Memories of friends who failed to return

By Becky Hallewellin NormandyHE was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, but his thoughts were not on his heroic deeds, but on the friends he lost in battle.

By Becky Hallewell

in Normandy

HE was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, but his thoughts were not on his heroic deeds, but on the friends he lost in battle.

Major George Young, 93, wiped the tears from his eyes as he took the commemorative salute from the dwindling survivors from his D-Day battalion.

“I think of my old friends all the time. It's very moving today, but they never escape from my memory,” he said. “Half of the officers from my company were killed on D-Day. I was lucky.”

Maj Young, from Colchester, was just one of thousands of veterans who made the pilgrimage to Normandy at the weekend to pay their personal tribute to comrades who died 60 years ago in the D-Day operation to liberate France from German rule.

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He was the guest of honour in the tiny French town of Crepon, liberated on D-Day by his regiment, the Green Howards.

Maj Young, the highest-ranking surviving officer from the 6th Battalion of the Green Howards, superseded a brigadier and lieutenant-colonel in taking the salute at yesterday's commemoration service.

But for the former soldier, who later became a teacher at Colchester Royal Grammar School, what mattered was remembering his fallen comrades.

“I come chiefly to go to the cemetery to honour them. They were all good friends. When you have comrades like that, you never forget them. I'll be back again. As long as I can get here, I'll come,” he said.

Maj Young stood proudly, his campaign medals pinned to his jacket, as he took the salute from about 60 veterans who marched past, alongside the town's mayor and regiment colonel, Brigadier John Powell.

Then there was a memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony for all the Green Howards who served during the war.

“It was a great honour to have laid the wreath - I am just a simple major,” said Maj Young. “Some of the men had such a terrible time.

“One, a Major Lofthouse, was wounded just once, but all since the war he has woken up during the night screaming. He suffered terribly. Mercifully, I've not had many dreams.”

His recollection of name after name of his men who died in the war has not faded - nor of how young they were when they made the ultimate sacrifice.

Maj Young was in charge of B Company, 6th Battalion, Green Howards, who landed at 7.45am on Gold Beach in the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944.

He led his men through a minefield, captured about 120 German soldiers and pressed several kilometres inland, liberating Crepon.

Maj Young was awarded the Military Cross for his heroic deeds four days later in a disastrous assault near the village of Creully.

“We suffered terrible losses and that was when I was wounded. One of soldiers not far from me got hit and I crawled over to him,” he recalled.

“There were shells dropping and machine gun bullets flying all over the place and I got hold of him and brought him back into company headquarters.

“But as I stood up to get my first field dressing out, a shell went off behind me and some shrapnel went through my arm and into my back.

“After lying there for some while, I was picked up by one of the tanks which was going back. They managed to hold me on the front of the tank and, with all these bullets flying all over the place, they got me back to the dressing station.

“That was the beginning of the end for me as far as the war was concerned. I was later awarded the Military Cross for helping this wounded soldier and for various other actions performed on that day, but I never saw any action again.”

Maj Young returned home to teach English at Colchester Royal Grammar School from 1947 to about 1965, as well as the town's technical college, and was said to be an “inspirational” teacher.

One of his former pupils, John Crowson, travelled from Cambridgeshire to Crepon to witness his old tutor being honoured.

Mr Crowson said: “Many people say he's inspirational and he was. I can recall him coming back from the war. We knew he had the Military Cross, but he was always very light-hearted about it.

“He takes about 40 of his old boys out to lunch on his birthday each year. They're retired now, but they come back from all over England.”

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