Sheffield WW2 hero Cyril Elliot, 103, marks birthday with Town Hall celebration and message from King
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But today Cyril, one of the last survivors of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, was marking his 103rd birthday with a special event put on by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, and a special message from King Charles.
Cyril, who served in the Royal Army Service Corps and was once attached to the Guards Armoured Division, was nearly killed during the war when shrapnel from an exploding German shell near his lorry killed both the men on his left and right. But he survived the war and spent most of his working years as a postman before retiring.
Around 18 months ago, Sheffield Normandy Veterans Association was closed because there were so few survivors of the battle which started the advance on Nazi Germany in the west in June 1944. But today South Yorkshire’s civic leaders gathered together to pay tribute to Cyril, along with figures from veterans organisations.
Lord Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, Dame Hilary Chapman read out a letter which had been sent to Cyril from Buckingham Palace.
It stated: “Dear Mr Elliott. I hope this letter finds you well. Professor Dame Hilary Chapman, DBE, His Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, contacted me regarding your 103rd birthday. She also shared some details of your military services during the second world war and your commitment to the postal service thereafter.
"Prof Dame Chapman added that you deeply appreciate the card sent by Her Late Majesty to yourself in celebration of your 100th birthday in 2020, but she added that sadly your birthday could not be celebrated as widely as we would have liked due to the public health restrictions due to lockdown at that time. May I therefore take his opportunity to wish you a very happy 103rd birthday along with my hopes that this year you are able to celebrate it heartily with those closest to you. His Majesty would like to convey his warmest greetings and good wishes to you on this very special occasion.”
Born on May 31 1920, Cyril was one of six brothers living on Longfield Road, Crookes. He was called up in 1942, at the age of 22.
On the completion of his training, he chose to be a driver and joined The Royal Army Service Corps. Surprisingly he was posted back to Endcliffe Hall in Sheffield to learn how to drive. After passing his test, he was attached to a company in Bradford to learn about emergency bridge building, where Cyril met his wife Lilian.
After completing his training he was sent to Westgate-on-Sea and from there he went on to Tilbury Docks and was loaded onto an American Liberty ship for his onward journey to take part in the Normandy Landings.
“My first night on board I was put on watch, looking out for mines or any other dangers,” said Cyril. “I was frightened to death."
Cyril remembered Dakotas and Halifax bombers flying above, towing large gliders carrying airborne troops as they crossed the channel. But he and his colleagues had to wait off the coast while the Navy bombarded the German battlements.
“When it was time to land on the Normandy shores the landing craft couldn’t get close enough to land safely.
“All the vital vehicle parts on vehicles were waterproofed to protect them from sea water.”
“As they weren't quite close enough they had to plough through the sea the last few metres to get on shore.
“The man in charge shouted, ‘Keep your foot on the accelerator pedal, I can’t get closer to the beach’.”
When they got on to land all the protective equipment had to be removed as it would overheat the engines. Eventually they started to advance into France.
“There were lots of soldiers lying dead on the beach,” said Cyril.
His job once on land was to transport pontoon bridges, used to replace bridges damaged or destroyed by the German forces in retreat. This brought Cyril close to the fighting and he had several lucky escapes.
As the war neared its end he ended up driving through Germany to Hamburg. While in Hamburg he was tasked with driving back to Paris to collect some personnel.
While he was on his way he passed through the city of Lille where he saw people were dancing and singing in the street.
When he drew closer he could hear the people shouting, “Le Borsh Finir, Le Borsh Finir”— or ‘The Germans are Finished’.
This is how Cyril found out the war had finished. “I pulled up and had a few drinks with them. I never got to Paris,” he said.
Cyril contracted pneumonia and was kept on the continent after the war, returning to the UK in 1947.
He then went back to his old job at Cooper and Turner for a while, before becoming a postman – a job he did for 31 years until his retirement.
Cyril has been a widow since 1979 when he lost his wife Lillian and lives in Sheffield with John.
He was an active member of the group of Normandy veterans that still met regularly in Sheffield, up until Covid restriction, and takes pride in attending any ceremonies in the city, and in wearing his beret and medals, still parading with the rest of the veterans.
Cyril was awarded The Legion D’honneur in 2016 – France’s highest military award recognising the veterans for their efforts on D-Day – from the French ambassador.
His son John, a former caves rescue volunteer, was at the party with him today. He said: “I'm very proud of my dad, as always.”