Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Have a look for my bloody leg

Sixty nine years ago tomorrow (September 25th 1944) a British Army sergeant was walking through the countryside around Venlo in the south eastern Netherlands.
It was no ordinary walk. Led by a Welsh sergeant, the column of soldiers was aware that the surrounding countryside had been mined by the Germans. They were part of the tail end of what was known as Operation Market Garden, a major offensive against Nazi occupied Holland.
The Welsh sergeant stepped on one of the mines and was killed instantly. The British sergeant got the full blast which blew away the lower part of his left leg and peppered his whole body with shrapnel leaving him seriously wounded.
He was rescued from the scene and flown back to a Worcestershire hospital where he spent much of the next few months undergoing treatment, which involved removing a further portion of his leg and painstakingly removing the shrapnel from the entire front of his body and face.
Six months earlier he had married his sweetheart in a tiny church in a Yorkshire mill town where he was born. After a few days in Blackpool on honeymoon he had returned to the bloody heart of the battle against Germany. What happened on that September morning meant the honeymoon was well and truly over.
Eventually, after many months, he returned to the Yorkshire mill town. They sent him an artificial leg by train to the railway station. He had to walk two miles on crutches to pick it up. He put it on in the station waiting room, walked out and for the next 51 years, worked, saved, raised a child, even taught him to play football and cricket, and generally defied what that bloody awful weapon of war had done to him..
He said to his son, "If you ever go to Holland have a look for my bloody leg will you?"
In a few weeks the country will fall silent to remember those who lost their lives in conflict, in fact in many conflicts before and since that awful September morning. I always remember with them and feel fortunate that the name of that British sergeant was not etched in letters upon the memory of this country, unlike his Welsh counterpart and friend.
And Dad, if I do ever go to Holland, I promise to have a look for your bloody leg.

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