Eugène Guinebault http://www.francaislibres.net/liste/fiche.php?index=72966 , who has died aged 89, landed with the Commandos on D-Day; he was badly wounded and was subsequently awarded the Croix de Guerre
Shortly before D-Day, Guinebault and his fellow Frenchmen were transferred from 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, comprised of troops from countries of occupied Europe, to 4 Commando. When the invasion came, the unit’s objective would be the former casino at Ouistreham, which commanded the beach in front of the town and had been turned into a strongpoint.
The troops received their final briefing on Southampton Common. The names of the towns and villages on the aerial photographs had been altered, but some of the French troops recognised the area immediately. The planners of Overlord were so concerned about a possible breach of security that all the Frenchmen were confined to camp until they sailed.
Just after 7.30 on the morning of June 6 1944, the ramp of Guinebault’s landing craft went down and he jumped into the water. Sword Beach was obscured by smoke, and the rattle of small arms fire could be heard above the roar of the naval guns. Guinebault was carrying a mortar. A comrade who was carrying the bombs for it was drowned.
When the troop came under heavy fire from a German position in a field, Guinebault was ordered to retaliate. He took a mortar and some bombs from a dead German and opened fire. It was a much larger weapon than the one he had brought, and his commanding officer was astonished at the destruction it caused.
The Commandos took the former casino before advancing between Colleville and Saint-Aubin d’Arquenay to meet the British paratroopers holding Pegasus Bridge. Guinebault was hit in the arm early in the day. He was loaded on to a stretcher which was carried by two German PoWs, but when they were strafed by a German aircraft they dropped the stretcher and took to their heels.
Shrapnel from the explosion cut through Guinebault’s helmet like a tin opener and many fragments were lodged in his body. He was evacuated and, in the course of a long stay in hospital and several operations, he was fortunate not to have the arm amputated.
Eugène Joseph Guinebault was born at La Selle Craonnaise, south of Laval, Brittany, on May 31 1923 and educated at the village school. He joined the Free French Navy and served with the 1st Battalion de Fusiliers Marins. After the destruction of the French Fleet, he escaped to Spain and then to England.
He volunteered for intensive Commando training at Achnacarry, Scotland, and in December 1943 took part in a raid on Jersey. In one of several Commando missions code-named Hardtack, two men were killed and one wounded after they walked into a minefield. The explosions alerted the German garrison and the operation had to be abandoned.
At the end of the war, Guinebault’s gallant service with the Free French was recognised by the award of the Croix de Guerre.
After going into the catering business, he rose to become head waiter at the Savoy hotel in London. Among those he served were Winston Churchill and members of the Royal family. In the 1980s he ran a restaurant in Bexhill-on-Sea and then a launderette in north-east London.
In retirement at Leigh-on-Sea, he enjoyed watching the Tour de France and French international rugby matches, and having a flutter at race meetings.
He was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur in 2004.
Eugène Guinebault married, in 1945, Joan Smith. She predeceased him and he is survived by their two sons and one daughter.
Eugène Guinebault, born May 31 1923, died September 6 2012