Richard Donger of Peacock Farm, Muston, Nottinghamshire, has died aged 91, just days before the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in which he took part.
After education at Kings School Grantham, he was training as an accountant in Nottingham when war broke out in 1939. Age prevented him from volunteering immediately, but on his 18th birthday May 15th 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Navy. After land based training he joined the battleship HMS Nelson and for the next 10 months he saw action around Freetown, Capetown, the Middle East, Scapa Flow and the Northern Patrol supporting Russian convoys. After that the Nelson joined Operation Pedestal helping to keep Malta in Allied hands. Whilst serving on the Nelson he rose through the ranks to Midshipman and was recommended for officer training, Special Services.
In March 43 he was en route to Suez on SS Duchess of Bedford. On board was a Royal Navy Commando unit “Fox”. He joined in with the units’ sports and physical training, and was soon asked to complete further Special Services training, and was promoted to Sub Lieutenant. On arrival at Suez he was told to report to Commander Ransome RN Commando. He thought he had not reached the required standard, and was being returned to unit. On the contrary, a replacement Beachmaster was urgently needed, and he became assistant Beach Master to Principal Beach Master Ransome for the July 10th Operation Husky assault on Sicily.
On landing he was sent to assist a stricken landing craft, however in the process he received shrapnel wounds and burns to both legs. Patched up, he spent a further 10 days actioning covert operations and diversionary tactics on mainland Sicily. Fox Commando were then returned to UK, at HMS Armadillo in Scotland. Richard was appointed full Beachmaster, and embarked on several months of intensive exercises, training and “toughening up”.
In May 44 RN Commando Fox were moved to Portsmouth on the south coast. After covert operations and reconnaissance on the Normandy coast at the end of May, he boarded HMS Battleaxe (Landing craft carrier) on 5th June 44.
At 0610 on D-Day, 6th June 44, he landed on the beach under heavy fire at Ouistreham, as Beach Master on Queen Red sector of Sword Beach. At 0700 he was badly wounded in the left arm/shoulder by a sniper, but was patched up by his RNC Bodyguard, and despite his wounds, continued to command his sector of Sword, until the beachhead had been cleared. At noon he was ordered to casualty clearing station, and later that afternoon was shipped back to UK. For his gallant actions in the face of the enemy in Normandy he was awarded Mentioned in Despatches, and the Croix de Guerre.
After 4 months in various hospitals and successful operations to repair his shattered arm, he returned to RN Commando Fox as Lieutenant RNVR. With assault landings in Europe over, he joined the minesweeper HMS Fir as Navigator/1st Lieutenant, clearing minefields in the Channel and North Sea until de-mobbing in Oct 46.
He then joined the family farm at Muston, before “retiring” in 1987.
He enjoyed cricket, but his greater love was rugby, and after de-mob was a founder member of Kesteven RFC. One of his co-founder members described him as “an aggressive scrum half who kept the pack at full stretch”! Injury curtailed his rugby playing after only one season at Kesteven, but he remained active on committees for Rugby, Estate Trustees, Newark IDB, George Cross Island Association and RN Commandos Association until his very late years.
His wife Mary died in 2005, and he leaves a daughter Celia, sons Geoffrey and William, along with 6 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.