A Tribute To Eric Bookham

Eric Bookham's funeral was held at Brockham Church on Monday 25th February. Eric was the verger at Brockham church for 30 years.

Bob Bartlett has written a tribute to Eric.

 

Eric Bookham

I feel privileged to be able to talk about my friend and neighbour Eric. He was a lovely man, a gentle-man and a gentleman who will be missed by so many. I am going to talk about Eric and his war and something of the contribution he made to life in Brockham.

Eric joined the TA as a member of The Queens Royal Regiment (West Surreys) during the heightened fears of the late 1930s; being mobilised on the outbreak of war in September 1939 when 20 years of age. Along with his company which formed up in Godalming, he marched to Guildford where the battalion came together and as a part of the British Expeditionary Force moved to the French/Belgian border. There followed the so-called phony war which came to a dramatic and frightening end for Eric in May 1940. Eric and a friend were positioned on a cross roads facing north and told to stop the German Army should they appear! They did appear. Eric was seen in his exposed position by an officer who demanded to know what they were doing there telling them to withdraw. Running back to the battalion position Eric's friend was shot. At the rendezvous-point Eric found Captain Jack Blanche of the West Surreys (Sue Smith's father) who ordered everyone to make their own way to Dunkirk.

After some difficult days acquiring life long and often painful memories Eric was on one of the bombed piers at the end of which a warship was moored. He got to the side of the ship after great difficulty crossing the bombed pier but as he was exhausted and not very tall he could not climb up the side. The sailors lifted him and his feet did not touch the deck as he was passed from man to man down into the heart of the ship until he came to rest on the ward room floor, falling asleep immediately. He had not slept for days. The next thing he knew he was back in Dover. It was May 1940 and the defence of Britain had begun.

Whilst the battalion was re-grouping in and around Brockham Eric met Doris and after he was posted to North Africa they began writing to each other. On the trip to North Africa via the Cape, Eric was to stop off for a run ashore only to meet a brother doing the same thing but going back to England.  From June 1940 to May 1943 the West Surreys took part in most of the major battles in the Western Desert as they advanced and retreated until the final victory at El Alamein.

Eric had become a Desert Rat, a member of Montgomery's 8th Army. In July 1943 Eric and his battalion made an opposed landing on Sicily during Operation Husky. He made a second landing at Salerno on mainland Italy a few months later. He then caught malaria and was in hospital in Italy when an officer from the West Surreys visited asking if there were any men from his Regiment. Eric thinking there were treats on offer quickly identified himself to be told to pack and get ready to leave: every available man was needed for the next invasion. He landed at Anzio in January 1944 followed by hard fighting across Italy.

The battalion was brought back to the UK and re-trained for Eric's fourth opposed landing on D-Day, 6 June 1944. (Eric married Doris in Brockham church in February 1944) He landed late in the afternoon of the 6 June but for an infantryman it was to be weeks of very heavy fighting before the breakout. Eric was not to be there. After so much active service on the 24 June, mid-summer's day, his luck ran out when he was wounded - shot through the thigh at the battle for Caen, and eventually brought home. Doris received a frightening and brief note from the Army telling her Eric had been wounded. How hard it must have been to open that letter. The wound was severe enough to keep him from any more active service. He had done more than his share of the fighting and suffered enough hardship and loss.

Eric was awarded: 1939-1945 Star; the Africa Star with the 8th Army clasp; Italy Star; France and Germany Star; War Medal 1939-1945; Defence Medal; and Territorial Army long service medal.

For those who knew quiet, gentle Eric in later life may find the story of his war humbling. Eric was a remarkable and understated man; never one to make a fuss, an independent soul, always self-effacing and would rarely talk of his exploits. Some of the things he saw and no doubt had to do as an infantryman serving for five years of war were burnt into his soul.  A man offered promotion in the Army but who consistently turned down opportunities of advancement as he would not be comfortable giving orders. He joined as a private soldier and left a very experienced private soldier.

Eric was a toolmaker by trade and an extremely loyal and long term employee of Ronson's. He committed his life to his church and the community of Brockham his adopted home, becoming a long term friend of the Reverent Anthony West. Eric was a very keen footballer, a cricketer and impartial umpire; a football administrator rising to become President of the Redhill and District League; a Trustee of the Betchworth United Charities and for Anthony West House. (Others will talk of his contribution to the church and other aspects of his life.)

Eric was an extraordinary man who contributed greatly to his country and to his community. He was a man worthy of recognition who should not be forgotten; a devoted husband with a ready smile; a sense of fun and a great concern for his fellow man.

Eric Bookham made this country a safer far better place for having lived.

And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness has not been forgotten.

Ecclesiasticus 44:9 1769 Oxford King James Bible 'Authorized Version