Norfolk SAS soldier’s tragic story behind enemy lines revealed in new book

Lieutenant Hugh Gurney (left). Picture: Supplied

Lieutenant Hugh Gurney (left). Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

It is described as one of the most successful post D-Day SAS missions to have taken place in the Second World War.

Lieutenant Hugh Gurney. Picture: Supplied

Lieutenant Hugh Gurney. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

But it ended in tragedy for one Norfolk soldier who was killed while fighting behind enemy lines as part of Operation Wallace.

Now, the story of Lieutenant Hugh Gurney has been explored for the first time in a new book about SAS wartime casualties.

On August 19, 1944, he was one of around 60 men from the 2nd SAS squadron who flew from RAF Brize Norton to Rennes, in France.

Their mission was to drive some 200 miles behind enemy lines to attack the retreating German forces and destroy their communications.

But just weeks into the mission, Lieutenant Gurney, who grew up at Northrepps Hall, near Cromer, was shot while withdrawing from an ambush.

The 26-year-old started his extensive military career with the 5th Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, a day before the war was declared.

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He was later posted to No.7 Commando based in Felixstowe and was involved in military operations across the Middle East, including Libya.

Following an amphibious raid on Bardia, which resulted in the destruction of an Italian supply dump, he wrote to his mother about the experience.

He said: 'You know I can't tell you anything now-except just to tell you that my section was particularly complimented for its behaviour in an awkward situation.

'It was terrific fun, despite bad moments... Although when one is very busy, one has little else to think of – fortunately.'

From 1941 to 1943 he served in both the 2nd Battalion, Libyan Arab Force and the 11th Battalion, Parachute Regiment.

But it was in July 1944, when he was finally selected for the 2nd SAS.

Just a month later, under the command of Major Roy Farran, he flew to France with C Squadron to begin Operation Wallace.

From September 6, Lieutenant Gurney and his men were said to be constantly engaged against the enemy, and on September 11 his patrol destroyed a staff car killing five senior officers, including a general.

But the following evening, while withdrawing from an ambush on a German transport truck in Velorcey, he was killed.

Lieutenant Jim Mackie, a fellow officer, wrote: 'Lieut Gurney's Jeep was so close to the burning truck that they had to evacuate it, and while Lieut Gurney was running down the road to the other jeep he was shot in the back and fell to the ground.'

He was buried at the Velorcey Communal Cemetery in France.

His nephew, Chris Gurney 63, who operates Northrepps airfield, said: 'He was quite a character from what I can gather. There is no doubt he was a very brave soldier, who got on with it and did his job.'

Lieut Gurney's story is featured in the new SAS and LRDG Roll of Honour 1941-47 book, produced by a former SAS lance-corporal.

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