ON Friday afternoon, 99-year-old World War Two hero Bob Elder will pour a brandy and join the nation toasting those who fought for victory in Europe 75 years ago.
To mark the VE anniversary, the former Leading Seaman — who cheated death three times while fighting the Nazis — will proudly remember those he fought with.
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And he called on the current generation of lockdown Brits to channel the spirit of that era, saying: “Make the sacrifice and help save your nation.”
During the conflict Bob was sunk twice, took part in raids at Dieppe and the D-Day landings, saw the aftermath of the atom bomb at Nagasaki in Japan and witnessed the surrender and end of the war.
But through it all, even when he spent nine hours clinging to floating wreckage with bodies all around him, he held on to the belief that he would live to see the next century.
It stemmed from when he was a baby, and a gypsy told his mother he would live to 100. That prophecy will come true on August 14.
Bob, from Plymouth, who was awarded ten medals, said: “It’s hard to believe that 75 years have passed but I knew both times when I was sunk and when we went on dangerous raids that it wasn’t my time, because of the prophecy.
“I always held on to that, as well as thoughts of my family when I was adrift, awaiting rescue in the Channel for nine hours. It gave me the courage to hold on.
“I’m nearly there now, so I feel it’s time to share what I saw, as there’s fewer of us around.
“These are strange times with the virus, but we must all still remember the sacrifices made during the war and make some sacrifices now and stay at home.”
As a 23-year-old Able Seaman, Bob served on the frigate HMS Lawford, the headquarters ship for the Assault Group 1 of the Juno Beach landings on D-Day.
He recalled: “We reached the French coast on D-Day. HMS Belfast opened fire first, we followed, then all hell broke loose. Seeing the men clamber up the beaches is as clear in my mind today as it was then.
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"Craft after craft, and each carrying around 15 men, would hit the beach at such speed they would bounce. Then they would run like hell for cover.”
The wreck of HMS Lawford remains off the stretch of Normandy coast then dubbed Juno Beach.
Bob said: “There was an inferno, there were bodies in the water, men swimming as fast as they could to escape the undertow.
“A young officer and I found a piece of flotsam but we were up to our chests in freezing water and the bombardment continued around us.
“He died alongside me but I kept him with me as I knew his family would want him home.
“They took the remains of my colleague aboard first, as I was afraid he’d be taken by the sea. I remember telling them, ‘Don’t worry, I can swim to you’.
"But as I slid off the wood, I didn’t even have the strength to float and I thought, ‘This is it, I’m going to drown’. But a sailor dived in and saved my life — so the gypsy was right.”
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Bob had signed up to the Royal Navy at 18, in 1938, after leaving his family’s farm in Northern Ireland.
He joined the ill-fated ship HMS Curlew, which patrolled the Arctic before it was sunk during the Norwegian campaign on May 26, 1940.
He said of the early days: “We were called up on to the deck on September 19, 1939, where the captain declared we were at war. The entire crew cheered. We didn’t realise what war was. We were young and daft.”
And he recalled the ship’s demise: “Dive bombers and torpedoes came so thick and fast over the days ahead that we got out our guns.
“We kept firing small arms until the ship was hit and was going down. We launched the lifeboats and got the hell out of there.”
Bob then joined HMS Prince Charles, a Royal Marine Commando raiding ship. He went on raids off Norway and took part in Operation Jubilee, also known as the Dieppe Raid, targeting the German-occupied French port on August 19, 1942.
In 1944, Bob was transferred to the destroyer HMS Ulysses and joined the British Pacific Fleet.
He said: “We docked in Nagasaki, after the United States detonated its nuclear bomb over the city on August 9, 1945.
That was the only time I felt a tear roll down my face during the war. There wasn’t an insect or a bird singing in a tree.
“There was just a scene of annihilation. That was terrible and it haunts me to this day.”
He was aboard the Ulysses when the captain summoned the crew on deck to announce the end of the war on VE Day, and said: “I remember it so clearly. He simply said, ‘The war is over’.
"Just like at the start, everyone cheered. But this time it was with relief that it was over, and tinged with sadness as millions had died.”
After the war Bob was asked to stay on as a petty officer, but he refused, as he wanted to see his wife Emily and two children again.
He was awarded France’s highest military honour, the Legion d’Honneur, the D-Day Medal, three campaign medals — the Atlantic Star, France and Germany Star, plus the Pacific Star and Imperial Service Medal, all now in a bank vault for safe keeping.
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Bob and Emily had four children, Derek, Maureen, Sheila and Shaun, nine grandchildren, 18 great grandchildren and 15 great- great grandchildren.
He said: “It’s hard to believe that 75 years have passed. I am not a hero, I was just serving my country.
“It’s taken me all these years to speak, but I’ll be 100 soon and I don’t want people to forget.”
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