LIPHOOK’S very own Second World War veteran has died peacefully in his sleep after a short illness. He was 97.
Ted Pilgrim died 76 years to the day of his Dunkirk ordeal.
The war hero’s funeral service, attended by more than 100 mourners, was held at St Mary’s Church in Bramshott.
Among the congregation, alongside family, were many friends from the British Legion and Haslemere Rotary Club.
Son Ian gave a tribute to his father’s life and his daughter, Janet Wilson, sang tribute song May the Grace of Christ our Saviour.
At the end of a moving service, the British Legion standard was lowered as The Last Post was sounded to bid farewell to a much loved and respected veteran.
Mr Pilgrim took part in the Remembrance Day services at St Mary’s Church for many years.
“Soldiers cry but veterans weep,” he used to say.
“I now understand why veterans take part in remembrance services.”
Mr Pilgrim was born on October 27, 1918, near Slough, Berkshire, as the youngest of 11 children.
His lived in a terraced house with three bedrooms and by the time he was born his three brothers had emigrated to Australia.
He left school aged 17, joined the Territorial Army and was training as an accountant, going to evening classes to take his exams.
Mr Pilgrim met his wife Joan when he was 19 and she was just 16, at the church social where they immediately fell for each other.
They were engaged over Christmas 1939, after the outbreak of the Second World War, and married on August 21, 1940, in Windsor, when Mr Pilgrim was on a week’s leave.
War had been declared on September 1, 1939, and Mr Pilgrim (pictured) was drafted into the regular army. In 1940, he was shipped off to Southampton to go on a cruiser to Le Havre with the British Expeditionary Force as a soldier with the Royal Artillery.
He travelled up the coast and went to Bruges in Belgium, taking part in what was then called the “phoney war” because soldiers were just training.
“But then things did start to happen,” he recalled in an earlier interview with The Herald. “My friends went from their school desks to their graves, and some were killed at the evacuation of Dunkirk.
“The British Expeditionary Force was considerably outnumbered by the German army and constantly under equipped.”
Mr Pilgrim was part of a bedraggled army en route to Dunkirk – made up of 20 and 21 year olds, who were frustrated that they could not fight back.
Once in Dunkirk, he and a handful of others found shelter in the vaults of an empty bank building, which was bombed overnight, and after digging themselves out, they made it to the beaches. All I could think about was Joan,” he recalled.
“I was a naive 21 year old when I went from my desk to war, learning how to kill people. It is one thing to know about death, another when it happens right next to you, when a mate gets blown apart.”
Mr Pilgrim, a corporal and lance sergeant, was taken off Dunkirk beach on May 31, 1940, by a longboat, since no large ships could get close enough.
He transferred to a Norwegian oil tanker that was attacked by the German Luftwaffe until halfway across the Channel before finally being taken to Dover, where he and his comrades were given warm drinks and food. They then boarded a train back to Aldershot.
After his right elbow was blown to pieces during an Army training exercise, and several operations later between 1943 and 1947, Mr Pilgrim was declared unfit for further military duties and returned to civil life.
When he left the Army, he worked as an accountant and in purchase supplies in three industries, first the asbestos industry, then office machinery working with the early computers, and then photocopiers before switching to the aircraft industry.
Ted and Joan lived with their two children, Ian and Janet, in Richmond-upon-Thames, before moving to Cowplain. In 2000, they moved to Liphook.
His great grandsons Lewis, a corporal in the Royal Logistics Corps and Royal Artillery Bombadier Edward, both served in Iraq and Afghanistan and often accompanied him to the annual Remembrance Day services at St Mary’s Church.