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Cyril Banks: Friends pay tribute to Bishop's Stortford's popular D-Day and Royal Navy veteran – 'the life and soul of the party with a twinkle in his eye'



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Friends of Royal Navy Second World War veteran Cyril Banks, who has died aged 97, say they will miss the popular old sailor who was the life and soul of the party and had a twinkle in his eye.

Born on January 14, 1925, in Birchanger, Cyril lived virtually his whole life in Bishop's Stortford until the last two years. He was a familiar sight as, well into his 90s, he could be seen collecting for the Royal British Legion (RBL) Poppy Appeal and marching in the town's Remembrance parade.

The veteran, who had a key role in the D-Day landings in Normandy, lived off Parsonage Lane until two years ago, when he moved to a care home in Halstead.

Cyril Banks with his Best Hero Award in 2017. Pic: Vikki Lince (56833515)
Cyril Banks with his Best Hero Award in 2017. Pic: Vikki Lince (56833515)

Tracy Whitfield, who befriended Cyril and twice invited him for Christmas dinner with her family, said she was upset on learning of his death on May 6, but said she wanted to celebrate his life.

"He was quite a celebrity in the town," said Tracy, who last saw him in February.

Tracy, who is Community Matters champion at the Waitrose store in Northgate End, regularly saw Cyril before he moved to the care home, taking him shopping then dropping off groceries when he could no longer go to the shops.

Tracy Whitfield and Cyril Banks at the Not Forgotten Association's annual party at Buckingham Palace. (56833459)
Tracy Whitfield and Cyril Banks at the Not Forgotten Association's annual party at Buckingham Palace. (56833459)

In 2018, after hearing he had no one to share Christmas dinner with, Cyril spent the day with Tracy's family and regaled her two daughters with tales of his war exploits.

"We sat talking to him all Christmas Day," said Tracy, who added her daughters Evie, 15, and Kelsey, 21, were very upset to hear of Cyril's death. "Cyril was very proud of them and always asked after them.

"He was the life and soul of the party – very generous with his time."

Cyril enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1943, aged 18, and joined minesweeper HMS Ready. The teenage gunner's first months at sea were spent in the harsh Arctic convoys and in the North Sea patrolling for German U-boats.

Cyril Banks at 18 and in his 90s (56917452)
Cyril Banks at 18 and in his 90s (56917452)

HMS Ready was then deployed to the Channel, where its role was to clear the way to Gold Beach on the night before the Allied forces' D-Day Normandy beach landings on June 6, 1944. Codenamed Operation Overlord, they marked the start of the largest ever combined sea, air and land assault by the Allies and a drawn-out campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation.

More than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the battle, including over 209,000 Allied casualties.

Every year Cyril would travel to the scene of the landings to lay a wreath in memory of his fellow servicemen and women who gave their lives.

Cyril Banks with Royal British Legion Bishop's Stortford branch chairman Denise Hudson (56833403)
Cyril Banks with Royal British Legion Bishop's Stortford branch chairman Denise Hudson (56833403)

He wrote of his wartime exploits in a pamphlet titled Cyril's War and described the scene as HMS Ready was sent to sweep the channel to Gold Beach.

"We were expecting to be hit at any time by coastal guns, but we were lucky. The scene at daybreak was unbelievable. Hundreds of ships and landing craft dotted the landing area, the sky was black with aircraft."

He later described seeing an American paratrooper who died after he was strangled by the cords of the chute and "remembering he was some mother's son".

He added: "The horrendous things that were happening will live in my mind forever."

In 2012 Cyril was presented with the Legion d'Honneur by France for his part in the operation.

Cyril Banks on Good Morning Britain with presenters present and past Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan (56833436)
Cyril Banks on Good Morning Britain with presenters present and past Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan (56833436)

A widower after wife Vera died, Cyril found fame on breakfast TV's Good Morning Britain in 2020 when he met presenters Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid as it launched a campaign to support people who are lonely.

Cyril was seen on TV kissing a photo of Vera and afterwards he told the Indie of his involvement with the Not Forgotten Association, a charity which supports ex-servicemen and women. It was a cause dear to his heart.

His fame spread wider than in his home town and at one NFA Christmas party at St James' Palace, Princess Anne greeted him with "We meet again!"

Another friend, Heidi Barden, told how she met Cyril through her role as deputy Poppy Appeal organiser with Stortford's branch of the RBL.

"He was always a big part of the PA launch, a well-known face in Stortford, and he loved talking to everyone," said Heidi.

"I always found it very moving when out with him and people were so kind and respectful. When we went to the cinema to celebrate his 95th birthday, we were given a free taxi ride (thanks Jack from Associated), the cinema gave us complimentary tickets too. When we walked round to Wetherspoons, he was thoroughly spoilt with drinks, dessert and lots of well wishes."

Heidi added: "I, along with so many others, will miss him. I’ll miss his stories, his humour and the twinkle in his eye. I was lucky to know him and to know his story."

Cyril on an Armed Forces Day parade in Windhill (56850927)
Cyril on an Armed Forces Day parade in Windhill (56850927)

A spokesperson for the RBL Stortford branch said: "Cyril proudly marched in our Armed Forces Day and Remembrance Sunday parades and was instantly recognisable wearing his white Arctic Convoy beret.

"He supported the work of the Legion by helping complete the Old Contemptibles’ standard project and he never turned down a request to visit a school. Whoever he met he was always ready with a joke and a smile.

"We will remember him with much pride and affection and it was an honour to have known him."

Cyril's funeral, a private family affair, will be held at Parndon Wood Crematorium, Harlow, on Monday (May 30).

Cyril Banks at a launch of the Royal British Legion Bishop's Stortford branch's Poppy Appeal with Ernie Large and the late Joan Abbott. Pic: Vikki Lince. (56833462)
Cyril Banks at a launch of the Royal British Legion Bishop's Stortford branch's Poppy Appeal with Ernie Large and the late Joan Abbott. Pic: Vikki Lince. (56833462)
Tracey Whitfield's daughter Evie with Cyril when he spent Christmas Day with her family. Pic: Vikki Lince. (56833439)
Tracey Whitfield's daughter Evie with Cyril when he spent Christmas Day with her family. Pic: Vikki Lince. (56833439)
Cyril with a wreath he laid at the Castle Gardens war memorial in 2019 (56833442)
Cyril with a wreath he laid at the Castle Gardens war memorial in 2019 (56833442)


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