Scots WWII hero’s amazing memoirs which were found in a basket go on show at exhibition

| February 16, 2013 | 0 Comments

A SPECIAL exhibition in Dumfries called Who Dares Wins is telling the story of the courageous captain, who was originally from Lockerbie.
A dust-covered picnic basket which lay untouched in an attic for decades has revealed the remarkable story of a Scots World War II hero.

The incredible exploits of Captain Cecil Leyland Riding MC – who was in the Special Air Service – were revealed after his death when his relatives found medals, memoirs, photographs and citations telling of his bravery.

And now an exhibition called Who Dares Wins – which takes its name from the SAS motto – is telling the courageous captain’s inspirational story.

The display at Dumfries Museum details how Captain Riding was part of one of the first SAS groups parachuted into Nazi-occupied France after D-Day in 1944.

He served across occupied western Europe during 1944 and 1945, including taking part in the liberation of Norway and the allied forces’ advance into Germany.

The captain – who grew up in Lockerbie and spent his latter years in Dumfries – was awarded five medals for his heroics, including the prestigious Military Cross.

His nephew David Riding said: “Cecil never talked about his wartime exploits.

“I knew he had been awarded the Military Cross for taking over command of the SAS team when his commanding officer was shot shortly after landing in France but had no idea of the details.

“After Cecil’s death we found the memorabilia in his loft and could piece together the story from what was there.

“Cecil returned to France many times for reunions and memorial services as his team had formed a close bond with the Resistance and French public who had aided them in their exploits to harass the enemy.

“Cecil was 28 when he was parachuted behind enemy lines. It’s amazing what these young men achieved.”

The collection found in loft

The collection found in loft

Captain Riding grew up near Lockerbie, working as a factor before moving to Glasgow, where he met his wife Janie.

He joined the Coldstream Guards in 1940 and was commissioned to the Highland Light Infantry in 1941.

In February 1944, he joined the SAS and after D-Day was parachuted into northern France.

He jumped with a carrier pigeon strapped to his chest which he used to send information back to Britain.

Leading a team of five men, he was responsible for blowing up the Montarges to Paris train line.

Memoirs detail how Captain Riding often had to pretend to be German to evade Nazi forces as he sent intelligence back to London.

He cheated death twice when German troops discovered the SAS camps and obliterated them.

In one of the attacks, his commanding officer and two fellow soldiers were killed.

As well as the Military Cross, Captain Riding was awarded the Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal.

After his service, he returned to Scotland, living near Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, before moving with Janie to work with the Bombay Burma Trading Company in 1956, spending time in Burma and Borneo.

They returned to Scotland in 1967 and Captain Riding worked in Falkirk as a land valuation officer.

In 1971, he moved to Dumfries, where he stayed until his death in 1998.

After the picnic basket of war memorabilia was found, the family handed it into Dumfries Museum and it became clear to staff that it was a fascinating collection.

Museum officer Fiona Wilson said: “There were his medals but there was also a handwritten memoir giving incredible detail about his experiences.

“The objects that he chose to keep tell us so much about his time in the SAS and what was happening in France and Germany during that period of World War II.

“They make a tangible connection with the people and events we can only read about today.

“The detailed personal memoir from Cecil’s time with the SAS was originally recorded in shorthand and then in longhand.

“We have letters from his commanders as well as the citation for his Military Cross.

“Among other items, he kept various maps of France, a code sheet printed on silk, miniature medical kits, a compass disguised as a button and, of course, his cap with the SAS badge, complete with motto Who Dares Wins.

“This is an incredible collection for a local family to have handed over to us as it contains such a variety of objects and documents.

“Sometimes all that is kept are a soldier’s medals but here we have Cecil’s personal account of his experiences and so much more.”

The exhibition is at Dumfries Museum until next January.

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