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Normandy veteran Theo Dalgliesh, 94, from Canterbury to be honoured on Armed Forces Day

By Gerry Warren

When a special presentation was held for Kent Normandy veterans to receive a French medal in recognition of their bravery, Theo Dalgliesh was too poorly to attend and got his in the post. But now the Royal British Legion is making sure the 94-year-old gets the pomp and ceremony he deserves.

In the dead of night as a British army unit advanced through countryside in Normandy, they came under intense German mortar fire.

There was no time to dive for cover as they suffered a direct hit, resulting in carnage with many men killed or wounded.

Among them was 19-year-old Theo Dalgliesh who was struck by shrapnel, suffering a severe leg wound and deafness.

"Bombs were raining down on us and there was a massive blast and flash right in front of me and I was swept off my feet. I looked down saw my leg was in a bad way and there was blood running down from my ear," he said.

"There were bodies everywhere and moaning and groaning all around me which seemed to go on for an eternity. I lost many friends that day."

Theo, who lives at Upstreet near Canterbury, was eventually rescued by the Royal Welsh Fuselliers who he praised for their bravery under fire.

"I could have bled to death if the Taffs had not got to me," he said.

He was taken to a field hospital before coming back to Britain for more treatment and rehabilitation.

Theo Dalgliesh when he joined the King's Own Scottish Borderers (8367305)
Theo Dalgliesh when he joined the King's Own Scottish Borderers (8367305)

But it was for the courage of soldiers like Theo who helped liberate France, that they were later to be honoured by the French with appointment to the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Legion d'honneur.

The great grandad still recalls the horror vividly but says that at the time, he wasn't scared.

Following further treatment on his leg many years later, a surgeon told him he was lucky not to have lost the limb.

'I still remember wading ashore in my kit because the boats couldn't get to the beach' - Theo Dalgliesh

At the start of the war and aged just 15, Theo originally joined the local defence volunteer force in Middlesex, later to be known as the Home Guard.

He then left his job as a lab assistant with Glaxo to sign up joined The King's Own Scottish Borderers, where he trained with an intelligence and sniper unit.

That was when he first came to Canterbury before being dispatched to Normandy to support the invasion in June 1944.

"I still remember wading ashore in my kit because the boats couldn't get to the beach. I had only been in France about nine or 10 days when I was injured and sent back home," he said.

But even after his recuperation, Theo would be sent to Germany at the end of the war as a mess sergeant to help the Control Commission with the huge administrative task.

That is where he met his future wife, Margarete.

Theo Dalgliesh with his French medal (8321883)
Theo Dalgliesh with his French medal (8321883)

"I was asked to come and help because a woman was kicking up a fuss when her handbag was searched after she was wrongly assumed to be German when in fact she was Dutch and an interpretor," he said.

He was later to meet Margarete at a camp dance and they were married in some German barracks which were converted into a church.

The couple went on to have two daughters and a son and have now been married for 71 years and have five grand children and 15 great grandchildren.

Theo returned to civilian life still carrying his injuries, including hearing damage, but became a skilled glass blower for Glaxo, later moving to Pfizer at Sandwich in 1958 where he was laboratory manager.

He would also be made an MBE for his welfare work for ex-servicemen with the government's war pensions committee.

He already has an impressive list of service medals but his latest honour from the French government is no less appreciated.

"I'm really thrilled and it was a just great pity I couldn't get to the formal presentation because I wasn't well enough," he said.

But the Canterbury branch of the Royal British Region are putting that right thanks to the intervention of president Gerry Ferrett.

He is organising a special presentation to Theo at the branch's Armed Forced Day celebration in Canterbury on June 28 which the Honorary French Consul in Kent, James Ryland is expected to attend to formally present Theo with his medal.

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury.

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