THE quotation attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”, could have had Bertie Lewis in mind; other than it was uttered 200 years before Bertie made his mark on the community here in Bolton.

As Alan Calvert said in his excellent article last week, Bertie did upset quite a number of Service Veterans with his wreath laying on Remembrance Sunday and, yes, on more than one occasion his wreath was consigned to the rubbish bin by irate onlookers, who perhaps wrongly associated the white poppies with the “White Feathers” of World War I or the “white flag of surrender”.

At the time I received many complaints from ex-Service personnel that something should be done to stop him and my response was to repeat Voltaire’s first principle of democracy and outline Bertie’s war record. If anyone had earned the right to exercise his freedom of speech and peaceful protest, then Bertie Lewis was that man. Born and raised in America, he joined our fight against Hitler by volunteering to serve in the Royal Air Force.

The courage that led Bertie to fight against fascism also allowed him to overcome the levels of intolerance against him; his quiet dignity and dogged commitment to his principles led to an acceptance and a respect that could be heard in the ranks of the Vets when he appeared as the last to lay his wreath on Remembrance Sunday, as one Vet said to the other: “Anyone who has flown 40 bombing missions has earned the right to express his opinion.”

One true measure of a free society is how we treat the people who oppose the populist way; those who seek to make us think before we act; to judge and question the actions and decisions of those in Government.

Cllr Frank R White, JP, President Bolton United Veterans Association