Obituaries: Capt Bernard Downes

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The funeral service for Capt Bernard Downes, 88, of Stamford, took place at All Saints’ Church, Stamford.

The Rev Steve Bond officiated and a solo was sung by Rosemary Dodson. His coffin was draped in the Union Flag. On top were his Royal Engineer’s beret, Remembrance poppies, and flowers from his children and family and friends from Canada, France and Holland.

The coffin was met by standards from the Royal Engineers, Royal Lincoln, Army Cadets and Royal British Legion, followed by a guard of honour. His eldest child Christine proudly wore his medals. Cremation followed at Marholm, where a bugler played the Last Post and Reveille in tribute.

A memory fund has been set up for donations, called the “Captain Bernard Downes Memorial Fund”, held with Lloyds TSB, or sent to Christine Bradshaw No 23 LE15 8JS, to be used for a fitting memorial in Stamford.

Born in Great Casterton to Elsie and Bernard Downes, a founder member of Stamford division of the St John Ambulance. He first lived with his parents and granddad Dick Morton. A great scholar, he was educated at Casterton Village School and was one of the first pupils at Casterton Community College in the late 1930s.

He excelled in all sports and while attending Casterton Village School was part of the school choir, singing in a competition in front of Sir Malcolm Sargent. He loved telling stories of childhood memories having fun with his pals on local farms and playing pranks. His granddad Morton, who was an assistant to a vet and an excellent sheep shearer, had a great influence on him. He taught Bernard the art of rounding sheep, training dogs and healing animals with natural remedies. From his own father he learned the skills of first aid and from his mother a strong character.

On leaving school he worked as an apprentice to Dicksons Butchers in Stamford. A teenager when the Second World War broke, he joined the Home Guard at the age of 16. At the age of 18 he joined the Royal Engineers, after sitting a test and completing it in only half the time, scoring 95.5%.

He received the King’s shilling from Princess Diana’s grandfather. After training in Scotland, locating and disarming land mines and building bridges, he finished his training at Sandhurst, where he also excelled in gymnastics and running six-minute miles. He served in France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Egypt, Palestine, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and was also at the Normandy landings, but his ship was not called into action. While serving in Holland he was heavily involved in the Battle of Overloon and Venray and was awarded two commendations by the Dutch Government in recognition of his courage in saving many lives and his bravery in disarming mines.

He once took a direct shot to his heart, saved by the metal cigarette case in his jacket pocket. Being able to run a six-minute mile also saved his life, while taking a bath in one of his improvised bath tubs (a hole in the ground lined with his army cape) an overhead attack required him to streak across the desert for cover. When he returned to collect his clothes he discovered his cape was full of bullet holes.

He reached the rank of sergeant at the age of 20 and acting sergeant major at 21 and was at the time the youngest sergeant ever to have served with the Royal Engineers. He spoke a little Arabic, German, Dutch and French. At the end of the war he was airlifted from Brussels to Cairo and stayed in Egypt and Palestine from 1945 - 1947.

After the war he joined the Royal Lincs Territorial Army and served as a company sergeant major for nine years, earning a Class B commission. He also worked for Harts Seed Merchants as a warehouseman and manager of the pet and garden shops for nearly 20 years. After the closure of Harts in 1979, he worked as a night security guard at Grimsthorpe Castle, until his retirement at the age of 61, when he suffered a serious stroke, leaving him disabled.

When he was younger he loved physical training and was a keen athlete, football referee, and swimmer. A master of arms in fencing for the county, he reached national championship level and taught fencing in Stamford in the 1950s and 1960s and shooting at Stamford School rifle range. In 1953 he was on guard at the Queen’s Coronation.

On leaving the TA he took over the Stamford Army Cadet detachment and reached the rank of captain, he was then appointed county cadet adjutant of Lincolnshire ACF. His cadet service exceeded 30 years. Bernard was very much a military man all his life and took pride in his work with the youth of Stamford, the highest number he had under his charge was 100. He was presented with a commendation by Stamford Town Council in 1979 on behalf of the people of Stamford for his time and effort with the youth of Stamford through the Army Cadets.

After his stroke many people would have given up but not Bernard, he kept himself busy in his garden in the spring and summer while painting in the autumn and winter. He also managed to type with one finger, the unpublished story of his life, which took 11 years to finish. Unfortunately he later suffered a haemorrhage behind one eye which left him partially blind.

He had a long and busy life and it was his self-discipline and faith that kept him going, and his sense of humour. He was never a financially wealthy man, but in terms of knowledge and memory, he was priceless. He will be greatly missed by many.

Bereaved are his children Christine, Moira, Michael, and grandchildren William, Oliver, Lucy and Richard.