VE Day 75 Case Study: Meet 97 year-old veteran, Lewis Banham

BEING in the Signals, despatch rider Lewis Banham was in one of the first brigades to be told that the war was over.

The 97-year-old from Weir served in 44 Brigade of the 15th Scottish Division and was in Schwerian on the River Elbe in Germany when VE Day was declared in a house the British army had occupied.

He said: “When cease-fire came the guns went silent and I could hear all the birds chirping; I had not heard them for so long because of the gunfire. It was a wonderful sound to me.

“It felt grand knowing that I could go out on my motorbike without fear of possibly being hit by a bullet. There was relief among the soldiers and we had a celebration.“I can still see the house. We had billeted in a semi with a little garden, it had three bedrooms and there were four of us living there – three upstairs and one downstairs, that was me and I slept on a window seat.

“I had taken the cushions off the sofa to make a bed and the lady who used to live in the house came back and removed them. When I told her what I needed them for she replaced them and left me six eggs, I guess as a peace offering.”

Lewis arrived in Europe in June 1944 in the fifth wave of troops to land on the Normandy Beaches on D-Day. From there, he travelled throughout Europe delivering messages to the front line on his trusty BSM20 motorbike, the same bike he was still riding nearly a year later when the guns fell silent.

Shortly after VE Day, Lewis moved to Baad Segeburg where again the troops took over houses from residents and he recalled how they allowed the owners back to tend their gardens and look after the vegetables.

He said: “I remember the lady of the house had a son Klaus, he was about six, and I would give him chocolate and he was delighted.

“His mum would look after the garden and she also took away my washing and brought it back clean and ironed. Not every body’s in the house – just mine.” After a month’s leave in England, he was then posted to Austria, when he was delivering despatches by train through the Russian area.

His motorbike had been swapped for a jeep and latterly a Dodge truck. Lewis always liked the bike but the 4-wheel-drive of the jeep meant it could go through any mud with ease.

After contracting jaundice, he spent 13 weeks in a Vienna hospital only being released days before being demobbed in November 1946.

Arriving back in Bacup, by train, Lewis got on the bus to the centre then bumped into his father who helped him carry his kit bag to his home on Tong Lane where Bessie was waiting to greet him. They had married in March three weeks before Lewis was called up on April 16 1942.

Lewis has since been honoured with the Legion d’honneur, the highest military medal of France, and the Dutch Liberation medal.

Case study and photo credit: Veterans in Communities (VIC) and Catherine Smyth Media.

Reserve Forces