Brig Tim Pierson, a distinguished wartime soldier, who later commanded the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, died on 2 December 2004 aged 87.

Brig T Pierson
Brig T Pierson

In June and July 1944, Tim Pierson was a subaltern in the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry (2NY) involved in the vicious fighting in Normandy to capture Caen. Part of the 11th Armoured Division, the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry took part in the fateful Operation Goodwood on 18 and 19 July, which was one of Gen Montgomery’s main attempts to break out from the Normandy bridgehead.

Despite massive air bombardment the German defences, which were in great depth, remained remarkably resilient. The German 88mm guns mounted on the famous Tiger tanks and the 88mm anti-aircraft guns used in the ground role, took a devastating toll on the advancing British armoured formations.

The 11th Armoured Division lost 126 tanks and the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry had 52 of their 75 tanks destroyed or disabled. Tim Pierson was one of the few officers neither killed, wounded nor captured. After further fighting, the Regiment had in effect been annihilated and was disbanded on 18 August 1944.

Tim Pierson then joined the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, which was the armoured reconnaissance regiment of the famous 7th Armoured Divison (the Desert Rats). The Commanding Officer, Lt Col Cuthbert Goulbourn, put Tim Pierson in command of the Recce Troop equipped with eight Honey tanks.

He was a bright, capable officer who led his troop with distinction throughout the rest of the war, advancing through France, the Low Countries and right up to Hamburg. Despite being a canny recce soldier he was lucky to survive, as the life expectancy of Recce Troop Leaders in 1944 was not long.

On one occasion, one of his tanks was ‘brewed up’ by an unidentified German tank, which had fired through a thick hedge; having dismounted from his own tank Tim Pierson was peering through the hedge when a second enemy anti-tank round was fired. The round was so close to his head that it blew his beret off, but did not even scratch him.

After many actions during the fighting into Germany Tim Pierson’s Recce Troop liberated a very large PoW camp, Stalag XI B, at Fallingbostel, north of Hannover in which a large number of Allied prisoners from Dunkirk through to Arnheim were held.

He immediately noticed the difference between the immaculate discipline and turnout of these prisoners compared to other PoW camps that they had liberated. The difference was that the western half of Stalag XI B was run by the legendary RSM JC Lord, who was to become the Academy Sergeant-Major at Sandhurst after the war.

Hugh Timothy Pierson was born in Calcutta on 15 August 1917.

His father was a commodity broker. His mother, Lilian, died from typhoid in 1923. Sent to England to stay with his aunt in 1924, Tim Pierson was educated at Abberley Hall in Worcestershire, and then at Rugby from 1931-36. He was a fine all-around athlete and learned to ski in Switzerland in 1937; this sparked a life-long interest in competitive skiing.

He planned to read mathematics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, but his father’s cousin, Rex Pierson, who was chief designer at Vickers Armstrong, persuaded him to take up a pupil apprenticeship at Vickers instead. In later life, Tim Pierson always rather regretted having not taken up the Cambridge place as originally planned.

As Vickers was a reserve occupation Tim Pierson was unable to join the Regular Army until 1942. In 1940-41 he was active in the Home Guard in Kent and raised a highly mobile motorcycle platoon which he equipped with Vickers machine guns.

His technical ability was also in evidence in early 1945 when he removed the turrets from four of his eight Honey tanks. By so doing, and mounting extra machine guns, these light tanks became excellent recce vehicles – quiet, fast, with a low silhouette and able to bring two or three machine guns to bear at once; these turretless Honeys became known as ‘Jalopys’.

At the end of the war, the 8th Hussars were moved to Berlin for the Victory Parade and billeted in the 1936 Olympic Stadium, where he ensured that full use was made of the athletics facilities.

Tim Pierson loved the 8th Hussars and the marvellous esprit de corps shared by all ranks. He decided against returning to Vickers Armstrong and was granted a Regular Commission in 1947.

A gregarious and fun-loving officer, Tim Pierson was a great enthusiast and was involved in a wide range of pursuits throughout his career – he rowed, sailed, hunted, shot, played polo and golf, and was a particularly adept hockey player. He loved his skiing and was a member of the Kandahar Club and the Ski Club of Great Britain.

