East Brent History Portal

Walter G Champion 1918 - 2009

01 Nov 2012 Article No: 1

Early Life

Walter Champion was the first born son of Roger and Bessie Champion and was born at Knoll Farm on 12 March 1918.  At that time the farm was rented by Roger & Bessie but they were negotiating a purchase and it completed on 11 November 1918, a memorable date being both Bessie's birthday and although they did not know it at the time, the day that we remember each year as the cessation of hostilities on the western front of WWI.

He grew up at Knoll Farm and was followed by brothers, John, Robert (who died in infancy), Charles and sister Betty. He was baptised at The Church of St Mary The Virgin and sang in the choir. He was Educated at East Brent National School under the auspices of Mrs Yeomans - another great East Brent character.  He was sucessful in passing his 11+ examination and continued his education at Weston-super-Mare Grammer School for Boys. 

Working Life

He left school at 15 years old and needed to find a job - not easy in the 1930s depression.  However quite soon he was given an apprenticeship at the Highbridge feed merchants, Browns, for which his father had to sign.  Shortly afterweard he was offered a junior position in the Westminster Bank in Highbridge but his father - a man of his word - would not allow Walter to take up the position because he had signed with Browns. Life continued for a few years until unrest in Europe resulted in war being declared in 1939.  Walter was now 21 and not being at home on the farm was not in a reserved occupation and so was called up for military service immediately.

On discharge from the army, he returned to East Brent, living with his family at Knoll Farm.  He obtained work from Mr Dibble at the local stores, opposite the War Memorial and was rewarded for his efforts with a directorship.  When Mr Dibble retired he has the opportunity to purchase one of the Stores (Mr Dibble also owned the store in Lympsham), however he prefered the security of employment and moved to Axebridge District Council, later Sedgmoor District Council.  He was responsible for collecting rent arrears in the Sedgemoor area and was very pleased to take early retirement when the opportunity presented itself and was fortunate to enjoy a long and peaceful retirement.

War Years

After basic training, he joined The Royal Horse Artillery and spent most of the war years in North Africa (1940 to 1943) fighting under General Montgomery and was with the forces at El Alemain, a major turning point in the desert campaign.  During his time in North Africa he was a wireless operator, working with an officer and a driver in front of the Allied lines, sending information back to head quarters on German troop movements and activity.  The small team operated from a jeep which was often spotted by Luftwaffe due to lack of cover in the desert.  He would tell that the Luftwaffe pilots where very gentlemanly and would always fly past before opening fire on the jeep affording the three in the jeep to jump out and make a diagonal run for it before the pilot returned for a second pass and shot up their vehicle, leavng the unit without any equipment or communications, and therefore with no option but to walk back through the desert to the safety of the allied lines, with only the few posessions that they could carry.

After the Western Desert Campaign he took part in the Tunisian Campaign before returning to Britain in the run up to the Normandy Landings.  He landed in Normandy on D-Day + 2 and told how rough the landings were.  He fought in France and Western Europe for the remainder of the war and was one of the first British troops to cross the Rhine.  In France he again worked in a small unit of three, this time in a tank as it afforded greater protection in the close quarters fighting.  He retold that in comparison to the dessert fighting, the fight in Europe was much more fierce and confused with no clear forward lines.  On one occasion, a panzer shell struck their tank taking off the officer's legs.  Walter took charge and navigated the crippled tank back to head quarters saving the officer as well as himself and the driver.  For his actions here, he received a mention in dispatches and was awarded the Croix de Guerre (a French military decoration, awarded to those soldiers who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy).

Personal Life

Throughout his life he had many interests, gardening and especially vegetable gardening was a passion.  He grew copious vegetables, both on his garden at home and in the kitchen gardens at Knoll Farm, which he shared with friends.  He also used his garden for an annual coffee morning for The British Legion, an organisation close to his heart.

After the death of his mother in 1975, he married Mel in 1975 and they remained happily married for many years until her death at the age of 79.

He was always very interested in St Mary's Church. Like his father before him he was churchwarden for over 30 years, during the incumbancies of  The Rev'ds Stevens, Tuckey & Wells as well as being treasurer of the Parochial Church Council for a number of years.  He served on the Parochial Church Council right up until his death. He was one of the first laymen to authorised by the Bishop to administer the chalice at Communion and continued to do so every Sunday right through into his 90s.

His other great passion was for ringing the Church Bells.  On the death of his younger brother, Charles, he took on captaincy of the tower.  He has a certificate acknowledging 60 years of ringing but in truth, he had knocked up over 70 years, but his membership of the Tower had lapsed during the war years.  To celebrate his 70 years of ringing the Tower rang a quarter peel and he was one of the 6 ringers.  The age gap between himself and the youngest ringer was 75 years.

He always had a keen interest in East Brent Harvest Home, acting for many years as Warden for the annual procession of the Banners, Church and Leity.  For a number of years, he and his wife Mel were costodians of the many banners which line the edges of the Harvest Home tent.

After retiring, he took himself off to Bridgwater College to do a cookery class for men.  Anyone visiting Walter would invariably be offered one of his Brandy Buns, although unless you visited close to Christmas, they didnt have any brandy in them!!!

He remained strong independent and healthy, living in The Mead, East Brent, and after a fall died after a short stay in Weston-super-Mare Hostpital on 6 June 2009, aged 91.



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