Major Harry Witheridge MC


Major Harry Witheridge was awarded an MC in Italy in 1944 while serving with the Royal Fusiliers (City of London) Regiment. On January 18 1944, Witheridge, then a captain, was commanding a company of the 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers which was ordered to attack Point 411 on Monte Damiano, south of Cassino. The company approach was held up by the terraced hillside, with walls eight to 10 ft high, and numerous well-camouflaged enemy machine-gun posts, many of which could not be exactly located. Witheridge went out into open ground and shouted orders to his company, in order to draw the enemy fire and enable his Bren gunners to pinpoint these posts and destroy them. All the posts were eliminated and the company advanced once more and captured the feature. After re-organising his company, which had taken heavy casualties, Witheridge and his men drove off repeated counter-attacks.

Four days later, he led a fighting patrol to deal with German troops which had infiltrated the area around the village of Lorenzo. He arranged his fire plan with considerable skill and accounted for 16 of the enemy and captured two Spandau posts without loss. For his part in establishing the Damiano bridgehead, Witheridge was awarded an immediate MC.

Henry James Witheridge was born on January 31 1910, the son of a railway superintendent, at Tufnell Park, north London. He won a scholarship to Bancroft's School, Essex, before joining the Camden Town branch of the Midland Bank in 1927. He subsequently took a degree at the London School of Economics. After the outbreak of war in 1939, Witheridge went to OCTU before being commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers in 1940. He fought with the 2nd Battalion in North Africa and in the Italian campaign with the 8th Battalion.

On February 13 1944, Witheridge's battalion arrived at Anzio just in time to deal with the strong counter-attacks that were being mounted by the newly reinforced Germans. In one of these attacks, he was wounded and taken prisoner and sent to Oflag 79 at Braunschweig, near Hanover. The camp was overcrowded, the sanitation primitive and the cold intense; above all, the inmates suffered from hunger and a feeling of helplessness. Mustered for a roll-call on a cold, wet morning in February 1945, a group of Allied officers decided that something good should come out of the miserable squalor of their existence and the idea of forming a boys' club after the war was born. The club, they decided, would bring a better life to many disadvantaged lads who, they believed, were probably enduring the same sort of privation. They held a mass meeting in a freezing attic.

The audience was not won over until a tough, 6 ft tall paratrooper got up and said that he was a cockney from a slum in the East End of London and that, as a youth, his boys' club had meant everything to him. Promissory notes were written on scraps of paper and a raffle was organised. Prizes underwritten by some of the PoWs included a weekend for two at the Savoy, a year's subscription to Punch and kippers from the Isle of Man. The sum of #11,000 was pledged and, in due course, was honoured in full.

Witheridge emerged as a prime mover and scoured the bomb sites of London to find a suitable location for the club before settling on one in Fulham. This was purchased, and the Brunswick Boys' Club was inaugurated by Prince Philip in 1949. Re-named the Brunswick Club and with its membership open to girls, it has become one of the largest youth clubs in the country. In 2000, Prince Philip attended the 50th anniversary. Witheridge served as secretary, treasurer and ultimately president of the Brunswick Club.

On his return to the City, Witheridge joined the Overseas Branch of the Midland Bank and, in 1959, he became their first public relations officer. He then helped organise the formation of Midland and International Bank, comprising the Midland, the Toronto Dominion Bank, the Standard Bank of South Africa and the Commercial Bank of Australia, and was appointed general manager. When Witheridge retired from MAIBL he became the first London representative of the Bank of Bermuda and opened offices in London, Guernsey and Hong Kong.

In retirement at Virginia Water, Surrey, Witheridge enjoyed playing golf at Wentworth and was a keen gardener. He had a great gift for friendship and enjoyed good health until towards the end of his life when he began to feel the effects of what his doctor called "an accumulation of birthdays". Harry Witheridge died in December 2002 and his obituary was published in the Daily Telegraph on 10th Dec. He married Toots Smith in 1954 and she survived him together with their son.


Regimental Details | Soldiers




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by Stephen Luscombe