Bill Dunkinson: Decorated D-Day veteran went on to run New Forest coal merchants

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Bill Dunkinson
Daughter Yvonne said Bill Dunkinson was “very much a village man. He adored Brockenhurst and his family”

A FORMER Brockenhurst coal merchant from one of the oldest family’s in the forest has died aged 97.

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William (Bill) Charles Dunkinson was born on the 3rd January 1922 in his family house at Latchmore, Brockenhurst, from where his grandfather went to work as a railway platelayer.

Moving to what locals knew as Pig Sty Lane in the village in 1926, his father John (Jack) started a coal business when Bill was ready to start school. Leaving school at age 14, Bill started working in the local garage run by Eardley Willmott as an apprentice motor mechanic.

He then worked for the Forestry Commission who had their headquarters and workshops at Lyndhurst Road station.

At the start of the Second World War Bill was working in the Forest in what was called a ‘protected’ or ‘reserved’ profession, which meant he was not called up to serve in the armed forces.

His brother Jack, however, did volunteer and joined the Navy at the beginning of the war but was sadly one of the 723 casualties lost at sea on HMS Gloucester.

During the Second World War Bill served as a volunteer member of the local fire brigade and remembered the fire watch when they would spend a couple of nights a week manning the station.

As well as a love for jazz music, sport played a huge part throughout Bill’s early years, particularly enjoying boxing at the Lyndhurst Boxing Club.

Bill also loved playing golf and caddied at Brokenhurst Manor Golf Club on the weekends after starting in 1931. He won his first competition at the age of 12 winning a hickory shafted putter which was presented by professional golfer JH Jolly.

Son Stuart said: “He was very much into his sports and had a huge interest in football. He helped Brockenhurst Football Club move from their old grounds to where it is now in the village, but without a doubt his biggest passion was golf.

“He lived for golf. He won the Hampshire Bowl in 1954 and many other trophies, and was also made an honorary member of Brokenhurst Manor.”

Following the death of his brother Jack, Bill joined the Navy as he felt like he would be following the family tradition as his father and brother had both been in the Navy before.

In October 1942 he went by train to Southampton for a medical. Having passed the medical he was called up two months later. After training Bill was given the rank of leading seaman.

Bill was posted to the US which saw him travel all over the country to Chicago and eventually New Orleans where he joined his ship, an LST 180 – a landing ship tank – which was the only craft on which he served during the war.

Sailing to Virginia, they loaded their first cargo of machines ready for the war, The 9th Flotilla as they were known crossed the Atlantic to Gibraltar, then on to Algiers, down through the Suez Canal stopping at Aden and then onto Bombay, Calcutta and Madras where they were due to take part in a raid on the Japanese occupied Andaman Islands.

They were called back to England at the last minute to prepare for the invasion of Europe. With D-Day approaching, Bill was anchored off the coast of the Isle of Wight at Cowes on his fully loaded LST 180 ready for the signal.

After a day’s delay due to bad weather, they left Cowes on the evening of 5th June arriving at Gold Beach in Normandy at 4am.

With all the men, tanks and lorries landed from the ships, the LST stayed anchored at Normandy all day under difficult conditions before being loaded up with the wounded from Gold and Juno beaches ready for the return journey to England.

Stuart added: “He was incredibly well travelled for his age thanks to his career in the Navy and he was also able to keep up his love for boxing.”

Near the end of the war in April 1945, Bill came home when his father suffered a heart attack. His father was ill for some weeks and subsequently died.

With no one able to run his father’s coal business, Bill was discharged from the Navy to take over. His colleagues onboard packed up his possessions and sent them to Brockenhurst train station where he was very pleased to see his boxing gloves.

For his service, Bill was awarded the Burma Star, the Atlantic Star, the 1939-1945 Star and the 1939-1945 War Medal. On the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings a French admiral presented him with a commemoration medal from the Normandy Region Council.

Family played a large part in Bill’s life, none more so than his wife Pat. The couple married in 1952 at New Milton Baptist Church and had three children: John, Yvonne and Stuart.

Yvonne said: “My dad loved jazz music, he could tell you about a piece of music only by hearing it just like that. He would go to many local concerts in Southampton as well as Bournemouth.

“He loved his golf, his pitching and putting was second to none – he was very competitive and he liked to win. Dad was very much a village man, he adored Brockenhurst and his family.”

His eldest son John, who lives in Seattle in the United States, said: “He absolutely loved his football. He played as a central defender for Brockenhurst until he was 38 years of age. Not only did he play but he always volunteered his time and effort to help out with the teams jumble fairs and it was always his lorry that would be seen to help deliver the jumble.”

Bill ran his father’s coal merchant business until he decided to close it in 1982, becoming a handyman at the Careys Manor Hotel where he spent many happy years until he called it a day at the age of 81.

A celebration of his life took place at St Nicholas’ Church in Brockenhurst last month. Bill is survived by his three children, wife Pat and their nine grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

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