A Second World War veteran from Rutland received a memorable surprise when he met former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson this week.
Remembrance weekend is always a poignant time of year for veteran, Gerry Wells, 92, but this year there was an extra dimension to the Armistice Day activities for Gerry when he was introduced to General Sir Mike Jackson GCB, CBE, DSO, DL.
The General, now retired, is one of the British Army’s most high profile generals since the Second World War and visited Uppingham Theatre on Friday to deliver a talk about his life and work.
Gerry is a widower and father of five grown up children and lives with his youngest daughter Victoria in North Luffenham. He volunteered into the army straight from school and served between 1943 and 1947 in the Sherwood Rangers – one of five squadrons of the Royal Yeomanry, 8th Armoured Brigade.
He was recently awarded the Legion d’Honneur – France’s highest decoration – for his courageous service in Normandy. Gerry accepted the medal from Dr Lawrence Howard, the Lord Lieutenant of Rutland and acknowledged his former crew members who he says he thinks about every day.
After the war on leaving the army, Gerry married Mary and the couple moved to Wales where they bought a small farm and began to raise their family.
“Those were wonderful years,” remembers Gerry with a smile.
“With three children and another on the way however, we decided we needed more stable careers. We had visited and admired Rutland and Stamford so we made the move here where I retrained as a teacher and Mary secured a job nursing at Stamford Hospital.”
During the 1960s and 70s Gerry taught English Literature at Stamford College and pursued his lifelong love of writing with many of his poems published in prestigious national publications. Sadly, in 1984 Mary succumbed to cancer and Gerry was widowed after 33 years of marriage.
Following his early retirement, Gerry’s life took another unexpected turn when he married former colleague Gill.
The couple renovated a cottage together in North Luffenham where, to their delight Gill discovered she was expecting a baby. “I always loved being a father but having Victoria later in life meant I was able to spend lots more time with her which was a special gift.”
In 2011, Gerry was devastated once again, losing Gill also to cancer.
Still writing professionally, Gerry has completed and published two volumes of memoirs - ‘Growing up in Sussex: From Schoolboy to Soldier’ and ‘The Look of Tomorrow’ (History Press), plus his wartime memories ‘Kicking the Hornets’ Nest’ (Matador) which can be found at Amazon. His most recent release is ‘War Games’, a collection of short stories also available at Amazon.
Gerry was accompanied to hear the General speak by his friend, Paul Beech who is also a former Special Forces serviceman and tireless fundraiser for the Army Benevolent Fund.
The pair were given complimentary tickets and seats on the front row in recognition of their service by the management of Uppingham Theatre.
Gerry and Paul were greeted by General Sir Mike who chatted to them at the theatre before his talk.
Gerry was delighted by the meeting and said it had been an honour to meet Sir Mike and that he had thoroughly enjoyed the talk.
“Sir Mike’s talk was brilliant and very funny. I really enjoyed the question and answer session – he went down very well and made me proud to be ‘an old sweat’,” he said.
n Turn to pages 36 and 85 for photos from the Remembrance Day parades from across the area.