D Day Veteran Stories
You hear phrases like ‘true hero’ so often these days that they have become almost throw away. Well, I can say that I met the real thing traveling the country shooting this project and finishing my personal journey with a pilgrimage to Normandy with the NVA veterans for the 2017 Anniversary of D Day.
The final trip was emotional as it was humbling. Amongst the immaculately tended cemeteries of those that truly gave all their tomorrows for our todays, one of the first graves that I came upon held a boy of just 20, which was the same age as my own son and something that I found surprisingly difficult. Being ‘British’ of course, I wiped the tear from my cheek far too quickly, lest I be caught actually showing such normal emotions. The youngest to be killed at Normandy, I was to discover, now rests in the small and beautiful cemetery called Jerusalem and was just 16.
With only three actual Normandy veterans on our coach, when only a few years back would have seen so many more, these real heroes are now becoming very rare. A generation that if they were lucky, came back home having defeated probably the worst evil to ever blight humanity, yet despite paying such terrible cost to do so were simply told to get on with it.
The real heroes, they tell me, are the ones that did not come home. They themselves insist that they had no other choice and are not heroes.
I would respectfully disagree with the latter part of that statement, but whatever you want to believe, we certainly owe them ALL so much for how they stepped up and did a job that was so dreadfully difficult but so absolutely necessary.
As the efforts and sacrifices of such people the likes of which we are unlikely to see again, continue to now pass from memory into history, for me they are all true heroes in every possible sense.
So this book is for all of you.
Thank you for my freedom.
Percy Lewis’s Story
I was a wireless operator and we arrived at Queen’s Section, Sword Beach at 11am on D Day. There were boats everywhere! Eventually we went ashore and I was told to set up my Wireless Set No. 18 on the beach, as it was our job to communicate with the men back on our ship. Problem was that when we had the wireless set up, there was no one back on the ship left to receive our messages anyway, so we sat there on the beach from 4pm until 10am the following day doing nothing!
We were posted to a captured pillbox near the canal, that had two German Spandau machine guns and a periscope and we were told to keep an eye on the Germans who were still on the far side of the canal. Eventually we broke out of Normandy and when we got to Holland, I was injured by a mortar in my ankle and was flown home on a Dakota. As soon as I was fit again, I was sent straight back to the line.
One night, twelve of us were advancing into a village. We knew the Germans were around because on a quiet night with no wind you could smell them, as they used a soap that was scented. I discovered that my wireless arial was broken and I was out of spares, so my officer told me to go back. Now on my own, I headed for a house for some cover when two German Paratroopers came out and I thought that this was it! Instead, they took me prisoner.
While you knew the dangers that you faced, you never thought that you’d ever be taken prisoner.
I was the only one of the twelve that night to survive without a scratch, as all the others were killed or injured. Then I was sent to a POW camp in Germany called Stalag 11B, which I found out later was right next to Belsen. I was 10 st 10lbs when I arrived and only 6 st 2lbs when I was liberated by our lads on 16th April 1945.
This is the army for you! Instead of sending the Catering Corps with something like soup for us all, they sent tinned fruit that gave us all severe dysentery.
Eventually I arrived home, although the kind chap who gave me a lift to my house asked me if I was alright because I looked so thin and ill. Dad opened the door and shouted Mum, who nearly smothered me. All they had received was a telegram telling them that I was missing in action and had obviously feared the worst.
Two days after later, a telegram arrived saying that I was alive and well and would be home soon!
Ron Trenchard’s Story
We were taken to Brentwood on 4th June and placed behind wire, so we knew something was going to happen and next morning we were sent down to Tilbury, where we left for France. Then the gale blew up and we turned back!
Finally there was a break in the weather and we sailed for Normandy. As a Royal Engineer, I spent the morning of D Day on Gold Beach unloading Sherman tanks and vehicles off a Liberty Ship.
I have been asked many times if I was scared. The truth is you were frightened, but you were not. Basically, you are told to do something and you do it and you don’t think about it. If you thought about it you’d stop.
At the end of the day, war is war and it’s no good to anybody.
We bivouacked in an orchard a couple of miles from Arrowmanches and slept in a tent and in a 2 ft trench in the ground, just in case the Germans shelled us. One day I walked in to my tent not knowing that a French fifth columnist was hiding up a nearby tree. I bent down, heard a bang and two holes appeared in my tent, one where the bullet entered and one where it went out. The holes lined up exactly where my head had been a moment earlier.
