Extended biography of Geoffrey Pine-Coffin

Richard Geoffrey Pine-Coffin, the son of John Edward and Louise Pine-Coffin, was born on the Pine-Coffin family estate in Devonshire on 2 December 1908

His family had a long tradition of serving in the British Armed Forces; his father, a Brevet Major in the British Army, served with the mounted infantry in the Second Boer War (gaining the Distinguished Service Order) and died in 1919, whilst his uncle, Lieutenant Tristram James Pine-Coffin served in World War I and died in North-Western Russia in 1919.

Pine-Coffin was commissioned into his local infantry regiment, The Devonshire Regiment, as a Second Lieutenant, and was posted to 2nd Battalion on 1 September 1928. On 30 March 1930, he was posted to the 1st Battalion in India, and promoted to Lieutenant on 15 September 1931. On 1 January 1933, he was posted back to the United Kingdom to the Depot of The Devonshire Regiment, before returning to India when posted back to the 1st Battalion on 7 February 1935. He was promoted to Captain on 5 August 1938. On 16 September 1939, he was posted to the 342nd M.G.T.C. Gosport as the Adjutant. He was promoted Major (War Substantive) shortly after the beginning of the Second World War.

Pine-Coffin was a fine boxer, representing the Army against Oxford University and being runner-up in his weight in the Army R.A.F. Championships in India. In 1940 he suffered the very great blow of the death of his wife, Joan.

On 6 March 1940 he was posted to the Infantry Base Depot attached to the 4th Battalion The Cheshire Regiment. On 12 March he was posted to the 2nd Battalion, The Duke Of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 4th Infantry Division, and went with them to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. He saw considerable action with his Battalion in May and early June 1940, eventually being withdrawn from the harbour at Dunkirk.

On 26 September 1940 he was posted to the 11th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment, before volunteering for service with Airborne Forces on 24 September 1941. He was initially posted to the 2nd Parachute Battalion as the Second In Command, formed on 30 September 1941, before moving to 3rd Parachute Battalion a year later in the same role. On 2 October 1942, he took over as the Commanding Officer, after being made Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel.

As part of the 1st Parachute Brigade, the 3rd Parachute Battalion was allotted to 1st British Army, under the command of General Sir Kenneth Anderson, for the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. After some very hectic moves to Maison Blanche in North Africa, via Hurn aerodrome in the UK, and Gibraltar, the Battalion emplaned for the drop at Bone in North Africa on 12 November 1942. A successful operation was carried out that saw the Battalion in action for 5 days.

The 3rd Parachute Battalion then served in North Africa until the end of the campaign in 1943, notably at Bou Arada and Tamera. Pine-Coffin's actions during the campaign resulted in him being awarded the Military Cross in late September 1943. His citation read:

This Officer has commanded his Battalion with skill and gallantry throughout the campaign and by his example has been an inspiration to all ranks. Flying out from the U.K., he led his command with the utmost gallantry during the Parachute drop on BONE Aerodrome. Distinguishing himself at the battle for GREEN HILL (SEDJENANE sector) in January 1943 whilst under command of the 36 Brigade, he earned praise from the Commander for his energetic devotion to duty and daring reconnaissance’s. Again at BOU ARADA on the 26th February 1943 he gallantly led his Battalion in the most successful defence of the Sector, during which enormous casualties were inflicted on the enemy and many prisoners captured. Whilst the Brigade was operating in the TAMERA Sector he again distinguished himself by the handling of his Battalion during the enemy and our own attacks.

Lt-Col Pine-Coffin's tenure as the 3rd Battalions' Commanding Officer ended when he was called back to Britain, whilst 3rd Battalion was preparing to take part in the Allied airborne assault on Sicily. Pine-Coffin was appointed Commanding Officer of the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion (formerly 10th Battalion, The Somerset Light Infantry), which formed part of the 5th Parachute Brigade, 6th Airborne Division - making Pine-Coffin one of few Airborne soldiers to serve with both 1st and 6th Airborne Division's during the course of the Second World War to 1945.

