A Fettercairn man who stormed the Normandy beaches as part of the D-Day landings in 1944 has been awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French Government.
Douglas Cooper, 95, was conscripted into the elite Royal Marines in 1942, and trained in Kent before seeing action in Tripoli and Sicily, but as the build-up for the invasion of Europe gained momentum, he returned to the south of England for further training.
He said: “Although we were not told the nature of the operation we were being sent on, it was clear that it was something big.
“The roads were crowded with vehicles that were crawling bumper to bumper, and local people lined the roadsides and threw flowers.”
Mr Cooper was on one of the 7,000 vessels that made up the invasion fleet on June 6 1944, and marvelled at the size of the force, which “stretched as far as the eye could see.”
The invasion had been postponed on a number of occasions due to bad weather, and even on the day there was a heavy swell which caused severe sea sickness among many of the troops.
Artillery fire caused havoc for the landing ships as they approached, and the beaches were raked with machine gun fire from the well-prepared German emplacements.
Like many combat-seasoned veterans, Mr Cooper does not say much about his wartime exploits, but highlights the constant bombardment, the colossal loss of life and the carnage of the V1 ‘doodlebug’ rockets, as some of his worst memories of the war.
After being sent to recuperate in Wales, he was demobbed in 1946 and returned to work at the Fettercairn Distillery, where he became manager in 1977. He was pivotal in establishing the visitor centre and had a whisky named after him by legendary Whyte and Mackay Master Distiller Richard Patterson.
Today, Mr Cooper still lives in the bungalow near the distillery where he and his late wife Elma brought up their family of four.
In 1987, in recognition of his contribution to the whisky industry and the community Douglas was awarded the British Empire Medal.
An excerpt from Mr Cooper’s Legion of Honour citation reads: “We owe our freedom and security to your dedication because you were ready to risk your life.”