Today, 6th June, is the 70th anniversary of D-Day when Allied forces landed across the coast of German occupied France. With the benefit of hindsight, D-Day signalled the beginning of the end for Hitler but back then 70 years ago today, nobody knew whether D-Day would be a success or a disaster- there were thousands of casualties, but it paved the way for a victory in World War 2.
20-14 is a poignant year for remembering. It marks 100 years since the outbreak of WW1... today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day... and it’s days like this when we not only remember the people who fought for the wars of our ancestors, but also the most recent wars: The Faulklands, The Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosavo, Afganistan, Iraq... those thousands of brave men and women from this great country of ours, who lost their lives doing something that – I’ll be honest – I could never do.
I want to tell you about a man called Corporal Stephen Walker, or ‘whiskey’ as he was known amongst his military colleagues.
In April 2010, he was deployed with Royal Marines 40 Commando – as a Section Commander, based out of ALMAS. His job was to lead a group of 8 Royal Marines on foot-patrol through Afghanistan, and one of those young commandos was my best friend,Wayne Gayton.
Wayne and I have been best friends for years. We grew up together, went to school together, hung out together, talked about girls, had sleepovers, and supported one another through tough times; so when Wayne was deployed, it was hard for me and his family, because we knew how dangerous it was. During his time out there we would all write to him and keep his spirits high, but in his letters back to me, he was really honest about how tough and horrific it was out there. He was perhaps much more honest with me, rather than when he was writing to other members of his family –he, obviously didn’t want them worrying any more than they were already. It truly sounded horrible. It was. It was a warzone.
During a morning patrol in a town in Helmand Province, my best friend Wayne and the other marines were walking through a farmer’s field of wheat... it was chest high and they were carefully navigating their way through. As Stephen was leading Wayne and the rest of the marines through this field, he suddenly shouted STOP. My best friend froze at this instruction. He looked down, and it was then that his heart stood still – he’d trodden on a trip wire, which was attached to a bomb. Just one slip, or one false movement, and the bomb would’ve detonated.
Stephen Walker didn’t think twice about his own safety. He went forward and fearlessly picked this trip-wire from my best friend, and saved his life.
Just days later, there was a tragic twist of fate. Stephen Walker was conducting a joint foot patrol with the Afghan National Army (ANA) to reassure local villagers and provide security for local farmers, when he himself was killed in an explosion. He was a proud father of 2 children and a loving husband.
I never met him, or spoke to him... and he never knew me. In fact, I’ve only ever seen 1 photograph of him. But when I look at this photograph, I feel a connection. He put his life on the line to save my best friend, and then sadly lost his own life only days afterwards. I never got a chance to say thank you, so here it is now.
Thank you Stephen for saving my best friend’s life. He’s getting married in October and I’m his best man. I’ll raise a glass you to. I never knew you, but I’m proud to call you my hero...
Corporal Stephen Walker