A MODEST man, who refuted any suggestion that his role in the D-Day Landings made him a war hero, was given a fine send-off by his family, friends and fellow veterans yesterday.
Harry Fenn, who died on 28 June aged 97, was Jersey’s last survivor to have been part of the Allied landings on the coast of Normandy on 6 June 1944, eight months after enlisting for the Royal Navy at the age of 18.
Smiles and tears were intermingled as the congregation at St Brelade’s Church tapped their feet to the Morecambe and Wise song Bring Me Sunshine and joined together to sing Eternal Father, known as the Navy Hymn.
Two other Islanders who were also part of Operation Overlord – the codename for the Allied invasion of German-occupied Europe – and landed in France in the days after D-Day were among those paying their respects. Billy Reynolds and Ernest Thorne were joined by veterans from the Royal British Legion, who had served in conflicts including the Falklands, the Gulf, Bosnia and Northern Ireland.
Military standards were raised and then lowered at the start of the service, as Keith Sunter of the Royal British Legion read an extract from the poem For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon and a bugler played the Last Post.
The Rev Mark Bond, the Rector of St Brelade, said the service was intended to celebrate Mr Fenn’s life, but also to acknowledge what he said was ‘the part Harry played in all of our lives’.
Broadcaster and historian Chris Stone, who made several trips to Normandy with Mr Fenn to commemorate D-Day anniversaries, spoke on behalf of the family, describing ‘a long life, lived with love, kindness, humour and humility’.
Mr Stone described Mr Fenn’s childhood in Jersey, when he had attended De La Salle College before being evacuated with his family to Portsmouth in 1940 a year after the start of the Second World War.
First-aid training during his schooldays as a cadet with St John Ambulance meant that Mr Fenn was assigned to the Royal Navy Medical Corps when he enlisted in late 1943. Mr Stone went on to describe how eight months later Mr Fenn was on board the Navy vessel Drake, a landing-ship tank, when what had seemed like an exercise in the English Channel became part of the opening salvo of Operation Overlord.
The congregation heard how Mr Fenn had returned to Jersey after being demobbed at the end of 1946, running shops at Grève d’Azette, Beaumont and Sandybrook before a career change that saw him move into the company trust section of law firm Bedell Cristin.
Mr Stone highlighted Mr Fenn’s love of sailing, which led to several trips to France and a three-year stint as commodore of St Helier Yacht Club, during which time he met Queen Elizabeth II on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.
‘Harry didn’t consider himself a war hero. He said he had just done his duty,’ Mr Stone said. ‘He was modest, funny, charming and didn’t like the spotlight – he would rather talk about sailing over a glass of wine.’
Among those attending the service were Constables Simon Crowcroft (St Helier) and Mike Jackson (St Brelade), Deputy Bailiff Robert Macrae and the chief of staff at Government House, Major Justin Oldridge.
The service was followed by a private interment in the burial ground adjoining the church, after which Mr Fenn was toasted by his family and friends during a gathering at the Hotel Ambassadeur in St Clement.