b. 19/10/1919 Shanghai, China. d. 21/04/1945 Rothenburg, Germany.
Ian Oswald Liddell (1919-1945) was born on 19th October 1919 at 273 Avenue Haig, Shanghai, China. The address no longer exists as it is now part of the Anglican Cathedral School. He was the son of a merchant trader in China, Percy William Oswald Liddell JP, and his wife Gwendoline Ray. Ian had an elder brother, David Oswald, who later became Major in the Cameronians and was awarded the MC, and three younger sisters: Peggy, Betty and Jenny. The family returned to the UK in 1930 when Ian was 11, and purchased Mounton House, Chepstow, Monmouthshire in 1935. Ian’s education was at boarding school at St Andrew’s, Eastbourne, before he entered Harrow between 1933 and 1937.
He did hope for a career as a veterinary surgeon as he had a great love for animals, and was even later given a Labrador by King George VI whilst serving in the Coats Mission. Sadly, his career options were cut short by the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. His brother was called up immediately, and in May 1940, Ian was enlisted into the Shropshire Light Infantry. His education and background made him a prime candidate for a commission and he entered the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He was given an emergency commission in the Coldstream Guards and posted to Regents Park Barracks in London. He was also given extra duties as part of a Mobile Detachment later known as Coats Mission, to provide protection for members of the Royal Family in the event of invasion. They had their HQ at Bushey in Hertfordshire and Liddell was promoted to Acting Lieutenant and posted to the Coats Mission in February 1941. He remained with them until November 1942. The Mission was eventually disbanded the following year.
He returned to the Holding Battalion, and then posted to 5 Coldstream Guards under Lord Straitheden, and placed in 32 Guards Brigade of the Guards Armoured Division. They eventually moved to Eastbourne in May 1944, ready for D-Day. On 25th June 1944, the 5 Coldstreams arrived in a camp outside Bayeux, and first took its place in the front line southwest of Caen, three days later. It came under immediate attack from the German 12 SS Division, and was fully engaged as the remnants of the German Army escaped through the carnage of the Falaise Gap. By mid-September, the 5 Coldstreams had followed them to Escaut on the Belgian/Dutch border.
The 5 Coldstreams took part in Operation Market Garden, the attempt to seize the Rhine bridges between the Dutch border and Arnhem. On 23rd September 1944, they attacked Vokel, then two days later, moved to guard the road between Nijmegen and s’Hertogenbosch. In December 1944, Liddell was granted leave and returned to the UK. On 9th January 1945, he married Section Officer Patricia Patton-Bethune in South Kensington, London. Tragically, the marriage would only last 3 months. She would later remarry twice.
He rejoined the 5 Coldstreams in Belgium , and on 7th February, they drove through Holland to Tilburg where they stopped for the launch of Operation Veritable, an assault on the Reichswald defences, west of the Rhine in Germany. The attack was not a success and they became bogged down, until they managed to attack the Siegfried Line on 16th February. Through March, the 5 Coldsteams continued to make slow progress across the Rhine into German territory.
On 3rd April 1945, Liddell was commanding a company of the Coldstream Guards, which was ordered to capture intact a bridge over the River Ems near Lingen. The bridge was covered on the far bank by an enemy strong point, which was subsequently discovered to consist of 150 entrenched infantry supported by three 8.8 cm and two 2 cm guns. The bridge was also prepared for demolition with 250 kg bombs, which could plainly be seen. Having directed his two leading platoons onto the near bank, Captain Liddell ran forward alone to the bridge and scaled the 3 m high road block guarding it, with the intention of neutralising the charges and taking the bridge intact. In order to achieve his object he had to cross the whole length of the bridge by himself under intense enemy fire, which increased as his object became apparent to the Germans. Having disconnected the charges on the far side, he re-crossed the bridge and cut the wires on the near side. It was necessary for him to kneel, forming an easy target, whilst he successively cut the wires. He then discovered that there were also charges underneath the bridge and completely undeterred he also disconnected these. His task completed he then climbed up on to the road-block in full view of the enemy and signalled his leading platoon to advance. Thus alone and unprotected, without cover, and under heavy enemy fire, he achieved his object. The bridge was captured intact and the way cleared for the advance across the River Ems.
On 21st April 1945, during a skirmish at Rothenburg, Liddell was killed when a sniper’s bullet went through the head of another soldier and hit him. Liddell was initially buried at Sohlingen in the small village cemetery. After the War, Liddell’s remains were moved to Becklingen War Cemetery. His posthumous VC was gazetted on the 7th June 1945. The presentation of his VC to his widow Patricia was delayed until 12th February 1946 as she was accompanying Air Vice Marshal Fiddament on his round the world trip. The medals were later donated by Patricia to the Coldstream Guards RHQ, Wellington Barracks, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: COLDSTREAM GUARDS RHQ, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BECKLINGEN WAR CEMETERY, SOLTAU, GERMANY.
PLOT III, ROW D, GRAVE 13
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
Thomas Stewart – Images of the Liddell VC Grave at Becklingen War Cemetery, his VC medal group at the Guards Museum, London, and the two memorials to him.