Bert Holcroft: 

D-Day Hero 

Bert Holcroft was a former Leigh Centurions player and coach who for over 70 years didn't speak about his role on D-Day when he helped to save 60 drowning American soldiers.

Bert Holcroft joined the Royal Navy at aged 18 and was 20 when he served aboard the Flower-classcorvette HMS Petunia. On 6 June 1944, HMS Petunia was among the naval force that took part in the invasion of Normandy, and on D-Day. HMS Petunia was an escort vessel for one of the assault convoys.

During the assault the ship received a "mayday" from an American tank landing ship that had struck a mine. Holcroft was among those who saved 60 of the soldiers from the tank landing ship. 

After the war Bert played rugby league for amateur team Wigan Road Working Men's RLFC as well as the reserve team of Leigh. He also coached the B and Colts junior teams for Leigh.

In the 1960s Bert and his wife, Bridget, moved to Australia where he coached junior side Murwillumbah Brothers to successive premierships in the Tweed Rugby League in 1961 and 1962. Bert also coached the Bundaberg representative team where he introduced new training techniques relating to diet and weight training.

Bert was appointed as coach of Eastern Suburbs in the New South Wales Rugby League premiership in 1965. Easts were a weak side at the time, having won just five matches in the two preceding seasons under Dick Dunn and fellow Englishman Nat Silcock Jr.. Under his stewardship they only won three games of 36 contested in the two seasons he was in charge; in 1966 Easts became the most recent (as of 2022) premiership team not to win a game during a season.

Over the years Bert developed his training and fitness techniques into a series of books for rugby and football. 


The Legion d'Honneur

In 2016 Bert was decorated with the Legion d'Honneur by the French government. Bert dedicated the award to the men saved on D-Day.

He said: “I was an able seaman on board the Royal Navy warship HMS Petunia on that fateful day.

“We were selected to lead the way and clear the channel for the troops to approach the beaches so that Operation Neptune could go ahead. We received a Mayday call as one of the American tank landing ships had been torpedoed and hit by a floating mine. We cast a large rope to tow the boat. Troops were clinging to the rope ladder and the boat to save themselves from drowning. The rest of the crew and I dragged as many survivors in the boat as we could, around 60 in total.

My greatest nightmare, which has haunted me these past 72 years, is looking at those guys desperately trying to swim to the side of our ship. The American ship was hit again and it sank within minutes, causing a whirlpool which dragged those poor men down with it.

The 60 men we saved later stormed the beach without weapons. Most of them probably died. They had nothing but their uniforms. They were the brave men, we just did our job. When I got the Legion d’Honneur I thought ‘this is for those men’.”

On the 17th of August 2021, Bert passed away at the age of 96.