TRIBUTES have been paid to one of Rotherham’s last remaining Normandy heroes after he died aged 92.
Veteran Cliff Mitchell, of Wilton Close in Rawmarsh, was an able seaman gunner during the D-Day landings.
Later he chaired Rotherham Normandy Veterans’ Association and gave talks in schools about his wartime experiences.
Wife Thelma said: “Cliff never accepted the word hero being used about him. He would say the heroes were still out there and couldn’t come home.
“We’ve had a wonderful life. Everybody knows what a kind person he was. He would help anyone if he possibly could.
“He was a person who, if he started to do anything, he would keep at it until he’d get it done. All his files and war memorabilia were labelled in a system. He never sat doing nothing.”
Cliff was taken into hospital in early April and diagnosed with pneumonia and a collapsed lung. He passed away on May 6.
He met Thelma (92) on Bridgegate in Rotherham when they were in their early 20s and worked as conductors for different bus companies.
“We just got talking and he asked if I would like to go to the pictures,” said Thelma. “When we met again at Bridgegate he asked me if I liked chicken. When I said yes, he said ‘Grab a wing!’ and held out his arm for me to take hold.”
They were married at Rawmarsh Parish Church on October 30, 1948, and had one son, Adrian (53), who lives in London.
Adrian said: “Dad liked to go to the Tanic club and we used to go and watch Rotherham United.
“We enjoyed holidays in Blackpool and he was just always there for me.”
Cliff, a former construction company worker, was delighted at being awarded the Legion d’Honneur in January — 72 years after the Normandy landings.
Joining the veterans’ association made a big difference to Cliff, who was twice elected chairman.
The group made pilgrimages to Normandy, visited places like Whitehall and Westminster Abbey and paraded at York Minster.
Membership hit 140 in the 1980s but the branch closed in 2011 because of dwindling numbers.
“Before he joined, the nights were terrible and didn’t get much sleep,” said Thelma. “Everything seemed to still be there from the war. Then when he joined the veterans, he could talk with his mates about their experiences and it eased things. It was like therapy for him.
“He was well thought of by lots of people but I didn’t realise just how many until all the cards and flowers arrived.
“His carers thought the world of him. They would always go out with a smile or a laugh. Cliff was never a sad person.”
It was through the association that Cliff made wishes for a military-style funeral — something Thelma only discovered after he died.
There will be the White Ensign displayed and a bugler will play the Last Post and Reveille at the service, which takes place at Rotherham Crematorium on Tuesday at 12.45pm.
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