Rochdale Football Club was delighted to welcome war hero Jim Marland to the Crown Oil Arena on Tuesday night for a special presentation.
The 96-year-old veteran recently had his war medals ripped from his chest by a mugger while paying his respects at his local cenotaph, but he has now had them replaced by a serving soldier.
At a surprise presentation hosted by the club, Jim Marland, a Private when he served with Durham Light Infantry Brigade, received replacement original WW2 medals on the pitch at half-time during Dale's League Two match against Stevenage.
He received a guard of honour to the centre of the pitch and was greeted with warm applause from the crowd.
Jim was at Rochdale Cenotaph prior to Remembrance when he was pushed to the ground and robbed of the medals and other personal belongings. It was a couple of days before the shaken former soldier felt able to tell his family.
His assailant made off with the 1939/45 War Star for active service during the Second World War, the France/Germany Star, the Defence Medal earned for service in the UK which was under attack, and the 1939/45 War Medal, also known as the Victory Medal.
Major Phil Linehan, a Reservist with 103 Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) who also owns a medal mounting company - Specialised Medal Services, came across the shocking story on social media, after the story was spread far and wide by the club’s Military Veterans Team, and immediately resolved to help.
He said: “I’m a military historian and a couple of weeks ago, while on a battlefield study in Sicily, I was on Facebook and spotted a re-post from a friend Steve Shires, who I served with in Northern Ireland, saying a veteran had been pushed over and had his medals stolen. I immediately said I would replace them from my stock.”
Adam Trennery, a former Royal Navy Engineer, who is a member of AFC Rochdale Veterans Association, approached the club and asked them to host the event to reunite Jim with the decorations and the directors were delighted to oblige.
Phil travelled five and a half hours from Kent to make the presentation and chatted with Jim prior to the presentation.
He said: “Jim told me, ‘I can’t wear my medals tonight like you.’ He was embarrassed he’d lost them. He didn’t know I knew the story.
“I was very keen to understand Jim’s journey and why someone from Rochdale was in the Durham Light Infantry. In the Second World War, that unit served in North Africa, Sicily, and part of 50 Division and General Montgomery brought them back to the UK because he wanted experienced soldiers in Normandy.
“Jim didn’t join until late 1943 and so he wasn’t ready for Normandy. By the time he joined his regiment, he joined in Germany and fought in Ibbenbüren and finished the Second World War in Hamburg.
Jim was wounded in action while in Germany, suffering a shrapnel wound to the chest, leading to a six-week stay in a field hospital.
He joined the Army aged 18, serving in the UK, Germany, India, Singapore and France.
Jim said: “It was a surprise and I want to thank everyone that’s been so nice to me.” He joked: “If I’d known I was coming to this, I’d have put another row of medals on.”
As well as the medals, 103 REME provided a replacement beret with an original WW2 cap badge worn by a relative of ex-Corporal Buckley (Royal Engineers) and an original WW1 cap badge worn by a Great Uncle of Flight Lieutenant Martin, who served with Phil.
Phil added: “The big Army family got together to produce this award and it was a wonderful privilege to give back to someone who gave so much for all of us.”
Rochdale AFC Chairman, Simon Gauge, said: “Everyone at Rochdale Football Club was extremely sadded and shocked to learn that Jim Marland had been the victim of this despicable crime.
“We, as a club, pride ourselves on our community ethos and we very quickly all came together to see how we could support Jim and his family.
“Thanks to our own Military Veterans Team, news of the incident spread far and wide and we were all delighted when we heard that Jim would receive replacement medals.
“It was a pleasure to host Jim and his family, as well as military personnel at Tuesday night’s game against Stevenage, and it was a real honour to see him presented with the medals on the pitch at half-time.
“We’re pleased to have helped play a small part in putting a smile back on Jim’s face.”
Chris Sutcliffe, Jim’s Grandson, added: “I’d like to thank everyone at the football club and the military veterans team for everything they’ve done for my Grandad.
“Everyone went above and beyond to make it a night to remember for him and for all of us, and they’ve been absolutely fantastic since they found out what had happened.
“My Grandad had a great night and it has really cheered him up.”