Seaman who was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour by the President of France died recently.

News 100 blackBy Pepper Parr

August 19th, 2019

Burlington, ON

 

There are some people who do not hold public office, were not the subject of significant media coverage – they just lived their lives and when their time came, they died.

Immediate family and the circle of close friends grieve the loss and time moves on.

On July 31st Burlington resident and D-Day veteran William B. McConnell died.

McConnell was not a native of Burlington – he discovered Burlington and chose to live here while on a vacation. He was single all his life.

Battle-map-D-day-1024x621

HMS Ramillies was part of the naval support on DDay. She was tasked with taking out German guns at Benneville shown on the far right. They needed just 80 minutes to destroy most of the German guns

On D Day McConnell was aboard HMS Ramillies, a WWI relic of a battleship that was deemed fit for service. The battleship’s assignment was to train its 16 inch guns on a German battery with six 6” guns at Beneville, France, to the east end of Sword Beach. The Ramillies took out four of those gun batteries in 80 minutes.

McConnell was what you would call an electrician these days – in his time, electronics were pretty rudimentary.
It was during this battle that Bill had to go aloft to the Aloft Director to repair some electrical equipment. The Aloft Director is the station high up on the ship that was used for observation.

The Allied landings on the Beaches of Normandy France were ferocious battles; thousands of men were lost. It was, however, the battle that turned the tide and the beginning of the Liberation of France.

While the guns were blazing three torpedoes sped past the battleship – two on one side, one on the other.

Battleships were huge and carried four 16 inch guns that sometimes were fired so often that the paint burned off the barrels. We rattle off that phrase “16 inch guns” quickly when we are talking about a big bullet that measures a foot and a half wide. The roar of the shell coming out of a barrel, four of them at the same time, pushes that battle ship sideways.

During the bombardment there was a problem with electrical fittings in the Aloft Directory of the ship.

This was an observation level high up in the rigging with access possible only by climbing up a rope ladder.

It was while he was climbing from level to level that the 16 inch guns roared – instantly deafening McConnell. Bill was not able to put his hands over his ears because, as he put it, “you can’t cover both ears, hold the ladder and your tool kit at the same time”. The deafness was complete in on ear and seriously in the other.

Bill joined the navy at the age of 11. He was at the Royal Hospital School, which was part of the British Navy at the time. It was basically a boarding school where the students wore uniforms. Bill’s father was a Gunnery Chief Petty Officer and was at sea most of the time.

When it was clear there was going to be a war in 1938, Bill found himself doing paperwork related to reserve naval types being called up. It was a situation where 15 year old boys were doing the paper work that brought men, some 60 years of age, back into the service.

It wasn’t long after that Bill was being trained as an Electrical Artificer and soon he was off to sea

After the D Day landings, and McConnell recovered as much as he was going to be able to, Bill stayed in the Navy and left in 1953 after fifteen years of service.

As a civilian his skills were quickly put to use as he worked for the next sixteen years in the development, installation and acceptance testing of guns and missile controls.

While on a vacation to Canada he found a job working on the “Sea Sparrow” missile control systems for the Canadian DDH280 destroyers.  Burlington became his home.

medal_of_honor-400x618

Legion d’Honneur awarded by the President of the Republic of France to William (Bill) Basil McConnell.

In 2016, on the 70th Anniversary of the war ending, the French government decided to make anyone who was involved in the landings a member of the Legion d’Honneur – the Legion of Honour.

The ceremony took place aboard the retired Tribal Class destroyer HMCS Haida, tied up in Hamilton at HMCS Star.

During the ceremony Colonel Vandomm read a document that said: “By order of the President of the Republic of France, you have been awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.

McConnell + Vandomm

Retired Chief Petty Officer William (Bill) Basil McConnell being congratulated by Colonel Roger Vandomm during the awarding of the French Legion of Honour medal.

Chief Petty Officer William Basil McConnell being awarded the French Legion of Honour by Colonel Roger Vandomm. The smile of appreciation on the Colonel’s face told the story.

“This distinction, the highest national order of France, illustrates the profound gratitude France would like to express to you in recognition of your personal involvement of the liberation of our country during World War II.”

The Mayor of Burlington released a statement when her office was made aware of Bill’s passing. He deserved more mention than a formal statement. Rest in Peace Bill.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly

Leave a Reply