PART OF Tameside’s war history has left his own story to tell after a D-Day hero’s death at the age of 95.
And Royal Naval Commando Walter Brown’s passing will resonate in France after he was awarded the Legion D’Honneur for his bravery in the Normandy landings.
Familiar to many as the man who sold poppies around Dukinfield, the true extent of his heroism extends much further.
And his funeral on November 22 will see him decorated with military honours, with his medals sitting on top of his coffin.
When Walter landed on Gold Beach as World War II drew to a conclusion in 1944, he dived into the water to make sure mines would not down his ship.
Now his family know more about what he endured – he tried to keep it quiet – they are bursting with pride.
Son Alan said: “The levels now are through the roof.
“We knew he landed on Gold Beach and that he was a very, very capable swimmer. He was involved in getting rid of enemy mines.
“But he didn’t really say much about his military career. Only little bits. We have a folder with all sorts of things in it that we found out – not that he told us!
“There’s a few things we learned doing research and when you do that, you see them in a different light because what he experienced was almost unthinkable for my generation.
“I can’t even imagine being in his position. You’re in awe of people like dad. We think he was the last Normandy veteran in Tameside.
“He even carried on after the war because he was involved with the Royal British Legion, the Commando Association and SSAFA.
“He stood in draughty doorways selling poppies for years.”
Daughter Janet added: “He mentioned very little. It was only when he got into his 80s that he really said anything.
“He joined the Commando Veterans and there was a Normandy Landing Association, which enabled him to meet with fellow comrades.
“Dad was on the Normandy landing crafts and I remember him telling me it was rough on the day he landed.
“They couldn’t get in close enough to land and a lot of soldiers drowned as they were in full battle kit.”
Married to Lavinia for 73 years, Walter died from sepsis on October 27 and his family say he did not talk much about his military days.
One thing they do know, though, is that he ran away from home and attempted to join too early, as a 17-year-old when recruits had to be 18.
A dispatch rider at first because of his age, he described himself as ‘over the moon’ when he was enlisted.
And a diary – dubbed My Wartime CV – detailed some of his experiences, including being ‘blasted out of my bed’ on June 18, 1943.
When he went to Normandy, his memories summed up the experiences.
About D-Day, June 6, 1994, he recalled: “Assault on Gold Beach at 7.10am. Tow by LCT 929 Nicholson CO (Commanding Officer) to Jig Green Beach area.
“Lost LCA and all gear. Had to swim to Le Hamel beach. Order to report to ABM, meet J Commandos and worked with them demolishing hedgerows and other clearance jobs of the beach area.”
About later that month, he added: “Keeping head down and firing at anything that moved in the night. 10th day and still wet.
“When Le Hamel fell things went quiet – went for a bath and a new pair of underpants.
“Wet again, and again! Got a very bad cold. Feeling rough. Went sick. Feeling rough but still working on Mulberry with UCP (Underwater Clearance Party).”
About March 20, 1945, he added: “Lancaster going overhead, then we go in. Lads dropping all over – had to wait in case of retreat.”
About October that year and the end of his Naval career a month after World War II ended, he scribed: “Clearing docks at Cherbourg with US Seals. Clearing all debris and booby traps. Had an accident with my breathing unit and punctured a lung.
“Had to be taken back to UK. Spent a long time in hospital. Sent home, discharge from Royal Navy with war pension.
“Not expected to live but I fooled them! Ha ha!!”
For a relative’s primary school project, he answered the question what was it like living through the war with: “It was horrible. There was very severe rationing and I was always hungry!”
After his discharge, Walter was still keen to make sure his comrades were looked after and was heavily involved with the Royal British Legion.
Aside from that, he was a keen jazz drummer, playing in a trio local that performed in local pubs and clubs.
He was also a photographer, had allotments, kept chickens, rabbits and pigs and even went to art school in his 60s.
Many of his military mementoes were given to the museum at the Commando training centre at Achnacarry Castle in Scotland.
However, his military service was recognised by the French, who awarded their highest honour five years ago and when he returned to Normandy in 2011, the Queen commented on the medals he proudly wore.
“Dad receiving the Legion D’Honneur was a pretty big surprise,” Alan added about the moment MP Jonathan Reynolds presented him with it. “The French don’t give the Brits much, do they?
“But the importance of what he did was not just recognised by this country but by France as well.”