D-Day veteran Bill McConnell, who passed away July 31 at the age of 96, receives his Legion of Honour medal, France’s highest ranking decoration, in 2016. – Karine Dunstan photo
Burlington resident and D-Day veteran, William B. McConnell, has died at the age of 96.
Flags at city hall were lowered August 14 in his honour.
“On behalf of the city of Burlington and council, I offer his family and friends our deepest condolences and thank Mr. McConnell for serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we have today,” said Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed-Ward.
McConnell served aboard HMS Ramillies from 1943 through to the end of hostilities. On D-Day, the ship provided bombardment support for two hours prior to the landings at Sword beach, and for the following 12 days. McConnell suffered permanent hearing loss as a result, said friend, Nigel Davey.
“In the course of her Normandy engagement, she fired 1,002 15-inch shells, thought to be the greatest bombardment by any single ship up to that time, and since,” said McConnell in a past interview, who remained with Ramillies until the ship was withdrawn from service in 1945.
“The paint had burnt off the guns, and the rifling was extending several inches beyond the end of the gun barrels. Back in Portsmouth an experienced team replaced the 15-inch barrels in a very short time, and the Ramillies proceeded to the Mediterranean to provide the only big gun support for Operation Dragoon — the landings in south France in August.
After the landings, the ship remained in Algiers — available for use as needed — before returning to Portsmouth and the end of its illustrious career.
In 2016, McConnell was awarded the National Order of Legion d’Honneur (Legion of Honour) medal, France’s highest-ranking decoration. He was also the last former Ramillies sailor to ring the Ramillies ship’s bell that is at the HMCS Star in Hamilton, said Davey.
“He served on five other ships based in Hong Kong and the Mediterranean, attended the Japanese war crimes trials, visited the ruins of Hiroshima, got stabbed in Shanghai, and …. with the rank of Chief Electrical Artificer, he retired from the Navy in 1953,” added Davey.
He then moved into the defence industry, working on radar targeting and control systems, said Davey.
He moved to Canada with contractor company, Raytheon, to work on satellite broadcast and phone systems in the high Arctic. McConnell has lived and worked across Canada, from Goose Bay to Victoria, and Tuktoyaktuk to southern Ontario.
“When he retired in ’88 he travelled the world and explored Canada, going to New Zealand several times, maintaining contact with the Maori group that had presented a “lucky” grass skirt to the Captain of HMS Ramillies in 1940. He attended the 60th D-Day celebration in Portsmouth (where he was born), and the opening of the Juno Beach Memorial, and many reunions of the Ramillies Association,” said Davey.
McConnell passed away peacefully at Hampton Terrace Care Centre on July 31.