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Thomas Bland

Scots Guards platoon commander

Scots Guards platoon commander

Born: February 8, 1921; Died: February 5, 2014.

TOM Bland, who has died aged 92, was a Scots Guards platoon commander who took part in the 1943 allied landings at Salerno, Italy, fought the bloody battles for Monte Cassino and was awarded an immediate Military Cross (MC) for his heroism in the later battle for Monte di San Michele, near Florence.

Having survived serious wounds, he went on to have a peaceful career in the City of London as an insurance broker and a "Name" (member and underwriter) of Lloyds of London for the rest of his life.

Thomas Riviere Bland was born on February 8, 1921, in Godstone, a village near Reigate, Surrey, the son of Charles Riviere Bland. After attending Eton, he trained as a military cadet at Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Scots Guards in 1941 when the Nazi threat of invading Britain was extremely real.

He first served with the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards (2SG) fighting towards the end of the campaign in North Africa. In Tunisia, he recalled, while trying to reach his men under fire in the dark of the desert night, he felt his way past what he thought was a woolly rug hanging from a wall in his quarters. It turned out it was a sleeping camel which quickly woke and scared him as much as the enemy might have.

In September 1943, he led his platoon during the allied landings in Salerno where they met fierce resistance from German and Italian forces.

He and his men, mostly Scots, advanced inland to what had become known as the Gustav Line. It was difficult terrain, mountainous and rocky, but his boys had either grown up or trained in such terrain. With the encouragement of the bagpipes, they drove the enemy back.

Monte Cassino became a major obstacle. The hill and its famous monastery had to be taken to open the road to Rome and to victory in Italy. Backed by smoke canisters fired via Royal Artillery shells, Captain Bland and his platoon made it along what the troops called the Mad Mile, Italian Highway 6 in the valley beneath the German gunners.

They tried to move up the hill in the dark along with other allied forces, but they were sitting ducks for the German gunners. In the end, after four allied assaults and many casualties in Captain Bland's battalion, Monte Cassino was taken, in a thrust led by Polish forces, and the road to Rome was open.

Two months later, in July 1944, Captain Bland, by then with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards (1SG) led his platoon on an attack on Monte di San Michele, a strategic hill south of Florence, another important objective held by the Axis forces who were building their new Gothic Line of defence.

Tackling the scrub-covered hill, they came under heavy enemy fire from both rifles and Spandau machine guns, followed by "friendly fire" from allied units who could not believe the Scots Guards had climbed so far.

Then came the German mortars, one of which wounded the platoon leader in the face, chest and arms.

Pinned down, he insisted on continuing to command his men for several hours until the enemy were over-run by allied units and the hill captured. He was then evacuated to a field hospital.

The citation for awarding him an immediate MC said he had shown the greatest bravery, leadership and unfailing cheerfulness.

After the war, he went into the insurance industry, joining the brokerage firm Hartley Cooper, where he went on to become chairman from 1972 until his retirement in 1977. He had become a member of Lloyds of London immediately after the war and remained so throughout his life.

On retirement, he settled and farmed at Debden, in the Epping Forest area of Essex, where he became known locally as a fine woodworker, equally at home in the fields or on his lathe.

He also maintained regular contact with the Scots Guards, notably joining them at memorial services.

He was married three times, first, from 1946-61, to Katherine Bruce, daughter of the 7th Lord Balfour of Burleigh (Kinross), who had served in the Intelligence Corps and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, as chairman of Lloyds Bank and as Deputy Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire. In 1962, he married Mary Millar. In 1976, he married Joan Catchpole, who predeceased him.

He is survived by son Charles and daughters Susanna and Louise, all from his first marriage to Katherine Bruce and all members of the Balfour of Burleigh family.

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