A 98-year-old World War Two hero and D-Day veteran who finally received his medals after more than 70 YEARS joked: “It’s better late than never.”
Colin Palmer served as a private in the British Army between 1941 and 1946 but declined his medals because he felt war was “a terrible thing”.
He remained silent about his wartime experiences until VE Day in 1995 when he finally opened up to his family about what he had gone through half-a-century before.
It is believed had been suffering from shell shock, now commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and simply refused to talk about the war.
Mr Palmer admitted to his family that he would be keen to have the medals he fought for in order to raise awareness about PTSD.
Mr Palmer’s daughter told a worker from Age UK about her father’s experiences and the charity agreed to help.
After contacting the Ministry of Defence, Mr Palmer’s service record confirmed he was due a clutch of medals from the war.
On Wednesday (14/8) Mr Palmer, who has two children and a grandchild, was officially presented with his medals by Major General Mark Armstrong, deputy lord lieutenant of Worcestershire.
Mr Palmer received his 1939 to 1945 Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal.
He was also awarded the Legion D’honneur by the Honorary French Consul, Robert Mille, which is the highest French military and civil award.
Mr Palmer’s wife Meg, 89, attended the ceremony at Worcester’s Guildhall, along with their son Dave Palmer, 62, daughter Jane Palmer, 59, and grandson Daniel Leszczynski, 26.
Mr Palmer said: “It feels nice to finally get my medals. It’s better late than never. It’s been a very special day.”
He was born in Leeds to parents from New Zealand, and worked as an insurance clerk after leaving grammar school at the age of 16.
He was conscripted into the Army in 1941 at the age of 20 and served as a private, working as a motorcycle messenger attached to a West Yorkshire tank regiment.
He took part in the D-Day Normandy Landings in June 1944 but was badly injured that October when his unit was hit by shell fire.
He suffered burn injuries and was sent back to England for treatment. Once recovered he returned to his motorcycle unit.
In April 1945, during the advance into Germany towards Hamburg, he was an eyewitness to the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
He helped in evacuating the survivors for medical treatment.
In May, he observed the surrender of German forces in the west on Luneburg Heath.
He was in training for the invasion of Japan when the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima precipitated the end of the war.
After the war one of his tasks was to transport refugees and ex-prisoners of war to Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad), East Prussia, inside the Soviet zone.
He and his fellow soldiers were shot at by a German plane while they were eating breakfast killing the man sat next to Mr Palmer.
On another occasion, Mr Palmer was walking next to piles of ammunition when Germans fired shells at him.
Once he left the army, he moved back to Leeds and worked in insurance again but was so traumatised by his experiences he refused to accept the medals.
His daughter Jane said: “He is now visually impaired and suffers from dementia, though his memory of the war is still good.
“He never talked about it until the 50 year anniversary. Then it was like Pandora’s box, and it was all he talked about.
“He did not want to be in the war. He did not pick up his medals because he thought war was a terrible thing.
“I attended a car event in Worcester in February and met a representative from Age UK.
“I told him about dad and his wartime experiences and he said he could help dad get his medals.
“Dad had now come round to the idea of having the medals after all these years, and was happy to receive them after the Ministry of Defence was able to organise replicas.”
The father and daughter also took part in the recent national D-Day commemoration events in Normandy.
Kevin Greenway, from Age UK, said: “Colin is a remarkable man and a living part of history.
We were saddened to hear he did not have any of his medals from that time, so, with family agreement, we applied for and secured Colin’s WW2 campaign medals.
“Colin truly deserves these awards.”