that David attacked golf balls at Brancaster with all the ferocity and expletives used against the enemy in 1944. (It was he who persuaded a most reluctant David to sit for the painting.)
In the early 1990s, he moved to a specially-equipped house in Burnham Market with his second wife, Joanna Windsor-Clive, nee Woodall, whom he married in 1969. Thornham, however, remained his spiritual home. 'He loved The Drove and the orchards he grew there,' recalled Mrs Jamieson. 'It was a great joy in his life. He loved the beach and the marshes with its birdlife. That was his favourite place.'
He is survived by his widow, by the son and two daughters of his first marriage, three grandchildren and by a stepson and stepdaughter. Conducted by Rev Jonathan Charles, the funeral took place at Burnham Market Church, attended by HM Lord Lieutenant for Norfolk, Sir Timothy Colman KG JP DCL, Gen Jack Dye CBE MC DL, Gen John Sutherell CBE, Maj Alan Pryce 2IC 1RANGLIAN, those who had served with David and those who simply wished to pay their last respects to a genuine, if reluctant, hero of the old school.
To accompany the above
obituary of Maj David Jamieson VC CVO the section below gives an account of his
action at Grimbosq.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross on 8 Aug 1944 when serving with the Royal Norfolk Regiment in the defence of the bridgehead over the River Orne south of Grimbosq in Normandy, gained by the men of his Regiment during the breakout after the D-Day landings.
Two of the three tanks in support of the Company were destroyed and Captain Jamieson left his trench under close range fire from enemy arms of all kinds and went over to direct the fire of the remaining tank ……. he climbed upon it in full view of the enemy.'
The citation for his VC concludes: 'Throughout 36 hours of bitter and close fighting, and despite the pain of his wounds, Captain Jamieson showed superb qualities of leadership and great personal bravery. There were times when the position appeared hopeless, but on each occasion it was restored by his coolness and determination. He personally was largely responsible for the holding of this important bridgehead over the River Orne and for the repulse of seven German counter-attacks with great loss to the enemy.'
David Jamieson, then a Captain, was 2IC D Coy 7 Royal Norfolk in 59 Division during the crossing of the Orne south of Caen in the first week of Aug 1944. Before any major action, it was customary to leave a number of officers out of battle, who would act as a cadre on which the Bn could be reformed if it suffered heavy casualties. OC D Coy was left out of battle, so Jamieson was in command of D Coy for the crossing, which was initially successful enough for a bridge to be built and for some tanks to reinforce the bridgehead. At this point the River Orne runs through a deep, narrow valley, with steep slopes on the western side but gentler slopes on the east where the Grimbosq Forest offered useful cover for the German forces which were preparing their counter-attacks. Although all the bridges had been destroyed, on 6 Aug three British Infantry Bns, including the Norfolks, had waded across, driven back the enemy, and occupied a stretch of the far bank, a manoeuvre which enabled the Royal Engineers to begin building new bridges, although the area was still under heavy shell and mortar fire. On 7 Aug, 12 SS Panzer Division, which had been rushed over from the Canadian sector, launched three successive counterattacks with the new and powerful Mk VI Tiger tanks supported by Mk V Panthers. Bitter fighting, much of it centred on the Royal Norfolks, and in particular D Coy, continued for 36 hours, during which five enemy tanks and an armoured car were destroyed. On the morning of 8 Aug the enemy attacked with a fresh Battle Group and succeeded in penetrating the defences surrounding D Coy on 3 sides. During this attack 2 of the 3 tanks in support of the Coy were destroyed. Capt Jamieson left his trench under close range fire from enemy arms of all kinds and went over to direct the fire of the remaining tank, but as he could not get in touch with the commander of the tank by the outside telephone he climbed upon it in full view of the enemy. He was hit in the eye and left arm, but, when his wounds had been dressed, he refused to be evacuated. Eventually, with all his officers dead or wounded, his anti-tank guns silenced, supporting tanks knocked out and flanking companies either overrun or withdrawn across the river, he called artillery fire down on the very edge of his own position in a desperate attempt to stop the German advance.
It worked. The vital bridgehead was held, although at a heavy price. Jamieson, whose cool and determined leadership was chiefly responsible for the victory, was among the wounded.
Describing the battle 50 years later, he told Steve Snelling of the EDP: 'It was of immense importance and it seemed that every senior officer in the British army was watching our little action and wondering if we would stay or run. I was determined to hang on, if we could, but I was worried. My concern was that everybody was going to skit and run, and I was determined to do everything I could to stop it. It wasn't a happy position.'
By this time all the other officers in the company had become casualties, so Jamieson - who, at 6' 5' was the tallest man in his regiment - walked around in full view of the enemy, encouraging and reorganising the company as casualties mounted.
The Germans launched three more attacks that day on D Coy, which he managed to defeat largely by using his radio to bring a skilled direction of artillery fire on the attacking Germans.
As the Germans continued to press home their attacks the Norfolks' position in the bridgehead seemed at times hopeless, but Jamieson's determination, personal courage and inspired leadership enabled each enemy attack to be repulsed until their heavy losses caused the Germans to withdraw. By evening, when 12 SS Panzer Division finally gave up, the Coy position was largely intact, ringed with German dead and burnt-out tanks