A Winchelsea war veteran has won the nation’s heart after leaping from his wheelchair to shake the hand of Prince Charles during the VE Day celebrations in London.
David Robert Merrifield was a member of the procession along Horse Guards Parade on Sunday, May 10, as part of the events commemorating 70 years since Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared war to be over in Europe.
David, who is known as Bob, was an engineer in 151 Squadron during the Second World War and landed at Normandy.
He fixed Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters and the squadron’s motto was: ‘You bend ‘em, we mend ‘em’.
After the war, he walked in to a trainee engineer position at the Daily Mirror with a tool bag and walked out as director of engineering after circa 40 years of service.
Bob was one of around 1,000 surviving war veterans to attend the VE Day celebrations held in the nation’s capital city on Sunday. Her Majesty The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and prime minister David Cameron were also at the service.
Crowds gathered to watch the military parade passing through Westminster towards Buckingham Palace, followed by a fly-past of WWII aircraft, including the world-famous Red Arrows and Spitfire and Hurricane fighters.
Footage of the ceremony was broadcast on BBC News and veterans can be seen waving at the royal family from their wheelchairs as they pass by in the procession.
However, Bob was not one to stay sitting down and in a show of inspired determination, he leapt up from his seat and walked towards Prince Charles to shake his hand.
Myles Archer, Bob’s grandson, said: “My granddad Bob suffers from dementia and all that goes with it.
“However, his antics of shaking hands with the future king and not being wheeled past in his ‘pushchair’ (as he calls it) has given him an injection of life.
“The old boy is still full of mischief.
“In my family’s eyes, my grandfather is one of the Last of the Many and Sunday’s events define the man that he is and always will be.
“We hope to make an old man feel like a young hero again.”
Bob, who lives in Winchelsea Town, has played an active role in the community as a member of the amateur dramatics group, The Winchelsea Singers, and at the local RAF veterans club. He can be seen in Rye every November collecting for the Poppy Appeal.
His daughter, Rose, organised the trip to London through the Royal British Legion and accompanied him to the celebrations on the day.
Bob, who will turn 91 on May 29, has four grandchildren – Michelle, Matthew, Myles and Marie – and eight great-grandchildren, who affectionately call him ‘GG Bobs’.
Myles added: “He actually shook hands with Prince Charles twice that afternoon. When Prince Charles was being escorted to his waiting Land Rover, he saw Bob and said ‘we meet again!’ and extended his handshake to him. An unbelievable chance encounter that really says it all about my grandad’s unforgettable adventure. No more than what he deserves in my eyes.”
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