Harold Pearsall, D-Day veteran and a Légion d’Honneur recipient – France’s highest military honor – passed away on Sunday at the age of 97 after contracting Covid-19, the BBC reports.
Peter Lloyd, Birmingham’s 1944 Alliance Normandy-Market Garden Veterans’ Association secretary, confirmed that Pearsall had tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday March 27, while a patient at Good Hope Hospital, Birmingham. He had been previously in and out of the hospital after suffering from a broken hip.
Pearsall, a widower, leaves behind two sons.
The veteran previously told the BBC’s WWII Memories Project that the landing on Gold Beach at Arromanches on D-Day plus-12 was his first action in the Second World War – recalling the deafening noise, the frenzied movements, and “the heat from the shells being fired by the HMS Warspite, Nelson, and Rodney off the coast.”
Pearsall and his unit would take part in the Allies’ assault on Caen that July, where they were ambushed by German phosphorous bombs and grenades in a wooded area near St Contes, northwest of Caen. Pearsall recalls his unit commander, a New Zealander, shouting “Come on lads, we all know the British can take it. Now let’s show them we can dish it out too.”
The men were successful in beating back the German assault, but at a cost. The unit sustained 75 percent losses that day.
The Memories Project wrote that Pearsall “had many more stories to tell including burning down Belsen and being trapped under a tank by a sniper,” but noted, unfortunately, that time precluded writing “them all down.”
Receiving the Légion d’Honneur in 2015, Pearsall remained an active member of the veterans’ association in Birmingham, frequently visiting Normandy and the Netherlands up until his death.
“It is with great sadness that I have to announce the passing of our dear friend and brother veteran Chevalier Harold Pearsall la Légion d’Honneur,” Lloyd wrote in a statement.
“Our prayers and thoughts are with Harold’s family and friends.”