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There are plenty of fine gifts one could look forward to for a birthday as grand as your 90th.
A solar-powered hearing aid, a TV where the volume goes up to 11, an emergency underpants dispenser or 500 yards of bubble wrap.
Celebrating his 90th this week, Ted Veal received one particular and peculiar birthday present that was decidedly off-menu, and clearly not available on Amazon. Yet.
Ted got a 70th anniversary medal of the WW2 battle known as The Great Victory. And it came directly from the Mayor Of Moscow.
We’ll let Greystones lad Peter McNiff – who has written a biography of Veal – explain…
Wicklow resident Ted Veal celebrated his ninety-nineth year on the planet this week with a medal from Moscow, struck to commemorate The Great Victory, a tank battle that took place seven decades ago.
“All I did was give a talk to some schoolchildren in Drogheda,” Ted told friends at this home in Wicklow town.
Ted’s presentation at St Oliver’s Community College in Drogheda was of his war time experience during the Italian campaign in 1943. His story caught the attention of curators Dina Kurbanova and Sergei Menshakov of the Russian section of the Military War Museum based in Collon, County Meath. As a gesture of appreciation, they presented him with a bottle of cognac and a medal struck by the Russian State Museum in Prohorovka commemorating a famous tank battle between Soviets and Germans seventy years ago.
Ted was thrilled to add the gong to campaign medals he was awarded for his service in World War II.
“Russia was part of the Allied campaign against Germany, so we were all in the war together. Something people don’t realise, the Russians lost close to 27 million people in that war.”
Flight Sergeant Ted Veal served in WW2 as a RAF radio officer and machine gunner and was the sole survivor of an American-built Baltimore bomber whose engines failed over Italy. The pilot, who ordered everyone to bail out, was killed along with two other crew members. Ted, sitting at the tail gun, managed to escape as the aircraft plunged into the side of a mountain.
Meeting Ted last year; Val Irvine lost her father in the WW2 crash. That’s 3-year-old Val with Ted, above, c1944.
“It was night. We were over the Abruzzi,” Ted recalls. “I pulled the cord, my parachute opened, and I landed on my backside. It was my first parachute jump.”
For that, the parachute manufacturer signed him up for the Caterpillar Club, an exclusive association for airmen whose parachute saved their lives.
With the help of the Italian underground, he was taken to a hiding place and given food and water. There were other allied troops hiding in the district, including a Russian soldier. A fortnight later, Ted was repatriated along with everyone else when the Australian army arrived.
Back with his RAF squadron, he was promoted to Pilot Officer. Assigned to the airlift of soldiers from Berlin and North Africa, he went up in rank again, to Flight Lieutenant.
After the war, he was a salesman for Heinz before going to Zimbabwe (Northern Rhodesia) as a miner, going on to become a mine engineer. He married an Irish nurse, Deirdre Wilkinson, and they retired to Wicklow where, for a time, he worked again as a mine engineer, this time at Avoca’s gold mine.
During his nineties, after two hip replacements, Ted has taken joy rides in a small aircraft, a hot air balloon, and the big dipper in Co Meath. He had a racehorse named after him and is a founder member of the Kilmartin Arts in Wicklow where he has a large coterie of friends – among them Peter McNiff, who wrote his biography, Ted Veal’s War & Peace.
“Now I’m looking forward to making a century,” Ted says. ‘And maybe a couple of years after that…”
You can find out more about Ted and his adventures in Ted Veal’s War & Peace by Peter McNiff, available right about here. Ted pics by Peter McNiff.