Tributes for Belfast D-Day hero Eddie Spence after his death aged 94
Tributes have been paid to a D-Day veteran from Northern Ireland who passed away just days after the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.
Royal Marine Eddie Spence (94), who lived in Newtownards for 50 years but was originally from the Shankill Road in Belfast, was just 19 on June 6, 1944, when he helped turn the tide of the Second World War.
His close friend Harry Cowan (69) described his funeral yesterday as "a very sad day" as he mourned his loss and recalled the important memories they shared together.
"Eddie often spoke about being in the water when the tide was coming in," he said.
"He would describe how most of the young men he was with fell down dead around him, but he had to keep going.
"It was either that or surrender himself to the sea or the gunfire."
Mr Cowan recalled Eddie talking about how his close friend was captured by German troops and taken away on a boat as a prisoner of war as he pressed ahead to reach land.
"He also met King George VI," he said.
"He had a conversation with him about Northern Ireland when the king turned up to inspect his troops.
"The king wished him 'Godspeed' after Eddie told him he was from the Shankill."
He moved from the Shankill Road to Newtownards after being threatened by paramilitaries.
Officers from the town's branch of the Royal British Legion flanked the roadside outside Clarke's funeral home and stood to attention as their former commissionaire's coffin was carried inside.
Mr Spence passed away peacefully in hospital on June 13 and is mourned by his wife Ruby and sons Edward and Terry Spence, an ex-Police Federation chairman.
It is understood his widow has dementia and lives in a care home.
Ards and North Down Borough Council expressed sadness at the seath of a man who attended last year's veterans' parade at Conway Square in Newtownards.
"He and his comrades played a vital role in initiating the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi Germany," the council said.
"His courage and valour on D-Day didn't go unnoticed."
His bravery was recognised by the French when he was awarded the Legion d'honneur in 2015, that nation's highest decoration, for his role in helping liberate the country.
Ards and North Down Borough Council added that Mr Spence and his comrades "are owed so much gratitude for their acts of courage" displayed during the Second World War.
"We will be eternally grateful," it added.
The Newtownards branch of the Royal British Legion expressed "deep regret" over Mr Spence's death adding: "This world has lost another heroic individual."
Many friends also took to social media last week and yesterday to pay tribute to "one of life's gentlemen".