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Former radio officer Donald 'Don' Hunter, a Second World War veteran who campaigned tirelessly to ensure recognition for fellow Merchant Navy seafarers, has died at the age of 98.


Don was just a teenager and not long out of radio college when he took part in Operation Neptune, the combined Royal and Merchant Navy landings at five Normandy beaches.

Under heavy fire he landed on the beach codenamed Juno on 6 June  1944. He had sailed there on his first ship, the Empire Pickwick, a Landing Ship Infantry vessel, along with the Regiment of the 51st Highland Division. He vividly recalled that 'terrifying experience', where the bombardment permanently damaged his hearing.

After a visit to Normandy in 2002, Don was sad to see no memorial to commemorate Merchant Navy seafarers killed in Operation Neptune. Within a year, he and his wife Jean had fundraised enough to make it happen, and the first memorial – a plaque on the wall of the D-Day Museum in Arromanches  – was unveiled on 6 June 2003 by Winston Spencer Churchill.

Born in Harrow, Greater London, in 1926, Don went to radio college and later served in the Merchant Navy on three Norwegian ships during the Second World War's Battle of the Atlantic, progressing to the position of chief radio officer, with his service extending over three war areas.

During their life together, Don and Jean raised over £80,000 for two memorials ensuring Merchant Navy seafarers serving in conflict are never forgotten:  the one in Normandy and another larger one in Dover, where a statue of a Merchant Navy seafarer with binoculars has stood proudly on the Marine Parade seafront since 2008.

In 2001, Don and Jean, in conjunction with Dover District Council, also organised a Merchant Navy Day remembrance ceremony on 3 September which has become an annual commemorative service followed by a wreath laying ceremony at the Dover Merchant Navy Memorial. They also persuaded Dover Council to restore the run-down Royal Norwegian Navy's Second World War Garden of Remembrance on the Dover seafront.

On 7 February 2020, Don was presented with Norway's highest honour – HM The Norwegian King's Commemorative Gold Medal. This royal decoration of Norway was established in 1906 by King Haakon VII. It is awarded to individuals for particularly meritorious service to the King. The citation reads: 'For your valuable service in helping to restore freedom to our country'.

In 2004,The French Embassy also presented Don with the highest French military and civilian order of merit  – Légion d’Honneur – for his part in the Normandy Landings.

As active members of the Merchant Navy Association and the Normandy Veterans' Association, the couple visited Normandy on many occasions to take part in remembrance services and wreath laying at war cemeteries.

Don received a military funeral on 22 April 2024 in Tenterden, Kent, where Ian said he had been 'very proud' to hear all the tributes read in memory of his father from representatives of the Merchant Navy, the Royal Navy, Royal Engineers and the Royal Norwegian Naval Attaché.

Ian had hoped to have been able to take his father to Normandy for this year's 80th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. Instead, he hopes to lay a commemorative wreath there to honour his father and carry on the tradition of honouring Merchant Navy seafarers.

Donald Hunter is survived by his son Ian, who said: 'Dad leaves a great legacy and he will be greatly missed.'

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