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Dunedin man honored for contributions to liberation of France during World War II

Good for you | by Nova Beall

Basil Woolf of Dunedin was appointed a Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his contributions to the liberation of France during World War II.

The 89-year-old was honored May 3 at the Boynton Beach Civic Center for his association with the Support Squadron Eastern Flank and his participation in the Normandy invasion, which took place June 6, 1944.

Presenting the award was Capt. Philippe Petitdidier from the French detachment at U.S. Central Command, Tampa.

To receive this award, Woolf answered an ad in 2000 placed by the French ambassador asking all those who had been part of the Normandy invasion for proof of participation. Woolf's information was researched and documented, and he received his appointment this year.

He was born in 1923 in Hackney, London. He volunteered for the Royal Navy in the early 1940s and was initially sent to Norfolk, Va., for training in landing craft infantry. There, Petty Officer Motor Mechanic Woolf and his shipmates learned the intricacies of flat-bottomed beach landing craft that included gunboats, rocket-firing ships and a headquarter ship (LCH 269).

The fleet of ships ferried supplies to Malta, smuggled guerillas into Crete and took part in Sicily and Italy landings.

"We followed the war around," said Woolf.

The vessel on which he served, LCH 269, provided logistical support during the invasion of Normandy.

When the beach had finally been secured, Allied soldiers made their way to a row of boarding houses and discovered they'd been connected underground by a series of tunnels. "The Germans who'd been using them got out in a hurry," Woolf recounted. "The coffee cups were still warm."

Following D-day, the ships returned for repairs and refitting to their home base of Poole, Dorset, in southern England.

Woolf also took part in the Battle of Walcheren Island, a mission similar to Normandy but on a smaller scale.

The goal of Operation "Infatuate" was to position more than two dozen landing crafts onto the shoreline of the heavily fortified Dutch island in order to deploy Royal Marine commandos whose orders were to systematically silence each German gun position. Only then could Allied supply ships travel the Scheldt River safely and unload much-needed supplies.

The attack began around 7 a.m. Nov. 1, 1944. Heavy seas and stormy weather made anticipated air support impossible.

Ultimately, the mission was a success after an intense firefight lasting nearly five hours that resulted in a large number of casualties and damage to most of the vessels.

A London Daily Mail story dated Nov. 2, 1944, reported that out of 25 gun and support landing craft taking part in the operation, nine were sunk and eight badly damaged.

"By the end of the operation, our ship, the only left, limped into Poole Harbor," Woolf notes in his memoirs. "Our ship returned with a crew of 18 and many wounded men in our troop quarters."

For his meritorious action in the face of the enemy, Woolf was acknowledged by the First Lord of the British Admiralty on behalf of the King of England and Mentioned in Despatches, published Nov. 14, 1944, in the London Gazette.

Lychgate, a permanent memorial to those who took part in the Walcheren operation, was installed July 5, 1952, at St. Michael's Church, Blandford Road, Hamworthy, near Poole.

That same year, Woolf and his family emigrated and he became an American citizen. They came to Florida 25 years ago from New Jersey and have lived in Dunedin since 2000.

The couple have three children and four grandchildren.

• • •

Raytheon Co. celebrated Math Awareness Month by awarding Bradley England of Clearwater a $1,000 scholarship to be used for a math, science or technology camp or program or saved for college. His school, Palm Harbor Middle, received a matching grant.

Raytheon is awarding $300,000 to 150 students and schools across the country as part of its MathMovesU program.

Scholarship recipients were selected from a pool of middle school students who created multimedia presentations that illustrated the importance of math in their daily lives.

Dunedin man honored for contributions to liberation of France during World War II 05/22/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 7:27pm]
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