A World War Two hero from Doncaster who helped to save a Belgian town from the Nazis has been honoured with a stained glass window in his memory.
Corporal John Harper, the only Doncaster-born recipient of the Victoria Cross, was fatally gunned down by German soldiers in 1944 as he and his troops strove to liberate the border town of Merksplas.
Now artist Frans Pelgrims has created the artwork which has been returned to his hometown of Hatfield, and shown off to children at Hatfield Woodhouse School to tie in with Remembrance Day events.
The window was presented to family relative Gordon Harper during a twinning visit to Merksplas and shows Cpl Harper, along with scenes from the battle which featured in a 1968 edition of boys’ war comic Victor.
Gordon said: “It took him two years to complete and demonstrates the feeling of gratitude their townsfolk have towards the sacrifices our military made during the liberation of their town.
“Frans, who is in his 80s, absolutely blew us away on presenting it to us.
“We now have to decide where it will find its permanent place within the village to share with interested parties.”
Cpl Harper died on September 29, 1944, and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry that can be awarded to British forces, for his part in helping to liberate Merksplas.
Signed up to the York and Lancaster Regiment, Cpl Harper’s finest hour, but sadly tragic final moments, came as the battle to liberate Belgium and Holland entered its final bloody stages and the platoon under his command battled to seize the Depot de Mendicitie near Antwerp from enemy hands.
Under a hail of grenades and gunfire, Cpl Harper rampaged through the German troops, taking prisoners, shooting the enemy and seizing their dugouts in a violent and fearsome firefight. After a number of forays into enemy territory, he was eventually killed – but his story was revisited more than 20 years later in stirring comic book fashion in a tale entitled The Stubborn Tyke.
“He is treated like a real hero over there,” said Gordon. “Children are taught about John and what he did – they have a real reverence for him.”
Hatfield Woodhouse teacher Helen Acton said: “Because Cpl Harper was a past pupil, the children were really interested to hear about him and him being awarded the VC. The whole experience brought home to them the importance of peace and remembrance and explained the good links we have with Merksplas.”