Family and friends say farewell to a Norwich D-Day hero
10:47 14 September 2013
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day...
These poignant words were made famous by Dame Vera Lynn during the second world war, and yesterday they were sung in a beautiful tribute by family, friends and comrades in the final moments of the funeral of a Norwich D-Day hero.
John Walker, who died on August 28, was one of the Red Devils who survived a daring mission at the outset of Operation Overlord that helped save many lives on the Normandy beaches.
At his funeral at St Faith Crematorium, the 91-year-old grandfather’s immense bravery in the fight for freedom nearly 70 years ago was remembered.
Standard bearers led the flower-filled hearse carrying Mr Walker’s coffin to the chapel, where scores of people, including members of the Normandy Veterans Association and the Norfolk and Waveney Parachute Regiment Association, gathered to pay their last respects.
There was standing room only, and throughout the service the standard bearers flanked Mr Walker’s coffin which was draped in the Union flag and had a photo of Mr Walker as a serving soldier placed beside it, along with a cushion displaying his medals.
The service was led by the Rev Margaret Whitaker, who, in her address, spoke of how Mr Walker, of New Costessey and born William Thomas but known as John, had grown up in Norwich and learned tracking and survival skills on Mousehold Heath.
“Little did he know these skills would set him in good stead for later life,” she said.
At age 14 Mr Walker was apprenticed to Stones the tailors. A member of the Territorial Army, he was called up for active service aged 17 and joined the Royal Norfolk Regiment where he rose to the rank of sergeant. He then transferred to the Parachute Regiment, with which he undertook the dangerous Merville Battery attack in France in June 1944.
The Rev Whitaker also spoke of how Mr Walker met his late wife Sheila, then an ATS girl, at a dance at Salisbury Plain and how they went on to lead a happy life together.
The couple married in 1946 and went on to have two daughters, Marilyn and Karen. The Rev Whitaker spoke of how Mr Walker – who on being discharged from service in 1946 became a tailor to the army and then worked in the grocery trade and became a trouble-shooter for Norwich Co-op – “worked tirelessly to provide the best for his girls”.
Both Mr Walker and his wife continued their association with the services as members of the Normandy Veterans Association and the Norfolk and Waveney PRA.
In later life Mr Walker developed Alzheimer’s, and the Rev Whitaker spoke of how this affected his family, and a touching “Poem for John” was read out, also addressing the subject.
The reading – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – was the same as that read at Mrs Walker’s funeral just weeks previously, and the congregation sang the hymns Onward, Christian Soldiers, and O Lord My God, When I In Awesome Wonder. As the service neared its end, the haunting sound of the The Last Post was heard in the chapel and the standard bearers lowered their flags – a moving tribute and farewell to a brave soldier and hero.
Mr Walker’s family has requested that anybody wanting to make a donation in memory of Mr Walker should send a cheque made payable to Alzheimer’s Society, care of East of England Co-operative Funeral Service, St Stephens Square, Norwich, NR1 3SS.