Norfolk commando decorated in St Nazaire action

Michael Pollitt, agricultural editorFormer commando Bill King, who was decorated for his part in an audacious raid at Nazaire inNazi-occupied France, has died peacefully aged 90 at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital.Michael Pollitt, agricultural editor

Former commando Bill King, who was decorated for his part in an audacious raid at St Nazaire in

Nazi-occupied France, has died peacefully aged 90 at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital.

He had retired after 48 years in auctioneering in 1984, having started his career selling in Norwich in the early 1960s.

Born in 1919 at Mundham, near Loddon, Alfred William King went to Paston Grammar School at North Walsham. An auctioneer's clerk, he had joined the Territorial Army in 1938 when war was looming.


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While kicking his heels at Weybourne camp as a member of the 5th Royal Norfolks in the spring 1940, he joined a new force and volunteered to join one of the so-called Independent Companies to fight behind the enemy lines. Norway fell before his unit could sail but later that summer he had joined the new-styled Commando units.

He took part in a small-scale, reconnaissance mission with 1 Commando in northern France, designed to raise morale in the aftermath of Dunkirk.

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He had volunteered for Operation Chariot when a special force of about 600 sailors, men and commandos sailed on HMS Campbeltown, containing six tons of high explosive, and crashed into the massive gates of Europe's largest dry dock at 20 knots on March 28, 1942.

It was one of the most remarkable raids, costing the lives of 169 men. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded in the action.

Sergeant Bill King, who was mentioned in dispatches and received the French Croix de Guerre for 'outstanding services', was captured after successfully completing his mission.

He was one of four East Anglian sergeants, who blew up the pumping station, as part of the operation to prevent the battleship Tirpitz using the docks.

He spent three years in a German prison of war camp in Bavaria but later managed to escape, joining up with the Americans and arrived back in England in April 1945.

A big man and a keen footballer and swimmer, who also did 'a bit of boxing,' he was capable of completing seven miles in an hour wearing full kit. As an expert in explosives, he was a prime candidate for a demolition raid, which was to make history.

'It was mad. Absolutely crazy. The Germans simply couldn't believe we'd attempt anything like it. They were completely flabbergasted,' said Mr King, who later told the EDP of his undisguised pride of the commandos' 'finest hour'.

In 1992, while attending the 50th anniversary of the daring raid, he was presented to the Duke of Edinburgh.

After the war, he resumed his peacetime career and ran the North Walsham office of auctioneers Ireland, Hall & Palmer for about 15 years.

He was a long-serving member of the Royal British Legion, serving as treasurer of the Trunch branch, later Mundesley, for many years.

He was also chairman of Trunch parish council.

He was married for almost 65 years, leaves a widow, Kath, son Graham, grandchildren Marie and Daniel, and three great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at St Botolph's Church, Trunch, on Thursday, February 18 (1.45pm).

Michael Pollitt

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