Extended biography of SSgt Sam Isaacs

Sam Gregory Isaacs was joined the Army after completing his medical of 7 July 1940. His first regiment, the 10th Battalion East Surrey Regiment, spent most of the years 1940 to 1942 in the West Country on permanent training exercises and occasional air raid auxiliary duties.

Sam later cited his hatred for 'marching round in circles' for his ultimate decision to volunteer for the Glider Pilot Regiment, along with a will to do something positive and learning how to fly. Sam applied to the GPR in early 1942 and was accepted after passing a Maths Matriculation exam (he had not been able to take it on leaving school). He was posted in late-June, and finally arrived with the Glider Pilot Regiment on 29 July 1942.

Based at Denham in Buckinghamshire, he travelled every day to the Elementary Flying Training School at Booker. He learned how to fly on Miles Magisters and his beloved Tiger Moths. Mervyn Seabrook, a colleague on the course, attests to Sam's incredible prowess at aircraft recce - Mervyn says Sam was always willing to help out in recce tests. Over the three-month course Sam flew some 18 hours 45 minutes and qualified with above average marks, gaining his pilot's Wings in Novemeber. He moved on the Glider Training School at Weston-on-the-Green airfield in Oxfordshire. He trained on Hotspurs and gained average marks at the end of this particular course, which was completed on 28th February 1943.

Sam was promoted to Sergeant on 9 March 1943 - the day he got his Glider Pilot Regiment flying badge. Sam flew Hamilcars on a Heavy Glider Conversion Unit course in April 1943 - he had 7 hours flying time and again gained average marks. When he left for North Africa on 30 May he had flown well over 80 hours, piloting all the gliders available to the regiment, Hotspurs, Horsas and Hamilcars.

North Africa, Sicily, and Italy

Sam embarked for North Africa in late-May and arrived in Froha, Algiers on 10 June 1943. Sam flew the US WACO 'Hadrian' glider later in the month and completed Exercises Eve and Turkey Buzzard delivering WACOs to five airstrips near Sousse and Kairouan in Tunisia. Sam completed nearly six hours flying during this time.

The gliderborne aspect of Operation Husky to Sicily was launched from six airstrips near Sousse on 9 July 1943. Sam took off from F Strip with H Company 1st Battalion Border Regiment and a 6-pounder Anti-Tank Gun, led by Lt E S (Ted) Newport. He was Second pilot to S/Sgt Wood in WACO/Hadrian No: 403, Chalk Number 109.

The pilot report reads:

'A good tow, but intercom u/s (unstable?). Port light on Albermarle was u/s from start. Released at 23.45hrs at 1400 feet, approximately 500 yards off shore. Glider made perfect landing on LZ.'

The perfect landing was between a wall and a telegraph wire and into a tomato field. When the Glider Pilots arrived back in North Africa there were confrontations with the American pilots in local bars. The tug pilots were criticised for over-reacting to the flak as the aircraft approached their LZs. After further exercises, the shortage of available aircraft meant Sam was part of the infantry landings at Taranto, travelling in the seaborne invasion flotilla aboard the troopship Princess Beatrix. The mayor of Taranto welcomed the allies with open arms. Villa Monte, Putignano, was the eventual HQ, with the men billeted in a nearby school. The Glider Pilots were withdrawn with troops from 1st Airborne Division to the UK in November 1943.

When his ship, a commandeered banana boat developed engine trouble the troops onboard eventually had to board a train for Blida in Algeria - a trip of nearly 500 miles. The other glider pilot ship arrived in Liverpool on 10 December 1943; the second batch had not yet reached Blida at this point. Christmas Day 1943 was spent readying themselves for the voyage back home. As the ship set sail for the UK, Sam's mother Rose died in hospital.

After two weeks compassionate leave, Sam settled into training on Hamilcars in Leicestershire in preparation for the invasion of Europe - eventually codenamed Operation Overlord.By late-April 1944, Sam was back in the West Country at the final base he would fly from for D Day and Arnhem, Down Ampney in the Cotswolds. He had qualified as a first pilot on 20 April 1944.

