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Yarmouth man's hand in Dutch liberation

PUBLISHED: 13:01 30 April 2009 | UPDATED: 13:49 03 July 2010

THE date was October 27, 1944. More than four months after the young Great Yarmouth sapper and the unit he commanded were thrown into the aftermath of D-Day they pushed on to s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

THE date was October 27, 1944. More than four months after the young Great Yarmouth sapper and the unit he commanded were thrown into the aftermath of D-Day they pushed on to s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

Walter Broom and his company were given a hero's welcome by the grateful population who had lived under oppressive Nazi occupation for four and half years. Most of the men had been sent away to work and the women and children who remained had little of anything. The town had been brought to its knees.

At 93, Mr Broom could be forgiven for being a little hazy on the detail but his memory is razor sharp - matched only by that of the residents of s-Hertogenbosch who have never forgotten the heroic effort of Walter and his comrades.

Every year since the liberation, townsfolk have marked the enduring legacy with celebrations.

But this year, 65 years on, and with so few veterans remaining, they will make their last salute.

Mr Broom, of Belton, who has attended three previous anniversary events, hopes to be among those travelling to the regional capital in October with his son Simon.

Uncertain of how many familiar faces he can bank on being there - the Christmas cards get fewer every year - the former publican hopes to renew the bonds of comradeship with old soldiers he last saw in the flush of youth.

He said the gratitude of the citizens of s-Hertogenbosch was “quite overwhelming” - their appreciation undimmed by the years and instilled in the younger generations.

Sixty-five years on, talk of his wartime service triggers the kind of matter-of-fact response you would expect from a trained soldier. Every step of his journey after landing on the beaches of Normandy, through Falaise Gap, Caen, the Netherlands and Germany remain etched on his mental map.

As part of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, his road and bridge re-building role included clearing up the wretched remains of battle. Hardened to the grim task of burying the dead - people and animals, the Germans still using many horse-drawn vehicles - he wears his battle scars lightly, recalling the good and the bad with equal good humour.

In one instance a friend is killed by German shells moments after he gives him a letter to post. The body is laid out by the roadside but is run over by a tank severing his head. Mr Broom retrieves the letter to his wife.

Another day he is billeted with civilians. A woman gives birth but has no soaps or towels for the baby. Mr Broom's wife Mary sends a parcel from England and although he is gone by the time it arrives the new mother sends a thank-you note home.

Mr Broom was awarded a liberation medal for his role in freeing s-Hertogenbosch which involved rebuilding a bridge and repairing canal locks over five days.

Born in Somerton, Mr Broom married Mary in 1940 on a 12-hour pass from RAF Marham. After returning to Civvy Street in 1946 he worked for May Gurney before becoming landlord at the Dukes Head pub in Gorleston for 23 years. Mary died in 2000 after 60 years of marriage. The couple have two children Linda Harvey and Simon Broom.

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