Tim Pierson was one of the first cavalry officers to study for a technical degree at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham from 1949-51. Afterwards, he was appointed TSO2 in Military Intelligence in the War Office, during which time he accompanied Field Marshal John Harding on a visit to Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia.

Having become engaged in 1953, he returned to the 8th Hussars in Luneberg as ‘B’ Squadron Leader and was married the following year. In late 1955 he returned to the War Office as GSO2 for two years, before taking over as Regimental 2IC of the 8th Hussars in 1958. Later that year the 8th were amalgamated with their old friends the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, and the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars (QRIH) was born.

Tim Pierson was promoted to lieutenant colonel and posted as a liaison officer to the US Combat Development Experimentation Centre in California. During this time his skiing expertise was used to good effect as he advised on the construction of the Squaw Valley Olympic Village for the 1960 Olympic Games; during the games, he also managed the British cross country and biathlon teams.

Tim Pierson took command of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars in October 1960. Within his first month as Commanding Officer he had the daunting task of making his first speech at the Regimental Association Dinner, following speeches by the Colonel-in-Chief, HRH The Prince Philip, and the Colonel of
the Regiment, Sir Winston Churchill. Tim Pierson moved the Regiment from Germany to Tidworth and converted them from armour to armoured cars before the QRIH was posted to Aden.

It was a diverse command with two squadrons in Aden, one in Sharjah supporting the Trucial Oman Scouts, with another training in Kenya. Having sent a number of young officers for pilot training Tim Pierson was established with a Regimental helicopter flight for reconnaissance roles.

In late 1962 the Regiment embarked on the troopship The Oxfordshire and deployed to Malaya. Landing at Penang, the Regiment moved to Ipoh, with one squadron based in Singapore. Polo was a very popular sport and during the Ipoh, polo tournament news arrived of a rebellion in Brunei, which later became known as the Indonesian Confrontation.

Within a month Tim Pierson was moving the Regiment yet again to establish a forward operating base at Kuching, Sarawak in order to mount operations against the communist insurgency. In April 1963 he handed over command to Lt Col John Strawson and was promoted to colonel.

His colonel appointments included Colonel GS(Tech) in HQ BAOR, Head of MGO’s Secretariat in MOD and Chief Instructor Armour School in Bovington. In June 1968 he was promoted to brigadier and shortly after was posted as Deputy Director (Senior Military Officer) of the Military Vehicles and Engineering
Establishment at Chobham, Surrey involved with the design, development and testing of armoured and logistic vehicles.

After retirement in 1973, Tim Pierson trained to be a tree surgeon. Wiry and very agile for a man in his late fifties and sixties, he could often be found swinging around the woods of Surrey lopping off errant branches.

In 1983 he moved to Herefordshire where he was involved in various charities, became Chairman of the Hereford Branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and was on the committee of the River Wye Preservation Trust. Although he had been a keen shot, failing eyesight stopped him from shooting. However, he was a keen supporter of the South Herefordshire Hunt, and would often follow on foot.

Throughout his retirement, Tim Pierson was a great supporter of his beloved Regiment. He served as a Regimental Trustee for many years and was closely involved with the QRIH museum, instrumental in setting up the museum at Carrickfergus Castle in Northern Ireland and later moving it to the Redoubt Fortress in Eastbourne. This could be regarded as his lasting legacy to the Regiment.

He also part wrote, and edited, a history of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars called Irish Hussar.

He was delighted when his son, who commanded ‘A’ Squadron in the first Gulf War, joined his old Regiment.

In the words of one Old Comrade, Tim Pierson ‘was a great soldier, loved by all who served under his command’. Even in retirement, his sage counsel and practical advice were much appreciated by those who followed after him. He had a great sense of humour and a love of the absurd.

Related topics

  1. A short history of The 8th Hussars
  2. A short history of The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars
  3. North-West Europe 1944-45 timeline
  4. Malaya and Borneo 1962-64