Roseveare DSO, John Couch Adams (Tim)

Roseveare DSO, John Couch Adams (Tim)

The following appeared in the newspaper on 20 November 2000, and is reproduced by kind permission of The Daily Telegraph.

MAJOR TIM ROSEVEARE, who has died aged 86, was awarded an immediate DSO after parachuting into Normandy on the night of the 5-6 June 1944 in advance of the main D-Day landings. Roseveare was in command of 3rd Squadron Royal Engineers, part of 3rd Parachute Brigade. The tasks of the brigade included the destruction of four bridges to protect the eastern flank of the Allies from German armored forces massed close by. The most vital bridge was east of the town of Troarn. Before the action, the Brigade Commander, Brigadier James Hill, warned his units: “Do not be daunted if chaos reigns – since undoubtedly it will.” In the event, despite the bravery of the RAF pilots, virtually all of the brigade landed in the wrong zones.

Roseveare was in the leading aircraft and after the drop found himself just after midnight five miles away from his targets. Undaunted, he gathered such men and explosives as could be mustered and with the heavily laden party set out on the long march to their objectives. A Jeep and trailer brought in by glider and belonging to 224 Parachute Field Ambulance RAMC emerged from the darkness. Roseveare had no compunction about commandeering it, since lack of transport might make all the difference between success and failure. Progress was slow since many of the men had been injured in the drop. Roseveare split the party into two. The first group was dispatched on foot to two unguarded bridges at Burres. But it was clear that without infantry protection only a “coup de main” operation would succeed against the main target, the bridge at Troarn. Medical stores were unloaded from the trailer and replaced with explosive charges. Roseveare took the wheel of the Jeep; also on board were an officer, two NCOs, six men and half a ton of explosives. It was still dark and the Jeep ran into a barbed wire roadblock just outside Troarn. While the party was extricating it, a German soldier with a rifle on a bicycle approached and started shouting. He was quickly silenced, but the sound of shots inevitably alerted the Germans defending the town.
Roseveare nevertheless drove straight through the town, although top speed was only about 30mph because of the heavy load. As they rounded a sharp bend a group of Germans was waiting and a dramatic fight ensued as the Jeep sped on with all guns blazing through a hail of fire. The Germans quickly set up a machinegun and as the sappers charged down the main street, a stream of tracer passed immediately overhead. One of the men, Sapper Peachey, acted as rear gunner on the trailer, lying precariously on top of the explosives with his Bren gun. He maintained a steady fire, obliging the Germans to take cover. The Jeep speed-ed up as it careered down the steep slope of the main street. Unfortunately, Peachey was thrown off the bucking trailer, injured and subsequently captured. When the party reached the bridge half a mile beyond the town, a “hasty” demolition was prepared and a six-yard gap blown in the main span. This cut off German reinforcements and isolated their garrison in Troarn during the crucial phase of the operation. Roseveare and his men ditched the Jeep in a nearby flooded field and swam through several water courses before taking to the woods.” Eventually,” he recalled, “we came across an elderly Frenchman milking a cow. When I told him he had been liberated, he was not impressed. Perhaps he could not understand my accent. Finally, we arrived at 3 Brigade HQ at midday, a very bedraggled and exhausted party, having been shot at by the Germans, bombed by the RAF, shelled by the Navy and unappreciated by the French.” While Roseveare was awarded a DSO, three other officers of his squadron were awarded MCs and two NCOs received the Military Medal. Despite heavy casualties, all the bridges intended for demolition had been destroyed against the odds.

John Couch Adams Roseveare, always known as Tim, was born on 16 February 1914 and educated at Hurstpierpoint. He went on to King’s College, London, to read Engineering and took a First in 1934. He then joined the firm of M G & R W Weeks and undertook sewerage and water-supply design work. Later, following in the footsteps of his father, also a civil engineer, he worked for river authorities on improvement schemes in the Fens and Somerset Levels, including the first reinforced concrete lock in Britain. After the outbreak of war in 1939 he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers and sent to France. When the BEF was overrun in May 1940, he made an adventurous escape to England. At one point he hid in a haystack and was prodded but undetected by German soldiers with bayonets. From 1941 until late 1942 he was an instructor at Aldershot before joining 6th Airborne Divisional Engineers. After completing all of its tasks on D-Day, 3rd Parachute Squadron RE fought on and later undertook normal field engineer tasks. During the break-out operation on August 17 1944, the squadron constructed an assault bridge at Burres to replace the two bridges previously destroyed. The Squadron reached Honfleur before the whole division was recalled to England to prepare for further airborne operations. In December, after the Germans had counter-attacked in the Ardennes, 6th Airborne Division arrived in Ostend by sea on Christmas Day and Roseveare and 3rd Parachute Squadron were at war again in the Battle of the Bulge. Their role was bridging, mine clearing, patrolling and fighting in the bitter cold. In February the division returned to England to prepare for the greatest airborne operation of all – the crossing of the Rhine on March 24 1945. This was completely successful and 3rd Parachute Squadron continued to support the division during the assault and advance through Germany as far as the Baltic coast, where they met the Russians just before VE day on 8 May 1945. After demobilization in 1946 Roseveare joined Binnie, Deacon and Gourley, a firm of consulting engineers in London. Among his first assignments was work on the design of the Colombo Water Works. He was later appointed resident engineer on the River Severn water scheme for Coventry City Corporation. From 1953 to 1956 he was resident engineer in Hong Kong on the Tai Lam Chung scheme, which was being constructed to provide urgently needed water supplies for Kowloon and other parts of the New Territories.

He joined Freeman, Fox and Partners in 1957 to work on the design of hydroelectric projects in the mountains of North Wales including the Ffestiniog pumped storage scheme for the generation of electricity for the expanding and fluctuating needs of Birmingham and the West Midlands. When completed, this ingenious system was the largest of its kind in the world. Roseveare traveled extensively for the firm in connection with road, railway bridge and power projects in South America, the Middle East, Poland and South Korea. He was appointed by the Home Office under the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act 1930 to a panel on which a small group of civil engineers were permitted “to design, supervise construction of, and report upon the safety of large reservoirs and dams within the United Kingdom”.

The author of numerous papers,Roseveare was awarded a joint Telford Prize in 1955 and the James Watt Medal in 1965. In 1970 he was made a partner of Freeman, Fox and Partners and participated in many more worldwide projects, including the Hong Kong cross-harbor tunnel, the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul and the Kotri bridge in Pakistan. He retired in 1979. Whenever his duties permitted and in his years of retirement, Tim Roseveare made the annual pilgrimage to Normandy on 6 June, where he was welcomed at Troarn as its liberator. His name and the 3rd Parachute Squadron RE plaque have a prominent place of honor on the wall behind the town’s war memorial, and part of the main street was renamed after Roseveare.

Tim Roseveare married, in 1940, Ursula Littlewood, but after a long separation the marriage was dissolved. He married secondly, in 1970, Clare Sylvia Dixon-Smith, who survives him, together with a son from his first marriage.

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