Former Yarmouth schoolboy commanded the South Arabian Army and calmly quelled a mutiny
- Credit: Archant
SADLY, the word “hero” has been devalued in recent years. A sportsman who scores a goal, run or try is hailed as a “hero” in screaming headlines. Celebrities are tagged as heroes for some trifling deed or other.
But a man fully justifying hero status, and decorated because of his valour and inspirational leadership, is a Great Yarmouthian for whom a memorial service was held on Friday.
Major-General Jack Bertie Dye, aged 93 when he died, was one of the rapidly diminishing group of survivors who fought in the 1939-45 war.
I can provide little information about his boyhood in Yarmouth for, according to an obituarist in a national newspaper, “his origins remain deliberately obscure. This very private man left a letter with his regimental historian declaring he would not divulge details of his early life. The regiment has no record of his birthplace or school.”
But it is a fact that he attended Yarmouth Grammar School in the 1930s and, on the sports field he was a formidable footballer and cricketer – often as captain – and all-round athlete. This information comes from research by the school historian, Michael Boon, for his detailed 2010 book about the school. He talked to Jack Dye before writing the book and felt “he was a very notable old Grammarian.”
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Jack Dye was appointed a prefect, appeared in school plays, belonged to the Debating and Historical and Geographical Societies and, not surprisingly, enrolled in the school’s Army Cadet Force company, rising to the rank of sergeant and attending two camps at Hunstanton.
The name of Major J B Dye, of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, was recorded on the school “decorations and awards” board for the 1939-45 war as recipient of the Military Cross. He became a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1960s.
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Today the school is Yarmouth High School. For a copy of Mr Boon’s book (£14.50), phone 665862.
Jack Dye’s distinguished military career embraced two theatres – the second world war and the later troubles in the Middle East that earned him a national obituary headline: “Commander of the South Arabian Army who calmly quelled a mutiny.”
After taking part in the D-Day landings in 1944, he led a crucial stealthy night infiltration to a fortified mansion near the Rhine, penetrating dense forest without alerting the Germans. He guided a whole battalion through without incident, caught the occupied house completely by surprise, then attacked enemy troops in the garden, taking prisoners throughout.
His men were subjected to heavy artillery fire, but he organised his defences and drove off a determined counter-attack before leading them through forest, seeing off more counter-attacks and an ambush and setting up an outpost.
Field-Marshal Montgomery signed the recommendation for his immediate Military Cross which said: “So inspiring was his leadership that the morale of his tired men was kept at a very high level and further efforts by the Boche to dislodge him were repelled with great determination.
“Throughout three days and nights with scarcely any sleep, this officer showed a standard... which infected his whole company and without which a very difficult operation could not have been so successfully accomplished.”
After the war Jack Dye served in Egypt, Hong Kong, Cyprus and Germany, and was an instructor at the School of Infantry. In the 1960s he commanded the East Anglian Regiment and the lst Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment.
One of his most testing appointments involved diplomatic skills as well as a commanding presence and bravery. For two years in the 1960s he led the 17-state Arabian Federation’s 15,000-strong regular army at an important period of its existence. Dye had to implement policy decisions and maintain stability at a volatile time when the British withdrawal from Aden was imminent, there were tribal rivalries within his troops, extremist propaganda was rife and there was “virtually no support from the weak federal government to whose ministers he was responsible.”
He managed this knife-edge situation but nonetheless, some soldiers mutinied, burning down barracks and breaking into the armoury. Wrote one obituarist: “It is a measure of Dye’s success that the rest of his force remained loyal and played a vital role in helping to restore order. Deprived of support from above and below which a commander could normally expect, Dye lived a lonely and at times dangerous existence.”
His success resulted in his appointment as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE). He had been made an OBE in 1965.
Jack Dye was General Officer Commanding the Eastern District and Colonel Commandant of the Queen’s Division before leaving the Army, settling in Suffolk where he was a governor of Framlingham College, strawberry and asparagus farmer and organiser of two shoots. Also, he was a talented picture-framer and fly fisherman. He was Vice Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk for nine years.
“General Jack’s” wife of 71 years, Jean, and two daughters survive him. The memorial service took place at Framlingham College.
Another death this summer was entertainer Mike Winters, 82, a skilled clarinettist who played the straight man to brother Bernie’s goofiness. They comprised one of Britain’s leading comedy duos and were among the earliest stars of television variety, attracting huge viewing figures.
Their favourite venue for summer seasons was Yarmouth where they allegedly established a record that may stand for all time. One national newspaper obituary stated: “They did summer seasons in Yarmouth where in 1967, despite the resort also boasting Rolf Harris, Morecambe and Wise and Val Doonican, each in their own rival shows, Mike and Bernie broke all box-office records for the season – an achievement that still stands.”
The Winters brothers were at the Britannia Pier that year; their other rivals were Freddie and the Dreamers and Ruby Murray (Windmill).
However, Caister-based historian and author Colin Tooke, in his comprehensive 2007 book That’s Entertainment: Theatres and Cinemas of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, writes: “The 1977 Mike and Bernie Winters Show (Britannia Pier) broke all previous box-office records for audience and income, a record that was broken again the following year by the Peters and Lee Show. “The all-time box office record for a Britannia resident summer show is held by the 1981 Cannon and Ball Showtime ‘81.”
The Winters brothers, who also headlined on the Wellington Pier in summer 1964, broke into showbusiness by winning a talent contest in Manchester and being given a three-day engagement in Yarmouth and Lowestoft. After their success peaked, they split up, with Bernie bringing his St Bernard dog Schnorbitz into the act, but the brothers were reconciled before Bernie’s death in 1991.