“It’s really important to tell their stories and I’d love to hear grandad’s story, and he wants to do it,” Vicky McClure, 2023.
Eighty years ago, the D-Day Landings took place on the beaches of Normandy, France, among them, a promising young footballer, Ralph McClure, of Collingham Footway, the Meadows, in Nottingham.
Fast-forward eighty years, and to the anniversary of one of the most significant events of the Second World War, Ralph, now a dashing, 97-year-old war veteran, and his granddaughter, esteemed actress, Vicky McClure, were the subject of the ITV documentary, ‘Vicky McClure: My Grandad’s War,’ (aired Tuesday 5 June 2023).
Born in the February of 1925, McClure, like his granddaughter after him, are lifelong Notts County fans; in fact, not long before his birth, County were tasting a rare piece of glory, lifting the old, Second Division championship, in 1923, when they finished two points ahead of joint runners-up, West Ham United, and Leicester City.
It was a heady Second Division in those days as well, Manchester United were there, as was Leeds Untied, The Wednesday (Sheffield Wednesday), Fulham, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers, as well as a small, north-east club, South Shields.
The league back then, between the two wars, was split as First and Second Division, then Third Division North, and Third Division South (the Fourth Division running between 1958 and 1992) – some of the clubs in those divisions, back then, it’s crazy as to where they are now, if at all.
Anyway, digressing from the main, the McClure family, and a young Ralph, in the Meadows, and the then-family’s two-bedroomed house, with a scullery, tin bath, and an outside toilet, was born around the same time in which a young, Austrian-born, German politician was coming to power in Europe.
At the age of 8, in Nottingham, Ralph McClure was already well-invested in football, those leather balls, and peak caps of that era, stunning glimpses of the past; his love of the beautiful game, it started even before that.
“He loves his football, the reason I’m a County fan is because of him,” Miss McClure said in the recently aired documentary.
“I used to come down with my father, and he’d have me on his shoulders if I couldn’t see,” Ralph, a season-ticket holder, told his adoring granddaughter, sitting inside Meadow Lane.
“It’s marvellous isn’t it, I love it down here.”
Ralph attended the last home game of the season just gone, the season in which they returned to the Football League following a four-year hiatus, both they, and Wrexham, having smashed the 100-points barrier in a stunning campaign for both.
For Ralph though, how different his life could have been when, before the breakout of the Second World War, and having left school in 1939 at the age of 14, he was deemed good enough to become a professional footballer.
A left-winger, Ralph would be offered a contract by Yorkshire outfit, Leeds United who, having been promoted from the Second Division, in 1932, became an established, mid-table, First Division side, through the 1930s, returning to the Second after the war had finished.
It would be Ralph’s mother, Vicky’s Great Grandmother, however, convincing the young footballer to become a butcher instead, and that’s what he did, well, until he signed up that is; six months before his eighteenth birthday, Ralph McClure marched into the Carrington Street offices, and joined the Royal Navy.
Prior to that, on 8 May 1941, the McClure’s would up-and-leave their Collingham Footway home, Nottingham seeing devastation from the now war when more than seven thousand bombs and incendiaries were dropped on the city, and its suburbs, killing 221 innocent people, the McClure’s they suffered a near miss that night – many didn’t.
Throughout the documentary, the love between grandfather and granddaughter is beautiful, the pair sharing many a tender moment as they head ‘back’ to Normandy, amidst flashes of images and video footage from those all-too harrowing times.
Ralph, he was a signalman aboard a flotilla which took some 22 hours to cross the Channel, headed for Ouistreham, on the French coast, aboard LCT-952, and was responsible for all communications on the bridge using semaphore, morse code lamps, and signal flags, to relay messages to the naval fleets alongside them.
Over 4,400 allied soldiers were said to be killed on the first day of the landings, fortunately for Ralph, he survived to tell the tale, one which he really hasn’t done throughout Vicky’s life and, when she asked him about his being proud of what they’d done, achieved, his response was a simple one –
“I think I ought to be now, yes, I am.”
After the war, in which thousands were killed, on both sides, McClure returned home, again taking up butchery, and following his beloved County, perhaps even thinking about what could have been had he continued his talent for the beautiful game.
Marrying Vicky’s grandmother, Jean, in 1948, the pair would go onto have three children, five grandchildren, and six grandchildren, so far, they say, but the return to Normandy, the beach, and the memorial, it tugged on the hearts of everyone.
“It breaks my heart,” Vicky said at one point, when her grandfather was approached by a stranger on the beach, he proceeding to thank Ralph, and his comrades, for all they’d done – she, and perhaps the nation as a whole, shed tears at that moment.
Similar occurred at the Normandy Memorial, the pair seen to be walking, even marching, in unison, through the site as the now 97-year-old ponders the fate of lost friends from a time long ago.
“He’s just always been my grandad,” added a teary Vicky, “if his name was on that wall, I wouldn’t be here.”
Nowadays, with the pair now living just a stones-throw from each other in Nottinghamshire, the love for County remains, although with her partner, Welshman, Jonathan ‘Jonny’ Owens (producer, actor, writer, and former, amateur boxer), a director across the River Trent, at Nottingham Forest, Vicky’s footballing loyalties are often split.
Her one true love though, will always be with her grandfather, Ralph and, as she so aptly stated, a quote which can be attributed to not only those that served in the Second World War, but also, to older generations – “There’s not many people left to thank.”
You catch watch the heart-warming, insightful documentary, ‘Vicky McClure: My Grandad’s War’ here.
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @VickyMcClure Nottingham born actress Vicky McClure with her Granddad Ralph.