Thursday, 8 February 2007

Derek Merton, Club Manager and unsung wartime hero

The following appreciation of his wartime activities was taken from a speech made to him in 2004 by Bryan, one of his son’s, on the happy occasion of Derek’s 90th birthday..

Derek Merton and World War II

After marrying Frances two weeks after the outbreak of war, Derek had what people tend to describe as a ‘good war’. He joined up as a soldier in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps where he preferred the company of the other ranks to that of the officers. Derek’s experience of the second world war would seem to give substance to the view, expressed by someone (Norman Mailer, perhaps), that war consists of long periods of boredom and discomfort followed by short periods of intense excitement and fear. The early part seems to have been spent in camps in the remoter parts of the English countryside engaged in ‘manoeuvres’ and preparing for action.

Things improved a bit in 1943 when one of the regiment’s senior officers, one Anthony Eden, discovered Derek’s proficiency in French and sent him to London to serve at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Forces in Europe under General Eisenhower. He was later deployed on a special assignment which entailed him being disguised as a French businessman and billeted with Dr Ninet and his family at no. 11 Avenue Hoche in Paris. From there he acted as a kind of middleman between the Allied suppliers of weapons and the Maquis resistance, speeding, no doubt, the liberation of the French. For his exploits he was well decorated. These included two stars for his service in the war, the Defence Medal and from the French government something called Reconnaissance Francaise.

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