DAMHA resident Alec Wigham has received a medal fit for a hero.
Alex this year, along with other veterans, received the French medal ‘Ordre National de la Legion d’honneur’ – France’s highest honour for his role in the Normandy landings.
Not surprisingly, given the mayhem and horror he must have witnessed, Alec doesn’t remember everything about 6th June 1944, otherwise known as D-Day.
But he does recall one thing that happened as he approached Gold Beach, the area of Normandy his regiment, The Green Howards, had been tasked with taking from the Germans.
“We were in a very small landing craft and even though D-Day was supposed to be on 5th June but had been cancelled because of the weather, it still wasn’t great on the 6th.
“I remember being horribly sick, along with many others, as we approached the beach as the sea was very choppy and obviously we were all very nervous about what was waiting for us on the beach.
“The rest is all a bit of a blur but whilst it was tough, compared to what some of the lads on the other beaches faced, I think we were lucky.”
In a letter to him French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann said: “As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you who came from Britain to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life.”
Alec’s medal has been added to the others he was awarded for his service during World War Two. They include the Middle East and Italian campaign medals.
The 94-year-old, who lives in our Aged Miners Homes in Wheatley Hill, says: “We saw action in Sicily, Suez, France, Belgium and Holland and I was proud to be a Green Howard.
“You see some bad things in War, but I prefer to remember the more light-hearted moments.
“One time, we were on the Belgium/Holland border and taking cover in a shell hole because the RAF were bombing targets ahead of us.
“It was dark, then all of a sudden a man approached carrying a package and shouting something to us.
“He kept coming even though we were shouting at him to stop and drop his package, but luckily for him, the corporal in charge saw that he was a civilian and when we inspected the package, it was a jug of milk he was bringing for us to drink.”
After the War was won, Alec returned to England but volunteered to go back to Germany to help supply a camp where Allied soldiers were staying during the occupation. He impressed his superiors so much during his time in the camp that he was promoted in rapid succession, finishing his service as a Sergeant.
He returned to civilian life and resumed, for a brief time, his job working for the Co-op. It was here that he met his wife Joan. They went on to have one son, three-grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one great, great-grandchild.
Alec worked as a bus driver for a while before finding the job that gave him most satisfaction and what he did for an amazing 36 years before retiring – driving an ambulance.
“I retired as a Superintendent of my local ambulance service and during my time as a driver I helped to deliver numerous babies and had many other great, and also often sad, experiences.
“Receiving the medal this year has reminded me what an important thing we all did but that I was one of the lucky ones who made it back and was able to get a job and start a family. Many others, including some of my friends, sadly didn’t but what they did will never be forgotten.”
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