Information for Veterans and their families

Clixby Fitzwilliams

I had the privilege to hear from Dan Brocklebank who's grandfather, Major Clixby Fitzwilliams, was also involved with the rescue of the Royal Dutch Family as told in accounts by Jim Wicketts and Dai Tilley on this site. Jim and Dan have been in touch and I have received permission to reproduce the stories provided by Clixby on the BBC People's War website here.

The stories have been reproduced exactly as placed on the website. If you have any comments, please do let either myself of Dan know.

Background on Major Clixby Fitzwilliams

During WWII, I was called to serve with all 3 Services of British Army, RAF and Navy.

From 1939 to 1945 I served with the 2nd Battalion of the Welsh Guards in the Army and saw action in Holland; Boulogne, France; Lake Trasimino, Italy; Ceylon (switching to Royal Navy after training as Air Liaison Officer with the RAF), Burma and Singapore for the Japanese surrender.

But between 1941 and 1942 I served with the RAF as Air Liaison Officer attached to 613 Squadron.

From 1943 until the end of the war I then served with the Royal Navy as O/C 4 Carrier Borne Air Liaison Section in Gibraltar; Malta; Greece; Alexandria, Egypt and in 1944 Trincomalee, Ceylon, Burma, Penang and Singapore for the final surrender of the Japanese in 1945.

I was born in London in 1916, during a German Zeppelin raid. My father, of Welsh Origin, was one of the officers who had transferred from the Royal Army Service Corps to join the Welsh Guards on its formation in 1915. It was therefore natural for me to join the Welsh Guards as a Reservist after getting my degree in law at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

I was due to start Army training at Pirbright Guard’s Camp in September 1939 as an officer on Supplementary Reserve. I remember being at the Military Tailors, Dege, in Conduit Street where the Regimental Adjutant was checking the fit of my uniform as a 2nd Lieutenant when war broke out.

The following day, as I walked down Birdcage Walk (struggling not to trip over my newly presented sword), the sirens started to announce the first air raid on London. Luckily this was a false alarm. At the Regimental HQ, I was ordered to report to the Tower of London to be trained to take over the duties of mounting guard over London. Six weeks later my platoon was mounting guard at Buckingham Palace!

Luckily, the platoon consisted of Welsh Guards Reservists who constituted the majority of the Welsh Police Force in peacetime. The first job for my platoon was to escort the crew of the first German submarine which had surrendered on the South coast of England. I was able to order them to march to the buses that took us up to a deserted cotton factory in North Lancashire. My sergeant told me on arrival that my German sounded like the Welsh orders which the Guardsmen expected.

From the Tower of London we spent four months patrolling the Ammunition Stores and Royal palaces of London. The officers on duty dined in the Officers’ Guardroom of St James’ Palace.

At the Tower, we were inspected by His Majesty George VI and the Reserves became the 2nd Battalion of the Welsh Guards (the First Battalion was already at war in France behind the Maginot line trying to keep the German Army out of France).

After the inspection the 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards was formed and moved out of London to a tented campsite at Theydon Bois where we trained. Meanwhile the German Army made preparations for storming the Maginot Line on the way to capturing France, whose Army capitulated quickly, overwhelmed by the speed with which Hitler’s tanks overran the country.

Two trips across the English Channel in spring 1940

In spring 1940, the 2nd Battalion of the Welsh Guards moved out of London to a camp site at Theydon Bois and training for war began. We were joined by some experienced officers from the 1st Battalion.

On the May Bank Holiday 1940 the German army charged across the Maginot line. Belgium capitulated and the German tanks charged across the Rhine into Holland and Alsace-Lorraine. Undoubtedly Hitler knew that due to the Bank Holiday, half the British Army would be on home leave.

Half the 2nd Battalion, Welsh Guards, supplemented by a T.A. Regiment, were embarked on a cross Channel steamer and disembarked at the Hook of Holland which was not far from Rotterdam. We understood that we were on a mission to evacuate various VIPs but knew little else. It was late evening when we landed and the German bombers were in the process of blitzing Rotterdam. The Germans were particularly interested in targeting the city of Rotterdam to destroy crucial oil supplies and - more importantly - destroy Dutch morale.

