Tributes paid to decorated Portsmouth hero who risked his life to scout beaches of Normandy and Sicily

TRIBUTES have been paid to a '˜devoted family man' who risked his life on secretive beach landing missions during the Second World War.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 5:13 pm
John Bowden and the Legion d'Honneur he received earlier this year
John Bowden and the Legion d'Honneur he received earlier this year

Royal Navy veteran John Bowden was one of an elite team tasked with scouting beaches in Normandy and the Italian island of Sicily prior to major Allied invasions.

The 95-year-old would lay unseen, taking detailed notes on the beaches – just metres away from Nazi guards.

His bravery earned him the Distinguished Service Medal.

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Now his loving family have united to pay tribute to him after his death.

Proud son Michael, 70, of Gloucestershire, said: ‘John was a devoted family man and always encouraged the children to do their best.

‘He found the love of his life with his late wife Doreen – a love that was missing from his early childhood years.

‘Although he was short, he was full of energy, was positive, cheerful, keen and enthusiastic.’

John was born on July 12, 1921, in central London.

His childhood was traumatic and by the age of four he and his four siblings were abandoned by their parents and taken into the care of Portsmouth Corporation, where he stayed until joining the navy at 16.

Having completed his gunnery training at HMS St Vincent in Gosport, he joining the doomed HMS Hood as war broke out.

By May 1940 he was on the converted merchant ship HMS Foylebank and survived a deadly attack by German bombers in July 1940, which killed some 70 people.

After recovering, he joined fast patrol boat HMS Dielette where he again dodged death when a German shell passed through the crafts’s hull without exploding during a raid on Dieppe in August 1942.

By 1943 he had volunteered for the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties and carried out his first beach recce 
off the coast of Sicily soon after.

Launched from a submarine, John and his officer Lieutenant Peter Wild, paddled to shore under cover of darkness, hunting for suitable Allied invasion spots.

He tackled five such missions and helped signal the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, earning the DSM.

His service also saw him tackling similar special operations in Normandy in preparation for the D-Day invasion – efforts for which he this year received France’s top medal for bravery, the Legion d’Honneur.

After the war, John continued with the navy until 1964, before working with Hawker Siddeley in Portsmouth.

John lived in Chilcote Road, Copnor, for about 40 years before moving to Gloucestershire where he died.

He leaves two sons, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.