August 31, 2000

Infantry soldier in the first wave to hit the beaches on D-Day

 

Wright and Montgomery during an inspection of former soldiers, 1947

 

HORACE WRIGHT

 

Horace Wright, CBE, MC, MM, wartime soldier, was born on August 7, 1916. He died on July 16 aged 82

 

HORACE WRIGHT had the unusual distinction of winning the Military Medal and the Military Cross in the same campaign within a period of six months, during which he was commissioned in the field. He lost a leg during the action which brought him his MC, but went on to build a successful career with Lever Brothers.

His battalion, the 1st South Lancashires, with which he was then serving as a sergeant, was in the first wave of 3rd British Division to land on Sword Beach, east of Lion-sur-Mer at 0725 hours on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Their task, with the 2nd East Yorkshires who landed alongside them, was to secure the beachhead and the Periers-sur-le-Dan feature beyond it to allow the rest of the division to leapfrog forward, brigade by brigade, to capture Caen and a bridgehead over the Orne by last light on the first day. The first two brigades achieved their objectives on time, but forward elements of the 21st Panzer Division got astride the Orne, north of Caen, to prevent capture of the divisional objective.

Caen was not finally cleared until mid-July; meanwhile the South Lancashires had to contend with the enemy's stubborn defence of their positions at Chateau de la Londe, north of Caen. An attempt to drive the enemy from this area by the South Lancashires on June 10 was unsuccessful and the battalion took serious casualties. Sergeant Wright declined his company commander's invitation to lead his platoon in a final attempt to break into the enemy's perimeter; instead he offered to make a personal reconnaissance of their positions after dark, which he did.

Chateau de la Londe was finally taken by a brigade attack on June 28 and Wright was awarded the MM for his courage while leading his platoon in the battle of Normandy.

He was commissioned shortly afterwards, having been assured that this would not lead to his transfer to another battalion. In November, 1st South Lancashires were engaged with the rest of 3rd Division in widening the Nijmegen corridor, which had been driven north during September in an attempt to relieve the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem.

In Holland on the night of November 22, Wright was making a reconnaissance of the outskirts of the village of Venraij. He found the enemy had withdrawn across some heathland, leaving a minefield, but with the position of each mine clearly indicated by newly-turned earth. He led his patrol safely through the mines until he trod on one concealed by the stone chippings alongside a railway track. The lower part of his right leg was blown off but, after evacuation by stretcher, he was able to brief his commanding officer on the enemy's dispositions on the approach to Venraij. This incident brought an end to a series of such operations under his leadership. He was awarded the MC for his daring and successful patrol work during the advance to the Rhine.

Alfred Horace Wright was born at Toxteth, Liverpool. He left school at 13 to work as a messenger for the Manches- ter Ship Canal Company then, in early 1939, joined Lever Brothers at Port Sunlight and returned to them after his demobilisation.

On his retirement in 1974, he was personnel and development director for Lever Brothers, having been obliged to preside over workforce reductions as automation led to the amalgamation or closure of various plants. Wright became chairman of the Chemical and Allied Industries Training Board and was appointed CBE for his services in 1979. He resisted the abolition of training boards, arguing that they contributed substantially to the maintenance of a well-trained work force.

In spite of intermittent pain caused by the loss of his leg, Wright regarded his disablement as an asset which brought him in touch with many people whom he would otherwise never have met.

In the 1980s he bought a small van to transport goods weekly from affluent Surrey, where he lived, to a charity shop in Hackney. He was much involved with the church of St Mary and St Nicholas at Leatherhead; he had a fine singing voice. As recently as May this year, he stood for a two-hour stint collecting for Christian Aid in Leatherhead High Street. His usual cheerful rejoinder to anyone who expressed sympathy at his disablement was "Those who have not suffered have not lived."

He married Jessie Thompson, a Sunday school teacher, in 1942. She died in 1974. He married Alison Gordon in 1979. She survives him together with a son of his first marriage and two stepsons.


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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov