Charles Albert Halls, known as Charlie, was recognised for his great bravery, having volunteered to work on mine disposal while serving in the Royal Navy in 1942.
Stepdaughter Anne Trick said: “These mines weighed a ton, were 8ft long and were dropped by parachute at 40mph. Charlie helped in the disposal of 15 mines and was awarded the George Medal by King George VI in 1942.
“His award was for exceptional bravery working on the disposal of two particularly difficult mines, one of which had fallen on to a live railway line and had started to melt, increasing the danger and difficulty of the work.”
Charlie has three stepchildren, having married Anne’s widowed mother when they were in their 50s.
Anne said: “He stayed on in the Royal Navy after the war ended, until 1948. It was my mum who found his rather tarnished medals in an old case after they were married. He never spoke to her about his experiences.
“She had his medals cleaned, did some research and replaced the ribbons, and presented them to him at a family party. Years later, he still couldn’t really talk about his experiences, too many reminders of lost friends he said. It wasn’t until many years later when my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease that he began to tell me a little more.”
A few years ago, Charlie’s memories were recorded for the Military Voices Past and Present project, organised by West Sussex Library Service.
He said: “The head one of the bomb disposal, we done one at Charing Cross railway station. It landed on the signal right over the bridge, and I had to go with him and you only had 22 seconds for the mine to tick before it would start to go off.
“You couldn’t do much in 22 seconds but I remember us walking along the platform at Charing Cross stripping a couple of carriages to get cushions to pack it round there.
“I went back to get the tools and I see him dive off the bridge into the bank, so I ran the other way because I was halfway there, and I got behind the wall of Charing Cross station and waited, and nothing happened.
“About five minutes later, he came walking up Villiers Street to me and said that we’d got to go back now and do it, so that’s what we done. It took hours to do it because it had hit the live rail and melted. So that was the other one that was a bit hairy.”
The book Bomb Disposal in World War Two by Chris Ransted explains Charlie’s part in another difficult situation, in Hackney on April 19, 1941.
Charlie helped with an unexploded mine that had fallen into the concrete floor in a furniture factory. The mine had been badly damaged and the only way to reach the fuse was to lift the mine and turn it over, a delicate operation carried out using a rigging line.
The team then found the fuse had been forced forward along with the interior mechanism, the top had been broken off and the clockwork exposed. The man in charge of the operation decided they would have to saw the mine in half to remove the detonating mechanism, after squeezing putty into the fuse to immobilise the clockwork.
Charlie and another man volunteered to help and between the three of them, they managed to get the whole rear portion sawn off, remove the explosive charge from around the fuse and finally the fuse itself.
Charlie said the greatest thing about getting the George Medal was to see his father and mother at Buckingham Palace.
“That was the greatest thing I think, always stuck in my mind. I think my old dad was very cut up about it.”
Charlie met King George VI twice and said they had quite a chat on both occasions. At they medal ceremony, they ‘had a good talk’ and then later, when Charlie was serving on a submarine in the Clyde, he was chosen to meet the King during a visit and they ‘had a good conversation’ about his medal.
He added: “He stood there and everybody round him, like the admirals and the Queen today, she was with him and Margaret, who was behind, they all stood back wondered what it was. It was great for him to talk to me, you know what I mean.”
Charlie was the eldest of three sons, born in a small terraced house, just off Shoreham High Street, on January 18, 1922, and has had a home locally all his life.
His father was in the army and when he was just three weeks old, his mother joined her husband in Northern Ireland, where he was serving. His later childhood was spent in India, Scotland and Sussex.
Charlie joined the Royal Navy at 15 and was serving in Aden when war was declared in 1939. He spent the next few months on HMS Manchester, escorting convoys in the North Sea as far as Greenland.
Following a training course, he was posted to the Admiralty and spent the next 18 months defusing mines on land. Following his military service, he worked as a builder and caretaker until he retired.
Anne said: “My stepdad has always been a kind, modest man, and despite having no children of his own, a good friend to his three stepchildren and eight step grandchildren.
“He and my mum enjoyed many holidays together and seeing their grandchildren grow up gave them a lot of pleasure.”
Charlie was admitted to hospital in 2020 at the age of 98. He needed nursing care and with the help of SSAFA and the Royal Navy Benevolent Trust, he was able to move into Care for Veterans in Worthing.
Anne said: “Without all the wonderful care and kindness he has received, he would not be with us to celebrate his 100th birthday.”
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