BOLTON will today bid farewell to a World War Two veteran who took part in the Normandy landings.
Ernie Tonge, who was born and lived in the same Tonge Fold street for all his life, was a member of the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion.
Private Tonge and the rest of the battalion’s troops were pivotal in the taking of Pegasus Bridge during the Normandy invasion.
Standard bearers from the Parachute Battalion will pay their final respects to Mr Tonge, who died on May 1 aged 95, at St Chad Church in Tonge Fold Road at 10am.
Pvt Tonge not only survived Normandy and the terrifying experience of landing alone in the midst of a German patrol, but had also earlier been shot in the neck while serving in France.
Ian Taylor, a former member of the battalion, said: “I remember Ernie telling us how he landed in these woods and was trying to get his bearings.
“He eventually found this patrol and tacked on to the back of them, to get back to safety.
“It was only when they got into the twilight that he noticed their German insignia.
“He said he just slipped away, back into the woods, and they never spotted him, before he did find a British patrol.
“If things had gone differently, his three daughters and all these grandchildren wouldn’t be here.
“He would not have lasted long if the Germans had spotted him.”
Pvt Tonge was stationed in Ranville, France, close to the Pegasus Bridge The Allied seizure of this has been described as the “single most important 10 minutes of the war”.
He spent months in hospital early in the conflict after being shot in the neck in France.
Mr Tonge was born in Dunstan Street, on December 30, 1918.
He died in the same street but two doors down after moving when he got married.
A popular father-of-three, grandfather and great-grandfather, his family said they would miss him “desperately”.
His daughters Jean Leach, aged 64, Lynn Farrell, aged 59, and Christine Fitton, aged 67, paid tribute to their father and said his death had still come as a shock because of his good health.
Mrs Leach said: “We will miss him desperately. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. He was very laid back and relaxed, and he never moaned or complained, or let anything get to him.
“We went to the doctor’s a few years ago and they looked at his records and said ‘Mr Tonge, we’ve not seen you in 40 years’.”
Mrs Farrell added: “He had had enough I think, but he could never do enough for anybody.”
Despite his wartime experiences, the first time Mr Tonge and his wife Nellie left the UK together was in 1994, when they visited northern France for their golden wedding anniversary.
His romance with Nellie, who died 11 years ago, was whistlestop, which saw them get married while he was on leave on April 20, 1944.
Mrs Leach said: “He used to joke that he met her on his first leave, got engaged on the second and married on the third.
“We were only talking to him a couple of weeks ago about how it would have been their 70th anniversary.”
Mr Tonge was seven times a grandfather and had five great-grandchildren.
After the war ended, Mr Tonge worked for William Walker’s tannery in Bolton for the rest of his career as a leather worker and chauffeur.
- PRIVATE Ernie Tonge’s regiment was involved in arguably the most crucial phase of World War Two.
- The pivotal D-Day landings in Normandy saw the Allies reclaim French territory and the Parachute Regiment 13th Battalion took part in Operation Tonga, destroying bridges and gun batteries to stop the Germans reaching the landing beaches.
- Pvt Tonge’s regiment landed in Normandy at about 12.50am on June 6, 1944, tasked with seizing the town of Ranville, in the face of heavy German resistance.
- The town was under British occupation by midnight and in the days that followed the battalion was subjected to artillery and mortar bombardments, and sporadic infantry assaults.
- The regiment’s work formed part of Operation Overlord, the codename for the successful Allied invasion of Western Europe in 1944.
- The massive amphibious invasion of 5,000 vessels was preceded by a 1,200-strong airborne assault.
- The Battle of Normandy lasted 80 days, with Allied forces reaching Southern France by August.
- On August 25, the Germans retreated across the River Seine, marking the end of Operation Overlord.
- The operation was the largest seaborne invasion in history.