Purdon CBE MC CPM, Major General C W B

Person
General Officer Commanding Near East Land Forces

Corran William Brooke Purdon was born in Queenstown, (now Cobh) County Cork on 4 May 1921. He was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, and the Royal Military College Sandhurst that had in effect, with the approach of war, become an Officer Cadet Training Unit, with the six-month course concentrating on training Cadet Purdon to be an infantry platoon commander.

Officer Cadet Purdon was commissioned into The Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) on 31 December 1939 and posted to the depot in Armagh. He was deemed too young for active service with 2 RUR in the British Expeditionary Force in France, and was moved to Ballymena where the first buildings, that would later be part of the new RUR depot, had been completed. Frustrated at not seeing action in France, he volunteered for service with the Commando forces being raised at that time. When he discovered that his CO had been tearing up his applications, he soon made his way to Londonderry where 12 Commando was being trained and persuaded its CO to issue joining instructions - which he duly did - much to the fury of his RUR CO.

HMS CampbeltownHe joined No 12 Commando and his first operational experience should have been a raid onto the Lofoten Islands, Norway, but his troop's Landing Ship Infantry developed engine problems and he never landed. Shortly afterwards, he was selected for the 28 March 1942 raid on Saint Nazaire - Operation CHARIOT. He had been trained for dry-dock demolitions with particular attention to the destruction of dock gates, winding mechanisms, pump houses and various other dock facilities. The dry dock in the port was capable of handling the largest battleship ever built by a European state - Nazi Germany’s KMS Tirpitz, and the dry dock’s destruction would help to protect the Atlantic convoys. Although the operation succeeded, many were killed, and Lieutenant Purdon was one of those captured. To view his account please click on Raid on St Nazaire and then click on your back browser to return to this page.
(Above left, HMS Campbeltown rammed into the dry dock before exploding, Bundesarchiv Bild 101II-MW-3722-22)

Purdon AusweisHe had been wounded, and reflecting on the event many years later recalled that despite wounds to his leg and shoulder, his most painful experience was being stabbed with a penicillin-loaded syringe wielded by a German medic who was proving that he didn’t like British officers. He was later awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his leadership and actions in destroying the dock’s northern winding house. He was sent, via a PoW Camp near Bremen, to Oflag IX-A, Spangenburg Castle but, after escaping for nine days, followed by further failed attempts, he was sent to Oflag IV-C, better known as Colditz Castle, where he remained until liberated in 1945 by the advancing US Army. Typically, he chose to forgo repatriation and joined forces with a US unit, remaining on combat service with the Americans until VE Day. He was also present when a concentration camp holding Hungarian Jews was liberated. All had been murdered less four survivors and Lieutenant Purdon’s feelings for his enemy were reinforced. Returning nearby to Colditz for repatriation by air to the UK, he and his friend Lt Dick Morgan left with keys to Colditz Castle as a souvenir.
(Right, forged Aúsweis escape ID for Lt Purdon)

When interviewed by the Colonel of The Regiment, General Sir James Steele, after his release from captivity, he mentioned that Colonel David Stirling, a fellow Colditz inmate, had suggested joining his SAS with a promised appointment to fight the Japanese. General Steele’s reply was ‘Sonny Boy, you will join 1 RUR as Adjutant, the finest fighting battalion in the British Army', and he was duly posted to the Battalion in the 6th Airborne Division. Destined for Burma, the Battalion instead was sent to Palestine under British mandate and internal security operations. In 1946, Captain Purdon was posted to command the RUR’s Regimental Company at the Irish Group Infantry Training Centre at Omagh, Northern Ireland, followed by two years in Belfast as the first Adjutant of the newly raised 6 RUR, a Territorial Army battalion. In 1949, he arrived at Fayid in the Suez Canal Zone as a Staff Captain in the General Headquarters Middle East Land Forces, trying as always to escape - this time from his desk - to attach himself to units wherever 'trouble' arose. Moving from the Middle East to the Far East, he returned to the 1st Battalion in 1951, where he commanded a Rifle Company in Hong Kong. Returning from the Far East in 1952, he served with the 1st Battalion The London Irish Rifles at the Duke of York’s Headquarters, London, and was the TA Battalion’s Training Major.

