TWO OF these images of Philip Milton sum up a life dedicated to service to his country and to commemorating and supporting those who have given their lives or been injured in war.
One picture shows 24-year-old Philip in the uniform of the Herts Yeomanry serving in World War Two.
Philip, of Northons Lane, Holbeach, lost comrades during that war and in his later life has paid his respects to them with annual pilgrimages to the old battlefields.
He also helped to raise funds for Harold Payne’s The Anglia Motel Cafe Pilgrimage Fund, to help Normandy veterans from the district make the journey to France, and later collected money for Help for Heroes.
The other picture shows 92-year-old Philip having raised a magnificent £10,000 for the two causes with the help of his wife Marjorie and fellow veteran Eric Toynton.
Next month, Philip hopes to make his final trip to Normandy with The Anglia Motel Veterans, and admits: “It’s important to me and once I get over there I get very emotional.”
He was 19 and working in a hardware shop in Hertfordshire when Philip heard that ‘reservists and territorials’ had to report to their units – Philip was in the Territorial Army.
He says: “I went off with two weeks’ holiday money and got back in 1945 when my ‘holiday’ finished.”
During the war, Philip drove a Sherman tank carrying the officer who instructed the guns and so it was primarily a communication tank, a crucial role in war-time for co-ordinating artillery attacks.
The tank contained a normal crew of five and was fitted with three machine guns and Philip says the piece sticking out the front that looked like a gun was “just a piece of sheet metal”.
However, Philip says the work was also “dodgy” because, “our tanks had an adverse habit of bursting into flames when they were hit by the Germans’ anti-tank guns”.
A lot of tanks did get “knocked out” and in fact Philip’s tank took a hit during the Battle of the Bulge, or the major German offensive through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region.
Philip recalls: “After the Germans had been driven back from the Ardennes we were having a rest and a refit. We went back into action and put in an attack at some part of the Germans’ defences and our tank got hit by an anti-tank gun. I could see where it was firing from so I knew we would get it. It hit the side but didn’t penetrate, but split half the side open with the impact. I tried to put a slight angle on so if it hit us it would slide off, and it did.”
Philip pulled the tank into a farmyard – and a land mine blew up the tank, putting it right out of action.
“We were very, very lucky that nobody was injured,” he says. “There was a lot of relief and I sweated and swore afterwards, I expect. We had to get out of the tank and made a run for it because they were still mortaring us.”
In a twist worthy of inclusion in any of the great war films, the men headed for shelter in the farm’s stables, where they discovered seven or eight Germans who had luckily left their weapons in another room. On opening up the shirt of one of them Philip discovered he was “festooned with hand grenades” and he imagined a booby trap, whereas the German had in fact been hit in the back and the bullets had gone right through him – remarkably, he was still alive when he was taken away.
Philip finished the war without any further narrow escapes, and afterwards helped in the job of organising the Russians and other displaced personnel in German labour camps.
He returned to the UK later in 1945 and, after a couple of weeks’ leave, returned to the hardware shop where he discovered his boss had employed females, something he said he would never do. However, it worked out well for Philip because one of them was Marjorie, and they have been married 59 years and have two sons, four grandchildren as well as greatgrandchildren.
The couple moved to Holbeach about 20 years ago, struck by the friendly people they had encountered in the town, and Philip eventually joined the Holbeach branch of the Royal British Legion. In 2004, he joined the Boston branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association and the same year went to Normandy with his regiment and received his Normandy Veteran’s badge. He has returned almost every year since.