French honour for Blackpool commando Derek

Veteran Derek Coyle has been awarded the Legion of Honour from the French government
Veteran Derek Coyle has been awarded the Legion of Honour from the French government
Have your say

A former Royal Marine and D-Day veteran has told of his honour at receiving a top French medal.

Derek Coyle was presented with the Legion d’honneur for his services to France during the pivotal battle which saw thousands of British, Commonwealth and American troops land on the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of the Nazi occupied country.

Derek Coyle pictured with his wife Hilda

Derek Coyle pictured with his wife Hilda

Derek, of Waterloo Road, Blackpool, said it was wonderful that the French Government had decided to present the medals to veterans.

He said that he was proud to receive it but said he did not do anything that any of the other servicemen who took part in the landings on June 6, 1944 had done.

Derek, 89, said: “It is an honour to receive this medal.

“It is a beautiful medal and it is great that the French have decided to award it after all these years.”

Derek joined the Marines at the age of 16 in 1942 after seeing pictures of the men in their smart uniforms with their distinctive white pith helmets.

He said: “They were the smartest in the services at the time and I saw this big advert with a picture of one of them on it and thought that will do for me.”

He was posted to Wales and Scotland where they carried out intensive training before he was posted to the Mediterranean.

“We were then sent back home to prepare for D-Day .

“We sailed from Itchenor in Sussex in the early hours and were going over in the ship 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.

“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.

“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 bomber raid 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 to head 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 that we went to Burma to fight the Japanese. They were joking that the Japs would be all little men with bandy legs like in the cartoons of the time, but when we got there we were up against the Japanese Imperial Guards who were all five foot ten and very tough fighters!”

After the war 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. He is a regular at the Guards Club with other veterans from the town.

Coun Fred Jackson said: “It is a great honour and he has a great story to tell of his service. He and the other D-day veterans fully deserve it.