The night sky was lit up by the blazing city. A vast tide of civilian refugees from the city of Rotterdam streamed towards the docks hoping to be rescued by “our allies the British”. My orders were to stop all pedestrians. I gave this order to my sentries and we settled down for the night. At about 3am, a coach was driven towards us and insisted on being allowed through. My sentries stopped it and I sent for the Commanding Officer. When he arrived, we discovered that it was the British Consul escorting Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Juliana with her children. They were taken down to the docks and escorted over to England. The next day a destroyer was sent in to rescue us. As soon as it was light, the Luftwaffe dive-bombed the destroyer but the Navy zigzagged and got us all safely back to England.

Fortunately, the main loss during the operation was the instruments of the regimental band (the bandsmen had not been needed for their stretcher-bearing duties) and we were greeted at Waterloo Station by Millie and her girls from the 400 Nightclub.

However, as soon as the Dutch people realised that the Queen had escaped, they capitulated to the Germans.

A few weeks later, in June 1940, the officer in charge of the officers’ mess had gone on holiday and I was left in charge. We were told that we were going overseas in a hurry and my Commanding Officer ordered me to get provisions for the officers’ mess. I rushed to Harrods to get emergency provisions of wine and stilton cheese, etc. On my return to Theydon Bois I found the whole camp evacuated and already on their way down to Dover to board a cross-Channel ferry. This time we were a composite battalion made up of half Welsh Guards and half Irish Guards, with the Welsh Guards commanding. Our destination was Boulogne with the task of forming a bridgehead to hold back the German army while British troops were evacuated from France, scrambling over the beach at Dunkirk to ships of all shapes and sizes sent from England to get them back to ‘Blighty’.

We were under heavy fire from the Germans and it was here that I had my first encounter with a German tank, which bore down on me with its flame thrower blazing from the front of the tank. I shot at with my revolver and miraculously it stopped. I later discovered that this was because they had moved so fast out of Holland to cut off the British army that fuel supplies could not keep up and they had run out of fuel.

My platoon was holding the bridgehead leading out of the harbour when the Brigadier of our force ordered the evacuation of those soldiers positioned across the Dock entrance bridge because engineers were preparing to blow up the bridge. I objected strongly as half my platoon were still on the town side but nevertheless the order was given and signals were made to a British destroyer to enter harbour and take on board half of our Battalion who were on the seaward side. We lost the other half of our Battalion who were killed or taken prisoners by the Germans. Later we understood that we could have held the bridgehead long enough to allow the British troops to escape whilst the German army stayed static for lack of fuel.

Back in England to regroup, we learnt that the Guards Armoured Division was to be formed. All officers and men were to be trained to work in tanks.

I felt the time had come to use my training with the Cambridge University Air Squadron, and applied to join an Air Liaison course at RAF Old Sarum. This was agreed and after training I joined 613 Squadron RAF as Army Liaison Officer.

The squadron was equipped with Lysander high winged aircraft which had been withdrawn from France, and was at RAF Doncaster, retraining on the latest equipment.

HMS Hunter and 4 Carrier Borne Air Liaison Section

As part of the American lend-lease help, six banana boats under construction in the USA had a flat top deck built on them in order to be used as aircraft carriers. These six were commissioned as HMS Hunter, HMS Attacker, HMS Pursuer, HMS Stalker, HMS Emperor and HMS Searcher.

HMS Hunter was built at Pasoagoula at Irgalls Ironworks of Birmingham, Alabama, USA and was commissioned on 10 January 1943 and brought to Northern Ireland.

Of these, Hunter, Attacker and Khedive were equipped to carry Seafires, a newly-designed aircraft which was a Spitfire aircraft but with the wings adapted so that they could be folded and lowered by lift into the bowels of the carrier between flights.

