Don’t worry Donald, I only ever had eyes for one woman!: War hero who flirted with Melania Trump reveals his captivating life story – from his D-Day landings at 18 to his 49 year marriage
Thomas and his crew headed to Utah beach in support of the Americans, before making their way along the various beachheads, anchoring at Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword
Like so many of his generation, Thomas Cuthbert didn’t like to make a fuss about his service during World War II.
It wasn’t just the fact that he’d rather not dwell on some of the terrible sights to which he bore witness, but the knowledge that what he experienced paled into insignificance alongside the sacrifices of his fallen comrades.
So when he rejoined civilian life in 1946, he tried to put the past behind him, settling down with his childhood sweetheart and starting a family.
A job as a telephone engineer with the General Post Office followed, as did a move from London to Essex.
Devastated by the death of his wife, Joyce, in 1994, Thomas vowed never to marry again.
But, even as the years passed and he entered his 90s, the sparkle in his eye and the sharpness of his Cockney wit never dulled.
‘If you see him at the bus stop, he’ll be talking to the old ladies,’ said a neighbour in Elmstead Market.
Ditto at his local Tesco and the bowls club. ‘He’s a great old boy and a real character — he’s always joking about; the life and soul.’
Indeed, relatives used to tease Thomas that one day his quips would land him in trouble.
Mr Cuthbert said to the President: ‘If it wasn’t for you, and if only I was 20 years younger.’ The comment prompted a chuckle from Trump, who replied: ‘You could handle it, there’s no question about it’. Pictured, the Trumps meeting Mr Cuthbert yesterday
Footage of the light-hearted exchange would soon wing its way around the world, featuring in bulletins from New Zealand to New York. Thomas, meanwhile, was largely unaware of his new-found fame
So when the 93-year-old’s daughter persuaded him to attend the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, she had some sage words of advice for him should he be introduced to any dignitaries.
‘I had warned him beforehand,’ says Carole Monk, 65, of Wivenhoe, Essex. ‘He is always respectful, but he can say some rather random things. He always jokes with people. You’re never sure what he is going to say, so I did try to make him behave.’
But, as the watching world would this week discover, the great-grandfather was not going to be cowed by protocol. Not even for the U.S. president. Or, for that matter, the Queen.
Taking his place in a line-up of veterans at Portsmouth on Wednesday, Thomas first exchanged pleasantries with Mr Trump, before turning his attention to the 49-year-old First Lady.
When Thomas rejoined civilian life in 1946, he tried to put the past behind him, settling down with his childhood sweetheart and starting a family. He is pictured with his wife Joyce on their wedding day in 1945
Mr Cuthbert pictured in 2017 after he was awarded the Legion D’Honneur for his role in the D-Day landings
‘And this is your wife?’ he asked Mr Trump, before adding: ‘She’s nice, isn’t she? If it wasn’t for you, and if only I was 20 years younger…’
The comment prompted a chuckle from Mr Trump — 21 years Mr Cuthbert’s junior — who swiftly replied: ‘You could handle it, there’s no question about it.’
Footage of the light-hearted exchange would soon wing its way around the world, featuring in bulletins from New Zealand to New York.
Thomas, meanwhile, was largely unaware of his new-found fame, having re-boarded the MV Boudicca, a cruise ship chartered by The Royal British Legion to transport him and 250 other veterans to the week’s various commemorations.
Indeed, when I spoke with Thomas and his daughter on Thursday night, as their ship docked at Le Havre, their main concern was that his comments be taken in the right spirit.
Mr Cuthbert (centre, with wife Joyce) on their wedding day in 1945. He vowed to never remarry after she died 25 years ago
‘I said to President Trump: ‘I can’t take him anywhere,’ ‘ says Carole, adding that she also told her father not to touch the Queen, but he had given her ‘a little nudge as well’. He also had a quick chat with the heir to the throne.
‘He did say to Charles: ‘You are looking well for your age,’ and he replied: ‘I’m starting to understand what it’s like to feel old.’ I was mortified, but, as far as I can tell, it was taken in good spirit.’
Which, of course, it was — not just by the gathered dignitaries, but by all who have since witnessed the exchanges.
‘All the banter is good, but we don’t want it to detract from why we are here, which is to thank all the veterans for what they have done,’ says Carole, explaining that she had enough trouble persuading her modest father to attend the commemorations in the first place.
‘He’s not one for pomp and ceremony,’ she explains. ‘I’ve tried to get him to go to The Cenotaph for Remembrance Sunday in the past, but he always says he’d rather watch it on the telly.
‘When I suggested we to go the 75th anniversary, he said: ‘No, I’ll leave that.’ But I said: ‘Let’s apply and see what happens.’
We were offered a place and, in the end, he agreed to go. Even then, he said he wasn’t going to wear his medals, but I told him: ‘If you’re going, you’re wearing them.’ ‘
Mr Cuthbert, who was awarded the Legion D’Honneur in 2017 for his role in the D Day landings, was on fine form at the reception and shared a joke with the Queen (pictured)
Among these medals is the prestigious Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest military honour, given to troops who landed on the beaches on D-Day.
