Two ordinary men...who did extraordinary things. This is a true story.
|This story won third place in the "HONORING OUR VETERANS " contest, September 2012. It is a true story of two men who started out as strangers and became the best of friends...
The year was 1942, and World War II was well underway. In Northampton, England, a young man was signing up to do his bit for the war effort. Dick Maud was 19 years old and worked as a butcher's roundsman, doing the rounds of the customers, delivering the meat. His older brother was in the air force, fighting for England, and Dick was ready to do the same. He had no wife or sweetheart, no children, and he signed up for the duration of the war. He was accepted in to the Royal Armoured Corps and sent to train in Hampshire until the end of 1942.
While Dick was training, life was also changing for Stan Bone. Stan was in his early thirties and had two small children - two year old Glyn and baby Barbara. He had been called up for duty twice so far, but both times his employer had signed the papers to say that his job as an electric crane driver in Letchworth, England, was essential, and he had been kept from duty. He was working 12-18 hour days, 7 days a week, and his mother was starting to worry. At this rate, she feared Stan wouldn't survive the war, regardless of being away from the front line - he would work himself to death. Stan didn't know how to give less than his best, and with so many able-bodied men called to duty, every remaining man had to work twice or thrice as hard as ever. Finally, in fear for his health, Stan's mother spoke to his wife and told her to do whatever was necessary to get him out of the factory. When the papers arrived for a third time, calling her husband to duty, Violet hid the papers. The date for sending them back passed, and suddenly Stan found that he was an active member of the Royal Engineers. Two of his friends signed up at the same time, and when the chance came to apply for glider pilot training, Stan and his friends applied. They had to sit stringent physical and mental examinations in London - no mean feat for a man who was entirely self-taught beyond a basic primary school education. Stan was accepted for training, and his wife Violet received a letter saying that she should be 'justly proud' of her husband for 'succeeding where others failed'. Neither of Stan's friends were accepted. Six weeks after leaving home, he was a student pilot with two stripes. His brother-in-law John Theakston had been in the army for 11 years and had only one stripe. There was a great deal of teasing and friendly rivalry between the two men. Stan continued stringent training at a Royal Air Force base until mid-1943.
In November 1942, after 6 months of training, Dick boarded the Queen Mary for Egypt. The luxury liner had been refitted for carrying troops during the war. In Navy grey, with a speed that left U-boats far behind, the ship was known as the Grey Ghost. She was outfitted with triple-tiered wooden bunks. Smoking in the cabins was strictly against regulations, for obvious reasons, and this led to Dick's first run-in with authority. Dick was a heavy smoker and on 14th January 1943, at about 9pm, Dick was found smoking in his cabin. He was fined 14 days pay for this breach of regulations. Despite this small incident, Dick obviously impressed his superiors, because he was selected for the 1st Special Air Service Regiment (SAS), the special forces unit. This was an honour reserved for few men. There was no 'application process' and the men were each hand-selected. They needed to be skilled (not just good) at many different tasks, especially those suited for covert, stealth operations. The motto of the SAS was 'by land, by sea, by air, covertly'. The men chosen had to be able to excel in each of those environments. They were often behind enemy lines, and their tasks were even more dangerous than those of the average soldier.
At that time, there was no Navy special forces unit, as the Special Boat Section had suffered severe casualties in a mission and was absorbed into the SAS. Just a month after Dick joined, the two units were separated and Dick went in to the 1st Special Boat Squadron Regiment (SBS). He went to Israel to train with the Greek special forces unit, the Greek Sacred Regiment. Dick learned to be a paratrooper, and with the Greeks and the 2nd PARA, he took part in Operation Accolade. Operation Accolade was a fight for control of the Greek Islands with the hope of convincing neutral Turkey to join the Allies. Winston Churchill wanted a 'route through the Dardanelles to Russia as an alternative to the Arctic Convoys' and Operation Accolade was his way of achieving this. Three members of the SBS parachuted in to Rhodes with the intention of convincing the Italians to join the Allies. The Italian commander wasn't convinced that the British could fight 6,000 German troops with just a few hundred special forces men, and delayed making a decision. While he waited, the Germans invaded and executed the commander and all his officers, one hundred and one of them. The SBS were then spread out over the other islands, but were given little air cover and the Navy struggled to support them as it lost men and ships to the German air force. Hitler was determined to win back the islands at all costs. Ultimately the British Navy lost four cruisers, five destroyers, five minesweepers and two submarines, while the British air force lost 113 aircraft. Failure was blamed on 'Campioni’s hesitation, German aggressiveness, non-cooperation by the Americans, and the inadequacy of British resources.' It was to be the last major victory for the Germans in WWII. Unfortunately the exact details of Dick's participation in these missions will probably never be known, due to the covert nature of the special forces units.
