Hastings WW2 veteran is honoured

Joe O'Neil
Joe O'Neil

A veteran has been honoured for his part in the Second World War.

Joe O’Neil, 92, of Helmsman Rise, St Leonards, was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by Captain Francois Jean, the French honorary consul, at a ceremony on Saturday (September 24).

Group Captain Peter Holland MBE RAF Ret’d said: “Joe served in the Royal Navy from 1942 until 1946, seeing action in the Atlantic, the Western Approaches and the Pacific. But it is for his part in the liberation of France this honour is given. Joe was part of a combined operations force. For some time before the invasion he was training to clear the beaches of land mines to enable troops to land more safely. The training involved filling a landing craft with explosive material to project at the beach and so detonate the planted mines.

“On June 5, 1944 his landing craft prepared to leave for France as part of what was known as the Hedgerow Flotilla. However, the mission was postponed for 24 hours due to horrendous weather. Early the next day Joe’s landing craft and several others like it were released to the open sea to make their way to ‘Gold Beach‘, Arromanches, ahead of the main landing force.

“On arrival the ‘bombs’ fitted in the well deck were launched at the beach to clear it of mines before the troops landed. Joe and his shipmates came under heavy attack from German forces and sustained several losses. After they discharged their bombs they pulled away towards the open sea avoiding craft bound for the beach. They were hoisted up onto a Canadian aircraft carrier, and sent to the sick bay. Their medicine - a glass of rum. For those men, it was indeed the longest day.”

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