Peter William Elworthy Kidner, 1920-2017

Daily Telegraph, 20th March 2017

Colonel Peter Kidner, who has died aged 96, was awarded an Immediate MC in 1945 in the Italian Campaign.

Peter Kidner in 1942
Peter Kidner in 1942 before he went to North Africa
In April 1945 the Allies were advancing to the Po valley in the face of strong German defences. Kidner, by then a major, was in command of 255 Field Company RE, Brigade sappers.

Tiger tank below Gaiana crossing
Tiger tank below the Gaiana Bailey bridge

In the forced crossing of the Sillaro and Gaiana rivers, the successful pursuit of the Germans depended on the speedy and efficient bridging of a series of major water obstacles. Kidner was well ahead with the leading units and, having selected his sites, got his men on to the job at the first possible moment.

“As a result,” the citation for the award of an Immediate MC stated, “ the armour and support weapons of the Brigade were always hot on the heels of the infantry. Major Kidner by his skill, outstanding example and complete disregard of danger has played a vital part in ensuring the complete success of all our undertakings.”

Peter William Elworthy Kidner was born in Simla, India, on April 17 1920. His father was a serving Royal Engineer who had returned to India after the First World War and eventually became their Chief Engineer at Eastern Command.

Young Peter was educated at Sherborne before going to RMA Woolwich. In May 1940, he deployed to Belgium with the BEF and joined 222 Field Company RE. They spent three weeks trying to slow the German advance by blowing up bridges and building roadblocks before joining the retreat and being evacuated to Britain.

Forth Bridge, Souk el Khemis
Bailey Bridge under construction at Souk el Kemis, Tunisia, built by 5 Corps Troops, December 1942

In November 1942 Kidner landed in Algeria to take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa. Reconnoitring the route to Tunis, he quickly learnt how to drop his motorbike and roll into the ditch when spotted by German fighters.

In March 1943, he became second-in-command of 256 Field Company RE, which cleared mines and booby traps and repaired roads. After the fall of Tunis, he crossed to Sicily. In a single night, on the approach to Randazzo, his Company lifted 250 “S” and Teller mines.

They moved to the Adriatic coast of Italy, south of Foggia, in September and advanced northwards, erecting Bailey bridges over the rivers before reaching the Apennines, where they sometimes had to clear mines from beneath snowdrifts six feet deep.

He was posted to Kaduna, Nigeria, in 1952 as OC 36 Independent Field Squadron. He and his family lived in a mud-walled mission house with rats in the attic, scorpions outside and potatoes that disappeared to form the basis of the houseboys’ moonshine.

After a posting to Gibraltar and a secondment to BP, his last Army appointment was at the MoD as project manager for the design and procurement of the Combat Engineer Tractor, a vehicle for the sappers to dig trenches and bulldoze obstacles while under enemy fire.

In 1972 he retired from the Army and was one of only a handful selected for transfer to the Civil Service. He was a principal clerk at the Road Safety Branch, Department of Environment, from 1972 to 1976, and held a similar position at the Transport and Road Construction Unit from 1976 to 1981.

He had been interested in photography since his schooldays and, during the war, he was authorised to take photographs during operations and built up a large collection. His service in North Africa, Italy and Greece also sparked an interest in archaeology.

After he retired from the Civil Service, he devoted much time to researching his family’s history. Settled in Somerset, he loved walking and gardening.

Peter Kidner married, in 1946, Pat Bunyard. She predeceased him and he is survived by their three sons and twin daughters.

Peter Kidner, born April 17 1920, died February 7 2017

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Last updated on 28th March 2017