A brave Pendle soldier who gave his life for his country in a largely unforgotten conflict has been honoured 60 years on.
Rifleman Eric Gillett, from Colne, was fatally injured aged just 19 when his vehicle plunged 500ft into a ravine in the Troodos Mountains during anti-terrorist operations on November 2nd 1957.
Now, six decades on, a fellow veteran of the Cyprus conflict, eighty-year-old Les Smith has unearthed details of Eric’s service and arranged for his relatives to receive the Elizabeth Cross, a commemorative emblem given to the next of kin of members of the Armed Forces killed in action after the Second World War.
Eric’s niece Jean Doult, who also lives in Colne, said: “Eric was my father Gordon’s younger brother. My dad received a call from Les out of the blue informing him of this award.
“It was such a lovely gesture from Les and it has rekindled memories of Eric for all his family. Some of his comrades have now been in touch and told us stories we didn’t know. Eric was quite a comedian.”
Eric, who was serving with the Royal Ulster Rifles, was one of the 372 British servicemen who died on active service during the four-year Cyprus Emergency from 1955 to 1959, and whose name is among those remembered with honour on the British Cyprus Memorial.
He was one of seven children who grew up in Colne. Four of his siblings, Gordon, Malcolm, Vera and Brenda all still live locally. Craven and Jean have since died.
Jean added: “My father said that Eric’s death was a terrible shock to all the family.
“His photograph has always been up in the house, but it’s nice that Eric has finally got some recognition.”
Les, who lives in St Helens, started his project three years ago searching for the families of those who died to let them know that their loved ones have not been forgotten and that the next of kin are entitled to receive The Elizabeth Cross.
He said: “It is a great sense of achievement when I can reunite a family with this medal. Not many people today are aware of how many servicemen were killed in the Cyprus conflict so it’s nice to shed some light on it this way.”
Les would also like to hear from anyone who served in the Cyprus Emergency at firstname.lastname@example.org