Falkirk veteran Walter, 104, remembers the triumph and tragedy of 1944

Falkirk Second World War veteran Walter Sharp is taking it easy this Thursday - at 104 years of age he doesn’t fancy the fuss of another major commemoration event - but he certainly has not forgotten.

By Roy Beers
Sunday, 2nd June 2019, 4:50 pm
Walter at home with Harry, his beloved Westie - who is now a sprightly 14.
Walter at home with Harry, his beloved Westie - who is now a sprightly 14.

The details of his wartime service are indelibly etched in his mind as an experience which the passage of 75 years has done nothing to diminish.

Back in 2015 the former storeman at Camelon’s Carmuirs Iron Works received the grateful thanks of the French nation for his role in the operations of June 1944, and thereafter.

He is a proud holder of the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur - with the medal to prove it.

Flashback to 2015, when Walter was invited on board the French naval destroyer Aquitaine, berthed at Leith, to be appointed Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by Rear Admiral Patrick Chevallereau and French consul general in Scotland, Emmanuel Cocher.

But he may not have guessed when he joined the army back in 1940 that the all-embracing term “stores” - which could mean, for example, heavy artillery shells - was going to play such an important role in his war service.

He was 26 when he joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, at a time when Britain stood alone and the Germans seemed unstoppable.

His son Brian (looking forward to a quiet family get-together with his dad very soon) says he’s had the novel experience of seeing for himself one of the places the war took his dad - Bari, in Italy.

As he explains the details it soon becomes obvious that young Walter had been carried through nothing less than a grand tour of the Western theatre of the conflict in Europe.

He started with 1st Army in North Africa, then after the invasion of Sicily found himself in Naples during the long campaign for control of Italy.

In June 1944 - three days after D-Day - he was with the supply echelons battling to bring vital relief to the troops fighting to break out of the Normandy beachheads.

Operation Overlord was a decisive success, but it was certainly not the end of the war.

Ahead lay the desperate struggle for control of the Normandy bocage country, the disaster of Arnhem, the desperate German winter offensive through the Ardennes, and the grim struggle to pierce the Siegried Line.

By that time Walter had even more to live for than before, because just weeks before he embarked for Normandy he had married Doris, who was to be his wife for 46 years.

The couple had wed in Horley, Surrey, where he had been based earlier in the war.

For several years he had run the continual risk of sudden death or terrible injury in any of dozens of different ways - but was lucky to survive to return home to his wife and a solid professional career in his home town.

On Thursday he will be among the many to remember not only his own experiences but also the comrades in arms who never made it back, and whose young lives were brutally cut short in foreign fields.

When Walter demobbed in 1946 he and Doris returned to Camelon, where he went back to work in the foundry until its closure in 1967.

He then started work with bus builders Walter Alexander, and retired from there aged 65 in 1979.

Apart from his memories, he has a collection of medals to remind him of the war days - the African Star with 1st Army Bar, the Italy Star, France and Germany Star, 1939/1945 Star, 1939/1945 Defense Medal and 1939/1945 War Medal.

Now, 75 years after he witnessed a scene of carnage on war-torn Gold Beach, he is looking forward to his 105th birthday in August - and another annual congratulations message from the Queen.