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Sgt. Robert Pinguet, 89 FSS, Intelligence Corps

Bob Pinguet, (like Lewis Stagnetto – see 317 FSS history), was neither born in the UK or was, indeed, of British extraction, but after education in Britain, volunteered for both the Intelligence Corps, and then parachute operations. Robert, Sydney, Paul, Pinguet was born in 1922, in the then Crown Colony of Hong Kong, to Paul Morris and Marie-Louise Pinguet – French citizens.  Brought up in an exclusively French speaking household (his mother would allow no English to be spoken at home), however, Bob displayed an early aptitude for languages - by picking up the Mandarin spoken by his nanny. Almost coincident with the terribly premature death of his mother, he was sent to Bedford School, and despite what must have been a difficult time, was soon fluent in English and had very good German. He went up to Kings College, Cambridge, to study modern languages and law, and there displayed a further talent for sport – gaining a blue for tennis (subsequently competing post-War in the then amateur Wimbledon, and as a Davis Cup player).

Receiving an academic deferment on the outbreak of war, he joined the Intelligence Corps in February 1942 and after selection for Field Security duties joined 23 FSS in October 1942.  He then volunteered for parachute training, and upon receiving his coveted parachute wings from Ringway in early 1943, had a short attachment to 317 FSS in the UK, before joining 89 FSS as replacement in North Africa in May 1943.


89 FSS, under their FSO Captain Jack Dunbar, were in waiting for the Sicily landings – they did not have long to wait. Bob Pinguet parachuted into the battle with the 1st Parachute Brigade FS sub-Section – the first Intelligence Corps airborne deployment, on 13 July 1943.  Captain Dunbar, deploying by glider, was unfortunately drowned whilst going to the aid of another soldier, when his Horsa glider was forced to ditch after a premature cast off.  The Section, now under command of CSM Loker (later of 317 FSS) conducted FS duties in the Divisional area.  89 FSS arrived on mainland Italy in September 1943, by sea, at the Taranto landing.  Bob Pinguet and the rest of 89FSS witnessed the destruction of HMS Abdiel by a mine in Taranto harbour, which caused the deaths of many parachute troops embarked, a sight which stayed with him.  Almost immediately, however, the Section were called upon to conduct a priority FS task - the arrest of the German Consul at Bari.  After a hair-raising journey in a commandeered civilian vehicle, the Section were able to collect the Consul, who said “Gentlemen, I’ve been waiting for you” – Bob’s family retain a special souvenir of that particular incident. 1st Airborne Division and 89 FSS embarked for UK on 26 December 1943, arriving 4 January 1944, destined for operations in North West Europe.

89 FSS now found itself based at Harlaxton, Lincolnshire, within the Divisional area, and received a new FSO, Captain John Killick, another linguist and sportsman (later Sir John Killick and Ambassador to both Moscow and NATO in the Cold War period).  The now Sgt Bob Pinguet’s 1st Parachute Brigade sub-Section was headquartered at The Red Lion, a pub in Wellingore, Lincolnshire!


The Section received replacements, trained and waited (several excellent photographs exist of the unit in Lincolnshire in the spring of 1944) – expecting first, to be reinforcements for the Normandy campaign, and then, for deployment on the series of cancelled airborne operations, leading up to September 1944.   Finally, 89 FSS were off, after conducting personal and physical security in the Divisional area, and “policing” surrounding the airfields, to Arnhem on the ill-fated Op MARKET GARDEN.  Sgt Pinguet as the Sgt of 1st Parachute Brigade sub-Section jumped with the 1st lift on the 17th September.  Other members of his sub-Section were Cpls: Gray, Linden, Maybury and Gately. On landing with the Brigade HQ drop, the sub-Section, moved directly into the town in company with the HQ and 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.

Bob Pinguet’s actual movements, in the confusion before the battle at Arnhem Bridge, are difficult to determine.   I believe he is likely to have been one of the two unnamed (in the subsequent report) 89 FSS men with Capt Killick (who had also moved into the town) and B Company, 2nd Battalion. Although, it is known that Capt Killick was also in company with Sgt Chambers on the 17th.  On 18th Sep Capt Killick ascertained (from the Brigade Medical Officer) that one had been killed (Maybury) and the other wounded (likely to be Sgt Pinguet). Other 89 FSS men, including Sgt Chambers and Cpl Gray were in the bridge area (in the vicinity of the Bde HQ), but appear to have had no contact with Capt Killick or Sgt Pinguet during the battle.  

