Private Peter Block

15 Jan 2019

Peter escaped Nazi Germany, while his father and other members of his family perished in concentration camps, and came initially to Edinburgh where he continued his education until in June 1940 when on the orders of Churchill, "enemy aliens" of German or Italian origin were rounded up.

Peter was initially kept at Folkestone Racecourse before being sent to Huyton - a new housing estate being built on the outskirts of Liverpool.

Here the Germans organised many activities, sporting, cultural and academic as there was a wide range of highly educated exiles.

Eventually, they were allowed to apply to serve in the British army, but only in the Pioneer Corps or some branches involved in highly dangerous missions.

In 1942 Major John Lander was tasked with forming a pathfinder unit for the Parachute Regiment and among other specialists decided he needed German linguists.

Peter Block was one of the 20 Germans who were chosen by Major Lander and integrated into the unit.

He served with with 21st Independent Parachute Company in the UK and in North Africa, landing with them in Taranto and helping spearhead the advance as far as Foggia.

At this point, the company was split with 2 platoons returning to the UK to form the pathfinding force for the invasion of Northern Europe and ultimately Arnhem.

Peter, with the majority of 3rd Pn, remained in Italy in what became 1st Independent Parachute Platoon, the pathfinder unit for the 2nd Independent  Parchute Brigade.

Their first job was to train the American Dakota crews who had performed so poorly in the invasion of Sicily.

For this they were given the right to wear the American Pathfinder torch on their sleeve. 

In June 1944, Peter was the pathfinder / interpreter, with about 60 members of 6th (Royal Welsh) Bn, for Op HASTY in southern Italy.

The mission was to see how effectively a small force dropped behind enemy lines could disrupt the enemy.

In the end, they were unable to carry out much offensive action, but did tie up a significant enemy forces pursuing them round the mountains before they made their way back to the New Zealand 2nd Division.

The training in Sicily was principally for Op DRAGOON, the invasion of the South of France in August 1944.

The troops were scattered over a 20 mile area, much to the annoyance of those who had to make their way in the pitch black, fully-laden to the rendez-vous points.

However, the fact that they brought the HQ party in within 100 yards of the rendez-vous indicates they did a remarkable job with the equipment they had.

The British troops were withdrawn by sea back to their bases in Italy after a couple of weeks.

In October 1944, the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade took part in Op Manna, essentially harassing the German retreat north.

On 2nd December 1944, they returned to Italy, but a week later embarked at Taranto for Piraeus in Greece in order to stop the partizans alongside whom they had fought so recently from taking control of Athens.

This was to be the most unpleasant of the operations Peter undertook as the irregular partizans did not abide by the rules of war which applied to the British army.

Fighting ended late January 1945 and the troops were withdrawn from Greece to Italy where they remained until VE Day.

Shortly thereafter, the 1st IPP rejoined the 21st IPP.

Peter left the unit when there were to be sent to Palestine for the peace-keeping mission as he and the rest of the German contingent were unwilling to fight against Israelis having seen and experienced first-hand the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

After demob, Peter studied at the London School of Economics then was a salesman for various pharmaceutical companies, including Beechams, travelling extensively behind the Iron Curtain and making many lifelong friends.

Peter returned many times to Le Muy in the south of France for the commemorations of Op DRAGOON and in 2010 was awarded the Légion d'Honneur.

Peter sadly passed away on 15th January 2019. 


Biography kindly supplied by Chris Compton

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