A memorial to French villagers has been unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas. Kerry McDermott tells veteran Len Owens' story
In 1944, Sgt Len Owens was part of a communications unit behind enemy lines in the village of Moussey in occupied France.
Sixty six years later the veteran, now aged 87, has battled back after a stroke to pay tribute to Moussey's unsung heroes, without whom he says he may never have made it home.
A plaque marking their bravery has now been unveiled at the National Arboretum at Alrewas.
At the age of 24, Mr Owens, of Walsall Road, Lichfield, was a wireless operator serving with the Phantom Regiment in support of an SAS unit hidden in the forests to arm and organise the French resistance.
Mr Owens and his unit were sending information back to Britain from the area, to help arrange drops of supplies and ammunition.
The soldiers were being chased by two German divisions, and were waiting for the US army to catch them up at their hideaway in eastern France.
"The Americans ended up stopping in Nancy," Mr Owens said, "We were left marooned."
The Nazis rounded up 220 men and boys from Moussey and ordered them to reveal the whereabouts of the hidden unit. Mr Owens said: "They were offered an amnesty in return for information about where we were in the forest. Not one stepped forward."
All 220 villagers were marched off to concentration camps – and 140 of them would never return. To this day Moussey is still known as the Valley of the Widows. Four years ago Mr Owens, who lost three friends from his unit in Moussey, devoted himself to building a special garden at the National Memorial Arboretum in their memory.
Now the spot also pays homage to the bravery and sacrifice of the French civilians who paid the ultimate price for their silence.
Plaques commemorating the villagers were unveiled at the arboretum on Sunday watched by two descendants of the Moussey villagers who had travelled especially for the ceremony.
"There will have been other situations like this in France which are just not known about in this country," said widower Mr Owens.
"So I decided to have the names of the 140 villagers become part of the memorial, as well as those of my three mates and 31 SAS killed by the Nazis.
"It's about time this country knew about what went on in Moussey and the sacrifices these people made – they were just ordinary citizens.
"It could well be that I am alive because of them. I had a stroke a while back and my short term memory is shot to pieces. But I will never forget what happened back then."