TWO years after Gerald Tiller first revealed his remarkable story of secret war-time diaries, his experiences have been turned into a book.
After the Herald put out a plea to assist the pensioner to gain a publishing deal, local writer Bob Wragg has spent months with the former soldier to create a vivid, expanded account of his time spent serving his country.
“It’s great that we’ve managed to get this done,” said Mr Tiller, of Brendon Road, Durrington.
The 87-year-old said seeing his World War II diary in print fulfils a life-long ambition which he wondered if he would ever live to see.
As he revealed in his original interview, his often gruelling time spent with the 15th Scottish Division of the Royal Engineers from 1943 saw him witnessing some unforgettable incidents which have remained with him.
From being in the thick of frontline action, confiscating quantities of German banks’ gold, through to encountering his future wife Margaret (who was of German origin and was fleeing life under Nazi rule) – his is a story of love, tragedy and retaining a sense of humanity amid truly inhuman conditions.
Witnessing many of his friends killed in action on the D-Day beach landings in France is something that still evokes painful memories for Gerald. Yet he believed the memory of their sacrifices should be shared with future generations through his diary.
Gerald, who initially joined the Home Guard aged 15 in Findon, felt writing a diary was one of the only ways he could cope with the intensity of war.
He said: “I had to write my diaries back then very secretively, as we were not supposed to be writing anything about what was happening in case the Germans got hold of it. I kept a list of the people we lost but I had to give up in the end as there were so many of them.
“As I was a carpenter, I was able to hide my notebook in the bottom of my toolbox so that no-one knew what I was doing. We didn’t have ballpoint pens there, so I would have to go into schools we came across in France and steal ink for my pen – which I’ve still got now.”
Having seen the initial interview on the diaries, Mr Wragg, also of Durrington, felt strongly he would be able to help find Gerald a publisher.
Mr Wragg, who has previously penned a book on the tragic terminal illness of his grandson Jacob, said: “The diaries are such an incredible story and spent a long time going through them with Gerald. It struck me that he had written them in a particular style that was quite matter of fact, so we built on them in asking him to really say how he remembered feeling.”
The resulting work, The Secret War Diary of a Worthing Solider, was released on Saturday (October 20) through Brighton-based Albion Press.