A Sheffield D-Day hero who described himself as ‘the cat with nine lives’ after surviving a series of near-misses as he helped liberate Europe from the Nazis has been given a moving military funeral send-off.
Charlie Hill, from Gleadless Valley, died at the age of 91 following a period of ill-health.
Fellow Normandy veterans and representatives of the Green Howards battalion he was part of were among those paying their respects at his funeral at City Road cemetery.
Charlie, who was born in Attercliffe on May 9, 1925, was just 19 when he took part in the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 – going on to fight his way through Europe as the Allied forces liberated the continent from the Nazis.
The service was told how Charlie considered himself ‘the cat with nine lives’ after he survived a hand grenade that struck him in the chest but failed to explode, a booby-trapped toilet, a dinghy that capsized while crossing a canal and even a bullet through his helmet that left him with just a graze.
After being moved to the Gordon Highlanders regiment, Charlie was chosen to look after the sergeants’ mess and went on to meet his future wife Betty, a German girl who worked as an usherette in a local cinema.
Despite Betty having a boyfriend who was a local boxer, Charlie decided he had not yet used up all his nine lives and charmed his way into her heart.
The pair married in Germany after a two-year courtship and moved back to the UK, eventually settling in Gleadless Valley, where their family home still is. The service also heard how Charlie had once again ridden his luck when met Prince Charles in Normandy in 2014 on the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day.
Charlie joked the heir to the throne should ‘brush up on his history’ after he got a fact wrong about the landings – leading the Prince to reply he was never much good at history.
Colonel Clive Mantell, chairman of the Green Howards Association, told the service it had been an honour to assist Charlie’s application to receive the French Legion of Honour, which he was granted in a special ceremony alongside other Normandy veterans this year.
He said Charlie told him: “I returned to France ten times to appreciate the peace and freedom I helped to bring to the people of France.
“The death and destruction I saw made a lasting impression on me but we had to get rid of Hitler and the Nazis.”
A ‘Freedom Flame’ originally taken by Field Marshall Montgomery across Europe after the end of World War II was at the front of the service during the ceremony.
Gordon Drabble, president of the Normandy Veterans Sheffield branch, said Charlie had joined their group in the 1990s and had a busy social calendar at the time, including dances with Betty.
Mike Fuller, from the Freedom Flame committee, said Charlie had helped bring the flame over to Hull, where a version of it is now kept, two years ago.
Mr Fuller said Charlie had fought alongside Stan Hollis, the only soldier to win a Victoria Cross on D-Day.
He said: “Charlie was at the epicentre at the fight for freedom.
“You couldn’t fight alongside someone like Stan Hollis and be an ordinary man.
“That generation were ordinary men who did superhuman things. They saw horrors that lived with them forever.
“The fight for freedom was in his heart, it was in his soul. He continued that fight up until he left us.”
Donations were taken at the service for Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation and the Spirit of Normandy Trust, with the congregation singing The Lord is My Shepherd and listening to a reading of Winston Churchill’s Let Us Be Contented.
As Charlie’s coffin was carried out of the service, We’ll Meet Again by Dame Vera Lynn was played.