Our Local World War Two Hero Goes to Meet Her Majesty 75 Years on!

When the Chairman of our local branch of the British Legion, Phil Walden, learnt that ex-servicemen who took part in the DD landings 75 years ago would be eligible for a cruise across the channel and later to meet Her Majesty the Queen at Portsmouth, he wondered if there was anyone local who might ‘fit the bill.’ He mentioned the scheme to John Collis, (Treasurer of the branch), who promptly replied that he knew exactly the right man! The man he had in mind was 93 year old Dennis North, a Syston man (born and bred!) and still living here on Barkby Road, only a quarter of a mile from where he was born! And that is how Dennis Reginald North came to be selected for this special honour to commemorate one of the most decisive campaigns of World War Two.
Dennis North was born in Syston in October 1925, and after attending St Peter and St Paul’s Infant and Junior Schools, he went on to Roundhill School. He left school at the age of 14 and went to work at Billitop and Gilpin, a local engineering works. Dennis volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1943 (on his sister Marjorie’s birthday, May 26th) when he was seventeen and a half. I asked him why he’d joined the Navy, and he replied that all his pals had gone in the Navy. And like his pals Dennis did his initial training at HMS Collingwood at Fareham in Hampshire.
Our photo of Dennis (service number P/JX 518233) was taken well after the D Day campaign, as Dennis can identify the ribbons on his uniform which are the 1939-45 star and the France/Germany star.
I asked Dennis to tell me what he remembered about the campaign, and he told me that his ship, HMS Vivacious, was docked at Southend, and that even the night before they sailed the men didn’t know what their mission was. They were informed at 7.10am the next morning. Working at night, they were to travel across the Channel to Normandy and back helping to put the Mulberry Harbours (floating harbours devised for the campaign), in place. They did this for about eight weeks. I asked Dennis if he realised at the time that this campaign was of great importance, and he replied that it made him think that the end of the war was in sight; and this campaign was certainly an extremely important one.
And that is how a very young Dennis was involved in one of the major campaigns of World War Two, and why, seventy five years later, he has been given the opportunity to take part in the official commemoration of the D Day landings of June 1944. He will cruise from Dover to Normandy (accompanied by one of his sons) on 2nd June, and on returning to England will be presented to Her Majesty the Queen and the President of the USA at Portsmouth Naval Base.
By the end of the war Dennis held the rank of Able Seaman and was also an anti-aircraft gunner. Like a great many soldiers and sailors, Dennis was not de-mobbed immediately, and he met his wife Janet at the port of Greenock, in Scotland after the end of the war.
They were married in 1948, and settled in Syston, where Dennis went back to working in the engineering trade. In due course they had two sons, Douglas and Alan.
We’ll be writing up about Dennis’s travels for the July issue of Stn, so look out for part two of this amazing story.
Felicity.Calling all New Residents of Syston