Belfast Telegraph

Belfast-born commando honoured for gallantry in WW2 dies aged 96


By Brett Campbell

A Belfast-born soldier who trained alongside SAS founder Blair Mayne and was awarded a Military Cross for his gallantry in the Second World War has died at the age of 96.

Captain Gerald Jackson Bryan was decorated with the Military Cross for the bravery he displayed as a commando at the Battle of the Litani River in June 1941 - he later proved himself an outstanding administrator in the Colonial Service.

On the bright moonlit night of June 9, Bryan led a squadron of Scottish commandos in an attack on a large unit of the Vichy French forces who were guarding the Litani River in Lebanon - it was a major obstacle in the path of the Australian troops advancing from Palestine to Syria.

The operation had been postponed by two days after Glengyle vessel - carrying 11 Commando - was unable to get ashore due to large waves at the mouth of the river.

By the time Bryan led his men to battle in the early hours of June 9, the French had been alerted and demolished one of the two bridges across the river.

Armed with only a rifle, a pistol, a fighting knife and grenades, Bryan and his men quickly came under rapid fire from a 75-mm gun which reduced the unit by two thirds down to just seven.

The captain silenced the gun and drove its crew into a slit trench by throwing a grenade, before capturing the gun and turning it around to knock out the remaining guns in the battery and blow up the ammunition dump. But he and the handful of survivors, who were severely wounded, were taken as prisoners to a casualty clearing station at Sidon. He later had his right leg amputated.

Bryan studied at Wrekin College in Shropshire, where he won numerous boxing competitions and served as captain of the gymnastics and fencing teams before he gained third place in the Army Entrance Exam. He then completed officer training at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich and was commissioned into the Corps of Royal Engineers. As a volunteer with the No 9 Commando unit he took part in a night exercise at a training centre near Fort William where he was taught how to shoot in close-quarter fighting.

On one particular night, he mistook a dark figure approaching after he felled a tree with gelignite to block a road for the "enemy" and wrestled him to the ground.

"Do you know who I am?" the stranger asked.

"No," said Bryan.

"I'm Lord Lovat," came the reply.

Bryan, feeling that he only had one card to play retorted: "Do you know who I am?"

When Lord Lovat answered no Bryan exclaimed, "Thank God!" and fled into the darkness.

The experienced rock climber also trained in the Isle of Arran alongside Blair Mayne, who later became a founding member of the SAS and one of the most highly decorated British officers of the Second World War. On New Year's Eve 1940, Bryan was knocked to the floor after interrupting Mayne, who was celebrating on his own and had consumed three dozen small bottles of cherry brandy. Mayne chased him out of the house and fired his Colt automatic weapon before shooting out all the windows in the living room.

Bryan resigned from the Army in August 1944 and was posted to Swaziland as assistant district commissioner of the Colonial Service Of his many roles, his most exacting assignment was serving as general manager of the Londonderry Development Commission between 1969 to 1973. His responsibilities, which he carried under the unrelenting pressure of the escalating conflict here, were wide-ranging.

Captain Bryan, who was appointed OBE in 1960 and published an autobiography in 2008, was predeceased by his wife Wendy whom he married in 1947.

He is survived by his son and two daughters.

Belfast Telegraph

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