Previously on the BBC WW2 Archives and a few times on this site I have written about the C&BG Boys Club and on one occasion even referred to it as The Club that produced Heroes
Just in case anyone considered the article’s title a little bit over the top may I take a few minutes of your time to tell you about a dear old friend of mine who was a former C&BG Boy's Club manager and who sadly passed away last week.
The words are taken from a speech made to him in 2004 by Bryan, one of his sons, on the happy occasion of Derek’s 90th birthday..
Derek Merton and World War II
After marrying Frances two weeks after the outbreak of war, Derek had what people tend to describe as a ‘good war’. He joined up as a soldier in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps where he preferred the company of the other ranks to that of the officers. Derek’s experience of the second world war would seem to give substance to the view, expressed by someone (Norman Mailer, perhaps), that war consists of long periods of boredom and discomfort followed by short periods of intense excitement and fear. The early part seems to have been spent in camps in the remoter parts of the English countryside engaged in ‘manoeuvres’ and preparing for action.
Things improved a bit in 1943 when one of the regiment’s senior officers, one Anthony Eden, discovered Derek’s proficiency in French and sent him to London to serve at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Forces in Europe under General Eisenhower. He was later deployed on a special assignment which entailed him being disguised as a French businessman and billeted with Dr Ninet and his family at no. 11 Avenue Hoche in Paris. From there he acted as a kind of middleman between the Allied suppliers of weapons and the Maquis resistance, speeding, no doubt, the liberation of the French. For his exploits he was well decorated. These included two stars for his service in the war, the Defence Medal and from the French government something called Reconnaissance Francaise.
In the photo above, taken at the House of Commons in 1935, Derek is the dapper young man on the extreme right of the front row while a 12 year old Ron Goldstein is two boys away to his right, also in the front row.