WWII hero Jack Tirrell repeatedly put himself in front of enemy tanks

WWII hero Jack Tirrell repeatedly put himself in front of enemy tanks

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) WWII hero Jack Tirrell who received four bravery medals including three MCs on three occasions during the war (2) A British Crusader Mk 1 tank passes a German Panzer IV tank during WWII Operation Crusader on 27th November 1941 in Egypt-Libya region (3) An 88 mm Flak 18/36 Dual Purpose (DP) gun at Imperial War Museum, London in 2004 (4) Lieutenant Colonel Jack Tirrell’s medals had emerged on auction and was sold for £48,000

Lieutenant Colonel Jack Tirrell was decorated four times for his bravery and repeatedly placing himself in front of enemy tanks during WWII to save his fellow comrades. Three Military Cross or MCs were among the four bravery medals he received. In October 1909, Thomas Josph Tirrell a.k.a. Jack, was born. At the age of 17, he was enlisted in the Army as a trumpeter. Then he served in India. In September 1939, he became Warrant Officer Class 2 in the Royal Horse Artillery during the outbreak of the WWII hostilities and was sent to France.

During the rearguard action at Dunkirk, for his composure under fire in the Blitzkrieg in May 1940 he was first decorated, when he and his battery engaged the Nazi German forces over open ground until most of Jack’s comrades had been wounded and were virtually overrun. Anglicized term Blitzkrieg means a swift and intense campaign by armored & mechanized forces to ensure victory. After his own guns had been put out of action, he stopped. Jack and his battery had to hastily destroy their guns and make for Dunkirk. For his persistent engagement with the German panzers, WWII hero Jack Tirrell received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Bravery in this war transpired several more ‘open sight’ actions by Jack. In July 1941, he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant. He was embarked for the Middle East and engaged in battles of ‘Operation Crusader’ from November 1941 to January 1942. He made great efforts in battles of Mersa Matruh and Gazala in the summer of 1942 as part of 10th Armored Division.  He won his first MC on 2nd June 1942 for action at El Tamar. On that day, WWII hero Jack Tirrell placed his tank between the 80 advancing tanks of 21st German Panzer Division and British guns 200-300 yards away and saved lives and guns.

In October 1942, he defied heavy enemy fire and minefields to make trips in his tank in North Africa to rescue 18 wounded soldiers and received a Bar to his MC. On 2nd November 1942, Jack took his own tank to pick up an officer stuck in another tank disabled by anti tank fire. He also disabled four Nazi anti tank guns including two 88 mm Flak 18/36 Dual Purpose (DP) guns, one 50mm anti tank gun and another Hostile Battery (HB). Jack also assisted in the capture of another HB and caused heavy casualties to the Nazi forces. Due to his excellent work it was possible to reach Tel Ed Aqqajir the next morning.

Tirrell silenced two enemy batteries at Fuka and enabled the Allied troops to take Fuka almost without any loss. London Gazette published on 25th February 1943 about Jack’s Bar to MC stated that his work had been beyond all praise and he had materially contributed to the Allied victory.

Jack won a second MC when he rescued a number of wounded soldiers as a troop commander of Sahagon in October-November 1942 during the Second Battle of El Alamein. Tirrell’s gallant and aggressive works also resulted in the destruction of numerous anti-tank guns. He participated in further action in the Tunisian campaign. In May 1944, he was sent to Italy.  In January 1945, Jack Tirrell won his third MC during the Allied rush through the Low Countries following the Normandy landings. As the Allied forces advanced towards the Rhine, the German’s launched a counter attack subsequently.

Jack was again noted for his part in the assault on Susteren where the Allied forces were exposed to accurate mortar, tank and German Machine Gun Spandau fire during the night 17-18th January 1945 and was awarded a second Bar to his MC. London Gazette published regarding second Bar to his MC stated that Jack’s gallantry ‘will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it’. He changed the tide of the warfare on numerous occasions.

After the war, WWII hero Jack Tirrell served in Germany, Hong Kong and was promoted to Lt Col in December 1952. He also served for three years with the British soldiers in the Arab Legion in Jordan from May 1953. His last assignment before retiring was as Commanding Officer (CO) of a training regiment at Kinmel in North Wales.

Jack was a modest, quiet and self-reliant man. After retirement he established Cambrian Horse Society and ran it successfully for 20 years. WWII hero Jack Tirrell died in January 1995.  Online edition of renowned British daily tabloid news paper, The Daily Mail reported that stories of Jack’s bravery has come to light after his medals were put up for auctions for £50,000 by London auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb on 12th December 2013 and had fetched £48,000 as per the released price.

David Erskine Hill of Dix Noonan Webb said that the fact that Jack Tirrell had been decorated on no less than four occasions made him one of the most outstanding soldiers to emerge from the British Army ranks in the conflict.

David added that it was remarkable story of enduring determination and courage and story that proved that ‘fact is often stranger than fiction’.
Video story: Documentary on WWII Battle of El Alamein in which WWII hero Jack Tirrell took part.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE