Cork’s Arnhem Victoria Cross
Flight Lieutenant David Lord
75 years ago, Allied forces in Europe launched Operation Market Garden: an air and land operation derived to drive a 103km salient in German occupied Netherlands and establish a bridgehead over the River Rhine. Market Garden consisted of two sub-operations:
Market – an airborne assault to seize key bridges, and;
Garden – a ground attack moving over the seized bridges creating the salient.
The airborne part of the operation was undertaken by the First Allied Airborne Army while the land operation by was undertaken by XXX Corps of the British Second Army. Market Garden was the largest airborne operation up to that point in World War II.
Amongst the British Army contingent were several Irish units including: 2nd Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles; 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars; 2nd Armoured Battalion, Irish Guards; and 3rd Battalion, Irish Guards. This does not account for the unknown number of Irishmen or of Irish descent in other Allied units: a possible figure of several thousand. Many were recognised for their bravery; one such man was Flight Lieutenant David Lord.
David Samuel Anthony Lord was born on 18 October 1913 in Cork, Ireland, one of three sons of Samuel (a Warrant Officer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers) and Mary Lord (née Miller). Following the Great War, the family were posted to British India and Lord attended Lucknow Convent School. The family then moved to Wrexham after his father retired from service. David then attended St Mary’s College, Aberystwyth, and then went on to the University of Wales. Later, he attended the English College, Valladolid, Spain to study for the priesthood. This was not for his however, and he returned and moved to London.
Royal Air Force
Lord enlisted in the Royal Air Force on 6 August 1936. After reaching the rank of corporal in August 1938, he applied to become a pilot, which he began in October 1938. Successfully gaining his pilot’s wings, he became a sergeant pilot in April 1939, and was posted to No. 31 Squadron RAF, based in Lahore, India. In 1941, No. 31 Squadron was the first unit to receive the Douglas DC-2 which was followed by both the Douglas DC-3 and Dakota transports. That year he was promoted to flight sergeant and then warrant officer. He flew in North Africa in support of troops in Libya and Egypt for four months, before being posted back to India. He was commissioned a pilot officer in May 1942, and went on to fly supply missions over Burma.
Lord was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in July 1943, and was promoted to flight lieutenant shortly afterwards. By January 1944, he was with No. 271 Squadron (based at RAF Down Ampney, Gloucestershire) and began training as part of preparations for the invasion of Europe. On D-Day, Lord carried paratroopers into France and his aircraft was hit by flak, and returned to base without flaps.
Operation Market Garden and Victoria Cross
During operation Market Garden in September 1944, the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were tasked with securing bridges across the Lower Rhine, the final objectives of the operation. However, the airborne forces that dropped on 17 September were not aware that the 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer Divisions were near Arnhem for rest and refit. The Allies suffered heavily against the unexpected Panzergrenadiers, tanks and self-propelled guns. Only a small force held one end of the Arnhem road bridge before being overrun on 21 September. The rest of the division became trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge and had to be evacuated on 25 September.
During the battle for Arnhem, No. 271 Squadron, was tasked with resupplying the trapped airborne troops. On 19 September Lord’s Douglas Dakota III ‘KG374’ encountered intense enemy anti-aircraft fire and was twice hit, with one engine burning. Lord managed to drop his supplies, but at the end of the run found that he had two containers remaining. Although he knew that one of his wings might collapse at any moment, he nevertheless made a second run to drop the last supplies, he then ordered his crew to bail out. A few seconds later, the Dakota crashed in flames with its pilot and six crew members. Only the navigator, Flying Officer Harold King, survived, becoming a prisoner of war. It was only on his release in mid-1945, as well as the release of several paratroopers from the 10th Parachute Battalion, that the story of Lord’s action became known and he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Victoria Cross citation
Lord’s VC appeared in a supplement to the London Gazette on 9 November 1945, reading:
Air Ministry, 13 November 1945.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:—
Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony LORD, D.F.C. (49149), R.A.F., 271 Sqn. (deceased).
Flight Lieutenant Lord was pilot and captain of a Dakota aircraft detailed to drop supplies at Arnhem on the afternoon of 19 September 1944. Our airborne troops had been surrounded and were being pressed into a small area defended by a large number of anti-aircraft guns. Air crews were warned that intense opposition would be met over the dropping zone. To ensure accuracy they were ordered to fly at 900 feet when dropping their containers.
While flying at 1,500 feet near Arnhem the starboard wing of Flight Lieutenant Lord’s aircraft was twice hit by anti-aircraft fire. The starboard engine was set on fire. He would have been justified in leaving the main stream of supply aircraft and continuing at the same height or even abandoning his aircraft. But on learning that his crew were uninjured and that the dropping zone would be reached in three minutes he said he would complete his mission, as the troops were in dire need of supplies.
By now the starboard engine was burning furiously. Flight Lieutenant Lord came down to 900 feet, where he was singled out for the concentrated fire of all the anti-aircraft guns. On reaching the dropping zone he kept the aircraft on a straight, and level course while supplies were dropped. At the end of the run, he was told that two containers remained.
Although he must have known that the collapse of the starboard wing could not be long delayed, Flight Lieutenant Lord circled, rejoined the stream of aircraft and made a second run to drop the remaining supplies. These manoeuvres took eight minutes in all, the aircraft being continuously under heavy anti-aircraft fire.
His task completed, Flight Lieutenant Lord ordered his crew to abandon the Dakota, making no attempt himself to leave the aircraft, which was down to 500 feet. A few seconds later, the starboard wing collapsed and the aircraft fell in flames. There was only one survivor, who was flung out while assisting other members of the crew to put on their parachutes.
By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning aircraft, descending to drop the supplies accurately, returning to the dropping zone a second time and, finally, remaining at the controls to give his crew a chance of escape, Flight Lieutenant Lord displayed supreme valour and self-sacrifice.
Lord’s Victoria Cross was presented to his parents at Buckingham Palace in December 1945. In 1997, Lord’s VC, along with his other decorations and medals, were sold at auction by Spinks to Lord Ashcroft. As of 2014, the medal group was on display at the Imperial War Museum.
You can read more on Flight Lieutenant Lord: Flight Lieutenant David Lord, Victoria Cross: an Arnhem Hero, by James Patrick Hynes.