Fred Lee, D-day veteran joined the Royal Navy aged 17 DATE UNKNOWN CREDIT Normandy Post.jpg
Fred Lee, born on 30 July 1926, volunteered to join the Royal Navy aged 17 (Picture: Normandy Post).
Veterans

Tributes paid as one of Britain's youngest D-Day veterans dies aged 95

Fred Lee survived a German-guided 'Mistel' bomber attack on his vessel in the sea off Normandy.

Fred Lee, D-day veteran joined the Royal Navy aged 17 DATE UNKNOWN CREDIT Normandy Post.jpg
Fred Lee, born on 30 July 1926, volunteered to join the Royal Navy aged 17 (Picture: Normandy Post).

Tributes have been paid to one of Britain's youngest D-Day veterans following his death – two days before his 96th birthday.

In 1943, aged 17, Fred Lee volunteered to join the Royal Navy training at HMS Royal Arthur in Skegness and was able to train as an engine stoker given his previous experience as a boiler maker.

His first posting was on the frigate HMS Nith, which dropped the first wave of troops on Gold Beach on 6 June 1944.

After working all night to get his ship to Normandy, on D-Day Fred was permitted to go on deck for a brief respite where he witnessed the invasion force.

It was here that he first saw a dead British soldier floating in the sea.

Fred recalled how he could see the soldier's pay book coming out of his pocket, and how it was like his own. They were not allowed to recover the soldier's body.

Weeks later, Fred survived a German-guided 'Mistel' bomber attack on his vessel in the sea off Normandy.

The attack involved two enemy aircraft flying attached to each other and the pilot released the plane below, which was full of explosives.

It was then remotely controlled and guided towards HMS Nith and it struck the starboard side, resulting in many casualties.

Fred's usual position was on the starboard side, but against his wishes he had been assigned watch duties on the port side, miraculously leaving him unscathed in the attack which killed nine seamen and injured 27.

Later he had the task of recovering the dead and injured and the ship was towed back to the Isle of Wight for repairs.

By 2 August, repairs had been completed and the Nith was back on the station as headquarters ship for the support squadron on the Eastern flank of the Normandy beachhead.

Second World War veterans pictured 4 years ago at Dday story museum, L-R Fred Lee, Percy Lewis and Lewis Trinder 31072022 CREDIT Normandy Post.jpg
Second World War veterans (L-R) Fred Lee, Percy Lewis, and Lewis Trinder, pictured four years ago at the D-day story museum in Portsmouth – all have now died (Picture: Normandy Post).

Fred would later escort shipping convoys in the English Channel and also spent the final months of the Second World War in the Far East.

While sailing up the Rangoon River, Fred asked what the "ping ping" sound was that he could hear, and was recommended to keep his head down as the noise was fire from Japanese snipers still located within the harbour cranes.

VJ Day celebrations on board the ship "had to be seen to be believed", he recalled, with the noises of singing and a "terrific fireworks display".

When asked by the Taxi Charity, of which he was a member, a couple of years ago to recall some memories from his 13 months in the Far East, Fred shared this fond memory: "We went to Bombay via Aiden on HMS Nith and when we were in Bombay, we picked up five landing craft to take to Rangoon.

"Unbelievably my brother Frank was on one of the landing craft.

"I hadn’t seen him or heard from him for a long time and had no idea that we had both been involved in D Day in Normandy a year earlier."

The Taxi Charity is run by London black cab drivers who, since 1948, have volunteered their time to support thousands of veterans by arranging free trips to the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, for acts of commemoration and comradeship.

Fred Lee returned home on board HMS Nith on 28 March 1946. A year later he married Joyce Osborne.

The couple settled in Yateley where they raised their children – Kevin, Karen, and Katrina.

The Taxi Charity received these emotive words from Fred’s family: "As well as his family, Fred treasured his friends.

"Always greeting them with a big smile, handshake, or a hug.

"So many people are missing him. He was a lovely man."

Dick Goodwin, Vice President, Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, said: "For as long as I can remember Fred has been with us on our Taxi Charity trips.

"As well as being an important part of the Taxi Charity family he was a popular member of the Surrey branch of the Normandy Veterans Association.

"Always positive and smiling he will be greatly missed by us all."

On Remembrance Sunday 2021, Fred was at the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur Mer to lay a wreath to honour the fallen.

By June 2022, he was the last Normandy veteran of the Surrey Branch, and he returned to Arromanches one last time with the help of his family and some great friends.

Fred, a Legion D'Honneur recipient, France's highest military honour, died following a short illness at his home in Hampshire, surrounded by his family, on 28 July.