'He owes me a beer!' Hero WW2 soldier who dodged bullets is reunited with lieutenant he saved 70 years later

Chris Parsons
News Editor
Reunited: Fred Harris (L) shares a pint with General Sir Hugh Beach 70 years after saving his life. (Rex)

A hero Army Driver who dodged German bullets to rescue his stranded lieutenant has been reunited with his WW2 colleague - 70 years after saving his life.

Brave Fred Harris jumped from his vehicle as bullets flew overhead to save injured bleeding comrade General Sir Hugh Beach during a gun battle in northern France.

Harris was just 21 when he risked his life to save the lieutenant who would later go on to become a General in the Army and be knighted twice by the Queen.

Now 91 and living in Mill Hill, North West London, Mr Harris never heard another word about the man he saved, but seven decades after they survived the fire fight at La Bassee, the pair have been reunited for a long-overdue pint.

They were put in touch through a mutual friend in the Normandy Veterans’ Association and had emailed before finally meeting for a drink at the Victory Services Club in Marble Arch.

Mr Harris said: ‘I told him he's a lucky bugger. I'm pleased he made it. It was fantastic to see him again - I think he owes me a beer!'


'I said to him that it's a shame I didn't know what he had achieved since our last meeting because I could have dined out on this story.'

'I said to him: 'I had to call you Sir back then and I still do now by the looks of it', but he told me I can call him Hugh.'
















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Mr Harris was sent a letter of thanks by the then-Lieutenant Beach's father after the rescue in 1944.

The former Army Driver went on to have five children with wife Patricia, but never received any medals for his hugely courageous actions.

He had saved Lieutenant Beach with the help of Sergeant Bill Tynan, who was also acknowledged in the letter.



It read: ‘I write to give you my most heartfelt thanks for what you did for him. I fancy that he probably owes his life to the way Sergeant Tynan and yourself stood by him that night. The deepest thanks to you on behalf of myself and his mother.'

The events of the rescue in 1944 came after Harris, Tynan and Beach were sent forward in an armoured car on a reconnaissance mission to ascertain whether the bridge could take the weight of advancing tanks.












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Lieutenant Beach, armed with a sten gun, crept towards the bridge before spotting the grey uniforms of Nazi soldiers. He opened fire but was hit and temporarily paralysed from the waist down.

Beach, who now lives in Earls Court, recalled the incident. He said: ‘I tried to crawl back behind the railway line which ran alongside a canal but my backside was too high - a bullet grazed my spine and took a bit of bone away. I was paralysed from the waist down. A staff sergeant got to me and dragged me back, very bravely I might add.'

After the daring 1944 rescue, Harris went on through France and Belgium and on to Berlin. Lieutenant Beach was flown home for treatment, taking six months to recover before going on to serve in India, Ceylon and Java a year later.




 

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While Harris never received any medals for his actions, Lieutenant Beach was handed the Military Cross at just aged 21 for bravery, one of the military's highest honours.

Mr Harris left the army in 1946, having spent almost two years in mainland Europe. He went on to a career in journalism and worked as the sports editor at the Hendon Times during a 40-year stint at the newspaper.

Describing the emotional reunion, Mr Harris’s wife of 63 years, Patricia, said: ‘When I found out what he did, I just thought to myself, 'that's Fred, that is what he would do'.'