ONE of Sheffield’s last veterans of the World War Two Normandy landings has died aged 88.
Ken Dyson was a motorbike dispatch rider with the secret regiment Phantom, gathering frontline information and transmitting it back.
Criss-crossing the French countryside on his sputtering motorbike, he witnessed the terrible destruction of cities including Caen – accompanied for much of it by a little black dog his unit acquired as a stray.
Ken was 19 when he landed on Juno beach on June 16, 1944, 10 days after D-Day, and advanced throughout Europe.
He looked back on his war years as some of the best of his life.
“I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world,” he said. “Life was not boring in any way. It was sad being away from home, but it was good we were still alive.”
In honour of comrades who were not so lucky, Ken attended the Barker’s Pool war memorial every November 11, and took part in the city’s official services each Remembrance Sunday. This year’s D-Day memorial service on June 6 was the first he missed.
Speaking to The Star for the 65th anniversary of D-Day in 2009, Ken said: “My contribution in comparison to the men who got killed was nothing. But fear didn’t come into it. It was a war against evil. We believed in what we were doing.”
Ken was in the Home Guard before being called up and sent for Army training, signalling and Morse Code instruction – which, he said, turned him ‘from a civilian into a soldier’.
His role within Phantom – a reconnaissance regiment which drilled recruits in rigorous wireless and cipher communication – afforded him special status.
“Phantom’s emblem – a white P in a black square on my sleeve – could get me anywhere, no questions asked,” he remembered.
He always looked back with affection on the little black dog, Rook. His regiment found the dog wandering in Britain and kept him throughout the war.
“We took him with us right through Europe,” said Ken.
“I had been the last man in, and they used to call me Rook. But when we got the little dog he was the last one in, so he became Rook.
“In France I did the morning run each day, taking the dispatches on a 30-mile round trip. Coming back I would shout for Rook from a quarter of a mile away – he would come running, jump up on my petrol tank, and ride all the way back.”
During the war, and after peace was declared, Ken carried out some military duties at the Belsen concentration camp in Germany - something he never spoke about to his family.
After the war Ken was an accountant, a dedicated poppy seller for the British Legion on Fargate every November, and a much-loved member of the Normandy Veterans’ Association Sheffield branch.
For the 50th anniversary of D-Day he was among veterans presented to the Queen at a garden party at Buckingham Palace and he attended commemorations in Normandy, marching in front of world leaders.
Daughter Gill said: “Dad was a wonderful gentleman. He was very proud of his time with Phantom and the Normandy veterans. He loved selling poppies for the British Legion.”
Ken, who celebrated his 88th birthday six days before he died on Saturday, lived in Wadsley Bridge, Ecclesall and Crosspool before moving to Newfield Nursing Home in Heeley.
He leaves children Gill, Jenny, Andrew and Roger, as well as seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Wife Betty died of cancer in 1994.
The funeral will be held next Tuesday, August 28, at 2.30pm at Hutcliffe Wood crematorium.
Ken requested no flowers, but donations to the Royal British Legion’s Sheffield Central Branch, c/o The Polish Catholic Club, 518-520 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, S11 8PY, or online at www.justgiving.com/Kenneth-Dyson