To the world, my dad was a D-Day hero - to me, he was just my dad

A daughter of a man who bravely fought in the Second World War has shared his incredible story to mark D-Day.

Virginia Aighton’s father, Jim Allen, from Accrington, was a soldier in the Irish Guards during the war. In his later life, Jim gave Virginia a little brown suitcase containing nearly 300 love letters and numerous historical artefacts.

The letters formed a detailed account of his army life, starting from his being conscripted in April 1940 and ending with his discharge in August 1945. Virginia said: “I never knew my father without his calliper.

“Now I wish I had. Although he walked with ‘a bit of a limp’, I didn’t think anything about it when I was a child, nor as a young person.

“To me, he was just my dad. Now I am older and hopefully a little wiser, I see things differently and understand and appreciate so much the great sacrifice he and so many others made for us and our country.

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“I feel these stories need to be told and have given talks about my father’s war story to the u3a which I attend and to many other local groups. People tell me they have been very moved by Jim’s story.”

The UK commemorated the 80th anniversary this week. As a sergeant in the Irish Guards, Jim Allen took part in the Battle of Normandy which followed on from D-Day, during the fight for the liberation of France.

The Battle of Normandy saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war and 22,422 service men and women lost their lives, while under the British command. Jim sailed across the Channel on June 20 on the ship the Llangibby Castle.

His wife, Ella, back at home in Accrington, had just given birth to Virginia’s sister, Lesley, but Jim had been refused leave to go and see her and their new baby daughter because of the circumstances. He was injured in the August, when a can of petrol blew up and burnt his left arm.

He was then taken to a Field Hospital in France to recover. After he had recovered, Jim could have ‘messed around’ for some time, according to his letters, because his fellow troops had moved on many miles through France, across Belgium and into the Netherlands.

However, Jim was keen to rejoin his pals at the Front. He caught an open cattle truck and travelled for three days and three nights, around 170 miles, to catch up with them, near Nijmegen.

Jim told Virginia he met Prince Jean of Luxembourg who he took a photo with. This has not been verified, although there is evidence in an earlier letter that the two of them worked together while they were still stationed in England.

On November 17, 1944, Jim was injured again when he was near Maastricht, not far from the German border.

This time his injury was more serious. He was out on reconnaissance in the middle of the night and stepped on a booby trap.

The mine blew up and Jim’s body was penetrated with shrapnel. All he could do was lie there in the dark, the rain and the mud, and call for help, hoping he would be found by Allied stretcher men.

Fortunately, Jim was found by the Allies and after a long train ride away from the front was operated on in Belgium. Shortly afterwards, he was flown back to ‘Blighty’.

He was hospitalised for nine months in various hospitals and had numerous operations on his right leg. The doctors managed to save his leg but Jim had to wear a metal calliper to support it, for the rest of his life.

However, this did not stop him from living a long, full and active life. When he had properly recovered, he returned to work at Nayler’s printers in Oswaldtwistle. The job had been held open for him since he had been called up.

Virginia has examined the contents of Jim’s case thoroughly and studied his letters, piecing together his wartime story. She has compiled and edited Jim’s letters to form a book which tells the full story about his wartime experiences.

Her e-book version of Jim’s story is available on Amazon and is entitled ‘About the Jam, Darling. A Soldier’s Thoughts on Love and War, told through Letters.’

A printed version of the book is available on request, from Virginia at v.aighton@hotmail.co.uk