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How I arrested the King - veterans story

PUBLISHED: 15:32 02 April 2008 | UPDATED: 08:54 13 July 2010

Hands up, Your Majesty!

When Vic Barsted arrested a "scruffy looking" man at the height of the second world war, he was completely unaware of the identity of the individual standing at the end of his bayonet, with his hands on his head as demanded.

Hands up, Your Majesty!

When Vic Barsted arrested a “scruffy looking” man at the height of the second world war, he was completely unaware of the identity of the individual standing at the end of his bayonet, with his hands on his head as demanded.

It was only later that Mr Barsted, then serving in the 5th battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, found out that he had mistakenly held King George VI at gunpoint near the gates of the royal estate at Sandringham.

Fortunately for the young squaddie, the king appeared to have seen the merit of his actions.

The wartime story may have been lost to the mists of time and family folklore, but for the efforts of Mr Barsted's friends Alan Rowlands and Keith Sutton, who have spent many months interviewing and recording the 91-year-old's memories of his time with the Royal Norfolks, particularly the gruelling years as a Japanese prisoner-of-war.

Retold in his hometown of Aylsham, the tale is fresh in Mr Barsted's mind: “As part of my job in the transport section of HQ Company, I had driven a load of troops to Sandringham and then been told to stand guard over the vehicle.

“I had not been there before so I did not know exactly what was supposed to be where and who was who.

“I saw this elderly car pull up, with mudguards hang-ing off - it was not in a good state.

“A scruffy looking chap who looked like a farm labourer or a gardener jumped out, dressed in his shirt sleeves and with his trousers tucked into his socks. He came up to me and asked where my captain was.”

At this stage Mr Barsted decided he was unhappy with the look of the man in question, so he made a split-second decision to arrest him - at the point of his bayonet.

“I said 'we'll go and find the captain all right, but first put your hands on your head' and stuck my rifle, with bayonet, up against his back.”

Mr Barsted marched the stranger off to his superiors and admitted that the result was that he “got wrong off my officer”.

But that was not the final word: “Later on I got a message back that the king had said 'well done' for doing my job. I think it's fair to say he more or less congratulated me for arresting him!”

The process to record Mr Barsted's memories has also revealed other gems - the time the king ensured young recruits were allowed to mess about on the frozen ice at Sandringham after being ticked off by their superiors and memories of the present Queen and sister Princess Margaret as youngsters.

The serious side of the archive material, which is set to be stored in Aylsham for posterity, is far more troubling, with tales of Japanese wartime brutality and friends who died under forced labour between the fall of Singapore in 1942 and freedom in the summer of 1945.

Second world war archivist and living history enthusiast Ian Clark, who lives in North Walsham, expressed the importance of recordings such as that made of Mr Barsted.

“These memories are so important and we are really getting to the final stage where if we want to keep them, we need to be asking the veterans to talk to us and record what they say. There are some very important stories out there and we can learn from them.”

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