Petersfield war hero dies

By Post in Local People

A PETERSFIELD veteran who came ashore under fire during the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches has died aged 93.

Major Donald Mantell (retired) of Marden Way died about 15 months after being presented with France’s highest award for gallantry for his part in the D-Day Landings on the French coast in 1944.

In November 2015 he was made a Chevalier (knight) in the Legion d’Honneur, by order of French President Francois Hollande.

It was accompanied by a letter, part of which read: “We must never forget the heroes like you.”

In 1944 he was a 20-year-old troop commander with the East Riding Yeomanry (ERY) regiment, and at around 2.30pm on D-Day, June 6, its Sherman tanks landed on Sword Beach.

At time in an interview with the Post he said: “We were supposed to land at 9.30am, but German guns overlooking the beach were still in action, and they were still firing when it was decided we should land, regardless.”

The ERY was part of the infantry division tasked with capturing Caen, so American forces could carry the offensive inland.

The city is on a plateau, and the entrenched Germans put up a fierce fight.

After weeks of the “bloody and destructive business” as Mr Mantell recalled, a huge air raid cleared the way for the Allied troops.

The regiment then battled through Holland, before being sent to the Ardennes Forest in Belgium.

Once there, its tanks, which “didn’t stand up that well to the German 88mm anti-tank guns and Panther and Tiger tanks,” said Mr Mantell, helped stem a German counter attack, later called the Battle of the Bulge.

The regiment then fought its way to the Rhine, where it took part in the river assault, before returning to the Netherlands to help subdue the last German resistance.

After the war, the regiment was stationed in Kiel in Germany.

Captain Mantell then transferred to the regular army, leaving with the rank of major after 18 years.

He said: “The French people who didn’t leave Normandy during the invasion took a real hammering, and their gratitude is humbling.”

He met his wife Patricia in Germany where she was serving with the Royal Air Force. She said: “After the war we visited a pub on the Rhine, and the calendar still showed the date of the assault across Rhine, marking the day of the crossing.”

After moving to Petersfield ten years ago, Major Mantell joined a number of clubs and societies in the town, including Petersfield Royal British Legion, of which he was an active member, in particular helping with the annual Poppy Appeal.

In commemoration of Major Mantell’s life, there will be a service of celebration and thanksgiving in St Peters Church in The Square on Monday, February 13, at 2.30pm.