A Silver Cross of St. George for a doughty D-day veteran
Thename on the side of the shop in the wide High Street at Marlborough in Wiltshire changed many times over the years, but as it went from Stratton Sons and Mead to Gateway and then to Somerfield, customers buying their groceries were always greeted and served by a familiar, reassuring figure behind the counter. John Bower joined the business in its original incarnation in 1937 when he was just 14, and worked there, apart from one brief period of his life, for 50 years until his retirement in 1987. During that time, not only did he rise to the position of manager but he won a national prize for his display of Danish Bacon!
When war was declared in September 1939 John was too young to enlist, so, like countless others keen to do their bit, alongside his father (a veteran of the 1914-1918 conflict) he joined the Home Guard. Many wise heads told him that it would all be over before he was old enough to play a part, but two years later, having been unable to get into the RAF because of partial colour blindness, he joined the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and underwent tank training at Bovington, qualifying as a radio operator and gun loader.
John’s war service culminated in the momentous D-day landings in June 1944 which saw him and his crew driving onto a Normandy beach in a Sherman tank. He has never forgotten the explosion that followed as they plugged in a charge to blow off the vehicle’s waterproof covering: it was so loud he thought they had been hit.
The tanks joined the thick of the fighting soon enough and while three of them were driving down the street at Lisieux, a few miles inland, they were hit from behind by a bazooka. All three tanks went up in flames. Somehow, unlike the unfortunate men in the other armoured vehicles, John and his driver, Jimmy, managed to climb out, but then found themselves dodging a hail of bullets from a German machine gun.
As they ran down the road both were hit, John on the side of the head and Jimmy in the back. Luckily they managed to find some cover and, despite their injuries, found their way back to their regiment. Both were flown to England to have their wounds treated but the war was by no means over for them: once they had recovered, back they went to Normandy. It was during this second stint that John and five other tanks were involved in the ambush of a number of German panzers, destroying the enemy tanks and, as was later discovered, killing Commander Michael Wittman, a German war hero who was credited with the destruction of 138 Allied tanks.
After the war, putting all the terrible scenes he had witnessed behind him, John returned to his job in the shop. It was there that he met Babs Rogers. The couple married and in 2015 celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary: they have a son and a daughter and four grandchildren.
John considers himself fortunate to have survived the war, putting it down to “the luck of the draw”. But thoughts of his
interest. I can remember the BBC Schools Radio programme Singing Together and the other schools programme that made a great impression on me was How We Used to Live, screened on Schools Television. This again leads us to Norman Longmate who wrote the programme and a book How We Lived Then about the many
—Home Front aspects of the Second World War.
PARKER, BILLINGSHURST, WEST SUSSEX.
Sir: It was the mention of the filming locations for the new Dad’s Army film which really drew my attention. I was born in Bridlington in 1930, and remember with affection that comrades who didn’t make it are never far away: 87 members of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and 89 from the 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry are buried in Normandy. Each year John prints their names on small, flat wooden crosses, placed in a wreath which his son Brian takes to Westminster to be laid on Remembrance Sunday. Not only that, every year, come rain or shine, John goes out selling poppies in the town: as familiar a figure with his tray and collecting tin as he was behind the counter of the shop for all those years. At the age of 93, he will be raising money again this year, an astonishing act of charity and remembrance from a man who, having played his own important part in the liberation of Europe, would be quite entitled to put his feet up and let someone younger do the work.
On a number of occasions John has returned to Saint-aignande-cramesnil, the French village he and his tank crew liberated. He is always given a wonderful welcome and attends a special church service there. Last year he received official recognition of his role in the Normandy campaign when he was awarded France’s highest military honour, the Legion d’honneur, which John selflessly insists is “for all my comrades who died in action”.
In nominating John Bower for our Silver Cross of St. George, This England reader Colin Macleod of Beauly, Inverness, says that he has known the D-day veteran for 45 years and, although he has met many men during the course of his life, none are “as remarkable and modestly brave as him”. For his loyalty and service to his local community, his heroic wartime exploits and continued work raising money for the Royal British Legion, no one could be more deserving of our award. Marlborough should be very proud indeed.
town, Flamborough Head, Sewerby Hall and Beverley. I spent many happy hours of my childhood and teenage years in those areas, needing only an old bicycle and fishing rod. What more could a lad need in those days?
Interestingly, I have a vague wartime recollection of an enemy spy being apprehended
in the Expanse Hotel, on the sea front at Bridlington. The hotel is still there and was owned by the father of a friend.
The memory of the sound of the Flamborough Head foghorn, so mournful in the eerie mist, is not easily forgotten. The only downer in all this was that the Flamborough Head light served as a beacon for German
Sir: I read with interest the article on William Shakespeare. and I’m sorry I can’t attend the festivities as I live in Australia. I will, however, make use of Twitter feeds and Facebook searches to keep up to date on the important quatercentenary events. I always enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays at school. I’m 32 now, and still like reading his sonnets and my favourite play of his is Hamlet.
Shakespeare contributed a great deal to modern language and many of the phrases he wrote in his plays have become so ingrained in English/british psyche, that it is a shame that many people of my generation don’t know or care where these gems came from. We can only hope that subsequent school curricula will again focus on the contribution of Great Britain to the culture of the Commonwealth.
I hope the June referendum works out well for Britain. You can count on my support for an “Out” vote. I do so agree with Boris Johnson that a love of Europe should not be confused with the political machinations of the European Union. —
We head to the North East of England for our third nomination. Tracey Johnson emailed us from Carlisle to warmly recommend Carriages Tea Room, Station Yard, Woodburn Road, Bellingham, Northumberland. Taking tea here will definitely get you on the right track as the tea room is imaginatively housed in two railway carriages dating from 1957.
Tracey explains: “Created within the first carriage is a feeling of stepping back in time where a delicious variety of toasties, paninis and sandwiches are freshly made on the train, plus a wide choice of cakes to tempt you.”
As you’d expect there is also a first-class afternoon tea on offer, while an exhibition area, located in the second carriage, and a nearby Heritage Centre really make this tea room extra special.
We hope that the staff at Carriages will be chuffed with their award.
A letter from Duncan Reynolds, of Billingshurst in Sussex, drew our attention to The Milk Churn Tea Room, Kiln House, The Brickworks, Rudgwick, West Sussex. “It might take some finding, but it is well worth the trouble,” says Duncan. He adds: “The local Charmer Cheese on toast is to die for, the range of tea and coffee is superb and their snacks are good value.”
As well as being a favourite destination for Duncan, and his wife Ann, he says that many of the friends they have taken there also sing the praises of this charmingly named tea room.
Many congratulations to all the winning tea rooms featured in this issue. Your certificates will be arriving with you very soon. We’ll be serving another selection in the autumn.
To nominate a tea room for an award send details to: This England’s Finest Tea Rooms, The Lypiatts, Lansdown Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 2JA, or email: email@example.com .