Our orchard was near to a minefield that also had a waterfall. A German plane dropped a bomb in the water next to the waterfall causing a crater. We took advantage of our new crater and next day was bath day for us all, although the stream was straight out of the hills and was icy!
We stayed on the beach for four months working all night on Mullberry Harbour to unload the ships and after that we were transferred to Antwerp.
Peter Smoothey’s Story
I was 19 and on a tank-landing ship that had travelled overnight from Portsmouth. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were all young. It was absolute chaos. You couldn’t move for boats and ships and the Germans were on the beach waiting for us.
We hadn’t slept much and it was action stations most of the way. I manned a gun turret at the stern.
A lot of the army were seasick and felt rotten. They were glad to get ashore, but the fighting was strong after that.
Ernest Turner’s story
Hill 112 not far from Caen, was an unimpressive stretch of country covered with wheat two or three feet high. Rommel had said, “He who controls Hill 112 controls Normandy.” Certainly the Germans clung to it desperately, and when they were driven off, they counter-attacked at once. Between 29 June, when the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions regained the hill, and 23 July, Hill 112 changed hands many times and thousands of Allied and German troops were killed or wounded on its bloody slopes. The 43rd Division alone lost more than 2,000 men in the first 36 hours of operation. It was reported that the Odon River was dammed with corpses. Finally we won the hill. The SS were absolutely wicked and pure fanatics. They didn’t take prisoners and if our boys surrendered, they shot them in cold blood, so our side started to do the same to them, which was understandable.
When we got to Germany, something happened which summed up typical ‘Tommy’ humour under fire. We got to the Siegfried line up to our knees in mud and at the start of a pontoon bridge that we had to cross, a sign read ‘This is the Siegfried Line’, further down at the end of the bridge, there was a washing line with some old German clothes hanging and another sign read ‘…and here is the washing!’
Later, we were near to Belsen and while I never actually saw it, the stench from the camp was terrible. Because of the SS, It was many years after the war before I could speak to another German.
Wilf Shaw’s story
At one stage of the fighting in Normandy a shell came over. I was down in the trench but, of course, the 18 radio set had to be above me. I lay in the bottom of the trench, flatter than a pancake, sweating, cursing and praying. So this shell came over and exploded, hellish close, the 18 set went for a burton. I gathered it all up, 3 or 4 holes in it, “Can’t possibly be working” I thought. I pressed the pressel switch, ” Dog 7 ! report my signals” – pregnant pause – back came the reply, “Dog 7, hear you strength 5, over”. I just couldn’t believe it
Arthur Jones’s story
Trying to steer my Sherman tank through the debris of Caen in the distance I could see a naked woman standing in the rubble. As I approached nearer I saw a window model that some joker had placed there. So this is war. Entering the town of Lievin my tank was disabled by a mechanical fault. Ian Cohen , my comrade, was detailed to stay with me. ” We will send a recovery vehicle back for you ” said the sergeant as my unit carried on. Days passed and no one returned. A French family, Mama Steffens and her six children took pity on us and offered us hospitality. How she found the space and the food I will never know. Ian said,” Let’s do something and get some rations “, so we borrowed the doctors car from next door, he was allowed petrol. Ian had acquired an officers coat and beret from I don’t know where, put them on and said lets drive to Arras. Just before Arras we ran into a military police check point and impersonating an officer meant that charges loomed ! ” My jeep has broken down and I have commandered this vehicle. I have urgent business in Arras ” said Ian . A salute and carry on from the MP. ” We drive round to the town major’s office. Ian tells a tale of how we had been left without rations and suffered by the side of the road and gets a stamp chitty for provisions for two. He comes back to the car and puts a nought by the 2 making 20. Round to the RASC resupply depot, and we cram provisions for 20 personnel into the car. We have a job to shut the doors, I say “How are we going to get through the MPs again”. ” Stop about a mile before” Ian tells me. So I do. ” Wait for a convoy to come through and when you get the chance nip between two vehicles and stick the bonnet under the tail board”. I see my chance – talk about modern tailgating! The DRs (despatch riders) are waving through the 3-tonners as fast as possible, we are out and gone before anyone can stop us. Needless to say, my French friends and the doctor’s family, were over the moon. We felt we had repaid so much that they had given to us.
