Guard of honour tribute for Burnley D Day veteran Harvey who died a week before his 98th birthday
A Burnley born veteran of the D Day landings, who was used as a human guinea pig by Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin, to test how effective it was on war wounds, has died.
Pte Harvey O'Hara left school at the age of 15 and went to work in the mine at Pit Top. When he tried to sign up for the army they told him he was too young, but if he walked out of the door and round the block and came back he would be old enough!
Born in Key Street, Burnley Harvey went to Lionel Street School and grew up with a brother Jack and their sister Margaret. His father died a month before Harvey was born and although poor he had a happy life.
Harvey, who died a week short of his 98th birthday, eventually signed up for the army at the age of 17, just before World War Two, and he went all over during his training while he was stationed in Ashford in Kent.
He was then approached by the No 4 Commandos and asked to join 70th Battalion Welch regiment.
He was part of the first wave landing on Sword beach, the easternmost beach of the five landing areas of the Normandy Invasion of WW2. It was assaulted on June 6th, 1944 by units of the British 3rd Division, with French and British commandos attached.
They made it over Pegasus Bridge and held it intact until they were relieved by the main Briitsh invasion forces. The successful capture of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the aftermath of the Normandy invasion.
Five days into the operation Harvey was injured in an attack next to his best friend, Fred.
Suffering mainly from shrapnel wounds all over his body Harvey was rescued and taken to Churchy war hospital back in England for treatment.
It was here that young Harvey came under the care of the revered Fleming, the Scottish physician and microbiologist. His discovery of penicillin earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 and was described as a the 'single greatest victory ever achieved over disease.'
Harvey remained in the army until the end of the war, marrying his wife Maggie while home on leave after knowing her for only a week. They had met in Ashford as Harvey was lodging with her mother.
The couple moved to Burnley and Harvey worked in the offices at the former Prestige until his retirement.
Harvey and Maggie were married for 64 years, until her death in 2009, and they had five daughters, one son, 20 grandchildren, over 50 great grandchildren and 10 great great grandchildren
A lifelong Burnley fan, until Covid-19 Harvey had enjoyed attending pre season friendlies and had even visited Ireland with the supporters' club. His other hobbies included painting and blackberry picking and he was an active member of the Burnley Branch of the Commando Association where he was the secretary, organising annual coach trips to Fort William for Remembrance Day.
More recently he enjoyed his weekly game of dominoes with St Stephen’s over 50’s group and visiting veterans in the community. He also mastered the technology of going online to speak to one of his daughters who now lives in Australia.
In 2016 Harvey was awarded with the Légion d'honneur for the role he played in the 1944 liberation of France. The highest french order of merit, both military and civil, the awarded was establised in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.
The presentation was made in front of Harvey's proud family by the Mayor of Burnley at the war memorial in Towneley Park.
Around 30 veterans came out in force for Harvey's funeral at Burnley Crematorium. They lined the driveway and held a guard of honour as Harvey's coffin, draped in the Union Jack flag, arrived.
Family members placed a cushion bearing his medals on the coffin along with a wreath that Harvey always laid on Remembrance Day. And his coffin was led into the crematorium by his granddaughter Captain Wanda Barkess of the Royal Logistic Corps.
As the service ended mourners left to the old wartime song Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye by Vera Lynn. And the veterans were waiting with flags for a final salute to Harvey as the Last Post was played on the bugle.
Harvey's daughter Dawn said: "A D-day veteran decorated with so many medals and honours, my father was brave, kind and loving.
"Always there to give advice, saying it will be alright in the end.
"If the measure of a man is in the love he gives and receives then our dad was a giant in our eyes. A family legend and we will miss him dearly."