The dying greengrocer who gave his son a battered journal on his deathbed - which revealed his secret past as a WW2 hero

Yahoo News.
Peter Stokes holds the diary written by his wartime hero father Horace, pictured (right) in 1944. (SWNS)

When Peter Stokes began his emotional goodbyes to his father who was dying from cancer, he'd always thought his dad had lived a quiet life as an honest greengrocer.

But as he lay on his deathbed, Horace Stokes gave his son a dusty journal which revealed his secret past - as a hero soldier in the Second World War.

To the amazement of his family, Horace left it until just before his death to describe his brave exploits as a founding member of the SAS.

The battered, yellowing diary he presented to his son tells how Horace took part in legendary WW2 raids, parachuted behind enemy lines, battled the Nazis and escaped PoW camps.

His remarkable journal features tales of how Horace, a Sergeant in the army, came under 'heavy fire' during dramatic wartime raids.

But because he was in the Special Air Service - formed in July 1941 - he was sworn to secrecy and never discussed his time on secret missions across occupied Europe.

Son Peter, 52, from Truro, Cornwall, said: 'He was involved in some of the most famous raids during the Second World War - and yet he'd never mentioned a word of it.

'At the end of the war he closed the door on what he had done. He had killed many, many people and had seen his best friends killed.'

Horace grew up in Birmingham and was just 18 years old when he signed up with the Territorial Army in 1939.

He went on to serve with 12 Commando, with the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) and eventually with the newly formed 2nd Special Air Service (SAS).

The World War Two hero is thought to have written his journal from memory in the years after the war.

[On This Day: Coventry obliterated by worst Nazi air raid of WW2]

His secret journal recalls daring missions across Europe, describing in detail how he parachuted behind enemy lines before blowing up or sabotaging strategic Nazi targets.

It also documents his capture and imprisonment in two different PoW camps and the harrowing moment a Gestapo agent placed a gun to his head during an interrogation.

Sgt Stokes took part in legendary raids including Operation Basalt, a raid on the German occupied British Channel Island of Sark in 1942, and Operation Speedwell, an early SAS assault against Italian rail targets near Genoa in 1943.

But when 'Stokey', as he was known to comrades, was demobbed he settled into life as a greengrocer and later a publican, never breathing a word about his missions.

Peter, a father-of-three, said: 'Leading up to his death he was very strong and had a real spark.

[On This Day: World War Two Blitz begins over London]

'He said he wanted me to come home to talk to me because there were things he needed to tell me.

'At that point he handed me the journal and I could barely believe what it contained. I was filled with pride and totally awestruck.'

Horace died in 1986 but his family have only now spoken of his heroics after turning his journal into a book, 'No Ordinary Life', which was published this month.

Ironically, by the time he learnt of his dad's past, Peter, then aged 24, was six years into his own military career having joined up in his teens.

Peter said: 'I was getting ready for a Christmas party in 1986 when my sister phoned me in floods of tears and told me that Dad was dying.

'He had come to my graduation in RAF Cranwell in 1984 and was very proud - but even then I had no idea what he had done with his life.

'In the end I think he wanted to unburden himself.'

Horace had just a few weeks to discuss his secret life with Peter, his other son Graham, and his daughter Pat, before he died, aged 64, from cancer.
Peter was in the Royal Air Force for years and received an MBE for services to his county - while his father was never honoured.

Peter said: 'He was never decorated, he never received a medal. I didn't do half of what he did and ended up with an MBE and a Queen's Commendation.

'I wanted to publish the book so my children can learn about their grandfather's incredible wartime experiences.'