Lance Rooke’s Story
The week before DDay, 6th airborne was at Salisbury Plain and we paraded for The King, Queen and a certain Princess Elizabeth, who looked lovely in her army uniform. After the parade and as the Royal party walked away, me and the lads were all staring at Princess Elizabeth when the King turned round and noticed immediately the attention his daughter was getting. We all thought that we were really for it, but he simply rolled his eyes and turned back laughing!
A week later and the night before DDay the mood aboard our glider was jolly, until the lights were turned off half way across the channel and we knew that this was it. We landed just after midnight and because of the flak, our glider landed miles from target. My mate and I were sent out to see who we could join up with. We got separated and he was captured. I met up with some Canadian Paras and we all joined them on the attack on the Merville gun battery, which had to be knocked out or it would devastate the beaches when our boys landed later. From around 150 that went in only 70 of us were still standing and our wounded had to be left for the Germans.
Joan Walker’s Story
As a nurse, they sent us the wounded soldiers back to us to care for. Some of them came back in a very bad way, but we knew when they were starting to feel better when they tried to take us in the cupboard for a kiss!
Charlie Dean’s story
A few days after DDay we were still near the beaches and we were given a football for some badly needed respite. The game was England V Scotland, about 30 a side and tunics for goalposts. As we played, the Luftwaffe attacked and three planes were immediately shot down by the beach defences and we saw three parachutes land in the trees right next to where we were playing.
No one seemed to take any notice, so eventually I tapped my CO, who was also playing, on his arm and asked what was to be done with the three German pilots. He turned and bellowed ‘Bugger them, we’re loosing 3-2 ! Get stuck in ‘
Jim Ratcliffe’s story
As we fought our way from the beaches, my mate and I were ordered to take some rations and sneak into a farmhouse that offered a clear view of the area. We were told to stay there a couple of days and watch the fields where we knew Jerry was and radio through any movement immediately. We went to the attic and found a slate missing that gave just one person a perfect view. We both looked around an saw a bed! We hadn’t seen a real bed for weeks, let alone slept in one, having slept when we could in ditches and fields. So over the next two days, we took it in turns to sleep in the bed fully clothed, just in case we had to move quick, while the other kept watch on the fields through our missing slate. The bed felt wonderful!
After a couple of days, we heard footsteps in the house and it turned out to be our lot, the Pioneers. They told us that they were searching the farmhouse for booby traps, which was a shock to us because we thought that it had already been checked and cleared.
When they saw the bed, they immediately said ‘ don’t tell us you’ve been sleeping in that bed, because that’s the first thing they boobytrap’
We told them that we had both slept in it for the last couple of days. They carefully lifted up the counterpane and underneath was a cluster of deadly mines primed and ready to go off!
Jim Radford’s story
“My first trip out was as galley boy on a rescue tug on D Day. I joined the tugs because it was the only way I could get to sea and every kid in Hull wanted be a part of the war. As we got nearer the beaches there was a tremendous bombardment going on. Every ship was firing it’s gun. It was like Dante’s Inferno. There were blazing landing craft on the beach and you could still see the fighting going on. Like everyone else, I’d seen war films but the difference is amazing when it’s real.
The water was full of dead men. A very sad memory of D Day is of all those poor devils that never made it to the beach, who were in the water with life jackets on, just floating and we hadn’t time to pull them out.
I tried to collect as many dog tags as I could, but had to give up because there were so many”
Jim was 15 years old.
Charles Eagles story
I was made sergeant on my 19th birthday, the day I became a man. We entered a large cornfield. As the lads waded waist high through the corn all hell let loose. Snipers, mortars and withering fire from both sides from machine guns that cut through the corn like an invisible scythe. Men were falling all around. I jumped out of the bren gun carrier and ran alongside. Wasn’t sure why but I felt very uneasy, sixth sense perhaps! A couple of minutes later it was hit by mortar fire and the young driver killed.
We were under orders to not stop for anyone and we kept advancing. Some of the injured were screaming and some men silently pleaded for help as they lay helpless in pain. I must confess that these awful sights and sounds have never left me.
We reached a ditch and when I looked up a figure filled the sky. It was a German Major pointing his pistol at us. In perfect English, (we later discovered he was Oxbridge educated!) he said ‘Young man, don’t do anything stupid and it will be alright’ We were surrounded by German soldiers pointing their rifles at us and we surrendered.
