Worthing D-Day veteran passes away on Armistice Day

A Worthing D-Day veteran who was awarded France’s highest honour has been remembered after passing away on Armistice Day.

Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 12:09 pm

Eric Virrels, 99, landed on Gold Beach during the Normandy landings in 1944 before serving as a bodyguard to General Bernard Montgomery, a senior officer who commanded the D-Day forces.

In 2016 he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, the equivalent of a knighthood in France, for his contribution to the liberation of France.

The father-of-two lived in Byron Road with his wife of 76 years, Patricia. His family – which includes four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren – paid tribute to the ‘devoted’ veteran.

Eric’s son, Geoff, said: “Dad and mum were devoted to each other and were happily married for 76 years. Dad wouldn’t talk about the war other than to say most soldiers were scared stiff as they mounted Gold Beach and beyond, and the barbarity of it all caused him to try to forget.”

His granddaughter, Selena, described his marriage to Patricia as ‘inspiring’ and that the ‘love, care and fun they shared with one another was truly beautiful’.

After the war, Eric became a carpenter and a joiner, working for Dillistones and Wenban Smith before he retired. His family spoke fondly of his love for tennis and games shared with his grandchildren.

He was a familiar face at local tennis clubs, playing for the Arcadians, West Worthing and Angmering before taking up golf at Hill Barn Golf Club.

His proficiency for racket sports was particularly impressive given he lost part of a finger during the war.

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Geoff said he had sat down with his father, using General Montgomery’s memoirs as a guide, to record his story from the beaches of Normandy to the Germans’ surrender at Lüneburg Heath, near Hamburg, in 1945.

On the day of his death Geoff said Eric’s six-year-old great-grandson, George, had proudly put his hand up during a school Armisitice assembly and recounted the story of Eric’s exploits in the war.

Prior to his position in General Montgomery’s bodyguard, Eric served as a tank sergeant in the 8th Batallion Essex Regiment, part of the 153rd Royal Armoured Corps.