Naturally, General Sir ‘Windy’ Gale could not command the 6th Airborne Division forever, his replacement would be Major General Eric Bols.Eric Louis Bols was born in 1904, to Eric Jean Bols who had had a distinguished military career, commanding the Dorsetshire Regiment (or, more simply ‘The Dorsets’) during the Great War, before serving as chief administrator in Palestine.
Eric Bols attended Sandhurst military college before joining the British Army in 1924. During the interwar years he was given several postings which included China in 1927, shortly after being promoted to Lieutenant. He was rapidly moved from Shanghai and eventually found himself in Malta, where he enjoyed a game of polo with Lord Louis Mountbatten (the Duke of Edinburgh’s uncle), who, at the time, was also stationed in Malta with the Royal Navy.
Following a series of instructional postings, Bols was promoted to Captain, and took a transfer to the King’s Regiment in 1935. In 1937, he was seconded to the Ceylon Defence Force, the military force concerned with defence in what is modern day Sri Lanka. Here Bols served with the temporary rank of Major.
On the outbreak of war, Bols received his permanent rank of Major and took up several postings once again, one of which was to act as General Staff Officer of the 51st Highland Division, the division who valiantly fought on in Northern France during the evacuations that took place in 1940. Bols also helped to plan certain aspects of the Normandy Invasions, and took a particular interest in the training of the soldiers who would land in France in 1944.
Shortly after Operation Overlord had taken place, Bols was given command of 185th Infantry Brigade, where he would be recommended for the Distinguished Service Order for his command of the brigade during the battle of Overloon (for the village of the same name, located in the South East region of the Netherlands).
Bols was promoted once again to acting Major-General and took control of the 6th Airborne Division, who had seen extensive action during the Normandy campaign. In December 1944, when Bols took control of the Division, all units were stationed back in England for Christmas. However, the Division was called into action at the Battle of the Bulge, in the Ardennes forest, to support the American forces already engaging the enemy in the region.
They would remain here until January 1945, during which time they helped launch a major counter attack on large German forces, alongside other British units. In doing so, the 6th Airborne suffered heavy losses before linking up with the American Third Army, commanded by General Patton.
Operation Varsity, the Allied crossing over the Rhine into Germany, saw the 6th Airborne Division in amongst the fiercest fighting once again. This time, Bols was also involved with the front line fighting, having landed with one of the first wave of troops in British gliders. Here he commanded from the front and was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order, but also received the American Silver Star as a result, the third highest American award for valour, whilst in combat.
Bols remained in command of the 6th Airborne Division as it advanced across the North German plains, before linking up with Soviet forces in early May 1945, the first unit from the British military to do so. As a result, Bols was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Bath.
Bols retained control of the 6th Airborne Division after the cessation of hostilities in 1945, and led the division in Palestine, whilst they acted as peace keepers during the Palestine Emergency, which escalated after the war.
It was here that Bols announced his retirement three years later with the honourary rank of Major General in 1948.
Major General Eric Louis Bols, CB, DSO (& Bar), passed away in June 1985, at the age of 81.