b. 17/11/1925 Easington, County Durham. d. 18/01/1945 Stein, Germany.
Dennis Donnini (1925-1945) was born on 17th November 1925 in Easington, County Durham, the son of Alfredo Donnini and Catherine (nee Brown). His Italian father had settled in England in 1899 and moved in 1915 to Easington Colliery, where he became an ice cream vendor and proprietor of a billiards saloon. Dennis attended Corby Grammar School in Sunderland, now known as St. Aidans School. During the war, Donnini's two older brothers, Alfred and Louis Dino, served in the British Army, with Louis dying on 1st May 1944 while employed as a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps. His two older sisters, Corrina and Silvia, enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Their father, being an Italian national, was interned for much of the war as an "enemy alien".
Dennis enlisted in Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1944, and was posted to 4/5th Battalion, and had only been in the Army for nine months prior to Operation Blackcock. In North-West Europe, on 18th January 1945, a Battalion of The Royal Scots Fusiliers supported by tanks was the leading Battalion in the assault of the German positions between the rivers Roer and Maas. This consisted of a broad belt of minefields and wire on the other side of a stream.
As the result of a thaw the armour was unable to cross the stream and the infantry had to continue the assault without the support of the tanks. Fusilier Donnini's platoon was ordered to attack a small village. As they left their trenches the platoon came under concentrated machine gun and rifle fire from the houses and Fusilier Donnini was hit by a bullet in the head. After a few minutes he recovered consciousness, charged down thirty yards of open road and threw a grenade into the nearest window.
The enemy fled through the gardens of four houses, closely pursued by Fusilier Donnini and the survivors of his platoon. Under heavy fire at seventy yards range Fusilier Donnini and two companions crossed an open space and reached the cover of a wooden barn, thirty yards from the enemy trenches. Fusilier Donnini, still bleeding profusely from his wound, went into the open under intense close range fire and carried one of his companions, who had been wounded, into the barn. Taking a Bren gun he again went into the open, firing as he went.
He was wounded a second time but recovered and went on firing until a third bullet hit a grenade which he was carrying and killed him. The superb gallantry and self-sacrifice of Fusilier Donnini drew the enemy fire away from his companions on to himself. As the result of this, the platoon were able to capture the position, accounting for thirty Germans and two machine guns. Dennis was buried in Sittard War Cemetery, Sittard, Netherlands. At just 19, he was the youngest recipient of the VC in the Second World War.
It was reputed that Dennis’ father remained detained until being released at the behest of King George VI, whom he met after he was granted leave to receive his son’s posthumous Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace. Dennis’ medals are not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: COMMONWEALTH CEMETERY, SITTARD, LIMBURG, NETHERLANDS.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
ROW H, GRAVE 10
Easington Colliery War Memorial
Easington Colliery, County Durham