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A tribute to Brigadier Alastair Pearson, of Gartocharn, West Dunbartonshire, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Lieutenant-Colonel Alastair Pearson 

Pearson Alastair (2)Alastair Pearson was one of the longest serving wartime members of the Parachute Regiment and was certainly amongst the most highly regarded and decorated officers that it has ever produced. His service in North Africa and Sicily, in 1943, and Normandy, in 1944, resulted in him being awarded the Military Cross and no fewer than four Distinguished Service Orders, a remarkable achievement for any soldier. Perhaps the most pertinent tribute to his abilities as a leader of men was paid by the current Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who described him as “one of the greatest leaders of the Second World War… I doubt if any soldier has made a greater contribution to the Parachute Regiment than Alastair Pearson. His exploits are legendary as must be indicated by the many decorations awarded to him in the field for outstanding leadership and conspicuous gallantry.

Pearson was born into a middle class Glaswegian family on the 1st June 1915. His father, Alex, was a grain merchant. From the age of seven, Alastair was educated at Kelvinside Academy, but at fourteen he was moved to Sedbergh School. He had a particular liking for sports, especially rugby, however he was not so fortunate academically and failed his final exams in 1932. He returned to Glasgow and took up work as an apprentice at his uncle’s bakery. He was employed in various bakeries around the city, but mostly he worked in the impoverished Cowcaddens district. Pearson was interested in a military career, and as he held the necessary qualifications to obtain an officer rank he enlisted in the Territorial Army as soon as he had left school. He was posted to the 6th Battalion the Highland Light Infantry, a unit which his uncle had commanded during the First World War, winning the DSO and MC.

In 1939, the 6th HLI were fully mobilised and assigned to protect important installations around the Glasgow area. The Battalion became part of the 157th Brigade, who in turn were made a part of the 52nd (Lowland) Division. In January 1940, Pearson was sent to France where he was attached to a battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, with whom he carried out numerous patrols. He was returned to the 6th HLI in February, and in May the Division was moved to Dorset. At this time the British Expeditionary Force was pulling back towards Dunkirk and resistance in France appeared to be collapsing under the weight of unstoppable German might, however on the 6th June, for political reasons, the 2nd BEF was sent to France via Cherbourg, much further to the west. The 52nd Division accompanied this expedition and arrived in France on the 8th June. Pearson marched inland with his Battalion and took up defensive positions around a crossroads near Rouen. It was here, during the night, that Pearson, having received orders to fire on anything that approached his position from the east, almost killed the Commanding Officer and Adjutant of the 5th Highland Light Infantry when their car drew near from that direction. The Battalion was relocated to Conches and Pearson was ordered to occupy a farmhouse, which was attacked during the morning of the 14th June by German infantry. After inconclusive fighting, the 2nd BEF gradually withdrew to Cherbourg in scenes of similar chaos and confusion that had been witnessed at Dunkirk. On the 17th June, Pearson was amongst the last to set sail for England.

Scenes from the D-Day Landings at Dunkirk 75 years ago.

The 52nd Division became a coastal defence unit, first acting as a reserve along the southern and eastern coasts, then, as of November 1940, assuming responsibility for the defence of the Tay and Forth estuaries in the Glasgow area. Pearson grew weary of coastal defence and, eager to get into the war, applied to join a special forces unit. He had hoped to follow a friend into the Special Boat Service, however he found himself being interviewed by Brigadier Richard Gale instead and, after he was accepted, was surprised to discover that he had joined a parachute unit. As a Major, Pearson was sent to the 2nd Battalion to act as their Second-in-Command, however he was only there for a week before Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Down had him transferred to his 1st Battalion. Unfortunately, his position as Second-in-Command was short-lived, courtesy of a rather riotous night out. Down disciplined Pearson by removing him from his post and confining him to camp for twenty-eight days. Down told him, however, “I wouldn’t worry overmuch. You’ll be commanding this Battalion one day.” James Hill, then a Major, took over as deputy, only to be given command of the whole battalion when Eric Down was promoted to Brigadier and given the 2nd Parachute Brigade. Hill returned Pearson to Second-in-Command.

