Obituary: War veteran who saw aftermath of fatal rail crash

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A Second World War veteran, who witnessed the aftermath of the fatal Leighton Buzzard train derailment in 1931, has died.

Don Green, of Tyrells Road, Stoke Hammond, passed away at Milton Keynes Hospital on Christmas Day, just a few days before his 91st birthday.

Don was born in Mentmore, in 1922. He spent his early years in Mentmore and then Soulbury, where, for a short time his mother had a sweet shop in their house at the bottom of Chapel Hill.

She also worked at Liscombe Park and Don spoke bitterly of once seeing his mother on her hands and knees scrubbing the stone floor of an endless corridor in the big house.

His father, a veteran of the First World War and holder of the Military Medal for bravery in the field, worked as a painter and decorator.

As a youngster, Don, regularly travelled from Soulbury to Leighton Buzzard with his mother and on one occasion, at the age of nine, he witnessed the immediate aftermath of the derailment of the Royal Scot at Leighton Buzzard station. Six people were killed and he remembered seeing the bodies lined up along the verge.

Don left school to become an apprentice brick layer in Leighton Buzzard.

When war broke out he and his friend set off for the Royal Air Force recruitment office to sign up for duty.

They were both rejected so decided to wait until they were called up. He didn’t wait too long and was drafted into the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment – Second Ba alion, which was part of the Fourth Infantry Division.

By spring of 1944 he was in Naples and deeply shocked by the sight of starving barefoot children and the general living conditions of the Italians but almost straight away he was taken off to the frontline at Monte Cassino. There the situation was stalemate; after several major battles the troops were dug in, the town was totally destroyed and the monastery overlooking the town had been turned into a German rubble fortress thanks to its obliteration by American bombers.

The bombing continued during the nights and Don’s position was so close to the German line that in the mornings he would see them come out of their foxholes amongst the ruins of the monastery and shake the dust out of their blankets.

In May, Don and others were taken out of the line and trained up for a special operation involving the crossing of the torrential Rapido River in small boats. The river was a major obstacle because of the ferocity of the water coming off the mountains and had already claimed the lives of many Americans who had attempted the crossing earlier in the year.

The final battle started at 1pmon May 11 with a massive Allied bombardment of over 1,600 heavy artillery guns. For Don and his Beds and Herts colleagues this was the signal to get in the boats and attempt the crossing. He made it but many of the others didn’t. The troops were fully kitted out for war and if a boat was capsized, as many of them were, there was no hope for the occupants and Don watched many go under.

At some point during the week-long battle, Don was hit and wounded. He was taken to the temporary hospital at the Palace of Caserta and treated for a bullet wound in the leg.

After recovering he had a few days leave in Rome, the city he had helped to liberate, and then he was back to the frontline moving north through Italy. Once again he was wounded and again returned to the front line.

Just before Christmas 1944, Don was sent to Greece to take part in stabilising the liberation there but the situation deteriorated into civil war. When the war ended in 1945 he was still in Greece and the civil war kept Don in the thick of it until he was discharged in 1948.

At some point during his time in the army, Don, had trained as a driver and got himself a driving license.

With it he was able to get work as a lorry driver when he was demobbed working for haulage companies in Leighton Buzzard – Biggs’ and Foundry Equipment, amongst others.

In 1950 he married Eileen and moved to Stoke Hammond. They had two sons – Stephen and Trevor, and spent 60 happy years together.

In 2010, Don and Eileen celebrated 60 years of married life together, but the following year Eileen died.

In December 2012, Don celebrated his 90th birthday and was was treated to a night in the Grand Hotel, Brighton with a room overlooking the sea.

Trevor said: “He always put himself out to help people by offering his time or his tools. He liked to laugh and make others laugh – and was quite happy to make a fool of himself to achieve a smile.

“His motivation in life was his family and the highlights of every year were Christmas and the summer holidays at the seaside, and later, travelling in the UK and on the continent in the campervan – Eileen at his side. Their trips to France and Italy were very special to both of them.

“He never made it back to the battlefields to pay his respects to his comrades or to see the rebuilt monastery of Monte Cassino.”