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Filmmaker travels across the Atlantic to meet Shifnal war veteran

By Mat Growcott | Shifnal | News | Published:

A young American filmmaker travelled across the Atlantic to meet Shifnal's Les Cherrington as part of a project to tell the stories of Second World War veterans.

Rishi Sharma and Les Cherrington

Les was the sole survivor when his tank took a direct hit from a German 88mm field gun.

The now 99-year-old was travelling through the North African desert in 1943 when they were attacked.

His crew, all part of the Staffordshire Yeomanry Queen’s Own Royal Regiment, were killed instantly, and it was only after a year in hospital and multiple skin grafts that he was able to come back to his Shropshire home.

It was through sheer determination and a little bit of luck that Les managed to pull himself out of the burning tank, despite serious injuries and nearly losing one of his arms.

The former postman and Ministry of Defence police officer nearly bled to death in that trench, covered in burns and half blinded, only to be rescued the next morning by a soldier from New Zealand.

Now Les's extraordinary story has caught the attention of a young American filmmaker who is looking to immortalise it for future generations.

Rishi Sharma is only 20, but is travelling the world to ensure the heroes of the Second World War are never forgotten.

Les, aged 18

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He is on a mission to film as many veterans as possible telling their stories – and he says he will keep going until the last one passes away.

"These were young men were willing to sacrifice their lives so that people like me can have a chance at life all these years later," he said.

"I want to document them so that future generations 200 years later can have the privilege of knowing these veterans like I do."

Rishi, who plans to show the videos on the website heroesofthesecondworldwar.org, feels he owes a debt to the heroes who fought on the front lines of battles across the world.

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"War is horrible, but the people I meet – each of their lives could be a movie," he said.

"A lot of them were men before they were even boys. You're talking to people who had to watch their friends die, who had to kill people just to survive, and to have to do that at 18 or 19 is tough.

"All of our modern society, these veterans created the pillars of it. The only reason I'm alive today is because of these men."

Not enough is being done to capture the veteran's stories, Rishi said.

Rishi Sharma and Les Cherrington

He added: "If a civil war veteran suddenly came up from the grave, the whole world's media would be hounding him, and yet we have this opportunity with the World War Two veterans and people are squandering it. The men, like Les, are part of the greatest generation that ever lived."

Rishi's journey has taken in most of the United States, Canada, parts of Europe, the UK and he will soon visit New Zealand and Australia.

Les has often spoken about his experience, regularly visiting schools and events where he can share his story with younger generations.

But Rishi said many of the men he meets have kept quiet for decades.

Les, aged 18

"They have never said anything about their combat experiences in the 75 years since the end of the war," he said.

"It's such a lonely feeling for someone to be the only one to know what it's like to, for example, see a man burning in a tank. You need to share it with people. It's a horrible feeling to keep that in your head, and it's cathartic for these men to open up."

Les said: "I'm glad to tell anybody what happened. So many people ask you what happened. You tell them the actual things that happened."

Les was thrilled that Rishi had contacted him to give an opportunity to tell his story.

Rishi would like to speak to other veterans about their experiences. To get in touch with him call 07746 934163.

Mat Growcott

By Mat Growcott
Reporter - @MGrowcott_Star

Shropshire Star reporter

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