9 May 1920 – 23 August 2017
“That summer, he returned to Fairford to inquire after the six subaltern friends with whom he had shared a Nissen hut for a year before he became a prisoner. He was the only one still alive.”
“Brigadier Mike Dauncey, who has died aged 97, won a DSO at the Battle of Arnhem and then spent six months on the run in enemy-occupied Holland.
On September 17 1944, the first day of Operation Market Garden, Dauncey, then a lieutenant serving with the Glider Pilot Regiment (GPR), flew a Horsa glider to Arnhem. It carried a jeep, an ammunition trailer and six gunners of the Airlanding Light Regiment RA.
The GPR’s role then was that of infantrymen and they dug slit trenches to provide a protective screen around the gun emplacements. They had taken the Germans by surprise and the only people they saw were from the lunatic asylum, who came out wearing nightshirts and shouting: “Hello Tommy!”
On arrival at Oosterbeek, they came under fire from enemy 88 mm anti-tank guns. Dauncey led a fighting patrol and returned with eight prisoners, a machine gun and several Luger pistols. A few days later, a sniper’s bullet went through his beret, grazing his scalp, and then a shell splinter wounded him in the eye.
On September 25 houses that his men were holding were set on fire and he was ordered to withdraw. However, an enemy self-propelled gun was on the point of penetrating the gun positions, and he remained by himself and attacked the gun with Gammon bombs. A critical situation was averted but he was hit in the thigh by a bullet and then by a German stick grenade, which exploded and broke his jaw in two places.
He was taken to the house of Kate ter Horst, a Dutch housewife who tended wounded and dying Allied soldiers and who became known as the Angel of Arnhem. The house was full, so he was left on the lawn with other wounded men while a battle with mortar and artillery fire went on around them. After nightfall, his division began to withdraw across the Rhine.
The wounded were left behind and became prisoners of war. Dauncey had two operations on his eye in a Dutch hospital in Utrecht. After he was transferred to the German prison hospital in the town, he and the senior officer, Major Gordon Cunningham of the Black Watch, knotted sheets together and escaped out of a window while the guards were having their supper. Cunningham had been shot in both legs and Dauncey had to carry him over the barbed wire perimeter fence.
They made their way to the parsonage which was next to the English church. This was the home of Paul and Constance Breuning, who had visited them in hospital. The Breuning family hid them there until early February 1945.
A doctor visited regularly to check on both men’s wounds. To account for these calls and to keep people away, the Breunings made out that their children had measles. If the Germans had found out, Paul Breuning would certainly have been shot and his wife imprisoned. In fact, after an intensive hunt for Dauncey and Cunningham, the Germans announced that both had been recaptured and shot.
The Breunings contacted the Dutch underground who provided Dauncey and Cunningham with false identity cards (which stated that they were doctors) and bicycles. Dauncey wore an old hat, a pink scarf and winkle-picker shoes. He stood out a mile, he said afterwards, but the Germans only had eyes for the two attractive girls, also on bicycles, who led the way.
They crossed the River Lek in a small boat and hid up at farms or in flats as the underground moved them from one safe house to another. At one farm, the Germans sometimes called to ask for eggs. Dauncey learnt not to take any notice, but just to laugh when the other farmworkers did.
As they got close to the Allied lines, they were joined by four others, including two American pilots. On April 9 1945 the two men, with four other escapers, were met by a young man who led them to the River Waal. They reached the bank in darkness and rowed across the river in a boat which had a large hole in it and was waterlogged by the time they reached the other side.
The Allies on that section of the line were Belgians. After being questioned, Dauncey was flown to Croydon. That summer, he returned to Fairford to inquire after the six subaltern friends with whom he had shared a Nissen hut for a year before he became a prisoner. He was the only one still alive.
He was recommended for the Victoria Cross, but this was downgraded to a Distinguished Service Order by Field Marshal Montgomery. The citation for the award stated that during the action from September 20 to 25, his position was overrun three times by superior forces of enemy tanks and infantry. Despite being wounded three times, it added, on each occasion he had led a counter-attack with such determination that the positions were regained with heavy loss to the enemy.
Michael Donald Keen Dauncey was born at Coventry on May 11 1920 and was educated at King Edward’s School, Birmingham. He enlisted in the Army in September 1940 and was commissioned into the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment and posted to the 5th (Earl of Chester’s) Bn in Northern Ireland. He subsequently volunteered for the Airborne Forces and, in January 1944, he was seconded to “G” Squadron GPR.
After the war, he was posted to Athens as Military Assistant to the C-in-C Land Forces, Greece, and then joined a Parachute Regiment battalion in Germany. He commanded 1st Bn 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment from 1963 to 1966. He was commandant of the Jungle Warfare School from 1968 to 1969, commandant Support Weapons Wing, School of Infantry from 1969 to 1972 and then Defence & Military Attaché at the British Embassy, Madrid, from 1973 to 1975.
Dauncey retired from the Army in 1976. He was Colonel of the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment from 1978 to 1985 and President of the Glider Pilot Regimental Association from 1994 to 1998.
Settled in a village in Gloucestershire, he enjoyed travelling, tennis and gardening. He felt greatly indebted to those who had helped him after he was taken prisoner and regularly attended the Arnhem commemorations, which celebrate the enduring bond between the Dutch and British after the battle. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of the county in 1983.
Mike Dauncey married, in 1945, Marjorie Neep, who predeceased him, and he is survived by their son and two daughters.” (Obituary courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)
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