In October 1942, the 1st Parachute Brigade was called to North Africa. On the 16th November, the 1st Battalion was dropped near Beja, in Tunisia, with the intention of securing a crossroads, encouraging the neutral 3,000 strong French garrison to fight for the Allies, and then doing all that they could to harass the enemy in this sector. All of these objectives were accomplished. During the night of 23rd November, Lieutenant-Colonel Hill decided to mount an attack on 300 Italians that had been detected nearby. During the process of the attack, Hill was badly wounded and command passed to Major Pearson. For his actions on this night and the following weeks he was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:  During the night 23/24 November 1942, when his Commanding Officer was severely wounded, Major Pearson assumed command of his Battalion and successfully completed the Operation. He continued to command his unit throughout the subsequent fighting and by his leadership and coolness under fire set an example of the highest degree. On Dec 11th, when the enemy attacked his sector, he, under heavy machine gun fire, organised and personally led a most successful counter attack destroying the enemy and capturing a number of prisoners. The conspicuous gallantry shown on this and other occasions has been an inspiration to all.

Pearson was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and given command of the 1st Battalion, despite the fact that he was just twenty-seven and therefore an unusually young battalion commander. At the time, paratroopers were a new concept in the British military, and this was reflected in the rather vague operations that the 1st Parachute Brigade had been asked to undertake during the first months of their stay in Tunisia. After each of the battalions had carried out a parachute operation, which ranged from successful deployment of the 1st Battalion to the downright disastrous use of the 2nd Battalion, the 1st Parachute Brigade were put into the front-line to fight like ordinary infantry. On the 2nd February 1943, Pearson was ordered to capture two hills. The first hill, Djebel Mansour, was captured during a night attack, but the second hill was too well defended to be taken. The 1st Battalion suffered many casualties as they struggled to hold their gain, but under Pearson’s guidance they were able to stand firm for forty-eight hours before they had to withdraw. Pearson was again decorated for his gallantry, this time with the Distinguished Service Order:  On 31st January 1943, Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson led two of his platoons in a raid on Djebel Mansour (Tunisia) during which, in spite of intense machine gun and mortar fire, he succeeded in over-running an enemy Company position, capturing prisoners and killing or wounded the majority of the other occupants, he gained valuable knowledge for a contemplated assault at a later date.  On 3rd February 1943, he led his Battalion on to the same feature, which was entirely captured and held, until severe casualties and a strong counter-attack forced their withdrawal.  Throughout the whole operation this officer fearlessly led his Battalion and, by his example and utter disregard for his personal safety, was an inspiration to all ranks. By his skilful handling and courage he was able to evacuate all his men. On one occasion he, single-handed, destroyed an enemy machine gun post which was causing severe casualties.

In March 1943, the 1st Parachute Brigade was moved to the area around Beja, where the 1st Battalion had been dropped in late 1942. Fighting here, at the Battle of Tamera, continued throughout the month, but the paratroopers defended their ground so stubbornly that they earned tremendous respect, not only from the Allies but the Germans also. Pearson’s actions here resulted in second a Distinguished Service Order:  For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at TAMERA (Tunisia) on 8th March 1943. The enemy attacked in considerable force the positions held by this officer’s Battalion. Completely disregarding his personal safety, when one of his companies had been forced back, he personally led the counter-attack and completely restored the situation. In the course of the day his Battalion was attacked on three separate occasions. Without hesitation and under intense fire he organised counter attacks and by his brilliant leadership and bravery on all occasions, restored the position, killing large numbers of the enemy and forcing some 150 to give themselves up. Attacked again on 10th March he personally led his Battalion HQ staff of clerks and cooks against the enemy who was attacking from the rear of his Battalion HQ. Inspiring all with his great bravery and leadership he completely defeated all efforts of the enemy to penetrate his positions, personally killing many of the enemy and capturing further prisoners. During the night 23/24 March he led his Battalion to the attack on a most important feature in the DJ ABIOD sector (DK DAWRA), conducting this most difficult operation with such skill that the whole position was soon in our hands with slight losses to ourselves, but with heavy losses to the enemy. 

