Ian Patterson

69411 Major Ian Norman Patterson, M.C., L Squadron, Special Boat Service, S.A.S. Regiment, Army Air Corps

Born 2nd April 1914 in London
Accidentally killed 21st December 1944 in Italy

Family and Home 1, 2, 3, 4

Ian Norman Patterson was born in Westminster, London, the son of Norman Patterson and Winifred Dorothea, née Crockford. He was baptised at St Anselm’s, Davies Street on 12th May 1914. His father was a Surgeon at the London Hospital and the family address was 7 Stratford Mansions, London W.

Ian’s younger sister Dorothea Margaret was born in Marylebone, London on 20th October 1916.

Education 5

Ian was educated at Harrow School, where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps.

Military Service 5, 6

The London Gazette of 13th October 1936 records that Ian was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery Supplementary Reserve with effect from 14th October 1936. His entry notes that he was previously a Cadet Under-Officer in the Harrow School Contingent of the Junior Division, Officer Training Corps. He served in the 20/76th Field Battalion, 9th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

In 1936 his parents and sister Dorothea moved to Nob’s Crook (now called Cloisters) in Golf Club Road, Ashridge Park.

War Service 1939 – 1942 7, 8

According to his sister Dorothea, Ian, who had been in the Reserve, was called up at the beginning of the War and went to France. He was evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. Ian later transferred to the Parachute Regiment. This transfer is confirmed in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 2nd February 1943, which records that Lieutenant I. N. Patterson (69411) had transferred from the Royal Artillery Supplementary Reserve to the Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps on 1st November 1942, maintaining his seniority.

War Service 1943 – 1944 7, 9

Photo of Ian Patterson
Major Ian Patterson. His cap badge can be identified as that of the S.A.S. Regiment, of which the S.B.S. was then a part. Photo courtesy of David Heard, to whom a copy was given by Dorothea Patterson, Ian’s sister.

Ian was appointed 2nd in command of the 11th Parachute Battalion when it was formed in March 1943. He was heavily involved in recruiting and Dorothea stated that he went to India to train Gurkhas to parachute. He also toured army bases in the Middle East. In Cairo he met George Jellicoe who was commanding a section of the Special Boat Squadron (re-named the Special Boat Service in late 1944). Jellicoe suggested to Ian that he joined them.

(George Jellicoe was the second Earl Jellicoe, the son of Admiral Lord Jellicoe, Admiral of the Fleet in the Battle of Jutland in the First World War.)

In November 1943 Ian transferred to the Special Boat Squadron, then part of 1 Special Air Service Regiment. He commanded L Detachment (later re-named L Squadron), S.B.S in the Aegean from early 1944.

Awarded the Military Cross 10, 11

The Supplement to the London Gazette of 13th July 1944 noted the award of the Military Cross to Captain (temporary Major) Ian Norman Patterson (69411), Army Air Corps. This was awarded “in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the field”. The citation gives much more detail but includes the postscript: “owing to the nature of these operations it would be appreciated if this citation is not published”. The award was recommended by Major Lord Jellicoe for action with 1/S.B.S. Raiding Forces in the Aegean between February and April 1944. It notes that the success of operations in Nisero, Cos, Patmos and Pserimo was due in large measure to Ian’s initiative as commanding officer “and to the personal inspiration he gave in leadership and in disregard to his own safety”. The Nisero operation on 7th March 1944 is identified for particular praise as, under his leadership, “2 Assault Craft were captured, 22 enemy killed or taken prisoner and much equipment and arms taken”.

Image of letter awarding MC to Ian Patterson
Photograph of a copy of the letter informing Ian Patterson that he had been awarded the Military Cross. Photograph included courtesy of David Heard, to whom a photocopy of this letter was given by Dorothea Patterson

The Peloponnese and Athens 1944 6, 7, 9, 12

Led by Ian, L Detachment Special Boat Squadron then turned their attention to the Peloponnese. On 23rd September 1944 his small force of approximately 60 parachutists was dropped about 30 miles South West of Patras with instructions to secure Araxos airfield. That done, they set off for Patras, which they captured from 1,200 Germans – more by outwitting than by out-fighting them.

Dorothea’s notes include a quotation believed to be from an article by L. Marsland Gander, Special Correspondent, in The Daily Telegraph of 25th October 1944. This detailed the action at Patras:

A small force of picked volunteers, commanded by Col. Earl Jellicoe, liberated half of Greece, averted civil war and entered Athens itself in 22 days.

On Sept 21 a squadron of the Special Boat Service, whose raids in the Aegean had terrorised German garrisons, were briefed in Italy for the task of speeding the German evacuation of the Peloponnesus.

After 66 parachutists, commanded by Major Ian Patterson had taken Araxos airfield in the north-western corner of the Peloponnesus, Lord Jellicoe followed with reinforcements. The next objective was the fortified port of Patras.

The British, greatly outnumbered, organised a big bluff to conceal the smallness of their force.

