“I will never forget their courage or sacrifice”

Blackpool Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association (BLESMA) residents for service veterans feature. Doug Baines.  PIC BY ROB LOCK 2-11-2012
Blackpool Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association (BLESMA) residents for service veterans feature. Doug Baines. PIC BY ROB LOCK 2-11-2012
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In the penultimate part of our week-long tributes to Fylde war heroes, Steve Canavan meets two men who will never forget the horrors of conflict

DOUG Baines looks and acts like your average unassuming old fella.

So you’d never guess the 88-year-old has a war story so unbelievable it reads like a Hollywood script.

Doug, who has lived in Blackpool at the BLESMA home on Lytham Road for the last 50 years, was the very definition of Second World War hero.

Even he struggles to explain how he survived.

In 1942 he was conscripted into the Army and served in the Parachute Regiment, leaping out of a Halifax aircraft on D-Day and into Normandy.

Like many of the parachutists that night, Doug was dropped into the wrong place. Landing in a flooded valley, he crawled around for hours, looking in vain for his battalion. Eventually, with the help of a labourer, Monsieur Duval, he was taken to a farm where he and a group of other troops were cared for by a farmer, Monseiur Vermughen and his family.

“But we realised we were in danger there,” said Doug. “We knew there was a chance the Germans would find us so myself and a comrade left.”

It was a wise choice. Hours later the Germans over-ran the farm, capturing the British troops who remained there. Monseiurs Duval and Vermughen were shot, Madame Vermughen imprisoned and the farm burned down.

Doug tried to rejoin his battalion but was captured by the Nazis and transported by train to Germany.

“They were taking me to a Prisoner of War camp but I had other ideas,” said Doug.

Using a knife he’d hidden, he cut a hole in the floor of the railway carriage and escaped.

Doug joined the French Resistance – for which he was decorated with the French Resistance medal – and was eventually liberated by the American Army. His heroic escape from the train featured in a leading British magazine of the time.

Doug took part in the Ardennes offensive in winter 1944, then began preparation for the Rhine Crossing. He was tasked with landing a glider in Germany.

“We were told the Allies were in control of the airport and there would be no problems,” he recalled. “As we came into land, we could see German troops everywhere with their guns firing at us.”

The glider was shot down 20 feet above the runway. Doug was the only survivor. Despite a terrible wound to his leg, he managed to crawl under a nearby vehicle and lay there, in agony, until he was rescued.

But the injury was bad, and due to continuing medical problems – and being allergic to Penicillin which hindered treatment – he took the decision to have his leg amputated. He was fitted with an artificial limb, which he uses to this day.

Doug, who spent 37 years in the weaving industry, and rose to be mechanical foreman in a large textile factory, has returned to Normandy on D-Day each year since the war. He always goes to the graves of Monsieur Duval and the Vermughen family to pay his respects.

He added: “I have never forgotten the courage and sacrifice of the French people who helped me in 1944, and I never will.”

“Servicemen and women’s lives to be remembered”

IT is difficult to imagine the horrors Mike Warren has seen.

A metalsmith in REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), Mike served for 12 years.

One post was in Borneo (1962-66) where part of his duties were to weld coffins used to transport dead troops off the island.

Even now, almost 50 years on, he finds it difficult to talk about it.

“When someone was killed in the jungle, they put the body in a green bag and tried to repatriate them the best they could. Sometimes it might be two or three days before they could find a clearing and get a helicopter in to collect the body, then they’d bring it back to the camp where I was.

“I had to fuse the coffin and the lid together so it was air-tight, and then it was transported on to Singapore.

“There were no cold rooms, no freezers, so you can imagine what state a body was in after three days in the jungle.

“It was the only job in the Army where you could legally get half cut before you went in. They used to give me three bottles of Tiger beer to drink to cope with what I had to do.

“It was a terrible job and every year, on Remembrance Sunday, those are the people I think of during the two-minute silence, yet I don’t even know their names.”

Mike went on to serve in Northern Ireland, there during the 1970s.

“It was a very frightening time,” he said. “And still today, on Bonny Street in the town centre, where people put black bin liners on the kerb, it makes me feel uneasy – because that’s where so many bombs were in Ireland.”

Mike, 68, who lives in South Shore, added: “Nearly 17,000 British servicemen and women have been killed in conflcits all over world since the Second World War, in Palastine, Korea, Northern Ireland, Falklands, Borneo, Aden, Cyprus, Malaya, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Congo ... places people wouldn’t imagine we had servicemen and women in. Their lives have got to be remembered.”