What is known, is that Bob Pinguet, in company with Cpl Arthur Maybury, was located in the doorway of a house in Arnhem, west of the bridge, in the late afternoon of the 17th September.  It appears he left the position (leaving a then unwounded Maybury - suggesting that Maybury received his mortal wound later on 17th), hearing a German motorcycle.  On trying to commandeer the bike, and capture the rider, the strap of his Sten gun became entangled in the motorcycle’s handlebars, which gave the German time to shoot him at point blank range with a pistol.  It then appears that Sgt Pinguet, who had been neatly shot through (very close to his heart - the bullet nicked a lung), crawled to the safety of a cellar (within earshot of the cathedral bells).  He was treated by both Dutch civil and British military personnel, but was captured, and then treated by German medical personnel when the area was overrun on the 19th September.  Initially, taken tothe town Municipal Hospital, where he was treated by a Dutch Nurse – Bett, the sister of the well known Resistance figure Harry Montfroy, and then the St Elizabeth’s, he was taken to the German medical facility, at the former Dutch military hospital at the Queen Wihelmina Barracks at Apeldoorn, along with other wounded POW. 

Whilst under treatment at the Dutch hospitals he was given the opportunity to escape – he declined, suggesting that his wound would have hindered any attempt.  He was subsequently transferred, by hospital train to Stalag VIIA at Moosberg (nr Munich, Bavaria – the largest POW camp in Germany) on 30th October. Sgt Pinguet was a patient at the Stalag VIIA hospital and again at the Stalag 383 (again nr Munich at Hohenfels) Hospital, being discharged from the camp hospital on 27 March 1945.

Bob Pinguet was posted missing/captured 25 September 1944, and declared as a POW on 29 Dec 1944. Stalag 383 was liberated on 22 April 1945, by US forces, who were then in southern Bavaria. His survival in a POW camp, badly wounded, across the terrible winter of 1944/5 was a testament to the resilience of the airborne soldier.  He embarked for the UK through Nuremburg 4 May 1945, flying back and arriving in the same way he had departed 9 months earlier.  A note received from Sgt Terry Armstrong, 89 FSS’ CSM at Arnhem by Bob Pinguet, detailed the known whereabouts of the Section after Arnhem and was to disappoint Bob - who was desperate to get back to the Section, then in Norway.  After, recuperative leave, some time at the Depot (Wentworth Woodhouse), he assisted with interrogation at POW camps near Royston.  He then joined the non-airborne 316 FSS in January 1946 and went on to release in August 1946.

Post War

He joined the Colonial Service, having attended the LSE, and The School of African Studies, where he studied Swahili and Chibemba, the language of the Bemba tribe in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).  After marrying Phyllis (nee Dakin - two daughters) in December 1947, he was posted to Northern Rhodesia.  Due to ill health, particularly malaria, they returned to England, in 1950 to live in Hampsted Garden Suburb. Leaving the Colonial Service, he took a job in the City, starting as a Clerk and ending as the Managing Director of a large American Mining Group.  He headed their European and British office and travelled extensively - using his languages.  Phyllis died in 1985 and he moved to Marlow with his new wife Jean, who he had married in 1987.  Later, they moved to Henley, and it was there that he died after a short illness in October 2006. Bob Pinguet was an extremely modest and unassuming man, who was reluctant to discuss his wartime exploits with anyone outside of his immediate family (his half-brother went on to join the Parachute Regiment), but maintained regular contact with Sir John Killick and CSM Terry Armstrong (later an academic at Cambridge University), and those the families of the resistors he had met in Holland.  His recent death saw the passing of the last of 89 FSS who had fought at Arnhem.


 Robert Pinguet, Taranto

Sgt. Pinguet, Taranto, Italy

 Red Lion, Wellingore

1st Para Bde Sub-Section HQ
Red Lion, Wellingore, Lincs

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