Philip Hugh Whitby Hicks was born on 25 September 1895 in Warwick to Dr Philip Hicks and the novelist Beatrice Whitby.
After education at Winchester College in Hampshire, Hicks joined the Territorial Army and was mobilized for the First World War.
He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st/7th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, on 27 August 1914. The 1st/7th Battalion was part of the 143rd Brigade of the 48th (South Midland) Division, which took part in the battle of the Somme in 1916 and the third battle of Ypres in 1917.
Hicks was granted a Regular Army Commission in June 1916 and Mentioned In Despatches on 13 November 1916, while serving with the 7th Battalion.
In May 1918, Hicks transferred to the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, which was part of the 10th Brigade of the 4th Division. While serving with the 4th Division he was awarded a Military Cross in 1918, during the Hundred Days Offensive. The citation states:
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during a daylight raid. He commanded his party in a most skilful manner, and was largely responsible for its success. About 50 of the enemy were killed, several of whom were shot by him with his revolver, and two prisoners taken. His conduct was splendid.’
On 8 November 1918 Hicks was again Mentioned in Despatches.
Hicks remained in the Army during the inter war years and married Patty Fanshawe, the daughter of Brigadier Lionel Arthur Fanshawe CBE DSO, in 1927. They had two children, a son and a daughter. In the inter war years his service included postings to Egypt, India, the Channel Islands, and the United Kingdom.
At the start of the Second World War Hicks was still a Major, but was promoted to acting Lieutenant Colonel in May 1940, as the Commanding Officer (CO) of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the 144th Brigade of the 48th (South Midland) Division. Hicks took control of the battalion in the battle around the area of Wormhout and managed to extricate the remnants back to Dunkirk and thus avoid the massacre that befell D Company. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
Hicks joined the 1st Airborne Division in 1942 and was promoted to command the 1st Airlanding Brigade in April 1943 as Acting Brigadier. During Operation Ladbroke – part of the Allied invasion of Sicily – Hicks's glider landed in the sea. He and the other men on board decided to swim ashore. Once there he gathered a force together and attacked a coastal artillery battery. For his actions in Sicily Hicks was awarded a second Distinguished Service Order. The citation states:
‘Brigadier Hicks commanded and led the 1st Airlanding Brigade in its moonlight attack at Syracuse on the night 9–10 July 1943. His own glider landed in the sea. He and his party swam ashore and took part in the fighting against enemy coast defences. Throughout the entire operation Brigadier Hicks showed the highest qualities of leadership, courage and devotion to duty.’
He celebrated his 49th birthday during the Battle of Arnhem, making him the oldest man in the 1st Airborne Division. He was also the only senior officer in the division who had fought during the First World War. Hicks has been described as an excellent trainer of men, though was certainly a little old to be involved in the arduous airborne lifestyle. Montgomery, who knew Hicks well, suggested to Urquhart in the summer of 1944, that he ought to be transferred to another command in view of this. However Urquhart persisted with him.
Shortly after landing on Landing Zone S during the Battle of Arnhem on Sunday 17 September 1944, Brigadier Hicks moved towards the little railway station at Wolfheze, on the edge of the landing zone, and established Brigade HQ in a house on a lane know as the Duitsekampweg. Houses on the same lane were also turned into dressing stations for the 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance, who began to treat casualties immediately.
As the 2nd South Staffords began to weed any opposition out of Wolfheze, Hicks ordered a section of the 9th Field Company's No 2 Platoon to block a road running south-east out of the village, to ‘catch any birds flushed out’. However the men encountered a company of SS Grenadiers, almost as many men as intelligence believed to be guarding the entire area, and several men were killed or fatally wounded.
Moving to secure the drop zone for the 4th Parachute Brigade, B Company of the 7th Battalion, Kings Own Scottish Borderers encountered a member of the Luftwaffe called Irene Reimann, and her German boyfriend. She was sent back to Wolfheze where her behaviour intrigued the airborne troops. Various accounts described her as ‘a buxom blonde dressed in a smart flannel suit’, ‘quite pretty, but sulky’, and ‘no great beauty, pug-nosed and surly’. Brigadier Hicks offered her a cup of tea, but she was adamant that it contained poison and refused to drink it until he tasted it first.
Before leaving England, Major-General Urquhart informed his Chief of Staff, Lt Colonel Charles Mackenzie, that if anything should happen to him then the chain of command was first to pass to Brigadier Lathbury, then Hicks, and finally Hackett. With both Urquhart and Lathbury declared missing on Monday 18 September, Mackenzie sent for Hicks at 07:00 and gave him command of the division.
Mackenzie knew that troops had reached the bridge, but the 1st and 3rd Battalions were having difficulty in fighting their way through heavy opposition. Details were scant, but he knew they needed reinforcements, and so advised Hicks to detach one of his airlanding battalions and send it to Arnhem. He chose to dispatch the 2nd South Staffords, of whom only half their number had travelled with the first lift. The removal of this battalion left a large hole in the defences around the drop zones, with Wolfheze open to attack if the enemy chose to move in that direction. It was a risk that had to be taken, and the gap was loosely filled with a troop from the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, and 50 glider pilots. Furthermore at 14:00, Hicks was concerned enough to send further reinforcements after the South Staffords.The drop of the 4th Para Brigade was overdue, but he decided that when it came he would remove the 11th Battalion from the command of Brigadier Hackett, and immediately send them into Arnhem.
