Tributes to D-Day veteran who braved land mines to find his friend
A Worthing D-Day veteran's courage in searching for his friend's grave in war-torn Germany has been praised at his funeral.
Alan Coppen spent 14 weeks in hospital after being wounded by shrapnel in 1944, before returning to his regiment as it fought into Germany.
He died at a Worthing care home on May 6, aged 92 with family and friends from near and far paying tribute at a service on May 30, almost 73 years after D-Day.
Stepson Leo Patrick, 67, himself a retired member of the navy, said: “He was a very ordinary man doing extraordinary things.”
Born in Cambridge in 1925, ‘grand-père’ Alan attended the pretigious Perce School before joining the army as a volunteer in January 1943.
Leo said: “He joined as early as he could.
“He was actually under 18, desperate to do his part.”
Landing in France as part of D-Day, Alan fought across Europe with the Somerset Light Infantry regiment.
He was hospitalised by shrapnel from a mortar bomb in Normandy in August 1944, but returned 14 weeks later and continued fighting.
After the war Alan, still stationed in Germany, asked for leave to fulfill a promise to find his comrade Arthur Law’s grave and send a photograph to his mother.
Leo said: “He knew Arthur had been killed in Germany in 1944 but not sure if he had been properly buried.
“He found Arthur’s grave but the search turned out to be dangerous because there were destroyed tanks everywhere and mines.
“Unexpected help came from the Steffens family who became life-long friends.”
After going on to serve in Korea, Alan moved to Worthing in 1960 and met Leo and his sister Joanna’s mother Margaret in 1961.
Working many jobs, Alan struggled to settle outside the military, but eventually found comfort as a postman.
Leo said: “His experiences of the war, like so many of his generation, made a profound impression on his life.”
His wife Margaret died in November 1993 after 32 years together and the arrival of three grandchildren: Jessica, Emma and Timothy.
Leo said: “Life seemed to come to an end for Alan, the days lost lustre and interest but he kept going, following the Churchillian mantra.
He later formed a ‘loving companionship’ with old friend Elsie Miles, Leo said.
Leo was also keen to praise the ‘angels’ working at the Larkswood Residential Home in St Botolph’s Road where he spent his final days.
In a message read at the funeral the Steffens family in Germany, now in its third generation since meeting Alan, described him as ‘open-minded’ and ‘friendly’ with a ‘strong sense of humour’.