Medals 'give a sense of closure' to Lancashire veterans

By Ruth Clegg
BBC News

Image caption,
Sam Brearley was chased through Greece by German bombers

"I just feel so proud when I look down at them - all the memories come flooding back."

Sam Brearley, 98, has finally been awarded the medals for his valiant efforts in World War II - more than a half a century since he was released from a German prisoner of war camp.

The great-grandfather will be among scores of other veterans in Lancashire who can now wear their badges of honour as they pay homage to their fallen comrades on Remembrance Sunday.

Their jackets are now adorned with the likes of the Africa Medal, the Cyprus Medal and the Defence Medal, thanks to the insistent work of a group of schoolchildren from Clitheroe.

"It was really rewarding because you could see the smiles on their faces," 11-year-old Caroline Dewhurst explains.

Under the guidance of local volunteer Mel Diack the youngsters have researched, catalogued and inundated the Ministry of Defence with letters.

They have managed to retrieve medals for 25 men and their families.

Many men did not collect their medals after World War II. Mr Diack said many wanted to forget the pain and leave the images behind.

Dorothy Peel, 88, from Candlemakers Court in Clitheroe, lost her husband nine years ago after he died suddenly from a blood clot.

Sgt Charles Peel served at an RAF station in Algeria. He left for war just a week after they married 58 years ago.

"It's marvellous to have these medals - I didn't even know they existed," she said.

Constant bombing

"It's unbelievable and they are just so lovely. The grandchildren love to look at them and for me it's like the last piece in a jigsaw, it's a sense of closure.

"Mel found them three months ago, and he also got pictures of the RAF station where my husband was. I never dreamed I would see this RAF station, I don't know how he managed it."

Image caption,
Mel Diack and the children spent long hours tracing the medals

For seaman Jim Bates, who lives in Padiham, his medals spark images of a "miracle rescue" in Malta.

On 15 August 1942 he was on the convoy that helped bring much-needed supplies to Malta, a country that was under sustained attack by the Germans.

It had suffered two days and two nights of constant bombing and people there were starving.

He said: "They had been praying to Santa Maria and on the feast of Santa Maria that convoy did arrive.

"We just managed to shuffle into grand harbour before it sunk and managed to get the oil and supplies off.

"The Maltese were living in caves and were starving. It probably turned the war on that day and saved thousands of lives.

"They see it as a miracle."

'Relieved by capture'

Mr Diack, who runs the Clitheroe Youth Forum and Ribble Valley Remembrance project, has not only sought out veteran's medals, he has helped create a World War II roll of honour and website.

"This project has given us sheer pleasure," he said.

"Edward Jones was on the D-Day landing. We were able to get him his campaign medal - two weeks later he passed away.

"One woman we helped, Kath Brooks, lost her brother just four months before the war ended.

"We managed to trace his medals and she said it brought a sense of closure to her family.

"She died just a couple of weeks ago, but she had written us a lovely letter and it was like she had been waiting for medals before she died."

Image caption,
Jim Bates was on the convoy that took supplies to the Maltese

For Mr Brearley the smells and sounds of the prisoner of war camp he endured for much of the war are still very real to him.

Sitting in the comfort of his armchair in Clitheroe wearing his decorated blazer, he recalls the four years he spent there.

"I was one of the lucky ones," he explained.

"I was a corporal when I got captured, right at the beginning while I was serving in Greece.

"Got 100 chaps killed in one night, so I was pretty relieved when we got captured.

"We had been chased for three months by German bombers, all the way down through Greece knocking the hell out of us all the time."

Mr Diack and his dedicated team of young researchers are now on the hunt for medals for another 11 veterans and their families.

"I suppose our project will never end," he said.

"There are so many out there who have never claimed the medals they so desperately deserve."

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