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The last surviving Haverhill-born soldier of the D-Day landings is remembered following his death



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Ron Mayes, who died in March, was the last remaining Haverhill-born veteran of the 1940 D-Day landings - and we pay tribute to him here.

Ron, who died on March 14 at the age of 96, was a Haverhill man all his life and his war experiences have been well documented locally in recent years as he was the last surviving Haverhill man who actively took part in the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.

With the help of Ron’s family, we look at his life and his experiences of Haverhill.

Ron Mayes with his grandson, James Mayes, at the Haverhill Armed Forces Day in 2019. Picture by Richard Marsham
Ron Mayes with his grandson, James Mayes, at the Haverhill Armed Forces Day in 2019. Picture by Richard Marsham

Born in Mill Road on December 6, 1924, Ron was one of three girls and two boys, the family attended Cangle School.

Naturally left-handed Ron was made to use his right hand, this remained the same throughout his life.

A keen footballer he would often represent his school team playing in his preferred position on the left wing, he continued to play regularly in his youth and at times at the Hamlet Croft, then the home of Haverhill Rovers.

Ron Mayes, fourth from left, playing football for Haverhill Senior School
Ron Mayes, fourth from left, playing football for Haverhill Senior School

Ron’s early working life was varied, his first jobs came in the Hovis Mill, a laundry and continued employment constructing the West Wratting aerodrome.

From here he decided, not long after his 18th birthday, on a very wet cold and miserable winter’s morning to travel to Cambridge to enlist in the Army as an infantry soldier, a decision that Ron himself described as ‘completely out of character’.

Basic training would begin on January 3, 1943, when he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment at Colchester. After 16 weeks he moved to Berwick on Tweed to join the 2nd Battalion King’s Shropshire Light infantry before moving on to Lockerbie to continue his training.

Three hours after landing on Sword beach, Ron was wounded by shrapnel and was brought back to England to recover from his wounds.

D-Day veteran Ron Mayes with the Légion d'honneur he received from the French Government in 2017. Picture by Mark Westley.
D-Day veteran Ron Mayes with the Légion d'honneur he received from the French Government in 2017. Picture by Mark Westley.

After 11 weeks in a Canadian hospital, he was moved closer to home for a further five weeks.

He rejoined his regiment in November 1944 in France and would advance to Belgium and Holland where Ron would fight a fierce battle for the control of Kervenheim.

His close friend Pte James Stokes was posthumously awarded the VC for his contribution in saving his comrades during the action.

Ron Mayes, aged about 11. Picture courtesy of The Mayes family
Ron Mayes, aged about 11. Picture courtesy of The Mayes family

As the war in Europe ended, Ron was posted in October 1945 to Egypt and Palestine before spending the final year of his Army service in Cyprus.

Ron was demobilized in 1947 and returned to Haverhill where he met and married Anne before bringing up his son and daughter.

Ron Mayes with his sisters, from left to right Phil, Doreen and Ethel. Picture: Mayes family (47756867)
Ron Mayes with his sisters, from left to right Phil, Doreen and Ethel. Picture: Mayes family (47756867)

His working life would again be taken up with primarily building work and a short period in the Gurteen factory.

It was these working environments that created a network of friendship between many of the Haverhill families and it was not unusual for us to be stopped by numerous people in the High Street to see how he and his family were.

These relationships continued with his employment in the Addis factory on Duddery Hill where he worked in the mould shop for 30 years.

Ron Mayes in his soldier's uniform
Ron Mayes in his soldier's uniform

Outside of work he would continue to socialise locally, watch his grandsons play football and enjoy a drink in the Haverhill Ex-Servicemen’s Club with his family.

His later life saw the arrival of five grandchildren and five great grandchildren, all whilst staying in Haverhill and living in Paske Avenue.

He lived in the same house for 64 years and was married to Anne for 67 years before her death in 2014.

In 2017 Ron was awarded the Légion d’honneur (Chevalier class) by the French government.

It is France’s highest distinction and is awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit.

The medal was among hundreds being given by the French Government to the Allied personnel who participated in the June D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy.

  • In 2018 Ron was interviewed by Charmian Thompson, of the Haverhill Family History Group, about his life and time in the Army.

This is part of what he had to say about his D-Day experiences.

“Even sometimes now, and it seems silly, I can smell diesel, in them boats. The smell of diesel, oh, strewth, yea. We had to stick it.

“To us, we had no idea what was waiting for us, it was an adventure wasn’t it.

“Now when you think of these lads going to Afghanistan, they know from the papers what’s waiting for them, so in a way that’s worse for them because we hadn’t got no idea. But they know what’s waiting.

“You come down that staircase and the first thing that met you was about four feet of water. That was murky by then.

“They had got these obstacles, barbed wire, so we were lucky to get past them to solid beach, and then you had to get past that. We were so lucky really. You’ve just got your rifle and your backpack.”

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