Two men, different tales ...both heroes

Blackpool Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association (BLESMA) residents for service veterans feature.'Ian Walker.  PIC BY ROB LOCK'2-11-2012
Blackpool Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association (BLESMA) residents for service veterans feature.'Ian Walker. PIC BY ROB LOCK'2-11-2012
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In the final part of our week long war heroes special, Steve Canavan speaks to two Second World War veterans and those serving in a very modern conflict

IAN Walker and Frank Coyle don’t know each other, but they have plenty in common.

Both live in Blackpool, and both have an inspiring story to tell.

Ian, 96 and at the Blesma home on Lytham Road, followed in the footsteps of a father who fought in the trenches during the First World War by joining the army.

The Second World war was to have a profound and devastating effect on the rest of his life. After being part of the coastal defence team in Dover in the early part of the war, Ian went to Basra to ensure the Germans didn’t take over vital oil fields. Then he was posted to Sicily. But in the course of one night Ian’s life changed forever.

“I was leading a section during an attack,” he recalled. “It was going well, we had over-run the first line of defence, but then, as we were taking on their second line, I was hit by a German machine gunner. Two bullets went into my leg.

“I was in a lot of pain. The bullets had completely smashed the thigh bone and severed the sciatic nerve. Each man had a field dressing in the event of injury so I wrapped a bandage round my thigh and had to lie there all night. It was the longest night of my life.

“In the morning, they called a ceasefire so the wounded could be treated, but unfortunately for me I was in a German area and their stretcher-bearers picked me up.

“The Nazis pumped me for information but I just gave them the three things we were allowed to tell them – name, number and regiment.

“They didn’t torture me and in fact my guard was quite nice – we chatted about football and he gave me a big dose of morphine, which was just what I needed at the time.”

Ian was taken to a hospital in a Polish Prisoner of War camp where his leg was amputated. That gave him automatic right of repatriation and he was put on a ship back to the UK. Despite spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he has no regrets about joining the armed forces.

“It is what I trained for,” Ian said. “These things happen and I’m not bitter – I’m just proud, like so many others – to have helped my country.”

A decade younger when war broke out, Derek Coyle – now 86 and living on Waterloo Road – joined the Royal Marines in 1942. He was part of the D-day landings and then went to Burma to fight the Japanese.

“D-day was horrible and I lost two of my best mates. They were killed alongside me in Normandy,” he said. “I remember when we landed we thought it might be OK. There were cows in the field so we thought we could just walk across. But they’d tied the cows up so they couldn’t walk around and the rest of the field was full of land mines.

“There were snipers in church steeples and danger everywhere. It was frightening but you just got on with it.”

In Burma, fighting in dense jungle, Derek suffered insect bites all over his body and still has the scars to show for it. He was on the island when Germany surrendered.

“We got one beer a week at the time,” he recalled. “On VE Day we knew everyone in England was celebrating but our boss said we were in the jungle so we couldn’t have anything. Then he added ‘but don’t think you’re being forgotten – you can have two beers this week’. It wasn’t much consolation.”

Derek escaped from the war physically unscathed, but admits he still has flashbacks and suffers from claustrophobia – a result of fighting in the thick, suffocating jungle.

Two more heroes, two more reminders of why we must never forget.

Why we appreciate Remembrance Sunday

LEWIS Harrison and Steve Bowen are in the heat of the battle in Afghanistan.

It takes commitment and courage to serve in what is the most dangerous warzone in the world.

437 servicemen and women have lost their lives since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001.

Several troops from Blackpool and the Fylde have been killed, while others have suffered horrific injuries – including Rick Clements, who is now confined to a wheelchair after losing both his legs in bomb blast.

Lewis and Steve – Gunner Harrison and Captain Bowen – to give them their full titles are well aware of the risks.

“When we are out and about on the ground you are nervous and scared and anyone who says they aren’t is lying,” said Lewis, 23, who lives in Kirkham and is a former pupil at St Bede’s RC High School.

“But things that put my mind at ease are the team I work with, because I know all the lads are switched on and well-trained and I have 100 per cent trust in them.

“Also I know, if anything does happen, how quickly casualties get back through to the hospital at Camp Bastion. Within less than an hour you will be in the hands of medics or doctors with a massive range of skills.”

Steve, 41, who lives in Lytham St Annes with his partner Nikki and their three children, added: “I joined the Army for the challenges that it brings, to travel the world and see different places, and do different jobs. The Army is very good for that.

“It is quite dangerous out here in Afghanistan and there has been a number of casualties over the years, but you can’t go out being worried or scared.

“You’ve just got to go out and do the job at hand, look at the people around you and make sure they’re OK, and work together as a team.”

And tomorrow, like millions of others, they will pause to pay tribute and remember those who have given their lives in the line of duty over the years.

Steve added: “Remembrance Sunday is very important, it shows the soldiers they’re appreciated when they’re away from home for so long, doing hard and dangerous work.

“It is also a connection to the soldiers from past conflicts and the sacrifices they gave for our country and the people.

“It’s good to see the connection between the young lads out here now, and the ex-servicemen who attend the Remembrance services with all their medals on.”

Lewis also believes it is vital. “My father-in-law, my Grandfather and other family members have served before me,” he said. “It makes you think about all the people who gave their lives for their country and I have total respect for the fallen and for those who are still with us.”