Military history


On the morning of 9 September 1943 – three years after Hitler’s all-conquering Panzer divisions had thrown the British Expeditionary Force out of France and back into the sea – Coldstream Guardsman Philip Gourd became one of the first British soldiers to regain a foothold on mainland Europe.

Guardsman Gourd was part of a small reconnaissance unit set down on the southern Italian beaches of Salerno three hours ahead of the main Allied landings, at the time the biggest invasion in history.

Without the Allies’ success at Salerno, which cost the lives of 8,000 British and American servicemen, D-Day would have had to be postponed and the war extended beyond 1945. Tomorrow, Guardsman Gourd, 83, from Teignmouth, Devon, and dozens of his comrades will gather at a Salerno cemetery overlooking the landing beaches to mark the 60th anniversary of the battle.

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In her recurring nightmare, Tham Yong’s fiancé is calling her from the spirit world to go back to the river to look for survivors. She can see the pained expression on his face and his outstretched arms beckoning her to return to the scene of a massacre that wiped out every adult male in their village.

The images which still haunt the 78-year-old grandmother are as vivid now as they were when Britain’s colonial war in Malaya first broke upon this small settlement of Chinese rubber-tree tappers, 45 miles north-west of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. “I have other bad dreams too,” says Tham Yong. “I dream that the British want to kill me. I tell them that we are good people, we are all innocent, but the soldiers just keep repeating that we must be bad people and we must die.”


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