Lonsdale, Richard Thomas Henry “Dickie”, born 27-12-1913 , in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, Ireland, , to to Mr and Mrs Robert Lonsdale, and educated at Eastbourne College in East Sussex. He initially enlisted in the British Army as a private, but on 27-08-1936 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Leicestershire Regiment after attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He served with both the 2nd and 1st Battalions of his regiment in Jubbulpore, British India in 1937, and in Waziristan in 1938. In Waziristan he took part in a successful operation to recapture an enemy-held picket and was subsequently awarded the Military Cross (MC). .
Lonsdale was promoted to the rank of lieutenant only a month before the outbreak of war. He occasionally held the rank of acting or temporary captain over the next few years before he volunteered for the Parachute Regiment in 1941. Like Colonel John Waddy he was a founding member of 151st Parachute Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in India, and remained with the battalion when it transferred to North Africa. In July 1943 he was transferred and made the commanding officer of A Company, 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, part of the 1st Parachute Brigade, “Red Devils” under command of General Sir Richard Nelson “Windy” Gale, GCB, KBE, DSO, MC Gale survived the war and died 29-07-1982 (aged 86) in Kingston upon Thames, London.
In mid-1943, the 1st Airborne Division, to which the 1st Parachute Brigade was attached, was given the task of conducting three airborne assaults as part of Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. Each assault would be conducted by one of the division’s brigades. The Ponte Grande road bridge south of Syracuse was to be captured by 1st Airlanding Brigade, the port of Augusta was to be seized by 2nd Parachute Brigade, and finally the Primasole Bridge over the River Simeto was to be taken and secured by 1st Parachute Brigade. 1st Parachute Brigade’s plan for the capture of Primasole Bridge, code-named Operation Fustian, was quite simple: 1st Parachute Battalion would capture the bridge itself, 2nd Parachute Battalion would drop to the south of the bridge and prevent Axis forces from counter-attacking, and 3rd Parachute Battalion would do the same to the north. For his conduct during this operation, Lonsdale was awarded the Distinguished Service Order
Most of the 1st Airborne Division returned to the United Kingdom in November 1943 and were kept in reserve during Operation Overlord. In September Lonsdale was made second in command of 11th Battalion, Parachute Regiment and in the same month the division was deployed in Operation Market Garden. The Allies planned to use airborne forces to secure key bridges over a number of rivers and canals in the Netherlands, opening a route around the Siegfried Line and into the heart of Germany. 1st Airborne Division was tasked with securing bridges across the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, with the 4th Parachute Brigade planned to drop on the second day of the operation.
The divisional commander, Major General Roy Urquhart, had an original plan which envisaged the 4th Parachute Brigade advancing to the north of Arnhem, but by the end of day one the allied advance into Arnhem had stalled. Only a small group of the 1st Parachute Brigade, mainly elements of Lieutenant Colonel John Dutton Frost‘s 2nd Battalion, were able to reach the bridge. The 1st and 3rd battalions were unable to penetrate the outer suburbs of the city and their advance stalled, so in order to support them elements of the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, glider infantry of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, were sent forward on the morning of 18 September. When the second lift arrived later that day the remaining companies of the South Staffords and the 11th Battalion were sent forward and arrived at the outskirts of Arnhem that night.
