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Legacy of Second World War veteran's Merchant Navy campaigning honoured during D-Day commemorations in France

12 June 2024

A Second World War veteran's work on behalf of Merchant Navy seafarers has been honoured by his son during the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations in France.

Donald Hunter's son Ian hopes his father's legacy will remain for future generations. Ian travelled to France for the special anniversary, where he laid wreaths for Merchant Navy veterans at the memorial his father ensured was set up in Arromanches, and he also laid another wreath at the Remembrance Gardens in Caen in memory of his father.

The Caen memorial

Former radio officer Donald 'Don' Hunter campaigned tirelessly to ensure recognition for fellow Merchant Navy seafarers and received national international recognition for his efforts. He had hoped he would be well enough to lay the wreaths himself this year, but he died in March 2024.

Don was just a teenager and not long out of radio college when he took part in Operation Neptune, the combined Royal and Merchant Navy landings at five Normandy beaches.

Under heavy fire he landed on the beach codenamed Juno on 6 June 1944. He had sailed there on his first ship, the Empire Pickwick, a landing ship infantry vessel, along with the Regiment of the 51st Highland Division, and vividly recalled that 'terrifying experience', where the bombardment permanently damaged his hearing.

After a visit to Normandy in 2002, Don was sad to see no memorial to commemorate Merchant Navy seafarers killed in Operation Neptune. Within a year, he and his wife Jean had fundraised enough to make it happen, and the first memorial – a plaque on the wall of the D-Day Museum in Arromanches  – was unveiled on 6 June 2003 by Winston Spencer Churchill.

Wreathes for the Merchant Navy at the Arromanches memorial

Don and Jean, in conjunction with Dover District Council, had also regularly organised a Merchant Navy Day remembrance ceremony on 3 September which has become an annual commemorative service followed by a wreath laying ceremony at the Dover Merchant Navy Memorial.

On 7 February 2020, Don was presented with Norway's highest honour – HM The Norwegian King's Commemorative Gold Medal. In 2004,The French Embassy also presented Don with the highest French military and civilian order of merit  – Légion d’Honneur – for his part in the Normandy Landings.