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War heroes remembrances

PUBLISHED: 15:28 05 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:32 03 July 2010

BATTLE AWARD: Former serviceman and member of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemens Association John Green.

BATTLE AWARD: Former serviceman and member of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemens Association John Green.

THE thunder of battle filled the air as the 19-year-old infantryman was carried down the snow-covered mountainside by four Sikhs who struggled to keep their footing on what was little more than a goats' track.

John Green as a young infantryman

THE thunder of battle filled the air as the 19-year-old infantryman was carried down the snow-covered mountainside by four Sikhs who struggled to keep their footing on what was little more than a goats' track.

A few months earlier, John Green had journeyed on leave to Tunisia to find his older brother Charles' grave in a cactus grove - the bodies of his comrades thrown together in a single plot, such was the ferocity of the blast that killed them.

Now in Italy's worst winter for 60 years, he was enduring his own bloody introduction to combat with frostbite carrying off many of those who escaped other injury.

There were heavy losses on both sides in the Battle of Ornito, close to the city of Naples, with the attacking Allies said to have slaughtered the Germans as they attempted to defend their positions but were eventually pushed back.

His role in the deployment earned him a rare regimental battle award, but with his body

peppered with shrapnel and one leg amputated

his dreams of joining the Metropolitan Police were over.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, his memories of that freezing February day in 1942 are hazy, his journey down the blizzard-hit mountain to the field hospital punctuated by falls as his stretcher bearers slid on the rutted snow and ice.

Days later he recalls with surreal clarity watching Vesuvius erupt from the window of his hospital ward in a converted school - in the ensuing panic everyone dived for cover while he was incapable of leaving his bed.

Weeks earlier, his first mission having joined the 2nd battalion Coldstream Guards was to set up a VIP guard for President Roosevelt and later Winston Churchill laid up with pneumonia in the old Roman city of Carthage.

After that came the deployment to Italy and the misery of freezing, wet night patrols and virtual hand to hand combat with the Germans, lobbing grenades at each other paces apart.

In the big picture of war in Europe his story is both minor and magnificently important - the individual caught up in world events.

It was all a far cry from his poor upbringing in Winterton, the ninth of ten children, raised in a two-bedroom cottage with no running water or electricity. Despite the hardship, he recalls it as a happy tight-knit community where everyone was your auntie even if they weren't.

Returning to Winterton after the war - co-incidentally on the same train as his childhood sweetheart Zelia who was on her way home from war work in Chelmsford - he made a name for himself as a man of principle and action when he squatted in some new prefab homes destined, he thought, for local people after Winterton suffered heavy bombing.

In fact, the homes were allocated to folk outside the village, and as a disabled soldier with a wife and son living at his mother-in-law's John turned his anger into action.

His stunt drew the attention of local officials and police and eventually he was given the pick of the homes. By this time he had gained employment as a telephonist with the electricity board, working his way up over the years.

In all the years since losing his leg he has remained involved with Blesma, the charity for injured ex-servicemen and women and is reckoned to have clocked up the longest service with a war and pensions committee in the country - at 39-and-a-half years - a feat which saw him elevated to an MBE at Buckingham Palace in 1995.

Today, aged 85, he feels deeply for young men returning limbless from Afghanistan and Iraq, but marvels at the help they receive. In his day he was given a false leg of the same kind that were issued in 1914 - all leather corsets and straps - and discharged with his left boot on and his right boot slung around his shoulder. It was up to him to make his way home by train and bus and start a new life.

He said: “I am, I suppose, phlegmatic. It is no good sitting back moaning about it. You have to get on with life.” John enjoys a busy life filled with

clubs and committees and now lives in Great Yarmouth. He was married to Zelia for 59 years and has two children Paul and Nola and four grandchildren.

Due to the level of interest in his story, John is giving a talk about his life, focussing on his early years in Winterton and his wartime experiences, in the Church Room, Winterton, on Wednesday at

2pm. Tickets are £5 from 01493 393480. All proceeds to Blesma.

He has also published a collection of his wife's poems, priced £3, all proceeds to Macmillan Nurses.

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