One of just three surviving members of a brave band of Second World War paratroopers who were billeted in villages near Melton has passed away.
Williams Alexander Courcha, who was 98, was stationed at Somerby with the 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, which suffered huge losses when they fought in the Battle of Arnhem.
He was taken prisoner by the Germans after parachuting into the battle at the age of 22 in September 1944.
William suffered from dementia in his later years and was not well enough to attend the recent unveiling of a special sculpture in honoour of his battalion at Burrough on the Hill.
The memorial was campaigned for by the Friends of the Tenth charity and its chairman, Alec Wilson, whose own father fougth at Arnhem, described the news of William’s passing as ‘very, very sad news’.
He died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by his children.
William’s son, Kim, sent this message to Alec shortly before the unveiling of the Burrough sculpture: “As you know, dad is not well so, on his behalf we would like to thank you and your hard working team of volunteers and supporters for making the dream of a memorial to the ‘Tenth’ become a reality.
“Through your online communications we can see the love and respect you all have for those courageous men who in 1944 dropped into Arnhem.
“Dad never spoke much about his war years, he saw friends and comrades suffer and like all soldiers who have fought it affected him.
“He was sad for those that never made it home to their families.
“He was very proud to have been a member of the 10th Battalion at Arnhem and very proud of the men he fought with.
“It is heartbreaking that he can’t be there with you all to commemorate the unveiling and to pay tribute to his fallen comrades.
“Time has taken its toll and at 98 and suffering from dementia he is no longer the strong young man who turned 22 at Arnhem.
“To everyone in attendance enjoy your day, thank you for being there to remember and celebrate their extraordinary achievements and bravery at Arnhem.
“Thank you to the wonderful people of Somerby.
“Alec a personal thank you on an amazing job, I hope to meet you one day.
“Please have a beer for dad in front of the memorial, he’d like that.
“Lest We Forget.”
Williams was in the battalion’s Anti-Tank Platoon, S Company.
He joined the paras on transfer from the Cheshire Regiment in 1943 and was posted to the 10th Battalion when they returned to the UK at Somerby.
He dropped 64 miles behind enemy lines in Holland and fought at Arnhem as a PIAT (anti-tank) gunner.
He was taken prisoner-of-war with a composite group of other paratroopers after being separated from the rest of the Battalion on September 20, 1944.
Of the 582 men in the battalion who left the Somerby area for the battle only 36 survivors returned two weeks later, the others having been killed or taken prisoner.
William continued to serve after the war with both the 2nd Battalion and the Buffs.
He saw further action in Cyprus, the Suez Crisis and Borneo.
In 1969, William emigrated to Australia and lived in Perth with his close extended family.
His funeral will take place on Tuesday October 8 at the Serpentine Cemetery, which is a small bush station, 65km south of Perth, Western Australia.
British vets will remember William at their own Remembrance Day Service at the new 10th Battalion Memorial, at Burrough, on Sunday November 10, at 10.45am. The service will be led by their own Padre, Brian McAvoy.