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Canterbury's 'last D-Day survivor' dies


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A 97-year-old said to be Canterbury’s last-surviving D-Day veteran has died.

Frank Gibbins, who was nicknamed Tony, arrived in France on June 6, 1944, as a 20-year-old Royal Marine.

Normandy veteran Tony Gibbins pictured at a Remembrance parade in Canterbury 11 years ago
Normandy veteran Tony Gibbins pictured at a Remembrance parade in Canterbury 11 years ago

His first job during the Normandy landings was the grim task of clearing the dead from the beach.

After the beaches were secured, he made his way across Europe, before being stationed in northern Germany to guard scores of weapons that had been surrendered by enemy forces.

Frank later joined the Navy, before becoming a city bricklayer. He is thought to have worked on projects like the creation of the St George’s Lane bus station.

The much-loved great-grandad sadly died following a period of ill-health, two days short of his 98th birthday.

His oldest son, Tony, told KentOnline: “He was a devoted family man and doted on his kids and grandkids. He didn’t open up about the war until later in life. He was always anti-war because he realised what a waste of life it was.

Frank Gibbins, front, with Royal Marines of the 812 flotilla training at Sandwich in the weeks before D-Day
Frank Gibbins, front, with Royal Marines of the 812 flotilla training at Sandwich in the weeks before D-Day

“He valued everything he had because he knew how fortunate he was to come through some of the things his comrades didn’t.”

Born in Hertfordshire, Frank grew up in the county until he enlisted on his 18th birthday.

After being put through intensive training, he was sent down to Sandwich, where his roles included keeping watch for German vessels.

The veteran said Normandy was full of “smoke, the noise of guns and explosions” when he landed.

After reporting to a senior officer, he was charged with loading body bags and transporting them to a ship anchored three miles from the shoreline, before they were buried at sea.

D-Day veteran Frank Gibbins at his former home in Bridge, Canterbury
D-Day veteran Frank Gibbins at his former home in Bridge, Canterbury

“He then ran boxes of ammunition the other way,” Tony added.

“It was a baptism of fire seeing that. He never mentioned any of the bad things when we were kids, simply saying ‘I was one of the lucky ones’.”

Frank returned to Hertfordshire after being demobbed in 1946, where he took a bricklaying course and entered the building trade.

But feeling “fed up” with civilian life, he joined the navy two years later.

Speaking to KentOnline's sister paper the Kentish Gazette in 2004, Frank remembered: "I missed the action. I got fed up.

Normandy veteran Frank Gibbins photographed with the Canterbury branch standard in 2007
Normandy veteran Frank Gibbins photographed with the Canterbury branch standard in 2007

"So, when I saw an advert in the local newspaper that said 'use your wartime experience and service – re-join the forces', I joined the Navy. I stayed with them until 1956."

He met and married his wife Betty in 1955, before joining his father-in-law's building firm, called WH Cork, in Chilham, near Canterbury.

The couple, who then moved to Bridge in 1982, had six children, as he worked for larger construction companies like Costain and Coombs in Wincheap.

After retiring, Frank became a well-known figure at Broome Park, where he regularly played seniors golf into his mid-80s.

He also belonged to the Canterbury branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association, becoming, according to Tony, the group’s last surviving member.

Honorary French Consul James Ryeland presenting medals to D-Day veterans Frank Suttie and Frank Gibbins at the Legion D'Honneur presentation in 2016
Honorary French Consul James Ryeland presenting medals to D-Day veterans Frank Suttie and Frank Gibbins at the Legion D'Honneur presentation in 2016

In 2016, he was one of three Second World War servicemen from the city who were presented France's highest military decoration, the Order of the Legion d’Honneur.

Frank and Betty moved from their home to Cliftonville in 2018. But he sadly died on April 14.

“My dad was the last man standing of the Normandy Veterans’ Association,” Tony, 64, continued.

"It's the end of an era, end of a generation.

“He was a popular man. He was a loving, caring person.”

Frank's funeral is set to take place on May 4 at Margate crematorium.

Family members are directing well-wishers to make donations to Age Concern Thanet by clicking here.

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