Tales from Behind the Bar is a new series of stories from a traditional British pub, meeting wonderful personalities and their tales of triumph, achievement and comedy gold but also the sad yarns of melancholy, loneliness and desperation.

A week after turning 18, I dived behind the bar of a famous local pub for a new part-time job to subsidise the extra-curricular activities of any normal teenager.

My journey to serving drinks began with 18 months as literally the worst waiter ever placed on God’s Green Earth. After GCSEs, aged just 16, I took a summer job in one of the top hotels in town, and this was a town that thrived on tourism.

The hotel in question preserved the tradition of silver service, which meant serving people their food from a platter.

I was hopeless!

Some of my top achievements included dropping a roast potato on Baldrick’s lap (Tony Robinson didn’t even blink) and upsetting the famous actor Ron Moody and his army of kids to the point they threatened to walk out.

When the clock ticketh past my 18th name day, it was time to move on, and the local pub where my parents enjoyed an occasional quiz night was the perfect choice.

The beauty of working behind a bar is that it only takes a couple of hours to be shown the ropes, learning how to pull a pint is not difficult, and all the wines and spirits are served in measures, so you can’t go far wrong.

Of course, as time goes by, the quirkier beverage requests will throw you off track. The trusty old Bloody Mary with angostura bitters was a new one, and I’m still not sure if that should be categorised as heavy drink or light snack?

The real skill when it comes to working behind the bar is talking to customers, particularly in those days, when the pub regular was still a common theme. I’m not going back a hundred years here, it was the autumn of 1996, just after the spectacular summer of Euro 96.

But it is far enough back for a pub culture that was different to what we see today. Décor was more wood than chrome and pub food focussed on the hearty burger, ploughmans, roasties on the bar, rather than tapas, vegan sausages and humous dipped in scented oil from a Burmese monastery.

As the new boy, my first few months were spent with the dreaded split shift! 11am – 3pm, go home for a few pointless hours, return for 7pm – 11pm. As you can imagine, the morning and evening clientele were a very different bunch, and my first story focusses on the early crew.

When those old wooden doors were unlocked at 11am, we absolutely knew the order of patrons who would enter their precious cavern.

First up was ‘Old Tom’, aptly named because he was a senior gentleman and he was called Tom. Hot on his heels was Don, also an elderly gent, but the ‘Old’ moniker was reserved for Tom, no idea why.

Tom sat on a raised stool at the nearest end of the bar, slightly to the right from my position behind the bar. Don’s perch was directly in front of me, a few stools around the corner from Tom.

As a new barman, you quickly learn that regulars do NOT want you to ask: ‘What can I get you?’ They are regulars, they drink the same beverage every day and will take offence if you don’t know what they want, without asking.

So, Tom had a pint of Bass in a handle glass (always a handle with the older gents). Don had a pint of Courage Best, in a handle. Tom flicked through his newspaper; Don quietly enjoyed his drink.

They were both true gents, always polite, and Tom, in particular, loved a chat as well.

“Morning young man, all present and correct!”

As the weeks of my apprenticeship drifted by, I gradually developed the courage to chat with Tom and Don on a more frequent basis, rather than pottering around and pretending to be busy.

Once the fridges had been restocked from the night before, the blissfully laid-back landlord didn’t expect his bar staff to be constantly cleaning or making up jobs. Our role was to keep the tables tidy, take orders, serve drinks and then focus on speaking to the customers.

In that first hour, we were not serving large groups, it was people like Tom and Don, who came in for a morning pint because that is what they had always done.

I soon learned that Tom was 80 years-old and had served as an infantryman throughout the Second World War. He stayed in the Army for a few years after the War ended and then worked in the building trade.

Don was a few years older than Tom and, from what I soon discovered, a slightly higher rank than Tom. He didn’t go so far as to call Don ‘Sir’ but when they started to share war stories, Tom always displayed a subtle deference to Don, who had also returned to Civvy Street in the late 1940s.

Tom and Don came in at 11am every weekday, the weekends were strictly for staying at home. Twice a week, our morning routine altered slightly with a visit from Sid, a small man of around five feet five in height, always dressed impeccably in smart trousers, shirt and tie, with a tweed jacket.

Sid was a couple of years older than Tom and Don; he came in around 11.15am, clutching The Times newspaper and would be served a half-pint of Courage Best (in a handle, of course). Sid was quiet but had the most warming smile, you just knew, instinctively, that he was a kind man.

He would nod hello to Tom and Don, and then took his place in the raised seating area away from the bar, not too far to be completely out of earshot, but far enough to enjoy his paper in peace.

The thing with Sid was that Tom and Don’s demeanour always changed when he entered the pub, they sat more upright, their morning greeting was full of respect and, as time went by, I heard them both call Sid ‘Sir’ on a few occasions.

Sid just smiled, enjoyed his half and then said his farewells, before Tom and Don recommenced their war stories.

One day, I asked Tom for a bit more detail on Sid, what was his story?

“Young man, the Major is one of the reasons we are sat here enjoying our day! If it wasn’t for him, we would be chatting in German!”

It was a common expression of Tom’s generation…’If it wasn’t for us, you’d all be speaking German today’, which was basically a reminder that they fought and won the war, so be grateful, and we are!

Sid, the courteous little man in tweed and a tie, was one of our greatest war heroes. He was an Officer in the Army when war was declared on Nazi Germany and quickly gained notoriety for his clear thinking and composure in battle.

He was, according to Tom and no exaggeration here, a key player in the invasion of France in 1944. Coming behind the first waves of D-Day, Sid fought in the Battle for Caen, and was decorated for his bravery throughout the French campaign.

It was, however, Caen that had Tom and Don talking in hushed tones. An estimated 30,000 Allied soldiers fell in the Battle for Caen. Positioned on the Orne River and Caen Canal, capturing the city was key to the Allies moving deeper into occupied France.

The Germans had committed most of their panzer divisions in defence of Caen, they knew the importance of holding the city, and it made for an incredibly ferocious battle that cost many lives on both sides.

And part of the British vanguard at Caen was Sid, the beautifully dressed little old man quietly chuckling at his newspaper and sipping his half in my pub….I had graduated to working the first hour on my own, so, for that little stretch, it was my pub.

Sid did not stop at Caen!

Tom and Don described his heroics like we were in a movie. Sid led a regiment through France, fighting pockets of German resistance all the way to Paris, and he carried on beyond the French capital, taking the fight into Germany.

Sid never said a word about his wartime experience, not one word, and Tom and Don were always careful to tell his story when Sid was not in the pub.

I don’t know why there was so much secrecy, probably just the way things were with that special generation. It was not boasting, they lost too many friends and comrades to be boastful, it was just their story, and they didn’t need to share the stories to make themselves feel better or as an ego boost.

It was history and they shaped history.

Weirdly, it’s only now I recant this tale that I’ve noticed the nuance on the word ‘history’, broken into two ‘his-story’, and this was the story of their lives told in a quiet local pub on the English coast.  

Sid, Tom, Don and so many more from their generation are no longer with us today but their brave stories will live forever.  

Please leave your comments on our social media pages or you can email them to me on tim.herbert@newsquest.co.uk