They took us to some nearby woods. They treated us well and were quite friendly chatting away to us. Only a short time ago we had been trying to kill each other and now one of our lads was passing boiled sweets around. Then the cigarettes were handed around. The Germans clearly preferred British tobacco to their own!
The next day, the Major presented me with his pistol and explained that they were now surrounded by allied forces and were now our prisoners. We marched back over a hundred German to our lines and yelled. “Hold your fire. Make way for the Durham Lights” . “YOU COULD BE BLOODY GERMANS” came the shout with a thick Scottish brogue. “Don’t be so bloody daft Jock, get an officer down here” I replied. After a few heart pounding moments, because everyone was on edge, a lieutenant appeared.
Robert Purver’s story
I went in with the Canadians on Juno Beach in the first wave of the landings. My job was to find the quickest routes off the beach and get the soldiers moving to them as soon as possible. If we stayed stuck on the beach, we would be wiped out.
Behind us the guns from the ships fired and we could hear the shells whistling over our heads. Then a squadron of Spitfires flew over us at head height and opened up on the German defences to try and soften them up for us.
When the landing craft beached and the front lowered, we ran for our lives. There were Canadians falling and dying all around me.
I kept on running.
Tony Colgan’s Story Durham Light Infantry
We landed on Gold Beach on the morning of DDay. As a Bren Gun carrier driver with a 3 1/2 inch mortar platoon, we joined a mobile column which also included infantry on bicycles and anti-tank guns. After advancing seven miles inland, we saw a line of six Spitfires in the sky heading our way. One dropped a bomb on us which wrote off the lorry. He then came round again and machine gunned the column. I could see all the bullets hitting the ground. He then must have realised his mistake and that we were on his side and he turned away and flew on.
That day we were lucky, as no one was hurt.
Exactly a week to the day we were not so lucky. Over 200 men, including our Colonel were killed in the first hour and a half attacking the village of Lingevres.
Nanza Hughes story
I was a wireless operator at Forest Moor Y station in North Yorkshire, listening in on the German stations and copying down their morse code messages. This all then went to Bletchley Park for decoding, although obviously we had no idea where they went at the time. We worked in pairs, what they called ‘double banked’ so that we would not miss anything.
On 5th June I was on the night shift starting midnight until 7am. It was the shift that we all hated as nothing usually happened and I would normally spend my time writing letters home. Something peculiar happened around 3am, when army intelligence officers had arrived in our set room, which had never happened before. Just after 3am one of our out stations was calling up control, sending a message uncoded in plain German, which was unheard of. I realised something big was happening if the Germans were not even bothering to encrypt their own messages. As I was listening in to the message and copying it down, which was actually very difficult to do because it wasn’t coded, but in plain language and I was still trying to split them up into the usual group of five letters as we were taught to do, one of the intelligence officers tapped me on the shoulder and told me just to keep writing.
After the message had finished and I had stopped writing, he tapped me on the shoulder again and said, ‘The invasion has started’
Elizabeth Nelson’s story
I was Operating Officer for Fighter Command, HQ Rudlow Manor Chippenham & Bath. Experience is the best teacher and it’s difficult to understand unless you were there, what it was like to live through days like DDay. I was immensely proud that it was happening because you knew that if it succeeded that it meant the safety of our beloved country
Bill Ruth’s story
I was put in the RASC and assigned to 257 Ambulance Car Company, with the job of taking casualties from the field dressing station to the field hospital. At Portsmouth, a docker had offered me his hand and said ‘Good luck son’. I had been in the army only four months and had no idea what to expect. So, it was with both excitement and fear that we landed at Arrowmanches just after 6th June.
Sleeping in an open field that night, I reached for my helmet for protection and accidentally felt my mates face. Next morning he told me he was woken in the night by a hand across his face and thought the Germans had come for him!
In April of 1945, we’d advanced into Germany and were told to go to a camp. As we approached I could see all these scarecrows. As we got nearer and the stench from the camp hit us, I realised that they were people, just not moving, standing still.
The camp was Belsen.
We couldn’t give the victims any food, because it would kill them, nor could we go inside the camp because of infection. We weren’t supposed to touch them, but they were so weak that we had to help them into the ambulance. Some were overcome. Some even kissed my feet.
I’d witnessed many horrific scenes during the war, but this was unbelievable. How could someone do that to another human being?
Richard Atkinson’s story
On DDay, we had very little time on the beach.
