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Obituary: Colonel Tresham Gregg late 3RTR


Book Reviewer
Apologies to those who may have already seen:
Col Tresham Gregg, born April 7 1919, died March 17 2014

Colonel Tresham Gregg was a serial escaper who posed as a member of the Hitler Youth and led a brigade of Italian partisans

Colonel Tresham Gregg, who has died aged 94, had an adventurous Army career as a leader of wartime Italian partisans, having already acquired a reputation as a serial escaper from PoW camps.

Born in Dublin on April 7 1919, Tresham Dames Gregg was educated at Bishop’s Diocesan College, Cape Town, South Africa, and at Bedford School. During a cosmopolitan childhood he made friends in Cologne, whom he continued to visit until the outbreak of the Second World War. He became fluent in German, attended several Nazi rallies and heard Hitler and Goebbels speak from only a few yards away.

In May 1940, in the defence of Calais, he commanded a troop of light tanks of 3 Royal Tank Regiment (3 RTR) in support of 60th Rifles. Badly wounded by mortar-fire, he was evacuated by Motor Torpedo Boat and subsequently mentioned in despatches.

Tresham Gregg (third from right) with some of his Italian partisans

During the fighting withdrawal from Greece the following year, Gregg was standing on the rear deck of his tank at Thermopylae when a German bomb landed immediately beside it. The vehicle, weighing 14 tons, was thrown wholesale into the air.

Gregg landed on a drystone wall. In great pain, he was ferried south to the Peloponnese. At the Corinth Canal, he saw German parachutists being dropped and capturing the bridge which he had just crossed. Evacuated from Nauplion by destroyer to Crete, he was put aboard an ageing tramp steamer bound for Alexandria. Despite being unable to walk, he took charge of 21 German prisoners for the voyage.

He soon recovered (though it was not until 50 years later that he learned that he had fractured his pelvis). In November 1941, having rejoined his regiment, he took part in Operation Crusader, a series of attritional battles in the desert around Tobruk and the airfield at Sidi Rezegh.

Tresham Gregg (wearing the scarf) with fellow partisans

The following month Gregg was surprised by a German patrol near Derna, Libya, and taken prisoner. In an attempt to escape, he tried to sabotage the Germans’ reserve petrol supply with sugar but he was handed over to the Italians too quickly for the ploy to be effective.

As he was marched to the port in Benghazi, Gregg dived out of the column of PoWs and hid in a shop. After two hours he was spotted by two Italian soldiers who were looting the place. They refused to believe his story that he was a German soldier “taking a leak”.

In Italy, he was sent to Camp PG66 at Capua. After trying to walk out of the camp with a working party, he was detected. His persistent efforts to escape had earned him the label pericoloso, and the irate commandant sentenced him to a month’s “solitary” in an unheated tin shack. But for the arrival of a representative of the Red Cross, he might have perished of cold and hunger.

In March 1942 Gregg was transferred to Camp PG35 at Padula. A failed attempt to tunnel his way out earned him another month in solitary confinement. As an additional punishment, he was then sent to Camp PG29 at Veano, a converted seminary near Piacenza - its commandant claimed that it was escape-proof.

Calculating that the last place that the Italians would expect a tunnel to start would be in the middle of an open exercise yard, Gregg and a group composed mostly of RTR officers sank a 16ft shaft into the vegetable plots at the centre of this open space, concealing their excavations with lines of washing.

There ensued six months of work in claustrophobic conditions. Hair oil provided fuel for a single lamp. Gregg dug with an iron rod wrapped in rope to give a firm grip. One night in July 1943, they reached a slit-trench outside the perimeter fence.

Four of the six tunnellers broke out, and three were quickly captured. Gregg emerged three yards from a sentry and was shot in the head — but still succeeded in getting away. Disguised as a member of the Dutch Hitler Youth (his cover story being that he was on his way to a conference in Rome), he took a bus to Parma railway station, and seated himself in a carriage full of German soldiers.

He even borrowed copies of their magazines to add to his camouflage. He hoped to reach the Vatican and use his Irish passport to get him a free passage home, but the Carabinieri were searching for him and picked him up while the train was still in the suburbs of Rome.

Back in PG29 he was serving a third month in solitary confinement when, in September 1943, the Armistice was announced and he was released. He had relations in Switzerland and could have headed north; but he chose to stay with his closest friend, Captain “Donny” Mackenzie of the Cameron Highlanders, who was suffering from malaria.

The two men sheltered with a local family but, as winter set in, moved south-west into the mountains and settled in the Val Nure with a group of charcoal burners. They lived off an almost unrelieved diet of chestnuts.

In spring 1944 they were contacted by the partisans. Gregg and Mackenzie led a successful raid on a police station at Ferriere, then ambushed two truckloads of troops sent to flush them out.

As they moved down the Val Nure towards Piacenza, their force picked up recruits. They liberated Bettola and cleared the valley almost as far as Veano. Gregg (known as “Capitano Ganna” to the Italians) and Mackenzie commanded the fighting elements of what became known as the Stella Rossa artisan brigade.

