Northern Ireland war veteran who faked his age to fight the Nazis on D-Day dies at 94
A Normandy veteran who forged a birth certificate to fight in the Second World War has died peacefully at the age of 94.
William Andrew McConnell MBE passed away at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast on Wednesday.
The father-of-five, grandfather-of-nine and great-grandfather of 24, was just 17 years old when he volunteered for service with the Royal Ulster Rifles.
Mr McConnell travelled to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of the landings, and continued to make the journey every year right up until his death.
After realising in 1994 that there was no permanent memorial to his fallen comrades, he raised the funds to establish a tribute that now stands at the Longueval and Swords beaches in honour of the 6th Airborne Division, with which he went on to serve with distinction.
After signing up in 1941, he eventually joined a glider assault squadron ahead of Operation Overlord, and crash-landed on D-Day (June 6, 1944) around 35 miles behind enemy lines - directly in the firing line of a SS Panzer unit.
His detachment suffered heavy casualties but managed to hold the Panzer unit's advance and eventually forced its withdrawal.
Mr McConnell's war was relatively uneventful until D-Day, but he then faced almost constant danger until the war's end.
March 1945 was particularly perilous for his unit, with the young corporal suffering shrapnel wounds during the Rhine landings in western Germany.
His daughter, Vivien (60), who was at his hospital bedside when he died, said her father was a lone parent to her and her siblings - Keith (67), Pat (65), Mark (63) and Doreen (57) - after their parents divorced.
"It's very hard to believe he's dead - I haven't really taken it in yet," said the Belfast woman.
"He was both our mother and father for all our lives. We're all just devastated."
Vivien shared a home with her dad, who was "everything" to her, while her two sisters and two brothers lived in England.
She said her dad had been unwell and had been in bed for a couple of weeks prior to being admitted to hospital on December 4 with a chest infection.
"I got to stay with him until the last," Vivien added, "but there's a massive void in my life now."
She stressed her father "didn't talk much about the war until he started going to France in the early 1990s, but said they enjoyed "an army life" growing up.
"He loved D-Day and he loved us taking him to France every year," Vivien explained
"Up to 18 of us go and he took memorials. Even up to last year he took the service. I'll bring his ashes over there next year.
"(He was) a quiet man. He was just wonderful and we loved him - every one of us adored him."
Mr McConnell's funeral will be held on December 10 - the day he got his MBE from the Queen - at 9.45am at the Wilton Funeral Home in Whitehouse, followed by a service at Roselawn Crematorium.
"I'm looking forward to giving him a good send-off," Vivien said. "I'll always remember him as a friend, as well as a dad".