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Obituary: D-Day Hero William ‘Percy’ Lewis

Published on: 6 May, 2022
Updated on: 6 May, 2022

Percy Lewis

D-Day hero and former prisoner of war, William “Percy” Lewis was buried at St John the Evangelist Church, Merrow on Tuesday (May 3).

Percy, one of thousands who landed on Sword Beach on June 6, 1944, died on March 29, aged 99.

At the funeral, he was given military honours including two standard-bearers, a piper and a bugler who played Last Post and Reveille.

His service conducted by the Rector of the Parish of Merrow, the Rev’d Rona Stuart-Bourne, included reflections of the many different aspects of Percy’s life.

Rev’d Mandy Reynolds, former National Chaplain to Normandy War Veterans, spoke about his military service and work over the years for the veterans, while local friends spoke of his dedicated service to, and membership of, the Parish of Merrow. 

“Percy’s life was an extraordinary one,” said Rev’d Stuart-Bourne. “His funeral gave his family, friends and the whole community the opportunity to thank God for his service both during the war and more recently to veteran organisations. Percy was also such an amazing part of our parish, rolling his sleeves up and doing work in the churchyard. He was tireless.”

He was buried with his wife May in St John’s Churchyard.

Percy was born in Windsor in 1922 and moved to Slough when he was 10-years-old. After leaving school, he started an apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner at W Hartley & Sons, builders, decorators and undertakers, at Wrexham near Slough.

The cap badge of the 1st Buckinghamshire Rifles, a light infantry unit.

In 1941, Percy was conscripted into the 1st Battalion, The Buckinghamshire Rifle Volunteers, where he became a wireless operator. His battalion was a Territorial Army unit, originally formed in 1862. It was expanded to be part of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, serving in both World Wars.

He trained in Scotland as part of “No 6 Beach Group” ready for the invasion of Normandy before returning to the South of England. Departing from Portsmouth, he landed on Sword beach at 4.30pm on June 6. (Click here for a more detailed account.)

The Beach Group was responsible for organising the units landing on Sword beach. It was tasked with establishing and defending dumps of equipment and supplies including ammunition, petrol and vehicles.

On June 19 he was wounded and flown back to Stafford hospital in England. After three weeks of recuperation, he returned to France eventually moving up through Belgium and into Holland where his unit assisted with the defence of the airborne forces that had landed at Arnhem and which had to withdraw across the Rhine.

Percy was captured and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp. Stalag X1B at Fallingbostel, Germany. He was released on April 16 1945 weighing just six stones and flown back to England for three months repatriation leave.

POWs at Stalag XI-B welcome their liberators, April 16 1945. Photo Wikipedia

After that, he went back to the army for another 18 months in the London area and was demobbed as a sergeant in the Military Police after five years service in 1947.

Returning to civilian life he went back to his old job with Hartleys.  In May 1952, he married his wife May and they moved to Morden, Surrey. His daughter Philippa was born in 1960 and another, Pamela, in 1962.

Percy and his family moved to the Fleet area in 1964 and worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. He was promoted Senior Professional Technical Officer in charge of building and estate services and retired after 22 years.

Percy was also an active member of the Normandy Veterans’ Association and travelled every year to Arromanches, France to commemorate his fallen comrades.

He was also an active member of: the Normandy Veterans Association; the France and Germany Star Association; the Prisoner of War Association; the Anglo-Dutch Society; The British Legion (Clandon Branch) and St John the Evangelist Church, Merrow.

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