A Sil­ver Cross of St. Ge­orge for a doughty D-day vet­eran

This England - - News -

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.


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: ed­i­tor@thisen­g­land.co.uk .

More than 70 years af­ter D-day, John Bower con­tin­ues to make sure his fallen com­rades are not for­got­ten.

Vis­i­tors to Strat­ford-upon-avon en­joy­ing a trip along the river. The tower in the dis­tance is the RSC The­atre. See let­ters this page.

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