His bravery and leadership at all times under intense fire have been of the highest order and an inspiration to all ranks of his battalion.

The Battle of Tamera marked the 1st Para Brigade’s last action in North Africa. They did not return home, however, instead they were joined by the remainder of the 1st Airborne Division and prepared themselves for an airborne invasion of Sicily. The seaborne landings took place on the 10th June, however on the 13th July the 1st Parachute Brigade were to drop on the Island and secure Primosole Bridge, ahead of Montgomery’s 8th Army. The crews of the parachute aircraft were American, and they were inexperienced and unused to both night-flying and anti-aircraft fire. The drop was wildly scattered, and in some cases this was the result of aircrews deliberately avoiding areas of concentrated flak. One of the pilots in Pearson’s aircraft broke down while the other wanted to turn back. Pearson, not in the slightest bit bluffing, forced them to the drop zone at gunpoint. Only two hundred and ninety-five men of the one thousand eight hundred and fifty-six strong 1st Parachute Brigade landed on target, but nevertheless the 1st Battalion succeeded in capturing the Bridge intact and Pearson went about organising a defence. On the following day the Germans launched a series of counterattacks, but the 1st Parachute Brigade was too weak to hold them off indefinitely. Later in the day, Pearson was ordered to abandon the bridge because the enemy had crossed the river and threatened to surround the Brigade in what was an indefensible position.

During the night the vanguard of the 8th Army arrived, and on the next morning the 9th Durham Light Infantry attempted to recapture the bridge. They were led forward in a most tactless fashion, however, and the attack failed at high cost. A second effort was planned and Pearson, because he knew the ground around the bridge so well, was summoned to act as a technical adviser to the 151st Brigade. Their Brigade commander suggested that a fresh DLI battalion should make a similar attack, and Pearson, who had little respect for rank and even less for diplomacy, told him without being asked, “Well if you want to lose another bloody battalion that’s the right way to do it.” Backed up by the views of his own Brigade commander, Gerald Lathbury, the commander of the 151st Brigade was made to see sense, and Pearson not only presented a plan, but that night he personally guided another DLI battalion forward. Rather than attacking from the front, he led the Durhams across the river unopposed some distance downstream, leaving them free to surprise and overwhelm the Germans at the bridge by hitting them in the flank. The attack was a complete success.

For his conduct during the Sicilian campaign, Pearson was awarded a third Distinguished Service Order: Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson was in command of the 1st Parachute Battalion when it took part in the Airborne attack at CATANIA on the night 13/14 July 1943. He and his Battalion were widely scattered, but he collected all the men he could find and led a successful attack on the main objective. Throughout the battle, which included counter attacks, he displayed courage and leadership of the very highest order. When his Battalion was withdrawn from the battle, he remained with 151 Infantry Brigade in order to give them the benefit of his local knowledge, which he usefully employed during an attack on the following night.

The 1st Parachute Battalion and the 1st Airborne Division returned to North Africa, and several months later took part in a seaborne invasion of Italy. Alastair Pearson, however, was not with them. Malaria had taken a hold on him and he suffered the first of many attacks after the Sicily operation, requiring him to spend a period in hospital. To make matters worse, especially for a paratrooper, both of his knees were weak. After he left hospital, Pearson was transferred to the 6th Airborne Division where he was to be GSO-1 (Air) at Divisional HQ. Upon his return to the UK, the first person he met was his new commander, Major-General Gale, who immediately took his old friend out for lunch. Gale was delighted to have Pearson in his Division, but both men realised that he was a soldier and would be wasted in an administrative capacity. After they had finished eating, Gale offered him the command of the 8th Parachute Battalion, which was eagerly accepted. Pearson renewed his friendship with his new brigade commander, Brigadier Hill. The two were delighted to be serving alongside each other again, Hill because he needed a dependable leader to turn the 8th Battalion into a first class unit, and Pearson because he knew that Hill would adopt a hands-off approach to him and so leave him alone to get on with the business of command. Hill said of Pearson, “It is true to say that at times, due to his Scottish brogue, I have found it difficult to understand what he says but always know exactly what he means and that is what matters.

