Cyril Elliott: Tributes to “humble” World War II veteran who has passed away aged 103
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Cyril Elliott, a survivor of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, passed away last night, October 11, at the age of 103.
His son John, who was with him, said: “I’m very proud of my father.
"He always looked after me like a proper dad. I told him I loved him at his side yesterday,” said John.
The pair were ‘very close’, having lived together for 79 years since John was born, and just the two of them since Cyril's wife, Lillian, died in 1979.
John said: "He was such a character. He was proud of his service in the war and used to love trips out with the veterans. Their most recent trip was to Scarborough - the people there didn’t go to see the high-ranking generals, the VIPs. They wanted to see my father."
Cyril grew up on Longfield Road in Crookes, as one of six brothers, and was called up when he was just 22.
He served in the Royal Army Service Corps, and was almost killed in the war when shrapnel from an exploding German shell killed the men either side of him.
After the war, he could still recollect stories, even at 103. Afterwards, Cyril spent his working years as a postman.
Following his 103rd birthday on May 31, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield held a special event attended by South Yorkshire’s leaders, where a letter from the King was read out.
Graham Askham, secretary of the Normandy Veterans Association in Sheffield, said: "It meant so much to him, to be recognised by his own city.
"People are drawn to the veterans. He would always get his photos out, which he kept in his inside pocket, and talk about the people he knew and about his service."
Following a trip to RAF Scampton a few years ago, the Sheffield branch of the Association and went for lunch in the Dambusters Inn, where Cyril captured all the customers’ attention.
Graham said: "Cyril loved to sing, you didn’t have to prompt him twice, and he stood up and sang in this pub. Everyone was absolutely stunned into silence at this hundred-year-old veteran, in his beret and blazer and medals, singing."
"The landlord, who wouldn’t let the veterans pay for anything, had his arm round his shoulder and Cyril got a massive ovation. It was so touching.
"He had a good voice. He probably used to sing to himself as he went around the city delivering the post."
Cyril also enjoyed "proper ballroom dancing", said John, and watching the local cricket at Treeton Cricket Club, where he was well-liked.
Graham added: "He has received 1,000 comments and reactions on Facebook in the past few weeks, and when I told him that he had received this amount of goodwill, he replied, ‘what, for me? I was only a private’.
"He was a special man, and very humble. He was like everyone’s favourite grandfather. It is a sad day today."
Cyril had been in reserve occupation throughout the war, until he was called up in 1943.
In 2014, at the age of 96, Cyril reflected on his experience throughout the war, and said: "I’d been working with a blacksmith forger on Arundel Lane making special tools. They used to have inspectors coming round workplaces like that, seeing who they could take away for the war.
"I went up to Gosforth in Newcastle to begin with, for training with the Northumberland Fusiliers. We were asked what we wanted to do, and learning to drive was one of the options, and I said I’d like to do that. So I was sent back to Sheffield funnily enough, to Endcliffe Hall, where I learned to drive three-wheel Bedfords.
"I also went to Bradford for training in how to put up bridges. I didn’t know what it was for at that stage, but we knew we were being trained up for something significant.”
At the start of June in 1943, Cyril was moved to Kent. His first time on a boat was when they set sail from Tilbury Docks, across the Channel, to the French coast.
Cyril added: "When we got to Sword beach, even though it was six or seven days after D-Day by then, the Navy was still shelling, and when our landing craft stopped we had to plough through a lot of water to get up the shore and off the beach. You just put your foot hard on the accelerator pedal and hoped for the best."
The soldiers got over the top of the beach and regrouped. Cyril was in a six-wheel Albion truck at the time, carrying bridging equipment. They were called upon to reconstruct the Pegasus Bridge over the River Orne, and then the bridge over the Seine.
"I remember at one place we witnessed a lot of French women being held by the Resistance and having their hair shaved all off - it was punishment as they had been fraternising with the Germans," Cyril said.
"We carried on moving up, through Brussels, Holland, into Germany. The summer of 1944 was boiling hot, but the winter was so cold I finished up in Hanover Hospital. I was injected with penicillin that many times, I am allergic to it now.
"I was in the Hamburg area for two years. One day I was on parade when the sergeant beckoned to me. I was to be sent to Lille in France to pick up some personnel. When I got there the French were all chanting le Boche finis’ - the Germans are finished’. The Germans had surrendered.
"I stayed in Hamburg until I was demobbed. We came home on a Swedish luxury liner!
"I’d met a young lady, Lilian, in Bradford while training, and we’d stayed in touch by letter through the war. In 1948 we got married."
John and Cyril travelled to Normandy in the same year Cyril shared these memories, 2014, to see some of the places he knew.
Before the trip, he said: "I feel privileged to be able to make the trip at my age - the fact I am the oldest one going, well, it is an honour."
Two years later, in 2016, Cyril was awarded The Legion D’honneur, France’s highest military award recognising the veterans for their efforts on D-Day, by the French ambassador.