Just prior to his 24th birthday on 30 April, Sam undertook three days of intensive flying with Dougie Douglas, alternating as First/Second pilot. Sam and his good friend Jock Lindsay flew together for the only time on 12 May. They took up two Tiger Moths on Pinpointing (steep turns), formation cross-country and trip later simply noted: 'Base - Milverton - Base'. This latter flight saw Sam fly upside-down alongside a train, while he and Jock waved to the somewhat startled passengers! In late-May Sam teamed up with Bill Perry, his second pilot until Arnhem. They were officially posted to No. 2 Wing Glider Pilot Regiment E Squadron, 12 Flight on 2nd June 1944 and Sam was promoted to Staff Sergeant.

Operation Mallard (D-Day), 6th June 1944

Sam and Bill piloted a Horsa (931 crew) Chalk Number 55 from Down Ampney to Littlehampton, aimed for Ranville in Normandy on 6 June 1944. They landed perfectly on LZ N. After a brief stay in which they contributed to the fighting at Ouistreham, they arrived back in the UK on 8 June and appeared on the front page of the Daily Express on 9 June.

After two weeks leave Sam returned to Down Ampney and commenced mass-landing training throughout most of June and July, totalling almost seven hours flying time. Throughout August and into September, the training became more and more intense. After being granted two days leave they were briefed to fly on 17 September 1944 on Operation Market to Arnhem - just as the US 1st Army penetrated the Siegfried Line.


Sam and his second-pilot Bill would fly Horsa 448, Chalk number 289 behind Tug Dakota KG 411 piloted by WO Felton, carrying 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance with a load of 21 men, two handcarts and two lightweight motorcycles. The load was of key importance as it included Major Simon Fraser, the Second-in-Command of the 181, a dental officer, Captain P Griffin, who acted as anaesthetist and part of a Surgical Team.

Chalk number 289 took off at 10.12hrs. The only surviving member of the glider is George Aldred, who was a Corporal and Operating Room Assistant in the 181. The following are extracts from a letter George sent on 14th February 2002.

I am most likely the soul survivor of chalk number 289...You will know all about the many previous operation cancellations. [...]It was forecast that we were being saved for Operation Bloodbath. The day before take off we were getting kit ready; afterwards writing family, etc, letters - missed tea, got to bed about midnight (in tents) ravenously hungry.[...]

We went to Down Ampney next morning and saw many fellows from other units that we had not seen from (North) Africa and Sicily - all saying the same thing. "Hi Tom or Jack" or whatever, "we're in the 'mud'!" and we knew it! [...]I remember all the way across the North Sea we kept getting messages from the glider crew, "We might have to go back". Apparently the Dakota kept having engine trouble.

We hit the coast of Holland, flooded. I was surprised to see some lights spiralling up to us. When one flashed by about 20-30 yards from the wing, I realised it was Anti-Aircraft fire - with a rifled barrel I thought just the bullet or shell twisted - but these spiralled up.I do remember us all loading our revolvers when we were getting near. [...]

We landed on the Landing Zone S (LZ S). Reijers Camp, far corner, the glider was tipped on its left side, tail in the air and we had trouble getting the tail off and the motor cycles and hand carts out. I remember pulling a handcart with our surgical kit in down the long lane to Dautsekampweg, and some Dutch people with apples. We opened an operating theatre in an outhouse of one of the houses.

Chalk number 289 landed on LZ S at approximately 14.00hrs. Sam and Bill dug in on the south east corner of the zone as part of the defence for the landings on 18 September. Sam and Bill became separated when Bill was wounded, and later became a Prisoner of War on 24 September during the medical truce arranged by Col Warrack.

E Squadron were involved in a fairly heavy confrontation with German forces at about 18.00hrs, but fought them off. That morning of Day 2, Sam suggested a cup of tea to his fellow slit trench occupants. He left the trench, stretched and noticed a German walking along the perimeter of the field. The German lobbed a stick grenade at the trench. Sam shouted for his comrades to move, ran to the grenade, threw it back in the direction of the German and ran for the nearest cover, the woods at the south east of the field.

