Tributes have flowed for well-known andÂ popular war heroÂ and former Bideford mayor Clifford Coates who has died just two weeks before his 97th birthday.
HisÂ extraordinaryÂ life - serving his country and community - will beÂ celebrated in hisÂ funeral service at the North Devon Crematorium on Thursday.Â
Bideford town councillor Dermot MCGeough summed up thoughts of many with his tribute: "I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of such a great man who was loved by so many people.
"He was a war hero, Bidefordâ€™s fire station chief, Mayor, local businessman, but most of all a family man."
The former 41 Commando Royal Marine and D-Day veteran who landed on Sword Beach was a loving husband to the lateÂ Evelyn, father to Jenny, a loved grandad, great grandad, great great grandad and uncle.
Although North Devon was his home for over 70 years, Cliffordâ€™s amazing life story began among the billowing Lancashire chimney mills in the 1920s.Â
â€œDad was born in Burnley in 1925 and it was my mum that brought him down to North Devon,â€ said Jenny. â€œMum was living in Accrington with an aunt and uncle, andÂ she met my dad at a dance.Â
â€œMumâ€™s aunt and uncle then brought a farm in SouthÂ Molton, so dad decided to come down with them, finding a job in the local areaÂ in 1947.Â He had actually been stationed atÂ FremingtonÂ Camp during the War, so he knew all about SouthÂ Molton.â€Â
Clifford was desperate to contribute to the national war effort and, despite still being a teenager, he joined thousands of brave comrades in the D-Day landings of 1944.Â
â€œHe forged his age to get into the Royal Marines and worked in the Special Services,â€ saidÂ Jenny. â€œHe came out of the Army in 1947, having seen a great deal of action in the war.Â
â€œDad was wounded in Italy, recovered from that and went to Dartmouth to train on landing craft. He was part of the units that took landing craft from the Isle of Wight to Normandy on D-Day.Â
â€œAfter leaving the forces, he trained as an upholsterer, owning a business in Bideford called â€˜Coatesâ€™. He retained that proud link with the military throughout his life.Â
â€œDad worked at the British Legion Headquarters in High Street, he was the Station Officer in Bideford and town Mayor in the 1970s, so he has always been a major figure in local life. He fell in love with North Devon.
â€œAfter retirement, he continued to work tirelessly to support our troops and when the Army went into Afghanistan, he was part of the team that established the Shoebox Appeal.Â
â€œHe was also the South-West area representative for the Royal Marine AssociationÂ and, having experienced life on the frontline, it was very important for dad to give something back to the next generation of troops.â€Â
In 2015, Clifford wasÂ awarded the highest decoration in France, when he was appointed to the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre national de la LÃ©gionÂ dâ€™honneurÂ â€“ a knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honour â€“ 71 years after the biggest sea-bourneÂ invasion in history.Â
Clifford returned to the Normandy beaches every year after 1944, up until the interruption of Covid, once meeting the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.Â
A special tribute was paid to him on the Bideford Town Council website.
Clifford was Mayor of Bideford for the 1976-1977 term, a time when the 1974 Boroughs Act was settling in and Bideford was changed fromÂ a Borough to a Town Council â€“ with emergence of Torridge District Council as the authority.
During hisÂ term as Mayor, he co-founded (with the Mayor of Landivisiau) the Bideford/Landivisiau Twinning Association (which will celebrate its 45 year Charter in 2022). The Association is still going strong.
The tribute said: "Clifford has always shown a great interest in Bideford Town Council, in his advancing years and has attended many of the Civic functions, enjoying meeting up with councillors for a newly installed Mayorâ€™s Introduction, coming along to Manor Court and attending the Twinning Receptions. And not forgetting his attendance to every Remembrance Day even including this year when he enjoyed catching up with Town Council staff and Councillors. Clifford will be very sadly missed by all who knew him."
CllrÂ MCGeough said: "IÂ will miss visiting him at his house, enjoying a rum with him listening to his stories and his passion for Bideford."
CllrÂ Â Peter Christie said: "I am very sad to hear of Clifford's passing.Â I remember Clifford mainly from his days on the Bridge Trust where, as an ex-Marine, he was adamant that every child in Bideford should be able to swim. His fellow trustees agreed to his suggestion that we should fund swimming lessons at the Northam Pool - and pay for transport there - something we still do today - a practical memorial to Clifford."Â
CllrÂ Simon Inch added: "Such sad news about Clifford. Whilst I did not serve on the Council at the same time, I did meet him on several occasions at civic functions. Clifford served Bideford well as Mayor and his country when he was in the Marines. HeÂ was a very well respected gentleman."
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