William Dodds from Newtongrange enlisted in the Royal Engineers in World War 2, he proved to be a good soldier, and a result he was approached to join the fledgling Special Air Service (SAS), the brainchild of Scotsman David Stirling and Irishman Paddy Mayne.
Being an Engineer, William had been trained in the use of explosives and demolition, skills which were much sought after, and of good use in the type of hit and run tactics employed by the SAS.
During the evening of 7th January, 1944 William Dodds was one of a four man team (Raiding party 5) dropped by parachute in German occupied Italy (Italy had surrendered in 1943, many anti-fascists now fought with the Allies). Leading the party was Captain John Gunston, the others were Bombardier Albert Pugh and Private Herbert Loosemore. When they landed they found to their horror that the snow was 3 or 4 feet deep.
Their mission, codenamed Operation Maple (Driftwood) was to sabotage the train line running between Urbino and Fabriano, in support of the landings up the coast at Anzio beach head, once this was done they were to evacuate by sea on the night of 25th / 26th of January.
On the evening of the 25th the Royal Navy turned up but there was no sign of the raiding parties.
The mission was running over due to the weather and other factors, in early February, Private Cook who was making good his escape from the enemy bumped into Captain Gunston near the village of Fermo, Captain Gunston said he still had one more task to complete, then he intended evacuation by sea.
This task was subsequently carried out and on Captain Gunston and his party of 8 parachutists (they had been joined by Party 6) were seen on the 4th of February at Fermo. They had stayed in the area for far too long and the chances of capture increased by the day.
Despite this it was not until the 7th of March that an attempt at escape was made, at Porto San Giorgio, 35 miles to the South of his area. Captain Gunston and his men including William Dodds were seen borading a 22 foot boat, very small indeed, and the weather was poor, a Force 6 wind was blowing and large waves pummeled the boat as she made out to sea,
To make matters worse the Commandos did not carry wireless sets, so contact with the navy was impossible, also Hitler had decreed that any Commando captured was to be executed, Rommel had refused to carry out this order in North Africa, but there was no such reluctance on mainland Europe.
Unbeknown to the men orders had been given to the Royal Air Force to treat any shipping in the area as hostile and to attack at will. This was not passed on to the SAS men.
Sadly this was the last time any of the men were seen alive, their fate is shrouded in mystery, some believe that the boat was swamped in heavy seas and that all drowned, another theory paints an entirely different more sinister picture. A German intelligence report was read stating that Captain Gunson, Sgt Benson (Party 6) and Private Looseman had been captured and interrogated, if this is this case they were subsequently executed and their bodies disposed off as they were never seen again.
The mission was deemed to be of limited success and ‘lessons were learned’.
William Dodds and his comrades are commemorated on the Cassino Memorial in Italy.