Over the Christmas holiday we returned to our home city of Liverpool to catch up with relatives and friends. It is always a very important time for us as it is the only time we get to see most of them.

But this Christmas there was an additional chance meeting at a bus stop. My son and I were waiting for a bus to take us into town to spend his Christmas money in the sales and were joined by this nondescript looking old man. It was freezing cold, blowing a gale and raining and he made a comment to us about how he remembered the snow fall when he was de-mobbed and how he’d had to wade through 4 feet of it as he wandered over the farmers fields to get home (it is now a vast, sprawling housing estate).

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

On hearing ‘de-mobbed’ my spidey sense was alerted and I immediately started asking him about the war and he told us stories that left us both speechless (my son later commenting that this little man that you’d just ignore walking down the street, was one of the heroes you see in films, except he was one of the REAL ones.)

In my book any one who fights for their country, family and friends is a hero one way or another, but I knew what he meant.

He’d volunteered for the Kings Regiment (both my Great Grandfathers had been with them during the first World War) early in the war, before he was of legal age. But over the months and years he got shifted round to different regiments and Theatres. His first taste of action was in Africa though it ‘wasn’t much to write home about’. But his moment really came on D-Day .. where he entered France via Juno Beach.

I was surprised about this and said that surely Juno was taken by the Canadians and Royal Marines .. assuming he was implying he was in the Marines. Yes, he said, we were seconnded to the Canadian Rifles. ‘They called us the Winnipegs’.

How he survived that is amazing but he also survived to fight his way through to Bremen by the time the war ended

Now I knew the Canadians took a pounding but it wasn’t until I did some digging later that I found out the Winnipeg Rifles were part of the first wave and took the heaviest casualties. How he survived that is amazing but he also survived to fight his way through to Bremen by the time the war ended.

He then proceeded to recall various patrols he’d been sent out on and about how if there was a dangerous or important one it would be him and his best mate who were picked. He told us tales of bridge captures, assaults on pill boxes, dug in MGs .. of ducking into a shell hole as a grenade exploded on the rim only to stand up and mow down a bunch of Germans who had used the diversion to try to escape. Of being greeted with cheers through French and Belgium villages and rows of white flags from the windows of German.

I asked if he’d been any where near the Bulge (given our current project I thought I’d try .. ) but no. They’d been on standby North of the Ardennes but were never involved.

As we got off the bus I shook his hand and told him what a pleasure it had been to chat with him. He looked at my son and said .. ‘You know lad .. I’ve never told anyone about that before now’ .

He disappeared into the post Christmas crowd and I kicked myself for not having pen and paper or a phone so I could get contact details. I’d loved to of heard more of his stories but sadly I don’t imagine that will ever happen.

In the town I live in now we had a tank driver from the 10th SS Panzer. Apparently he was a well known figure around the market but one day simply stopped coming. I’ve spoken to a few different people who knew his story and despite his being the enemy there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was equally a hero. His unit had even been stripped of their honours for defying Hitler to save the lives of civilians and Wehrmacht troops.

So many of these people are no longer with us and their stories, that I feel are so essential for our current generations to hear and understand, are being lost. Have any of you had similar experiences?