Victoria Cross - Second World War, 1939-1945

Frederick Albert Tilston

Frederick Albert Tilston

Frederick Albert Tilston was born in Toronto, Ontario on 11 June 1906. He served with The Essex Scottish Regiment in the Second World War. Before he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Tilston had been wounded twice: the first time while in training, and the second time by a land mine during the fighting around Falaise in France in the summer of 1944.

In late-February and early-March 1945, the First Canadian Army was striving to eliminate enemy resistance in the Hochwald forest, Germany’s last defensive position on the west bank of the Rhine River. In fact, the defences in the Hochwald protected a vital escape route for German ground forces seeking to withdraw across the river. Early in the morning on 1 March 1945, supported by artillery fire and a troop of tanks from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, The Essex Scottish Regiment attacked the northern part of the forest. On the left flank of the attack, Major Tilston led his “C” Company across 500 metres of open ground and through three metres of barbed wire to the first line of enemy trenches at the edge of the woods. The advance was made in the face of intense gunfire and without the supporting tanks due to the soft ground. Although wounded in the head, Tilston was first into the German trenches, using a hand grenade to silence a machine gun delaying the progress of one of his platoons. He continued with his company to assault and clear the second line of the enemy’s defences, suffering a second wound in the thigh. In the course of occupying this second objective, Major Tilston’s men overran the headquarters positions of two companies of the German parachute troops defending the forest. However, before the remnants of “C” Company could consolidate their gains, the Germans counterattacked, heavily supported by machine guns and mortars. Tilston calmly moved in the open through the heavy enemy fire from platoon to platoon organizing the defence. Six more times he braved the intense fire to carry badly needed ammunition and grenades to his men from a neighbouring Essex company. By now having suffered more serious wounds to his legs, Tilston refused medical aid until he was able to brief his one remaining officer on the plan of defence, and to impress upon him the absolute necessity of holding the position. Only when that was done did he relinquish command. The position was held, and for his valour and exemplary leadership in this action, Major Tilston earned the Victoria Cross.

Tilston died in Toronto, Ontario on 23 September 1992.

Citation

“The 2nd Canadian Division had been given the task of breaking through the strongly fortified Hochwald Forest defence line which covered Xanten the last German bastion West of the Rhine protecting the vital Wesel Bridge escape route.

The Essex Scottish Regiment was ordered to breach the defence line North-east of Udem and to clear the Northern half of the forest, through which the balance of the Brigade would pass.

At 0715 hours on 1st March, 1945, the attack was launched but due to the softness of the ground it was found impossible to support the attack by tanks as had been planned.

Across approximately 500 yards of flat open country, in face of intense enemy fire, Major Tilston personally led his Company in the attack, keeping dangerously close to our own bursting shells in order to get the maximum cover from the barrage. Though wounded in the head he continued to lead his men forward, through a belt of wire ten feet in depth to the enemy trenches shouting orders and encouragement and using his Sten gun with great effect. When the platoon on the left came under heavy fire from an enemy machine gun post he dashed forward personally and silenced it with a grenade; he was first to reach the enemy position and took the first prisoner.

Determined to maintain the momentum of the attack he ordered the reserve platoon to mop up these positions and with outstanding gallantry, pressed on with his main force to the second line of enemy defences which were on the edge of the woods.

As he approached the woods he was severely wounded in the hip and fell to the ground.  Shouting to his men to carry on without him and urging them to get into the wood, he struggled to his feet and rejoined them as they reached the trenches on their objective.  Here an elaborate system of underground dugouts and trenches was manned in considerable strength and vicious hand-to-hand fighting followed.  Despite his wounds, Major Tilston’s unyielding will to close with the enemy was a magnificent inspiration to his men as he led them in, systematically clearing the trenches of the fiercely resisting enemy.  In this fighting two German Company Headquarters were overrun and many casualties were inflicted on the fanatical defenders.

Such had been the grimness of the fighting and so savage the enemy resistance that the Company was now reduced to only 26 men, one quarter of its original strength.  Before consolidation could be completed the enemy counter-attacked repeatedly, supported by a hail or [sic] mortar and machine gun fire from the open flank.  Major Tilston moved in the open from platoon to platoon quickly organising their defence and directing fire against the advancing enemy.  The enemy attacks penetrated so close to the positions that grenades were thrown into the trenches held by his troops, but this officer by personal contact, unshakeable confidence and unquenchable enthusiasm so inspired his men that they held firm against great odds.

When the supply of ammunition became a serious problem he repeatedly crossed the bullet swept ground to the Company on his right flank to carry grenades, rifle and Bren ammunition to his troops and replace a damaged wireless set to re-establish communications with Battalion Headquarters.  He made at least six of these hazardous trips, each time crossing a road which was dominated by intense fire from numerous, well-sited enemy machine gun posts.

On his last trip he was wounded for the third time, this time in the leg.  He was found in a shell crater beside the road.  Although very seriously wounded and barely conscious, he would not submit to medical attention until he had given complete instructions as to the defence plan, had emphasised the absolute necessity of holding the position, and had ordered his one remaining officer to take over.

By his calm courage, gallant conduct and total disregard for his own safety, he fired his men with grim determination and their firm stand enabled the Regiment to accomplish its object of furnishing the Brigade with a solid base through which to launch further successful attacks to clear the forest, thus enabling the Division to accomplish its task.”

(London Gazette, no.37086, 22 May 1945)

 

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