HMS Searcher and Emperor carried the American Martlett and Hellcat planes. These six ships arrived at three-week intervals in Long Kesh, Northern Ireland, the base from which the aircraft were flown, and were immediately occupied by the pilots of the Fleet Air Arm Squadrons 804, 807, 879, 899, 882 and 898.

4 Carrier Borne Air Liaison Section (‘CBALS’) was formed on 30th September 1943. The duty of the section was to represent the Army and to interpret to the Naval pilots how best to assist the Army in carrying out the task of an assault landing on enemy soil. The work involved prizing information from returning pilots, checking this against photographic evidence taken and coordinating with other sources of intelligence. The intelligence gained and conclusions had to be passed without delay to the Army HQ, either afloat or ashore.

I was given command of the Section on 28th October 1943 and the Section was mobilised on 31st October 1943. On 10th November, the Section moved to RNAS Burscough, Ormskirk, Lancashire where Captain G.B. Groasdell joined the Section. Sergeant Marriott also joined us in the change over and Gunner Johnson completed our strength.

On 19th January 1944 we joined HMS Hunter, one of four carriers making up the fleet in the Mediterranean. The tasks allocated to the squadron were “search and cover” fighter patrol over the assault beaches, spotting for naval bombardment and close spotting by bombing and strafing for the invading troops. Each carrier had 18 fighter planes adapted for reconnaissance and photographic work. One squadron of 12 pilots was allocated to each carrier. Over the next 2 years, Hunter sailed from Gibraltar to Alexandria on 7 occasions chasing the Germans from Africa, Crete and Malta.

In August 1944 Number 4 CBALS took part in Operation Dragoon, with HMS Hunter supporting the American forces landing in Toulon in the South of France. Unfortunately, the Americans spent so much time getting their troops ready that the Germans had ample opportunity before they retreated to completely demolish any landing jetties on which the American troops could land. By the time the Americans struggled ashore the Germans had completely withdrawn and German casualties were minimal. I did not hesitate in sending the Americans our aerial reconnaissance photos over to the Americans to point out the error made in delaying their attack.

During 1944-5, HMS Hunter sailed from Gibraltar to Alexandria seven times, relieving Malta and other islands and chasing the German Army out of Greece. The Greek railways were blown up to stop the Germans escaping north.

Finally we were based in Egypt, where new pilots joined us and desert training was carried out on the abandoned battlefield of El Alamein, where Rommel’s Army was defeated and the rout of the German Army began.

Entertaining King Faruk

At the start of 1945, the European war was coming to an end and in North Africa, on the old battlefield of El Alamein, General Montgomery routed the German army and finally banished them from North Africa. On 18th February 1945, after six months’ training in the desert, a final exercise was held with our American allies before leaving Egypt for good to sail against Japan.

The British Admiralty agreed to a request by King Faruk of Egypt to visit the Royal Navy in Alexandria. As HMS Hunter was the senior British battleship, Captain Torlesse was asked to entertain King Faruk and illustrate how an aircraft carrier operated.

HMS Hunter sailed out of Alexandria Harbour and twelve Seafires from 807 Squadron showed off bombing and strafing tactics on targets towed by the escort ships.

The pilots put on a great show and were entertained at the King’s nightclub on the Bay in the evening. I enjoyed talking to King Faruk on the Flight Deck. The pilots each received a gold watch and the crew received crates of oranges from the King’s orchards.

On the following day we sailed south through the Red Sea to encounter the Japanese.

The V-Bomb: Hitler’s final attempt to Kill Britain

This is an extract from my diary at the time:

31st December 1943 - the first photos taken by Pilots of 613 Squadron over France show a new type of long range rocket sites being constructed. From then on we carried out spot patrols at low levels to watch progress.

13th February 1944 — No announcement has yet been made but already RAF Reconnaissance Planes have spotted 108 sites where construction work has been carried out, initially by French forced labour and later by German air force personnel when anti-aircraft defences are quietly installed.

Photographic evidence was brought to the interpretation at RAF Old Sarum by our pilots flying at ‘zero’ feet over the French coast. All the sites pointed towards London and varied from 3 miles and more from the coast. The rocket was estimated at 12,000 lbs and we estimated that each site could be fired from once in 24 hours.

