Second World War veteran from Eynesbury set to receive France’s highest honour

Harry Eddy

Harry Eddy - Credit: Archant

Since 2014, British D-Day veterans have been receiving France’s highest distinction of military and civilian merit – the Legion d’Honneur – and now, one man from Eynesbury is set to receive the award.

Harry Eddy

Harry Eddy - Credit: Archant

Harry Eddy, 92, served aboard landing craft tanks – boats used for dropping tanks onto beaches – acting as wireman for some of the most decisive operations in the Second World War.

“I was demobilised in 1946 and have never regretted the experiences, although I sincerely regret the episode in my life was necessary in the first place,” he wrote in his memoirs.

The D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, were the largest amphibious attack in history and resulted in the liberation of northern France just two months later.

Mr Eddy, a wireman on an landing craft, was responsible for maintaining electric installations, an anti-dive bombing barrage balloon, looking after gear for protection against magnetic mines, and acted as Able Seaman.

Only a youngster when the war broke out though, Mr Eddy did not start his service in the Navy, but in the civil defence outside the naval port in Plymouth.

“I was just sixteen and a bit on Sunday, September 3, 1939, and was playing table tennis with my elder brother on our dining room table, when on the radio at 11am we heard the then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announce that we were at war with Germany,” he said.

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Just the next day Mr Eddy enrolled in the civil defence as messenger, as did his little brother, and although they never got the chance to send any, the war made itself known.

“The most exciting thing I can remember during that period was one evening we were standing in the doorway of the headquarters building during a heavy raid when, without warning, a parachute-borne land mine exploded nearby and scared me so much I slammed the door shut leaving my brother outside.”

In 1940, despite being underage, Mr Eddy made it into the local defence volunteers, later known as the Home Guard.

Thanks to his father, who was a sergeant there, his new duties included spotting and reporting parachutists, and arresting enemies who landed.

It was his time in the Home Guard though, which Mr Eddy believes gave him an edge over his colleagues once he joined the Navy, particularly his psychological endurance.

“On one occasion during practise, a phosphorus bomb burst on discharge and sprayed my brother with phosphorous,” he said.

“His uniform started smouldering and he was doused with water, but as soon as it started to dry out it smouldered again and he had to undress and be issued with a new uniform.”

By 1943, Mr Eddy was accepted for national service and started his naval training, and in March 1944 he joined his mark 4 tank landing craft at Portsmouth; the craft he would serve in on June 6.

“We knew something was afoot about the end of May 1944, when we had two additional crew members join us, one a Sub-Lieutenant and the other a radio operator,” he recalled.

On June 5, the craft set off for Sword Beach in Normandy.

“As we approached the coast of France the size of the operation was astonishing, there were literally thousands of ships, the noise of gunfire drowned all other sounds,” he said.

The craft landed at 10.30am and Mr Eddy had to man the winch which controlled the anchor’s cable, enabling them to leave the beach.

“We were all nervous, some more than others, and I clearly remember one young seaman who left his post each time a shell fell near and came back to shelter under a canopy near me,” he said.

As they prepared to leave though, a craft next to theirs was struck and caught fire.

“We fed a hawser to the craft and winched both ships off together,” Mr Eddy said.

“They managed to extinguish the fire and we towed them back to Portsmouth.”

The crew also sank a deserted beach craft, fearing it could be a hazard to other ships, and were later recognised for their rescue action in dispatches; an official report sent to the high command.

Mr Eddy’s story spans just 18 months, but he also served at the Walcheren Landing, rescued the crew of another landing craft from drowning, and even saw a Lancaster bomber crash.

Alongside another veteran from Bromham, in Bedfordshire, Mr Eddy will receive his honour in Bedford on May 3; a token of thanks to a man who risked his life and saved others.

Put simply, his son, Mark, said: “He is chuffed to bits.”