Award for Great Yarmouth war veteran

SITTING in his cosy living room with photographs of his large loving family beaming down on him John Green reflects that he is a very lucky man.

At 87 his cheery outlook confounds the stereotype of grumpy old age and is probably the driving force behind all that he has achieved, despite having lost a leg in combat as a teenage infantryman.

His accolades include an MBE for his service to the war pensions committee and a rare regimental battle award earned during the battle of Ornito close to the city of Naples during the second world war.

It was there in the heat of battle that he lost his leg and all hope of a career with the Metropolitan Police – but gained a foothold into a world of warm-hearted charity that would last a lifetime.

And on Sunday the former Coldstream Guardsman travelled to Swindon for the annual general meeting of Blesma (the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association), the charity for injured ex-servicemen and women to be honoured for his involvement in the association spanning almost 70 years.

Receiving the Lord and Lady Shuttleworth Memorial Award was a great honour, he said, passing the praise back to Blesma, which he said had motivated him to keep active and involved.

He said: “If I had not lost a limb and joined Blesma I would have lead a mundane, ordinary life. But I have met so many people and been to places such as Buckingham Palace. Blesma has opened my world, it has been absolutely marvellous.”

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Amid the heavy losses on both sides during the battle of Ornito in freezing February 1942 it was difficult to say for sure what happened to his leg which was amputated in Italy while Vesuvius erupted.

Afterwards he found himself at a specialist hospital in London for the “10 a penny” amputees who were having to rebuild their lives and adjust their ambitions.

Signing up to join Blesma from his hospital bed he recalls a doodlebug rocket droning overhead and everyone diving for cover while he wrote his name on the dotted line, totally incapacitated and unable to seek safety.

Arriving back in his home village of Winterton, coincidentally on the same train as his sweetheart Zelia, later his wife, he set up the Yarmouth branch of Blesma which counted over 100 people among its members, including some from the first world war. Today he is the last survivor of that group which, having merged with Lowestoft, has shrunk to some 14 or 15 members.

But on a national scale conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have put Blesma and its fundraising and supporting role back in focus.

The charity has two homes for ex-servicemen and provides holidays as well as advice and lifelong support for members’ widows through a network of welfare officers.

Jerome Church, Blesma’s general secretary said: “He absolutely fills the criteria and spirit of this award, which is awarded every year to a member who has given long and exceptional service to the association. John joined the Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft branch in August 1945 and he got involved almost straight away as branch treasurer, and did masses of fundraising – and never stopped. Even now 66 years later he is still there advising and helping. He truly represents that great generation that built the Blesma that is so relevant today.”

Locally Mr Green, of The Lawns, Great Yarmouth, said the charity had had to widen its focus to include people who had lost limbs in road accidents or to diseases such as diabetes. Just talking to people and reassuring relatives that there was life after limb-loss could do them the world of good and have much more of a positive effect than any dry medical pronouncements.

The difference with servicemen was that they were often fighting fit and recovered more quickly than someone who had a debilitating illness, he said.

And although modern medicine was heralding some wonderful new techniques, even “growing” prosthetic limbs around the patient’s own bone, he was happy with the standard model he had been wearing fro 50 years.

Blesma, he said, was a “wonderful, kind-hearted organisation” that had more than repaid him for his effort over the years. Anyone can join as an honorary member. “I was always positive and even after I got my first leg I was on my motorbikes within weeks. I do like to visit people who have lost limbs because if they see someone who is getting on well it is the best approach,” he said.

Mr Green was married to Zelia for nearly 60 years, has two children, four grandchildren and three great grand children.