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Decorated D-Day veteran and lifelong Acton farmer Gordon Whatling dies at age of 98

A lifelong farmer and Second World War veteran, who received France’s highest honour for his service during the Normandy landings, has been remembered as a “true local hero”, following his death at 98.

Gordon Whatling, of Hazell Court in Sudbury, died at West Suffolk Hospital on Saturday, February 13, after suffering from pneumonia.

A decorated soldier, he was part of the 1st Battalion in the Suffolk Regiment that landed on Sword Beach on June 6, 1944, and was involved in the Battle of Hillman, before later serving in Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Gordon Whatling, who has died at the age of 98, was awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 2016. Picture: Mark Westley.
Gordon Whatling, who has died at the age of 98, was awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 2016. Picture: Mark Westley.

Mr Whatling’s contributions during the D-Day landings were belatedly recognised more than 70 years later, when he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur – the French government’s top military medal – at the end of 2016.

After the war was over, he settled in Acton, where he and his late wife, Joyce, were familiar figures over many decades, throughout their working lives on their family farms and into retirement.

Fellow Acton resident John Purser, a long-time friend of Mr Whatling, described him as “a gentleman in the fullest sense” and an “exemplary son of Suffolk and his country”.

“Gordon rarely wanted to mention the war, but he did talk more candidly when he received the Legion d’Honneur,” said Mr Purser.

“He was quietly proud of his service medals, but he always said ‘I was just doing my duty, and I lost a lot of friends for ever’.

Born and raised in Bacton, near Stowmarket, in August 1922, Mr Whatling worked on his family farm following school, prior to his war service.

The family relocated to Acton during the war – which he learned of via a letter while overseas, causing confusion due to the villages’ similar spellings – and he reunited with them there, resuming his farm work in Cuckoo Tye.

He met Joyce in the village, as she lived on a neighbouring farm, while his sister, Sylvia, also married Joyce’s brother, Leslie, and they were neighbours in Newman’s Green for more than 30 years.

Mr Whatling spent the last 27 years of his working life at timber merchant Wheelers in Sudbury, while continuing to farm pigs, hens, fruit and vegetables at Sunnycroft, until he and his wife retired to Canon Pugh Drive in the 1980s.

They spent their final years at Hazell Court residential home in Acton Lane.

Mr Purser added: “Gordon was a well-known sight, walking in the village, with a cheery smile, a wave and a chat for everyone.

“To stop getting bored, he taught himself to paint local views and still life, and his work has long been praised as first class.

“They were always the friendliest, kindest, most helpful and reliable of neighbours – nothing was ever too much trouble to help others.

“Joyce’s dicky heart finally took her away from him in September 2019 and his sister, Sylvia, died in March 2020.

“Gordon mourned them both daily and, although not an outwardly religious man, he always said he was waiting until they could be together again.

“They came from big families and, although they didn’t have children of their own, welcomed the company of many nephews and nieces.”

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