The 8th Battalion was in a poor shape at the time, and their morale had suffered when almost twenty men had been killed during training exercises. The Battalion was put on parade for Pearson’s arrival, and when he got out of his car, he took a brief look at his new men, and then announced “I have never seen such a shower in my whole life“, before getting back into the car and driving off. He instructed his Second-in-Command, Major John Marshall, to have new uniforms issued to all ranks and be ready for another inspection on the following day. The Battalion worked hard overnight to make themselves as presentable as possible, and Pearson’s words to them on this occasion were, “I am pleased to command you.” What followed was a complete overhaul of the command structure. Pearson personally interviewed every officer and NCO in the Battalion, and as a result of his findings he threw three company commanders and many Sergeants out of the Battalion and returned them to their former units. They were replaced with new, young officers, and he selected replacement NCO’s from amongst the 8th Battalion’s ranks. A further strict policy of weeding out the less-than-satisfactory’s followed, as did several months of hard training. During the first three months of his command, Pearson asked Major-General Gale to exclude the 8th Battalion from any visits by important personages. Gale asked him if this included his Brigade Commander, “especially him.” was the reply. Brigadier Hill was perfectly happy to oblige, realising that Pearson needed time alone with his new men. By the end of this period, the 8th Battalion had risen to the standards that Pearson demanded of them.

During early 1944, Gale invited several officers to a party, and Pearson was in attendance. He was growing tired of the occasion when a young lady by the name of Joan Niven, a widow of an RAF Wing Commander, came over to speak to him. The pair soon developed a close attachment and before long were engaged. The date she suggested for their wedding was the 8th June. Pearson knew that he would likely be in Normandy at that time, but he gave nothing away and agreed. Four days before the wedding was to take place, he was granted permission to telephone her and explain, without any elaboration, that there would be a delay.

In his final briefing to the 8th Battalion before they emplaned, Pearson went over the plan once again and ordered that his men should only go about their tasks once they landed, rather than become delayed in unnecessary skirmishes with the enemy, “Even if you meet Rommel in person, you must press on and get to the bridge with your weapon.“. His final words were, “Men, do you know what your first action will be when you land? You’ll all have a pee!“. Pearson knew that there would undoubtedly be failings in the air plan, and so he instructed that the advanced party should, if there was no enemy nearby, fire Very flares into the sky to highlight the drop zone. Upon sight of this, all the aircrews were under orders to drop their sticks at this point. “This way, we can all be lost together!“.

Pearson’s flight to Normandy was certainly eventful. When forming up over England, his rather senior Canadian pilots declared that they had lost the two aircraft that they were supposed to be flying in formation with, however they were not lost and proceeded to join the main body. Over the Channel, the aircraft ran into a brief hail storm,  which resulted in a fearful racket along the length of the fuselage. Pearson’s knees were still weak, and he had not made a parachute jump since he landed in Sicily almost a year previously. Out of regard for sparing his knees a heavy landing, Major-General Gale had sent him an extra large parachute, which he hoped would soften his descent. This served him well, however when he landed his knees were the least of his worries as one of his men accidentally fired his Sten gun, a weapon prone to such malfunctions, and a bullet hit Pearson in the hand. He was in great pain, but would not stop for a moment to have the wound dressed. Fully twenty-four hours passed before he even allowed a medic to remove the bullet.