Following a year at Staff College, Major Purdon became the DAAG in the General Headquarters Far East Land Forces in Singapore, where he again sought attachments to battalions fighting the Communist Terrorists in the jungles of Malaya. At the end of his tour, instead of taking leave due, he spent four months commanding Support Company of 1 RUR in Cyprus during the EOKA campaign. His company was employed in a rifle company role as its heavy weapons were not required. Purdon Ramsden BorneoReturning to Northern Ireland, he commanded the RUR Depot where he ensured recruits were prepared for operations in Cyprus. Moving to 1 RUR in Iserlohn, West Germany (BAOR), he spent the first year as the Battalion Second-in-Command before assuming command of the Rifles in April 1962. Returning from a battalion exercise in Australia, he was warned that his Battalion would deploy to Sarawak on Borneo Island. The training for and operational deployment to Sarawak, during the Indonesian Confrontation lasted one year and was unaccompanied (no families).
(Sarawak, left, Lt Col Purdon (centre) with Secretary of State for War, James Ramsden, and (right) Company Commander, Major John Cave)

On relinquishing command in 1964, he became the Chief Instructor of the All Arms (Tactics) Battlegroup Course at the School of Infantry in Warminster, England, preparing senior Captains and Majors to command infantry/armour Combat Teams. He left the UK for his next appointment and was given accelerated promotion from Lieutenant Colonel to Brigadier in order to take command of Sultan Said bin Taimur of Oman’s Armed Forces and therefore responsibility for the security of the Sultanate of Oman. The threat included dissidents across the Northern Oman border and a quite separate situation in the southern province that was the Dhofar Rebellion, where British officers on secondment were fighting on operations. After three years, and following the British government providing certain direct military support to the war in Dhofar, Brigadier Purdon returned to the UK in 1970 and in the Queen's Birthday Honours was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

He was the Commandant School of Infantry before promotion to Major General and appointment as the General Officer Commanding North West District in May 1972 where he enjoyed having many Territorial units under his command. His last appointment was in Cyprus as the General Officer Commanding Near East Land Forces in 1975. His command and post were victims of the 1975 Mason Review, a review of UK defence policy conducted by the Labour Government's Secretary of State for Defence, Roy Mason, and Major General Purdon retired in 1976.

Although he was recommended to be the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the government opted to appoint Kenneth Newman, a professional police officer. Nevertheless, Major General Purdon was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force in 1978 and was honoured with the Colonial Police Medal (CPM) when he retired in 1981, aged 60.
Purdon Doherty
Honorary military appointments included Honorary Colonel of Queen's University Belfast Officer Training Corps, relinquished in 1978, and Honorary Colonel D (London Irish Rifles) Company, 4th (Volunteer) Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers, relinquished in 1993. Following family tradition, he was appointed in The most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, an Officer (Brother) in 1951, a Commander (Brother) in 1976 and a Knight in 1984. After retiring he was also involved in the Royal Humane Society, a charitable organisation that recognises the bravery of those who have saved, or tried to save, someone's life. After retiring he wrote List the Bugle: Reminiscences of an Irish Soldier and it was published in 1993. But above all, he was very involved in The Royal Ulster Rifles Association as President, especially the Regimental Remembrance Pilgrimage to Normandy where, until June 2013, he led the annual tribute to honour the actions and exploits of the 1st and 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles during the Normandy Landing.
(Right, President of the RUR Association with fellow Second World War veteran, Mr John Doherty MBE)

Major General Corran William Brooke Purdon CBE MC CPM died peacefully at home, aged 97, on 27 June 2018.

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