RECLINING in his soft sofa, a cup of tea in one hand and plate of biscuits on the small, elegant table in front of him, he seems like any ordinary pensioner just trying to keep warm in the looming chill of winter.
However, 90-year-old Second World War veteran Dr Ken Tout, with his soft wisps of white hair, is far from ordinary.
Behind his genteel exterior beats the heart of a heroic tank commander who, in his youth, stormed through Normandy and helped to liberate starving Dutch citizens from the ruthless and insatiable appetite of the Nazi war machine.
And with the carols of Christmas in full swing, it’s at this time of year that Dr Tout, who lives in Tasman Close, Rustington, with his wife of 40 years, Jai, pauses to reflect on the war which left a continent in ruins.
Almost 70 years ago to the day, Dr Tout was caught in the middle of one of the harshest winters in Holland’s history, with the mercury plummeting to minus 30. He was just hours away from leading his American-made Sherman tank in one of the most daring assaults since landing in Normandy, six months earlier.
“We were on a three-week rest period,” the grandfather-of-five recounted. “And the people in Holland were really suffering. It was one of the worst recorded famines.
“We found lots of children who had not even seen fruit. One regimental sergeant major offered a piece of chocolate to a Dutch boy who screamed in terror when he saw it. He thought it was a bullet. They were so deprived. So we wanted to show them a real British Christmas.
“We were going to put on a Christmas party. There were going to be concerts and games and presents on Christmas Day.”
But the night before Christmas Eve, Dr Tout’s regiment received an urgent mobilisation order. “At that point we had extended so far forward that the Germans had decided to try to ‘chop off the head’ of the advance and isolate the British Army.
“It was deep snow so no one thought that they would attempt an assault. There was only a weak US division in the Ardennes Forest to our rear. The US lines were hit extremely hard and had totally disintegrated.”
To read the full story, see this week’s Littlehampton Gazette (December 24).