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Passage of time can't erase war memories

PUBLISHED: 15:47 06 November 2008 | UPDATED: 12:12 03 July 2010

SACRIFICES REMEMBERED: Silent tribute paid to those who gave their lives

SACRIFICES REMEMBERED: Silent tribute paid to those who gave their lives

THE quiet Gorleston home of Les Seal seems a world removed from the fearsome battles of the second world war.

But the passage of time has done nothing to lessen the impact of the experience on veterans such as Mr Seal.

THE quiet Gorleston home of Les Seal seems a world removed from the fearsome battles of the second world war.

But the passage of time has done nothing to lessen the impact of the experience on veterans such as Mr Seal.

The former Spitfire pilot still has vivid memories of the fighting in Italy during the closing stage of the conflict.

A squadron leader, Mr Seal helped the Allies advance, taking part in bombing raids on German positions and strategic targets including bridges and railway lines.

Aged just 17 when the war broke out in 1939, he joined the RAF two years later and learned to fly in the United States.

“When we first went out we had to be dressed in civilian clothes away from the airbase, but just after we arrived Pearl Harbor was attacked and then we could wear our uniforms all the time,” said Mr Seal.

“After getting my wings I trained pilots in Canada for a time and then returned to England before getting posted to France and then Italy.

“We could see the results of our action as the German troops abandoned their positions and the front line moved north.

“I think those experiences changed me and I lived a life I would never have experienced as a civilian.

“I don't ever remember being frightened when we went off on an operation; it never occurred to me that I would not be coming back.

“In a lot of ways I felt I had a good war, I learned to fly and was still there at the end of it. I joined the RAF as a boy and left a man.”

After he was decommissioned in 1946, Mr Seal returned to his pre-war job working on the railway and has never flown a plane since or even travelled on a jumbo jet.

Mr Seal and wife Patricia moved to Gorleston in 1960 and the couple celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary this year.

For the first time in many years Mr Seal will not be attending this Sunday's Remembrance Day commemoration in Great Yarmouth.

“I always go to the Remembrance Day ceremony at St George's Park, but will not attend this year as old age has crept up on me,” he said. “It is important to remember the sacrifices that were made to secure our freedom.”

THE importance of Sunday's Remembrance commemorations and the greater awareness of the plight of Britain's armed forces will not be lost on Great Yarmouth war veteran Richard Firmin.

The 86-year-old, of Havelock Road, admitted he will have a tear in his eye when he congregates with other ex-servicemen at St George's Park for the town's Remembrance Day service.

Former Royal Navy able seaman Mr Firmin believed troops who had served during the second world war had not received the recognition and support they deserved, but he was pleased attitudes were changing especially with the Help for Heroes charity campaign.

He said: “It is good there is more recognition, but I would like to see the Remembrance Day poppies being sold twice a year rather than just before the Remembrance Sunday commemorations.

“I can remember when soldiers from the Royal Anglian regiment visited Great Yarmouth in February. I stood there crying because of the lads coming back from Afghanistan because it brought it all back.”

Mr Firmin, who was also a torpedo-man, served during all the years of the second world war, from 1939 to 1945, and was involved in helping Allied forces fighting to liberate Italy and France.

He started out on board HMS Phoebe in the Middle East in 1940, but then moved on to HMS Tumult based in the Mediterranean, where he was stationed for three years and participated in the famous Battle of Monte Cassino, which resulted in the destruction of the St Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino.

His expertise with explosives meant he would often be involved in blowing up railway lines and other strategic transport networks to sabotage the war effort of the Axis powers.

The Londoner, who lives with wife Olive, 85, recalled witnessing thousands of small boats gathered near the French coast as troops streamed assure to help free the country from its German occupiers.

He has received seven medals for his military service including the Africa Star and the 1939-45 war medal, and also received one of the government's new veterans lapel badges, presented to him by Yarmouth MP Tony Wright in October.


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