D-Day veteran dubbed 'Mr Never Surrender' dies, aged 97
- Credit: Denise Bradley
Lovingly nicknamed 'Mr Never Surrender', one of the last surviving D-Day heroes who frequently returned to the beaches of Normandy with veterans from the region, has died aged 97.
Veteran Alan King served as a member of the East Riding Yeomanry, assigned as a radio operator to a Sherman tank crew, and battled his way across France, Holland and Germany.
After landing on D-Day, several hours ahead of his regiment, he went on to take part in some of the most intense and harrowing battles of the Second World War.
In recent years he became a leading member of the Norwich and District Normandy Veterans Association, joining a dwindling band of those who fought returning with their families to the beaches to pay tribute to fallen comrades.
"We weren't heroes, we were just boys. We were terrified. But you had your crew and your regiment and that's what you cared about,” he said when his wartime memories were highlighted by the Royal Mint in 2019 to mark the the launch of a £2 coin to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“Since our life expectancy after landing was just one hour, we kept each other going,” he added.
“After I got back, for the first 40 years I didn't think about it. Didn't want to. But it's important that people know about it. People now have no idea what we went through."
Mr King died on Thursday after a short illness at his home in Thornham Magna, near Eye, close to the Norfolk- Suffolk border.
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He was a father-of-three with seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
His daughter Joyce Cooper said her father had become known as 'Mr Never Surrender', both due to his grand old age and his love of impersonating Sir Winston Churchill.
“He was so much loved and is so missed by his family,” she said.
“He had a unique sense of humour and was known as a wonderful Churchill impersonator. He kept us all amused on veteran trips. Rest in peace dear dad, forever missed.”
Mr King had completed underwater training at Fritton Lake in Norfolk and in Dunwich in Suffolk before the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, an operation that took three years of meticulous planning by the Allied forces.
In all, there were 6,939 vessels involved in D-Day: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels gathered south of the Isle of Wight in preparation for landings at five Normandy beaches along 50 miles of the coast, at Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
“The sea was wild on D-Day, we were deployed in numerous attacks aimed at containing German Panzer units,” he recalled in 2016, as he stood on the same beach where he had landed 72 years before.
“We moved on to the area around Cambes-en Plein and that was the first time we faced up to the enemy.
“That's when we grew up. Kill, or be killed. Somebody once said to me: 'How do you remember so much?' When you're sent to meet your maker, you don't forget the journey.”
In 2016 Mr King was also reunited with a Dutch woman whose life he had saved during a fierce battle when she was just four years old.
He was hugged by Toos Kockan, 76, at her home in the southern Netherlands after he attended the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem.
He had raised the alarm to stop a tank reversing over the girl and her mother as they dodged shellfire between the Allies and German Panzers.
After he left the army in 1947, Mr King became an engineer.
He was awarded France's highest honour, the Légion d'Honneur, in May 2016 for helping to liberate the country from Nazi rule.
EDP columnist Stacia Briggs, who travelled to Normandy from 2014 to 2019 with Mr King and fellow veterans, and who last saw him a few weeks ago, said: “Alan was a remarkable man, a quiet hero and a wonderful person to spend time with, full of stories and fun, and hugely generous with his time.
“My colleague Denise Bradley and I are so honoured and privileged that we got to spend so much time with Alan in Norfolk and in Normandy, and we will carry those memories in our hearts forever.”
Denise, a photographer for the EDP, added: "Alan looked for years trying to find the place in Normandy by a villa where he had spent several days in a ditch after the vehicle he and comrades were in was badly damaged. The enemy soldiers were surrounding them without knowing they were there. They had to lie low and quiet for a few days.
"When he found the place it was a moment where you saw the fortitude of these Normandy veterans, and how much of their heart and soul was affected by the things they had seen and taken part in. Each veteran left behind great friends and colleagues and Alan had to return each year to honour those he had stood beside and who were lost. A great gentleman."
• Stacia's own tribute to Mr King will be published later this week.