Joyce Dedman, daughter of World War Two hero Ben Gimbert, who saved Soham from destruction, celebrates platinum wedding anniversary this month
- Credit: Archant
A March woman – about to celebrate her 70th wedding anniversary – will never forget waking one day in 1944 to find out her father, Ben Gimbert, had overnight become a hero. He later received the George Cross.
Joyce Dedman, 17 at the time, was living in Estover Road, March.
“I can remember being told what happened and visiting my father in Newmarket Military Hospital,” says Joyce, who is now 89-years-old.
A few days before D-Day, a train consisting of 50 wagons of high explosives and detonators was destined for a US Air Force base in Essex.
Before they reached Soham her father, a rail driver, noticed that the first wagon behind the engine was on fire.
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After bringing the train to a halt his fireman, James Nightall, climbed down from the engine and unhooked the wagon from the remainder of the train.
They then slowly pulled the blazing wagon away from the train in an attempt to get through Soham rail station into open countryside.
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As they passed through the station, the wagon exploded, killing Mr Nightall and Soham station signalman, Frank Bridges.
Joyce’s father, Ben Gimbert, was the only survivor.
“He looked terrible,” she says.
“You would never have thought anyone would have got out alive.
“He didn’t talk a lot about what happened. He was a very modest man. He said it was his duty to do what he did.”
Ben Gimbert was awarded the George Cross medal for bravery. The medal now resides in March museum.
In the same week she nearly lost her father, Joyce, then a 17-year-old cashier at Regent Cinema, March, met 19-year-old railwaymen, Roland.
The couple, who now live in The Hermitage Care Home, Whittlesey, will mark their platinum wedding anniversary on August 31.
“Roland came to the pictures a lot – and he kept giving me his sweet ration,” she says. It was a case of “once seen, never forgotten”, says Roland of the first time he saw Joyce.
“It’s like when you see somebody from across the room... I talked to her through the kiosk window and it just happened from there.”
After many dates, including going on walks, bike rides and watching movies at the cinema, Joyce and Roland married at St John’s Church, March in 1946.
“We had 70 people for the sit down part of the day, and 120 in the evening. There was lots of entertainment and we had good weather,” says Joyce, now 89.
“It was wartime but we managed.”
After their special day, the couple enjoyed a fortnight honeymoon in Dunoon, Scotland.
Their first home was the Police House in Littleport, where they had two children, Jennifer and John.
Roland became a policeman in the Isle of Ely force in 1947 whilst Joyce brought the children up at home; “I didn’t have time to do anything else,” she says.
They then moved to Benwick in 1956 and Roland later retired from policing after a total of 25-and-a-half-years.
“I took a job on as a caretaker at Alderman Jacobs School, Whittlesey and I stayed there for 16 years.
“Then I became a gentlemen,” he says, having retired age 64 in 1989.
They have four grandchildren; Joel, Julie, Kevin and Claire, and nine great-grandchildren; Harvey, Ehren, Ivo, Holly, William, Alex, Marley, Jack and Oscar.
The couple lost their son, John, seven years ago when he had a heart attack whilst on the phone to Joyce on Mother’s Day.
“He was here for our diamond wedding – that was a wonderful time. We had a very good day,” Joyce, who turns 90 next May, says fondly.
“Mum likes people, she loves company,” adds daughter Jennifer.
Reminiscing about holidays over the years, it’s clear the couple are well-travelled.
“Our first holiday was to Romania, then Spain, Cyprus, Canary Islands, Tenerife and Malta,” they agree.
But their favourite, because of “the lovely weather, a nice hotel and making some new friends,” was their holiday to Italy.
To celebrate their platinum anniversary, Joyce and Roland are holding a get together in The Hermitage Care Home on August 31.
FACT FILE (courtesy of BBC History)
On June 2, 1994, locomotive driver Mr Gimbert and fireman James Nightall took an ammunition train of 51 wagons, 44 of them containing 250 and 500lb bombs, from March to Marks Tey in preparation for D-Day.
At Soham the first wagon was on fire so the rest of the train was uncoupled by James Nightall and the burning wagon and locomotive moved away saving the town from destruction.
Soham signalman Frank Bridges alerted other trains. The wagon exploded destroying the station and signal box.
Mr Nightall and Frank Bridges were killed but Mr Gimbert survived to be awarded the George Cross and also the LNER Silver medal for Courage and Resource and the Daily Herald Order of Industrial Heroism.
Mr Nightall was posthumously awarded the same medals, which are now in Soham Village College. Frank Bridges’ courage was not recognised until June 2, 2007 when a memorial to the event was unveiled in Red Lion Square, Soham.
Mr Gimbert was also awarded the Coronation Medal in 1953. The line, closed at 1.43am, was reopened soon after 8pm the same day.