Elizabeth Cross for Great Yarmouth hero
FOR Joan Andrews it was “the icing on the cake” – finally a proud and public tribute to her perfect big brother whose young life ended thousands of miles from home without ceremony or fanfare more than 60 years ago.
On that spring day in 1947 it was 16-year-old Joan who took the envelope from the messenger and handed it to her distraught parents at home in Middlegate Street (now Tolhouse Street).
She remembers how the family listened to radio reports about the bomb attack that killed her brother Tom Wells and four others on the radio the night before, her father predicting with cruel irony that some poor soul would be receiving a telegram.
Afterwards the only acknowledgement to the family was a sorrowful parcel containing a tin of boot polish, a few coins, Tom’s pipe and an empty wallet.
But on Monday, Mrs Andrews, 80, husband Eddie, 81, and sons Chris and David, had Tom’s loss and sacrifice officially recognised at a ceremony to honour servicemen killed since the second world war with an Elizabeth Cross and scroll.
Lord lieutenant of the county Richard Jewson presented the Elizabeth Cross to 10 next of kin on behalf of the Queen, who has given her name to the medal and lapel pin.
Mr Jewson told those present at the service, held at The Great Hospital, in Bishopgate, Norwich: “The Elizabeth Cross was created to provide recognition for the family of armed forces personnel who have died in operations or who have died as a result of terrorism.”
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He told family members, who came from across Norfolk and Suffolk: “I hope you will wear your Elizabeth Cross with pride and pass it on to future generations so that they can understand the price that has been paid.”
The Elizabeth Cross and memorial scroll is not meant to be a posthumous medal for the fallen but an emblem demonstrating tangible national recognition for service families for their loss.
The first Elizabeth Crosses and memorial scrolls were granted in August last year.
At home in Caister after Monday’s ceremony Mrs Andrews said the medal was deeply personal as well as something for the town to be proud of.
She said: “I just loved him. He was the perfect big brother.”
A great playmate and protector, their life of cricket and beach games was cut short when Tom was evacuated to Retford and Joan was hospitalised with scarlet fever. The siblings however continued to write, their bond undimmed by distance and time.
Losing Tom hit the family hard and his faded image still smiles out over the sitting room at his sister’s home – forever 19, his future blank.
Mrs Andrews visited her brother’s grave at Ramleh cemetery in Israel in 1998 where he is buried with the four other young men whose lives were taken in the same explosion.
Signalman Thomas Wells was a passenger on a troop train travelling from Cairo to the Palestinian front when he was mortally injured on April 22, 1947.
His train was struck by an explosive device. Several others were also killed and a large number of people were seriously injured in the explosion.
Signalman Wells completed his training as a laboratory assistant radar researcher in 1947 and joined the 3 Signal Squadron unit of the 7th Headquarter Signal Regiment.
But receiving the medal has made his family proud and helped them to make peace with his death.
“At last he is being recognised. It took 50 years to get his name on the war memorial in St George’s Park in Yarmouth but the icing on the cake was this medal,” Mrs Andrews said. She added her only sadness was that their parents Gladys and Benjamin never knew of the honour that would have delighted them both.