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Redbridge veteran reflects on the human cost of war

PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 November 2016

Ilford Service of Remembrance at the Ilford War Memorial Gardens. John Coombes

Ilford Service of Remembrance at the Ilford War Memorial Gardens. John Coombes

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With Remembrance Day soon to be upon us, one veteran of war reflects on the sacrifices made by his family in bygone conflicts.

100th anniversary of the Battle of Loos this week.
George Coombes,  age17 1917100th anniversary of the Battle of Loos this week. George Coombes, age17 1917

John Coombes, 76, of Oaks Lane, Newbury Park, served in the Royal Air Force in the 1960s, and despite losing his brother in the Second World War, he looks upon his service as one of the most cherished times of his life.

“I was in the air force and my father was in the army during the First World War and my brother lost his life flying over Berlin,” said John, chairman of the Barkingside Royal British Legion.

“I served in the Middle East, in what is now known as Saudi Arabia, from 1961 to 1963, then I came back to the UK. It was good, very good, I enjoyed it.

“It was a good time with good comrades and it certainly made me what I am now anyway.”

100th anniversary of the Battle of Loos this week.
George Coombes, age21 1917 Cairo100th anniversary of the Battle of Loos this week. George Coombes, age21 1917 Cairo

John was fortunate to not serve during a major conflict, and has spoken of how his father was scarred by his First World War experiences.

“My father lost a lot of comrades during the First World War, he was artillery.

“He served in France at the beginning of the conflict, and then he served in the Balkans,” said John.

“He was lucky in one respect, because he came back alive, but many came back wrecked, both mentally and physically. My father was only 61 when he died in 1956.”

Despite losing his brother, and his father never truly recovering from the Great War, John still holds the armed forces in high esteem and has fond memories of Remembrance Day from when he was growing up.

“If you had seen the Remembrance parade in the 1950s and ‘60s... There were thousands [of people] there,” reflected John.

Since 1968, John has been a member of the Barkingside Royal British Legion, and recently stood down as its Poppy Appeal organiser, though he continues as chairman.

He hopes the younger generations can take up the mantel he and his peers will leave behind.

“We need youth, we need young people to join us and join the legion: it is very important,” said John.

“The good thing is the number of young people who turn up for the parade itself and hopefully they will know what it’s about.”

John’s stalwart devotion for the people who defend our country serves as a reminder that Remembrance Day is all about honouring those who laid down their lives for us, both past and present.


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