Stan Hodge believed Bert Hadrill had been killed in Normandy in 1944, but was left stunned after bumping into him at a military show in Kent last month.
Stan, of Ashford, Kent, and Bert, of Bristol, served together in the 4th Battalion, the Dorset Regiment during the D-Day landings in June 1944. The following month they were involved in fierce fighting to take Hill 112, near the village of Maltot in Normandy.
One moment, the friends were talking and the next Bert was blown up by a mortar round, sustaining severe abdominal injuries. In the confusion of battle, Stan assumed that he had been killed. He was unaware that Bert was rescued by medics and evacuated to Scotland, where he spent the rest of the war recuperating from his injuries.
68 years later Stan was attending a military vehicles show in Paddock Wood, Kent when he spotted an old soldier who looked strangely familiar.
“I recognised his regimental uniform and the thought gradually came back to me, ‘You look a bit like Bert’, so I went up to him and asked him. I couldn’t believe it was him. Could you after 68 years?”
“We talked about that day, so many years ago. One minute we were talking and the next he was blown up by a mortar bomb. You can’t describe to people who weren’t there what it was like – all hell broke loose.”
“Many times you had the thought of giving up and you never knew if you were going to be the next one to bite the bullet. You got hardened to it, the next day became easier and the next one after that until, eventually, you were one of the old boys before long. But blokes came and went, and disappeared all the time during the war, and I thought Bert was probably dead. It was a moment of joy to see him again.”
“We talked about what we both did for the rest of the war and afterwards, and have made plans to stay in touch.”
“It was absolutely wonderful to have met Stan. We lost so many soldiers in that battle but it is great to know others survived. I nearly lost my life and just thank God that I am here today. I remember when the mortars came screaming over head – it was such an awful sound. War really is a terrible thing but I have a beautiful wife and have been lucky enough to live a happy life.”
After the war, Bert worked as a bookkeeper for a chocolate factory in Bristol until he retired. The 87 year-old grandfather of 3 celebrates his 64th wedding anniversary with wife Joyce, 85, next week. Stan, also an 87 year-old grandfather of 3, worked as a timber machinist and delivery man after the war.