Three Wisbech war heroes are to have their courage recognised after the town council voted unanimously to grant them the Freedom of the Town.
All three men are D-day veterans and recipients of the French medal ‘Ordre National de la Legion d’honneur’ - France’s highest honour for their role in the Normandy landings and the liberation of Europe in the second world war.
Now in their 90s all three will receive the Freedom of the Town at a special presentation ceremony currently being organised following last Monday’s council decision.
• Gerald Fleming (98) - 8th Army
• John McIntosh (93) - 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry
• Ronald Sanderson (91) - 11th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers
Here Jessie Tindale with the help of Leonard Veenendaal, who interviewed the three heroes, tells their stories.
Gerald Fleming - Gerry joined the Army in 1937 in Hull and became part of the transport division, without hesitation he quotes his army number 82139.
It wasn’t long before the Second World War started and Gerry said: “We had to get our kit from Walton then to Southampton and ended up in Marseilles”. From there they went to Palestine.
Gerry’s battalion was attached to the 8th Army (a field army and one of the best-known formations of the British Army during the Second World War, fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns) - he saw action in Syria and Iran, before ending up in Egypt in the campaign against Erwin Rommel’s Panzer Army Africa.
He has many memories - some good some not so good. They include coming across Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery with his Desert Rats; finding a dog and taking him with him in his army truck before having to hand the animal over to a comrade as he was packed off home on leave after four years in the Middle East.
After his leave Gerry was packed off to Europe starting in France and moving through Belgium and eventually into Germany.
In Belgium Gerry described how: “We helped to liberate them and they came out of their houses to welcome the army, singing and jingling things they were so happy”.
He doesn’t talk in detail of his wartime heroics but he remembers having to brave a rope bridge to cross the Rhine river into Germany.
Once there he met a young Yugoslavian student called Anita, who had suffered three-years hard labour at the hands of the Nazis. They married in Germany and after the war returned to live in Wisbech where they had a daughter.
Gerry, who is almost blind, lives in Rose Lodge Care Home, where he has been for the past nine years. He treasures his medals including the Ordre National de la Legion d’honneur - he is a knight in the order (the second highest of the honour’s five divisions).
John McIntosh - John was drafted into the army in June of 1943 at the age of 19.
He was initially posted to Leeds and Edinburgh for training with the 1st Highland Light Infantry. From there they were sent onto Sittingbourne in Kent for further intense training before being shipped for deployment from Newhaven across the channel to Normandy.
John remembers it distinctively. He said: “It was a beautiful sunny Sunday when they landed on Sword beach on D-Day plus 10. Fortunately most of the beach had been cleared by then and the battalion made their way up to join Battle of the Falaise Pocket.”
He said: “We had quite a few skirmishes to deal with.” He omits to mention the battle of Falaise pocket, was a decisive engagement for the D-Day landings and involved the German 7th Army and 5th Panzer Division tanks who were waiting for them.
He said: “We stopped at a river for a rest and reinforcements and a young lad named Robbie Robinson palled up with me. Robbie said ‘I am sure I am going to die’ and I told him ‘stick with me and you’ll be alright’.”
But there was an explosion and both John and Robbie ended up in a ditch - tragically Robbie was hit by shrapnel and died in John’s arms.
He went on to say: “There were five men from Wisbech who joined at the same time, one went into Medical Corps, two went to The King’s Own Scottish Borderers infantry regiment and two went to The Highland Light Infantry, only two survived from the Normandy beaches.”
John was involved in the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) the last major German offensive of the war during which he and his commander were blown up after the officer trod on a landmine. John escaped with shrapnel wounds his commander was killed.
John was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur (Chevalier is the highest of the honour’s five divisions) by French Consul Jean-Claude Lafontaine in a special ceremony at his home last year.
Ronald Sanderson - Ron as he is affectionately known enlisted into the army on the 6th January 1944 age 17½ at King’s Lynn. He joined the Gloucester Infantry Regiment and did his training in Colchester. They were sent to Overstrand to learn how to climb cliffs as part of their preparations for Normandy.
Then the battalion was posted to Canterbury from where they were shipped across the channel via Folkestone to the Normandy Beaches landing on D-Day on Sword beach.
They were quickly on to the town of Ouistreham in the middle of the target beach where they encountered fierce fighting. The Royal Fusiliers had taken a pounding and in need of reinforcements to strengthen their battalion which they took from the Gloucester and Lincolnshire infantry regiments.
Ron found himself in the 11th Battalion of The Royal Scots Fusiliers and fighting his way up to Caen.
He said: “The RAF was a God send, really, they came and bombed it all but the Germans found ways of hiding in the rubble.”
Ron went on to tell how he fought mainly in Holland and how the people came out to greet them throwing flowers in their path.
After the war ended in Europe his regiment was sent to Burma. In August 1945 the atom bomb was dropped on Japan ending the Pacific campaign and they were diverted to India where he stayed until his service ended.
Ron was involved in many battles for which he was decorated and his many medals includes the French medal Ordre National de la Legion d’honneur (knight in then National Legion of Honour) for his role in the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944.
Ron says it was an honour to receive his medals, but “it’s the memories that hurt now”.