Today came the sad news that Major Ken Mayhew, the last known surviving 1 Suffolk officer, had passed away peacefully at the grand age of 104.
I had the honour to go and interview Ken back in 2016 and the following year, I was invited to his 100th Birthday. Ken was always so full of life that when one looked at his tall, lean figure at a Regimental function, one instantly thought he was a veteran of post-war service. To me he never seemed to look a day over 65, yet he had been a member of the Territorial Army since 1937. His youthful and spritely appearance never gave any indication that he was over 90 years old and that he had seen some extraordinary service during the war.
Ken’s wartime service was nothing short of incredible. Wounded twice, he returned to front line service just days after being admitted to hospital after his first wound, as he didn’t want to leave the Battalion. Despite having to be returned for treatment (as his wound became infected), he was back again with the Battalion in a fortnight and back in action just 24 hours later.
His second wound was serious enough to put him in hospital for good and he left the Battalion in February 1945, to recuperate in England before heading off to join the 31st Battalion in Gibraltar, with whom he remained for the rest of his service.
Ken was the last known officer to go through from D-Day to Germany (his close friend Captain Ron Rogers who was wounded in France, but returned to the Battalion in Holland in January 1945, made it through, but Ron died in 2017, leaving Ken as the last known survivor), though unbeknown to me at that time, Captain Lewis Thomas of ‘D’ Company and Captain Eric Skelding; the Signals Officer, were both still alive, but have now both passed away.
Ken was a man of strong character who shunned attention to his wartime exploits. He felt very humble that the Netherlands chose to award him their highest military honour and later became an active member of their ancient order of knights (though they had lost touch with him in the 1980s and thought he had passed away).
When I mentioned to him that I wished to write a book about the Battalion, he was most enthusiastic and offered to read through the very first draft that I sent him. He made many positive and constructive comments and offered information to help fill in the blanks that were missing.
I recall him modestly telling me over coffee and cake at his kitchen table about how he rode into the French town of Flers in August 1944 and liberated it with just two carriers and a motorcycle despatch rider; the whole town being ‘en-fete.’ He gently said to me “the CO was quite chuffed about that” - an understatement if ever I heard one!!!
Ken was an extraordinary man, whose like I feel, we shall never see again. He was a true gentleman and I look back upon our meetings with much pride and honour. He was a remarkable man, who lived a remarkably long and full life.
With grateful thanks to @EUCWBramford on Twitter for the image of Ken from the Fison’s employees magazine of July 1944.