Major General J Y Whitfield CB DSO and Bar OBE
John Yeldham Whitfield was born 11th October, 1899. and educated at Monmouth School and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was commissioned into The Queen’s Royal Regiment in December 1918 and thereafter served for many years, in West and East Africa. In 1942 he returned to England to take command of a battalion of his Regiment in The Queen’s Brigade of 56th (London) Division. This battalion, the 2/5th Queen’s, he took to Iraq and to the closing stages of the 8th Army’s campaign in North Africa; to Europe and the assault landing at Salerno, thence across the Volturno to Monte Camino. It was in the capture of the Monte Camino monastery that he personally led the attack exchanging shots with the Germans with his revolver while advancing from rock to rock.
In January 1944, having acted as Brigade Commander on and off since Salerno, he was finally re-promoted Brigadier (he had been Brigadier General Staff to General Sir George Giffard in West Africa until his return to England in 1942). As a Brigade Commander in the 5th Division he fought on the Garigliano and through three testing months at Anzio. In July he had a few days away from battle when he took 15th Brigade to Egypt. Although a fine staff officer and administrator, he could not be kept from command for long; in fact his next appointment as BGS, 5 Corps, in Italy, to which he then returned, he held for some fifteen days only.
General Templer, Commander, 56th (London) Division, had been recalled to England. In a matter of minutes on the 26th July, 1944, he handed over command to Major General John Whitfield at the Eden Hotel, Rome, with a toast to his and the Division’s success drunk by them both in Italian champagne.
From August 1944 he was more or less continuously in action during the last stages of the Italian campaign: Gothic line, Senio battles, crossing the Rubicon into the northern plains of Italy until he entered Venice at the head of his Division in March 1945. The Grand Hotel on the Grand Canal provided a worthy headquarters for him, and there he remained until the Division was moved to Trieste on the borders of Yugoslavia.
In 1946, after two years and two months as GOC 56th Division, he returned to England to command 50th Northumberland Division and Northumbrian District. He then became Chief of Staff, Northern Command, until his retirement in 1951; but from 1951 to 1955 he was specially re-employed as Inspector of Recruiting at the War Office.
One of the many honours he received was that of Commander, Legion of Merit (USA). He was also awarded the Order of the Red Star after a party of visiting Russian generals had stood in admiration on the Camino battlefield in 1944. The honour he valued most was his appointment as Colonel of his Regiment. It transpired that he was to be the last Colonel of The Queen’s Royal Regiment, for the line begun by the Earl of Peterborough in 1661 ended with him when the Regiment was amalgamated on 14th October, 1959. He played his part in the parade that day although he could not see the Duke of Edinburgh present the new Regiment with its new Colours. By then he was quite blind. He had been almost continuously in action from April 1943 until April 1945. His courage was legendary. His faith overcame all possibility of fear, and he remained untouched by shot or shell.
Major General John Whitfield died on 23rd September 1971 and his Regiment lost one of its best loved, highly respected and distinguished officers.