ONE of York’s last surviving Normandy veterans - "true gentleman" Ken Smith - has died, aged 95.

Tributes have poured in for Ken, of Wheldrake, who paid one final visit with his wife Gloria to Gold Beach last June, 75 years after he waded ashore during the D-Day landings.

Nick Beilby, who organised the veterans’ trips back to Normandy each summer, said: “I have lost in Ken a great friend, an extremely articulate and intelligent man who never realised just how much he had done for others. A gentleman of the first order.”

Rachel Semlyen, a trustee of Yorkshire Air Museum, said she had met Ken and other surviving York veterans many times over the past few years and was always moved by hearing their first-hand experiences and their "personal lasting sadness for those who did not make it".

She said: “Ken was a model for that compassion and comradeship and, despite his great age, with Gloria by his side, he was always willing to share his memories and to do what he could to perpetuate the memory of his colleagues.

“He gave the impression that he would be around for much longer. We shall miss him enormously.”

Former Lord Mayor and York council leader Ian Gillies said Ken had been a "hero and a true gentleman".

Another former Lord Mayor, Brian Watson, who successfully pressed for the veterans to be given the Freedom of the City, said he had "lots of great memories" of Ken, who was a "true gentleman in every way", adding: “My heart goes out to Gloria and the family.”

Gloria’s son Mark said Ken died at home on Monday, three weeks after he had suffered a fractured femur in a fall.

He said his funeral would take place at the church in Wheldrake with just a very small number of family members present because of social distancing restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus.

However, there would be a full memorial service at a later date when the pandemic was over, with a guard of honour, "because he deserved it" - which he expected "hundreds and hundreds" of people to attend.

Ken told The Press of his dramatic and traumatic D-Day experiences some years ago, recounting how he headed for shore on a landing craft early on the invasion day, with 68lbs of kit on his back and the decks “alive with vomit".

He said a “bombastic little cockney kid” was on board who, when they were only a few hundred yards off shore, touched his shoulder and said: “I’m scared mate.”

Ken said: “I was shaking myself at that stage but I told him we’d look after each other, and at that moment I felt better and stopped shaking. I felt I had to.

“When we got in, we were waist deep in water. On the beach, there were shells and mortar bombs landing, some from our own navy, and the beach master told us to get off as quickly as possible.

“There was some machine gunning. We were zig-zagging up when the Cockney kid went down. But a voice from the back shouted ‘keep going lads’, and I couldn’t stop. I never found out if he died or survived. D-Day was the first time I had ever come across any death.”