Although the bomb blasting was extremely inaccurate, they did a great deal of damage around London in 1944. All known sites were destroyed by British Bombing raids before 6th June 1944.

HMS Hunter in the Far East and the End of the War

In the summer of 1945, HMS Hunter sailed to Colombo, Ceylon, but harboured at Trincomalee, the Naval Base on the East Coast of Ceylon. My Army base was in Colombo on the West side where the squadrons were based. Supreme HQ was high in the hills at Newar Elia. I had an Army jeep to maintain contact. I was therefore able to explore the lovely island of Ceylon while the pilots trained for jungle warfare.

Here it was decided that the pilots required 3 months’ training on their new Mustang aircraft and were anyway unlikely to be needed in the Burmese campaign. However, I was called to Louis Mountbatten’s headquarters and briefed for further operations. Accordingly, I reported in Calcutta (then the gateway to Burma) to receive my instructions from the Army Liaison Officer with 14th Army. From here I was flown to Burma together with my jeep and driver. I joined two RAF officers charged with surveying potential landing strips.

Over the next two weeks, I explored Burma, driving up to Mandalay to inspect the damage done by the Japanese and meeting a delightful English resident who had spent two years hiding from the Japanese in the forest. He presented me with a number of prints of the pre-War way of life in Burma.

We had to cross the Irrawaddy by raft as all the bridges had been destroyed.

Japanese soldiers were still around and liable to fire at us as we passed. It transpired that the batteries in their radios were flat and so they had not received any orders to clear out.

RAF planes were dropping rifles and ammunition so that local resistance could attack the Japanese.

The 9th Army was charging down to Burma and by the time I got back to Calcutta. Photos taken by RAF aircraft showed messages on the roof of Rangoon Jail stating: “JAPS GONE”.

So I returned to Calcutta and back to Trincomalee. However orders came from S.E.A.C. HQ for an Army Officer to collect the orders for the invasion of Malaya.

I was flown to Bombay on the West Coast of India and arrived at the start of the monsoon, with 27 inches of rain falling on Bombay and putting the airport out of action for four days. Finally the orders arrived and I set off in an American transport plane flying down to Ceylon.

When I finally got back to Trincomalee I found the fleet had already sailed and was waiting for orders off the Andaman Isles. Back on board HMS Hunter, I found the pilots and crew of 817 Squadron had challenged the ship’s crew to a game of deck hockey to pass the time away. The game paused while the postal helicopter landed me, the orders and the post for the crew — a popular arrival!

The following day we sailed for Penang to escort the Indian Army in transporters down to the Malayan coast.

A Japanese kamikaze suicide plane tried to torpedo HMS Hunter but was shot down by our escorting destroyer.

As we reached Penang we were informed that the Japanese Army was prepared to surrender and a small Japanese patrol boat came out to escort HMS Hunter into harbour.

The Admiral in the Command battleship sailed onto Singapore where Admiral Mountbatten prepared to accept the Japanese surrender.

On 6th September 1945, the Japanese commanders came on board HMS Hunter to agree terms for the hand-back of Penang.

Two days later we sailed down to Singapore to join the rest of the fleet. There was great rejoicing and a rush by the Indian and British Army to open Changi and other jails. I joined to free some of the prisoners and recovered for them the watches etc purloined by the Japanese. We had strict orders not to feed the prisoners as they were emaciated but RAMC produced tonics etc and we helped to bring them back to health.

The War was over and HMS Hunter sailed for home at Portsmouth. Disembarkation and freedom from Service lay ahead. Captain Torlesse asked me to collect World News and broadcast daily to the ship’s crew and passengers to help them with the future problems of disembarkation.

I was able to brush up my accountancy by teaching book-keeping and accountancy. This helped me towards passing my final Chartered Accountancy exam which had been delayed by the War for five years.

The Army gave me six months disembarkation leave plus a suit and overcoat, and normal life was resumed.