Comedian Jim Davidson leads tributes to 'my old mate' Tony - a true Bay hero

Farewell to the wonderful Tony Rider

Farewell to the wonderful Tony Rider - Credit: Archant

Comedian Jim Davidson led the tributes as Torbay lost one of its true heroes.

Tony Rider, who devoted his life to championing the Bay’s and country’s war veterans, died peacefully in a Torquay care home aged 91.

He will be remembered especially for his work with the Normandy Veterans' Association, the annual D-Day commemoration services, saving the D-Day embarkation slipways at Torquay harbour and visiting local schools to make sure our younger generation would never forget the sacrifices made by our wartime heroes.

Tony - (L) Torquay Seafront Summer 1947

Tony - (L) Torquay Seafront Summer 1947 - Credit: Archant

Tony first met comic Jim and other comedians, including Bobby Davro and Jim Bowen, several years ago enjoying a day out at Newton Abbot Races and immediately struck up a friendship that was to last years including collecting money for the Normandy Veterans' Association at Jim’s summer season shows at the Princess Theatre.

In a moving social media message Jim paid tribute to Tony in the same breath as Captain Sir Tom Moore - who died on the same day - and another veteran from Hereford who had also passed away.

He spoke of a 'sprightly, immaculate' and ‘wonderful’ man, enjoying lunches with him in Torquay.

Jim said: “He was a splendid old chap. The wonderful Tony Rider. Rest in Peace my old mate. Enjoy yourself in that big Normandy landing craft in the sky. Have a drink with Colonel Tom on behalf of all of us.

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"People should look back and see what these great men can deliver. These old chaps gave so much and asked for nothing.”

Former Torbay mayor Gordon Oliver knew Tony well and said: “I worked with Tony for many, many years and I always kept in touch with him right up until a couple of weeks ago.

"I will miss him very much. He was a lovely man who was always happy to work behind the scenes but never wanted any praise for his efforts.

"I worked with him on the slipways and the commemorations for D-Day with other various organisations.

"He used to ring me and say 'It's Corporal Rider here with instructions for the mayor’. We always used to laugh about it.

"We had some wonderful times together and I have some wonderful memories of him.

"He made a substantial contribution to the life of Torbay. I pay tribute to a true gentleman who will be sadly missed. I have offered my sincere condolences to his family."

Torquay businessman, lifelong friend and fellow veteran Lionel Digby said: “As a friend and fellow Army veteran he will be greatly missed on parade. With myself as NVA Standard Bearer for 10 years we did many parades and Normandy trips together. The heavens now have a new Sgt Major.”

Tony was born and bred Torquay. He attended Torwood and Torre primary schools and then Torquay Boys’ Grammar School.

At 18, he carried out much of his National Service in the very early stages of the Malayan Emergency, later working as a clerk for British Rail at Torquay Railway Station.  

In 1981, the Normandy Veterans Association Branch No1 was formed in Grimsby to reunite those who fought in the Allied invasion of 1944 and to honour the memory of the fallen.

Tony heard about Captain Eric Wood from Cornwall asking for volunteers to form a committee for a new South West branch. Tony answered the call and in February 1983, Branch No21 was formed in Newton Abbot with Captain Wood (Cheshire Regiment) as chairman, Roy Hamlyn (Royal Army Service Corps) treasurer, and Tony (Royal Army Service Corps) as secretary.  

Annual dinners were held at The Templestowe Hotel, Torquay, with guest General Sir John Mogg, former D-Day Lt .Col. joining them. Membership grew to such an extent that in 1993 the South Devon/Torbay Branch No36 was formed, with a new chairman in John Hart, and with Roy and Tony continuing their roles in the new branch.

They had no funds, but eventually raised money to purchase their own Standard, with the proceeds from collections at Jim's shows at the Princess Theatre an immense help.

Son Richard said: "He was always amazed at the generosity of the public at regular 'flag-day' collections at local towns and supermarkets to raise funds. His capacity for planning events commemorating the Normandy Campaign, VE Day and VJ Day was well known to the many authorities which were contacted, encouraged even cajoled into being part of the events."  

Tony would also make countless arrangements for the Veterans to visit local schools to talk to the students about the incredible stories of their time in Normandy.

Tony and Molly, his late wife of almost 55 years, occasionally attended the annual pilgrimages to Normandy and Holland which they found most rewarding, in particular the overwhelming reception they always received in Eindhoven.

Perhaps his greatest achievement for the Veterans was in being instrumental in campaigning to obtain Grade 2* Listing for the two D-Day slipways at Beacon Quay, on June 6, 2020,

The slipways were built in May 1943 by the Royal Engineers 931 Port Construction and Repair Company and in June, 1944, were used by the 4th Infantry Division U.S. Army to embark for Utah Beach, Normandy.

On June 6 each year, a memorial service has been held in front of the slipways to remember all those who never returned.  

Tony was presented with a Pride of South Devon Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless work in 2014.

Sadly in June, 2019, the service for the 75th anniversary of D-Day opposite the slipways was to be the last major event that Tony arranged due to his failing health. He had a triple heart bypass 19 years ago.

Tony and Molly had eight children: David, Austin, Caroline, Andrew, Michael, Richard, Stephen and Peter, together with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The NVA standard was laid up in the chapel at Torre Abbey - where memorial stones also point towards Normandy and Dunkirk. Former bearer Lionel Digby has been given permission to raise it at Tony's funeral.

Donations to the British Heart Foundation may be sent to Parker's Independent Family Funeral Directors, 68 Queen Street, Newton Abbot, TQ12 2ES.

In the latter days of the Association Tony wrote: "For me, this has been a most rewarding journey. More than three decades and nobody went AWOL. My dear wife Molly was my invaluable lieutenant.”

Tony - Singapore 1948

Tony - Singapore 1948 - Credit: Archant

Tony - 80th Birthday on Dartmoor

Tony - 80th Birthday on Dartmoor - Credit: Archant