Ian English

Major Ian English MC + 2 bars TD

Major Ian English was an early member of ELMS, a founder member of the Monte San Martino Trust, also a member of the Army POW Escape Club. He advised the societies on many occasions. 

In 1938 Ian English was commissioned into the 8 Bn Durham Light Infantry, TA. Ian had a very distinguished war record. He fought with the BEF in France in 1940. Served with the Battalion in the Gazala battles where he was awarded the Military Cross. He fought in the battle of El Alemain where he gained a bar to his MC, and continued fighting in the battle of Mareth where he was taken prisoner. He later escaped from the POW camp at Fontanellato in Italy, returned to England in time for D-Day, re-joined his beloved 8DLI, and gained a second bar to his MC during the fighting in Normandy. Ian was one of only 24 men to receive the Military Cross three times in WW2.   

The DLI were in action in France in 1940, and during the fierce fighting in the withdrawal to Dunkirk; Ian’s C Company took many casualties and lost all its vehicles. For his leadership in the battle Ian was Mentioned in Despatches. The Bn moved to North Africa and, in June 42, the Company was next in action along the Gazala Line. Ian led an attack on an enemy position from two flanks. The enemy proved to be in greater strength than first thought; he attacked and by sheer aggression and, with the element of surprise, tanks were knocked out. More than 20 officers and 210 other ranks were captured. Ian was wounded in the action and evacuated to hospital. He was awarded the Military Cross. 

On the freezing cold night of 1st Nov 1942, during the battle of El Alamein, C Company had been issued with their rum ration, then at 0100hrs the Bn launched its attack behind a rolling artillery barrage. The Company had a fierce fire fight to its final objective, having to attack 88mm guns with 2” mortars. Ian personally accounted for several enemy machine gun posts. With ammunition running out and heavy casualties, Ian skilfully organised his company to withdraw to safer positions. He remained with the wounded until the last soldier had been evacuated. He was awarded a bar to his Military Cross.

In March 1943, the DLI were again in action on the Mareth Line in Tunisia. After three days of fierce fighting, C Company was reduced from 140 men to four officers and twenty three men. Trying to extricate his men from the cauldron, he was overpowered by men of the Afrika Corps. After fierce hand-to-hand fighting Ian was captured. 

He then found himself in a POW camp at Fontanellato in northern Italy where, in September 1943, taking advantage of the Italian Armistice and the camp’s administrative change from Italian to German guards, Ian walked out with three other officers. Assisted by the Italian ‘contadini’ of the mountains and countryside, the men were sheltered, fed, and clothed and, although encountering many narrow escapes, they covered five hundred miles on foot, eventually reaching the allied lines in December.

On return to England, Ian refused a home posting, and insisted on re-joining his DLI to fight with them and participate in the expected Normandy invasion. Given command of D Company, Ian led the Company in an attack south of the village of Le Plessis Grimoult. The Company suffered heavy mortar and artillery fire en route to their objective. They captured their objective, but in the fierce fighting the company was reduced to fifty men who, reorganised by Ian, held their objective against repeated attacks. Eventually support arrived from other Companies. For this action Ian received a second bar to his Military Cross. Wounded in the fighting near Gheel in Belgium, he recovered to, once again, re-join the DLI. 

Ian English never forgot the Italian ‘contadini’ who assisted him on his 500 mile walking escape from Fontanellato, Italy. He visited on many occasions, and also supported the Freedom Trails in Italy. Ian wrote ‘Assisted Passage’, an account of his adventures in Italy, and ‘Home by Christmas’, relating the experiences of the escapers from the POW camp at Fontanellato. Major Ian English MC + 2 bars, died on 30 March 2006.