Eddie Gaines, one of Britain’s last D-Day veterans died aged 98, nearly 80 years after witnessing the ‘bloody Omaha’ beach landings of World War II. Eddie Gaines, who was just 19 when he helped land troops on the Normandy beach in 1944, died at his home in Poole, Dorset, on April 21, after years of blindness.
But his four children, John, Irene, David, and Martin, and 16 grandchildren have now created a tribute page in his honor.
His grandson David Gaines wrote: ‘Rest sailor, your duty is done’ and others reminisced about the ‘deep sadness’ that filled his eyes as he told stories of the D-Day landings.
The Royal British Legion Cranleigh and District Branch in Surrey also bid farewell to the veteran Mr. Gaines watched the carnage of ‘bloody Omaha’, where the US Army suffered 2,400 casualties during the landings, while he was aboard the Royal Navy stoker ferrying US troops to the beach under fire.
He recalled the events in an interview and talked about how the US soldiers prayed on their way to the beach. Mr. Gaines added: ‘The ramp would fall onto half-submerged bodies, it was quite, quite something.
I had nightmares for years afterward. He was motivated to join the war effort after a bomb destroyed the facilities of an engineering firm where he was an apprentice and remained in France for several months after D-Day, serving in Normandy until Christmas Eve 1944. After the war, he left the Navy and worked in a mill in Battersea, south London, then as a bricklayer.
‘Rest easy sailor, your duty is done: Tributes paid to one of Britain’s last surviving D-Day veterans
In a tribute, the Royal British Legion Cranleigh and District Branch in Surrey said: ‘Eddie lived in Creekmoor, Poole, but before this he lived in Ewhurst, supporting the Cranleigh & District Branch of the RBL and attending the Remembrance Sunday service every the year.
‘Eddie, who was registered blind and was an ambassador for Blind Veterans UK, transported troops, equipment, and 35 tons of TNT to Omaha Beach under fire on June 6, 1944. Heartbreaking opening scenes from the Oscar-winning film of Stephen Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan. Today we say goodbye to Eddie.
Eddie later began to lose his sight due to his age-related macular degeneration and began receiving support from Blind Veterans UK.
Blind Veterans UK arranged for Eddie to receive the Legion of Honour, France’s highest honor, in recognition of his part in the liberation of France. Eddie said at the time: ‘I am very honored to receive this medal.
I feel like we’re both getting it on behalf of all those who didn’t make it back.’ Others took to social media to pay their respects to the veteran. One user, Alan Reynolds, said: “I met Eddie and will never forget the stories he told us as we sat on the grass around him and listened intently.”
“I remember his laugh when he talked about taking a break before D-Day and taking a nap with crates of TNT, or the deep sadness that filled his eyes when he talked about the Omaha landings.
“But for the most part, I remember him as a charming guy with a twinkle in his eye and a kind word to everyone he met. We will all miss you, Eddie! During a visit to Normandy in 2019 aboard the MV Boudicca, chartered by the Royal British Legion to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Eddie said: “This trip has been incredible.
Yes, it has brought back painful memories and we have cried a lot. ‘But being able to talk to so many old comrades who understand has been wonderful. ‘And to feel all the love and respect from everyone in England and France just choked me.
‘As we were marching towards the Bayeux cemetery, a six-year-old French boy gave me a drawing that said ‘Thank you, Edward’. He had a dove of peace and I thought, “Yeah, we did good.” In 2020 a portrait of Eddie was painted by a fellow veteran, Stewart Hill, which was presented to him on the BBC One Show by Hollywood royalty Al Pacino.
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