One of Sheffield’s last surviving veterans of the World War Two Normandy campaign, and a staunch anti-fascism activist, has died aged 90.
Ken Riley, who fought through France into Belgium where he was injured by shrapnel and almost lost his leg, served as chairman of the Sheffield branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association for 12 years.
A proud trade unionist, even in his 80s he still travelled the country attending rallies and demonstrations, and was watchful of the resurgence of right wing politics.
“We went to war to defeat fascism,” he told The Star aged 84. “Now it’s crawling out of the woodwork again. We have to stop it, or it will be the same trouble all over again.”
After laying a poppy wreath at the war memorial in Barker’s Pool for the 69th anniversary of D-Day in 2013, he said: “Marking D-Day is not just the nostalgia of old soldiers remembering their exploits, or even honouring the fallen.
“It’s about keeping in mind what we went to war for, what that meant then – and what it still means now.”
Ken, from Grimesthorpe, was 19 when he landed on Juno beach two weeks after D-Day in June 1944 as a radio operator with the Royal Armoured Corps.
He survived a brush with death within days, when a Messerschmitt bomber strafed a field he was crossing near Caen.
In September 1944, fighting in southern Belgium as part of Operation Market Garden, Ken was not so lucky. A shell exploded just feet away as he brewed up for his tankmates using a camp stove and five enamel mugs.
“I got a piece of shrapnel in my leg and another in my spine,” he said.
“They initially thought they would have to amputate my leg, but thankfully that didn’t happen. Nobody got their cup of tea. There was nothing left of the little camp stove.”
Ken, a widower following the death of wife Joan, had no children. He died in hospital after falling ill at home.
The funeral is on Wednesday, March 25, at City Road Crematorium at 3.15pm, and will be attended by a guard of honour of Ken’s comrades bearing the standard of the Sheffield branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association.
Nationally the organisation disbanded last year, following the 70th anniversary commemorations for D-Day, but in Sheffield the men continue to meet monthly at Farm Road club near the railway station.