Second World War veteran from Holme awarded France’s highest honour
- Credit: Archant
A 90-year-old man from Holme has been awarded the prestigious Legion d’honneur, in recognition of his duties in the Second World War.
Charles Wilson, who joined the army in London, saw the Blitz, fought in the Normandy campaign, and even had command of German prisoners at just 19-years-old.
“I joined the King’s Royal Rifles Corps in autumn 1942 - I was 16 at the time but like a lot of lads I wasn’t going to let on about my age,” he said.
“I was just about 17 by the time I had finished training.”
Before signing up, Mr Wilson – along with his little sister, Rose - was evacuated to Reading where he went to school, before travelling back to London to support his father and man anti-aircraft stations.
Although this gave him a taste of action, the army was actually Mr Wilson’s last choice out of the services.
“My first choice was the navy; I wanted to travel and see the world,” he said.
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“They turned me down – I think they knew I was underage at that point - so I tried the air force, but again I was knocked back. My third choice was the army and they accepted me when I was still 16. Looking back, I suspect the authorities wanted to build the army up and that was where the recruitment focus was.”
Now part of the 12th Battalion King’s Royal Rifles Corps, Mr Wilson was trained before heading to Europe where he served in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
He was due to go to Burma, but the war ended before he was sent.
“I was assigned to an infantry regiment as the decision had been taken to gather some suitable men to train as a mobile response unit. We all had to learn to drive and as a lot of chaps had never seen a motor before, they loved it.”
As part of his duties, Mr Wilson was given objectives such as searching houses for hiding Germans, looking after groups of war prisoners, and was also at the Battle of Arnhem in 1944.
“It could be scary, but we always used to take cover if we could,” he remembers.
“It was the fear it could be us, but we did what we had to do and what we were told to do and that’s how it went.”
Described by his seniors as “an intelligent and quick-witted type of man” whose “conduct has been exemplary”, Mr Wilson was made corporal before heading to the Territorial Army in 1948.
By 1955 though, he had said goodbye to the action and moved to the picturesque village of Holme. There, he brought up six children and ran a family plastering business – even building some of the houses next door.
And, on May 27, more than 70 years after he joined the army, Mr Wilson was finally recognised for duties which saw him sacrifice everything for the good of others - France’s highest award.
The ceremony, at the French Ambassador’s Residence in London, presented veterans with the Legion d’honneur in thanks of their bravery and service .
“It was a great honour, but it’s also a bit sad that it took so long – many others who also deserved it will have passed on now,” Mr Wilson said.
“It was held in beautiful surroundings and the ceremony was moving. It was followed by canapés and champagne, which was lovely, but a cup of tea would have gone down well!”