‘Someone needs to take care of them’, says war veteran Bill who has been selling Poppies for 50 years
- Credit: Archant
War veteran Bill Fordham will be proudly donning his nine medals to join the annual Remembrance Day service in March this weekend to remember the hundreds of comrades he fought alongside as a paratrooper.
Mr Fordham, 94, who is one of the area’s oldest surviving veterans of the Second World War, has already played a part in remembering the fallen as well as helping service personnel and their families from more modern conflicts by selling Poppies.
He has been selling poppies every November for 50 years and has raised thousands of pounds for the Royal British Legion, saying “someone needs to take of them as they come out of the army and are often just forgotten”.
This week he has been selling Poppies to fellow residents of Upwell Park, where he has lived for the past 27 years.
Mr Fordham is well-known in March for his railway connections; he worked as a guard for more than 30 years and was chairman of the March branch of NUR (National Union of Railwaymen).
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He was called up two days before the start of the war.
Previously he was in the Territorial Army but was called up to join the 1st Herts (a now defunct regiment). He was assigned to operating ack ack guns on ships travelling from Harwich to Calais and on railway ferries carrying cargo around the British coast.
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But he soon volunteered for the paratroops and found himself based in Italy. He participated in numerous campaigns and some of the bloodiest battles of the war including the infamous battle for the abbey at Monte Cassino in Italy where he was wounded in the back by shrapnel.
Mr Fordham saw 161 of his fellow combatants killed after parachuting into Greece and being cornered in the Acropolis for three weeks under constant sniper attack from rebel forces before making an escape under the cover of an RAF bombardment.
He was often behind enemy lines carrying out what he termed the army’s “dirty work” and on one occasion in France he found himself facing down the barrell of a gun.
Mr Fordham said: “We had dropped into France to take out a German officers’ training camp. The pathfinders had gone ahead and were already on the ground when I parachuted in.
“It was dark, and I suddenly heard a gun click and turned round to find a pathfinder aiming at me and for that moment I couldn’t remember the password - it was blossom and it did eventually come back to me, but I had a lucky escape that night.”
Mr Fordham worked as batman to the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Independent Paratroop Brigade and saw one of his officers captured and another shot during his time in the role.
His troop were held back from taking part in the famous Arnhem battle as the commanding officer wanted to keep one parachute regiment in Italy.
After the war Mr Fordham, who was married to wife Margaret for 63 years and had four children Richard, Geraldine, Martin and William, worked for Knowles Transport in Wimblington for seven years before joining the railway.
He met his wife, who died six years ago, when she worked in the ATS on radar and the couple settled in her home town of March.
Mr Fordham is most proud of his 39-45 Star medal which signifies he served throughout the whole war, but he has nine medals in total including the Italy and French Stars and they will be displayed on his chest this weekend.