NEWMAN, Lt Col. Augustus Charles, VC
Lt. Colonel Newman was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry whilst Military Force Commander of Operation Chariot, St. Nazaire.
An account by Bob Bishop No 2 Commando from his history of No 2:
"As soon as the name Colonel Newman is invoked, the reaction is always ST. NAZAIRE! But, there was more to Charlie than his epic leadership as Military Force Commander at that battle of March 28th, 1942. If one wants to know about the exact dates of when Charlie left his role in No. 3 Independent Company, or when he arrived or left Paignton, Weymouth, Dumfries, Lockerbie or Ayr, and perhaps details of his pre-war Territorial Army service, ample information on these events can be obtained from the many books written by ‘historians’ who somehow catalogued such data without ever knowing Charlie.
This author likes to reminisce about the Colonel’s tremendous work in recruiting, training and forging a fighting unit that he could lead into battle anytime and at anyplace. Charlie managed to keep his troops at a razor-sharp level of efficiency despite the winter of discontent and impatience of 1940 and the year of frustration that followed it in 1941. Under a lesser leader morale would have surely gone to pot, but Charlie, by clever use of novel training programmes which he dreamed up, managed by sheer force of personality to actually improve the ‘readiness’ condition of the Commando, day by day.
It sticks in my mind that during the days that followed the raid on St. Nazaire, my friends and myself never did any talking about that event. When new replacements arrived to rebuild the Commando and wanted to know about what happened there, they never answered by anything other than non-committal remarks. However, when this or that was debated, Charlie’s views as we had known them were always offered as solutions to differences of opinions. Colonel Jack Churchill arrived to fill Charlie’s spot as C.O. The Commando welcomed ‘Mad Jack’ as its new leader and over the space of the next two and a half years he became a magnificent Commander. But in those days it seemed only a temporary arrangement. Maybe we thought that Charlie would somehow show up and take over again.
There are a couple of memories that this author has of Charlie that cannot be found in any book. A boxing tournament had been arranged between No. 2 Commando and a local artillery unit stationed near Ayr. Before the first bout commenced, the artillery C.O. entered the hall and took his ringside seat amid some mutterings from his own men to the effect of ‘officers always getting the best seats’. Then Charlie made his entrance and difference could be compared to codfish versus caviar. The entire Commando rose up and belted out this verse:
Clap hands! - Here comes Charlie!
Clap hands! - GOOD OLD CHARLIE!
Clap hands! - Here’s OUR CHARLIE now!!
The Colonel grinned, and turned with his hands clasped above his head in the prize-fighter manner to acknowledge what he knew was a genuine expression of admiration from his boys. The artillery lads looked on in disbelief. They just could not understand how we respected and admired our Charlie.
The most important memory in my military life is the saga of events concerning my attempts to volunteer for Commando service with Col. Newman. It began with myself, then 17, feeling somewhat in a useless situation within the confines of Britannia Barracks, Norwich. A Notice had been posted on the board which declared that: ‘All ranks may apply at the company office to be interviewed at a date to be arranged for the purpose of volunteering for Commando service’. This was an instruction from the all-highest, the Army Council, and I foolishly thought that no one could circumvent that and they would have to let me volunteer … Silly me! I should have known that the Army Council instruction would be dismissed as rubbish by our exalted Company Sergeant Major Cooper. This author, then so naïve, rushed to the company office eager to have his name put on the Commando volunteer list. C.S.M. Cooper gave me his usual friendly glower and greeted me with a jocular ‘What do you bloody want?’ My response was that I wished to volunteer for the Commandos. I think I added ‘Sir’ at the end of my request just to mollify the old rotter. C.S.M. Cooper carefully considered my request for all of two seconds then gave me his decision with his famous roar and snarl combination, ‘OUT!’. Then he asked me a very pertinent question, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’. Without waiting for a response from me to this friendly inquiry he stabbed at the door direction with a finger and yelled ‘OUT!’ once more. He was in fine voice that day and as I trudged down the company office steps I thought that the word impasse really was a French description of our Sgt. Major. There was no way, it seemed, to get around such an immovable object. But my utter dejection was short-lived. Lady Luck arrived and intervened on my behalf. That delightful lady arranged for C.S.M. Cooper to be the victim of a tragic motorcycle accident the very next night and Sgt. Major Cooper was as dead as a mackerel. The way was clear and Cpl. Friston, the company clerk, added my name to the list of volunteers with no argument.
Charlie arrived at Britannia Barracks shortly after all this happened and it should be recorded as to how he was helped in his recruiting endeavours. Charlie had to find a room for himself in town and was not offered the hospitality of the officers’ mess. He had to conduct his interviews within the luxurious confines of the men’s canteen. This author recalls that Charlie evaluated him from across the billiard table. I think he had to rummage for my papers between two itinerant red-balls. But I arrived one day thereafter to take my place in his command and it was all so very worthwhile.
One day in early 1942 we were practicing manhandling some rather heavy equipment up the cliffs at the Heads-of-Ayr. Charlie called out to me, ‘Move that rope grapple to the left, SON!” That form of family address personified Charlie’s relationship with all his boys.
Our Charlie passed away April 26th, 1972. He was 68."
All content researched and created by the Commando Veterans Archive www.commandoveterans.org