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Tributes to reluctant hero

PUBLISHED: 13:16 05 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:28 07 July 2010

HE was one of the last survivors of a defining battle of the second world war.

Les Dobbs, 87, was a reluctant hero of the Battle of Kohima, who devoted his life to family, gardening and supporting Norwich City Football Club.

HE was one of the last survivors of a defining battle of the second world war.

Les Dobbs, 87, was a reluctant hero of the Battle of Kohima, who devoted his life to family, gardening and supporting Norwich City Football Club.

And on Friday, hundreds of mourners bid a poignant farewell to the old soldier when he was buried in his Royal Norfolk Regiment uniform at Swanton Morley.

His coffin was draped in the regimental flag and the army, British Legion, and Royal Norfolk Regiment were all there to pay their respects.

Mr Dobbs was born at Ringland, near Norwich, and signed up to the Royal Norfolk Regiment to fight for his country in 1940 at the age of 20.

He served in the second battalion and was stationed in Burma and India for six years, at the end of which he transported Japanese prisoners of war to America.

Jean, his wife of 58 years, said: “He felt the call of duty. He wanted to go out and serve his King and country and try his hardest to keep freedom alive.

“It was never about ego or what tales he could tell. When he came back he wouldn't talk about it. People didn't find out he had fought in the Battle of Kohima before they knew him very well.

“All of the men he served with have such a close bond forged through experiencing what no one else will ever go through. They witnessed some horrific acts. He saw someone he hadn't seen for 60 years and they recognised each other instantly.

“He was proud of what he and his unit had achieved, but not in a boastful way and would never go out without his medals.

“The children and I were never told about what went on. He didn't want them to know about the atrocities which changed him. His family all shoot but when he came back he couldn't pick up a gun.”

She added: “Some of the old servicemen meet up two or three times a year and you would just sit back and listen to them. It was always happy memories, never sad.

“He didn't want to bring back the bad memories. They would talk about the great times instead and the funny things that happened.”

In fact, the only signs Mr Dobbs was one of the forgotten army, unaware for several months peace had been declared, is a shrine in his Swanton Morley home full of memorabilia from the Burma campaign, including plates, pictures and models.

Mrs Dobbs said: “He was a hero but not just because of the war. To us he was this amazing man who had a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone.

“His life was football, family and friends and we all have so many wonderful memories to treasure.”

Les Dobbs died of a heart attack. The funeral was at All Saints' church in Swanton Morley. He leaves behind two children, two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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