'Every time we took our boots off there were leeches on our feet'

It was the moment years of fundraising came to fruition - to the joy of veterans who served in one of the army's biggest recruiters in Doncaster.

Thursday, 2nd August 2018, 6:58 pm
Updated Monday, 13th August 2018, 10:41 am
Brigadier Roger St C Preston CBE unveils the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Memorial at Elmfield Park. Picture: Andrew Roe

The memorial to the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was unveiled on August 1, in front of hundreds of regimental veterans and current serving soldiers, in a ceremony which left battle hardened veterans with tears in their eyes.

Soldiers from Doncaster streamed into the KOYLI during the two world wars, and continued to do so until 1968, when it was absorbed by first the Light Infantry, The Light Infantry was in turn later absorbed into the modern regiment, The Rifles. Tens of thousands of borough residents have served with the KOYLI or have fathers, grandfathers or great grandfathers who did.

Brigadier Roger St C Preston CBE unveils the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Memorial at Elmfield Park. Picture: Andrew Roe

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The statue, depicted a soldier serving with the regiment in Malaya in the 1940s and 1950s, was unveiled by Brigadier Roger Preston, following speeches by Major Andrew Penny, veteran Tim Humphries, and a service by chaplain the Rev Andrew Martlew. There was a short delay as the covering caught on the statue's Bren gun as it came down..

Then wreaths were laid at the foot of the memorial, as part of the service at Elmfield Park.

The unveiling of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Memorial at Elmfield Park. Picture: Andrew Roe

The memorial was built after a major fundraising campaign by the KOYLI's regimental Association, to raise £126,000. It raised the cash with the support of a campaign by the Doncaster Free Press.

Many Doncaster veterans were among those at the unveiling.

Herbert Moss, aged 88, of Thorne, was among the KOYLI soldiers who served in Malaya, the period in the regiment's history which is depicted in the statue on the memorial. The regiment lost 31 soldiers to enemy action in Malaya.

Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry veteran Herbert Moss, aged 88, from Thorne, Doncaster, with wife Jean, 83, at the unveiling of the new regimental memorial at Elmfield Park. Picture: David Kessen

He attended the unveiling along with wife Jean, 83.

Herbert joined the regiment in 1948. He took a five year break from the army, before rejoining again, and finally left the services in 1971. He also served in Aden, now known as Yemen, and Germany.

He said: "I did my training in Northern Ireland, and then they sent me straight to the the Malayan jungle.

"It was a three year hard slog through jungles searching for communist insurgents. I was out there for the full three years, with no home leave, and I had malaria while I was out there.

Doncaster KOYLI veterans Don Egginton, aged 71 of York Road, Alan Granby, 72, of Woodlands, and Gary Dickinson, 71 of Tickhill, at the reception following the unveiling and dedication of the new King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry memorial in Elmfield Park. PIcture: David Kessen

"The conditions were pretty horrible. You could hide an army in that jungle, and not find them."

He said the statue brought back memories, and the memorial meant a lot to him.

His eyes were drawn to the boots of the soldier depicted on the memorial. "Every time we took our boots off there were leeches on our feet. We used to have to stop and de-leach," he said.

Veteran Gary Dickinson, from Tickhill, was a staunch supporter of the plan for a memorial. He had his head and his moustache shaved to raise £1,600 towards the project, along with his two sons.

Gary, now aged 71, served in Aden, Berlin and Belfast during his time with the regiment in the 1960s.

"I joined up because I was 17 and couldn't find anything to do in Tickhill at the time," he said. "I was 17. There were a lot of bad times, but there were a lot of good times as well. The friends I made were brilliant.

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"I think the Free Press's campaign was really helpful - there were people coming to me out of the blue with donations."

Don Eggington, aged 71, from York Road, was also in the regiment in the 60s, serving with a reconnaissance platoon, and also serving in Aden, Berlin and Belfast.

He said: "My dad died when I was young, and I lived with my older sister. She had her own family and I wanted somewhere to go, so I joined the army. I joined up at the recruitment office at Hall Gate.

"I was with the regiment in 1965, when we lined the route for the funeral of Winston Churchill.

"To see the memorial there was brilliant, and I think we all shed a tear today. I thought of Spike Strawbridge, another of our former soldiers from Doncaster, who died a few years ago."

Standing next to Don was Alan Granby, aged 72, from Woodlands. The pair first met on the platform of Doncaster railway station when they were heading for their initial training in Shrewsbury.

After leaving school, he initially worked in a job in Doncaster town centre joined the army because he thought there was more to life. He joined a signals platoon.

He said: "When I saw the other lads here today I knew it was going to be a good day," he said. "When they did the speeches there was a tear."

Current solders serving in The Rilfes, the regiment into which the unit that was previously the KOYLI is now absorbed, were also pleased to see the memorial.

Suraj Sing, aged 19, and Connor Severns, aged 22, both from Doncaster, are now with The Rifles. Both attended the unveiling.

Suraj said: "I do feel a sense of shared identity with the KOYLI, and I feel honoured and proud to see the memorial."

Connor, a forces heavyweight boxing champion who used to be in Tom Hill Boxing Club, said "It's been really good to see the past and present squaddies meeting, and I do feel affiliated to the KOYLIs. I think it is good to have this memorial in the public eye."

Percy Potts, donations co-ordinator with the KOYLI regimental association, paid tribute to the Free Press's campaign in support of the memorial.

He said: "The Doncaster Free Press has been faultless in its support.

"Its help was enormous. It stimulated a lot of donations and allowed a lot of people to get back in touch with the regiment again. The support could not have been better."