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Farewell to Fred, the Royal Marine who pinned down Germans on D-Day

6 November 2023
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The Royal Marines family and number of men who witnessed D-Day first-hand is one smaller today with the passing of Frederick ‘Fred’ Fitch.

Barely 19, on June 6 1944 the marine machine-gunned German strongpoints on Sword Beach to provide cover for British troops on his landing craft.

Wounded in the hand by shrapnel as he opened the bow door of his craft for the men to storm ashore, he watched the first three soldiers gunned down by the enemy, before the remaining troops landed safely.

Fred’s landing craft then returned to its parent ship HMS Glenearn but on the way – against orders – crew rescued the survivors of another landing craft which was sinking.

Back on board Glenearn, Fred had his wound dressed and was given a berth in the Padre’s cabin to sleep off the pain killing drugs.

Within a few days he was back at work transferring troops and equipment to the shore. On about the third day his landing craft was tasked with carrying female American nurses to Omaha Beach further along the coast.

The craft could not get up the beach and the nurses insisted on being carried through the surf. Though small in stature, Fred was told to lift a rather large nurse – but as she climbed on his back, he toppled forward and ditched her into the sea.

When she surfaced she told Fred that he was on a charge, something he reported to his Sergeant Major back aboard HMS Glenearn. “Don’t worry about it, she’s probably dead by now,” the senior NCO told him. The nurse’s fate played on Fred’s mind for a long time.

Paying tribute to Fred, the Commandant General Royal Marines General Gwyn Jenkins, said his exploits on Sword Beach “exemplified the Commando spirit that we continue to instil in our Royal Marine Commandos today, one of courage, determination, unselfishness and cheerfulness in the face of adversity, Fred and others like him will be remembered by generations to come.

“As we approach the National Day of Remembrance we can reflect on the feats of Fred and the many veterans like him. An ardent supporter of the Marines throughout his life we owe Fred and fellow veterans an incredible debt of gratitude.” 

As we approach the National Day of Remembrance we can reflect on the feats of Fred and the many veterans like him. An ardent supporter of the Marines throughout his life we owe Fred and fellow veterans an incredible debt of gratitude.

Commandant General Royal Marines General Gwyn Jenkins

Originally from Tooting in London, Fred worked as an aircraft assembler in Dagenham, Essex, before joining the Royal Marines in June 1943.

Upon passing out of the Infantry Training Centre Royal Marines at Lympstone, he was posted to HMS Helder, the Raiding Craft Flotilla Base in Brightlingsea, Essex and, in March 1944, Fred was posted to 543 Assault Flotilla on the LSI(L) HMS Glenearn, then undergoing training in Scotland.

Once operations in Normandy were over, Glenearn was earmarked for Pacific Fleet and final battles with Japan. Tokyo surrendered before the ship arrived in theatre.                                                                                                                                                                      

As a ‘Hostilities Only’ conscript, Fred was discharged from the Corps at the war’s end. He eventually married, settling with his family in Norwich where he became an active member first of the RM Association (1994) then, from 2008, the city’s Royal Naval Association branch.

An active member of both, he raised well over £20,000 for the RMA over 15 years, standing outside stores, tin rattling, and regularly sharing his wartime experiences with anyone who wished to hear his stories.

He returned to the beaches for the last time courtesy of the RMA for the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion in 2019, since when his health gradually declined – ruling out regular appearances at association meetings and functions.

He passed away at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on Saturday 28 October 2023 – the Corps’ 359th birthday – “just to make sure we wouldn’t forget him” some of his fellow marines quipped.

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