Officer killed in WW2 landing

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A YOUNG Helensburgh army officer who served in Britain’s only Mountain Division in World War Two lost his life in a seaborn attack.

Lieutenant Adrian Alan Oliphant Kidston, only son of Brevet Colonel R.A.P.R. Kidston and his wife Penelope, served in Unit 452 Battery, 1st Mountain Regiment, 52nd Lowland Division.

Adrian attended Edinburgh’s Fettes College where he became Head of House and Head of School. A highly regarded rugby forward, he played the cello and enjoyed going to the theatre, which pupils were allowed to do.

His younger sister Mrs Penny Johnston, the only member of the Kidston family still living in the burgh, said: “He enjoyed being in the cadet corps at school.

“They did regular duties with the Air Raid Wardens in Edinburgh, observing bombers flying over to the west!”

In the autumn of 1942, Adrian began Officer Cadet Training at a unit at Queen’s University, Belfast, and went on to train at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire.

Penny said that he volunteered to join the newly formed Mountain Regiment as he had enjoyed climbing in the ‘Arrochar Alps’.

Part of the Royal Artillery, the regiment was armed and equipped with the 3.7 Howitzer, essentially a Pack-Howitzer which was carried in sections on mules.

They added ‘Mountain’ to their Divisional shoulder flash, learned to ride, and undertook rigorous training for mountain and snow warfare.

Early in 1944 the regiment went to Peterculter near Aberdeen to practice loading and transporting dismantled guns on the backs of mules over the hills — but as they did not have a good supply of mules, they used donkeys instead. 

That summer they were in the south of England waiting for a call to action, and by mid-October he was billeted at a farm in Belgium.

Just two weeks later the regiment crossed the Channel and went into action, but below sea level, and he was killed in the amphibious landing at Walcheren in the Dutch province of Zeeland at the mouth of the Scheldt estuary.

Adrian, whose father was also serving at the time, was 21 when he died on November 1 1944.

The Allied plan was that the heavily fortified Walcheren Island was to be captured to open the Scheldt to Allied shipping and make the port of Antwerp available as an advanced base for the attack on the German Fatherland.

452nd Mountain Battery was to provide close support to 155 Brigade, whose immediate task was to capture the island city of Flushing.

The ground was well prepared, as the RAF had an all-night bombing programme, while the 9th Army Group Royal Artillery, from their positions on the Dutch mainland, were to deal with hostile batteries and other fixed defences in a mammoth fire plan.

On a misty November 1 morning the Battery embarked from Breskens in ten assault landing craft. In inky darkness the guns were lowered piece by piece from a narrow wooden jetty, a laborious process involving the use of rickety home-made ladders.

The Battery Commander, Major John Fairclough, with a small reconnaissance party, had already reached Flushing. He and second-in-command Captain Vincent Cohen MC went forward to recce a pill box and the possibility of attacking over open sights.

Their reports of strong opposition from the beach itself delayed the Battery’s departure until after dawn.

Adrian’s Battery, less vehicles, landed at Flushing to back up 155 Brigade. They beached under a smoke screen at 11.15hrs.

Captain Cohen wrote later: “As the little convoy of five landing craft carrying C Troop came out into the open channel, it was heavily engaged by an enemy coast battery and as we neared the beach machine-gun fire greeted us too.

“Towards the end of our three-mile journey Kidston’s craft took a direct hit in the engine, followed by a second hit which sank her.

“Kidston and Lance Bombardier William Mountjoy were killed. Gunner John Banborough, was fatally hit by machine gun fire as he tried to dive from the blazing craft.

“Sergeant Rogers, wounded in the thigh, swam out to save Oates and refused to board a returning craft until all other survivors had been picked up.”

The landings involved heavy fighting and many casualties, but ultimately proved successful. After some negotiation, 40,000 Germans surrendered. No.4 SS Brigade had lost 103 killed, 325 wounded and 68 missing during eight days of fighting.

By the end of November, after a massive minesweeping operation of the Scheldt, the first cargoes were being unloaded at Antwerp.

Adrian is remembered on the Cenotaph in Hermitage Park and the Groesbeek Memorial near Nijmegen.

His father, known to all as Dick, was educated at Larchfield School in Helensburgh, Fettes and Cambridge University, and served throughout World War One in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in Egypt and Palestine.

He was mentioned in General Allenby’s despatches.

In 1922 Dick married Penelope Paul, the daughter of Henry Paul, a director of Matthew Paul and Company, engineers in Dumbarton, who had built The White House in Upper Colquhoun Street.

He inherited the seafront mansion Ferniegair (below) — on the east side of Cairndhu — from his father, Adrian Kidston, in the 1920s, but the couple did not like living there.

They decided to sell it, then moved to a flat in Castle Street, Edinburgh, where their three children, Adrian, Mary and Penelope, were born.

The family returned to Helensburgh in 1939, moving into Kinneddar, 3 Upper Colquhoun Street, in mid-1940.

Dick Kidston served in the army again in World War Two, commanding 131st Field Regiment Royal Artillery, and after the war served in the Territorial Army Reserve until 1956.

Awarded the Territorial Decoration with three clasps, he served on Helensburgh Town Council and Dunbartonshire County Council in the 1950s and 60s. He died in 1972.