With a twinkle in his eye, 91 year old veteran Arthur Henham is more keen to show off his dancing skills than talk about the part he played in liberating France - fighting his way from the beaches of Normandy to Berlin, where he was given a tour of Hitler’s bunker.
prightly Arthur, who proved beyond doubt that he still has the moves, when interviewed at his Littleridge Avenue home last week, was presented with the Légion d’Honneur at the weekend - the highest decoration in France.
Arthur is a Hastings man, born above what used to be a stable block at the end of George Street, in the Old Town, and has lived here all his life.
He was called up to serve in the Army in 1943, aged 19.
Following initial training at Colchester, in Essex, he was posted to the Dorset Regiment and to his surprise ended up back in Hastings as the Dorset was part of the 43rd Wessex Division, based in Hastings.
He recalls: “We were all crowding around notices pinned on the wall to see where we would be posted and I couldn’t believe it when I read Hastings.
“Each week there was inspection and a parade marching from the Oval, down Cambridge Road, with a full military band, towards the Queens Hotel, where we took the salute.”
From Hastings he was sent, via Southampton, to Normandy and saw action at Hill 112, the Falaise Gap and Caen, eventually ending up in Berlin.
While in Berlin, a Russian soldier gave Arthur a tour of the bunker, showing him where Hitler’s body had been found.
He said: “I remained in France, and finally Germany, until I was demobbed in 1947.”
Arthur and his regiment came under fire many times during the battle for France.
He said: “I lost some friends. One friend ‘Smudger’ Smith was standing right next to me when he was hit. I guess I was just lucky.
“On one occasion another friend, Len Playford, who still lives in Hastings, was captured by the Germans and taken off on a Tiger tank, but I just lay prone and escaped capture.”
Arthur is just as keen to speak of how proud he is of his large family as he is of recounting the war years. He said: “They have all done very well and have helped to keep me feeling young.”
Arthur was presented with his medal at Hastings Town Hall last Saturday in a ceremony attended by Mayor Cllr Bruce Dowling.
Proudly displaying his medal, Arthur said: “It was then, and remains today, an honour to have served in the liberation of France.”
Pictures of presentation by Roberts Photographic.
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