The situation was not good with Urquhart missing; the presence of two Panzer Divisions in the area and reinforcements sure to follow; the second lift was delayed due to bad weather; and Hicks was unable to warn the troops on the second lift or contact the 1st Para Brigade to verify what was happening. Hicks later reflected that "the situation was more than just confusing, it was a bloody mess."
The second lift began to arrive at 15:09 on Monday 18 September. Brigadier Hackett, understandably, was not in the least bit pleased when he learnt of the decision to remove a battalion from his brigade without his consent, He was quite appalled that a battalion had been seemingly plucked out of the air without regard to any casualties incurred during the fly in. However time was crucial and it seemed reasonable to select the 11th Battalion as this had been dropped closest to Arnhem. In spite of the urgency, it took five hours for the battalion to receive its orders to move.
Hicks left orders for Hackett to come and see him as soon as possible, but he was not able to oblige until around midnight. By this time he was quite furious with Hicks for what he saw as ‘a grossly untidy situation’, with no coordination within the division and scattered pockets of men fighting their own private battles at a most desperate time. He also felt that he should be in command of the division as he was the senior officer of the two, although Hicks had been on the ground longer, and therefore was much more in touch with the situation.
Hackett travelled to the Hartenstein Hotel, where 1st Airborne Divisional HQ was now placed, to put these points quite plainly to Hicks. The two men were good friends, but a heated exchange instantly developed and lasted for several minutes. Hicks declared that due to the poor performance of the radios and units being constantly harassed by German attacks, it was very difficult for them to organise themselves into a coordinated action and make it work. Hackett was not convinced and requested a sensible plan with definite objectives to the point where he hinted at mounting a challenge to the authority of Hicks to command. They debated further on the plan of attack for Tuesday morning, but eventually the mood softened and Hackett left; quite happy for Hicks to continue in command and give him orders, but his views were unaltered and he privately decided to only accept these orders if they made sense to him.
The chaotic prospect of a split within the division was resolved when Major General Urquhart returned on Tuesday morning and resumed command. It has been suggested that Monday 18 called for a bold and definite change in strategy, and that Brigadier Hicks completely failed to deliver on it. Although his command did not develop an attack plan, it seems unfair to be overly critical of him as the situation on that day was still far from clear and there was no obvious need for a radical alteration in tactics; such as forming the Oosterbeek Perimeter two days early. It has also been said that if Urquhart had been present then he may have adopted such a policy, however when he returned the following morning, to the universally delight of all senior officers in the division, he still believed that Arnhem could be taken, and persisted with the policy until that afternoon.
On Wednesday 20 September, the 1st Airlanding Brigade HQ was repeatedly mortared. Hicks was not hurt as a result of this, but it provided him with great administrative difficulties as four of his officers were killed in the explosions, and several others were badly wounded.
The Oosterbeek Perimeter was formed on the same day. Major General Urquhart gave Hicks command of all the units on the eastern and northern sides of the defence, as they mostly fell into the category of airlanding troops. As with his fellow senior officers, he continuously visited his tired men and encouraged them. Hicks always wore his red beret in place of his helmet, and so was instantly recognisable amongst crowds of other men who wisely wore their helmets to offer some protection from the incessant artillery bombardment. A member of the Reconnaissance Squadron shouted to him "Hey, Brigadier, put your bloody helmet on." Hicks smiled and waved back at the man, and later revealed that he wasn't trying to appear carefree by wearing his beret, it was just that he had to run around a lot and he was highly irritated at how the helmet bounced around on his head.
While waiting for the evacuation, Hicks was heard to mutter that it would be another Dunkirk. And as at Dunkirk, while waiting to be ferried across, officers queued up in line and waited for their turn just like a common soldier. Brigadier Hicks was reluctant to depart for the other side until he had seen that all the men of his brigade were on the southern bank, however he was dissuaded from doing so and went across.
In May 1948 Hicks retired from the army and became a Regional Commissioner for the International Refugee Organization in Germany between 1948 and 1952. He later served on the board of the National Playing Fields Association in London, between 1955 and 1961.
Brigadier ‘Pip’ Hicks died on 8 October 1967 at Hartley Wintney, Hampshire.
Regular Army Commissioned Service History
2nd Lt 24 June 1916 seniority 27 May 1915
Lt 24 June 1916 seniority 10 June 1916
A/Capt 8 August 1918 to 9 June 1919
Capt 15 January 1922
Maj 3 March 1936 A/Lt Col 18 May 1940to 17 August 1940
T/Lt Col 18 August 1940 to 4 June 1941
Lt Col 5 June 1941 (supernumerary 5 June 1944) A/Col 17 February 1942 to 16 August 1942
T/Col 17 August 1942 to 29 June 1944
Col 30 June 1944 seniority 5 June 1944 (retd 13 May 1948)
A/Brig 6 April 1943 to 5 October 1943
T/Brig 6 October 1943-April 1946
Hon Brig 13 May 1948
By Bob Hilton with assistance from Mark HickmanRead More