Brigadier Charles F O Breese CBE DSC

Charles F O Breese was commissioned into the Border Regiment after passing out of Sandhurst in August 1935, and joined their 1st Battalion. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, he broke a leg in a motorcycle accident and on his recovery was given a new posting as Adjutant to the newly-raised 6th Battalion of the Border Regiment. 

He remained with this 6th Battalion until 1942, when he was posted to the staff of Combined Operations and assisted in the planning for the invasion of Sicily which occurred in July 1943. In May 1944, he began his Airborne service when he was posted as OC D Company of 1st Battalion, Border Regiment (Airborne) stationed at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire as part of the 1st Airlanding Brigade. He subsequently took part in the Battle of Arnhem, during Op Market Garden.

Arriving as part of the First Lift on Sunday 17 September 1944, D Company were tasked with protecting the dropping and landing zones for subsequent lifts. In the early days of the operation, the Company proceeded to their pre-allocated positions. The CO of the unit, Lt Col Haddon had two abortive glider flights in his attempt to reach Arnhem. Consquently, on 19 September Charles was called to Battalion HQ and advised he was now Second-in-Command of the Battalion, to the new commander Major Cousens.

After protecting the dropping and landing zones the Battalion concentrated their strength on 19 September around the western side of the village of Oosterbeek. B Company were positioned around a piece of high ground called the Westerbouwing. The position was attacked heavily by the Germans, and the Company lost the position on 21 September. In an attempt to stabilise the situation, Charles Breese was sent to the area. He gathered the survivors of B Company together, numbering little more than a platoon, into a unit that became known as 'the Breeseforce', which also consisting of two depleted platoons of A Company, 40 other paratroopers, and was also joined several days later by 35 Polish troops.

Major Breese managed to establish a new defensive line about half a mile back from the Westerbouwing, between the local gas works and a large house called the Dennenoord. This proved a fairly good defensive position, and the Germans made no serious efforts to attack here during the next four days, choosing instead to probe other areas of the Border’s defensive line.

Charles Breese was wounded on 23 September, but refused to be evacuated to a Dressing Station. On the night of the withdrawal, 'Breeseforce' had to wait until the early hours before leaving. There was some German mortaring, but the Germans made no forward movements and they were able to slip away and join the queue for boats across the Rhine. It is thought Charles was amongst the last to depart for the other side of the river.

Back in England after recovering from his wound, he was promoted to Lt Col, and given command of the 1st Border on 24 November 1944. Lt Col Breese led the Battalion in Norway, immediately after the war had ended in May 1945. After five years of German occupation the liberators received a joyous welcome from the Norwegians, and on his way to a civic reception for senior British officers in Oslo, Charles later recalled that the cheers of the crowd were deafening and his car could only manage to travel through them at a snail's pace. He revealed that he had seldom been more touched than when a girl of about 10 or 12 threw a posy of flowers into the car and said 'God bless your King'. He was awarded the American Distinguished Service Cross for Arnhem and also from Norway the Haakon VII Liberty Cross.

After the end of the war, various other appointments followed until he was seconded as Second-in-Command to the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment in 1950. In 1952 he became the British Liaison Officer to the US Airborne Forces, based at Fort Bragg, before returning to the UK as OC of Depot the Border Regiment at Carlisle.

Charles returned to Airborne service once more as Commander of 17th (Durham Light Infantry) Battalion, The Parachute Regiment between 1956 and 1958.

In 1962 he was awarded a CBE and further Army postings followed, including a spell at the School of Land/Air Warfare and was made a Brigadier before he finally retired from the Army in 1966. In retirement he set up a business in the food industry, eventually becoming Chairman of Westlers Foods.

In 1975 he was appointed as the Honorary Colonel of the 4th (Volunteer) Battalion The Parachute Regiment and he only relinquished this a few days before his death in 1982.

Further reading:

Stuart Eastwood, Alan Green & Mike Gray (Eds), When Dragons Flew: Illustrated History of the 1st Battalion the Border Regiment, 1939-45 (1994), Silver Link Publishing

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Charles F O Breese

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