One of Lancashire's last heroes of D-Day has died, in Blackpool

A Fylde coast hero who landed with the Royal Marines in France on D-Day in 1944 has died.

Wednesday, 3rd June 2020, 7:00 am

Derek Francis Coyle, 94, from Waterloo Road in South Shore, was a commando who saw action against Hitler's Nazis in Normandy in the days following the invasion and later was sent to Burma to fight against the Japanese.

He died from natural causes at the Blackpool Victoria Hospital and his funeral will take place on Friday, June 5, the date before the famous landings 76 years ago. It will be at Lytham Park Crematorium at 12.30pm.

Mike Warren from the Blackpool Branch of the Royal Marines Association had been a friend of Derek's for many years, taking him to the regular memorial services at the Bispham arboretum and Blackpool war memorial.

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Royal Marine Veteran Derek Coyle at a Burma Star service at the memorial arboretum in Bispham

He said: "Derek was a great bloke, really well respected and well thought of in the area.I have know him for about 25 years and used to visit him twice a week and take him everywhere.

"It is very said and I, and many others, will miss him.

"He was such a great character and used to go back to Normandy in June for the D-Day services whenever he could. I think he was there last year. He was a member of the Royal Marine Associations for many years.

"He's done more than most for his country, he was only 18 when he went in on the first wave of attacks.

Derek at his home in Waterloo Road after receiving the Legion d'honneur from France

"We will be having the Royal Marine Branch Standard together with the Burma Star Standard present at the cemetery gate to salute Derek as he goes by. We will be maintaining a safe 3m distance so there may not be much room if any members of the public want to pay their respects, perhaps there might be at the bottom end of Regent Avenue at the opposite end from the gate.

"He will be having the Last Post and the Royal Marine prayer and will have a horse-drawn hearse as he always wanted."

In 2016, Derek was presented with the Legion d’honneur by France for his part in the liberation from the Nazis. It is the highest order of merit that France can bestow.

At the time he told the Gazette that he was delighted to have been given the honour by France, but that he did nothing more heroic than anybody else who had taken part in the landings.

Derek in his Royal Marine uniform with his wife Hilda

He told how he had joined the Royal Marines at the age of 16 in 1942, because he though their uniforms with the distinctive white pith helmets were the smartest in any of the services.

After training in Wales and Scotland, he spent some time in the Mediterranean before heading back to Britain to prepare for the Normandy landings.

He said: “We sailed from Itchenor in Sussex in the early hours and were going over in the ship to France when it was suddenly called off as the weather was terrible.

“When it went ahead the next day, we landed on Juno beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer with the Canadians of the Regina Rifles Regiment.

The Legion d'honneur given to Derek Coyle, France's top medal

“Our job was to establish the bridge-head for the army. It was terrible. I lost two of my friends that day Billy Dawes and Joe Divney. We just had to get our

heads down and get on with it. I shot at a few Germans but did not know if I hit any though!

"I remember there was a beach master from the Navy riding up and down the beach ordering people about with his dog on the jeep. We couldn’t believe it.

“Later the orders for the troops on our beach was to push on towards Caen. There was a sniper in a church tower who held up our boys for a while. It was tough because we just could not get to him. I think someone in the end radioed back and one of the navy ships turned their guns on him and took down the tower.

“We were there when the 1,000 heavy bomber went over towards Caen. That really sticks in the mind.”

Derek said his unit in 42 Commando was divided into two shortly after D-day and he was sent back to the beaches and then to return to England before heading off to Burma.

But on the landing craft heading back to Britain disaster struck.

He said: “I don’t know if it hit a mine but there was a big bang and the landing craft started sinking quickly. We were all in the Channel. Luckily a ship came rushing over and picked us up."

After his service in Burma, Derek returned to Blackpool where he had lived since the age of 14 to be with his wife Hilda.

He worked in various jobs and retired from the Premium Bonds office.