London's last armoured soldier to survive D-Day passes away
LONDON, ONT -- The Forest CIty's last living connection to the armoured regiments of D-Day has passed away.
Phil Cockburn was just a few months short of his 98th birthday.
Born July 26, 1922, he was on the beach at Juno as Canadians fought on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
He was a gunner for the London based First Hussars.
CTV News reporter Sean Irvine interviewed him extensively for two separate special features in 2004 and 2019.
In 2004, Phil revealed how fearful he was that his D-Day floating tank would not even make it to shore. Several other tanks sank in the rough seas around him.
Yet, the worst was still to come. Landing at the “Mike Red” section of Juno he was quickly in heavy action, and stunned by the scene around him.
“You wondered, is it real?”
Still his tank crew fired one of the first decisive shots of armour that morning, taking out a German position in a church tower.
“It was pretty rough, pretty scary,” he told Irvine in 2019.
Phil witnessed first hand the loss of life on D-Day, and expressed the mental and physical pain he still feels in both interviews.
When speaking of the friends he lost, he stated the bond he shares with them will never be forgotten, “They are like brothers. June 6 [is] a date I will never, ever forget.”
Phil died peacefully Thursday, his son Ray Cockburn tells CTV News.
However, he added his father “fought right until the end.”
First Hussars retired lieutenant colonel Joe Murray calls Cockburn the last of the greatest generation, adding he had signed up at just 17.
In later life, Ray says his father's “reason for living” was the young cadets he would frequently speak to.
“He would talk for hours, and the look on their faces, you could tell they were soaking in every word.”
In 2004, asked what we, as Canadians, could do to best remember those lost on the Juno Beach, he responded through tears and visual physical pain at the recollection.
“If [Canadians] are going to be in Europe, if they could just take a little time to see some these burial places. I think that would probably honour those men.”