Obituary: Lt-Cmdr Tony Bentley-Buckle

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Lieutenant-Commander Tony Bentley-Buckle, naval officer and businessman. Born: 13 August, 1921, in Knokke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Died: 24 May, 2010, in Hampshire, aged 88.

During the Second World War many men uncomfortably wore the tag of "hero" after their incredible endeavours, but Tony Bentley-Buckle led a life that even the most impressive imagination would find difficult to conjure up.

Anthony William Bentley-Buckle was the son of a tea planter and his early years were spent in a variety of countries, including Belgium and Ceylon, before he settled in England to be educated at Ampleforth College, a Roman Catholic boarding school in North Yorkshire.

Aged just 17 he joined the Royal Navy, where, after a brief training period, he found himself aboard the Dunedin, patrolling the rough seas north of Scotland.

It was during this period that Bentley-Buckle first showed his early promise, displaying tenacity and quick-thinking. The Dunedin was being run on an almost skeleton crew and when they happened across a Swedish cargo ship, Bentley-Buckle, despite being a lowly seaman, was instructed to board. He did and concluded that it should be taken to harbour, the nearest being Kirkwall on Orkney.

The waters were infested with mines, however, and the Swedish captain was unmoved by the youngster's insistence that the vessel needed to make land. So unmoved in fact, that he went to bed leaving Bentley-Buckle to - successfully - guide the ship through the minefield.

His actions earned him a pat on the back and he was recommended for promotion, the first of many.

During a posting on a Royal Navy battleship, Bentley-Buckle broke his arm and subsequently spent a couple of months recuperating in Durban, South Africa. He was given the role of drafting officer, where he was predominantly responsible for decided who went where to do what. The first thing he did was redraft himself back home where he could take a more active role in the war.

He developed a reputation as a risk-taker and soon applied for the Special Services, after which he was nominated for training as beachmaster. The role was one of supreme superiority; when amphibious invasions were imminent, the beachmaster took control of proceedings, deciding when the landing soldiers should move in land.

Bentley-Buckle underwent his training at HMS Armadillo, based in Argyll and Bute on the shores of Loch Long.

After taking charge of G Commando, Bentley-Buckle took his men to land on Sicily. He assumed his position as beach commander at Reggio and immediately set about organising manoeuvres.

Part of the beach was blocked by a landing craft under the control of General Bernard Law Montgomery, commander of the Allied Forces at the Battle of Alamein. This made little difference to Bentley-Buckle, who ordered the general to move his vehicle and troops, much to Montgomery's obvious displeasure.

His next mission was at Termoli, where he operated a rescue service, collecting escaped prisoners of war using former Italian vessels following Mussolini's ousting in July 1943 after the success of Operation Husky.

While ferrying his illicit cargo under the cover of darkness, Bentley-Buckle was asked to collect a German prisoner along with the British so he could be questioned. He set up a road diversion, ushering the unsuspecting individual down to the beach for capture. His performances behind the lines earned him a mention in dispatches.

Shortly afterwards he was involved in a violent encounter with German soldiers of the coast of Yugoslavia and taken captive. What happened next is the stuff written in comic books.

He escaped from the lorry he had been bundled in to, but was shot. Evading recapture under the cover of darkness, he eventually came across a remote farm where he was taken in and fed. The following day he was taken across the countryside but handed over to two SS officers, who he disarmed and shot within minutes of meeting them.

Now on the run, Bentley-Buckle was arrested at a road block and subjected to a lengthy interrogation, which involved a severe beating from his female inquisitors. They had employed a unique interrogation technique which involved violent outbursts aimed at his testicles.

Unsurprisingly, he was loath to take too much punishment and gave up his identity, a move which garnered surprising results. As Hitler had initiated the Commando Order (all commandos were to be shot immediately after capture) Bentley-Buckle made the reasonable assumption that his time was up. Instead, his reputation earned him a guest pass to the German officers' mess for a day.

Afterwards he was transferred to Marlag O, a prisoner-of-war camp for naval officers, where he soon began to indulge himself in pastimes that would have badly upset his German hosts.

Having acquired many skills while serving in the Special Forces, Bentley-Buckle was a handy locksmith, and knew how to pick locks. He was also good with watch mechanisms, so when a plan was hatched to build a dummy prisoner in order to cover escapes he was called upon to make the eyes blink to add authenticity.

The prisoners would carry the dummy in sections outside of the camp to the wash house, assemble it and then "march" back with it. The Germans would conduct a count and get the right number and one man would remain hidden at the wash house, ready to make a dash for freedom. How this worked more than once, as the whole ruse was based on head counts, is unclear.

Bentley-Buckle was no less successful outside of the military, and after the war he set about building a small shipping empire, founding the Southern Line. He set up East African National Shipping before selling it and setting up an airline which is now known as Air Seychelles.

A keen sailor, he participated in the 1960 Olympics where he represented Kenya. He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and their two children.

CHRIS MAIR