The Hornchurch grandson of one of the last naval officers serving in the Allied D-Day landings in the Second World War has paid tribute to him after his death.

John Connolly was 98 when he passed away peacefully at a care home in Watford, his family have confirmed.

He was brought up in Kilburn and lived most of his married life raising his family in Cricklewood before moving to Woodford when he retired.

The veteran was just 15 in 1940 when the Royal Navy rescued 340,000 British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk and just wanted to get into the fight.

“He lied about his age after Dunkirk,” his grandson Sean Connolly said. “He was inspired to fight for his country. That whole resilient generation was inspiring, making sacrifices we can’t even comprehend.”

Sean, 32,  is deputy headteacher at Robert Clack School in Dagenham and often heard family stories of John’s wartime heroics while growing up.

But it was the D-Day Landings that had a lasting impact on his grandfather serving aboard HMS Enterprise at Omaha Beach in June 1944, bombarding German positions on the French coast.

“He was part of a landing party recovering bodies,” Sean said. “He used to tell us it was a terrible task, but had to be done, recovering the dead while under fire from the Germans.

“His role was getting troops to the shore, then had to pull the bodies out of the water of those who didn’t make it. He still saw those images whenever he closed his eyes.”

The young Connolly rose through the ranks to Chief Petty Officer on Atlantic and Arctic convoys, then the Italian invasion, constantly dodging German U-boats and the Luftwaffe. He won seven campaign medals and as a veteran of the Normandy Landings received the French Legion of Honour.

John’s family originally came to London from Sunderland in 1932 when he was six, setting up home in Priory Park Road in Kilburn.   

He was 14 when war broke out in 1939. The Dunkirk evacuations a year later inspired him to join up, even though he wasn’t yet 16. He served as a boy bugler on HMS Hood before it was sunk in 1941 by the German battleship Bismarck. He served on HMS Ultor submarine, HMS Glasgow and finally HMS Enterprise. 

John was an electrician in the post-war years, then a school caretaker when he retired to Woodford. He died at the Tremona care home in Watford on April 5. His funeral was held at St Barnabas Church in East Snakes Lane, South Woodford, on May 3. He leaves two children, Linda, 57, and David, 55, and nine grandchildren.

The family is asking for donations to the Royal British Legion in his memory, through a ‘Just Giving’ online page.