We were in an LST landing craft with the big ramp up. We could hear everything happening around us, but couldn’t see a thing with the ramp up. All of a sudden they opened the doors and dropped the ramp. We came off the ramp and onto the beach and were amazed. The smell of cordite from the rockets and shells from the big guns from the ships was hanging in the air and the noise was unbearable and the number of ships when I looked around, you could have stepped from one ship to another! You couldn’t see for ships! We just wanted to get off the beach and live, but what stuck in my mind was the noise and the smell of death.
Death has got a funny smell, you can’t mistake it.
Victor McKenzie’s story.
I was a lorry driver in the Army Service Corps. As we were driving over a pontoon bridge a shell exploded in the water in front of us. The blast from the shell hit our lorry and stopped it dead, like we’d hit some invisible wall. A piece of shrapnel from the shell came straight through the widescreen, clipped my ear and embedded itself into a gun rack in the lorry behind. Another inch or so the other side and I would have been dead!
I made sure that I dug the piece of shrapnel out and still have it as a souvenir today.
George Batts Story
As a young lad of 18 taking part in the Normandy landings and subsequent campaigns in North East Europe and the Far East were the darkest days of one’s life but at the same time, the proudest. Thousands of us were involved and after the conflicts many friends and colleagues were left behind on the beaches, the fields and jungles These are the real heroes and we must and will always remember them. We who were there will never forget those days and the colleagues we lost’.
Donald Rowell’s Story
After serving in the Medical Corps in the Desert Campaign in North Africa and the Middle East, followed by the invasions of Sicily and Italy, I returned to England suffering from malaria and was hospitalised for some time, after which I was offered light clerical duties for a while.
While on clerical duties following the D-Day landings, we were processing reports of casualty figures. I commented to my colleague, “When Churchill sees these numbers, he will blow his top”. And he did.
Joy Hunter’s Story
I joined the typing pool at the War Cabinet Offices in Jan 1944 as part of the Joint Planning Secretariat. It was quite daunting as an 18 year old, realising that you were at the centre of it all and the work was very intense with lots of pressure and sometimes we had to do 24 hour shifts, with bunks available if necessary. As all the work was so sensitive, nobody knew what anyone else was doing or indeed who worked in any of the other offices, as we were locked in our small, over crowded, stuffy and smoky rooms with Marine Guards on the doors.
We used the old big Imperial typewriters that made a loud zing when you pushed the carriage across and sounded a very big bell when you eventually got to the end.
It was on such a machine that I was instructed to type up the full order of battle for Operation Overlord, prior to the landings on the 6th June.
Churchill was there most of the time and was always friendly and unlike some of the other senior staff, would always say hello if we passed in the narrow corridors or he might inquire if the last air raids had affected us or our families. As soon as the air raid siren started, he would shoot up to the roof so not to miss anything.
One evening he invited us to watch a film in his cinema room. I can’t remember what film it was, but I remember it started around midnight when Churchill burst into the room in his slippers, pyjamas and dressing gown with his signature cigar in one hand and a glass of brandy in the other proclaiming loudly, “Winnie’s here, let it roll!”
David Greig’s Story
I landed on Gold beach on D Day + 7. There was still a great rush to unload and clear the beach as quickly as possible. As a dispatch rider for the lines of communication, I had to wait for my motorcycle to be unloaded. By the time I had my motorbike, my unit had already gone. There were no signs up anywhere to tell you where to go and I had to try and find my unit at an airfield. Spotting a red cap, I stopped to ask directions.
His reply was ‘don’t ask me, I’m on holiday!’
Earlier in the war, I was a fireman in London during the Blitz. Our officer was a dreadful man and thoroughly disliked. On one occasion, I snapped and swore at him and was immediately transferred and replaced by two of my pals. They were both killed soon afterwards.
Swearing saved my life!
Cyril’s Simms Story
We approached Juno beach in the early hours of June the 6th and the coast suddenly emerged from the dark. It was all so quiet, until the RAF turned up and started bombing the beach. Then the big ships started shelling the German positions too and with HMS Warspite behind us, the noise was so intense that it merged into one big ‘hiss’, which has effected my hearing to this day. With the amount of pounding that beach took, you wouldn’t expect a cat to have survived, but soon as our commandos landed and started being knocked over by machine gun fire, we knew that that wasn’t the case.