When Pearson reached the Rendezvous Point he found that the advance party were all present, but very few others were. Unknown to him, fourteen of the thirty-seven aircraft that the 8th Battalion had travelled in had released their sticks near Ranville, where the pathfinders bound for DZ-K had accidentally been dropped. With only fifty men present, Pearson decided that he must wait for further strength to arrive. He sent out a patrol in the direction of Troarn to examine the enemy presence, and found it to be too strong for the 8th Battalion to tackle until further strength arrive. Without any specialist explosive and only one sapper, Pearson asked this Lance-Corporal engineer to work on a plan to destroy the bridge at Troarn with the little that they had. His concluded that if they pooled together the high explosive from the Gammon bombs, which each paratrooper carried, this would be sufficient to destroy a bridge.

By 03:30, the 8th Battalion consisted of just one hundred and forty men. Pearson could wait no longer and marched his men into the Bois de Bavent woodland, from where they would proceed to destroy the bridges. To cover his rear he left an ambush of five men and two PIAT’s behind to attack any enemy vehicles moving eastwards along the road. Several hours later, a group of vehicles of the 21st Panzer Division approached these men and hastily withdrew after six of their vehicles were subsequently destroyed. Moving into the woodland, Pearson set up his Headquarters at a crossroads in the Bois de Bavent, thereafter he sent Captain Juckes and his No.2 Troop, of the 3rd Parachute Squadron, on to Bures to destroy the two bridges. This was achieved by 09:15. Pearson did not know it, but Major Roseveare, the commander of the Squadron, had himself destroyed the bridge at Troarn shortly before dawn. When Juckes returned from Bures, Pearson sent him off to Troarn with 8th Battalion’s No.9 Platoon to deal with this same bridge. The group, having cut their way through several skirmishes most successfully, accounting for a number of enemy dead and prisoners in the process, set about increasing the damage to the bridge before returning to the woods.

The 8th Battalion’s strength steadily increased over the following hours, and by 10:00 some four hundred men were taking up positions in the Bois de Bavent. The dense nature of the woodland made it wholly unsuited to large infantry assaults, and so Pearson set about taking the offensive with numerous, heavy patrols. Over the following days the Battalion did everything that they could to throw the enemy in their sector off-balance and harass their every endeavour. The woods were carefully watched and night patrols were sent out as far as Bures and Troarn, where they raided enemy positions, cratered roads with explosive, and destroyed their communications. Not in the least a man to lead from the rear, Pearson personally led several patrols himself.

On the 7th June, the RSM of the 13th Parachute Battalion, who had been dropped miles from his drop zone, arrived in the Bois de Bavent and reported to Pearson that eight of his men were wounded and sheltering in a barn across the River Dives. Pearson took the RSM to Brigade HQ and declared his intention to Brigadier Hill to go and fetch them himself. He said, “I’ll go for two reasons. Firstly, I have got no one else who could go, and secondly, I’ve got more experience than anyone else.” Hill asked who he would take with him, “My mortar platoon. I’ll take my donkeys as they are the fittest and strongest and will be able to carry the heavy loads.” Hill gave his consent to the plan.

As night fell, his party set out in a Jeep in the direction of Bures. Pearson chose this direction because he knew from Intelligence reports that a glider had come down in the vicinity, and as all gliders carried inflatable dinghies his plan was to recover it and use it to cross the Dives. Sure enough, both glider and dinghy were present and they proceeded to inflate it. Twenty minutes later they were ready to cross, however the first man to climb aboard had his bayonet fixed and he accidentally pierced the dinghy and it sank. As he climbed out of the river, soaking wet, Pearson kicked him hard in the backside and sent him back in again. The soldier protested, “You can’t do that, Sir. It’s against King’s Regulation. I’ll complain to the Brigadier.” With his customary subtlety, Pearson replied, “You can complain to General bloody Montgomery himself. For your stupidity you can stay here until we come back, to guide us across the river again. And if a German patrol comes to find out what all this bloody row is about, well, good luck to you.

