One of Sheffield’s last surviving veterans of D-Day has died aged 88 – just hours after dancing the last waltz with his wife on a night out in Sheffield.
Bert Cooper was a lad of only 19 when he joined the first assault of foot soldiers to land at Gold beach in Normandy at ‘H-Hour’ - the dawning of D-Day - at 7.25am on June 6, 1944.
He struggled ashore through three feet of seawater, weighed down by a pick and a shovel in his soaked-through pack, being shot at by machine gun fire and shelled from every direction.
His pal Nobby Clark was sliced in half at his side.
In later years he questioned whether the loss in one day alone of 10,000 men killed, wounded, or missing in action was appreciated by younger generations.
But the three-times-married father-of-four and great-grandfather-of-eight always retained a cheeky charm and sense of fun, enjoying a flutter and his favourite tipple of ‘rum and pep’ - white rum with peppermint liqueur.
It was the drink he’d enjoyed after being demobbed from Palestine, and at long last setting foot back in Sheffield at the railway station, still in uniform, his kit bag on his back.
Wife Sheila, 73, said his sudden death at home in Greystones had been ‘such a shock’.
“We’d been to a do at the Polish Club on Ecclesall Road,” she said. “They had a turn on, and Bert had won on the bingo.
“He got up for the last waltz when we hadn’t danced for ages. He said to me afterwards, ‘We’re going to start going to dances at the City Hall again’.
“We got a taxi home, came in and went to bed. Then I turned to say something to him in bed - and he was gone.”
Bert, a retired precision grinder, had been a member of the East Yorks Regiment, and as President of the Sheffield branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association attended every D-Day remembrance service at Barker’s Pool each June.
Remembering the horrors of disembarking on D-Day, he told The Star in 2009: “Some of the lads got killed immediately, not by bullets or shells, but by the boat.
“If they landed in a deep shellhole when they jumped into the sea, the boat just drifted over them and they were drowned.
“We made to get off the beach but it was all barbed wire. When I looked around there were bodies all over.
“You just wanted that day to be over.
“So much happened in that one day. I wonder now, was it worth it?
“But you had no choice - we were infantrymen.
“We kept going forward no matter what. The only thing behind was the sea.”
Funeral details are yet to be announced.