Frank Peter Hughes enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 4 September 1935. He served with the British Expeditionary Force on the Belgian frontier from September 1939 until 12 May 1940. When retreating with the 2nd Divsion to the chaos of Dunkirk, he carried out orders to ‘scuttle’ his Troop’s guns. He then somewhat reluctantly obeyed a passing officer’s order to join the infantry holding the perimeter. Having fought through German lines on several occasions, he finally crossed the Channel on 1 June 1940. On the formation of the 1st Airborne Division in 1941 he volunteered for parachute training and served in the UK until going to North Africa in May 1943. In November 1943 Hughes volunteered for the 2nd SAS and, returning to the UK in March 1944 underwent further training in Scotland.
Shortly after the Normandy landings, Hughes was selected for participation in Operation TRUEFORM as the NCO in charge of a three-man team known as ‘F’ Party, which was dropped behind German lines in northern France on the night of 17/18 August 1944. Splitting up from the other teams, Hughes led his men north to a wood five miles from the DZ and waited till dawn. On the 19th he saw German vehicles being refuelled at a petrol dump near ‘El Boeuf’, and unobserved placed 15 lbs of PHE bombs in its midst. The bombs exploded on cue at 1300 hrs, initiating a hunt by the SS. Hughes took refuge in a wood to the south and later in the afternoon met a Free French unit, who told him part of the wood was occupied by German troops. Notwithstanding their presence, Hughes stayed put, and on the 21st made contact with the local Resistance who gave him the location of an ammunition dump on the Harcourt road which was duly blown up by Hughes after a brief firefight. On the 22nd Hughes received orders by courier to attack German transport using ‘tyre bursters’ and that night he disabled a convoy of six lorries. The next night a food store was destroyed with incendaries. No suitable targets were located during the next 72 hours, but a German soldier, who had lost touch with his unit, was taken prisoner. On the 27th Hughes heard that an 88 mm gun had been set up close by to contest the advance of Canadian troops. He immediately organised an attack on the position and using Mills bombs, took a dozen prisoners and captured the gun and its ammunition intact.
On completion of Operation Trueform, Hughes was flown to the UK and took part in a BBC broadcast to the USA. He served briefly as an SAS instructor and at the end of the year was posted Sergeant to the 2nd SAS in Italy, where in March 1945 he took part in Major Roy Farran’s Operation TOMBOLA. Hughes was parachuted into Reggio province, thirty miles behind German lines, with twenty-five SAS men of 3 Squadron, on 9 March and spent the first few days of the deployment on look-out in the hills with Lieutenant Ken Harvey. Farran’s task was to form a fighting force from untrained but willing partisans, who were formed into two groups, the ‘Black Bats’ and ‘Green Flames’, together with an assortment of Russians, and lead them in strategic attacks against German installations and communications. Hughes with the critical eye of a regular soldier was initially shocked by the bearing of the partisans, or ‘civvys’ as he called them, but was immediately impressed by the mounted figure of the Russian commander, Lieutenant Modena.
On the night of 26/27 March, Hughes took part in the celebrated raid on the 51st German Corps Headquarters at Albinea. The main effort of the raiding force was directed against two villas, the Villa Rossi and the Villa Calvi. Shortly after 0200 hrs on the 27th Hughes and eight SAS soldiers under Lieutenant Riccomini, and a mixed party of Russians and partisans under Captain Lees, reached the vicinity of the Villa Rossi to find that the alarm had already been raised. Riccomini killed the sentries on the gate and rushed the front door. Hughes followed with the rest of the party and on entering the house saw two bodies which he took for those of Riccomini and Sergeant Guscott. A vicious firefight with the Germans at the top off a spiral staircase ensued, and seeing that this stalemate was consuming time which could ill be spared, Hughes and some others made a bonfire in the kitchen, and a raging fire took hold. On his way out of the building, Hughes saw the leader of the Black Bats and Captain Lees lying wounded in the hall and stopped to carry the latter out. A gruelling twenty-two hour forced march brought Farran’s force back into the sanctuary of the hills.
On 28 March a radio message was received in the SAS camp informing Hughes of his award of the DCM for France. The assembled company, according to Hughes, ‘drank to it for two days and Major Farran found the ribbon and made me put it on there and then’. A few days later Hughes was employed shelling a highway with an American artillery piece, christened ‘Molto Stranco’, which after about twenty rounds stopped firing. Hughes leant over to take a closer look whereupon it exploded, putting out his left eye and severely wounding him in the face. He was subsequently treated with plastic surgery in the UK and finally discharged from the Army in May 1946, having received his DCM from the King at Buckingham Palace in March of that year. In 1972 Hughes emigrated to Australia, living in Adelaide until his death in 1979.
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