French town names square after Gwent D-Day veteran
Updated 10:44am Wednesday 25th June 2014 in Gwent news
A FRENCH town has named a square after a Cwmfelinfach veteran who was the first Allied soldier to liberate it after D-Day.
Hérouville-Saint-Clair, a suburb in the city of Caen, Normandy, honoured the late Stan Gilchrist after he gave the town’s residents hope that liberty was coming despite being shot in the thigh.
His son, Keith Gilchrist, 56, had no idea his father was to be honoured as part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and only found out about Place Stanley Gilchrist while he was “trawling the internet”.
Keith, of Swindon, said: “I was staggered when I saw ‘Hérouville names square after Stan Gilchrist’ on the website of the local newspaper. I thought I’ve got to go see this place.
“It was quite emotional. You don’t expect to see your father’s name being put on a street sign.”
Mr Gilchrist, who died in 2008, landed on Sword Beach as part of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. On June 7, 1944, he was advancing towards Pegasus Bridge when he got shot in the thigh with a bullet that remained lodged in his femur until his death, aged 93. After the ambush, Nazi soldiers collected the wounded in a lorry and left Private Gilchrist and another private in a square in Hérouville.
Some of the villagers, including the school headmaster Monsieur Voisin and teacher Madame Foubert, hid the pair in a school outbuilding and sought medical help, risking their own lives.
After a German doctor saw that the injuries were caused by bullets, enemy troops entered the school and took Mr Gilchrist prisoner.
He was taken to Rennes and was held prisoner of war in a school which was used as a hospital, before being liberated by American troops in August 1944.
His son added: “After the war my father wrote to the local councillors and newspapers to try and find out where he’d been and to see if he could thank the people who helped him.”
Mr Gilchrist senior visited the town every year from1984 to 2004 and kept in touch with his rescuers Madame Foubert and Madame Michelle, who had tried to comfort the soldiers as they lay wounded in the street, until his death.
His son said: “He’d have been proud but in the spirit of the age, he’d have said ‘there’s a lot of people did a lot more than I did.’ He was very grateful for the people of Hérouville.”
Mr Gilchrist got married to his wife Tressa in 1956 and lived all his life in Melin Street in Cwmfelinfach.
He worked as the pit head baths superintendent at the Nine Mile Point Colliery and was chairman of the Ynysddu and Cwmfelinfach Royal British Legion, organising the local poppy appeal for 42 years.
His square in Hérouville is next to the school yard where he was hidden in 1944.
A plaque reads: “In memory of Stanley GILCHRIST, Private in the 2nd battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, he landed in the morning of D-Day on Sword Beach, then he was found wounded in Rue du Prieuré on 7 June 1944. He was hidden by locals in the sheds at the town hall/school.”