Contacts were established with MI9 (the intelligence agency which assisted resistance fighters in enemy-occupied territory) and with an SOE mission code-named “Blundell Violet”. The Prefect of Piacenza put a price on their heads; but they were in a natural stronghold, and when a Fascist Alpini battalion attacked over the mountains, Gregg not only forced its commander to give them all his heavy weapons as the price for freeing him, but also recruited many of his men.

During September 1944 more than 100 downed Allied airmen passed through their hands towards safety in the south. They built an airstrip for supplies and raided German supply lines. In October they liberated Ponte dell’Olio, the northernmost town in the Val Nure. When Gregg’s partisans took the airfield, they were delighted to find 4,000 bottles of rum and brandy bricked up in a storeroom.

Mackenzie was killed a few days later while on a patrol, and Gregg had to retrieve his body for burial at Bettola, several thousand people turning out for the funeral. Gregg was recalled to discuss future plans and ran a gauntlet of “friendly fire” on reaching the American lines near Serravezza on December 5. He was again mentioned in despatches for his attempts to escape.

Tresham Gregg helping to bear the coffin of his friend and comrade Capt 'Donny' Mackenzie

After the war he was posted to India and then Singapore as a staff officer. A posting to HQ Southern Command Poona, India, coincided with the turbulent period before the partition of India and Pakistan, and the British withdrawal.

In 1949 he returned to England to attend Staff College, and was then posted to HQ British Element Trieste Forces. He subsequently served as a squadron leader in 6 RTR in Germany and as a company commander at Sandhurst before commanding 1RTR in Hong Kong and Germany.

Tresham Gregg (centre, with his hands raised) and his brigade of Italian partisans

He was on the Directorate Royal Armoured Corps and Commandant of the Driving and Maintenance School at Bovington, Dorset, before a final posting as Colonel Recruiting Northern Command in York. On retirement, he remained there for a further 10 years as the Army Schools’ Liaison Officer.

Tresham Gregg married first, in 1946, in Poona, Elsie “Dusty” Miller, who, as a QA nurse, had landed in Normandy soon after D-Day with a field ambulance unit. She died in 1991, and their son and two daughters survive him. He married secondly, in 2000, Joan Wood, who survives him with a stepson.

Col Tresham Gregg, born April 7 1919, died March 17 2014


What an exciting life he led!


War Hero
Wow. They certainly don't make them like they used to.

Amazing career ...and he stayed on in the Army after the war so at least his exploits would have been appreciated.

I always find it incredible when a similarly exciting obituary with multiple tales derring-do ends with some thing like....." On demobilisation, he returned to his role as Chief Cashier at Lloyds Bank in Sidmouth, eventually gaining promotion to Branch Manager before retiring in 1972 to take the role of Chairman of the local Bridge Club." the greenfields beyond.
I may be wrong and stand to be corrected, but wasn't his son also called Tresham Gregg and served for a time in 2 RTR, certainly when I was with them in Muenster during the early 70s, before going on to command 15/19H or something like that ?


You will probably find he did Loan Service or similar and did all manner of warry stuff - it can run in the family!

From the Old (no less):

Tresham GREGG, CBE (O61/66) is a
Senior Consultant with Northcott
Global Solutions, a global emergency
medical and political evacuation
company specialising in the more
difficult parts of the world. Tresh left
the Army in 2004 in the rank of
Brigadier after a distinguished career of
34 years during which he commanded
145 Brigade; was in charge of collective
training in Germany; was Senior British
Officer in the Primary Joint HQ Balkans;
was Chief of Staff 3rd (UK) Division;
directed staff at the Army Staff College;
was Commanding Officer of 15/19 Kings
Royal Hussars, SO2 Directorate of
Military Operations, Assistant Military
Attache at the British Embassy in
Amman and was part of the Loan
Service of the Sultanate of Oman.
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The Tresham Gregg I knew (his son) and his Grandson (Capt in the Light Dragoons (13/18H when it was the first Regiment I was posted to)) all had/have that characteristic mop of blond hair, and certainly the father and son looked very similar in appearance.

Brotherton Lad

Kit Reviewer
A chap who re-marries in his 80s clearly has his eye on the ball.



Like Father, like Son, like Grandson. A dynasty to be proud of and if one looks further back then there appears to be a few before him involved in fighting going back centuries.
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Middle one was I believe commissioned into the RTR but transferred to the 15/19H as a Captain, he was certainly badged a such when he was DS on my JDSC in the mid 80's, which would have explained his attitude to all things RTR.


Middle one was I believe commissioned into the RTR but transferred to the 15/19H as a Captain, he was certainly badged a such when he was DS on my JDSC in the mid 80's, which would have explained his attitude to all things RTR.

Someone had to like them!


Never been in the army myself, my father was a Sgt at Longmoor and served as a signal fitter for years till the complex closed in '69. Lived in Baden Powell Rd. and Jan Smutts road then when he came out of the army moved onto the Liphook Rd. 'Brimstone Lodge' house as a civilian Signal fitter.
But back to the main point. What a terrific fella and a brilliant family. As was pointed out earlier they don't make 'em like that any more. And when you see some of the scum that inhabit the streets these days you got to wonder "is this what these brave squadies risked and gave their lives for".
Met Colonel Gregg several times in his recruiting role when I was still at school. Had absolutely no idea of his history.

Could be mistaken, but I'm sure he had a scottie dog which used to reside under the desk during interviews.

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