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Forces War Records Blog


  • Private Bill Ward was found unconscious following D-Day invasion in 1944
  • His superiors thought he'd been killed and wrote to his family to tell them
  • But Private Ward had survived and also wrote home to tell them the news
  • He only found the letter at the family home after his mother died
A D-Day veteran left for dead on a Normandy battlefield has unearthed a haunting letter that prematurely informed his family of his death. Private Bill Ward's superiors thought he'd been killed when they found him lying unconscious and covered in blood after a mortar bomb exploded and he was peppered with shrapnel. His unit was making its way back to Caen, following several hours of fighting, having earlier landed on the beach in Normandy as part of June 6, 1944's allied invasion of northern France.

With the blood-soaked 19-year-old motionless, his commander Sergeant George Smith assumed the worst before running for cover. But fortune shone on the recent conscript, who was scooped up by the medical corps and awoke the following day in a Folkestone hospital. Deafened in one ear, he immediately wrote to his parents to give them the good news of his survival. But Sergeant Smith, believing his comrade had been killed, had also written to his family to share his sorrow at the news. It was only when his mother died, in 1988, that Mr Ward found the letter - and which the 87-year-old is now considering donating to his local museum in Dorking, Surrey. Bizarrely, Private Ward fought alongside Sergeant Smith again later on in the war, when Ward rejoined B Company of the 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment.

An astonished Sgt Smith described the unexpected reunion as like 'seeing a ghost'. But the pair never spoke about the note home that detailed how Ward had been buried in a tiny French village. Although his mother never mentioned the letter, Mr Ward said he felt sure his own had arrived first. 'When I found that letter it shook me,' he said. 'I had never seen it. It was brilliant that I got my letter in before he did. 'Had it been the other way round, I don't know what would have happened.'

Private Ward survived the war despite suffering a second injury in October 1944 and experiencing a fierce battle at Pavie, near Chjnedolli, where his comrade Corporal Sidney Bates died winning the Victoria Cross. In peacetime, North Holmwood-born Mr Ward married his wife Jean, had two daughters, and worked as a driver and conductor for London Country buses before retiring to Ockley in Surrey. Mr Ward said of his unusual piece of war memorabilia: 'I've got no grandchildren, my daughters aren't interested in it, so I'm not sure what to do with it. 'I've been debating for years whether to take it down to Dorking Museum.' 'HE IS MISSED TERRIBLY BY EVERYONE' - THE FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER Dear madam Please let me on behalf of all ranks of my regiment convey our deepest sympathy in the loss of your dearly beloved son William. I was his section commander so I realise that it's my place to let you know all I can about your son. I found him a very happy person, very keen on his job. He was greatly liked by us all and [be] assured that he is missed terribly by everyone. He died at peace with the world and without any suffering, which I can thank God for. He was buried in a little French village by the military authorities with other mates of his. His grave is being attended to daily by a party of gallant little French people constantly under enemy fire. They are therefore showing their gratitude to us all by their action. We have all done our best for him and I sincerely hope you will be able to understand that I have written to make things more clear to you. If there is anything further we can do for you I would like you to say. In expressing our heartfelt feelings again from all concerned, I am yours sincerely G Smith Source: Dailymail Via: Forces War Records Blog.
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