Major Henry Druce, who has died aged 85, won the DSO and the Croix de Guerre while serving with the SAS behind enemy lines in the Second World War.
In 1944 Druce was serving as a captain in the 2nd Special Air Service Regiment (2 SAS). On August 12, as part of an operation code-named Loyton, he was in command of a small advance party which was dropped into the Vosges.
Their objective was to reconnoitre the area, contact the French Resistance, establish a suitable dropping zone for the main group and select targets for future action.
Druce was not supposed to have gone on the mission at all; but, at the last minute, the troop commander lost his nerve and pulled out. Druce was rushed to the airfield, where he was quickly briefed. His party was dropped 40 miles west of Strasbourg in an area of ravines and deeply wooded mountains.
He set up a base camp, but had to move out quickly when he discovered that the location had been betrayed to the enemy. A week later he reported that 5,000 German troops were combing the area for them. His difficulties increased when the loss of the group’s wireless sets cut communications with their base.
For the next two weeks, Druce’s party was hunted and harried, and was often short of food and close to exhaustion. Yet it managed to dodge the German patrols and inflicted casualties on the enemy which were out of all proportion to the size of their force.
One morning Druce led his Jeeps into the town of Moussey just as an SS commander was assembling his men. Druce accelerated towards the Germans, opened fire at 40 yards and, having expended several pans of ammunition, took off into the mountains.
He inflicted many casualties and caused so much confusion that 250 troops withdrew from the town in disorder in the belief that a greatly superior force had arrived. On September 29 he and a comrade headed west on foot to the American lines, carrying a Panzer division order of battle which had been passed to them by a Maquis commander. They were challenged by German sentries and passed through the enemy lines three times before handing over the documents.
Druce flew back to England early in October. He was awarded an immediate DSO, and the citation paid tribute to the officer’s skill, daring and complete disregard for his own safety.
Henry Carey Druce was born on May 21 1921 in The Hague (his mother was Dutch), and educated at Sherborne and RMC Sandhurst before being commissioned into the Middlesex Regiment. He volunteered for the newly-formed Glider Pilot Regiment and was posted to 21st Independent Parachute Company.
He was fluent in French, Dutch and Flemish and was seconded to MI6 in 1943; but his service in Holland was cut short when his cover was blown by a Dutch agent who turned out to be working for the Germans.
After Operation Loyton, Druce was promoted to major and rejoined 2 SAS in Holland. In April 1945 he was ordered by Brigadier Mike Calvert to lead a column of 10 Jeeps north from Arnhem to penetrate the German lines. Druce protested, saying that the war was almost over, the German positions in that area were still strongly defended and that it was one of the most ridiculous schemes he had ever heard.
“Druce,” said Calvert, “are you a regular officer?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Druce.
“Well, I think you should be shot,” exclaimed the Brigadier.
Druce complied with the instruction, and, operating behind the lines, his troop allowed the retreating Germans no respite. On one occasion his Jeeps, each mounted with four Vickers machine guns, took cover in a wood and ambushed a German column with devastating effect. A comrade said afterwards that Druce was dressed for this action in corduroy trousers and a black silk top hat.
At Deelen, the troop was in a café awaiting the arrival of the Canadians before liberating the airport when a German motorcyclist arrived. In his saddle-bags was a ham that he had stolen from Arnhem. Druce, still in his top hat, ordered the man to get off his bike and, when he did not respond, seized the ham and knocked him off the machine with it.
After the war, Druce rejoined MI6, first in Holland and then in Indonesia until the latter achieved independence in 1949. Having left government service he worked in Anglo-Dutch plantations in Java until 1951 and, after 18 months’ travelling, moved with his family to Canada.
There he built up a shipping business on Newfoundland, and later in Quebec and the Cayman Islands, before retiring in 1981 and settling in Victoria, British Columbia, where he remained active in business, enjoyed golf and kept in touch with old comrades’ associations.
Druce was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm for his services with the French Resistance and was made an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau for his work in Indonesia.
Henry Druce died on January 4. He married, in 1942, Mary Docker, who survives him with a son and two daughters.