Brave Wigan war hero recalls his D-Day heroics

Bert Holcroft and Veronika Stevens
Bert Holcroft and Veronika Stevens

A borough war hero has shared his remarkable tale of D-Day heroism in which he saved dozens of lives.


Herbert Holcroft, known as Bert, shared his story with Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) governor and hospital Radio Wrightington presenter Veronika Stevens, revealing insight into his time as a sailor.

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Now 93, Bert was just 17 years old when he joined the Royal Navy and by age 20 was serving on the naval warship HMS Petunia.

It was aboard this ship that Bert helped to save the lives of 60 soldiers when an American ship struck a mine during the invasion of Normandy.

As the stranded American soldiers came aboard HMS Petunia, their commanding officer ordered them to storm the beach, despite them not having any weapons.

And as those 60 soldiers followed orders, many of the unarmed men were lost on the beach.

It was an experience that stayed with Bert for the rest of his life.

“I only wish that more of them would have lived, but they lived in me.” he said.

During his service Bert was also involved in a near miss when two enemy torpedoes were fired at the ship he was serving on.

In his interview with Veronika, Bert recalled his thoughts and feelings during those moments and the prayer he said as the torpedoes hit: “When you say a prayer the whole earth vanishes and you only wish and hope that you’d been a good guy.”

His time serving in the Royal Navy during the war was difficult for Bert to come to terms with.

His experiences were so horrific it was 12 years before he felt able to discuss his experiences with others.

He said: “I cried for days and weeks because I had lived and others hadn’t.”

But Bert has since been able to appreciate his own efforts saying: “I did feel that I did some good somewhere.”

His efforts were also recognised in 2016 when Bert received France’s highest military honour, the Légion d’Honneur.

As part of WWL’s involvement in The Veterans Covenant Hospital Alliance (VCHA), and its commendation as a Veteran Aware Hospital, a red poppy is placed on those patient’s boards who are veterans or serving members of the armed forces.

This acts as a prompt for staff, patients and visitors to engage and acknowledge their service, while also helping to ensure that those patients have access to specific support information and prompt any necessary referrals to specific veteran care providers.

On hearing Bert’s story Lesley Holding, WWL’s armed forces champion, said: “Hearing Bert’s amazing account of his experiences in service brings home the importance of veterans having the opportunity to share their stories.

“As well as hopefully helping them to process and understand their experiences, it also allows staff who care for them to get a glimpse into their experiences in service. This helps to provide a holistic picture of the veteran rather than seeing and treating only their obvious symptoms.”