Haverhill's last survivor from the June 6, 1944 Normandy landings is being mourned after he died, aged 95
Tributes have been paid to Haverhill’s final surviving veteran of the D-Day landings of the Second World War, Harry Bowdery, who has died.
Harry, who only last June was guest of honour in the lead police car on Haverhill’s Armed Forces Day convoy parade, died of cancer at his home in Augustus Close last Wednesday.
As an 18-year-old, one year after enlisting in the Royal Navy, he had been a crew member on HMS Prince Baudouin.
The ship was an acquisitioned former cross channel ferry that was converted so it was capable of carrying eight landing craft (LCAs) - and it was used to land soldiers from the US 2nd and 5th Rangers at both Pointe du Hoc and then Omaha beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
In all, Harry made three journeys from Falmouth in Cornwall to Normandy, each in terrible weather and under fierce bombardment.
It was Harry’’s responsibility to lower the LCA’s ramp, down which the soldiers would disembark into the choppy waters of the English Channel.
Harry’s daughter Sue Jeffery, in whose house he had lived for the last five years of his life, recalled her dad’s description of the scene at Omaha.
She said: “He said the water was really choppy and water was coming in and soldiers were having to bail out the vessel using their helmets.
“He said, if you watch the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, that’s what it was like.
“There were some soldiers that were floating in the water. They were still alive and he was told to leave them but he didn’t. He dragged them out and took them back to the ship.”
Harry had, some years ago, joined the Normandy Veterans Association and, bar the past couple of years (because of the issues around Covid-19) he had visited Normandy each year to commemorate the landings.
He also became a member of the Haverhill branch of the Royal British Legion after moving to the town, taking part in its meetings and Remembrance Day activities, as well as joining the Armed Services Day celebrations held each year.
Sue said: “He was invited to a lot of things. I went to a lot of things with him as his carer.
“He was supposed to be unveiling a memorial in Gravesend at the end of this month but unfortunately he won’t be now.”
As a final tribute to Harry’s D-Day history, Sue and her family intend to scatter Harry’s ashes at Pointe du Hoc next year.
Harry’s funeral will be held at St Mary’s Church, in Haverhill, on Monday, September 20, at 2pm, when, said Sue, the Normandy Veterans’ Association would provide a guard of honour and display their standard, as will the Royal British Legion.
She added there would be a reception after at the Haverhill Ex-Servicemen’s Club and everyone was welcome to attend the service and reception.
At the end of the service every mourner would be handed a small packet of poppy seeds, that they could scatter ‘wherever they like in memory of my dad’.
Former Mayor of Haverhill, Cllr John Burns, said of Harry: “I was proud to have him on the dais with me at the 2019 Remembrance salute and he was a lovely man to chat to about his memories. He was very much looking forward to this year’s Remembrance and next year’s events.”
Away from the D-Day landings, Harry also took part in the Burma campaign while in the Royal Navy, but it was an experience, said his daughter, that he would say little about.
“He had to run the ammo (from his ship) to the people fighting there and he said they had dysentery and some got gangrene in their feet because they were stuck in the jungle, but that is all he used to tell me,” said Sue.
Harry was awarded numerous medals for his military service, including the Legion d’Honneur, from the French government, the Burma Star and medals from Germany and Italy.
Sue said it was while serving on board a ship as chief petty officer that Harry was tasked with cooking a meal for Louis Mountbatten, while the vessel was docked in Palestine.
Harry’s remarkable story stretches far beyond his time in the military.
He was married twice and has one daughter, Sue, and three sons, Martin Bowdery and Robin and Paul Hayward, plus six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He was also given just six months to live when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer 35 years ago, but an operation to remove both testicles after they were also found to be cancerous, amazingly prolonged his life, said Sue – until the cancer returned this year.
Of her father, as a man, not a sailor, Sue said: “He was a real joker. He was a character and basically some of the stories he came out with, you never knew if they were true or not.
“He did something that he had never done before a few days before he died.
“He was still compos mentis and he asked me to sit with him and he took my hand and he said, ‘You’ve been a very good daughter to me and I love you very much’.
“He had never said anything like that to me in the past and I’ve always got that to keep.”