CLOVERDALE — John Molyneux’s nickname should be “Lucky,” if he doesn’t have one by now.
The 96-year-old Cloverdale resident and veteran of the Second World War had the good fortune to be transferred from HMS Hood, the pride of Britain’s Royal Navy, roughly a month before it was famously sunk by the Bismark. He also missed D-Day by one day.
Assigned to a corvette – a small warship – that was scheduled to escort troops on D-Day, his ship ran aground at the assembly point in England and arrived on the Normandy side of the English Channel the following day.
“There was a bit of firing going on, the odd plane going over,” he recalled. “There was quite a few dead bodies floating around in the water.”
His corvette remained anchored at the beachhead, and he returned to England a day later.
“I was there for one night.”
Molyneux’s daughter Margot recently submitted papers on his behalf, toward him receiving a Legion d’honneur medal. The National Order of the Legion of Honour is a French decoration established by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Molyneux was 19 when he volunteered to join Britain’s Royal Navy in 1939.
“If you didn’t choose,” he said, “they put you in the infantry. Nobody wanted to go in the infantry.”
He joined the Hood, the navy’s celebrated battlecruiser, in July 1940, and was assigned to the magazine, four decks down.
“Not a good place to be.”
The German battleship sunk the Hood on May 24, 1941 during the Battle of Denmark Strait, sending all but three of 1,418 sailors to a watery grave.
“I left the Hood a month before it was sunk,” he recalled.
Molyneux has a framed photo of HMS Hood on his living room wall.
He recalls being on leave and in a pub with his stepfather in Dorset when he learned of the sinking.
“I was pretty shocked, actually. I thought well, this is a terrific loss for the British Navy.
“It was a bad time, all kinds of things were being lost.”
Molyneux rose to the rank of lieutenant and earned five medals, including the Burma Star for his service in the Indian Ocean. He also sailed the waters around Iceland, and in the Mediterranean Sea. He also served on an aircraft carrier.
After the war, Molyneux immigrated to Canada and met his wife, whom he married in 1962.
Her name is Kathleen Norma, “but everybody calls me Betty,” she says.
Until recently, Molyneux might well have been the oldest person still working in B.C. He finally retired after selling his business, Manor Insurance, in Burnaby on Sept. 21.
“I like to keep occupied,” he said. “I hate to sit down and do nothing. The last year I didn’t go to the office very much, I worked from home mostly.”
Does he miss going to work?
“I do, in a way.”