'We're incredibly proud of you, Dad' - family's moving tribute to D-Day veteran from Sheffield
The family of a D-Day veteran from Sheffield have paid an emotional tribute following his death, aged 95.
Arthur Fletcher, who grew up in Parkwood Springs and later lived in Hackenthorpe and Woodhouse, landed on Gold Beach on June 6, 1944, as part of the invasion which turned the tide of the Second World War decisively in the Allies’ favour.
He was among the second wave of troops to reach the beaches of Normandy that morning, and he survived an explosion which tore through the tank landing craft on which he had crossed the Channel.
Arthur died peacefully surrounded by his family last Monday, October 7, and his son, David Fletcher, has told how ‘incredibly proud’ he made them all throughout his life.
“It’s hard for us to comprehend what Dad and his comrades went through on D-Day, and he was really modest when he talked about it, but we’re all incredibly proud of him,” said David.
“He was a brilliant father, who always had time for us even though money was tight and he had to work long hours, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren loved him to bits.
“Dad had a fantastic sense of humour and always looked on the bright side of things. He gave off this good feeling and was able to make everyone around him happy.”
David told how Arthur worked as a bricklayer after leaving school, before joining the Royal Navy aged 18 in 1942 and serving with the 32nd Flotilla.
He spent two years training in Scotland in preparation for the Normandy landings, and when the big day arrived he was overwhelmed by the scale of the endeavour.
“Halfway across, the captain called Dad up and he took the wheel,” said David.
“When he looked around, he told me, he couldn’t believe the amount of ships involved. He said he could have got to France just stepping from one ship to another. He said it was unreal.”
David said the ship had turned broadside, so the tanks on board could fire rockets over the beach at defending troops, before it landed and unloaded the vehicles.
After reaching land, he said his Dad was at the front of the boat ‘testing the water’ and when he reported hear a ‘pinging noise’ his captain told him to ‘keep your head down’ as they were coming under heavy fire.
Having unloaded the tanks, the ship hit a mine, which exploded, killing the mechanic and putting the boat out of action. Arthur, who was uninjured, was rescued and taken back across the Channel.
Arthur went on to serve in the Netherlands, helping to repair dyke walls which were blown up by retreating Nazis, and he was due to sail to the Pacific when the atomic bombs which led to Japan’s surrender were dropped.
Back home, he married his late wife Anne, with whom he had two sons and a daughter, who would bless them with six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
He briefly worked as an electrical cable jointer before becoming a porter at Sheffield’s Midland Railway Station, where he spent the remainder of his career.
David told how his father, who was a keen gardener, enjoyed building model railways, loved fishing and bred birds, had been reluctant to speak of his wartime exploits – and D-Day in particular – for most of his life.
It was only in the run-up to the 75th anniversary of the landings earlier this year that he joined Sheffield Normandy Veterans Association, but the group’s secretary Graham Askham said Arthur and his family had quickly become ‘popular and valued members’.
“Despite having a serious illness which left him unable to speak, Arthur managed to communicate and get involved. He still had the resolve and determination that served him so well on D-Day,” added Graham.
“The number of Normandy and other World War Two veterans gets fewer as the months go by. We should make the most of this very special group of people while we still have them. We will remember Arthur.”
One of Arthur’s last outings was in early September when he attended a ceremony at Barker’s Pool commemorating 80 years since the outbreak of the Second World War.
Arthur’s funeral will take place at City Road Cemetery in Sheffield next Tuesday, October 22, at 10.15am. His family have asked for any donations to be made to St Luke’s Hospice.