War hero's family presented with new medal after callous thieves steal the original

Being named after one of the greatest battles of the First World War may have destined little Verdun Buck to a life of distinguished and heroic service.

Friday, 19th August 2016, 8:57 am
Updated Friday, 19th August 2016, 10:00 am
Paul and his wife Christine presented with the medal by Assistant Chief Constable Nav Malik

Born just months into the Battle of Verdun in April 1916, the Doddington boy would grow up to serve his country as a soldier and as an officer in his local police force.

He won medals for gallantry while serving in the Grenadier Guards during the Second World War and later the police long service medal for his unblemished career as a beat bobby in areas including Sutton, Ely, Leverington and Wisbech.

But when he died in 1994 at the age of 76, his son Paul, now 69, knew there was something missing from his father’s legacy.

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Verdun Buck being presented with his original medal

Most of his war medals and his police service medal had been stolen after Verdun had generously loaned them out for use in a school play.

Towards the end of his life, and in keeping with his unassuming character, Verdun had showed no interest in getting replacements.

But Paul and his wife Christine, 66, of The Rampart, Haddenham, had different ideas and set about reassembling his legacy.

This week, after years of effort, their task was finally completed when the couple were presented with a police long service medal by Assistant Chief Constable Nav Malik at police HQ in Huntingdon.

Paul, who joined the Navy himself at 15, said: “When dad died I thought we’ve got to try to get the medals back. Not for me but for the next generation, to show what his life was about, as a soldier and as a policeman.

“It’s been brilliant to get the police medal and I would like to thank Donna Stundon from the force who’s been trying to get the medal for more than a year.

“It’s the last piece, but a very important piece, of the jigsaw and it’s taken several years. But then it should take a long time because not everyone gets the long service medal.”

Presenting the medal, Mr Malik said: “It’s a real honour and privilege to be able to give you this. My dad joined as the first Asian officer in the country in the 60s and I’m sure we are both very proud of our fathers.

Verdun Buck being presented with his original medal

“The Home Secretary would have had to approve the medal originally, and as well as length, your service had to be ethical and beyond reproach.”

Paul, who is chairman of Haddenham Cricket Club, had wanted to retrieve his father’s honours since they were stolen but only started in earnest in recent years following his retirement after more than a decade as a postman.

Lance Sergeant Verdun received the Military Medal for his gallantry while serving at Mount Camino in Italy in 1943. His recommendation for the honour said his “coolness, leadership and complete disregard of enemy fire were an inspiration to his platoon and to all who beheld it.”

The Military Medal was the only decoration that hadn’t been stolen but Paul was determined to reunite it with the others.

The force was contacted on Paul’s behalf by the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO) in November 2014 asking if a replacement medal could be obtained for Verdun, who served in the Isle of Ely Constabulary.

The medal had been presented to him by Chief Constable Thomas C Williams. It is not known exactly what year but Mr Williams was head of the force between 1957 and 1964.

Police staff member Donna Stundon, who handles awards for the constabulary, contacted the Home Office, who required confirmation that Verdun had received the medal. This was provided and a replacement was sent.

It was a fitting end to Paul’s research into his father’s past and his quest to restore his legacy.

Paul, who is a father-of-two and a grandfather of four (including a grandson with a middle name of Verdun) said: “It’s been about collecting together dad’s life achievements for posterity and for his relatives. That has now been completed.

“People had a lot of respect for dad. He was a village police officer for a long time and then an enquiry office clerk at Chatteris and Ely police stations. He was unflappable, I never saw him get angry and there was no malice in him at all: the perfect policeman.

“I never met anyone who has a bad word to say about him. I remember at his funeral, his brother, who looked very similar to him, was in bits. He said ‘he was a good one your dad’.”

Paul believes his father did compulsory military service in the 1930s before becoming a police constable in Sutton.

He was on the War Reserve and was called up again on the outbreak of war in 1939. In April 1942, during a period of leave, he married Paul’s mother Katherine Mead.

After the war, Verdun re-joined the police force but had to serve a one-year probation due to his war injury: he had been shot through the shoulder during the fighting which won him the Military Medal.

The Isle of Ely force merged with neighbouring forces to form the Mid-Anglia Constabulary in 1965. This was renamed Cambridgeshire Constabulary when the county of Cambridgeshire was created by the Local Government Act 1972.