As Sam ran, the grenade exploded, and very quickly a tracer of bullets from a machine gun followed him the 50 yards or so to the woods. He zigzagged to safety, but the trace of bullets followed him so close as to give him minor shrapnel wounds up his back and removes a slice off his right index finger. Sam always referred to his adversary as cockeyed(!). Later that day he joined up with a group of E Squadron comrades and, under the direction of Lt Col John Place, they headed off toward Oosterbeek. During the march, Sam had seen a German in a window of the Wolfheze Hotel. Sam witnessed the German fall after a burst of fire from his Sten Gun. This was something he later found difficult to talk about - the German was the first man he had ever seen die from his own hand.

From 19-23 September, Sam was positioned on the North-east edge of the 'Oosterbeek Perimeter', or 'Hexenkessel' (the Witches Cauldron) as the Germans christened it. SSgt Isaacs was under the command of his own E Squadron commander, Major B H P Jackson and had dug in near a house called Ommershof. On 24 September they had to withdraw to the 1st Airborne Division HQ at the Hartenstein Hotel with the perimeter after heavy mortar fire on their position. SSgt Isaacs was one of the glider pilots who helped guide the troops down to the river on 25 September when the 1st Airborne Division was ordered to withdraw across the Rhine.

During the night of the withdrawal, a particularly abysmal, rainy night, Sam came across a group of lost men. With a flourish he produced his compass and declared he knew the way to the river. He ended up being dragged out of a dyke. This was very appropriate preparation for his subsequent swim across the Neder Rijn. Sam's DUKW amphibious craft developed engine trouble and he decided he had to swim from half way across the Neder Rijn rather than drift toward enemy lines on the far side. Once on the south bank, the men had to scramble up the steep muddy embankment. Friend and fellow glider pilot Bert Harget describes, "digging our finger nails into the mud so hard it hurt. We pulled as hard as we could to reach the top. It was truly frantic and we were a desperate bunch."

On Sam's arrival back at Down Ampney on 29 September 1944, he was the only member of his hut of 18 men to return. After 2 October he was given two weeks leave and 1 November 1944 saw his last flight in the UK, a cross-country mass landing in Horsa 568 with a Sgt Trueman.


He was now prepared for transfer to India. Sam was posted to 343 Wing RAF 669 Sqn, D Flight, based at Bikram as part of a force being assembled to liberate the Prisoners of War on the Burma railway. Sam's trip to India lasted five days and took in Christmas 1944 in Cairo and a final arrival point of Karachi. He was eventually stationed in Poona.

His first flight in the sub-continent was in a Tiger Moth. With resources stretched however, there were few opportunities to extend his flight experience. In six months from mid-January to late-July 1945, he flew only seven hours.

Another comrade, Bernard Reynard, a young addition to the Glider Pilot Regiment, commented on SSgt Sam Isaacs good natured manner. Sam paid particular attention to support the younger men. As an underage recruit, Bernard was very grateful for Sam's kindness in such a far-flung location.

Sam Isaac was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in early 1945. Sam was sent to Delhi to receive his DFM from Lt Col F A S Murray, but on his return to Poona his comrades held a small informal presentation with Captain Fowden re-presenting the medal on their parade ground. Bernard said Sam was very moved by his comrades actions and was rather humble at the attention given him.

His medal citation read as follows:

6149848 Staff Sergeant Samuel Gregory Isaacs - Arnhem 17th to 25th September 1944. This NCO has taken part in three airborne operations, Sicily, D Day and Arnhem. On each occasion he has shown the most skilful ability as a pilot and has landed his load safely in the correct place. His determination and coolness under difficult conditions has at all times been most conspicuous.

SSgt Sam Isaacs final flight was on 23 July 1945, in a Tiger Moth as Second Pilot to Flight Lieutenant Stansfield on stalls and spins at Basal or Chaklala. In total, Sam had flown in total 320 hours 50 minutes in just over three years service. Sam finally arrived home on 7 June 1946 after one year, 167 days in India. His final release date from the Services was 28 August.

His release papers had this statement:

An excellent type of NCO with a distinguished operational record. Military Character: Exemplary.

Sam Isaacs died on in February 1986.

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