Gary Lineker has told of the emotional, and at times upsetting, journey he went on while exploring his late grandfather’s part in the Second World War.
The former footballer follows in the footsteps of his grandfather Stanley Abbs in a new one-off BBC One documentary, having previously known very little about his role in the Allies’ victory in the war.
The programme sees Lineker exploring why the veterans from the Italian campaign, like his grandfather, were called “D-Day Dodgers” despite the huge sacrifices they made while in combat in Italy, and how their efforts were overshadowed by the D-Day landings, which happened the day after the Allies in Italy took Nazi-occupied Rome.
The Match Of The Day presenter also meets with veterans including 104-year-old William Earl, who was in the Royal Army Medical Corps along with his grandfather.
Mr Abbs died when Lineker was in his early 20s, although he remembers him to be a “lovely guy”.
Lineker, 58, said: “I don’t remember him ever speaking about his experiences in the war and it was obviously very grim, so I can understand why.
“It obviously must have been hellish having gone through that as young man.
“As I started to follow his journey and during doing the research for filming what emerged about that Italian campaign is just unimaginable so I totally understand why he probably wouldn’t want to talk about it.
“And I think that’s similar with so many veterans from that campaign and the rest of the war.”
Lineker said that, during filming, he became the most emotional “right towards the end, when we were filming one of the stories about how they had to get across one of the rivers.”
He said: “When we got to the other side and I could work out exactly where my grandfather would have been in the ambulance medical aid tent, and knowing that only just a few yards from where I was stood absolutely harrowing scenes would have been happening in the river.
“The river was literally running red with blood.
“Knowing that my granddad would have just been a few yards away from that spot really got me and I found myself a bit emotional.
“Also by doing this film, and shining a light on the bravery of my granddad and all those thousands of other real heroes, I just wished my mum had been alive to have seen this programme.
“She would have been so proud.”
Of the term “D-Day Dodger”, which was used for troops serving in Italy, suggesting cowardice and avoiding real combat despite the casualties and horrors of war in the Mediterranean, Lineker said he had not heard it before making the show.
He said that the term “couldn’t have been further from the truth”, adding: “The famous song D-Day Dodgers is actually much more self-deprecating than many might know.
“The actual truth of the matter is that the campaign was incredibly grim, enduring and tough.
“Plus, so many people lost their lives and they would have seen some incredibly awful things.
“So it was almost a joke at their own expense.
“But because of the Normandy landings that happened just after they captured Rome, it kind of usurped them in news and headlines etc.”
Gary Lineker: My Granddad’s War is on BBC One on Monday November 11 at 9pm.