The exceptional Second World War Fall of France La Bassee 27th May 1940 Military Cross, and North West Europe Reichswald Forest 9th to 10th February 1945 Second Award Bar group awarded to Major D.F. Callander, 1st later 5th Battalion, Cameron Highlanders,
The exceptional Second World War Fall of France La Bassee 27th May 1940 Military Cross, and North West Europe Reichswald Forest 9th to 10th February 1945 Second Award Bar group awarded to Major D.F. Callander, 1st later 5th Battalion, Cameron Highlanders, one of the last serving officers to lead his men into battle wearing kilt, whose Anti-Tank Platoon destroyed 21 tanks of Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division at La Bassee, and later in February 1945, personally accounted for ten enemy paratrooper casualties in the Reichswald.
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Officer, O.B.E., 2nd type, Civil Division; Military Cross, Geo VI, 1st type cypher, reverse dated 1940, with Second Award Bar dated 1945; 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; War Medal 39-45; General Service Medal 1918-62, Eliz II, clasp Arabian Peninsula, named to Major D.F. Callender, M.C., Camerons. Coronation Medal 1953.
Donald Fraser Callander (surname incorrectly spelt on GSM) was born on 22nd April 1918 in Wellesley, Cheshire, and was then educated at Clifton College in Bristol, followed by the Royal Military College Sandhurst, before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant (No.85694) into the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders on 26th January 1939, and was posted to the 1st Battalion. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Callander was on service at home, but was then posted with the British Expeditionary Force out to France from 23rd September 1939, and was then posted to the 5th Infantry Brigade Anti Tank Company on 2nd February 1940, and as such saw active service with the on set of the German invasion of France and the Low Countries. It was for his gallantry in action at the La Bassee Canal on 27th May 1940 that Callander performed the actions which led to the award of his Military Cross. At this stage they were in danger of being outflanked by the Germans who had crossed the canal on the neighbouring battalion front. ‘The Cameron’s had, all this time, no effectual artillery support, but in the early afternoon their anti-tank platoon of three 25 mm guns arrived from Brigade, under 2nd Lieutenant Callander, and reinforced the defensive flank. A wounded gunner officer also appeared and directed his battery again the tanks. But their fire was unavailing.’ ‘At half past two the attack began. To the left of the scene was the road to Estaires, with trucks and lorries running at sudden speed under fire. La Bassee, bombed from the air and shelled from the side of the canal, was burning under a brown canopy of smoke. Beyond a green copse were the roofs of Violins, and waiting to attack it were some fifty German tanks, while a mass of German infantry, forming their companies with the deliberation of the parade ground, were preparing to follow the tanks astride the road from Voilainews to Givenchy. Givenchy on the right of the scene was already in flames. Over the canal rose conical slag heaps, and above the battlefield, with the patience of a scavenging kite, circled slowly an old Henschel observation plane. Firing as they came, the tanks advanced on Violaines. They halted about 200 yards from the village, and the darting tongues of flame from their guns were answered by sudden fountains of dust, smoke, fire, and debris in Violaines. Very soon the whole village was burning hotly. More tanks, very many of them, moved steadily northwards, then turned eastward to attack La Bassee from the rear, and cut the retreat of the French troops beyond it. The Germans, it appeared, were using a whole Panzer Division, and after their tanks, on pontoons, had forced a crossing of the canal, they formed in three large groups for their several tasks: the attack on Volaines, the encirclement of La Bassee, the more remote attack on the French to the left of it. The farmhouse in Voilaines, where the Camerons’ Battalion Headquarters were situated, was soon ablaze, but steadily firing out of the heat and confusion of the battered village, Callander’s anti-tank guns scored hit after hit on the German armour… La Bassee had disappeared in the smoke of burning houses, and the Camerons had lost communication with their forward companies… When almost surrounded a despatch rider succeeded in reaching them, and gave them their orders, but ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were caught in the trap and none of them got out. Callander’s anti-tank platoon, with a score of twenty-one tanks to its credit, followed the carriers and the remnant of ‘A’ Company, an withdrew across country. ‘B’ Company transport was however shot to pieces by the German tanks and they decided to lie low till dark. Whilst ‘C’ and ‘D’ who were now unable to escape, carried on the fighting, and only a small party eventually made it out. One hundred men of the 1st Camerons, who had survived the action at La Bassee, eventually reached Dunkirk, where on 30th May seventy nine of them embarked for home, and the other twenty-one remained as part of the perimeter defence until the last. They were the only British Expeditionary Force Highlanders to be still wearing the kilt, and as the regiment was the old 79th Foot the number who were taken off Dunkirk mole may seem peculiarly appropriate.’ The recommendation for Callander’s Military Cross reads as follows: ‘2nd Lieutenant Callander commanded a Platoon of 25mm anti-tank guns on May 27th at 13.00hrs this Platoon was attached to 1st Camerons and placed on the defensive flank on the right at La Bassee. At 14.25hrs the enemy attacked with tanks. This Platoon put 21 enemy tanks out of action. 2nd Lieutenant Callander showed a splendid example to his men and when the order for withdrawal was given managed to collect most of his men spread along the front and led them back to safety. His energy and leadership was a factor which proved itself in the wonderful behaviour of his men. I therefore recommend him for the Military Cross` Callander’s award of the Military Cross was published in the London Gazette for 20th December 1940. Callander arrived back in the United Kingdom on 1st June 1940, and was then posted to No.5 Commando for ‘special service’ on 9th July 1940, being there on the formation of this unit, he was then posted back to the 1st Camerons on 10th October 1940, and having been appointed to Acting Captain on 28th October 1940, and was promoted to Lieutenant on 1st January 1941, and then appointed to Temporary Captain on 28th January 1941. Callander was then appointed an Instructor with the 1st Corps Platoon Commander’s School on 9th February 1941, but then relinquished his appointment and embarked with his Battalion for India where he arrived on 12th June 1942. Due to ill health he was however invalided home to the United Kingdom on 5th November 1943, and on 20th December 1943 was appointed an Instructor with the Tactical Training Wing at Troon. With the Allied invasion of North West Europe, Callander found himself posted over to France on 3rd August 1944, and having been appointed to Acting Major on 8th August 1944, was then posted as a company commander to ‘B’ Company of the 5th Battalion, Cameron Highlanders. Callander was wounded in action on 7th October 1944, but remained on duty. ‘The Battalion’s orders for the Reichswald battle, delayed as long as possible for security reasons, were issued on 6th February, and two days later it moved into its concentration area at Mook, a much-shelled village on the banks of the River Maas, three miles from the Dutch-German border. The 5th Cameron’s were now ready for their share in what turned out to be the vital and most severe battle for Germany. The Battalion left Mook by route-march after a hot meal at about 0230 hours, 9th February, for the long approach to the forest. On reaching the southwestern edge at first light, without casualties, the Black Watch was found to be in control, but a pretty fluid situation prevailing with enemy snipers everywhere. The advance was on a one company front, with ‘D’ Company initially leading, supported by a troop of three tanks, and after only 200 yards a large crater was encountered which successfully held up the tanks, so ‘D’ Company advanced alone. Various enemy posts were scuppered en route and eighty prisoners taken, before, about 300 yards further on, more determined resistance was met and ‘D’ Company was held up. Colonel Lang ordered ‘B’ Company under Major Callander “right flanking” in order to try and turn the south flank of the enemy position and a very spirited engagement followed in which ‘B’ Company, and its Company Commander in particular, accounted for many of the enemy. The situation still being in the balance, Major J.L. Melville, D.S.O., of ‘C’ Company, decided that the answer was a bayonet charge, and he himself led his company in with great dash. Supported by the three tanks, which at last rejoin the battalion and then fired high explosive point-blank into the enemy dug-outs, causing terrible casualties, the company achieved its objective, thoroughly demoralising the enemy, many of whom surrendered. The bodies of 40 Germans were later counted, and a number of wounded were captured. The whole of the Reichswald battle was an affair of close-quarter fighting, and, the Battalion yet another bayonet charge, this being the next day, 10th February. This time is was performed by B Company, and Callander formed up his men for the assault. During the forming up the company suffered many casualties, but Major Callander, with complete disregard for his own safety, moved about in the open, under continuous fire, organising the assault and encouraging his men. Once organised, he led the two forward platoons over a fifty-yard clearing. Major Callander was the first to reach the enemy position with a handful of men, and with these behind him he accounted for ten of the enemy dead or wounded. For his great courage and example during this action, Major Callander was awarded the Second Award Bar to his Military Cross. An incident will illustrate how confused the Germans were. ‘B’ Company reached the final Battalion objective about 11 pm, 10th February, after a silent, infiltration approach. Instead of being greeted with machine-gun bullets, they found to their astonishment a party of Germans, completely oblivious to their presence, laying mines in their path. Major Callander could not resist the opportunity and, stalking the German NCO in charge, said quietly in pigeon-German, “Little man, you must be more careful or those things will blow up.” The poor chap thought he had seen a ghost!’ The Reichswald had cost the 5th Camerons three officers and 20 other ranks killed, 11 officers and 145 other ranks wounded. But the final reckoning with the enemy was at hand - the reckoning that proved that those who had given their lives had not died in vain.’ The recommendation to the Bar to Callandar’s Military Cross reads as follows: ‘Major Callender has been in Command of B Company of this Battalion (5th Camerons) since August 1944. In the advance through the Reichswald on February 9th, the leading Company met strong MG and Mortar opposition from a Company of firmly entrenched enemy paratroopers. To overcome this opposition Major Callender`s Company was passed through into the lead. Owing to the thick country it was impossible to call on close artillery fire. Major Callender`s Company suffered heavy casualties as he formed his men up for the attack, he himself escaped but received three bullets through his pack. Displaying supreme courage and with complete disregard for his own personnel safety, he moved about in the open under continuous fire organising the assault and encouraging his men. Once organised he personally led the two leading Platoons into the assault over a 50 yard clearing. Major Callender was the first to reach the enemy position with a handful of men and with these men behind him accounted for ten of the enemy dead and wounded. The assault by the Company cleared the position and later forty dead enemy paratroopers were counted in the immediate vicinity. A few days later, Major Callender together with another Company Commander, led the assault on Hervorst. Again due to his inspiring leadership and courage the position was cleared and sixty prisoners taken. Major Callender`s high standard of leadership and courage has been proved again and again. He has shown himself a shining example to the men under his command.’ His award of a Bar to the Military Cross was published in the London Gazette for 10th May 1945.Callander remained with the Battalion when it took part in Operation Plunder - the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945, and on 20th March he left the Battalion to take up a Staff attachment, and then proceeded to the United Kingdom on 26th April 1945. Callander was then posted to a Staff Course out in India at Quetta on 20th May 1945, and on 13th November 1945 was posted as an Instructor to the Tactical School at the Tactical Training Centre in India. Callander was posted to the Tactical Administrative School at Dehra Dun on 7th January 1947, and then embarked home on 13th June 1947. On his arrival home he was appointed a Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General with the War Officer on 11th September 1947, and was then posted to the Highland Brigade Training Centre on 16th February 1950, where he was appointed Adjutant on 23rd December 1950, and was then appointed to the Headquarters of the Highland Brigade on 18th September 1951, and was appointed Brigade Major. Callander was promoted to Major on 26th January 1952, and was then appointed Brigade Major of the 152nd Infantry Brigade on 11th December 1952. Posted back to his regiment in August 1955, he then saw service out in Korea with the 1st Battalion, Camerons, guaranteeing the peace put in place by the United Nations forces in the aftermath of the Korean War, and arrived in Korea on 16th November 1955, but was then briefly posted to Singapore on 21st June 1956, though he was never operational in Malaya and hence is not entitled to the clasp, being instead posted to Aden on attachment to the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment on 26th August 1956, and on the arrival of the 1st Camerons in Aden, met up with his unit there on 6th September 1956, and as such took part during the operations in the Aden Colony and the Sultanates of Muscat and Oman from the beginning of the conflict which occurred on 1st January 1957. Callander was posted home to the Cameron’s Depot on 28th May 1957, and was then posted out to Canada from 22nd August 1958, where he attended a course with the Canadian Army at Montreal, and was then posted home again on 30th September 1959. Posted to the Headquarters of Scottish Command on 21st October 1959, and saw service as Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, before being posted to the War Office as a General Staff Officer 2nd Grade on 6th November 1961, and then relinquished his appointment and retired on 22nd April 1963. After leaving the Army, Callander became Public Relations and Appeals Director of The Scottish Institution for War Blinded and for his work in this capacity was appointed an Officer of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 3rd June 1985. From 1967 he was a member of the Sovereign’s Body Guard for Scotland, and also of the Royal Company of Archers. A keen shot, he ran a shoot in the Scottish Borders with General Sir Philip Christison, and was also a member of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. Callander died of a heart attack whilst at Muirfield Golf Club on 5th April 1992. Mounted loose for wear (8) Good very fine