Captain David Wright MC, MB

01 Apr 2011

  •  Military Cross medal
  • Dutch Bronze Lion medal

David Wright was born in Glasgow on 29 August 1917 and after finishing at school went to Glasgow University to study Medicine, representing the university at boxing and rugby.

After qualifying, his first job was at Whitehaven Hospital, Cumbria, and he was subsequently commissioned into the RAMC on 20 December 1941. Following his initial military training he worked in a number of field ambulances until by March 1942 he was a Lieutenant in 156 Field Ambulance.

He was one of the first volunteers for the airborne medical services and arrived at Hardwick Hall on 8 April 1942 as the third officer on the strength of 16 (Parachute) Field Ambulance, the day before the CO arrived! He passed out of RAF Ringway, after attending Course 12, as a qualified parachutist on 1 May together with 45 other airborne medics.

He went with 16 to North Africa in November 1942 and as Officer Commanding No 1 Section supported the 1st Parachute Battalion on their drop on Souk-el-Arba on 16 November. David had various adventures in North Africa over the coming months culminating in the award of a Military Cross in September 1943.

His finest hour probably came at the Djebel Mansour in February 1943 where his section was prominent in moving the many wounded sustained during the fighting here.The citation for his Military Cross records:

"This officer has put in continuous good work since the campaign began. After dropping at Souk-el-Arba with 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, in November 1942, he accompanied them on the raid at Mateur. When Lieut Col S J L Hill, Officer Commanding 1st Bn, The Parachute Regiment, was wounded, Captain Wright himself carried him four miles back. He afterwards gave over 140 anaesthetics at Beja Hospital, on many occasions where the town was being bombed.

On the night of Feb 2/3 1943, he accompanied 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, on the assault of Dj Mansour. When Battalion headquarters went forward he ordered his Section to evacuate casualties while he himself went forward in the assault. He attended to casualties on the hill during the whole of 3rd Feb under continuous fire, and on the night Feb 3/4 he came down the hill with Captain Turnbull (1st Bn) and other casualties from the Battalion, aiding the stretcher bearers who had a most difficult and arduous course. He afterwards established a first aid post from which casualties were evacuated to the Advanced Car Collecting Post. He kept the Post going for two days, it being under mortar fire the whole of that time.

In the initial assault, with complete disregard for his own safety, he and Cpl Hatcher crawled out under extremely heavy fire and dragged in a wounded man whose shouts for assistance they had heard.

By his example of cheerfulness, steadfastness and coolness under fire he enabled his bearers to carry on even when physically and mentally they were completely exhausted."

He later took part in the Sicily drop and operations on the Italian mainland before returning to the UK with the rest of the 1st Parachute Brigade in late 1943.

By the time of the Arnhem operation he was Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) to HQ 1st Parachute Brigade and landed with them on Renkum Heath on the afternoon of 17 September in a tree. He recalls having two trolley loads of medical equipment and moved along with the rest of the HQ behind the 2nd Battalion on 'Lion' route to Arnhem .

On the way to the bridge David remembers leaving a paratrooper with an abdominal wound in a Dutchman's house with instructions to get the local doctor to come and see the soldier as he had to remain with the column which was moving on.

Eventually they reached the bridge area; it was now dark and the HQ went into a large four-storey building which belonged to the Water Board. The only other doctor to reach the bridge area was Captain J Logan; the RMO of the 2nd Parachute Battalion who set up his Regimental Aid Post (RAP) in the building next door which was the location of the 2nd Battalion’s HQ.

At one stage during the first evening a Dutch ambulance appeared and David thought, 'I can use that to transport my wounded!' However before he could act it disappeared and he discovered after the war that Captain Tobin was in the ambulance.

A large area in the basement was set aside for the RAP and David recalled that at first there was plenty of room to walk around all the casualties, perform resuscitations and set up drips. However, a major problem over the next few days was lack of sleep, as there was only Corporal Hampsen and David to look after the wounded. They had to treat increasing numbers of casualties with decreasing amounts of equipment, and by the end of the fighting the basement RAP was overcrowded with wounded.

He described the final few moments at the Brigade HQ, "I recall Major Gough who had taken over command saying to me 'if anybody does get out of here it won't be you.’ Meaning I had to stay behind with the wounded, which I had already accepted. The only reason we had to think about leaving was fire, as the building had been set on fire probably by phosphorous shells. We had a large number of casualties including Lt-Colonel Frost in the basement and around fifty German prisoners. I had to give a German prisoner a stick with a white cloth on the end and pushed him out the front door, first I might add and I followed. A German officer appeared from the embankment area. I explained the situation and he helped organise the evacuation of the basement using some of his own men. We got everybody out by the skin of our teeth and were taken up the embankment to await transportation. Most of the seriously wounded, I found out later, went to the St Elizabeth’s Hospital. However I was taken with others to an SS Dressing Station somewhere in northern Arnhem where I met Sergeant Weatherby (RAMC attached to 2nd Parachute Battalion). We were allowed to tidy up the wounded before leaving by train for Germany. I do remember though vividly the thin paper bandages given to us by the Germans to use on our wounded."

David spent the remainder of the war in Oflag 79 near Brunswick in Germany and after the war was awarded the Dutch Bronze Cross for his services at Arnhem.

His final posting before demobilisation in 1946 was as a medical officer at a German PoW camp in Scotland. Soon afterwards he became a GP in Eastern England before retiring to Cambridgeshire in 1987.

David died on 1st April 2011.

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Service History


David   Wright

Group photos_1

  • Number 1 Section of 16 PFA in North Africa, 1943

    Number 1 Section of 16 PFA in North Africa, 1943

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