Harry Wall Poat

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Harry Wall Poat, D.S.O., M.C. (1914-1980) was one of the 'Originals' of 1SAS.


Contents

Biography

He was born at Baubigny, St Sampson's to Frank Wall Poat and Eliza Emma Jones on 15 June 1914. His education was at Elizabeth College and then Reading University where he read for a BSc in agriculture. On coming down from University he raised a loan to finance the construction of a small vinery which he worked himself – and had just cleared the debt by the outbreak of the Second World War.


War Service

Already commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in 1939 in the Guernsey Militia, on its disbandment shortly before the German Occupation he joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and was gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant on 12 March 1940.

In July 1940 he returned to Guernsey as part of the ill-fated “Operation Ambassador” launched against the island’s south coast. He was then sent to the Middle East and sometime before 1942 became a member of the embryonic SAS.

Harry Poat was the first to leave Bir Guedaffia, leading a patrol to make a show of strength on the west side of Tripoli at the express wish of Montgomery. They shot up any Axis vehicle they encountered, occasionally with unhappy results. “Italian high-ranking officers travelled in very lavish caravans,” recalls one of the men with Poat. “One day we saw three of these caravans. “Christ, it’s got to be some big-wig,” we thought. They didn’t have an escort so we got down on to the road - there were three jeeps – and while one waited at the back the other two drove up along either side. These caravans had windows at the top and because it was so hot the doors were open; we just drove along, raked them with machine-gun fire and chucked grenades through the doors.” The SAS dismounted, eager to count their bag, but to their dismay they discovered that “it wasn’t officers we’d killed, it was Italian prostitutes. We’d wiped out three travelling brothels”.

March 1943 SAS reorganized into the Special Raiding Squadron and placed under the overall command of HQ Raiding Forces.


SRS consisted of three troops, each of 3 officers and 60 men. “Major Harry Poat was appointed OC of Two Troop.” SRS moved to Palestine for training. After a month of “abnormally hard work” the three troops were pitted against one another in an endurance march. Each troop would be dropped off on the banks of Lake Tiberias to march back to their coastal camp in under 24 hours. The distance was about 45 miles over rough and difficult country in the heat of the Palestine summer. 02 May 1943 he was in the SRS rugby team for Middle East Sports Day.

10 July 1943 he led forward Troop on the attack on the six gun Coastal Defence Battery at Cape Murro di Porco, Sicily (for which he was awarded the Military Cross.) Two days later The officers of Two Troop were called to Poat’s cabin on the Ulster Monarch in the morning. They found him standing over a map of the eastern coast of Sicily. “With a deliberate forefinger,” recalled Davis, “Harry pointed to a strangely shaped peninsula on the map”...”You see that town there; well, that is Augusta, an important naval port which must be captured without delay. It seems from reliable reports that a white flag has been observed flying above the citadel, which rather suggests that the town has been evacuated. It’s therefore important for our troops to occupy this important base without delay, so it’s been planned for the Monarch to sail straight into the harbour and land our unit in the town by means of landing craft”. Two Troop were the last to embark in the LCAs during the evening landing and capture of the town despite fierce resistance from German troops. Following day spent “making deep inroads into the town’s alcoholic stocks”. The rest of July wasspent in camp at Augusta. The days were blissful, nights horrendous with enemy air attacks. The SRS slept on board the Monarch, until the ship next door was hit by a bomb. Then they slept ashore. Still the Luftwaffe came. Poat, as usual, took it all in his stride. “In the middle of a conversation a sudden vicious whistle in the air overhead would send us all flat on our faces… all of us, that’s to say, with the exception of Harry who would remain standing there and carrying on the conversation as though nothing had happened”. September & October were spent in various landings on the Italian coat ending at Termoli where a fierce counter-attack by the Germans. By the end of November they left Italy for North Africa then back to England.

Early 1944 Harry Poat, now a major, was second-in command of 1st S.A.S. 01 April 1944 Capt H W Poat (123359) from K.O.S.B. to be War Subs. Capt., 1st Apr 1944, retaining his present seniority. (London Gazette, S.A.S. list)

31 August 1944 he arrived at Operation Haggard (north of Bourges, east Loire) to evaluate the position. While there he reported to Paddy Mayne. 03 September 1944 Left Haggard for Operation Kipling (further to the north-east).

March 1945 David Danger remembered hearing about an incident involving Harry Poat and Captain McEwan, the motor transport officer, after a few drinks. “They rang up the Prime Minister and made some rude remark and next day there was an awful hoo-ha.” Fought along the Rhine in Operation Archway as commander of “A” and “D” squadrons of 1 SAS 30 March 1945 he lead an advance of 6 Airborne Division when ambushed by a company of the enemy 08 Apr 1945 they were ambushed by SS troops near Minden on the road to Nienburg (for these actions he was awarded the DSO). By 03 May the SAS had reached Kiel. Oct 1945 he was Lt-Col Mayne’s deputy in the 1st SAS. On the cessation of hostilities and the disbandment of his unit he became second-in command of the London Scottish, retaining this post until demobilisation.

Post War

Harry Poat returned to Guernsey and threw himself into local life. On 1 Jan 1949 he was elected with a record poll as Peoples’ Deputy for St Sampson's. Member of the Housing Authority, Tourist Committee, Military Service Committee, and Outdoor Assistance Board. On 21 Dec 1951 he left the States due to pressure of the family business, but he continued as President of the Central Committee of the Royal British Legion.

On 2 Dec 1953 Major Harry Wall Poat (D.S.O., M.C. (123359) was appointed Aide-de-Camp (additional) to the Queen 2nd Dec, 1953 vice Maj. (Hon Lt-Col.) R.W.Randall (tenure expired), and is granted the hon. rank of Lt-Col. (London Gazette).

On 30 June 1971 Poat was elected Jurat of the Royal Court. On 26 Jan 1975, he was appointed Acting-Magistrate.

On 14 Oct 1980 Harry Wall Poat died of a lung disease (fibrosing alveolitis) a few days after returning to his home at Millmount, Candie from a course of treatment in the United Kingdom. On 23 Dec 1980 a notification of his death appeared in the London Gazette.

Tributes

“A man with a disciplined mind in war and peace” - Conseiller Roydon Falla

“He spoke with a cut-glass accent, sported a Ronald Colman moustache and even in the desert he was immaculately attired”. “You could have taken Harry Poat,” says MacDougall, “pulled him through a smoking chimney and he would still have appeared as if he’d just come out for dinner”. (extract from Stirling’s Men by Gavin Mortimer).

“Wonderful….. polite, quiet, but underneath a man of steel” (quote from Arthur Thomson in Stirling’s Men by Gavin Mortimer).


References

  • Guernsey People by L. James Marr
  • Stirling’s Men by Gavin Mortimer
  • SAS: The First Secret Wars by Tim Jones
  • These Men Are Dangerous by D.I. Harrison
  • Fire From The Forest by Roger Ford
  • The Royal Guernsey Militia by Major Edwin Parks
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