Widdrington, Edward Anthony Fitzherbert
Tony Widdrington was the eldest son of Brigadier-General Bertram FitzHerbert Widdrington CMG, DSO (E1887-90), late KRRC, and Clothilde Enid Widdrington, daughter of the artist, E. Onslow Ford RA. He came from St. Aubyn’s, Rottingdean, to Mr. Tyndale’s House in September 1927, but only stayed for a year and then went to Stowe, which was near his home. He was well known at Bisley and represented England in international matches.
He was commissioned into 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards in 1934 – presumably having gone to Sandhurst after Stowe – and in 1938 was attached to the Royals.
Shortly after the outbreak of war he went with the rank of Captain to the Transjordanian Frontier Force, took part in the Syrian campaign in 1940, and was promoted Major in December 1941. In 1942 he joined the Queen’s Bays and served throughout the Tunisian Campaign, where he was wounded. In Italy from 1943, he served with 2nd Special Air Service Regiment, and was awarded the Military Cross for having done over a hundred dangerous and hazardous jobs. He was also mentioned in despatches four times.
On the night of January 12th 1944, a party of six parachutists under Widdrington’s command took off, at about 2000 hours, in a Dakota aircraft from the American airfield at Gioia del Colle, in southern Italy, on Operation Pomegranate. Their objective was to raid the airfield at San Egidio, near Assisi, a hundred and fifty miles behind enemy lines, and destroy German reconnaissance aircraft which were posing a threat to the imminent landing at Anzio. The group, consisting of Widdrington, Lieutenant Quintin Hughes, Lance-Corporal Malloy and three parachutists, was dropped at around 2230 hours east of Lake Trasimene, in a valley running east near Magione. A force of Wellington bombers raided Perugia to distract attention from the drop. The Dakota was never seen again after the drop and probably crashed in the mountains in the thick cloud that night. After hiding their parachutes and gathering their stores – which had been dropped in oil drums – they lay up in a wooded ravine. However, they were found by some Italian wood-cutters, who told them that the Germans had found the parachutes and were searching nearby farmhouses.
The party moved on for two days, hauling their packs and explosives three thousand feet up Mount Terzio, marching by night and taking cover during the day. When they reached the Tiber, they found it swollen and unfordable. However, they were lucky enough to find an overhead cable, from which was suspended a cradle which could be pulled across the river. After four noisy crossings, the whole party found itself on the far bank. However, it turned out that Malloy had left his rifle behind on the opposite bank and the fifth noisy journey finally alerted a German sentry. They were challenged, and at Widdrington’s command scattered into the nearby houses and fields. Hughes and Widdrington found each other again, but they could not locate the others, who eventually managed to reach the target independently, but found that their officers had completed the mission, and made it back through the Allied lines successfully.
The two officers went on together, dodging enemy patrols, and at dusk on January 17th dumped their rucksacks and carbines in a wood three miles from the airfield. They then began creeping towards the German perimeter, each carrying a small haversack containing twelve Lewes bombs, which were to be detonated by delay timers. As they approached, the airfield lights came on and four Junkers bombers flew in. A fifth crashed on landing and burst into flames. It was 2230 on the night of the 17th January before the resulting commotion had died down and the two SAS men were able to get on to the airfield and begin to plant their bombs on the seven aircraft.
The officers had been told that the bomb fuse setting which they were using would give an hour’s delay, but assumed that because the night was much colder they would have over two hours of safety from the moment of priming. They primed all the Lewes bombs before approaching the first aircraft, rather than following the usual procedure of priming the bomb once it was in place on its target; one assumes that they did this to lessen the chance of the bombs being found and removed before they exploded. However, this meant that Widdrington and Hughes were carrying bags of bombs ready to explode after an uncertain interval. As they began to disarm their surplus bombs, one exploded, killing Widdrington instantly and injuring Hughes severely.
Hughes, blind in one eye, temporarily blind in the other, and badly concussed, emptied the magazine of his pistol to summon help – at this stage he was unaware of Hitler’s ‘Commando Order’ which stated that all captured Allied Special Forces were to be executed if captured. In the two hours before Hughes was found, he burned his maps. After being taken to hospital in Perugia, he was placed in solitary confinement and told that he would probably be shot as a saboteur by the Gestapo. His right eye was operated on, but it took two weeks for his hearing to come back. Whilst in the hospital, he befriended a wounded German officer who was sympathetic to his plight; this man arranged for Hughes’s papers to be altered to make him a prisoner-of-war rather than a ‘political’ prisoner.
However, he was advised to escape as soon as he could. He and two other prisoners jumped from a train on March 10th 1944 and eventually made it to the Allied lines in May 1944. Hughes was awarded the MC for the raid and a bar for his escape. The official citation for Hughes’ MC stated that he and Widdrington destroyed four Junkers Ju88 bombers, two Fieseler Storch spotter aircraft and one Junkers Ju52 transport.
On January 20th Widdrington, who was twenty-nine years old, was buried by the Germans with military honours, and a cross was erected by them over his grave. He now rests in grave X.C.8 of the Assisi War Cemetery.
- Surname: Widdrington
- Forenames or initials: Edward Antony Fitzherbert
- House: K
- Years in School: 1927-1928
- Rank: Major
- Regiment: SAS
- Date of Birth: 1st March 1914
- Date of Death: 18th January 1944
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner F2
- Decoration: MC
- Burial Site: Assisi War Cemetery: Grave X.C.8