Last Wednesday, during our visit to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, I was given the opportunity to interview World War II veteran Roy Cadman. Roy has only been a Chelsea Pensioner for three years but he is currently the oldest! And what a life he has lead!
It was truly an honour to speak to Roy about his life. Reading about the Commandos is one thing, but being able to hear it first hand from a veteran was very special indeed and is certainly something I will never forget!
Roy spoke with such passion and pride as well as a great sense of humour. It astounded me just how much detail he could remember about his army career, right back to his 17th birthday which was the day he enlisted.
I suspect Roy has been asked to tell his story rather a lot recently. With all the ongoing WWII commemorations he has become quite a celebrity D-Day veteran and has even had a page dedicated to him on the BBC website. Click here for link.
Roy joined the army on his 17 birthday! That was one moment that particularly impressed me; such willingness and determination to serve this country from such an early age (albeit too early!) shows just how much of a hero Roy is to Britain. He said:[color-box: color=white]“On my 17th birthday I joined the Army. It was 1940. I couldn’t wait to enlist so I lied about my age! Then in 1941 I volunteered for the Commandos*. This time they realised I was too young and asked me to try again when I was 19. I did, and in 1942 I was sent to Scotland for 3 months’ rigorous Commando training. This was where they sorted the men from the boys. Three hundred soldiers started, but only 70 finished the training. I passed and was posted to No. 3 Commando stationed at Weymouth. This was just after the Dieppe raids on Aug 19-20th.”[/color-box]
It was fascinating to find out just how tough the 3 months of training was to serve as part of the Commandos. To have roughly 70 out of 300 people complete the training just shows how vigorous and demanding it was. Roy described to me how whilst fighting at the German line in Italy, he took a bullet through his lung and was then taken prisoner and interrogated by German forces before escaping and being taken to hospital… I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing![color-box: color=white]“We were posted to the Middle East in Jan 43, then went on to fight in North Africa, and were in the advanced party that landed during the invasion of Sicily. We were charged with destroying a six-gun battery to allow further divisions to land safely behind us. After successfully disarming the gun we marched in to Syracuse where they put us on a landing ship. We went up the coast landing behind the German lines. There was a lot of fighting with the German paras and I was wounded. I took a bullet through my lung and was taken prisoner and interrogated by the Germans. I escaped the same night and managed to walk 17 miles back through the German lines to the 8th Army. I was taken back to North Africa, to Tripoli, to recover and was out of action for 6 weeks.” [/color-box]
Six weeks later Roy rejoined his Commando in Italy and continued duties, where they captured a town and held a bridge so the 8th Army could cross. and then he was brought home for D Day.[color-box: color=white]“We were brought home for D Day. We landed on Sword Beach and were the first ashore at 08:40. We were in the line for 96 days, being shelled and mortared. From there we broke out of the bridgehead, crossed over the Rhine and moved up through France and Belgium, finishing up at the Baltic at a German Naval Base.” [/color-box]
As Roy told me about such acts of courage and bravery, I was able to imagine just how much these war heroes had been through. Roy has travelled all across Europe and North Africa serving his country and has encountered scenes and sights that have stayed with him all his life.
What stuck a chord with me was that Roy was about the same age as me when all this happened. And he was just one of tens of thousands of very young men who fought so bravely for their country. Hearing about these experiences from the mouth of a Chelsea Pensioner is something that no book could ever replicate and I have the utmost respect for Roy and all of the other residents of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
* (The Commandos were Churchill’s ‘fighting force’ – young men, 19-24 years, able to swim, not married and extra fit. They were formed after the catastrophe at Dunkirk, assembled to carry out raids against German-occupied Europe.)