With the 7th Battalion, Pine-Coffin played an important role in the 6th Airborne Division's airborne assault around the River Orne in the early hours of 6 June 1944. His Battalion was tasked with reinforcing Major John Howard's 181-strong coup de main force, which had seized the 'Pegasus' and 'Horsa' Bridges. The successful defence of these bridges was vital to 6th Airborne Division's objective of securing the Allied eastern flank. The bridges were to be held until relieved later on in the day following the Allied amphibious landings.

Pine-Coffin dropped with his Battalion at 0050hrs; they began to arrive at the bridges at about 0140hrs, taking up positions in Bénouville and Le Port, west of Caen Canal. With 7th Battalion's arrival, Pine-Coffin succeeded Major Howard to command of the bridges' defence. The 5th Parachute Brigade's position was precarious; 7th Battalion had been scattered and could only muster about 40% of its strength, while the 12th Battalion was in a similar situation at Ranville, east of the Orne. Pine-Coffin's Battalion came under sustained attack by the German 716th Infantry Division and elements of the 21st Panzer Division but, with some difficulty, they held their positions. The first relief for the beleaguered troops came at about 1330hrs, when elements of Lord Lovat's 1st Special Service Brigade arrived from Sword Beach and crossed the bridges to reinforce the Ranville positions. The 7th Battalion's own relief would not begin until the arrival of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Royal Warwickshire Regiment at 2115hrs.

7th Battalion was moved to positions east of the Orne when their withdrawal from the bridges was completed. After a German assault by the 346th Infantry Division was driven off on 10 June, Pine-Coffin was ordered to plan for an operation to take the Le Mariquet woods, which the remnants of the German attacking force had retreated into. Just two of the 7th Battalion's companies were present, but with tank support they were, successful in taking the woods, and captured up to 100 soldiers. The 7th Battalion would continue to be engaged in bloody defensive battles in the area until the Allied breakout and advance to the Seine in August. Despite concerns by Pine-Coffin that his Battalion was greatly fatigued, the 7th Battalion maintained its involvement in the intense Allied advance. Finally, in mid-September, the 6th Airborne Division was withdrawn back to Britain to recuperate and re-organise.

Pine-Coffin was one of many soldiers awarded medals for their service in Normandy; he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), 29th August 1944, for his command of the Caen Canal bridge's defence on 6 June. His citation follows:

Lieutenant Colonel Pine Coffin landed by parachute with his battalion behind the enemy lines on 6th June 1944. He was in command of the Western bridgehead over the CAEN CANAL at BENOUVILLE. His battalion held this bridgehead against superior strength, including self-propelled guns, for 21 hours until they were finally relieved by the seaborne forces. He displayed great courage, coolness, leadership and skill throughout the operation and was an inspiration to all under his command.

After Germany launched its Ardennes counter-attack in December 1944, 6th Airborne Division was rushed to Belgium to reinforce the Allied defence. Pine-Coffin's Battalion and most of the Division had only limited involvement and, after Germany's offensive was defeated in January, were withdrawn to the Netherlands and thence to Britain in February, 1945.

The 7th Battalion next saw active service in the Allied airborne assault over the Rhine on 24 March 1945. Pine-Coffin was awarded a Bar to his DSO (19th June 1945) for the important role he played in the success of the operation, which was the 7th Battalion's last parachute jump of the war. His Battalion's objective was to seize and hold positions near Hamminkeln, to act as a covering force for the rest of 5th Brigade in its advance on the main objectives. The Battalion was the last of its Brigade to make the drop, doing so whilst subject to fierce German attack from flak and other ground forces.

Pine-Coffin's Bar to DSO citation read:

During the airborne operations for crossing the RHINE on 24 March 1945, Lieutenant-Colonel PINE-COFFIN landed by parachute with his battalion in the vicinity of HAMMINKELN. His task was to hold a covering position and protect the dropping zone while the remainder of the Brigade secured the main objectives. The landings were accomplished in the face of very heavy opposition from flak and ground defences. The positions to be occupied by Lieutenant-Colonel PINE-COFFIN were held by strong enemy forces supported by 88mm guns. By outstanding leadership and skill Lieutenant-Colonel PINE-COFFIN rallied his battalion and totally disregarding the heavy fire and his own personal safety directed his battalion on to their objectives. During this engagement he was severely wounded in the face but he refused to leave his post for treatment and continued to move freely about his locality encouraging the men and adjusting their dispositions. Inspired by their Colonel's outstanding example and gallantry, his battalion held their isolated position in the face of strongly pressed counter attacks until the brigade objective was completely secured and consolidated, after which he was called on to withdraw into it which he did successfully bringing large numbers of prisoners with him. The magnificent leadership and bravery of Lieutenant-Colonel PINE-COFFIN had played a vital part in the success of the Brigade operation.

During heavy fighting, Pine-Coffin sustained serious wounds to his face; he refused to leave for treatment and continued to move around his Battalion's positions encouraging his men. He was instrumental in rallying his Battalion to hold out against German counter-attacks, which played a pivotal role in the successful completion of the Brigade's main objectives. The 7th Battalion was subsequently withdrawn to 5th Brigade's main positions. The Battalion then took part in the Advance to the Baltic and ended the war with the rest of the Division at the Baltic port of Wismar, in May 1945.

In August 1945 he was promoted to Substantive Major and continued to command the 7th Battalion as a Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel. He served in the Far East (where he was awarded a Mention in Despatches in 1946) and Palestine, until leaving 7th Battalion in 1947. He was promoted to the Substantive rank of Lieutenant-Colonel on 3 July 1948 and took command of the 1st Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment in Malaya. Pine-Coffin commanded the Battalion through the early stages of the Malayan Emergency and oversaw its move to Colchester, England in February 1951. He received a further Mention in Despatches for his Malayan service.

He left the Devons soon after, returning to the Parachute Regiment as its Regimental Colonel and Commander of Depot The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces, a post he held from 1952 to 1955. He then became Commandant of the Army MT School and Garrison Commander at Bordon. He retired on 20 December 1958 on retired pay and was granted the Honorary rank of Colonel with reserve liability (which expired in 1963).

Geoffrey Pine-Coffin was highly regarded as a natural gentleman, brave, sensitive, compassionate, but tough in battle. He was much loved and respected by his men of 7 Para, seen clearly in the follwing tributes from two of them recorded below:

Your card came as a complete shock. I hadn’t seen Colonel Geoffrey for years, but he was always there in my memories of the battalion. For he was The Light Infantry Battalion.

Others have spoken of his bravery, which is undisputed: of his quiet courtesy, for he was a gentleman: of his leadership, for he was a leader among leaders and a man among men.

As his Regimental Sergeant Major I remember him for one other quality. His humanity. He cared deeply for his soldiers and followed the comedy and tragedy of their daily lives to the minutest detail”. F.L.

He was a true soldier, endowed with much courage. Many of us are alive today because of his leadership and abilities. He was able to instill in us the art of survival, especially during a bloody battle like ‘D’ Day and the days that followed. He was a real gentleman, seemed to be a lonely man, but he was a soldier through and through.

I speak also for my Mortar Platoon, who held him in very high esteem. We all respected him.

His courage and leadership in Normandy were an example to the whole Battalion. I remember him with pride and affection, and count myself lucky to have served under him. As a true soldier he served his country well. Let us who know him give thanks to God for his memory and good example – ‘When you go home, tell them, and say, Our Realm is diminished with the Colonel Away’”. Fred Fricker.

His Second World War diaries were the basis for The Tale of Two Bridges (2003), adapted by Barbara Maddox and self-published by his son, Peter Pine-Coffin.

Lt Col Geoffrey Pine-Coffin died on 28 February 1974, in the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar, survived by his son Peter.


Obituary in Pegasus’, July 1974. Personal research or Mr R P ‘Bob’ Hilton
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