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David Paton

Obituary: David Paton, who has died aged 95, was the Lanarkshire-born medical officer who saw action with 2 Commando in the raid on St Nazaire in 1942, sometimes called �The Greatest Raid of All�.

Hamilton doctor who took part in The Greatest Raid of All'; Born July 30, 1912; Died July 10, 2008.

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David Paton, who has died aged 95, was the Lanarkshire-born medical officer who saw action with 2 Commando in the raid on St Nazaire in 1942, sometimes called "The Greatest Raid of All". The objective was the destruction of the sole dock-refuge on the Atlantic seaboard for the Tirpitz, so neutralising the threat from Germany's mightiest battleship.

Neither planning nor execution of the raid lacked audacity: the St Nazaire dock lay in the Loire estuary, four miles from the sea.

The operation successfully put the dock out of action when - disguised as a German warship and her bows packed with four tons of explosives - the destroyer HMS Campbeltown exploded. Five VCs were won, the most ever gained in a single action during the Second World War, with more than 132 other awards for gallantry.

Paton, whose laconic views extended to writing a sanguine letter to his wife before the action, was one of the few who returned alive and uninjured. Some 169 others were killed and 214 taken prisoner.

Campbeltown sailed from Falmouth on March 26 accompanied by two escort destroyers and two small craft, Paton travelling with the Commandos aboard one of 16 B-class motor launches. Plans included communication in captured enemy codes.

The ruse worked until one mile from the dock gate, when, as Paton later recorded: "All hell broke loose." Searchlights "by the dozen" illuminated the flotilla, making them targets for all available weaponry.

Paton's short-lived cover proved to be a depth charge on deck, which later exploded. In a letter to Phyllis, his wife of less than a year, to be read in the event of his death, Paton wrote: "It may be of some comfort to you to know that if I go down, at least I go down in an attack, and I want you to hold your head high as I am managing to do despite my forebodings."

The dock blockhouse planned as his onshore medical post targeted his launch, with Paton treating casualties under fire. Only one of the 16 launches managed a landing. Hours later, Campbeltown exploded, making the dry dock useless for the remainder of the war. Seven months later, the RAF finally sank the Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord.

Only three launches made it home to Falmouth, and when Paton was asked in which launch he had sailed, he replied: "All of them." In swells of up to 30 feet, he had jumped from vessel to vessel, tending the wounded.

He arrived in Falmouth to less than a hero's welcome. Unwashed and with three days' stubble, he was greeted by an immaculate Voluntary Aid Detachment woman who told him: "Doctor, you haven't shaved."

Paton went into action again on D-Day when he landed on Sword Beach with Commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade, ending the war as lieutenant-colonel.

David Paton was born in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, and educated at Hamilton Academy before graduating in medicine from Glasgow University. His first post was at the Western Infirmary until call-up to the medical corps in 1939. Training posts included stints in Orkney and then Ayr, where he was seconded to the Commandos.

After the war he settled in Buckinghamshire as a GP. He continued after retirement as a police surgeon for the Thames Valley force, and had been secretary of the Thames Valley division of the British Medical Association, and president of Windsor Medical Society and of his local branch of the Royal British Legion.

His wife, Phyllis, nee Dimmock, predeceased him, and he is survived by two sons and two daughters.

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