Until he received a letter out of the blue, the 9th Earl Spencer admits he knew little of his father’s time in the war.
"My family and I really didn’t know anything about my father’s war stories beyond the bare minimum, so I always had this question mark as to what he had done,"
"I got this letter out of the blue a few years ago. Totally surprised – ‘Do you know who a Lt. Althorp was? Because we have records he was involved in our liberation.’ And I wrote back and said ‘Yes, Lt. Althorp would have been my father.’"
Althorp is the name of the Spencer home in Northhamptonshire, held in the family since 1508.
“This is how I learned that, while a 20-year-old lieutenant, he'd led a small force of British troops who liberated two Norman villages, La Vieille-Lyre and La Neuve-Lyre, 80-odd miles west of Paris.”
Serving in the Royal Scots Greys from 1944 to 1945 during the Second World War, John Spencer landed on Juno Beach, in France, a day after D-Day.
Known as Lieutenant Althorp during his service, he was entrusted with a small regiment.
The liberation of La Neuvre-Lyre took place on August 23, 1994.
French historian Eddy Florentin translated a story of his entrance to the town.
'They provide us with calva, champagne, eggs, flowers and fruits. We are kissed, hugged, shaking hands, jostling each other, while two or three hundred civilians circle around us, singing and dancing.
'What a wonderful summer day! The first vacation we have enjoyed for three months.'
Though the mayor of the town offered for his unit to stay, the 8th Earl Spencer replied that they must move on as there 'is still an enemy to fight.'
It wasn’t until local French historian Basil Kourotchkine and librarian and teacher June Gillis connected the dots that it become known the towns’ liberators were led by none other than Princess Diana’s father.
Made aware of his father’s heroic exploits, Earl Spencer traveled to France to take part in the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the towns.
In his address, Marc Morière , the Mayor of La Vieille-Lyre, said: 'It's a pride for us to welcome you, Charles. Seventy-five years ago, on August 23, 1944, at around 3:00 pm, your father arrived first, the young lieutenant who was only 20 years old.’