Awarded the Military Medal for his actions during the Normandy campaign, Rifleman Andrew Charles of Magherafelt was one of the last surviving D-Day veterans.
Rifleman Andrew Charles (6986230) served in B Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers during the Second World War. He was born in Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry in September 1924. During the conflict, he was a recipient of the Military Medal for his role in the Normandy campaign.
During the Second World War, Charles first served as a young boy with the Local Defence Volunteers, a forerunner of the Ulster Home Guard. He ran training courses in Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry while based in nearby Desertmartin.
In May 1942, he then enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers serving time at barracks in Omagh, Co. Tyrone.
Before long, Charles transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles, joining 2nd Battalion and travelling to Great Britain. Spending time in Scotland and the south of England, Rifleman Charles and the other recruits prepared for what would become Operation Overlord. He landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, 6th June 1944. His brother Allen Charles also took part in the operation, sadly losing his life after two days of fighting in Normandy on 8th June 1944. Meanwhile, unaware of his brother’s death, Andrew continued the fight through northern France.
On 18th July 1944, two 7.5cm German guns pinned back ‘B’ Company as they tried to take Sanneville. Lieutenant Lyttle, though outside his own company area, gathered some men and flanked the first gun. Rifleman Andrew Charles and his Bren gun along with a Rifleman McNally crossed the road under intense fire. Making it to within 50 yards of the gun, they opened up with their Bren guns and put in “steady, deadly fire”. He received the Military Medal in July 1944 for his actions.
Andrew continued to battle through northwest Europe with 2nd Battalion. In September 1944, while in the Netherlands, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery visited the battalion. He presented the Military Medal to Rifleman Charles. Only a few months later, Charles received injuries near the River Maas, the Netherlands in December 1944. Authorities evacuated the rifleman, sending him to a military hospital in London and then on to another in Belfast. He discharged himself in early 1946.
After returning to Ulster, Andrew, known to family and friends as Andy, worked for Northern Ireland Electricity. He was an active member and supporter of Magherafelt Royal British Legion for many years. In 2016, Andrew was one of 40 veterans awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government for their role in the Normandy campaign.
On the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day or V.E. Day, Charles received a visit from members of the Magherafelt branch of the Royal British Legion. Chairman Comrade Derek Finlay and Standard Bearer Comrade Vance Finlay extended their thanks to the veteran for his work and service.
The Imperial War Museum holds a 14-page memoir of Andrew’s wartime activities. These writings provide an insight into his attitude to war, stories of corn farming, life in Brussels, and meeting Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. A published edition of the work entitled ‘My War’ was made available.
Andrew “Andy” Charles M.M. died on 23rd October 2022 aged 98 years old at Antrim Area Hospital, Co. Antrim. He was one of the last surviving D-Day veterans. Pre-deceased by his wife Cora, Andy is survived by his son Paul Charles, daughter-in-law Catherine, and family. A funeral service took place on 25th October 2022 to St. Comgall’s Church of Ireland Churchyard, Desertmartin, Co. Londonderry.