Lonsdale did not advance with the battalion however. The C-47 Dakota in which Lonsdale was travelling was hit by German anti-aircraft fire, damaging it and also wounding Londsdale in his right hand; he was delayed in exiting the aircraft when the two men either side of him refused to jump, which meant they had to be unhooked before he and the rest of his stick could jump out of the aircraft. Upon landing, Lonsdale found that his wound was bleeding considerably, and his orderly had to bandage up his hand
In the early hours of the morning of 19-09-1944, an attack was launched on a narrow front between the river and the railway line, in order to force a passage through to the bridge. However, in the face of strong enemy positions and armour, the attack faltered and the British routed. The remnants of the four battalions fell back in disarray to the main divisional positions at Oosterbeek. Here they were met by Lieutenant Colonel “Sheriff” Thompson, CO of 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, who drove a little over half a mile forward of his own 75 Millimetre Howitzers positions at Oosterbeek Church, and ordered Major Robert Cain to gather the men into defensive units. Thompson asked Brigadier Philip Hugh Whitby “Pip” Hicks for more men and officers, and was sent Lonsdale and Major General Frank Keith Simmons. While Simmons organised defences at the church, Thompson sent Lonsdale forward to take charge of the outlying force. This sector was officially designated Thompson Force in a divisional meeting the following day. Brigadier Hicks survived the war and died 08-10-1967, age 72, in Hartley Wintney. General Keith also survived the war and died 22-09-1952, aged 64, in Australia.
On 20 September, the Germans launched a series of increasingly heavy attacks against Lonsdale’s men. Although in an isolated position they held their ground throughout the day and Lance Sergeant John Daniel Baskeyfield was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the main road into Oosterbeek. By the afternoon the mixed force was so weakened that Hicks gave Thompson permission to pull them back to the main divisional defence line at the church . German flamethrowers and tank fire had set fire to buildings and the surrounding woodland and the British withdrew under intense fire. Lonsdale ordered the men who had fallen back to gather and rest in the church, and it was here that he gave a speech to rouse his exhausted and dispirited men Standing with a sling around his injured arm, a blood-stained bandage covering his three head wounds and a bandage on his leg, Lonsdale climbed into the pulpit:
You know as well as I do there are a lot of bloody Germans coming at us. Well, all we can do is to stay here and hang on in the hope that somebody catches us up. We must fight for our lives and stick together. We’ve fought the Germans before – in North Africa, Sicily, Italy. They weren’t good enough for us then, and they’re bloody well not good enough for us now. They’re up against the finest soldiers in the world. An hour from now you will take up defensive positions north of the road outside. Make certain you dig in well and that your weapons and ammo are in good order. We are getting short of ammo, so when you shoot you shoot to kill. Good luck to you all.
Although many of the men were asleep, the speech put new strength and hope into the men who heard it. Lonsdale took command of the parachute battalions in the sector, while Thompson took charge of the artillery, South Staffords and Glider Pilots. However, on 21 September Thompson was injured by mortar fire and Lonsdale took overall command of the sector, which was renamed Lonsdale Force. For several days they fought off determined German attacks in their sector, usually minor infantry encounters. On many mornings Royal Artillery units from XXX Corps under command of Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, south of the river, laid barrages just forward of the force’s positions to disrupt any enemy buildups, on one occasion accidentally shelling their own men. On the morning of Monday 25 September, Urquhart agreed to withdraw his division south of the river, but he would have to wait until nightfall. It was on this day that the Germans made their most significant gains, breaking through the British perimeter at the northern end of Lonsdale Force’s sector and sweeping south to the South Staffords positions. The German forces succeeded in overrunning several artillery positions before being forced back. The 1st Airborne withdrew that night, although Lonsdale force were amongst the last to fall back to the river after waiting for the units further north to fall back past them. Nevertheless, they were at the back of the queues to cross the river and many men were left behind. Lonsdale saw as many men over as possible before he left. No boats were running by the time he came to leave and so he swam the river, a task made more difficult by his injuries.
For his conduct during the battle, Lonsdale was awarded a Bar to the DSO on 09-11-1944.
Death and burial ground of Lonsdale, Richard Thomas Henry “Dickie”.
Lonsdale later commanded an amalgamated force of the 3rd and 11th Parachute battalions and saw service in Palestine, being promoted to lieutenant colonel. In 1946 he transferred from the Parachute Regiment and served with the King’s African Rifles for a time in Uganda, and then left the British Army. He remained in Africa for several years, entering the wine trade, and then returned to the United Kingdom living in Jersey, the Isle of Man and Bath. He died on 23-11-1988, at the age of 74. He is buried in Aldershot Military Cemetery.