Love conquers all
IT must be one of the most moving love stories of the Second World War – the embattled Normandy veteran who found love among his former enemy in the occupied streets of Germany. But the Bristolian soldier who took the biblical commandment to "love thine enemy" to its extreme, and came home to confront the post-war anti-German stigma against mixed marriage, has passed away at the age of 87.
Joe Hall, one of the last surviving Bristolian D-Day heroes, lived through the horrors of the Battle of Normandy, to go on to become one of the first Allied soldiers to be given permission to marry a German civilian after the war.
The 19-year-old Gloster was one of the first wave of soldiers storming Sword Beach on June 6, 1944.
Joe, from Kingswood, joined the Army at the age of 16 when he signed up to the Glosters Home Guard 6th Battalion in 1941.
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A year later, he started his basic training, and was recruited into the 2nd Battalion.
He later said: "A lot of boys from Bristol had joined and I knew I would be among young men from my own area.
"There were 1,000 of us in that battalion and from an early stage we were told that our job would be as part of an invasion force when it came. We even practised coming ashore on landing craft at Inverary, Scotland.
"We were told that our task was to supplement the invasion force wherever it was needed on D-Day. In fact, we were to join up with units who had lost men in the initial assault.
"Looking back, it was dreadful to think that they were contemplating that many would lose their lives on D-Day.
"A few days before D-Day, the officers called us all together and showed us a model of a beach front which had been put together on a wooden board.
"They didn't tell us any names of the places but pointed out the initial objectives on landing on the beaches."
After a 24-hour delay, Joe embarked on an infantry landing ship captained by a Canadian skipper, who was to deliver them to Sword Beach for the invasion.
But the ship ran aground on a sandbar off the coast and Joe and his fellow soldiers – who were laden with heavy packs – were forced to jump into neck-high water to make for the beach.
"We went in at 7.15am," Joe later recalled. "There were troops in front of us and the Navy behind us, firing their big guns.
"Everybody was scared, but what struck me most of all was how sick we all felt on the boat. We hit the cold water and mayhem ensued on the beach.
"We were under heavy mortar fire from the Germans and it was as if I had tunnel vision and just headed for bluffs at the top of the beach.
"I remember seeing people trapped in the barbed wire. Many people lost their lives. There was some pretty vicious mortar fire. But instinct for survival took over."
Following the end of the conflict, Joe found himself based in Germany, where he met his future wife, German civilian Lisa Meyer.
Son Shaun says his parents then had to confront the issues of anti-German stigma in Bristol after the war.
"Dad was one of the first Allied servicemen to get official permission to marry a German woman after the war," he says. "But it was frowned upon by some people both here and in Germany. He used to carry a small Italian pistol on him when he took mum on dates in Germany in case they were attacked.
"But if anything, the stigma they suffered back here in Bristol immediately after the war was even worse – especially as my mum spoke very little English in the early days of their marriage."
However the couple settled back in Joe's home city, and went on to have two sons and two daughters, and later four grandchildren. Joe, a former Cadbury Heath School boy, had worked for the Parnall Aircraft Company as a factory policeman before the war.
But on returning back to Bristol after the conflict he joined the Robinson's Wax Paper factory in Fishponds, where he worked for 27 years as a printer – eventually leaving to become a full time union official with the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants (NATSOPA).
Joe also volunteered with the St John Ambulance Brigade from 1954 until 1990 – by which point he had become Chief Area Superintendent for the charity. He was awarded the Order of St John by the Queen in 1976 for his commitment to the organisation.
He also served the community as a magistrate in the city for a number of years.
After his retirement Joe continued to live an independent life, even after the death of his wife eight years ago, living in Kingswood just a few miles from where he was born.
But growing increasingly frail, he moved to Blossom Fields Nursing Home in Winterbourne earlier this year, and passed away last week after a short illness.
Joe remained proud of his ties to the regiment he fought with at D-Day throughout his life – even at the age of 79 he was particularly vocal in his opposition to the Government's plans to scrap the "Glorious Glosters".
The prospect of wearing the Back Badge, granted to the regiment at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801 after fighting back-to-back against Napoleon's troops, filled Joe with pride.
"Speaking personally, there was only one regiment I wanted to join after I had gone through my initial training," he said.
"Like soldiers throughout the world when you are in combat situations, you have to know that you are fighting for something tangible.
"In my day during the Second World War, it was to save those back home but it was just as tangible for those fighting at Alexandria before me or those fighting at Imjin River in Korea after me.
"There is a real sense of pride in fighting as part of a regiment alongside your mates from back home and that really does add to the morale of a fighting unit."
â Mr Hall will be buried at Mangotsfield Cemetery in Downend on Friday at 10.30am.