Posted by: sommecourt | 29/09/2011

RIP Don Carter- WW2 Veteran

It is with much sadness that I have to report the death of WW2 veteran, Don Carter. Don had just been to the battlefields in Italy, with a tour group I was leading – as reported below. During that week Don got to see many places he hadn’t been to since the war, and see the graves of men from his regiment, the Princess Louise’s Kensington Regiment; his unit was the divisional support battalion to the 78th Division. Don, an East End lad who had seen the cruel hand of the Blitz and witnessed his father go grey as he cleared the streets of Stepney of bodies, had volunteered under age to join the army. He arrived in North Africa, where his brother’s battalion was close by. When he went to see him, his brother couldn’t believe the youngster was in uniform. Don was thrown into battle in Sicily, but he said last week his first real taste of what being a front line soldier was like was at Termoli, where he vividly remembered the dead on stretchers in the streets, awaiting burial. He ended 1943 on the Sangro and moved down to Cassino where he spent the first half of 1944 driving his carrier like a lunatic along the ‘mad mile’ bringing up supplies to the Jeep Head. Following the breakout from Rome his division went for rest in Egypt and then returned for the fighting on the Gothic Line, and then took part in the final battles in Italy.

I only spent eight days of Don’s long life with him, but last week in Italy he proved a good friend as we chatted about the tough times, and laughed at the good ones. Like many infantry veterans who were at the sharp end, he hadn’t really spoken much about the war; he’d come home in 1946 wanted to make a life, have a family and move on from what he’d seen in the war. But as he got older thoughts of Italy returned; he told me our forum – WW2 Talk – had done him a world of good, as he posted under his old army name ‘Niccar’. He said he was a ‘lurker’ not a poster, but he’d marveled at how fellow veterans had been able to be so vocal with their experiences, especially those like him who had served in Italy. In fact he couldn’t speak too highly of WW2 Talk and converted a few people in the tour group; he said he was especially grateful for the kindness shown him by two forum members who had been copying the battalion war diary for him; the highlight was seeing his own name in there. I think that helped him to make up his mind and return to Italy.

In some ways we’ll never know what went through Don’s mind on the tour last week. He saw name after familiar name, and the visible signs of his war in the cap badges of the graves of his comrades. He was generous in the way he gave people his time on the trip, but some had not even realised he was a veteran, as he didn’t wear his medals like others in the group. Don was not a showy sort of bloke in any way; he felt uncomfortable wearing his medals when those under the white stones in the cemeteries never would, and had only claimed them late in life for his family.

As a battlefield guide working with groups of veterans the best compliment you can be paid by anyone is when you see a veteran nodding in agreement while you talk, and when one of them says to you over a drink ‘you’re a credit to what you do’. Don was generous enough for both of those and I was genuinely sad to see him depart when the group went its separate ways last weekend. I can only hope that in some small part I was able to help Don get what he wanted from the trip, if just to lay a few ghosts.

I’m a firm believer that we need heroes in our lives. Don was one of those heroes, although he would never have willingly admitted it. It’s not just about charging machine gun posts but there is a quiet heroism in men like Don; they’ve been there, they’ve seen the shooting war, but they don’t need to make a fuss of it – they would be embarrassed to. Occasionally as he stood in a war cemetery last week I’m sure the feint glimmer of men in khaki marching to an unknown destiny flickered across his mind, and the voices and sounds and smells of the battlefield came tumbling back. We owe much to men like Don, sometimes we don’t know how much. Even in their old age they can enrich our lives and help us see that war isn’t just about weapons, technology, generals and leaders, but about ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances. Don was one of those ordinary men, who I will always be honoured to know he called me a mate. Goodbye Niccar.

Don paying his respects to a comrade at the Sangro.
Advertisements

Responses

  1. My name is James Stevens and myself and my dad (George) were on the tour with Don. I didn’t really get to speak to him much but i could see that he was a good man and i heard one particular great story about him and the reason he volunteered. Don was a hero and deserves recognition and remembrance (just like all those who fought in both world wars) from all subsequent generations. R.I.P. Don.

  2. Thank you for posting this Paul, I’m sure that in some way, shape or form the tour would have helped “Niccar” lay some ghosts to rest. I loved reading his expression of being a “lurker” such great humour from one that has seen and experienced much in WW2. We owe a lot to those men and women that made many sacrifices for what we have today and you’re right sometimes people do forget nor realise how much that sacrifice was or what it cost them…their families and their comrades…The ones that did make it home physically they did, but, in what state physically for some, emotionally and mentally what baggage were they carrying around inside them for the rest of their lives. Ordinary they may consider themselves to be, for me they stand tall above the rest of us…God bless you Don, may you rest in eternal peace and may you find great comaraderie amongst your friends once more…Lest we forget…

  3. What a shame Paul. However, it was good that Don was able to visit Italy before his death. It’s strange the way that this often happens – someone dying soon after a pilgrimage. It happened to vets I knew too. Harold Judd died within a week of laying a wreath at the London Scottish memorial on the Messines Ridge. When he got back on the coach he said that he ‘was done now’ and had completed what he wanted to do in life. It’s almost as if the body holds out until this final act of pilgrimage is completed.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about what heroes these men were and in many cases, still are. Without them we’d be living a very different life indeed. My condolences to you and Don Carter’s family.

  4. You’ve done him proud here Paul, beautiful words. I have a large speck of dust in both eyes. As you said, he was a hero and will always be remembered as such. Lest we forget.

  5. It’s a great tribute Paul. Thanks a lot for this. Damiano P.

  6. Thank you Paul – Drew

  7. Just like to pass on my condolences to Don Carter`s family, some of who were on the trip, with us last week. Don was a typical East Ender, from his era. Not flash, but solid and reliable. The Luftwaffe may have done it`s worst, to Don and his family, but he did his best. For his family, his nation, and the countless generations, that owe the greatest of debts, to him and many, many brave servicemen, of that era.
    Looking at the terrain, in Italy, last week. Only Don and the comrades, really know the hardships and difficulty, of fighting an enemy, in such conditions.
    R.I.P. Don, and thanks, to you, and the brave men, who fell in the line of duty.
    Tom Talty

  8. So glad Don was able to spend some quality time with his family on the Italian Campaign, my condolences go out to them and the rest of the family. We can never appreciate enough the heroes they were and at such a young age.
    Sheila Claringbold.

  9. Paul, thank you for your tribute to Don. I was fortunate to know Don Carter and the respect and high praise I have read here are not misplaced. He was one of the most genuinely decent people I have ever known . . .not to mention one of the most likeable. I feel privileged to have spent time with someone who added so much to so many lives.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: