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The Last Man Standing, the story of Dennis Donovan, 48 Royal Marine Commando Juno Beach

Updated: May 30

The Story of Dennis Donovan, the last man standing, 48 Royal Marine Commando.

Dennis was born on the 3rd of June 1924 in Stepney, East London, England. When the war broke out in 1939, he was 15 and his school was evacuated to the countryside. He went to work in a precision instrument making factory in Camberwell, London, nine months later he left to work as a messenger boy at the Port of London Authority, and in January 1943, aged 18 he was called up to fight in World War 2.

He joined the Royal Marines and was sent to Exxon Camp now Lympstone, Devon for basic training and then onto the Infantry training camp at Dalditch Camp on Woodbury Common itself. On completion he was attached to the 7th Battalion of the Royal Marines and shipped off to Sicily as a battle casualty replacement. Before arriving in Sicily he was transferred to a small boat from the troop carrier in North Africa and taken to Malta, to wait for transport to Sicily. While there he went down with sandfly fever, so he stayed a little longer before boarding a marine cruise ship for Augusta, Sicily to join up with his new unit. The Battalion was now conducting occupation duties and POW guarding, he was in Sicily for a few weeks, and in this time he climbed Mount Etna, twice!

His battalion was then sent to Taranto in Italy to act as security for the port and the large railway junction, they also guarded POW's prisoners and stayed there for a short time before being called back to Paisley in Scotland.

Here they were joined by Royal Marines Mobile Defence Force 2 for selection for a new commando unit, to be Commanded by Lt-Colonel J. L. Moulton DSO, it would be the last to be raised in World War 2 and named 48 Royal Marine Commando.

Once selected they moved to the Commando Basic Training Centre, Achnacarry, Scotland, for 18 days of intensive Commando training. This was followed by more training in Gravesend, in the south of England to train on the river Thames and beaches, in preparation for D-Day, although they did not know this at the time. The Unit was then taken by train from Gravesend to Southampton about four days before D-Day, to a camp which was guarded by Americans. Here Dennis celebrated his 20th birthday. On the 5th of June they went to the Southampton to board 6 wooden landing craft and sailed for France during the night. None of them had helmets only their green berets.

It was only here that they received orders of what they were to do on arrival in Normandy and their landing point, Juno Beach. Dennis arrived at 08:30 with the Canadian North Shore Regiment who had not yet secured the beach, 48's battle started close to shore before even reaching the sands, they battled their way off the exposed beach against concentrated fire through St. Aubin-sur-Mer and on to Langrune-sur-Mer suffering 25% casualties.

CO 48 (RM) Cdo, Lt Col J. Moulton, watches a Canadian M-10 tank destroyer approaching a disabled Royal Marines Centaur tank during the attack on the WN26 strongpoint, Langrune-sur-Mer, 7 June 1944, colourised by Champagne Commando @ChampagneCdo

On the 7th they fought stongpoint to strongpoint in Langrune and lost many more men. They then fought their way to Sallenelles via Drouvres–La-Deliverande and Pegasus Bridge, they stayed in this area for about three months in slit trenches before breaking out. Dennis returned to the UK for signals training, when he returned the unit had already been through Operation Infatuate, the liberation of Walcheren, and a lot of familiar faces were missing.

Dennis Donovan with the Mayor of Langrune

The Unit then operated on the river Meuse/Maas fighting the Germans in the wetlands and rivers of the Bieschbosh until the end of the war. He celebrated his 21st here. After the surrender they were sent to Minden in Germany to clear an area for the Royal Navy HQ and from there they moved into the German countryside to protect farms and farmers and their families from being attacked by displaced persons.

He was sent back to Barmouth in Wales in early 1946 and was demobilized in June 1946 at the Royal Marines Barracks in Chatham .

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