Bo’ness Navy man who braved the hell of stricken Juno Beach
Donald Argent is the last person to make a fuss about his terrifying multiple brushes with death in June, 1944.
Now aged 96, he is a resident in a Polmont care home, but while originally from Gravesend in Kent he went on to live in Bo’ness for fully seven decades after the war.
His life changed forever when he joined the Royal Navy, aged just 17, because it was during his war service that he met and fell in love with Bo’ness woman Margaret (Rita), now passed away.
Their life together could easily have been ruined by any one of dozens of near misses during and after D-Day, when young Donald, now a Leading Seaman aged 22, found himself in the eye of the storm on shell-torn Juno Beach.
He had already had one lucky escape, when a ship he had been due to join was torpedoed.
Then he found himself in the vanguard of the greatest amphibious invasion of all time.
“I was driving a landing craft packed full of tanks and Canadian soldiers when we hit a mine”, he said.
“We were stuck on the beach under heavy fire for two days”.
His story has been neatly captured in a school essay written by his grandson Ryan (now grown up) when he was in P7 at Kinneil Primary.
Donald’s reward for those endless hours of torment on the beach battlefield was the knowledge that the Nazis’ vaunted Atlantic Wall had failed, and that the carapace of Hitler’s rotten Reich had been fatally breached.
That, and a week’s leave while his ship underwent repairs in Portsmouth.
Four years earlier the naval traffic had been heading in the other direction after Dunkirk, and as a 16 year old Home Guard volunteer he would have been only too well aware of the mortal danger facing Britain.
Like countless others, he volunteered for active service as soon as HM Forces would have him.
Following his brief spell of respite after the D-Day landings he had to return to Juno Beach to help with the grim task of collecting the dead and ferrying the wounded to safety.
Then, while his ship was refuelling in Caen harbour, a German plane was shot down and plunged into the dockside “just missing our ship”.
It was the closest he came to being killed.
By that time the Navy had won its war, and the Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former murderous self, but Don had to undergo training for the Far East, where the Japanese military dictatorship - beaten, but afraid of the consequences of surrender - was refusing to capitulate.
But the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Soviet conquest of Manchuria, brought that war to an abrupt close.
Back at Chatham docks, Don was issued with a demob outfit (including a trilby hat), along with the £71 he’d saved up during hostilities.
He went back to the papermill he’d worked in as a boy, but in 1948 moved to Bo’ness to marry Rita - the wartime sweetheart he had met during a Naval stint at Rosyth.
Donald is officially a hero, having been presented with the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur by a grateful French government - but he has no desire to celebrate.
“At the end of the day I would not like to do it all again”, he says.
“All the dead were not worth the victory”.
Nevertheless his life story continues to inspire his family.
His daughter-in-law Teresa is pleased that her youngest son Harry is now the proud owner of his grandpa’s medal.
“He will always be our family’s hero”, she said.