Friday, March 28, 2014

R.I.P Colonel Tresham Gregg, total badass

Colonel Tresham Gregg, who has died aged 94, had an adventurous Army career as a leader of wartime Italian partisans, having already acquired a reputation as a serial escaper from PoW camps.


The following month Gregg was surprised by a German patrol near Derna, Libya, and taken prisoner. In an attempt to escape, he tried to sabotage the Germans’ reserve petrol supply with sugar but he was handed over to the Italians too quickly for the ploy to be effective.

As he was marched to the port in Benghazi, Gregg dived out of the column of PoWs and hid in a shop. After two hours he was spotted by two Italian soldiers who were looting the place. They refused to believe his story that he was a German soldier “taking a leak”.

Back in PG29 he was serving a third month in solitary confinement when, in September 1943, the Armistice was announced and he was released. He had relations in Switzerland and could have headed north; but he chose to stay with his closest friend, Captain “Donny” Mackenzie of the Cameron Highlanders, who was suffering from malaria.


In spring 1944 they were contacted by the partisans. Gregg and Mackenzie led a successful raid on a police station at Ferriere, then ambushed two truckloads of troops sent to flush them out.


The Prefect of Piacenza put a price on their heads; but they were in a natural stronghold, and when a Fascist Alpini battalion attacked over the mountains, Gregg not only forced its commander to give them all his heavy weapons as the price for freeing him, but also recruited many of his men.
Just, wow.  Read the whole thing, of which this is only a short excerpt.  The basassitude was strong in this man.  Rest in peace, Colonel.

Hat tip: Jeff via email, who writes:
This chap caught my eye at once, given his general resemblance to TE (of Arabia) Lawrence. I did not expect, when reading on, to find a story almost as astonishing as Lawrence's. You would hesitate to put it into a novel.

A late boss of mine did the same sort of work in Yugoslavia, Greece and finally China which Gregg, without training and preparation, did in Italy with his comrade Donald MacKenzie. Had Ian been alive to read this obit, he would have chuckled and shaken his head in admiration.

For the past three years, I have lived in Italy in terrain south of, but a little less rugged than that in which Gregg and his partisans worked. Before and after the Italian surrender/change of sides in 1943, it was complicated and dangerous to be an Italian. My village had been keenly fascist (Italian style: nothing like the Nazis) before the War, but that did not stop the Germans generating on the War Memorial a list of civilian casualties barely shorter than that of military column.

I may say that I can tell from the photograph of the funeral procession for Captain Mackenzie that every class of Italian is represented in this Resistance group: I am virtually certain that the gentleman in the tie and riding boots is the local Count.

These days the Germans are welcome in Italia as tourists, but residents have to work hard to be liked. It is a little easier for us Brits, and for Americans.

The Daily Telegraph is much reduced from its great days, but its devotion to the Obituary is admirable. Can you tell me, is there a US equivalent? Your WWII and Korea generation are passing on, and you are losing some remarkable men and women; and the Vietnam lads may be beginning to lose a member or two. It would be a shame not to have the chance to read up on them.
Local knowledge, right there.  The Telegraph was my daily read when we lived in Blighty - the Times was too grotesquely anti-American and the other offers were either tabloids (like the Sun: hello, page 3!) or leftie nutcases like the Guardian.  And the obits were a delight to read, written with a panache not seen in the Colonies.  Well, at least these Colonies.

The only place that I've seen the like is (I believe) The Atlantic, which used to run Mark Stein's obituary columns in each issue.  His obit of Profumo was a delight to read, but I believe that Stein got his start at the Telegraph, of all places.

And so alas, the obits on the western shores of the Pond are a pale imitation of those still found in her Britannic Majesty's scepter'd Isle.

1 comment:

burt said...

Why are you wondering that that Americans don't celebrate the lives of past heroes in our youth-obsessed me-first tradition-destroying history-ignoring hedonistic culture?

It used to be said that "with age comes wisdom", but that would only be true for those whose eyes are open to the world around them. For too many in today's America, eyes and minds are closed because, as a younger co-worker once said to me, "I don't think about politics - it's too depressing."

Her answer was all the commentary I needed.

It's all just rainbows and unicorns... because reality is too hard.