Secret WW2 unit's links to Wales celebrated

Black and white 1940s photo of group of soldiers standing in front of houses
X Troop were an elite commando group who fought in World War Two, but trained in north Wales [Prof Leah Garrett]

The link between a secret commando unit of Jewish refugees and a small town in Wales has been celebrated.

X Troop were trained to fight behind enemy lines and in battlefield interrogation during World War Two.

But they trained in Harlech and Aberdyfi in Gwynedd, under the command of a Welsh officer.

A plaque was unveiled at the building in Harlech where the unit first assembled.

Black and white 1940s photo of Major Bryan Hilton Jones, smartly dressed in military uniform
Major Bryan Hilton-Jones was born in Harlech and spoke Welsh, English, French, German, Arabic and Spanish [Nerys Pipkin]

X Troop, which was more formally known as No. 3 (Jewish) Troop, No. 10 Commando, was set up in 1942 and highly trained in advanced combat skills.

Its members were almost entirely Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria whose native language skills meant they could question German soldiers as soon as they were captured.

But they also operated behind enemy lines, including being part of an operation to steal a German Enigma code machine.

Later in the war, one of them even rescued his own parents from Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Their commanding officer was Maj Bryan Hilton-Jones, a Welsh speaker who was born in Harlech and grew up in Caernarfon.

He trained his men for their top-secret commando operations by getting them to climb the walls of Harlech’s medieval castle and break in undetected.

If they succeeded in that part of the mission, they had to immediately run the 38 miles to the top of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and back.

Circular blue plaque on stone wall next to six-over-six sash window
The plaque is the first public commemoration in Harlech of the town's links with X Troop [Charles Rissbrook]

Bryan Hilton-Jones's daughter Nerys Pipkin said: "Dad was a quiet man, but legendary for his physical fitness and sense of humour.

“He’d come out with a one-liner and then smile as the penny dropped.

“But he was as tough as nails and the sort of man who inspired people – just the right type of person to lead this unit."

Maj Hilton-Jones died in a crash near Barcelona in 1969 when he was 51.

In 1999, a large memorial stone was erected in Aberdyfi, where the soldiers were billeted and did much of their training.

But until now, there has been no commemoration in Harlech of their contribution to World War Two.

Circular blue plaque with text in Welsh English and Latin
The plaque will be fixed to the side of the building where X Troop first got together in the middle of World War Two [Charles Rissbrook]

The plaque has been organised by Harlech resident Charles Rissbrook who said: “X Troop were referred to as the most effective commando unit in the war.

“But because of their origins, even their existence was veiled in secrecy until recently – they never fought together as a unit, but were attached to other groups of soldiers.

“The building where the unit first got together is now a grocers, but it was used as their social club at the time.

“A friend of mine is a cousin of Bryan Hilton-Jones, and was trying to find out more information about him.

“The more we discovered, the more I became determined that there should be some permanent recognition of his wartime achievements.”