After a demand for the surrender of the Germans in Patras had been refused, Capt Eric Grey, an Australian officer, began negotiations with the Greek Security Police, who were controlled by the Nazi SS. A boy aged eight acted as his intermediary.

The negotiations, of which the Germans were kept in complete ignorance, were successful, and the police came out of the town and gave up their arms to 30 British soldiers.

The Germans started feverishly to speed up their preparations for evacuation. Lord Jellicoe then sent two armoured cars and five jeep loads of S.B.S. men into the town. It toured round with headlights blazing for several hours, but had to retire when the Germans realised how small the force was.

Next day, Lord Jellicoe’s forces opened fire with two mortars on a battery of 6 75s [75mm field guns ] on a hill overlooking the town. The Germans left after destroying all the 75s except one, a Krupp 1908 model which had no sights. The British turned this gun onto German shipping, which soon put to sea.

With the occupation of Patras, Lord Jellicoe’s task was complete but British forward patrols pressed on unopposed and reached Athens on Oct. 11.”

Believed to be from an article in The Daily Telegraph for 25 October 1944 (although the Telegraph Syndication & Content Licensing Department could not find a record of the article)

According to Dorothea they decided to enter Athens without waiting for the Germans to withdraw. A small party went in by rowing boat then on foot, while Ian and George Jellicoe’s patrol arrived next day on stolen bicycles. As they went in, the Germans were pulling out. For his part in this action, Ian was awarded a Mention in Despatches, recorded in the London Gazette on 4th January 1945, two weeks after his death.

Final Weeks in Greece

A letter from Ian to his mother, dated 12th December 1944, has survived and gives insight into the situation in Greece at that time. Winston Churchill was keen that, following the liberation of Greece, King George II should be restored to the throne. However, in Autumn 1944, E.L.A.S. (Ellinikós Laikos Apeleftherotikós Strátos), the Greek Communist force, made their own bid for power, encouraged, it would seem from Ian’s letter, by comments made in the British and American Press. December 1944 saw fighting between E.L.A.S. and the small British Force in Athens – as the result of which Ian would be detained in Greece and unable to get home for Christmas.

Major Ian Paterson - Letter 12-12-44 page 1
Major Ian Paterson - Letter 12-12-44 page 2
Letter courtesy of the Deakin family. They believe this copy may have been in the possession of Sir William (Bill) Deakin who, as a young officer in SOE, headed the first liaison meeting to Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia and was in the region at the time. The Deakin family home was at Clipper Down not far from Little Gaddesden. Ian and Bill were the same age and may have known each other before the war.

Death in Italy 6, 7, 13

A British Army Casualty List entry records that, on 21st December 1944, 69411 Temporary Major I.N. Patterson, M.C, Army Air Corps, was accidentally killed in the Central Mediterranean Theatre of War. He was aged 30. The Dakota plane in which he and a number of wounded men had been passengers had hit an olive tree and crashed into a hillside while flying into Bari, Italy. There were no survivors.

Commemoration in Italy 14

Ian is buried in Bari War Cemetery, Puglia, Italy. His grave reference is XII. A. 5.

Photo of Bari War Cemetery
Bari War Cemetery. Photo courtesy of David Heard
hoto of Bari War Cemetery Inscription
Bari War Cemetery Inscription. Photo courtesy of David Heard
Photo of Ian Patterson's grave in Bari
Photo courtesy of David Heard

Beneath the badge of the Army Air Corps, the inscription on his headstone reads:

I.N. Patterson, MC.
Army Air Corps
21st December 1944 Age 30

Beneath the cross are inscribed the words:

Who dares, wins

We will remember them 14

Ian Patterson is commemorated on the Little Gaddesden War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church.

He is shown as serving in the Royal Artillery, into which he had been commissioned in 1936 – all hints at his subsequent exploits carefully avoided. On his CWGC Debt of Honour entry, it is noted that he was the “Son of Norman and Winifred Dorothea Patterson, of Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire”.


Ian’s sister Dorothea, a former resident of Ashridge Park and a well-known local Artist, lived to the age of 102. She died in Berkhamsted on 14th January 2019. She too had an interesting war, working for SOE in London, developing film of coded messages in their darkroom and creating passport portraits for special agents working in Europe.


1. https://www.findmypast.co.uk England & Wales births 1837-2006 Transcriptions

2. https://www.findmypast.co.uk Westminster Baptisms

3. https://www.findmypast.co.uk 1939 Register

4. Senar, Howard, 1983, Little Gaddesden and Ashridge, Phillimore & Co. Ltd

5. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34331/page/6539

6. Patterson, Dorothea – Notes on the War Service of her brother Ian

7. Castle Village, Village Voices, Nov 2010: Patterson, Dorothea, “My Most Memorable Evening”

8. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35884/supplement/592

9. https://www.paradata.org.uk/people/ian-n-patterson

10. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/36605/supplement/3274

11. https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D7369697

12. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/36876/supplement/210

13. https://www.findmypast.co.uk British Army Casualty Lists 1939-1945

14. https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2076706/patterson,-ian-norman/

Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson