A WAR hero who survived a German shell attack has died.
But Walter Downs’ war exploits stood him in good stead when he returned to Civvy Street in Huddersfield.
His war wounds left him unable to return to his previous physical job in the textile industry so he landed a role in the office of a foundry company.
He quickly realised the firm was struggling, withdrew £400 from his Army savings – and bought the firm which became a Huddersfield success.
H Downs and Sons is still trading in the town, run by Mr Downs’ sons.
Mr Downs, of Lepton, died on December 21 – three days before his 91st birthday.
It was on All Fools’ Day in 1946 that Mr Downs launched his Huddersfield foundry firm.
He bought it from the previous owner, for whom he had worked after leaving the Army, and put it in the name of his father Horace as H Downs & Sons. The plant was originally in Leeds Road before moving to the Peacock Works, also in Leeds Road, Huddersfield.
The firm produces castings up to a maximum 10 tons weight and includes some big Huddersfield names, like David Brown and Sellers among its customers. Its work can end up anywhere from in tractors to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
They do get asked to produce artistic castings – and the proof is to be found in the cast figures that make a slightly strange appearance on the outside of the works.
Born in Sheffield – his father was a master grinder – Mr Downs he joined the Territorial Army at 14 in 1934 so that he came of age well qualified and just in time for the Second World War.
He was on his way to Norway when he was diverted to two years’ garrison duty in Iceland. But the real story begins just after D-Day as a sergeant with the 7th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in the hard fighting in Normandy.
He bravely rescued a captain from a burning Sherman tank and recounted other incidents in which he killed many German soldiers with a Bren gun and hand grenades and even shot a sniper who was causing many casualties.
His exploits are reflected in the fact that he now has his very own section devoted to him in the Duke of Wellington Bankfield Museum in Halifax.
But the strangest story of all is how he was badly injured when observing for the guns as the Germans defended the village of Villas Bocage. He was hit in the left shoulder by a shell.
It put him in hospital for nine months.
But many years later, while on holiday in Greece, he amazingly met one of the Germans who had been firing the gun and shook his hand.
Mr Downs was also a middleweight amateur boxer and represented his regiment.
He was a keen horseman and also enjoyed shooting on an estate near Lockerbie in Scotland.
Mr Downs was also a qualified helicopter pilot – and was once booked by a policeman for flying into Greenhead Park in support of a Rotary Club event without permission.
Mr Downs was a member of the Rotary Club and of Probus and was a Freemason.
He lived in Lepton with his second wife, Gloria. He leaves three sons Steven, Alan and Nigel, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A funeral service takes place at Lepton Parish Church on January 5.