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Farewell to D-Day veteran Eric who cleared the way for the landings

As a stoker in minesweeper HMS Cockatrice Eric Drube saw constant action through the summer and autumn, keeping first the Seine Bay free of mines, then clearing the Scheldt estuary and waters off Walcheren during operations around Antwerp in October/November 1944; the crew were issued arms and were expected to fight ashore if Cockatrice was badly damaged.

On D-Day, the ship was assigned to 18th Minesweeping Flotilla which swept and marked what was designated ‘Channel 6’, the run in to Gold Beach, for the landing craft to move in.

He watched the subsequent invasion – enjoying a ‘grandstand view’ to what was an almost surreal experience, likening the landings to pub fight on a grand scale.

Thereafter, Cockatrice remained off the Normandy coast for two more months in support of Operation Neptune.

It may never have happened, for during training at RNAS Donibristle/HMS Merlin, the young sailor was struck down with diphtheria and probably meningitis leaving him paralysed down his left side and from the waist down.

He was transferred to Chatham to recuperate to be closer to his family, who lived in Trottiscliffe, Kent, and eventually recovered, having learned to walk again.

His reward was stoker training aboard the old battleship HMS Revenge in Southampton, her guns removed, she instead provided the fleet with freshly-trained marine engineers, in Eric’s case, assignment to Cockatrice in May 1944.

Once amphibious operations were over, Cockatrice continued sweeping duties in North and Irish Seas and Channel. At the war’s end she escorted heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen to the UK from Germany.

Upon being demobbed in 1946, Eric eventually settled in Bletchley with his wife and their four children. He worked as an engineer until his retirement and was an active member of the Algerines Association.

A frequent attendee at Navy Days and D-Day commemorations in London and Portsmouth, he was awarded the Legion D’Honneur by the French in 2014 for help in liberating the country, and at the 75th anniversary event in Portsmouth was introduced to Canadian premier Justin Trudeau and Prince Charles.

 Eric died aged 99 on June 17 and was buried with full honours in Kent on Friday.

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