Obituary Lt Col Giles 'Joe' Symonds OBE, MC, TD

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Lt-Col Joe Symonds

Officer who 'bowled' his steel helmet towards the enemy as he led a charge

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOE SYMONDS, who has died aged 95, took part in 22 attacks in the north-west Europe campaign and was awarded an MC and Bar.

The 4th Battalion the Dorset Regiment landed at Le Hamel, Normandy, on June 23 1944. On July 10 Symonds was in command of "B" Company in the battle for Eterville, a south of Caen. After an approach march beginning at midnight, his men arrived in the forward assembly area in the early morning.

A lance-corporal sounded the charge on his bugle, and the battalion overran a German platoon and advanced to the edge of the village, where Symonds gave the signal for a final assault.

Symonds led his men with great dash on to the objective. They mopped up and took 70 prisoners, but other German soldiers — who had been subdued by the weight of supporting fire and were concealed among the thick bocage — then began to mortar and shell his company.

Symonds was digging his own slit trench when he was hit and thrown into it, losing consciousness. For his part in the attack, he was awarded a Military Cross.

Giles Symonds, always known as Joe, was born at Frome St Quintin, Dorset, on June 28 1915. He was educated at Blundell's and, in 1938, commissioned into the Dorset Regiment. The following year he was recruited and led the Evershot platoon to war.

After being wounded in Normandy, he was evacuated to England. At one stage, while he was on a stretcher, an alert nurse discovered that his water bottle contained nothing but Calvados. After surgery and convalescence, he returned to France and his unit.

On February 15 1945, Symonds was in command of "A" Company during the Battle of the Ardennes. They were east of the Forest of Cleve and it was estimated that the enemy had more than 300 guns in support of the sector. Their objective were some
fortified farm buildings at the top of a dominant feature and, as they formed up, they came under very heavy fire.

The CO wrote afterwards: “I shall always carry a vivid picture of the tall figure of Major Symonds standing up, blowing his whistle, and bowling his steel helmet in the direction of the Germans. The Company appreciated this typical gesture by its commander and followed him to a man.”

They soon ran into very tough opposition from German paratroops but, disregarding the accurate Spandau fire and intense mortar and shell fire, put in three attacks before finally taking the strongpoint. Many of the Germans decided to run, and in the subsequent pursuit no quarter was given.

Returning in a tank, Symonds was seriously burned about the hands and face when it received a direct hit and "brewed up" at once. With his usual thoroughness, however, he reorganised the remnants of his company before he was at last evacuated in great pain.

The citation for the Bar to his MC stated: "Major Symonds displayed superb gallantry throughout."

Many of his comrades did not expect to see him again before the end of the war, but he returned to his company in time for the Rhine crossing in March and the rest of the battles in the campaign.

In 1947 Symonds was appointed second-in-­command of the battalion and took command in 1951. He was appointed OBE in 1953.

After retiring from the Army, he became an agricultural valuer, auctioneer and land agent at Dorchester until his final retirement in 1980, and also farmed in partnership with other family members and was a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

He hunted with the Cattistock for many years and was still riding into his eighties. Joe Symonds died on August 15. He married, in 1940, Thelma Thornicroft. She predeceased him, as did a son. Their other son survives him.