After World War II, the battle for survival for Norfolk veteran and quiet hero Leonard Cogman
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With no ammunition and no chance of rescue, the brave men of the 7th Royal Norfolks Company A had no choice but to surrender to the might of a German Panzer unit.
It was the worst of times and the best of times: unlucky for the Norfolks because their capture in August 1944 came at a time when the Germans were being beaten back to the French borders and were mainly in a defensive position, lucky because they chose to take prisoners rather than kill their conquests in the sleepy village of Grimbosq in Normandy.
The men of Company A had fought the Nazis all night, hemmed-in and with rapidly falling levels of ammunition, painfully aware that their position was untenable and that the future held one of two options: surrender or death. Their nearby comrades from the 59th Infantry Division of the Staffordshire Regiment were powerless to help.
MORE: A quiet hero of the Normandy CampaignThe fierce fighting over the holding of a vital bridgehead over the Rover Orne was a hugely significant battle in World War Two and saw the Royal Norfolks' Captain David Jamieson awarded the Victoria Cross for his extreme bravery, leadership and cool head despite being wounded during the fighting that left 10 officers and 142 other Norfolks dead and 73 missing.
Coming under increasing fire and suffering relentless heavy shelling, the end came for Company A at around 8.15am on August 7 when the enemy carried out its third sustained counter attack – the men had nothing left to give other than their fighting spirit. Their active service had come to an abrupt end.
As the men waited to see what fate awaited them, field notes from the time show that Norwich-born Leonard Cogman tended the wounds of his superior, Commander Major Bill Adderson, who would later be awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his role in the Battle of Grimbosq for leading his brave men against the Germans and against the odds.
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Reported missing in action, Leonard's desperate family placed notices in newspapers begging for information about his whereabouts – everyone back at home remembered the notorious massacre of 100 captured Royal Norfolks by the German SS in Le Paradis in 1940 and prayed that history wouldn't repeat itself.
Mr Cogman, whose funeral was held in Norwich yesterday with military honours, died on February 28 at the age of 94. Formerly of Wycliffe Road in North Earlham, Mr Cogman and wife Jean, who died several years ago, had two daughters, Dawn and Marilyn, seven grandchildren and was a great-grandfather.
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Back in France, Company A had been frogmarched across France and to a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, very probably Stalag VII-A at Moosberg near Munich where they spent the rest of the war engaged in a very different fight, battling starvation and illness.
Although they were prisoners for less than a year, it was an intensely hard year with a bitterly cold winter and a severe lack of food due to the weakening position of the Germans, whose transport lines were being rapidly eroded by the Allies. When Mr Cogman returned home, he weighed no more than six stone and was virtually unrecognisable to his family.
John Harvey, Mr Cogman's son-in-law, said his wife Dawn and the whole family are hugely proud of the man who kept his war story largely under wraps and who never spoke about his experience as a prisoner of war in a Nazi camp.
'We have a note in his release book which says that his military service was exemplary during his five years of service,' said Mr Harvey of Mr Cogman, who made the pilgrimage back to Normandy several times and was in touch with fellow campaign veterans.
'He was a remarkable man and we will miss him.'
It is likely Mr Cogman was kept prisoner in Stalag VII-A, Germany's largest prisoner-of-war camp during World War Two – when it was liberated on April 29 1945 there were around 80,000 prisoners in the camp, mainly from France and the Soviet Union.
Opened in 1939, the camp was designed to house up to 10,000 Polish prisoners but the Allies' defeats in Flanders and France meant 1,000 to 2,500 new prisoners arrived every night for a long period and soon, more than 98,000 had come through the gates.
Prisoners would arrive, often after a long march, be examined, registered and then deloused before entering the main camp. Inmates were scarcely fed and subsisted mainly on bread, potatoes and 'grass soup'.
Many men who arrived at camp were already malnourished, dehydrated, infested with lice and fleas and some were suffering from frostbite, diarrhoea and dysentery. When Leonard Cogman returned home, after the liberation of the German camps in April 1945, he weighed just six stone.