Tributes have been paid to a dedicated South Croydon war veteran and former Croydon Advertiser printer, Herbert Smith who lived in the borough all his life.
Smith, known to most as Bert, passed away in hospital aged 96 after a fall at his home in November.
More than 50 people turned out to pay their respects to him at his funeral in Sanderstead in January.
His brother-in-law, Roy Parsons, said: “He was a very reserved man but he threw himself into every charity he was involved in”.
Those who knew him said he was very dedicated to helping others in need.
The only love of his life was his wife Rene. He loved her very much throughout his whole life, and she loved him greatly too.
Bert was born in Sanderstead in 1920 and after he finished school he joined the Territorial Army and he was conscripted to then serve in the Second World War in 1939.
He was initially sent to Scotland to join an anti-aircraft battery, this is where his love of Scottish pipes and music, and motorcycling grew.
Following this, he spent time waiting for the “go ahead” as to when he would be invading Normandy, in France.
He was originally destined to land on the first day of the invasion…. D Day, June 6, 1944 – but because his boat was deemed not fit to land there, he spent two more days in the English Channel as troops fixed a mechanical issue. On June 8 – Bert’s birthday – they landed, on the day he turned 24 years old.
Roy, 73, said “This was not exactly the birthday celebration that a young man would have been looking forward to!”
However, on landing on the beach, Bert and his troop were immediately seconded to the US forces on the adjacent beach.
Bert then travelled across France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, where he helped get the local economy ‘back on its feet’ organising fuel deliveries from Holland for farmers and exporting wine.
Even though he served for most of the war, being discharged in 1946 when he was a sergeant, he only sustained one injury – when a lorry he was in drove over a bomb, leaving him with a limp for the rest of his life.
After The War
After the war, Bert went straight to work as a printer of the then Croydon Times, which eventually amalgamated with the Advertiser in 1966, where he worked until 1985.
Bert met his wife to be when she fell over at Streatham Ice Rink in 1947 and being a gentleman, he helped her back to her feet.
After this, they courted for about 12 years before Rene’s mother set the date for their wedding.
The couple would travel a lot around the country and around mainland Europe on Bert’s motorbike.
Roy, who lives with his partner Joan Taylor in Kent, said: “Bert attached a sidecar and they were able to take me on trips to watch motor racing.”
Even the family dog, Laddie, loved to ride in the sidecar with them. In his later years, he joined the Normandy Veterans Association through which he was introduced to the Queen Mother and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Mr Parsons added: “Bert had taken Rene to visit Portsmouth and the Duke of Edinburgh overheard Bert explain to her the workings and the history of the German ‘Enigma’ Cipher machine, which led to them having a long conversation about it”.
In his later 80’s, Bert – who enjoyed collecting money for veterans charities – also went around schools in Germany telling his tales about his time serving in the war.
Bert and Rene, who had no children and lived off Ballards Way, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary eight years ago. She passed away on Christmas Eve, 2007.
Roy said: “After Rene passed away, he carried on with his routine exactly as they had before she died. He was loved very much by his family and close friends and will be sorely missed by all.
Standard bearers, the British Legion and Colonel Ian McRobbie all attended Bert’s funeral on January 5, which was organised by Selsdon and District Funeral Service.