Soldiers reunited by power of the web

SHAUN LOWTHORPE It was the joint trials of battle and a soldier's life which first brought them together in 1942 as servicemen in the second world war. But yesterday more than 60 years after they last met, it was the sharing of memories and smiles that united Frederick Jude and Ted Harmer - all thanks to the power of the worldwide web.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

It was the joint trials of battle and a soldier's life which first brought them together in 1942 as servicemen in the second world war. But yesterday more than 60 years after they last met, it was the sharing of memories and smiles that united Frederick Jude and Ted Harmer - all thanks to the power of the worldwide web.

As volunteers in the Army both men, now in their 90s, risked life and limb for the next three years dodging German U-boats in Madagascar before following close behind Field Marshal Montgomery through North Africa and then into Italy.

However, when Yorkshireman Ted, now a sprightly 98-year-old, was struck down with jaundice and unable to cross the Mediterranean, he was returned instead to England and lost contact with his friend.

Until a year ago, neither had any idea of what had become of the other. But when Frederick, 93, who lives in South Walsham, published his wartime memoirs on a BBC website, word reached his former colleague in Cornwall and contact was re-established.

And there was no let-up in the swift exchanging of memories as they set about catching up after so many years.

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“About a year ago I got a phone call and Ted was on the other end,” said Frederick. “I was absolutely shocked. Ted always remained an important person in my Army career. We had so many things in common.”

Initially the pair kept in contact by letter, but when Ted spotted an advert for a coach trip to Norfolk, it was too good a chance to pass up.

“I came across this coach trip to Norwich and it was instant,” he said. “I thought we must go to Norwich and see him. I have a cousin here I haven't seen before and it all fitted in. Although it was Easter and my wife, Joan, hadn't been away at Easter before, it didn't matter. We had to take the opportunity!”

The pair first met in Nottingham when they signed up for the 56th division of the ordinance field park, ensuring weaponry and supplies reached forces at the front.

“We broke down along the way,” Frederick explained. “At Madagascar there were U-boats operating every way and we were very lucky to get away with it.

Both men shared an interest in writing and nature. “Ted would write poems and I would write essays,” Frederick added. “We were summing up the things that were happening during the day.

Ted added: “I would listen to the news and take it down, then write it up overnight and put it up on the notice board. We last saw each other when we went from Tripoli. I went down with jaundice and was returned to North Africa and then to England.”

Their lives went separate ways. Ted returned to work for British Rail, later becoming an international rugby league touch line judge officiating games featuring Britain, Australia, New Zealand and France.

Retiring to Bude in Cornwall, he was involved in operatic and amateur dramatics societies.

Frederick also returned to his family and his late wife Grace, taking up his former post as a director of a printing firm. But have they changed at all?

“I recognised him as soon as we got here,” said Ted.

“I think his memory is very much better than mine,” Frederick laughed.

Ted said it was the experiences forged in wartime that allowed them to pick up where they left off.

“It was being together for such a long time,” he added. “Every time we changed units, we seemed to be in the same unit again.”

And that helped quickly dissolve any nerves about meeting his former comrade.“We've been in touch ever since. It's fantastic. I wasn't nervous, just a bit edgy.”

And Frederick said he is planning to meet up with his comrade again.

“I hope to see the Eden Project. That could take me to Bude, I hope.”