Lance-Corporal Eric Ealham
Unit : "C" Company, 8th Parachute Battalion
Service No. : 6093900
Awards : Military Medal
Lance-Corporal Eric Ealham was awarded the Military Medal for his conduct on the 6th June. The citation recorded his name as Ernest Ealham, however his family have said that his name was in fact Eric; Ernest is the name of his elder brother, born in 1896, who served in the First World War and was an ARP warden in the Second. The citation reads:
For outstanding leadership and devotion to duty.
At Herouvillette on 6th June 1944 L/Cpl Ealham was Second in Command of the leading section of a platoon which came under heavy Machine Gun fire. The Section Commander and three other members of the section were wounded including the Bren Gunner. L/Cpl Ealham immediately took over command of the section re-organised it and covered the remainder of the platoon out of a dangerous position. Then showing a total disregard for his own safety he crawled forward in face of the enemy and brought back the wounded Bren Gunner and his Bren. His courage and leadership was an inspiration to all.
The following was published in the Express on the 6th June 2009:
The extraordinary tale of the very first British paratrooper to land on D-Day has come to light after his Military Medal sold for a staggering £32,000. Lance Corporal Eric Ealham was the first man to be dropped over Normandy several hours before the main D-Day invasion. After helping to destroy three strategic bridges, he led his platoon into a bloody battle with the Germans in a bid to stop them from reaching the nearby beaches.
With many comrades wounded, L/Cpl Ealham single-handedly carried out a near-suicidal rescue of one injured soldier while under intense machine-gun fire. After dragging his colleague to safety, he resumed fighting and provided cover for a group of soldiers pinned down by the enemy, allowing them to reach safety.
He was later shot in the leg and shipped back to England on June 8, 1944. Due to the sheer chaos and confusion of the D-Day landings, relatively few men were recommended for gallantry medals on June 6.
L/Cpl Ealham died of a heart attack in 1973 and his widow Rosetta kept her husband's precious George VI Military Medal in her bedside table until she died last year. Their children and grandchildren have now decided to sell it. It was initially valued at £3,000 but after collectors realised it belonged to the first paratrooper to be dropped on D-Day it ended up selling for 10 times that amount.
His granddaughter Karen, 47, says: “Grandad never really spoke about the war and it wasn't until we went through some of his belongings after my gran died last year that we discovered he was the first British paratrooper dropped over Normandy. We knew he had the medal but didn't know what exactly it was for and what he did. He was very brave but I guess he would have said he did what he had to do. We hope he would have wanted us to benefit from his medal but we never expected it to sell for that much."
L/Cpl Ealham’s battalion was due to land three miles south of Ranville, near Caen, but ended up scattered across the countryside.
After carrying out their objectives of destroying the bridges the men fell back to defend woodland near the village of Herouvillette.
It was here that L/Cpl Ealham's platoon came under German machine- gun and artillery attack, leaving his commanding officer and three comrades wounded.
It was at this point he showed "outstanding leadership and devotion to
duty" by dodging machine-gun fire to rescue an injured Bren gunner.
He was demobbed in 1946 but continued military service with the Territorial Army until 1956. After that his family, Rosetta and children Sheila and Ron, moved to St Albans, Hertfordshire, where he was a farm labourer and carpenter.
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