Kenneth George Mayhew, oldest Knight of the Military Order of William, has died

Kenneth George Mayhew, the oldest Knight of the Military Order of William, passed away yesterday in Norfolk, England. The Briton was 104 years old. Mayhew was awarded the highest military decoration of the Netherlands in 1946 for his heroic actions during the liberation of the Southern Netherlands. He was the last of the knighted heroes who had served in the Second World War.

Kenneth Mayhew and his wife Patricia.
Kenneth Mayhew and his wife Patricia.

Like many British young men, Mayhew was called up for military service at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The son of a farmer, he was placed in the Suffolk Regiment. His unit was part of the UK’s III Corps under the command of the later legendary Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

D-Day

During the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 (D-Day), he was the commander of a company equipped with 13 wheeled armoured personnel carriers. His unit was tasked with taking a complex of 12 bunkers with 150 soldiers and liberating Colleville-sur-Orne and then Flers. The company subsequently advanced through Belgium towards the Netherlands.

Battle of Overloon and Venray

Mayhew stated in an interview published in the defence newspaper a few years ago that the objective had been to link up with the troops that had landed near Arnhem (Operation Market Garden). Although that objective was not achieved, the first battalion had successes on the border of Limburg and Gelderland. Mayhew’s company was involved in the liberation of Weert (22 September 1944), Venray and Overloon (16-19 September 1944). Mayhew was admitted to the Military Order of William for his actions during that period. That the fighting in Limburg had been heavy is evidenced by Mayhew’s recollection that Venray consisted of only a few houses. He was later “completely surprised to find that it was actually a fairly large town.”

Military Order of William by post

When he returned to England following the liberation of Europe, life rapidly returned to normal. “There was work to do. I had a young family.” In 1946, the major in the reserve forces was invited to the Netherlands embassy in London. Mayhew was still recovering from an injury, however. The Military Order of William and the certificate with Royal Decree number 29 were therefore sent to him by post. According to Mayhew, “It’s not something you dwelled on, but I considered it to be a great honour at the time.”

In a response to the news of Mayhew’s death, Netherlands Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld-Schouten stated that his valour will never be forgotten. “The courage that Mayhew and his comrades in arms displayed in the Second World War and in the liberation of the Netherlands will always remain in our thoughts. They are an example to many who are working for freedom today and will remain an example to future generations.”

There are now three living Knights of the Military Order of William: Lieutenant Colonel Gijs Tuinman, Major Marco Kroon and Major Roy de Ruiter (Netherlands reserve forces). They were awarded the decoration for their courageous actions in Afghanistan; De Ruiter as an Apache pilot and Kroon and Tuinman for their service on the ground.

Major General Henk Morsink (retd), Chancellor of the Netherlands Orders and Chair of the Military Order of William Council responded to the news on behalf of the three: “The End of an Era! Ken Mayhew was an example to us all. His heroic actions, fame and, above all, the way he handled that fame made a great impression on all of us.”

Video: knighted hero Kenneth Mayhew

In Memoriam: Kenneth George Mayhew, Knight of the Military Order of William