Philip Ward, paratrooper who fought in the break-out from Normandy in 1944 – obituary

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    brithm Senior Member

    Philip Ward, paratrooper who fought in the break-out from Normandy in 1944 – obituary

    He took part in Operation Varsity, the largest single-day airborne drop in history, in the battle to cross the Rhine

    By Telegraph Obituaries 12 September 2023 • 11:45am

    Philip Ward in Normandy on June 6 2023 Credit: Robin Savage

    Philip Ward, who has died aged 98, was almost the last survivor of members of the 9th Parachute Battalion who fought in Normandy.

    In early July 1944, Ward embarked for Normandy on a troopship and joined 9 Para, 3rd Parachute Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, in the Bois de Bavent area, defending the eastern flank of the Allied beachhead. In August, he took part in the break-out from Normandy. The battalion reached the River Seine before the end of the month before being withdrawn to England.

    In the winter of 1944-1945, he saw further action with 9 Para in the Ardennes. He also took part in the funeral at Bande of young men executed by the Germans as reprisals for attacks on them by Belgians and escorted the coffins to the nearby village of Grune for burial. In February 1945, he manned a machine gun position at the village of Horn in the Netherlands, immediately opposite Roermond on the River Maas. They held the line there for two weeks until they were relieved by the Americans.
    Philip Ward c. 1946
    Philip Walter Ward was born at Beachamwell, Norfolk, on February 12 1925. His father was a shepherd and his mother a former children’s nanny. His father’s employer, in search of good grazing land, moved the family a few miles away, first to a dilapidated farmhouse and then to a bungalow at Fincham which was new but was still without running water or electricity.

    In summer 1939, aged 14, he left school and became an apprentice carpenter, joiner and wheelwright. Aged 16, he joined the Home Guard and was issued with a rifle which he kept at home in his bedroom. In April 1943, he was called up into the General Service Corps and posted to the Cheshire Regiment. He trained on the Vickers machine gun and qualified as a motorcycle dispatch rider. Escorting military vehicles required some skill because all the signposts had been removed.

    Having volunteered for the Parachute Regiment and completed the training course at RAF Ringway, in May 1944 he was posted to 9 Para at Bulford Camp, Wiltshire. The barracks were almost deserted because the soldiers were in a secure transit camp preparing for the invasion of Normandy.
    Ward in Palestine, where he undertook internal security duties
    In March 1945, he took part in Operation Varsity, the largest single-day airborne drop in history, to support the river assault troops in the battle to secure a foothold across the River Rhine. He was dropped from a C-47 Dakota and parachuted into the drop zone at Hamminkeln, north of Wesel.

    The advance across Germany with 3rd Parachute Brigade, much of it on foot, ended at Wismar on the Baltic coast. Ward recalled meeting German tanks heading west, flying white flags and with their guns dipped.

    After the war, he served in Palestine on internal security duties. He became platoon sergeant in charge of four Vickers machine guns before he was demobilised in September 1947.

    He returned to his job as a carpenter and joiner, and he and his wife worked hard and saved enough to buy a building plot. He drew up plans for a bungalow and, with help from his brother, in 1960 he completed the building work. It was to be the family home for the rest of his life.
    Ward in Normandy on June 6 this year
    Ward joined St John Ambulance Brigade, and established the Fincham Division in 1957. In 1963, he joined the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works as a foreman of trades at RAF Marham. He spent the latter part of his working life with the Department of the Environment.

    Long after his retirement, Ward continued to drive a St John ambulance. He joined the 9th Battalion Parachute Regiment Reunion Club and made regular pilgrimages to Normandy. In 2019, he was appointed to the Légion d’honneur in recognition of his contribution to the liberation of France. A devoted family man with a strong Christian faith, he was always happy to assist with any carpentry, DIY or building project.

    Philip Ward married first, in 1947, Mabel Irene Cason, known as Casey. She predeceased him, and in 1994 he married Kathy Jordan. He is survived by his daughter and two sons.

    Philip Ward, born February 12 1925, died August 3 2023

    Philip Ward, paratrooper who fought in the break-out from Normandy in 1944 – obituary
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