Fortunately, the glider contained a second dinghy. Once on the other side, Pearson split his men into two groups, one remaining behind to secure the crossing while he led the other to the barn where the men were reported to be staying. Inside they found an elderly French lady tending the wounded men, none of whom could walk; some had broken legs, others broken ribs, and one RAF man had a serious head wound. While his men did what they could for the injured men, Pearson looked around for a way to transport them. He noticed a very large cart outside the barn and told the old lady that they would place them on it and, in the absence of any livestock, pull it themselves. He offered several thousand Francs to the lady for her kindness, but she refused to accept it. Pearson would not be dissuaded, and some time later she discovered that the money had been left in her house beneath a cloak.

Pulling the cart by himself, and making a considerable noise in the process, Pearson was not only worried that a German patrol would hear them, but that the party he had left at the river might mistake them for Germans. Throwing caution to the wind he decided to give them an unmistakable signal by announcing to his group, “Let’s have a song!“. Needless to say, several of the villagers were surprised to be awoken to a rendition of “Roll out the barrel“. It was just as well that Pearson had done this because the river party had heard the heavy trundle of the cart approaching and were making ready to ambush it when the singing started. With no further ado, the wounded men were withdrawn across the river and into the British lines, all recovered from their injuries.

Throughout their stay in the Bois de Bavent, the 8th Battalion were constantly shelled and so Pearson was forever altering his positions to prevent the guns from extracting a considerable toll. The woods undeniably belonged to the 8th Battalion, and this fact earned Pearson the nickname, The Monarch of the Woods. The conditions in the woods far from befitted a King, however. Pearson was covered in sores and boils, and the malaria sickness that he had developed in Sicily was not at all helped by the swarms of mosquitoes and flies that thrived on the permanently damp conditions, but no matter how they swarmed about him, he paid them no heed. Nevertheless, Pearson went to great lengths to ensure that the 8th Battalion should continue to function as ever it had done previously. Breaches of discipline were brought before a court over which Pearson presided, he also set up an officers mess in a shed and ordered all officers to eat their meals in there when the situation permitted. One day they were in the process of eating a meal when a burst of machine-gun fire put several holes in the shed, though luckily causing no casualties. All of the officers dived beneath the table for cover, but Pearson was unmoved and continued to eat. When he was asked if he ought to seek shelter, he replied, “Och, ye canna dodge a bloody bullet!“.

Brigadier Alastair Pearson, pictured with his sheepdog, Meg, at Tullochan, in 1982. Picture by Mitchell & Averell

On the 12th June, the heavy attacks that were concentrated on the 9th and 1st Canadian Battalions and the 5th Black Watch did not leave the Bois de Bavent unscathed. Artillery pounded the 8th Battalion’s positions and then infantry attempted to break through their lines, and through sheer weight of numbers they managed to work their way in between company positions. Pearson constantly visited each of the companies to encourage his men, and when the situation was looking perilous, Pearson gathered a platoon of men and charged a German 88mm gun. They killed the crew and proceeded to bring it to bear on enemy infantry and other such guns which were causing the 8th Battalion considerable discomfort. As a result of this action, the attack was broken.

In August, Pearson visited Divisional HQ to obtain Major-General Gale’s consent to give battlefield commissions to two Sergeant-Majors. Gale’s words to them were, “If you’re good enough for Alastair Pearson, you’re good enough for me.” Pearson was invited to stay a while to share a drink with the General, who asked for his views on the war and a strategy for the break-out. Aided by the drink he talked very freely, but did not know that the General’s Chief-of-Staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Bobby Bray, was listening and taking notes. Several days later the 3rd Parachute Brigade received a copy of the plan to advance on Bures and secure a crossing over the River Dives. The plan bore a remarkable similarity to what Pearson had outlined. Brigadier Hill had his suspicions.

Pearson continued to command the 8th Battalion throughout their time in Normandy, and for his actions throughout the campaign, he was awarded a third bar to the Distinguished Service Order.

His citation reads: Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson dropped at 0050 hrs on D Day, 6th June 1944. He was immediately wounded by rifle fire in the left hand. Disregarding his wound he organised his depleted Battalion, some 180 strong, into two company groups and successfully engaged the enemy at BURES and TROARN enabling the bridge blowing parties to carry out their tasks with complete success. On the evening of D Day he was forced to undergo an operation for the removal of the bullet from his hand but immediately resumed command of the Battalion on its conclusion.

On the night of D plus 1, he personally led a patrol of 40 men some 4 miles behind the enemy lines to evacuate wounded reported at the village of BASSENVILLE. This necessitated the double crossing of the River DIVES by dinghy. The patrol, as a result of his skilful leadership, was entirely successful and eight wounded men were rescued. On D plus 2 he personally supervised the operation of a strong fighting patrol which inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy in TROARN. On the night of D plus 6 he personally led a patrol of some 70 men to the village of ROUCHEVILLE and engaged the enemy position to the North of the village while his RE detachment successfully cratered the only remaining road for lateral communication left to the enemy in the district. On D plus 9 the enemy attacked the LE MESNIL position in strength. Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson conducted the battle personally through the whole attack and was tireless in his visits to the forward companies. When the enemy, supported by self-propelled guns, started to penetrate between the forward positions, he moved forward with the counter attack force handling his own men and 17 pounder self-propelled gun with such success that the enemy infantry and self-propelled guns were forced to withdraw in some disorder. Throughout the day he moved amongst his troops under artillery, heavy mortar and machine-gun fire and his conduct was an inspiration to the whole Battalion. By his brilliant handling of the Battalion during the first week of the operation he was able to hold off a numerically superior enemy from the vital high ground at the South end of the BOIS DE BAVENT.

A few days after returning to England, on the 9th September, Pearson married Joan Niven. Unfortunately the homecoming was not an entirely joyous affair because Pearson’s health had deteriorated to such a degree that he was judged to be no longer fit for active service. The mosquitoes in Normandy had added to his malaria sickness, moreover his face had taken on a shade of yellow. Realising that he was not in a fit state to manage a parachute battalion, Pearson discussed the matter with Brigadier Hill and, with great reluctance, it was agreed that he should surrender command of the 8th Battalion. The vast experience that he had accumulated was not to be wasted, however, and so it was that Pearson was given command of a reserve battalion. Pearson was offered the chance to remain in the Army after the war, but he declined as he did not feel that his methods would be much appreciated during peacetime, instead he returned home to his bakery.

Rock and Castle

Brigadier Pearson was Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire and Keeper of Dumbarton Castle.

His military career was by no means at an end as he joined the Territorial Army once more and, in 1947, was given command of the 15th (Scottish Volunteer) Parachute Battalion. His baking continued in the meantime, however his lungs were beginning to suffer from the dust and his doctor offered him a stark choice between an early death or a long life. Pearson opted for the latter and so abandoned baking in favour of farming. He established a dairy farm at Gartocharn, on the southern bank of Loch Lomond. With only one person to help him and his wife, managing such a farm proved too much for them and so later they raised sheep and beef cattle. In 1947, Pearson was a member of the Executive Committee of the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Disabled ex-Servicemen, and he maintained close contact with this hospital, later known as the Erskine Hospital, throughout his life. In 1951, he was made a Deputy Lord-Lieutenant for Glasgow. He continued to command the 15th Battalion for six years, after which he was made Training Colonel and Deputy Commander of the 44th Independent Parachute Brigade (TA). His association with the Brigade continued until 1963, when he was made Honorary Colonel of his old unit, now named 15 PARA (SV). He continued in this capacity until 1977, but resumed it in 1983. In 1967, he was promoted to Brigadier and became Commandant of the Army Cadet Force in Scotland. In 1975 he left Glasgow but became Deputy Lord-Lieutenant for Dumbartonshire, four years later, Deputy was dropped from this title, and he was also made Keeper of Dumbarton Castle. In 1983, Pearson’s health dipped dramatically and he was taken ill with a serious stomach disorder, however he recovered and lived for a further decade. He died in 1995 at the age of 80.

The majority of this biography is based upon the book “A Fierce Quality: The Fighting Life of Alastair Pearson DSO & Three Bars, MC” by Julian James.

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