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Staff ~ The Truro Daily News
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Veteran survives bullet in the head

I met Duncan Ledwidge at Camp Hill Veteran's Hospital in Halifax.

Duncan, 87, didn't look like a war hero. He looked just like the rest of us aged veterans, content in the knowledge he had survived the bloodiest conflict this world had ever seen.

But I had never, ever heard of a war story like the one he related to me.

Duncan was one of four brothers who served in the Canadian forces. Their home was in Goffs, close to Enfield.

Young Duncan, then 18, wanted to join the navy. However, his twin brother, Don, and their friend, Neil Keddy, were determined to join the army. So he changed his mind, went to the recruiting office with his buddies and joined the army.

Both Duncan and Don joined the tank corps. Eventually they were separated when Don was transferred to another unit and became a dispatcher. Keddy, unfortunately, was later killed during heavy fighting at Cassino, Italy, in 1944.

Duncan became a Sherman tank driver. These tanks were huge vehicles, with a powerful 75-millimetre cannon.

Often the tank crew would be outside their vehicles planning their next military maneuver. It was then they were very vulnerable because they would be exposed to German snipers, and some of these snipers were very accurate.

One warm day, on Sept. 27, 1944, Duncan was outside his tank talking with one of his buddies. Suddenly, he felt a terrific smash to his head and he was knocked unconscious.

When he came to he was lying on the ground and was alone. His head was paining, so he put his left hand up to the back of his head and when he brought it back it was saturated with blood. Then he felt his head with his right and it was covered with blood as well.

He was certain then he was going to die.

Duncan's thoughts then flashed to his mother, who was continually worrying about her sons. Then he shouted out loud: "Mum, you don't have to worry anymore about me. It's all over for me."

After being taken to a field hospital, most of his acquaintances were sure he was not going to make it. George Stepa was sure he would survive, however. They had been though many hard times together and he knew how tough his best friend was.

The doctors were amazed. The bullet he had been struck with was still in his head. They questioned whether they should cut it out or just leave it. They never had seen anything like it and had to make a decision. So his doctor, the one who patched him up, decided to leave the bullet where it was. That bullet is still inside his head and it has been there for 68 years.

During the Second World War, Canadian soldiers were well received by those they liberated from occupied Europe. Their sacrifices did not gone unnoticed.

Last Christmas, Duncan received this honour from the mayor of Zomergem, Belgium:

‘This charter and its accompanying medal is granted to you, Trooper Duncan Ledwidge, by the local authority of Zomergem, as a token of appreciation and gratitude, for everything you have done for us, our families Zomergem.

‘It is also thanks to you and your comrades and those who have given their lives for this noble aim, that we and our children can grow up in this municipality and live in a free country.'

Despite his story, I was still a little skeptical about Duncan's miracle. It was then he took my hand and pressed one of my fingers on the wounded part of his head. (Of course the wound was all healed over years ago.) However, I felt the bullet and to me it felt like a small, hard stone. It was then the truth dawned on me. This man had a bullet inside his head. He should be dead but he's very much alive.

After the war, Duncan was employed for many years by the City of Dartmouth. He and his wife Georgina have two daughters and four grandchildren. They are loving and supporting and the veteran is very thankful for that.

Many people find fault and continually look on the dark side of life. However, there are miracles in this wonderful world of ours. Just ask Duncan Ledwidge.

TAGLINE: Herb Peppard is a Truro native who also served in the Second World War.

Geographic location: Camp Hill, Halifax, Goffs Italy Europe Belgium Dartmouth Truro

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