Major John Ross MBE DSO

01 Jan 1993

  • Distinguished Service Order medal
  • MBE medal

Soon after the war broke out in 1939, John Ross joined the Black Watch and served with his unit until the latter part of 1941. In search of a different challenge, he answered the apeal for volunteers for special service with Airborne units.

After attending an interview in London he was invited to join the 2nd Parachute Battalion under the command of Lt Col Flavell. As his parent unit was a Scottish one, he joined the mainly Scottish C Company, then under the command of Major P Teichman. To his surprise at the tender age of 20 years old, he found himself as Second in Command (2-i-c) of this somewhat rough, tough Company.

Soon afterwards, now under the command of Major 'Johnny' Frost, C Coy were selected to take part in ‘special training’ for a demonstration of Parachute troops to the War Cabinet. This was a front for training for the Bruneval raid (Operation Biting) - a raid on a radar station on the northern coast of France, near Le Havre.

As 2-i-c for the operation, John Ross was to command of Nelson group, tasked with clearing and securing the beach for the evacuation. He was allocated 40 men for this, but on landing found he had only 20 men, ten of whom had a pre-determined task to clear a pillbox and enemy strongpoint on the evacuation route. Despite this, Ross and another nine men set off to carry out their task successfully. The raid was widely reported as a major success, after the initial disappointments of Tragino, and put the Airborne Forces firmly on the Army map.

Travelling to North Africa in late 1942 with the 2nd Battalion, he took part in the Oudna operation and whilst in Tunisia was promoted to Major, as Lt Col Frost gave him command of C Company while still only 21 years old. It is said he was hero worshipped by all for his personal coolness and bravery in the North African campaign. He was later awarded the DSO for services in North Africa.

Surviving unscathed through the Tunisian campaign, John was in command of C Company for the Airborne operation on Sicily in July 1943. Fate decreed that he was one of the numerous men dropped in the wrong place and was taken prisoner. During his time in captivity, he arranged for a transfer to Stalag VIIA as ‘Private Ward’, where he was very active on the escape committee. After liberation and his activities became known he was awarded the MBE.

Briefly serving with the Parachute Regiment after the war in the Far East, he met his future wife here and they married on their return to England in 1947. He qualified as a solicitor but still found the time to serve in the Territorial Army and as a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Tayside.

John Ross died in 1993.

Further reading

Niall Cherry, Striking Back: Britain’s Airborne and Commando Raids 1940 to 1942, (2009), Helion & Co: Solihull A Tunisian Tale: The 1st Parachute Brigade in North Africa 1942 to 1943 ()

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