Twenty-three year old Rifleman Beeley was a member of 1st Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps which was ordered to seize some high ground overlooking Sidi Rezegh airfield. This was an important objective of Operation Crusader and was to be the scene of fierce engagements over the next few days.
The attack was launched at 0830 hours on 21 November across 2,000 yards of open airfield. Very little artillery support was available at the time. As they approached the escarpment it became apparent that it was more strongly defended than expected and they were outnumbered by about three to one. Nevertheless the battalion pressed on with its attack and John Beeley’s action was instrumental in their ultimate success. His citation reads:
On the 21st November 1941, during the attack at Sidi Rezegh, North Africa, against a strong enemy position, the company to which Rifleman Beeley belonged was pinned down by heavy fire at point-blank range from the front and flank on the flat, open ground of the aerodrome.
All the officers but one of the company and many of the other ranks had been either killed or wounded. On his own initiative, and when there was no sort of cover, Rifleman Beeley got to his feet carrying a Bren gun and ran forward towards a strong enemy post containing an anti-tank gun. The post was silenced and Rifleman Beeley’s platoon was enabled to advance, but Rifleman Beely fell dead across his gun, hit in at least four places.
Rifleman Beeley went to certain death in a gallant and successful attempt to carry the day. His courage and self-sacrifice were a glorious example to his comrades and inspired them to further efforts to reach their objective, which was eventually captured by them, together with 700 prisoners.
Three officers and a further 25 other ranks were killed, and five officers and 50 other ranks wounded, out of a total strength of about 300.
More on John Beeley.