Belfast Telegraph

Modest hero of the Arctic convoys and Omaha beach on D-Day is laid to rest

Reginald served as a boy sailor and later helped free prisoners at Belsen

By Allan Preston

A highly-decorated Second World War veteran who risked his life to bring crucial supplies by sea to the Soviet Union and helped to free prisoners from a Nazi concentration camp has been laid to rest.

Reginald McClelland died peacefully at the age of 90 last Thursday at Beverly Lodge nursing home in Bangor, Co Down.

Yesterday at his funeral family and friends remembered a "humble" man who had been awarded the French Legion D'Honneur just two weeks earlier.

He was one of many in the Royal Navy who took part in the perilous Arctic convoys, a crucial allied supply route for Stalin.

Reginald's fleet had to evade U-boats and navigate minefields to help sustain the war effort against Nazi Germany.

His bravery was recognised by Russia in 2014 when he was awarded the Ushakov naval medal. In addition he was awarded the British Arctic Star medal.

He helped bombard Omaha beach in Normandy on D-Day, and later liberated prisoners from the notorious Belsen concentration camp.

Orphaned at 12, Reginald joined the Navy at 16. He served below decks on HMS Bellona as a gun loader and by 18 was sailing towards Normandy for the allied invasion.

His son Barry (60) told the Belfast Telegraph his father was "a very modest man" who never talked about the war unless he was asked.

"I know he was there on D-Day off Omaha beach serving on HMS Bellona. They fired so many shells onto the beach they burnt the guns out on the ship," he said.

"They later returned to Cheltenham dock for shore leave. When they got back to their bunks they saw they had Arctic convoy uniforms and knew they were going up to the Arctic.

"He was down in the magazines, looking after the ship's guns in the bottom of the ship.

"He told me that if they were hit and he was down in the bottom of the ship there would be no way of getting out.

"He told me once they had sailed down into the south Brittany area. The ships sailed into a minefield and a local French fishing boat guided them out. He said that was quite amazing."

Barry said that his dad was devoted to his late mother Maureen. He added: "He was a good father, he was always there for me. I had a great childhood in Bangor.

"The Russian medal in 2014 meant a lot to him.

"He was always quite a modest chap and he never went out looking for attention, so when he had the opportunity it was really good."

Over the past five years Reginald struck up a friendship with former soldier Paul Quinn (48), with whom he shared many of his war stories. Paul revealed that one tragedy at the Russian port of Murmansk never left Reginald.

"He spent most of the day in the ship, he was part of the gun team. He was a loader," he explained.

"He would tell me about the noise and the bombardment and things.

"When the convoy reached Murmansk, because they were a warship, they would remain outside the harbour - their ship docked alongside a British warship, a minesweeper.

"He said they had a bit of a party that evening, a few bottles of Russian vodka, until first light when they were told they were breaking berth and off on the return leg.

"He said a very short while later they heard the explosion. The minesweeper that was sitting alongside them had been struck and sunk.

"Ninety-five perished. He said that was a very poignant part of his life."

After serving in the Arctic convoys Reginald would later be part of the effort to release prisoners from Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany.

"Family members had sent him a tin of biscuits for several journeys," remembered Paul.

"But whenever the prisoners came out of the camp he decided they would be donated to one of the families.

"I took him biscuits at Christmas one time and that was what triggered this story off. He said this picturesque tin of biscuits is what meant so much to so many people at that stage.

"By no means was he a gallant hero, but he was just one of many who played their part and that's what in particular I liked about him."

After his wartime experiences, Reginald returned to Bangor where he worked in the Ministry of Defence and continued to serve in the Territorial Army for 35 years. A popular local figure with a love of people, he enjoyed walking and gardening, growing poppies in his garden.

At the age of 88 he even made a trip to Japan to visit one of his lifelong friends. Barry added: "I can only say he did have a good life, he lived it to the full."

Mr McClelland's funeral was held at John Gray and Co in Bangor with burial afterwards at Clandeboye Cemetery.

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