Sydney Jary – Obitury

25.09.2019

The chances of survival for an infantry subaltern in a rifle company during the campaign in northwest Europe in 1944-45 were, at best, a few weeks before being killed or wounded. Sydney Jary survived ten months from July 1944 to May 1945, commanding the same platoon of 4th Battalion the Somerset Light Infantry.

It was a remarkable achievement and 40 years later he wrote a book, 18 Platoon, about the fortitude of his comrades, some of whom remained friends until he died. His book became a set work at Sandhurst and other military establishments, highlighting lessons for leadership in combat that are often forgotten or neglected. It is also a philosophically argued reminder that war must only be the last resort.

Jary was trained and commissioned as an artilleryman — a gunner — but asked for a transfer to the infantry and was posted to the Hampshire Regiment as a reinforcement officer in the pool for the Normandy invading force.

The 4th Somersets had suffered severely in the battle of Bricqueesard and on Hill 112 in Normandy, with 18 Platoon having lost its two previous commanders and more than half its strength. Jary and other reinforcements were brought forward as replacements. His appearance was not immediately impressive. He was wearing light-brown corduroy trousers and a woollen pullover, similar to the dress adopted by Montgomery. His foretaste of battle was seeing an abandoned slit trench containing the detritus of combat and humanity and, perched on the far edge, a teddy bear with a ribbon round its neck. It was probably the mascot from a dead soldier’s vehicle.

The 4th Somersets was not a regular army battalion, but a Territorial Army unit associated with Bath and Bristol and formed of civilian volunteers and conscripts. Initially, the NCOs and men regarded Jary doubtfully, but his courage, walking alone into the village of Vernonnet to establish that the enemy had left, assured them that 18 Platoon was in good hands. He led from the front, or sufficiently close to it to take immediate charge in the event of enemy contact, patiently listening to the men’s incessant banter, perceiving that it gave them release and reflected their concerns. He allowed the resilience of the strong minority to bolster the courage of the weaker majority and never neglected to see his soldiers fed, even if the soya sausages were cold and the bread stale. If he thought a battle plan unnecessarily risky, he would tell his company commander, but get on with the job if no change was made.

Jary’s book on soldiering is a set work at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
Sydney Walter Jary was born in Essex in 1924, the only son of Sidney (sic) Jary, a wholesale fish merchant and his wife, Winifred. He was educated at Chigwell School, volunteered for the army in 1942 and was commissioned the next year.

As his service with 4th Somersets continued, his skill as a fighting and reconnaissance patrol leader increased, and it is likely that patrol duty consequently fell heavily on 18 Platoon. On one occasion his company commander invited him and another platoon commander to toss for who should lead a fighting patrol to locate any enemy forward of the battalion’s position on the edge of the Reichswald Forest. Jary assumed that the winner would lead the patrol, but lost and was told to lead anyway.

He was able to pinpoint six enemy machinegun posts, but had to pass two German-held farm buildings to make his return. He threw several grenades through the open windows and hurried on. He was awarded the Military Cross for this operation, which he judged less useful than others he had led and grew sceptical of the merit of fighting patrols.

While acknowledging the value of reconnaissance and standing patrols to gather battlefield information and give warning of an enemy attack, he suspected that patrols to “dominate no man’s land”, so often resulting in casualties, were often a demonstration to higher command of a battalion’s offensive attitude. He regarded sniping, by either side, as cold-blooded killing that, beyond making the receiving side jumpy and extra cautious, gave no tactical advantage.

He had his own close shaves. Towards the end of the campaign in February 1945 his battalion was advancing into a village southeast of Cleve on the edge of the Reichswald when a German parachutist sprang from a ditch and fired the entire magazine of his Schmeisser sub-machinegun at ten yards range. One round passed through Jary’s beret; one grazed his shoulder strap and a third ricocheted off the road and grazed his hand. The German threw away his weapon and surrendered. However, Jary’s elation was brief — he turned to see his leading section commander lying in the road, shot dead through the heart.

Sydney Jary volunteered for the army in 1942. Although ruthless, he felt concern for every man of his platoon, and when he saw soldiers of a Scottish regiment hustling a German prisoner into a run at the point of the bayonet he admonished them, pointing out that they would not expect to be treated like that if taken prisoner.

His survival was remarkable. On meeting him towards the end of the war, his corps commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks, said: “Good Lord, Jary. You’re still alive!”

He remained unmarried until the campaign was over, but on 28 days’ leave he met Margaret “Peggy” Wetherly, the young widow of Flight-Lieutenant Jack Wetherly, who had been killed in 1943. They were married in 1947 and he adopted Peggy’s three-year-old daughter, Anne. They had a son, Christopher, who is a retired civil servant, and a daughter, Elizabeth, who is married with children. Peggy died in 1995, and in 2003 Jary married Hélène Stevenson. They lived in Montpezat-de-Quercy in Tarn-et-Garonne, north of Toulouse, until his death. She survives him along with his children and stepdaughter.

Initially he considered becoming a regular soldier. He served with 1st Battalion The Hampshire Regiment in Palestine and Libya until leaving to work for a publishing company, later forming a small company of his own. Jary was also a magistrate on the Wallington Bench from 1970.

He organised a reunion of the surviving members of 18 Platoon in May 1986, which led to the book recounting their adventures and comradeship during the war. He dedicated it to the memory of his first wife’s late husband and to the soldiers, living or dead, of 18 Platoon, D Company, 4th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. He was appointed to the Legion of Honour by the government of France in 2005 to mark his part in the liberation of their country in 1944.

Subsequently he thought deeply about the actions that he and his comrades of 18 Platoon faced in combat, with special thought for the wounded. In the advance towards Bremen, his men repulsed a small, local counter- attack with rapid fire that left the enemy strewn on the ground. A few minutes later a German stretcher party appeared under a Red Cross flag, but hesitated as it left cover. Jary stood up and waved it forward. As the party left with the dead and wounded, the officer in charge stood and saluted towards Jary’s position, so he stood and returned the salute, signalling the camaraderie of front-line soldiers.

Sydney Jary, MC, wartime infantry officer and publisher, was born on May 24, 1924. He died on August 5, 2019, aged 95.



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