Birney, Davd Leslie

Born on 12th June 1914 at Simla, David Leslie Birney was the younger son of Colonel Charles Foliat Birney, D.S.O. of the Royal Engineers and of Rachel, daughter of Lieutenant Colonel J T W Leslie.    He came from St Andrew’s, Eastbourne to Southgate Hill, as Du Boulay’s was then known, which his brother John Charles Ramsay Birney (C 1925-1930)  had already joined.  He represented his House at gymnastics, was in a winning Toye Cup side and took part in three winning steeplechase teams, he rowed in the second School VI and shot for the Ashburton Shield.   From 1933-1936 he was at Trinity College, Cambridge reading Law.  In 1936 he shot for the University and helped the O W Veterans to win their competition.  In 1937, although working in a solicitor’s office with Messrs Peacock and Goddard, and with little time to practice, he helped the OW Veterans to win again at Bisley, and at the age of 23 won the Silver and Gold Medals of the King’s Prize.

On leaving Cambridge he joined the territorial London Rifle Brigade with whom he stayed until, during the War, he was selected for No 2 Commando, taking part in two raids on Norway and in Operation Chariot, the St Nazaire raid  on 27th March 1942 when 600 British commandos attacked a huge dry dock to prevent German ships from using it for repairs.   Delivered to their objectives by small motor launches, Birney was in Group One with 14 others  on board ML447, who were to assault the Old Mole (the jetty and lighthouse jutting out 130 metres into the River Loire), and clear away the enemy defences, which included two pill-boxes.  At the head of the column, the boat was hit repeatedly by enemy fire. Many of those on board became casualties, but at Birney’s insistence its commander managed to bring the boat in close enough to have a go at landing what was left of his team of commandos.   The boat was hit by a fusillade of small arms fire and a large calibre shell hit the engine room and set the craft alight. Everyone who could abandoned ship – Birney ordered the last two surviving commandos over the side – and a number managed to make it onto the shore, while others were picked up by another boat, ML160. Of the six boats scheduled to land Commandos, only one succeeded. The Old Mole remained firmly in German hands, adversely affecting the chances of successful evacuation for the rest of the landing force.

Birney was last seen, wounded but swimming, and posted as Missing. On December 3rd 1942, his wife gave birth to a daughter, Ann.   It was discovered in March 1944 that Birney had died of wounds a month after the raid, at the age of twenty-seven. He lies buried in grave 2.C.9 of the Escoublac-la-Baule War Cemetery, near St. Nazaire, and is also commemorated in Panel 9, column 2 of the Brookwood Memorial.



War: World War 2

  • Surname: Birney
  • Forenames or initials: David Leslie
  • House: C
  • Years in School: 1928-1933
  • Rank: Captain
  • Regiment: No 2 Commando
  • Date of Birth: 12th June 1914
  • Date of Death: 28th April 1942
  • How Died: Died of Wounds
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner F2
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: Escoublac-la-Baule War Cemetery, St Nazaire: Grave 2.C.9