THE son of a war veteran has been left devastated after burglars stole his father’s precious RAF medals.

James Ashworth served in the air force as a despatch rider, travelling between bases in Holland, Germany, Denmark and France.

For his bravery, including narrowly avoiding being killed when his motorbike was blown up by enemy fire, Mr Ashworth was awarded five service medals.

Mr Ashworth, who was born in 1917, died 12 years ago and his only son, also called James, had the medals at his home in Vale Coppice, Horwich.

But, between 2pm and 2.30pm on Wednesday, his home was raided when thieves smashed three kitchen windows and ransacked the house.

Among other items stolen was James’s laptop, containing irreplaceable family pictures, and jewellery belonging to his wife, Sandra’s, grandparents.

Most distressing of all was the loss of the medals, which James has looked after since his mother, who has also now died, was taken into a care home.

The 64-year-old believes he disturbed the thieves when he returned home from a motorbike ride.

He said: “My wife was out shopping and I had gone out on my motorbike.

“I returned at about 2.30pm and the noise of the bike and the garage door probably made them scarper out the back.

“A neighbour said to police that he heard a noise and in half an hour they have made a huge amount of mess.

“I’ve no doubt they were serious. They took two big knives out of the kitchen block, which I suspect they were carrying in case they were disturbed.”

Using two pillowcases to remove their haul, the thieves also took a gold Rotary watch that had belonged to Mr Ashworth and a solitaire ring which had belonged to the war veteran’s own father.

Among Mrs Ashworth’s stolen jewellery was an item of huge sentiment, a locket containing pictures of her grandparents.

James said: “We are desperate to get as many items as possible back.

“My wife is even more upset than I am. We have lived here for 27 years and never been burgled.

“These medals are unusual so we hope that someone will question where they have come from if they find them.”

Mr Ashworth was born in Oldham but was brought up by his mother in Leigh Bank, Westhoughton, before serving in the RAF during World War Two.

James, a father-of-two with three grandchildren, said he desperately wants to keep mementoes of his father’s service with the armed forces to pass down the family.

He added: “He always said the war was the most fun he had in his life. It was scary but an adventure as well. He was nearly blown up once in Holland.

“He used to tell us that he got off his bike once near this canal to look at his map.

“What he didn’t know was that there were some German soldiers on the other side of the water and they shot at him and the bike. He dived into a ditch and wasn’t hurt but the bike blew up.”

Insp Wayne Readfern, of the Bolton police, said: “Any type of burglary is bad but to steal medals, which quite obviously will have great sentimental value, is just unthinkable.”