Lancashire D-Day landings war hero Russell Dunkheld dies aged 90

Brave: Russell Dunkeld

Brave: Russell Dunkeld

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D-Day landings war hero Russell Dunkeld has died at the age of 90.

Russell passed away early on Thursday morning, June 9, at St John’s Hospice, Lancaster, after a long illness.

I used to wake up at night, my insides trembling like a jelly. It was bloody frightening. I was lucky to get out alive but you don’t think about that at the time.

The widowed father-of-two featured in the news several times during his family’s fight to get him his Legion d’Honneur medal, the highest French military award which recognises those who fought in the D-Day landings during the Second World War.

Russell, who had lived in Hala, had been fighting cancer and his family fought to get his medal before he died.

He finally received it last September.

Russell’s son, also called Russell, said: “The sadness is overwhelmed by the pride we feel in having had such a man in our lives.

“He bore it all just as we might expect from a D-Day veteran.

“He even managed to mark the 72nd anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

“Family and friends visited him on that morning, of course. When the date was pointed out to him, as ill as he was, he managed to say emphatically, ‘I know what day it is.’”

Russell also leaves a daughter, Carole Knight and her husband Mark, grandchildren Tracy, Lindsey, Ryan and Stephanie, great-grandchildren Jordan, Ellena, Taeoni, Georgy, Eli and Martha, and great-great-grandchild, two-year-old Alexa.

Russell was just 18 when he took part in the D-Day landings and, aboard HM Landing Ship (tank) 304, was one of the first men to arrive on French soil at Sword Beach on June 6 1944.

As an Acting Able Seaman in the Royal Navy, Russell was a medic/stretcher bearer with the role of collecting the wounded from the beaches and conveying them back to the ship for medical treatment.

He then continued care for the patients as the ship returned to the UK to discharge patients and reload with reinforcements and supplies.

Russell’s funeral will be held at The King’s Own Chapel, Priory Church, Lancaster at 12:30pm on Tuesday June 21. Friends and family will gather, after his burial at Scotforth Cemetery, at The Golden Ball, Snatchems from 2pm.

The ship returned to the landing beaches a further 25 times in the next three months, and on each occasion Russell repeated his duties, collecting injured French civilians, Allied and enemy soldiers from increasing distances as fighting moved further inland.

Speaking on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, he recalled the horrors that he and thousands of other young men faced during the largest seaborne invasion in history.

He said: “You put things to the back of your mind but there are some that never go away.

“I have millions of memories. I used to wake up at night, my insides trembling like a jelly. It was bloody frightening. I was lucky to get out alive but you don’t think about that at the time.

“There was this young lad who’d been blown off his motorbike by a mortar bomb. One of the surgeons said to me ‘here, hold this’. It was this lad’s foot.

“I held it while the surgeon sawed it off. He said: ‘Don’t just stand there looking at it, get rid of it.’ So I flung it onto the sand.

“At one point I was on the beach and there was a hobnail boot, all nice and shiny. I pulled it out, and there was a leg still attached to it.

“You shouldn’t have to see things like that. It was mind-boggling.

“I came across another young lad, only about the same age as me. He had a bullet hole where your appendix is.

“He was quite lucid, talking away, talking about his girlfriend and his home.

“I held his hand while he died.”