Despite the difficulties of war, there were some happier moments for Dick. He spent most of his service overseas, but was allowed to return to British soil every few years for a short period of 'shore leave'. On the first of his visits back home, Dick, along with his fellow soldiers, attended dances and other social occasions where the locals lauded their 'heroes'. Dick caught the attention of Eileen Hird, a 19 year old girl from his hometown of Northampton.
“I met Dick when he was on leave from the service. We were at a dance. I was on one side of the room and he was on the other. He looked so handsome in his uniform. It was of a nice fine material, not rough, and I winked at him. He came over and asked me to dance, and he was a fine dancer. I thought he was quite handsome. He offered to take me home, and we had a bit of a hug on the doorstep - that was all you did in those days, have a bit of a cuddle. He wanted to see me again, but I had to go away with my parents. I was going down to Brighton to visit some of my dad's family. I was gone for three days. When I came back, we went out together again. Then he went back to Greece, but we wrote letters to each other. He wrote to me every day and sent me some lovely things. Pure silk pajamas, in the war, when nobody could get nice things. Nice nylon stockings, makeup...'
Stan Bone was selected to take part in Operation Overlord, part of the Allied invasion of Normandy. He spent two months training day and night on a full-scale replica of the Merville Battery that was built on farmland in Britain for that very purpose. All the soldiers were sworn to absolute secrecy, and to test their resolve, commanding officers sent in beautiful young women whose sole purpose it was to obtain information from the men. The women failed, and on the morning of the 6th June 1944, Stan Bone was one of five glider pilots to leave England for France. Three of the gliders (including Stan's) carried essential equipment and a few men, and the other two carried the majority of the men. Stan was lucky to arrive at the battery after being hit by anti-aircraft fire and also having to contend with the parachute arrester gear on the glider opening suddenly mid-Channel, but he did make it. A number of things went wrong with the original plan, including the fact that one of the equipment-carrying gliders didn't make it to France, the two gliders carrying the troops encountered anti-aircraft fire and ended up dropping men up to 30 miles from the target and none of the bombs dropped by the bomber planes hit the battery. Despite all of that, as many men as possible banded together and managed to take the battery, so the mission was considered successful. The men in Stan's glider were all unharmed on arrival, despite the difficulties encountered, and they made their way to Le Mesnil where they fought for two days before rejoining the battalion. For his part in the mission, Stan received a Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) from King George. The medal was awarded for 'an act of exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy' and was mentioned in the newspapers. The official commendation read 'This NCO had volunteered to make a crash-landing on a coastal defence battery after releasing from 6,000 feet. Owing to cloud, this height could not be gained and visibility was poor. No navigational aids were in place but a landing was effected in the vicinity of the position. Through this NCO's determination and exceptional skill, the airborne troops were able to assist in the capture of the gun position.' Bearing in mind that Stan had never flown a plane prior to his training the year before, or even been a passenger in one, it was a truly remarkable feat.
Stan's fellow soldiers saw the mention in the newspapers and tried to tell Stan he'd been awarded the DFM, but he didn't believe as he hadn't received any official notification of a medal. He went in to the newspaper office and the reporter confirmed that it was true and he had been awarded the DFM. While they were there, his commanding officer spoke to the newspaper reporter about the mission.
'We were the leading glider of a formation on that trip, the head-quarters glider. Trouble started when a parachute in the back opened up and almost pulled us down into the sea. But the sergeant kept her in the air, and later, when one of the glider wheels was shot off, he still kept her up. Then he crash-landed the glider right on top of some German guns, and she broke in two. Reinforcements were not where they should have been, and we had other troubles, but Sergeant Bone got us out of the mess okay.'
It was the newspaper reporter who rang Stan's wife Violet and told her about the award.
A few months after the mission, Stan returned home on leave and he and Violet welcomed another daughter to the family, baby Dorothy.
Dick was fighting with the SBS during 1944-45 in Greece, Albania and Croatia, but most of his action was covert and subject to strict secrecy. For that reason, Dick would never receive special medals for his efforts. He went in to hospital twice during his service, but no record is made of injuries and it is suspected that he succumbed briefly to the poor hygiene that came from working in the field. On the 6th June 1945, Dick was found guilty of ‘conduct to prejudice of good order and military discipline’ but it must have been considered a minor infringement as he was fined only 7 days pay. Due to his length of service overseas, Dick was entitled to another visit home, and in August 1945 he boarded ship in Calais and headed for Britain and his sweetheart Eileen. They got engaged and planned to marry when the war was over.
On the 24th March 1945, Stan took part in the largest single airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location - Operation Varsity. Along with 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft (including 1,349 other gliders), Stan flew his glider to Haminkeln and helped to seize control of a bridge over the River Issel. All of the planes flew together in convoy and together they stretched more than 322km in the sky. If you had been standing on the ground looking up, it would have taken 2 hours and 37 minutes for them to pass overhead. The entire group was protected by 2,153 British and American fighters. The aircraft started landing near Haminkeln at 10am local time and there were a number of different targets that were required to be secured, including the town, three bridges and several other targets. Each of these were achieved in short order despite heavy anti-aircraft fire and determined opposition from the Germans. There were a number of casualties, but the mission was a success.
In addition to the Distinguished Flying Medal, Stan received the 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939/45. His superiors noted that he was 'well above the average. He has proved himself to be extremely reliable and capable. He has plenty of intelligence and can handle men well. Very highly recommended.' Stan returned home to his wife and three children. Life returned to normal, as much as life did in post-war England. In 1949 he and Violet welcomed their fourth and final child, Rita, to their family. In 1954, Stan packed the family up and moved them to Australia to join his older brother Charlie.
Dick spent the rest of the war in service with the SBS and left the war with the rank of Lance Corporal. His superiors noted that his military conduct was 'exemplary' and stated that he had 'given thoroughly efficient service' and was 'an energetic and conscientious worker. Honest, sober and cheerful.' He received the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star, the Italy Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939/45. It was rare for members of the SAS or SBS to receive medals other than these, as their operations were highly covert, although he was (many years later) post-humously entitled to the Allied Special Forces Medal. Dick struggled to return to normal life after the atrocities of war. He refused to discuss his service with anyone, not with his new wife Eileen whom he married after the war, nor his fellow returned servicemen. He eventually took a job as an ambulance officer and set out to save lives, perhaps to atone for the ones lost during the war. Life does go on, and he and Eileen welcomed their first son, Richard, named after his father, in 1949. Richard was followed by Sally, Philip and then Dale. Dick wanted to leave England and move to Australia, but Eileen refused to leave her parents. In 1967, after his parents-in-law had passed away, Eileen finally consented to Dick's long-held dream of moving overseas and the family boarded the Achille Lauro for Australia.
Dick's eldest son Richard and Stan's youngest daughter Rita were the same age, both having been born in 1949 just two short months apart. After Dick's family moved to Australia, Richard and Rita were introduced at a party by one of Rita's cousins. The two fell in love and eventually married. Naturally, their families met and Stan and Dick discovered they had much in common.. Of course, they were both fathers of four children and veterans of the war.. Both were busy with work and family life. Dick's youngest son was still living at home and Stan and his wife had grandchildren living at home.
In 1973 Richard and Rita moved to New Zealand. After Stan's wife passed away in 1974, he also moved to New Zealand, and lived with his daughter, son-in-law and his newest grandchild. It was a few years later when Dick and his wife separated and Dick decided to join his eldest son and his friend Stan in New Zealand.
Stan moved in with Dick, and the two men enjoyed many activities together. Both men had a love of working with their hands and enjoyed carpentry and fishing. They joined the local Hakaru Returned Servicemen's Association (RSA) and found a lot of companionship there. They attended the annual ANZAC parades that were held to commemorate fallen soldiers, but it was rare indeed for Dick to talk about his own service, even amongst such a supportive group. Dick and Stan built a workshop out the back of Dick‘s house where they did carpentry, making puzzles and hobby horses for their mutual grandchildren and to donate to charity. They also both enjoyed a good game of snooker. They spent a lot of time fishing, and regularly played snooker, billiards, pool and both indoor and outdoor bowls. In 1980 the two men won the local RSA snooker championship and went on to compete in the area championship. Dick passed away in 1982, and it was Stan who wrote the obituary for the local paper. Stan passed away in 1991. Both men were much loved, and are greatly missed. They were men who fought with courage and honour for their country, and found peace and friendship in a small town in New Zealand.