West Sussex war veteran marks VE Day 75 alone, wearing his many medals

A West Sussex war veteran who was in hospital recovering from a battlefield wound on VE Day in 1945 has marked the 75th anniversary alone, wearing his many medals.

Thursday, 14th May 2020, 7:45 am

Joe Sealey, 94, from Burgess Hill missed out on any anniversary celebrations for Victory in Europe due to social restrictions, and was also unable to be part of the day itself, May 8, 1945.

Daughter Linda Hulley explained: “He had been severely injured at Market Garden, Arnhem, the previous October, in 1944, and remained in hospital for nearly a year.

“Seventy-five years on, living independently and currently socially isolated, he missed the VE Day anniversary celebrations but he wore his blazer displaying his many medals on Friday, May 8, to mark the occasion.”

Joe Sealey, right, at the Legion D’Honneur ceremony in 2016, with his granddaughter Amy Huley and Eric Warburton, the man who saved his life. Photo by Derek Martin DM1613379a

Joe, whose given name is Peter, joined the British Army aged 18 and served with the 43rd Division of the Royal Signals.

He was in Normandy for D-Day and was first injured there. He then drove by scout car to the Netherlands, where he joined with the Polish Parachute Regiment and fought in Operation Market Garden.

Joe was shot on the battlefield, shattering his right leg, and he was in a bad way. Medic Eric Warburton saw he was in huge difficulty and injected him with morphine on the field. Joe said this was so he could stop the bleeding without him screaming and giving away their position to the Germans.

Both Joe and Eric, who retired to Worthing, were part of a ceremony in Chichester in February 2016, when they and six other members of the Market Garden Veterans Fraternal, Len Butt from Westbourne, Den Hosgood from Littlehampton, Len Pease from Horsham, Rob Piper from Southwater, John Riley from Chichester, and James Corrigan from Esher, were presented with the Chevalier (Knight) degree of the Legion D’Honneur by Captain François Jean, Consul Honoraire of France.

Joe Sealey wearing his medals for VE Day 75, which he celebrated with a beer in his front garden

Speaking at the ceremony, which he had arranged, Joe said the presentation of the Legion D’Honneur to each veteran was of great importance and pride to them all.

“The Battle for Normandy in 1944 was an unforgettable experience in our young lives and we survived,” he added.

“I am sure you would have noticed we are now well into our dotage. The award of the Legion D’Honneur was a great spirit lifter and rejuvenated us far more than the pills our doctors had been prescribing for us.

“We are greatly honoured by the award and will wear it always with great pride.

Joe Sealey on the memorial bench for Eric Warburton, the man who saved his life during Operation Market Garden

“The insignia itself is something to behold, a beautiful work of art, and we have learned of its historic importance, its status and rank, which makes us more aware of the honour bestowed upon us.

“The memories of the battles for Normandy are always with us and the shattered towns and villages as we advanced across France and Europe, and, of course, the terrible loss of life on all sides.”

Eric has sadly since passed away but Joe will never forget the man who saved his life, having become friends after meeting him again by chance on a veterans coach trip to Germany 30 years after the war.

In September last year, Joe returned to the Netherlands for the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. A wooden bench with a plaque commemorating where Eric had helped him was placed in view of the bridge.

The failed Operation Market Garden, from September 17 to 25, 1944, was an Allied military operation, fought in the Netherlands and Germany in the Second World War. It included the famous Battle of Arnhem and an Arnhem Day commemoration for the survivors still takes place annually in Rustington.

Joe should have been taken to a hospital in Amsterdam but somehow ended up in a convent. They eventually managed to transfer him to the hospital three miles away but from there it was quite a journey home. The Germans had sieged the main route out to the American Airbase, so Joe and a few other injured servicemen were laid out at the side of the road and left there to wait to be picked up.

Joe said: “I was bleeding pretty badly. It is only because of Eric that I survived. They wanted to get me out as soon as possible but the Germans had closed the road, so I had to be flown out on an American Dakota.”

Back in the UK, Joe was told shrapnel had been removed from his head but his leg had become infected. He had the surgery on May 7, 1945, and as he went down, he was told by the nurses he had to be okay for the celebrations the next day.

Joe’s bed was wheeled out onto the hospital courtyard on VE Day and a beer was placed in his hand but at the time, he did not feel much like celebrating.

He said he felt quite low after everything he had been through but now, 75 years on, he wishes he had celebrated.

Linda said: “Dad remained in hospital for nearly a year. The infection was treated with a new experimental drug, penicillin, with little knowledge of dosage.

“He was one of the first to recieve this new wonder drug. It was ladled into the wound and did the trick of treating the infection.”

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