On this day in 1942
Guernseyman Herbert Le Patourel wrongly thought killed
Guernsey-born Herbert Wallace Le Patourel was in Tunisia, commanding Z Company, when his men came under bombardment. Le Patourel took it upon himself to neutralise the threat to his troops.
He led a handful of volunteers to high ground where German forces had dug themselves in and took out one of the enemy gunners. But it wasn’t a mission without its own cost. All of Le Patourel’s comrades were killed, leaving him alone in enemy territory. Many men would have turned and run to safety in such a position, but not Le Patourel. He carried on, alone, and nobody heard from him again.
A posthumous award
Assumed to have been killed in action at the age of just 26, Herbert Le Patourel was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on 9 March 1943. The award is only ever given to Commonwealth soldiers who have shown conspicuous bravery. Yet stories of Le Patourel’s demise were both premature and exaggerated. Although he had been just as brave as everyone had assumed, he had actually been taken prisoner, not killed, and sent to a military hospital in Naples, Italy.
He was repatriated from there in 1943 (Italy had surrendered to Allied forces in September 1943) and received his Victoria Cross at a ceremony in Cairo before resuming his duties. He served out the remainder of the war in north-western Europe and visited Guernsey for the island’s liberation (9 May).
As peace decended once more, he took a job at the staff college in Quetta, after which he moved to Avon, England, where he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant.
He died on 4 September 1979, aged 63; 37 years after it had initially been reported that he’d been killed in action. A blue plaque was unveiled at his childhood home in Guernsey, Villa Magnol in Fosse Andre, in 2015.
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