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|War veteran sells bravery medal to help pay grandson’s university fees|
War veteran sells bravery medal he won for eluding Nazis in Italy to help pay grandson’s university fees
A Second World War hero is selling his bravery medal to help with his grandson’s university costs.
Major Bill Pickering, 88, hopes to raise as much as £30,000 from the sale of the Military Medal he was awarded after a dangerous spying mission in Italy in 1945.
The family were at first against the idea, but Major Pickering said it was better for them to have the money from his medal now rather than it to be left gathering dust in a drawer.
The grandfather, from Lea Green, Greater Manchester, was a daring Special Operations Executive agent in World War II and was awarded the gallantry medal for his work behind enemy lines in Italy in 1945.
He said: ’I have known of several war veterans who have sold their medals to look after their family.
’I am not short of a few bob so I don’t need it but it is better for my family to have the money now rather than have the medals gathering dust.
’I am 88 years old and when I go I want to make sure there is plenty left for my wife in case she needs looking after.
’We have got two grandsons and one of them is at university and I am sure he can use some of the money to help pay his fees or rent.
’At first my wife Rossana and son David weren’t in favour of me selling my medals but they realise it is my decision.
’I get the medals out and wear them at my local branch of the Parachute Regiment’s parade every year but the rest of the time they are kept in a drawer.’
His son said: ’We would prefer him to keep hold of his medals because they are very precious and personal to him.
’Matthew has done one year at university and we have paid his fees for next year.
’But it is my father’s decision and it is up to him what he wants to do with them.’
Maj Pickering lied about his age in order to join the army following the outbreak of World War II.
Up until then he had been working as a trainee accounts clerk for a grocery business.
He went on to volunteer for the Special Operations Executive and was parachuted behind enemy lines to carry out spying missions.
It was a hugely brave act, because spies who were caught by the Germans were summarily executed.
He said: ’Usually spies were executed very quickly, I think it was probably bravado that made me volunteer.
’At first I went on a few drops, taking agents behind the lines and training them in Morse code.
’I was parachuted into north west Italy and the mission was to arm the partisans by arranging for supplies and ammunition to get to them by keeping in radio contact.’
Maj Pickering received his Military Medal following an operation in which he and four other agents were pursued and shot at by the Nazis for two months in north west Italy in 1945.
Maj Pickering, then a sergeant, and his captain, John Keany, were tracked down to a farmhouse.
The young soldier told Keany of his fears that Germans were approaching them as they headed up a hilltop.
He wrote in his memoirs: ’There was not a sound or a sight to back up my claim. Keany said: "Don’t be silly, Bill. They couldn’t creep up a hill like this without us seeing or hearing them."
’To the best of my recollection, those were Keany’s last words.
’I had a sub-machine gun and started firing back. We retreated and gave each other firing cover as we did. Luckily we escaped.’
Capt Keany was shot dead, along with four local partisans, while Maj Pickering stood beside him.
Against all odds, Maj Pickering escaped and managed to prevent his wireless set from falling into enemy hands. He returned to the scene the next day to recover his captain’s body and arrange for its burial.
Pickering joined up with another group and continued to harass the enemy and among the partisans became known as ’Inglese Billy’ or ’il biondino’.
He was present at the liberation of Turin and later met an Italian woman, Rossana, who he married in Cheadle, Greater Manchester.
The Military Medal is being sold with six others and various mementoes including photographs.
The 88-year-old, pictured with his Italian wife Rossanna, is determined to provide for her and his son’s family
David Erskine-Hill explained that Maj Pickering should have received the higher award of a Distinguished Conduct Medal but did not due to a clerical error.
He said: ’Maj Pickering would have been in no doubt whatsoever of his fate if captured - immediate execution at best - and yet when two of his officers were killed on operations, one of them riddled with machine-gun fire within six feet of him, he took charge of the mission and remained active in the field until the war’s end.
’He was rightly recommended for an immediate award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, though an ill-informed senior had this reduced to the Military Medal.
’Be that as it may, his Military Medal is a great rarity, more so than similar decorations issued to the wartime SAS.’
Maj Pickering’s gong is said to be particularly desirable because he operated in Italy and not in France like most other SoE agents.
The auction takes place on Wednesday, and will be conducted by Dix Noonan Webb in London.
Last edited by Phil Beacall