And so it was that, this week, medals proudly pinned to his chest, Thomas found himself re-tracing the passage he took 75 years ago as an 18-year-old able seaman on board a landing barge oiler (LBO) heading to the French coast from Poole in Dorset.
The vessel was used to store and transport fuel for the landing craft that ferried the soldiers to the of Normandy beaches. While LBO may not be a term familiar to many today, when Thomas was introduced to the Queen, she knew what he was talking about.
Raised in Bethnal Green in London’s East End, he had joined the Navy aged 17, in 1943, having worked as a messenger in the ARP, the body responsible for protecting civilians from air raids
‘She knew the history of it,’ says Thomas. ‘She laughed and said: ‘You were on a floating bomb!’ ‘
Given that the barge carried 40 tons of fuel and could travel at only five knots (a little under 6mph), Her Majesty wasn’t wrong. I ask Thomas his memories of that momentous day in June 1944.
‘I wasn’t scared going over. We had so many manoeuvres before that we didn’t realise we were going until the guns started firing,’ he says.
‘I remember the stoker hearing the noise and coming up from below and asking: ‘Where are we?’
He thought we were at Dover. The coxswain said: ‘You bloody fool, we’re going to D-Day; we’re near enough on the beach.’ ‘
Thomas and his crew headed to Utah beach in support of the Americans, before making their way along the various beachheads, anchoring at Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
As they went, they refuelled the landing craft, often under heavy fire. They ended up at Cherbourg where they would spend the next eight months.
‘We saw a lot of casualties,’ he says. ‘We were picking up American soldiers and sent a message to the big ships offshore and they told us: ‘We don’t like to tell you this, but can you put them back again, because we are going to have too many on board who have passed away.’ It was very bad. But everyone has got their stories.’
Another memory that stays with him to this day is the fate of a fellow seaman on board another LBO.
The war hero, who has told how ‘proud’ he is to have taken part in D-Day was part of a crew working to refuel other ships as the invasion took place
‘We were in Cherbourg by then, and it was weeks after D-Day, and this coxswain said to me that he wasn’t going to get back to England again,’ says Thomas.
‘I told him not to worry, that he would be fine. The next week, he was coming to moor up next to us when his ship triggered a mine and blew up. He was the only one to die.’
Thomas’s experiences of the horrors of war weren’t confined to the battlefield. Raised in Bethnal Green in London’s East End, he had joined the Navy aged 17, in 1943, having worked as a messenger in the ARP, the body responsible for protecting civilians from air raids.
On March 3 of that year, he was summoned to Bethnal Green Tube station where a disaster of unimaginable proportions was unfolding. Fleeing a German air raid, 173 people — mostly woman and children — were crushed to death in a stampede. Four of Thomas’s close relatives were among the dead.
The Tube station had been used to shelter Londoners from German bombing raids. When the warning sirens sounded on that day, hundreds rushed to the shelter, but no one was on duty and only one door was open.
Roars from new anti- aircraft guns in nearby Victoria Park were mistakenly thought to be enemy bombs and the crowd surged forward in panic.
One woman, clutching her young child, lost her footing and fell, pulling an elderly man down with her.
Bodies quickly piled up at base of the steps, while those at the top, unaware of what had happened, continued to enter. A seething mass of people, all gasping for air, quickly developed.
Thomas is pictured with his wife Joyce and daughter Carole. Devastated by the death of his wife, Joyce, in 1994, Thomas vowed never to marry again
Carole, Thomas’s only child, explains: ‘He had taken my mum to the cinema that night. He was told he had to go over to Bethnal Green to find out what had happened, and report back. He set off, not knowing the terrible tragedy he was going to see. My mum’s mother and her sister were killed in the crush. And my dad’s aunt and his cousin died.’
The disaster, the UK’s largest single loss of civilian life during World War II, was covered up by the Government, who believed, if the news got out, it could harm the war effort. ‘My cousin and my wife’s sister were only 13; they were both young girls,’ recalls Thomas. ‘That affected me more than going to D-Day. But there you are — that is what the war did.’
He and wife Joyce married in 1945 — pictures from the day show him smiling broadly, dressed in naval uniform, arm-in-arm with his beautiful bride.
After a stint in the Far East, Thomas left the Navy in 1946 and, soon after, started working for the GPO, which later became British Telecom. His wife died of ovarian cancer in 1994 aged 67.
‘My mum was the love of his life,’ says Carole. ‘When she died 25 years ago, he always said he would not remarry. There have been some women at the bowls club, but he is just not interested.’
While failing eyesight has stopped him playing bowls, Thomas, who has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, continues to tend his garden. And, once a week, he catches the bus to do his shopping at the local Tesco.
‘It’s a nice little gathering there and they all have a little chin-wag,’ says Carole. ‘When he gets back to London, he won’t be short of something to talk about.’
But while his meeting with Melania will no doubt be the main topic of discussion, what Thomas will remember most from the trip is his visit to the war graves at Bayeux.
‘I went to the cemetery on Thursday and was looking at the tombstones,’ he tells me. ‘And you see it written — Royal Marine, age 19. And then you look again, another one, also 19. So many young people. I was 18 in 1944. And here I am today. It was very emotional.’
Source: Read Full Article