A FORMER Leigh Centurions player and coach who helped to save 60 drowning American soldiers on D-Day and played a part in England winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup has written a book about his amazing life.

Second World War hero Bert Holcroft, of Pennine Grove, Leigh, is known for his impressive achievements as both a rugby player and coach but he has never spoken of the horrors he experienced on the day allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

The 91-year-old Royal Navy veteran, who was just 18 when he joined Britain’s war efforts and 20 on D-Day, has received France's most prestigious medal for helping to free the country from the grip of Nazi Germany in the famous battle that saw 425,000 troops killed, wounded or go missing.

Bert is proud to have been given the Legion d’Honneur by French President François Hollande and has written to American President Barack Obama for the heroics of the men he helped to save to be recognised too.

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’.”

Bert also has three other medals for his efforts in the war: the 1939 to 1945 service medal, the Atlantic Star and the end of hostilities Star.

He said: “I’m massively proud of my four medals but when I was awarded the Legion d’Honneur I decided I needed to tell the stories of those men.

“I didn’t ever want to talk about it before that as it brings back such bad memories.

“I’ve written to Barack Obama to tell him and hopefully they will be remembered for the heroes they were.”

After the war Bert was a forward for Leigh Centurions’ A and B teams and Wigan Road Working Men's RLFC between 1950 and 1960 before becoming a cross-code coach working in Australia, Ireland and England.

In rugby league he coached Eastern Suburbs first grade for two years down under in the mid 1960s and was also the assistant coach at Leigh under Billy Benyon.

In rugby union he worked as an assistant coach to England's Clive Woodward for three years, helping him both before the famous World Cup win and after.

Burt also ran his own coaching academy in Leigh and claims to be the first person to have been awarded the 'Coaching Professional Players' and Coaching Professional Coaches' awards at Lilleshall as well as achieving the honour of 'Professional Senior Grade III Coach'.

He has written extensively about coaching and authored 10 books on the subject, but this is the first time he has written about his life.

The book titled D-Day Epic details his experiences in the Second World War, his 54-year rugby career and his family’s 120 years of sporting history.

It will soon be available to buy on Amazon.