A British soldier who saved a dying man after the latter’s leg had blown off in the World War II trenches was reunited with him four decades later when he bumped into his wife at the local supermarket. In lieu of the 13th death anniversary of the late soldier, his family has shared the incredible story of the special reunion.
Richard Battherham was stationed in Senio, Italy, when he came across injured then-18-year-old James Hyatt. The youngster was the last surviving member of his Royal Fusiliers platoon after a bombing, leaving the teenage soldier with one of his legs blown off.
“It was on Boxing Day 1944 that Dad heard the cries of a young man. Others told him he would be putting his own life in danger to try and look for the soldier but Dad said he couldn’t leave him,” recalled Richard’s daughter, Valarie Tyler, 71. “He climbed down the river bank and found the soldier injured. Dad said one of his legs was nearly hanging off.”
On witnessing his situation, Richard, then 20, performed first aid on James before carrying him on his shoulder to the base camp.
“When he reached base the soldier asked Dad’s name before passing out,” Valarie said.
Although Richard left James in good hands, the family recalls that he always wondered about whether the soldier he rescued in Senio had survived.
Then, 42 years later, a “miracle” occurred.
“My parents lived near Wimbledon Common and used to love walking,” Valarie said. “They often walked down the long hill to Southfields where they had a favorite greengrocers.”
Richard’s wife, Kathy, would talk a lot to Rose, the woman who ran it. As the couple visited the store one day, Rose mentioned that she was going on a holiday to Italy with her husband, who wanted to go back there after a bomb blew his leg off during the war. It turned out that the place the couple was visiting was the same place where Richard had rescued the soldier.
When Rose later mentioned her husband’s name, Richard explained what he’d done in the war and asked if he could give her husband a ring.
“Dad took Rose’s number and phoned that evening,” Valarie said.
After the call, the pair met at a local cafe and discovered they lived a mile apart in southwest London.
“When they met, they realized it was the same place. Apparently, James said he had thought of Dad daily and wondered if he would ever get the chance to thank him,” Valarie recalled.
After hitting it off, the two stayed in contact with frequent phone calls and coffee shop visits, flicking between their hometowns of Wimbledon and Southfields in England.
Rose always credited Richard for being the reason the couple went on to have six children and lots of grandchildren.
Richard was later asked to be the guest of honor at Rose and James’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1991 and credited him with the sole reason they were able to celebrate it.
“Jim made a speech saying if it wasn’t for Dad, none of them would be here now, ” Valarie said. “This was probably the only time I’d known my dad to cry.”
Not long after, James passed away.
“It was such a strange coincidence but it was lovely how they were able to have their questions about each other answered,” Valarie said.
Richard’s granddaughter Sarah Watt, 38, echoes the same sentiment as Valarie.
“I’m just so proud of him. But the odd thing, he was incredibly humble,” Sarah said. “I would tell him he was a hero but he just said he was getting done what needed to be done.”
Richard passed away on Nov. 14, 2008, at the age of 84 after battling bowel cancer. His wife, Kathy, lived until January 2019. He is survived by three children, Valarie, 71, Susan, 64, and Tony, alongside his five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Epoch Times Staff contributed to this report.