Despite seeing our casualties, we were too busy to be frightened and after offloading our troops onto the beach from our LCG (Landing Craft Gun) we then went back into the water and gave supporting fire from our two 4.7 inch guns and concentrated on silencing the German pill boxes.
We also established a ‘TROUT’ line, which was a continuation of the front line out to sea and for the next four months, we patrolled the sea to protect it. Not much has been written about how hard the Germans tried to destroy this line, but near enough every night they would be coming in with midget submarines to try and torpedo the supply ships. It was our job to stop them and we did, along with the radio controlled ‘weasel’ motor boats packed with explosives that their E boats aimed at our shipping.
There were so many casualties that you never wanted to talk about them. As the years went by, I was lucky that I was able to put things to one side in my mind and never suffered with some of the problems that others have had to face. Strange that the feeling of guilt still stayed with me for many years, until finally age put paid to that.
George Dangerfield’s Story
I was told that I was too tall for the marines, so I stayed in the navy as a medic. I was assigned to LST 65 which was a 1 Class Tank Landing Ship.
D Day was very noisy and very messy. We landed on Juno Beach at 07.30 and as soon as the big ramp went down, which was lowered before we hit the beach, we saw our men dying. Our ship carried 24 tanks and 200 Canadian troops. By 07.45, a hundred of the men were dead.
I stayed onboard to receive and treat the wounded. Even though we were one big target, we were never hit once.
That day saw me quickly convert from boyhood to manhood and yet it still breaks my heart every time I talk or think about those boys.
Fred Lee’s Story
I was a Stoker below deck on HMS Nith, which was acting as headquarters for the 231st Infantry Brigade. At 4am on the 6th of June I was put on watch until 8am. We were about a mile and a half from the beach and once the barrage started there was so much going on and the noise was so great, I suppose it was all a bit scary. What upset me most were all the dead soldiers in the sea, one of which had his pay book hanging out. Funny how you remember some of the little things.
Shells from our ships were whistling over the top of our heads and German shells were dropping around our ship when an officer yelled to keep our heads down.
It never entered your mind that our ship would actually be hit. On the 23rd June it was hit by a guided bomber packed with explosives and the plane exploded on the starboard side killing eight men. I was due to be on watch on the starboard side at that time, but I had been changed to the port side because someone was ill.
When I look back now, we really went through something and survived.
Alan Gullis’s Story
Edna and I were married on May 6th, exactly a month to the day before D Day, so I’ll never be able to forget my Anniversary! Due to a mix up with the military, we were both only given a 48 hour pass and yet I had booked our accommodation for a week. The day after we were married a policemen came to our door and ordered me back to my unit and I left immediately. Unfortunately and due to some bad luck, at Paddington Station an MP checked my pass and arrested me. I eventually got 14 days behind the wire at a military compound at Borden in Hampshire and missed D Day.
D Day plus 11, I arrived in Normandy in an American landing craft surrounded by complete strangers. We were ordered to simply follow the man in front.
I ended up working Mullberry Harbour as a driver and later I became a regimental policeman.
Albert ‘Paddy’ Paddock’s Story
I joined the Royal Navy and was trained as a wireless telegraphist.
I volunteered for combined operations and on D Day we were on Juno beach as we directed fire from the battleship. We all suspected it was the Warspite, but as we only worked with codes, I can’t ever be sure. The 16inch shells that we directed in sounded like an express train travelling through a station as they roared over our heads and we were all fully aware that if we directed just one of these shells short, we would all get it.
Bernard Morgan’s Story
The morning of DDay and there was constant gun fire over our heads from navy vessels. This continued throughout the day. Our technical vehicles finally went ashore at 6.30pm. The beach was littered with dead bodies either shot or drowned or washed in by the tide. A sight never to be forgotten by a young 20 year old airman, seeing his first dead body, sadly most of them British.
That first night on land was a nightmare. we slept, or tried to sleep, under our vehicles for some protection from crossfire. All night the sky was lit with tracers and heavy gunfire. We were glad to have survived a memorable day and felt lucky to be alive.
In May 1945, a message arrived in the cypher office. We decoded and typed and pasted up the message and my colleague turned to me and said ‘Ey Taffy the, wars over! ‘
We were some of the first to know the news but under strict orders, could not tell anyone else until it was announced the following day.
