AS the war in Europe officially came to a close, 21-year-old motorcycle despatch rider Gordon Prime was coping with the cruel realisation that his life had been saved by the toss of a coin just 10 days earlier.

In the heart of the Reichswald Forest – the scene of Britain’s last big European battle as troops forged forward into Germany – Mr Prime’s comrades were building a bonfire and stockpiling their beer rations in readiness for the long-awaited VE Day celebrations.

But his thoughts were with his ‘number one pal’ and fellow despatch rider, Bert Stinchcombe.

“My old pal Bert and I had gone all the way through together,” recalled former Jameston resident Mr Prime, now 96, who chaired the Pembrokeshire Normandy Veterans’ Association for many years.

“Ten days before the end of the war in Europe, on April 27, we tossed a coin to see which one of us would take a certain route. I got back to find he had been blown up.

“We had worked side by side and shared everything.

“For years afterwards, I went every year to his home village in Gloucestershire to lay a wreath in his memory.”

Failing physical health after a bout of pneumonia last year led Mr Prime to move into care at Pembroke Haven Residential Home, where he has kept busy writing, in longhand, his life history in 260 pages.

“Luckily I don’t have any problems with my memory – I can go right the way back,” he said. “It’s just the record of my life story for my family, but maybe it could be published.”

Serving with the Royal Army Service Corps, attached to the 1st Canadian Army, Mr Prime had been in Europe since D Day – June 6 1944.

At first light, he drove onto Juno beach in a thre-ton truck, loaded with ammunition and petrol, with his Matchless 350cc motorcycle on the back.

“Our company motto was ‘bash on regardless, and that’s just what we had to do,” he recalled at the time of D Day’s 70th anniversary. “You couldn’t give up, it would have been letting your mates down.”

Despite the sad circumstances leading up to VE Day, and being on despatch rider duty, Mr Prime still joined in the celebrations in the heart of Germany.

“The lads had all got together, lit a massive bonfire and all got the booze out. There was quite a lot of merrymaking and we all had a few drinks, myself included – I wouldn’t have passed a breathalyser that night!”

He spent the next two years with the Army of Occupation in Germany, eventually being demobbed in May 1947.

Today (Friday), Mr Prime’s thoughts, as always, will be turning to the comrades he said farewell to in the war and since, but never more than his best pal Bert who came so close to seeing out the war, and the six good friends who never made it through Normandy.

“I used to go round the schools giving talks about the war, and one little boy asked me how I felt when it had all ended.

“All I could say was: ‘Thank God it’s all over’.”