Covid claims one of the last D Day veterans: Hero, 98, drove tank onto the Normandy beaches and was in first wave across the Rhine into Germany
- Bill Anderson, whose first day as a tank driver was on D-Day, has died aged 98
- He drove the first tank to cross the Orne River Bridge during Operation Tonga
- Also involved in Operation Plunder when Allies began their invasion of Germany
A World War II veteran whose first day of service was during the Normandy landings, has passed away aged 98 after having contracted Covid.
Former tank driver Bill Anderson died on January 30 – more than 76 years after first seeing action on June 6, 1944, at the age of just 20 years old.
Bill’s very first day of active service was when he drove a Sherman M3 tank onto Juno beach on the day of the Normandy Landings.
He was also in command of the first tank, ‘unlucky’ number 13, to cross the Orne River Bridge during Operation Tonga – and was the only vehicle in the Troop not to be destroyed.
World War II veteran Bill Anderson (circled) whose first day of service was during the Normandy landings, has passed away aged 98 after having contracted Covid
The former tank driver (pictured) died on January 30 – more than 76 years after first seeing action on June 6, 1944, at the age of just 20 years old
A year later, Bill was also involved in the first wave of Operation Plunder in which the Allied forces crossed the Rhine during the invasion of Germany on March 23, 1945.
Bill’s only son Richard, 68, from Southminster, Essex, described his dad as a ‘fantastic guy’ and an ‘absolute model of respect’.
He said: ‘It was a privilege and an honour to know him and to be his son. He was my dad, but he was also my best friend.
‘For him to have survived everything he did during the war and live to tell us the tale was amazing.
‘If I can achieve half of what he achieved in his life, I know I will have lived a good life.’
Richard said that he and his son and daughter, Bill’s two grandchildren, would encourage the veteran to talk about his experiences during the war every now and then, so they could keep a record of his tales.
Richard said: ‘Dad would tell us that in many respects the war was quite uneventful.
‘He said there was an awful lot of time where there was nothing to do – and then there were the bursts of action.
‘But he would say that it is not quite as Hollywood dramatic as it is portrayed.’
Richard, who has four grandchildren of his own – Bill’s great-grandchildren – has kept a record of about 100 pages of Bill’s life, from writing down tales his dad used to tell him.
He told how Bill, who served with the A Squadron Troop 4 as part of the East Riding Yeomanry, was thrown into the D-Day action on his first day of active service on June 6, 1944.
Bill first met future wife Jenny when they were 14 and she worked near where he lived. William and Jenny married on June 30, 1945, shortly before the war ended
Richard said: ‘They were at full throttle. The ramp went down and a half-track went off first and disappeared.
‘Dad saw an arm come out of a window, but it sank and that was it.
‘Someone stepped in front of the visor and signalled Bill to stop and the ramp came up again.
‘The next thing he knew the ramp had opened again and he was on Juno beach with the Canadians.
‘Not only that, but they lost their troop commander when they were dropped off, so they were just there in the middle of the Canadians and they had to make their own way to find the rest of their regiment.’
The three tanks in his Troop provided anti-aircraft fire for nearly three days while they waited for the roads to be cleared of mines so they could re-join their regiment.
Bill had an eventful war as the Allies fought their way through Europe.
Pictured: A number of photographs show Bill Anderson throughout different periods of his life. Bill served during the Second World War as a tank driver and his first day of active service was on the D-Day landings
Richard said: ‘He fought his way through Belgium and France in support of the 51st Highland Regiment.
‘He was the first tank across the River Orne Bridge when it was captured alongside Pegasus Bridge.
‘His tank was unlucky number 13 but was the only one in his Squadron that wasn’t destroyed.
‘When the Germans broke through at the Battle of the Bulge, it was his regiment that went to the rescue.
‘He fought in the forests of the Ardennes and his regiment went to Holland and helped to clear the enemy resistance.
‘His experience meant he was also an excellent mechanic and he received a citation for ensuring his tank was not once found to be not battle-worthy.
Bill was also involved in the first wave of Operation Plunder in which the Allied forces crossed the Rhine during the invasion of Germany on march 23, 1945
‘They ended up on the River Rhine where the tanks were taken away and they were trained to drive Buffalo floating troop carriers.
‘After about three weeks of training he was in the first wave to cross the Rhine into Germany and successfully made three crossings.
‘He finally finished up driving Britain’s new Comet tanks at Lüneburg Heath to show them off to the watching Russians before coming home in 1946.’
Bill was born in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, on January 6, 1923 – one of 12 children, and the oldest son.
He still has three surviving brothers to this day – two in their 80s and one in his early 90s – the youngest of whom says that Bill ‘was and always will be my hero’.
His first driving job was as a 16-year-old, delivering fruit and vegetables in Enfield.
Bill first met future wife Jenny when they were 14 and she worked near where he lived.
William and Jenny married on June 30, 1945, shortly before the war ended.
Jenny, now 98, has survived her husband, and lives in the home the couple shared in Althorne, Essex.
After the war he got a job as a truck driver, delivering pig food to farms all over the south of England.
He then started delivering aggregates from Hertfordshire to London and also worked as a coach driver.
Richard said: ‘He never let us or anyone around him down. He was always there with a practical solution or a way forward.’
Bill attended the 75th anniversary of D-Day at Burnham war memorial in 2019.
Richard said: ‘He thought he was just going there to remember his mates, but there was a queue of people wanting to shake his hand.’
Speaking at the time, Bill said: ‘I never imagined so many people would want to shake my hand, thank me for what I did and wish me well.
‘I was amazed and humbled by it all, especially as I only did what I was trained to do.’
Bill died on January 30, aged 98, after contracting Covid. A private funeral service is due to take place in Chelmsford on April 12.
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