Chris Tarrant letter for D Day Project
My father fought in World War Two as an infantryman and then an officer with the Royal Berkshire and Wiltshire regiments. He was one of the last soldiers to escape from the hell of Dunkirk in 1940, he landed back in France on D-day and fought his way on up into Germany in 1945. He nearly escaped without a scratch but was blown up in a jeep on a landmine just three weeks before the end of the war, he and his driver were both amazingly lucky to survive. For his war efforts Dad was awarded the MC twice, I was always incredibly close to my father, we talked about anything and everything, except the war, it was a no-go area and he just wouldn’t talk about it. Growing up after World War Two as a little boy, our house was full of ex soldiers, the talk of course was about the war and Germans, but as I got to about seven or eight I began to realise that the ones who talked about the war a lot day after day, talking animatedly about “the hell on those beaches” and ” the sky being black with Messerschmitt’s” and “homes fit for heroes” had never been anywhere more dangerous than Bognor Regis. The real hard-core ones, like my dad who had been there, lived through the hell of it and somehow survived, didn’t talk about it all. So when I decided to write a detailed book about my father’s war, I was working with a virtually blank piece of paper. Luckily however, I found five wonderful men all over ninety years old who had fought with Dad on D Day or earlier at Dunkirk. I slowly pieced his amazing story together, I was privileged to meet them to sit and talk with them, bizarrely some of them said they found it easier to talk to me, because I was somehow one step removed from it all, and they all talked about Dad with great warmth, these were an amazing inspirational breed of young men. When they were conscripted into the war, they were all still in their teens. None of them had ever been abroad before, and certainly never fired a gun in anger, certainly never been under fire and yet within minutes of landing in France they had experienced all of that and much more. They had seen dead bodies floating in the sea as they approached the French beach, they saw young men they had grown up with, drank their first beers with and played football with, blown up standing beside them, one of them talked about hearing a shell burst, and turning to the young lad he’d been sitting next to and chatting with just minutes before, only to horrifically realise his young friend had lost his head. One ex-soldier, Doug Botting from Sussex, told me “I’d always loved westerns, cowboy and Indian films, and I was really looking forward to D Day, I thought it would be like a western, I couldn’t wait to get there. Once I got there, Juno Beach, June 1944, I couldn’t wait to get out of it, it was absolutely horrific, terrifying,” But of course they couldn’t get out of there, they had to fight their way on up into France Belgium, Holland and eventually in March 1945 over the Rhine and into Germany, forcing the surrender and meeting up with the Russians in Berlin. They marched and fought from one shattered city to the next, often clearing out deadly snipers and surviving savage hand to hand fighting, with sten guns or with bayonets. The vision of my own dear father, a wonderfully kind gentle man fighting with a bayonet was an image I could never really come to terms with, but he must have done, they all did, it would have been kill or be killed. D-day was of course a brilliant tactical landing, the Allies were back in occupied Europe but with heavy loss of young life. Dads colleagues all talked of arriving in France at dawn on D Day as young boys, and being old men by evening, they saw so much in those first few manic hours. One of them, Robbie from Derbyshire, talked of “the horrific smell that filled their nostrils after D Day as they marched on into France. It was a long hot summer, and the smell everywhere was of death. Death and diesel, there were shattered trucks, jeeps, armoured cars and tanks everywhere, and there were dead animals everywhere, cows, pigs, sheep and horses blown to pieces by the guns, covered in flies and maggots. And above all there were dead soldiers, thousands of young lives abruptly ended, lying stinking in the sun.” Bill an ex royal Berkshire soldier from Maidenhead told me “after only a week or so you didn’t even notice dead bodies, you just saw new ones and smelt new ones, every single day.” Since I wrote the book, I’ve had literally hundreds maybe thousands, of letters from men and women saying” that’s so like my own father” or “just like my dear Grandad,” and they all have one common theme “he would never talk to us kids about the war.” .I think as I grew up with Dad I couldn’t really understand it, He was such a funny larger than life man, why wouldn’t he share some of the details of his war with me, a lot of the detail I slowly worked out, he hadn’t even shared with Mum, his beloved wife of sixty years. I didn’t understand, but I do now. Their experiences were so gruesome, so horrific, so painful, that it would have seem hopeless to even try to share any of it with those who weren’t there. These extraordinary young men truly did see a Vision of Hell. We all owe them the freedom that we enjoy today, we must never stop showing them the love and respect their memory will always deserve, and we must make sure our children and our children’s children know their story. And what those young men did for all of us. We must never forget them. “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them”
© 2013 Stuart Wood Photography